Few are the authors whose writing stays with you as Margaret Mahy’s does – the speed with which she was quoted after news of her death spread on Twitter last night suggesting few had need to seek out the quotes in question. They were in their head as that line from The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate is in mine, and always will be. She transformed forever the way I see the sea. That is what great writing does.
Great writing also allows itself to be read aloud – delights in being read aloud. I can’t be the only parent whose heart lifted when their children returned from their bedroom with a stack of Margaret Mahy picture books to have read to them, and left behind those inferior other picture books that strained so hard and so unsuccessfully for the scansion and sense of verbal play that marked Mahy out as a genius. (In the case of The Witch in the Cherry Tree, it didn’t hurt either that the 70s mum in Jenny Williams’s illustrations was such a fox.)
These are my abiding memories of Mahy – the memories of a reader. I did exchange emails with her a few times, always just before Christmas, about books she agreed to review for various children’s book specials. It was always a thrill – my heart not so much lifted as in my mouth. And she was always a complete delight.
As I went through my contact list seeking contributors for our tribute below, I came across Mahy’s own details, my heart this time sinking. I, like most of us, had no idea she was ill, and when I stumbled upon the news of her death on Beattie’s Book Blog last night it was like a punch to the stomach. As someone on Twitter said: “Does New Zealand feel just a little bit… less New Zealand tonight, without Margaret Mahy? I think so.”
I think so, too.
Below are memories of Mahy from a varied bunch of New Zealanders who either knew her personally and/or professionally or read her. We’ll be adding to these memories over the next few days (I asked a lot of people), and we invite you to give your memories at the bottom of the post in our comment thread.
Link here to The Listener's special piece which Guy Somerset says will be updated as more memories come in.