A week on the road; or, Edinburgh Festival 2017

And then began the longest blog post so get a cup of tea before you start.

On Thursday 10th I set off alone in my big black van, leaving Pi in the care of Sarah and Ben at The Bug Farm and Ivy to look after Mr Stenham. I drove the long road that leads to Crickhowell and there I found the Lost Words waiting for me, in Book-ish. On the way I stopped to photograph a dead pigeon and ate too many cherries and met the nightmare panda from another dimension. It was one of those days.

At Book-ish I had lunch with Emma, and we looked at The Lost Words together. Well, I watched Emma looking at The Lost Words, stroking the pages.

At Nicola’s, where I was staying, she showed me her dead wren she had found on a run. It was in the fridge. Beautiful, even in death.

Later I watched as Eva John, Nicola and Julia Green looked at The Lost Words and I wished that I had a sound file as they turned the pages.

At Nicola’s I found a copy of What to Look for in Spring, with illustrations by Tunnicliffe. My sister had this book and I loved it.

We walked. Someone had found one of the labyrinth stones left nearby and put it inside the great yew tree.

The next day Mimi Thebo arrived with the most gorgeous cake. Such a gathering we had, with Gillian Philips, Karin Celestine, Julia Green, Nicola Davies, Eva John, Clare Parry Jones and me. Nicola had made the most beautiful lunch.

We talked of books and the wild world and laughed and read to each other.

The next day Nic and I went off to a church, somewhere on a hillside nearby, took a wrong turn on the pathways and ended up scrambling over logs, green with soft moss, beneath fences, knees muddy, faces covered in smiles.

The church was astonishing, with painted walls and a wooden screen. But something, at the end of the room, strange, setting the hair on end. Outside in the sunshine a beautiful view of trees and valley.

I placed the stone I had brought from Mousehole in the swift running stream by a scared well.

I found a leaf, bright shadow making something strange of its dry decay.

Bright light on the water was curious strange., ripples and gold glinting in sunlight.

Then, the next day a long train journey to the north. Edinburgh Festival. I had A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne Harris to keep me company and oh what wild and beautiful company it is. Such a beautiful delight of a book.

Despite it being Scotland I had failed to take a coat and, well, as if on que for Mrs Noah’s Pockets……

Before our event James Mayhew and I did an interview for Scottish Booktrust Learning Resource and when that is edited and posted I will link to it. Then I asked if James wanted to see The Lost Words and he and Antonio settled in the author’s yurt to wander through its pages. So again, I watched them, looking at the book. Then we did our event and the weather conspired with sound effects.

I had let James take complete control of what we should do and he had made the most beautiful powerpoint that included images from Noya’s Flude. Together we made a dragon in collage to show the children how he had worked the images. I was so nervous of doing this, but really enjoyed it and afterwards a lady in the audience bought the piece for £100 which James and I are donating to Help Musicians on her behalf as this is where our work together began, in the card designs for Help Musicians.

We signed lots of books and James printed beautiful lino cuts in each book.

Later James and Antonia went off to the National Gallery of Scotland as he is working there in December, and I showed Jake Hope of SLG both The Lost Words and Mrs Noah’s Pockets.

And on Monday Caught By The River added this to their beautiful site and I feel rather quietly proud to be a part of it.


Lovely Anji Baker came to get me from the festival and tired as tired we went back to her house and the beautiful dogs. And there I was, so close to the Towie Stone, and heading home the next day, with too brief a time to see Anji, so I asked if I could stay an extra day and yes. So on Tuesday we went together to the gallery and hunted down the magnificent stone. All of them, so beautiful.

So, so lovely to see Anji, and we live too far from each other! And also, on Monday, Audrey and Brian and John, who came and went in the hustle and bustle that is the festival. Next time I will make time to stay longer. The museum is astonishing. I need to see more. And spend more time with Anji.

Back home, settling in for a short while and i’ve much to do in too short a time. Robin looked at The Lost Words and I watched as he did. And later I checked on stones that live hidden in the wild.

I’ve finished A Pocketful of Crows now. I think I might read it again. It has not a word out of place. It sings to my soul. It makes me wish to be of the traveling folk so that I could go into a hare.

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Write, illustrate.

This year I have six books out. Four are re-issues, two are new.

On Monday I will be at Edinburgh Festival with James Mayhew for the launch of Mrs Noah’s Pockets. This is a book I wrote, and it is illustrated by the wonderful James Mayhew. Originally it was to be published by Frances Lincoln, but the company was sold, Janetta, my editor there moved on to start her own publishing house and it was with great generosity that the editor at the new company, Quarto Kids, allowed the book to travel with her to Otter-Barry Books.

It was an honour and a privilege to watch as James worked, taking my words and putting flesh on the bones of my story. I love Mrs Noah. I am hoping she is going to be part of a series of books. She has a quiet kindness in her bones, a love of life, a sense of humour. You can read more about the book on another page of this blog. The book grew from a performance at Tewkesbury Cathedral, and there’s a wonderful film of James and the children on my blog, if you follow the link above.

