These paintings are for Karin, Queen of the Weasels, Mother of Mary, Grand Ring-Mistress of the Mad Circus of Celestine.
These paintings are for Karin, Queen of the Weasels, Mother of Mary, Grand Ring-Mistress of the Mad Circus of Celestine.
In the night it rained. A fierce rain that fell fast and furious from a dark sky. For days it has been dry and the land is parched and the soil a hard drum. The sound of rain falling in the dark, the scent of the earth, both were beautiful.
Waking early and after eating the cats were underfoot and waiting, so I grabbed camera and headed out, up the path, walking the old way that leads to the hill.
At the top of the hill we walked where the gold grass grew. The air was quietly noisy with the strangest sound. Standing still I searched for the creature that made such a whirring and found that it was a swarm of flying things, thousands, moving across the gorse and the bracken.
Yesterday my dad had phoned me. I had sent him and mum a copy of Cat Walk. He was ringing to say how much he loved it. A beautiful book he said. Lovely words, beautiful photos, and such a lovely size too. He said he was going to get himself a coffee and sit down and read it.
I am 52 years old and yet this call from my dad, and his praise for my work mean more to me than any review anywhere. I became an artist partly, mostly, because I watched him drawing. He gave me my first camera and showed me how to use it, when I was about 16. A Kodak Retinette 1b. He bought me my first slr before I went to college when I was 18, back in the days of film. He took me walking, showed me how to find bird’s nests, taught me how to be still in a landscape and watch, gave me a love of wild places, animals, light, life.
We walked home together, the cats and I, over the hill in the beautiful light, down through the fields where Spit became a sheepcat.
Back home The White Cat cuddled up to Larry and Lady S talked to the ducks and then, turning on the computer I found that the cats had, despite something happening in Scotland, made the front page of the Guardian newspaper, with a slide show for the Cat Walk book.
Unaware of their stardom Elmo and Leopard slept on, lost in their cat dreams of adventures and The White Cat and Lady S found a quiet place to rest ( The White Cat has taken to sleeping in a cardboard box outside my studio door).
Next Wednesday ( 24th Sept 4-7.30) at Solva Woollen Mill I will be launching two books. One is Something About a Bear, written and illustrated by me, published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. The other is Cat Walk, written by me and illustrated with photographs also taken by me and published by Graffeg.
For years bears have been creatures that have roamed my imagination, wandered in and out of my paintings. You can read more about the book and how it came about on another blog post, for now I want to talk a little about Hauser bears and the book launch in Solva Woollen Mill. As part of the launch we are having a raffle, to raise money for Hauser Bears. The prize is the small painting of a bear.
The mission of Hauser bears is to protect bears in the wild and also work for the welfare of captive animals. And the bears do need as much help as they can get. It comes as a surprise to many that bear baiting still takes place in the world. This is the tip of a cruel iceburg when it comes to man’s relationship with these beautiful creatures. There is a trade still in live animals, there is caged hunting where animals are trapped and released to be shot, trophy hunting and the killing of bears for ‘medicine’, bear bile farming, the use of bears for tourism, dancing bears, the list is endless and even the smallest amount of research is enough to make you weep.
Very soon I will be lucky enough to be working with Five Sisters Zoo in Scotland. Here they have three bears, Suzy, Peggy and Carmen. These three have been rescued from a circus in Belgium and now live in the enclosures at the zoo. Watching film of the three will bring tears to the eyes. I am hoping to take the three bears some honeycomb.
Hauser Bears work to rescue bears from terrible conditions and give them better lives, but also to work with wild bears and other creatures who share the wild habitat with the bears all around the world. You can learn so much more about them by looking on their website.
You can come along, bring friends, have fun, bring a bear, get books signed, buy raffle tickets. Here’s an invite, please share and add yourself and comments to the page.
If you can’t come you can still take part by purchasing a copy of the book. When you order a book online from Solva Woollen Mill you can add a dedication. Each book purchased gives you entry into a competition to win the tiny painting of Mary’s Brother, a spectacle bear from South America.
The team at Solva Mill will post out books to anywhere in the world, and their website is worth a browse around. The mill itself is a beautiful working woollen mill in a glorious valley where otters swim and buzzards circle overhead.
So why the big paws? Well, the final painting in Something About a Bear is a brown bear with her paws up in the air. I imagined that it could work to give children an idea as to the size of a bear. You put your paw on the bear’s paw and you can almost feel the size of the bear grow around you. Very few can resist the chance to hi five a bear! The claws are as long as the child’s fingers, the paws as big as a dinner plate, and these are the paws of a small bear. If the bear feeds on salmon it could be almost twice as big as that! Imagine.
And here’s a look around the inside of the book, with Mary, and a film of Mary listening to the story.
So, come and join us to celebrate bears and help to raise money for Hauser Bears, and I will be sure to take lots of photos when I visit the three bears in Five Sisters, and give them your love.
The bears are gathering. And with them a small ginger impostor ( all created buy the mistress of mayhem at Celestine and the Hare.). Come and play.
Feathers and flight. Watercolour, gold leaf.
Raven, chough, jay, jay, magpie, magpie, crow? Rook? raven, jay.
If you find a fallen feather, please think of me.
( For where to send and what see this: Feathered.)
(Lots of small pieces of beautiful Pembrokeshire in this film.)
Here Jerome Flynn speaks for the White Lions.
A quiet plea went out from the organisers for some ‘quality’ things to auction. I took a look at the White Lion Trust to see what they do. Not a long look. The lions are beautiful. The idea and the images of ‘canned hunting’ defy any understanding by a rational person. But I looked for long enough to know that this was a cause I would be happy to support, so as well as going along to the gig because I love Johnny’s music I have drawn a white cat of great size ( the cat not the drawing, that’s 33.5 x 14cms) and mixed a bit of music with the image too.
Hoping they will be able to take bids by phone, so if you are interested please email me and I will pass bidders on to the organisers.
Or get in touch with the organisers direct. Would be good to raise as much money for the lions as we can. Bidding starts at £50.00 Please share.
And have some more music.
With the launch of Cat Walk almost here the time has come to start working on Cat Talk. So, to clear the head this morning I went for a walk and because only The White Cat came we walked a long way. I was searching for words, but every time I tried to write he decided to help me, so instead I gathered thoughts.
Over the hill it was so warm in the shadow of the wind. The little people of the air flew up from the grass, crane fly, dragon fly, moth, cricket. And all around the feathered people came to see The White Cat walking.
And the paths were over grown where Glyn has not walked, but we went to visit him, because he would have loved The White Cat because although he could see little The White Cat shines and he would have been able to see the beautiful mischief shape of him.
It was still in the ruins, not a whisper,not a wing flap. The White Cat looked around. Then we walked the old road and he walked on the wall and I was sad and filled with the memories of lost cats as overhead a buzzard called and for all the world it sounded like a far away mewing of angel cats.
A swim to clear head further. Then to the shops where I realised I was wearing pyjama trousers and I thought that while success with books, paintings etc doesn’t seem to bring any more money with it it does bring the permission to be as eccentric as I can possibly wish to be. And when walking with cats becomes work, maybe that is all that is needed.
Recently I had the great good fortune to walk with wolves and Robin Hobb and Jane Johnson. We talked a little, about writing and birds, feathers and wolves, Alaska and books. Robin found a jay’s feather that I want to incorporate into my next book, and Jane found a wide buzzard feather which will be in there too.
Months ago I was sent a manuscript. Fool’s Assassin. Not only was I to find cover images for this new book, but also rework the backlist, the story of Fitz and the Fool. I spent hours in the pages with Fitz, Nighteyes, Beloved, Molly. Reading again was like meeting old friends. Finding new clothes for the books to wear was hard, but with help I did it. And then there was the new book.
I have to say I was scared. In the intervening years I had wandered the Rainwilds with Robin Hobb, a place that I love. Now here I was again, back at Fitz’s door and not knowing what could happen next. Would it be all I hoped for? It wasn’t. It was all and more and just the best and I forgot that I was supposed to be looking for images within the book and when at last I came up for air I just was astonished. All and more. Beautifully paced, elegantly constructed, oh yes, all of that. But what I love so much about this woman’s writing is that the craft doesn’t show.No, that’s wrong. It does. But what is the most important to Robin Hobb is the story. The honest integrity of the story. And she has such courage. Now it is published I need to read it again, just for the pure enjoyment of the tale.
I struggled with the cover, but had fantastic help from all at Harper Voyager, and the design team did the most wonderful job on the finishing of it. The endpapers are still my favourite bit ( thanks Natasha).
It’s great to see the book getting coverage, popping up in twitter, plastered over the underground in London.
At the moment I am re-reading The Liveships series in order to work new covers. Again I am swept along by the story, loving being back in Bingtown, with Althea and Brashen and Malta ( maddening Malta) This has got me thinking. I first met Fitz in The Liveships as a face carved in wizardwood. Someone had suggested that I might enjoy reading the Liveships series so I bought the books and half way through coincidence threw me, Jane Johnson and Robin Hobb together as I was commissioned to work on the cover art. ( I am reading the hardback versions, bought second hand with covers by John Howe)
So, a question. Where did you first meet Fitz? I asked the question the other day on twitter. But now I ask again here. And I asked Robin too, where did she first meet Fitz? This is what she said,
“I suspect I’m too late to tell you when I met Fitz. I don’t think I could come up with a coherent answer anyway. I first started writing him when my younger son was about 14 or 15. And he had lots of his friends hanging about the house, and there was a lot of young male angst and random aggression and wild laughter and all that teenage boy stuff going on. Lots and lots of eating. And I think that Fitz emerged at that time, but I can’t point to any one moment, I don’t believe.”
I asked Jane Johnson, Robin’s UK editor and she said,
“In the first draft manuscript of ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE when it was sent to me by her agent, still under the Lindholm name. Loved him at once (how could you not?) and moved heaven and earth to buy the series and get it properly supported in-house. A Tube advertising campaign for a debut hardback in 1995 – that was a first! But it did the trick.”
I watched a short film clip of Robin talking about writing the books, with Fitz and the Fool there in the room telling their stories.
I still have postcards of the old gold leaf covers. If you leave a comment below and share I will pick out a comment and random on 24th September and send a pile of postcards and a notebook to that person. The answer doesn’t have to be the book in which you met him. It can be to do with where you were, what you were doing, your age, anything, but I want to know, because I am curious, where did you first meet Fitz?
(Warning to those who have not read these books: many of the comments contain spoilers. Advice for those who have not read these books: do.)
Listen…. and the rocks will tell you stories.
Here, where white feathers mark the spot. Stand and open ears and heart.
Now all that is left is white bone and ragged feather. Once these were two swans.
She gathered up the armful of bones, cracked by the teeth of stealthy foxes, picked clean by weasels and stoats and ravens. She took the bones home.
The breastbone curved like a boat with oars. The wing bone, hollow. She made a flute from the hollowed bone and played a song.
In the song two swans flew across the land, over oceans, side by side. In the song wing beats matched, warm sun warmed feathers, hearts beat steady. In the song two swans came to a lake shore and built a nest, and in the nest three eggs. In the song the pen swan sat through long lazy hours warming the porcelain smooth eggs, feeling the chicks move and grow while the cob sailed around her great wings raised, defending her from foxes and mink and man. In the song eggs hatched, dark grey signets emerged into light and were carried proud on mother’s back. In the song they grew, feathers became white, by autumn five swans flew, away from the cold that fell over the land, across the ocean, across cities and hills and into Wales, where one swan flew into a cable stretched across the sky and fell, down, crashing to earth. And her cob circled round, calling and calling and saw her white shape as he too hit the line and down, down onto the ground, stunned and then dead. Earth bound, forever until almost a year later, an armful of bones, picked clean by the ravens, bleached by the summer sun, white as swan’s feathers. And she made a fabulous flute, hollowed from a wing bone and lifted the memories in story and song.
Too much time traveling about, too much time promoting new books, not enough time painting. Time to change that. Picking up the brush it felt like a stranger. Time to change that too.
The next few months will be swans and feathers and short stories and thinking, but also going on a bear hunt ( in Scotland) via Cornwall. This is a ‘last chance to see’, as afterwards I am staying home with cats and dog and beautiful Pembrokeshire, so watch out for dates. I will be in Tiverton, Dulverton, Cornwall ( Truro and Penzance), Five Sisters, Highland Park, Edinburgh Zoo and Hedgehog bookshop, as well as Cover to Cover in Mumbles and Book-ish in Crickhowell. Will post dates soon.
Meanwhile this, for the Carpenters Company Christmas Card.
Evening swim to relax became work when I saw feathers floating on the skin of the sea. The photographs were all taken from beneath the ceiling of the sea, looking up towards evening light. Later, with friends, we ate supper as bats flew across the sand.