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Margaret Mahy, renowned NZ children's author, dies

Published: 9:13PM Monday July 23, 2012 Source: ONE News

Margaret Mahy, one of the world's leading children's authors, has died aged 76.

The celebrated writer died in Christchurch this afternoon after a brief illness.

As colourful as her books, Mahy was one of New Zealand's most successful writers.

School journals printed some of her early works but no New Zealand publishing house would take her on.  

It took an American editor to discover her tale A lion in the Meadow in 1969 and launch her international career.

"A Lion in the Meadow, I suppose, is still a very special book to me because it was the first book I ever saw in print," Mahy told TVNZ's Sunday programme in 2006.

"I think I have been a very tradesmanly writer in many ways."

Mahy wrote her first book at age seven.

A solo mother of two, she brought up her children at Governors Bay on Banks Peninsula, working as a librarian by day and writing through the night.

"The children and I would read stories together and they'd go to bed. And then I worked all night drinking cup after cup of black coffee," she explained.

It paid off - in her life she published more than 200 titles, her books translated into more than a dozen languages.

Her work also graced our screens as she also wrote film scripts and a TV thriller.

But Mahy believed there was nothing like the warm embrace of a book.

"Reading in the family is extremely important, still, in spite of the fact that most of us have televisions or something similar in our houses, because first of all it enables parents to cuddle children while they read to them," she said.

Margaret Mahy often told her stories aloud while walking, before committing them to paper.

She said the thrill of being paid for writing never wore off.

"Sometimes I have felt rich, but I think I am pretty well to do, and that is quite an achievement for a writer," she told the Sunday programme.

Mahy received numerous honours and awards. But the year she turned 70 she was awarded perhaps the most prestigious - the Hans Christian Andersen Award for her lasting contribution to children's literature.

"I felt absolutely thrilled. It somehow seems impossible to think of winning it," she said.

Recognised the world over, some feel Margaret Mahy was undervalued at home.

"There was definitely the idea that you wrote for children 'cause you weren't smart enough to write for adults. And I don't think people feel that to the same extent nowadays," she told Sunday.

Mahy will be remembered for the visits she made to schools to tell her delightful, but sometimes slightly scarey stories, thrilling children of all ages.

In her success, Mahy was keen to foster new talent, and perhaps the greatest story she told young fans was they too could be writers.