Muse by Craig Ranapia

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Muse: OPEN HOUSE: Margaret Mahy, The Storyteller in The Meadow

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  • JLM,

    Thank you Craig. I have memories, a couple of direct contacts, so many more of words and delight, but I would rather let others start. As my daughter said when she heard , "I think my childhood just died a little bit too."

    Judy Martin's southern sl… • Since Apr 2007 • 239 posts Report Reply

  • perplexed,

    I can't think of Margaret Mahy without thinking about my son. We read so many of her stories together and took great delight from them. The great grumbler and the wonder tree was an especial favourite.

    Thanks for many happy memories, the books will be alive for a long time yet.

    Wellington • Since Aug 2011 • 12 posts Report Reply

  • JLM,

    Seeing as there isn't the queue I thought there would be, I'll share my tiny memory of working at the Christchurch School Library Services over one university summer - I think it must have been 69/70. It wasn't till I'd been there a few days and saw the display of picture books with the same name as my courteous and business-like boss, that I found out that she was a new "hot" picture-book writer, and it wasn't from her.

    She was a lovely person and a lovely boss. The snippet I remember most clearly is her anxiety when one of her daughters threw a sickie and took herself home from school to be home alone. The worries of working parents don't change much.

    The thing that has delighted me most is how everyone on twitter and facebook etc remembers different books and words. One of my friends said "she'll have an escort of 17 kings and 42 elephants", and I didn't even know which book she meant.

    Judy Martin's southern sl… • Since Apr 2007 • 239 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    One of my friends said “she’ll have an escort of 17 kings and 42 elephants”, and I didn’t even know which book she meant.

    Oh, I love that so much -- it's such great fun to read out loud you don't really notice what a lovely piece poetic clockwork it is. Which you can say about a pleasingly high proportion of Mahy's writing. It's not just making the difficult look easy, but spontaneous.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I suspect any family that has let Margaret Mahy’s books into the home has a particular book that characterises childhood reading time: ours is The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate, whose vowels and consonants tumble and repeat like waves.

    How many times did we read that book? I have no idea. When I met Margaret briefly in the 1990s, I told her that her book had taken over our lives. She looked briefly startled until I reassured her I meant that in a good way. I might also add that she was exactly how you’d want her to be – delightful and kind.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22744 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

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    I have no personal story to add (I don’t think I even had a school visit from her), but I was crushed when I read that she had died. I was given The Changeover to read in high school for English and devoured it all in one night. I, uh, also stole the book because I couldn’t bear to part with it. Margaret Mahy made me a criminal! I continued reading all her YA fiction and I credit her in large part with making me such a lover of YA in general.

    Since becoming a parent I have rediscovered the books for littler children and I love them, particularly The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate. This is my favourite part (and it kinda chokes me up, truth be told):

    “The little man could only stare. He hadn’t dreamed of the BIGNESS of the sea. He hadn’t dreamed of the blueness of it. He hadn’t thought it would roll like kettledrums, and swish itself on to the beach. He opened his mouth, and the drift and the dream of it, the fume and the foam of it never left him again.”

    My older son is obsessed with A Lion in the Meadow and I’ve read it to him literally hundreds of times. (The photo is him at nearly two, “reading” it to himself, which seems appropriate for this thread.)

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • JLM, in reply to Danielle,

    “The little man could only stare. He hadn’t dreamed of the BIGNESS of the sea. He hadn’t dreamed of the blueness of it. He hadn’t thought it would roll like kettledrums, and swish itself on to the beach. He opened his mouth, and the drift and the dream of it, the fume and the foam of it never left him again.”

    Mine too. We have a battered old library copy in our house (not stolen, Danielle, but I would have) that has the original intense collage illustrations - so much more in keeping than the later edition.

    Judy Martin's southern sl… • Since Apr 2007 • 239 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    My daughter was just the right age for Maddigan's Fantasia when it came out. And then when she wanted to know if Mahy had written anything else, I could tell her, yeah, all those books you loved when you were little.

    I don't think there's a kid who grew up in Chch in the last few decades who didn't have Mahy come and read to them at school.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Danielle,

    Margaret Mahy made me a criminal!

    If anyone did that to a book of mine, I’d be awfully stern… and struggling to keep the grin off my mug. :) Which reminds me, I’ve got to start recovering my copies of Mahy’s YA novels from various not-as-young-as-they-used-to-be-lings. As a general rule, I NEVER loan out my books but things like The Changeover, The Tricksters and The Catalog of the Universe just wouldn’t stay put.

    My mother is not, and never has been, a pirate but Mahy was one hell of a good witch.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • JacksonP, in reply to Danielle,

    My older son is obsessed with A Lion in the Meadow and I’ve read it to him literally hundreds of times.

    We read that to the twins until they could 'read' it back to us while we turned the pages. Well before they could actually read of course.

