May, 2015.

Dear friend,

I hope you are well.

As a child, my family sailed on long trips between Sydney and Cairns, often seeing nobody for weeks. During those times I would write illustrated letters to another friend, who also lived on a yacht.

Times and situations have moved on … however some habits remain, so here is my latest illustrated letter.

                     There are places you cannot go, except by bear.

Here is the story of my journey into Terra Incognita.

 

I found myself at my desk with a handful of old childhood photos.

 

 

It is was an effort to recall the details shown in these pictures, of my parents’ first home on Salisbury Road in suburban Sydney.

 

 

What I do remember are isolated yet strong vignettes, beyond which lies Terra Incognita; the suppositions of a short-sighted three year old girl.

 

I can recall my mothers’ face as she tells me a scary bedtime story, about a creature which will get me if I venture out after dark. In my mind I can see it; just over the back fence waits The Nacht Geger —cue creepy music— here comes — The Night Rooster! It’s legs are scaly; with claws that scrape and clack as the massive hunched shape moves behind the fence palings.

I now know that The Nacht Geger is in fact a vampire, however my mother softened the story somewhat by turning the monster inexplicably into a rooster. The melodrama makes me smile now, but the feeling behind my fears remains, fixed like some prehistoric insect encased in a coffin of amber.

Salisbury road was a place of wonder, and terror, and magic. Beyond the fence were monsters and sitting upon my mother’s dresser lay a jar filled with bubbles, suspended miraculously in goo; her pink hair gel was both mystical and beyond my comprehension.

 

 

Surrounded by these memories, I am transported to that house in spirit, if not body, to my old bedroom.

I begin to draw the room and soon, the child I was finds a place into the drawing. The room is indistinct but the sensation of the place carries the drawing forward. The image of the room falls away as something new begins to take shape, a beast, with a coat that’s rough and limbs that are heavy. I am a cartographer, journeying off the edge of the map; the edge of the photographs, into my memories of monsters.

I sit back and look at the girl in alarm… for she has climbed onto the beasts’ back; the back of a bear. But her face is so distant and so composed that I am less worried by this turn of events. Plainly, she knows something that I do not.

 

 

The bear looks this way and that, as I scrape away at the oil paint. Suddenly, a moment of recognition flashes across its’ face, as it turns and regards me. A salutary beast has arrived from the land behind the back fence.

I now understand the meaning of the drawing; that the fearful mien of the Nacht Geger came out of the same place as did the bear.

Forty seven years late perhaps, but a rescue is at hand.

Perhaps there is an upside to the fact that I was able to scare the living wits out of myself as a child; Terra Incognita has monsters, but also helpful creatures alike. What I have found, is a curious sense of underlying rationale in the creation of images such as this. It gives me courage to go over the back fence in art and in story, and it gives me courage in life too.

This bear eats Night Roosters on toast.


                                                   The Book Hedge

A book hedge, that is what is required.

                                                Dreamt of Birds

 

Further to the theme of birds, this painting is part of a work in progress titled ‘Dreamt of Birds’.

 

 

I have a small pile of drawings and text at this stage, and an ongoing excuse to crash around in the woods.

 

                                          Children’s Writer’s Guild

The Children’s Writer’s Guild was brought to my attention by a friend. One thing led to another and now I am extremely pleased to say that my work has been accepted by the Children’s Writer’s Guild for their website.

For this, I must thank Shelia Wright and Joshua Wright of CWG.

Their site features some wonderful writing and illustration and is well worth looking at – link here.

