Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Remembering Margaret Mahy - Philippa Werry reports

Remembering Margaret Mahy was the title of a symposium held in Wellington on 22 September, bringing together a roomful of academics, writers and readers to talk about and celebrate Margaret’s stories, poems, novels and film scripts.

Tessa Duder set the scene with a summary of Margaret’s life and achievements, from the early years when she would often stay up writing until nearly dawn. Later in the day she was sometimes known to fall asleep over her library filing cards, and thoughtful colleagues would quietly re-check her filing in the afternoon.

Kay Hancock gave a fascinating glimpse of some of the many titles Margaret wrote for the Ready to Read series, and Dr Vivien Van Rij followed this with a talk on her work for the School Journal. As a contributor to both series, I loved these two talks and the way they highlighted Margaret’s fabulous work in this area. Books such as Fantail, fantail or The bubbling crocodile would be a delight for any child to read, with their mix of charm, humour, clever rhythm and rhyme, rich language, appealing characters and warm family situations. I especially liked the cheerful, impulsive Crocodile who is enchanted by the foamy soap bubbles: “The Crocodile is a great lover of beauty,” wrote Margaret.

Dave Gibson, from Gibson Group, said that working with Margaret was one of the fondest memories of his professional life. He kept us entertained with film clips from Cuckoo Land (featuring the singing, dancing IRD men and the wonderful Library Recovery team), as well as slightly spooked with The haunting of Barney Palmer and the rather creepy Typhon’s People (here on NZ On Screen: http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/the-haunting-of-barney-palmer-1986 and http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/typhons-people-1993)

Harry Ricketts then introduced two writers who each spoke from a personal perspective: Eirlys Hunter as a parent who had read and reread Margaret’s picture books to her children, and James Norcliffe as a near neighbour and grateful recipient – as many other writers were - of Margaret’s legendary kindness and generosity.

After lunch, a number of other speakers focused on Margaret’s writing process and her YA novels. Finally Dr Anna Jackson introduced Elizabeth Knox, who ended the day in style with a fine address on The other side of silence. 

Thanks to the English Department at Victoria University for organising such a great event.

Philippa Werry

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