Author Tags: War
Melanie Murray is a professor of literature, composition and creative writing at Okanagan College in Kelowna, BC. She holds a BA, BEd and MA in English, and a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing.
Published on Robert Burns Day, January 25th, Melanie Murray's second book, Should Auld Acquaintance: Discovering the Woman Behind Robert Burns (Nightwood 2017) is a portrait of the Scottish poet's wife, "bonie" Jean Armour, who herself was a talented but under-appreciated literary artist. Armour and Burns met and married at the village of Mauchline, then had a failed farm in Ellisland. They ultimately resided in Dumfries. Murray reveals her a resilient and passionate character who overcame abandonment, the loss of her children, and the instability of her philandering husband. Murray goes so far as to assert that Burns would never have produced songs and verses without Armour’s education and musical talent. By analysing poems, letters and stories, Murray seeks to convince the reader that “the Belle of Mauchline” was a fascinating literary and historical figure.
“I’m sure that without Jean, we wouldn’t have the body of work from Burns hat we have today,” says Murray, “Everyone who knows Burns, knows Bonie Jean, but that doesn’t tell the story.”
Murray’s focus on Armour dates back five years, when she was in Scotland researching her first book, For Your Tomorrow, the Way of An Unlikely Soldier. That’s the story of her Scottish nephew Jeff Francis, an affluent Ph.D candidate and student of Buddhism, who served – and died – in the armed forces in Afghanistan. Being a fan of Burns, and with some time on her hands, she went to Mauchline, where Burns and Armour met, and visited the graveyard where their four daughters were buried.
“Knowing the grief my sister felt over her son’s death, I found myself thinking about the grief that Jean must have felt losing her four daughters. I couldn’t stop thinking about her.”
Five years of research, tracing the steps of Armour and Burns, visiting the towns and homes where they lived, resulted in the book – and Murray’s intense respect for Armour. Burns died at age 36. Armour was 31 with six children to raise. She lived another 35 years. “She was giving birth to her last child as he was being buried,” Murray notes. “She was a strong, passionate, resilient woman.”
“I wanted to give her a voice,” says Murray. “I want people to think about her story.”
Murray’s book is not a traditional biography: “It’s creative non-fiction. After going to these places, I wanted to take the facts and bring them to life, so I introduced myself into the story as a narrator. I really feel close to her and I feel I really know her. Hence the title…”
For Your Tomorrow: The Way of an Unlikely Soldier (Random House, 2011) 978-0-307-35978-0 $29.95
Should Auld Acquaintance (Nightwood Editions 2017) 978-0-88971-328-4 $22.95