'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 23 October 2009

Interview: Author/Illustrator Margaret Merry

Who is this talented person? Margaret Merry

Where can you take a squiz at her stuff? www.margaretmerry.com and www.guajar.blogspot.com

What is her story? I grew up in Falmouth where, after leaving Falmouth High School, I spent a year at Falmouth School of Art. Then followed three years at Hornsey College of Art in London where I obtained a Diploma in Art and Design. I then spent a post-graduate year at the West of England College of Art in Bristol where I gained an Art Teachers Diploma and a Certificate in Education of the University of Bristol.

I lived and worked in Truro for over 30 years and became one of Cornwall’s most popular artists. My paintings have been exhibited in New York, Tokyo, Paris and London and have been bought by collectors from all over the world. I have published four books which became local bestsellers - The Natural History of a Westcountry City, Margaret Merrys Cornish Garden Sketchbook, Sea & Sail and Tidal Reaches.

In 2002, I moved to Spain and now live on a farm near the pretty village of Guajar Alto in the mountains between Granada and the coast. I now get my inspiration from the dramatic mountain scenery of Andalucia which I finds lends itself to the medium of pastel and the old towns and villages which I prefer to capture in watercolour.

The scenery around my home provides endless, beautiful subjects for landscape painting and I am prepared to offer instruction to small groups who would like to enjoy a painting holiday in the area. You can also read my accounts of village life at http://www.guajar.blogspot.com/

My original paintings of Cornwall have all been sold but many are available as limited edition prints. I have written and illustrated three children's books - The Wise Old Boar, The Lonely Digger and The Adventure of Princess The Pony - which have been published in the USA.

How long has she been writing? For as long as I can remember.

Does she remember the first story she ever wrote? I can’t remember exactly, but I expect it was about a princess. I used to write and draw stories from a very early age, and they were invariably about princesses.

What inspired her to write for young readers? Probably my art teaching experience. My lessons often were inspired by books and stories, which I would read aloud to the class while they were painting.

How did she get my first book published? I submitted my first children’s book to an agent in the United States, who then found a publisher. As well as children’s books, I have written and illustrated four books about Cornwall, where I used to live and which I published myself. They were local bestsellers. I’ve also written magazine articles about various subjects.

Why does she write? It’s a form of self expression. Also, I like telling stories, either in pictures or in words. I’ve done this all my life.

What are the greatest blocks or obstacles she has experienced on her writing journey? None, really. Writing and painting are second nature to me, and ideas and inspiration come easily. I’m a very creative person, which helps a lot.

How did the idea for her first book – The Wise Old Boar – come about? My two children’s books, which have been published simultaneously, were both inspired by the landscape and wildlife around me.

The inspiration for The Wise Old Boar came from a stuffed boar’s head which decorates the wall of one of the bars in our village. It is a fearsome creature, and would probably frighten some people were it not for the large sombrero and thick-lensed spectacles which adorn it and give it a comical appearance. The second book, The Lonely Digger, was inspired by an old, abandoned excavator in a disused quarry on our land.

[Merry’s new book – The Adventure of Princess the Pony – has only just been published.]

What does she hoping her readers will glean from her books? All my books contain an environmental message, with subtle references to such issues as climate change and endangered wildlife. I’m a keen advocate of reading aloud to children, so I hope my books will become bedtime stories which may be enjoyed by both reader and listener. The illustrations are realistic and detailed so that children may study them and perhaps make up their own stories about them.

What does she love most about writing for children? When writing for children, there is unlimited scope for the imagination.

What books did she read as a child? I remember well the Janet and John series, terribly politically incorrect by today’s standards, and I had all the Beatrix Potter books. I loved Thomas the Tank Engine - not so much the stories as the illustrations, which fascinated me.

Later, I read the fairy stories of the brothers Grimm and similar books, and became enchanted with the illustrations of Arthur Rackham and Charles Robinson. I loved Hans Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, and read it over and over again, even though I found it inexpressibly sad. I enjoyed Enid Blyton’s adventure stories and Richmal Crompton’s William series.

What are five of her favourite childrens books?
Alice in Wonderland
Peter Pan
Grimms Fairy Stories
Just William
Alice Through the Looking Glass

If she couldn’t be a writer, what would she be? A fashion designer.

What five words sum her up? Creative; inventive; optimistic; hard-working; intolerant.

What advice would she have on writing for young people? I think the most important thing is to be original and not attempt to emulate another author’s work or ideas. Don’t be a copycat! Look at the world around you, and let your imagination run riot.

What’s next? A third book, The Adventure of Princess the Pony has just been published. It was inspired by an enchanting miniature Shetland foal born locally. I’m currently working on a fourth book, The Growlers of Bear Mountain. It’s about a family of bears whose cave home and contented lives are threatened by a proposed motorway through their mountain. There are lots of caves in the mountains which surround my home, and its these which gave me the idea for the story.

Margaret's books are available online:
The Wise Old Boar
The Lonely Digger
The Adventure of Princess the Pony

You can see more of Margaret's beautiful paintings here.

Read a KBR book review of The Wise Old Boar here.