Lost Words, Found Friends.

It seems a long time ago. It certainly is many paintings back in time. Robert Macfarlane and I tentatively began a working relationship around the re-wilding of language. At least I think that is what is was about. I know the roots of  the book stretch deep. I can only speak now of what it has done for me.

I’ve worked as an artist all my life, as a writer for some of it, but I have never worked like this. People ask me sometimes if I went to college or am self-taught. I do not really understand the definition. I chose the route of college into becoming an artist and was guided by tutors, and I am still learning.

This is what The Lost Words has given me, taught me: a sharper focus on the world around me, the wild at hand, from listening to and hearing the background of wrensong as I write this, to looking at the individual plants that make up a field, a hedge. I’ve learnt the shape of a dandelion seed, the scent of a conker, the space an otter takes in a river, the parts of a feather, how the shell of a guillemot’s egg is being used in textile science to make coats more waterproof. Focus. It has given me focus, on the shape of a wren, the flight of a raven, the song of a lark. And when your research is walking and listening and looking, growing the brambles in your garden, watching as magpies come and build your research outside your studio window, you know your heart is in your work and wild magic is your companion.

Next week The Lost Words comes out into the world with a flight of finches. It’s a heartsong from us both. Robert has written a wonderful essay about the roots of the book and the why and the wherefore. He references academic studies that will make you weep at the disconnection that has grown up between ourselves and the world. Our hope is that, with many of the other wild writers out there, from Nicola Davies to Gill Lewis and SF Said, Mimi Thebo, Katherine Rundell, so many more, we can turn this tide and help people to see the real gold in the world.

If you can, please go to Compton Verney to the exhibition of work from the book. It’s a perfect marriage of images and words in a beautiful setting. Check their website for opening times. The exhibition will be moving to The Foundling Museum in London in February and hopefully will tour to other venues.

And what else have I found in the making of The Lost Words? Well, new friends. Hamish Hamilton have at all times been a joy to work with, listening at all times to mine and Robert’s vision, giving us the tools and the time to make it and shape it into a reality. From the moment Simon agreed to publish this book, so unlike anything that ‘fits his list’ ( oh how many rejection letters have I had that say “thank you but your work, your book, your idea, does not fit with our list”), with Hermione’s wonderful project management of both myself and Robert, the design team, everything, and Anna and Rosie working away, Alison who designed the Lost Words typeface, so elegant, and all the media team helping us to make the book visible in a sea filled with new books being published, it has been a pleasure. Team work. That’s what makes a book. Together we hope we have made something that will sing to the wild dreaming hearts and minds of others. It may be mine and Robert’s names on the cover, but this book comes from all of us.

Robert and I have met only twice. Once in London when we first took our work to show to Simon and Hermione in Penguin towers, meeting beside a polar bear then navigating our way through city streets. The second time was last weekend when he came to stay and we walked with The White Cat, went to The Pale Moon Cup, talked in conversations that were punctuated by pointing to ‘heron’ ( flying over Abereiddi), raven ( all around), wren, dandelion, starling and the biggest charm of goldfinch, until I felt as if we had made the largest I Spy book in the world.

In London we were both so nervous. In his small notebook was the first spell, Kingfisher, unfinished. In my big folder, tucked under my arm were two paintings of kingfishers. Two, because I was unhappy with the first. Always hard taking those first steps into a book and even at this early stage emails had flown back and forward as we tried to catch sight of this wild thing we were trying to work on.

How I loved that Robert, too, was so nervous of showing this early work.

I brought out my kingfishers. He was reluctant to read his writing, saying, it’s not finished, it’s early stages. Desperate to hear the piece I asked him to pass me the notebook, but though I could make out the word ‘kingfisher’ the rest was impenetrable. So Robert had to read it. There was a silence in that room that was very special. Even in its early, unedited form I knew that I was going to have such words to work with, and as they landed over time in my inbox, and we shaped and grew the book, and resonated image and words, well, words fail me. Doesn’t often happen. But I guess it’s because everything is in the book. It’s a wild thing.

I repainted the kingfisher a third time, placing it, caught on the snag of a stick. He edited it again, again, again..

We are both still learning, every day. New ways of looking and seeing.

We walked with The White Cat, Ivy and Crazy Pi and Mr Robin.

Rob searched the hill top where raven pellets can always be found, feather and fur, skin and bone.

Rob did a bit of work in my studio, writing on a painting for me. It seemed much more fitting, this meeting of minds in the wilder places. And Robin cooked us wonderful food and knocked up a mean gin and tonic!

Oh, and we popped down the mill to do a guerrilla book signing. Lovely that Robert’s first meeting with the book in number was in a wild place. And Anna had dressed the mill so beautifully.

Anyway, soon it’s time to travel. I don’t want to use up all my words about the book. Just to say, it’s good to find new friends, and reading this article in The Guardian I feel rather proud of my friend.





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.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Lost Words, Found Friends.

  1. Walker says:

    I received my copy of The Lost Words yesterday morning, swift work by Solva Woollen Mill.

