Howl; or, learning the shape of a wolf.

I drove. It was a long way, but not far off the motorway I came to  a place of tall trees. A small village. I couldn’t follow the satnav and so I stopped the van and asked some people out walking a spotted dog, dappled. As I stepped out from the cocoon of my van I heard them, eerie on the wind, calling.

Down a track, to a beautiful house that looked for all the world like Withywoods, but brick and timber, and there they were.

ww

Wolves.

I was supposed to be at a huge event at the Freemasons Hall in London, with Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm, and George R R Martin. Instead I slept in a garden in the back of my van, wrapped in thick duvets with the back door opened wide to the night and the owls and the bats and the howling of wolves. Magic.

What magic. I arrived just as Jack and his family were about to take a wolf for a walk. Jack had written a letter to George RR about wolves, sending all his pocket money in and as a result George donated $10 000 to the Wolf Watch UK. He was there to present the cheque and to meet the wolves and walk with them. Close encounters with wild creatures.

I had taken too long to get there, dropping off paintings in Narberth at The Golden Sheaf on the way, but caught up with the walk and joined in, taking photos, talking. So lovely to meet a young man with such a passion for wild things.

jackwithwolf tethered marywolf chainleads

The wolf prowled around my van. Jack got closer to a wolf than he had thought possible. Mary Bear chatted with Jack’s wolves.

( The wolves walk on chains mostly for their own safety. They are such canny creatures they would snip through leather in a flash of a tooth, and if ever they were to escape they would be shot, because of that fear of wild things, not by The Wolf Watch, but by the authorities. So they walk on a chain, and they are in control of where they walk, going where they want, stopping to sniff, keeping in constant communication with their pack by howling, scent marking, rolling, resting in long grass, then back to their home to be greeted by the pack. It gives people a chance to meet them, to learn from them. They act as ambassadors for the wild wolves and raise awareness and money for wild wolf projects.)

Then everyone left and I settled down to look and to watch and to think. I made a picnic supper of bread and cold meats and olives. As I did I turned around to see right behind me about two meet away, two pairs of eyes watching. The wolves had come up on silent, clever paws and were watching me, unafraid, at ease.

I walked around between the enclosures and at one found the three wolves playing with ropes. In the day they had watched as the ropes were tied to the walls of the cages. When they thought everyone had gone they began to untie them, with tooth and claw. They stopped for a moment. Why was I there? There shouldn’t be a human there. They watched me. I was no threat to them. And then they continued with their game. Clever wolves. A sharp, fierce intelligence.

playingw picnicwolves intrees beautywolf space

I was tired. As dusk began to fall I watched the wolves run, around great enclosures, racing each other, running with each other, stopping to howl, ten wolves together hurtling through stands of trees. The day faded. One by one stars came. I fell to sleep and dreams, even as the wolves were still running.

At 4 am I woke. The sun was so near the edge of the horizon and ten wolves were joining voices with the stars.

Drifting back off and then early to the enclosures I wandered the walls and then tried so hard to learn the shape of the wolf. Drawing is all about looking, dropping the part of your mind that runs eyes over something and then tells the brain ‘wolf’, and really looking, learning the shape, the movement, the space a wolf takes in the world. So I drew and I waited and drew and looked and took photos.

wolfeye wolfeye2 look tethered withywolfwolfeyedsk6 sk5 sk4 sk3 sk2 sk1

Why do people fear wolves? I think it is because of their obvious intelligence, their superior strength, their wildness. Why do wolves fear people? Simply because wolves are intelligent. I fear people, more than I fear wolves.

