Cultural Appropriation

The phrase ‘cultural appropriation’ rears its head every now and again. It’s understandable in some ways. Publishing has been for years a very white, very middle class industry, and the gatekeepers of publishing often reflect the world they know. There are exceptions. to this, and there are those who pay lip service to equality. Janetta Otter-Barry has been a leading light in children’s publishing when it comes to diversity of authors, texts, etc, not just for a commercial fast buck, but because she has a passion for story, and doesn’t judge a book by its colour, if you know what I mean.

Hamish Hamilton have such an amazing list of writers. Exit West buy Mohsin Hamid still haunts me long after the book has been closed, and I have moved on to others.

Anyway, trying not to wander off the path here. A few days ago I was talking to a friend about Blodeuwedd. I’ve been working on her story, a friend who is a glass artist also has, and another friend is playing with the Mabinogion, and Alan Garner wrote The Owl Service. All 4 of us have one thing in common. We aren’t Welsh, but the source of the story is. And my friend said she had a problem with this as it steps on the toes of cultural appropriation.

I’ve also been hearing stories about editors being afraid to commission stories from other cultures if the authors do not share the ethnicity of the stories. One author was asked if she couldn’t pretend to have an Inuit cousin when she was writing a book about the far north. ( Yes, that did happen, and really, you couldn’t make it up)

This is dangerous, short sighted. And, who are they afraid of? A few bloggers, mostly in USA, have been very vocal in their outrage about cultural appropriation. ( editing this would be wrong. I’m leaving it in, because I said it, but I now think I was wrong to say it. It’s more than a few bloggers, it’s an issue that does need debating, which is why I entered these shark infested waters,  and I’ve already learned from those who would challenge me. My previous comment was too dismissive. )  I can understand this, when it comes to naming helicopters after First Nation People, cars, beer, baseball teams, prancing round in ceremonial war bonnets at parties. It’s disrespectful. But stories?

As a species we are hard wired to learn through story. As a species we have always learned from each other. Stories flowed along the Silk Road like water.

My counter argument is simple.

We are all human.

Human culture is what we are talking about.

Stories belong to the tellers of tales.

But I would say that wouldn’t I. Because look what I have coming out soon.

The Ice Bear is about the beginning of shaman people. It travels back to a time before the world was divided by lines imagined by the small minded across the earth. It’s from a time when the Bear People, The Raven People, Fox People and Owl all lived in a harmony. It’s roots are deep down in the stories of the First Nation people whose stories I first read as a teenager in the Midlands of England, and whose stories spoke clear to a place inside me that was troubled with the things I was taught at school about how man was given dominion over the animals by God in the garden of Eden. These stories broke through the arrogant walls of humanity, cut through to a place where trees, birds, insects has souls, YES. And the world began to make sense again. It’s not a traditional tale. It is an imagined story, for the imagination is perhaps the sharpest tool I have at my disposal.

For more about The Ice Bear have a look at The Guardian website.

I found the story in the sound of ravens wings.

Another book, publishing again in its new edition is The Snow Leopard.

I found this story in a desperate desire to paint these glorious creatures. I still remember what the head of sales at the publishers said. “The thing is, Jackie, snow leopards just aren’t interesting as tigers. Everyone knows about tigers, but snow leopards. Really?” Fortunately Janetta could see the beauty of the animals, and loved the story, so the book was published. Now it’s returning in a new and improved edition, with beautiful paper. I painted it from my studio in Pembrokeshire, chased the story on the wind and the wings of birds, in the eyes of a leopard held captive in a cage. I trapped the story with my pen, words on paper, writing of a powerful spirit cat, guardian of a valley. Later, when researching place and people I discovered the shape shifting Mergichans, one of the many uncanny things that have happened in my working life.

I am not Inuit. I am not Nepalese. I am human. I have an imagination, and my craft is to use coloured water, ink and paper to tell stories.

I’m not Welsh, but I am a woman, and I love trying to learn, understand the story of a woman made from flowers, turned owl.

We learn about each other through stories and we need to learn to listen, to each other. And yes, we need more diversity in publishing, yes yes yes yes. But we also need to understand each other, and speak up for those who are voiceless, and craft the stories that make our souls sing.

There’s human culture, but there’s also wild culture. Don’t be arrogant enough to think we are alone in our culture, just because we fail to understand the culture of others. Trees have a culture. I am hoping to work on a book with Nicola Davies about whale culture. Whales have language. Whales have culture. Culture isn’t museums, galleries, stories alone. It’s more. So much more.

