I asked Seymour Hamilton, author of The Laughing Princess, how it came about that he met Shirley MacKenzie, who did the lovely new cover and many other drawings for that book. This is how he explains it:
I met Shirley MacKenzie at a reading soiree at a now defunct indie bookseller which had our books on consignment. Shirley had written and illustrated a moving account of her search for her birth mother and father. The emotional impact of Shirley’s story was in her drawings, which are at the intersection between personal and universal. She does not tell her reader what to think or feel: she presents evocative images of loss, longing and fulfillment that haunt me still.
Shirley bought a copy of my book, The Laughing Princess, and was moved to draw a scene from one of the stories, “The Wizard and the Fire Dragon,” and later another, “Ryll’s Fortune.” I was amazed to see how close her vision came to the one in my mind when I was writing. Her charming rendition of The Littlest Dragon, the character that ties the twelve stories together, is now the cover art for both The Laughing Princess and the Spanish edition, La Princesa valiente.
Shirley’s search for her birth parents took her to England and Scotland, where she travelled with sketchbook in hand. In London, her paintings feature views of and through the peculiarly English iron railings that most people see but do not notice. In Scotland, she captured the muted colours of a Scottish autumn with a vividness that refreshes the memories of those who have been there.
Back in Canada, she continued to find ways of taking us through the picture frame into the world that she sees in such vivid detail. Her paintings of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have the quality of a shared experience, when one person says, “Look at that!” and both enjoy the moment.
Illustration is Shirley’s latest enthusiasm. She started with well-known children’s classics such as The Little Prince, Charlotte’s Web and Treasure Island. Her drawing of a pivotal emotional moment when Jim Hawkins makes an important step towards manhood illuminates the text, making us aware that Robert Louis Stevenson was not just writing adventure: his story has emotional depth that we often lose in the many films, cartoons and re-interpretations of the famous tale.
The most poignant example of Shirley’s ability to read into the deeper dimensions of a story came when she drew a couple of incidents in stories by Spider Robinson. I was impressed by the appropriateness of her treatment of these emotion-laden scenes, and sent copies of them to Spider, who I have known since we both lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Here is a part of his response:
“I am seriously mind-boggled. I just sat and looked at that sentence for ten minutes, trying to figure out what to follow it with. I failed, but have decided to keep on typing, anyway. But mind-boggled pretty much sums it up. The surely accidental resemblance of Erin to my granddaughter Marisa is uncanny. (For which reason I have forwarded it to her mom in Connecticut.) And that happens to be the way I was wearing my hair and beard when I wrote that book. And I lived in converted school buses on Stephen’s Farm long enough to recognize the interior of one when I see it. Right down to the inevitable tape-patches on the seats. What a beautiful piece! If we ever succeed in getting the e-book rights to that book back from Bantam, that’s the cover I’ll recommend for it to my agent. Please tell Shirley I am highly pleased and deeply moved. And thank her from me, big time. It never fails to awe me when some words I stuck together end up inspiring a work of art. Especially one that good.”
The Laughing Princess is available with its beautiful new cover in soft cover: Soft cover | Amazon US | Amazon Canada | Amazon UK | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound (shows the old cover, but never fear!)
All images in this post are © Shirley MacKenzie and must not be used without permission. Please see Shirley’s other work at artspace59.com.