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Strength in the shadows of Scottish history: book celebrates Jean Armour, Robbie Burns’ wife
Okanagan College Media Release

The day the world celebrates famed Scottish poet Robbie Burns this year (Jan. 25), Melanie Murray is hoping the world will take note of another key player in the saga of Burns’ life: Jean Armour, the poets’ wife.Melanie Murray Jan 2017

“I’m sure that without Jean, we wouldn’t have the body of work from Burns hat we have today,” says Murray, an English professor at Okanagan College. Her book
Should Auld Acquaintance: Discovering the Woman Behind Robert Burns, will be released by publisher Nightwood Editions on Jan. 25. “Everyone who knows Burns, knows Bonie Jean, but that doesn’t tell the story.”

Murray’s focus on Armour dates back five years, when she was in Scotland researching her first book, For Your Tomorrow, the Way of An Unlikely Soldier. That’s the story of her Scottish nephew Jeff Francis who served – and died – in the armed forces in Afghanistan. Being a fan of Burns, and with some time on her hands, she went to Mauchline, where Burns and Armour met, and visited the graveyard where their four daughters were buried.

“Knowing the grief my sister felt over her son’s death, I found myself thinking about the grief that Jean must have felt losing her four daughters. I couldn’t stop thinking about her.”

Five years of research, tracing the steps of Armour and Burns, visiting the towns and homes where they lived, resulted in the book – and Murray’s intense respect for Armour. Burns died at age 36. Armour was 31 with six children to raise. She lived another 35 years. “She was giving birth to her last child as he was being buried,” Murray notes. “She was a strong, passionate, resilient woman.”

“I wanted to give her a voice,” says Murray. “I want people to think about her story.”

Murray’s book is not a traditional biography: “It’s creative non-fiction. After going to these places, I wanted to take the facts and bring them to life, so I introduced myself into the story as a narrator. I really feel close to her and I feel I really know her. Hence the title…”

“Melanie Murray has achieved a startling intimacy in Should Auld Acquaintance,” notes Frances Greenslade, another OC English professor and author of Shelter. “She comes across less as an author and more as an affectionate friend, a patient listener to the ghost of Jean Armour telling her own story. I felt like an eavesdropper, listening in on the deliciously private conversation between two women born centuries apart, but who both knew what it was to yearn for something beyond the conventions their eras demanded of them.”

The book is available through Amazon.ca, Amazon.uk, Barnes and Noble, Chapters-Indigo and Harbour Publishing.

“The book provides the millions of Burns acolytes around the world with a new perspective on the wife of the famous poet and on the poet, himself,” says Murray.

“It brings focus to someone who deserves attention in her own right.”

A launch for Murray’s new book will take place Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at Infusions Restaurant on the Kelowna campus.