The second of the new books is The Lost Words, published by Hamish Hamilton. This is written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by me, and what a joy it was to work with this man’s words and the wonderful team at Hamish Hamilton to craft a book together.

It has been a long journey and a great deal of time since Hay Festival in 2015 when Robert announced to a rather large crowd that we were working on this book together. At that time the book had no publisher, and as it was something so outside the realm of the wonderful novels published by Hamish Hamilton we did wonder where our idea would set seed. ( Hamish Hamilton have four novels on the Booker longlist, don’t publish illustrated works, or children’s books) However, Robert wrote a proposal for the book, I did a sketch or two, both were  presented to Simon at HH by Jessica Woollard, our agent and within twenty-four hour of this we learned that indeed, Hamish Hamilton would love to help us realise our vision for the book.

It’s not a ‘children’s book’. It’s just a book. Large format, immersive, a soul song. It’s changed so much since first we played with ideas for the book. This was one of the first sketches I did, for ‘acorn’.

Once Robert started writing it became clear that something much cleaner, less fussy, was needed. The words sing off the page. Spells, incantations, for bringing back to common usage words which once were so everyday, before our lives grew urbanised, technologically focussed. Words to summon a different focus, on to the every day wild.

Both books are now available for pre order from Solva Woollen Mill, and on their page for The Lost Words you can read more about the Pembrokeshire focus of The Lost Words.

Here’s a link to all my books on their site. Solva Woollen Mill provide the most wonderful service in enabling me to sell signed and dedicated books to anywhere in this wide and beautiful world, though if you are ordering from outside of the UK you will have to email them. The first 150 copies of The Lost Words will also be signed, via a specially designed bookplate, by Mr Macfarlane also.

There will be a launch on 28th September at Solva Woollen Mill, for Mrs Noah’s Pockets, The Lost Words, and also the reissues in large format luxury editions of the Icebear and The Snow Leopard by Graffeg. This is a week ahead of the launch in London at Foyles, and pembrokeshire in early autumn does wear the most beautiful cloak of wild, so do come. There will be seal pups around. Falcon Boats will still be on the water and we may be able to arrange a special storytelling boat trip if enough people are interested.

Illustrating and writing books is a passion for me. I’ve moved over twenty five years from contract to contract, working all through holidays, bank holidays, Christmas, Easter, trying to meet deadlines. Working with Hamish Hamilton has been a joy, but it was a fierce deadline, to get the work done in time for the publication on 5th Oct, exhibition at Compton Verney, also in October. As a result I have decided to take a rest from publishing for a while, to gather my strength, reassess my work.

I guess that is what you might call a Sabbatical. When I told someone this they asked me ‘who has given you a Sabbatical?’ Well, I’ve been self employed all my life, so I guess the answer is, me.

I should have called this blog post ‘Write, illustrate, rest’. I’m spending my time painting, writing, working with some interesting people, like Colin Riley, and soon also Fay Hield. I am working on a novel which needs unpicking, reweaving and crafting, but my head is filled with hares, fish and a desire for letterpress. I want to get ink under my nails with lino, and maybe take up an offer to do some etching, if the offer is still there. And I want to read.

I’ll be out and about a good deal in autumn, sometimes with Mr Macfarlane, sometimes alone. From London to Cornwall, The Lake District and who knows where, so keep an eye on the events page.

And thank you. It’s your support over the years that has enabled me to continue in conversation with paper for all these years. Hope you grow to love Mrs Noah, and find The Lost Words.



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Feather and stone; or, The Shape of a Bird

So many people, who know little about not much, will take to social media to denounce people who have studied subjects for years.

Walking the other day I found a feather, and wondered, if I found such a thing, but knew nothing of birds, how could I possibly understand the shape of the creature it fell from? It reminded me of the angry people, on twitter. And so I painted this.

Then I gilded some more stones. And now I have more ideas. Feathers and stones.

But once again this is what I like, from this day’s work. A fragment of gold. An accidental remnant.

Tomorrow, if all goes well, I will meet The Lost Words. It has been a long birth.

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Dragon Boat

This piece of work was begun about two years ago and has sat brooding and unfinished in a corner of my studio for all that time. You see, I had books to do, six in all, and then The Lost Words, and deadlines were tight on all of the books and I had no time to paint the strangeness that dwells in my dreaming mind. Until now.

For I have given myself a Sabbatical from books, after twenty five years of working from contract to contract. For a while I will wander where I will, drawing hares, painting, writing and thinking.

Love the gold remnant from the Sail-Eared Earth Surfer.

And I have been gilding more stones, to leave in the landscape.

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Sail-eared earth-surfer

Too many ideas and not enough time, so I decided to breathe easy with another drawing while thoughts are gathered. I’ve so many things happening over the next few weeks, with new prints arriving, book launches, Edinburgh Festival with James Mayhew and Mrs Noah’s Pockets ( 14th August) and then into the launch of The Lost Words. There is not enough time to sit at home painting and writing, too much out and about.

