More surprises

Following on from my blog of two days ago…  In England on that first day, we passed Oxford and headed for Charlbury where I had arranged  to meet with publisher Edward Fenton of Day Books. Sheila Stewart’s fascinating book Lifting the Latch: Life on the land (in which the single subject, Old Mont Abbott, tells his story for himself about his unusual life experience,) is a Day Books publication. Sadly, Sheila Stewart died late last year. Edward, whom I have communicated with for years via email, had kindly offered to introduce me to some of Sheila’s family and other people who knew Old Mont, and show me around Sheila Stewart and Old Mont country.

Below: Edward (right) is standing and talking to Martin Dodds (left), Sheila Stewart’s beloved son-in-law, about Sheila’s book.  When we pulled up in the car, Martin had been in his workshop where he makes exquisite pieces of bespoke furniture in the old tradition. I had a good chat with Martin Dodds about Sheila Stewart’s portrayal of Old Mont in Lifting the Latch.


To my surprise, Charlbury was little more than a two-hour run by car from Heathrow; but since I had not eaten breakfast and it had taken us most of the morning to clear the car rental (not to mention the round-about at Heathrow), after an hour or so of driving my excitement at meeting with Edward face-to-face at long last, and visiting all the places Old Mont mentions in his story, was over-ridden by hunger.

For as long as I can remember I have known that England is an ancient land, old, old, old. Yet the full realisation of its “oldness” didn’t really hit me until we stopped at an old country pub, The Turnpike Inn, for a traditional (and very delicious) English lunch. The owner informed me that the inn was well-over 750 years old and was once called The Grapes, and, in past eras, had been a favourite meeting place for the literary greats and their circles of friends.



Coming from Australia, 250 years seemed old to me. I have looked at convict-built roads and buildings and touched their stones, feeling a thrill course through me along with the knowledge that by running my hand over old, old marble and sandstone surfaces which had been handled by convicts and touched by the gentry, I was making a connection with those long-dead people and communing with the past.


Above: Somehow, in England, I could not get my head around sitting in The Turnpike Inn, a place that was over 750 years old, a place where great literary figures had eaten and talked and downed their cidar or whatever they drank back then, and there was I, all these many hundreds of years later, a barely known writer, sitting in a room with the  ghosts of many great writers while I was eating my lunch and gazing out the same windows they too had looked out from, and thinking to myself, “How wonderful is this?” And all the time wishing that they would all come back to life and stand before me so I could interview them personally at length. What a great piece of research that would be!

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2 Responses to More surprises

  1. jobl761mk3 says:

    Oh, my goodness! I was wondering how to get in touch with Edward Fenton …. and there you are! I first got to know about Sheila Stewart via his obit in The Guardian and was quite fascinated by her life story. This led to a more detailed obit in The Telegraph … and so to her books. I have managed to get hold of ‘Lifting the Latch’ and ‘Ramlin Rose’ and are at the top of my reading list. In the Telegraph obit, some one mentioned that ‘Home from Home’ was not available and hoped that her heirs would get it republished. A certain Tim Stewart replied to this, but my latest foray turned one just one used copy for USD 547.00!!

    I would dearly like to know if your conversations with Mr. Fenton covered republishing her books.

    I would write directly to him, but I would like to hear from you first.

    Thanks for the superb blog. I have bookmarked it.

    My email address is ,

    Awaiting your response.


    • digipixijo says:

      I’m sorry to say that Shelia Stewart’s memoir “A Home from Home” is not available on the market other than for that one collector’s copy. There is, however, one copy available for loan to those entitled to do so, from the closed stack collections of the Auchmuty Library at the University of Newcastle, Australia.
      It was not widely known, or indeed even known to many in the publishing trade, that Sheila Stewart had written her memoir, and that “A Home from Home” had once been in print.
      It was me who first made Edward Fenton aware of the book. He may have learnt more about this book afterwards. I do know he does not and has not published any of Sheila’s books other than “lifting the Latch.”
      I myself own all of Sheila Stewart books bar one, her memoir “A Home from Home,’ and I have over the years made world-wide searches for this book as I also would dearly love to obtain a copy.
      I first came to hear of Sheila Stewart when I was researching for my PhD dissertation. My supervisor, Professor Hugh Craig of the University of Newcastle, Australia, introduced me to Sheila Stewart’s books, “Lifting the Latch: life on the land,” and “Ramlin Rose: the boatwoman’s story,” and I researched for other works from there. Sheila Stewart is one of the three writers I researched and wrote on extensively for my PhD dissertation “Creative Empathy: how writers take experience not their own and turn it into literary nonfiction,” and which is about a rare form of writing, an unusual way of writing lives, that I have defined as literary docu-memoir.
      I hope this has been of some help,

      Best wishes and happy researching from Words for Sam


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