Coghlan, Margaret M. 1920-

views updated

COGHLAN, Margaret M. 1920-

(Jessica Stirling)

PERSONAL: Born January 26, 1920, in Glasgow, Scotland; daughter of Arthur and Jane (McBrien) Walls; married Eugene O. Coghlan; children: Janice A., Rosemary M. Coghlan Gilchrist. Religion: Roman Catholic.

ADDRESSES: Home—109 Mugdock Rd., Milngavie, Dunbartonshire, Scotland.

CAREER: Writer.

MEMBER: International P.E.N., Association of Scottish Writers (founding member), Glasgow Writers Club (past president).



Spoiled Earth, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1974.

Strathmore, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1975.

The Dresden Finch, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1976.

Beloved Sinner, Pan Books, 1976.

Hiring Fair, Pan Books, 1976.

Call Home the Heart, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1977.

The Dark Pasture, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1978.

The Drums of Time, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1979.

Deep Well at Noon, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1979.

Blue Evening Gone, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1982.

The Gates of Midnight, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1983.

Treasures on Earth, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1985.

Creature Comforts, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.

Hearts of Gold, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1987.

The Good Provider, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1988.

The Asking Price, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1989.

The Wise Child, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.

The Welcome Light, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1991.

A Lantern for the Dark, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.

Shadows on the Shore, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.

The Penny Wedding, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.

The Marrying Kind, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.

The Workhouse Girl, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.

The Island Wife, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

The Wind from the Hills, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.

The Strawberry Season, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Prized Possessions, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2001.

The Piper's Tune, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS: Under her pseudonym Jessica Stirling, Scottish writer Margaret Coghlan crafts romantic novels that have historical settings, set primarily in Scotland. In A Lantern for the Dark, for instance, unmarried Clare Kelso faces trial in 1787 Glasgow for the poisoning of her infant son. Taking her case is attorney Cameron Adams, who suspects that Clare is not the perpetrator of this crime after he learns that the baby's father, Frederick Striker, has vanished. A Publishers Weekly critic cited Stirling for creating "fully realized characters against the background of a greedy and corrupt society operating under a thin veneer of respectability."

Clare Kelso appears again in Shadows on the Shore, set some years later against the backdrop of the archetypical "dark and stormy night" on the Scottish coast. The storm, wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor, heralds the return of Frederick Striker, the womanizing rogue who disappeared during the murder trial of the previous tale. By now Clare has risen up in the world to become mistress of Headrick House, and she is ready to "[exact] her revenge," said the reviewer. Again, the author was praised for "dry wit and humorous characterizations" that suggest Stirling "is a deft practitioner of the [historical romance] genre." "A stunning sequel" is how Booklist's Denise Perry Donavin characterized Shadows on the Shore.

Stirling traveled forward in time for The Penny Wedding, set during Depression-era working-class Scotland. Seventeen-year-old Alison Burnside faces calamity when her mother dies and her father loses his job; the young woman believes she must now forego her dream of attending medical school. But an intervention by Alison's favorite teacher, Jim Abbott, saves her career—and opens her life to romance. The Burnside family saga continues in The Marrying Kind, which finds Alison too caught up in her medical studies to notice that her fiancée, Jim Abbott, is suffering from tuberculosis. "While Jim languishes in a sanitarium," noted Margaret Flanagan of Booklist, "he and Alison must both reevaluate the true depth of their commitment to each other." The pre-World War II setting of The Marrying Kind juxtaposes Alison's personal crisis with the rise of the Nazi regime and its eventual effect on Great Britain. Employing themes of class conflict, war and feminism, said a critic for Publishers Weekly, Stirling "expertly guides [her characters] through the growing pains of the heart into genuine maturity."

The author is in "top form," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, in The Workhouse Girl. This 1997 novel is set in Victorian Scotland, where wealthy young Cassie Armitage is attracted to the new minister in her parish, though she finds a romantic rivalry in the form of her younger sister, Pippa. Though it is Cassie whom the Reverend Montague ultimately marries, their life together does not bode well, as Montague abuses his wife and carries on an affair with Pippa. In a related subplot, the "workhouse girl" of the title, Nancy Winfield, "shares the story's center stage and is as engaging and likeable as her wealthy counterpart," commented Booklist's Alice Joyce.

In The Island Wife, the rough and rugged Scottish island of Mull provides the setting for another pair of nineteenth-century sisters, Innis and Biddy Campbell, both of whom are kept under the strict hand of their mother, Vassie. The girls' Protestant upbringing does not prepare them for the arrival of neighbors who hire handsome young shepherd Michael—a Catholic—to work for them. What's more, "the wall Vassie is building will no more keep him away from her daughters than it will keep the encroaching sheep off her cattle's grazing land," as a Publishers Weekly reviewer put it. Library Journal critic Andrea Lee Shuey labeled Stirling "an excellent storyteller" in this book, noting that The Island Wife was the first of a proposed trilogy "that will leave readers eagerly awaiting the second installment."

Readers did not have to wait too long, as The Wind from the Hills was published in 1999. No longer poor, Innis and Biddy face drastically different personal lives. Innis, who has converted to Catholicism to marry Michael, "doggedly obeys her sour and silent" husband, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Meanwhile, Biddy is a wealthy but childless widow who finds herself at the edge of a possible new romance. "This enjoyable installment is focused more on plot and less on dark themes," noted Catherine Sias of Booklist, and "is sure to entrance Stirling's many fans." The Strawberry Season wraps up the trilogy. Now it is 1908, and the sisters meet a newcomer to Mull island, the pregnant runaway wife Fay Ludlow. Biddy rejects Fay, but Innis takes her in because "the husband Fay escaped is none other than her son, Gavin," as Patty Engelmann put it in Booklist. A Publishers Weekly contributor lauded this work as a "loving chronicle of the hopes and fears of a close knit island community" and concluded that Stirling "provides a pleasing vacation into the past."

The coming of the twenty-first century saw Stirling producing more historical novels. In 2002's The Piper's Tune, Edwardian-age Lindsay Franklin finds herself an unexpected shipping magnate after her grandfather wills her a share in the family business. Complications ensue when a distant cousin, Forbes McCulloch, arrives in Scotland with an eye toward taking over the family business and marrying Lindsey. A writer for Publishers Weekly commented that The Piper's Tune transcends a "formulaic love story" by virtue of Stirling's "bang-up job . . . illustrating how character shapes a person's life."



Booklist, March 15, 1994, Denise Perry Donavin, review of Shadows on the Shore, p. 1329; May 1, 1995, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Penny Wedding, p. 1554; June 1, 1996, Flanagan, review of The Marrying Kind, p. 1677; June 1, 1997, Alice Joyce, review of The Workhouse Girl, p. 1664; September 15, 1998, Sally Estes, review of The Marrying Kind, p. 220; November 15, 1998, Catherine Sias, review of The Island Wife, p. 568; December 15, 1999, Sias, review of The Wind from the Hills, p. 758; November 1, 2000, Patty Engelmann, review of The Strawberry Season, p. 522; June 1, 2001, Patty Engelmann, review of Prized Possessions, p. 1850.

Library Journal, November 15, 1998, Andrea Lee Shuey, review of The Island Wife, p. 92.

Publishers Weekly, July 6, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of The Wise Child, p. 60; April 20, 1992, review of A Lantern for the Dark, p. 37; February 14, 1994, review of Shadows on the Shore, p. 80; June 3, 1996, review of The Marrying Kind, p. 63; May 26, 1997, review of The Workhouse Girl, p. 65; November 2, 1998, review of The Island Wife, p. 72; November 22, 1999, review of The Wind from the Hills, p. 43; October 30, 2000, review of The Strawberry Season, p. 45; March 11, 2002, review of The Piper's Tune, p. 51.*

About this article

Coghlan, Margaret M. 1920-

Updated About content Print Article