The Lost Words, Sexism and the Press. The Curious Case of the Lost Illustrator

The Lost Words has been out in the world for a while now. Both Robert and myself were delighted when we heard that it was shortlisted for The British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year, alongside Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and Philip Pullman’s glorious La Belle Savage.

I was not so delighted with the press coverage.

Good to know the press have judged it to be a ‘face off’ between Walliams and Pullman and the rest of us are also rans.

Anyone spot the missing illustrator?

It’s hard to say any of this without sounding petulant. At the end of the day it comes from the same source that sees men being paid more than women for the same jobs. At least the authors of Rebel Girls get a passing mention. I spent almost two years illustrating The Lost Words. It is a partnership of image and word, worked together by both myself and Robert. ( can I just add that Robert wanted me to have a larger % of the royalties for this book, the first time any author I have worked with, as he said he recognized the difference in time spent painting and writing for this book. I refused to accept. Words and images in partnership, always 50/50).

So, here I feel I have been hit with the double whammie of sexism and word over image.

The first person to really pick this up in public was the wonderful woman who runs the incredible @womensart1 on her blogged review of The Lost Words, which I think is worth a read. In the research for this she was shocked at the lack of my voice on the making of the book. It was almost always only ever there in the form of the images, often lavishly used with only a micro-credit. It seemed no one was particularly interested in my speaking voice, apart from Elementum and Artist and Illustrator.

So, is it sexism, or is it the way that word is valued over image?

There’s a campaign called #PicturesMeanBusiness that tries to campaign against this in the world of publishing. The campaign was launched by Sarah McIntyre and James Mayhew and has been championed by The Bookseller. I think we still have a long way to go.

I’m told by a spokesperson from the The Bookseller that the original press release sent out about the awards from the press office at The Bookseller included my name as illustrator of The Lost Words. Somehow these words, my name, then became lost words themselves as the press release was syndicated to many magazines and journals.

Philip Jones of The Bookseller said “I’ve asked our PR the same question: they think the original piece was written by the Press Association and syndicated to the other newspapers, so it was one error being repeated. We’ve asked the PA to correct this. I’m very clear that we always credit illustrators in the magazine, and on our awards materials.”`

I first spotted the article when I found it on the website of our local newspaper and couldn’t believe that they had taken my name out of the article, while copying the rest word for word.

Anyway, some time ago Robert and I were accused of sexism also. It’s not a pleasant thing to be on the receiving end of. We had been included in a list of best selling books that contained not one single female character. And while it was lovely to be included in a list of best selling books of the year, it was far from the mark. Via twitter I catalogued for the author of the piece, from acorn to wren, the female characters in the book. Both in word and in image this book contains both male and female creatures and beings. And is this important, well, yes, but the article was flawed by the wrongful  inclusion of our book and we were grateful to receive the apology printed at the bottom of the piece.

So, where is this all going? Well, I would like to know why words are still given dominance over image, when all words are is a collection of images, 26 of them. And images are easier to translate into other languages. I would also like to know why, if my name was on the original press release, it was the only name removed by the Press Association. Seems like a curious piece of editing to me.

And why does the Press Association think in the 21st century that this is a good piece of writing, or even an acceptable piece of writing, to put out and syndicate?

I only hope it wasn’t written by a woman.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Language of Liquid #3: St Cuthbert’s Otters

First, gild a stone to leave as a gift, then walk,

along the path that leads to a beach of stones, a small beach, Aberbach.

Here, place a stone in the water, where the fresh rushes down to meet the salt. Take from here a flask of the clear sweet water. Listen for a while to the riversong, the waves song, where they meet. Warm sun. Spring?

Stone, water, labyrinth. Aberbach, Pembrokeshire.

A post shared by Jackie Morris (@jackiemorrisartist) on

Back home, with new inks, choose an ink, this time Akanegimo.

Use the river water to mix with the ink, and grind for 15 minutes, trying to focus on the shape of otters.

Paint. One otter.

Cuthbert had a pair of otters, who would swim around him while he prayed, who dried his feet and warmed them with their thick otter pelts. So, 15 minutes and more river water, and drench the brush in ink and paint.

Were they St Cuthbert’s otters, or was he their man?

