One Thursday morning at Hay Festival

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The flowers at Hay Festival are always beautiful.

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This year there were banners with words from Shakespeare dotted around the site, made by students from Hereford College of Art.

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We had gone to watch King of the Sky, written by Nicola Davies and soon to be a book. A wonderful production.

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Afterwards Nicola signed books in the book tent.

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I found a copy of Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff and it seems to have made its way home with me.

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I love the colour at Hay, flags billowing in sunshine and wind.

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Lunch with the caste and crew was good, then home, via Fire and Ice in Narberth and Druidstone Hotel for supper. Now. Back to reality. Time to finish The White Fox, and the final design and layouts for The Quiet Music.

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Land, sea, sky….

beautiful landsea howblue dogstick…and a dog with a stick.

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Just Giving: Time, money, love.

If you are lucky  you meet some remarkable people in your life. I met Robin in 2002. He just walked in to my friend’s house. Sarah and I were having a cup of tea while our children were at an after school class. There was a knock on the door and she jokingly said, ” That’ll be a man for me.”  “You’ve already got one, I think you will find that one is mine,” I replied. Many a word spoken in jest…. 14 years later he’s still here in my life and I am glad.

It is not uncommon for a remarkable man to have remarkable parents also. And children. Some months ago Robin’s mother died. She had achieved a ripe old age. Her passing was peaceful. More peaceful than her early life. Some weeks ago I sat with Clare, his daughter, and we read through some of her papers together. Letters. Letters from an ‘agent’ she had commissioned to discover whether her parents were still alive, and, if not, what had happened to them. You see, Lottie was a Jew, and she was born in Germany, and at some time I will write a book about her.

So, imagine. You are 14 years old and have been sent to school in a foreign country by parents with foresight and financial resources to get you to a safe place. Letters from home stop. You speak English a little, but have to leave school because your sponsor seems to have disappeared and you are alone. Aged 14. No money. You can’t get help from the Jewish Refugee board because you aren’t classified as being a refugee. And all around you are people, some who would help, others who find a pretty young  girl alone to be a very attractive thing. Lottie survived, but then imagine. What we were reading were the letters from her agent that told her how her parent’s house was empty, how they had been moved to a ghetto, to Minsk, how there were a few survivors, but her parents were not amongst them and how they had died a terrible death. How she stayed sane and grew up to raise two children and grandchildren and then great grandchildren is a feat of heroism.

People ask why Syrian children are sent off alone, unaccompanied. Sometimes it is because they have no one left. Sometimes it is a desperate attempt to get them to a place of safety.

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Clare is one of Lottie’s grandchildren. Jordan is her partner and they are two wonderful people. They are collecting money to take to Calais to help the refugees in the camp there. Last time they went they took food, bags of carrots and onions and potatoes and the kitchens were opened for the first time in three days because of this.

They have a just giving page.  They are donating their time to work in the camp, to help. One of their number is a teacher and he is training so that in his summer holiday he can spend two weeks working in the camp. If you can, send them a little to help. You can buy a good many carrots with £10.

I have decided to auction a piece of work in order to help them raise some money.

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The piece I have chosen is Nighteyes, from Robin Hobb’s books. This is an unpublished painting. Why Nighteyes? Because Bee dreams of her Wolf Father who watches over her and everyone needs a Wolf Father. Not because there are so many human wolves out there ready to prey on the vulnerable. Because there are also many people out there like Jordan, like Clare, desperate to help as they watch the inhumanity of our governments actions.

To bid, leave a comment in the comments box on this blog. Bidding starts at £50. PLEASE increase your bids by at least £5 a time. Please share. The bidding will close on June 1st, and please remember this isn’t eBay, don’t wait to the last minute to get a bargain, this is an attempt to raise money to help people who have nothing. All bids must be in £ sterling so if the bid is from abroad please use a currency converter before making your bidAll comments have to be approved by me and I will try and do this regularly, but I will also be painting, so please be patient with me.

Please share, tweet, link, blog.

I will contact the winner and their payment must be made direct to the Just Giving page, ONLY once I confirm that they are the winner of the auction. I will then send them the painting, and happy to send anywhere in the world.

If you can’t bid on the painting but want to  give, even  a little bit please do. Here’s the link again to the Just Giving page. If you can’t, and let’s face it, these days not many people have money to spare, draw a chair for the #3000chairs campaign with The Guardian. Although the government have said they will allow children into the UK they have now erected a massive fence of bureaucracy, by placing the problem with individual councils to come up with plans for where the children will be placed. As a result it may be Christmas before a single unaccompanied child enters the UK. We can do better than this in the 21st Century.

If it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers Lottie wouldn’t have survived the holocaust, Robin wouldn’t have been born, Clare wouldn’t be. It’s a matter of live, and death.

 

Image size 24cms x 34cms

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Reviews, and a quiet mind.

Something About a Bear is on the shortlist for the Greenaway 2016. You can see a film of me talking about the book at the Greenaway site, read reviews from children of this and the other books on the list too.

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I was so pleased that out of all the books published it had been picked up by this amazing badge of excellence. So, when last week I read a review not just of the book, but the list for this year’s Greenaway I was, well, how to say this: You work on a book for about a year. At least a year. You struggle and strive to do the best you can, and it lives in your heart and soul, and if you are like me all you can see at the end is the flaws, how you could have done it better. And this has been the story of my working life, but I have learned over time to cope with it. Part of the thing is that in the doing of something you answer many problems and questions, but as you do that others arise and if you had the luxury of time you could do it again and it would be better, BUT in doing it again you would, through that process learn new and better ways….
So, a few weeks ago I was struggling, more than I care to, with self esteem and with sanity. When the film crew came from the Greenaway team I did say to them that I was sorry, I was struggling. They did a wonderful job with the film. I was deep down in a dark place for reasons I do not wish to share. I was glad I had pulled myself around before I read the review.

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Everyone does have a right to their own opinion. My opinion is that I could have torn my own book to pieces with more skill and style, BUT I love that the Greenaway panel have made me look at my own book through new eyes, and also Amnesty made me see my book in a different way too. I am truly honoured to be on the list and in such company.

Many authors warn that it’s best to stay away from the reviewers at Goodreads. One reviewer told me that it ‘wasn’t helpful for reviewers if they thought the author might see what they wrote. People say not to engage. Other authors say that the reviews are for readers, but I have always felt that I could learn from how others see my books. Sadly it’s the bad reviews that stay in the mind. One of my favourites was “this book will be unwieldily in the hands of a small child”.


Anyway, Hannah made me some panels, with the quotes attached.

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I thought I might have them printed n the back of a t-shirt so that I can put them behind me. She made me one to go on the front. This, also from Books For Keeps:

%22This is a book that children will pore over, and I can see it sparking a life-long interest in bears and nature%22
My hope is that even if it looks like something created in the 1980s, ( though I beg to differ) it is still in print in 40 years time. Some of my books have lasted 20 years in print.
And I am glad that I was strong enough to take the kick, look at what was said, think about it, move on.

So, I guess this is me moving on. I am back to work, editing one book that will be very, very unwieldy in the hands of a small child, but then The Quiet Music is a picture book for grown ups. Working on editing and design of this at the moment as well as another book, which is also something different. Below is a page from Quiet Music. It’s very much early stages of design.

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Rooted in Nature; creative writing course

I found the words for The Ice Bear while watching ravens fly.

The idea and words for I am Cat came whilst watching cats sleeping and dreaming.

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The day before yesterday I found a dark story of a black for in between the notes of a skylark’s song in a place so bright with gorse it felt as if the sun had fallen to earth.

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In October I am teaching a course, called Rooted in Nature with Nicola Davies at Ty Newyyd. This is Nicola talking about the roots of her latest book, Perfect, published by Graffeg. And it is. Just that. Perfect.

Nicola has taught before, as Senior lecturer on the MA course in Bath. I haven’t. And I got 40% in a mock sats test aimed at 7-11 year olds, and the answers I got right were all guesses. But we are not teaching a course on the correct use of grammar. We will be talking about finding stories, finding words, the beautiful links between images and words, how to bring an understanding of the importance, the real value of the wild to any audience, communicating the wild, not just for writers but teachers also. At least that’s what I hope. And there will be moments when we just read to you, walk, play. It will be hard work, for all, but the right kind of work, we hope. The kind of work that makes your soul sing.

Once, in conversation with Berlie Doherty she suggested I did a creative writing course. I replied that although I didn’t feel too confident about my writing I didn’t want to do a course, but to grope my own way through the maze of self doubt. ( The real reason was that I had no money, two children and a mortgage. Hard times) She looked at me incredulously. “I meant teach one, not go on one,” she said. The Seal Children had just won the Tir Na n-Og award, but I still didn’t lay claim to the job title of ‘writer’.

So, now, I find myself running a course with Nic in October. Ty Newyyd is beautiful. Have a look here at the gallery of images.

There are still a few places left but book soon if you want to come, as places are limited.

Now I need to move from one book to another, always a difficult transition. Today I write the last words for The Quiet Music and begin The White Fox for Barrington Stoke, who have been too patient with me. I found the story for The White fox in a wildlife park in Seattle. This one was told to me by a human and the bright eyes of the white fox. I have cleared my desk. desktoday

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After The White Fox I am all Robert MacFarlane and Hamish Hamilton’s.

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Yesterday. Today.

Yesterday I worked too long at my computer, went to Solva Woollen Mill to sign some books and ended up selling more books than I usually do at a book signing, to very happy customers. Then I walked at St Davids Airfield where cowslips and golden gorse scent the air and I found, between the notes of the songs of skylarks, the story of a black fox. And I heard a female cuckoo call and later saw a hooded crow.

Today I woke early. I went in search of words, the long commute to work. The sea, so still, and every shade of blue in the water.

walk stime Bluebells still held morning dew. The bluebells on the cliffs are deeper blue. Perhaps they mark the places where ancient woodland stood. Maybe the trees were cut to build the ships whose bones now sleep, wrecked on the rocks, three feet beneath the sand.

moreblues Sea mirrored sky. I thought about swimming, moved towards writing. I have a book to finish and a book to begin.

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There was squill at St Davids head. I took a photo and turned to see Ivy cropping the tops off a patch of squill, one delicate flower at a time.

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I have many bags now, but I always return to the first on I bought from Scaramanga, just the right size for the note book I am using, just the right length of strap. Just the right bag.

And I found some words to finish a story and more to find a new one, and others to make something written yesterday stronger, fiercer, bolder.

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It was summer hot on the headland, then clouds came over and mist moved in and the light changed and the world turned oyster and pearl.

Home now. Time to write up, tidy up, settle and paint. Black fox, music, whale and white fox.

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Sometimes it takes a while to get to work.

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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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