Caroline Magerl – A Journey of the Heart

imageI am so honoured to have had the opportunity to learn more about the talented illustrator and author, Caroline Magerl, and to be able to share her rich and fascinating past, and present, with our readers. We also focus on her latest book, ‘Hasel and Rose’, also known as ‘Rose and the Wish Thing’; a story of hope, adventure, connection, magic, depth, and of love – these all intricately weaved into an exquisite story with powerful images that perfectly sums up some of Caroline’s most significant earlier years.

You’ve had such an interesting and rich history in terms of your upbringing and how you ventured into the illustrative and writing world. Can you tell us a bit about your journey from your beginnings to now?

As a young child, my family were migrants to Australia. My parents had come from the broken world of post war Germany. They arrived with an overbearing sense of grief, on many different levels. These impressions became a permanent presence that was not openly discussed. The old world had come along with us, baggage, as it were.

imageOur new home was in the dry fringes of suburban Sydney and it was fair to say we were not keyed into the new culture. My aunt tried to raise geraniums on the shady side of the house, despite the redback spiders. My father planted a pine tree dead centre in the front yard; as homage to our homeland. My parents began building a 45 foot steel yacht in the back yard which did little to aid our integration into the neighborhood; the escape pod…we were strangers and this was to be our new home. It was ironic to come to a new country just to find a way to float at a distance from its shores.

imageOccasionally packages would arrive in brown boxes, sent by my grandmother from behind the Iron Curtain. Oddly these packages (the tired brown box in the story of Rose) contained marvelous East German picture books, the pages of which showed a very different side of Germany. They were enchanting and saturated with an atmosphere and colour that I loved at first sight. It was incongruous to me that something so beautiful could originate from a land my imagination held as bleak. Importantly, they provided a different view of the culture we had come from. Here was a direct example of the impact books can have. At some level, I was asking questions.

Books eventually provided a vehicle for me to understand my past and explore my future. Around the age of seven, I began reading the works of Australian authors. I had lived in the country long enough to recognize their great love of the landscape in the words, the engagement with indigenous stories, the personality of the bush. When Patricia Wrightson wrote of small creatures up in the eucalypts stirring and rustling the leaves as if it were the wind, throwing down sticks on unsuspecting heads, I knew in my bones this was all true. Or that there would be a trickster in froglike shape who watches children from limpid green ponds, speaking with them when it chose to, or tricking them as the mood took. It was no odder than the actual wildlife and wilderness of Australia. What I was reading really clicked with my experience of places like Kuring-Gai Chase. Australian authors invited me into the place I lived, enriched my experience and led me further into relating to my new home and the people around me. Nothing could have prepared us for Australia, but these books were a path to relating to this place.

Looking back, I now understand that these works taught me how effectively and elegantly picture books communicate a world of ideas and emotions. This was something that could be made, built with paper and paint and was tremendously appealing. I remember observing this in practice when I saw the faith my daughter had in the structural qualities of sticky tape. Sticky tape and sheer will, could do all. My youth was spent living aboard my family yacht sailing up and down the east coast. This lifestyle afforded little space for possessions but books were my constant companions. There were literally weeks of nothing more than the three of us aboard. No TV, sometimes very few people or none at all as we travelled. The East coast was a lonelier place then. Reading gave me somewhere else to be.

I spoke about the two impressions of where my family had come from. The grey and grief stricken realities of my parent’s world were real, it was something I felt. I was also impelled to re-imagine my world and picture books showed me this could be done. Art and storytelling teach us to know that there are other ways to see things and if that is so, it encourages us to see for ourselves. That sustains like nothing I know.

What learning experiences and/or feedback have really helped you to practice and improve your craft?

imageI had wanted to illustrate picture books from those early days. Initially my interest lay in being a picture book illustrator and I must admit that I was not immediately successful in this endeavour. Even though, I had worked as a cartoonist and feature’s illustrator for magazines, newspapers, educational publishers, and had even started to sell my art through galleries, none of this seemed to sway the picture book publishers.

All this occurred at a very different time when emails and internet were new, personal approach was still best. I was a long distance from the centers of publishing so I began sending sample art in lightly fragranced envelopes to every publisher in Australia and waited, and waited, wondering why I was not immediately embraced into the fold. Thinking I was suited to the job was not nearly enough.

imageIt was many years before I got my first break. An editor, who I had met years earlier, paired my watercolour style with a text by Libby Hathorn to re illustrate and publish in Australia. As I floated down the corridor with my first brief in hand, another editor stuck his head round the door and beckoned me into his office. So after years of frustration, I landed my first two jobs in one day.

