If you go down to the woods today…..

Some time ago I was asked if I might contribute to an exhibition at Seven Stories in Newcastle. They have an exhibition of bears, and it was a great honour to be included in the catalogue of bear books presented at the show.

My paintings included in the show are from Something About a Bear which, last year, was shortlisted for the Greenaway award.

They are in good companywith Jon Klassen, Anthony Browne, Lucy Letherland, Petr Horacek, Dave Shelton, Jim Field, David Litchfield, Helen Cooper, David Melling, Rebecca Cobb, Sav Akyuz, Jane Hissey, Joel Stewart, Emily Gravett and Chris Riddell.

The show will tour, but if you can do go and visit Bears at Seven Stories.


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A walk.

Walk with me, across the airfield and into the boggy places. The hedges are lined with tangles of brambles. The day is grey, calm, quiet, the land golden.

I decide to see if I can walk a walk I only usually do in summer. As you walk with me the reason will become clear. But I love it, have new wellies, and the dogs so love all its different stages. So, we head across the stepping stones to the boggiest place on earth.

Pi soon takes a detour. I can’t see where she is but can hear a curious noise of a spaniel in a bog. Now and again her progress is marked by the rise of snipe into the sky, and a bogdog shape, leaping above the gold.

She moves so fast, does Pi, from one of the a walk to the other, nose down, tail up, never really looking with her eyes where she goes, only with her nose.

There’s willow here, scrub, crack willow with pillows of emerald and lichens.

Urban architecture intrudes, but I love these posts that stride across the land. A grey heron rises from the pond, a strip of reflected sky. It slow flaps its heavy winged way across the golden land. There are buzzards too, raven, something small, calling, calling, pheasant, snipe and plovers, sparrows, house and hedge, and more. A wren flew up from almost under my feet.

And the gorse is bright in the subtle light.

Celandines are beginning to bring their yellow faces out to greet the coming of spring.

Having made it through the worst of the mud ( I think) we get to a place where five tracks meet. Someone has been cutting the reeds here. I wonder what for?

 Over the fence with careful tread, more mud and more golden gorse.

Once this place was the dump, and the winter brings the detritus of years to the surface. There are bottles and jars, not much plastic.

Curiously there are stands of daffodils in strange places.

And this is the tree that in autumn has apples, bright, sweet, beautiful, and fieldfare and redwing, feasting.

And I make it through more deep mud, hanging on to branches, stepping onto tussocks, until the path becomes….

Oh. And the dogs wade through, and Pi goes duck hunting, and I try to work out how deep the dogs have gone, and I give it a go, but no. When it gets to an inch below the top of my wellies I turn back. Too deep. Back the way we came.

And it’s not surprising, given the trip wires laid by brambles that at some point I trip and fall to my knees in the mud. On dear. Ah well, wet now and cold around the muddiest knees, and onward.

Ivy goes mouse hunting, catches a vole, eats it. Charming creature.By now Pi is the muddiest dog with, somehow, the cleanest head ( if you don’t count the ears) in the world.

Back through the mud (swishy swoshy- it’s like going on a bear hunt…..)

and here, again….. FROGSPAWN!!!!!!!!! So much, so very much and I missed it first time because this time I have been tump hopping my way over the boggy mire and pool. I do love frogspawn, the promise of frogs.

By now I am so muddy, I’ve torn my dress on a barbed wire fence, I have twigs and brambles in my hair. I am 56 years old, covered in mud, looking like I have been dragged through a hedge, backwards ( because I have!) I have no dignity, but I am smiling wide enough because I’ve seen frogspawn for the second time in a week. And anyway, I quite like mud.

So, home, and both dogs have been in the bath. Pi loves it. Ivy thinks she can manage well without a bath, thank you. My wellies seem to have created a vacuum, and were almost impossible to remove, but my feet are now cosy in sheepskin boots. And it’s time to work.

So thank you for joining me. I’m off to lose myself in the branches of a willow tree.


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Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

A secret is only yours as long as you don’t share it. I make no secret of the fact that I love this woman’s writing. I have read more books by her than any other author.

When I turned the last page of Fool’s Quest I couldn’t believe it. How could she end there? How could I wait to discover what happened next? And then……

It’s been a long journey, but one so worth travelling.

May 4th. Assassin’s Fate.

(design by Dominic Forbes, including the choice of the beautiful colour, calligraphy by Stephen Raw. Published by Harper Voyageur. Available from all good bookshops.)


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Read without prejudice

I have been somewhat tangled up in thorns of late, both metaphorically and literally. But, today is a day to celebrate, because it is #BookGivingDay. And I would like to give everyone a book, but then in a way I do, as all of my books are available through public libraries, those treasure-houses of culture.

I am sending out 3 books to friends, wrapped in finery. Two are second hand books that I read and loved, now out of print. One is one of mine that is heading to Kate of Turtledoves, to say thank you for the beautiful gloves she sent me as a result of Pi eating one of my cashmere gloves from them. They are perfect for painting in as they are delicate and warm, without being bulky and restrictive.

And I would like to send out a couple of books to someone reading this post.

Reading has often saved me. I am curious to discover how people choose what to read. I had little guidance when I was a child, missed out on all the classics, was late learning the trick of it anyway. The past few books I have read have lead to me wandering the world. The first, The Bear and the Nightingale is set in Russia.

I don’t have enough words to express how beautiful this book is. It was recommended to me by Tina, I think, on twitter. It carries within it the legacy of Angela Carter, and as a first novel, no, as a novel, it sparkles, shines, glows. Glorious. Just read it. It’s one of those books where you open the pages and begin to read and the words and the world you are in drops away and you are utterly enchanted. It has everything of the alchemy of reading that I adore.

Next I moved into a different world, the world of the Farseers and Robin Hobb.

Now, obviously I had read this before, but it was a manuscript then, and I was searching for images. This time the reading was pure pleasure. Soon, soon, her new book will come…. I wait, having read the unedited text, to enjoy again, because reading a manuscript and reading a book is so different. And I love this short novel, which might be described as historical fantasy.

Then I moved to this, a book set not in a country but in a tribe, which wanders a time when borders were drawn and ways of life forced into change. It ripples with mountain air and dust storms, fierce winds and hunger, hard lives, and beauty. It tells of a people so different to any I have encountered. It informs. It saddens. It is beautiful. This came to me via Seaways Bookshop in Fishguard who, when I asked about a year ago, ‘what’s good’, they said this was.

And now I have wandered to America, back in time. And this book I heard a review of on Front Row, some time ago, and then bought,using badges, not money, from Sam Read Books in Grasmere. It’s a signed copy, beautiful shape, wonderful cover and so far I am settling in to the change of country, change of style and finding these characters also nomadic.

I have never understood people who say, ‘I don’t read fiction’, ‘I never read fantasy’, ‘I never read non-fiction’, ‘I only read detective stories’. My reading is nomadic. I travel around the world, and these days am finding, thanks to publishers, more books in translation. I read children’s books, adult books, not many non-fiction, probably far too much fantasy, books by men, women, from all different nations. Books without borders. I think at a time when politicians prance and pose and build walls of legislation and bricks and mortar against our fellow man this is even more important, for we need to understand and accept the differences in humanity. For even as we are all equal, we are not all the same, and those differences can be glorious.  And I learn about the lives of others in my choice of reading, about how they live, customs and beliefs, other ways of thinking, other ways of being

I find my reading by recommendations, word of mouth, books that leap off the shelves into my arms, some from reviews, seldom by prize winners. So, my question to you is, how do you choose your reading? Leave a comment on this post and in a week or so I will pick a winner and send the two books below to them. If you already have them I can send them to someone you wish to gift them to. And if you can recommend to me books from far and from wide that you love please do. So, leave a comment and share.

Read without prejudice. It’s my new motto. I need to make a badge!




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An exhibition

Some time ago I was asked if I would agree to an exhibition of artwork at Compton Verney, for the art from The Lost Words. I hadn’t started work on the book then, and it’s quite a delicate time. I’d been working to complete existing contracts. I didn’t feel that I could agree to exhibit artwork that I hadn’t yet produced but felt very flattered to be asked. I’d been to Compton Verney as part of Stratford Lit fest. It’s beautiful. So I asked if I could delay an answer until I knew I could do the book.

