Interview with Lucy Magicmaker
Lucy Magicmaker is the author and illustrator of the charming Marmalade the Mouse books. After reading The Cornish Adventure to my little girl I wanted to learn more about the creator of this quirky series and find out why a little mouse has become such a big character.
Marmalade's story begins with Marmalade's Jammy Adventure, where he is frustrated at living such a normal life. He falls asleep and has a vision where he is then inspired to go and make lots and lots of jam.
When you started the Jammy Adventure, did you also have a vision of his future adventures around Britain?
Yes. I knew the Marmalade the Mouse books would be a hardback watercolour illustrated series, and that the journey for me as a writer would take many years to complete. I hadn't yet reailsed that Marmalade would travel county by county around Great Britain, in fact, after the Devon book where the little mouse finds the courage he needs to step forth into a bigger world, I thought he would go to London, and then I even thought he might board a ship for New York. Marmalade does set off for London in the second book, but he ends up by mistake in Cornwall, and this was as much of a surprise to me, as it was to the mouse. Marmalade does seem to go where the wind blows him, and I am also taken along on that journey with him. I did know that the Marmalade the Mouse stories would involve travel, history and nature. And, as the Cornish Adventure came into being, it dawned on me what the little mouse was up to. Marmalade had a plan to "county hop" around Great Britain. You think you know where a story, or a series of stories, is going, and when you sit down to write, things work out differently ... and if you have the courage to just let things unfold, I think the adventure for everyone is much more fun ?
Have you always created stories and characters?
Yes, in my head I have always imagined characters living and speaking alongside me. I always had imaginary friends. I was born as an extremely creative, curious child. I loved art and encyclopedias and illustrations and dictionaries and phrase books containing antiquated English sayings. I loved from the age of five years everything that I still love today. As a child, from the first years that I could wander off, I would disappear across the fields for hours, and if people in my village thought I was alone, they were mistaken. I lived on a farm near Salcombe in South Devon and from a very young age would walk the lanes and cliffs and beaches. I could be gone all day, and no one would think that odd. It was different in the countryside back then. I would climb trees, collect pebbles and lug them up the cliff path. I would turn seashells into mice, and I actually made an entire family of little stuffed felt mice, just like the ones in Marmalade the Mouse's shopping cart today. In the winter time or evenings, I would make little books with stapled spines, and would spend hours writing stories and illustrating them ... and I oddly always put copyright Lucy and the year on the back cover. I was publishing in my bedroom by the age of about 5. I always had stories and characters with me in my world.
There is a lot of love for Cornwall in Marmalade's Cornish Adventure - is this something that you share?
Yes. The Cornish Adventure is totally personal to me. There oddly wasn't much research to do. I just gathered all that I knew of Cornwall from my childhood visits, and time living there in later life and put it into one story. All the myths and legends and everything that I have held dear for a lifetime went into the pages of the book. It was actually a very emotional book for me to write. I felt a great sense of ancestral homecoming. I wrote the story for my ancestors. They were tin miners called Trewartha and lived on the rough cliffs out near Gwithian as far back as Cornish records go, and probably a good many years before records began. They had a hard life. Many of my ancestors died in the mines. They had to struggle just to survive, and I felt that they might be proud and happy to know that they are remembered. Although I was born in South Devon, I feel as though I've come home as soon I get over the Tamar Bridge and start journeying into Cornwall. I feel such an ancient connection to the land and the memories that are held in the landscape.
What is your favourite place in Cornwall?
Probably more my favourite landscape than place ... I would have to say Wendron and Porkellis .. Carnmenellis way ... I love bracken, especially in autumn when it turns copper red and brown, and when the skies are dark and moody and the autumn afternoon sun sets over this rugged landscape, There's a certain point in the afternoon early evening, when the sun catches the bracken that the whole place lights up like a movie. the landscape becomes so strikingly beautiful, and then I know I am home. I like places that are untouched and ancient ... rocky and craggy. Zennor would be another favourite spot, and of course that has the advantage of having both bracken, rocky outcrops and the sea. I like places where the landscape is bigger than the people.
How have you found your journey as a writer/illustrator?
There have been many ups and downs. Too many to tell you about. When you know that you are born to write, and when you finally accept that you will spend the next few years writing about a charming but cheeky mouse who is going to drag you around every 'blooming county' in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, then you know you've utterly surrendered to your fate. And once surrendered, you don't fight the daily ups and downs anymore. They are just a part of the journey. I focus on the positive too, and at the end of each day, I run through all the good stuff in my head, and give thanks for the luck and good fortune that has come my way. You need an incredible amount of passion to throw yourself wholeheartedly into something huge ... no matter what line of work you are in, or what kind of project you have undertaken. Once you are committed, the bumps in the road don't matter. You just keep going, and as corny as it may sound, you learn to love the journey each and every day.
If you could give yourself any advice when you first started knowing what you know now, what would it be?
To not rush, or set yourself harsh deadlines. To not be in such a hurry, or believe that you would write your first book and everything would fall into place immediately, and to not feel such personal disappointment when stockists and bookshops and buyers didn't throw themselves at your feet to order 100 copies, but just to better understand that anything worth its weight takes time, and that the pieces of the jigsaw will fall into place when they are ready, or when you are ready. I would have allowed myself more time to breathe out and relax. I often now think of an Irish saying that goes something like ... "Let love grow like the green grass in the fields." If you can let your writing and illustrating and business grow at about that same pace, and find the time each day to watch the leaves on the trees change colour, then you will have slowed your world down enough to marvel at the magic of everything around you. This is my world today. It was not my world when I started the mouse books.
Where do you see Marmalade going in the future?