The first book won me the Crichton award for best new picture book illustrator. Immediately after this I told myself that I was done with scented envelopes. I got on the phone to a highly respected Melbourne publishing house and boldly asked to speak with the art editor. I announced myself as Caroline Magerl, the artist who had just won the Crichton Award, and waited in expectation of a sharp intake of breath. Listening intently, I overheard the secretary announce me as ‘a Mrs Crichton on the line’, to the editor. I was getting used to how things were going to go. I now realize those years of working as an illustrator in other fields helped me to hone my work. There is no substitute for practice. Determination is also important. For most, success it is a long time coming and you have to just keep going.

Most of your books have been published as a joint collaboration between you, as the illustrator, and a fellow author. How does this process compare with that of a project you have written and illustrated alone, such as ‘Hasel and Rose’? Is one way more challenging than the other?

The working life of an illustrator differs from that of a writer. Unlike authors, I was not tied to any particular publishing house, and my useful life extended only as far as the timeframe of each particular illustration job. I could float from one publisher to another, and back again. Even though I provided what I considered to be a vital part of a book, its pictures, the prime mover was the author. All the wrangling was already done by the time I received a text to illustrate.

Again and again, I noted the marked difference between the operating styles of the producers of imagery, who tended to be quiet, poor self promoters living in hollowed out trees, as opposed to the far more vocal and able negotiators, the authors, not to mention the publishers themselves. That was how I perceived it as I contemplated never owning a hollowed out log of my own.

A number of years ago, I happened to be on a small yacht on a charming waterway near Sydney. On board was an author, a publisher and myself. The wind was blowing directly against us, from the direction of an island that we were heading for. I was at the helm, tacking toward the island as the wind was directly against us. Bear in mind, I had lived on yachts for 25 years had some ten thousand plus sea miles behind me. After some general banter about how illustrators are at the very tail end in the production of picture books, the publisher turned to me, irritated at my lack of direct progress toward the target, then pointed firmly at the island and announced, “That way!”  Irritating as this day sail was for me, with its abundant metaphors….what I took from this was that ‘the me’ who paints was not a great negotiator or business person. I could do worse than learn from the others on the boat that day.

How did the story of ‘Hasel and Rose’ unfold? What was your process in bringing this book to life?

imageMy creative method as an illustrator is to lie down. My best work is done that way. The text literally lives under my pillow for weeks with sketches completed at all hours. If I have to leave the hollowed log, the text goes with me. In a sense, my life is grafted onto and channeled into the story at hand.  A good example of this was when I was illustrating a book titled Castles for the aforementioned author and publisher.  I had decided to feature a sandcastle on the cover and had gone to the beach to build one, and then draw the result. As I beavered away, I had drawn the compassionate attention of an elder gentleman who offered to help me build my sandcastle. I scowled at his intrusion, did he not recognize a professional going about her business? He did not … and went away confirmed in his view that there are some very odd people about. This is perhaps why some creative people may seem a little unplugged from the here and now. It is down to your energy being diverted into Narnia, or wherever. Bear with us, we’ll be back with you shortly.

image‘Hasel and Rose’ had rumbled along beside me for ten years, beginning with two sentences I had written in a journal. I wrote these quite spontaneously, and after reading them back to myself, I realized I had stumbled onto something that mattered deeply to me. I was stuck. Initially I approached an editor of a major publisher, and presented a journal in which the story was drawn in images, a storyboard if you like.  The editor showed great interest at the first meeting and offered a contract on the spot. Before I had left that office she had begun to suggest changes, and sadly I must admit that I wasn’t confident enough of my writing to defend my work, it was too personal … I was at a fork in the road. If I accepted the offer of help, the contract and the book would have come out much sooner. Obviously, I did not follow that path and it cost me ten years. However what I learnt over those ten years was not so much how to write, but how I write and ‘Hasel and Rose’ is the end result.

As an illustrator my starting point was to draw, however all the pictures in the world could not bring me the right words. Trust I drew a boxful of pictures. It was excruciating as my brain noticed my frustration and immediately fell back to my default, ‘Oh, you have a problem, draw a picture’. Doing something else, anything else, can be the only way forward at a time like this. I joined a Ju-Jitsu dojo. You won’t believe how much throwing grown men over your shoulders can provide creative solutions. When I was ready, I was grateful that my editor at Penguin, Michelle Madden paid out a lot of rope as I painfully inched toward something like a narrative. Her patience was invaluable.

imageAt one point I tried writing in German, my native language, in an effort to find my voice. I noticed I expressed myself differently in German, and that told me to keep digging, it was there … somewhere. I had many pictures and many fragments of poetic text, the story was written twice. It was there but it took the form of a collage. I had a story in pictures, a wish thing endlessly travelling toward Rose. At the same time, I had also written a little tale on the side, about a lost toy which was quirky and had some humour, and better still a structure. Michelle put one and one together; here were the parallel stories. I almost heard the cry of ‘This Way!’ It made perfect sense. The experience of writing the story and the story itself became one and the same, and the stalemate was over.

