by Alison Flood)
Pioneering novelist Mary Stewart: 'I'm first and foremost a teller of tales …' Photograph: Hodder & Stoughton
The bestselling pioneer of romantic-suspense novels Mary Stewart has died at the age of 97, her publisher has said.
Known for much-loved novels including Touch Not the Cat, This Rough Magic and Nine Coaches Waiting, Stewart among the first novelists to integrate mystery and romance. She made the archetype of the determined, intelligent heroine her own, thrusting her into daring adventures from which she would emerge intact and happily romantically involved. Stewart was spotted after sending the manuscript of her first novel, Madam, Will You Talk?, to Hodder & Stoughton in 1953. It hit the bestseller lists the following year, and she went on to pen a series of novels in a similar vein.
Her publisher Hodder & Stoughton said on Thursday it was "so very sad to learn that Mary Stewart has died. We've proudly published her novels from the beginning and we'll miss her enormously."
CEO Jamie Hodder-Williams said: "Hodder & Stoughton have been proud to publish Mary Stewart's novels throughout her career. It has been a privilege to work with her, and to see her work discovered and loved by generation after generation of readers."
Chocolat author Joanne Harris wrote on Twitter that Stewart's novels were "fabulous continents on the world map of my childhood", while Sarah Churchwell praised her "fab, literate young woman-centred thrillers".
The novels of Mary Stewart
'Light, fast-moving stories' … the novels of Mary Stewart
The author herself had once said she would "take conventionally bizarre situations (the car chase, the closed-room murder, the wicked uncle tale) and send real people into them, normal, everyday people with normal, everyday reactions to violence and fear; people not 'heroic' in the conventional sense, but averagely intelligent men and women who could be shocked or outraged into defending, if necessary, with great physical bravery, what they held to be right".
Stewart called her books "light, fast-moving stories, which are meant to give pleasure, and where the bees in the writer's bonnet are kept buzzing very softly indeed", saying she was "first and foremost a teller of tales, but I am also a serious-minded woman who accepts the responsibilities of her job, and that job, if I am to be true to what is in me, is to say with every voice at my command: 'We must love and imitate the beautiful and the good.'"
Stewart wrote a trilogy of hugely popular novels about the life of Merlin – The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment – a departure from her previous books, along with acclaimed children's books, including Ludo and the Star Horse and A Walk in Wolf Wood.