Last week I finished work on The Lost Words. I’ve worked for 30 years or more, illustrating and then writing and illustrating books, making covers for the books of others and making a living. So many books. And I thought with every one I had put my heart and soul into the work. But this book…. this book… somehow it’s different. And while I am feeling ragged and raw from the finishing of it I want to write about it, just a little.
It’s been two years since the idea seeded. There have been many hours of finding the form of the book. During those hours strange things have happened both to Robert and myself around the wild things. Kingfishers appear in odd places, wrens haunt my walks, and magpies building a nest right outside my studio window. My hope is that we have crafted between us a love letter to the wild, in words and pictures. And I love the wild magic that continues to live around it. It has opened my eyes to the commonplace wild that sometimes we take for granted, the bend of a bramble, light on an acorn, the dandelion flower that glows gold and is clock in so many ways and circles of its being, the song of a wren.
Today I walked in sunshine to the top of the hill carrying that dark emptiness of finishing with me, feeling lost, confused, ragged of nerves and ill at ease with expectations. Last night the night sky had been clear with constellations. This always makes me feel the glorious insignificance of self that is a kind of freedom. Now I sat on the rock above where I live, the place that is home, a dark despair dogging my footfall. I found a place, comfortable in the shadow of the wind, warm. At first I couldn’t hear them. High above the wind carried song up and away into the bright of the sky. Then, one by one, all around, larks rose on wings of song. Wild magic. And for now only Robert and a few people who have read the text for this book will understand why this felt so strange, so curious, so utterly special.
The book publishes on 5th October. We still have some crafting to do between us, with the rest of the team at Hamish Hamilton. I’ve loved the wild magic of this book and hope it continues, and that my heart and soul become more attuned to it.
There will be an exhibition of the artwork from the book at Compton Verney in Oct/Nov/Dec, which we hope will tour.
I’m hoping the book will carry its magic out in ripples into a wider world, open the eyes of others to the commonplace wild, confirm for those who are already in love with the wild that this is where true treasure lies, and lead to an understanding that we should change our language so that we no longer talk about ‘the’ environment, but rather ‘our’ environment, that people are no longer ‘inspired by’ nature but realise that they ‘are’ nature.
I hope. And if I thought I had put my heart and soul into books before then now I understand it was only as an apprenticeship to working on this book.