Footpath, flowers, tea and small acts of kindness

On Sunday I will travel to London, stay in a hotel, sleep in the city. On Monday I will go to The British Library for the Greenaway and Carnegie awards. The Greenaway and Carnegie are two of the top awards for children’s books in the UK. The Greenaway is awarded solely for the illustration, named after Kate Greenaway. The winner receives a beautiful gold medal. I have been nominated for the award many times, longlisted now and again, but this is the first time a book of mine has achieved a position on the shortlist and I cannot begin to say what an honour it is to be on the shortlist and in such good company.

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CILIP run a wonderful website and you can see films of all the shortlisted illustrators talking about their books. It’s worth looking back over previous years too. In a world where there are so many books published you can build a library for your child by gathering together past winners and also shortlisted books and be assured that there is a level of excellence in all of the books.

Watching the films is great too, especially for anyone who wishes to work in the industry. I learned so much more about Sam and Dave Dig a Hole from watching the film.

In previous years I have tried to pick my favourite, which is always difficult when friends have books on the list. This year it was easy. Even before the list was announced one book had come to my attention. Footpath Flowers by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith.

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I can’t remember how or where this book found me. I do remember getting to the end of it and not having realised there were no words. One of the criteria for the award is that it is a marriage of words and pictures. You can have the best illustrations in the world but if the text isn’t up to it then the book won’t get through to the shortlist. So, no words. And yet, and yet and yet, somehow the book slides into the mind and the story is so beautifully drawn that the text was there, but not cluttering up the page, but giving such space to these wonderful, simple lines.

It’s an urban picture book and there is a sadness in the long walk home where dad’s too busy on the phone to take notice but the child, a young girl, sees the beauty in the flowers that grow in the small spaces in between, and gifts them along the way to people and animals. Black and white, with colour used to perfection, it is a story of love and small and simple acts of kindness.

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The film of Sydney Smith talking about how he designed and drew the book is wonderful and I love the progression from the very ‘real’ drawing of the girl to a much more fluid style. I love also hearing how others struggle. His words about trying to draw and having to go outside and just draw what was there is balm to the soul. Now the book is finished it looks so easy, elegant. But it’s hard hard work and so much thought goes into each page. I love that they are all done as panels then put together later. So much to learn. These films should be watched in all art colleges.

CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2016 – Sydney Smith talks about Footpath Flowers from CILIP CKG Children’s Book Awards on Vimeo.

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There is also a film of the book:

I love that there are no words. That a poet knew that the words aren’t required in this case so he stepped back and let the pictures tell his story, and I would love to hear him talking about it.

Everything about this book is perfect from the size, the reproduction, the paper quality, design. And the message. Small acts of kindness. And finding beauty. At the end she looks to the sky, to the flight of birds. I think when she grows up she will not live in a city, but in the countryside, where she will have a small house with a garden filled with flowers and wild things and she will feed the birds.

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So, the award is held at the British Library and that in itself is exciting. Such a place of learning. There can be only one winner, and whilst I would love it to be Something About a Bear, being on the shortlist is incredible enough. Footpath Flowers is my favourite. It will always be a winner for me.

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Tidying up my desk I found a letter and small package from a lovely woman called Keiko in Japan. She had sent me some Japanese green tea to say thank you for something I had sent to her. It had become buried under things on my desk, but came to light today. A small act of kindness from a friend far away.

So, today I will continue to tidy my desk. ( I have even hovered the floor which had become something of a dog hair felted carpet) And I will make time to sit in the sunshine and read, and think. And I will drinking green tea sent to me by Keiko ( thank you Keiko. I have one o fthe cat stickers on my sketchbook now)  from beautiful cups made by Euan Craig in Japan.

The leaves will take 3 lots of hot water. The colour is beautiful. And I am looking forward to settling into my next book.

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Pronghorned eelhounds

In medieval times there was a rare species of eelhound, bred for its hunting instinct, swift running, keen sight. Indeed they were a member of what is now known as ‘sight-hounds’. The breed came from two hounds found living wild in an old stone quarry in Wales. No one knew where they had come from. From these two hounds a pack was bred.

pronghornedFavourite hunting dog of Robin of the Greenwood, the pronghorned eelhound excelled in the hunting of jackalope, but fell from favour owing to its curious disposition of loving to sleep in the beds of fine ladies, preferably beneath the covers.

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Few now remain, but if you are lucky, deep in the twilight greenwood, you may see some of the last few, living wild. Approach with caution, because the pronghorn is a shy creature.

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(Artwork for sale at The House of Golden Dreams)

To purchase leave a comment or send me an email.

