My friend Margaret Carey died on Sunday and I am so sad.
I realize as I write "friend" that really, I occupied only a very tiny part of Margaret's life.
|Clowning around on our way to the Bologna Children's Book Festival in 2008 with Margaret and illustrators Anne Marie Perks and Sarah McIntyre|
Looking back now, I didn't know much about Margaret's personal life - apart from the usual discussions of school applications, school runs, the educational system, about bringing up uncooperative people in diapers ... and then of course I friended her guinea pigs on Facebook - but that's another story.
In a sense, I didn't know Margaret at all - her family and friends and people she grew up with will mourn her for stuff I wouldn't have a clue about.
I met Margaret when I began attending events organized by the British chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) in 2001. I was an aspiring picture book writer (still am) and she was an aspiring illustrator who was thinking of swapping over to becoming an aspiring author.
We were a bunch of lunatics who had found each other via SCBWI.
So I only knew that tiny slice of her life that she reserved for her creative longings - indeed what I did know of Margaret was a thing I recognized in myself and in many of the people I met (and continue to meet) at SCBWI ... that deep well of creative yearning, that desperation to set down on paper the colours and emotions and terrors that swirled around in one's imagination.
It's a funny thing being bound to other people because of one's unfulfilled desires. The endless conversations about rejection, wondering what that editor or that agent meant by something they said in a rejection letter, turning over points of craft, thinking of ways to write better, draw better, promote one's self better. And the darker questions: was this a hobby? Were we wasting our time? Did we really think we had talent?
When Margaret turned out to be one of the winners of the 2008 Undiscovered Voices - I am ashamed to say I was astounded. Astounded at how I had no idea what a talent she was. Yup, you can spend a lot of time chatting to someone about their writing without realizing that that person was something of a genius.
Here's a sample of Margaret's writing. These are the opening lines of Hey Jude, which won the 2008 Undiscovered Voices anthology competition:
Leaves sailed down off the horse-chestnut trees, more green than gold, supple and not yet crisp. Why they fell seemed puzzling. There was no wind, not even a light breeze, the day being calm and clear, with the sun bleaching the sky bright. Yet leaves fell in abundance and gathered in heaps at the roadside. Beneath them, unseen, lay the first frost of the season, a remnant of the cold night. A trickle of liquid spilled ino the gutter as the frost melted and mingled with blood that had been, just a few hours before, fresh and red and warm. From Hey Jude by Carrie David (Margaret Carey)
When I read her piece, Hey Jude (under the pseudonym Carrie David), I almost fell off my chair.
Hey, Margaret, I thought you said you were an illustrator! The piece had the lyricism and emotional power of Siobhan Dowd, another lost voice in young fiction.
|At the reception for Undiscovered Voices winners, editors and agents were given this cheat sheet of winners.|
It was an exciting time, that first Undiscovered Voices. We'd all been struggling so long together and suddenly here it was, The Future, lying at our feet. One by one, we won representation with agents, won deals. I was signed by Hilary Delamere of The Agency. Margaret was signed by Sarah Davies of the Greenhouse Literary Agency.
It was no longer a question of IF, but WHEN.
|Undiscovered Voices 2008. Left to right, Sara Grant, Harriet Goodwin, Candy Gourlay, Steve Hartley, Margaret Carey, Kate Scott, Kirsty McKay, Mariam Vossough, Sarwat Chadda, Bryony Pearce, Ian Harvey Brown (not in picture: Katie Dale)|
Margaret was a quiet woman, soft-spoken, like really SOFT - you actually had to listen carefully when she spoke - she didn't seek the limelight - her way was to be one of the people laying out the bricks, slapping on the mortar, making sure our nascent organization was growing on strong foundations.
|Margaret at SCBWI's first retreat attended by only ten people - to her right are Debi Gliori and Chitra Soundar|
For many years, Margaret worked with Sara Grant (now awaiting the publication of her debut novel) to organize the Professional Series - talks featuring authors, editors, members of the children's book industry - from when it was held in member's living rooms to its current well-attended venue at the Theodore Bullfrog. The success of the Professional Series helped grow the organization and fund more events.
|At the SCBWI stand at the Bologna Children's Book Fair in 2008: left to right, Margaret, Natascha Biebow, Anne Marie Perks, Sarah McIntyre, me, Catriona Hoy, Trish Phillips|
Way before I joined SCBWI, Margaret was already helping illustrator Anne-Marie Perks organize Illustrator Day - at the time, SCBWI British Isles held a conference for illustrators in the Spring and Writer's Day, a conference for writers in the autumn. When the two days were combined into one big conference, Margaret and I volunteered to become part of the conference committee.
My volunteering tends to be highly visible, show-offy website stuff - but Margaret's tends to involve a lot of invisibility - like remembering to get the plastic sleeves for the nametags, thinking through themes and timings and speakers, even thinking of just the right wording to put into a letter to persuade an author to do a keynote, remembering to collect forgotten boards from Winchester and many more things that nobody will ever know had to be done to make a great conference.
Getting a good programme together means each member of the committee champions their pet causes and themes - Margaret, who chaired the committee one year, had just the right touch to keep things cool and everyone moving forward.
Last year, SCBWI British Isles awarded Margaret with the first Outstanding Contribution Award. Thanks to Benjamin Scott for this presentation
When I heard that Margaret had died, my first bereft thought was of all those yet unfulfilled desires and selfishly, that I would never get to read her work in print.
But it's true about a long journey, about how the destination sometimes doesn't matter as much as the adventure of it and the companionship.
In her long journey, Margaret has certainly left an indelible imprint on SCBWI - such a quiet woman so she needs us to loudly declare her role in the phenomenal growth of our organization.
Here we are, Margaret, still striving, still trying and enjoying the fruits of your labour.
Much of getting published is about being discovered. Her death means Margaret continues to be undiscovered.
But I for one believe her words still have a future.
Those unpublished manuscripts lie in a drawer somewhere filled with delicious possibility.
After Gally's funeral, Jude and I lie side by side on the grass next to his grave. Most of the day's colour had died except the blue in the sky, which was deep and dotted with stars. Jude pointed out the constellations.
"The good thing about here is that you can see the stars, Sean. Back home, with all the lights from the city, you can't see them so well."
"So if the lights really truly go out, you can look up and see all this. See the sky all lit up. It's never really dark, Sean. Not if you can see the sky," he waved his arm upwards. "Gally's got them forever now." From Hey Jude by Carrie David (Margaret Carey)
With love to all who will miss Margaret - especially Mark, Fred and Clare.