Words and Pictures

The Lost Words, by Robert Macfarlane and myself is done now. Soon it will be released into the wild. As a picture book it is a collaboration of words, images. Both Robert and myself worked closely with each other and with the tremendous support of the wonderful team at Hamish Hamilton to bring this book to life.

At Compton Verney between October and Christmas there will be a huge exhibition of artwork from the book, an exhibition that gives equal weight to the words, and an exhibition that is also being beautifully crafted, by Antonia, the curator, by John Mitchel, my framer.

And here’s a thing. We have also created two other pieces of work together. The first was a curious project for an exhibition to highlight the mass movement of people, organised by IBBY. You can now see much of the glorious art from this project on a wonderful map site, if you follow this link.

Mine and Rob’s work is no 103

More can be found about this piece on an earlier blog post.

And then there is this:

We were asked by the publisher to produce a piece of work for Waterstones. I suggested that as the goldfinch became the guide in The Lost Words perhaps I should paint them a finch and Robert could write one? And yes, this happened. I sent the painting , with the word Goldfinch written in gold leaf. Then Rob had to write on it. Fair to say he was a bit reluctant, took a bit of persuading. I think perhaps it’s not easy to write on someone’s painting. But it had to be Rob’s words, written in his hand. And how magic it turned out to be.

When we began this project we talked of grimoires and spell books. Having completed the book a few months before, I think in this single piece of art we found the way to work this curious wild magic. Sometimes that is how things happen.

Perhaps this is the start of something new. I love the curling curved of the drawn letters, for that is what handwriting is. Words drawn. I love this charm, this spell. Of all the work I’ve ever done in my life I think this single piece is the piece of work I can, hand on heart say, I am proud of. It is, just, right.

Listen.

And if you want to know more about it, here. It’s a gift.

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The Snow Leopard

She’s ten years old this year, The Snow Leopard. First published by Frances Lincoln children’s books. And they sold her to a French publisher, who astonished me with their beautiful edition. You see…

..La Panthere Blanche was bigger, and somehow more beautiful than the UK edition. She sold so well, the French Snow Leopard, and from the first day I saw her I wanted my books to be bigger. But you see, in France they still have the net book agreement. Time after time I was told, no, big books don’t sell, there’s no market, we can’t do it…. and I watched as Animalium took bookshops by storm with its beautiful pictures and large format. And still, no, I was told. You can’t have a big book, because there aren’t enough pages…..but you can have this….

and my publishers made all my books smaller. Well, it kind of breaks your creative heart a little when that happens. BUT, the small editions were kind of cosy, and cheap at £4.99, and though I didn’t like them and didn’t want them they sold a good many copies, were great little stocking fillers and easy to post for presents, so I guess they had something good about them. They were also good as giveaway things, like a business card with a story, something very portable so if people asked what I did I could show them as it fit in a pocket in my bag. But they always seemed rather throw away… and so strange, to make my pictures even smaller. And in France they did their own lunch box sized edition, so you could take your favourite book to school, like a small comfort blanket. Even the small edition was bigger than the UK one.

But then the publisher decided to end the hardback edition, and just publish in paperback. I looked at my royalty statements. The hardback sales were so strong. The paperback, as far as I knew, were not what my market wanted. It’s always good to know your readers. So I said no. And Quarto understood, and gave me back the rights and I can’t thank them enough because now, ten years on, we have The Snow Leopard, deluxe, artist’s edition, with no title on the cover. There’s more about why no title here.

There’s a magic about this book. A deep magic. She’s helped many people get through difficult times. She works like a spell. If  you put her into the window of a bookshop she makes people wander in, and I feel that spell will be stronger, more dynamic, without the spell of words on the cover.

She was reviewed in The New York Times.

There’s a whole family of these books now. You can still pick up some of the old editions second hand, but the new editions are available, signed, from Solva Woollen Mill. There are only 500 of the artist editions, signed, numbered and stamped with a stamp designed exclusively for this book. One of my favourite editions is the Tibetan one. Sending the story home, from Pembrokeshire and into the dreams of Tibetan children.

