All that glitters

When I was young I had few books. The Orchard Book of British Folk Tales was one. This book of birds was another.

I loved this book so much, the illustrations which I would slavishly copy, learning the shape of a bird, the words. And now I wonder, is this one of the things that influence me towards the idea of having no title on the cover of a book? Perhaps. It’s so old now that the rich brown tawny owl colour has faded leaving only black and white. The spine is broken, pages falling from it. And I wonder if in 50 years time a grown up child will look back at The Lost Words in the way I look back at this, with love and that link to my child self that still lives so strongly inside me.

Published in 1967 this book links to The Lost Words. When I was a child there were more birds. Pesticides, pollution, cars, cats, hunting, trapping, all have taken their toll. But these small, wild creature survive around us and some even prosper despite us.

Soon The Lost Words will be released into the wild and I am going on tour for the book, to London, Cornwall, Compton Verney, through South Wales. I’m taking a painting to Dulverton. Last year it was seven rooks. This year it’s a charm that connects with the spells and the gold of The Lost Words.

I started painting it a few days ago, tweeting a bird here, there, building it slowly, drawing out the design as I went, with only the idea of teasels, finch and seven in mind.


Part way through the piece Chris from Storywalks sent me some words. The Seven Rooks had been an answer to something he had left in my studio. The original was long ago sold, but Number Seven have prints of them, will have prints of this.


Seven quick finches go teasel threading

Carding their quivers at the weavers wedding

Widdershins working before loom-ward tending

Seven quick finches come teasel threading.

I will be in the shop in Dulverton on Friday 27th October, painting, reading, talking. Do come if you can. It’s the most beautiful emporium of delights, and Dulverton in autumn is just gorgeous. The finches will have flown before me, and will be for sale in Number Seven, and prints will also be available.


Now, time to paint more birds.





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Think of a book as being like a pie.

Ever since I began working on my first picture book 25 years ago I have been learning my craft. When I first began I saw this simply as the art of drawing a story, responding to text, shaping a page, a book. Then it was about working my own text and pictures together. And people would say how lovely it must be to work in the children’s book industry, as if somehow that wonderful time when you snug up with a child flows back to the process, and to the beginning of an idea. And yes, it’s wonderful to be able to make objects of desire, which is what I hope my books are. But it is work. It is an industry. And it’s not always nice.

I’ve two kids and a mortgage, though my children are grown now. I began my first book the week after my son was born. Since then I have learned a lot.

So, think of a book like a pie. Not a pie made by one person. There’s a whole team behind a book; author, illustrator, editor, designer, agents, production team, printers and binders. There’s shippers and sales teams, and warehouses and storage. And  then there are bookshops and other booksellers. All of these people need to receive a share of the pie.

So, how is the pie cut. Well, author/ illustrator share 8-10% ( . although there are now publishers offering less these days to their ‘contributors). This is on the price the book sells to the bookshop/outlet, NOT as most people believe, the cover price. Agents get between 15-20% of that 4-10%.

A publisher will sell at full price from their website, though sometimes you will find the books offered at a discount from publishers websites. This, to my mind, undermines high street bookshops. They then deal with different customers. Now, I’m not party to my publishers’ deals, but it seems to me the most common price is 50% of the cover price. If they are lucky. More and more bookshops ask for 60-70%. If publishers sell through a distributor then the discount is 60-70% because the distributors have to earn their piece of pie too. The distributors offer a good service to the publishers, making it easier for them to get their books into shops, which is what we all wish to happen. And then there are sales teams, and if they are freelance then they too get a pie slice. For smaller publishers their share of a book profit, after production and shipping and design etc is around 10% also.

When some books are sold in large numbers and then fail to sell a publisher will be expected to pay for their return, or the books will be pulped.

And then there is Amazon. The only way they can offer books at the discount they do is to push as hard as they can for the biggest discount they can. When it comes to paying tax Amazon are careful to stand on the right side of the law but the taxes they pay as peanuts compared to their earnings, and they get huge tax subsidies to set up warehouses, tax breaks on rates, government money given to them without even a guarantee of a living wage being offered to their staff.

