1 365 miles.

Seaways

 

Like all things it began with a good idea. I realised some time ago that books don’t sell themselves. You have to get out there and sell them. With five books out this year I began to talk with independent booksellers about working with them, in their shops, in different ways, to try and reach out to people. And so I packed many things into my van and set off with hopeful heart on the first leg of my journey.

16 miles away in Fishguard I signed books for Seaways and took away some of their surplus hare stock, well aware that I was headed to Ennerdale to a school where there were no hares. The sun was shining. I signed books and headed on my way, up the coast towards Aberystwyth, to the Welsh Books Council, to sign stock for them. I felt a little like Rapunzel, with an endless task and long road ahead, but am so glad to be receiving the support of the Welsh Books Council who distribute my books into many new places. Great that they now have signed stock.

wbc

 

But the tour wasn’t only about signing stock. My first stop was a school in Flint. They had asked if I could find time to visit their school as one of their children had died, so young, so very young, and they wanted to have a day to celebrate him and his life with the children. And Gethin loved dragons. There can only be one answer to such a request. So we spent the day talking about dragons, and the teachers had put a giant dragon egg in the grounds, and we played with paperboats and I sat in the beautiful story chair and read and then painted a small blue guardian dragon to leave behind in the school. At the end of the day I signed books for children who wanted them ( thanks to the school library service there for making this possible) and I also signed a book for Gethin, at the request of his parents and although it shouldn’t have been it was one of the hardest books I have ever had to sign and I hope I did my best for them, but my heart goes out to them, for what can you say? How does anyone find the courage to go through such a thing. And the day was filled with life and light and magic. A good day. A beautiful chair. Wonderful memories.

Gethin's chair Gethin's dragon

 

I drove away to smiles and waves from children, to stay with my sister before heading south to Sherborne in Dorset, where life became wonderful strange.

I was working in Winstone’s in Sherborne and staying with Paul and Helen Stickland. Helen and I bonded over a stuffed otter. Their dog was a tiger hound, elegant, beautiful. And Helen also had a badly stuffed Jackalope that travelled on with me on my strange journey. Hoping to get his antlers restored, if possible.

Tigerdog hare

 

And working in the bookshop the next day was a pleasure. I was there all day so in the morning did a small painting of the tigerdog and in the afternoon a hare for the bookshop and in between laying on colours I talked with people and signed books and soon there were no more copies of hare  or dragon and people bought armfulls of hardback books. And the people were really interesting and interested.

Winstone's bookshop hare tigerdog for Helen and Paul Books at Winstone's

two

This is where the trouble started. I now had added one stuffed otter, a jackalope, and several books to my van. That is the trouble with working in independent bookshops. They are filled with beautiful books chosen by passionate booksellers and Winstone’s must be one of the best.

Tired after painting in public I said goodbye to Paul, Helen and Wayne and headed off towards Lyme, with the otter navigating. Needless to say we became hopelessly lost as he wanted to travel by ditch and by stream and I wanted to stay on the road. But the views were wonderful, especially when I found myself at the top of Pilsden Penn.

navigatingotter

 

At last we came to the place where we were to rest for the night, the home of Bee and Chris, owners of the wonderful Serendip, a beautiful converted barn with space all around and fox barks at night and green everywhere. This was why I had wanted to tour. Not just to sell books, but to get out and see something of Wales, something of England.

Lyme was great, and Serendip lovely, with books in the window. I painted and talked, had the strange experience of meeting Jackie Morris. Quite odd. And also met friends I hadn’t seen for years. I painted a jackalope. It seemed right, and left her behind in the bookshop with Chris and Bee, who were amazed by the sale of so many hard back picture books. And we took time to stroll and to sit and to watch people pass by too. The evening before Bee had asked if I liked folk music. Seemed that someone called Maddy Prior was singing, and they wanted to take me. I was so excited and took a signed hare book to her, but courage failed so I gave it to stage manager who delivered it to her. And she was wonderful as were her fellow performers. Just lovely.

jackalopelyme seafront serendipwindow serendip2 serndip

 

