The Future of Libraries.

Last year I visited Cardiff Central Library for a meeting with librarians and publishers to present and showcase future books. I was supposed to be ‘selling’ Something About a Bear” in 5 minutes, but found myself instead saying thank you to the librarians who were there. Libraries changed my life, played a huge part in making me the artist and writer I am today. They also allow me to reach out to children who, like myself, feel unsure of themselves, uncomfortable in their own skins and maybe a bit scared of life by giving me a platform, a stage, so that I can say to kids, “look, when I was your age I couldn’t read well, and only the love of stories helped me to find the way.” It sometimes helps.

Anyway…

now…..

Cardiff Central library, voted one of the top six libraries in the world is now going through a second year of budget cuts. Last year they lost the top floor, a quarter of their staff, and closed one day a week. Next year it is to become a Super Hub losing two more floors when Marland House (the housing benefit and council tax centre) moves into the building. This means the adult section of the library will become a fringe activity around a busy city advice centre and a huge proportion of stock will be lost to make space for it.

Cardiff will lose 7 branch libraries (including a newly restored Carnegie building). With five more years of government cuts planned, the future of the library service looks pretty grim. The trend is to ‘hand buildings over to the community’ and use unpaid staff. What’s most concerning is not just the job losses but that the public library service is being dismantled. Once stock and buildings go, we won’t get them back. Hundreds of books have already been weeded out and library staff have been banned by the council from discussing budget cuts with the media, the public or making any kind of reference to this subject on social media.

This is one of the scariest things. That library staff are banned from talking to the media. They are in fear of their jobs. Surely it should be council staff who stand against free speech who should be in fear of their position for even suggesting that people who work in libraries are forbidden from speaking out against destruction of the library services? It all seems very Alice in Wonderland.

We are living in a time of austerity and many more people need a warm place to go to in the day. Libraries are the only free space where we can meet in the winter. We have a right to participate in cultural life and to have access to books and computers for learning and leisure. These things are essential for a democracy. If we don’t put up a fight for these libraries now, we won’t get another chance.

But libraries aren’t just about meeting places, mother and toddler groups etc. Libraries still hold a store of knowledge. They provide access to the internet for many who do not have wifi or computers at home. Librarians help people to learn to navigate through this marvellous ocean of knowledge.

In Liverpool, 11 libraries where saved when 500 authors, musicians and educators wrote to the mayor along with hundreds of school children sending love library letters.*

The love letters were described at the time as being ‘despicable’ by the Mayor of Liverpool. I want to be despicable now.

Be part of history. Defend our library service in our capital city. Make the council provide a comprehensive service as the1964 Libraries and Museums Act demands. Write your love library letter to the leader of Cardiff council before 8 January. Exercise your freedom of speech by discussing library cuts freely on Twitter, Facebook, Walesonline and letters to the papers. Show solidarity with library staff who have been banned from doing so.

Address your letters/emails to

Leader of Cardiff council

Cllr Phil Bale

Leader’s Office

Room 525

County Hall

Cardiff, CF10 4UW

Tel 07581421282

Phil.Bale@Cardiff.gov.uk

with copies to:

Deputy Leader

Cllr Sue Lent

7 Pen-Y-Wain Place

Roath

Cardiff

CF24 4GA

Tel 02920 493980 / 07790962764

Sue.Lent@Cardiff.gov.uk

and:

Cllr Peter Bradbury (libraries portfolio)

10 Yarrow Close

Cardiff

CF5 4QS

02920 591735

Peter.Bradbury@Cardiff.gov.uk

 I will write because I can. And one of the reasons I can is because I had access to so many books through the library system when I was a child.

We have taken away student grants and burdened our young people with debt. Let’s not be the generation that closes libraries.

If you are a teacher, a child, a parent, f you are a bookseller, a publisher, a writer, poet, artist, maker of music, of design, if you are a doctor, a surgeon, a cleaner, a taxi driver, if ever a library has done anything for you, your parents, your children then write a letter. Not a letter of anger, but a letter of love, to your library and make copies to send to those who would try to govern us. God alone knows they need some help if these are the decisions they come up with through their uncreative short term thinking.

Write.

Because you can.

And if you want to leave a copy of your letter here too in the comments box then please do. And tweet and facebook and encourage as many people as you can to do the same.

