Margaret Mackie Morrison (March Cost)
Born: 19 April 1897, Partick, Lanarkshire
Died: 7 February 1973, St Christopher’s Hospital, Sydenham
Cremated: 14 February 1973, Tunbridge Wells Crematorium
Margaret Mackie Morrison was a successful Scottish author (also known as her pseudonym of March Cost). She lived in Tunbridge Wells for at least 20 years and it was said she ‘added so greatly to the charm and culture of Tunbridge Wells’. Margaret was described as a highly intelligent and cultured woman and all of her 4 siblings were novelists. Tatler (21 August 1935) wrote that ‘the Americans… described [her] as “the Garbo of the literary world’”.
She studied drawing and painting at the Glasgow School of Art and turned to writing after leaving Sir Frank Benson’s Shakespearian Company due to ill health. She travelled to Europe and the US with books sold in the US and UK. A number were translated for publication in the Netherlands, France and Germany. She is known to have designed some of her book covers herself but Rex Whistler was commissioned to design the jacket cover for her first novel ‘A Man Named Luke’.
Published in 1932 it was widely acclaimed:
Montrose Review, 7 October 1932: This is rather an amazing, but nevertheless strikingly original, book. It is the work of a genius, though some people will find its curious mixture of realism and fantasy beyond their comprehension. It is exquisitely written. Those who read this book will never forget it.
However, on17 September 1932, the Sphere reviewer (Cecil Roberts) commented: I have to confess I am completely bewildered by Miss March Costs’ novel A Man Named Luke. It is something of a tour de force but my judgement is prejudiced by the general disorder of the story. It is a brave and gigantic adventure Miss Cost has made. Miss Cost spreads an immense canvas. Some of her characters are too crude. But in conception and execution this is a brave work, and owes nothing to any other writer in its extreme originality.
Her novel named ‘Rachel: An Interpretation’ was an 8 year project from 1939 (4 years in research). She largely wrote it during the bombardment of London, moving from a gutted flat and bombed house with her manuscript and books in a suitcase.
Her first connection to Tunbridge Wells was found in 1953 (when she was living at 23c Broadwater Down). She died in 1973 when she was living at Chancellor House, Mount Ephraim after moving from Court Lodge, Nevill Park in the mid- to late-1960s.
The stolen statue of the Dancing Girl in Dunorlan Park inspired a character and opening scenes in her novel ‘By the Angel, Islington’. When she speaks of Speldarch Waters she’s referring to Tunbridge Wells.
In an interview published in the Kent & Sussex Courier on 1 September 1972 she stated that “I work all the time. I get my business mail out of the way and then I get on with it”. She wrote 7 days a week and often worked late into the night. She described how her pseudonym (March Cost) was selected at a time when it was still commercially prudent to write under a man’s name; ‘“They all thought I was a man” she said with glee’.
There’s an interesting request in her Will – she instructed that Thomas, her brother, should take the letters in a sealed packet locked in her room and deposit them at the NatWest bank, Regent St, in safe custody for 50 years after her death.
It appears that these might be held by the National Library of Scotland or Boston Library as they hold some of her papers and manuscripts but both libraries are unable to verify whether they are the same items.