Susan Howatch- a writer to get addicted to


You don’t hear much about Susan Howatch   these last few years and I think it’s a shame. If you love a book or a series of books to really get your teeth into, you can’t do better than discover this author.

I first came across her books when I was an undergraduate and my flatmate loaned me The Rich are Different, Sins of the Fathers and a few others. I enjoyed them a great deal, even though I am not especially fond of historical or period fiction.

The next time I crossed paths with Ms Howatch was when my husband was at theological college and I was undergoing something of a protracted breakdown of sorts. Her Starbridge series of novels gave me some relief from the emotional anguish I was in, partly due to the novels being about the very structure(the Church of England) I was battling to survive, but mainly due to the strength of the characters and the power of the stories: 

The action of all six books centers around the fictional Anglican diocese of Starbridge, which corresponds to the real life dicoese of Bath and Wells with the city of Salisbury(Starbridge) at its centre supposedly in the west of England, and also features the Fordite monks, an Anglican monastic order that has no direct paralell in real life. They remind me a little of the Franciscans, though.

The first three books of the Starbridge series (Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers, Ultimate Prizes) start during the 1930s, and continue through the  war. The second three (Scandalous Risks, Mystical Paths, Absolute Truths) take place in the 1960s.

Glittering Images is narrated by the Reverend Dr. Charles Ashworth, a Cambridge academic who undergoes something of a spiritual and nervous breakdown after being sent as a sort of spy, under the guise of interviewing  the Bishop of Starbridge. The Archbishop of Canterbury suspects that there is a steamy menage a trois going on in the Bishop’s household.After a very public meltdown, Ashworth is helped to recover, and to realize the source of his problems, by Father Jonathan Darrow, the widowed abbot of Grantchester Abbey of the Fordite Monks.

Glamorous Powers follows the story of Jonathan Darrow himself as he leaves the Fordite Order at age sixty following a powerful vision of a new future for him.. He then must deal with his adult children’s problems, address the question of a new intimate relationship, and search for a new ministry. His particular crisis surrounds the use and misuse of his charismatic powers of healing, and his unsettling mystical visions, or “showings”. This is the hardest book for people with no experience of such things to take on board.

Ultimate Prizes takes place during World War II. It is narrated by Neville Aysgarth, Archdeacon of Starbridge. From a working class background in the north of England Aysgrath has had a meteoric rise to power. After being widowed from his childhood sweetheart and remarried to an eccentric but fascinating society woman from way outside his class , he too undergoes something of a meltdown but also rescued by Jonathan Darrow.

Scandalous Risks follows Aysgarth to a Canonry of Westminster Abbey and back to Starbridge, where he becomes Dean of the Cathedral and Ashworth becomes Bishop.  Unlike the other stories, this is the first one to be narrated by an outsider to the church, Venetia Flaxton, a young aristocrat who risks great scandal by beginning a strange relationship with the married Aysgarth, her father’s best friend. Venetia falls obsessively in love with Aysgarth and is faced at the end with some terrible choices.

Mystical Paths follows Nicholas Darrow, son of Jonathan, in his quest to stay away from dangerous paths. It’s the only story so far with a muder mystery theme, which takes a different tack to all the others so far. It also deals with Nick’s difficult relationship to his now elderly father.     

Absolute Truths brings the cycle full circle and is narrated by a much more elderly but still troubled Charles Ashworth, thirty one years after we  encounter him in the first of the books. Charles’ life is far from what he wanted it to be and his search for peace nearly costs him everything.

Well I was blown away. I read them cover-to-cover and hungered after the next release in paperback. I understand she managed to upset quite a few people in Salisbury which is the town Starbridge is based upon, but the stories were so very powerful indeed…..

Then after a hiatus of a few years came the St. Benet’s trilogy:

The St. Benet’s trilogy takes place in London of the 1980s and 1990s. Again, the changes which took place in the Anglican Church in those years are startling and the stories brings back some of  the characters in the Starbridge series.There is an increased emphasis on characters who are not members of the clergy though to be honest, the Churh looms large constantly.

A Question of Integrity (given the title The Wonder Worker in the United States), continues the story of Nicholas Darrow fifteen years after the last of the Starbridge novels. Nick is now rector of a church in the City of London where he runs a center for the ministry of healing. Alice Fletcher, a young woman in turmoil happens upon the healing centre Nick runs and becomes a volunteer there. Nick’s own life is greatly affected by events taking place at the center, he is forced to reassess his beliefs and commitments as a result. Much of the story is told in the words of Alice, but the narrators takes turns. It makes for an interesting change every so often in the book.

The High Flyer narrates the story of a female City lawyer, Carter Graham(changed from Catriona to make it more masculine). Her outwardly successful life, complete with highly compensated career and suitable marriage, undergoes profound changes after strange occult tinged events begin to occur, which show that all is not well in her life.

Finally, The Heartbreaker follows the life of Gavin Blake, a charismatic male prostitute specializing in powerful, influential male clients, who finds his world spiralling out of control when he realises he is himself at the center of a criminal empire and must fight to save his life. Meanwhile, both Graham and Darrow must deal with their own weaknesses in trying to help Gavin. This is by far the raciest and most shocking of the books, and strangely one of the most touching.

Hooked yet? I was.

Susan Howatch is one of the very tiny number of authors whom I have actually written to; like the lady she is, she replied to all my letters with thoughtful, handwritten replies that I keep and treasure. I’m not a reader who has a great tendancy to worship or set on a pedestal the authors whose work I enjoy. I am quite happy for them to be almost anonymous, really.   In her last reply to me, she said she wanted to give up writing and indeed, there hasn’t been a new book from her in some years. I understand that, though it makes me sad. I understand because the scope and complexity and sheer range of subject and emotional exploration she has covered in her many books is so immense that surely it would have to be something entirely out of the usual to get her to start the whole process again.

Anyway, go and get addicted!

179 thoughts on “Susan Howatch- a writer to get addicted to

  1. Much to my shame, it is the first time I’ve heard about this author. I immediately checked the google pages for Bulgaria and found out that some of her books have been translated and are available on our market. From what you have written, and also because I’m convinced I can trust your taste in books completely, I got quite interested and will try to get hold of whatever is available in my country.

    • I am addicted. Ilove these books like no other. I actually almost read them in a continious loop. I have read each of the starbridge series 4-5 times, except glamorous powers which I need to buy. ( read it once) . I keep them by my bed, let just enough time go by that it can seem fresh and read it as I go to bed. I love dipping into that world from Baltimore, MD 2010. Howatch is amazing- i see connections anew in each re-reading. I have never adored a series like this before. Its inexplicable.

      • There is both depth and breadth in the books and also, for you in Baltimore, almost something exotic about the English clerical world. For me, the whole world, including that of exorcism was familiar(my husband is a clergyman) and I can see how accurate it was.
        Thank you for visiting. I hope you don’t think me pushy but maybe check out my recent book , as I think my material and style might be something you might enjoy too. I have written a seocn book that you can also see by clicking the link on my name. It’s also available in the US at Amazon US. After all, Ms Howatch has set her mind on stopping writing and finding other writers you like to might help keep those of hers still fresh for you for longer.
        best wishes,

  2. I will definitely find some of her books and come back to this post.

    But right now I have a few more pages to finish “The Bet” … in between translations. :-)

  3. I am slow to respond — the last week has sort of felt like walking in chest-high water.

    Like you, I’ve read all of the Starbridge series and loved them — and only the first of the latter — thanks to you, I now know I’ve two more to enjoy.

    Susan was the one to first introduce me to the world of spiritual direction — and twenty years later, here I am — a trained spiritual director. I bought my first in Heidelberg Germany — Scandalous Risks. The book gripped me from beginning to its all too quick end.

    Of late, I have been hungry to dive back into that first series and read them one after another — maybe after I finish my capstone project I will. In the meantime, I’m going to Amazon to find those two I’ve missed.

    Thanks Viv.

  4. I fully agree with you, Susan Howagtch is one of the few authors one reads time and time again. Presently I’m reading her Glittering Images for the sixth (seventh?) time. What a writer… She should be far better known than she acually is.

    Being a author myself (on the unbelievable topic of Han van Meegeren, Masterforger) I’m completely aware how skilfull she handles and describes her scenes. Such authors are rare, extremely rare.

    I had also the experience of writing to her and receiving very kind and lengty answers.

    Thank you for promoting her,

    Frederik H. Kreuger
    biographer of Han van Meegeren

    • Hi Frederik,
      I haven’t even heard of Han Van Meergeren, so he must be hard to research!
      I’d like to think that my own books have some of the same qualities; so my readers tell me anyway.
      thanks for dropping by. It’s nice to meet another fan.

      • I have just read your website and realised I knew OF him even if I didn’t recall the name. What talent!

  5. Thank you for your review of Susan Howatch. My husband and I are both huge fans (her is a clergyman). I’ve read all of her works including her older fiction. The Wheels of Fortune is among my favorites of her earlier work. Much, much better than the Rich are Different and Sins of the Fathers. I just didn’t ever like Dinah and really couldn’t find any sympathy for her, even at the end.

    Something Howatch has taught me over the years is that we can never truly know another. Powerful insight. Her blend of religion, psychology, and mysticism are right on target.

    We’ve read through the Starbidge Series multiple times. Neville is my least favorite character. Nicholas and Charles are my favorites and I love the St. Benet’s series. I’m sorry to hear from this article that she won’t be writing again. I was waiting for Nicholas’ ministry to begin at the house at Starington Manor.

    • Thank you for the feedback Shelly. My husband is a clergyman too, though not in parish work now.
      I wasn’t keen on Dinah either.
      There is a yahoo group for Howatch fans, if you aren’t already a member.
      When she wrote she didnt want to write any more I sensed a deep weariness in her. It’s a shame but as a writer myself I know we go through these times and often, given time, we come out the other end. I think there are many writers out there who would say the same. I had about 8 years where I gave up writing altogether but in the last years I came back to it and my first published novel came out earlier this year(see sidebar if it’s of interest). I think the pressure for famous writers is very heavy at times and maybe easier to walk away entirely than do things piecemeal.
      On another note, I did actually spend a couple of holidays in recent years on the Gower peninsula, scene of The Wheel of Fortune and even walked the Shipway across to the Worm’s Head. I recommend it heartily(but wear good shoes!)

      • Viv
        Very reassuring to read your post because there have been some ghastly rumours going around the internet including that Susan Howatch no longer writes because she is in an irreversible coma as the result of diabetes! Also that she gave up writing as her last book was considered a “flop” as it was not the sort of thing she usually wrote about.
        I have always been a huge admirer of her books going right back to when Penmarric first came out, it was the first of her books I ever read and as my grandfather was in the TV mini series made it has always held a special place in my heart. I also never grow tired of reading Wheel of Fortune but to be truthful I will never grow tired of reading any of her books.
        If you still write to her please pass that on for me as not knowing where to write to her I can’t… and I hope she is finding life fulfilling whatever she now does to fill her days.
        Best wishes
        Dee Redmond

      • Hi Dee,
        I have not heard the rumours but given the number of search engine hits here, every day, people are wondering what has happened to her. I have not been in contact for almost four years and maybe I should drop her a line sometime.
        It is a real pleasure to have you visit here; I am sorry I have not replied before but I was ill in hospital when your comment came through, and am recuperating slowly now. Do hope you will visit again. The fact that your grandfather was in the Tv series is another link to a great writer.

  6. As mentioned on Twitter – so glad I’ve found a fellow admirer and I never knew about the final 3 novels so have them to look forward to. How lucky you are to have corresponded with the author of such a wonderful series of novels.

    • She was lovely; I think she replies to everyone who writes to her.
      She was also encouraging and kind about my hopes(then) in the publishing industry.
      I do hope to meet her one day, maybe at a meeting of The Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies, if I ever get my arse into gear and go to a London meeting.
      Nice to see you here. I did visit your blog but for some reason no blogspot blog will let me comment :(

  7. I love Susan Howatch’s books. You really care about her characters and get led into some really deep and real emotions. Although quite dark and complex at times, they are a wonderful read, and very thought-provoking.

    • I used to read them at a sitting when a new one came out; unputtdownable. I’d stay up all night to finish and then reread the following day to make sure I got it all. I had a small child at the time of the first batch so she was rather neglected as was the housework…
      Thanks for visiting; good to see you here.

  8. I am one of those people who almost never reads a book more than once – and yet – I’ve read and reread all of Susan Howatch’s novels. The other exceptions are those of Amy Tan, James Clavell and Martin Cruz Smith. I wonder what it is that draws us back time and again to some authors, while other books, enjoyable at the time, can be tossed aside, never to emerge again?

    Susan Howatch is my favourite. I was introduced to her years ago by a late night radio show, with the theme “read any good books lately?” The book that was recommended was The Rich are Different – I devoured it from cover to cover and went in search of more by Susan. I’ve loved every one of them (with one exception), have just finished making my way through the Starbridge series for the umpteenth time. That one exception is The Heartbreaker – I felt somewhat let down by it – and somehow sensed that the author was growing tired of it all. I doubt I will ever read it again – I feel that somehow Susan has lost touch and prefer to stay with the tried and true. Did anyone else share my feelings on this book?

    • I have never really quantified why I love her stories, but I think it may be because the people are so compelling.
      I loved the Heartbreaker, because it was, well, heartbreaking. But I do know what you mean, I think she had reached a natural end for her writing.
      Thank you very much for dropping by and commenting, Ruth. I hope to see you again some time.

  9. Hi Vv
    Thank you for your reply and very sorry to hear you have been ill – sending you very best wishes for a speedy recovery.

  10. Pingback: Still Crazy After All These Years ~ or Why I Am Still Blogging « Zen and the art of tightrope walking

  11. Was pleased to just discover this site and read others’ comments about my favourite author. I discovered Susan Howatch 35 years ago when I bought ‘Penmarric’ to read on the train home from work. I was meant to find that book and went on to read every one of her novels. My favourite is “A Question of Integrity’ which, sadly, I lent to a sick friend who has since died and I haven’t got it back. I have only seen it here (in Australia) lately with the American title.

    I too could never understand why she wasn’t better known and celebrated. Arriving at a lovely holiday in Noosa years ago I discovered my friend and I had both brought the same book to read – “The Wheel of Fortune”. I must re-visit it. I think S.H. had a rare gift for story-telling and her characters were so memorable – Nicholas Darrow was always my favourite, and I often think of Alice if I’m trying a challenging new recipe.

    The author had some wonderful expressions which I love and remember – “bombing along in hormonal overdrive” and “bucketing around like a menopausal harpy on uppers” – must remind me of some women I work with!
    I was very sorry to hear she may not write another novel – I always look in the bookshops to see if there is a new Susan Howatch on the Fiction shelves. It must take so much time and energy to write a good book, and I guess she’s not young any more. Oh well, it’s been a joy reading her over the years. Must go and look for The Wheel of Fortune – it might be even better 25 years on…….

    • Sorry for the delay, I was away for work.
      Yes, she does have a rare gift for story telling. I am sad that she’s stopped but since I write myself, I know that we go through troughs where nothing comes and it can last years and years. There’s always hope. Anyway, I hope you find a moment to check out my book, which I think you may enjoy if you have enjoyed Susan Howatch’s stories.
      thanks for visiting and do pop by; I have a new book in preparation.

  12. It is so sad that Susan is no longer writing novels. I so enjoyed her last series. It was a sad day when I learned that she may no longer write more fiction. I will keep and treasure the volumes I own so that I may read them time and again along with my other favorites.

  13. I loved her series and know there is no way she could write with such perception and depth without being a mystic herself. I also am saddened if she has quit writing, but let’s hope it will be merely a hiatus.

    • Hi Ellen, let’s hope so indeed.
      She is a patron of the Churches fellowship of Spiritual and Psychical studies, so yes, I think she may well be mystically inclined.
      thanks for visiting.

  14. I, too, have read her church of England and St. Benet series multiple times, and each time came away with more and different. I have been on the lookout for her, and even searched for her since the last book was written, anxiously hopeful that she would write more. I am disappointed that she has no plans to write more, but wish her whatever she needs for her life to be fulfilled. The genius of her writing, the multiple layers and multiple perspectives (spiritual, psychological, religious) woven together reminds me of the genius of C.S. Lewis. Perhaps they are both inspired by the same Author?

    • Hi Denisa, thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment.
      Yes, it seems that many people feel the same as you, but as nothing has emerged into the world, I can only assume that she has kept to what she told me and is no longer writing.
      There does come a time in a writer’s life where they perhaps stop and take stock and ask whether they have told all their stories. I’m personally a long way from that point in my writing life, though every time I finish a book, I do ask myself if there is more there.
      And, yes, I do suspect that like Lewis and many other great writers, her penhand(or keyboard hand these days) is guided by a greater story teller than any.

  15. Greetings: I stumbled across your blog while looking up some information on Bishop George Bell of Chichester who was an ally of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s. I am currently reading Eric Metaxa’s bio of Bonhoeffer. The Wiki article on Bell mentioned Susan Howatch’s novels and I looked up a bit about her. I’ve read all of her C of E novels and in part, regard them as some inspiration for some of my own research and writing. As an Anglican clergy wife (from an RC background) I’ve long been fascinated by the role into which I stepped with its history and expectations. I have researched and written on the long struggle in the Church of England to accept clergy marriage and the effect of this history on the role of the clergy wife.
    While much has changed in my 20 years as a clergy wife, I’m still aware that each of us lives against the background of that history and the assumptions made about clergy and their family life.

  16. What a wonderful review! It made me want to read them all over again (for about the 10th time). I am not religious, but still loved the settings of the books & was able to empathise with the religious crises. My favourite was Scandalous Risks. I BECAME Venetia while I was reading it (all 20 or so times).

    I will be so sad if it’s true that Susan Howatch is no longer writing.

    • I think oddly enough my favourite was the one the critics panned, The Heartbreaker. I lived through the whole church of England stuff and it was almost too familiar, even though most of it was set before I was born, so the later ones appealed.
      Having had a great deal of involvment in the paranormal side of things too, the later ones appealed.
      thanks for coming by, Sue.

  17. thanks a lot for sharing. im a huge fan of susan howatch. i collect her books thought i have not got hold of the st. benet’s trilogy, though. more power to you. -patricia

  18. Hello,
    I too have enjoyed Susan’s novels over the years. I am so disappointed that she wont be writing another. Every now and then I return to all her novels and still find them fresh and a pure pleasure to read. As I grow older I take time to savour the connections between the stories, appreciate her expression and enjoy her genius in creating whole connected universes. As well, I love her understanding of human nature and her exploration of our flawed condition. Thanks for a chance to express this,

    with gratitude


  19. I’m very interested in the kind of blanket-adoring comments that usually arise from the “fans” who read a particular author because they are captivated by an ongoing story- I count myself there, of course. But I am not disturbed by the author’s decision to write “no more”. I see it as a healthy sign.

    The element that was always missing for me for me in the novels (well, maybe there was more than one missing element) was the ongoing theme of half-redemption. It was always a kind of cut and paste compromise, in which these faulty protagonists actually never realized themselves. If the actual intent of the author was to expose the “old boys” mentality that combined spiritual realization with the preservation of the image of “The” Church” – with the preservation of the image of the Church being the first priority-, then she did a brilliant job.

    However, I could never get past the feeling that I was listening to the author’s own inner dialetic. That made it impossible for me to lose myself in the story and believe in the characters.

    I can totally understand the need to retreat from this half-life of spiritual exploration through the creation of stick-figure characters in order to apprehend the personal truth that lurked behind the curtains of the stage, so magically created by the author. At the end of magic, in true contemplation, lies the truth for a genuine devotee , who explores all possibilities through writing, and then finds that there is no substitute for solitude.

    If I were to wish for anything, I would wish that, after this retreat, we would hear the wisdom that comes from this retreat.

    • You make some very interesting points Sara.
      One thing that as a writer I would add, though, is that full-redemption of a character basically means their story ends. That is effectively cutting off a source of plots as effectively as killing them off, something that readers get extremely annoyed about. if you make your living through writing, then this is professional suicide.
      Since I wrote this article, I have heard many rumours that she is in fact quite seriously ill but whether these are just rumours I don’t know.
      I am untroubled now by the cessation of her stories. I think that in her mind people(especially the hero of the final novel) had reached certain calm waters and could be left. Characters are often more than just that in a writer’s head.
      Thank you for visiting and sharing your insights.

      • Hello Viv,

        Thank you for your comment on my comment.

        As I explored this site a little more and discovered some of what you personally revealed about yourself, I appreciated your comments even more. – although, I would question why “full- redemption of a character basically means their story ends”. It would seem that full redemption would imply a character so boring as to not be worth exploring or writing about. It also implies a boring “perfection” that would eliminate the true drama of the human condition. I think there is a possibility that a fully redeemed character could be placed by an imaginative author in a variety of unique challenges, since “redeemed ” humanity is humanity still.

        I am a published writer who has written directly (i.e non-fiction) about the Spiritual Path and what I have learned through being a psychotherapist and teacher of meditation and yoga. I’m seriously considering having a bash at fiction. That would be a wonderful challenge.

        Thank you for creating this forum and for sharing yourself with us. I sense we would really enjoy a cup of tea and a great exchange together. I currently live in Vancouver, British Columbia, but I did live in Oxford, England in the 1970’s and my daughter was born there too. I still think of England as my second home.

        All the best,

      • I think from a narrative point of view, having a character who has somehow reached a full redemption is a massive challenge. Do you allow them to remain in that state, a rock against which events and people crash, and risk them being what the American writers are fond of calling a Mary Sue/Gary Stu figure? Or do you make them dig yet deeper and bring them against even harder challenges?
        As a writer of fiction, it’s not a challenge I’d personally wish to dabble with; it’s a bear pit, in all honesty. I’d have to have good reasons to wish to take a character further.
        And since, from my perspective, characters are elements of my own self, my own soul, never having reached that full redemption myself is a handicap. I aim to write always from a place of experience, so that whatever I write might be authentic. If this state is not something I have visited, I don’t believe I can write about it convincingly.
        In the book that is about to be published, the main character reaches a point on her journey that allows her a resting space, but it is only that; in a later book where she is a secondary character, her journey has resumed and her challenges with it.
        Anyway, if I am ever in Vancouver I’ll take you up on that cuppa. There are so many wonderful people who visit here whom I would love to meet one day in person.

  20. As I read these books, Viv, I was able to discuss them with a retired Anglican Bishop who began life and career in England. While a Bishop in Montreal, he divorced and remarried. (I’m taking leaps of shortcuts in this scenario). He believed he would ordinarily have been a viable candidate for a position at the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, his marital status would have prevented any acceptance of his curricula vitae (if that is the appropriate phrase in this case). I had asked his opinion on the authenticity of Ms. Howatch’s writings and he told me she was courageously accurate. He appreciated her books a great deal. He said, “I’m sure you’ll have an insight as to why I say my application would not have been accepted.”

    I am amazed that I may have overlooked the last two books. Our library is small. While it carried all the others, it may not have brought in the last two. I will look for them. I’ll be disappointed if I have read them after all, but your precises are unfamiliar.

    I have thought about Ms. Howatch often. I cheered her courage and wondered what type of repercussions she must have experienced – professionally, personally and spiritually. I am completely thrilled that you wrote to her and actually have her responses. As you said, being the lady she is…

    Somehow, Viv, I can understand her position that her writings are complete. She is far from finished, I’m sure, but I can see how her writing has been served and is, in her soul, complete.

    Thanks for linking me here. Blessings on you, Viv. I cannot imagine the process involved in looking at the prospect of being a clergy-wife, being in love with a man who would require that you fill those shoes and knowing the tenderness of your own being. Phew! Amazing.

    • That’s quite revealing Amy. having had some years away now from church life, it doesn’t surprise me one little bit.
      Yes, I think she has done with writing about this area.
      And yes, fifteen years of being in clergylife was hard on me.
      thank you for caring so for me. It’s truly appreciated.

  21. A friend has just recommended to me, Glittering images, I went looking for info and your post was high on the Google Search… Thanks for this great info.

  22. I first read her early gothic novels over twenty years ago and have read every book written since. I thoroughly enjoyed the Starbridge series and regularly dip back into them . A few months back I re-ordered Cashelmara , it blew me away, now I,m older and wiser I understand the complexity of her characters and their actions a little more. I,ve gone back to her early historical novels and re-ordered them all .Have just re-read The Rich Are Different & The Sins of The Fathers .. I,ve not been able to put them down .. she is far and away my favourite novelist although I do think her early family saga,s are far more richer and complex than the Starbridge series ..

  23. I’m pleased to have found your website. I too have been a fan for years. To complete the Spiritual Guidance program of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, I wrote a paper on spiritual direction in the novels of Susan Howatch. I’ve also given a workshop on Susan Howatch and Madeleine L’Engle, both writers who happen to be Christian, as they would put it. In the process of writing the paper and preparing for the workshop, I encountered a real treasure, Scandalous Truths: Essays by and about Susan Howatch, published in 2005 by Susquehanna University Press. It was worth every dollar I paid for it. I highly recommend it for serious fans looking for something else to read.

    • Thanks for sharing that Debra. I may look into it.
      I am a great fan of L’engle too though only because of one book, A wrinkle in time.

  24. Hi Viv,

    I’m totally impressed by the insight you demonstrated when you wrote ” Do you allow them to remain in that state, a rock against which events and people crash” ? The references of the apparently ” American Mary Sue/Gary Stu” figure completely escape me. I would have thought that the all-time “American figure” for other characters crashing on the rocks of his integrity would have been the character played by the beautiful Brad Pitt in ” Legends of the Fall” ( as so beautifully expressed by the alternative North American Indian character of the same story.

    At any rate, I’m curious as to why there was no reply button on the last post I wrote. Is this your way of communicating that our discussion is over? Is it my computer? Or does it mean that the only way we could ever, in all integrity coninue this dialogue, is to meet and have a cuppa? No judgement..just asking.

    • Hi Sara,
      no I think it is wordpress that sometimes decides a reply thread is long enough; I have no way of knowing if I have a way of altering it! Some WordPress features baffle me.
      I use the terms Mary Sue and so on as a shorthand for “perfect” characters who have no flaws and are therefore impervious to everything. IT’s a problem new writers often have, of making their characters too good and too nice; I am told the character of Bella in Twilight is just such a one.
      I’ve never seen the Brad Pitt movie you mention but I shall look out for it now.
      I’m always happy to discuss things, so no worries there!

      • Ooohhh!! Cool!!! Im totally relieved! For my part, I don’t think that Characters who have total integriity are open to / touched by everything”, but, of course characters who are totally “perfect” would be impervious to everything. ( and here we are looking at personality disorder) I make a difference between ” perfection” and “integrity”, as I make a diiference between “morality” and ” integrity”. ( I actually wrote about that in my own book) A character in a book ( or possibly, an actual real person) with integrity, would look far from perfect. They would hardly embrace the conventional morality of the day! ( Consider Jesus!!)

        All this to say, Susan Howitch appears to be an author, who is totally invested in the failure of perfection ( that’s a good beginning), but she fails to bring her creation to integrity. For me, personally, that is a disappointment. The failure of morality is the beginning of integrity. She always brought her characters to the crossroads, but they never crossed the River Jordan.

        There are great themes in great literature. As a writer, Susan Howitch didn’t make it – not because she exposed the “Church” – she did , in spades – but because as a writer, her vision was limited. I don’t know why and I don’t know how. It is not mine to judge.

        OH!, and By the way, the entire screenplay of ” Legends of the Fall” is online and all you have to look for is the character of “One-Stab” and you will find the one statement, that I referred to, that reflects your own brilliance back to you.
        All the best ,

      • I’m not sure she has failed because it does depend rather on what she set out to do, and for many writers, this is far from a simple matter. We write what comes, often without knowing why.
        I like your distinction between perfection and integrity.

  25. Thank you for understanding the difference. I cannot criticize witers. How could I? I am an imperfect one, myself. But now I know that my imperfections are the doorway to my integrity ( as in Life, so in art)
    And yes, we write what comes, without knowing why, but the Word still has power, and we have responsibility. It’s not enough that we indulge ourselves and claim that we are at the “mercy of the Muse”. Perhaps,( and believe me, I don’t know-just considering), the writers whose work live on hundreds of years after their departure, are the ones who mastered “what comes” without extinguishing it, and without self-indulgence.
    My opinion, only!

    All the best,

    • Interesting thoughts. I believe I do myself have responsibility and yet, the process of birthing a story is beyond my control. To midwife a story is harder than non- writers know, I think.

      • I love the imagery of midwifery – having been a nurse trained in Canada, yet also working at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, and then having my daughter delivered by a midwife at a hospital there. Also, the archetype of midwifery goes much deeper, of course, psychically, spiritually, -…. we can assist at the birth of many creations. It all may be beyond our control, but, at no point, is it beyond our responsibility. When I write, I give birth, no question. ( I wonder how male authors experience this, as the imagery of birth, in the absence of a womb, must give pause) But, I digress. All this to say, I still take full responsibility for what I have created. Control doesn’t even enter into it.
        I must raise a question here,though about your assumption that “non-writers” do not share your struggle. Everyone is creating. We writers are not special.

        In another post, you shared that you and your husband left parish work because you found it unendurable. if you have written about that, at any length in a blog or anywhere, I would be very interested in hearing your experiences.
        Thank you so much for the exchange!

        All the best,

      • I suspect that those who do not consciously create are also unconscious of struggle. Writing a book is not something that you can adequately imagine the process of or it’s demands until you have done it, or something similar.
        Concerning the parish thing, I wrote a novel based on our time at college. Some things are too painful to write of directly. I was asked to write a proposal for a non fiction book about the decline of the church and did so, shortly after we left. I am glad now that the editors in question then felt that the book would not garner sufficient readers and didn’t choose to take it further. It would have hurt me too much. The novel is to come out some time next year perhaps.

  26. Like many others who have posted, I find the Starbridge and St Benet’s books worth reading over and over again, and always find myself surprised how my own personal situation at the time governs how I resonate with particular strands within each book. One of my tests for ‘re-readability’ is whether a book raises an emotional response in me, and these all pass the test with flying colours.
    In looking for my own path forward, I also found that the path inward was the one that mattered, and having narrative, character and conversational threads that bring a lump to the throat is a sure sign that here is an issue that bears investigation in one’s own life.
    The one sadness for me is that the Church of England that I encounter bears so little relation to the one in Susan Howatch’s books. Maybe I’ve been unfortunate, but the sensitivity, integrity and humility that characterises so many of her clergy seems light years away from the ambitious self-righteousness that often appears to be the norm these days. Maybe like Charles, Nicholas and the others, they too are striving to be at one with themselves but I regret that the times I’ve turned to the church in my hours of need have resulted in utter failure. Perhaps they just don’t make them like they used to, but I’m tempted to think that her description raises false hopes and that the institution she describes exists only in her imagination.
    Thank you for an interesting site, which I’ve stumbled on after finishing ‘Absolute Truths’ yet again, and Googling to see whether, at 71 she’d decided to draw a veil over the further adventures of Nicholas and Alice.

    • Yours is far from unusual, Gill, as a story. We left parish ministry because of the flaws and faults, and how they had become unendurable for us. I hated living in a rectory because there was more expected than I could ever give.
      Glad to have met you here, and hope you come back to read more.Thank you for commenting so openly and honestly.

  27. I’m pretty sure we’ve corresponded before, either here or in some other Howatch discussion group. A few years ago I wrote a quiz which many Starbridge/St Benet fans have enjoyed, and thought I’d post a link to it here, for those who might like it and haven’t come across it. It’s not necessary to join the website – anyone can play as a guest.

    Linda Marshall

    • Thanks Linda, I think we have met on a forum. I think you may have commented here before but I’m not sure.
      Thanks for leaving the quiz for other readers.

  28. As a fan of Anthony Trollope’s Barchester novels and the old ‘All Gas and Gaitors’ comedy series on 1960s British televison, I stumbled upon Mrs Howatch’s ecclesiastical novels after reading one of her ‘female-in-peril’ type whodunnits, April’s Grave. Though a decided, sedate ‘Low Church’ type, I must say I did find her books on church affairs very addictive! My favourite, I think would be The High Flyer, even if the overtly ‘supernatural’ need not be present for most of us to undergo deeply spiritual turn-around, as matters of ultimate meaning and sin and eternity are prss pressed in upon us. I’m not surprised to hear Susan has given up writing but it is sad for us fans! I guess having penned the likes of Penmaric and Cashelmara as well as her various churchy series she can honourably lay up her pen! She also could write no mean whodunnit/ romantic suspene fiction as well which would be the more likely stuff she could serve up for us again!

    • It is a shame, but she has given the world far more than many. I liked the final series of three a great deal.
      I lived for much of my adult life in a rectory, and both the mundane and the supernatural were common enough occurances. I think that whatever brings you to a point of turn around is irrelevant; it’s the turning point itself that changes life but is not always part of the life that follows.
      Thank you for dropping in and commenting.

  29. Iam one of S .Howatgh;s greatadmires,as I wrote her once and I had a reply!!Iam happy to find this blog and read all those thoughts about her.

  30. I have read most of her books.They are to be savored.Enjoyed her last book also.Now knowing she may never write again is sad.Wonderful talent.I now know i’ll start rereading them again.

  31. Yes, I too wish Susan the best and hope that even now another book series is stirring inside of her. We are grateful for her contribution to our lives.

  32. I was led, I firmly believe by providence, to read ‘Glittering Images’ at a time in my life when I had suffered a breakdown. I found so much in that book which reflected my own troubles, or sometimes just their outline, that for most of the time I feared I was going mad, believing myself to be somehow the subject of the book! Then I read the sequel and was again disturbed by how the book gave shape to and indeed echoed, my own struggle. I’m not going to provide a potted autobiography here; suffice to say that there was something mystical about my being led to these books at a time when I so badly needed them. As a result, I am in spiritual direction myself, my faith has been helped to deepen and I am very much ‘better’ than I was formerly.

    • Good to meet you then Damien. There are authors whose works really touch and inspire. You were very lucky to find such a series of books. And yes, I do think we can be led to such books. Good luck. Perhaps you might enjoy one of mine, sometime?

  33. Thank you so much for this blog. I have been in love with the Starbridge books for years; I’ve read them three or four times. It is more than wonderful to find that Susan Howatch had written more books. I will order the first one immediately. (How did I not know about these!?)

  34. Your frustrations with the stuff of parish life as either the pastor or pastor’s spouse, are–in my opinion–more the norm these days. I am a pastor, have been one for 36 years in the United Methodist Church. I think we are in a time of great upheaval and the church is one of many institutions that may have to collapse before something new–or the recovery of something old (the mystical and spiritual traditions wedded to a ministry of compassion and service) can be born. I read Ms. Howatch’s Starbridge and St. Benet’s series frequently. I also appreciate the many references to writers who write about Christian mysticism, creation, the science/religion meeting point… I think there could be a number of good books written from the perspective of those who have lived in parsonages and rectories. I have enjoyed my two sojourns as an exchange pastor in North Yorkshire and Belfast.

    • When we left parish ministry and came here, I was totally lost; I’d lost my home and my business through relocating and we had no financial help from the church at all. I approached an old contact at one of the Big Six publishers who asked me to put together a proposal for a book about the decline of the church of England. My research for this book proposal shocked me; looking through the publicly available finance figures shows the whole thing is based on a number of false premises. However, even though I had been asked to put together a proposal, the whole thing was turned down on the grounds of probable lack of sales. Not enough people were expected to be interested. Our departure from our parish had had the BBC at our door, clamouring for interviews. Hey ho.
      My novel Strangers and Pilgrims is based broadly in Christian mysticism and the more recent novel Away With the Fairies has the main character as a vicar’s wife in freefall after her parents commit suicide. The next novel I am planning on releasing is set some years earlier at the theological college.
      Where in North Yorkshire did you serve? my husband’s curacy was in Guisborough and he was ordained in York minster.
      Thank you for visiting. It’s good to connect.

      • I fear that most church leaders are in denial. The church is and has appeared irrelevant to the public. We have the “true believers” and fundamentalists who still regard church as important. But their spirituality is very infantile. They cannot see that they make the church a grand rationalization for believing what they prefer–as opposed to encountering God and striving to be disciples of Jesus. I have found that my denomination is moving rapidly to the right because that is where both the money and the active members happen to be. Simply expressing interest in seeing President Obama’s innauguration alienated me from one congregation.

        Churches do not receive any state support in the US. I took a leave of absence for two years–2009-2011–only because my wife had a career that enabled us to live. I got no support whatsoever from the church. We fortunately have a small cottage in the mountains. Yet we also had to purchase a trailer to store what had come from a four bedroom home parsonage. Our cottage is only 800 sq. ft.
        I resumed parish work last July. Not much has changed except the current parish has nicer people. But their situation is approaching desperate in terms of finances and membership. I hope to retire in four years. And I will likely turn over my ordination credentials.
        I worked at three Methodist congregations in Harrowgate, back in 2001. I was there for two months. Once I mistakenly took the eucharist to a lady I thought was a “Mrs. Walpole”. We had tea and nice conversation. I bid her good-by and said, “I have enjoyed my visit with you, Mrs. Walpole,” to which she replied, “Oh, dear boy, I am not Mrs. Walpole. I am Mrs. Smith.” She was a parishioner at St. Peter’s CofE. When I found the correct Mrs. Walpole, I told her the story. She shook all over with laughter. As soon as I left, she got on the telephone to tell her friends “what that Yank had done.” When I got to the church on Sunday, I was greeted with lots of smiles and gentle teasing. “Hear you been taking communion to the Anglicans.” (giggle) Actually, it was wonderful ice breaker regards my relationship with the parish. “Visited any Anglicans lately, Roy?” (chuckle)

  35. Roy,

    I find your comments really interesting and particularly appreciated the honesty of seeing the fundamentalist ” churchianity” as infantile. My brother has been a Presbyterian minister, here in Canada, for 35 years and would agree with you that perhaps true spiritual renewal may involve a collapse of the structure of the Church.

    It was his wife, my sister-in-law, who put me onto Susan Howatch. Although it seemed to me, in her novels, that the upper echelons of the C of E was a well-heeled old boys club ( rather like the US senate) – a club that willed to preserve its structure at all costs – there are many sincere pastors who live in relative poverty and who are raising serious questions that may indeed threaten the “image” of the Church, whatever the denomination.

    I also really liked your anecdotes. Maybe, when you retire – or even before- you might consider becoming a writer, yourself. Methinks I see a glimmer there.

    And Viv, I think I did mention to you that I would love to see writing from you on your parish experiences, but if I remember correctly, this was not where you wanted to go.

    At any rate, after listening to my brother and sister-in-law, over the years, my feeling is this stuff, well-written, of course, would sell. I could be wrong, but it would certainly captivate me.

    All the best,

    • Sara–thank you for your response. There is so much in Ms. Howatch’s Starbridge series that is worth going back to read again. I have also read an essay about her own spiritual development and renewal. All of the main characters are both inspiring and maddening. No one is a real villain and no one is exalted as a paragon of virtue. And the moments when one of the characters enacts or embodies something truly wonderful–frequently occurs out of the moral indiscretion or weakness of the character. That makes them more real, more human, and far more interesting than a replay of some sort of simplistic morality play: black and white, either/or, good guys and bad guys. In my 36 years of pastoral work, I have found that the most effective pastors and the most interesting people are those who have made mistakes, are in the midst of making mistakes, or who have not been afraid of taking some risks in life. The most boring and irritating are those so called Christians who risk nothing, constantly worry about some indiscretion–usually minor, and who are very prideful in their boring, antiseptic little living. These modern day Pharisees (the actual historical Pharisees were much more interesting) have been the usual source of conflict in my ministry. They resent anyone who advocates any suggestion of risk, particularly pastors who are supposed to be paragons of virtue, sobriety, morality, and proper behavior. When a pastor shows up with real blood and not ice water in his/her veins–the modern day Pharisee becomes very disturbed.

      Ms. Howatch writes as if she is all too aware of the human strengths and weaknesses within “church types.” I identify with “Charles Ashworth” most of all. But I also appreciate a “Neville Aysgarth”–though I mostly loathe him. Yet Aysgarth shines at the moments his ambition crumbles and he takes stock of his blunders and misconceptions. The melding of his brilliance with the explosion of insight and understanding, provides much more to my musings than being a good story.

      The women are also quite powerful and interesting–in the St. Benet series as well as the Starbridge books. Just my opinion.

  36. Roy,

    Curiouser and curiouser! Your comments fascinate me, I think , because you are in the position of one who can truly say I have been there or I am there! As you may have read , in my previous comments, I had an issue,only as a writer, with the fact that the characters never seem to actually become fully realized. That is to say, that while the calls to integrity, and therefore freedom, are clearly presented, the character seems to always shy away from true realization and go for some half-baked compromise that( in my opinion) lengthens their journey here, and ultimately begs the real question.

    I do agree that our humanity is truly realized through our awareness of our so- called “mistakes”. I say awareness, because everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone has the awareness that brings with it the freedom to enter the “explosion of insight and understanding” that Ayersgarth eventually experiences.

    Charles Ashworth, now! There’s an interesting and complex man!

    I loved your reference to the Pharisees, but what comes to mind is the example of Jesus, Himself. If a Priest (pastor, minister, whatever) is the servant of Christ on this earth, then surely His example is what we should be looking at.
    Jesus got up the nose of the Pharisees because he made a difference between morality and integrity. He flouted the morality of the day by hanging out with publicans and sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors. He actually called into question the idea of intent, rather than behaviour. Jesus had integrity – and hey, anyone who turns water into wine at a wedding is my kinda guy!-We all have Pharisees in our lives but I see this as a call to integrity, rather than feel myself a victim of an unconscious world. In fact, maybe the Pharisees are there to demonstrate, prove, remind us that we have integrity!

    I do appreciate the female characters in Susan Howatch’s novels, but the only character I could identify with was Jonathon Darrow. I left the church 30 years ago and will never go back, but my spiritual talents have manifested in the”charismatic” gifts of the Spirit. However, I had to go to another spiritual discipline to hone and honour those gifts.

    All paths lead home!!

    This thread seems to have gathered a lot of energy. Isn’t that interesting?

    And best to you, Viv,

  37. Viv, I discovered your blog a few months ago while googling Susan Howatch. I’m glad to see that the comment thread is still active. For now I’ll just say that I’ve read all of her novels that I know about, and the Starbridge series at least two or three times each.

    I just finished re-reading Scandalous Risks, my favorite, for at least the fourth time, and I’m commenting because I see that the Holman Hunt post is your most popular, just ahead of Susan Howatch. I’ve never seen the painting until now, but you may remember that, toward the end of Scandalous Risks, Nick Darrow refers to the painting while trying to counsel Venetia in the cloister of the Cathedral, and in fact he sets himself up as a Christ figure in the final scene, turning in the doorway and holding out his hand to her. So, naturally I had to click on that post to look at the painting. Thanks for posting it.

    I read the page on your book Away With The Fairies and was reminded of some of Howatch’s earlier novels, and I wonder if these didn’t inspire you a bit. It’s interesting that she explored the occult (never celebrating it, always heavily critical) not only in her earliest books when she was in her twenties but in her most recent, the St Benet trilogy. Of course, the Darrows were pretty mystical if that counts, but we hope that the Holy Spirit was involved there and not the other one.

    I’m hoping for another book about Venetia Flaxton, probably my favorite of Howatch’s characters. I think she set her up for a sequel, even re-introducing her briefly in the St Benet books, and then ran out of steam.

    I’ll click back here for a Susan Howatch fix from time to time.

    • Hi Ted, Nice to meet you here again.
      I’ve not idea why the Homan Hunt post is so popular, but I think people are looking for a Christ figure, even subconciously.
      I think Susan basically reached a point of burn-out and I know that the last contact I had she wanted to give up writing altogether.
      Away With The Fairies was inspired more by personal experience of the paranormal and of being a clergy wife, and was drawn from various experiences and some dreams. But then all literature inspires other writers and becomes a part of out mental processes.
      I’ve really been unwell in the last few months, mentally, and replying to comments and emails has been a big struggle, as it has been to keep writing, both blog posts and fiction.
      Thank you for your visit here.

      • Thank you so much for this ongoing post re Susan Howatch, whose Anglican stories I admire immensely. I see that you’re a writer (as am I–in fact one of my novels is a semifinalist in the Amazon/Penguin contest, and I spoke of it in my pitch as “a Scandalous Risk for teens”). I am going to see if I can locate one or more of your books. Wishing you all the best; so sorry to hear you’ve been ill, apparently for some time. No need to respond to this. I understand illness and the effort it takes to keep up correspondence, among other things.

  38. I have read and reread Susan Howatch books for many years. I loved the Starbridge series, as well as the trilogy (Wonder Worker, High Flyer and The Heartbreaker). I wish Ms. Howatch would come out of retirement! I understand burnout. A break is needed. Selfishly, I wish that break were over! Ms. Howatch, I hope you read this blog and reconsider!

    • I’m sure you’re not alone. I doubt she reads this blog, but if she does, I hope there are enough please to make her reconsider.

  39. I came online to correct my misspelling of Scandalous Risks! Also to mention that a British author named Catherine Fox has written three wonderful novels in a very different style than Susan Howatch, but touching on some of her themes. Fox is also a vicar’s wife, and her latest book (the only one currently available in print in the U.S.) is a nonfiction account of her experience with martial arts. It’s called Fight the Good Fight. Thanks for your good wishes, Vivienne.

    • Ha, I never noticed!! I shall watch out for Catherine Fox. I shall also pass it on as my husband is a kung fu and other martial arts fighter.

  40. I googled Susan Howatch and found this blog. I have read all of her books over the years and loved them and have shared them with my friends. In fact for some reason were talking about them the other night. My 28 year old daughter just got a hold of them out of my book case finished one of the starbridge series and has been in her room all day reading the second and can’t put it down. These are classics. I also wish she would write another. I will go back and reread the ones I have in the mean time. So glad to have found this blog. Thanks.

  41. Delighted to read a post by another fan of Susan Howatch. She is one of my favourite writers. I love the Starbridge series and the St Benets trilogy. You describe yourself as “hungering after” each book after you’d read the previous one, & that is exactly how I felt. Raciness, vivid colour, poignancy, psychological penetration, gripping plot…. I find all of these in abundance in Susan Howatch’s novels, and wisdom, insight and truth as well.

  42. Revisiting Susan Howatch’s earlier titles i.e Penmarrick, Cashelmara, The Rich are Different & Sins of the Father – after a time interval of thirty (ish) years, I am still so impressed by her wonderful characters . What a pleasure to reread & discover so much more to each book with the passage of time.

      • Yes, I think it was “The Wheel of Fortune” – All of her books (especially the earlier ones) so well written – Storylines stay with you long after you have finished reading !

  43. I, too feel the gap left by the silence from Susan Howatch, so I just periodically keep re-re-re-reading them when I need my hit. It’s like an addiction, like the characters become part of the essence of you and you have to touch base with them from time to time. And I too want to go to Wales and walk that Shipway where that powerful scene took place in Wheel of fortune.

    • I have walked the Shipway, some years ago. Worth a visit. And yes, I read and reread my copies of her books. Thanks for visiting.

  44. Now in the final novel in the Starbridge Series,
    I am sad to see the last page coming. I can,t remember enjoying a series of novels like I have this series. I told my husband she,s the first author I ever wanted to write to, and I am glad you did! her wisdom, faith and insight into human nature has impressed and moved me. Thanks for your blog.

  45. Howatch and her half-redeemed characters have saved my life a number of times. I agree with you that her character of Gavin in Heartbreaker is perhaps the most touching of them all. I lived in a neighborhood of New York citiy where prostitution was common and I was often haunted by the faces of the young who quickly grew old, then haunting and then disappeared. I winder if Howatch knows how many lives she has touched and how profoundly she conveys her Christian faith and the tattered shreds of it that we humans wear.
    Thanks for this blog I shall check out your book.

    • I do wonder too. I hope she does.
      Thank you for visiting and sharing your story; we lived once at the edge of a red light district. Made me very sad to see the girls on the street corners.

  46. I too have looked and looked for Susan’s next book until I fouind out that she has retired from writing. I an sure she is active in some way so would be interested to know.

    • I believe she is well and happy, but finished with writing. But then she has turned out some stunners, so I think retirement is a well deserved rest for her.

      • I’d always suspected that the battle for the cathedral between Charles and Neville in ‘Absolute Truths’ was in some way suggested by the painful and unseemly power struggle at Lincoln Cathedral. So after coming across ‘The Cathedral’ by Danny Danziger, (a series of interviews with Lincoln cathedral staff where you can feel them all carefully treading around each other, just before the implosion), I was moved to investigate further on the Net. Putting ‘Brandon Jackson’ (the then Dean) into Google brought up an interesting site (How Christians really love each other). Difficult to tell how independent this account is but it’s certainly interesting reading. For me, the highlight was discovering that Jon Darrow’s disapproving words to them both (‘It all seems a very long way from Jesus of Nazareth’) were words used by the then Bishop of Lincoln in the report made after his visitation.

        A highlight because ever since I read them several years ago, I’ve wanted to suggest them as a theme for meditation for those wielding power in the Church of England. Having just visited a cathedral (I won’t say which one) where there was a statutory £6.00 fee to visit God’s stately home, I watched a couple of well-fed and self-satisfied clerics making gently patronising small talk with the middle classes who could afford the £6.00, while outside sat beggars. Who am I to judge – they may well be integrity personified, but their privileged world, where only the nice people who can afford to pay get in, seemed a long way from the city outside.

      • I’m afraid that with the exception of the tourist traps like St Paul’s and Westminster abbey, my attitude to cathedrals is I will stalk past and refuse to pay. I will say, if challenged, that I have come to pray.
        I believe that the scenarios in the Starbridge novels were based on mainly Salisbury Cathedral and the power play and people Ms Howatch experienced while living there, but obviously, it goes on everywhere.
        It’s not merely the church of England. I saw beggars rough sleeping outside the Dom in Cologne, and beggars standing outside both Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur in paris.

  47. Pingback: The Double-Edged Sword of an Artist’s Silence « S.C.Skillman Blog

  48. One of my all time favorite authors. Her work progressed in scope and depth with each volume. So glad others are now finding her.

    • I am so happy that I read the wheel of fortune,one novel I adored aw of course the whole work of S.Howatsh!!!!

  49. Susan – with whom I’d exchanged snail mail – considers Wheel of Forture her “bridge book.” While she began with novels just this side of Romance, by the time she arrived at what I call The Church Books, she had become a marvelous author and one who cannot be topped for first person narrative IN those volumes. Then she wrote the trilogy beginning with The High Flyer. I’ve referenced it and her in the last volume of a family saga tetralogy. I shall take this selfish opportunity to advertise A TASTE FOR TRUTH soon to appear at your neighborhood Amazon website.

    Saved in a glass-doored vitrine, are her last nine volumes. I need to contact a mutual friend – an Episcopal bishop – and inquite – or enquire – if he’s visited her lately, considering that he turned ninety-one last May.

  50. Pingback: The Novels of Susan Howatch, Love, Miracle Wine and the Language of Invitation « S.C.Skillman Blog

  51. So glad to find this blog and realise I am not alone in my admiration and love of the novels of Susan Howatch – I am just revisiting The Rich Are Different for the umpteenth time. Some of the books are literally falling apart as they have been read soooo many times!!

    I even went on holiday to the Gower as a result of reading The Wheel of Fortune!

    I would love it if she were to write a new novel but expect this is unlikely after such a long time and at her age. But I hope she knows that her books continue to provide enduring pleasure and enjoyment even though some of them are now over thirty years old.

    • Nice of you to visit, Helen. I know, it is a shame but there are few authors who seem to have inspired such loyalty.
      We too went to the Gower and walked the Worm’s Head!!
      I wish her well and am grateful for her books.

    • Oh, hello! I’ve never received a message before. Nor have I asked my former bishop if Susan is alive and well. I just finished two books, one to be published within weeks, the other perhaps six months later. They are A TASTE FOR TRUTH (is a passion which spares nothing… Albert Camus), a first-person narrative. It is very different from the first novel in a tetraology, DIVINE TOYS. All its volumes are in third-person narrative. I’ve mentioned these books because advertising is important. Thank you.

      • I can only conclude that your first message came at a time when I only had time to click approve and didn’t then remember to reply to it. Sorry about that. Life this year has been frenetic.
        I’m also vaguely amused at you using my blog to advertise your books but as you say, advertising is important, though I am also glad that you didn’t put links without asking me first as that is probably not appropriate.
        best of luck with them

  52. I have read many of Susan Howatch’s books and was hoping to read in the blog that she is writing again. Her books gave me great pleasure and I guess I should be happy that I had the pleasure of enjoying most o them. The first one I read was Penmarric over thirty years ago. I bought it to take to the hospital while I was waiting for my daughter to be born. Completed it in a week and had to get Cashelmara to take with me. She is now 35 !! The last trilogy I have not read. Will be looking for them. Thanks for the wonderful comments about her books.

    • I’m delighted to hear from another fan, and I do hope you enjoy her newest books.
      It is a shame she stopped but then I guess all things have their natural time and it may be over for her writing.
      Thank you for visiting.

  53. I have read all her novels and particularly love the Starbridge Series – which I have read twice over. Each book speaks to me and generates insights in a different way each time I read them. After reading your blog……I think it`s time for round 3. Wish she would write more, but thankful for what we have.

  54. Hi Vivienne

    Really enjoyed your post and all the comments. I love Susan Howatch’s writing – the very first one I read was The High Flyer and I was captivated by the whole style, particularly the way issues and events were examined through the eyes of several different people. I’ve just finished re-reading the Starbridge series and every time I read them I identify with a different aspect or character! Am now reading Cashelmara for the first time which will be a bit of a change.

    I was delighted to see that Susan Howatch was given an honorary doctorate this year for her work and her contribution to the idea of writing as a Christian vocation. Good to see her looking well too (as far as one can tell)!

    • thank you so much for the information about my dearest author!!!I have read all her books and still do!!!specially the starbridge novels,so I was delighted too to see her looking well…thank you

      • And I had saved that last trilogy for an emergency, knowing it would be her last work. I mentioned the first novel in one of my own, part of a family saga where in the fourth volume, the female protagonist spends a week keeping watch over her husband who is not expected to live. I’m particularly partial to novels that have ongoing characters, and hers are particularly attractive to me, and most attractive to me are in what I call “her church books,” which are so cleverly narrated, for the most part, by another speaker, etc


  55. So sorry to hear she has retired from writing, I’ve really enjoyed reading her books, and sad to say, I’m coming to the end of them.

  56. You may enjoy Diana Gabaldon’s novels. The eighth will be ready next year, and I’m sure they’ll be a ninth. OUTLANDER was most often the favorite and that where to begin. Compared to the subsequent books, it’s a bit immature. These are time travel novels and very easy to believe. Because I prefer character driven novels, good fantasy is perfectly all right with me. Diana’s research is very, very good, and the characters are marvelous. She’d never been to Scotland until quite some time after Outlander when she found her descriptions of it exactly right. I could go on about books ad nauseum…

  57. I am a fan of Susan Howatch as well and agree with your comment
    that her books are addicting. Awaiting a new arrival. Hope there is
    another book or, has she retired?

    • I believe she has retired, and the last I have heard is she said that to someone else too.
      A good innings and a rather splendid selection of books.
      Thank you for dropping by and commenting.

      • She found no reason to continue her “sort” of novel. As a new writer who is being published, I’d commented that “they’re not writing book for me,” upon which, I realized that perhaps no one will want to read my novels. The first – A TASTE FOR TRUTH (is a passion which spares nothing – Albert Camus) begins in 1986. However, I am not Susan Howatch. The next book, which has nothing to do with the first book, is DIVINE TOYS and a family saga. Susan and I once corresponded and it was I who fell off. We have a mutual friend, an Episcopal bishop. We chat every once in a while, and I continue to neglect asking him about her.

      • I have mentioned before that I am far from happy about someone hijacking this comment thread to promote her own books without so much as a by-your-leave.

      • I miss most the world Howatch created in Starbridge series. Such a sense of place. And the way she dropped details in one book about a character in another was just delightful.

        Sent from my iPhone

      • I do know what you mean. It seems as if the whole of her world was a cohesive one, that did work that way.
        Thank you for visiting and commenting. Merry Christmas!

  58. devastated that she will not be writing any more books – have read and loved all her books ever since I first discovered Penmarric. For the last few years I’ve done the occasional Google search just to find out whether she has published something without me realising. Glad I found this site, but sad about the news…..

  59. I love the Starbridge series and have read and re-read them over again. I am sorry Susan Howatch will not be writing any more books but I shall keep reading the Starbridge books as I find something new in them every time! Indeed, my all time favourite author.

    • I never re-read books. But I have read Starbridge series over and over and it’s a delight. I marvel at the world she has created-how each character is a sinner, sufferer and saint. (I am a biblical counselor and one of the things we are taught is to see and respond to these three aspects of a person ).The way the people and situations collide is so intricate and fascinating. The liberal , the conservative and the mystic each have strengths and flaws capable of undoing them.
      And yes , the last of the st Benet series about Gavin was so very gritty and hard to read at times, but that did make its redemptive ending all the more powerful when Gavin connects with Jesus.
      I hope she knows what a gift she gave to many. Truly a stunning achievement.

  60. Love your book “away with the fairies”, read about it here on your blog because of beloved Susan howatch. Thank you for such a wonderful book, absolutely loved it!

    • That’s so good to hear, so a big thank you.
      Later this year I am putting out a book that predates Fairies, which is to be called Square Peg, set in a theological college, which is where Isobel first appears (as a secondary character, best supporting actress if you like!) but am struggling to find a good cover idea. My previous cover artist no longer wants to work for me! I’ve several others out too, and am about to release a collection of short scary stories called The Moth’s Kiss.
      Thank you so much for visiting and for reading!

      • Hey Viv, I just finished Away with the Fairies too, a few days ago. A really good story, and I’ll be interested to read Square Peg. I read Strangers and Pilgrims last summer and wouldn’t mind a sequel to that one too.

        After finishing your book I started re-reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art and in the first chapter I’m reminded of what you were writing about the little girl Miranda in Fairies. L’Engle writes, page 18,
        “As for Mary, she was little more than a child when the angel came to her; she had not lost her child’s creative acceptance of the realities moving on the other side of the everyday world. We lose our ability to see angels as we grow older, and that is a tragic loss.”

        And as reminder, like Barb I’m here from googling Susan Howatch more than a year ago. Unbelievable writer.

      • Thank you so much for the feedback, Ted. Really good to hear how much you enjoyed it.
        I shall be putting out a collection of short stories in a week’s time, all slightly scary, creepy, unsettling tales. Square Peg is next on the list to bring out.
        I’ve never regretted writing this post, and I wonder if Susan herself has ever read it.

  61. A friend who also uses my bookdealership to fish for books for him has recommended I read Susan Howatch.
    I recall that when she had become a believing and practising Anglican she established a library of Anglican Classics. I should be grateful for any further and better particulars. Specifically, one of Charles Williams ”theological thrillers” was included in this series. Can somebody please remind me which
    was it?
    Viv, I’d like to know about your short stories, please. I very much Like M. R. James’ and the collections put together by Dorothy L. Sayers and the other Monty [Summers].

    • Well, the newest collection has 10 short stories in, all intended to be creepy, spooky, unsettling. That’s The Moth’s Kiss. I mentioned loving M.R James in the acknowledgements. I’ve also got a collection of 6 out, called The Wild Hunt and Other Tales, which are all with the theme of ancient deities, demi-gods and otherworldly beings interacting in the modern world in some way. Just put the titles and my name into Amazon. Only in Kindle form as yet but you can download a free app to use on phone, pc, mac or tablet.
      I don’t know about the *theological thrillers* I’m afraid.
      I have just got and am almost finished The Greening by Margaret Coles, which is something those who’ve loved Susan Howatch may enjoy. It’s a novel that has many layers and also includes a kind of hunt for the real Julian of Norwich and you can read more about it here: and I hope to review it when I finish it.

  62. I have been a fan of Susan Howatch since the early 1980’s. They are difficult books to read in a public place however because you lose yourself totally in the plot and sometimes end up giggling or weeping out loud.I find that they help during the ups and downs of life – like Dinah Slade when I feel that I cant face something I can say to myself “oh yes I can!” and these frantic mutterings do actually help. I also loved the parallels to real historical events although it took me a while to figure out the connection in the Van Zale books. I took “The Wheel of Fortune” into hospital when I had my daughter and had finished it by the time I came home 3 days later. Now my daughter reads them too and we have long discussions about them, exchanging views and theories. I am sorry to hear that Susan Howatch does not intend to write any more but I wish her all the best and would like to thank her for the intense amount of literary pleasure that I have gained from her books over the years. She is without a doubt my favourite author.

    • It’s so nice to meet another fan. I wish I could convey to her personally how many of her fans wish her well and who consider her their favourite author. Thank you for visiting and commenting.

  63. What an author!. I have read and re-read all her books and what a pity that she has stopped writing. I started with the Rich are Different in 1979 and graduated to the Starbridge series which was absolutely super- each one of them. Inspiring characters, fallible clergymen and the portrayal of the Church of England as a very liberal church ( or should I say “cool” in keeping with 21st century parlance).

    I was most impressed by the characters of Jon and Nicholas Darrow, Charles Ashworth and of course Lyle and Venetia Flaxton. Aysgarth and Dido were necessary characters to make it a imperfect world!

    Pray that Ms Howatch comes out of retirement and pen’s another classic. Even if she does not, a million thanks to her to have made reading such a pleasure

    I hope to visit the UK some day and take a tour of the Salisbury cathedral. May’be I will bump into Nicholas Darrow, Venetia’s talisman and have a drink at the Staro Arms!!!

    • I think she truly means it, though I may be wrong. Did you read the final trilogy, set in London? The St Benet’s series takes Nicholas and others further on. I found them excellent.
      Salisbury has changed a lot in recent years; I last went about 20 or so years back but knowing how every cathedral is up against the wall for money, I am sure it too has changed dramatically.

      • Thank you. I hope you are wrong. I have read the St Benet’s series and it was excellent. Are there hardbound versions of the entire series which I could buy online. What surprises me is that there are a very few book stores which stocks her books. I have tried both in India and Dubai and it takes a lot of effort to find one. Book lovers have missed a treat!.

    • I think it’s worth looking on Amazon, because they also list the used book sellers who can often provide a bargain. They’ve all now been put onto Kindle, as well, and it’s worth just checking from time to time.
      I think sadly that when an author steps out of the limelight as Ms Howatch has done, the books dwindle however good they are. The book world now revolves around authors having to keep their books current by promoting them here and there, which is hard work and isn’t for everyone. If not, they reply on folks like us, passing on recommendations.

      • yes! what an author!!!! I have all her books,the english church SERIES i READ THEM once every year!!!!! i CONCIDER MYSELF LUCKY TO FIND s hOWATCH

        12:07 .. , 5 2014, / Zen and the art of tightrope walking : Viv commented: “I think it’s worth looking on Amazon, because they also list the used book sellers who can often provide a bargain. They’ve all now been put onto Kindle, as well, and it’s worth just checking from time to time. I think sadly that when an author steps out”

      • Thanks very much. Not a kindle fan ( though I have one!) but will try amazon again. Nothing like paper and print .

        Read your blog and was most impressed with its honesty ( a rare commodity these days!). Have noted a list of your books and will get them during my next visit to a bookshop. Meanwhile all the very best and I am sure 2014 will be a great year for you and your family.

      • Thank you so much.
        I’d be surprised if any bookshop would or could stock my books, since I am independently published. The two most recent ones, of short stories, can be ordered via a bookshop but the two novels in print can’t.

  64. A message to the lady whose initials are NDE (and also uses TB).
    I have not approved your last two comments on this thread because after an express request not to, you have attempted to hijack the thread as a means of promoting your own books.
    I wrote this post as an homage to a writer I admire greatly. It has served as a forum for others who have felt the same way to express their admiration of her; search terms that bring people to this blog daily show that large numbers of people search Google to find out when her next book is out or to find out if she has stopped writing. While I appreciate how difficult it can be to find an audience for a new writer, I think that you would do much better starting your own blog or finding other methods of promoting your books. One of the most useful things any author can do these days is blog; not only does it potentially reach readers, but it helps us keep our writing skills fresh and expanded. It’s also hard work.

  65. I was amazed to find this blog. I began reading Susan Howatch works with Penmarric as a teenager. As far as I know I have read every book she has written in sequence of their publication. I have always been on the “look” for her next work and wondering why I have found none in recent years. Am saddened to think she will write no more. Her stories and characters became for me “almost” family as I read them, As a clergy person, her later books especially intrigued me. Normally I do not re-read books, but I most likely will all of these since I do have copies of each.

    • Hi David, I know exactly what you mean. I re-read them every so many years.
      They were quite unique and special. As a clergy wife, I found them especially interesting; the years I have spent in rectories now, I have a real insight into her vision of what it can be like. There’s no other writer who gets it right; I get quite cross in some cases. I did try and read a Merrily Watkins book but got so frustrated by the inaccuracies that simply don’t crop up for those who live outside.
      Good to see you here.

  66. I am a big fan of Howatch but like another reader, I am even more passionate about the trio of books by Catherine Fox set in Durham about young people studying for the ministry or recently out of university as clergy. I think they have a humor about them that Howatch’s characters lack.

    • I’ve only read the first of these so far; I know Catherine via Twitter and there’s a fourth one due out this year. I’ll let her know about your endorsement of her books!

  67. I am so sorry S.Howatch will not write any more books. The last one I read, wonder worker, was therapy. I loved it.

    • Well, there are two more after The Wonder Worker (published in the UK as A Question of Integrity). They’re the High Flyer and The Heart Breaker. Hope you enjoy!

  68. Pingback: The Herb of Grace by Elizabeth Goudge ~ literature that heals | Zen and the art of tightrope walking

  69. do you know if there exists german translation of “St. Benet’s trilogy” and could you give me the german titles of this 3 books? I am desperately looking for them…..
    forgive my poor english

  70. Reblogged this on Brainfluff and commented:
    After reading Viv’s wonderful review about the writing of one of my all-time favourite authors, Susan Howatch, I immediately wanted to share with you…

  71. Hi Viv,
    I’ve reblogged your wonderful review on my site as I, too, absolutely love her writing and have read them all. She is a writer unlike any other I’ve come across and I recall once reading that while she writes, she sits in tracksuits and works solidly until a book is finished – not even stopping for details like washing her hair. So I suppose I can understand that she got to a stage where that kind of commitment was simply burned out of her…

    Thank you for this – I read it with great enjoyment and appreciation of a marvellous author who seems to have disappeared from view, although it’s heartening to see so very many people also loved her work.

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