Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Thursday 18 January 2018

What Lies Beneath: Aoife to the Hospital by Margaret Anne Suggs

Aoife to the Hospital by Margaret Anne Suggs Courtesy of the artist

Aoife to the Hospital by Margaret Anne Suggs
Aoife to the Hospital by Margaret Anne Suggs

Niall MacMonagle

Margaret Anne Suggs, from the American Deep South, lists things that she loves about Ireland: cups of tea, poets, little cars, chimneys, double-decker buses.

How did she end up here?

"The lure of the green fields... Nah. During post-grad in London I took a trip to Ireland, was really impressed and switched to NCAD."

Now married with two sons she lives near the sea in Dublin and she lectures at Ballyfermot College of Further Education where "she loves the students' energy and the buzz".

At home in her pink studio, surrounded by 1,700 children's picture books there's a different buzz. It's where she brings to colourful life the world of words.

Illustrators John Tenniel, Eric Carle, Quentin Blake, Tony Ross pictured so wonderfully Alice, that very hungry caterpillar, Matilda, Horrid Henry and so forth - but is the illustrator sometimes the bridesmaid never the bride?

"Maybe the groom," says Suggs. "They might get a bit less attention, but for a marriage, it still takes two!"

Suggs collaborated on Kathleen Watkins's number one bestseller, Pigin of Howth. "It was a wonderful experience working with Kathleen and she is a charming lady."

For Suggs the story has to suit the illustrator. "I have to like and believe in the story. A little bit of your heart goes into the pictures."

It did in My Lights Go Out, by Julie Green, "a gentle story about how a little girl is diagnosed and treated for epilepsy. The story involves Aoife's whole family, because this kind of diagnosis affects a whole family".

This image from that book has mother and daughter with a spring in their step. The message is clear: we will cope with epilepsy.

Once told her illustrations were very feminine, Suggs spent "about five minutes trying to rectify that. Then I thought, well that's just who I am and how I draw. Why fight it? I like to add flowers, ladybugs, cats, mice and rabbits to drawings".

And lots of "green or blue or bluey-green or greeny-blue. I'm in the right country for those colours".

Margaret Anne Suggs exhibits her work at Listowel Writers' Week (May 31-June 4) and will give a workshop "for aspiring illustrators who would like to see that illustration takes work, research, planning and skill. It's not just a pretty picture."

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