Dr Islay Murray Donaldson died a year ago this month. I never met her, but through the generosity of her daughter Chris Roberts, I have a very strong connection with her. Last year Chris not only gave me her mother’s personal library (a complete collection of Crockett’s fiction) which now has pride of place on my bookshelf, but also her mother’s complete research archive. This month I thought it only right that I mention the gratitude I feel for the privilege of being made custodian of this library and archive.
The archive contains not only all the research material which went into the biography, but correspondence and most personal, the notes and thoughts compiled over many years in relation to Crockett. I am grateful that Dr Donaldson’s handwriting is much easier to read than Crockett’s! (in the pictures below his may look neater but believe me, it's very hard to read!)
I have only dipped into the many jotters and loose leaf pages of notes – but every time I do so, I come out with gold dust on my fingers. Of course it is nothing like as good as talking to Dr Donaldson would have been – but I’m grateful to have been given the next best thing – open access to her writing and thoughts about Crockett. I have been aware of Dr Donaldson’s biography of Crockett from the late 1990’s (a decade after it was published) and for the last few years a copy of it (I’ve been through a couple!) has been at my side constantly as a valuable resource and latterly aide memoir to all things Crockett. It is a seminal work and sadly went out of publication due to the demise of the Maxwell publishing empire. (That seems somewhat ironically appropriate for Crockett).
I am happy to say that next year Ayton Publishing will be bringing out a new edition of the biography, and it will include an additional chapter on Crockett’s writing for children. So I am currently reading my way through the seven stories Crockett wrote for children and they will be ready for publication this September (scheduled for Crockett’s birthday) and of course Dr Donaldson’s ‘lost chapter’ with her thoughts and arguments about them, is foremost in my mind. I will be writing short introductions to the books but once Dr Donaldson’s revised biography is published, readers will be able to engage even more purposefully with the works.
Her 'lost' chapter opens thus:
It is not surprising that Crockett in the 1990s, looking around as always for new styles in which to write, still very much a child. at heart while his own family was growing up around him, interested in Sunday Schools and work with the young and aware of the new market opened up by the 1876 Education Act and "the immediate creation of multitudes of potential
Among new customers for the bookshop, children, should have turned his mind towards writing for this fresh audience. What is perhaps more surprising is that his books for children should have been so lively, so original, and so little affected -- except in a humorous way -- by his having been a Free Church minister.
Dr Donaldson lists six Crockett books in her chapter – but I have added the posthumous ‘Rogues’ Island’ to the collection, since this is a semi-autobiographical story of Crockett’s own childhood and I felt it fitted in well with the six published during his lifetime.
As I look at the archive and my work schedule for the next 12 months, I am well aware than none of this would have been possible without the hard work of Dr Donaldson and the extreme kindness of her daughter in sharing so much of her mother with me. I thank them both and only hope I will prove worthy of the gifts they have given me.
Cally Phillips, April 2015