You can read more about the making of the book in this page from my old and ancient website. 

Meeting snow leopards in real life was an amazing experience.

And if you feel you want a book and a snow leopard I would suggest you contact Jane in Eve’s Toy Shop in Llandeillo.

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A date for the Diary

On 28th September, at Solva Woollen Mill, between the hours of 1 and 7pm we will be having a celebration of the launch into the book world of Mrs Noah’s Pockets, illustrated by James Mayhew, The Lost Words, written by Robert Macfarlane, The Snow Leopard and the Icebear, written and illustrated by me.

The first 150 people to buy The Lost Words will be sure to get the copies that have a signed bookplate by Mr Macf himself in and all and every copy of the book purchased from the mill ill be signed by me and stamped with a stamp designed exclusively for the mill. Everyone will also be entered into a draw to win the small gilded finch seen in the picture below, an original and signed painting by me.

To order, follow this link to the bookshop section of the mill’s website.

Also available at the mill now are copies of the new editions of The Icebear and The Snow Leopard. But more on that later. For now, I need to paint, but wanted to give people as much notice as possible about this event at the mill. So many books, and Anna always dresses the mill to perfection to celebrate the launches. Such a beautiful place to visit. So, come if you can. It’s a week ahead of the launch in London and we are so grateful to Hamish Hamilton for letting us, in the small corner of far away from London, be the first on what is going to be a fine series of events, from festivals to bookshops.

 

( Please don’t buy any of my books from Amazon. Indie shops will post books to you. Amazon take large amounts of money from taxpayers to set up distribution points. They pay low wages, have 0 hour contracts and pay very little tax. They undervalue the work of authors and illustrators by slashing the price of books, and believe me when I say that means the share of the money the author gets is so very very low. They are fuelling an unsustainable environment for the publishing industry. )

 

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When things are done before the list is written.

Big bales of silage in the fields fascinated me yesterday with their curious reflections. Updated computer frustrated my wishes, but now I begin to fit my head around the changes and all comes together.

The White Cat does so love to stalk The Eelhound.

Today is Hannah’s birthday. 23 years ago, in just under an hour’s time, she was born. Small and dark of skin and hair she came out into the world. Now she is half a world away, in a hostel in South Africa, teaching yoga, swimming, surfing. And Rosie, her hound, misses her so, but we are walking and watching the world, and wishing her a happy birthday, Slightly Salty.

Check out her blog to see what an amazing creature she has grown to be.

Today the air is smooth and cool, the heather fills the eyes with colour and paints the land.

Together we walk and think, and look for stones, and think some more. Seven ravens fly over.

Coming back we see the farmer collecting the fascinating bales. Time to wait and watch. So much to do that sometimes it is good to just stop, think, watch. I’ve books and events to promote. Books to sign. Illustrations to do. A head full of paintings.

I’ve a new list. Time now to work.

Time to draw.

Below is the sign for the door.

 

 

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Auction for Acorns Children’s Hospice.

Every year I donate a piece of work to the small art auction for Acorn Children’s Hospice, run by Sue Lim from Blue Ginger Gallery.

This year I will be donating two pieces. On 9th September, in the afternoon I will be in Blue ginger Gallery, signing books and painting or drawing a small piece of artwork for auction. In the evening of 9th there will be a talk about Mrs Noah’s Pockets and The Lost Words. Booking is essential for the evening and there will be a simple supper for which donations are welcome. Dress warmly as if the weather is good it’s lovely to eat outside. Blue Ginger is lovely.

This is all part of Hereford Art Week and you may be wondering how and why, given that I live in Wales. Well, I began my career at Hereford College of Art, a long time ago. And some of the artwork from One Cheetah One Cherry will be on display. The book is published, along with Mrs Noah, by Otter-Barry Books and Janetta, the publisher and editor, is also based in Hereford.

The other piece for auction is a very special piece. This is the first piece of work to be offered for sale from The Lost Words. It isn’t in the book, but is a very rare preliminary piece for the book, painted in 2015 right at the beginning of the project when Robert Macfarlane and I were trying to work out the shape of the book in our hearts and minds.

19 cms x 21, watercolour and gold leaf, an original painting for the word ‘acorn’.

To bid on the auction you will need to go to facebook, or go to Blue Ginger on the auction day. I’m not running the auction so PLEASE don’t leave bids here. Everything is being handled by Sue at Blue Ginger.

The auction is for the best of causes. The children’s hospice supports families at a time when they can be in desperate need. Please be generous in your bidding.

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The Black Fox

First published in The Fox Book edited by Jane Russ, published by Graffeg, The Black Fox is a story of courage, and something more than revenge.

The Black Fox

This story is dedicated to all those who are hunted.

There are those who measure out their days by the hands of a clock, their weeks and months by the turning pages of a calendar. There are others who measure time by sun’s rising and falling and the turning of the world, by the coming and fading of snowdrops and bluebells, the arrival and departures of swallows, warblers, leaf bud and blossom and the colour of autumn trees. She was one of these. She did not believe that time should be shackled to the hands on the face of a clock. She thought it the devil’s work.

She lived in a small cottage deep in the heart of a patch of wild woodland. Little was known of her solitary soul. People loved to fill this space around her life with speculation.

She owned both house and land. These two facts, and her dark, wild beauty were what drew to her the attention of the Lord of the Manor. He owned everything around the wood. He could see it from the room in the tower where he slept at night. He wanted everything, wood, cottage and woman.

He wanted the house because it irked him that this one patch of land was not his. He wanted the wood because he loved to hunt and whenever the hounds caught the scent of the fox it would bolt to her woodland for sanctuary. He wanted the woman because he loved her, or thought he did. And he did so love to hunt.

It was said that her father was a highway man, who waylaid travelers on the woodland road and stole  money and jewels. That, it is said, was how he bought the house for his child. The truth, known only to a handfull of people was that her father was a freed slave who wandered the land in search of answers. Her mother was a highway woman who dressed as a man. Her disguise worked well. She died a peaceful death of old age. While she plied her night time trade her young daughter was left to the care of the wildwood foxes and hares.

At first the lord tried to win her love with trinkets. She turned him away. She did not want him, nor his gifts, for his eyes were cruel even when his words spoke softly. Had he brought her foundling birds or wildling cubs she might have looked more kindly on his suit. But he knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing, so he brought her diamonds and garnets and rubies. He measured his worth by the acres he owned, the shares in companies, the ships and plantations, by the money and jewels in his bank vaults.

As she spurned his gifts and his touch he grew to hate what he could not have. And yet he burned around her like a moth to a flame.

He tried to buy her house, her woodland, having failed to buy her love, but this also came to nothing.

When her house burned to the ground some people thought it an accident. Some around felt that she had got what she deserved for there are always those who fear a woman who chooses to live alone. Witch they called her. Others whispered that he was to blame, that he had gone to her house, taken what she refused to give and burned both woman and house to the ground to hide the evidence. But he was the Lord of the Manor. No man would say this to his face.

It was only a few weeks after the fire that the Black Fox appeared.

Almost as large as a wolf, she was, with stars in her eyes and a tail like the dying of the crescent moon, they said. She soon became a creature of omen.

One by one she picked off all the hens in the manor’s farm. He would see the fox at twilight in his garden, set the hounds to run her down, but always she eluded them.

He began to suffer ill fortune. One by one his ships all sank, investments failed. His servants began to slip away as his mood grew darker. They feared he was cursed. And the Black Fox would call, all night in his garden, a mating shriek like the ghosts of the dead calling from hell, troubling his dreams even when he managed to sleep.

Things fell apart and he slipped towards madness, until he vowed to kill the Black Fox. The look in her eye reminded him of something, but he would not say who it was. So he vowed to kill her.

