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Margaret Mahy, 1936-2012
SSar's Beast
Margaret Mahy, beloved New Zealand author, winner of the Hans Christian Andersen award, and member of the Order of New Zealand, died yesterday. For many people of my generation, Margaret Mahy was the first author we could name. This generation and the previous generation of New Zealanders grew up on her stories. Everyone knows The Lion in the Meadow or The Witch in the Cherry Tree, or The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate. One of my earliest favourites was the little book The Pirates' Mixed Up Voyage, about a quest for perfect gingerbread among an actual 1,000 islands (all numbered), with a plot to rival a good adult mystery. By the time I was about five, I had two Margaret Mahy short story collections on my shelf - they'd come to me with covers ripped off, so my parents had helped me make new ones, with wobbly titles and very bad drawings of unicorns. I was around age five when I met her for the first time, too: I was an overawed queue-er with her mother in a huge line of children lined up to get her signature at the Auckland Museum. This journal, Janua Caeli, takes its name from the inscription on the gate of Winter, Miryam and Sorry's home in The Changeover.

Her influence on me was vast. I can even name three specific Margaret Mahy books I thought of in the last three days before this news. Yesterday, during the day, I happened to be reading about the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, and I recalled the character Tycho in Mahy's novel The Catalogue of the Universe. The day before that, I was thinking about the story 'The Door in the Air' (The Door in the Air and Other Stories) and how I wanted to use the idea of the Prince's star map in West of the Moon, that being the Great Sprawling Novel I Am Writing in My Head About Jewish Were-Creatures. The previous day, I recalled a beautiful idea about cruelty that the characters discuss in the last few pages of The Changeover, one of my favourite books of all time. The person I would have been without her work is not Morbane.

At some point last week, even, I know that (for some reason) I was thinking about an radio interview I was very privileged to hear a few years ago, in which Diana Wynne Jones was interviewing Margaret Mahy, or vice versa, about their shared interests in writing. It was a total coincidence that I caught that interview: my mother and I were out doing some kind of shopping errand in Auckland, and Mum turned on the radio for some reason, and there it was. So we sat quietly in the parking lot of a fabric store for half an hour and just listened. I was especially reflecting on the privilege because Diana Wynne Jones is dead now. And now, so is Margaret Mahy.

More stories: I remember being a bit older, having audio books out from the library, and deciding that even if I couldn't be a great author like she was (it daunted me), I could contribute by recording her books aloud on tape. I got through oh, three paragraphs of the story in The Door in the Air and Other Stories about the girl who is invited to look through a magician's coloured windows at a hundred other worlds (it ends with sausages for tea), and realised that this was very hard and involved lots of mistakes and do-overs. I remember meeting her for the second time when I was about sixteen or seventeen. Some students from my high school were attending a writing workshop for teenagers, and it included a poetry competition, whose prize she was awarding. I butted in on a lovely, gracious conversation she was having with the prize winner (a girl who turned up eight years later in my Whitireia publishing class, because New Zealand is like that) to tell her that she was my hero. It was awkward. And yet, I got to tell my idol, in person, that she was my idol. I can't regret that, however bumptious. It was not the only time I got personal experience of her tact: last year, an article of hers was included in a magazine edited by my publishing class. Several talented but recently-established authors were very precious about the students' editing, getting snippy and angry about tiny style changes. Mahy gently expressed her confidence in the Whitireia team, and was lovely to deal with.

Her writing is excellent. She was a very good children's author, and one who connected with children very well in person, too - there are a hundred photos extant of her wearing a rainbow wig to take story time sessions as a children's librarian. She was a very good educator and most of her (vast) published work is probably literacy materials for schools. But she was the kind of children's author who didn't aim specifically at children in her trade publications. Her ideas often went quite deep. Her stories were often very funny, and the protagonists were not always kids.

If you'd like to get into her work, I especially recommend The Changeover, but her short story collections are all very rich. Dangerous Spaces, a YA-ish novel, is good. I actually have a lot of her work yet to look forward to. And I mean to experience it.

I don't believe in an afterlife. But I am agnostic, willing to entertain possibilities. And if anyone could conjure up a possibility, it was Margaret Mahy.

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"The Pirates' Mixed Up Voyage" is one of my favorite children's books. I still have a copy of it somewhere. I'm glad to hear that it touched someone else because I've never heard anyone else mention it.

Wow! Wow! An interview between Margaret Mahy and Dianna Wynne Jones! There must be a record of it somewhere. The Changeover is a genuinely brilliant book (but you know that) and I guess you know The Time of the Ghost, which is brilliant too.
I am so glad you got to tell Mahy how much you admired her - there are too many authors that I was alive and conscious for that I didn't ever write to say how much I admired them.

I haven't actually read The Time of the Ghost, but thank you for the recommendation - I'll move it up my list. ^!^

Yes, it really was a privilege to say that to her.

Hm, for purposes of narrowing it down - it would have been some point between November 2010 and May 2011, I think - I will try to find out more about when that could have been. I just looked on the Radio NZ website, which lists a few Mahy interviews (http://www.radionz.co.nz/collections/margaretmahy) none of which are that.

A few minutes of googling hasn't helped either, sorry. (I wouldn't mind hearing it again myself!) If I find it, I'll post it in this journal.

Also, hi?

Oh, thanks! re potentially posting the link in your journal. :) That would be wonderful.

Hi to you! :) I came to look at your journal because you mentioned The Changeover in the Exchange at Fic Corner comments. (I had it as a prompt in the three-sentence ficathon on Dreamwidth in March (My prompt was "The Changeover, Winter/any, the same river, twice."), but nobody bit.)

It sounds like a terrific exchange. I'm right now engaged in the Narnia Fic Exchange, and finding writing two fics at once challenging, but if it wasn't for that, I think I'd really like to have a go.I am very keen on children's (ha!) literature.

No success so far re: interview...

I didn't follow that ficathon! I'm intrigued by your prompt but might have found it rather difficult, myself. We know so little about Winter.

Enjoy the Narnia Fic Exchange! I signed up as a beta for that, so I'm currently re-reading the books. (I hope you manage to come do the Fic Corner exchange too. Somehow.)

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