An auction, of gold finches

Over the next few days I am going to auction off some fragments of things from my studio.

To bid, please place a comment on this posting.

If you win the auction I will ask you to donate the money directly to Jane’s amazing initiative to place a copy of The Lost Words in every primary school in Scotland.

Hope to have some great news about this in next couple of days.

The first piece to be auctioned is this:

Three pieces of gold leaf, used to gild two stones and also spell out the word Goldfinch. Each piece is 8cms sq. Fragile things, but framed they can look quite lovely.

Starting bid must be £20 And all bids must be in £. But I am happy to post anywhere in this world.



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Lark, hope, fundraising

Almost on the day that The Lost Words was launched, the most extraordinary project took seed.

Jane, in Scotland, decided that the book needs to be in every primary school in Scotland and that she was going to do something to make this happen.

Not an easy task. But she has created a page to raise the money. To try to help with this I have painted, on one of the pieces of paper left over from the letterpress for Compton Verney exhib, a lark. Everyone who donates to the project will get an entry into a competition to win this piece of work.

Why the lark? Well, when I had finished the book I walked to the hill top and sat. Finishing a piece of work is always difficult. It left me ragged and tattered and I sat on the top of the hill and wept. And as I did a lark rose up, up, up and its song came to my ears and lifted my heart and my head as I sought the shape of that tiny bird, so fragile in the world with a song that filled the sky. A song of hope.

I first came into contact with books in any number in my school library. Books in schools can change lives. And so I will give this project all the support that I can.

You can find Jane’s project here. Crazy idea. Imagine taking delivery of so many books if this works and then having to deliver them the length and breadth of Scotland. If she achieves her target then I am determined to deliver a few myself.

I wonder, can we make it happen?

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The further adventures of The Lost Words and other books.

Words will be added later.

For now, here’s a photo essay of parts of the last two weeks, from Pembrokeshire to London, to Ennerdale and beyond, then home.

In the Natural History Museum, I signed stock for Sarah who runs the bookshop and wandered around Hope, the skeleton of the big blue whale. Love the photo below of her trying to eat a small dinosaur.

The Lost Words was shortlisted for The Waterstones Book of the Year, which was a great honour.

I spoke at the CLPE conference, about fait tales in the modern world and about culture, human and non-human.

Then we headed northwards.


At Audrey’s we met Whisper and Tyger who like to snuggle up in the dog bed. Audrey’s house is full of the most beautiful things. So good to see her and Brain and Tom, and Jack and Flora too.

Next we moved on to Loweswater, and I left a stone in a tree. Still there at the moment. Not at Loweswater, if you are thinking of looking, but nearby.


I was in the Lake District to work at Ennerdale School. Such a brilliant small school in a most beautiful place where magic happens. We met The Owl Lady in the woods. Where she came from nobody knew, but is was beautiful.


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Too busy for my own good

I think I have travelled another 2000 miles, to the Lake District, to Hay, where the snow had settled on the hills.

The past two months have been movement and learning, and now I ned to paint. In all the whirling swirl, two things:

  1. Independent Booksellers voted The Lost Words the most Beautiful Book of the Year. And that was from a longlist of great beauty. How wonderful is that! I went to London to hear the news first hand and collect the award for al the team at Hamish Hamilton who made our book shine.

2. We were voted Hay Festival Book of the Year, and what an utter surprise that was.

And Hay Winter Festival was the most wonderful thing. I blogged about it on the Hay Festival site, so follow the link to see, because now, now, now, I am going to settle into my messy studio to paint.

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2158 miles: bookshops, exhibitions, friends, landscape and time.

Sitting here now in my studio it’s hard to remember some of the last month. It seems like no time at all has passed, and yet I have travelled 2158 mile, and more to be back where I started. The Lost Words was published on 5th October, with a pre-launch the week before at Solva Woollen Mill.

