Anybody who knows me knows that I have been involved with and passionate about children’s books all my working life—as a children’s librarian, a bookseller, a publisher and a parent, and most recently as a published picture book author of B is for Bedtime, illustrated by Anna Pignataro (Little Hare Books). When I ran Margaret Hamilton Books with my husband Max our philosophy was: Children have a right to the best of everything, especially books. We were one of the few independent Australian publishers specialising in children’s books, especially picture books and we enjoyed considerable success both here and internationally.
Having been involved in publishing picture books for nearly four decades, I was fortunate to be able to collect original artwork from many of the books I worked on. Most rooms in our house at Hunters Hill displayed these treasures. By the time I ‘retired’ I had quite an extensive collection. It was not until we bought our property at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains that the idea of a children’s book cottage began to grow. Max was building a new house—a Tuscan farmhouse inspired by our many trips to Italy—which would leave the existing two-bedroom fibro cottage vacant. So much for retirement!
A long list of names was compiled but we finally chose Pinerolo, an Italian word which means ‘place of pines’. It reflects our close association with all things Italian and especially our adopted Italian family in Pinerolo, Piedmonte. The decision to open the cottage set off an avalanche of work: ‘doing up’ the house, pulling up old carpet and polishing the floorboards, installing professional art tracks, finding and preparing all the artwork for hanging. It was all stored in the newly built garage and I was surprised, and relieved, that it was all in good condition. Opening day was set for 13 November 2010 and nearly two hundred people turned up.
Since opening day Pinerolo has gone from strength to strength. I like nothing better than talking to children and adults about picture books, so I welcome groups of school children. They are usually fascinated by the various stages in the development of picture books and they have the added bonus of an activity sheet that takes them around the exhibition of original artwork. This is the only establishment of its kind in New South Wales so it has become a mecca for anyone interested in children’s picture books.
PICTURE BOOKS @ PINEROLO
‘Picture Books @ Pinerolo’, our one-day courses on creating children’s picture books are now in their eighth year. The day is shared by me and a visiting creator of picture books. For several years Dee Huxley was the only joint presenter, but more recently we’ve had Wayne Harris, Margaret Wild and Libby Gleeson. These days have proved to be hugely successful and it’s very satisfying that there are a few participants who have actually gone on to have picture books accepted for publication. ‘Discovering’ someone with real talent and actually mentoring them to publishing is one of the bonuses of this.
ILLUSTRATORS IN RESIDENCE
Illustrators in Residence is another very exciting program that is now in its third year. There are several ‘Authors in Residence’ programs but there didn’t seem to be any residencies available for illustrators, especially ones where there is a live-in mentor. The Copyright Agency showed great interest in this initiative and agreed to fund it. So this year there are five illustrators who live in the cottage for one week and spend their days working on a project. It is very satisfying to work with these talented people—all very different in their styles and approaches. Last year Dale Newman spent a week here working on a 260-page graphic novel, written by Julie Hunt, winner of the 2013 Picture Book of the Year Award. Although many artists do graphic novels electronically, Dale was working entirely by hand—every page. Rosemary Mastnak from Tasmania (Dancing with Grandma etc) worked in watercolours all week and developed a storyboard for the first time. Sara Acton also worked in watercolours on a quirky book about mice making a cheesecake and Nettie Hilton, an award-winning author, was enthusiastically working on her own illustrations for a new book. It’s all very exciting and I feel privileged to be involved.
Illustrator in Residence, Dale Newman, with Margaret
One of the most exciting open days we’ve had was Grug Day last December. I was the original publisher of Grug, back at Hodder & Stoughton in the 1970s. We published 24 titles and sold nearly a million books. Then I left and Grug went out of print. Simon & Schuster republished the entire series a few years ago and I was thrilled to see a surprise dedication to me in the new books. Grug has taken even his new publisher by surprise. He now has over 120,000 Facebook friends and books are selling furiously. For Grug Day we had Ted Prior here plus Grug himself, who made an appearance every half an hour. Over 150 people came on the day, many of them young parents who had grown up with Grug and were bringing their children to meet him for the first time. I find this very heart warming, that books I published nearly forty years ago are now available for a whole new generation.
Ted Prior with Grug
ARTWORK FOR SALE
Original artwork from children’s picture books is sought after in some parts of the world. It receives more attention in the United States than in Australia. That’s why I am offering selected pieces of artwork for sale—to encourage people to see them as valuable additions to their homes. Artwork from picture books remains the property of the illustrator, so this is a way for them to earn a little more out of all the work they do. These pieces are not part of my collection but pieces that I have been allowed to list for sale. I’m proud to have been appointed exclusive agent to sell the work on Stephen Michael King, one of Australia’s best-known and respected illustrators of children’s books. His work is beautiful and I love to see pieces going to a good home. At the moment I also have the gorgeous illustrations by Anna Pignataro for my own picture book B is for Bedtime for sale. Artwork for sale is listed on the website: www.pinerolo.com.au
So, Pinerolo has proved to be an extremely worthwhile retirement project, another step along the children’s books road for me—a contribution to the world of Australian children’s books. I thank all the people who have supported me in this venture and I look forward to many more visitors.
Margaret Hamilton AM