Amazon pay 11 times less corporation tax than high street bookshops.

Many people think it’s the seller who takes the hit when a book is discounted. It isn’t. It’s the publisher and the author. So why do so many authors still partner their websites with Amazon?

Project Goldcrest. Worth having a look at.

The problem with this is that bookshops can’t compete with the massive discounts, and many of them don’t want to. They understand that authors, illustrators, publishers need to earn a living. Also small publishers find that they are increasingly expected to offer the big discounts to bookshops and there’s no understanding that the unit costs for them are higher so the profits are lower than for the big publishers who can print in larger numbers.

So why do all publishers sell to Amazon? Well, they don’t. But if something has an isbn it will inevitably be listed on Amazon. They list everything registered. There was a time when bookshops subscribed to the Nielsen listings. Maybe this was before the internet. But this costs money, so now many small indie bookshops use Amazon as a database. If your book isn’t listed on Amazon it then becomes invisible and no amount of marketing, appealing to readers, will make it show up. Not only this, but some bookshops will then see that Amazon are offering the book at a higher discount than they can buy it for from their wholesaler, and will order from Amazon and sell on to the customer. Who can blame them as they try so hard to make a living ( and how many bookshops have had people browse, photograph books and then walk out saying  they would get it cheaper on Amazon. My worst case of this was a man explaining, or mansplaining, to Nick in Mr B’s how he should become an Amazon reviewer because they would send him books for free that he could then sell on in his shop. Argh. FACEPALM!)

If you are still with me, still reading, then you need to know that while some authors, a very few, earn a lot of money, many more who work very hard are struggling. These days sales are considered to be ‘good’ if you sell 2000 copies. If you take the sums above and do the maths it will give you an idea of average yearly earnings. Many authors supplement this income with school visits, and it’s good that now most literary festivals offer a fee. When people offer you ‘exposure’ as your fee at a festival think of mountaineers. People die of exposure. Exposure doesn’t pay the mortgage, rent, bills.

There is a movement towards fairer contracts for authors, illustrators. The Society of Authors is asking publishers to sign up to this.


So, when I say on twitter, please don’t buy my books from Amazon, but from your local bookshop, this is the longer argument.

I realise not everyone can get to a bookshop. I realise that for many books are a luxury. That used to be what libraries were for and perhaps if Amazon took their tax liability more seriously perhaps the public funding of services would be stronger. I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty. I just want to educate people into understanding the implication of the choices we all make.

A book isn’t a pie. I’ve read books that have changed my life, filled up my heart, challenged my thinking, soothed my soul. A book isn’t a product.

I’v met so many wonderful readers, booksellers who work so hard to make a living, keep their staff employed. We need to work together to level out the playing field before it’s too late. If we want diversity in publishing we need to share out that pie in a fairer fashion. Bookshops aren’t individual shop windows for Amazon. They are experiences. I’ve been to so many now as I travel the country. They have their own character, individuality, beauty.

I’m off on the road in the month of Oct, to London, Cornwall, through Somerset, across South Wales. In November I am heading to Lake District. My schedule is packed, but if you have an indie bookshop enroute then contact me via publishers and I will do my best to call in and sign stock for you. This is a link to my travels.

Thanks for reading ( a bit longer than 140 character tweet). All this talk of books makes me want to go and read. Please leave comments to add to this debate, whether you are a reader, a bookseller, a publisher. We need to keep talking, because we need to make changes.





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The Mill and The Lost Words

A few days ago I posted a tweet requesting that if people wish to buy my books they do it from their local bookshop, please.

It struck a chord with bookshops, authors, illustrators, but also drew some negative comments, which I did try to take on board, but at day’s end, I stand by what I said. If you can, please, support your local bookshop, bookseller.

For years now I have worked in partnership with Solva Woollen Mill. We have a glorious symbiotic relationship. They enable people to buy signed copies of my books, sending them anywhere in this world. All the books are sold at full price, there’s no mark up for signing and dedicating and over the years there is a growing and loyal band of people who have supported us in our endeavour. They package the books beautifully, and the postage helps to ensure the continuation of the local post office in Solva, supporting another local business.

So, let me show you the Mill.

You get to the mill, snug in the Middlemill valley, by crossing a bridge. It’s the kind of bridge under which trolls might dwell. Upstream, downstream, the water dances with light. The other day when I looked down into the river I saw a dipper! A dipper! Tom, the owner and weaver says that kingfishers flash up the river, otters live up the valley and one year they saw a baby otter.

Often a heron will stand at the weir sill, and an eel trap has been put in to enable the eels to swim upstream with more ease.

All of these, appart from eel, are Lost Words and can be found in The Lost Words, by Robert and myself.

Brambles grow around the mill, a willow tree, young, grows beside the river, ash trees people the valley and in the quarry opposite ravens nest. There’s also ivy in plenty, curling over old wicker baskets. Wrens weave in and out of the brambles and thorns. It’s almost as if the book is inside and outside the mill at the same time.

Inside the mill you can hear the sound of the looms moving and the weavers work, a steady rhythm, beautiful rugs and runners.

There are still about 30 copies of The Lost Words left that will have both mine and Robert’s signatures. We had 200 labels, thanks to Hamish Hamilton. Each book is also stamped with a unique stamp, designed by me, exclusive to The Mill and The Lost Words.

The Lost Words costs £20. It’s a big book, heavy. For the first run of books bought from the mill each purchase enters you into a draw to win the tiny finch painting, in watercolour and gold leaf.

The Mill have my other books too.

So, we are having a launch on 28th Sept. Come if you can. If not we will have camera ready to document the event. And you can order online here. If Hannah is around I will try and get her to make a film for us. In the meantime, I am hoping you’ve enjoyed a wander around the mill. And I would like to thank all those who have bought from the mill, who have supported us so far in our venture. People like you make it possible for me to continue to do what I do.

I’m taking a rest for a while. I have books waiting in the boundaries, stories wanting to be written, paintings to paint. Promoting these 4 books is going to be hard work for the next few weeks. I know it sounds naive, but when I stated working in books some 25 years ago publishing was a different world. I didn’t realise that in order to sell work I would have to do so much, away from home, appearing at festivals, book launches, talking about the work. I love the peace of home, the quiet of the studio, the wild of the hill and the feel of the sea on skin. I am looking forward to meeting people, very much. I’m also very nervous of events, speaking, talking. But I know I will meet many new friends, and, like I said, thank you. Without readers, without lovers of books, without people with a passion for words, for art I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I do. Thank you sometimes does seem like too small a word.

I do hope I get some time to paint over the next couple of months. I’ll be painting at Blue Ginger, near Malvern on Saturday. Come and say hi. They have artwork on show from One Cheetah, One Cherry.

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Mrs Noah’s Birthday.

Today is Mrs Noah’s birthday. Today she is launched out into the world. Here is more about her origins.

Mrs Noah quietly goes about supporting what she believes in. She doesn’t argue. The nearest she gets to preaching it to tell the children stories before bedtime. Magical stories she tells them, and one day perhaps James and I might do a book called Mrs Noah’s Bedtime Stories. Perhaps. Certainly Mrs Noah’s Garden waits in the wings.

The book is suitable for all ages, can be read to dogs, cats and other animals. It is beautifully illustrated, and is available in signed copies from Solva Woollen Mill. Also available from all good indie bookshops. On Saturday 9th Sept I will be talking about the book and its origins at Blue Ginger near Cradley, Malvern.

Between then and now it’s my birthday. But I would like to wish Mrs Noah a happy launch out into the floodtide of books. Long may she sail.


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Zoology: sending you to sleep with a dream of hares.

It’s late. I should be sleeping. Instead I am thinking of words and hares, and drawings. This haunts me.

At Edinburgh Book Festival I bought one book.

Listen, to the Brown Hare, by Gillian Clarke. It’s wonderful.

May she haunt your dreams.

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Words and Pictures

The Lost Words, by Robert Macfarlane and myself is done now. Soon it will be released into the wild. As a picture book it is a collaboration of words, images. Both Robert and myself worked closely with each other and with the tremendous support of the wonderful team at Hamish Hamilton to bring this book to life.

