In last week’s part of the interview we delved into the history and imagination of the brilliant Caroline Magerl. Today she generously shares how ‘Hasel and Rose’ (‘Rose and the Wish Thing’) became the magical book that we all adore.
With reference back to ‘Hasel and Rose’, this beautiful story of displacement and friendship emerged out of great significance to your own past experiences. Can you tell us how this book is meaningful to you and what you hope readers will gain from it?
As I was writing this story, I remembered how as a child I drew much strength when holding a particular toy. It had somehow been nominated to provide protection and courage. This is something I have seen many other children do and is heart-warming to watch, but also deeply intriguing. It occurred to me that there is something significant to be learnt from these fleeting relationships.
During the years of writing Rose and the Wish Thing, I happened to see a boy tenderly carry a kitten in the hood of his jacket. We were on a Melbourne tram and he kept his composure by gently stroking the whiskered face at his shoulder, all the while under slander from other boys sitting nearby. This incident was instrumental in shaping a part of the story, that of Rose carrying the Wish Thing in her hood.
Finding the Wish Thing was just the start for Rose, her courage was there all along, but now it was engaged. The world outside her door is after all the object and desirable end to the tale of finding the Wish Thing. It is the friendship that happens once a Rose finds her place in the world, which is the less obvious but true focus of this story.
‘Hasel and Rose’ is soon to be released in the U.S. with the title ‘Rose and the Wish Thing’. Congratulations! How did this publication come about? How much input did you have in this international release? Besides the titles do the books differ at all?
The good people at Penguin Australia took ‘Hasel and Rose’ to the Bologna Book fair before it was released. While there a publisher at Double Day (Random House) noticed it and bought the North American rights. It was somewhat surreal to have an overseas contract signed before the book was printed. They requested a small number of changes such as the title. Double Day felt that changing Hasel into ‘the wish thing’ clarified the intention and had the added purpose of being less gender specific.
Over the years I have come to appreciate that published works are a collaboration of editors, publishers, marketing, art editors, designers and the list goes on. Most have years of experience and genuinely want to add to the success of the book. As the creator I will always fight for the intregity of my work but equally I would be foolish not to acknowledge professional direction when offered. All of this is an art more than science or perhaps it is better described as an awkward dance.
I will be travelling to America when the book is released in March to present at places such as the Mazza Museum, Eric Carle Museum and a selected number of bookshops. I must also mention Dr Belle Alderman of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature. Belle was kind enough to introduce my work to the Eric Carle Museum staff recently during her vacation in America. Once again, I find myself personally indebted and very grateful to know there are people such as Belle, in the Australian Children’s book industry freely giving so much of their time, effort and expertise.
Your illustrations are so gorgeously fluid and energetic, soulful and emotive. Do you have a favourite image from ‘Rose and the Wish Thing’? What was your creative thought process while illustrating the book? How does the watercolour medium reflect the story’s underlying themes?
I don’t have a favourite image as such. Each has a specific reason for existing. For example, if I start at the beginning;
Rose was a new face in a new street; her feet are not on the ground, she is in a space that is not hers. You are looking up at her in a large building… in a sense she is hanging onto the window sill, a floating feeling between a window in and a window out. There she hangs onto something, but it is not what she needs. To give the impression of loneliness, of being somewhere that was not home, I had a strong intuition to create a vignette as a floating image; a window into the story. It’s fleeting and you aren’t meant to dwell, its intention is to lead you in.
Watercolour was the obvious choice of medium. It was the first medium I saw in books as a child. I was fascinated by the simultaneous impression of overall harmony, and yet it was plain to see that that the image was built up in films and layers of colour. It had the ability to be evocative and loose, but also describe things in minute details. I didn’t know how it was done, only that it could be done and that there was great skill in doing so. I became obsessed with it and eventually taught myself.
