Lark souls and wild magic

Last week I finished work on The Lost Words. I’ve worked for 30 years or more, illustrating and then writing and illustrating books, making covers for the books of others and making a living. So many books. And I thought with every one I had put my heart and soul into the work. But this book…. this book… somehow it’s different. And while I am feeling ragged and raw from the finishing of it I want to write about it, just a little.

It’s been two years since the idea seeded. There have been many hours of finding the form  of the book. During those hours strange things have happened both to Robert and myself around the wild things. Kingfishers appear in odd places, wrens haunt my walks, and magpies building a next right outside my studio window. My hope is that we have crafted between us a love letter to the wild, in words and pictures. And I love the wild magic that continues to live around it. It has opened my eyes to the commonplace wild that sometimes we take for granted, the bend of a bramble, light on an acorn, the dandelion flower that glows gold and is clock in so many ways and circles of its being, the song of a wren.

Today I walked in sunshine to the top of the hill carrying that dark emptiness of finishing with me, feeling lost, confused, ragged of nerves and ill at ease with expectations. Last night the night sky had been clear with constellations. This always makes me feel the glorious insignificance of self that is a kind of freedom. Now I sat on the rock above where I live, the place that is home, a dark despair dogging my footfall. I found a place, comfortable in the shadow of the wind, warm. At first I couldn’t hear them. High above the wind carried song up and away into the bright of the sky. Then, one by one, all around, larks rose on wings of song. Wild magic. And for now only Robert and a few people who have read the text for this book will understand why this felt so strange, so curious, so utterly special.

The book publishes on 5th October. We still have some crafting to do between us, with the rest of the team at Hamish Hamilton. I’ve loved the wild magic of this book and hope it continues, and that my heart and soul become more attuned to it.

There will be an exhibition of the artwork from the book at Compton Verney in Oct/Nov/Dec, which we hope will tour. 

I’m hoping the book will carry its magic out in ripples into a wider world, open the eyes of others to the commonplace wild, confirm for those who are already in love with the wild that this is where true treasure lies, and lead to an understanding that we should change our language so that we no longer talk about ‘the’ environment, but rather ‘our’ environment, that people are no longer ‘inspired by’ nature but realise that they ‘are’ nature.

I hope. And if I thought I had put my heart and soul into books before then now I understand it was only as an apprenticeship to working on this book.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

And now the times are changing

Today I walked on the beach. We had a mission, to leave a gift. Sunlight and blue sky and sand patterns entranced.

We played with the light and the water, splintering it to diamond flecks of brightness.

Pi discovered a passion for crabbing.

And I returned a stone to the beach, slightly above the tide line, where I found it. Drawn on the stone is a labyrinth in gold leaf. If you find it you might keep it or you might leave it where it is until the spring tide takes it and rolls it back to the waves.

Ask Pi where it is. Because Pi knows.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Dragon Mail

I have less than a week now to finish all of the artwork for The Lost Words. It’s been a long, hard, intense period of work. When I have finished I am going to go on holiday for a week, far far away.

In the meantime, over the last few months, around about once, sometimes twice a week, I have been contacted by teachers who have been working with Tell Me a Dragon. All of them, without exception, have said that the book has drawn the most remarkable work out from their students. To hear this as I struggle to the end of a book is wonderful. A book on a shelf is a sleeping creature. A book in the hands of a teacher brings it to life and into the hearts and minds of so many.

Tell Me a Dragon was written as a result of learning about teaching at a time when I was going into schools on a regular basis. I needed a book that I could work with across all ranges of age, as when I worked in a school I would work with everyone, if I could.  Below are some of the images sent to me recently from Year 2 at Paddle Primary Academy in Cumbria. I love their words and their images, and seeing this now when I am on the last leg of The Lost Words is such perfect timing.

 

And I love this, from Max, an audio-file of his dragon.

The book, which is now ten years old, has continued to sell, increasing sales year on year. Pie corbett produced teachers notes for it. It stayed in hardback. So when Quarto suggested that it was time to paperback the book I asked if we could update the hardback, to run alongside it, adding new pages with notes about dragons and other things. The result is a wonderful new hardback edition, produced on beautiful paper. Tell Me a Dragon, now with added dragons.

It has a different cover under its jacket.

It has a new, guardian dragon.

It has field notes about the lives and habits of dragons.

