Questions and answers

Yesterday I was visited by the film team working on the Carnegie/Greenaway awards. The Lost Words was first nominated, then longlisted, and now shortlisted for the Greenaway. So wonderful. I’ve been shortlisted once before and it’s such an honour, for the whole team behind the book. And it’s in amazing company too.

I’m working so hard, trying to finish a book, begin a new one, finish the visuals for Hay Festival Spellsongs, so I didn’t want to have to travel to London for the filming, so was delighted when they said they would come to me.

I talked about the book, how it works, the importance of the design, how Robert and I worked very closely together, words and image informing each other. And then they asked me a question that I struggled to answer. What would it mean to me to be chosen by the shadowing groups as the best book. What does it mean to an artist to win an award.

Been thinking. It’s wonderful to be shortlisted, to see our book in such company. The book has won a few awards now, been shortlisted for more. But, you don’t make books with the aim to win awards. At least I don’t. So what is the aim? For me, I think it is this: to speak from my heart and soul, in as beautiful a voice as I can achieve, into the heart and mind of a child. I don’t mind how old that child is. What I really mean is a person, but I say child because it is that place, the open, wild, receiving, hungry place where the imagination runs wild. And if you can do that, if someone says, ‘this is my favourite book’, if you can help someone escape for a while into your book, if you can show people something they’ve not seen for a while, never noticed before, if you can make studying nature cool again, if you can take children out from the classroom, away from the tests and the desks, with teachers away from that pressure of targets to be achieved, that’s the prize, the best prize. And if you can give people some fresh air in a book, connect with them through the pages, inspire new ways of seeing, understanding, well, that’s an ambition.

And I have almost finished my next book, which is so much about escape and following your heart, and I will be able to talk about soon, and show you soon…….but for now, how wonderful for us all at Hamish Hamilton to have this for our book.

Two more paintings to go, then the next one will be finished. And other news to come soon.

April is going to be an exciting month.

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A romp, of ink

These otters are inked from river water and sumi ink. 25cms x 10.

I am offering them for sale for The Lost Words for Surrey at £300 each. This would put 30 books into 30 schools, or if all sell 12o books into 120 schools. To purchase email me with otter, left (SOLD), top, middle (Sold) or bottom ( almost sold) as subject matter. But do email before donating as they are originals.

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Moon, tide, gold, stone, words.

At the beach the tide is peeled so far back to leave an expanse of sand, and we walked in places where human feet can walk only a few times a year.

I carried 3 stones from home, fresh gilded, though one had sat on the fire for a year or so, been warmed, smoothed by hands so the gold was almost gone. Refreshed with moongold it shone bright.

The first stone was placed in water, by the stone bridge.

Pi knows where it lies. Though perhaps by now the tide has taken it.

The second was placed where others have been, but none so fitting as this. It was time to release it, back where it should be, out from the domestic, into the wild.

The next went into the sculpted place that fascinates me.

Such tales told in stone. Colour, line, scent and texture.

The catalogue came today from the Lettering Trust. It is a fine thing of great beauty, to read and to look at. They had been in touch with our agent last year ( mine and Robert’s) to request permission to commission the show. I was lucky enough to see some of the pieces when I was in Snape. And I yearn to make time to learn to cut words into stone.

So, three stones at the beach, and the sea may take them. The beach is wide, the stones are small and the tide is coming in.

There are 4 sheets of fine leaf, white gold, that hold the soul of the largest stone that sat in my home before being returned to its wild home. I am offering these for sale for £120. I will stitch them with silk, and then to some fine paper, sign. Money would go to Lost Words for Bournemouth and Poole, and would place 10 books into schools. Email me to secure before donating.

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Where the sea carves the rock into pools for water to rest

Today began with walking on the beach. Here where the sea meets the land. Here, where time and tide have carried sand, moved it to expose rocks smoothed by sea and stone. I walked to see if the Porlock stone still sat in its bowl.

But no. It was gone. Taken by the sea, perhaps, or human hand.

I need to make more. These stone pools where the sea rests between the tides are perfect places to leave gilded stones.

And today the stones looked like sleeping creatures, nestled in to the sand, waiting for the water.

And here, creatures create patterns on the sea vegetables that grow on the rocks.

Patterns like drawings on the rocks that change tide by tide and day by day.

Back home, settling to grinding ink with thoughts and time and water from where the fresh water meets the salt water, then painting. Long leaves for listeners to lean in to, while the wind whispers and billows.

And also I found the Heartwood stamp, stamped a couple on beautiful Chinese paper flecked with gold for a friend, and made a few extra also.

This is Robert’s Heartwood charm, made into a stamp, then stamped onto Chinese paper.

I’ve two more, can sign and post, for £65 to the Bournemouth and Poole Crowdfunder.

Email me, with Heartwood as subject matter if you want to have one, then donate and send me your address. There are also small cards, and for £20 I can either write on one and send to you or send it blank.

Time for fireside and book and tea now.

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Pool, gold, card, shadow

At the beach this morning the dogs were dogs and the people were shadows.

At the beach this morning I left a gilded stone, as the tide was coming in. The stone came from Porlock Weir. It’s harbour is a stone bowl carved by the sea. It may remain, or the sea may take it, or someone may find it.

At home today I tried to settle to work. And I found two postcards with special stamps.

They have sold now, with money donated to The Lost Words for Bournemouth and Poole

There are also three new luggage tag otters, £50 each, money to Lost Words for Bournemouth and Poole, as above, and will see five copies of the book into five schools for each tag. Again email me before donating, with ‘otter left’, ‘otter right’ (SOLD) or ‘otter middle’ as subject matter. Two are questioning souls, and the other is two river dancers.

There’s a small amount of room on the sofa this evening, so I will grab it while I can. And did I say, I bought a ladder for the cats? Seemed like a good idea at the time, but as I brought it in to the house the ladder got bigger and the house got smaller.

Also, I think it is time I inked some cats again, as that is what I bought the ink for some years ago. This old blog post, from 2012, shows very early ink, with help.

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Stepping sideways, for a while

This was my week.

Last Thursday I picked up Eva John and we drove to Dulverton. Eva wrote the Explorer’s Notes for The Lost Words and is writing the same for The Spell Songs, so we had much to talk about on the journey there. We arrived in dusk light to the lovely Woodlands Cottage on Jury Road, beautiful house of many chimneys, and Jan and Davina had settled us in, lighting the fires, closing the curtains, cooking supper.

We were working together the next day at a teaching conference in Buckfast Abbey, where Hayden was handing out the first copies of The Lost Words to go to schools after successfully crowdfunding to get a copy in to every school in the county. Eva and I were delivering 2 workshops for the teachers with ideas of how to use the book in schools. It was exciting to see that half the teachers there weren’t aware of the book, which means we have much work to do to bring the book to more teachers, more children. Davina and Chris were there from Number Seven Dulverton to support us with books for sale, but also both are brilliant photographers. I asked Chris if he would come to one of the sessions to capture some of what it was like. Not sure quite what I had said in the image below, but love the reactions. We were going to be working with a visualiser, but non was available, and despite the numbers I went ahead anyway. Sometimes I think it’s best to see things ‘live’ and not through the medium of a screen. This is the scariest bit, when the paper waits.

Love how the faces have changed here, to concentration. All the time the brush moved I was reciting Robert Macfarlane’s Otter Spell.

So, that went quite well.

I painted two otters that day, one for each group, and one was given to Hayden, who worked so hard to make the Devon Crowdfunder a success and is still working, to bring the book to thousands of children. The second otter was a questioning soul and I love that Chris caught the echo of him in the ink that waited to become otter. This one became a raffle prize.

Later, Chris showed me a photo he had taken of the inkstone as I was grinding the ink, and there, written in light, was an echo of the otter.

It was amazing to talk to so many teachers, many very young, and to know that in speaking to them we were maybe speaking to hundreds of thousands of children through them. There was such energy and enthusiasm in the room as Eva unleashed ideas for how to make the most of the book.

Later I dropped off some new work at Number Seven. A flock of finches and a flight of swallows.

I love this place. It is so full with beauty.

A few days with my daughter, her dog and her cat were spent reading by the fire while she worked at her studies, short walks with small cat, some painting. And Chris and Davina and Jan came round and we made a podcast and Chris filmed me painting some luggage tag otters for Number Seven, including the word ‘holt’ in the 26 otters of the alphabet.

Chris’s film of the writing in otters is just lovely, with a soundtrack of ink, river and otter spell.

Jackie Morris: Otter Holt from Number Seven Dulverton on Vimeo.

There are still a few of the special edition Lost Words copies at Number Seven. If you get chance do go. If you can’t go then their website is also a place of visual delights.

On the way home I called in at my sister’s house. It was so windy I didn’t want to drive home. The wind was pushing the van all over the road.

And later, back home, I discovered a wonderful review of The Spellsongs in TLS.

Now it’s time to sit by the fire and read with creatures. I need to paint, make new books, finish a book by April. I bought a ladder on the way home, for the cats. Made perfect sense to me. Cats do like ladders.

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Luggage Tag Otters

I’ve been resting my head in ink and the shape of otters for an hour or so. I have now seven luggage tag otters for sale for The Lost Words for Bournemouth and Poole’s Schools campaign.

These are the otters. Let me introduce you.

They are £45 each, and will come with a handwritten note of some sorts. To purchase email me. There’s only one of each. If you can tell me which number otter you would like that will make life easier. I will mark them up as sold to attempt to avoid confusion. They would look good in a frame, or make a rather expensive bookmark.

£10 buys one book for a school, brings The Lost Words to so many children. All donations to the crowdfunder are welcome and if you can help us spread the word that would be brilliant.

1. Water dancer, sumi ink. SOLD
2. River dweller, sumi ink. Sold.
3. Shimmering twister, sumi ink. Sold
4. River Wolf, sumi ink. SOLD
5. Shape shifters, sumi ink. SOLD.
6. Stream lover, sumi ink. SOLD
7. Water tumbler, sumi ink. Sold

Time now for me to curl in the sunshine and read. It is work. I have a cover to design for Robin Hobb’s Wizard of the Pigeons. It is being re-issued alongside Cloven Hooves. Two very brilliant books.

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This blog post is Not for Children

I know a lot of teachers follow my blog, and also children read it. This blog post is not for children, please don’t read it to your class, and if you are under 18 please don’t read it.

When I was in Grasmere in The Lake District I worked with a wonderful bookshop called Sam Reads. I went swimming with Polly who works in the shop and writes poetry, and we were housed and wined and dined by the bookshop owners. It was amazing, working with the children at the school there and then doing an event in the evening.

I bought a huge pile of books. There were just so many brilliant books in the shop. One was The Beekeeper of Sinjar by Dunya Mikhail. Was it the cover? I don’t know. Sometimes books choose you. And this week I read the book. It is described as a memoir. On the cover the New York Times calls it ‘A searing portrait of courage, humanity and savagery’.

Dunya Mikhail has done what we all should do. She has listened to the stories of women, survivors, of the terrible wars in the world. She has listened to women, ripped from their homes, with children, whose husbands were slaughtered and buried in mass graves, who were sold into slavery, who suffered abuse, rape, torture at the hands of Daesh. She has made of their stories an account of witness of the worst and the best of humanity, of courage in the face of terror. Having begun to read the book I felt that not finishing it would be an act of betrayal of those lives, those women.

I cannot begin to comprehend the lives of these women. Each story cuts at the heart. How can men do such things? How can other women stand by and watch, even encourage. Mothers, daughters, sisters, children.

I would like to thank Dunya. Her book is an astonishing record, her writing at many times takes the breath away. She is a poet. Her book should be read by all those who make laws and decisions on immigration, on asylum seekers. It should be read by all those who would deal in armaments. It should be read by all of us. Don’t turn away. Read.

There is a review of the book in The Guardian where Peter Stanford expresses what I am trying to say more clearly. There are many heroes in this book. Men who work to free the women enslaved by Daesh, neighbours who help to hide the women when they find the space to run. And all the women themselves, survival in such situations is an act of heroism.

It takes courage to read it, but no where near the courage it takes to live it. And the courage of those who stand up to such people as those who inflict such suffering of others should be recognized. As well as suffering, violence and the worst of human nature written large in this book there is such grace, and beauty too.

When you read this you know, as Warsan Shire states, ‘No one ever leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark’.

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For over a year now James Mayhew has been highlighting the world of illustration and the work of illustrators on his twitterfeed. Every day he posts the work of an illustrator, some working now, some from the past, many from around the world, famous illustrators and people new to the art. It’s always wonderful to see, often reminds me of people whose work I have forgotten, and teaches me new names. To find them, follow the #BookIllustrationOfTheDay.

James has asked me to take over for a week while he is away at a school in Ankara. Wise or foolish, to hand me such a treasure? I feel very honoured. It’s a chance for me to celebrate the art of illustration, an art that needs celebrating.

Recently I was assured by someone I am working with that they would always refer to me as an ‘artist’ and never an ‘illustrator’ in any publicity. Why? Because in the eyes of many illustration is a lesser art. In the eyes of others it seems it’s easy to completely disregard. I listened to a radio interview the other day about The Lost Words where the radio presenter managed to talk for about ten minutes without mentioning my name once. Quite a feat.

I’m proud to be called an illustrator. If, however, you wish to refer to me as a ‘local artist’ I suggest you stand well back. After all, everybody has to live somewhere. And if illustration is only taken seriously by some folk when Peter Blake decides to illustrate Under Milk Wood this reflects more on those people than it does on our industry.

So, I will celebrate illustration, and I will try to curate an interesting week of #BookIllustrationOfTheDay.

In the meantime the wonderful people at Lost Words for Oxforshire are almost at their target. To help them get there I have been tidying up. I found a book.

It’s a 7th edition of The Lost Words with no words! They were lost. I think there are 8 copies. I have 4, Rob has 4 ( he’s not the illustrator by the way, just the bloke who wrote some words to go with my pictures)

I drew on one of the front pages, a small original, in pencil, ‘a gleam for a teasel’, and signed it.

I’m offering it for sale for the Lost Words for Oxfordshire at £250 ( Sold now, sorry).

It has some curious mottling on the cover. The book was sat on one of my other desks for a while, and seems to have reacted to the light from the window. I’ve asked our wonderful publisher at Hamish Hamilton to try to make this happen with every edition. It just requires removing a few copies before foiling them. I love the irony of The Lost Words.

Right, time to sit by the fireside and read, if I can find a free chair.

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Salt, sea, seals, stone, gold.

Being home, settling into a gentle routine of walking a bit, painting, thinking, reading, working, playing with gold and stone, settling my head.

Evening light and gold and stone paint beautiful pictures on the camera’s memory card. I think most of the stones I have left will be found by the sea, but you never know.

I love finding the places that are smoothed by the sea, and time, and tide.

These places are hollowed by the movement of stones, ground and shaped. Rock like ripples, colours that change with every second if the eye can keep up to see the slant of light fall.

I’ve been inking visuals for the Spellsongs at Hay Festival, to be shown on the screen that should sit between the banners. These two days have been searching for a selkie, and what better way than to enter the water. So cold, at first it feels like knives, but then swim, and the salt sea sway holds you. Just enough swell to sway and to lift, and oystercatchers cry and choughs fly over. No seals, but the memory of swimming here in this place with the people of the sea.

Jan came with me, both times. She swims far more than me. On the first day she brought a flask of turmeric tea, and after drinking it dry I asked to borrow it, filled it with water from where the fresh meets the sea, and mixed it with ink at home.

The first seal was a seal child, of ink and salt water. There’s a line in both the grey seal sell by Robert Macfarlane and the Selkie song by Julie and the Spellsingers;

As salt sets its seal on your silky skin, let green seas rise up to greet you.

I love the way the ink sits on the paper, but there was something not quite right so…..

There’s movement in this one, but he’s a young bull seal and quite big. The Selkie Boy maybe needs to be younger, so….

Third time, has movement and youth.

I left another stone this evening, swam twice, once with Jan and once with Sian. Pi had fun on the beach, but wasn’t interested at all in doing anything other than guarding our clothes.

Home now, and the sky is darkening. There’s a crowdfunder to place the Lost Words into schools in Oxfordshire. To help with this I have six of the gold remnants from gilding stones to sell. Like giant’s fingerprints they whirl in the gold. 8cms x 8cms and £40 each, which will buy 4 books ( the publisher are generous with their discount for crowdfunders)

To secure one email me, and then donate to the crowdfunder and send me your address and I will post one to you. It links to a stone, somewhere, though whether the stone is found, or washed by the sea, who knows. They are fragile fragments, but when framed they glow quietly.

Time now to sit by the fire and read. Tomorrow I go in search of larks to ink.

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