Writer’s retreat

When Nicola Davies said that she had booked herself in to the Druidstone Hotel for a few days I couldn’t help but gatecrash her serenity. It wasn’t that Nic was indulging herself in a holiday. She’s had a long term injury which has given her pain for months, years, followed by a ‘simple operation’ that turned out to be anything but. So, a few days out, by the sea, thinking, writing, reading, playing with ideas.

I’m not sure what my excuse was, but in a way I feel that I am in recovery too, from years of working really hard, being on a treadmill of book after book, from which I have stepped sideways.

So, I said to Nic that I’d asked Mister Stenham to look after the cats and Bella, and was coming along too, and we could meet up for supper, or whatever. I had a book to write,(‘haven’t we all dear’) and two books to read, so would keep out of the way.

What followed was a small slice of heaven. Writing, thinking, playing with ideas, chasing unexpected stories with hope in heart as Ivy chased seagulls along the shore. And Nic read to me, told me stories, ideas, and sang with the sound of the waves as accompaniment.

Bear came too, loved the beach, and creatures.nicdbear

Nic found anemones in shallow rock pools.anenome Ivy was mostly good, ocasional Snarkhound, frequent crab hunter and chaser of birds.

ivy'sfeet The rocks were sculpted by stone, time and tide.

sculpt

Below shows how determined Ivy was to uncover a crab. “She’s the kind of dog that, if we found a body in the woods, as dog walkers do, I would first find it because Ivy was eating their hand,” I said. Yes, she’s that kind of dog. Spider crab legs munched and crunched, she tidied the beach as much as she could.

crabbingivy Nic sat on golden rocks and sang to herself but I listened as I looked for bears in the caves.

nd pillars Beautiful light, sea and space.

lastmorning And we separated to work and below Nic sits, chasing wolverines while the tide comes in. and I read City of Dragons, chasing images for covers. ( Hard work, but someone has to sit in the sun and do it, so it might as well be me)nicw workinghard And in my small house beside the sea I dream of an old friend and am shushed to sleep by the turn of the tide, and waking in the night smell the salt on the air and see the full moon over water.

smallhouseSo, did we achieve anything other than sandy toes and suntans?

Well, I had news of a new project of great secrecy and the news was good so I thought we might celebrate by buying Ivy a velvet coat and a crown.

celebrate

And we celebrated with Dru Cru too.

fizz I found the beginning of a new story.

storystart We watched the sun set over my house, behind the hill I had climbed earlier in the week.

sunset And the next day we celebrated a wonderful project that Nicola is working on with Graffeg.

celeb2 And Ivy, who had raced the beach so hard chasing birds, at one time seeming to be flying a gull like a kite, grew wings because her hope to catch a bird had proven so fierce strong.

growingShe loves her wings, and preens them daily.

preening I managed to order a cream tea the size of my head but was rescued by Eva, also seeking refuge.

creamtea Bear loved the beach, the rocks, the shells. He saw a starfish, a hermit carb, and was a little concerned by the monstrous footprint….

mussels seashell

…what manner of beast could make a footprint so huge?

giantfoot

Ivy became the sandiest dog in the wide wonderful world.

sandydog Nic read more stories to me, turning the sea to women, seals to girls, children to creatures, hard hearts to learning.

stories giantdog eve All in all we found peace, words, images, friendship. And Mister Stenham joined us for supper. Which was wonderful.

dogwelkThanks all the staff at The Druidstone for looking after us with such care and kindness. You are the best.

Oh, and tell Seren and Osian to take care of those dragons.

 

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Oh my word

robinh

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The first of the stories of bear

When Bear met Moth he was astonished by the dusty beauty of her wings.

bearandmoth

 

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These are the days of The White Cat and the Grey Dog

A short walk to the hilltop, but once again rewarded with a snake!

In the lane it was warm, sheltered from the wind, heavy with fresh elderflower scent.

elderflowers We walked up to the rock to sit for a while with Floss’s ashes.

catrocksea withfoxgloves whitecatwalking Settling in the shadow of the wind it was beautiful warm, not hot, just perfect, no one around, just two kestrels fighting for the biggest bluest sky.

resting greydogwhite rosiewhitecat colliecat The White Cat’s coat was too bright for an iPhone. Should have brought the camera, but the stonecrop pink and the lichen covered rocks made for perfection in flower, cat and stone.

whitecat brightcat And then, for the second time in two days an adder! Small again, and this time very different colouration, sleepy in the sunshine. I managed to get two photographs before the dogs and cat caught up, but he moved away hissing an angry warning and leaving a scent that fascinated the White Cat.

Beautiful adder.

snake21

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Just what I needed to find.

Early morning walking. Needing to tidy my head to focus on work.

I decided that the best thing to do would be to look at  things from the top. So I walked up the highest hill I could find.

honeys The day was overcast but warm. Honeysuckle grew along the path.

thorn On top of the hill a stunted thorn tree stood. I need to go back, with a sketchbook, sit, draw.

greydog And I thought about a new book of Where the White Cat and the Grey Dog Walk.

uphigh It is a long way to the top so we sat for a while and looked at the patterns drawn in the land by fieldstones and roads.

bestdoog rosiedog Ivy grazed on small plants. Strange dog.

nortyivy homewards On the way up there were ravens dancing in the air. On the way home a small snake, stretched across the path in the sun, and Ivy must have stepped over it. Beautiful.

snake2 snake1 The sea, so clear, shushed against the empty beach.

sea4 yel rs1Home now. I need to read, write, paint. Eat lunch.

Feel blessed for having seen an adder.

 

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Where do you get your inspiration?

Yesterday I posted pictures on my blog of a small lead bear who has sat on my desk for years, travelled with me to events. I said that I had always thought he had lost his piano, but Jane, in a comment pointed out that he was sitting at a singer sewing machine making a patchwork quilt, because it gets cold in the winter. So obvious.

mydesk bearquilt And so, a new painting arrives, accompanied by the steady click click clicking of the turning of the handle on the sewing machine as bear poses for me. Perhaps even a story. And meanwhile bear thinks and plays music, solitary bear music on a concertina.

bearmusic Other things wait patiently to be included in paintings, in books.

elephantand storiesMy least favourite, most asked question. “Where do you get your inspiration?”

Answers:

Life.

Keeping my ears open and listening.

The third isle in the supermarket, next to the cereals.

Unexpected places.

 

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Two Bears, one teacup.

For the first time in years I have finished all the work I have to do. Well, not quite, but there is nothing that I can move forward with until I hear back from publishers. I have a manuscript with one publisher, two proposals for new books with other publishers, am waiting for guidance on cover art, but everything else is done. I cannot honestly remember the last time I was in this position and the first thing that seems to have happened is that I went to sleep, and couldn’t wake up.

The over-all feeling isn’t one of panic. That was what I used to suffer years ago. Fear that I would never again get asked to do any work. This time what I feel is tremendous relief. Time to play. I have managed to drag myself from the depths of dreaming and out for walks and in to doodling with watercolours. The first thing to be done is to play with bears. For months a sketch made while doodling, chatting on the phone has hung above my head.

roughsketchNow it has become a small painting.

bearsandteacup There is a joy to be found in working like this. Not having to think about a book, layout, design, editors, marketing. Just painting mindless nonsense for the pleasure of moving some coloured water around on a piece of paper.

batcd There are more doodles above my head. A fox tea party. And a bear who has patiently sat and watched me painting is rather pleased to have found himself in a sketch in my sketchbook. I have always thought he looked as if he were playing piano, but had somehow mislaid it. So perhaps I will paint him one, though I feel a polar bear would be more inclined towards a harpsichord.

ceilingroughs bearsketchSo, I wait, to hear about foxes and lost words and trees and numbers and dragons. And in the meantime I will walk and paint and write and think and sit and watch cloud shadows move over land and sea and the wind blow through the dog’s coat, and the flowers come and go. Soon there will be meadowsweet.

oaktree

 

 

 

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The quiet music of gently falling snow

calm

Tuesday.

After a weekend struggling with the usual monsters, thinking that this year I would have to apologise to Help Musicians, say that they would have to use an old design because I couldn’t draw, had no ideas, can’t paint anyway, I quietened. I went to bed with half an idea and let dreams take me. I came up with a much quieter image than any other previous design and unusually it came fully formed with its own title, The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow, and then I went about the business of playing with rhythm and harmony in colour, shape and design.

Yesterday I was much distracted by a Russian company who are using my work and that of many other artists for fraudulent purposes. More of that later. Trying to maintain a sense of calm music in the mind I listened to Robert MacFarlane talking about The Holloways and The Wild Places on the wonderful archive of Hay Festival. And this morning I went for a short walk in sunshine with cats and dogs before breakfast.

tongue longflowercatbreakfastThe summer grass is grown long in the warmth with rain at night. And I am lost in gently falling snow.

morningqmqmf

qmd3qmd2qmd

Painting the snowflakes over the image the brush made the hushed noise that snow falling in a quiet place makes.

 

 

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Monday 22nd June

Yesterday all day I struggled with work. By the end of the day I knew that I needed to begin again. Clearing the head, looking for something, keeping down the panic.

I was trying to paint this, which was a desperate image to get work completed on time, but had no heart. All decoration and no heart. And I was trying to paint it too big, because the help Musicians cards are always big pieces. They are always full with people and colour and instruments.

helpm

calmNow I am going to paint this instead. 14 years of designing cards for Help Musicians. This one comes complete with the title, The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow. Calm for short. It’s what I need in my life. Hopefully this will work if I can subdue the voices of doubt and gather up some courage. But first, walking, thinking about colours, atmosphere, how to get music into an image.

Listening to Hay Festival Archives. What a wonderful wealth of learning. This one, on Robert MacFarlane and The Old Ways.

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The long walk to work.

p l wa gs iv fg scStonecrop, foxgloves, nine choughs in a flock, a kestrel, maybe at the nest as young were calling, ravens, buzzard, gorse, burnet roses, beautiful light, breeze.

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