Home now. Back in my studio. Painting. Walking the dogs in the wild wind. Settling took a short while, and I have work to do. A book cover for Janetta of Otter-Barry Books, for Can You See a Little Bear, to be rereleased next summer, a piece to write for a conference next Saturday, school days to plan for a visit to Ennerdale. After a month of not painting I did wonder if I would remember how. Fortunately I hadn’t forgotten.

This might be the longest blog post in the world. If you make it to the end leave a comment and I will at random send out cards, badges and eventually a pack of the Lost Words postcards to someone who does. I am curious to see who reads my blog. You don’t have to say much, just something. But get yourself a cup of tea before we start. It’s a long journey.

It began with the collection of a bag, from SkyRavenWolf, on a canal barge in Bradford on Avon. All the while we were driving the long road to Bradford we didn’t know if we’d be heading north afterwards to Salford, or south to Bicester and on to London. But what a beautiful bag, commissioned some time ago, made at just the right time.

We were almost at Bradford on Avon when the word came through that we were indeed to head north, to Media City, where the following day Robert Macfarlane and I would appear on Breakfast TV to talk about The Lost Words.

Neither Robert nor I have a television. I have to confess Media City is not a natural environment for either a Morris, or a Macfarlane, but the staff there were amazing, and we were made to feel comfortable and at home, and the Breakfast Show appearance was over in a flash, and only afterwards did we realise that neither he nor I had mentioned the title of the book, but, well, it didn’t seem to matter. And I had survived having makeup put on my face for the first time in my life ( and my hair straightened so that I looked less of a witch). I had asked the wonderful makeup woman if she could do anything about the bags under my eyes, but she said that she had brushes, not magic wands, and I loved her for that!

We left Salford to head to Bicester, to leave the van with Judy and make our way to London, for the Lost Words was to be launched at Foyles the following day. And it was lovely to see Judy, though Betty, her dog, seemed frail. Utterly beautiful in her old age, a life lived well, but frail. The view from our hotel room was just wonderful.

The event at Foyles was my first with Mr Macfarlane. I was nervous. Kerry Andrew, who sang the wonderful wren spell was in the audience and hearing her words on a sound system was just beautiful.

From London we went to Cheltenham Festival, from Cheltenham to Crickhowell and everywhere there were queues for book signing and stories about the book. People sent us wonderful pictures of readers of all ages with the book and we were still only a few days in to what would be a month away from home.

It was my mum’s birthday on 2nd October. We stepped outside of the whirl of bookshops on the Sunday, went to Broadway, celebrated with family. At home I found a picture of me aged 6. This was my first real meeting with books. Already I wanted to be an artist. Behind me are 2 books by Brian Wildsmith whose work I still adore.

On Sunday evening we drove to Tetbury. The Yellow Lighted Bookshop there had a window filled with my books.

The next day, in a school in Bristol I came face to face with the roots of The Lost Words. I was about to read the wren spell to a class of 32 6 year olds when the booksellers stopped me. “Ask the children if they know what a wren is, first, Jackie.” I did. Not one child knew that a wren is a bird. So they had never seen a wren, nor heard that sharp bright song. But now they know the name of it, the shape of it, so perhaps if one flits into sight they will see it, hear it, know it, now.

The evening was given over to a talk in a beautiful church, the most beautiful setting, and a patient queue of people waiting to have books signed.

From Tetbury we travelled to Bicester again, via Obsidian Fine Arts where I signed piles of books for Trisha, and Robin wandered off to London while Judy and I talked the evening away, toasted betty, who wasn’t at all well, though beautiful in the fragility of a life lived well. At the other end of life, far away in Wales, Pi was having fun with her other family,Sarah and Ben, who love her so.

On Wednesday Robin and I took the Park and Ride ( Rock and roll lifestyle!) into Oxford. And Robert and I did a talk together at the Natural History Museum, chaired by the sick man of hedgehogs, Hugh Warwick ( who despite suffering some malevolent strain of cold managed to keep us on topic). I met a bear or two and we signed under a dinosaur and then did a shameless selfie with a t-rex.

Before leaving Judy’s in Bicester I said a quiet goodbye to the beautiful Betty Blue.

Onward…..from Oxford to Birmingham, where I stayed with my cousins, Kieth and Judith and travelled back into the past, learning about all my iron working relations in the Black Country. My uncle was a giant of a man. And it seemed that only a few generations back, 3 I think, my family were illiterate. We take our literate society so much for granted these days. Great Grandfather Emmanuel Pitchford signed his wedding certificate with a cross.

My gran made chain and nails in a forge at the bottom of the garden. My uncle worked the bellows from the age of four. No childcare then. When he was younger his playpen was a barrel by the forge fire. ‘Eeked from iron and wreaked with blue and beaked with steel..’ the heron in The Lost Words. That’s me.

Birmingham Literature Festival was held in the library, an astonishing building. It was curious being there. I was born in Birmingham. All through my childhood we would return to visit family there. Familiar, and yet not so, my cousin took us on a tour of houses where I had lived as a child, where my aunt and uncle had lived. And we talked about the wild that can be found in the city, the paths along canals that my cousin walks, seeing kingfishers, and once, an otter.

On their walls they still have paintings I did when I was a child, copied from books, learning the shape of a bird.

From Birmingham via nightfall to Newport House, where we found friends by the fireside and then woke to the most enchanted and beautiful place.

Our room overlooked the garden. And in the garden there were sculptures in stone and iron and bronze and willow.

We were there so that I could give a talk about The Lost Words. And the place and the people there made it a haven of peace n a busy and frantic tour.

A few day out from this, at Tamsin and Mike’s, while a wild wind raged over the country. I did go to Hay, to Booths, to sign some books, but I also rested and read and talked with Tamsin and Mike, and slept. Tamsin had made the most sublime work for an exhibition that was themed around Alice in Wonderland.

And then we went to Compton Verney. I crept up on the exhibition slowly.

My cousins who had looked after us in Birmingham had agreed to bring mum and dad to see the exhibition. We had arranged for them to come before the show opened to the public, so they had some peaceful time just wandering the rooms.


I love how my ma and pa still walk side by side holding hands, even after all of a lifetime together.

I will do a separate blog post with images of the exhibition, and link from here when done. It’s hard to describe how it feels to see the work you’ve slaved over for so long so beautifully curated and hung and lit. Robin asked me what Mum and Dad had said about the show. But they didn’t really have the words I think. Both very quiet as they wandered around, looking.

And friends and family came to the opening, and it was so busy I only managed to get a few photos and can’t really remember it. But I love these two of Nicola Davies and the one above of me and my sister.

There’s more. So much. For now I will put up images, then later come back and add words. I’ve things to do before I go away again.






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Be Wild Er.

Get a cup of tea, sit back, and listen to Mr Macfarlane talking about The Lost Words.

When I was a child there were more sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes. This book is a song of protest in words and paint, a soul song, and aims to help us rewind our lives and be less at ease with the decrease in numbers of the wild world. Name it, own it, heart and soul.


And thank you Waterstones for making this film.

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As a book moves out into shops, into the hands of readers, I feel I am learning.

I’m a single parent. When my children were young I found it so difficult when books were published and along with the book came lots of merchandising. Plastic, figures, pencil cases, things.

One of the things I love about The Lost Words is that much of the merchandising is free. Blackberries on the bramble bushes, acorns and conkers, the songs of larks and the bright song of wrens. Be outside. Go for a walk. Even in the inner city you might find a kingfisher on a canal bank.

There will, I am told, also be an otter scarf in Compton Verney.

And postcards, soon, soon.

But for now, the wild and the free, and flocks of goldfinches, starling murmerations, and the falling leaves of oak trees will remind people of our book. Wild magic.


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When wren whirrs

Robert asked if I had any film of me painting a piece for The Lost Words. I didn’t. Unlike my usual process much of the work I had done for the book was kept hidden from view until the book was ready for sale, so I just hadn’t taken pictures, unless it was to see things from a different angle. But we both wanted to do a special piece of work, centred on the book, featuring wrens, so I thought I would film it. The first film was a fantastic fail, as I put the camera over my right shoulder. Very good pictures of the back of my hand! So, using more thought I set the camera up over my left, like a little dark angel.

Then I painted a wren. And next I tried to work with iMovie to speed up and couple the film with the beautiful music of Kerry Andrew. Wow, she is mesmeric in her sound sculpted  song. Later Robert came to my studio and I filmed him writing the words on the piece, a long picture. The wren is a small island of paint. Writing moves across the page. And after the media team at Penguin took and crafted the film, this is the result.

Please share, and do go and listen to more of Kerry’s music. She also has a book coming soon, because she is a young and multi talented beautiful kingfisher haired genius.

She has a sound cloud, but if you love her work buy her cd on download or in the real. We all need audiences to keep us painting, writing, singing. You Are Wolf. Gorgeous.

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Questions: about a book

“What is your book?” he asked.

  1. At it’s most literal it is two boards between which are pieces of paper bound with a central spine. Contained on the pages are 26 letters of the alphabet, arranged in a certain and specific order and a series of images made from coloured water.
  2. It’s a creative protest against the falling away of the usage of certain words due to the attention being focussed in a different way and an attempt to refocus the minds of humans onto the everyday wild in which we live.
  3. It’s a series of spells that aim to conjure a love of language and wild things in the hearts and minds of young and old accompanied by images that celebrate the words, and so engage the percentage of our population who cannot read words.

“Why is your book?” he asked, and I could only answer with a kingfisher and a story.

I first met kingfisher in the pages of a book. A word. Ten letters.











I came to reading late, but when I began to understand how writing worked it lit my child’s mind and filled my head with a new way of thinking, thou, still, I mostly thought in images, not words. The curious alchemical relationship of reader and text constantly amazes me.

Kingfisher. It seemed that in the world in which I lived there was a bird, a river dweller, coloured in the brightest blue, with a breast that shone like the setting sun.

Every time I have ever seen a kingfisher is written in my memory, not in words, but as a flashing image. On the riverbank in Evesham where I walked as a child. Along the canals in Bath, fierce arrows, ‘too fast to follow’, cutting a rent in the air above a golden river near Tarr Steps on Exmoor. And each time I saw a kingfisher flash, or ‘caught on the snag of a stick’, I felt a connection root through my being, a connection to a world of wild, inhuman, beauty. And because I had read of this bird I knew what it was.

Back to the first question. What is your book? It’s a harbour for the wild child, who feels uncomfortable in its own skin as it looks around and tries to make some sense of an adult world where grown ups say one thing and behave in a completely different way. It’s a soul song from two creatures who have grown up loving the world outside the human world, seeing the trees, birds, plants, creatures and loving them and their wild souls. It’s  celebration of word and image working in a symbiotic way to, we hope, delight the eye and ear. It is a catalyst for creativity, and already we have some beautiful music to accompany the rhythm of the words.

It is, for now, the best we can do.

It’s an acorn, a seed. If you water it with your attention we hope it will grow.

And one more answer to the Why? Because we have a responsibility to awe, or as Rebecca Elson said:

We Astronomers – Poem by Rebecca Elson

We astronomers are nomads,
Merchants, circus people,
All the earth our tent.
We are industrious.
We breed enthusiasms,
Honour our responsibility to awe.

But the universe has moved a long way off.
Sometimes, I confess,
Starlight seems too sharp,

And like the moon
I bend my face to the ground,
To the small patch where each foot falls,

Before it falls,
And I forget to ask questions,
And only count things.

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Where I am, and will be.


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