Margaret Mahy dies aged 76

22:34, Jul 23 2012
Margaret Mahy
LITERARY GREAT: Margaret Mahy died in Christchurch, aged 76.

Wellington writers who knew Margaret Mahy are today speaking about her generosity, shining intellect and influence on New Zealand literature.

One of New Zealand's most beloved writers, Mahy died in Christchurch yesterday after being diagnosed with cancer in April. She was 76.

Mahy was diagnosed with an inoperable tumour in her jaw in April and was admitted to the hospice ten days ago.

With her death, a Totara had fallen, Wellington writer Fleur Beale said.

Beale, who has published about thirty books, said though Mahy's legacy would live on forever in her works, the country would probably not fully realise what it had lost for quite some time. ''I think we have lost a treasure. A Totara has fallen. The thing that stood out with Margaret was her shining intellect and her generosity.

"She was just always Margaret, she was never this big important person. She was somebody on the same level as everybody else.''


Beale this year won the Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal for her contribution to New Zealand writing for children and young adults. She was the last recipient of the award in Margaret Mahy's lifetime and said this made the author all the more special for her. ''She hadn't been well enough to come to the ceremony but she sent an absolutely generous and wonderful message.''

Wairarapa-based children's author Joy Cowley said she and other writers were planning an hour-long tribute to Mahy at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October.

Cowley said Mahy had a gift of instant repartee. "That's very unusual for a writer. Generally writers write and speakers speak but she did both with excellence."

Wellington fiction author Elizabeth Knox said her first meeting with Mahy was marked by a ''truly Margaret moment''.

"She came to the hotel where I was staying to meet for tea. She turned up and she had a cold and at some point she reached into her sleeve for a tissue and pulled out a tea bag.''

Knox said Mahy was known for her generosity and spirit. ''She was so full of life. She was absolutely delightful. Her mind was amazing. She was just brilliant and funny and always so generous with her time.''

Mahy still had plans for one or two books when she died, her daughter Penny Mahy said. Penny and her sister Bridget, were at their mother's side when she died at the Nurse Maude Hospice in St Albans just after 3pm.

"It was very special," Penny Mahy said.

"We're all in shock. Despite the fact we've known it was inevitable, it's still a shock when it actually happens. We're trying to group together as a family.''

The family received copies of one of Mahy's final works, The Man from the Land of Fandango, last week.

Penny Mahy described her mother as "quite eccentric".

"She was a weirdo at school. She used to have a lot of fantasies.

"I think it did sort of mark her as being a bit special."

Mahy wrote more than 200 books and poems and won many prestigious children's book awards, including the Carnegie Medal, and was the only New Zealander to receive the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

Last year she won the New Zealand Post Children's Book of the Year award for The Moon & Farmer McPhee with Dunedin illustrator David Elliot.

Mahy was made a member of the Order of New Zealand - the highest of the country's honours and open to only 20 living people at one time - in 1993.

- An earlier version of this story referred to Penny Mahy having a second sister, Helen.

Contact Shabnam Dastgheib
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