Margaret Frazer, In Memoriam
Sharon Kay Penman
I am writing this in memory of my friend Gail Frazer, who wrote her medieval mysteries under the name Margaret Frazer, for she has finally lost her long battle. Gail was my sister in all the ways that counted. We were Yorkists, fellow writers, animal lovers, wine lovers, bibliophiles, and shared the same fascination with history. She was much funnier than me, though, much funnier than the great majority of people on the planet. I’d not have been surprised to discover that she could trace her descent from Mark Twain. All that irreverence and irony had to come from somewhere, after all. She could laugh at almost anything, including herself, even death. She was as courageous as any warrior, fighting cancer for twenty years, giving no quarter. She joked that her mantra was one she’d stolen from Han Solo, “Never tell me the odds!” She also took a perverse pleasure in defying her doctors, who were, she reported gleefully, baffled that she was still alive. She rescued stray cats and wayward friends. She loved fiercely and had no patience with the pompous or the pretentious, skewering writers who did not do their research, describing their sloppy sort of work as “Mary Jane visits the castle.”
Her books were a delight to read, for her wit and intelligence shone through on every page. She was not a Catholic, but don’t tell that to Sister Frevisse, her austere medieval nun, who yearned only to serve God, although Gail kept dragging corpses into her peaceful convent. Her dashing spy and sometime player, Joliffe, is probably closer to Gail’s own nature, for he took nothing in life all that seriously, especially himself. She had the imagination to create both chillingly believable villains and the heartbreakingly vulnerable people they victimized. She was almost as ruthless as George R.R. Martin about killing her characters off; my mother never quite forgave her for The Servant’s Tale. It would have been fascinating to see what she could have done with Elizabeth of York, the subject of her next novel; Henry Tudor would have been verbally eviscerated before he even knew what was happening.
Her books are only one of her legacies, though. She touched so many lives. She lives on in her sons and in her books and in the memories of all those who loved her, and we are legion. The world will be a darker place without her. But for those of you who’ve not yet had the pleasure of reading her novels, there is still time. And what better way can a writer be remembered than to be read?
This piece first appeared on Sharon Kay Penman’s blog, and is reproduced here with her permission.