And I try to move towards a purer, almost calligraphic representation of the fluid muscled creatures of water and land.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Seven Questions

As an author/illustrator, especially in the field of books for children, we are often asked to go in to schools to talk about our work. It’s wonderful to be asked, and I have learnt so much from children on my visits to schools over the years ( not sure if it’s supposed to be that way round, I hope I give plenty back too).

Of late I have so many requests, and appart from the odd visit now and again, I am seeking solitude so that I can paint, dream, read, write. It’s not that I don’t want to come, just that there are only 24 hours in a day and I need the time at my drawing board for peace of mind.

When St. George’s School asked me to visit, and I explained I suggested the children send me seven questions, and that I would answer them, around paint drying, watching the birds, thinking. I wasn’t prepared for the questions they asked. Brilliant.

So, I decided to answer them with this blog post. I will be sending my answers to them by snail mail. They are hand written because writing is only drawing words and I do love to draw.

These are the questions I was sent:

Do any of your ideas for your books come from dreams that you have?

If you could read someone’s mind, who would you choose and why?

If you had to live your life as a creature, what would you become?

What makes you truly happy?

If you could read one book for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

If you were stranded on an island, what one thing would you wished you had with you?

If you could go back and re-live a moment from your past, what would it be?

These are my answers:



I asked a few other people if they might answer also. Our book The Lost Words was conceived as an idea in a few emails sent between myself and Robert Macfarlane. Once we had an idea of what we wanted to make Robert wrote a ‘synopsis’ which our agent then took to a publisher.  Hamish Hamilton published other books by Robert, but we weren’t expecting Simon, the editor, necessarily to take ours on. On his list of books he had mostly novels. Amazing novels yes, but nothing like this. When Simon saw Robert’s proposal he called a special editorial meeting and within 24 hours he said yes. At this stage we found it hard to describe the creature we were trying to make, so it was an act of faith and trust combined with wonderful enthusiasm that led to the growth of our book from an idea to a finished creature.

These are Simon’s answers.

Do any of your ideas for your books come from dreams that you have?

No – but I wouldn’t rule it out. One of the writers I publish dreamt the whole opening section of one of her novels, woke up and wrote it all down, word for word as it appears in the printed book.

If you could read someone’s mind, who would you choose and why?

My wife, Anya, whom I hate misunderstanding.

If you had to live your life as a creature, what would you become?

An owl.

What makes you truly happy?

To love and to feel loved.

If you could read one book for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

The Collected Works of Shakespeare – which contains everything.

If you were stranded on an island, what one thing would you wished you had with you?

Hard to choose between a multi-tool Swiss Army knife and The Collected Works of Shakespeare.

If you could go back and re-live a moment from your past, what would it be?

Age 4, seeing the sea for the first time.


It’s funny. Now he comes to mention it he does look a bit like an owl. And though I do not look like a dragon I sometimes behave a bit too much like one.

So, big thank you to the children of St George’s Junior School in Shropshire. Hope you don’t mind sharing your answers with others. I will get yours in the post to you today, tomorrow.




Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Language of Liquid #2

Day began with waking to the call of a curlew, winter on wings, piping in the day.

Day began with posting something off, a proposal, for something new, which may happen, but might not. Then walking the hounds.

Beautiful horses, home in the distance, a biting cold sneaking in, and impeccably well behaved dogs.

Back at home, packing up a few more things, signing a contract, thinking, then time to finish The Language of Water.

A gold addition to a name or two, ink not dry, so my hand prints are there too now, but somehow mistakes add to things these days. And I learn.

And, while I am adding gold to a Dratsie, I thought to work on some more stones. I want to paint a river otter again, and need a gift for the wild water, at Aberbach.

Meanwhile, Gloucestershire and The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop met and exceeded their target to raise money to buy books for Gloucestershire. As a result they are going to print and bind the Explorer’s Notes by Eva John to go with each book. And now Lisa Bremner has started a crowdfunder for the Borough of Bedford.

I want to lend support to her so thought that I would offer the small gold souls of words for sale, all money going to her crowdfunder. These are small and fragile, moongold leaf, the gold being 8cms sq.

Otor, above, is £40

Dwr-gi (Welsh) is £50

Lutra lutra ( Latin) is £50 (Sold)

And below, Madra Uisce, Dobhar Chu is £50

If any of these take your fancy then email me. Wait to hear from me before paying anything in to the crowdfunder. Happy to post anywhere.

Also, I have a strip of words, written today, a long typed fragment on paper torn from an edge. Edgewords I think these should be called. It’s longer, as in taller than The Lost Words, narrow. (And look how dirty my poor inky copy is getting. I am told you can wipe them clean with a baby wipe.)

This can either be £50 as it is, or I can add a small sketch of a bird at the bottom for £100. Again all money to the crowdfunder. Again email me to let me know.

And The Language of Water is for sale too, but the money for that goes to me, because artists need to eat, buy ink and books, time to dream, and play. The original is £2 600. Email me if you wish to purchase, or be put on a waiting list for a print.

And there will be prints at £450, same size as the original. (76 x 54cms)

Day began with a curlew call. It has been cold today. I’ve been wrapped in a knitted scarf, light as a spider’s web, lace-knitting, charcoal coloured. While I was cooking supper I felt something sticking in my neck. Unwinding my scarf I discovered the skull of a curled, pinned in my scarf like a bone clip. Fragile, beautiful, tiny serration on the beak snagging on the fine thread of my scarf.

Thinking of stitching all of these together from now on until I have a big stitched paper quilt of gold labyrinth remnants. I still have some left so if you wish to donate £32 to Lisa’s crowdfunder then I can send you one square, and in the meantime I need someone to show me how my sewing machine works.




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Time, ink, courage and breathe.

First a thought, carried around all day, then a sketch, swift onto paper. Then calm, breathe, grind the ink with water, for fifteen minutes, setting the sand to run through the timer. Which reminds me, this. Listen to this. 

Anyway, trying to stay focussed, the scent of the ink beautiful, subtle. Trying to hold the shape of the otter. The ink becoming buttery as I watch the sand fall through the glass, and mind wanders, and shoulder aches and scent still beautiful. Then paint, with a brush that is like a magic wand.

Now, ink, again, and turn the glass and grind for fifteen minutes and breathe and wonder if adding will add or subtract from the image but wanting to see those two tails together and grind, and try to clear the head, as the scent of the ink tries to push out the fear of failing. Fifteen minutes, and breathe in that scent then, turn the paper, pick up courage and brush and paint.

And there she is, joined by her mate.

Now, time to wash the brushes and wonder how many otters are swimming in the ink stick.

Meanwhile, in 2008 I painted some hares. Called A Small Prayer to the Moon. Two of these are for sale at a gallery in Haverfordwest called the Late November Gallery. I have no idea why they are for sale. They are small. Gold leaf and watercolour. Contact the gallery for more details if you are interested in the hares.

The otters are 58 cms x 110 cms and are £1 750. Email me if you wish to purchase these, or be placed on a waiting list for otters.





Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Language of Liquid

Evening. Time settles, quiet in the heart, but outside a storm builds. The day was spent inside, working steadily, irritated that even when away from the computer and emails the phone rang, and rang. But work was done, real work, at the drawing board.

This one began with a desire to somehow paint that thick muscled tail of an otter. This one began with a sketch.

Small in the sketchbook, this was a sketch like a map from the mind, to see how the piece would fit the page. Sometimes sketches can be this simple, other times they work themselves up to be more.

This one needed the work to be done fresh, onto the page.

Next came ink and water from the river at Abermawr, a mixture of ground ink and the bottled calligraphy ink that has a texture that eats light.

Next came words, and round and round the words I went, with the names of the otter. And still I only settled them as I wrote, one letter at a time.

It’s such a curious way to write this, breaking the language right down to its elements and things begin to unravel and you question every letter, every spelling.

I’ve been amused that when people talk about The Lost Words pages of absence they talk of a random scattering of letters. But they aren’t random. They are the twenty six. Because that is all there is. Twenty six letters. The alphabet.

Language. That’s the word on this page that I found most strange and beautiful. I love the shape of the g, and to see it used here, two in the same word…. Love the f too.

Anyway, it’s a good lesson in being in the moment, working one slow letter at a time, with no delete button! And even so I lost myself in the words, and there are two Water-snakes, the Anglo Saxon word for Otter.

Not quite finished yet. Needs more gold. There is English, Welsh, Irish, Gaelic in here. Dwr-gi and Dratsie are my favourites. And there’s the language of water and ink too.

Will be for sale. She’s quite big. And I will maybe make prints which will be for sale at £450, signed, limited edition.

Now it’s late. Rain on the roof and The White Cat has a new dog bed. Time to read.



Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Otters, ink, progress; the shape of an otter.

I wanted to gather a romp of otters to see if I was finding the shape of an otter more or less easily. I’ve been practicing with fluid ink, because when I do events I want to be able to conjure an otter onto paper using Robert Macfarlane’s words and memory. The first otter was painted to help raise money for Jane Beaton’s crowd funder in Scotland. £1000 can buy a good many books and I think this week Jane took delivery of 4 1/2 tonnes of books, in the snow.

These inked otters began at the Foundling Museum, when I was talking about my work at the exhibition there. I drew a pair of otters, but then just painted two, small. Because watercolour is my first language really……tiny, they flowed off the brush, aware of themselves in a way the drawings weren’t.

And then it began. An obsession unleashed. River-wolf.

Second and third otters followed, flowed.

The otter below was painted for BBC Wales today, though I am unsure as to whether the piece has been shown yet on TV. This one was sold to help pay my own bills.

And the otters below were painted while I filmed myself, so that I could learn, what worked, try to pull back. Always, always, always I over paint, take it to far, step past the moment. They have a touch of gold in their whiskers.

Then on to a watercolour otter, and with this one the gilding came out differently to how I had imagined. So it goes.

And then the most free, painted on paper stretched in the wild from a river, and with spring water hauled from the well. Of all the otters this flowed most freely and was sold and the money donated straight to Water Aid.

The two latest move and twist over the page, a small romp of Dratsies, painted with ground ink, calligraphy ink and water from the waterfall at the south end of Whitesands, only accessible at low tide.

Once there was a seal in the cave there and I want to paint a seal with water from the cave too, maybe on paper stretched in the sea.

I left a stone with gold on the rock wall, and as the tide was coming in, and as it was evening, I think the stone would have been taken by the sea. A thank you, for taking some of the fresh that would have flowed into the salt. Who knows how far the water has travelled, from rain, to stream to river to sea and back and this small portion now flowing into otters.

I made a note on the tissue of gold, the labyrinth shadow, soul, remnant, from gilding the stone, and this will be for sale with the otter painting.

£1000 for the otter pair. 72 x 53 cms, not for charity or a crowdfunder this time. Just to pay my bills, so I can continue to wander and doodle.

This one is now sold, but please email me if you wish to be placed on a waiting list for otters. Each otter spins off more ideas, and I have so much and many other things  should be doing, but The names of the Otter are calling and I can do nothing until that is complete.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Without Water

As the world became a little warmer frozen piped burst, and here in Treleddyd fawr it was as if the tiger ad come to tea and drunk ‘all the water in the taps’. Friday evening, I think it was, the water went off. We checked the website, reported the fault, but it seemed Dwr Cymru were in meltdown themselves, struggling to cope with a system under stress. But it would be ok. Two hours without water. No worries.

Next day they said it would be back on at lunch time. By the next day I had stopped believing. All the water was sold out in the local shop. It took until Tuesday for any bottled water to be sent round and then there was confusion over where the drop off and collection was from.

Still ok for us, in a way. There’s an old well in the village and we took buckets of water from there to flush the toilet. It’s amazing how much more economical with the flush you become when you have to carry the buckets from the well.

I took some of the water to paint with also. I work in watercolour. Hard to use, without water.

It was much harder for my neighbours. They have five horses, two donkeys, two pigs and two goats. Mixing food, carrying huge buckets to water the animals. No joke aged 60 and 65. Hauling water out from an old irrigation pond. When the water went off the pond was frozen.

As the weather warmed it became easier, but after five days I was beginning to think we might all be having communal bathing sessions in the spring fed pond also. It’s alive with singing frogs as it warms, beautiful, and newts.

I found not being able to wash my hands with ease one of the hardest things, and Jan struggled too, with the cold and the water, and the lifting and she has delicate skin so now her hands are ragged and sore. Hard working, ragged and sore.

Other neighbours are farmers, with sheep, lambs, cows, and no water….

One of my problems was that I stretch my paper before painting on it. Fed up with being told that the water would be back on by lunch time, every day, I took two sheets of paper down the beach to where the stream comes off the land to meet the sea.

I soaked them in the water, taped them to my boards and brought them home to dry.

And then I painted an otter, using the wild well water and the paper stretched at the beach.

Five days with no water, and such a relief this morning when I flushed the loo and heard the tank begin to fill. Cold water came out of the tap to wash hands, then hot. I washed hands, washed face, brushed teeth, tackled the washing up mountain, cleaned the bathroom….

but for some this is how it always is. No water, or water you have to carry, risking life and limb to fetch it. I’d been wondering how people with small children were coping during these five days. Imagine losing your child to death because of waterborne diseases, or no water. Imagine trying to cook, keep clean, grow food, with no water. Because five days without what we take for granted in the western world, turning on the tap, flushing toilets, washing clothes, five days was a trial is other people’s normality and a lifetime of this is another matter.

I spoke, in the end, to someone from Dwr Cmyru. I was aware that they had all been working so hard to reinstate our supply. Perhaps if communications had been managed with more honesty we would have been less frustrated. But now the water was back, although still a little unreliable, and we are so grateful to those who have found the problem, fixed it. And we were talking about Water Aid.

Water Aid changes lives and Dwr Cymru’s water engineers continue to work with Water Aid projects every year. So this otter is for sale, this otter who grew from frustration of being without something that is the stuff of life, who was born on the shore of Whitesands Beach, painted with ink and water from our well, to raise funds to help build wells in other lands. This wild otter who swam onto the page like a dream.

£1 000 (Sold, but there will be more otters and am happy to add people to a waiting list for inked otters, some for charity and some to keep the wolf from my door.)

All money donated to donated to Water Aid.

If you would like to buy this otter email me. I will send you the link to donate. If you could share, then that would be wonderful.

Thanks to all at Dwr Cymru. So glad you are a not for profit company. Of all the utilities sold off over the years this is the one I could never understand. No one can live without water. Water is life.




Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Conjuring owls

Suffolk Wildlife Trust have a campaign to get a copy of The Lost Words into schools in Suffolk and Norfolk. To support them Robert and I worked on a new piece that will be printed and pasted into the front of each book.

And while I was painting the owl I filmed the process, speeded up.

I also painted a feather and the Trust will make a bookmark from the feather for each child in school. The artwork for the feather will be won by someone who donates to the appeal, and here’s the link for that.
The film is curiously meditative. I’ve watched it a few times to try and see how I paint.

I love these pieces where Robert writes on my paintings, and love so much that he is drawing words.

To be read aloud, albeit in a hush-winged way.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Survey

In clearing space in my studio, yesterday I found a small notebook. It has a couple of stories in, and something else.

I guess I must have been a bit fed up at the time. Perhaps with publishers, who when you have a new book out send you the same old questionnaire with unimaginative questions and you fill in the same dull answers, again. Or maybe it was a survey by phone or online.

Anyway, I guess I had written one with the questions I one day hoped I would be asked. So, now I am asking you.

You can answer if you wish, either in comments below or on your own blog. Invite others also. And I will pick people now and again who leave answers and send some gleanings from my studio.. cards, badges, the odd book, a sliver of gold….

So, here goes:

  1. If you could see through someone else’s eyes who would that be?
  2. If you could see something one more time, what would that be?
  3. If you could make something, anything, what would you choose to make?
  4. How would you describe your desire?
  5. Do you make wishes?
  6. Do you dream?
  7. If you could develop a skill before you die what would you choose?
  8. Do you have any regrets? if the answer is no please move to question 8a.

8a. What are your regrets?

I love finding these old notebooks. Writing becomes memory, and you never know what treasure lies within.

I can do something with this, now.

This was in the pocket in the back of the book. Treasure.

I will fill in my own questionnaire some time. And I have more otterwords coming soon, and more inked creatures.

So, if you wish to answer any or all of the questions, please do.

Look forward to hearing from you.



Posted in Uncategorized | 57 Comments