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Yesterday, the sea. Today, the land.

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Yesterday I escaped my studio for the sea. Today, while I waited for paint to dry, I walked to the top of the hill with Rosie and Ivy. And the green lane is overgrown with flowers and stonecrop clings to the walls.

pathway The light made a green heart in the lane. I love this place, where foxgloves grow so tall and campion and buttercups and blackthorn live. A dragonfly, huge as a sparrow coursed the lane, up and down, up and down. Hot. So hot.

greenheart foxglvery foxgloves maesym northwards ivine 2dogs  Walking to fox rocks to rest for a while and watch I stepped over a coil of bright golden rope, almost on it. It slipped away too fast to focus, into the bracken. So we rested a while and then came back, carefully to see if she had come back out to bask again. So fresh, each scale looked new.

scales done glory  beauteous iseeyoutoo

And on the way back I carried the memory of the bright golden coil, thought about foxes and books and was more careful where I placed my feet.

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Falcon Boats

I’ve worked hard this week, my goal being to complete two books and take the morning off this morning. I’d booked a boat trip with Falcon Boats, off shore, out to where the Celtic Deep begins, in the hope of seeing whales. No whales today, but no disappointment either.

Grey sky, bright. Sea like a mirror, calm.

We hoped for dolphins as the boat moved out towards Grassholm, and it wasn’t long before Hannah spotted a small pod, hunting. They came over to us, so close, gliding through the water and my camera decided it was time to jam, but I got a few photos and after a while just stopped to watch.

So close, so close, they came to us, then after a while moved off fast, hunting the water for fish. Perfect.

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All the while I was watching Hannah was hanging over the side of the boat with a Go-Pro and she captured this beautiful footage of them:

We moved on to Grassholm. A rock in an ocean. A rock that is dotted with white. And as you get closer you see that what is white is gannets. Thousands of them. Beautiful, saffron headed seabirds with huge wingspans, constant movement, bird upon bird and a sky filled with wings.

grasholm grasholm2 grasholm3 grasholm6 seabirdcity grasholm61 seacliffs Away from Grassholm we headed for The Smalls and saw it looming out of a sea fog. From my house at night I can see the lights from 3 lighthouses, the Smalls, The South Bishop and Strumble Head. We came back past the Bishop Lighthouse and I realised that this was my ideal home.

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Gorgeous. And now I want to go again, out to the dolphin’s world where there are puffins and shearwaters. We even saw a beautiful storm petrel, sea swallow, delicate and small in the sky, low over the sea.

Bliss. And the light and the water, and the light on the water, and the wealth of beauty in the world makes such a nonsense of politics and politicians and their clamour. They have nothing of the glamour of a colony of gannets and talk about as much sense, if not less.

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One Thursday morning at Hay Festival

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The flowers at Hay Festival are always beautiful.

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This year there were banners with words from Shakespeare dotted around the site, made by students from Hereford College of Art.

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We had gone to watch King of the Sky, written by Nicola Davies and soon to be a book. A wonderful production.

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Afterwards Nicola signed books in the book tent.

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I found a copy of Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff and it seems to have made its way home with me.

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I love the colour at Hay, flags billowing in sunshine and wind.

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Lunch with the caste and crew was good, then home, via Fire and Ice in Narberth and Druidstone Hotel for supper. Now. Back to reality. Time to finish The White Fox, and the final design and layouts for The Quiet Music.

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Land, sea, sky….

beautiful landsea howblue dogstick…and a dog with a stick.

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Just Giving: Time, money, love.

If you are lucky  you meet some remarkable people in your life. I met Robin in 2002. He just walked in to my friend’s house. Sarah and I were having a cup of tea while our children were at an after school class. There was a knock on the door and she jokingly said, ” That’ll be a man for me.”  “You’ve already got one, I think you will find that one is mine,” I replied. Many a word spoken in jest…. 14 years later he’s still here in my life and I am glad.

It is not uncommon for a remarkable man to have remarkable parents also. And children. Some months ago Robin’s mother died. She had achieved a ripe old age. Her passing was peaceful. More peaceful than her early life. Some weeks ago I sat with Clare, his daughter, and we read through some of her papers together. Letters. Letters from an ‘agent’ she had commissioned to discover whether her parents were still alive, and, if not, what had happened to them. You see, Lottie was a Jew, and she was born in Germany, and at some time I will write a book about her.

