Mahy Questionnaire: Ruth Paul

Here’s a fresh instalment of your favourite Margaret Mahy Questionnaire, featuring award-winning author-illustrator Ruth Paul! Her most recent picture book, the third in the Little Hector series, Little Hector Meets Mini Maui, is out now! Without further ado, here’s Ruth on changeovers, hauntings, and babysitting shadows!

Ruth Paul, photographed by Rachel Lum.

1. Describe yourself in three words

Wait – what? Three?

2. During the height of adolescence, was it good changeover?

Well, the spiral-perm phase was pretty bad, my first pair of corduroy flares was great, and my crush on the lead singer from Sweet was just plain weird.

3. Are you haunted by a particular memory?

On a camp in my early teens, in the dark of night, when someone believed they had become possessed by the devil and others tried an on-the-spot exorcism. Those were the days.

test alt text
The Haunting by Margaret Mahy (J.M. Dent, 1982)

4. MM: ‘Imagination is the creative use of reality.’ Is this true for you?

Yup. You have no idea how I torture myself about whether a miniature horse would in fact make friends with a tabby cat, while forgetting that she is hanging from a pinata and singing to it.

5. Have you ever owned a rattlebang car?

Yes, until last month. I now own a car that is so nice that I keep looking for the owner. I feel like the baby bird in Are You My Mother? every time I get in it. I fully expect the car to push me out.

6. Which witch? Identify a favourite one from literature.

Well, not so much a witch, but Cruella De Vil. She’s a witch in disguise, but oh-so stylish. I love her.

7. ‘Come dance all around the world. And see all the beauty that surrounds us.’ Words for a romantic or just being mindful?

I have no idea what this question means. Did you vote YES? I suspect so.

test alt text
The Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams (F. Watts, 1989)

8. A lion in the broom cupboard or a lion in the meadow?

You totally voted YES!

OK, a particularly funny Lion in the drinks cupboard, with me and a bunch of friends, then a romp in the meadow after.

9. When have you been at your most discombobulated?

Right now, trying to sound clever but not succeeding.

10. What is your most favourite thing to do on a summery Saturday morning?

After saying goodbye to the Lion, and shoving everything back in the cupboard, a few library books and serious coffee for at least 30 minutes would be heavenly.

11. In what way might you be a trickster?

In the way that I have learned to angle the computer camera on zoom.

The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy (J.M. Dent, 1986)

12. Have you ever been rewarded when looking down the back of the chair?

No, but I once won a chair. In my life I have found: three silver rings on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, a gold mine full of wetas, and someone to love. Not bad going.

13. A pirate for a mother or a jester for a father?

I had both. My mother once found on sale a coat that was made of lamb-skins, possibly lined with lead and weighing a tonne. Determined not to have made a poor purchase, she wore it like a cross and could have passed for a very tiny pirate inside it. My father was always quite funny whether he intended to be or not.

14. Would you babysit someone else’s shadow?

Oh God no. Absolutely not. Do not ask me. No.

The Boy With Two Shadows by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams (J.M. Dent, 1971)

15. ‘Horrakapotchkin,’ said the cat. ‘I want to write a poem.’ Is that how it works for you?

Nope. If I want to write it, it will stay away. If I don’t want to write it, it will pester me. It knows when you are giving it the side-eye, or when you are too needy. Allow it time and space, and you’ll be surprised what it offers up…

16. What I like for dinner when I am on my own is…

A Rum Baba. Or 6.

17. If you find yourself nose to nose with a shark, the only thing to do is to…

Sing ‘Come dance all around the world. And see all the beauty that surrounds us…’ as you go down the gurgler.

The Great White Man-Eating Shark by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jonathan Allen (J.M. Dent, 1982)

18. MM: ‘If things were fair, all stories would be anonymous…set free from the faults that go with its author’s name.’ Would you set your stories free in the name of anonymity?

Again, I have no idea what that means. I think I am very much failing at sounding clever. A story is just words dancing ’round an idea in a particular order. If I throw them out there, they are no more attached to me than air. But try telling that to an intellectual property rights lawyer.

19. You’re at a party and someone finds out what you do. What is the question they invariably ask?

What have you written that I might have read? Anyone who is old enough to ask that will probably not have read anything I have written.

20. Who do you go to be entertained by linguistic pyrotechnics? Or entertained by sonsense nongs?

Just people. We are full of it.

21. Which way does your heart lie: between the stars or anchored to the trapeze?

This does not make any sense! One cannot be anchored to a trapeze, a trapeze is just insane as a general idea, and a little bit of rope attaching you to it is not going to make it any closer to the ground, and you would probably cut-off your own circulation if falling at speed from a trapeze while being attached/tied/anchored to it. I am panicking about the height metaphors. My heart lies solidly on the ground.

The Wind Between the Stars by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Brian Frood (J.M. Dent, 1976)

22. Would you rather be followed home by hippos or giraffes?

Whoever wants to come is welcome. There is room for all at the table, but we may have to remove the roof.

23. Never mind a baby in the bubble. Would you rather – rice bubbles, bubble gum, bubble ‘o’ bill ice cream or Michael Bublé?

Mmmmmmm, Micael Buble, in the bubble bath, with ice cream … WHOA! Isn’t this a children’s book website?

Ruth Paul
+ posts

Ruth Paul is an award-winning writer and illustrator of more than 20 children’s picture books, including Stomp!, Bad Dog Flash and the Little Hector series. Many of her books have received Storylines Notable Book awards and been shortlisted for the NZCYA Book Awards, and I Am Jellyfish won Best Picture Book at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in 2018. In August 2019 Ruth received the Mallinson Rendell Arts Foundation of NZ Laureate Award for book illustration. Her latest book Cookie Boo, published by Harper Collins in the USA, recently received a starred Kirkus review. Ruth lives off-grid in a straw-bale house on a farm near Wellington, New Zealand, with her family and her adorable dog, Teddy.