So, I won’t be limited by the expectations of others. I will only be limited by my own imagination. And I will keep on listening to the ravens and feeling those stories that flow like a river of inspiration through my dreams. And I will keep on trying to make sense of the world through the medium of story. And I will keep on trying to reach out to those people who want to see the world in a different way.

And to those editors who are afeared to commission storytellers who perhaps do not share the dna of their story I would say, come one now, one nation under the sun. If a tale is well told, get it out there.

 

( The Ice Bear and The Snow Leopard are both publishing with Graffeg in large format editions in Sept. There will also be an ‘Artist’s edition of each, signed and numbered. These will differ by having no title on the covers, nor any type at all. Just the image.)

 

 

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Out of the woods: Christmas card for Help Musicians

Every year, for eighteen years, I have produced a card for Help Musicians. As each year passes it becomes more difficult, but this year’s image came in like a blast of vision. I’d spent a very hard year working on The Lost Words. This would be something very different, so, get a cup of tea, and come with me on a painting journey.

It began with a flash, an image, in the mind’s eye. Then came the task of drawing it out. It’s a long story. You will need that cup of tea if you are coming with me.

It began in a short novel I am working on. The idea being, having written The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow around past designs I would work on a novel that linked to this year’s image. Hmmm, great idea, but… well, I don’t have the same control over my writing as some authors do and although the novel contains characters from the last card, it ended in a very different place from where I thought it was going. Still working on that one. It was supposed to end at a carousel….

But then the card went in its own direction too.

Unsure of where this had come from I thought it best to follow, stretched paper, began work. A big piece like this takes a long time. I worked on it, went away, came back, continued. The novel still waits, needs editing, reshaping, and I think this piece may have become an answer to a question….. but, sorry, back to this….

I use watercolour, Arches hot pressed paper. Over weeks I have painted.

Some years ago, I think on twitter, someone commented that the Song of the Angel Cat design reminded them of Eighteen Songs of the Nomad Flute. I looked it up, bought the book, and yes.

I can see why. This book was propped up on the floor, by my drawing boards, and i think it has crept into my subconscious to rise again in this year’s card. At some point I would love to retell this story in novel form with images, and this will lead me on to my next blog post, about ‘cultural appropriation’. For now, I love the echoes and ripples….

Also, stuck to my ceiling above my desk:

‘The woods are lovely dark and deep,

but I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep’

this beautiful card by Mary Fedden. I love her word. I love woods. And though the card began by being called the Running of the deer it’s now called Out of the Woods.

These things ripple through the image, and I would blog about the difference between plagiarism and influence, but that subject is so dull, and those who copy other people’s work and ideas know the truth of it in their souls.

For anyone interested enough I will put up images of this work in progress on another page. It’s almost done now. Just letting it settle and doodling with areas to pull all together. The cards will be available from Help Musicians soon and I will try and let people know when. The painting is for sale at The House of Golden Dreams  

Prints will also be available.

So, still working on the novel, wondering whether to write a short story about this card, but I think it will work its way into the novel after all, but meanwhile if you want more The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow is a picture book for grown ups published by Graffeg. Signed copies available from Solva Woollen Mill, along with a smaller, blank notebook for Quiet Thoughts.

 

 

 

 

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Dreams and reality

For the first time in a long time I’ve been swimming in the sea. This desire for salt water came partly from walking with daughter, Hannah, of Slightly Salty Yoga fame. More though, it came as a desire to wash away a dream, a nightmare. Sleeping has always been something I am good at. Dreams can sometimes seem so real. As a child I had terrible scream myself awake nightmares, full on faces pushing themselves through wall, monsters, terror. I learned to cope by waking myself up, realising it’s only a dream, but this morning, well, trapped.

War.

When war comes to greet you it never does so as a friend. In my dream, in my home I was barricading the windows against bombs, and then realised my children were both far away, the infrastructure had collapsed, no way to contact them, or my parents. Fear, fear, fear and hunger. But mostly fear. For my children, for my parents, for myself and Robin. I pushed myself hard for the surface of waking.

Only a dream. Only a dream. Deep breathing.

Walk. To the sea. Swim.

Small worlds of beetles basking in sunshine. A view to ease the mind. The sea, so clear, so blue.

