Tribute to Margaret Mahy – by Nikki Bielinski
March 21, 1936 – July 23, 2012, aged 76.
Margaret Mahy, who at the age of 70 was awarded the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen award for her contribution to children’s literature, has died from cancer.
Mahy, from New Zealand, was also twice a recipient of the UK’s Carnegie medal and was awarded the order of New Zealand in 1993. A prolific writer, she published widely, including at least 100 picture books, 40 novels and 20 short stories. Her work was always highly original and inventive. She had a strong sense of the supernatural, the magical and the quirky. The first book of hers I read was The Boy Who Bounced – the quirky inventiveness was like a breath of fresh air.
Mahy’s picture books, inventive short stories, such as The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate (1972) and The Boy Who Was Followed Home (1975), and teen novels, such as The Catalogue of the Universe (1985) or The Magician of Hoad (2008) were very popular with her intended audience. Her bubble of imagination travelled further than many other published writers Her characters moved easily in these inventive worlds, which created vivid and exciting fiction. The unexpected… always happened.
Her first story, Harry Is Bad, was written when she was only seven.
In her native New Zealand, Mahy won several awards including the Sir Julius Vogel award in 2006 for services to science fiction and fantasy.
It was while she was working as a librarian that an American publisher spotted one of her stories in a Children’s Journal. It was from this her first picture book was published, A Lion in the Meadow (1969). Within a year, Mahy had six books published from her stockpile.
It was a stockpile of more than 100 stories she had written over fifteen years while being a determined single mum. She worked as a librarian during the day and wrote at night.
At the time of her death, Mahy had completed a new picture book, The Man from the Land of Fandango, illustrated by Polly Dunbar, which Clarion Books will release on October 23.
Born in Whakatane, on the North Island of New Zealand, Mahy, The daughter of an English father and New Zealand mother, she was brought up on English literature, including the books of RM Ballantyne and Robert Louis Stevenson. When asked about her childhood influences and their impact on her writing, Mahy said, “I found it difficult to write a specifically New Zealand story because I got all of my magical displacement from Beatrix Potter, Winnie the Pooh and Swallows and Amazons.”
Mahy lived by the sea with a many cats and could be reclusive. She loved going on long walks, which helped sort out what she was trying to write. In her stories, Mahy could make the supernatural feel real. She always believed the supernatural was there, whether others believed it or not.
She wanted to share her love of story with as many people as she could. She told parents, “’read to your kids; share stories and they will enrich your lives in ways you can’t even begin to imagine”.
She is survived by two daughters, Penny and Bridget.
Fourteen years ago Margaret Mahy had a tattoo of a skull with a rose in its teeth on her right shoulder. She was 62 and had at last disregarded her mother’s advice never to get a tattoo – “you’ll only be sorry”.
Mahy decided “I haven’t got a lot of time to be sorry,” she said, “and it might be rather fun to have a pirate tattoo.”
… and reading Mahy’s stories for generations to come will also be fun, extraordinary, inspirational and boundary pushing.