So, imagine. You are 14 years old and have been sent to school in a foreign country by parents with foresight and financial resources to get you to a safe place. Letters from home stop. You speak English a little, but have to leave school because your sponsor seems to have disappeared and you are alone. Aged 14. No money. You can’t get help from the Jewish Refugee board because you aren’t classified as being a refugee. And all around you are people, some who would help, others who find a pretty young  girl alone to be a very attractive thing. Lottie survived, but then imagine. What we were reading were the letters from her agent that told her how her parent’s house was empty, how they had been moved to a ghetto, to Minsk, how there were a few survivors, but her parents were not amongst them and how they had died a terrible death. How she stayed sane and grew up to raise two children and grandchildren and then great grandchildren is a feat of heroism.

People ask why Syrian children are sent off alone, unaccompanied. Sometimes it is because they have no one left. Sometimes it is a desperate attempt to get them to a place of safety.

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Clare is one of Lottie’s grandchildren. Jordan is her partner and they are two wonderful people. They are collecting money to take to Calais to help the refugees in the camp there. Last time they went they took food, bags of carrots and onions and potatoes and the kitchens were opened for the first time in three days because of this.

They have a just giving page.  They are donating their time to work in the camp, to help. One of their number is a teacher and he is training so that in his summer holiday he can spend two weeks working in the camp. If you can, send them a little to help. You can buy a good many carrots with £10.

I have decided to auction a piece of work in order to help them raise some money.

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The piece I have chosen is Nighteyes, from Robin Hobb’s books. This is an unpublished painting. Why Nighteyes? Because Bee dreams of her Wolf Father who watches over her and everyone needs a Wolf Father. Not because there are so many human wolves out there ready to prey on the vulnerable. Because there are also many people out there like Jordan, like Clare, desperate to help as they watch the inhumanity of our governments actions.

To bid, leave a comment in the comments box on this blog. Bidding starts at £50. PLEASE increase your bids by at least £5 a time. Please share. The bidding will close on June 1st, and please remember this isn’t eBay, don’t wait to the last minute to get a bargain, this is an attempt to raise money to help people who have nothing. All bids must be in £ sterling so if the bid is from abroad please use a currency converter before making your bidAll comments have to be approved by me and I will try and do this regularly, but I will also be painting, so please be patient with me.

Please share, tweet, link, blog.

I will contact the winner and their payment must be made direct to the Just Giving page, ONLY once I confirm that they are the winner of the auction. I will then send them the painting, and happy to send anywhere in the world.

If you can’t bid on the painting but want to  give, even  a little bit please do. Here’s the link again to the Just Giving page. If you can’t, and let’s face it, these days not many people have money to spare, draw a chair for the #3000chairs campaign with The Guardian. Although the government have said they will allow children into the UK they have now erected a massive fence of bureaucracy, by placing the problem with individual councils to come up with plans for where the children will be placed. As a result it may be Christmas before a single unaccompanied child enters the UK. We can do better than this in the 21st Century.

If it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers Lottie wouldn’t have survived the holocaust, Robin wouldn’t have been born, Clare wouldn’t be. It’s a matter of live, and death.

 

Image size 24cms x 34cms

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Reviews, and a quiet mind.

Something About a Bear is on the shortlist for the Greenaway 2016. You can see a film of me talking about the book at the Greenaway site, read reviews from children of this and the other books on the list too.

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I was so pleased that out of all the books published it had been picked up by this amazing badge of excellence. So, when last week I read a review not just of the book, but the list for this year’s Greenaway I was, well, how to say this: You work on a book for about a year. At least a year. You struggle and strive to do the best you can, and it lives in your heart and soul, and if you are like me all you can see at the end is the flaws, how you could have done it better. And this has been the story of my working life, but I have learned over time to cope with it. Part of the thing is that in the doing of something you answer many problems and questions, but as you do that others arise and if you had the luxury of time you could do it again and it would be better, BUT in doing it again you would, through that process learn new and better ways….
So, a few weeks ago I was struggling, more than I care to, with self esteem and with sanity. When the film crew came from the Greenaway team I did say to them that I was sorry, I was struggling. They did a wonderful job with the film. I was deep down in a dark place for reasons I do not wish to share. I was glad I had pulled myself around before I read the review.

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Everyone does have a right to their own opinion. My opinion is that I could have torn my own book to pieces with more skill and style, BUT I love that the Greenaway panel have made me look at my own book through new eyes, and also Amnesty made me see my book in a different way too. I am truly honoured to be on the list and in such company.