May I also add that Michelle did this over her Christmas break. I often hear of people in the publishing business going above and beyond, so I would especially like to thank Michelle and Lisa Riley (Publisher) for their help and guidance with Hasel and Rose.

Read more of Caroline‘s intriguing insights into how ‘Hasel and Rose’ progressed from here in A Journey of the Heart Part 2.

You can visit Caroline Magerl at her website and facebook page.

Artfully Yours – Connecting with Picture Book art

Book Week Logo 2014Today officially heralds the start of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book Week 2014. This year’s theme: Connect to Reading – Reading to Connect can be interpreted in many ways just as ones connection with art can take place on several levels. I have long purported that the humble picture book is one of our most powerful and meaningful manifestations of art. Why? Because of its ability to entertain, educate, enlighten, and enthral at a level wordless infants and the most mature members of society are able to appreciate.

There are few finer expressions of tenderness, joy, comedy, and pain than the marriage of images and words in a picture book. They represents true art, able to transport anyone, anywhere to other times and worlds with the flick of a page. This selection of picture books aptly illustrates my point. All are artful in their own ways. You will not love them all equally, just as you will not love everything you see on the walls of an art gallery, but therein lies the enigmatic beauty of the picture book.

Lisa Absolutely Loves Art Lisa Absolutely Loves Art by Sophie Norsa is a brief visit with some of our great artists and their well-known paintings through the eyes of young Lisa as she plunges into the dreamlike world of her local art gallery after her runaway cat, Picasso. Her search for him transports her through the 1800’s, capably combining impressionism and post-impressionism art forms in an on-canvas adventure, only ending once she returns to where she began.

Norsa is a young artist herself whose reproductions and interpretations of the techniques and style used by some of our most recognisable artists are artfully rendered in this unique picture book for pre-primary art lovers and artisans alike. New Frontier Publishing July 2014

Outside Outside by Libby Hathorn and Ritva Voutila is a glorious sensory celebration of what it is to be a child, carefree and at one with nature. The magic of being outdoors, of having grass beneath ones feet and clear bird-filled skies above is something not all young children are able to take for granted. Hawthorn’s poetic, repeating verse centres around the single question – ‘What’s that?’ between a curious young boy and his sister as they venture through their backyard on ‘a summery day’.

This is an unusuOutside illos spreadal picture book, lulling the reader into an almost hypnotic rhythm of straightforward explanation while steering us close to the nonsensical thanks to Voutila’s surreal illustrations: the cat looks almost human, the sky is a tapestry of patterned colour, the sun blazes stylised fleurs-de-lis. I found these digital creations rich and complementary to the text however not all young children will agree. They may find the oversized heads and features of the human characters a little too bizarre to comfortably relate to. A lavish homage to the simple things in life and being young nonetheless. Little Hare Books imprint of HGE August 2014.

Mr Chicken London Mr Chicken lands on London. The passion one feels towards art, something that monumentally moves and inspires them can be likened to love. This love need not be confined to one line or one picture; it may encompass a whole city and culture just as it did for Leigh Hobbs and Mr Chicken.

I know many adults and youngsters alike who have nibbled their nails down to the quicks in anticipation of the return of Mr Chicken since his flamboyant debut visit to Paris. Thankfully, they do not have to wait a minute longer and neither does Mr Chicken who is returning to his favourite city in the whole wide world, London.

Hobbs, creator of Old Tom, shares his love for London with Mr Chicken in an adroitly accurate, subtly comic, whirlwind tour of some of London’s most iconic landmarks.

Mr Chicken illoOur canary yellow, oversized poultry protagonist cuts a striking contrast amidst the common placed drabness of the city as one by one, he ticks off his must-sees and dos. His encounter with Her Majesty is amusing to the extreme but it is Mr Chicken’s moon lit stroll over Westminster Bridge that truly rings my bells.

A pictorial postcard of London that will resonate with both past visitors and those yet to experience the city’s many allures, not to mention 4 – 7 year olds who love talking, walking drumsticks. And, like fine art, Mr Chicken lands on London is something to savour. Allen & Unwin July 2014

Connect here with the CBCA 2014 winners and more great reasons to read.