So, to celebrate finishing The Lost Words I will be giving away three copies of Tell Me a Dragon, with postcards.

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning a signed copy is to leave a comment on this blog, below this post, telling me what, if you had a dragon, your dragon would be like. I will pick three winners from the comments and contact them for info. You can keep the book or have it sent to a school, a library or a teacher or friend. Just tell me about your dragon. Now and again I will pick out someone to send a postcard to, because I like snail mail.

Please share if you can, on twitter, facebook and blogs and let schools know, incase they want to send in comments. And thank you, all the 40 000 people who so far have wandered into its realms ( more if you include all those who have borrowed the book from their libraries)

So, now you tell me about your dragon.

( Signed copies of this and all my other books in print are available from Solva Woollen mill)

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 46 Comments

Big Books

Ever since the day I first saw the French edition of The Snow Leopard I have wanted my books to be published in this larger format. From the first I was told no, by editorial and sales. Bookshops won’t like them, libraries won’t like them, because they won’t fit on the shelves, I was told. Every year I would ask, every year I was told no. It worked in France, where there was still the net book agreement in place, where books come in all shapes and sizes. ( The Snow Leopard won an award in France and sold over 13 000 copies.)

Meanwhile I found two books in bookshops dominating the indies, Maps and Animalium, both large format, both beautiful, both selling well. So, I asked again and was told that, no, the size can’t work with 40 pages, and 32 pages.

Then I met Graffeg.  During the course of working with them we produced The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow. It’s a large format production, selling at £25. And, guess what? It did sell. It was Love Reading no 1 in the charts for weeks. The independent bookshops in the UK who took the book put it in the windows, on the tables, and face out on shelves, because it was big. Matthew of Graffeg said that he loved the way people would pick the book up and hug it, close to their chests. It seems that my books sell well in this large format. And so, when the rights for Icebear and The Snow Leopard were reverted to me I spoke to Graffeg and said, ‘if I give you the rights to these two books will you produce them in the large format, the same as Quiet Music?’ No hesitation. Matthew said yes. He said he had seen how people responded to The Quiet Music and to build a large format library of my books, showcasing the artwork was definitely the way forward. The book sold well, through bookshops, gift shops, galleries and as ever through Solva Woollen Mill, who are always a great support.

Today Graffeg announced the reissuing of these two books, in large format, on beautiful paper. ( Still trying to persuade them to produce them with no title or author name on covers!) Hoping there might also be Welsh language editions. Which leads me on to this. My favourite foreign edition. Tibetan.

Some time ago I was asked by a charity if they could produce a Tibetan language edition. I leapt at the chance. The people behind the request were the Rogpa Charitable Trust. However, the first reaction from my publishers came back as negative. Sometimes I refuse to take no for an answer. There wasn’t any money in this, but neither was there a reason to say no. The aim of the book was to encourage the Tibetan language to remain a living language both at home and among those in exile. So, I worked, with my editor, Janetta Otter-Barry, to get this passed and eventually the book came to life and to light. I can’t tell you what it feels like to know that this book which came to mind in a series of ideas while walking the coast path in Pembrokeshire now wanders the mountains of Tibet. This is worth so much more than money.

The Snow Leopard and Icebear have sold 53 991 and 30 561 copies so far in their lifetime. Snow Leopard is ten years old this year. I’ve been told stories of children sleeping with the books tucked under their pillows, families who have used the book as a harbour to help them through bereavement, and has been used to raise money for and awareness of snow leopards in the wild by the Snow Leopard Trust. I hope these new editions carry the beautiful leopards and bears into the hearts, dreams and minds of many more people.

The new editions will publish in September, and be available from Solva Woollen Mill in August I hope, and we will have a launch party to celebrate their release back into the wild.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Learning to read

Because I came to reading late, struggling to un-code the alphabet symbols, I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘good’ reader. I love books, stories, prefer the written word to audio books. There’s something about the way the written word scribes onto the geography of the mind, building images in the mind’s eye, that is to me the best kind of alchemy. A great story, well told, is to me worth more than gold.

I’m 56 this year. I’ve been reading now for about 42, 44 years. Never without a book beside me. But when I said a day or so ago, in conversation to a friend, “I’m getting so much better at reading these days”, I was surprised when she laughed. I’m serious. Yes, I read quicker, except when a book like The Blue Fox by Sjon comes along and I stop and read aloud, even when I am alone ( which gains me curious looks of disdain from the cats). But that’s not what I meant. I guess it’s like anything else that you do. You give something time, and you learn to do it better. As it is with painting, so it is with reading, and also I hope, writing.