The wolves here have literary connections. Michelle Paver of Wolf Brother fame came here to experience wolves close up and runs creative writing classes here sometimes. Tsa’s wolves were in Angela Carter’s Company of Wolves film ( though they also used dogs)

And then they arrived. Two weary authors, looking wonderful despite the gruelling book tour that saw Fool’s Assassin come in to the best seller lists at no 4, Jane Johnson and Robin Hobb. And Robin didn’t know that she was coming to see wolves, only that she was coming to meet up and spend just a bit of time, away from the cameras and the press and the signings, before doing an interview with Radio 4 and then heading back to US for brief rest before more touring.

wolfpirates maryrobin maryhc graywolf graywolf2 withywoods editorwolf megan janewolf

Mary Bear got hold of the Harper Voyageur mobile and tried to call in and make an appointment. And she had a cuddle with Robin. We talked and ate a picnic and walked with a wolf and it was good to see them both. Then the day was over much to soon and I headed back to Wales with a head full of wolves and ideas.

featherhaul

We picked up feathers along the way. Robin found a jay’s feather with a flash of blue. Jane and I spotted a wide buzzard feather, so I have added them to my haul and will write something when the right words arrive, something short. We had talked about the differences in how we all write. So often my stories are carried in my head for a while then come out over a number of days or weeks where as both Jane and Robin carry a much larger universe inside their minds that take so much longer. How to find the time to write when so much else is expected. How to capture that peace of mind and space necessary. Always for me this is the silence, the space, devoid of people, the mind settling. George Mackay Brown called it an interrogation of silence. The answers he found to his interrogation were always beautiful.

Now it is time to settle to paint, to remember to draw from life, something I don’t do enough, to look and to learn and the interrogate the silence . Time to hunt words and images with the strength of a wolf.

Thanks Uk Wolf Conservation Trust for a wonderful experience, and Julia Bohanna for arranging the visit for us.

There is also Wolf Watch Uk, a beautiful wild valley of wolves. I was lucky enough to visit there a few years back thanks to Robin ( Mr Stenham) arranging a special surprise for my birthday. Here I howled with wolves, so close that the sound of wolf music wrapped all around me. Wonderful. Walking wild.

And I came home to my small tigers. Walking wild, beautiful.

Meanwhile, this is where I should have been: Lovely to see Jane, Robin and Geore RR on stage, and such a splendid stage.

During conversation at lunch woodpigeons were fluttering in the trees. Robin/Megan asked what the noise was and what the birdsong was. Jane and I both casually said, “Woodpigeons.” They are common.  “Now I understand the lines from a book,” said Megan. ” In Rebecca. She talks of the sound of woodpigeons in the trees.” She may not remember her house number but has  a remarkable memory for story.” I love what she says here about writing for children too.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Exciting Adventures with small bears.

“Mary”, I said, “I’m tired.”

“Me too,” said Mary. “It was fun though.”

“Yes.  What an adventure. Hard to think where to begin. So many exciting things.”

“Start at the beginning,” said Mary.

“Ok. Well, I was scared of flying, and forgetting things, and being shy, but I packed my paints and brushes, and Mary, you helped me with my presentation, didn’t you. And we set off on Wednesday morning to drive to the airport. I wore my foxes ears from Spirit Hoods,  (US site is better) to give me confidence.”

“And so you would look more like a bear,” said Mary.

“Well, yes, that as well.”

hat:glasses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

beingbrave

Mary told me not to worry, everything would be ok, so long as I had my label tied on and a pot of marmalade in my suitcase.

scotland maryf

In Scotland lovely Anji Spangle met us at the airport and it was good to see her and she said hi to Mary and to Panda too. Then we drove to Anji’s. The next day we went to Charlotte Square to the Edinburgh Book Festival.

It was so busy in the square. I introduced mr Stenham as my inspiration and Anji Spangle as my life coach, and my publisher was there too, Janetta, and Nicky who is the press and pr and events lady for Frances Lincoln. ( It seems that the more important you are the bigger the ‘entourage’. Some people had heaps of people to follow them round and fetch them water and lattes ( a small creature very much like a chipmunk I think) but no one had a spectacled bear and a panda in their entourage, so I felt very special. And the thing about Mary is that she breaks down all kinds of barriers and makes so much possible.

bookfeste

After my event Mary and I and Squizzer and Panda went off for a meeting with the lovely ladies from Barrington Stoke. They loved Squizzer when I showed him to them and were so utterly delighted when I said he was going to live with them that they cried.

“I’m glad Squizzer has gone to a good home where people will love him,” said Mary.

bstoke maryandsq meetings

At lunch we had a meeting about a book about an arctic fox who is a small lost soul, and Panda and Mary and Squizzer decided to have a meeting too, then I was whisked back to the festival and away to the airport. Because I had a secret, that I hadn’t even told Mary.

Mary and I were going on a plane again, to London, for a party.

“It was a very special party,” said Mary.

It was a party for George R R Martin and Robin Hobb and the authors from Harper Voyageur and also for Jane Johnson, to say thanks to Jane for 30 years as an editor for Harper Collins. And wow. I hadn’t really thought much beyond how lovely it would be to surprise jane, who thought I wasn’t going, and see Robin Hobb again, as she is so very lovely. And Harper Collins were giving Jane one of my paintings and I had painted Nighteyes for her, because without Jane and Robin there would be no Nighteyes and I do so love him, and all wolves.

nighteyesgold

“And she was surprised,” said Mary.

“Indeed. I think she was. And so was I Mary, when you were invited up on to the flight deck of the plane. And when you flew it! I didn’t know you could fly planes!”

“There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me,” Said Mary and she smiled a shy and secret smile.

hostess maryfans maryplane

But wow, as I say, I hadn’t really thought beyond the party being in the Gherkin, and we arrived, were met by Sarah at the door and taken up. And up. And up. And the party, oh my goodness, was at the very top of the Gherkin. In the sky. With the birds.

mbthinking mbg londonbelow imola gherkin2 gherkin1

Looking down on London Below you could see the Tower of London where I had been before ( I have only ever been to two publishing parties in 30 years of working in books. The other was in the Tower) And you could see the poppies spilling out from the tower like a river of blood, and the tiny tower bridge like a toy. And as the light dropped out of the day and the dark took hold of the sky the dome around us changed and the party was reflected onto the glass. Mary and I had watched the sun going down, looking towards home. I was talking to Jamie Buxton and I said, “Me and Mary, we live over there.”

“Hampstead?” he asked.

“No. Wales,” I said, and it made me laugh. Lovely man. I envied him his mane of hair.

We met Robin and Imola Unger, with whom I swapped badges. Imola was saying how she loved the covers and that she had made a page for Robin on the site she worked on partly because the covers were so lovely and I thought of all the hard work the whole Harper design team and Jane had put in to make them shine and dress them with respect and it was so good to know that this had paid off. And I also told her that there was something about the real book, the way they have made it, that means you NEED a real one, to hold in your hands.

Front Cover Fool's Assassin newhobb newhobb3

And I met the lovely Amanda Craig who has reviewed my books for years, and this was the very first time we had met.

So, we left the party, quite early. Mary and Panda slept on one side of the big bed, I slept on the other, in the Threadneedle Hotel which had once been a bank and was a bit like Gringotts but beautiful as a hotel, luxurious.

lobby nunight

“Then we were back on the train to Edinburgh,” said Mary.

“I could get used to First Class train travel, Mary” I said. The East Coast Train line. How beautiful. And even though BA was good, so much more relaxing, so much more space, and at the end of the day, faster than flying. And a wonderful breakfast.

“And finally, marmalade,” said Mary.

marmalade breakfast

Back in Edinburgh Mary helped me do a doodle for The Guardian.


Next I painted in the Baille Gifford Bookshop, and talked. I met up with Carl from Scaramanga and we are going to make a bag together with a lining made by me, and I painted a hare and people watched and then I gave them a jigsaw to do, and I talked to James and Debi Gliori who are wonderful.

editor wentworthsagain carl edinburghfestbshop maryhelping

I wandered through the bookshop afterwards and my table looked a bit sad without Mary and the jigsaws.

theend

Next day Mary and Panda and me went to The Golden Hare bookshop and Panda did a nose dive into Tunnocks teacake heaven, and I painted a hare and read stories, some of which were not mine to people who had been children some time ago. I love the respect that Golden Hare gave to the picture book art. More like an art gallery than a bookshop and Mr Stenham said that it was his very favourite of ALL the bookshops we have been in.

goldhare goldhare1 sharing sign

Then we all went to the Edinburgh Bookshop and I painted Mary and her Marmalade, and drank tea and ate Tunnocks wafers and cake with Viv French and my lovely friend Helen who plays piano, and who I have known since we were six and who is very beautiful. And the energy and enthusiasm of the booksellers here make me realise that the bookshop is not dead, oh no and far from it. There are still people who want to buy books, and many of them want picture books.

