Stories at Sea: Nicola Davies and Jackie Morris

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As an artist and illustrator I have always thought of myself as self-employed. Reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver this morning ( always a good way to begin a day, reading for 30 minutes) I learned that as artists and writers we are employed by the imagination.

Our job description should be to work with our imaginations and to bear witness. Nicola Davies does this so well in all of her work. Passionate about the wild and the human connection with the wild and wild places her books sing with a poetry, shine on the bookshelves. Her books, both fiction and non fiction, which she has championed for years, are a must for all libraries and bookshops. Last week, in response to our government’s failure of humanity to recognise the plight of refugee children she wrote an impassioned piece, the perfect picture book text, The Day War Came. Her words have helped to give voice to many, as a campaign grew to draw up a protest to try and change the hearts and minds of those in government.

On 28th May Nicola and I will be taking people away from it all, across Ramsey Sound to Ramsey Island and around the wonderful coastline, so rich with birdlife and seals, and always the hope of sighting the harbour porpoise. As we move around the coast we will be weaving stories around the island, and with  luck and fair weather Nic will sing to the seals. Seals love music.

There are two trips, we hopes, but spaces are limited so book early. £60 for an hour and a half, and bookings should be made by contacting Ffion or Hannah at Falcon Boats. For more information about the boat trip have a look at the Falcon Boats site. Details of where to go etc will be sent once your place is secured.

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St Davids is busy over this weekend in May, with The Really Wild Food Festival at Celtic Camping and Adam Buick opening his latest kiln firing.

The Really Wild Food festival has some great exhibitors including Pembrokeshire Falconry Centre,  Astrid who will be making wooden spoons, and the wonderful Graffeg, so Nic and I will have to pop along at some point to sign books for them.

Adam’s kiln openings are always magical, his work is sublime. Adam’s work is in private collections internationally and he also has two beautiful pieces in the collection of The National Museum of Wales.

Having fired the kiln it needs to cool before the pots are removed, but still warm they sing like quiet music boxes as the glaze cracks and pings in the air outside the kiln.

Annual Kiln Opening from Adam Buick on Vimeo.

So, come to Pembrokeshire for the weekend of 28th. Ffion and Falcon Boats will be running trips to Grasholm by then and also evening trips to see shearwaters. The sea birds will be nesting in their cliff colonies. Celtic Camping will be busy with the Really Wild Food Festival.

If you feel like sharing this post that would be wonderful, and if you do, by twitter, facebook, blog link, whatever, or even just by contacting friends and talking about it, leave a comment on the blog post. I will pick out someone one the day from the comments below and send them a copy, signed, of Queen of the Sky or The Seal Children. And remember, my books are always available, signed at Solva Woollen Mill. Although the mill are still closed on Saturday, until high summer, you can order your books, should you want them and I can collect and bring to the event on Saturday.

Thank you.

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The Winter Gathering: Help Musicians 2016

It began in 2000.

No, it began the year before when I was asked to design a card for what was The Musicians Benevolent Fund, but I was too busy with other work, didn’t have time. So they came back to me the following year and I created a card design for them. It sold twice as many as they were used to.

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The original is now in a private collection, as are many of the pieces I made over subsequent years as each year the MBF, now called Help Musicians, came back to me for a new design. It’s almost two decades now, and each year it got harder to find something. And how curious to see so clear a mark of the progression of work. There are characters who move from card to card, so many stories tied into each image.

This year the images will come together in a book called The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow. Twelve short stories, woven around the images in a large format book to be published in the autumn by Graffeg.  There will be an exhibition of the works, some originals, some prints, at The New Brewery Arts Centre, Cirencester with an opening preview on 16th September, so save the date.

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I had thought it would be an easy task to bring together stories for this book. But nothing worth doing is ever easy. There are so many, tied into the images, and I hope that the book will become a catalyst for dreaming for all who find a harbour in its pages. Writing the stories happened over a few months, and as with the cards some of the characters have moved through the words. Many came together in the design for the 2016 card.

The stories are, I hope, what Karin of Celestine and the Hare has called ‘lullabies for grown ups’. Almost finished the first stage of the book now, the writing of and illustrating (although the illustrations have come first, for a change, over 16 years) and I have reached the stage where courage fails and everything looks weak and flawed. So, courage and faith comes from friends and Nicola Davies said, after I had read a story or two to her, “mesmerising. I love the way they leave fine threads floating for readers to pick up and weave into their own imaginations,” which is what I had hoped for. So many ends hang from these stories, like golden threads, waiting for those who will to wind them up and lead them on. Perhaps it will work. We will see when it is published. But this year’s card, as a result of the writing , was the easiest to come together for years.

It began in the words, and with the two bears who sit on my desk. It needs the weekend to settle. I need to catch it out of the corner of my eye. But it’s almost finished.

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2016

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backcardThe card will be available from Help Musicians website, and a few other outlets and I am hoping there might also be a selection pack of some of the older designs.

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Lines in the sand

An idea came. Not all drawings need to be on paper. I went to the beach to draw a chair in the sand for #3000chairs.

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I drew fast, not worrying what it looked like.

Then I drew another, further up the beach. My thought was that I would walk up the steps and take a photo from the top of the steps of the wide beach with the small chair. By the time I had reached the top someone had come by and scrubbed off all trace of it and the hashtag.#3000chairs gone

I will go back, and make a chair out of beach stones.

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Drawing a chair

Over the last few days there has been a growing creative protest which started in Abergavenny when Nicola Davies wrote a story.

No. It stated in The House of Commons, when our government voted against accepting 3000 unaccompanied children to our shores.

Nicola wrote a story and sent it to Emily. Emily asked me for an image to go with it, to put into the guardian online, and pressed for time as I am I took a moment to think. An empty chair. Read the story to know why.

So simple an idea, easy to do and quick. And as I drew it I realised how profoundly sad an image it could be, and yet an image of hope.

Then others said they would draw an empty chair to join us. Soon others brought their chairs and we began to ask people to draw or paint a chair to try to see if we could get 3000.

Some people said, “but I can’t draw’.

If you ask the smallest child to draw they will. Sometimes it’s not easy to tell what they have drawn, but if you ask they will tell you. At some point, at some age, if you ask a child they will say, “I can’t draw”. Where does this come from?

I wasn’t that good at drawing when I was a kid, but I loved mark making. If you can make a mark with something you can draw. I got D for A level art. I was told by Hereford College of art that I would fail my foundation course. I was told by Exeter Uni, where I began my degree that I would never make it as an illustrator. ( I moved college to Bath Academy. Now one of my books is on the Greenaway shortlist.)

Every time i do some work I look at it and think, well, that’s not very good, I can do better. But I have spent a lifetime drawing.

Don’t compare what you can do to what others can. Don’t listen to those who say you are doing it wrong, because there is no wrong. And if some can draw better than others, well, so what. Get better yourself.

You can draw, if you want to, so, draw us a chair, for #3000chairs, join us to try to change hearts and minds. Lets see if the house of Lords can show more compassion. If not, well, I think we need a change of government so that we have one that shows some understanding and compassion for the common people.

#3000chairs. Draw.

( Read Nic’s story. Use the # on twitter, facebook, invite others. Have a look at her blog post. Believe in yourself. And as Happy Aubergine on twitter said “Chair the Love”

Here are just a few of the chairs so far. Below is the Happy Aubergine’s,

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Above, Tamsin Rosewell’s and below Amy Vale ( who is at Hereford college now in her second year)

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Below is Phoenix’s chair. He’s 6.

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Below, Abdel Bakrim

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And the fragile beauty of a chair on glass from Nancy Sutcliffe

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I asked my daughter to draw a chair. Instead she took a photograph, one in a series of yoga pictures she has been doing on instagram. The pose is called ‘The Chair”. To make of yourself a chair. How perfect is that.