    Now at 10 they have just started reading through some of her other works. I'm surprised by how little of her YA and other stories I have read. Something to look forward to I guess, with some sadness also.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2011 • 2448 posts Report Reply

  • Grant Buist,

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    Tomorrow's Jitterati:

    Wellington, NZ • Since May 2012 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    My daughters have some very generous book benefactors among their grandparents, so I don't often get a chance to buy children's books myself - last night I spent $80 ordering various Mahy anthologies from Amazon and Fishpond. It's been so long I hardly remember any details of her stories, but I do remember the sense of love and imagination I got from them. I'm looking forward to rediscovering that with my kids.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 976 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    I still remember "The Pirate Uncle", one of Mahy's earlier efforts.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5415 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to Danielle,

    Danielle, that little excerpt from The Man Whose Mother Was A Pirate just choked me up as well. We love that story so much.
    Other favourites - The Summery Saturday Morning. which is so quintessentially Lyttelton harbour. And Kaitangata Twitch, which my 13 year old lad has been obsessed with, and which was turned into a wonderful TV series as well.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 821 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    Lovely tribute Craig, well done.
    It was an absolute pleasure interviewing her back in 2006. Although we only had about 30 minutes (it was inbetween her reading to children at the Dunedin Public Library, yes, she was wearing one of her famous coloured wigs), she touched on so many different aspects of storytelling- everything from how storywriters "exploit" their characters to how the surrounding landscape can "become ghosts".

    I can't think many writers who evoked the pleasure and importance of reading as well as her. And I can't think of many who were so willing to share their gift. Her work belongs to all of us.

    RIP to a wonderful lady.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 445 posts Report Reply

  • Kairakau,

    My two children came upstairs in tears when they heard the news. They are 16 and 19. So many of our best family moments were a gift from Margaret Mahy.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2012 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Adamson,

    I have been surprised at just how much Margaret Mahy’s death has affected me today. I grew up with The Lion in the Meadow and no doubt have many other Mahy characters and phrases imprinted on my DNA. The Summery Saturday Morning has been a real favourite to read to our children.

    Despite being a very rationale non-superstitious type I couldn’t help refecting on the appropriateness of the other headline with which her passing shared the front page of this morning’s Press: Library closure ‘king hit’ for regular users. The wonderful family friendly library just over the hill from Margaret’s longterm home has closed it’s doors in mourning…

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2012 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    MM was important for my generation because she was a single mother and a librarian and gave status to both.

    It has been interesting in the tributes that she seemed to have visited every school and every library in NZ, and replied to every letter from every child. From what Tessa Duder said this morning on Nine to Noon she probably did.

    My story is that when my daughter was young and very ill I wrote to MM after a book reading about how much it had cheered my daughter up. She sent back a package of assorted signed books, which have been treasured ever since.

    I have just found the biography in the book shelf - next bedtime reading.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3196 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams, in reply to Carol Stewart,

    Other favourites - The Summery Saturday Morning. which is so quintessentially Lyttelton harbour. And Kaitangata Twitch, which my 13 year old lad has been obsessed with, and which was turned into a wonderful TV series as well.

    My youngest daughters were/are particularly fond of Summery Saturday Morning - I once contemplated redecorating their room by painting some of the scenes on the walls but I lack the ability. My seven year old is now watching Kaitangata Twitch (which is a little scarey for her) on ABC in Sydney. I too will be buying up some of Mahy's books for older kids and teens.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2273 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Davidson,

    I still remember Margaret coming to read to my primary school class thirty-something years ago. To this day I recall it was my first brush with someone really famous in person, even if she did wear a multi-coloured clown wig.

    I don't have memories of any other visitor in all of my schooling (other than the helmet lady).

    Sydney • Since Mar 2007 • 59 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams,

    But her magic was something deeper and more profound. It was about respect.

    Craig, this is exactly my sense also (and it's so very evident in your tribute too).

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2273 posts Report Reply

  • lynley ruck,

    My daughter (24) told me that she learnt that "some stories are true and some aren't" from MM - I learnt that a witch can only come into your house if invited, and that witches actually like the smell of burning biscuits and will ALWAYS think of MM when I burn a batch some damp dull day.

    New Zealand • Since May 2012 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Anne Goodman,

    I knew very little about New Zealand when I arrived from England over 30 years ago but I knew about Margaret Mahy. Even then, on the other side of the world, she was hailed as one of the best ever children's writers - though I think it took a bit longer before her amazing talent was fully recognised here. There are a few people of whom New Zealand can be incredibly proud and she is certainly one of them.

    Since Jul 2012 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • pcorrect,

    I knew she was a witch!!!!! Heard it confirmed on the radio this morning.

    I knew, because when I was a just grasshopper I'd go hunting in the Canterbury Library for Tintin books which usually leaned up against the grandfather clock (not the concrete library, the original one by the Christchurch Police station) and I'd come across her hiding behind shelves. She'd have a group of kids my size open mouthed at the story she was reading them from a book.

    And this is how I knew she was a witch.

    You see, she used to have the book turned to the kids so she couldn't see the pages and yet she still knew all the words!!!

    Auckland • Since Jun 2009 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    I love her young adult books, and her children's books. One of the last picture books I bought for my girls, before they moved onto chapter books, was Down the Back of the Chair_ - a wonderful book to read aloud. We have Kaitangata Twitch in both book and TV series (on DVD) form. When we first watched it, I was thrilled to see Margaret Mahy in an early scene in the library, in her trademark wig.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

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