On the way to the bookshop we found a wonderful shop in Morningside called Very Vintage. Was great to see a whole tribe of Scaramanga bags.

scbaggs

vivedbshop maryppainting

If you ask nicely the Edinburgh Bookshop may make a print to sell, of Mary and her Marmalade, to raise money for getting books into the hands of the many children in families where the choice is often food or warmth, but never books.

It was a grand day. Viv read from her new book and she also read me Something About a Bear, the first time I have heard it read by someone else and she read it beautifully.

And then it was time to say goodbye to Edinburgh. Thank you to the festival for inviting us, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books for sending me. Thanks to Harper Collins for being my fairy godmother and making sure I did go to the ball and British Airways for being so kind as to let Mary fly the plane. And thanks to to East Coast Trains for a lovely breakfast. And I do also have to say thanks to Spirit Hoods for making my foxes ears. It’s strange how confident they make me feel and the pawkets are perfect places to keep a small bear. And Scaramanga, whose bags I have bought so often, but this time they sent me a wonderful rucksack that was just perfect for taking on my trip to London.

But the biggest thanks goes to Anji, for taking us to see the Kelpies, looking after us so royally, and showing me the handsome Boswell ( and no, Mr Stenham, that is not a euphemism).

handsome

anjiandr

Panda says thanks for all the teacakes. He’s a bit sticky so he kind of mumbled it. And Mary? Mary said, “It’s good to be home.”

“It is good to be home, Mary. And we did have exciting adventures didn’t we. So now we need to have a rest, because you know what Mary?”

“No. What?”

“There’s even more exciting adventures happening this week. But that’s a secret.”

Mary smiled. She’s very good at keeping secrets.

homeagain

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Kelpies

A Kelpie is a Scottish water horse. Should you ever meet one do not be tempted to climb onto its back to ride as it will take you to water and drown you.

It is a creature of myth and legend and metal and air. After 4 days in Edinburgh at the Book Festival I was lucky enough to visit the Kelpies, in Falkirk, made by Andy Scott.

Wow. Just wow. Every play of the light falling on metal paints these beautiful horses in different shades, and the wind makes music of them. Wow.

I apologise for the plentitude of images. Nothing does them justice other than walking towards them and standing beneath them. Majestic.

wh22 wh21 wh20 wh19 wh18 wh17 wh16 wh14 wh13 wh12 wh11 wh10 wh9 wh8 wh7 wh6 wh5 wh4 wh3 wh2 wh1
 

The Kelpies from The Helix on Vimeo.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Husband. Father. Royal Assassin.

On the underground. Poster.

hobbcover

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Natural History/Art/Pets/Poetry/Fiction/NonFiction/Cats

During a twitter conversation with Foyles Bookstore a couple of days ago I realised one of the reasons it had taken me seven years to find a publisher for Cat Walk was because it is ‘uncategorizable’. Foyles kindly sent me emails for the Natural History dept and the art dept of the bookshop. I thought, hmmmm, well, it’s not Natural History and it’s not Art.

So, what is it?

catwalkbook

I know when I finally got a publisher to listen I said something like,

” Well, it has cats in it, but it’s not about cats. It doesn’t have a story as such, but there are all kinds of stories tangled up in it. It’s about walking, but it’s not a hiking guide, and it’s a travel book about going nowhere. It’s kind of about finding beauty in your own back yard, finding peace there. It’s about friendship. And cats. But it’s not about cats. I already said that? And it’s got photographs, but it’s not a ‘photography’ book. I think I am just going to have to show you, by making it, and you can help me? I can sort of see what it looks like.”

