Margaret Mahy

"My favourite writing is stories and books that sound a certain way and where I can be in charge of the story until the very end. The pleasure I get from these stories is similar to the pleasure I receive from other people's books, but slower, more troubled, and more uncertain."

Margaret Mahy would have to be New Zealand's best-known author of children's books. In recent years so many of her books have been incorporated into the New Zealand education system that every child passing through will have read her several times. 

Born in 1936, Margaret Mahy, the child, loved the stories of authors like A.A. Milne, Lewis Carroll, the Brother Grimm and Beatrix Potter. She started writing early on with her first story being Harry is Bad, written at the tender age of seven-years-old. She followed this by writing poems and stories for a newspaper childen's column. 

At 12-years-old Margaret entered Whakatane High school where she continued to write stories and poems for the school magazine. In secondary school her own interests in reading turned to the likes of Charles Dickens, the Bronte sister and William Shakespeare.

Once at Auckland University she did a great deal of reading, taking a special interest in New Zealand writers. It was now that she discovered an enjoyment for short stories as well as poems and books. Her degree was completed at Canterbury University, then she took up a job in Wellington as a librarian. Most of her life since that time has been spent living in Christchurch, interspersed with frequent trips around New Zealand and abroad.

In the 1960's Margaret sent many stories to various publishers while also working with the school Library service. The rejection letters flowed swiftly with publishers complaining the stories were too English in flavour and setting. However, the Publication branch of the Department of education showed an interest in her stories for school journals. 

Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy on one of her many school visits which foster a love of books and reading among children.

Some of these school journals were sent to the United States, where someone noticed Margaret's work and like what they saw. They drew them to the attention of Helen Hoke Watts who is a major publisher of quality children's stories in Britain and the United States. Much to Margaret's delight they sent her a cheque and a request for further stories. In 1969 her first book, The Lion in the Meadow, was published. Helen Hoke Watts later visited Margaret to request further stories, she also invited Margaret to come to London which she did in 1973. 

In 1976 she became children's librarian at the Christchurch Public Library, but the increasing demand for her stories was making working difficult. She also started organising children's entertainment and activities; this included wearing a multi-coloured wig and a possum outfit or a penguin suit. These outfits were to become very well-known during her visits to schools as part of the 'Writers in Schools Scheme." That same year Margaret won a grant from the literary fund, this enabled her to tackle writing full-time during the next twelve months. When 1980 came Margaret took the big plunge, left her job and started to write full-time.

The Lion in the Meadow has been followed by more than 150 titles. Margaret Mahy has won many important awards including the Esther Glen Award for children's stories (three times) and the Carnegie Medal (twice). This particular award is the highest award for any children's writer in the United Kingdom. Her works are now published in more than a dozen languages and some of these countries have also recognised her talent with awards like the Italian Premier Grafico Medal in 1976, the Dutch Silver Pen Award in 1977 and the Boston Globe/Horn Books Honour Book in 1984. This is just a sprinkling of the numerous awards and scholarships Margaret Mahy has won.

Margaret Mahy has spent much time entertaining children at public readings and during school visits. With these she fosters a love of reading among children. Her work in also appears in musicals and on television. Her literature is of an extremely high quality and wide-ranging from short humorous stories to more serious novels.

The awards listed above were won for the following books:

Carnegie Medals: 1982 The Haunting and 1984 The Changeover.
Italian Premier Grafico Medal: 1976 The Wind Between the Stars.
Dutch Silver Pen Award: 1977 The Boy Who Was Followed Home.
Boston Globe/Horn Books Honour Book: 1984 The Changeover.
Esther Glen Award: 1970 The Lion in the Meadow, 1972 The First Margaret Mahy Picture Book, 1983 The Haunting and 1985 The Changeover.

The Esther Glen Award, for excellence in children's literature, was set up in 1945 by the New Zealand Library Association. It is named after author Esther Glen who was so beloved by children for her writing that when she died they flocked to her funeral with flowers. She is particularly remembered for the special love she held for all children, and how she always wore her prettiest frocks to cheer youngsters at the many parties she attended. Aside from her work with children Esther Glen was considered one of the finest women journalists in the country during the 1920s and 1930s.