Review – I Love You Book

I totally empathise with the characters in this book by well-loved author Libby Hathorn. Yes, I too love the paper smell and consistently fight the desire to take a bite from a book I truly adore. Yes books are delicious. And yes, they are lovable.

The rustle of the pages. The sound as the book shuts tight. The dreams they conjure, the magical places they take us, the short, hippety-hoppety words and the laughter and the commas, dots and question marks. Libby expresses it all in this book – so perfectly, the reader will nod in appreciation the whole way through.

Told in rhyming text, the book’s illustrations are bright, dynamic, Seussy, delight. Heath McKenzie’s divine talent shines through and he takes a flying leap into the imaginative possibility Libby has penned – and comes up with page after page of beautiful imagery both kids and adults will adore.

I love you, book.

I Love You Book is published by IP Kidz.

Five Very Bookish Questions with author Libby Hathorn

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

My taste is far reaching depending on mood from realism to fantasy but a recent wonderful read is the novel Jasper Jones and a hum-dinger of a fantasy is The Night Circus.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?

I adored family stories such as Seven Little Australians, was an early fan of May Gibbs Scotty in Gumnutland series and  would be transported by a story such as The Secret Garden or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A favourite picture book was The Red Balloon.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

Freshness of characters (unless a sequel), a smooth flowing style that makes you want to turn pages (like the Harry Potter series) and an original idea.

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

If anyone wants to write then they must read a lot and more than that, they must write a lot, too. Journals and diaries, scraps and fragments all can build into a new idea and thus into a new story. So my tip is to both read and write a lot!

Name three books you wish you’d written.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows.

 

About Libby

Libby Hathorn is an award-winning Australian author of more than fifty books for children. Her stories have been translated into several languages and adapted for stage and screen. Her work has won honours in Australia as well as in the United States, United Kingdom and Holland. She was awarded a Centenary Medal in 2003. She lives in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

libbyhathorn.com

I LOVE YOU BOOK – A REVIEW

I Love You Book is the new picture book from Libby Hathorn and Heath McKenzie.

In an age when e-books have become a focus for teachers, librarians, parents and readers, I Love You Book celebrates the joys of the traditional book.

It is about the empowerment of reading and the joy that it can bring.

Libby Hathorn, the author of more than 50 books for children and young adults uses evocative language like ‘rustle bustle of pages’ and skin going ‘ting-a-ling to bring the joy of books to life.

In I Love You Book the main character is taken into a world of fun and imagination where kids can climb trees and find a “land brimful of things” and share them in the sky.

Libby Hathorn’s text captures the author’s passion for books and it’s clear from the pictures that illustrator, Heath McKenzie is celebrating his own love for what he does. His vibrant illustrations are full of life and humour.

This is a book that readers can dive into and be taken into a world of imagination. It allows adults to reflect on the books we have loved – the ones that stand out and mean the most to us, that have taken us in

I Love You Book is published by IP Kidz. You can view the book trailer at http://www.ipoz.biz/Titles/LoveBook.htm

I LOVE YOU BOOK – MEET THE ILLUSTRATOR, HEATH McKENZIE

Heath McKenzie is the popular illustrator of the enchanting new I Love You Book being featured this week at Kids’ Book Capers.

He became an illustrator through…

hard work, perseverance, minor ignorance and lots and lots of practice. Since then he has worked on hundreds of projects.

Heath says he loves being his own boss, but it’s also one of the pitfalls of the job. Before becoming an illustrator, he was a student and worked in a shop.

“Getting published – every time” is his greatest illustrating achievement according to Heath and he has a number of works in progress at the moment.

Heath’s tip for new illustrators is to become known.

If no one know you exist and what you can do – no one will hire you – so get out there and show yourself and your work off!

Heath doesn’t have common themes in his books but he says

I tend to default to converse runners on feet and four fingered hands.

You can find out more about Heath at his website  – www.heathmck.com

ILLUSTRATING I LOVE YOU BOOK

When he was illustrating this book, Heath was inspired by the chance to let his imagination run wild.

I Love You Book is for all ages and celebrates the joy of books. Heath says,

Kids will like this book because of the escapism and adventure it presents and promotes beyond just this book.

The unique concept and imagery set this book apart.

An illustrator’s role is to bring the words to life and Heath says that the hardest thing about illustrating I Love You Book was
reigning in the visual potential presented by the text.

Tomorrow at Kids’ Book Capers, we’re reviewing I Love You Book.

 

I LOVE YOU BOOK – MEET THE AUTHOR, LIBBY HATHORN

Libby Hathorn, author of I Love You Book has  been writing stories since she could hold a pencil and spell out words. She has published more than 50 books for children.  Libby says,

It’s a life-long love affair with story and the way in which thoughts and words are able to be put down and then make meaning on a page.

ON BEING A WRITER

I have a portable profession and one that is always absorbing. Wherever I am my thoughts and dreams go too- and the fun of being a writer is making these ideas into meanings , weaving new stories or creating new poems for someone else- the reader!

According to Libby, the hardest thing about writing can sometimes be letting go of characters and settings you’ve been immersed in for months even years on end, can be difficult.

When I first began writing books I liked ‘singing up’ Australian families (Thunderwith a YA novel  which Hallmark made into a movie, and is still in print after 21 years); and  Australian settings The Tram to Bondi Beach (still in print after 30 years)as there were not so many  Oz books available. then And even now my latest YA novel is set in the Blue Mountains though my picture books could be anywhere in the world eg I Love You Book.

Before she became a writer, Libby says she had the best job in the world for someone who loves books and stories. Libby was a teacher-librarian.

I who loved the job of bringing kids and books together. But better still is being a fuull-time writer.

At the moment she is working on a beautiful picture storybook, a book of poetry and a novel which is a timeslip story.

I love poetry and many of my thoughts and inspiration on come directly from poetry. I’ve been really pleased to compile The ABC Book of Australian Poetry: a treasury for young people last year and I’m working on more poetry this year.

LIBBY’S TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS

Read a lot and of course  write a lot- every day of your life if you can. There are my Golden Rules  for Writing which can be read at www.libbyhathorn.com

HOW LIBBY WROTE “I LOVE YOU BOOK”

I was inspired by a trip to Papua New Guinea some years ago when I was lucky enough to take part in a high school assembly of a few hundred boys in their school in Goroka. Some of the mothers of the boys had been coming to school so that they could learn to read themselves and luckily for me today was the day they were putting on a play that sounded like a poem to me. They told the audience the way that books and learning to read had changed their lives. I love you book, they said because you take me to places and you open up my world. I was so moved  by that little play that I vowed to make a picture storybook for kids celebrating the book itself one day. And I Love You Book is the result.

What’s it about?

The book tells of the way in which books can transport us making us fly! It’s also about the sensuous response to the book as an object in our lives- taste, touch smell and sound as well as the sight of a book. It’s an absolute celebration of the book.

What age groups is it for?

Little kids and their parents.

Why will kids like it?

Heath’s lively illustrations follow a little girl and her brother as they literally dive into the world of books and have their adventures.

THE CHARACTERS

Though the character is not named the book is dedicated to my granddaughter Ruby and it is through her eyes that the action happens as she and her little brother experience all the delights of being read to, or  reading themselves and being carried away by the ideas in books.

It is unique in its lively celebration of the book as an artefact, part and parcel of our lives through a text that swoops and dives, and through Heath Mackenzie’s lively and most appropriate illustrations.  As a writer in  all the excitement of  e-books and lots of imaginative developments online, I also  wanted to celebrate what is special about the book as object, as a tactile and collectible and rewarding object in our lives.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Remembering the wonderful ways books inspired me all my life  and the way they continue to inspire  me and lots of others, particularly children

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

Finding the illustrator who could do it justice in the way Heath has. I feel very lucky to have found his work and then to have  had his imaginative input.

Tomorrow, Heath Mackenzie is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about how his work and how he illustrated this wonderful book.

2011 Australia Day Ambassadors

The 2011 Australia Day Ambassadors have been announced, and it’s great to see so many authors on the list. There’s Bruce Venables, Catherine De Vrye, Jacinta Tynan, Jill B Bruce, Jonathan King, Libby Hathorn, Susanne Gervay and Valerie Parv. Australia Day Ambassadors are invited as guests of honour at celebrations around the state and are often part of the activities and events on the day. As part of the celebrations, Ambassadors are asked to deliver the keynote address which captures the true spirit of being Australian. The full list can be viewed here.

Boomerang at the 2010 CBCA Imagine This! Imagine That! Conference

Boomerang Books is proud to announce that this weekend, not only is a member of our Boomerang Books blogging team speaking at the sold-out 2010 Children’s Book Council of Australia NSW Branch Conference, but we’ll be live-blogging the two-day event – with scheduled appearances by the big names in Australian children’s writing, including Libby Gleeson, Glenda Millard, Libby Hathorn, Jackie French, Melina Marchetta, Markus Zusak, Margaret Wild, Julie Vivas and Shaun Tan.

For program information, click here. Sad you can’t make it? Itching to ask a particular author a question? Well, send me an email, and I’ll not only be your eyes and ears at the Conference, but I’ll be your mouth.