At Compton Verney between October and Christmas there will be a huge exhibition of artwork from the book, an exhibition that gives equal weight to the words, and an exhibition that is also being beautifully crafted, by Antonia, the curator, by John Mitchel, my framer.

And here’s a thing. We have also created two other pieces of work together. The first was a curious project for an exhibition to highlight the mass movement of people, organised by IBBY. You can now see much of the glorious art from this project on a wonderful map site, if you follow this link.

Mine and Rob’s work is no 103

More can be found about this piece on an earlier blog post.

And then there is this:

We were asked by the publisher to produce a piece of work for Waterstones. I suggested that as the goldfinch became the guide in The Lost Words perhaps I should paint them a finch and Robert could write one? And yes, this happened. I sent the painting , with the word Goldfinch written in gold leaf. Then Rob had to write on it. Fair to say he was a bit reluctant, took a bit of persuading. I think perhaps it’s not easy to write on someone’s painting. But it had to be Rob’s words, written in his hand. And how magic it turned out to be.

When we began this project we talked of grimoires and spell books. Having completed the book a few months before, I think in this single piece of art we found the way to work this curious wild magic. Sometimes that is how things happen.

Perhaps this is the start of something new. I love the curling curved of the drawn letters, for that is what handwriting is. Words drawn. I love this charm, this spell. Of all the work I’ve ever done in my life I think this single piece is the piece of work I can, hand on heart say, I am proud of. It is, just, right.


And if you want to know more about it, here. It’s a gift.

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The Snow Leopard

She’s ten years old this year, The Snow Leopard. First published by Frances Lincoln children’s books. And they sold her to a French publisher, who astonished me with their beautiful edition. You see…

..La Panthere Blanche was bigger, and somehow more beautiful than the UK edition. She sold so well, the French Snow Leopard, and from the first day I saw her I wanted my books to be bigger. But you see, in France they still have the net book agreement. Time after time I was told, no, big books don’t sell, there’s no market, we can’t do it…. and I watched as Animalium took bookshops by storm with its beautiful pictures and large format. And still, no, I was told. You can’t have a big book, because there aren’t enough pages…..but you can have this….

and my publishers made all my books smaller. Well, it kind of breaks your creative heart a little when that happens. BUT, the small editions were kind of cosy, and cheap at £4.99, and though I didn’t like them and didn’t want them they sold a good many copies, were great little stocking fillers and easy to post for presents, so I guess they had something good about them. They were also good as giveaway things, like a business card with a story, something very portable so if people asked what I did I could show them as it fit in a pocket in my bag. But they always seemed rather throw away… and so strange, to make my pictures even smaller. And in France they did their own lunch box sized edition, so you could take your favourite book to school, like a small comfort blanket. Even the small edition was bigger than the UK one.

But then the publisher decided to end the hardback edition, and just publish in paperback. I looked at my royalty statements. The hardback sales were so strong. The paperback, as far as I knew, were not what my market wanted. It’s always good to know your readers. So I said no. And Quarto understood, and gave me back the rights and I can’t thank them enough because now, ten years on, we have The Snow Leopard, deluxe, artist’s edition, with no title on the cover. There’s more about why no title here.

There’s a magic about this book. A deep magic. She’s helped many people get through difficult times. She works like a spell. If  you put her into the window of a bookshop she makes people wander in, and I feel that spell will be stronger, more dynamic, without the spell of words on the cover.

She was reviewed in The New York Times.

There’s a whole family of these books now. You can still pick up some of the old editions second hand, but the new editions are available, signed, from Solva Woollen Mill. There are only 500 of the artist editions, signed, numbered and stamped with a stamp designed exclusively for this book. One of my favourite editions is the Tibetan one. Sending the story home, from Pembrokeshire and into the dreams of Tibetan children.

You can read more about the making of the book in this page from my old and ancient website. 

Meeting snow leopards in real life was an amazing experience.

And if you feel you want a book and a snow leopard I would suggest you contact Jane in Eve’s Toy Shop in Llandeillo.

