Mahy 'up there with Mansfield'

23:30, Jul 24 2012
Daniel Coates
Still enthralling: Daniel Coates, 6, and sister Eleanor Coates, 4, read a Margaret Mahy book from a display set up in the Blenheim Library to celebrate the author’s work. Mahy died on Monday

A friend and fellow author who was working with Margaret Mahy before she died on Monday has described Mahy as a deep thinking, generous woman.

Children's author and illustrator Gavin Bishop knew Mahy for 40 years and said she was one of the world's best children's authors.

"I think we forget how famous she was. You go anywhere else, to America or Britain, and mention her name there will be someone there who knows her work. For the things she did in New Zealand she's certainly up there with Janet Frame, Katherine Mansfield and Maurice Gee. Her young adult fictions are extraordinary pieces of work."

Christchurch-based Bishop said the pair often spoke of doing a book together, finally working on their first collaboration this year. Sadly, Mahy did not live to see the publication of the book, Mr Whistler, which will be released in October.

The release of Mr Whistler would be a "fantastic" day showing Mahy's legacy and her books would never go away, he said.

As well as supporting many established Kiwi authors Mahy would spend hours reading stories sent to her by children and writing back with advice and support, he said.


A great performer in public, she was actually a very private person and a deep thinker with an extraordinary memory, Bishop said.

"I used to sometimes look at her and think ‘my God this old lady where the hell is she coming from' because she'd come out with such amazingly profound, insightful, comments on things. Sometimes she would barely remember what happened yesterday, but if you gave her a line of poetry no matter what it was she'd rattle off the rest."

Marlborough Library children's librarian Tania Miller said Mahy's books were among the most popular in the children's library and she was a big part of growing up for many Kiwi kids.

"For New Zealanders so much of what we know as children comes from Margaret Mahy, like lions, witches, pirates and crocodiles."

Her success in being awarded the top international prize for children's literature, the Hans Christian Andersen award in 2006, showed Mahy's calibre as an international author, she said.

Mahy was also an accomplished poet, but it was her performances reading to children around the country that made her stand out in many New Zealanders' memories, she said.

"I remember as a child her coming to my school with her wig and reading her stories. She was amazing. For kids it's so engaging when a person is so obviously passionate about what they're doing and she was completely immersed."

The library has set up a display about Mahy showcasing her work.

Blenheim Bookworld co-owner Peter Scott said the store's first 12 customers yesterday had all been wanting to buy Mahy books. They sold consistently well before her death, he said.

The Marlborough Express