Sixteen years ago the famous author of the Katie Morag stories was responsible for putting together the first children’s festival at Wigtown.
In conversation with Finn McCreath they both commented on the enormous transformation that has happened to the town thanks to the designation of Scotland’s Book Town.
Mairi recalled the depression and lack of prospects and explained how it had been vital to her that the local people, the children in particular, should be involved in that first festival.
Her own career had been transformed due to a chance meeting with a publishing editor on a Coll beach.
Mairi had dropped out, hippy style, in the sixties and gone to look for the Highlands and islands that had fascinated her from her window at home in Gourock.
She had trained as a potter but in those days an art education involved the full spectrum of drawing and painting.
She was encouraged by the holidaying editor to bid for the opportunity to illustrate a book and overnight her career changed.
After years of illustrating other people’s work it was pointed out to her that if she created her own character she could earn all the royalties rather than share them with the author and so generations of children were introduced to Katie Morag.
The character has become so popular that she has her own section in Waterstones.
The event was filled with fascinating little nuggets of information shared with a frank warmth by this well loved writer.
One was the revelation that initially Mairi had written a story of the relationship between Katie Morag and her grandfather but the American publishers were uncomfortable with the story line so instead Granny Island was created by Mairi simply changing the head of the character she’d drawn!
She also revealed that she begins each illustration with white wax before using Quink ink and Tippex – which is why she never sells the originals.
In later years, in something of a mid-life crisis, Mairi bought herself an old VW campervan and set off retracing the steps of a Victorian water-colourist who had toured the Highlands and Islands in 1876.
Mairi described the difficulty and the discoveries she made trying to recreate the exact places where the original artist had stood.
It was a comfortable and hugely enjoyable evening for the packed audience, much like spending time with an old friend after a long separation, which of course it was really.