I need another coffee. A strong one.
Very late night last night. A birthday party – hundreds of people, some in tiaras and medals, the odd feather boa, one small pirate and two lions. I ran off just before midnight to catch the last boat home, and the 70-year-old was still raging.
The birthday girl was Margaret Mahy, officially a national treasure, and unofficially a favourite storyteller of generations of children since the publication in 1969 of her first book, The Lion in the Meadow.
It was really very moving, and I feel privileged to have been there.
There were speeches and tributes, performances and songs, balloons, the launch of her latest novel for young readers, Portable Ghosts (HarperCollins gave everyone a signed copy), a spontaneous haka, and a lion-shaped cake.
But the highlight was the recitation of her newest picture book, Down the Back of the Chair, by the small pirate, Harry, who looks to be about six or seven. AKA Margaret’s grandson, Harry had somehow memorised the entire text without anyone knowing, and started reciting it one evening at another function, much to everyone’s amazement. So last night he and Margaret performed it together (she had to refer to the book – Harry knew it off by heart and told the story with some vigour).
I was a bit shy, talking to all those bona fide authors. But one told me he felt like a fraud because he’d only published two so far, with another three in production, and Witi Ihimeara said he still can’t believe it when he gets his advance copy from the publishers. Everyone was very sweet to me. Then I was introduced to Margaret just as I was leaving, and she told me she couldn’t wait to read my book and would I sign her copy? So it felt like my birthday, too.
I should have shown her my pirate tattoo. She’s got one too.
Michael Hurst read this extract from one of her poems to finish the evening (it’s in Tessa Duder’s biography, A Writer’s Life):
When I am old and wrinkled like a raisin
I will dance like a kite on the bucking back of the wind.
I won’t look ahead at the few bright days I am facing
Or look back at the years trailing out like streamers behind.
Everyone else will be gone. The silence will seem to be mocking,
but I will dangle and and dance in the bright and clear air of the day…
Well, this morning I feel way beyond 70. Woke up at six for no good reason. Don’t even drink, so I can’t blame a hangover. Need coffee. Panadol. Too stupid to work. Have to lie on the couch with a book.
But I bet the 70-year-old is out having another party.