Building Bridges of Colour not Walls of Mistrust

During a short holiday break, where internet access was joyfully reduced, on the occasions when a signal was achieved I discovered a disturbing story.

The artist, Ehsan Abdollahi, who had been booked to speak at Edinburgh International Book Festival had been denied a visa to enter the UK.

Ehsan’s work first came to my attention when the wonderful publisher, Tiny Owl, sent me a copy of When I Coloured the World by Ahmadreza Ahmadi, illustrated by Ehsan. When I Coloured the World is such a beautiful book, about colour, about peace, about so many things, with spaces in text and images for so much conversation to arise.

The decline of the visa came with Kafkaesque excuses. Ehsan is divorced. The suggestion is that with no one dependent on him he might chose not to return once in Edinburgh. Perhaps the publishing world in the UK might prove just too attractive.

But Ehsan has a full time job, is published in the UK and can continue to be so.

Ehsan would have been coming to the UK to talk to children and adults about his wonderful books, to meet with artists and authors, to share ideas, to exchange thoughts. But it would seem that while deploring the antics of Donald Trump and his ‘Muslim ban’ the UK home office has been quietly emulating it. For this is the third year that Tiny Owl authors and illustrators have been denied visas.

In a world that is increasingly dangerous we need exchanges of ideas. Children have the right to meet those who create the books they love. And we have so much to learn from artists from all around the world. This denial of free movement echoes as Beverley Naidoo states in her letter to The Guardian, the days of apartheid in South Africa.

Read the article in The Guardian about the denial of the visa. It makes one ashamed to be British. This obviously intelligent, creative and hard working man, having provided information about his finances is then questioned about whether the money is really his, as if his salary as a teacher and his income from publishing is some kind of front. ( And why he should wish to come to the UK and stay for the rich pickings in publishing to be had, well, that’s laughable. )

It’s a sad story. I hope it has a happy ending. If Ehsan is denied entry to the country then James Mayhew and I will begin our event by talking briefly about When I Coloured the World, and I would ask that all others involved in the festival do the same. But I hope that the British Embassy will see the light, see the colour, and understand that culture builds bridges and that allowing the free movement of culture might just lead to a better world, a better understanding of each other.

Tiny Owl work hard to build bridges between cultures, between writers and artists and children and dreamers. I love their books. I love what they do.

It’s a small world. Tiny Owl have a big heart.

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Back to basics

Hare with a new moon.

Gold leaf and pencil.

Stones, with gold leaf.

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Goldfinch

This is heading to Robert Macfarlane. He, I hope, will write a goldfinch, across the stem of the teasel.

Then it will begin an adventure.

 

I love the remnants of gold. Often these are the pieces of my work I like. The remnants.

The print set was from Scaramanga. A one off in their antiques catalogue. I foresee more things with words. Some time I hope to get some big wooden letters to play with.

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Somethings beautiful

 

 

My friend Astrid makes things from wood. She made my front door, my garden gate. She also made my favourite spoon. Nervous that the spoon might be eaten by a dog, should I be careless with my precious, I asked her to make a few more like it. ( She’d only ever made one.) Now I have a whole row of them, but still go back to the beauty that I favoured first. Two of the new ones are made from holly. I can’t remember what the other two are made from but I love the curious ripples that flow across them.

And then there are the bowls. I love ceramics, but these days find myself eating with and off wood more often than not.  Below is breakfast, a smoothie bowl of fruit and seeds and muesli, so healthy it would make your skin glow.

There’s something about the bowls that makes me love them so. These two below were made from a single piece of ash in Abermawr.

This below, I can’t remember the wood, is a larger version of the breakfast bowl.

And then there is this one, and no photo can do it justice. It’s just so pleasing in colour and shape, heavy in the hand, deep. It’s made from oak, though I am not sure where the oak is from. Boncath perhaps.

On request Astrid made me two more of the small plates, curved like shallow bowls. These two have such a glorious ripple to the wood, like water caught in wood, the growth patterns of trees, the seasons, written on their surface.

I love trees. I love wood. It’s so alive. I love my bowls. I love that they are hand crafted. The spoons are so finely made and I adore the way Astrid is decorating them now. There’s some fine pieces on her blog.