This picture as with the rest of the story has a consistent palette which helped to maintain an underlying harmony. A very pale yellow was applied beneath all the images, which provided a sense of warmth throughout. The yellow is a very clear colour which manages to glow through the many layers which were laid over. I had great delight in floating the opaque bricks in mid air against the wall, where they sit almost magically against the building. The blue sky and red bricks are reminiscent of my early impressions of Sydney, where as a child; I was a new face in a new street. Leaving Europe where the sky covered as a blanket over the world, my new town appeared with a sense of blue immensity. For me, red and blue are emotionally charged colours.
Part of the visual narrative in this picture is the distant streetscape. This created a neighborhood atmosphere which is a major part of the story; there was something to be gained out there, something for Rose to gain, a promise of something. It wasn’t just Rose in a window; it was also an overlay of meaning and an unspoken agenda. Pictures have a very powerful role in telling the unspoken aspects of a story. Its language is in the colour, tonal value, perspective, proportions, expression, and in this case an understated yet obvious element, ‘a new street’.
Loose line work creates a spontaneous joy. There is a sense of exploration as the strokes create new vegetation, random birds, etc. They spring forward in the most charming way, but do come with the enormous risk of irreversibility. Line work reads beautifully and you can feel the energy of the person who drew it.
Equally but differently; Through a glass.
Some of the images in the story were defined as much from my frustration at not being able to pin the story down as the narrative itself.
In this image with views through Rose’s cardboard telescope, there is a series of tantalizing views before Rose sees the wish thing arriving in a box. This was engendered by a memory of watching the Sydney harbor pass by in a dizzying smudge, through the porthole of the yacht that was my childhood home. Nothing was still as the vessel swung on its mooring, things endlessly slipped by. These memories underpinned much of the illustration and in this case even the design.
Getting around your own habitual thinking is one of the hardest things in trying to create something new. I now use cardboard telescopes as a matter of course.
Are there any artists or other people in your life that have been your greatest influences in becoming the successful author / illustrator you are today?
In 2013 I was giving a presentation of my fine art at Debut Contemporary in Notting Hill, London. I took time out to visit some of the wonderful establishments around London.
One in particular was Chris Beetles gallery, a highly prestigious private gallery featuring illustrators past and present; Sir Quentin Blake, Arthur Rackham to name just a couple, so it was a definite must see for me. When I arrived the gallery’s large and somewhat impressive door was shut. I contemplated knocking and at that moment it swung open for a lady with an appointment (unlike me) breezed in. I sort of rode her slipstream through the entry.
It really is a jaw dropping place with so many extraordinary framed illustrations. To see some of the original works that I have loved since childhood, neatly stacked on the floor and crowding the walls was just unforgettable. I didn’t have time to take it all in, when in a slightly dazed moment Chris Beetles himself pleasantly materialized before me. After a short and somewhat nervous conversation, I found myself showing him some diary drawings from my yet to be published book, Hasel and Rose. To my great delight, he suggested that I send the gallery a copy of the published work.
In time, it came to pass that the originals of Hasel and Rose featured in the gallery’s 2014 ‘The Illustrators’ exhibition and I had the good fortune to attend the opening night.
It was magical to walk down the alleys of St James in the evening gloom and then turn the corner to see my illustrations brightly lit through the gallery window. A sort of Harry Potter comes true moment. It was a wonderful night where I met some fabulous artists and well known figures such as author Lord Jeffery Archer. I still consider this to be the most outlandish and wonderful good fortune to find my work in this exceptional gallery.
What projects are you currently working on? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
I am happy to say that I have signed with an agent, Ronnie Herman who is now touting my latest texts to American publishers. The hope and aim is to have a book with simultaneous release in Australia and America, but as you can image that is easier said than done.
I have my fingers and toes crossed at the moment.
All the best with what sounds to be an exciting year ahead!
Thank you so much, Caroline for this wonderful opportunity to get to know more about you and your fascinating work!
It was my pleasure and many thanks for reading.