A few months later I felt confident ( ha) and said yes, and an exhibition was timetabled in to coincide with the publication of the book. Then I went to visit the venue, meet the staff, and well, just as well it was that way round. We drove up to Compton Verney. What a place. Beautiful gardens, an astonishing house. We were met by the staff, including Antonia, who had instigated the whole thing after her parents visited cheltenham Literature festival and heard Robert ( Mr Macfarlane as I like to call him) speaking about our book. She knew of my work and contacted Hamish hamilton straight away to see if she could secure the show.

Now, it’s been a tough time for me in publishing, with my publisher, Frances Lincoln, being taken over by Quarto, and many changes happening. A very difficult few years indeed. Working with Hamish Hamilton has been an utter delight. The book and the vision of the book is very much led by myself, Robert and Alison, the designer. It’s a collaboration, a close one, with words and images informed by writer and artist and design wound around all of our vision. Hermione and Simon have smoothed our way. The book has evolved in ways that make it unrecognisable from the original vision. It has grown, and changed, but more of that later, when I can show you. But I have to say that when Antonia showed me the space in which my work would be displayed I did have a quiet cry.




And we had just looked around another show that was there, of the work of Picasso. And Quentin Blake will be showing when I am.

So, here is a link to the exhibition: The Lost Words, at Compton Verney

There will be events based around the show and at some point I will be painting in the gallery, probably gilding something. There will be books and prints and other things for sale.

I still feel overwhelmed to be invited to show at such a prestigious place. The staff were all so welcoming, and the show is being crafted by their team to show off the work to its best advantage. And I need to stop typing and go and paint as I have to finish the paintings, but first, just to put my feet back on the floor let me tell you a story.

I was looking somewhere, maybe on the Compton Verney Facebook page, to see if they had put anything up about the show yet, so that I could flag it up. I saw something saying that they had an exhibition by the nation’s favourite illustrator. Goodness me I thought, lovely of them to say so, but I best let them know that that’s a bit strong really…….given how many shops don’t stock my books etc…. Fortunately before I did I read on…. Quentin Blake! Of course!  Get your feet back on the ground woman! And get that paint brush back in your hand.

So, come and see Quentin Blake, and me at Compton Verney which is a treasure-house of beauty ( with great biscuits).

And can I just say a big thank you to Antonia’s parents for going to see Robert MacFarlane at Cheltenham Literature Festival.


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A while back I put up a post about The Quiet music of Gently Falling Snow. Usually the competitions I put out get more entries. This one disappeared quietly into electronic purgatory, but I did get a lovely entry from Holly, in the comments, so, I’m sending a copy of the book and the very rare one off print to Holly.

I’ll wrap it up and get it out into the post in the next few days.

The past few days I have been trying to finish off paintings, and also signing and doodling prints. Been a strange month, with large orders of prints coming through. Some are heading straight out to customers, some are heading to the beautiful Number Seven Dulverton.

Meanwhile it has rained, and now the sun shines, warm and beautiful.

I’ve so much work to do and need to keep my concentration and my courage. This stage in a book, working on the last few spreads, is so very, very difficult. It’s hard to focus and the news doesn’t help. Social media is a dangerous and incendiary habitat. And so, here’s a suggestion. I want to have another ‘Contest of Beauty’. Have a look at the old one from the link just before this. If you want to take part share this post, on twitter, facebook, blogs, even if it’s just showing it to someone. Then leave a comment on THIS blog post with a link to something beautiful. Art, music, writing, film, book, whatever. In a week or two I will pick a winner and send this small print, again a one off, to the winner. It’s 44 x 16cms. Not sure where it came from or why I have it. But it needs to be on a wall, not hidden in a draw.

Let’s brighten social media with beauty. Show me something beautiful.

Now, time to paint.

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Stepping Stones

This is a short blogpost, stepping stones to elsewhere. I’m struggling, being close to the end of a book. It’s always like this. It becomes a monster.

I was asked to write an article for Folklore Thursday. You can read it here: Folklore Thursday. I wrote it before America, a nation built by immigration, closed its doors to many and tumbled into unconstitutional chaos.

If you follow me on twitter you will find what I found, amazing photographs by John Piper of Maes Y Mynydd. If you don’t you can see them here. I can’t begin to tell you what a joy it was to find them, and to know that my footsteps followed those of John Piper. Wonderful to see the walls still standing.