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Cultural Appropriation

The phrase ‘cultural appropriation’ rears its head every now and again. It’s understandable in some ways. Publishing has been for years a very white, very middle class industry, and the gatekeepers of publishing often reflect the world they know. There are exceptions. to this, and there are those who pay lip service to equality. Janetta Otter-Barry has been a leading light in children’s publishing when it comes to diversity of authors, texts, etc, not just for a commercial fast buck, but because she has a passion for story, and doesn’t judge a book by its colour, if you know what I mean.

Hamish Hamilton have such an amazing list of writers. Exit West buy Mohsin Hamid still haunts me long after the book has been closed, and I have moved on to others.

Anyway, trying not to wander off the path here. A few days ago I was talking to a friend about Blodeuwedd. I’ve been working on her story, a friend who is a glass artist also has, and another friend is playing with the Mabinogion, and Alan Garner wrote The Owl Service. All 4 of us have one thing in common. We aren’t Welsh, but the source of the story is. And my friend said she had a problem with this as it steps on the toes of cultural appropriation.

I’ve also been hearing stories about editors being afraid to commission stories from other cultures if the authors do not share the ethnicity of the stories. One author was asked if she couldn’t pretend to have an Inuit cousin when she was writing a book about the far north. ( Yes, that did happen, and really, you couldn’t make it up)

This is dangerous, short sighted. And, who are they afraid of? A few bloggers, mostly in USA, have been very vocal in their outrage about cultural appropriation. ( editing this would be wrong. I’m leaving it in, because I said it, but I now think I was wrong to say it. It’s more than a few bloggers, it’s an issue that does need debating, which is why I entered these shark infested waters,  and I’ve already learned from those who would challenge me. My previous comment was too dismissive. )  I can understand this, when it comes to naming helicopters after First Nation People, cars, beer, baseball teams, prancing round in ceremonial war bonnets at parties. It’s disrespectful. But stories?

As a species we are hard wired to learn through story. As a species we have always learned from each other. Stories flowed along the Silk Road like water.

My counter argument is simple.

We are all human.

Human culture is what we are talking about.

Stories belong to the tellers of tales.

But I would say that wouldn’t I. Because look what I have coming out soon.

The Ice Bear is about the beginning of shaman people. It travels back to a time before the world was divided by lines imagined by the small minded across the earth. It’s from a time when the Bear People, The Raven People, Fox People and Owl all lived in a harmony. It’s roots are deep down in the stories of the First Nation people whose stories I first read as a teenager in the Midlands of England, and whose stories spoke clear to a place inside me that was troubled with the things I was taught at school about how man was given dominion over the animals by God in the garden of Eden. These stories broke through the arrogant walls of humanity, cut through to a place where trees, birds, insects has souls, YES. And the world began to make sense again. It’s not a traditional tale. It is an imagined story, for the imagination is perhaps the sharpest tool I have at my disposal.

For more about The Ice Bear have a look at The Guardian website.

I found the story in the sound of ravens wings.

Another book, publishing again in its new edition is The Snow Leopard.

I found this story in a desperate desire to paint these glorious creatures. I still remember what the head of sales at the publishers said. “The thing is, Jackie, snow leopards just aren’t interesting as tigers. Everyone knows about tigers, but snow leopards. Really?” Fortunately Janetta could see the beauty of the animals, and loved the story, so the book was published. Now it’s returning in a new and improved edition, with beautiful paper. I painted it from my studio in Pembrokeshire, chased the story on the wind and the wings of birds, in the eyes of a leopard held captive in a cage. I trapped the story with my pen, words on paper, writing of a powerful spirit cat, guardian of a valley. Later, when researching place and people I discovered the shape shifting Mergichans, one of the many uncanny things that have happened in my working life.

I am not Inuit. I am not Nepalese. I am human. I have an imagination, and my craft is to use coloured water, ink and paper to tell stories.

I’m not Welsh, but I am a woman, and I love trying to learn, understand the story of a woman made from flowers, turned owl.