 

                                                    From the Children’s Writer’s Guild website

I created this image specifically for my Picture Book. The book’s plot surrounds a family having recently relocated and the child, Rose, wishing for something that will help her to regain her sense of place in the world.
Anyone with children would know this feeling … be it fever, nightmares, lost toys or most likely, all of these at once. There will come a time when everyone in the house is awake and staring out the window, at a complete loss. Your four year old is in the pit of despair and all you can do is join them. It is a leveler. That was what I drew on, to illustrate the moment in the story when an impasse is reached. Rose’s problem is now everyone’s problem … and on another level is simply voicing a shared unease, loss and displacement.
I used a line and wash technique, as I find it to be the most direct, expressive and simple illustrative style for the type of story I write.
Caroline Magerl

                                                     Characters

Something that interests me greatly, is the life of characters beyond the small lit stage of a picture book.

I’m off to Singapore next month. Apologies in advance for the many photographs which will be part of my next letter.Illustrations from ‘Hasel and Rose’ have been accepted into the Book Illustrator’s Gallery at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content.Click on image for link..

ASIAN FESTIVAL OF
CHILDREN’S CONTENT
30 MAY – 6 JUNE 2015
NATIONAL LIBRARY BUILDING,
SINGAPORE
AFCC is a festival that brings together content creators and producers with parents, teachers, librarians and anyone interested in quality Asian content for children around the world.

The patterns of life manifest in the small and insignificant,
as well as the large and astounding.

Caroline Magerl

Until next time, I wish you well.Kindest regards,
Caroline.

June 2015
Dear Friends,
I hope you are all well.Once again, please enjoy my musings in words and images.Since my last letter, I decided that my Illustrated Letter needed an Illustrated Letterhead … so now it has.
As a child, courage was not so much in my heart as in my pocket. Hidden within my jacket was a cloth toy who assured me, that all would be well. My favourite toy recently reappeared in my life via a photograph and with it, the sense of friendship and courage it inspired in me; the impetus for my first picture book.
(My toy and me)

When I was writing ‘Hasel and Rose’, an incident on a tram gave me a defining image of friendship and also of overcoming fear. What happened that day changed how I depicted Rose and her Wish Thing… it cemented an idea in my mind of the unique relationship between them as a girl and her toy.

(St Kilda)

I found myself on a writing residency in Melbourne, enjoying the atmosphere of the bayside. The facades of the houses were neat and well kept, while the rooflines sported chaotic silhouettes of chimney stacks and aerials. The leaning fences of the back lanes were overhung by vines and shrubs, which contrasted strongly with the formal faces of the Esplanade homes. I was confident that here, I had found a setting for my book.

(Initial sketch of back lane – H&R)

Later in the afternoon, I set home on a tram. A group of teenagers were sitting at the back of the carriage, and naturally, I sat in the middle. A few rows in front of me sat a young man, roughly the same age as those at the rear. The group behind was lobbing abuse over my head at the boy sitting by himself, who they apparently knew. He could hear the abuse plainly enough but the group took care not to attract attention from others.

I was looking right at him when something caught my eye, a movement in the hood of his jacket. With this he reached back into the folds of the fabric … and the tiny white head of a kitten emerged. The small feline wobbled onto the boys’ shoulder and he stroked it in a gentle, absent way.

It was an unexpected delight to see a kitten’s head where you wouldn’t expect one to be. However, there was an element of discomfort as well… the boy had made himself very vulnerable in that moment. At the sight of the tiny animal, a fresh wave of ridicule flowed over my head from the united force behind.

The boy sat seemingly emotionless, waiting for his stop. The tram ground to a halt and he quickly swung off, skating away with the kitten once again snug in the hood of his jacket, its whiskered face hidden from view.

The carriage lurched back into action as did the laughter of the boys behind me. The atmosphere eventually shifted as the insults died off.

What struck me was the connection between what had just played out in front of me and my childhood photo. There was a recognizable sense of drawing courage from a bond, be it with an animal or a toy, of vulnerability and a protection invoked.
What I saw on the tram that day left me with a beautiful pictorial device; thereafter Rose carried Hasel in her cardigan hood.

(The Salubrious beast)
I have just recovered our lounge to the delight of most family members and the suspicion of ‘she with tail’.To those who cohabit with us, on our lounges and in our lives…The Salubrious Beast.

A short and courteous email arrived recently – asking if I am still painting and where I am showing.

In typing out an answer, I spent the afternoon thinking back over my time as a painter and remembering some of the people I have met.

One such memorable person was Eva Breuer. Eva was renowned for her art savvy as a highly respected gallery director/art dealer and I had the privilege of her selling my paintings.

(Girl at old piano)

She once asked me to donate a painting to the Westmead Breast Cancer Institute auction. My motivation was personal; a number of my family members and friends had been affected by cancer. Besides, it was common knowledge that Eva had been fighting cancer herself.

.
  (Portrait with striped sleeves)
By whatever coincidence, I had recently completed just the right piece, ‘Portrait with striped sleeves’ the image of a girl on the verge of womanhood.

Sadly, Eva passed away from cancer in 2010 and her gallery closed its doors last year.

(Soggy yard with a soggy dog in it  – 2015)

I did eventually return to the email and my reply – ‘Yes, I am still painting, but not for shows or galleries at the moment. It is somewhat liberating to paint an idea and/or urge as it comes to me, without the deadlines and expectation. I think my work is all the better for it. I would be happy to email you images as they are finished if you are interested’.

Initial drawings and sketches help me explore in many ways. They sometimes reveal what is the best tack to take, when producing final art.

(Figure at Dickson canal)
As the visual story unfolds, it is a feedback that I find indispensable in creating characters and the world they inhabit.

(Oil study)

In this instance, a girl and her sister in the garden called out for a strong and bold palette with bright light and dense shade.At a certain point in creating a new story, I experience a mixed sense of excitement and panic. This painting came about during such a panic; a dialogue goes around in my head … catch this feeling …catch the face … give her a home, so that the whole thing becomes real – Caroline Magerl.

St Imbecile of the Waters.
(St Imbecile of the waters)
There is such a thing as beginners luck, and my uncle Willi Wolf had lots of it.

As a child, I would visit Willi in his Coogee flat. He was a congenial host, apparently a life of driving buses in Sydney had made him patient. Willi used his spare time at the Randwick bus depot to become regional chess champion, a skill he tried to teach me during a visit … once… but I preferred to eat his tuna sandwiches on white bread and look out the window.

Light from the Tasman streamed through that window, giving the flat an atmosphere of a dingy sea cave. The view on rough days; Wedding Cake Island was a smear of foam in the sea, unreachable and therefore endlessly fascinating to me.


(Flying Fish – etching)

The constant presence of the sea must have caused an idea to form in Willi’s mind. Why not, he was young after all and he could drive a bus… so Willi began to build a plywood boat in the living room of his flat. You could do things like that in Coogee then, or so I was told.

(Willi’s flat)

Willi had gotten quite a long way into the build when the boat was in need of a lead keel. He obtained the lead and prepared to melt the toxic metal in a cooking pot … on the stovetop. Once it was good and hot, he began to pour the molten lead into the keel cavity. The plywood keel received the streaming silver liquid and then began to smoke. Flames sprung up with frightening speed, blackening and then consuming the ply. I have a picture in my mind of the little Coogee flat glowing like a beacon. No real harm was done, but the ship of Willi’s dreams was unsalvageable.

Something, however did emerge from the ashes. My father with seafaring dreams of his own was building a steel yacht which was eventually to become our home. Dad convinced Willi to resurrect his dream and offered to build him a new yacht. So in a little ship yard next to the Glebe dump, Dad built a new yacht for Willi. It was launched and Willi Wolf set forth in the good ship ‘Lupus’.

The passage from Sydney to Southport was as far as my uncle went and it wasn’t smooth sailing, but that’s a story for another time.

However, the bus driver went to sea and the sea was kinder than the Sydney peak hour – St Imbecile of the waters saw to that.

