Flower bed.

throughthe The way to the flowers is through woodland. A path filled with birdsong that slopes down to the sea.

theway The way to the flowers opens out into a valley where buzzards and magpies fly overhead. Then down to a cove, and today the water is clear as can be, inviting, calm.

clear pure

The way to the flowers can be reached by a few paths. Today I chose the steepest, straight up the sides of a green bank, and the best way to walk was barefoot, careful of snakes and of bees. The ancients knew how to build hill forts, and now the ramparts of this one are peaceful with flowers and bee-buzz and chough and raven song.

The fort was inhabited from 1st 4th century ad. It is said there are the remains of 8 roundhouses, though where I don’t know. And glass and iron and bronze working took place here. Only ghosts now. Few people come up here, or even realise that it is here. So peaceful.

fort flowerbed gorgeous heaven Flowers so dense the light from them fills the eye. And here a falcon or buzzard has mingled pigeon feathers with sea campion.

featherflowers Looking back to Porth y Rhaw I watched people walking by, following the coast path while I followed the ghost path.

porthy  thrift5 Barefoot was the only way to be, here. My feet, square like the feet of witches, felt the softness of ground here, pillowing each step. Warm in the sun we lay back, me and Ivy and Rosie and listened to the bee buzzing, insect whirring, soft air through bird wing and gentle sea sway song of the place. Peace, on a bed of flowers.

witchfeet And there was sorrel here too, with its sharp lemon tang.

sorrel bee3 inland anarm Plantain grew. It always reminds me of Durer, who knew the shape of a hare, and painted beautiful grasses.

plantain We moved on. I have work to catch up on after two weeks of headache, past tug beach where the hulls were submerged, looking back towards Ramsey Island.

tugb kidneyvetch Here there was gorse and yellow vetch and May blossom. Foxgloves are beginning to blossom. I know a place where they are thick in plenty.

may foxglove On the way back we found kingcups and water mint. And soon the iris will unfurl. Always something different.kingcups watermintBack home Hannah said that five kites had been circling the house. Hope they come back. We don’t see kites often.

And today there is a wonderful write up all about Queen of the Sky, in the Western Mail. The piece is beautifully written by Rachael Misstear. It was, I think, during a conversation with her that the book grew, from an idea, to a story, to a book.

On Monday evening Ffion and I will be at Oriel y Parc, talking about the falcon, salt water queen of the sky. Later on 31st we will be at Hay Festival, doing the same. Join us, for one or other event, or even both. westernmail ffionandf myhouse


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The week of the headache.

This week a headache has eaten my time…..

My daughter decided that I needed to change the way I eat ( as in, not having breakfast, sometimes getting to the end of the day having eaten nothing because there is no time, AND not drinking enough water.

So, she wrote me a plan.



hannah3Lovely. I bought a nutri-bullet. Brilliant. Have eaten so much fruit. Hannah was worried that my hands are quite arthritic and were quite ‘puffy’. After two weeks I can now get all my rings back on my twisted fingers. But, for two weeks I had the headache from hell. Hurt so much I couldn’t keep still and no painkiller touched it. So, I took it for a walk, to the place where the flowers grow.

bee thrift carpet littlep edgelandsAnd we went to a place where the wind had sculpted a tree to look like the inside of my head.

windyAnd in between headaches I painted an otter and curlews, called Otter hunting, curlews rising, full moon falling, for Suffolk Wildlife Trust for their Christmas card ( so late with delivery I can only apologize.)

otterhunting whiskersAnd all the while I was nursing my headache I dipped in and out of The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane. It became such a harbour in which to rest my mind. A hymn to all things wild and the best excuse I have for sitting in hedges again, as I did when I was a kid, for hunting for wild places. Such beautiful language.

readingAnd somewhere in the book he talks about hare, identifies with the hare as he wanders the land, sleeping in scrapes. Somewhere in the book he states that the Egyptian for ‘To be’ as in ‘To exist’ is a hare over running water. And so I painted;

To be….

Tobeor not to be.

ornottobeAnd now my headache has gone, I hope for a while. Thanks Hannah and Tom and Robin for looking after me. Next week I hope to do more work.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Where the air whispers through raven’s wings.

Waking again with headache. Can’t work. Can walk. To St Davids Head, with book and camera, in quiet sunshine and the cliffs are covered with waves of flowers.

Great daisy flowers, perhaps the ox-eye daisy?

whitegreen daisiesbig

Sea campion with it’s delicate bladder seed pods.

seacamp purples seacampion

Stitchwort, then bluebells and yellow cowslips.

stitchwort bluebells cowslips1

Above Porth Melgan a wind twined hawthorn I had never noticed before.


And tiny common daisies. They are everywhere, and so often overlooked, opening their small eyes to the sunshine.

daisies2 daisies vetch Squill, blushing the grass to a pale smalt blue.

stonesea sqill2

And here on the headland the ancients have carpeted their hut circles with flowers.

hutcircleflowers stones We sit for a while in the shadow of the wind and I read and a red bottomed bumble bee plunders the squill. It is so quiet that when a raven flies over the air whooshes in the raven’s wings. Swallows swoop low over our heads and a gull teases Ivy. Then I fall asleep in the warm sun and Ivy wanders off to pounce on small mice and hidden things.

redbum reading Home via thrift, more squill, foxgloves almost there.thrift squill foxgloves1 bluebells1 boat outHome. Head still hurts. Maybe if I try to paint it will stop, I will forget I have a headache. And if it doesn’t I will find again a quiet place to read. The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane. What  a beautiful book.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The phone rings

The phone rings. I answer.

“Hi, is that Ms Stowe?”


“Oh, sorry to bother you.”

“No, that’s ok, because I am her mum, do you want me to take a message? Who’s speaking please?”

“OK, the thing is, don’t panic, there’s nothing wrong, it’s the police in Llanelli.”

Heart sinks to boots, panic anyway, then remember Hannah has gone to yoga at TYF and that it would have been very fast legislation by Tory government to outlaw yoga.

“Are you ok?”


“Well, the thing is, it’s a bit of a mystery see, but we have her wallet here.”

( Remembers conversation before yoga: “I can’t find my wallet can I take some money?” “Well where is it?” “If I knew that I wouldn’t have to ask for some money.”)



Hannah hasn’t been further East than Solva for a couple of weeks. Hmmmm…….

“Ok. It’s like this. Gentleman has handed in her wallet. But he was Polish, we think. Hardly spoke a word of English. None of us could understand him. Think he might have found it in some recycling or something.”

“Is it empty?” I ask.

“Now, there’s the thing. No. Has money in it, bank cards, driving licence. That’s kind of how we traced you. Seems you reported something to the police 6 or 7 years ago so your address came up on the system.”

Thinks back. Lost dog. God bless you Bella.

So, with all the nonsense i hear in the media about mistrust of foreigners and immigrants can I just let one small piece of the world who read this story know that somewhere in Llanelli there is a young man, who might be Polish, and a policeman who are both wonderful, honest people. And a policeman who tracked down my daughter and phoned to say that her wallet was there.

Thank you.

As to how the wallet transported itself from the bed in my studio, the ‘last place she used it’ to llanelli, well, that will always remain one of life’s small mysteries. But I am very grateful for that honest act of kindness.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments


The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems has moved into its 11th edition. To celebrate I will be giving away a signed copy. But how to decide who to give it to? cp1First published in 2006, this was a labour of love. I spent months reading poetry, choosing, with the help of Tessa, the editor in chief at Barefoot (who at one point said, ‘it’s Classic Poetry, not Romantic Poetry!’) It took about a year to illustrate it. And somehow Ivy made it into the book, even though she wasn’t born then.

cp3 cp2

The book is dedicated to Ffion, of Queen of the Sky fame, because she loves poetry.

So, here’s how to win a copy. I need more beauty in my life, and I need to learn more, so, tell me, in comments to this posting, your favourite poem, your favourite poet. Say what it is that sings to your soul and if you can link to it on the web do, or to a book that the poem resides in.

I will wander through the comments, randomly sending out cards to some people and in about 3 weeks or so will pick a winner. You can then choose who and where I send the book to.

So, which poets make your soul sing, and why?





Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

A pilgrimage to the place where a story began.

Queen of the Sky, like any story, began with a stream of things converging. The idea for the piece as a ‘book’ began during a conversation with Rachael Misstear from The Western Mail.

I had emailed Rachael to talk with her about some paintings that were included in an exhibition at The Botanic Gardens of Wales. Now, as a reporter Rachael has to deal with some awful stories, truly terrible acts of violence, injustice, horror. This is what ‘news’ is, can be, and someone has to tell these stories, but to carry these all inside must be terrible. So, as I was talking about this story of a bird brought back to health and freedom by a friend she said, ‘this story is too good not to be shared. You should write a book about it.’

Afew days later on a journey to Birmingham with Matthew and Peter from Graffeg I discussed the idea and they both said yes. Let’s do it. This was november. How amazing that within those few short months we turned around the words and the images, with the help of Joana, the designer, and Nicola Davies who edited the text for me, making me really think about what I was saying, to a book that now waits to fly into the hands of readers.

Today Rachael came to visit, tired after the election. The sun shone. Voyages of Discovery had kept two places on the boat for us and we headed off to St Justinians to visit the site where the story really first began.

hannahwHannah was just coming in from a trip. There were some changes of crew, then we headed off on what was to be one of the warmest trips I have done around Ramsey Island.

lifeb bitches At the bitches the water was dancing. There were shags and cormorants drying their wings on the rocks. What amazed me was how the colour of the water changed with every single turn of the head.

bitches2 colour

greengold beautiful There were razorbills and guilemots, kittiwake and raven, chough and the terrible black backed gulls. There were seals in plenty, playing at the sea’s edge, at home in the water, rising and falling with the swell and the sway of the sea.

bills ffitalking At the front of the boat Hannah ( not my daughter Hannah, but another, seems all the crew will be called Hannah this year!) Ffi and Rachael talked of the peregrine, life on the water, more.ffiquiet On the island the land was flushed pink by the thrift. Black tar lichen darkened the cliffs. It thrives on salt water so you can see by the photographs how high the sea will reach when the weather is rough.risland edge sealshead


Rachael loved everything about the trip. The wind, the salt on skin, the warm sun, beautiful island, birds, the learning, colours. At just the right time a peregrine came in to view.

r ditched cave

As we came out from the cave Ffion pointed across the sea to where Hiss had landed on that fateful day. She had flown across the bay, low over the water and then into it. Had Ffion not been looking, not driven over in time, not reached into the sea to lift her up onto the boat there would have been no story. Peregrine. Pilgrim bird.

This was our pilgrimage to where Queen of the Sky began.



When Rachael asked Ffi where she thought Hiss might be now Ffi smiled, a sad smile. “She could be anywhere.” Our hope is that she is somewhere, in the wild, wide, wonderful world, up to fierce mischief.

You can read more about the amazing fallen falcon here, in a slideshow from The Guardian online, and also in the book, available, signed from Solva Woollen Mill.

( Thanks Ffi and Hannah for a brilliant trip, and Voyages of Discovery for finding spaces for us at such short notice. Do take a look at their website. Such beautiful photos. Every trip I have been on with them has been different.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

This Week.

raggedfThis week, far from Westminster, I felt rather like a ragged feather. So I painted one, hoping it would settle me in to work. Painting this dark and ragged creature that had once flown was a kind of meditation and it settled my spirits.

misterfThen I painted an image for the Kids need to Read calendar 2016.

And I spent some time over a couple of days with my lovely friend who has moved away, Deb. It was good to see her, have some time with her, and Gypsy Blue.

debsdI bought a tea set for some felted bears.  Beatrix Potter is wandering around in my mind at the moment. I love her work, so under rated because of her subject matter.

teaset teaatmillI had a book launch for Queen of the Sky and now people are getting in touch to say that they love the book, which feels so much of a relief. As Ffion, months ago, sent Hiss back into the wild, so this book is now released into its natural habitat, bookshops, readers.

mill1 mill2 mill3 mill4 signf birdf littleb Betsi showed Ffion how to sign her name.

talkingatmill hawkwalkingWe met a beautiful Harris Hawk.

I also met a Wolpertinger.

volpertingerIn Dulverton Davina made a wonderful display of Queen of the Sky. She also has signed copies. Hanging in the window is the peregrine Chris found, mentioned in the book. A failed hunt. She crashed into the ground, a claw-full of blackbird feathers clutched tight, the body of the blackbird, broken, a few feet away.

And I walked with Mr Stenham and The White Cat and we met horses.


I voted. I read, from The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane. And I drew a running hare.

harerunningNext week, far from Westminster there will be otters and curlews and other surprises.

(NB: signed copies of all of my books in print are available from Solva Woollen Mill, emporium of woolly delights.)


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Miles From Westminster

I will not be miserable. I will not feel downhearted. I will not feel oppressed by a system that disenfranchises me. I will create, write, paint. I will strive for beauty, fairness, justice. I will. I will.

I will begin with a hare.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Early Life of Mister Finch; or the importance of reading.

sketchbookIt began with a sketch.

