Sara Maitland: About Me

Picture of Sara Maitland

I was born in 1950, the second of six children and grew up in London and South West Scotland. I went to Oxford University in 1968; I studied English and (more importantly) discovered feminism, socialism, Christianity and friendship, which have proved the bedrock of my adult life.

I always wanted to be a writer – and in 1972 Faber published some early short stories in a series they then called Introduction. I joined a wonderful feminist writing group with Zoe Fairbairns, Valerie Miner, Michele Roberts, and Michelene Wandor and we wrote Tales I Tell My Mother. This enabled me to write my first novel Daughter of Jerusalem, which won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1978. Since then I have been a writer. Mostly I write about women and the entangled emotions of terror and beauty. I use a lot of old stories from diverse traditions – fairy stories, myths and folk tales. I am a deeply committed (Roman Catholic) Christian, and that also informs my work. Short stories are my favourite genre, but I also write novels and non-fiction.

I was a vicar’s wife for over twenty years and have two grown up children: Polly Lee is an actress in New York and Adam Lee is a photographer - he took all the photographs on this site and did the cover of A Book of Silence and the pictures in Gossip from the Forest.

Picture of Polly Lee Picture of Adam Lee

For the last twelve years though, I have been living on my own and pursuing a deep and joyful fascination with silence. In 2007 I built a little house on a wild moor in northern Galloway. Now I live up here with Zoe, a sort of border terrier.

My nearest neighbours are a household of Barn Owls who occupy an owl box in a nearby ruined barn. I am struggling to make a garden on a high windswept moor where the soil is a discouraging mixture of peat bog over clay with chunks of extruding granite. Here I write and pray and walk and am happy.

In Scottish Journey (1935) Edwin Muir described the moor where I live:

Picture of Scotish House Picture of Scotish House and moorland Picture of Zoe

"It is difficult to give any impression of that beautiful and almost quite solitary stretch of moorland which lies between Newton Stewart and the bleak village of Barrhill in the south of Ayrshire. For about twenty miles I can remember seeing only two houses. On every side the moorland flowed away in low waves to the horizon, except where it was broken, far away in the east, by the dark mountains of Galloway. There was no sign of life, except for a few distant sheep nibbling the harsh tufts of grass that grew here and there among the heather; even the birds did not seem to come here, and the only sound I heard was one of a lark singing high up. The thin air was sweetened by a thousand scents rising into it from every tuft in these miles of moorland, mingling as they rose, so that one seemed to be breathing in the landscape itself, drinking it in with all one's senses except that of hearing, which was magically stilled. The silence of such places is so complete that it sinks into one's mind in waves, making it clearer and clearer, drenching it as with a potion concocted out of some positive life-giving essence, not out of the mere absence of sound. In that silence the moor was a living thing spreading its fleece of purple and brown and green to the sun. As I sat in the heather, breathing in the perfume, it seemed to me that I could feel new potentialities of nature working in this scene, secrets that I had never known or else had quite forgotten: perhaps they were merely memories of childhood, when one is capable being alone with nature as one can rarely be in later years, and is more clearly aware of its powers. There was not one contour, one variation of colour which did not suggest peace and gladness; and the loneliness and silence surrounding the moor were like a double dream enclosing it and making it safe, one might have thought, for ever."