And they did. Perhaps not the most perfect pitch for a book, but Graffeg were and are a joy to work with. ( Even when I forgot Matthew was coming and was working in my pjs the first time he came to visit, and a mouse fell on my head the day Peter came, when I opened the door and then the cat sat in the frying pan so I didn’t feel I could cook him lunch.)

It doesn’t fit on  a shelf category in a bookshop. It fits in the hands of readers, who like books.

And it looks like this…… with a forward by Tom Cox, who has wonderful cats too:

tomcoxandbear

And pictures of Pembrokeshire looking wonderful.

catwalkbook2 rugsandbook

And cats curled on lovely textiles, and looking beautiful.

catcurlbook spittylady

And you can pre order signed copies from Solva Woollen Mill and come to the book launch on 24th September. ( Solva have lots of my other books too, and jigsaws and notecards and notebooks. They include The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems bow in its 10th edition and tell Me a Dragon which is on the Summer reading Challenge list.)

And this is where it all started. In 2007.

withbookandcards

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Things that fly and the Strawberry Fox.

marysaid

Mary said, “Why are you collecting feathers?”

And I said, “It’s a secret Mary. Something I am working on.”

Mary said, “Are people sending you feathers?”

And I said, “Yes. Some people are sending me great bunches of feathers and others send one, from a hawk tail or a parrot’s wing. Most of them are beautiful. Some plain. Some soft gray. Some look black until the light catches them and they shine with purple and green. Some are from ducks, some from doves. Owls have special feathers that are soft and silent. Swans wings whistle. When it’s quiet here you can hear the air in raven’s wings.”

3f isiss

Mary said, “Do all things that fly have feathers?”

And I said, “No.”

“What flies?” said Mary.

“Well, insects and birds, but not all birds. Penguins don’t fly, nor ostrich nor emu.”

“Flying fish?” said Mary.

“Yes. But they kind of leap out of water and open their fins and glide. Sugar gliders, they glide too. And flying squirrels. Dragons flies.”

“And dragons. And flying foxes”, said Mary.

“Ah yes, bats.”

“Bats and flying foxes,” said Mary.

“Flying foxes are bats,” I said.

“No they’re not,” said Mary. “They look like this.”

flyingfox

“Can bears fly?” said Mary.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “But we are going in a plane soon to Scotland. So I guess you will fly.”

“That’s not what I mean,” said Mary. “Can bears fly?”

“No.”

It was quiet for a while then,

“Can bears fly?” said Mary.

“Ok. Yes,” I said.

flyingsister

And they did.

 

( With special thanks to all at Strawberry Fox for the glorious parcel that arrived on the doorstep full of fruit, chocolate, wine, whisky and inspiration.)

nowmaryinboxchoklit!yummity

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Bags and the Bone of a Seal.

When I am writing my bag goes everywhere with me. Even into my studio. Usually I write on the hill, looking out over the sea, but when a story is nagging you never know when you might catch a word or a phrase or an idea.

mybag

On my desk, a hare, for Peter’s calendar 2015. It is late. I should be painting not blogging, but I wanted to say thank you to Scaramanga. It takes a long time to find the right bag and I have tried others but always come back to this one. It is like Baby Bear’s porridge. Just right. I bought mine a few years ago now. I think I first found them on facebook, bought this and also the large satchel that I carry books to events in.

Also on my desk, Song of the Golden Hare, a badly stuffed hare, three hour glasses, a Tunnocks teacake egg, a small Wentworth’s jigsaw, a pile of Robin Hobb books with jackets by me, cockle shells., brushes and a cat goddess.

In my bag, a moleskine notebook ( lined), a pen ( Lamy), spare cartridges to avoid that awful moment when the ink runs dry, some postcards so that I can send thank yous for feathers, a spare notebook for other ideas, a small Wentworth’s jigsaw because now I cannot travel anywhere at least without one, a Swiss army knife, a spare pen, some business cards, a mini I am Cat and the bone of a seal.

What do you carry in yours?

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Walking to work

Today I decided to walk to work.

toadflax commuting

I set off, with book and pen, dogs and camera, up the hill, past toadflax, down to the see and out onto the wild land that is St Davids Head. But this land endured long before St David brought Christianity to the land and will endure long after the memory of him has gone.

The air was filled with birds, linnets, wheatears, pied flycatchers, whitethroats, stonechat, chough, raven, gannet, kestrel, jackdaw, herring gulls and fulmar. What better place to travel to to chase a story that is feathered, ancient. Here there is a stone wall, ditch, barrier of stone again and hut circles still clinging to the land, telling their own story. I wrote, Rosie found a friend, Bella watched the birds and the land.

fortress circles runningdogs heather

Although I have tried other bags for carrying book and pen, I always come back to my bag from Scaramanga. Just the right size, just the right length strap, looking beautifully worn and loved now.

rosieran baggins

We sat for a while, chasing words, dreaming, then home, via a short word chasing on the beach at Porth Melgan.

Home via friends who gave of the scent of summer grass, with velvet noses and dark eyes.

crpped noses horses

Tired now, needing to paint, wanting to write.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Book launch in Solva Woollen Mill

For some years now Solva Woollen Mill have been a fantastic supporter of my work. They not only sell my books, they also work to sell signed copies of the books online and post to anywhere in the world. They also do fantastic book launches for me, like this one for Song of the golden Hare.

withsketchbook

Something About a Bear is being published in October. Cat Walk ( the book that is probably closest to my heart) is being published in September. Solva Woollen Mill will be holding a joint book launch for both publications on 24th September ( with pre publication copies of Something About a Bear on special early release from the warehouse) 4 pm – 7.30pm.

SAABbook Marysbro

September is a beautiful time to visit Pembrokeshire. It is quiet. There are still seals around and porpoise. The weather is usually brilliant and the sea as warm as it is going to get. If you can come do come. Bring a bear. It will be a grand occasion, and much fun will be had.

The launch will be from 4 pm-7.30pm, so you can come straight from school or have a quick bite and then early evening trip to the Mill.

There will be a chance to pre-order both books form Solva Woollen Mill, and even if you are coming to the event it is a good idea to pre-order so that Anna has some idea of numbers. We only ran out of books one year! As ever, an incentive to do so, for each copy of Something About a bear ordered or bought on the day from Solva Woollen Mill the buyer will get one ticket. ( One ticket, one book) Each ticket will go in to a hat and when the draw is done the winner will get this small painting ( 8 x 14cms) of Mary Bear’s Little Brother. He’s a Spectacled Bear from South America, a short faced bear.

 

For all pre-orders of Cat Walk there will be a ticket to win a rare print of the front cover photograph signed by me. Again, one ticket per book and Solva Woollen Mill will ship anywhere in the world. They now have a facility on the website that allows person messages to be added.

covercatbig

 

It has been such a busy  year for Frances Lincoln. There are now 4 mini books available ( just small versions of I am Cat, Lord of the forest, The Snow Leopard and Ice Bear as well as note cards and notebooks.) Best of all are the wooden jigsaws, made in the UK by Wentworths.

atmill puzzlesatm

Have a browse around Solva Mill’s website if you can’t make it to the launch. Anna has a wonderful eye for beautiful things. And if you can come be sure to bring a bear so that we can get a photo of Mary with as many friends as possible. Mary has a growing gallery of photos of ‘Mary with…..’ and becomes more famous with every day. Her recent appearance in in The Guardian online is her attempt to help save libraries by getting as many people to join as possible.

saabatsm atm

Please share this post, spread the word about the launch, and leave a comment on this post. On the day of the launch I will pick a comment at random and send the person one of the mini jigsaws from Wentworths and a few postcards and bits and pieces by way of a thank you.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Comments

Prowl

Prowl through the memories and imaginations of readers around the world. Nighteyes. One of my favourite fictional characters, born from the pen of the wonderful Robin Hobb, whose latest book, Fool’s Assassin is published in August.

Fitz and the Fool. Everything I could ever have wanted from an addition to this brilliant series, and more.

nighteyesgold

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment