The owl who got left behind by Martine Murray, illustrated Anna Read

Author Interview & Book Review

The owl who got left behind by Martine Murray, illustrated by Anna Read, published Parachute Press.

Martine Murray has a backlist of thoughtful, affirming children’s books with a touch of whimsy, among them the wondrous and idiosyncratic The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley  and its sequel The Slightly Bruised Glory of Cedar B. Hartley; the wistful Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars and Marsh and Me; the three Henrietta stories and a lyrical YA novel, How to Make a Bird.  Her books are critically acclaimed, and award winners.

Here at PaperbarkWords Martine writes about her new publishing company, Parachute Press, and book The owl who got left behind.

My review of the book follows.

Martine Murray writes about the owl who got left behind and Parachute Press:

One moonlit night on a faraway beach an owl is mourning the recent departure of his beloved friend who sailed away with a pussycat in a pea green boat.  A passing rhino reminds him that there is no point waiting for someone who is not returning, but Owl is attached to his grief and will not give it up. He even wishes the rhino would leave so that he can properly attend to his misery. But the rhino sees that the poor owl needs company, so she stays.

Image from The owl who got left behind by Martine Murray & Anna Read (Parachute Press)

This is the first in a series of tales about the Owl and the Rhino, which examine the tender, fragile and complex dynamics of friendship and relationship. While Rhino is steady, constant, calm, Owl is dynamic, adventurous and flighty. He is all spirit and wind, she earth and instinct. Their various inclinations lead them into situations, which reveal and depend on the mutually enhancing equilibrium that friendship/relationship can offer.

In this story, Owl has become so absorbed by his loss and misery that he fails to see the world around him, with its lapping sea and tasty mice. He almost misses the possibility of the new connection, friendship or love that Rhino, in her steadfastness, offers him.  And yet it is this steadfastness and care that the flighty Owl needs, just as the Rhino will benefit from the more adventurous nature of Owl.

Since we are in relationship to everything– to ourselves, to others, to the garden, our dinner, our work, our bad habits, our friends, children, dogs, parents, I wanted in a way to exalt friendship (one of my favourite sorts of relationships) without sentimentalising it.

While in this story the drama belongs to Owl, it’s Rhino who is the quiet hero as it’s her kindness and willingness to listen and attend that transforms Owl’s tragic perspective.  I think this is very important and interesting– that our care and attention can uplift another and conversely that our absorption in our own sad stories can be ruinous. I love the coming together of Owl’s histrionics and Rhino’s calmness.

I wrote this first story a very long time ago, and dug it up when Anna and I decided to do what became a much-loved annual Christmas shadow-puppet show in the garden. Our then young children and their friends and ours, were drawn into the whole production. It was in order to continue on with the story of Owl and Rhino that I had to write further adventures, two of which we plan to release over the next couple of years through Parachute Press, which is what our small time, home-made puppet productions has recently morphed into. We created the press in response to an Industry that seemed very closed and oriented towards the market. We wanted to at least give voice and form to our hope that small, independent, local and value- driven enterprise is a worthwhile, even necessary cultural investment. As such our primary motivation is to make books we love and value, rather than books that sell. Through our books, we hope to inspire in young people, an imaginative and loving relationship to life, other and the natural world.

 Anna and I are two of the most unlikely business people, so the whole venture was and is either courageous or madly naïve and foolish and possibly both. We have, none the less, stumbled forward, launching ourselves into the world via a successful crowd funding campaign, which enabled the publishing of our first book, The Wanting Monster – a modern fairy tale in which a tiny monster wanders into a village and causes enormous trouble. The village, with its stream and forest and fields, is pitted against human greed, carefully stirred into the minds of the hapless villagers by the attention-seeking Wanting Monster. The emergent competitiveness and acquisitiveness destroy the village commons and the common feeling, but the ending sees a river of tears bring life back to the newly cherished forests and fields.

In writing The Wanting Monster, I was aware that it has become more and more challenging to not succumb to our own wanting in a world where everything is organised to lure us towards the false enchantment of consuming. Given social media’s reach and algorithmic curation-never has the capacity to instil in us the desires for nice things, for status objects, for wrong information that will sustain our delusions, entitlements, life styles – been so sophisticated, far reaching and invidious.  I wrote The Wanting Monster to bring to life this monstrous pattern by way of fable, so that children can relate to something that is otherwise very psychologically imperceptible, by simply feeling within them the monster that our wanting can become. I also wanted to suggest that when it begins to cause destruction, we must band together to expel it from our village.  I love the way fairy tales speak to us sideways, in that we feel or recognise in them archetypal patterns of behaviour or psychic formation, without having to consciously understand the symbolic load in the story.  I wanted The Wanting Monster to speak in this way- gently, symbolically, humorously. How do we banish or manage our own wanting especially when balanced against the needs of others and of the environment?

It has been very challenging for Parachute Press to garner any attention, both because we are too small and inexperienced to know the ins and outs of marketing and PR, as well as being disinclined in this area. This hasn’t been helped by discovering that most avenues are already occupied by and confined to the main publishers and that there are many ropes we are having to learn and many that small publishers can’t afford to pull on.  The attention economy is also as prone to monopolies as any other economy.

However we have managed by some sleight of hand to send the manuscript to our favourite publisher in the world, Enchanted Lion Press, in New York and they plan to publish the book in 2024. We will be honoured to be on their list which includes what we think are some of the most interesting and beautiful books from Europe, Scandinavia, Africa and Asia. We have also had and have survived off large orders of our books for school libraries (which has enabled us to publish our second book) and have recently received a grant from Regional Arts Victoria.

All this by way of saying that the path has been perilous and the victories small, but as Rhino would do, we remain steadfast and hopeful that something small can still survive.

Image from The owl who got left behind by Martine Murray & Anna Read (Parachute Press)

Book Review of The owl who got left behind by Joy Lawn

The owl who got left behind by Martine Murray, illustrated by Anna Read, is a quality picture book. It is lovingly and carefully produced in hardback format.

Its ethos, themes and style remind me of The Little Prince and its story tangents from The Owl and the Pussycat, further signifying its literary heritage. It is a poignant, musing tale.

Allusions to The Owl and the Pussycat from the beginning are clear. Part of the poem is quoted,

“The owl and the pussycat went to sea

In a beautiful pea-green boat

They took some honey and plenty of money

Wrapped up in a five-pound note.”

The new story continues by recognising the famous owl and pussycat before introducing the sad owl left behind. This owl is lonely, depressed and resentful. Owls are meant to be wise but this one is wasting his life wishing for something different.

A passing white rhino, who is much more wise, but who Owl thinks is not, joins him on the beach. She has a dry humour and steadfastly supports Owl even when he diminishes her. She even helps him build the boat that he will use to leave her behind in unfair revenge on the wrong animal.

Owl claims the credit for building the boat and wants acclamation, but by then Rhino has gone. Owl’s high-handed, selfish behaviour makes us wonder if that is why he was left behind by the other owl and the pussycat in the first place.

Complex emotions and the frailties of all are explored subtly and with gentle humour here.

The limited colour palette and allusions in the illustrations, rather than bright, childish pictures that another illustrator may have brought to the text, are the right choice for this reflective tale.

The moon is significant, increasingly so as the story progresses, which makes the dark night setting with splashes of white and brighter colours apt.

The illustrations are all double-page spreads in landscape form to show the liminal space at land’s edge with a view of the sea, the sea that took the other owl and pussycat away.

Cropping (where part of a figure or picture only is shown) is used well. Firstly to show the departing boat and later to introduce Rhino where we see only her tail and backside, and then her back view.

Although psychologically sophisticated, the story and underlying emotions of The owl who got left behind will resonate with children. They will also be alerted to the perilously endangered plight of the white rhino.

Commendable new publisher, Parachute Press is worth supporting. They are committed to being independent and ethical.

The owl who got left behind at Parachute Press

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