Now stories soak into my mind with such a power, find deeper resonance. I give time from each day to read in the way that others might meditate, go to a gym, run. My grandmother always thought reading was for lazy people. She had a phrase that stuck in my mind. “Them that reads books has dirty houses.”

How right she was, about me anyway. She saw reading as something that you did when everything else in the day was done, no more steps to polish with a donkeystone, hearths to black, washing to scrub. Different lives.

So, I’m getting much better at reading these days. Still learning. And just as well, as there are so many great writers out there waiting to be discovered.

Not getting any better at housework though.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

2017 reading list

It’s World Book Day today, and once again I am home, working. While others work at grand events in bookshops around the country, in schools, I’m here, with a deadline of two weeks left and four weeks worth of work to do it in. And still I read.

BUT, waiting for paint to dry it seems the perfect day to begin my ‘Year of Reading’ blogpost. It will grow to be a long one. I used to think I was a slow reader, but I make time for books, for reading, if I can every morning before work and in the evening, book-ending my days, my time. And maybe reading is like anything you do, the more you do it the better you get at it. Certainly stories seem to go deeper into my soul. So, not World Book Day so much as World Book Year.

People ask what are the best ways to get children reading. I say, by reading. If children see you reading they will want to find out what this thing is you give your time to. Read to them, with them, and when they are older they will read to you.

Some of the books I read this year I will review, but not all. I should be painting. All of the books will be good. I’ve learnt not to give my time to something I don’t enjoy. And I don’t do bad reviews as I recognize the effort that goes into each book. Just because a book doesn’t suit me, it doesn’t mean it’s not good.

These are 2 of my many piles of books waiting to be read and over the year more will be added as new books are released and people recommend titles and books make their mysterious way to me:

So, here goes.

I began the year with The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu and throughout the year will dip in and out of the short stories in The Paper Menagerie. There’s more about that on the ‘souls’ blog post.

Then this, from Paul Gallico and Angela Barrett.

Beautiful.

Utterly magnificent, The Bear and the Nightingale, set in Russia, smells of the forest.

A wild tale of border country, by William Grill from Flying Eye. Beautiful, sad.

I read The Wilful Princess as a manuscript when working on cover and images inside, so great to read this for pleasure.

The Wandering Falcon, short stories woven together, smells of the desert and coloured like gold. Everything it says on the cover.

Oh, my. This, The King of the Sky from Nicola and Laura, is just gorgeous from cover to cover. A story of migration, borders and the smell of home. Vanilla and cold dust.

Not a book, not a magazine, but something very beautiful and again I will be swimming in and out of this between books. Is it a journal? I don’t know. All I know is Elementum is itself and it is gorgeous.

Took me a while to catch the voice, but each sentence is like poetry. Sublime, fierce, bloody, wild, gorgeous love story set in USA. Again, more migration, from Ireland, across America. Pulls no punches. Breaks your heart.

The Golden Compass, also known in UK as Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. I read it when it first came out. Heard that The Book of Dust is out in October. A new trilogy.I might take a holiday to read it and will have to buy at least two, one for me, one for my daughter. Re-reading is bliss. Like visiting friends not seen for a long time. A rare book.

Next I picked up The Beauty Things by Alan Garner and Mark Edmonds. It has been sitting by my right hand for so long I had forgotten it was there. And now I am lost to Alan Garner’s work. Listen to The Beauty Things and more on these podcasts. They include a reading of The Stone Book. For anyone wishing to write, especially if their subject is folklore, folktales then this is a must. And like stepping stones it led me to take down the next book that also had been too long waiting on my shelves.

If you’ve time, listen also to this, a wonderful podcast about Red Shift.

This book travels through time and space and connects everything. He’s a master craftsman.

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee. How I loved this book.

Any of the above should be available in your local bookshop and if they aren’t they can order them. For me, every day is book day.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Happiness

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A story: The Promise.

Get yourself a cup of tea.

Put your feet up.

Look and listen.

Nicola Davies reads The Promise from Cricklepit on Vimeo.

And know that you can change the world, one small act at a time.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments