Going to clear a space and get the type writer out again.
I write differently with a type writer.
On closer inspection it became obvious.
The fox had not been dancing alone. The Queen of Winter, who loved him so, had frozen the pond especially to dance with her russet darling. In a moment of careless abandon she discarded her crown in the garden. It has begun to melt.
They danced again on the pond the next night, beneath a sky clear of all but stars, and then she gave her rust red lover the gift of a lapwing.
He left the wrapping in the lane, still soft, beaded with frozen tears.
Again she gave him the feast of a warm bird to slake his appetite grown fierce by dancing.
And he gave her a crown of tangled feather and winter’s thorns to replace her lost crown of ice. For now the love they both carried for each other had begun to thaw their dancing place. So they curled, tired to dreaming from three nights of passionate revelry, around each other, wrapped in love and russet fur.
(From 2009. A version of this story can be found in the Barefoot Diaries no: 3)
Don’t get me wrong. I feel lucky to be able to paint and write for a living. It is only possible because people buy my books, paintings and prints.
When I was a child I was told that I couldn’t be an artist. It was what I wanted to be, when people asked me the ‘when you grow up’ question ( only after I had worked out that I couldn’t be a bear).
Until I was 27 years of age I did a part time job to fund my passion, until I could make enough of an income to quit washing up 4 nights a week in a restaurant and just paint.
For the most part I work seven days a week, partly because I do love to paint and write. I learned, eventually that I would have to travel to bookshops in order to promote my books, make them more visible, at my own expense as there was never any ‘budget’ for this from the publishers. As my children were older this became possible. As a single parent it was difficult. No childcare, parents far away, so no family support, I worked around my children. Even so, I can’t remember a family holiday we took together. There wasn’t the money, there wasn’t the time.
I have been lucky and thanks to people like you, who bought my books I was able to buy a house, and pay the mortgage. But, as a self employed person when my marriage broke down and I with it and I couldn’t work for a year there was no sick pay, etc. I managed. I can’t remember how, but I do remember very good friends buying paintings from me. They were hard times, but my children don’t remember us being poor. When I won the Tir Na Nog it paid my mortgage, phone bill, bought shoes for my children.
Recent times have been better. I have had the odd royalty cheque. PLR payments are always so welcome, coming as they do just after Christmas and more than once they have paid off my overdraft.
So, now I need to get back to work as I have a contract to fulfil and a book to finish. I am still working 7 days a week in order to do this.
And this is why I find this article offensive. Because it bolsters the myth that only those with a ‘certain background’ can be authors/illustrators. Not people like me. And to be honest, it makes me really rather cross. So, well done them for giving money to charity in such a public fashion. All the words I want to write now are rather offensive to some, so I will go, and paint, and continue to earn my living.
And if it is your dream to write and paint, don’t let anyone tell you that it’s not your place to do so and know that we are trying to make the industry a fairer place for those who come after us.
Thank you for listening.
Home in my studio again. This week has been one of sending off artwork, walking with dogs, raising money for charity, stirring a big pot of trouble, reading, reviews, thinking, and signing books in Llandeilo.
In Eve’s Toyshop the window was bedecked in animals from the pages of my books, including a beautiful snow leopard.
Inside the shop there were so many books to sign, and between talking to people and signing stock for Jayne four hours passed fast and swift. She sold the huge leopard within two days of her being in the window, but can get more. But it takes time, so if you are thinking of Christmas, you would need to move swift.
So, the big pot of trouble comes in the shape of a blog post from friend, author and illustrator James Mayhew. We often talk on the phone, and both had bemoaned the discounting of books. Independent bookshops work hard to help build the profiles of authors they love. Publishers then undermine this relationship by selling our books to high discount sellers. Although publishers can strike deals where hundreds of thousands of copies of books are sold, bringing down the unit cost of books being printed, the value of this to the author is questionable at best as the royalties received run into pennies per book, and very damaging to indie bookshops. For example, the stock in the photo above was bought and paid for by Jayne at Eve’s Toyshop. She knows that I give up my time to her freely, to support her business, and in return she buys a serious quantity of my books from my various publishers, not at a high discount, but at a fair price. My books bring people in to her shop, and with a window dressed like that we make a wonderful partnership as her shop draws a new audience to my books.
However, the high discount sellers wait for a book to be successful and then buy up and sell huge stock. People then go into bookshops asking for discounts, or using bookshops as a window to browse and then purchase online. This is not sustainable and only happens because publishers can sometimes choose to sell our work off cheap. However, these days most of us have clauses in our contract that require us to be consulted when deals like this are proposed. New authors need to be made aware of this. Because publishers sure as hell won’t play fair.