Many authors warn that it’s best to stay away from the reviewers at Goodreads. One reviewer told me that it ‘wasn’t helpful for reviewers if they thought the author might see what they wrote. People say not to engage. Other authors say that the reviews are for readers, but I have always felt that I could learn from how others see my books. Sadly it’s the bad reviews that stay in the mind. One of my favourites was “this book will be unwieldily in the hands of a small child”.


Anyway, Hannah made me some panels, with the quotes attached.

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I thought I might have them printed n the back of a t-shirt so that I can put them behind me. She made me one to go on the front. This, also from Books For Keeps:

%22This is a book that children will pore over, and I can see it sparking a life-long interest in bears and nature%22
My hope is that even if it looks like something created in the 1980s, ( though I beg to differ) it is still in print in 40 years time. Some of my books have lasted 20 years in print.
And I am glad that I was strong enough to take the kick, look at what was said, think about it, move on.

So, I guess this is me moving on. I am back to work, editing one book that will be very, very unwieldy in the hands of a small child, but then The Quiet Music is a picture book for grown ups. Working on editing and design of this at the moment as well as another book, which is also something different. Below is a page from Quiet Music. It’s very much early stages of design.

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Rooted in Nature; creative writing course

I found the words for The Ice Bear while watching ravens fly.

The idea and words for I am Cat came whilst watching cats sleeping and dreaming.

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The day before yesterday I found a dark story of a black for in between the notes of a skylark’s song in a place so bright with gorse it felt as if the sun had fallen to earth.

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In October I am teaching a course, called Rooted in Nature with Nicola Davies at Ty Newyyd. This is Nicola talking about the roots of her latest book, Perfect, published by Graffeg. And it is. Just that. Perfect.

Nicola has taught before, as Senior lecturer on the MA course in Bath. I haven’t. And I got 40% in a mock sats test aimed at 7-11 year olds, and the answers I got right were all guesses. But we are not teaching a course on the correct use of grammar. We will be talking about finding stories, finding words, the beautiful links between images and words, how to bring an understanding of the importance, the real value of the wild to any audience, communicating the wild, not just for writers but teachers also. At least that’s what I hope. And there will be moments when we just read to you, walk, play. It will be hard work, for all, but the right kind of work, we hope. The kind of work that makes your soul sing.

Once, in conversation with Berlie Doherty she suggested I did a creative writing course. I replied that although I didn’t feel too confident about my writing I didn’t want to do a course, but to grope my own way through the maze of self doubt. ( The real reason was that I had no money, two children and a mortgage. Hard times) She looked at me incredulously. “I meant teach one, not go on one,” she said. The Seal Children had just won the Tir Na n-Og award, but I still didn’t lay claim to the job title of ‘writer’.

So, now, I find myself running a course with Nic in October. Ty Newyyd is beautiful. Have a look here at the gallery of images.

There are still a few places left but book soon if you want to come, as places are limited.

Now I need to move from one book to another, always a difficult transition. Today I write the last words for The Quiet Music and begin The White Fox for Barrington Stoke, who have been too patient with me. I found the story for The White fox in a wildlife park in Seattle. This one was told to me by a human and the bright eyes of the white fox. I have cleared my desk. desktoday

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After The White Fox I am all Robert MacFarlane and Hamish Hamilton’s.

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Yesterday. Today.

Yesterday I worked too long at my computer, went to Solva Woollen Mill to sign some books and ended up selling more books than I usually do at a book signing, to very happy customers. Then I walked at St Davids Airfield where cowslips and golden gorse scent the air and I found, between the notes of the songs of skylarks, the story of a black fox. And I heard a female cuckoo call and later saw a hooded crow.

Today I woke early. I went in search of words, the long commute to work. The sea, so still, and every shade of blue in the water.

walk stime Bluebells still held morning dew. The bluebells on the cliffs are deeper blue. Perhaps they mark the places where ancient woodland stood. Maybe the trees were cut to build the ships whose bones now sleep, wrecked on the rocks, three feet beneath the sand.

moreblues Sea mirrored sky. I thought about swimming, moved towards writing. I have a book to finish and a book to begin.

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There was squill at St Davids head. I took a photo and turned to see Ivy cropping the tops off a patch of squill, one delicate flower at a time.

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I have many bags now, but I always return to the first on I bought from Scaramanga, just the right size for the note book I am using, just the right length of strap. Just the right bag.

And I found some words to finish a story and more to find a new one, and others to make something written yesterday stronger, fiercer, bolder.

#myscaramanga

It was summer hot on the headland, then clouds came over and mist moved in and the light changed and the world turned oyster and pearl.

Home now. Time to write up, tidy up, settle and paint. Black fox, music, whale and white fox.

later

Sometimes it takes a while to get to work.

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