We can make a change, one person at a time. And if we all join together it can be a big change.

This is my letter. It’s to all libraries, not just Cardiff. I will be sending a covering letter to each person on the list above.

Dear Library,

I am writing this letter in part to thank you but also to tell you what you mean and have meant to me in my life. My thanks to you are long overdue. I have been so busy in my life I have not had time before to stop and think, too busy earning a living, raising a family. It is only now that you are under threat that I have  begun to realize how much I owe to you. It is not impossible to imagine that without you I would not be sitting here now, writing at all, were it not for you, as it is quite possible that I would not be able to write.

I learned the basics of writing at school but was slow to really grasp the trick of it all. At home we had so few books, maybe a handful. My father was a policeman, my mother a housewife and both had left school at the age of 14 to work. It did not occur to me as a child that we couldn’t afford books as money isn’t something many small children have to think about or try to understand. Certainly it is possible that both my parents grew up in houses with no books.

But I did have a library ticket. A small, beige, cardboard wallet, smaller than a credit card, into which would slip stamped cards with their own unique coding as I took six books a week out from the library.

Now, thinking back to the child that I was I remember the excitement of choosing and taking home such an incredible wealth of books each week. And this was how I really learned to read, frowned at by my grandmother who thought it a lazy pastime, encouraged by my parents who wanted a good education for me and my sister so we could make our way in the world.

What I discovered within the walls of the library was a future unlimited by class expectations. First I learned to read, prowling along the shelves, sometimes free, at other times guided by a librarian whose knowledge of books was so astonishing. As a child I thought the men and women who worked in the libraries lived there, owned all the books and were so generous to share them with us.

Hundreds of pounds worth of books came home with me every month and were returned and exchanged, far more than our family could possibly afford, from this place of common wealth, feeding my habit of literacy. I used the public library and the school library with equal enthusiasm.

I loved to see the journeys the books had made, each date stamp telling its own story. Some books had been wallflowers, sitting on the shelf for months, others so popular they had to be ordered and set aside. If sometimes i took out books far beyond my understanding, or just for the joy of looking at the pictures you never judged me. And all the time I learned and grew in understanding. And I loved you.

As a teenager when I was going through such changes, awakening in understanding you came to mean so much more. A safe place away from home. More than this. So important. My parents wanted me to work in a shop. My teachers thought I could work in a museum. I wanted to be an artist. In your walls I found books about art, artists. I learned about primitive art, the Renaissance, Impressionists, fell in love with Van Gogh, learned about early photography, war reporting, art and politics, even that women could become artists. Imagine. Huge expensive, lavishly illustrated art books came home with me carrying with them the scent of the library, the smell of knowledge and nurtured my teenage dreams. All this I found within your walls.

At art college there was still more. Now I discovered a library almost entirely devoted to art. I would say I only attained my place at college because of you, because you gave me access to books, knowledge and through that confidence.

You changed my life, opened my horizons, enabled me to fulfill my ambitions.

Now, as an illustrator, writer, artist and photographer I often find myself working in libraries. I’ve worked in city libraries and small branch libraries, school libraries. I have exhibited in The National Library of Wales, Harringay, Balham and other libraries. Cardiff library was a joy to visit, but so was Triorci, tucked away in the valleys. I have found that you have changed. You now have bright, open buildings, lower shelves, are warm and light, almost always busy and seldom as hushed as you once were. Can you imagine how I felt when I was asked by Milford Library if my paintings could be used to decorate the walls? Huge reproductions standing like great pages in the library. I gave them freely, proud to be able to be a part of the library. Can you imagine what it feels like for me to now walk through your doors and find books i have written, illustrated on your shelves. But better still, can you imagine what it feels like when after reading in a library a child asks you how can they join, how can they take home the books. Can you imagine how this might lead to their horizons suddenly opening. These are the teachers, doctors, librarians, lawyers, surgeons, writers, dancers and singers of the future. To help them to join you is the best of all things. Seeing that burning desire for books in them.

But I realize now that I have taken you for granted for far too long, as we often do with things, people we love so much. I thought others would stand in guardianship over you for future generations. That the investment of decades, in books, buildings and librarians would be built upon, that others also knew your worth, appreciated all that you are. Now I see that you are under threat of cuts, have already had so much cut back and I want to tell you how important you are to me, to the future of the country in which I live and even with all the learning I have I cannot find the words.

So, how can I help others to see your true value, not in terms of assets, but in terms of heart? Only by asking everyone to whom a library has ever been important in their life to send a letter, or a card, even just a few lines, in support of what you are. You, who hold so much within your walls. Not just in Cardiff, Birmingham, Liverpool, Hull, Huddersfield, Bicester, Oxford, Cheltenham, Durham, Exeter and not just writers, artists, but all people, young and old.

You were founded years ago by people who realized that giving universal access to knowledge to everyone made for a stronger, healthier country. We should love you more, protect your future, invest in you, because each and every local library is a part of a national treasure.

You changed my life. My wish is that I can now do something to change yours, in the only way I know how. By writing.

with love

Jackie Morris

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There is an online petition you can add your signature too. 

From The public Library by Thomas Greenwood 1890

From The public Library by Thomas Greenwood 1890

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The Future of Publishing.

Ursula Le Guin gave a speech when collecting her Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at this year’s National Book Awards.

She says in so few words what I have been trying to put into words for so long. She has no fear of praising her publishers but also criticising them very publicly. I think what she says is so right and would welcome comment from other authors, publishers, booksellers, librarians as to what they think.

It’s important. It’s our future.

Listen. And thanks to Euan Craig for pointing me in the right direction.

“The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. It’s freedom.”

Frances Lincoln have a book coming in Spring. Dreams of Freedom. Published for and with Amnesty International. Their book, We Are All Born Free is beautiful and should be in every home, school, library. It is a child’s version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Christmas. Jigsaws. Books.

Over Christmas lots of people sent me pictures of their jigsaws and books they had received. Lovely to see where they get to. And lovely to hear how many jigsaws were done.

So, if you have pictures send them to me. Say where you are and maybe who gave you them, even where they were bought if you know and i will try and build a blog post of gifts, giving, books and jigsaws.

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Above, Cathy Cooper’s, bought for her from Blue Ginger. Below, Alison Milton’s bought from Solva Woollen Mill, by her husband Hugh who also made her the most beautiful sewing box.

 

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Below, Katherine Knupp with notebooks, and smile. Beautiful.

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Below, Sarah Blenkinsop’s trove of jigsaws, from Jade Winged Dragon to Help Musicians. I think bought from Book-ish and Help Musicians themselves.

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Below, Anne Dunn. I have this one too, but in 750 pieces and am scared to take out of the box as it will be too much of a distraction. Next year I hope to do bespoke jigsaws with Wentworths with my own cut. Also talking to them about doing an ‘Easter Special’. Maybe get people to put orders in for those.

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And more:

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And now, whenever I am asked out to supper people ask if I can bring a jigsaw. So, here’s what happened at Helen’s when I took All the Bears in the Wild Wide World out for supper. It was difficult!

 

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Tattered wings; or scraperboard in progress.

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5s

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When I was young I loved Tarka the Otter, by Henry Williamson, illustrated by Tunnicliffe. Also My Friend Flicka by Mary o’Hara, also by Tunnicliffe and also using scraperboard as a medium.

The text for A Hole in the Sky is now almost done. The gold leaf paintings are finished. I have 10 scraperboards and am amazed at the expressive quality it is possible to work into this black and white medium. I want to try it with ink drawing and tone combined next, see what happens. I think I became bored with painting, and yet too cautious to try something new when deadlines are screaming at me. So, playing with scraperboard has been fun. Looking forward to seeing how they reproduce.

Meanwhile outside it is cold. The fire has just been lit. I have managed to get through the day in pj’s, more interested in working and thinking about work than in getting dressed. The cats are curled downstairs, finding their own warmth.

1c 2cThere are rumours that there will be prints from this book, maybe same size as the artwork. Some images have been scanned and I hope to see them soon.

Meanwhile, time to think about swans and hares. But I have enjoyed learning a new language and will return to play with it more often I hope.

 

 

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Studio

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Working in my studio, finding peregrines in the scraperboard, tidying up, while Mary and Little p read Mister Finch’s beautiful book.

My hare arrived. She’s beautiful. From Mike Gadd. I need to draw her. I need to paint her. The rest of the year next year will be birds, wings, feathers and mice with teapots.

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Gathering thoughts, and peregrines

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I bought these in an antique shop in Fishguard. They have been long dormant. I wonder whose they were and what images they created, and once more, what happens to artists materials when they die.

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Gilding a peregrine.

On Saturday 6th December I spent the day in the Gardens Of Wales Gallery gilding a peregrine. I had the good company of a few people while I worked and met Carl Stringer, photographer for the gardens, who watched and took photos while I worked.

Now, I hate being on what i call ‘the wrong side of the camera’. Taking photos is fine. Being photographed? no way. But you have to get used to it when you do what I do.

Carl sent me some of the images through that he had taken. Amazing. Beautiful pictures of me working. So, for those who couldn’t make it, this is how the day went. Gilding a peregrine ( I had painted the birds before hand. The rest I did there using white gold transfer leaf.)

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In between times I talked with wonderful people, including Paul, about drawing and painting, and signed a few books for people.

It was a good day.

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A hawk on the glove.

It is evening. Downstairs the fire burns.

This has been my day.

Waking early with words tangling in the mind.

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Prepping prints for a gallery who have waited patiently and walking the dogs on the beach while the gold doodles dry.

At the beach the wind and the sea are wild. On the way small birds were flung around. Now oysetrcatchers rise and ride the wind, and a redwing wanders the beach. Storm blow-ins. The sea-foam makes mountains and a dragon rests, shoulders arching from the sand, now covered with seaweed he has slept there for so long.

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Back home I head for the mill with packed up prints for the courier, sign books, sign jigsaws and Robin calls to say he won’t be home. I have been enjoying the solitude and peace of mind where-in I have been chasing the words for a story but am sad to hear his news that his mother may be dying, in her last days. She is old. Not the easiest of lives lived.

Home to more distractions that I welcome, brooding on Lottie and a long life lived and then settle beside the fire to write while the dog makes a pillow of the soft white cat and then Kevin sends the file with his news story of Ffion and the hawk, a glimpse into my studio and into the wild eyes of a peregrine. And I keep writing ‘muse’, instead of ‘mews’. But maybe they are the same thing for this book.

And I need to update my website, but for now I will leave you with this. And I will go back to the fire’s side and the slow rise and fall of the cats’ breathing, and I will write, a love story.

 

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Mary All Alone; or, Little P Hibernates.

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It was cold outside. The rain made patterns on the grey windows.

“I’ve decided to see what it’s like to hibernate,” said Little P.

“But you can’t hibernate, Little P,”said Mary. “You would have to eat too much. Pandas need to eat for up to 18 hours a day. and bears hibernate for months. And besides, who would I have left to play with?”

“I’m tired,” said Little P, “and I’ve eaten a lot. I ate three bananas, enough porridge for Goldilocks and the three bears, some choklit and a pie.”

“You’ll be cold, Little P,” said Mary. “And you haven’t got a cave.”

“It was a big pie. Bigger than me. I’ll sleep in the pram. It’s a bit like a cave. And She can draw me a hot water bottle, so I can be warm.”

So I did.

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And Little P and Mary climbed into the pram.

“Will you read me a story?” asked Little P.

And Mary said “Yes.” She was a wise bear.

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And Mary read The Ice Bear and they snuggled up close.

 

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And then she read The Snow Leopard. And Little P’s eyes started to close.

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So Mary tucked Little P up in his warm, warm cave pram, and she kissed him night night and went off to find something to do, all alone.

 

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First Mary found a book. A huge and beautiful book.

And I said, “Look Mary, it’s a special edition, signed by the people who made the book.”

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And together we looked through the pages, and while we were looking baby Arctic fox came to see.

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“Look,” he said.”This is where I live, where The Ice Bear lives, on the frozen sea.”

And Mary thought, “When Little P wakes up I must show him this book.”

 

14d

And Little Fox said, “Look, there’s monkeys here. John would like that.”

And Mary thought, “Yes. When Little P wakes up I’ll show him the monkeys.”

She could hear a soft and gentle snoring coming from Little P’s bed and she quietly wondered if he was dreaming.

15d

Mary went to see if Little P had woken up yet. But he was fast asleep.

16d

So Mary decided to do a jigsaw.

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As she put the pieces together Mary thought, Little P would like this. She let Little Fox put the last piece in, because Mary is a kind bear.

