Lark souls and wild magic

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.

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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13 Responses to Lark souls and wild magic

  1. How wonderful and not at all surprising. Spells being written and painted will manifest around you and you deserve it. Walk well and shrug off the despair soon. Much love xx

    • Bernie Bell says:

      Yes, Karin, yes.
      Thought – manifests. That’s what a spell is.
      Yes – larks rising. That’s happening here a lot just now – larks rising, and their song rising with them.
      Spring -new life.
      Rise with the larks song Jackie. The finishing something emptyness will go, very soon, and look at what you’ve produced. I’m excited just reading what you say here.
      What a combination this is going to be – what a combination it is……October feels a long time away.
      Spring and larks rising – Autumn and………………….

  2. Valerianna says:

    Your last line really struck me – “And if I thought I had put my heart and soul into books before then now I understand it was only an apprenticeship…” I think I understand this as I go more deeply and am more demanding of myself in my paintings. I’m looking forward to this book, it sounds necessary! Congratulations on finishing.

  3. There is magic in your words, in your imagery.
    Yes, our conversations should be about our environment and to remember, remember we are nature.
    Looking forward to this book.

  4. Bernie Bell says:

    I’m going to witter a bit now………..feel free to ignore if needed……….
    Your last line……..
    It’s something that gets me, regularly. Someone recommends a book about ‘nature’ as they think I’ll like it because I ‘like nature’. I then start to read the book and find it isn’t about ‘nature’ at all – it’s about the person who has written it. And I don’t mean, as in, the person who has written it being part of what IS, I mean that the idea seems to be that ‘nature ‘ is great, because of what we humans ‘get out of it’. This bothers me, annoys me. I growl.
    Gavin Maxwell’s ‘The Otters Tale’ is a prime example – it’s just about what he gets out of keeping the creatures he keeps – and that’s it – he keeps them. He keeps wild things, for his own delectation. I’d say read it and you’ll see what I mean – but it honestly isn’t worth it! Totally self-centred. GGGRRRR.
    Exactly – we are part of ‘nature’, we are part of life. There are other, wonderful, people, who live as part of all that is, and write about that, and those books, I do love to read. Robert McFarlane is one of those writers.
    There are also painters and sculptors who do it too.
    It’s great when you stumble across such folk.
    But, time and again, well-meaning people recommend books about ‘nature’ to me, and the book isn’t to do with what is, what’s around us, it’s to do with how the writer is feeding off what’s around them.
    Not even about connecting with what’s around us to find something of what’s in ourselves, just….feeding off what’s around us as being ‘other’ than us.
    Sorry – I get cross about it.
    It’s one of the reasons I love your work – you’re not just feeding off it, you know you’re part of it, and expressing your instinctual knowledge of that.
    And – the ‘apprenticeship’? We’re all constantly learning – that’s part of what makes LIFE such a GAS!
    Shall I send this growly minor rant? Yes – why not.

    • Jackie says:

      I think it’s those who understand that the world is not put there for them, that places exist without their viewing of them, that larks do not sing for us to hear, that a tree grows because it is itself, that life doesn’t need to be observed and explained by humans for it to BE. It’s hard to explain. I am of it, not in it. Part of a whole, and when I am gone it will not matter one jot. But while I am here I will love it. And i may never ever see a tiger in the wild nor a snow leopard, but I don’t have a tick list of creatures, or places. Knowing that such beauty exists is enough for me.

  5. Bernie Bell says:

    Just this – to gently balance the anger……………..
    Each thing, is what it is, whilst being part of the whole. It doesn’t need man’s approval or appreciation, to be what it is. If a rose blooms un-seen, it’s still beautiful – for that matter, if a daisy blooms un-seen, it’s still beautiful too. If an un-attractive thing lives, noticed or un- noticed, it still has it’s own little spark of LIFE.
    A poem by Gerard Manly Hopkins – another one who lived and felt as part of the whole – found it a bit hard to cope with, but LIVED.

    “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
    As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
    Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
    Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
    Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
    Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
    Selves – goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
    Crying What I do is me: for that I came.”

    Sing out!

  6. Angela Sykes says:

    Yes, our species would do well to accept that nature is gloriously indifferent to us and our concerns. I find this comforting.

  7. Kathleen says:

    I believe. I do believe in this magic. We talk to nature, move toward it, and then it moves toward us…and we’re surprised! Oh! we say. Communion! We are surprised nature senses us and responds. What solace to return to this primal relationship. How good it is. A home for us, truly. I look forward to the book. So eagerly.

  8. Brenda-Dianne says:

    Very much looking forward to the publication of this book of heart, soul, wild nature, wondrous human as nature, your poetic view and style, and lush illustrations. All your posts evoke such a kinship with place, for which I am most grateful. What a lovely heart you are with a keen mind. I feel blessed by your presence here in time and place.

  9. RGS says:

    Dear Jackie, I am longing to see this book: the wild and words, two ways of being and interpreting the world. I am sorry that you feel dark and abandoned after this huge effort of understanding and collaborative creation, but it is, perhaps, the equal and opposite of that effort and I hope that gradually you will come back to yourself. Ironically it is that wild beauty that you have been describing, which now you see and hear again around you, which I think will help to restore you. Thank you so much in advance for this book. I already know I will be giving it to many people at Christmas (having first selfishly bought it for myself). Warmest wishes, R.
    PS I love the gilded stones. Was collecting pebbles myself yersterday on Freshwater West. Not giving them back, though as they are coming back with me to London…

    • Jackie says:

      Back to my centre again now I think. Enjoying walking to beaches. Going to sit on the beach and gild stones. For a while. Seems like a good thing to do.

      • RGS says:

        Thank you for taking the time to reply: glad that you feel yourself again. Reading your last posts, you sounded it, and ready for something else. I am missing already those huge skies of yours; we are back home…

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