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Time for Tey: Blue plaque honour for the Agatha Christie of Inverness

A blue plaque has been announced for the 'crime writer's crime writer' Elizabeth MacKintosh, aka Josephine Tey.

It’s a good week for fans of the ‘crime writer’s crime writer’.

In fact, it’s not Agatha Christie who holds that honour from the British Crime Writers’ Association, but Elizabeth MacKintosh of Inverness,  aka Josephine Tey and Gordon Daviot.

Her enthusiastic readers have lately been calling for a blue plaque to honour her in her home city, and now the word is that, subject to planning details, Josephine Tey is to get her plaque.

It will be on the Highland Housing Alliance building currently under construction in Castle Street, site of Elizabeth’s father’s greengrocers shop at No. 53.

Feted in London

Despite being a feted author in the London literary and theatre scene in the pre- and post-war years, Elizabeth opted to stay permanently in Inverness, caring for her widowed father while carrying on with her literary output.

In a campaign driven by her biographer, Jennifer Morag Henderson, many representations for a blue plaque for Elizabeth have been made by admirers of her work to Inverness City Heritage Trust (ICHT).

Collage of Jopsephine Tey titles.

Crime novelist SG MacLean of the Damian Seeker and Alexander Seaton mysteries said it would be “an omission not to mark her strong ties” with the Highland capital.

“I think it would be an excellent idea to have a plaque on the site in Castle Street.

“I think the city should celebrate its literary heritage and that given Josephine Tey’s huge success during her lifetime and the fact that her work is still cherished by readers of crime fiction the world over, it seems an omission not to mark her strong ties with Inverness in this way.”

Novelist, poet and playwright Kevin MacNeil said he fully supported the idea of a blue plaque “at the very least” to commemorate Josephine Tey.

“I don’t think we acknowledge – far less celebrate – Tey enough in Scotland,” he added.

Jennifer Morag Henderson, biographer of Josephine Tey.
Jennifer Morag Henderson is the biographer of Inverness crime writer Josephine Tey. Supplied by Jennifer Morag Henderson.

And so the hundreds of letters of support continued, from other crime writers and novelists, academics, book bloggers and members of the public.

The representations have won round ICHT.

The trust’s Alison Tanner announced: “The board of Inverness City Heritage Trust support the proposal to erect a plaque to commemorate the life and work of playwright and novelist Josephine Tey.

“We are working with Jennifer Morag Henderson on the wording of the plaque, which we hope will be installed on the Highland Housing Alliance property on Castle Street when it is completed next year.”

There’s more good news for Tey fans this week.

Jennifer’s biography Josephine Tey: A Life  has been reprinted by publishers Sandstone in a special 125th anniversary edition, launched today (November 4), including a preface with new material gathered since the original 2015 edition.

“There aren’t any radical new discoveries,” Jennifer says, “several small snippets, but it reinforces a lot of what I had already written and adds interest.”

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), English crime writer. 
Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), English crime writer.

But what’s really been exciting Jennifer lately are letters she has uncovered between Josephine Tey and that other great crime writer of her time, Dorothy L Sayers.

She said: “The letters between Sayers and Tey are new to me.

“I already knew from speaking to various people during my research that Tey and Sayers had spoken, but I couldn’t prove it until now.

“It was actually a chance line in a newspaper article I read that set me off on a search for these letters – they are in an archive in America.

“It wasn’t terribly easy to get hold of them – not just because of the pandemic and library closures – but I was so pleased when I finally read them.

“Not only did it give some valuable new information, it was just wonderful to read Josephine Tey’s distinctive voice once more.”

Jennifer will publish an online article shortly about the Tey-Sayers letters in collaboration with Martin Edwards, a crime writer (The Golden Age of Murder), editor of the popular British Library Crime Classics series and past president of the Crime Writers Association and the Detection Club.

Martin is also supportive of a blue plaque for Tey.

He said: “Josephine Tey was one of the most gifted exponents of detective fiction of her era, a writer whose elegant blend of character, setting, and storyline made for enjoyable mysteries which have entertained readers across the world for more than 90 years.”

William Topaz McGonagall, Neil Gunn and Robert Burns all have blue plaques in Inverness. Now their ranks will be swelled by Josephine Tey.

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