Every year I produce a piece of work for an organisation in the USA, Kids Need to Read,  who work to get books into the hands of children who don’t have access to them, for numerous reasons, mainly poverty.

Last year I painted The Places Reading Takes Me.

elephantmonkey-1024x753 2015cal

All of the pieces I have produced are available as affordable prints from USA ( they will post anywhere, so don’t hold back) This blog post has links to each print.

In the UK surveys suggest that three out of every ten children own no books. I had very few at home when I was a child but I did have a library card. Reading books changes lives. You can learn facts, empathy, escape from the day to day troubles. You can learn ideas, different ways of thinking, how to express yourself and communicate ideas. Reading is important. Reading and freedom are so joined in my life as to be two halves of the same coin.

This is why I chose to give my time to the support of Kids Need to Read.

So, this is this years piece for them. The fox on my desk, sitting so still and so steady is by Nichola Theakston. (She does beautiful hare sculptures too and her hares were used as the prizes in the Lush Award against testing on animals.)


The piece is inspired by a beautiful sculpture by Mister Finch, a textile artist in the UK. His work is beautiful, and can be found in a wonderful book, The Fairytale World of Mister Finch.

Before I started the piece, which had haunted my imagination for a while I sketched out the idea and sent a picture of the drawing to Mister Finch himself to request his blessing. You see, it is based on, but not copied from, his beautiful curled and sleeping fox sculpture. So, I felt that I could not go ahead with the work without first asking if he was happy for me to do this. ( I am not the only person who has been suffering from plagiarism of late. Many of my friends have and Mister Finch himself has his copyists. I know that people say we should be flattered, but there are times when it is hard to be so. And also it can be irritating. Often work is copied with no reference to the originator or influence, no link, no thanks and a claim that the work is ‘original’. )

Mister Finch not only gave me permission but generously said that he was flattered to be an inspiration ( I love his generosity. He so often shares wonderful work by others, introducing beauty into the lives of many.)


The image shows a young Mister Finch. In his early life he was brought up by foxes and would often read to them by moth-light. It was during this time that he learned the shape of many things; the shape of a fox, the shape of a moth and the shape of the heart.

NB:All of my books in print are available for order from Solva Woollen Mill. Not only do they package them beautifully, but they will post from the small valley to anywhere in the world. And when you order you have a space to dedicate the book, or just have it signed.

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

The Way Through the Woods; or, The Lost Words, Found.

This is the way, the way through the woods. And Mary and Leopard had promised Little P they would take him, to find the stone seat, the bluebells and some words that were lost.

“Are the words lost in the woods?” Little P asked.

“No,” I said. “But some are lost from the junior dictionary, and some of us who love nature, love words, are concerned. Let’s see what we can find when we walk in the woods.”

We walked through a field where willow were weeping, catkins dangling over a stream that ran by, and into the wood, and here we found violets, purple and shy. Sycamore trees, chestnut and oak fringed the pasture field, dotted with buttercup, daisy and dandelion that led the way to the woods.

violets Leopard found kingcups, like buttercups, golden as gorse, but bigger.

kingcups2 kingcups Panda found moss and fern, ivy growing close to the ground. Little P was excited to walk in the woods, searching the lost words out.

“Where do the words go to?” asked Mary. “Why is it important to know the names of things?”

“Well,” I answered, to give myself time to think. I listened to the birds sing, woodpigeon, wren, rook and jay, and high overhead the dark croak of a raven. “It’s hard to explain in words.” I answer.

“I think it has something to do with understanding the value of things. We name the things we love. Knowing the names of things helps towards seeing them, realising their value, holding them in hearts and minds. Not value as in how much a thing costs, but value as in terms of what a thing is worth and to me a single goldcrest is worth more than all of the gold in the Bank of England.”

Mary and Little P and Leopard looked at me and tried to understand. We walked on.

softm The bluebells were bringing a soft blue blush to the greenwoods.

“So,” said Little P, “if I find something, but don’t know the name of it, does that mean I value it less?”

“Not if you see it, Little P, if it delights the heart and the mind. But there are things that you might never see, but it is important to know the names of the things. I seldom see an adder, but I love the thought of them in winter sleeping underneath the ground, dreaming snake dreams and waiting for summer. Knowing the snake, that snake, is called an adder makes it live more fully in my mind’s eye.”

We walked on, all deep in thought, to the stone seat.

theway Ivy found oak leaves beneath her small feet.

ivydog The stone seat is a place where magic can happen so we sat for a while and thought about words. This was a place where an elf might live, or a dwarf or a goblin. Ivy and Rosie went off to look for some.

magicplace Fallen oak leaves from last autumn made a beautiful brown, copper carpet across the earth. Birds sang in the peace, fern and moss and ivy grew all around. Somewhere a magpie chattered. Little P loved the stone seat. He was so pleased that Mary and leopard had brought him to see it. Last time they came alone, for Little P had not been born.

leavecarpet gooddogs Further along the path Leopard found more wild garlic, enough to pick a basketful to make into soup for supper.

wildgarlice “Bluebell,” said Mary. “You say that bluebell is one of the words that is lost from the dictionary?”

“Yes,” I answered. We looked at the bluebell, delicate flower of the woodland. Soon the air would be a haze of blue from these flowers that carpet the earth here in the wood at Abermawr. We looked close at one flower. Blue bells hanging, petals curved, perfection and so many shades of blue in one small flower, and we all wondered at the loss of such a word, from the mind of a child, from the page of a book, and also from the woods.


Mary found a hawthorn tree. There were hazel here too. Now a thrush was singing away through the woods, singing the praise of the beautiful bluebells.

“Does the thrush know the name of the flowers?” asked Little P.

“I suppose the thrush has his own language for flowers and all things Little P,” I answered.

“His word for the bluebells is beautiful,” said Mary. Leopard smiled.

hawthorn ivyets woodsorrel fallen oakleaves Out from the woodland, over more pasture, where bullocks grazed and martins zigzagged paths through the air, we walked towards the sea.waytosea Leopard found daisies. Mary found dandelions. There were stepping stones over the brook.daisy lions The bank by the sea had burrows of sand martins peppering the top, and again the small birds criss-crossed the sky, chittering and chattering in busy flight.

burrows We sat for a while. Behind was the marshland where otter and newt live and kingcups and water creatures.

valley stonesea Back in the wood we found wild white wood anemone, celandine, more bluebells and moss.

anenome mossb The way out of the wood had stone steps, a field, surrounded by tall trees.

Mary said, “Do you know the names of all these trees?”

And I said, “No. I don’t. I love trees, the height of them, the magnificence. I love the way they give home to the birds, the sound the wind makes when it blows through the leaves, the dance of those leaves at the wind’s touch. I love that beneath the trees, in the soil there are fungi that help the trees to grow. Hidden things, sometimes huge. I love to think of the language of trees, how maybe, just maybe they communicate with chemicals, not a spoken language like ours.”

“Perhaps,” said Mary, ” we might learn all about trees, and learn the names of them one by one?”

And I said, “Yes. Let’s do that. It’s time I knew more things about trees. I tell you what, let’s get a book, all about trees.”

stepsNB( The Oxford Junior Dictionary made a decision to replace some words in the new edition. In the story above the lost words are emphasised in italics. Acorn was dropped. Attachment replaced it. Bluebell fell out of place to make room for blog. Conker was replaced by celebrity. Why does this matter? Surely these ‘modern’ words also need to be in a child’s vocabulary? It matters to me because over the years I have see a de-wilding of children’s books happen. There is a trend in children’s fiction towards urban dystopia, away from the kind of books I loved as a child. And a dumbing down of language too. When I was a child I adored Tarka the Otter. Its rich language is so vivid that I doubt the book would make it past a modern editor. And yet it is still in print today when many of the novels published now will be gone in 5 years, or less.

We are a species who think in words. This is almost too obvious to state in words. But that is why words matter. By devaluing these words we devalue the very things themselves.

Other people express what I feel better than me I think. Here Adam Nicholson talks about Robert MacFarlane’s wonderful book Landmarks with its glorious word hoard of natural descriptions. 

Here George Dvorsky Talks of the importance of wilding our language and our imaginations.

And here is a link to the open letter to the OUP. Signatories include Margaret Atwood, Mark Cocker, Robert MacFarlane, Nicola Davies, Helen MacDonald and myself. The letter was orchestrated by Lawrence Rose.)

So, how do you explain the importance of such words to a child? Maybe by taking a good close look at the glorious beauty of a single bluebell. Kingfisher. That’s the word that breaks my heart most. Kingfisher. And I can still remember the utter awe I felt in my heart, in my soul when I saw my first kingfisher and it was like meeting something from another world, so bright was its beauty.



Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments