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Starlight Blog

December 08

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snow leopard, from front cover of The Snow Leopard by Jackie Morris

Into the past, 2008

Further back in time, 2007

Dim and distant past 2006

Only a memory 2005


studio in february, Jackie Morris

1st February. Waking before the rest of the household I dressed warmly and went to fetch Tara. The earth turning hard again with cold, at the edge of the wood delicate prints of deer are sunk in the mud, fresh. I look up and there she is, coloured like the earth. She flicks her ears, turns tail and springs away and around her more earth forms deer shapes and runs. Perfect camouflage. As we enter the wood another deer runs across the brow of the hill silhouetted against the winter sky, glimpsed through dark bars of tall trees.

Driving home through the tiniest snow squall from Bath to St Davids and at home it is all cold and blue sky and hungry cats so pleased to see me. In the studio all is chaos as the last thing that happened there is that the artwork for Starlight was packed up and wrapped tight in plastic and out and away through a rainstorm to the car for delivery. In Bath I found another angel. So tomorrow it is time to tidy up the house, maybe starting with the studio. Hard to know where to start really as it does really really look as if the messiest trolls live here.

I want to be lazy, to read late into the morning and go for slow walks in winter sunshine with cats.

photograph of an angel in Bath


5th February. Yesterday I tidied the room next to my studio. Always distracted whilst trying to be productive I found my 'I can draw' badge, a little rusty. No comment! Also prayer flags which were duly hung from the tree in the garden and now dance with the snowflakes, and a poetry book of Paulo Neruda (that slowed things down a great deal. Then Dan and Alison arrived with all the paintings from The Torch exhibition which had to be fitted into the vacant space. They brought with them the comments from the show, which to say the least were mixed. My favorite, from a woman called Diane Watson, said simply, "these paintings are diabolical" . I can only hope that she meant it in the literal sense of the word. Oh well.

prayer flag, white against a snow filled sky

My I can draw badge, a little rusy like my drawing skills

So, today I woke to a wonderland of snow and headed off up the hill, with three dogs and Maurice and Pixie and Elmo. Beautiful snow crunched beneath my feet and it was so quiet, but for bird calls. All around the sky looked ominous with more snow. We found gorse flowers, frozen sharp kisses beneath snow crystals and I thought and dreamed of more diabolical paintings. On the hill side there were pony shapes sharp in the snow.

Maurice, bright ginger against the snow

pony shapes in the snow

kisses are only in season when gorse blooms, here frozen sharp kisses on a green thorn bush

News from Frances Lincoln is that Tell Me a Dragon has a Swedish edition and also a Spanish edition,3000 with a further 1500 in Catalan. This is great news before Bologna has started. The French publisher for Snow Leopard has asked for costings also, so fingers crossed. The French edition was so elegant and they sold so very well, it would be great if they take the book.

6th February. The snow has melted but still lies in lines by field walls where it had drifted deep in the wind. Everything looks the brightest after-snow emerald green in the winter sunshine of a bluesky day. The field by the road that leads to my house is studded with redwing and starling and fieldfare.

Yesterday afternoon I closed the curtains on the day and snugged up warm by the fire with a glass of chocolate with just a dash of brandy, and watched The Company of Wolves. I should live in a house like those, in the wood, with chickens everywhere and dirt floors, wrapped in layers and shawls and scarves with wolves howling outside. When the film had finished I felt decadent in the extreme, but went to my studio and caught words that had eluded me for a year, for Little Evie in the Wildwood. Not really a book about wolves, but something about the wild and growing up.

On the Starlight blog I have been trying to find the way forward between journal and blog. Starlight is about one particular book, Starlight Sailor, published by Barefoot Books. Finished now, from the art point of view but in many ways only just begun. For now progress on Little Evie can be followed here.

The book began when I was walking a dog in woods near Pipehouse in Somerset. Old woods, tall trees, like a remnant of medieval England, where deer live wild. Woodpeckers hammered, leaves rustled, the air was quiet but never still and the song of the wood was all around. Jays screeched warnings, pheasants warbled and gave alarm calls as the dog passed and squirrels watched from high above. Then I walked in the woods with Evie and a story began to weave itself.

Evie walking in the woods at Abermawr last year


First came a sketch.

a sketch of Evie and a basket


Then scribbled notes in a book, trying to catch things, random, a shopping list of animals to include in the paintings.

words in a notebook, sketches with letters of teh alphabet

Then yesterday I sat down and tried to gather all up, in yet another notebook. Scratchings and scribbling. I can only write first in pen on paper and only on one side to leave room for changes.

The start of a story in a notebook

Doodling with wolves during Dances With Wolves, then...

sketchbook pages


..into my studio with laptop and note book and picture of Evie. Now the text is with Tessa from Barefoot. I am not sure the book will fit their list, but it was born in Tessa's house so I wanted her to have first option on it. I emailed it also to friends for their feedback, and to Evie, who loved it I am told, especially her wolf.

studio when writing with laptop.

8th February. I have too much to do and my head flits around like a butterfly trying to settle on what best to do. In the hospital it seems that Glyn is still very ill and agitated, sometimes ok, other times lost in the past. I have to tidy the house, work on the Terry Pratchett calendar for this year, a new cover for Robin Hobb, get images together for the Tenby exhibition, and paintings to John who frames my work and makes it look so good, finish the big hare painting which is sold, finish the flying owl painting which is also sold, work on my website to get books pages and prints pages up to date and redesign some areas. The website is a bit huge now,and sometimes feels a bit like a crocodile that won't stop growing.

So instead of doing any of these things I decided to paint an owl.

painting agin in my studio and the owl sits very still while I work on a big painting


9th February. For the past few nights I have heard owls circling the fields around the house in the moonlight. Today has been a gentle blissful day for work, steadily painting and gilding, listening to the Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents for the Terry Pratchett calendar, and now Elmo and Maurice are wrestling in front of the fire, like a re-enactment by cats out of a scene from Women in Love. Outside a storm is building, inside it is warm. I feel like there is a great change in my work, old projects finished, new ones to begin, and I am feeling very lucky to be able to do what it is that I do.

11th February. At the beach this morning there is a place where light and dark, sea and land, wind and water all meet to dance in perfection. As each wave comes in and breaks the spray rises and dissolves to a fine mist and in the mist a rainbow is caught, less than a second of perfect beauty.

On the way to school today my daughter declares that she thinks I am regressing."One minute you are doing lyrical books with Buddhist undertones, the next you are making paper boats and now you are wandering around the house singing nonsense". Always good to have the respect of ones children I think.

Meanwhile in hospital Glyn waits to be allowed to go home. In the seventeen years I have lived here I have watched my own childrens' world enlarge, from the small circle of arms that held them when they were fresh into the world, to walking the hills and coast paths alone. And while this has happened i have watched Glyn's word get smaller, close around him as the distance to Porth Melgan became too far and then later his eyes would not take him as far as even the top of the hill, and though sometimes we would walk there together so that I could be his eyes, his world shrank down to the size of his garden. Two ends of life. I have watched it all and still I understand so little other than that time is precious.

So, later today a woman from a tv company is coming to visit, not me, the cats. Hannah' parting words were, "Oh mum, you really should have tidied up!" But I would rather paint ad sit in the sunshine watching rainbows dance in the surf. Anyway, I think it should be the cats who tidy up!

silver dragon hair slide

12th February.Yesterday I received a dragon in the post all the way from Los Angeles, today a manuscript from Morocco and a book from Colorado, beautifully wrapped. The dragon is a hair slide, ready for when I am promoting Tell Me a Dragon, the manuscript is a sizeable chunk of the new Robin Hobb, which I peered at with great excitement as it was being printed off, and the book is from a man in America who is doing a swap with me for a signed copy of Tell Me a Dragon. I also bought a barn owl, stuffed, from an antique shop, a very haughty owl.

And today I walked with Tom before he set off to tramp the coast path to his dad's house and I am so glad that although he loves computer games he also reads and walks. Then I visited one of my paintings that I sold yesterday. She seemed very much at peace in her beautiful new surroundings. Somehow the gold, moongold, captured the light in the room and shone it back.


wrapping of book from America, The Hermitage Bookshop


cover of The Town Cats by Lloyd Alexander, showing a cat in a cloak bowing

a bit of tidied up studio with new haughty barn owl in a glass case


Tom striding off along the coast path towards Penberi

Hare in her form with the moon in her eye, living in her new home at Cwmwdig, Pembrokeshire

While I was walking I was thinking and when I came back I did a rough for the new Terry Pratchett calendar, showing the Amazing Maurice with Dangerous beans the white rat in his mouth, watched by Darktan and Peaches as he emerges from the fire, breathing smoke out of his nose. If this makes no sense to you, you need to read the book or listen to the CD.

sketch for The Amazing Maurice and his educated rodents

13th February. This week has been a week of gentle magic. At the beach this morning I stood on The Ram's Nose watching sparse rain fall over the silver sea and a seal put her head out of the water. Silver and grey and blue and dappled, with great dark eyes. As I stood I searched my head for songs. Seals like music. And so I found myself singing nursery rhymes to lure a seal to shore. I sang

The bed is too small for my tired head

Bring me a hill soft with trees

Tuck a cloud up under my chin

Lord, blow the moon out please.

She came closer and closer, head ducking under the water and then emerging, each time nearer until she was less than five yards from where I stood. I searched my head for the song of The Sule Skerrie, a song of selkies. After a while I walked back along the cliffs to the beach and sure enough he followed. On the pebble shore I thought to make a pact with her. To swap our coats for a year and a day, so I could live as a seal and travel the wide oceans, and she could write and paint about all she had seen and knew. We could meet at midnight a year and a day from now and swap back our coats. I would miss my children, but she would look after them for me. But would she come back, or would he love the life of the land too much and want to keep my coat, and indeed would i feel too much the lure and the freedom of the cold salt sea. Was this the kind of fairy bargain to be making on Friday the thirteenth, or just a wonderful idea for a new novel?

Reading the manuscript of the new Robin Hobb book and it is so wonderful I have missed the world she creates with words and had not realised how much until now.

big dog with lovers riding on his back

two dogs, with a gold leaf background.

17th February. Just when I thought things couldn't get any better I spent Valentine's Day sitting at the Gessail with Robin watching porpoise rise out of the sea in shining arcs. Bliss. Today, in the shadow of the wind the air is still and all around quiet enough to hear a bird's wing. Underfoot snipe rise from tangles of golden grass and the wider winter landscape is all green gold and slate blue. Chough dive and dip overhead. I walk with a quiet mind after a few hours of dusting digital cobwebs off my website.

Hannah working in her sketchbook perched on the side of the hill with Pixie being a ginger cushion

22nd February. Friends to stay and again Pembrokeshire put on her best blue sky dress and we walked in sunshine and snoozed on the hillside. Hannah found a ledge on the rock and worked in her sketchbook for school with a ginger cat cushion. The cats walked. We sailed paper boats on the beach.

I worked very briefly on an artist's statement for the invitation for my exhibition in Tenby. The preview is on 21st March, exhibition at Tenby Museum and Gallery. I love my office. I do most of my writing on the high rock above my house. I have a fear that this will be a haven for me once the builders start work on my house, repairing years of neglect and making a workspace in my attic.

working on artist's statement on the ide of the hill in spring sunshine, away from the phone and all distractions.

23rd February. After a few days off, walking in warm sunshine, sleeping on the side of the hill above a clear blue sea, spending time with friends, floating paper boats in light and water, it is difficult to settle to work again. Feeling a little like a rabbit in the road, not sure which way to turn but although I have a lot to do I am waiting, to hear from Barefoot whether to go ahead with the Starlight cover, to hear from Orion whether to go ahead with the Terry Pratchett calendar piece. I have paintings to finish and finish soon if I want them to be framed in time for the Tenby exhibition, and a beautiful new nursery rhyme book arrived today, and I have the Robin Hobb manuscript still to read. So was delighted when Meurig called from Cheltenham Music Festival to say that they have a violin for me to paint on ( that is if I wouldn't rather have a cello), but they could do with having it back in a couple of weeks! Lovely. That's what I needed, something so completely different. I thought it would be good to take something from one of the MBF cards. Many of the characters in the cards have travelled from one design to another over the years, so I have done a rough sketch and now wait for the instrument to arrive. I have painted on wood before with watercolour, but only small pieces.But meanwhile I am thinking of how good it would be to work on a violin with gold leaf also, so maybe i will look out for old instruments to buy, to paint on.

two people, a detail from MBF card some time ago.

sketch for violin painting for Cheltenham Music Festival.

Outside the sun is shining, the blackbirds look to have dipped their beaks in pots of gold and tomorrow, weather permitting, I will go and search for wild snowdrops.

24th February. Twiddling my paint brushes while I wait for violin to arrive and to get grid for the cover of Starlight so that I can work on a new cover piece.

hare sketch in pencil for small gold leaf painting

twiddling my brushes and painting a cautious hare while I wait for things to get here.

25th February.

small hare sketch on board, pencil drawing £200, Jackie Morris

27th February. Outside blackbirds sing, their beaks dipped in sunshine. On the dark blackthorn twigs tight buds have broken through the fresh wood. Soon blossom will turn the dark twigs white. Inside I am trying to make a space where I can work while the builders take over my studio space as a store room and a place to build a staircase up to the attic. I have painted many many paintings in this space. Twenty years ago I lived in a room in a shared house in Bath and my workspace was the corner of my bedroom. Now the only place I can find to work is the corner of my bedroom, but first there is a major dismantling. I am hoping that this will be a clearing out, a moving on, a cocooning until I get my new butterfly space, private and hidden in the room with a view of blackthorn tree tops and birds.

Meanwhile all is chaos and strange feelings.

old studio space yesterday with artwrk for Starlight Sailor

new working space while I wait for studio to be built




©Jackie Morris