G and T with Mary Norton author of the Borrowers

What is it about writers? I’ve known many writers. I grew up among them because my father was a writer—they all had one thing in common: they could and did all drink. The tee total writer  is a rare bird. Perhaps it’s the loneliness of the writer’s journey, the way you sometimes stare at the blank page, conjuring creatures and places out of air. Mary was a big woman with a warm and gentle voice. She gave me my first real  gin and tonic— those before didn’t count, they paled into insignificance. It was as if I had never had one before . The secret was a lot of gin, hardly any tonic, and a glass that was more like a vase. Not much ice either. It was about ten o’clock in the morning.  Tentatively I asked her about the Borrowers— you are shy when young. How had she made them up?  What was the inspiration?  She looked at me amazed. She hadn’t made them up. They were real. She hadn’t waited for inspiration but for their presence. I didn’t know yet  that this is what most writers feel, a beguiling and wonderful illusion, that sense that created characters are real. We walked round her garden—a place of tangled bushes, forgotten places, abandoned statues where creatures might easily be hiding. She told me about what she was working on, a new story in which all the creatures of fairy tales have grown old. They are visited by someone who doesn’t believe in fairy tales. It turns out that he is wrong. They are all there but they’ve grown old and some of them are very grumpy and nasty. It was called  ‘Are all the Giants Dead?’ A wonderful story, published a few years later and beautifully illustrated by Brian Froud. She stood there— a fine morning in Ireland, holding the drink tight, surveying an overgrown patch, pondering hard the secret inner life of borrowers . ‘You know they had to be there. I mean things kept disappearing. And they would be, when you think of the things,  a touch ordinary, wanting to fit in which must be difficult when you’re that small. Desperate sometimes. And nothing really belonged to them— a desperate and touching search to be someone else. I’ve never had that problem, of course.’ No she hadn’t. She stood there, quite magnificently. ‘ Well,’ she brushed the borrowers aside and with them the human condition, that desperate search, ‘ time for another G an T?’

Mary Norton Are all the Giants Dead