About writing

A poem, by Pablo Neruda, by way of Adam Johannes, which says how I feel, to read and to write.

Poetry

And it was at that age . . . poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, not silence,
but from a street it called me,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among raging fires
or returning alone,
there it was, without a face,
and it touched me.

I didn’t know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind.
Something knocked in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire,
and I wrote the first, faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing;
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating plantations,
the darkness perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire, and flowers,
the overpowering night, the universe.

And I, tiny being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss.
I wheeled with the stars.
My heart broke loose with the wind

 

 

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When publishers listen

For years I have asked my publishers to produce my books without a title or my name on the cover. Just the picture.

Graffeg, in a couple of months time, are re-issuing The Ice Bear and The Snow Leopard. These will be large format luxury editions (26.7 x 2 x 36.8 cm) on beautiful paper. And, because they are willing to try different and unusual things they have agreed to make an ‘artists version’, kind of like the directors cut of a film. These will be available through selected bookshops and will be signed, possibly also numbered.

My feeling is that it doesn’t really matter who the author/illustrator is, people pick up a picture book because they like the look of it. If there’s no name on the cover they might open it to see who did it, and once inside you hope that you have them. People who already know and like my work will recognise it. And, with these books, which are as much art books as children’s books, instead of putting them on a shelf you can prop them up like a picture.

How to get one of these? Well, obviously they will be for sale through Solva Woollen Mill, but there are many other lovely indie shops who have supported me over the years, so hopefully they too will come on board. Places like Number Seven, Dulverton, Blue Ginger and The Golden Sheaf Gallery, Kennilworth Books,  Rossiters and The Yellow Lighted Bookshop. I’m hoping the original artwork for the covers might do a bit of a tour, starting at Mr B’s in Bath.

The Snow Leopard was published in 2007. Since then it has sold over 50 000 copies, 40 000 of these in hardback. This new edition will be more in keeping with what I had hoped for when it was first published. Ice Bear was first published in 2010, and here’s a thing. I’ve done many a talk at schools, in bookshops, at festivals about The Ice Bear, beginning with a short tour in USA at the Winter ALA. And I had always said, whenever the child is out alone on the ice look for The White Fox. Although she isn’t in the text, she is in the images, because she is his mother, or perhaps his mother’s totem animal. I was never sure. But she crept into each painting. At least I thought she did, but when the book was published, she wasn’t always there.

Today, working through the pdf’s prior to republication, I see that she is back. And it would seem that she had been cropped out of the original publication. Not sure how that happened. It was at a time when I was still learning and didn’t pay so much attention to details.

I’m especially glad to have her back on the page below.

Is she the same White Fox as the one in The White Fox published by Barrington Stoke? Well, yes. Centuries divide the two stories, but they are family.

For years I was told that the books couldn’t be produced in the large format because bookshops wouldn’t take them. Quiet Music proved this wrong, and in hand selling of that book it’s wonderful to see how people hug it to themselves.

For years I was told that you can’t have books with no title, that my name needed to be bigger on the book. I still maintain that people don’t buy the book because a certain author did it. This isn’t always true. I have all of Mohsin Hamed’s books, and Alan Garner’s. But picture books, well, they are different. And I will buy books because certain authors have written them. I love Nicola Davies’s texts, The Pond, Perfect, King of the Sky, The Promise. But when browsing in bookshops it’s the paintings that catch my eye. So, maybe I am wrong, but we will see.

And I am also working on a Book of Days with Graffeg, a lavishly illustrated notebook come diary come art book with a ribbon, small, for all those who wish to write. It’s like a colouring in book, but for writers. If you know what I mean.

So, if you are a bookshop and you want to order the Artist’s edition for your customers then contact Graffeg. Minimum order is 10 copies.

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Inside

Beautiful, cold.

I held it to my ear, but no sound came.

Patterned like river ripples.

Inside, a life, trapped in stone.

Outside, a desire.

Beneath my pillow, tucked, it lay for forty nights.

By day, though heavy, I carried it beside my heart, until the day it dropped,

casual,

into river water and in dropping broke,

split appart,

open.

On my knees I reached cold hands into fast flow.

Too late.

Now I held two hollow halves.

And, upstream saw,

just beneath the smooth surface of the river’s skin,

the flick of silver tail,

as river dragon swam to freedom.

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Court of Lions

Court of Lions arrived on the day I finished reading one book. Perfect timing. And so beautiful in its production from the turquoise case to the gold glitz on the cover and the texture and the ribbon and the size and shape.

The quote on the cover says the book will “leave you looking at the world a little differently”. Well, yes. And yes, I was hooked from the first page. And yes, escapism and passionate. But…..

More. So much more.

Two stories twine in this wonderful book. As Kate wanders the modern world and the restoration of the Alhambra Palace the world is full of the scent of cooking, the colour of the market place, the skills of crafts people and conservators and the undercurrents of racism. And as the novel spins back to the time of the fall of the Granada I began to discover the depths of my own ignorance.

Blessings is of the tribe of The Free People, enslaved and given as a gift to be the companion of the young sultan-to-be. His love for the sultan is heartbreaking. His culture, touched on, here makes me want to learn more about the ways of the desert people. And the culture and art of the Muslim people, faced with the brutality of the conquering Christians and all their cruelty is a side of the crusades that I was never taught at school, where the Christians were the conquering heroes bringing civilisation to the infidel heathens and barbarians.

This book is a book for our time. If we want to understand more about each other, where east meets west, then literature is a good place to learn and Court of Lions is a book that needs to be read.

It is disturbing. Kate’s story is one of a past that she is running to escape from but knows that she must face up to if she is to move forward. The horror of her past unfolds towards a breathless climax. And the Sultan’s story pushes towards the inevitable fate, betrayed, defeated, as he strives to protect his people from war and the inquisition.

Those undercurrents of racism, well, they’re not really undercurrents. They wash through some of the characters and their roots flow back through time.

The book shimmers with heat, beauty, of the palace and its gardens filled with fruit and flowers and fountains and colour and pattern. The scents of the streets are there too, and cooking, always cooking, from couscous to mint tea. This book is a feast for the mind.

 

I have a second copy, donated by Head of Zeus, to donate to a reader. So, if you want to be in with a chance of winning a copy leave a comment on this blog post, preferably sharing something beautiful, share the post on facebook, twitter, or just talk to your friends about the book, and I will pick a winner on July 4th. It is a wonderful page turned that will make you think, and an object of desire.

 

 

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Taking stones for walks

Last week I went away to a friend’s wedding. It was wonderful, peaceful, just lovely. They’ve been together a long time, and I think are glad to still be together as one of them almost checked out of life not so long ago. It was the best kind of wedding, revolving around love rather than pomp, and in a bookshop.

While I was away I wandered by the water placing stone and gold beneath the trees. On Thursday I am going back to see if it’s still there. There’s one in the hollow bowl of a tree also.

Labyrinth stone by fast fresh water.

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Back home, with more stones, and an afternoon gilding and thinking, then this morning I took a stone for a walk, to find some words.

A kestrel flew past where we sat in the cool. The wind is blowing from over the sea, and though the sun is warm it’s almost cold on the hill top today, but full with the sound of birds, lark, whitethroat, linnet and raven.

I found again the smallest stone that has been on the hillside for a few weeks now, and shifts its place. I forget where it is sometimes.

Coming back to my studio I look for a while at the architecture of flowers.

Now, time to paint. So much to do before I go away again.

 

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Migrations: an exhibition. With peregrines.

Recently I was informed that two of my books had been chosen to represent the UK in the Biennial of illustration in Bratislava. The two books are One Cheetah, One Cherry from Otter-Barry Books and The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow from Graffeg. It’s a great honour. The work will be exhibited in September alongside many other artists from all around the world.

I was also asked to produce a postcard, 15 x 10cms for an exhibition that will run at the same time. This is what the brief said

“From 09 to 30 September 2017, the International Centre for the Picture Book in Society (ICPBS) will host an exhibition in collaboration with BIBIANA, the International House of Art for Children in Bratislava, Slovakia. The exhibition, titled MIGRATIONS, will coincide with the Biennale of Illustration in Bratislava (BIB) and its symposium.

 MIGRATIONS hopes to draw attention to the plight of thousands of children and their families who are, as a result of oppressive regimes, violence or poverty, forced to migrate to safer places in the world. Artists may not be able to change regimes, influence governments or save the migrants, but they can raise awareness of a reality that has become part of the contemporary socio-political environment. As visual storytellers and communicators, we can continue to pose questions and challenge indifference through our work, at the same time highlighting the positive impact that the migration of peoples, cultures and ideas has had across the globe.

 An installation of between 100 and 200 postcards (or more!) from illustrators all over the world will make up one half of the exhibition. Each of these will show a migrating bird, ‘flying’ or ‘perching’ in a room in BIBIANA. This installation will in itself emphasize that culture and ideas migrate across human borders, barriers and bans. Well-known picture book illustrators such as Isol from Argentina, Roger Mello from Brazil, Shaun Tan from Australia, Laura Carlin and Petr Horacek from the UK and Marit Törnqvist from the Netherlands have already agreed to take part.

A catalogue of the postcards will accompany the exhibition and will include a foreword by Shaun Tan, the 2011-winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. This installation will complement a series of illustrations created by the staff and selected alumni of the University of Worcester, UK, and its International Centre for the Picture Book in Society in response to the theme: Migrations.”

This is what I chose to do. Peregrine, because they are pilgrim birds who know nothing of the borders of man. And because I once met a peregrine who needed help, who stayed for a while then returned to the wild. Because Robert Macfarlane has a special relationship with J A Baker and his Peregrine. Because people talk of hawks and doves, as war and peace, but I see only humans making wars.

I spoke to Robert Macfarlane, asked if he would write on the reverse for me. My plan was then to cut the image in half, to make two postcards. I had designed the image so that it would work as one, and separated. It was up to Robert which way he chose to write the words. When the peregrines returned from their flight to Cambridge what was written on the reverse was just, well, perfect. And how the words were placed to. Even the stamps were beautiful. And how fitting that our migrants travel second class.

I knew if would be hard to cut an image in half, but hadn’t anticipated how hard it would be to slice across Robert’s words.

Sharp knife.

Steady hand.

Courage. 

Beautiful stamps, from Robert.

Then I had to put them in the postbox.

I think they will be collected tomorrow. We hope they arrive at their destination. When I have shown people the painting, how small, covered with gold leaf, and said that , yes, I am going to post it, like this, no protection, they have been shocked. Cut in half, each stamped and addressed to the same place, they should travel together, arrive together, but who knows what will happen. I now wish I had put them in different post boxes. They’ve a long journey still to make and their journey began with an idea in a sketchbook, travelled to Hay on Wye, then Pembrokeshire to Cambridge and back ( protected by Special Delivery) But now they are alone and vulnerable.

But they are only paper. Paper and image and words. This is our language.

Flesh and blood make these journeys every day. Hard journeys, sometimes with hope, running from fear to fear. Some travel in pairs, or as families, many alone. Some will be separated. Some never arrive. Many of the lone child refugees become lost, victims of child trafficking. They meet closed doors everywhere they go and the fear of the settled. Is it that when we look at them we know there’s not much that separates us, who still have a home, from them, the lost, the stateless, who have nothing?

If it feels hard to send a painting out into the world like this.

Imagine if it were your child.

 

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Beneath the tree and where fresh meets salt

This week I have felt myself uncoil, unwind, relax, for the first time since finishing The Lost Words. Perhaps because now it is really finished. Before there was still the cover to complete, and rework, then polish. Now, all is done, Hay is over, I have only the Help Musicians card to paint and other than that for the first time in 30 years I have no work. I’ve been saying no to everything. I am giving myself a sabbatical. Time to unwind, rethink, re-evaluate, sort out past mistakes, move forward. And play.

Walking at the airfield we listened to the larks that fill the air here. Love the patterns made by man, being woven through by nature, small islands of vetch and rattlegrass in the pasture.

I took a stone up the hill and placed it in the shade of a favourite thorn.

I took a stone to a place where the fresh meets the salt and watched for a while as the light played with the water. On the way there we passed the bog cotton.

Aberbach, where fresh meets salt

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Waiting for a shop to open so that I could collect a delivery of prints I finished reading The Owl Service, a book that has haunted me since I was too young to understand it, but am deeply in love with. And I have been playing with a painting that is coming to Narberth with me on Saturday, where I will be gilding it, in The Golden Sheaf Gallery from 10-5, and talking to people, and signing books. And playing with stones too, most likely. My head is all owls. And I would rather be owls than flowers, but respect the  right of those who chose to be flowers.

I will also have new prints with me…… come back soon, later today, to see which ones…

 

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#TreeCharter and the Hay Festival

This year I spoke at Hay Festival for The Woodland Trust.

Both Zaffar and myself were very nervous. I had asked to go first so that I could listen to the other speakers without being nervous. Matt chaired the event so beautifully.

You can download the talk here:

Trees and threads and time and the woods.

It costs £1. I think it’s worth that, at least. It includes me reading from The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane.

Hay festival is a jewel of a festival, wrapped in ideas, threaded with thought, creative, vibrant.

The festival gives so much to so many.

There are many ways you can help support it. The archive is full of fascinating talks. I will download more to keep me painting, to learn, to laugh, to find new books.

Meanwhile you can find out more about the Tree Charter at the Woodland Trust website.

And if you wish to support Hay Festival then get in touch with them to find out how to become a benefactor.

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Catching up with myself.

Hay Festival is a big event in the book industry. This year I was doing four days at Hay. Maybe because I was there for so long, this year I learned far more about the festival than I had before.

This year, on the way to Hay, we walked up to the top of Drwslwyn Castle, where I left a gift of stone and gold and tried to imagine what the castle looked like when the walls stood strong and tall. Below the river moved lazy along its oxbow lines of desire.

I chose not to stay in Hay, but at Nic’s house near Crickhowell, which meant early starts and a short commute, but also peace, river and wood.

So, my Day 1 at Hay Festival found me in Richard Booths Bookshop as artist in residence for #HayIllustrates. I took with me three things to work on. Saturday was an owl day. I painted and listened as the floor creaked, the books whispered on their shelves and the clock outside marked time by striking the hour. People came and went and some engaged in conversation with me, wondering why I was painting in a bookshop. Many ignored me, and some people ( thank you all who did) came especially to talk and to see me.

On Saturday I signed books, gilded an owl, talked about time. Catherine Barr came by to say hello. Tom Bullough also called in, and it was lovely to see them both. Addlands, by Tom, remains one of my favourite books read last year, and I know it is a book I will return to.

Sunday was a different kind of day altogether. I was billed to do a talk for The Woodland Trust with two other speakers. We arrived early ( bringing all the things that Nic, who had left before us, had forgotten) and had breakfast, and the food tent was splendid with soft sculpted animals.

I was so nervous about the talk, which was only ten minutes, but Zaffar seemed more nervous still, which calmed me down. I had asked to go first so that I could listen, and was amazed at how the three talks threaded together and Matt from the Woodland Trust was a great chair.

I had tried to get hold of some of Zaffar’s poetry before the event, but it was only available second hand at £388. Zaffar kindly gave me a copy, and through it I found more threads, linking us all, including a beautiful piece about the three hares with conjoined ears.

 

After the talk, and signing in the bookshop, I went to Booths to paint again, this time gilding the peregrines, a special piece of work for an exhibition in Bratislava to highlight the plight of the many migrant people of the world, mostly refugees, from war and the violence of poverty. We had been asked to paint or draw birds, postcard sized. I chose to do one painting, of two peregrines. Robert Macfarlane is writing on the reverse of the card and I will then cut the piece in two, each 15 x 10 cms. They will then travel through the post, safely I hope, as postcards and arrive at their destination to become part of the exhibition. If they are separated or lost in the post there will only be the record of what they had been. So it is with many people, those who travel in search of safety.

I drew in gold on stone also, leafed labyrinths, and each morning Nic and I would walk by the river with Pi and Ivy and place the stones in running water, first pebbles from the beach, then riverstones, collected from the banks, in the water, gilded and returned.

One I left on the windowsill of new friends.

The stones in the water looked beautiful.

Small meditation, stone, gold, light, water.

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That evening when Nic and I walked the hounds before bed she took me to meet a great yew tree that stands behind the church in the village. As we walked beneath its bent branches we realise the air was alive with bats, swirling and whirling, pouring from their roost, hanging in the branches, flight like a dance in the green tent of the tree. More bats than I have ever seen. So close they came their wings almost brushed us, so many there were. Out and away they flew, into the twilight, in search of water for the day had been hot.

It seemed the perfect end to the day after talking for the Woodland Trust. A tree so old, her branches reached down to touch the earth, and twined and wove around and through each other. Such a power. Such a beauty.

The last day at Booths was all about dragons. Karin, of Celestine and the Hare came to keep me company in the shop and it was lovely to see Jayne and Roz from the Federation of Children’s Book Groups. Zaffar called in and it was good to see him again. I spent too much time talking, not enough painting and still have to finish the dragon.

Tuesday was my last working day at Hay and I was in the Make and Take tent at the illustration hot desk, painting for an hour. Chris Riddell came by with Emily Drabble to say hi and it was really lovely to see them, and to talk blackwing pencils, sharpeners and knives and the pin feathers of woodcocks with Chris.

In the bookshop at Hay I bought three books.

We stayed, because on Wednesday I wanted to see #3000chairs by Nicola Davies, performed by students from Herefordshire College of Art. I love this beautiful piece of work so much.

In the Green Room that day we met up with Sarah and Andy from St Davids. Sarah had brought her bugs with her.  

We left then, although we could have stayed for more and next year I want to see more. This year I really wanted to see Min Jin Lee and sebastian Barry but I was so tired after talking all day.

Anyway, Hay Festival, over for another year.The flowers, as ever, were beautiful, the staff and volunteers were stars as always. They work so hard to keep the show going, make us all comfortable. Thanks for having me in your shop, Booths, and thanks to the Woodland Trust for inviting me up on stage. I’d like to thank Peter Florence for having a brilliant idea 30 years ago and spending his life implementing it. Here’s to another 30 years of Hay.

Home now. I finished the owl, and am now working on this years Help Musicians card, writing a short story, thinking about another story.

Walking and thinking over the last few days I found that the labyrinth under the tree has gone. Curiously there’s a bird’s nest there now with eggs in. Not sure why it’s on the floor. It doesn’t look as if it has fallen. The eggs are the more beautiful colour.

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Thinking about trees, chasing words, following stones.

Today, on the hill, chasing words for The Woodland Trust. I’m on stage with Tobias Jones and Zaffar Kunial for The Woodland Trust at Hay Festival. The event is sold out but we will be signing books afterwards, in the festival bookshop or on the Woodland Trust stand, I’m unsure of which.

On Saturday 27, 10-4, Sunday from 2-4  and Monday 10-4 I will be at Booths Bookshop as artist in residence, for Hay Festival, painting, gilding, talking about painting, and reading to anyone who asks. Come if you can. The bookshop is beautiful. It might be worth you ringing ahead to order books as they’ve taken some stock, but not a massive amount and I would hate people to be disappointed if they want signed books. And PLEASE, don’t be shy. If there’s something specific you want to talk to me about then drop me a line via email, jackie@jackiemorris.co.uk so that I can make sure I will be there ( there will be lunch breaks,, and I may need to rest as I’ve not been well. For example, Kenji Lim is coming as he wants to see how I apply the gold leaf, so I’ll be doing some gilding while he is there. Happy to talk to student’s, children, adults, and will stop painting and read to you if that’s what you want. This is a unique chance for you to talk with me face to face. So don’t be shy.

And I will be reading Heartwood on the Woodland Trust stand on Tuesday 30th May, in the morning. Not sure of the time yet.

Meanwhile today I have been visiting trees, searching for words, soaking up sunshine and finding that one of the labyrinth stones remains in situ, a gift to a tree. It’s been there for a short while now. Love this tree, that clings to the rock, shaped by the wind.

 

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