Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Word Witch

The Magical Verse of Margaret Mahy: The Word Witch edited by Tessa Duder, illustrated by David Elliot, RRP $44.99 (hardback) ISBN: 9781869507077, Harper Collins
A wonderful collection of 63 of Margaret Mahy's poems with stunning illustrations by David Elliot. You'll find well-known poems such as 'Down the Back of the Chair', 'Bubble Trouble' and 'Dashing Dog' - all now picture books. Tessa Duder also found some that haven't seen the light of day for over 30 years such as: 'When I am Old and Wrinkled Like a Raisin'. Tessa searched school readers, collections picture books, anthologies, magazines and Margaret's private papers.

The credit for suggesting a collection of Margaret's poems goes to Elspeth Tindall who asked as an afterthought in a letter to Tessa: 'I do hope you can persuade someone that Margaret's collected poems would be a good thing...' Tessa thought so very much and so did Lorain Day at Harper Collins Publishing.

When thinking of an illustrator David Elliot was their first choice. David spent over a year illustrating all the poems. I visited David in Dunedin and saw one of the illustrations on the drawing board; he had elephants galloping all over the page. It is such a delight to see it in its finished form. David's whimsical and humorous style suits Margaret's mischievious poems - perfectly.

At the book launch, Tessa said she saw herself as the midwife; gathering up the poems and sending them to David.

David told the crowd that it was a deep privilege to illustrate for a writer he has utmost respect for. Every time he drew an illustration and thought of Margaret Mahy - he felt his illustration wasn't good enough and would start again. For every drawing he did ten roughs. He is hoping to put those pictures together for an exhibition, which will tour around New Zealand.

When Margaret came up to the microphone she said, "I thought I'd start with a poem that isn't in the book."

Tessa and Loraine Day's eyebrows raised (they had thought they had the definitive collection in the book).
Margaret Mahy (rather mischieviously, I thought) read out the very first poem she had thought of - mind you she was only three years old when she crafted it. Margaret said she felt a huge sense of triumph at the time. Margaret then recites another poem. "I've enjoyed having games with words," she said. She told us that David Elliot picks up the words as an image and that he's an illustrator and an artist. Then with that twinkle she said, "I didn't know it had sold out; I'd like to think I've had something to do with that." Everyone laughed at her modesty. Margaret ended her talk telling us, "I've always been a reader, probably more than a writer. What I wrote was an impact, an echo of what I was reading. There were poems in the book that I barely remember writing. I've been an incessant writer, I still am."

Tessa had the last word saying: "Margaret Mahy's poems are truly remarkable".

I agree and so will you when you pick up this gorgeous book of poems.

The book went on sale on the 1st October and within one week it was already sold out. Order your book in time for Christmas. It's the sort of book you'll treasure and never want to part with.

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