The Goblin And The Empty Chair

Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon



When my goblin story was published, an Australian colleague, Kay Keck, wrote a wonderful response to it and asked how I had come to have Leo and Diane Dillon as illustrators. Who had chosen them?  Was I thrilled with the art? And so on. Thrilled? I nearly died when they said yes. This was my reply…

Oct 6th 2009
Dear Kaye

Thank you for loving my Goblin.  It took seven years from start to finish but I am ecstatic over the end product. I have given it to several adults over the last week and each has wept at the end. One said it was the new Wilfrid Gordon. I hope children like it too: there’s no guarantee of that yet.

I didn’t choose the Dillons, my USA editor did that, but I was blown over by their agreeing to do the book.  I totally knew who they were: royalty among children’s picture book illustrators, twice winners of the Caldecott Medal.

I didn’t really communicate with them except to say it was OK to change my boy in the book to the girl that they wanted.

In my head, a grandparent had died which is why the chair was empty and had been all winter, and that’s why the family was so disturbed and sad. However, in a portrait of the family on the wall, early on in the book, there are two children, so for the Dillons I think one of the children had died, which is even more tragic that I had intended.  I didn’t see the portrait on the wall until Malcolm pointed it out, so no, Leo and Diane and I have never communicated directly, even to this day. My effusive thanks to them has been delivered via my editor.

How did the book happen? I was writing a book called Be Gone! Be Gone! which was going nowhere after two years. It was didactic, about loving libraries and the adventures to be found in books, so even though I had been attempting to adopt a fairy tale style and language, I had failed spectacularly to write a good book. Children loathe being preached at, a fact most wannabe picture book authors forget.  Alas, I had been paid a large advance for Be Gone! Be Gone! so I had to pay back the money or write another story. AAARGH! The money was gone!

So my editor asked what kind of story I had wanted to write in the first place.  I said I’d wanted to write a Bruno Bettelheim kind of fairy tale; that I’d wanted to be Hans Christian Andersen for a moment, or one of the Brothers Grimm; to write a tale of darkness and woe with a happy ending but lots of puzzlement, a story that each child would relate to in their own way, according to their individual needs at the time.  (Bruno Bettleheim was the famous child psychologist who said that fairy stories were essential for the proper psychological development of all children. He died in 1990. His work: The Uses of Enchantment, had a profound effect on me.)

So I wrote, over many years, The Goblin and the Empty Chair. You might like to see me read it on on YouTube at

Thanks for adoring it. Love, Mem xxx

I read I this story on YouTube at

Here’s the Dillon’s website.