Friday, 25 October 2013

Posts from BOOKMARK - Having Fun with Mairi Hedderwick

Having Fun with Mairi Hedderwick

Oct 22 2013
After my interview with Andrew Greig I made my way up to the Conference Room where Mairi Hedderwick’s ‘The Making of Katie Morag’ session was about to begin as part of the mini-BOOKMARK festival for children.

 I met my neighbour who was peering curiously through the doors as volunteers organised chairs and made a few last minute adjustments. She told me that she had managed to book the last two tickets available for ‘The Making of Katie Morag’ for her daughters, but confessed she hoped the volunteers would let her listen in on the session. Why? Well, like me and so many others, she loved Katie Morag.

 Katie Morag was one of my favourite fictional characters as a child, and is still among my top ten even now. I think the feisty little red-head appeals to so many younger readers because she is their reflection (though probably not in appearance). She shares the same highs and lows, gets into the same kind of mischief and learns the same lessons from her experiences as any child would. This is also the reason so many adults enjoy Katie Morag’s adventures – she has the innate ability to bring people back to their childhoods.

 After chatting away for a good few minutes, my neighbour and I found a space at the back of the Conference Room, though unfortunately we had to stand as there were no chairs left.
What really amazed me more than anything during ‘The Making of Katie Morag’ was Mairi Hedderwick’s ability to hold the attention of a room full of children – not an easy thing to do by anyone’s standards. She later told me ‘eye contact is one of the tricks’. Of course, it didn’t just come down to a few glances here and there. The reason the children were so engrossed in what Mairi was saying was because of the way that she had created an interactive session. She allowed the children to have their say, to share their opinions and thoughts.

 I also couldn’t help noticing the smiles on the faces of the children’s parents! I think (and I’m on shaky ground here considering I have no experience in bringing up children) that when a parent sees their child happy and smiling, involved in what is going on around them, it creates a certain sense of joy. So, in that way, Mairi’s session benefitted not only the children taking part, but the adults as well.

 And as I leaned back against the wall thinking this, I found myself wishing that I too had an armchair as comfortable as Mairi’s to sit in. Armchair? Ah, yes, I’d better explain. The conference room had been cleverly laid out to mimic a grandmother’s lounge, right down to comfortable reading chair and old-fashioned lamp, with cushions on the floor for the children to sit on.

 Mairi explained to me the reasons for this after she’d signed her latest Katie Morag book (Katie Morag and the Dancing Class) for her young fans. “It’s a much more relaxed atmosphere for them. I always want the children to sit on the floor. Sometimes you go to venues and it’s all formal chairs and the children are expected to sit there and be lectured at. I try to get the children involved with questions and answers, so to have them round in a semi-circle, sitting on the floor is the right atmosphere.”

So what did she think of BOOKMARK?

“I think it’s wonderful and it’s always exciting when you’re part of the first book festival because it’s such an excitement and it’s been wonderfully organised. It’s been so good to come to it.”
Then she said something surprising…

 “I am so well known for the Katie Morag stories and that is wonderful because I know teachers get a terrific response. They use the books a lot in schools, but I actually do adult books and these are not noticed so much and I always find that a little bit sad. Of course, I’m delighted to work with the children but a lot of my colleagues are adult writers and there is a sort of separation between a children’s author and an author who writes for adults.”

In a way, I can understand how Mairi feels. She has lived with Katie Morag for almost 30 years now, and though she has written around five travel guides (for adults) they have not had nearly as much success or publicity as her tales from the Isle of Struay. And I got the sense she wasn’t being pessimistic; she was just telling the truth. Mairi is evidently pleased with the success of Katie Morag, but she acknowledges that success is a double-edged sword. In her case, it has almost trapped her within children’s literature. But there is always hope, and there are many authors who take on both adults’ and children’s literature, like James Robertson, creator of the Gruffalo and author of ‘The Professor of Truth’.

When I asked Mairi if she would be interested in doing a session on her other works (such as ‘An Eye on the Hebrides’ which was being sold at the BOOKMARK hub) she replied:
“Yes, of course. I want to do more of that.”
I hope that she will.