Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Robin Muller on THE NIGHTWOOD

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Robin Muller on THE NIGHTWOOD

Robin Muller is an internationally acclaimed author and illustrator whose books have been translated into many languages and adapted for stage and television. Well-loved by the community, his art has been featured in numerous exhibitions and is prized in several collections. He received a Governor General's Award as well as the Studio Magazine Silver Medal for Illustration for The Magic Paintbrush. His numerous other awards include three Toronto Art Directors' Awards and an IODE Book Award. He lives in Toronto.

Now a children's classic, Robin Muller's illustrated children's book The Nightwood has recently been brought back into print by Tundra Books. Here, he tells Open Book the stories behind his reasons for republishing the book. For more information about The Nightwood, please visit the Tundra Books website.

THE STORIES THAT STAY WITH US

A few years back a friend called me up to say that if I thought my books had had no effect on children to go to the book store and pick up a copy of L magazine. I went to the bookstore and I looked and looked, but I couldn't find a magazine called L. When I called my friend back and told her of my failure she said, “Not L, you idiot, Elle, the French fashion magazine,” and she said she would just drop it off.

When I received the magazine an article was marked describing a competition Elle had sponsored. The competition had been to find the best new designer and it was a Canadian who had won. When the winner was asked what her inspiration for the line was, the young woman replied that the designs were based on a book that she had loved as a child, a romantic, mystical story called The Nightwood by Robin Muller. I was very flattered! Far too often an author, after having spent a considerable amount of time creating a book, is completely unaware if all the effort touched anyone.

A month later I received a phone call from a young man who told me his name and said that I wouldn't remember him but that we had met at an art show sixteen years before. The truth was I did remember him. I had been in Peterborough doing school visits in anticipation of a show of my book illustrations that were being displayed at the Peterborough Art Gallery. The opening was well attended and there was a long line of people to get books signed. I was vaguely aware of a little boy, nicely dressed in a jacket and tie, hanging around the table where I was signing. Just as I had finished, he came up to me and said that I had been to his school earlier that day and that he would like to buy a book, but didn't have any money.

On a scrap of paper I wrote to the bookseller who was looking after sales, asking him to give this boy whichever book he would like and that I would settle with him later. The boy ran off, then reappeared holding a copy of The Nightwood to sign and told me that it was his favourite. On the title page I wrote — To Scott, I expect great things from you. After the boy had left his teacher came up to me to say that was the best boy I could have done that for as his mother had just died, and the father, who was unemployed, was trying to raise him and his brother and sister on his own. Scott, now grown, had called to thank me for what I had written because it gave him the motivation to stay in school, attend university and achieve a degree.

Over the years many people have contacted me to say how much they had loved The Nightwood as children, but as the book was now almost twenty years old and long out of print, they wondered if I knew where they could get copy. Sadly when a book goes out of print it pretty much vanishes, and I had no advice to give. But with these above two incidents I decided to take the chance and reissue it myself. What I discovered was how difficult it was to reissue and distribute a book. I had just about given up when Tundra came along and offered to reissue it for me. So with great delight, and many thanks to Kathy Lowinger and Kathryn Cole at Tundra, I am pleased to say that The Nightwood will again be available to hopefully excite and inspire another generation of readers.

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