    It is a profoundly beautiful and deeply moving book. A spell book that has captured me in its spell. I need not have wondered where I might store its large-format loveliness, having no bookcase large enough for it; I strongly suspect this is a book I will never want to store, but always have close to hand.

  2. Perry Clark says:

    A wonderful post. Your work is already a blessing to those longing for sustained connection to the world as it should be, at its best. The first glimpse of goldfinches darting across the cover encourages, fortifies one against the grubbiness of mankind’s blots on the page that is our planet. Your wren, and Robert’s words, boost infant hope up higher on the chair, and suffuse the reader/viewer with living warmth. Thank you. I look forward to the book in hand.

  3. Charlotte says:

    Thank you, thank you and thank you. I have ordered my own copy from Scarthin and almost cannot bear the anticipation of it coming through the post. Each of your posts have shown what an incredible undertaking this book has been. I am looking forward to sharing it with successive classes, using it alongside our practise of listening to birdsongs, visiting the local park (we have a badger sett alongside school, in the city) looking for clues to the lost words around us.

    For me you have combined two of the greatest gifts we have, the world around us and the language we have to anchor us into it. I think the next step is on us teachers, librarians and readers to read the words back into common usage, where they should be.

    • Jackie says:

      We are, between Robert, myself, and mostly Eva John, developing teacher’s notes to hopefully ease your lives in this. Eva has amazing, creative ideas for the book.

  4. Compostwoman says:

    A wonderful book, launched in an amazing place. And the article in the Guardian is spot on.

  5. Compostwoman says:

    And your illustrations! Oh they are so beautiful! I felt very very lucky to have been at Solva for the prelaunch event and to have a copy of the book in my hands at this very moment. A special book, indeed.

  6. anne corr says:

    I hope wild magic continues to be youreleased companion and cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of the book. What an amazing endeavour between you and him. I think it will be important to a good many folks!

  7. Bernie Bell says:

    Sent to Jackie 29th 9th…………………………

    ‘The Lost Words’ just arrived.
    I took the cardboard envelope off, then….it was like Christmas! Lovely purple tissue paper to un-wrap. Then I washed my hands ( I’d been eating Tablet, and was sticky). Then, I opened it and saw what you have written inside – thank you , Jackie, from one wild woman, in a wild place, to another.
    It’s a big book, and I’m a small person, so, I think I’ll manage best, reading it standing at the kitchen work-top.
    It is un-believable that those words have been ‘removed’ – well, they haven’t been removed – there they are. It’s a very good thing that you and Mr. Macfarlane have done this. That’s the beginning – a very good thing, to have done this and put it together and sent it into the world. And now – I and many others will have the joy of reading and looking and conjuring into renewed being, words which have not gone – there they are!!!!!!
    What a great world we live in.
    I have found two wonder-full books this year – ‘Floating Stones’ by Lotte Glob, and now ‘The Lost Words’.
    And now all I can say is ……lordy lordy lordy – whoooo-hoooo!
    I’m awa’ to …..look.
    Here’s another wee spell – if we all simply say those words, as much as possible.
    I opened a page at random, and there was a great, big hare, looking back at me.
    Ferns, that another one. I can tell you now – the word ‘fern’ cannot be gone – they’re everywhere!
    I risk rabbiting on at you.
    Thank you Jackie, thank you Mr. Mac.
    (I might witter a bit………….later)

  8. Bernie Bell says:

    PS I’ve just seen Robert Macfarlane’s tweet asking from whom (person or book) did we best learn the names of animals, plants, and birds. The simple answer is….My Dad. Mr. Martin Roper. Though we lived in a city – Bradford – My Dad would take me for walks in Heaton Woods, and show and teach and tell. He was a man who told tales, had many pints bought for him in pubs in Ireland as he sat and wove his tales.
    He didn’t just teach me the names of things, he taught me what I could eat, and what not to eat, what I could safely engage with, and what to avoid (ADDERS!), how to use a blade of grass as a whistle ( hold it sideways between the edges of your thumbs, and …blow!) And – that the red staining in the stream was due to iron in the land behind it. I was fortunate, in My Dad, and my life.
    So, I’m asking all of you, even if you live in a city, please take children, whether your own, or other people’s, into the wild places and let them get used to it all, get familiar with it all. Not to be afraid of wildness, of what isn’t part of the tidy world. It’s a great thing to do, for everyone concerned.

  9. Jude Walker says:

    What a treasure. Your book arrived on Saturday from Solva…and on Sunday, walking through sheets of drizzle, we found acorns, conkers and brambles and talked of our first (and only, to date!) encounter with an otter on Coll.
    It’s an absolute celebration and page after page I find a masterpiece…THANKYOU!

  10. Eloise Clark says:

    I have been overcome with joy since Friday after discovering your book in Littlefeathers in St Agnes. I promptly bought a copy of ‘Lost Words,Found Friends’.
    At home my 11 year old daughter and I sat sharing the book between our laps and read out loud together with intake of breath as we turned the pages.
    This copy will travel to Yorkshire for my sisters birthday present still pristine from our inquisitive yet careful hands. I must keep quiet and secretive as not to spoil the lovely surprise she is about to receive.
    This book is very powerful and beautiful in words and imagery. Thankyou so much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *