January 27, 2013

The Magic Hat

Illustrated by Tricia Tusa

I never accept other people’s suggestions or ideas for a particular book, even though people often say to me: ‘You could write a book about that!’ The ideas have to come from what I call ‘the compost of my own life’: my life, no one else’s. If it doesn’t come from my own life in one way or another it will lose its authentic feel and prevent me from connecting to my readers.  In other words, the book will fail.

So when a child wrote to me and suggested I write a story about a magic hat I pretty much ignored it, but I did put the letter in a file. Then I forgot about it.

About a year later my parents came to dinner. My dad was in the early stages of dementia at the time. By a miracle of luck (this is very unusual) a koala had come to visit and was sitting comfortably in the fork of a gum tree—a eucalyptus—in our back garden. I took Mum and Dad up the garden to have a look but I didn’t tell them what they were going to see.

‘Can you see it?’ I said, all excited.

‘Oh, yes, Memzi,’ said my dad. ‘A wombat in the gum tree!’

Wombats burrow underground.  My heart broke for a moment and then I said, ‘Well, it looks like a wombat, but it’s actually a koala!’

And it occurred to me that if the koala had worn a magic hat it could indeed have turned into a wombat, as they are similar in size and shape. So I wrote a rollicking rhyme about a magic hat turning people into the animal they most looked like as human beings.

This is one of my most successful books, and the book I read most often to any audience.