I had taken a stone like a speckled egg. But first, into the water, and it wasn’t cold, but it did embrace and the play of the light on the waves, and the way the waves broke and spray lifted, blown back by a breeze, in rainbows, and the feel of the texture of water on my skin, and the chough that flew over, calling from the blue, and the sway and lift of the waves and the opening of the sea as I dove under waves. Bliss.

I walked the beach with the stone, then left it on the rock where the hare stone had been.

And I thought about how for some my life would seem like a dream come true. Working when I want, walking where I want, swimming in the sea. I’m lucky. And for others my dream, my nightmare, is their every day life and how, how, do they cope. To live with that fear,

every

waking

moment.

To live with that fear.

And when they manage to escape it, to bring their family to safety, how will we welcome them? Please, not with closed doors, empty hands. Please, can we welcome them with love, help and try to understand.

I’ve just heard about this:Croeso Hwlffordd.

I need to get some of my books to the family who have been settled nearby. It’s a good way to learn English, through picture books. And I need to make sure I do more, to help. I’m told there’s a promises auction coming up in the autumn. It seems our council requires £9000 for each family resettled in the area. I promise now to think of something I can add to the promises auction.

Because if we don’t, then war will come to our door.

And when war comes it never comes as a friend.

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A week, a walk

Waking to find that summer has been given back to us was a great relief. This week has not been easy, made worse by headache and weather. But this morning we walked in sunshine to the top of the hill.

First we walked past the ‘home stone’, large, from a rock that once was part of my house and now lies in the garden, then out, past Glyn’s and the curious plant that sends up a flower taller than me.

And the cats came too, The White cat and Elmo.

On top of the hill we played with stones and gold. The rain had left water for us to add to the magic.

See is you can spot the Pi reflection.

Light, water, stone, reflection.

A post shared by Jackie Morris (@jackiemorrisartist) on

Dappled, we left this stone to live on the hill.

The cats walked, and here they look like some curious medieval marginalia creature, a cat so long, with a white head and an orange tail.

Robin came to find us, up on the hill, brought breakfast. I waited, with Elmo and Pi and The White Cat and Ivy, watched the world, read my book, played with stones.

The White Cat insinuated himself into the lichen covered rock, folder and flared himself.

The white Cat loves the labyrinth stones so much he feels the need to lick them. This seal dappled one was particularly attractive to him.

 

We came home through the fields and the flowers had loved the drinking of rain from the past few days, and the butterflies were loving the feel of the sun on their beautiful wings, and great dragonflies were hunting the fields.

Home.

I had wanted to finish the Help Musicians card this week, but was halted by headache. I did work hard though, on editing, and helping with designing the new editions of The Snow Leopard, and The Ice Bear and would like to thank Matthew, Joana and Peter at Graffeg for their patience with me as we went over and over the text, moving the words, changing the words, changing the font.

Here’s a few of the pages. If you have the original editions you can play spot the difference. Hoping these books will be out early September. They are large. As big as the Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow and with the same lovely paper.

The first spread is from The Snow Leopard, then others from The Ice Bear.

So, this weekend I want to try and finish the Help Musicians Card and sit in the sun and walk with the dogs in sunshine, play with stones. My publishers should all be enjoying the weekend off, so no one will send me anything that needs my urgent attention.

Next week is a big week, with ‘cover reveals’ for The Lost Words on Tuesday. It’s been strange working on The Lost Words as always until this book I have shared my work in progress. So much of this book has been hidden and I feel a little nervous about it coming out into the open. It’s different. If all my other books, or most of them, have been soul songs, this one is the most curious soul song. At times working around it’s pages there was a real hum of deep, wild magic, so I hope it sets its seeds in peoples’ hearts and minds and grows there.

 

 

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Magic happens

Last week I took a few days out, around an event at The Master’s House in Ledbury. On the way Robin and I called in to see Nicola. It was hot when we arrived so we headed straight down to the river to visit stones, if they were still there. And we found one, still snugged in its tree stump over a week after it had been placed, protected from view by the dappled light of leaves.

After supper we went to the yew tree behind the church to watch the bats in the dusk. We are so easily pleased.

Inside the church is a window made from fragments of medieval glass, a patchwork.

After Nicola’s we drove to visit my parents in Broadway, then on to The Nest, near Ledbury to sign books and then to Mike and Tamsin’s where we would be staying. I love staying with Mike and Tamsin. I wrote a book or two there once, but this time my mind was empty, but the air was beautiful. We had supper with Sue and Kenji from Blue ginger, Mike lit a fire, Sue looked through Mrs Noah’s Pockets, Tamsin and I talked of Blodeuwedd and The Owl Service and with Kenji about The Mabinogion, for we are all working around themes from this ancient tale.

Tamsin’s studio is like something from another world and her glass work is so beautiful. Mike makes chairs, and teaches people how to shape wood to make the most beautiful chairs, and we spent most of our time there in the garden.

At night Robin and I went to sleep with a lullaby of tawny owls calling, calling.

And we walked, and we watched as an owl flew over the meadowsweet and it echoed Blodeuwedd’s story and shivers ran up our spines.

Tamsin had invited Graham Arnold for coffee. He had something in his car for her he said. It was heavy. It’s her birthday today.

So, magic happens. On the stone, words about Blodeuwedd, from The Mabinogion. How very wonderful.

And The Master’s house, well. What a wonderful place to sit and paint. Thanks to all who came. Mrs Noah had her first public reading. The paintings looked magestic against the wooden panels.

We drove home past Nicola and the window in Book-ish. There’s more about this in an earlier blog post.

Back home, Hannah and I walked the dogs and took Pi swimming at Pothmelgan. I need to get in the water with a gopro and some stones. Love the texture of water over Little Pi’s back.

And now I am trying to settle to paint, edit two books, do a piece of writing and finish the christmas card for Help Musicians and I am wondering when I am going to start this mythical sabbatical and if it will be before the publicity for The lost Words begins, with launches and talks.

But watch out for owls, flying over meadowsweet, because magic does happen.

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#AuthorsForGrenfell

To help raise some money for the people made homeless in the terrible fire at Grenfell Towers there is an auction. Authors for Grenfell Tower. 

There are so very many things in the auction, and I have added my own contribution, a visit to my studio.

I don’t have a policy of open studio. This is my work place, my home. So, what will the winning bidder get?

An invitation to visit my studio at a date to be mutually agreed upon.

And what will they see? Well, chaos if I don’t tidy up, but also:

Piles of books and a stuffed duck in a budgie cage.

A drum that makes a sound like the sea breathing on the shore.

An owl, a crown worn by a swan prince.

The white Fox and a healing bowl that sings a mountain song.

A place where I write.

Strange things in curious corners.

They may also get the chance to see into draws.

And, if enough money is bid they will meet The White Cat and Pi.

And if more is bid I will give them a stone ( has to be over £500 for the stone to be included)

And if the weather is good we might walk a little up the hill.

So, this is an ideal opportunity for someone who wishes to interview me for a magazine, or newspaper, For a very unusual present for someone who likes my work, for someone who wants to learn about the art and craft of writing and illustrating, or just for someone who wants to have a right good look around.

They will leave with at least one signed book.

Please be aware that you might need to book yourself overnight accommodation if coming from a long way away as I live on the edge of the map in Pembrokeshire. The cost of this isn’t included in the bid, but I can recommend a good b&b or two.

So, if you would please share this post. The auction ends at 8pm 27th June, so word needs to spread and spread fast.

To bid you need to go to the Authors for Grenfell Tower site. 

This is a link to Lot no 692: A Visit to the Studio of Jackie Morris

 

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Independent Bookshop Week 2017

Every week should be Independent Bookshop Week.

To celebrate the week and her wonderful career Nicola Davies, until now more commonly known for her words than her images, has produced, with the help of her publisher, Walker Books, the most wonderful, colour-filled window for Book-ish in Crickhowell.

I love Nic. She is an inspiration to children everywhere, she is an inspiration to adults. She’s been an amazing roll model for my children as they grew into adults. She can tell you a story that will make your mind’s eye dazzle with images and she can sing. And boy can she paint and draw.

Years ago I illustrated texts for writers. I never dreamed that I could write. Nicola, Vivian French and James Mayhew were three writers who really supported my transition into author illustrator. I think it’s harder to do it the other way round, but there is such joy, and such delight in these images that I really hope that Nicola will write a text for herself. I really really want to see a beautiful book full of such life and colour.

Nicola is offering the window to other bookshops who would like it for a while, along with signings, so contact her through her website, or her publishers, if you’ve a window that needs to shine.

I think it’s so funny that the one thing that isn’t in the window is a copy of one of her books. The Pond was reviewed in The Guardian the other day. Lots and More and Perfect and King of the Sky are all recent, all beautiful. Nicola will be doing an event at Book-ish for King of the Sky, illustrated by Laura Carlin, so go along and listen. Thursday 29th, in Book-ish at 4pm. Wish I could be there.

Had a great few days away. More on that soon. Happy, now, to be home.

 

 

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About writing

A poem, by Pablo Neruda, by way of Adam Johannes, which says how I feel, to read and to write.

Poetry

And it was at that age . . . poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, not silence,
but from a street it called me,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among raging fires
or returning alone,
there it was, without a face,
and it touched me.

I didn’t know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind.
Something knocked in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire,
and I wrote the first, faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing;
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating plantations,
the darkness perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire, and flowers,
the overpowering night, the universe.

And I, tiny being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss.
I wheeled with the stars.
My heart broke loose with the wind

 

 

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When publishers listen

For years I have asked my publishers to produce my books without a title or my name on the cover. Just the picture.

Graffeg, in a couple of months time, are re-issuing The Ice Bear and The Snow Leopard. These will be large format luxury editions (26.7 x 2 x 36.8 cm) on beautiful paper. And, because they are willing to try different and unusual things they have agreed to make an ‘artists version’, kind of like the directors cut of a film. These will be available through selected bookshops and will be signed, possibly also numbered.

My feeling is that it doesn’t really matter who the author/illustrator is, people pick up a picture book because they like the look of it. If there’s no name on the cover they might open it to see who did it, and once inside you hope that you have them. People who already know and like my work will recognise it. And, with these books, which are as much art books as children’s books, instead of putting them on a shelf you can prop them up like a picture.

How to get one of these? Well, obviously they will be for sale through Solva Woollen Mill, but there are many other lovely indie shops who have supported me over the years, so hopefully they too will come on board. Places like Number Seven, Dulverton, Blue Ginger and The Golden Sheaf Gallery, Kennilworth Books,  Rossiters and The Yellow Lighted Bookshop. I’m hoping the original artwork for the covers might do a bit of a tour, starting at Mr B’s in Bath.

The Snow Leopard was published in 2007. Since then it has sold over 50 000 copies, 40 000 of these in hardback. This new edition will be more in keeping with what I had hoped for when it was first published. Ice Bear was first published in 2010, and here’s a thing. I’ve done many a talk at schools, in bookshops, at festivals about The Ice Bear, beginning with a short tour in USA at the Winter ALA. And I had always said, whenever the child is out alone on the ice look for The White Fox. Although she isn’t in the text, she is in the images, because she is his mother, or perhaps his mother’s totem animal. I was never sure. But she crept into each painting. At least I thought she did, but when the book was published, she wasn’t always there.

Today, working through the pdf’s prior to republication, I see that she is back. And it would seem that she had been cropped out of the original publication. Not sure how that happened. It was at a time when I was still learning and didn’t pay so much attention to details.

I’m especially glad to have her back on the page below.

Is she the same White Fox as the one in The White Fox published by Barrington Stoke? Well, yes. Centuries divide the two stories, but they are family.

For years I was told that the books couldn’t be produced in the large format because bookshops wouldn’t take them. Quiet Music proved this wrong, and in hand selling of that book it’s wonderful to see how people hug it to themselves.

For years I was told that you can’t have books with no title, that my name needed to be bigger on the book. I still maintain that people don’t buy the book because a certain author did it. This isn’t always true. I have all of Mohsin Hamed’s books, and Alan Garner’s. But picture books, well, they are different. And I will buy books because certain authors have written them. I love Nicola Davies’s texts, The Pond, Perfect, King of the Sky, The Promise. But when browsing in bookshops it’s the paintings that catch my eye. So, maybe I am wrong, but we will see.

And I am also working on a Book of Days with Graffeg, a lavishly illustrated notebook come diary come art book with a ribbon, small, for all those who wish to write. It’s like a colouring in book, but for writers. If you know what I mean.

So, if you are a bookshop and you want to order the Artist’s edition for your customers then contact Graffeg. Minimum order is 10 copies.

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Inside

Beautiful, cold.

I held it to my ear, but no sound came.

Patterned like river ripples.

Inside, a life, trapped in stone.

Outside, a desire.

Beneath my pillow, tucked, it lay for forty nights.

By day, though heavy, I carried it beside my heart, until the day it dropped,

casual,

into river water and in dropping broke,

split appart,

open.

On my knees I reached cold hands into fast flow.

Too late.

Now I held two hollow halves.

And, upstream saw,

just beneath the smooth surface of the river’s skin,

the flick of silver tail,

as river dragon swam to freedom.

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