So, follow the progress of pencil and paper, to the sail eared earth surfer, written by Stuart Hill. Prints of this will be available. I do love playing with my printing blocks.

Gilded some of the words because I like the way the gold sits on the paper with the pencil tone and printing ink.

Meanwhile I have been making some stamps for myself and for Robert Macfarlane for The Lost Words signings we have planned.

With the help of Rhian Wyn Harrison,( I’ve known Rhian for years, went to the same school, diverged in our ways, and have come back together again, and love her witty work) who helped me to resize images, and The English Stamp Company, who were brilliant, I made 3 stamps, two wrens, two kingfishers and one snow hare. Now I want to make more. Planning a big one for signing The Lost Words at Solva Woollen Mill, and the book will be on their website soon for pre-orders. Also want to make other stamps, of hares and moons.

With the stamps I first did small paintings, twice the size of the 3cm stamps. Rhian resized them for me as I am too lazy to learn how to do this.

I bought different ink pads so we could experiment, see which colour worked best. The hare came out well. There’s only one of these. It’s Rob’s.

Time to paint. Might do a set of 20 stamps, one for each of The Lost Words. Might just make a few more……..

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Busy. Trying to settle to work and get out of my own way. Frustrated by how little time I spend at the drawing board, because there are so many things to do, but, stopped in my tracks by this the other day.

An email that came through from Yalla in Germany who had found The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow in the English bookshop somewhere in Germany. She sent me a sound file.

We are hoping to use it with a film to promote the book, but it’s too good not to share now. Get a cup of tea and let the cool wash over you. Have, from me and Yalla, five minutes peace.


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The Names of the Hare; or The Wind and the Hare.

It has taken far too long to get this far, as life gets in the way now and again and Robin had a brief hospital visit and Pi had to go to the vets. Both patients are doing well.

Trying to find ways of combining words and images, outside of the medium of books ( I need a rest from publishing after 20 years of working from contract to contract) So, here is  progress for the first of The Names of the Hare. There will be more.

All the time when I am working I am answering questions I pose to myself.

Time to move on now, to the next painting, work out new ideas, play more with the words, choose differently how to write next time. And meanwhile it’s the remnants that I find myself liking.

She is for sale and can be found in the Room of Hares, along with others on my website. Also at The House of Golden Dreams on Facebook.


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Building Bridges of Colour not Walls of Mistrust

During a short holiday break, where internet access was joyfully reduced, on the occasions when a signal was achieved I discovered a disturbing story.

The artist, Ehsan Abdollahi, who had been booked to speak at Edinburgh International Book Festival had been denied a visa to enter the UK.

Ehsan’s work first came to my attention when the wonderful publisher, Tiny Owl, sent me a copy of When I Coloured the World by Ahmadreza Ahmadi, illustrated by Ehsan. When I Coloured the World is such a beautiful book, about colour, about peace, about so many things, with spaces in text and images for so much conversation to arise.

The decline of the visa came with Kafkaesque excuses. Ehsan is divorced. The suggestion is that with no one dependent on him he might chose not to return once in Edinburgh. Perhaps the publishing world in the UK might prove just too attractive.

But Ehsan has a full time job, is published in the UK and can continue to be so.

Ehsan would have been coming to the UK to talk to children and adults about his wonderful books, to meet with artists and authors, to share ideas, to exchange thoughts. But it would seem that while deploring the antics of Donald Trump and his ‘Muslim ban’ the UK home office has been quietly emulating it. For this is the third year that Tiny Owl authors and illustrators have been denied visas.

In a world that is increasingly dangerous we need exchanges of ideas. Children have the right to meet those who create the books they love. And we have so much to learn from artists from all around the world. This denial of free movement echoes as Beverley Naidoo states in her letter to The Guardian, the days of apartheid in South Africa.

Read the article in The Guardian about the denial of the visa. It makes one ashamed to be British. This obviously intelligent, creative and hard working man, having provided information about his finances is then questioned about whether the money is really his, as if his salary as a teacher and his income from publishing is some kind of front. ( And why he should wish to come to the UK and stay for the rich pickings in publishing to be had, well, that’s laughable. )

It’s a sad story. I hope it has a happy ending. If Ehsan is denied entry to the country then James Mayhew and I will begin our event by talking briefly about When I Coloured the World, and I would ask that all others involved in the festival do the same. But I hope that the British Embassy will see the light, see the colour, and understand that culture builds bridges and that allowing the free movement of culture might just lead to a better world, a better understanding of each other.

Tiny Owl work hard to build bridges between cultures, between writers and artists and children and dreamers. I love their books. I love what they do.

It’s a small world. Tiny Owl have a big heart.

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Back to basics

Hare with a new moon.

Gold leaf and pencil.

Stones, with gold leaf.

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This is heading to Robert Macfarlane. He, I hope, will write a goldfinch, across the stem of the teasel.

Then it will begin an adventure.


I love the remnants of gold. Often these are the pieces of my work I like. The remnants.

The print set was from Scaramanga. A one off in their antiques catalogue. I foresee more things with words. Some time I hope to get some big wooden letters to play with.

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