This text was read out at the memorial event to Stephanie Wolfe Murray at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 23 August 2017 by my big brother Kim. Photo by Peggy Hughes.
One of my earliest memories as a three or four year old was being given the mighty responsibility of doing the washing up. It was my first real sense of accomplishment. This had been long trailed by Mum as a special treat in store for good behaviour. Now I was finally getting to do the washing up on my little stool feeling proud as punch. I was Mum’s little helper. I don’t remember how long it took for the penny to drop, that washing up was an irksome chore to be avoided at all costs.
But by that time it was too late. There were four of us, all boys, close in age I was the eldest and there was no avoiding being co-opted into the frenzy of morning and evening panics to get to school or get dinner together and, well, forget about homework. For a long time we commuted from a dilapidated country house in the borders to school in Edinburgh in a variety of second hand bangers that Mum would drive into the ground.
She was always working late so after school I would end up in the Canongate office at 17 Jeffrey Street circa 1975, packing books in the front window for the grizzled Australian sales manager Dave Morgan. Thick brown paper wrapping. Sellotape, proper twine tied tight, but not too tight, according to Dave’s exacting instructions.
The back rooms were Mum’s realm. Corridors of books and manuscripts. Often entire print runs would end up as semi-permanent towers squeezed behind doors. There would be a flow of interns, editors, accountants, publishers, authors and illustrators who themselves had become co-opted by Mum as part of the whirlwind carousel that was Canongate Publishing. It wasn’t that there was a massive number of books being published each year, but gradually the nest of home grown authors started to grow into a flock. Foreign titles, histories, really imaginative childrens books. Even….bestsellers…thank you Antonia Fraser, Jimmy Boyle, Alaisdar Gray for keeping Canongate afloat for these early years.
So Mum ended up through sheer chance at the centre of this Scottish literary revival in the 70’s when Edinburgh really felt like a cultural desert. However unlikely it seemed that someone from her background, with no higher education to speak of, with only a love of books and beauty and wild places, could pull this feat off. She did.
So we’re here to celebrate this tonight and we’re going to hear from those who worked closely with her as a publisher and a friend and were affected or influenced by her in some way. I can only say on behalf of my family that we have been quite simply overwhelmed and moved by the tributes and eulogies we have received from so many admirers from every walk of life. We all knew how special, how infuriating, how determined she was. Between ourselves we referred to her as the Boss. But she was also incredibly loving and kind and forgiving.
And I think that’s what’s going to stay with me into the future.
Many other people gave short talks at this memorial event to our mother, including Alexander McCall Smith, Alasdair Gray, Tom Pow and Jamie Byng. I will make available the audio recording soon.
- My mother’s notes from Montenegro - July 9, 2021
- Travel as a Way of Life - March 1, 2021
- Stephanie Wolfe Murray: elfin, beautiful, passionate, courageous - January 14, 2021
Dear Rupert & Kim (and all Wolfe-Murrays),
A lovely speech Kim. I was so sad not to be able to join you at the Book Festival. Thanks so much for sending the book about Stephanie. It’s terrific. I have so many happy childhood memories of wild mischief-making in the Borders with you, and of that crazy skiing holiday in Norway with Flora and Benjie. How any of us avoided serious injury is a big mystery.
With love and condolences
This is a beautiful tribute which captures the atmosphere and dynamic of life at home as well as Stehanie’s remarkable energy and drive which made Canongate so special. Thank you both, Kim and Rupert for sharing this, your Mum would be proud of you!
Am so sorry I could not get to the tribute to Stephanie at the book festival.
Would have been there if at all possible….the ticket is still tucked in beside the blackboard in my kitchen.
Your thoughts of Stephanie and Wolfe Murray life are very poignant,
bringing vibrant thoughts to mind. The joys of chaos, frenzied activity,..creative in every sense embraced by love and kindness will never be forgotten. Never mind the imminent calamities that never actually occurred
which probably fed the creative energy and speed like a hurricane.
There were quiet evenings at Glenternie too….by firesides inside and bonfires out.
One guy Fawkes with you on crutches. So many memories and so much love and kindness.
And of course Canongate.
Thank you Stephanie
A wonderful evocation of Stephanie – and Wolfe Murray life.
You summed up so well in this speech the creative – and chaotic – energy which marked Stephanie’s years, building Canongate.
It was a huge pleasure to hear you at the Book Festival.
Thank you both, Kim and Rupert, for putting the speech up here, so we can continue to savour its insights and wit.
What a lovely tribute. We are sorry we were unable to be present at the time, but very glad to have been able to read it. Well done!