We learn about each other through stories and we need to learn to listen, to each other. And yes, we need more diversity in publishing, yes yes yes yes. But we also need to understand each other, and speak up for those who are voiceless, and craft the stories that make our souls sing.

There’s human culture, but there’s also wild culture. Don’t be arrogant enough to think we are alone in our culture, just because we fail to understand the culture of others. Trees have a culture. I am hoping to work on a book with Nicola Davies about whale culture. Whales have language. Whales have culture. Culture isn’t museums, galleries, stories alone. It’s more. So much more.

So, I won’t be limited by the expectations of others. I will only be limited by my own imagination. And I will keep on listening to the ravens and feeling those stories that flow like a river of inspiration through my dreams. And I will keep on trying to make sense of the world through the medium of story. And I will keep on trying to reach out to those people who want to see the world in a different way.

And to those editors who are afeared to commission storytellers who perhaps do not share the dna of their story I would say, come one now, one nation under the sun. If a tale is well told, get it out there.

 

( The Ice Bear and The Snow Leopard are both publishing with Graffeg in large format editions in Sept. There will also be an ‘Artist’s edition of each, signed and numbered. These will differ by having no title on the covers, nor any type at all. Just the image.)

 

 

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Out of the woods: Christmas card for Help Musicians

Every year, for eighteen years, I have produced a card for Help Musicians. As each year passes it becomes more difficult, but this year’s image came in like a blast of vision. I’d spent a very hard year working on The Lost Words. This would be something very different, so, get a cup of tea, and come with me on a painting journey.

It began with a flash, an image, in the mind’s eye. Then came the task of drawing it out. It’s a long story. You will need that cup of tea if you are coming with me.

It began in a short novel I am working on. The idea being, having written The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow around past designs I would work on a novel that linked to this year’s image. Hmmm, great idea, but… well, I don’t have the same control over my writing as some authors do and although the novel contains characters from the last card, it ended in a very different place from where I thought it was going. Still working on that one. It was supposed to end at a carousel….

But then the card went in its own direction too.

Unsure of where this had come from I thought it best to follow, stretched paper, began work. A big piece like this takes a long time. I worked on it, went away, came back, continued. The novel still waits, needs editing, reshaping, and I think this piece may have become an answer to a question….. but, sorry, back to this….

I use watercolour, Arches hot pressed paper. Over weeks I have painted.

Some years ago, I think on twitter, someone commented that the Song of the Angel Cat design reminded them of Eighteen Songs of the Nomad Flute. I looked it up, bought the book, and yes.

I can see why. This book was propped up on the floor, by my drawing boards, and i think it has crept into my subconscious to rise again in this year’s card. At some point I would love to retell this story in novel form with images, and this will lead me on to my next blog post, about ‘cultural appropriation’. For now, I love the echoes and ripples….

Also, stuck to my ceiling above my desk:

‘The woods are lovely dark and deep,

but I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep’

this beautiful card by Mary Fedden. I love her word. I love woods. And though the card began by being called the Running of the deer it’s now called Out of the Woods.

These things ripple through the image, and I would blog about the difference between plagiarism and influence, but that subject is so dull, and those who copy other people’s work and ideas know the truth of it in their souls.

For anyone interested enough I will put up images of this work in progress on another page. It’s almost done now. Just letting it settle and doodling with areas to pull all together. The cards will be available from Help Musicians soon and I will try and let people know when. The painting is for sale at The House of Golden Dreams  

Prints will also be available.

So, still working on the novel, wondering whether to write a short story about this card, but I think it will work its way into the novel after all, but meanwhile if you want more The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow is a picture book for grown ups published by Graffeg. Signed copies available from Solva Woollen Mill, along with a smaller, blank notebook for Quiet Thoughts.

 

 

 

 

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Dreams and reality

For the first time in a long time I’ve been swimming in the sea. This desire for salt water came partly from walking with daughter, Hannah, of Slightly Salty Yoga fame. More though, it came as a desire to wash away a dream, a nightmare. Sleeping has always been something I am good at. Dreams can sometimes seem so real. As a child I had terrible scream myself awake nightmares, full on faces pushing themselves through wall, monsters, terror. I learned to cope by waking myself up, realising it’s only a dream, but this morning, well, trapped.

War.

When war comes to greet you it never does so as a friend. In my dream, in my home I was barricading the windows against bombs, and then realised my children were both far away, the infrastructure had collapsed, no way to contact them, or my parents. Fear, fear, fear and hunger. But mostly fear. For my children, for my parents, for myself and Robin. I pushed myself hard for the surface of waking.

Only a dream. Only a dream. Deep breathing.

Walk. To the sea. Swim.

Small worlds of beetles basking in sunshine. A view to ease the mind. The sea, so clear, so blue.

I had taken a stone like a speckled egg. But first, into the water, and it wasn’t cold, but it did embrace and the play of the light on the waves, and the way the waves broke and spray lifted, blown back by a breeze, in rainbows, and the feel of the texture of water on my skin, and the chough that flew over, calling from the blue, and the sway and lift of the waves and the opening of the sea as I dove under waves. Bliss.

I walked the beach with the stone, then left it on the rock where the hare stone had been.

And I thought about how for some my life would seem like a dream come true. Working when I want, walking where I want, swimming in the sea. I’m lucky. And for others my dream, my nightmare, is their every day life and how, how, do they cope. To live with that fear,

every

waking

moment.

To live with that fear.

And when they manage to escape it, to bring their family to safety, how will we welcome them? Please, not with closed doors, empty hands. Please, can we welcome them with love, help and try to understand.

I’ve just heard about this:Croeso Hwlffordd.

I need to get some of my books to the family who have been settled nearby. It’s a good way to learn English, through picture books. And I need to make sure I do more, to help. I’m told there’s a promises auction coming up in the autumn. It seems our council requires £9000 for each family resettled in the area. I promise now to think of something I can add to the promises auction.

Because if we don’t, then war will come to our door.

And when war comes it never comes as a friend.

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A week, a walk

Waking to find that summer has been given back to us was a great relief. This week has not been easy, made worse by headache and weather. But this morning we walked in sunshine to the top of the hill.

First we walked past the ‘home stone’, large, from a rock that once was part of my house and now lies in the garden, then out, past Glyn’s and the curious plant that sends up a flower taller than me.

And the cats came too, The White cat and Elmo.

On top of the hill we played with stones and gold. The rain had left water for us to add to the magic.

See is you can spot the Pi reflection.

Light, water, stone, reflection.

A post shared by Jackie Morris (@jackiemorrisartist) on

Dappled, we left this stone to live on the hill.

The cats walked, and here they look like some curious medieval marginalia creature, a cat so long, with a white head and an orange tail.

Robin came to find us, up on the hill, brought breakfast. I waited, with Elmo and Pi and The White Cat and Ivy, watched the world, read my book, played with stones.

The White Cat insinuated himself into the lichen covered rock, folder and flared himself.

The white Cat loves the labyrinth stones so much he feels the need to lick them. This seal dappled one was particularly attractive to him.

 

We came home through the fields and the flowers had loved the drinking of rain from the past few days, and the butterflies were loving the feel of the sun on their beautiful wings, and great dragonflies were hunting the fields.

Home.

I had wanted to finish the Help Musicians card this week, but was halted by headache. I did work hard though, on editing, and helping with designing the new editions of The Snow Leopard, and The Ice Bear and would like to thank Matthew, Joana and Peter at Graffeg for their patience with me as we went over and over the text, moving the words, changing the words, changing the font.

Here’s a few of the pages. If you have the original editions you can play spot the difference. Hoping these books will be out early September. They are large. As big as the Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow and with the same lovely paper.

The first spread is from The Snow Leopard, then others from The Ice Bear.

So, this weekend I want to try and finish the Help Musicians Card and sit in the sun and walk with the dogs in sunshine, play with stones. My publishers should all be enjoying the weekend off, so no one will send me anything that needs my urgent attention.

Next week is a big week, with ‘cover reveals’ for The Lost Words on Tuesday. It’s been strange working on The Lost Words as always until this book I have shared my work in progress. So much of this book has been hidden and I feel a little nervous about it coming out into the open. It’s different. If all my other books, or most of them, have been soul songs, this one is the most curious soul song. At times working around it’s pages there was a real hum of deep, wild magic, so I hope it sets its seeds in peoples’ hearts and minds and grows there.

 

 

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Magic happens

Last week I took a few days out, around an event at The Master’s House in Ledbury. On the way Robin and I called in to see Nicola. It was hot when we arrived so we headed straight down to the river to visit stones, if they were still there. And we found one, still snugged in its tree stump over a week after it had been placed, protected from view by the dappled light of leaves.

After supper we went to the yew tree behind the church to watch the bats in the dusk. We are so easily pleased.

Inside the church is a window made from fragments of medieval glass, a patchwork.

After Nicola’s we drove to visit my parents in Broadway, then on to The Nest, near Ledbury to sign books and then to Mike and Tamsin’s where we would be staying. I love staying with Mike and Tamsin. I wrote a book or two there once, but this time my mind was empty, but the air was beautiful. We had supper with Sue and Kenji from Blue ginger, Mike lit a fire, Sue looked through Mrs Noah’s Pockets, Tamsin and I talked of Blodeuwedd and The Owl Service and with Kenji about The Mabinogion, for we are all working around themes from this ancient tale.

Tamsin’s studio is like something from another world and her glass work is so beautiful. Mike makes chairs, and teaches people how to shape wood to make the most beautiful chairs, and we spent most of our time there in the garden.

At night Robin and I went to sleep with a lullaby of tawny owls calling, calling.

And we walked, and we watched as an owl flew over the meadowsweet and it echoed Blodeuwedd’s story and shivers ran up our spines.

Tamsin had invited Graham Arnold for coffee. He had something in his car for her he said. It was heavy. It’s her birthday today.

So, magic happens. On the stone, words about Blodeuwedd, from The Mabinogion. How very wonderful.

And The Master’s house, well. What a wonderful place to sit and paint. Thanks to all who came. Mrs Noah had her first public reading. The paintings looked magestic against the wooden panels.

We drove home past Nicola and the window in Book-ish. There’s more about this in an earlier blog post.

Back home, Hannah and I walked the dogs and took Pi swimming at Pothmelgan. I need to get in the water with a gopro and some stones. Love the texture of water over Little Pi’s back.

And now I am trying to settle to paint, edit two books, do a piece of writing and finish the christmas card for Help Musicians and I am wondering when I am going to start this mythical sabbatical and if it will be before the publicity for The lost Words begins, with launches and talks.

But watch out for owls, flying over meadowsweet, because magic does happen.

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#AuthorsForGrenfell

To help raise some money for the people made homeless in the terrible fire at Grenfell Towers there is an auction. Authors for Grenfell Tower. 

There are so very many things in the auction, and I have added my own contribution, a visit to my studio.

I don’t have a policy of open studio. This is my work place, my home. So, what will the winning bidder get?

An invitation to visit my studio at a date to be mutually agreed upon.

And what will they see? Well, chaos if I don’t tidy up, but also:

Piles of books and a stuffed duck in a budgie cage.

A drum that makes a sound like the sea breathing on the shore.

An owl, a crown worn by a swan prince.

The white Fox and a healing bowl that sings a mountain song.

A place where I write.

Strange things in curious corners.

They may also get the chance to see into draws.

And, if enough money is bid they will meet The White Cat and Pi.

And if more is bid I will give them a stone ( has to be over £500 for the stone to be included)

And if the weather is good we might walk a little up the hill.

So, this is an ideal opportunity for someone who wishes to interview me for a magazine, or newspaper, For a very unusual present for someone who likes my work, for someone who wants to learn about the art and craft of writing and illustrating, or just for someone who wants to have a right good look around.

They will leave with at least one signed book.

Please be aware that you might need to book yourself overnight accommodation if coming from a long way away as I live on the edge of the map in Pembrokeshire. The cost of this isn’t included in the bid, but I can recommend a good b&b or two.

So, if you would please share this post. The auction ends at 8pm 27th June, so word needs to spread and spread fast.

To bid you need to go to the Authors for Grenfell Tower site. 

This is a link to Lot no 692: A Visit to the Studio of Jackie Morris

 

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