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(If I could add all the chairs so far I would. But I have so much work to do. Please keep them coming. Email to emily.drabble@theguardian.com and join us in our creative protest.)

 

 

 

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Inside and outside

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Down the beach today a small war was taking place on a table top.

All day while the sun shone I had worked on this year’s Help Musicians Christmas card. When this is done the book is finished. I can work on fox, which needs all my focus. Almost I fell asleep on my painting. Instead I walked on the beach with Ivy.

The rocks were mountains.

The beach threw the sky’s beauty back in its face.

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Tomorrow is another day. Usually it takes me a month to do these pieces. Hoping to be done by Tuesday.

My studio needs to tidy itself up.

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Empty Chairs.

Yesterday my friend Nicola Davies asked if she could read something to me. I said yes. I love it when she calls and reads to me. I still remember the first time I heard her read The Promise. I was sitting in the kitchen in her house in Abergavenny. I cried. So beautiful. It won the New York Times picture book of the year award last year. And Perfect, coming soon from Graffeg. Such a powerful book.

She read me a story called The Day War Came.

Then she sent it to Emily Drabble at The Guardian.

Emily asked if I had a picture to go with it. I didn’t. And I am busy. So many deadlines. But the image that came to mind was a simple child’s chair. An empty chair. I painted it, sent it to Emily and she published it online.

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Now there seems to be a movement of illustrators painting empty chairs. The story is powerful. A beautiful piece of art inspired by desperate circumstances. Not satire. But a creative protest. As are the empty chairs.

Please help us get a movement spreading. We want #3000 chairs. One for every child denied entry to the UK by our government. Have a look at Nicola’s Blog post for where to send or simply use #3000chairs.

I wonder how many of those who voted to deny these children entry into Britain also voted to bomb Syria?

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Empty Chairs

When your friend emails and asks if they can read you something, something that is a rough first draft, and that friend is Nicola Davies you know you are in for a treat.

Nic face-timed me. I was doodling a design for a Christmas card. But not for long. Because what she had written was a heart-tugging soul song of a piece of writing.

She sent it to Emily from the Guardian, and fast as lightning Emily came back asking if there might be an image to go with it. The only image to come to mind was this.

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Read here what Nic read to me. The Day War Came. Share it. Send it to your MP, if they voted against allowing the 3000 children in.

Don’t stand by and do nothing. For that way lies only darkness and desolation.

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A small cry in dark times

Dear Stephen Crabb,

You are my member for parliament. Yesterday you voted against allowing 3 000 unaccompanied children into the UK. Now, as a children’s author and illustrator I should declare an interest here. I write books about the wild world, about peace. I want to sell these books. 3 000 more children would boost my audience, and even if they couldn’t afford to buy my books, because after all, these children have nothing, not even parents to care for them, well,  they might boost the demand for my books in libraries.

That’s not why I feel a sense of shame in the actions Britain has taken, or should I say inaction, in failing to provide these children with a safe have. And it is shame I feel.

Are you aware that 10 000 children have gone missing from the camps? They are targeted by those who would exploit them for the sex trade, for slavery. You were voted into office in order to govern, given a position of privilege which comes with a duty, not just to govern the UK, but to act for and on behalf of people. 3 000 unaccompanied children. And you say no.

Would these children be safe if they were to come here? Possibly not. It seems that even in the UK children disappear once they have been registered for asylum. Perhaps this is what worried you, made you take this awful decision? You were worried that in the UK we fail to protect those who are most vulnerable?

Could you for one moment put yourself into the shoes of a 4, 6, 10 year old who has travelled across a continent fleeing from war, who has survived so very much to be denied entry into a safe place? Can you for one moment imagine having lost everything? Home, family, toys, school? Can you imagine what it must be like to have seen your friends killed? To have had everything taken away from you, and to live in constant fear? I can. It’s part of my job. Using my imagination. And I pray that such circumstances never befall myself or my children, so that we never have to experience such trials.

Hunger, fear, sorrow and loss. And now you have denied them hope.

It is a sad time when Britain cannot welcome to its shores those who are in such desperate need.

Shame on you sir. And shame on us all if we stand by and do nothing to help these people.

Yours Jackie Morris.

 

NB: He wasn’t alone alone. There were many others, but the margin was narrow. If you can, write to, tweet, facebook message you MP, and let them know what you think.

And send them this also, from my wonderful friend Nicola Davies who wrote the perfect book, Perfect, and The Promise, a story for our time. If they read it they might begin to understand. These could so easily be our children. They are our children. We are failing them.

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Seals, falcons, boats, books and mills.

Get a cup of tea. This blog post is about to break ALL the rules of blogging. It’s long. You will need refreshment along the way. But that’s what some rules are for, to be broken.

Last weekend saw the relaunch of The Seal Children, republished in a beautiful hardback edition by Otter-Barry Books. This is the first book to be released by Janetta Otter-Barry. Years ago it was the first book I wrote AND illustrated. A few weeks ago Ffion Rees, of Queen of the Sky fame, put her first boat on the water for her new venture, Falcon Boats.

People talk about a ‘perfect storm’. The coming together of these events formed a ‘perfect calm’. Why not launch book, publishing house and boat in one event? This for me was made all the sweeter by the fact that the girl in The Seal Children was named after Ffion and the book is dedicated to Hannah ( my daughter), who crewed Ffion’s boat, Atlantic Storm, and Tom ( my son) and Robin ( my poor long suffering partner), whose idea it was to link up all three events.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, everything. The whole day would be weather dependent, wildlife don’t work to schedule and nerves leading up to the day were somewhat fractured at times as Anna and Ffion tried to organise everything. ( At the time of planning the event the boat had no seats, paperwork needed sorting, insurance etc…..)

Well, on the day everything came together to make for a perfect day. For those who couldn’t be with us here is an attempt to record the day. I wish I could add to it the smell of the salt sea and the cold wind and the sunshine. I’ll do my best. So, if you have your tea at the ready come aboard.

startWe had two trips going around the island. The day before it had looked as if we might have to call the whole thing off, with a force 6 rising 7 northerly wind and a 2 metre swell it looked as if boarding would be impossible. But Ffi got up early to check conditions and all seemed well. We had planned to take the boat around the back, the north side of St Davids Head, to the seaward side of Maes y Mynydd. This was out of the question with the wind direction, but we would still make it out to the island to see seals.

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After the safelty talk Ffi crossed the Sound. It began to rain and we sheltered a while in a cave, talked about The Queen of the Sky. A seal swam in the cave as we sat, waiting for the rain to cease.

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We talked about Queen of the Sky and why it is that Falcon Boats is called Falcon Boats, and Ffi talked a little about what it was like to take this wild bird she had rescued from a watery grave, build back her strength and then set her free, back to her home in the sky. There couldn’t be a better environment for talking about this.

12973512_1029336927157683_513371663546726021_oNext we travelled down the coast and out across to look for porpoise feeding on the ebb tide. So lucky, we saw so many. It was cold out on the water, but the air felt beautiful. Karin got a great shot of a porpoise rising.

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Next we went in search of seals.

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Beautiful Atlantic Grey Seals.

How wonderful to sit offshore reading The Seal Children while seals swam around us.

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I loved seeing the golden seal who looks like the seal straight out of Song of the Golden Hare.

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Working with Ffion and Hannah was a great pleasure.

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We saw peregrines on both trips, and oystercatchers, gannets, chough, raven, so many seals both in the water and hauled out. Soon the small sea birds, the razorbills and guillimots will be back, and the kittiwakes.

Although we weren’t able to go around to the seaward side of Maes y Mynydd we seemed to have 2 boatloads of happy passengers as we returned to shore each time. I loved the feel of the salt on my skin, in my hair, the taste of it on my lips, and the wind blown wildness of the day. It was the first time I had been out on two consecutive trips and it astonished me how the water changed so fast. Ffion had talked about how high the waves can reach at the back of the island, with the fetch of the waves across the ocean, and now how the tide had turned while we had been out and we witnessed the wind against tide as it whipped up the waves. When she talks about the sea it is like listening to a wonderful language of sea poetry.

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Light, wildlife, water, time, tide all conspired to make the very perfect way to launch this book.

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Had we been able to get around the head we would have been able to see Maes y Mynydd from the sea, the selkie’s element. On an evening trip, a few days before, we had taken the boat out to see just how much of the village we could see.

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stdhead23It was the most beautiful evening. St Davids Head looks so different rising from the ceiling of the sea. As we sat offshore from the old Quaker village one or two shearwaters skimmed past us, effortless in their beautiful flight. Soon there will be thousands flying past on the evening run to their burrows on Skomer.

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Looking back to the land, these are the paths I walk, have walked, so often with cats and with dogs. In the photo above the highest rock on the left side is where I wrote much of The Ice Bear while ravens circled. And you can see, if you click on the image to make it larger, the field systems of Maes y Mynydd. Astonishing. To be on the water off this coast where I have walked for 24 years, to see it from this different viewpoint, the light, the water, the land, the smells, everything.

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In the evening both boatloads of people reconvened at Solva Woollen Mill for supper. Walking in to the mill on a book launch day is always magical, and this time Anna had tables set beautifully with flowers and food and everything just looked so perfect.

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I had taken sketchbooks and book proofs and was talking about the old village and the book, and after a wonderful supper of cawl made by Joy I read from the books I am working on now. I have 5 books coming out this year.

The food, the company, the sea, the seals, the porpoise and the weather, all combined to make a wonderful day. My thanks to Robin, for being clever enough to think of something so magical, Ffi and Hannah from Falcon Boats, Anna and all at the Mill for a wonderful end to the day and to all who made the journey, some from the far away land of England. Also thanks to Janetta, for reprinting this book. It’s a real heartsong, soulsong of a book for me and it’s great to see it given such a beautiful makeover. Thanks Gail for making sure the books arrived, and Nicky too.

Ffion has some great plans for other events on boats so keep an eye on her website. You can hire the boat if you have plans of your own and I would recommend to all artists to get out there and take a look at Pembrokeshire from a different angle. You can order signed copies of The Seal Children, and all of my other books in print from Anna at Solva Woollen Mill, and even add a dedication if you wish. And Joy has a wonderful restaurant that can be booked for private parties, The Other End of the Rainbow. Have a look at her facebook page for details.

So, if I have broken the blogging rules, I am sorry, but sometimes one requires mor ethan the recommended number of words and images. And if I have used the word ‘perfect’ too often, then I refuse to apologise. I have had a few weeks of feeling so downhearted and disillusioned with books, publishing, everything, struggling to work and pull myself together. I stepped off the boat on Saturday feeling like something magical had just happened. It hadn’t ‘just happened’. It took a lot of work to organise. Thank you my friends. You are the best.

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Something About a Book

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When a book is shortlisted for the Greenaway award they send a film crew to talk to you about the book. Some films are made in the publishers offices, but for me, the crew came to my house. And I didn’t tidy up.

Having Something About a Bear on the shortlist has made me go back to this book and think again about why I wrote it. It has also give it more of a platform, so that I can talk about the wild and wild things and touch on some of the bad things we, as humans, do to the bear people of this world.

Above is a picture of my bear, bought for me so many years ago by my aunt. She travelled everywhere with me this bear, when we were young. Now she is sitting beside me as I type. I loved all he fur off. My mum stitched her paws. She used to have a red jumper I had knitted for her. I think I will knit her another.

Watch the film. Share it is you will. 

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