 

19d

And then she went to see if Little P was awake yet. But he was fast asleep.

Then, because Mary is a wise bear, she had an idea.

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Mary went and found the biggest bar of choklit. She hauled it up into Little P’s bed and she broke off a big piece and she started to eat, very very quietly, so as not to disturb Little P’s rest.

20d

Little P stirred in his sleep. Mary bit of a big piece of choklit, and began to chew. The scent of choklit drifted into Little P’s dreams.

 

22d

Mary bit off a piece of choklit and began to chew and Little P woke up. He sat up. He stretched and he yawned.

“I’ve been asleep for months and I’m sooooooooo hungry,” said Little P to Mary.

And Mary said, “Oh, Little P, I hope I didn’t wake you. Would you like some choklit?”

 

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And Little P said  “Yes please.”

So Mary shared the choklit and little P ate almost the whole bar, because he had been asleep for months. Well, almost 20 minutes.

And Mary gave Little P a great big hug.

“I’ve missed you Little P,” said Mary.

“And I’ve missed you too, Mary,” said Little P. “And choklit. And my hot water bottle has gone cold. Can you draw me another one , please?”

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A walk in the woods

 

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“Can we go for a walk in the woods today?” asked Little P.

“Yes,” I said. So we did. And in the wild wood we could hear the sea’s roar through the trees, from far away, like a restless lion.

Little P said, ” We’ve been here before, remember? But the wood looked different then.” He looked up into the sky.

“Oh no,” said Little P. “Someone has stolen all the leaves from the trees! Who would do such a thing?”

And I said, “Time, Little P,and the wind’s hand and the turning of the world.”

Mary smiled. She was a wise bear. “It’s autumn, Little P, maybe winter now. In autumn the leaves from some of the trees fall to the ground. But first they go golden or red like flames. The fruit and berries on trees and bushes ripen, feast for birds and for bears. Some bears hibernate in winter but first they eat as much as they can so they don’t get hungry.”

“Not all bears hibernate do they?” said Little P. He did feel a bit sleepy from walking.

“No, Little P. Not you and not me. You could never eat enough to see you though a winter, you eat so much.”

Little P smiled. He was hungry already. “I do,” he said. And inside his head he thought, I’m going to see if I can eat enough so that I can hibernate for a week.

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“Sometimes,” said Mary, ” the leaves make a carpet all over the ground, a beautiful pattern.”

“How many leaves are there on a tree, Mary?” asked Little P.

“Not as many stars as there are in the night sky,Little P,” said I.

Mary smiled. She was a wise bear. “It depends on how big the tree is Little P. And not all trees shed their leaves. Some are deciduous, which means their leaves fall in the autumn and new leaves grow again in the spring, fresh leaves, bright buds, sharp green. Some are evergreen. Their old leaves still fall to the ground, but they always wear their green clothes.”

“Like holly, and ivy?” asked Little P.

“Yes,” said Mary.

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We walked on and sat for a while in the mossy shelter. In places the wind had woven dark branches together. Copper leaves still clung tight to tender twigs.

“Sometimes in winter you can see the subtle architecture of birds nest, Little P, balanced in the trees,” I said.

“She means nests,” said Mary. Little P smiled. He loved Mary.

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We reached the beach and the wind blew hard.

“I’m cold,” said Little P, and he put his woolly hat on.

Mary and me and Little P sat for a while and we looked at the sea.

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Then we headed off, for there was work to be done, and we walked along the low path on the way back home, beside the river water as it ran to the sea. Sheltered here from the wind by all the trees we were warm again, but could still hear the fierce sea raging.

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The sun on the winter bone tree branches was beautiful. In the woods jays chased rooks and small birds called to Mary and Little P.

 

 

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Before we went home we went to the bookshop, in Fishguard. Seaways. To sign some books.  Mary and Little P were hungry from walking and Little P said he hadn’t even had breakfast so the lovely ladies of books bought him a cake that he shared with Mary, and as he ate he thought about all the leaves and how the wood had changed.

“It’s always changing,” said Mary. “And it’s always beautiful.”

“Yes,” said Little P. He looked at the cake and then he said, “If I ate all that cake do you think I might be able to hibernate for a week, Mary?”

Mary just smiled. She was a wise bear.

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