Anyway, James wrote a brilliant blog post for the Society of Authors, and there is now an on going conversation about this subject. If you are a bookseller, or an author, please go and take a look and add your thoughts. I have been told that publishing has changed a great deal in the 20 years that I have been working in it. Well, yes, it has, and not always for the better. And we, together, can bring about new changes, champion the high street bookshops by demanding an end to having our work sold off cheap. The ONLY company I will sell to is Bookstart. I consider it a badge of honour to have a book chosen for inclusion in the Bookstart scheme. They really do get books into the hands of people who might not be able to afford the luxury of owning books.
As for The Society of Authors, they helped me out when I was in dispute with my publisher over merchandising rights and this has made a significant difference to my yearly income and allowed me to produce jigsaws with Wentworths and cards and other things with Graffeg.
We need to support each other. I’m lucky enough to have built some good relationships with some wonderful indies, and on 30th Nov will be signing books in The Yellow Lighted Bookshop in Tetbury, 1st Dec in Kenilworth Books and then 2nd in Rossiters in Monmouth and Book-ish in Crichowell.
Home. This week, Celestine and the Hare, with the help of many people, raised over £1000for The Flying Seagull project. Amazing. Because we both hit a busy weekend we are waiting until tomorrow to draw the winner for the artwork that goes along with this fund raising. And by coincidence we were both reviewed in the same article in The Observer, which is wonderful too.
And finally, in the spaces in between the doing and the walking and the selling and the painting, and the posting, I have been reading The Chimes. If you love books, music, ravens, writing, get this book. I picked it up through a tweet that said it had won the world fantasy Award. It’s glorious different, beautiful, dark.
Now, I’m going to go and paint.
I have done some of the things on my list today.
The walk on the beach was filled with light and water and cold and the wind.
At home I made a gold soul of a skylark.
And I heard that the artwork had arrived at Hamish Hamilton, and is ok. And I am half way through all the art for The Lost Words.
Bracken in autumn, tangled in hedges.
A toffee waffle.
Someone once said that my blog ( which I began years ago in 2005) reminded them of The Pillowbook of Sei Shonagon. I was curious. I bought a copy and it led me on a wonderful journey across the world and back in time. And then I was flattered.
Meanwhile, I haven’t been able to post the work I am doing as I usually would. There are secrets in The Lost Words. The book needs to be experienced as a whole. So my work is hidden. Yesterday I parcelled up the latest offering and sent to Hamish Hamilton. I am almost half way through now. Tomorrow I need to settle in to more painting. It’s a big book. The work for it fills my mind in ways no other book I have worked on does.
While I have been walking the dogs and working on this James Mayhew has been illustrating Mrs Noah’s Pockets. It’s wonderful for me seeing how this work has progressed.
So, for a while I will keep on working. There will be a press release about The Lost Words soon. When the work is finished I am going to take a rest from books for a while, and draw and paint and walk and read and write and maybe play. And next year I have work in exhibitions and will visit bookshops a bit.
Don’t forget about the bookmarks for The Flying Seagull Project. You can always frame it if you don’t want to use it as a bookmark. They are rather lovely. You can buy them here.
A story. A small gift. It’s all I have to give you.
The Soul Jar.
His herd of cows was small. Each day he walked them to grass. Each night he brought them home to the safety of the ring of thorns that guarded them against wild beasts. Each day he searched out the richest pasture, with flowers and herbs to flavour the milk, and each morning when he rose to milk them he found that once again the cows were dry. Night after night after long night. He waited and watched, but saw no thieves. If life went on like this he would never be wealthy enough to find a wife. So after many mornings of disappointment he went to the wise man of the village to seek help.
The wise man listened to the story then closed his eyes and thought. At last he went to his garden and pulled a herb from it. He gave it to the man. “Before you settle to watch the cows tonight steep this in hot water and drink,” he said. “It will keep you awake and then you will see. And whatever you see you must catch and hold. Then your cows will have milk and life will be good.”
So that evening as the sun set on a dusty land the man brewed a tea and sat back to watch. Night fell. Stars shone thick in the dark. Across the land lion roared, jackal barked. The man watched and listened. In the thorn corral the cows were restless. Then he heard something. Even now he could not describe what it was. Music? A song? It came from above, from the very stars themselves and as he watched down from the sky coiled ropes of stardust fell, and down the ropes climbed seven women, the most beautiful women he had ever seen. Each woman carried a jar, round as the moon and each walked over to the cows and sat down to milk them, then, when each had finished, they began the climb back up the stardust ropes from heaven, back to their homes in the sky.
He watched, eyes wide open, as he had never watched anything before and then at the last moment, just as the last of the star maidens was reaching for her rope he ran. He ran, fast as the wind across the dusty dark, the longest run of his life and reached out a hand and grabbed and caught at her ankle just as she was climbing the rope, and he held on so hard, so fierce, that she cried out. Still he held her, and she could not move, and now the very first rays of sunlight were blushing the sky. As the light kissed her stardust rope it began to fade, and disappear. She fell towards earth and he caught her in his arms and he knew then that he loved her, that he always had, that he always would and that everything in his life that had gone before had just led him to this moment and to her.
He set her gently on the ground, lifted her pot and took her hand in his and together they walked to his hut, he looking at his beautiful catch, she watching the stars as they flicked out of the sky, one by one by one. In his hut he asked her why she had come like this in the night to steal the milk from his cows and she said that they did not know that they were his cows, her and her sisters. They had no idea that people could own another living being. But each day the cows fed on the richest pasture and their milk was the finest in all the land, and she and her sisters loved the pure white taste of the cows’ milk.
He asked her where she lived and she told him her home was in the sky.
And then he asked her if she would stay with him now, and be his wife. And she said that as he had caught her, and asked her, then yes, she must stay, but her staying would have one condition, that he must never, ever look into the jar that she carried.
She was beautiful. Her skin was dark black as the night sky when there is no moon and yet something of it sparkled, almost as if she held starlight inside her. Her eyes were light midnight lakes, her lips the darkest aubergine and her hair curled around her head so tight, so soft. He would have said yes whatever she had asked him.
And so they became man and wife, and some marvelled at this beautiful princess that the poor cowherd had won for himself, though many feared her as people fear strangers. Only the wise man knew where she had come from. Soon his wealth began to grow as her sisters no longer came down from the sky to steal the milk in their midnight raids. He bought more cows and each day would travel further to find grazing for them, and each night would return to his wife. For the most part he was kind. They had seven children. Each child had something wild and starlike about the eyes. And all the while the pot sat in the corner of the hut and grew dusty.
At night she would sit outside the hut and watch the moon grow and fade in the darkness, watch the dance of the stars. Sometimes she would sing a song that seemed to call the stars closer, closer, as if the moon and stars were listening and sometimes, on the edge of hearing, it would seem that the stars were singing back to her. On nights like this her husband would be fearful. He knew that she was remembering her home in the sky. He would grow jealous and sad that she could not just be happy here with him, for didn’t he give her everything she wanted?
One day she went to market to buy new cloth to make clothes for the children. The way was long and she was weary. The night before had been the night of the new moon and the sky had been rich with starsong. All night she had watched, so now in the daytime she was tired. She sat down under a tree to sleep for a while and woke late.
Meanwhile her husband had brought the cows home. He stood for a while admiring his herd of over a thousand beasts and then went home to find the children alone and no supper cooking. He was angry, and worried. He had felt the empty space in his bed last night and heard her singing to the sky. He had grown cold and jealous, and now he was angry, so he stomped around their home looking for food, searching here and searching there, and then he saw her jar, the pot that she had carried when he caught her, dusty in a corner. She had told him that he must never look into it. And somehow it had always been there, in the back of his mind , the question. What was inside? She had warned him. Well, he was master of this house, and she was his wife and he would look if he wanted to!
By now the children had gathered together outside and were beginning to prepare food for the evening meal for when their mother returned. He moved closer to the pot. What could be in it that was so precious? What right did she have to hide anything from him?With each question that came to mind he moved a slow step closer. What harm could it do? She would never know. Now he was standing right next to it. He put his hand on the lid of the pot, looked over his shoulder, then lifted the lid and looked inside.
His rage was like a storm in a dessert. He threw the lid against the wall where it smashed. He screamed and shouted and whirled and flung his fists about and screamed and the children all came to the door and looked on in fear and then there she was, stardust and darkness, in the doorway. She looked at her husband, she saw the smashed lid of the jar, she saw the open pot.
He raised his hand and pointed his finger and his face was ugly with rage and confusion.
“You, woman. You have tricked me. All these years. All these years I wanted to look and didn’t because you asked me not to. All these years. And what is in it? What? Nothing, that’s what”. And he kicked the pot and it rang out like a beautiful bell.
He stood shaking, shoulders hunched, fists at his sides. And she just smiled. But it was not a smile of joy. “ I knew this day would come,” she said. “At first I hoped it would come soon, but then I grew happy with you and dreaded its coming to pass. But I knew that it would come.” As she spoke tears formed in her dark ocean eyes and trickled like stardust down her black skin. With each tear it seemed that she faded from the world, just a little.
“You look into the jar and you see nothing,” she said. “And yet in that jar is all that makes me beautiful, all that makes all women beautiful. In that jar is my soul. And yet you, you see nothing. I cannot stay with you now.”
At that moment darkness fell and like a falling star she passed from the world in a blaze of light. Only then did he begin to understand what he had done. He turned to look again in the jar, to see if now he knew what was held inside he would see it. But the jar was gone too.
He lived for many years after that night, cared for his children with kindness and love. He never married again. He would often sit by his herd of cows at night and watch the dance of the stars across the sky. Sometimes he would sing. And sometimes it seemed that on the very edge of hearing the stars were singing back to him. But maybe it was just a trick of the wind.
Image: Moonjar by Adam Buick
Now and again I give work to charity auctions and there have been a fair few over the past few weeks. The above piece has 3 days to go at auction to raise money for a hospice, and here is where you can bid: Brightwells
Current bid is £700 when I updated this blogpost.
Not every has the money to bid on auction pieces, but they still want to do something to help. I love books. I love bookmarks. Celestine and the Hare has three new beautiful books out, one of which is about finding and keeping your place. It’s about more than keeping your place in a book though, I’ll let Karin explain, so just pop over to her blog to read more by clicking on this link.
As so many people are displaced by wars, economic desperation and more, Karin, of Celestine fame, and I decided to do something to try and help. I painted a bookmark and she has had them made up by Awesome, into bookmarks. Each bookmark, up to 501, as it’s a limited edition, is to be offered for sale at £2.50, and each bookmark then becomes something like a raffle ticket. For when 501 book marks are sold names will be placed in a weasel covered hat and someone’s name will be pulled out. They will then be given the artwork, the original, watercolour painting by me to be theirs forever. Both Karin and I thought this might be a better, more egalitarian way, to raise money with this image.
Karin is selling the bookmarks from her website, so please have a look. If you are buying books for Christmas presents why not put one of these in. Every bookmark enters you into the draw so you can buy one, or ten or more. The money will go to the Flying Seagull Project. ( At the time of updating this over 155 bookmarks have already sold)
So, please buy if you can and help bring a smile to the faces of those who are looking so desperately to find their place, a safe place, in this world. Here is the link to purchase a bookmark, or more than one if you want to share the love( you can always pop it into a frame if you don’t want to pop it into a book.)
And if you can share this post and spread the word then please do.
If it works, maybe we will be able to do it again.
First, on the way, like dark accidental calligraphy, a bird, on a wire. Beautiful. Sad. It flew.
At the beach to clear the fire from inside my head. With friends.
We played with water and light today. And with time.
And we found a rock creature, drinking from a salt water pool.
Pi found her reflected glory dog, and she brought her shadow dog with her too. The veils between these worlds are thin today and I am less ragged than I was. For a while.
And so the sea reminds me, in between the wave roll, in its silvered colours, of a story.
A man, alone, in his cottage.
He has forgotten how to be with people, so long has he been alone.
On this day he leaves his cottage, tucked in a wooded nook beside the land, beside the sea.
There has been a storm and many boats are lost, but not his. Because although he does no longer understand how to be with people he knows how to be with the sea.
If he wants to eat this day he needs to glean the tides edge and find the sea’s gifts.
At first he thought it was a tangle of seaweed. Looking closer kelp ribbons resolved into hair, and then he saw the broken body.
He lifted her into his arms. She would need to be buried on the shoreline or the sea would come and try to claim her. For what is once the sea’s is always the sea’s.
As he lifted her, a sigh. Alive.
Later he wondered why he took her home. For days she lay between life and death.
He fed her broth, salty like the sea.
In the evening he sang songs beside the fire, driftwood sparks, fire’s crackle his only accompaniment. Until the day she woke.
Slowly she mended. Bone knit. Together, for a while, he knew the warm happiness that comes with caring, with sharing.
Summerlong they shared the small house, and sometimes, yes, the small bed. Now he no longer sang alone. And now, in the evenings, people from the village would come and sit close to his home to hear the songs that flowed from his house on the still summer air.
When the Eistedfod came to town the preacher thought the fisherman and his bride should enter. He asked the man. Silently the fisherman shook his head, turned away, back to his nets. He did not sing for prizes, for an audience. He sang for the joy of the music.
While the fisherman was out at sea the preacher went to his house. He thought to ask the woman. Women, he thought, were vain. She would want the prize. And so he discovered their secret. And so the whole village knew. And all came to look and see the marvel.
When the fisherman came home his house was heaving with a flood of people, his friend, his love, was weeping, keening. The villages pulled at her, cut pieces of her hair ‘for luck’, touched her until her skin was bruised.
He flew into a rage, chased them all away.
That night he carried her back to the sea. By the tide’s edge they sat and sang a final song, then she slipped back into the sea. Rising to the surface she spoke a mermaid’s blessing, that for his there would be always someone in each generation of his family who had the gift of the voice of mermaids.
Nine months later, when he found a child on his doorstep, wrapped in kelp, in a crabshell cradle, he knew he would never be lonely again.