When fires burn inside the mind

Unsettled, and mind ill at ease I decided to walk to the sea. Yesterday I had met up with Dinny Pocock. Now, usually when you arrange to meet someone it’s in a town and you say ‘on the corner by the pub, or church or whatever’. This time it was ‘past the hill, there’s a signpost and a cove, where the seals breed. You can’t miss it. I will be there about the same time as you if I set off now.’ She walks faster than me.

And there we met. And there were seals. So today, because a fire was in my head and despite having so much work I could not settle to it,  I went back with my camera. It’s always a bit strange before a book comes out, and this next one, The Wild Swans, is a bit special in many ways.

I walked a different way, past Llanferan where Adam Buick has his studio. He wasn’t there, but his kiln was fierce hot from a firing and Graham Lovett was loading beautiful white domestic ware into another kiln. Along the pathway moonjars lurked in beauty.

adamspot pathway

wren13 I took with me the small wren that Dinny had made for me on request. She looked lovely out in the landscape.

And there on the beach seal pups were feeding and learning to swim while other seals hung in the water.

bf2 beachfeed sf5 sf4 sf2 sf1 I watched for a while and Ivy was patient with me.

waiting learning

I did some knitting in the sunshine while the seals sang to me and thought perhaps I should have a competition for photographs of knitting in beautiful or unusual places.

ivyknitting motherandchild

Then we walked home, up the steep hill along the path where heathers grow.


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Circling; work in progress

For a while now I have produced a series of paintings with a heart motif; The Space Between. Sometimes foxes, sometimes cats, and the more interesting one that grew from a line in a Pat Rothfuss novel, The Name of the Wind, where the leading character Kvothe, has one of those rare flashes of heightening of awareness and understands the space between the fox and the hare. And I have watched as this motif appears in other places, sometimes with a nod of reference to myself, sometimes not at all, and sometimes when someone has asked if I mind them working on the theme.

I don’t own this theme. It’s not copyrighted to me. But the only other place I saw it before I began to play with it was in images of swans, taken by photographers. That curve of the neck that traps the shape of a heart.

It was when the fox and hare began to be ‘copied’ that I bristled a little and decided that the best way to take it back into ownership was to play with it again. The first image was painted for Art in Action, 2012. It was a musing, on the nature of love, relationships. It was the first picture I painted using a sable brush, a very special, rather old one that had belonged to Robin’s father.

The Space Between the Fox and the Hare


Now, three years on, I began again. One evening while working on the painting, out for the evening meeting friends, driving home I saw the russet flash of fox dash swift across the road, heading for the beach where the tide was dropping, searching for food.

A few more years of painting have improved my understanding of the shape of a hare, the shape of a fox, the space between, balance, colour, line, weight of water to pigment. Maybe.





spacebetween2 detailfh dfh2


Interesting for me to see the work in progress, the layering, the change as the white becomes gold ( and part of me really likes the half finished version, that moment in time caught on an iPhone, so much more).

It’s resting now, the painting, propped up in my studio for a few days while I decide if it’s done, and I am glad to see that my work has developed over the years. While working on this piece which remains a meditation on relationships more paintings sprang to the mind’s eye, and some were remembered that have lain dormant for a while, waiting for the time when they move onto paper. Already I know I will come back to this one again.

Next I am working on two things, while I wait for one publisher to return to me with covers, lettering, another with edits. Again a reworking. This time of a symbol that I scarcely saw before i began painting it, but which wanders through history and almost every world religion. It is a symbol of regeneration, rebirth, rewinding, an endless chase, which is a mediation again on art. An endless chase to capture something. Now there are many artists working again with this symbol. Some tread a little hard on my toes now and again. Most make it their own. I have painted it a few times over the years.

chscirclehareFor now it sits on my desk and I circle around it. Beside me is a beautiful book of Pisanello’s paintings and drawings, including his hare. In front of me is Durer’s hare on a book by Anna Wigley.

influencesAnd in my head a kingfisher is flashing, swift dart of a small bird, turquoise bright, beautiful.

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Peace after a busy day

atmill Painting in the mill all afternoon, I talked myself out. I was supposed to go to a party, but too tired even to drive such a short way I settled down to read and lost myself to the wonderful Into the Fire by Mana Scott.

This morning I woke early and went in search of more peace, heather, harebells and porpoise. First I found toadflax.

toadflax Ivy was made for this type of country, running through the heather, wild by the sea.beauty eyesfull lichens ivycountry coastline Beneath the ceiling of the sea a school of porpoise swam, herding fish, pushing them to shore and if you click and enlarge the photo below you can see one rise, half way up a third in from left in the picture. So many porpoise. I watched, each time thinking ‘one more, then I’ll go. Just one more’.porpoise Harebells, delicate smalt blue harebells hid in the heather.harebells rockheather colour So much heather it fills the eye, the mind, the heart. And high on a rock a peregrine, resting after a successful hunt, a joy to see, reminded me of another bird, and a hope that she still filled her place in the sky.

wellfedPeace. Now, time to read and draw and paint.


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A short film about Wales

My head inside looks a bit like my desk does.


Meanwhile, Ffion and i were back on tv last week. Thanks to Kevin Ashford for letting me use this clip:

Meanwhile, the bears are thinking about cherries and telling stories.

pbs cherryworship

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Finding silence

The summer is always busy. It’s hard to find the silence required for clear thought. George MacKay Brown talked of writing poetry as ‘the interrogation of silence.’ I know not everyone needs it to work, to think, but I do.

The Wild Swans taught me to look at silence in a different way. In the book Eliza has to make shirts from nettles for her eleven brothers, to return them to their human form, from the swan form into which they have been witched. While she works she has to be silent. One word from her lips, both by day or by night will be a dagger into each brother’s heart. It’s hard to be silent in this busy world. I become more fascinated by silence as I grow older. But finding silence is different to being silent. When you choose to stop speaking you unnerve people. They fill the silence, the space you leave. They interpret your silence in their own way.

So, The Wild Swans comes out in mid September, with early release to independents including Solva Woollen Mill. It’s a small book. Many books are published this time of year. How to make it visible? I am asking for help with this.

On 19th Sept I will be celebrating the launch of the book at Solva Woollen Mill. I have created a Facebook event for this. Also there are details on my website, here.

There is a page about The Wild Swans on my website also.

What I would like is for people to share, link, tweet, blog about the book, talk to your local indie, order a copy from your local library.

To say thank you I have one book here, in which I have drawn and I will pick someone at random from the list of comments below and send them the book, dedicated if they wish, with some cards and a badge or two.

TheWildSwanssignedI drew the white hare, rather than swans, because she still holds a fascination for me.

So, if you would like to help, share, link, talk about the book for me, then leave a comment, BUT, what I would like to know is, where do you find peace of mind?

Silence is so hard to find in our busy world. Almost impossible, for even if all other sounds are removed we can then begin to hear the sound of our own blood, heart, and my mind is seldom still and silent.

This morning I walked, up the hill.

overgrownThe green lane to the high hill is overgrown.

spidersilkdewOn top of the hill the dew was caught in light silvered spider silk. The air was beautiful. So still, so warm. Heather scented. hereAll I could hear was the stir of air from the restless butterflies and insects dancing around the small islands of heather. Gorgeous. This. This is where I find the peace of my heart.

So, leave a comment about where you find your peace. Or, if you can’t find it, then talk about that.

ivybeanIvy came too. She is in The Wild Swans. I painted her the week before she came to live with me, not knowing that she would. Paint magic. Falling in love with the shape of her she appeared more and more as I worked on the roughs. She is a faery dog, guardian of Eliza.

ivybookOnce home I should have been cleaning the house. Housework is something I am expert in avoiding. So, when I found a dead mole….. well….

moley moley2  moleyskmoleyflyI will do the draw for the book on September 8th, my birthday. Until then I look forward to hearing where, how, you find peace.


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Three Bears, three bowls, three silver spoons.

Bears4First I looked at the small bear. I wandered around for a whole day, searching for words, trying to creep up on them unawares. I found some, then decided there were too many and there could be less and less would be more. Then I drew a sketch.

bearsketchNext I mixed some of these with some water, and made……


My desk is rather a mess. I need to tidy up. Meanwhile fox is sitting, waiting in the wings.

worktableI added gold leaf.

goldleafAnd then I had this; another spread for One Cheetah, One Cherry.

Three bears, three bowls, three silver spoons.




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Reading Robin Hobb


This morning I turned the page. There was nothing there. I was at the end of the book. And the trouble with Robin Hobb’s books is that you don’t so much read them as live them.



One more book to go and that won’t be out for a couple of years.

Sometimes coming to the end of a Hobb book feels akin to having been pulled through a skill pillar and only those who have read her books will know what I mean.


I wondered how it would be possible to love Fitz more. After all his blood is made of ink, his bones are only paper. And yet he lives and breathes.

And all of the places I love, here, in this book.

There is an alchemy about these books. How they join people from around the world, how they link readers, how reading them is something more than it is with other books. She has a pen of an Elderling, and imagination that is immense, a heart that can be hard as memory stone.

As ever between the covers, everything I wanted and much that I never knew I desired.

And so, a question. I love Fitz. He is stubborn, wilful and though he is loyal he bows to no-one and heeds his own council and is ruled by his own conscience. And I love the enigma that is The Fool, Amber, Beloved, Lord Golden.

So who is your favourite character from this epic tale of The Six Duchies, The Rainwilds and Bingtown, and what is it about them that you love?

Leave a comment below and now and again I will pick out a comment and send cards, postcards, notecards at random, and on 25th August, my daughter’s birthday, I will send a copy of Fool’s Quest, doodled in by me and with a signed label from Robin Hobb, to one person picked at random from the comments.


Drawing on reverse side of endpaper, signed by me.

Drawing on reverse side of endpaper, signed by me.

And because it is my daughter’s birthday I will add a set of the dragon cards printed by Graffeg. ( Ten cards, five designs taken from the old cover art for Hobb’s books)


So, let’s talk about Robin Hobb.

@RHI need to talk to her about the next book. She’s writing it now. I need to be thinking of the cover. I need to know what happens next.

Meanwhile, what to read?

Luckily I have this: from Manda Scott. Who is also brilliant.



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A tale of two books

newbook1Today I received my first copy of The Wild Swans. It is always a strange feeling when you first hold in your hands a finished book that you have, with your publisher, created. There is something about this one that is more special for me. But it is really a long story, a tale of two books.

Years ago, maybe in 2004, I wrote a text for a novella, a retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I wrote it because I have loved the story for as long as I have known it but there were parts that puzzled me, that I didn’t understand. I thought by writing it out I would gain a better understanding. And then I spent 7 years trying to find a publisher. I had some wonderful rejection letters, most saying that they loved the book but it didn’t fit on their list anywhere. Eventually it found a home with Janetta Otter-Barry Books. Janetta and Frances Lincoln didn’t have anything like it either, but she loved the text and was willing to see how it went, and despite the marketing people saying it would be a difficult sell it sold out in 6 weeks. Since then it has been reprinted at least 3 times and it was nominated for the Carnegie award.


It’s a book about leaving home, for the first time, about love, about honour, and perseverance. I dedicated it to my daughter and my friend. To find out more about the book have a look here.


newbook2 newbook4Now there is a companion volume, a retelling of The Wild Swans, published in October. Written many years later, illustrated throughout I dedicated this book to Janetta and Jude, my editors, for this would be the last book I would do for them at Frances Lincoln. We worked together for 20 years. In modern publishing that is very unusual.


The thing is, Frances Lincoln, which used to be an independent publisher, was sold to a large company, and FL is now a small part of The Quarto Group. New logo, new website, Quarto new staff, new look.

titlepg1 tleps12

Jude retired from the company ( and is now freelance) and Janetta has moved on to set up her own company, Otter-Barry Books, which I know many people are exited about. Her list launches in May and I am very pleased to say that The Seal Children will be on that list, re-launched as a hardback, with a new cover. So, The Wild Swans is my swansong with them at FL.

page newold details45


I hope The Wild Swans is a fitting companion to East of the Sun. There were parts that came easier, others that were harder and all of the work was produced at a turbulent and uncertain time in my life. It wasn’t easy, but I hope that like a swan gliding on water, working hard beneath the surface, the struggle doesn’t show.

There are characters in the book that haven’t finished with me yet. The Queen, who runs with the wild hares. She manages to have the last word, or perhaps I should say ‘image’. And Eliza’s youngest brother, gentle Cygfa, who loves to fly.

whitequeenTogether Jude, Janetta and I produced a quite a few books. Many were translated into different languages. Some brought comfort to lost souls and magic into people’s hearts. I hope that this, our last together for Frances Lincoln, will become a treasure for people who love stories.

newbook3There will, as ever, be a launch for the book at Solva Woollen Mill. This will be on Saturday September 19th from 10.30-4pm. I will be painting at the mill and also will read from parts of the book whenever I am asked, and talk about current work, past work, dogs, cats and nonsense. So, if you can come, do come. And signed books, as always, will be available from the Mill.

It’s strange. Holding the finished copy of the book in my hands it sends shiver up and down my spine. Magic. I love books. Joanne Harris says, in her Hay Festival podcast, that writing is ‘ the closest thing to magic there is’, ‘like voodoo’. I hope when readers hold this in their hands they feel that same shiver.





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Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb; a review?


It came, at last. The weight of the book in my hands was satisfying. The finish on the cover, the design, beautiful. I was nervous as I approached the pages.

vial piedcrowNow, on page 494, I rip myself away from between the pages to write a review. What can I say? I read in the morning, on waking, and in the evening before I go to sleep. If I wake in the night I feel fortunate to be able to read a little more. When I am not reading it I ache to be back with the book, in the Six Duchies, with Fitz and the Fool. And yet I want to read slowly. But there are times when you can’t. You just can’t and you gallop through pages only to surface breathless from the book, startled by the world around.

I have cover art to work on for The Rainwilds books, and other books to illustrate. I find myself gravitating to the book, orbiting it.

I have to go now. I need to read.

fq10 review


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Influence, copying, time, distance #2

oneandoneSo where did the cheetahs come from?

My studio is stuffed with things ( including cobwebs- tidying up a bit today while paint dries, I realised I need to tidy up a lot). I have pictures stuck everywhere, cards I have bought and never sent, that I love. There are books everywhere.

I’ve had this zebra since I was at college ( 30 years ago now) The colours from the card above will come out in a painting some time, if they haven’t already. The card on the side was a thank you from a small child for some books.

ceilingThe cheetahs came, I think, from medieval manuscript and Mughal painting. Also from portraits of hunting cheetahs. This book has also lived with me and inspired my art since the time I was at college in Bath, 30 years ago.

cheetahs cheetahs2

book ravenmountain


There is a wonderful zebra in my Mughal book also. Just beautiful.


The falconer has lived in a dusty corner of my studio for years too.

hawkingAnd longdogs feature both in Mughal art and medieval manuscripts.

longdogpicAnd then there is Pisanello who painted perhaps the most ‘copied’ hare in history ( I did a version in Song of the Golden Hare) His drawings of animals are sublime. Utterly beautiful.

pisanello-cheetah-leap-jpgAnd there is this, anonymous, maker lost in time as we all will be.


Why cheetahs and cherries, I really couldn’t say.

I first began using gold leaf after seeing beautiful Japanese screens that had lustrous backgrounds of gold leaf squares. I think I had been to the Royal Academy and seen an exhibition of Japanese art. Again beautiful drawings, wonderful dragons, glorious design. So much to learn from a world history of art and then to take on and make my own. Which I hope is what I do.

titlep4onechAbove, title page; One Cheetah, One Cherry.

Below, two older pieces.bowlofcheetahs boc2






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