Saturday, 21 February 2015

Raymond Sheppard and The Hunted Head by Olivia Fitzroy (Part One)

Dustjacket to "The Hunted Head" 1956

I own a copy of "The Island of Birds" (1954) by Olivia FitzRoy (who died in 1969 at the young age of 48) but it's a proof copy with no dustjacket. But I do have a copy of her sequel, which involved the same characters, Jean and James Stewart, and she used them again in three other books which Sheppard did not illustrate: Orders to Poach, Steer By The Stars, and House In The Hills - all three of which are currently published by Vanessa Robertson's imprint Fidra Books . I had no reply to an email I sent to Vanessa regarding using some of her FitzRoy biography so I hope this promotion of her reprints may lead her to forgive me if i have used any of her facts.

The thistle looks like Sheppard's work

Olivia FitzRoy was born on 27 May in 1921, one of five sisters and, as long as I have the right person, she was popular as a bridesmaid being mentioned in The Times in July 1930 and twice in 1931. In 1943 she is mentioned as having attended her sister Mary's wedding to Anthony Dermot Musker. She is also listed as a Godmother to their first child in 1943.

Olivia's turn came when The Times announced the engagement of Sir Geoffrey Bates, Baronet and Miss O. FitzRoy on 11 July 1957 and their wedding on 31 July at Bardwell, Suffolk. Bates lived in Chester and FitzRoy, it states, lived in Uppingham, Rutland so I'd love to think they met at some social occasion. The wedding took place at St. Peter and St. Paul Bardwell (north-east of Bury St Edmunds) at 2.30pm. Olivia's full name is given as "Miss Olivia Gwyneth Zoƫ FitzRoy, second daughter of the Captain the Hon. R.O. and Mrs FitzRoy". Her father was mentioned in despatches "for services as Captain of HMS Rodney during the Invasion of Normandy".


This overview hides the tragedies that Geoffrey Bates and Olivia's stories included. She lost a fighter pilot boyfriend - a blogger shares a poem she wrote expressing her sorrow  - and he lost his first wife Kitty in 1956 after only 11 years of marriage. His first wife died suddenly after a minor operation, while one of his daughters was killed by a car when walking along a road. Geoffrey saw heroic action in Egypt in 1941, saving his squadron in an act of bravery but also made an almost fatal mistake whilst fighting. On Christmas Eve 1969, when Olivia died of cancer at the age of 48, he still had his four children and Gyrn Castle, Holywell, Clwyd to run. As the North Wales Daily Post tells us in his obituary he remarried only to lose his third wife, whom he married in 1971, Juliet Whitelocke, who died in 2003. A tragic family story.

The Hunted Head, p.15
James and Jean lead a horse home

But back in somewhat happier times she spent her summers in Inverewe, on the coast of the far northwest of mainland Scotland. To quote Fidra Books

Olivia’s younger sister, Barbara, tells how all the family were avid readers and, as shopping opportunities in the Highlands were limited, Olivia wrote Orders to Poach to entertain her younger sisters, based on their own large family and the activities with which they occupied themselves, although Carrick House and the Lodge are imaginary. Orders to Poach was published in 1942 and six more books concerning the Stewart family appeared during the 1940s and ‘50s. During the War, Olivia served in the WRNS as a fighter direction officer, stationed first at Yeovilton and later in Ceylon. Apparently, she would write in freezing aircraft hangers, huddled in an overcoat. After the war, when she lost a boyfriend who was a fighter-pilot, she travelled with Chipperfield’s Circus, later basing Wagons and Horses on her experiences, before moving to a croft in Scotland where she lived for most of the early 1950s. Olivia had little time for writing after she married Sir Geoffrey Bates in 1957 but continued to hunt and went stalking in Scotland whenever possible. She had two daughters, Celina and Sarah, and died of cancer in 1969 at only 48. In a tragically short life, Olivia wrote a number of marvellous books and some beautiful poetry. Her sister Barbara says of their somewhat unconventional education: “I feel sure that Olivia would never have had so much originality of thought and style if she had had to conform at school.”

The Hunted Head, p.19
James is helped up

The Hunted Head, p.27
A deerhound

The Hunted Head, p.31
"Along the drove-road a little cavalcade was approaching"
Girl and boy and deerhound in doorway look as riders approach them

The Hunted Head, p.37
Man wearing Tam O'Shanter talks to girl 

The Hunted Head, p.44
Naked toddler in the Loch

The Hunted Head, p.45
JGirl dreams leaning her head on her hands 
Part Two to follow....\

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