Sitting here now in my studio it’s hard to remember some of the last month. It seems like no time at all has passed, and yet I have travelled 2158 mile, and more to be back where I started. The Lost Words was published on 5th October, with a pre-launch the week before at Solva Woollen Mill.
Home now. Back in my studio. Painting. Walking the dogs in the wild wind. Settling took a short while, and I have work to do. A book cover for Janetta of Otter-Barry Books, for Can You See a Little Bear, to be rereleased next summer, a piece to write for a conference next Saturday, school days to plan for a visit to Ennerdale. After a month of not painting I did wonder if I would remember how. Fortunately I hadn’t forgotten.
This might be the longest blog post in the world. If you make it to the end leave a comment and I will at random send out cards, badges and eventually a pack of the Lost Words postcards to someone who does. I am curious to see who reads my blog. You don’t have to say much, just something. But get yourself a cup of tea before we start. It’s a long journey.
It began with the collection of a bag, from SkyRavenWolf, on a canal barge in Bradford on Avon. All the while we were driving the long road to Bradford we didn’t know if we’d be heading north afterwards to Salford, or south to Bicester and on to London. But what a beautiful bag, commissioned some time ago, made at just the right time.
We were almost at Bradford on Avon when the word came through that we were indeed to head north, to Media City, where the following day Robert Macfarlane and I would appear on Breakfast TV to talk about The Lost Words.
Neither Robert nor I have a television. I have to confess Media City is not a natural environment for either a Morris, or a Macfarlane, but the staff there were amazing, and we were made to feel comfortable and at home, and the Breakfast Show appearance was over in a flash, and only afterwards did we realise that neither he nor I had mentioned the title of the book, but, well, it didn’t seem to matter. And I had survived having makeup put on my face for the first time in my life ( and my hair straightened so that I looked less of a witch). I had asked the wonderful makeup woman if she could do anything about the bags under my eyes, but she said that she had brushes, not magic wands, and I loved her for that!
We left Salford to head to Bicester, to leave the van with Judy and make our way to London, for the Lost Words was to be launched at Foyles the following day. And it was lovely to see Judy, though Betty, her dog, seemed frail. Utterly beautiful in her old age, a life lived well, but frail. The view from our hotel room was just wonderful.
The event at Foyles was my first with Mr Macfarlane. I was nervous. Kerry Andrew, who sang the wonderful wren spell was in the audience and hearing her words on a sound system was just beautiful.
From London we went to Cheltenham Festival, from Cheltenham to Crickhowell and everywhere there were queues for book signing and stories about the book. People sent us wonderful pictures of readers of all ages with the book and we were still only a few days in to what would be a month away from home.
It was my mum’s birthday on 2nd October. We stepped outside of the whirl of bookshops on the Sunday, went to Broadway, celebrated with family. At home I found a picture of me aged 6. This was my first real meeting with books. Already I wanted to be an artist. Behind me are 2 books by Brian Wildsmith whose work I still adore.
On Sunday evening we drove to Tetbury. The Yellow Lighted Bookshop there had a window filled with my books.
The next day, in a school in Bristol I came face to face with the roots of The Lost Words. I was about to read the wren spell to a class of 32 6 year olds when the booksellers stopped me. “Ask the children if they know what a wren is, first, Jackie.” I did. Not one child knew that a wren is a bird. So they had never seen a wren, nor heard that sharp bright song. But now they know the name of it, the shape of it, so perhaps if one flits into sight they will see it, hear it, know it, now.
The evening was given over to a talk in a beautiful church, the most beautiful setting, and a patient queue of people waiting to have books signed.
From Tetbury we travelled to Bicester again, via Obsidian Fine Arts where I signed piles of books for Trisha, and Robin wandered off to London while Judy and I talked the evening away, toasted betty, who wasn’t at all well, though beautiful in the fragility of a life lived well. At the other end of life, far away in Wales, Pi was having fun with her other family,Sarah and Ben, who love her so.
On Wednesday Robin and I took the Park and Ride ( Rock and roll lifestyle!) into Oxford. And Robert and I did a talk together at the Natural History Museum, chaired by the sick man of hedgehogs, Hugh Warwick ( who despite suffering some malevolent strain of cold managed to keep us on topic). I met a bear or two and we signed under a dinosaur and then did a shameless selfie with a t-rex.
Before leaving Judy’s in Bicester I said a quiet goodbye to the beautiful Betty Blue.
Onward…..from Oxford to Birmingham, where I stayed with my cousins, Kieth and Judith and travelled back into the past, learning about all my iron working relations in the Black Country. My uncle was a giant of a man. And it seemed that only a few generations back, 3 I think, my family were illiterate. We take our literate society so much for granted these days. Great Grandfather Emmanuel Pitchford signed his wedding certificate with a cross.
My gran made chain and nails in a forge at the bottom of the garden. My uncle worked the bellows from the age of four. No childcare then. When he was younger his playpen was a barrel by the forge fire. ‘Eeked from iron and wreaked with blue and beaked with steel..’ the heron in The Lost Words. That’s me.
Birmingham Literature Festival was held in the library, an astonishing building. It was curious being there. I was born in Birmingham. All through my childhood we would return to visit family there. Familiar, and yet not so, my cousin took us on a tour of houses where I had lived as a child, where my aunt and uncle had lived. And we talked about the wild that can be found in the city, the paths along canals that my cousin walks, seeing kingfishers, and once, an otter.
On their walls they still have paintings I did when I was a child, copied from books, learning the shape of a bird.
From Birmingham via nightfall to Newport House, where we found friends by the fireside and then woke to the most enchanted and beautiful place.
Our room overlooked the garden. And in the garden there were sculptures in stone and iron and bronze and willow.
We were there so that I could give a talk about The Lost Words. And the place and the people there made it a haven of peace n a busy and frantic tour.
A few day out from this, at Tamsin and Mike’s, while a wild wind raged over the country. I did go to Hay, to Booths, to sign some books, but I also rested and read and talked with Tamsin and Mike, and slept. Tamsin had made the most sublime work for an exhibition that was themed around Alice in Wonderland.
And then we went to Compton Verney. I crept up on the exhibition slowly.
My cousins who had looked after us in Birmingham had agreed to bring mum and dad to see the exhibition. We had arranged for them to come before the show opened to the public, so they had some peaceful time just wandering the rooms.
I love how my ma and pa still walk side by side holding hands, even after all of a lifetime together.
I will do a separate blog post with images of the exhibition, and link from here when done. It’s hard to describe how it feels to see the work you’ve slaved over for so long so beautifully curated and hung and lit. Robin asked me what Mum and Dad had said about the show. But they didn’t really have the words I think. Both very quiet as they wandered around, looking.
And friends and family came to the opening, and it was so busy I only managed to get a few photos and can’t really remember it. But I love these two of Nicola Davies and the one above of me and my sister.
There’s more. So much. For now I will put up images, then later come back and add words. I’ve things to do before I go away again.