He bought, with the tattered remnants of his fortune, the swiftest hunter that money could buy. He unleashed what was left of his pack of hounds and at dawn they rode out.

They say the Black Fox came to meet him, goading his hounds with her fearful cry. They say she ran the hounds ragged until their paws were bloody and their bodies broken. By dusk light they could still be heard baying to the rising moon. All night he rode, as fast as the horse would carry him but no matter how fast they galloped the Black Fox always ran faster.

By first light the next day he was gone. His horse was gone. His hounds were gone. Some say he rode so fast he crossed over the river that runs between this world and the next. Others say the devil took him for his own.

The Black Fox still wanders through the gardens of the manor house, but now the wild wood trees have taken it for their own, seeding the lawns with sapling oaks, climbing wild ivy over the statues and fountains. The manor house windows are blind now, the stone walls tumbled in ruin.

Men fear sighting the Black Fox. They think her a creature of ill omen, the devil’s own.

Women know better.

No one could say exactly when it began, but women began to wear a black fox, hidden, stitched into their clothing, on a chain around their neck, a brooch pinned beneath a scarf, inside a hat. They drew the shape of her in dark charcoal, in hidden places in their homes, above a girl child’s crib, to protect the home, to protect the heart, to protect the life, against the cruelty of some men.

She became a symbol of safety.

And still, sometimes, she wanders the deep woods, wild, free, safe.

Thank you for reading. Id=f you make any black foxes, send me an image via email.

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A week on the road; or, Edinburgh Festival 2017

And then began the longest blog post so get a cup of tea before you start.

On Thursday 10th I set off alone in my big black van, leaving Pi in the care of Sarah and Ben at The Bug Farm and Ivy to look after Mr Stenham. I drove the long road that leads to Crickhowell and there I found the Lost Words waiting for me, in Book-ish. On the way I stopped to photograph a dead pigeon and ate too many cherries and met the nightmare panda from another dimension. It was one of those days.

At Book-ish I had lunch with Emma, and we looked at The Lost Words together. Well, I watched Emma looking at The Lost Words, stroking the pages.

At Nicola’s, where I was staying, she showed me her dead wren she had found on a run. It was in the fridge. Beautiful, even in death.

Later I watched as Eva John, Nicola and Julia Green looked at The Lost Words and I wished that I had a sound file as they turned the pages.

At Nicola’s I found a copy of What to Look for in Spring, with illustrations by Tunnicliffe. My sister had this book and I loved it.

We walked. Someone had found one of the labyrinth stones left nearby and put it inside the great yew tree.

The next day Mimi Thebo arrived with the most gorgeous cake. Such a gathering we had, with Gill Lewis, Karin Celestine, Julia Green, Nicola Davies, Eva John, Clare Parry-Jones and me. Nicola had made the most beautiful lunch.

We talked of books and the wild world and laughed and read to each other.

The next day Nic and I went off to a church, somewhere on a hillside nearby, took a wrong turn on the pathways and ended up scrambling over logs, green with soft moss, beneath fences, knees muddy, faces covered in smiles.

The church was astonishing, with painted walls and a wooden screen. But something, at the end of the room, strange, setting the hair on end. Outside in the sunshine a beautiful view of trees and valley.

I placed the stone I had brought from Mousehole in the swift running stream by a scared well.

I found a leaf, bright shadow making something strange of its dry decay.

Bright light on the water was curious strange., ripples and gold glinting in sunlight.

Then, the next day a long train journey to the north. Edinburgh Festival. I had A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne Harris to keep me company and oh what wild and beautiful company it is. Such a beautiful delight of a book.

Despite it being Scotland I had failed to take a coat and, well, as if on cue for Mrs Noah’s Pockets……

Before our event James Mayhew and I did an interview for Scottish Booktrust Learning Resource and when that is edited and posted I will link to it. Then I asked if James wanted to see The Lost Words and he and Antonio settled in the author’s yurt to wander through its pages. So again, I watched them, looking at the book. Then we did our event and the weather conspired with sound effects.

I had let James take complete control of what we should do and he had made the most beautiful powerpoint that included images from Noye’s Fludde. Together we made a dragon in collage to show the children how he had worked the images. I was so nervous of doing this, but really enjoyed it and afterwards a lady in the audience bought the piece for £100 which James and I are donating to Help Musicians on her behalf as this is where our work together began, in the card designs for Help Musicians.

We signed lots of books and James printed beautiful lino cuts in each book. I would like to thank Edinburgh Book Festival for inviting us to be part of the program and for being just so warm in their welcome and so kind in the way they look after all their writers.

Later James and Antonia went off to the National Gallery of Scotland as he is working there in December, and I showed Jake Hope of SLG both The Lost Words and Mrs Noah’s Pockets.

And on Monday Caught By The River added this to their beautiful site and I feel rather quietly proud to be a part of it.

 

Lovely Anji Baker came to get me from the festival and tired as tired we went back to her house and the beautiful dogs. And there I was, so close to the Towie Stone, and heading home the next day, with too brief a time to see Anji, so I asked if I could stay an extra day and yes. So on Tuesday we went together to the gallery and hunted down the magnificent stone. All of them, so beautiful.

So, so lovely to see Anji, and we live too far from each other! And also, on Monday, Audrey and Brian and John, who came and went in the hustle and bustle that is the festival. Next time I will make time to stay longer. The museum is astonishing. I need to see more. And spend more time with Anji.

Back home, settling in for a short while and I’ve much to do in too short a time. Robin looked at The Lost Words and I watched as he did. And later I checked on stones that live hidden in the wild.

I still find that while I have watched others looking at the Lost Words I’ve been strangely shy of looking at it myself. It sits in my living room like a strange wild thing. I thought I would find the courage to have a good look through when I got home but I’ve still not quite managed it.

Today I reached the end of the first draft of a new novel, but I realise there’s a long way to go yet in self editing before it works its way into the hands of an editor. I almost lost it as my computer wouldn’t turn on so many thanks to the team at Them Digital for talking me through, helping me boot up and then delete things……. messy computer, full of stuff, bit like my house.

Tomorrow I will do some painting and look at The Lost Words and stop being scared of my own book.

I’ve finished A Pocketful of Crows now. I think I might read it again. It has not a word out of place. It sings to my soul. It makes me wish to be of the traveling folk so that I could go into a hare.

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Write, illustrate.

This year I have six books out. Four are re-issues, two are new.

On Monday I will be at Edinburgh Festival with James Mayhew for the launch of Mrs Noah’s Pockets. This is a book I wrote, and it is illustrated by the wonderful James Mayhew. Originally it was to be published by Frances Lincoln, but the company was sold, Janetta, my editor there moved on to start her own publishing house and it was with great generosity that the editor at the new company, Quarto Kids, allowed the book to travel with her to Otter-Barry Books.

It was an honour and a privilege to watch as James worked, taking my words and putting flesh on the bones of my story. I love Mrs Noah. I am hoping she is going to be part of a series of books. She has a quiet kindness in her bones, a love of life, a sense of humour. You can read more about the book on another page of this blog. The book grew from a performance at Tewkesbury Cathedral, and there’s a wonderful film of James and the children on my blog, if you follow the link above.

The second of the new books is The Lost Words, published by Hamish Hamilton. This is written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by me, and what a joy it was to work with this man’s words and the wonderful team at Hamish Hamilton to craft a book together.

It has been a long journey and a great deal of time since Hay Festival in 2015 when Robert announced to a rather large crowd that we were working on this book together. At that time the book had no publisher, and as it was something so outside the realm of the wonderful novels published by Hamish Hamilton we did wonder where our idea would set seed. ( Hamish Hamilton have four novels on the Booker longlist, don’t publish illustrated works, or children’s books) However, Robert wrote a proposal for the book, I did a sketch or two, both were  presented to Simon at HH by Jessica Woollard, our agent and within twenty-four hour of this we learned that indeed, Hamish Hamilton would love to help us realise our vision for the book.

It’s not a ‘children’s book’. It’s just a book. Large format, immersive, a soul song. It’s changed so much since first we played with ideas for the book. This was one of the first sketches I did, for ‘acorn’.

Once Robert started writing it became clear that something much cleaner, less fussy, was needed. The words sing off the page. Spells, incantations, for bringing back to common usage words which once were so everyday, before our lives grew urbanised, technologically focussed. Words to summon a different focus, on to the every day wild.

Both books are now available for pre order from Solva Woollen Mill, and on their page for The Lost Words you can read more about the Pembrokeshire focus of The Lost Words.

Here’s a link to all my books on their site. Solva Woollen Mill provide the most wonderful service in enabling me to sell signed and dedicated books to anywhere in this wide and beautiful world, though if you are ordering from outside of the UK you will have to email them. The first 150 copies of The Lost Words will also be signed, via a specially designed bookplate, by Mr Macfarlane also.

There will be a launch on 28th September at Solva Woollen Mill, for Mrs Noah’s Pockets, The Lost Words, and also the reissues in large format luxury editions of the Icebear and The Snow Leopard by Graffeg. This is a week ahead of the launch in London at Foyles, and pembrokeshire in early autumn does wear the most beautiful cloak of wild, so do come. There will be seal pups around. Falcon Boats will still be on the water and we may be able to arrange a special storytelling boat trip if enough people are interested.

Illustrating and writing books is a passion for me. I’ve moved over twenty five years from contract to contract, working all through holidays, bank holidays, Christmas, Easter, trying to meet deadlines. Working with Hamish Hamilton has been a joy, but it was a fierce deadline, to get the work done in time for the publication on 5th Oct, exhibition at Compton Verney, also in October. As a result I have decided to take a rest from publishing for a while, to gather my strength, reassess my work.

I guess that is what you might call a Sabbatical. When I told someone this they asked me ‘who has given you a Sabbatical?’ Well, I’ve been self employed all my life, so I guess the answer is, me.

I should have called this blog post ‘Write, illustrate, rest’. I’m spending my time painting, writing, working with some interesting people, like Colin Riley, and soon also Fay Hield. I am working on a novel which needs unpicking, reweaving and crafting, but my head is filled with hares, fish and a desire for letterpress. I want to get ink under my nails with lino, and maybe take up an offer to do some etching, if the offer is still there. And I want to read.

I’ll be out and about a good deal in autumn, sometimes with Mr Macfarlane, sometimes alone. From London to Cornwall, The Lake District and who knows where, so keep an eye on the events page.

And thank you. It’s your support over the years that has enabled me to continue in conversation with paper for all these years. Hope you grow to love Mrs Noah, and find The Lost Words.

 

 

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Feather and stone; or, The Shape of a Bird

So many people, who know little about not much, will take to social media to denounce people who have studied subjects for years.

Walking the other day I found a feather, and wondered, if I found such a thing, but knew nothing of birds, how could I possibly understand the shape of the creature it fell from? It reminded me of the angry people, on twitter. And so I painted this.

Then I gilded some more stones. And now I have more ideas. Feathers and stones.

But once again this is what I like, from this day’s work. A fragment of gold. An accidental remnant.

Tomorrow, if all goes well, I will meet The Lost Words. It has been a long birth.

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Dragon Boat

This piece of work was begun about two years ago and has sat brooding and unfinished in a corner of my studio for all that time. You see, I had books to do, six in all, and then The Lost Words, and deadlines were tight on all of the books and I had no time to paint the strangeness that dwells in my dreaming mind. Until now.

For I have given myself a Sabbatical from books, after twenty five years of working from contract to contract. For a while I will wander where I will, drawing hares, painting, writing and thinking.

Love the gold remnant from the Sail-Eared Earth Surfer.

And I have been gilding more stones, to leave in the landscape.

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