Meanwhile, I have been blogging on my type writer.

Leave a comment on this thread, share the Folklore Thursday ( if you sign up for their newsletter you may win a copy of the book) and I will pick someone who comments to send the typed blog post to in a few days.


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A whisper to a shout

The world of children’s books is, from the outside, a cosy place of cuddly bears and talking animals. The reality is that it’s a tough industry to work in.

I’ve made many picture books, for children and adults to share. Now and again I wonder if someone is snuggling up to a bedtime story written and crafted by me and my publishers. But more and more these days I wonder about children who have no books, no home, no parents.And as someone who works in the industry of children’s books I feel I have an obligation to work to protect the rights of the child. No, that’s wrong. As a human being I have the obligation to protect those more vulnerable than myself.

So I ask you to help me. I don’t know what to do, but I can no longer sit by and do nothing. The news reports when you google lone child refugees are old, but pretty shameful.

24th Sept, Guardian. French hopes  Britain will honour pledges. Did we. NO. We have no honour.


4th August New fears about violence against lone children.

And even if they make it to the UK are they safe? No. As children ‘disappear’ and we have no idea where they are.

Old news. Children who have travelled alone, live alone, are lost alone. Wasted lives, damaged people. If this was your child wouldn’t you want something better? Is this the society we wish to live in.

So, what can be done? We are all busy. I don’t want to sit and wait for someone else to fix it. For now, this is all I can come up with, an attempt to bring those children to the front of the media. This is politics. Not the sham that is happening in our seats of democracy.

Every day I will tweet Theresa May, asking what she is doing, where the children are, when we are bringing more to safety. She can block me. But she can’t block everyone. So if you are on twitter retweet my tweet you can help me make a whisper into a shout. If you want to. And if you want write one of your own. One a day. No more. We don’t want to troll her. Be polite. Be kind. But be heartfelt.

If it was my child out there, vulnerable to child traffickers, and worse I would want someone to help.


I’m still learning about twitter. Have just learned to pin a tweet. I don’t want to use a hashtag, but each morning will pin a new tweet to the top of my page. It’s growing slowly. So please, help me roar.

Once a day, every day, retweet my tweet ( which I will try to do in the morning) let’s bring this back to the front of politics, where it belongs. Use social media to try and bring social change. With kindness. With intelligence.

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As someone who often does giveaways it’s great to win one. Today a box of books turned up, from #Bookshambles.

Now Shambles helps me amble through my work often. It’s a podcast that pretends to be about books but is about more, and often surprises. I think my favourite so far is still with Noel Fielding, but not sure. It keeps me painting, as does Shortcuts by Josie Long.

So, a box….

Inside, books….. random selection.

Inside books, hidden stories……

And most loved of all this book:

which used to belong to…

and for a moment I thought it said M Thatcher, which made me laugh. I stayed in a hotel once where he was staying. I could hear through the walls the soft tones of his voice as he read his audio diary.  This is a treasure.

And The Good Book, by A C Grayling. Intrigues me. And I wonder if the previous owner made it past the first page as they have underlined two things. Might have to read the whole book to find other underlinings.

So, thank you Robin and Josie. Some I will read and some I will pass on to others, releasing them out into the wild.  And I will keep listening.


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A Letter to Toast.

Dear Toast
It’s a wonderful opportunity that you are offering to artists.
It would be better if you were offering a fee also.
You see, artists need money to live on.
We have mortgages, and children.
Some of us are single parents.
We have bills.
We all struggle.
So, yes, it’s a lovely idea. And it would be great to hang work in your shop also. Indeed I hang paintings of mine in some very unusual places, from a chip shop, to a fruit and veg shop to galleries, and best of all book shops and libraries.
These are all places I have chosen to hang my work and sometimes they even sell artwork for me.
But if you are offering this opportunity please understand that artists need to earn a living, and your exposure may help them. But it would be better to pay them. Because people can die of exposure.
( If you are an artist and you wish to decorate Toast’s windows for them here’s the link: Toast
If you are an artist and you are a bit hard up and chilly working in your cold studio, pop in and ask them if you can borrow some of their clothes for a bit to give them some exposure.?
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