From here I went north, to Frome and back to Hunting Raven who had decked out the shop with Golden Hare books, but people kept coming and buying them. An evening reading hare and Evie with a wonderful audience who knew the magic of hares, then a school visit and a wander around Frome where I stumbled upon the wonderful work of Gladys Paulus that I had only seen on facebook. Needlefelting Like you have never seen it before. Her work is just marvellous. We are hoping she will loan a hare to the bookshop for their window. Maybe also a raven?

gp2 glp hrwindow hrbooks

 

There was also a wonderful pram in Frome, which needs an elephant’s child in it.

pram

 

After Frome a day off. My mum’s 80th birthday. Then travelling to Tamsin Abbott’s beautiful house with a garden like an orchard hanging with fruit. But I went via Tetbury and the Yellow Lighted Bookshop, where the church bells were ringing as I arrived and Hereward had copies of the books in the window, on the table ( still waiting for publishers to deliver hare, but he has them now I am told). In Tetbury I also found beautiful blue stones.

tetburywindow tetbury

lapis

 

We travelled on, stitching the map of the country together as we drove along roads where trees made tunnels and over stone bridges and high hills. At Tamsin’s we slept in a barn room in the garden and ate our way down the path picking raspberries and damsons, apples and pears. Hannah Willow met us in Ledbury where we visited Tinsmiths and were blown away by the building and the fabrics and beautiful things, and the wickedness of the naughty cat who lures you into a false sense of security before pouncing!

garden evilcat tinsmiths

 

In the afternoon Tamsin and Hannah and I painted and drew at Blue Ginger, then in the evening we had a supper of words and food, a feast for eye, mind and soul. I want to do more events like this. Something different, not just a reading, more than a supper. It was lovely to see how people mingled, great that people came from far and wide. And Blue Ginger and Sue Lim just have the most beautiful way about them. Sue’s cooking is a dream.

tamsinandhannah janetta2 blueginger5 readingevie foodatblueg lookingatbooks blueg

 

After Blue Ginger we were back on the road heading North to Oldham via Much Wenlock and Formby. In Much Wenlock a duck joined our happy curious cavalcade, and upstaged me with her quiet beauty at every turn. I read Evie to a woman who had travelled all the way from Derby, and though she was the only one in the shop while I read it there was something wonderful about just reading quietly to one other person. People came and went and the bookshop itself was like something out of a bookshop and Anna was lovely and I painted and talked and read again and left behind another bookshop hare like a watercolour footprint, and a pile of signed books. It was the day after the How to Draw a Hare article came out in the Guardian online so I painted something very similar. I took away a story about a Polish grandfather and a race through the twilight forest on skis with wolves close behind, and a tower in the forest with high windows where as it snowed the banks of snow around the tower grew higher and higher until wolves circled and peered down at cold hungry people trapped inside. Gems of stories, threads to be woven into other tapestries. Memories.

annadreda

 

opposite

duck

somebooks loveaduck

muchwenlockhare muckwenlocktable

 

 

Onwards, to Formby where Tony Higginson is passionate about books, reading, the local community. The window was filled with my books and we scooped them up and took them away to a place where I read in a church hall and people came to listen and question and bought books and even the journey to Formby was exciting as the blue of the sky and the Humber Bridge were so beautiful. And I met Cathy Cassidy who struggled away with arms filled with signed books, and then on to Oldham we went, to stay in the White Hart on the edge of the spectacular Saddleworth Moor.

cathyrunningaway cathyandme formbybookswindow bridge formby2 formby

 

At Oldham I was staying for two nights and working with Amelia from Madelaine Lindleys, who I love to work with. Again, passionate about books, literature, reading, she took me into a school in the morning, St Hilda’s and the children were so wonderful and enquiring and greedy for stories and images and full of life and wit and wonder. In the afternoon I painted at their teacher’s centre and talked to about 200 children and showed powerpoints and read stories and left behind a small bookshop dragon, another stepping stone as I stitched a map of the country in my mind. For now the longest part of the journey began as we headed North to the borders where the rievers live and the land is wild.

madelainels2 aboutab madelainel

 

On the way to Ennerdale Bridge ( well, kind of on the way) we called in at Audrey’s for lunch and met Tom and Brian and some of Tom’s hoovers and Audrey’s beautiful dogs and pigs and Audrey made us the most beautiful lunch and it was good to stop for a moment and just rest, before heading off again to Ennerdale, where the warmest welcome awaited. Tom loved my van, and Robin.

dogrug tomandr

 

So, what can I say about the Lake District as this turns into the longest blog post? I had been invited up by June Pearson and Wild Ennerdale, my second visit, to a school with 60 or so children. The idea was that we would, over two days, take the children out of school, a walk of about a mile, to the scout hut where we would read to them and spend time walking and listening and watching in the woods. The third day Rachael from Wild Ennerdale would take me for a walk to talk about their work in the valley, about squirrels and other things. I thought I was prepared. Nothing can really prepare you for such beauty. The light over the land alone was wonderful.

 

beautyl

 

lichen

The air was so clear the lichens grew thick on the trees.

junereading

June read from Tell Me a Dragon while I got ready to paint. It was lovely to hear someone else reading it and to see the reaction of the children to each page.

jumping

They children jumped ditches in the forest that had a carpet of moss and autumn.

trees

Sunshine, shadow and green and sweet water streams flowing clear to a lake where Arctic Char lived, marooned since the last Iceage, rare, beautiful. They spawn in a two week period, laying their eggs at night in the gravel beds where streams meet the lake. Red gold underbellies, shaped like salmon. I never realised that the life of fish could hold such romance.

clearwaterstreams june

June and I walked with the children, while Robin drove my van to the hut so that all my paints and books would be there and I loved the silver birch saplings that reminded me of pages from East of the Sun and were gold against pure blue cloudless skies.

silverbirch

On the first day I painted a wolf for the children. A wolf in the woods.

wildwolf wildwoods4 ennerdalewild

On the second day we had a larger group so I painted a squirrel in the morning. It was my wish and desire that I might see a red squirrel while I was there and on the walk up we saw the most beautiful creature. Delicate, deep red, high in the tree, like something from a fairy tale he leapt across the divide from one side to the other, sure foot flying squirrel. Pure beauty. I tried to capture what I had seen but it was a pale shadow of the real thing.

ennerdale4 ennerdale1

One evening I talked about books and read and people bought signed copies and the sense of community was wonderful. So much so that they were able to raise the money to buy the pub, The Fox and Hounds, when it was threatened with closure and it is now run by the community and as there was wifi, well, it would have been rude not to go. And here I discovered that I do like blondes after all. Especially when they come in a glass. The Ennerdale Micro Brewery with travel miles of 2 1/2 miles from brewery to the door. Just lovely.

schoolennerdale hillsfells wildwoods2 wildwood

Meanwhile, back in the woods, we met a juniper bush that was 1000 years old at least, and wandered beside Sithy’s Beck where the footprint of ancient longhouses could still be seen, the dwellings of people who had mined iron ore that was smelted at the beck’s entry into the lake and forged into metals and tools and weapons.

We saw a great heron fly over the tree, grey wings against blue sky.

juniper1000 smithybeck lakes5

And I met a man who, every year would trap red squirrels for two weeks of the year in an attempt to discover how the population was faring, whether the greys had entered the valley, or squirrelpox. He told us much about these small beauties. He also talked about the day the people came to his farm to destroy his flock of sheep that he had bred over years of work. You could hear the pain in his voice, see it in the way that he stood as he spoke of these dark days of foot and mouth. Some of us forget. Others carry the memory in their souls. He has no sheep now, rents out his land. A different kind of heartbreak. But he said for years after the ministry would phone up and ask to inspect his flock. Eventually he let them come and when they turned up gave them a shovel and said he hoped they could dig deep.  Just so sad. Wonderful man. Loved the land.

brian

Around us the broad leaved forest hardly showed a hint of autumn. I could hear siskin in the trees.  There were wood peckers and tree creepers and all manner of small birds. And peace, space and beauty.

lakes3

On the last evening I went to The Hedgehog Bookshop where I read and talked about books in the hotel next to the bookshop. Liz is a rare thing too, a bookshop expanding to 3 times the capacity of the store they have now. And independent bookshop that is thriving. She had copies of Song of the Golden Hare that had arrived that morning, only one rare copy of Evie as all others had sold and that went so fast. And other books too. And again the evening flew by with stories and questions and sketchbooks and answers. And I connected with Liz because someone bought a copy of East of the Sun online and she tweeted about it, and so I saw that there was a shop in Penrith who stocked my books and asked if she would like me to call in and sign for her. And I loved Penrith because nearby was where ‘Withnail and I’ was filmed.

penrith

 

3 days in the Lakes wasn’t enough. I want to go back and have plans. But we had to leave to drive the 257 miles to Cheltenham. And so we did. But I think I may have left a piece of my heart with the Arctic Char and want to go back to see them spawn in the cold lakes in the moonlight. There are freshwater mussels too. Rare, so rare.

On the road to Cheltenham we saw an old vw. And in Cheltenham it rained. Not just a bit, but the way you expect it to rain in the Lake District.

cute

And in Cheltenham I talked about hare, and I painted in the book tent while queues of people stood in line to get books signed by Mary Berry and I talked with some people who loved what I was doing, which was quietly getting on with a painting and feeling at ease in my space. I painted until all the books were sold. But it didn’t take long as there were too few there and no copies of hare so I gave people the address for Solva Woollen Mill where they can order signed copies of all of my books that are still in print. And they seemed happy with that. I met wonderful people again including a French family who knew my work from The Snow Leopard, and Jo from Waterstones in Cirencester who I am looking forward to working with.

chelttent cheltenhamhare lackofbooks chelt10

That night I stayed with the wonderful Nicola Davies in Abergavenny. She, like me, had had a problematic time at Cheltenham. There was only one copy of her new book, The Promise, for sale, which put her one up on me. There were no copies of hare and few copies of anything else of mine. Staying with Nic is always a joy and we all headed off in different directions. I took the slow road home and thought about the past few weeks.  Because I had visited independent bookshops the roads I had travelled had all been beautiful, no cities, just small towns. And because I had visited independent bookshops I had met with amazing people for whom book selling was as much a passion as a job. And because I had visited independent bookshops my van was full with beautiful books. Each shop held something of the character of the person who ran it and something of the character of the town it was in.

The roads were wonderful. I headed back through Crickhowell, stopping at Bookish where I met two Emmas and a lady who over wintered her tortoise in the salad tray in her fridge. We talked about me showing my paintings with them during art week in May and maybe having a supper event there. Overhead on the way home red kites dotted and swirled. The trees are still green heavy with summer.

bookish

 

One thousand, three hundred and sixty five miles after setting off I arrived home.

About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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23 Responses to 1 365 miles.

  1. Bravo: what a fabulous journey.

  2. Carrie says:

    The lake District looks astoundingly beautiful…. I love the way you talk about the wild creatures of the woods and the wild land, I do recognise that awe of wilderness that speaks through your words… I know it well!
    It looks like it was a wonderful tour though you must be tired with all the talking and travelling, I hope you enjoyed it all! We all enjoyed listening to you at Hunting Raven, especially Elswyth who loves Little Evie and the Golden Hare (she made herself very comfortable at your feet!)
    But the way you began with reading in little Gethin’s beautiful chair – oh, oh… how hard for his family, how sad… but it must be very meaningful to think you have been able to bring some comfort to his friends and family through stories, words and pictures. A thought to cherish…

    • Jackie says:

      It is something I cannot get my head around Carrie, because I cannot bear to think of their pain. I can only feel glad that when I was asked I said yes, and hope that I left the children with some tools they can use to talk about loss, to celebrate life and to live to the full. When I think back to the day I wish I could have done more. But the people I met were wonderful, the school just lovely. A privilege to be asked.

  3. Thank you for taking me on your journey today. I can just imagine all the wonderful ideas you have harvested on those miles and I look forward to seeing how they are preserved in future works of art and word.
    Sandy in Bracknell

  4. Sue Cox says:

    I started reading your blog with some eagerness but only got as far as Gethin and his family, friends and teachers. Oh my…
    I am so happy to say you are my friend you big-hearted, generous, sensitive person. After such an emotional start to your blog I will have to return to it later Jackie.
    Love you x

    • Jackie says:

      It’s strange Sue, very difficult to cope with in many ways, but not a thing you can say no to. And it really way a day of light and life. Great teachers, great library, great school, wonderful children. Read on. But watch out for the hare.

  5. dinahmow says:

    Well….that was a beautiful trip.You took me to places I have not seen in years and many I had never seen.
    It’s rather lovely,isn’t it, to sit in front of a computer, 10,000 miles away and have someone’s beautiful words and pictures carry you on a journey…
    Thank you, Jackie.

    • Susan Moore says:

      Dinahmow…you are so right !I am sitting in Hamilton, Ontario looking at this amazing woman’s photos, paintings and words and am overwhelmed….what a wonderful trip….the children you met will never forget you…I am so thankful that someone on here(FB) mentioned I might like your FB page.
      Auntie Susan aka Berryredd aka Susan

  6. Barbee says:

    What a fabulous journey! How kind of you to take the time and patience to share it with us. A great thank you!

  7. Sue Cox says:

    Just finished Jackie! What an epic journey and I know it’s not attractive or clever or even pleasant but I am jealous. There I’ve said it x

    • Jackie says:

      Beautiful day to be back on yesterday. Today not so! Off to Cornwall next via bears, hopefully and wolves and other things, with a dragon. In the meantime I have too much to do and my studio seems to have quickly lapsed back into chaos! But it was an amazing trip. We should get together for a walk, or tea at the mill.

  8. What a wonderful story Jackie!

  9. Fabulous blog Jackie. Gethin’s chair made me cry. A lot. And the lady who overwinters her tortoise in the salad tray of the fridge made me laugh out loud! I am envious of the lapis lazuli beads your bought. Tinsmiths! Being a fan of the St Judes group of artists, I recently went totally over-the-top for me (financially) and bought a blind for my kitchen window in Emily Sutton’s Curiosity Shop. I love it. I just need to finish painting the walls now!
    I can tell by the beautiful wolf painting, that you were settled and happy in Ennerdale. And Cheltenham – pah! We all know what the problem is: Cheltenham is to your independent book seller what Tesco is to your local butcher/grocer/baker. One knows and caters for your name, tastes and needs, to the other you are just a statistic.
    Perhaps we should organise an exhibition here in north Norfolk where you, Hannah and Tamsin could all show work – and we could all have words & supper with Marilyn afterwards? I’m trying to think of the best venue…

  10. …best venue for the exhibition, that is. We can always find a good supper hereabouts!

  11. Anne Dunn says:

    What a wonderful journey. You brought so much joy to people, but had a great time yourself. No one can fail to fall in love with the Lake District and so pleased you saw a red squirrel. I hope next time you might come East a bit more, so I can get to meet you and watch you paint. x

  12. Thank you for sharing your magical journey! Beautifully told and photographed.. makes me want to go visit all these places!
    x

  13. Mo Crow says:

    what a fabulous journey well told!

  14. I love the fact that you are taking the time to go out and meet your readers, sharing your enthusiasm and insight with the those you meet (and here on your blog.) You are weaving new tales as you travel and joining in other peoples’ stories. It makes wonderful reading….thank you.

  15. Sue says:

    What a lovely journey & the experiences………. you conveyed them so well. Now I’m going to acquire your books to read & I hope you do come back to the lakes someday. I’d love to hear you read

  16. compostwoman says:

    I have just written about my experience of a small part of your epic travels and how I felt about it

    http://www.the-compostbin.com/2013/10/blue-ginger-gallery-afternoon-with.html

    I thought you were wonderful and your books are, also.

    xxx

  17. Kathy Kenney says:

    beautiful post! thanks for sharing your adventures with us. Somehow when I look at your books it gives me a peek of all that goes into the stories you tell in words and pictures.

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