Christine Marion Fraser

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Christine Marion Fraser, novelist

Born: 1945, in Govan Died: 22 November, 2002, in Inverclyde Royal Hospital

LIKE Catherine Cookson, whose novels her own outsold in Scotland, Christine Marion Fraser overcame the vicissitudes of extreme poverty and illness in her early years to write stories which enthralled readers throughout the world and made her one of the most-borrowed Scottish authors in Britain’s libraries.

Born in Govan and reared there in a cramped tenement flat, she was the second youngest of nine children. At the age of ten, she contracted a series of serious illnesses, and a rare bone condition left her unable to stand. Although she occasionally attended special school, she was effectively self-educated.

She started writing at the age of 12, driven by a sense of determination she said she inherited from her shipyard worker father and the story-telling ability that she had shown ever since she was six. Sitting alone in a rocking chair in the kitchen, while her siblings were out of the house, she began with a series of schoolgirl stories, which she sent off to a publisher. Although they were turned down, her resolve was unshaken.

Further hardships followed. By the time she was 18, the family had moved to Castlemilk, which she found even more oppressive than Govan, and she was working as a machinist in a knitwear factory to support her family. Her mother had died after a long illness a year previously; within a couple of years, her father would die too.

"I think that obstacles in your life make you stronger," she once observed. "I had no-one to lean on, I had to be independent, I had to be tough inside."

The way out of this Dickensian adolescence came through meeting her husband, Ken Ashfield, an able-bodied volunteer with the Disabled Drivers Association. They married when she was 21, and moved to Argyll, where he encouraged her ambition to write. In 1978, her first book, Rhanna, was published, and their world changed.

Seven other books in the series, about a fictional Hebridean island, followed. So too did King’s Croft, which started a five-book series tracing the story of the Grant family in the north-east, and Noble Beginnings, the first in a three-book series about a 19th-century Argyll mill-owner. And so too did Blue Above the Chimneys, the first volume of her three-part autobiography, in which she charted her thrawn path to success.

For success it was. Without the help of heavy marketing, virtually ignored by the literary pages, her books had broken through the invisible barrier that Scottish themes seem to pose to an English readership. In reality, she always insisted, there was no such barrier, and that prejudice against Scottishness only existed in the minds of publishers, not the public.

Her sales figures bear that out. Word-of-mouth recommendation alone isn’t responsible for those three million-plus sales, but it’s probably the biggest factor. The same holds true even more so among library readers: in February this year, Public Lending Right figures showed her to be the 75th most-borrowed author, fiction or non-fiction, in Britain.

As the books moved through the formats, and into audiotape and large print, so her readership grew. Mail started arriving from all parts of the world, so much of it that her husband gave up his job as a graphic artist so he could help answer the daily shoal of letters.

The house those letters (and many of her fans) arrived at is a former manse on the southernmost tip of the Cowal peninsula, overlooking Arran and the Kyles of Bute. When they moved there, there was only one name they could give to it. Rhanna.

Christine Marion Fraser (Ashfield) is survived by her husband, Kenneth, daughter, Tracey, and two grandchildren.

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