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A date for the Diary

On 28th September, at Solva Woollen Mill, between the hours of 1 and 7pm we will be having a celebration of the launch into the book world of Mrs Noah’s Pockets, illustrated by James Mayhew, The Lost Words, written by Robert Macfarlane, The Snow Leopard and the Icebear, written and illustrated by me.

The first 150 people to buy The Lost Words will be sure to get the copies that have a signed bookplate by Mr Macf himself in and all and every copy of the book purchased from the mill ill be signed by me and stamped with a stamp designed exclusively for the mill. Everyone will also be entered into a draw to win the small gilded finch seen in the picture below, an original and signed painting by me.

To order, follow this link to the bookshop section of the mill’s website.

Also available at the mill now are copies of the new editions of The Icebear and The Snow Leopard. But more on that later. For now, I need to paint, but wanted to give people as much notice as possible about this event at the mill. So many books, and Anna always dresses the mill to perfection to celebrate the launches. Such a beautiful place to visit. So, come if you can. It’s a week ahead of the launch in London and we are so grateful to Hamish Hamilton for letting us, in the small corner of far away from London, be the first on what is going to be a fine series of events, from festivals to bookshops.


( Please don’t buy any of my books from Amazon. Indie shops will post books to you. Amazon take large amounts of money from taxpayers to set up distribution points. They pay low wages, have 0 hour contracts and pay very little tax. They undervalue the work of authors and illustrators by slashing the price of books, and believe me when I say that means the share of the money the author gets is so very very low. They are fuelling an unsustainable environment for the publishing industry. )


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When things are done before the list is written.

Big bales of silage in the fields fascinated me yesterday with their curious reflections. Updated computer frustrated my wishes, but now I begin to fit my head around the changes and all comes together.

The White Cat does so love to stalk The Eelhound.

Today is Hannah’s birthday. 23 years ago, in just under an hour’s time, she was born. Small and dark of skin and hair she came out into the world. Now she is half a world away, in a hostel in South Africa, teaching yoga, swimming, surfing. And Rosie, her hound, misses her so, but we are walking and watching the world, and wishing her a happy birthday, Slightly Salty.

Check out her blog to see what an amazing creature she has grown to be.

Today the air is smooth and cool, the heather fills the eyes with colour and paints the land.

Together we walk and think, and look for stones, and think some more. Seven ravens fly over.

Coming back we see the farmer collecting the fascinating bales. Time to wait and watch. So much to do that sometimes it is good to just stop, think, watch. I’ve books and events to promote. Books to sign. Illustrations to do. A head full of paintings.

I’ve a new list. Time now to work.

Time to draw.

Below is the sign for the door.



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Auction for Acorns Children’s Hospice.

Every year I donate a piece of work to the small art auction for Acorn Children’s Hospice, run by Sue Lim from Blue Ginger Gallery.

This year I will be donating two pieces. On 9th September, in the afternoon I will be in Blue ginger Gallery, signing books and painting or drawing a small piece of artwork for auction. In the evening of 9th there will be a talk about Mrs Noah’s Pockets and The Lost Words. Booking is essential for the evening and there will be a simple supper for which donations are welcome. Dress warmly as if the weather is good it’s lovely to eat outside. Blue Ginger is lovely.

This is all part of Hereford Art Week and you may be wondering how and why, given that I live in Wales. Well, I began my career at Hereford College of Art, a long time ago. And some of the artwork from One Cheetah One Cherry will be on display. The book is published, along with Mrs Noah, by Otter-Barry Books and Janetta, the publisher and editor, is also based in Hereford.

The other piece for auction is a very special piece. This is the first piece of work to be offered for sale from The Lost Words. It isn’t in the book, but is a very rare preliminary piece for the book, painted in 2015 right at the beginning of the project when Robert Macfarlane and I were trying to work out the shape of the book in our hearts and minds.

19 cms x 21, watercolour and gold leaf, an original painting for the word ‘acorn’.

To bid on the auction you will need to go to facebook, or go to Blue Ginger on the auction day. I’m not running the auction so PLEASE don’t leave bids here. Everything is being handled by Sue at Blue Ginger.

The auction is for the best of causes. The children’s hospice supports families at a time when they can be in desperate need. Please be generous in your bidding.

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