On Monday I caught a train to London. The sun was shining. Four and a half hours in the company of The Queen of America, by Louis Alberto Urrea. Wonderful.
I was met at the station by Suzanne and we took our paintings to The Royal Academy and handed them in for viewing to see if we would be accepted for exhibition at the Summer Show. This is not something I have ever done before, but decided this year to give it a go. I then spent an hour looking at the paintings and drawings at the David Hockney show in the RA. Huge colour, beautiful charcoal, interesting iPad work and astonishing people watching opportunity. Loved every minute of it.
We headed back to Suzanne’s home via China Town and the most wonderful shop, Guanghwa, with brushes and ink and paper.
The brushes are made from goat and wolf and mountain horse and mountain cat. The ink is made from an ancient recipe. The stone is slate and the paper is glorious. The whole experience was a bit like an artist’s version of wizards choosing a wand in Diagon Alley.
I have been dreaming of these brushes since I bought them. The woman, so beautiful, who sold them to me said that I mush soak them first in water for about half an hour, then let them dry, after using and cleaning them, hanging down so that they form a point again.
Bridget and Suzanne looked after me so well while I was with them, cooking me wonderful food and entertaining me and just being the most perfect hosts. And on the second day Suzanne walked my legs off as we criss-crossed London in search of brushes and ink and lino. We walked through parks and drank coffee in Neale’s Yard.
We met Bob, the street cat, and his friend. The luck of finding a ginger cat in London was just too much for me so I had to take a photo and one with James in. It turned out that they had been on BBC TV that morning, as James, who was very charming, has written a book about his life since Bob. Amazing cat, he has his own travel pass for London Transport. And the book looks good too, so me and the gingers here wish him well, and Bob, if you are listening and ever feel like taking the train to Wales please come and visit.
On Wednesday Suzanne walked me to the tube and sent me off for a meeting with Janetta and Jude at Frances Lincoln and lunch with David Graham. I have worked for Frances Lincoln books for 18 years now, first as an illustrator and then as an author/illustrator. When the company was sold last year it wasn’t so much of a shock, but all changes leave me feeling curiously nervous so it was good to meet with David. We didn’t really discus his plans for the company at all, but wandered down pathways of talking about books, including the wonderful The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands, coincidently also from Pembrokeshire, and published by David in one of his previous jobs. Seems we also have a mutual friend in Hereward Corbett of the Yellow Lighted Bookshop in Tetbury.
After lunch it was time to head towards the setting sun, lost again in the pages of The Queen of America. There are passages in this book that are just sublime. At times you can feel the heat of the desert rippling through the prose and smell the scent of roses.
Back home and into work, no chance yet to work with the new brushes, but plenty to think about and also the promise of a second novel on the near horizon. Also, two covers with Small Beer Press put together very elegantly. The first is At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson ( author of The Fox Woman). The second is Earth and Air by Peter Dickinson.
Exciting times. Now, time to get on with East of the Sun, and try and make some progress.