(Oh, what a beautiful pussy you are)

There is such a thing as beginners luck, and there is also the luck of fools, in this instance seagoing ones and my family has produced some stellar examples of this variety. Foolishness should not be enquired into though … you might just want to begin something and St Imbecile does not like a clever dick.

As committed and dedicated as writers and illustrators are … the people who help promote our work equally deserve our recognition.

I recently made acquaintance with Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast, someone I personally want to recognize here.


(Our first breath of cool weather this morning and with it that feeling that everything changed overnight)

I do this because I enjoy it. My thoughts on a book will be the same whether the book comes from the publisher, the bookstore, the library, the author him or herself, or a long-forgotten, dusty, cobwebbed corner of a shelf in a used-books store.

The Asian Festival of Children’s Content,

I promised or perhaps that should be threatened, some photos from my trip last month; so here they are.
The Book Illustrator’s Gallery in the Singapore National Library.
Meeting up with Christopher Cheng and Sarah Mounsey
.Signing books at Kinokuniya
One of the local sights on the night of the SCWBI dinner.
A midnight photo of the koi at the Changi Airport pond.
The fish so charmingly asleep, while the travellers drift by in a caffeinated limbo.

(Winter garden)

I must end this letter now, as my winter garden beckons.

Till next time.

Kindest regards,
Caroline.


Nov 2015

 

Dear friend,

I hope you are well.My correspondence has been a tad slow, however it’s my pleasure to be writing again.

Since my last letter, I have been all out writing stories for picture books. I’m also getting used to working with an agent and hopefully she is getting used to me. It has been enjoyable and I’ve had lots to learn. The fruits of these efforts are still in play, so there is not a lot here that I can carry on about. Suffice to say, there is the usual mound of material in my work room; from which finished submissions emerge. My fingers and toes are crossed.

My other great project is coalescing well, one in which art and storytelling collaborate. From my long habit of maintaining diaries which are now filled with running dialogues of words and images, an idea has emerged that I will persist with. I shall continue to send word as and when.

In the mean time,

The art of the chart.

Out over the saw toothed ocean upon which the ships balance perilously, the world tips toward the peripheral and the uncharted. Mermen and bushy tailed whales populate the fringes of the known world in the way weeds grow in a vacant lot. Apart from finding these sea beasts adorable in their naïve monstrosity, it also poses an intriguing thought; that of our relationship to the unknown and to the potential of empty space.

We gazed out and quailed at the nothingness.

Oh  look! … there’s a sea pig.

I once had a conversation with a trawler-man about being at sea. The bulk of his working life was spent on the water, prawning alone for four or five nights in a row.  As we talked, he tentatively asked if I had ever heard music while sailing at night. He went on to say he heard whole symphonies while trawling the bay. Tempting as it was to think of the Queensland Symphony orchestra moonlighting on the cape, we pondered various other possibilities such stray radio waves among others. I asked him to hum the tune … unsuccessfully … however he really heard music at night and this caused him concern. I found his embarrassment disarming.

My own experience of being at sea was that it had a raw quality. The tiny world of the boat, its practicality and stuffy diesel smells, the slow spread of salt and damp over everything you possess, the sense of knowing everything onboard so intimately that you could move around blindfolded. This stood in contrast to the enormity of what was out there, the moment I stuck my head above deck; vaporous air, churning water, day after day and week after week of endlessly changing sameness. The featurelessness, the slow progress and uncertainty of long sea journeys had a certain dissipating effect, which called something out of me. While the eye actively looked for life, for birds or any other thing to fix upon, something else arrived. For me it was a stream of imagery, an internal landscape which I drew off and which continues to be a presence in my life. It was something to stack against the intangible world beyond the confines of the boat.

For mine, sea charts are so populated and peopled by strange things, because when faced with something we can’t grasp; boundlessness, we cannot help but to parcel it up, put a face to it, relate to it in some way. The sea monsters, grotesque and nefarious beasts of all sorts, are better than the un-guessable and fearful emptiness.

Sea charts are a zoo of the weird.

Books from our Backyard Living Library at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival.

The Queensland Writer’s Centre included ‘Hasel and Rose’ into their ‘Book’s from Our Backyard’ catalogue. They invited me to the State Library during the Brisbane Writer’s festival, an invitation which I gladly accepted.


(Myself and Stacey McCulloch)

There I took my place on the writer’s lounge and met fellow illustrator Stacey McCulloch.

Curtained window.


Further to the tale of the curtained window.

Detail from a recent portrait of  dear friend Janet Brewer. Janet is a concert pianist, as well as a clarinetist and flautist. Incidentally, she  played clarinet in the ‘Hasel and Rose’ trailer.

Janet was our daughter, Jen’s piano and clarinet teacher for many years. During those weekly lessons I would draw teacher and student, the room furnished with various instruments, rugs and chairs, all the while her dogs watched from the door.

After each lesson we would hold brief conversations about our respective endeavours. Something that came home again and again was how much the languages of art and music overlap; that there was so much common ground. So unsurprisingly, a collaboration has been a mutual aim for some time and an idea is forming. More on this soon.

The National Centre for Children’s Literature.

(Dr Belle Alderman , Myself , Belinda Gamlin at the Lu Rees Archive in front of my past efforts)
Lu Rees Archive has long supported me in my children's book work, for which I truly grateful. I visited once again during a recent trip to the ski fields. It even snowed in Canberra while we were there, which is a good thing for we who live in the tropics. 
It was wonderful to see all there and hear of their advances such as renaming as the
 National Centre for Children's literature.

Marble Island

When you ought to be wearing glasses, strange forebodings and wishful thinking lie over hard geography like a vapour. The senses do what they can, but the head wins every time exploiting the opportunity to make a fiction of the fogbound world.
Over the bay from where we lived, on the crest of a hill lay an empty field of startling and lush green. It had no purpose but to make me sigh heavily as it swam before my eyes. Every morning, grinding my teeth I walked to school with a tantalizing vision of the Lost World before me; Northbridge Golf Course. I never did go there, in truth I didn’t even learn it was a golf course until much later. We left Sydney too soon for me to explore…and we sailed north, where, as the coast crept by, a new Xanadu hove into sight; the islands of the Capricorn coast.
Seeing land come up slowly from the sea is immensely evocative. From a distance, the shapes of the hills do not seem solid yet, more like sections of blue cellophane, darker where the landforms fold and intersect. The Duke group was hanging on the horizon, full of promise. Everything was out there just waiting to happen. But sail boats are slow and progress seems to be counted in inches when the destination is in sight.  A dozen possible adventure scenarios hatched in my head during the hours between landfall and arrival.
Arriving at Marble Island in the late afternoon we let the anchor down in the lee of the island’s lofty hills, along with a great quantity of chain.  A notorious six meter tide scoured this region, pouring through the channels between the islands. There was a sense of precariousness about the anchorage, the sweeping volume of water and uneasy currents. It was a place to visit briefly and then move on. However, I was full of anticipation and wanting to explore in detail.
We hurried ashore to make use of the remaining daylight and headed for the only habitation; a small cattle station. The current caretakers welcomed us warmly and all the grownups quickly settled in to talk; isolation it seems creates an appetite for conversation. Stories were exchanged, one still with me, was of the tragic death of two women on the island; both were wives to a previous caretaker. The first wife had fallen from the island’s marble cliff in a horse riding accident, and the second had drowned while rowing a small boat in the same bay we had just anchored in. As the conversation went back and forth, I saw my chance and sidled outside to look around.
The light was ebbing quickly and while my eyesight was never good, there is something about twilight in the tropics that makes the evening light seem even denser. The wind dropped and the air was somehow thickened with humidity and the rank sweetness of vegetation.  I walked out in no particular direction and climbed over and under the fences. Crossing the dusty ground and feeling my way in bare feet, gathering nearsighted impressions as I went.A few seconds of heavy drumming was the only warning I had, of the approach of an animal. Even in this dim light, I instantly registered the shape of a bull. His hide was jet black crowned with pale crescent horns over a low and swinging head. He propped only a few metres from me; a surprise that might as well have dropped from the sky. I turned and ran like a jack rabbit to the closest fence, scrambling through with the bull right behind me. Wide eyed, I made my way back to the house, sticking to the fence line for security as there may have been other things the size of small cars that I missed.

 

The caretaker couple saw us off with a gift, a large bag of limes. It was dark as we dragged the tender over the wide shelf of reef and rocks which fringed the bay and then rowed back to the Rosa-M. Onboard we drank hot and sugary lime juice of which I had more than was good for me. Sick perhaps, but there would be no scurvy here.
We made way early the next morning and were already some way off the island when I woke. The anchor chain had grumbled all night, telegraphing into my cabin the shape of the rocks below.  I squinted as the island receding into the distance, the sun shining golden onto the face of the marble cliff, warm drifting skeins of colour over a cloudy sea. It looked like some kind of paradise, a postcard version of itself, the fabled realm of Myopia.

Word Farm Australia

Marianne Guy approached me to be part of FaceBook – Word Farm a couple of months ago.The pages’s objective is to ‘Get behind the desks of Australian authors as we discover the places where their inspiration manifests itself into works of brilliance.’It was great to be asked and it also highlighted what I have long suspected… I am the definitely the messiest author around.
When you go out for the evening groceries,
but walk a hundred leagues through some half remembered story
to get back home.
My Christmas wish – a BabushKat

Picture Books : The brilliant little ships of the imagination.

Rosetta Books sits in the beautiful hinterland town of Maleny. It is one of those bookshops with an enveloping mood of quiet happiness. I can’t read in public because I pull faces when engrossed, but plainly the sheltered corners here make people feel at home. The store is full of people unashamedly reading in the many comfortable chairs.A couple of months ago, I found myself sitting in such a chair waiting to talk with owner Anne Brown about a presentation. As I went over my CV in my head, a connection was made and I found myself thinking back on a memorable room in which books were not just a pervasive presence, but almost a structural feature.At a time many years ago, my good friend Chele Simpson introduced me to literary agent Serafina Clarke. Serafina’s office was in the sitting room of her Shepherds Bush home. I was somewhat overwhelmed to be meeting her but I was totally unprepared for what was inside.
Stopping to take in the sight through a fairly thick drift of tobacco smoke, the shape of the room was soft and indistinct as the piles of books undulated out from the walls and teetered in columns at odd intervals. I could not tell you what colour the walls were, or even the floor, the place was simply the colour of books.
We held a brief meeting which resulted in my acquiring my first illustration work for a UK publisher, the cover of Alice Alone by Amanda Brookfield. Through Serafina I was eventually taken on by David Lewis Illustration a London based illustration agency, and so began an adventure into the UK market.
Back to Rosettas, during Book Week I was able to present a dialogue of my work to a room full of adults. After a lovely introduction by author/publisher, Jill Morris of the Book farm, a pleasant evening was had in the company of people who love picture books for their own sake. It’s useful to discuss children’s books with adults as well. It’s their enthusiasm that will carry through to the child. It was also wonderful to meet other grownups who proudly pronounce their love of picturebooks, for their own sake.

Dogs I’ve met.

Foxy


The Bruiser.

Rose and the Wish Thing.

It seemed to take forever and is now rushing towards me. Rose and the Wish Thing will be released by DoubleDay USA on the 8th March 2016.
I have my bags packed but there are still a few details to sort through before I head to the States. Little details of course, I’ll start with my plane tickets then … maybe I should end this letter now and get on with things.
I am unlikely to send another letter this year, so I wish you a very festive, festive season.Sending you and yours, all my best hopes and wishes.Kindest regards,
Caroline

 

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