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1st March. World book day and St Davids Day. Too much to do and too much to remember. Artwork posted for Starlight, and now I wait to hear from the publisher. Meanwhile the sun was shining and I had to be in a school in Haverfordwest at 11, so I took the dogs down the beach.

Floss on the beach, reflection of a dog

At the school in Barn Street the children were wonderful. They had been working on poems inspired by "Can You See a Little Bear?" Cinquains, very poetic and thoughtful.

Cinquaine, reads: Walking, whispering now, In an enchanted land, dreaming of a palace, long ago.

We read stories and talked about writing with words and with pictures, and I met some very tall teenagers who I had taught nine years ago when I went into the school. They still had the paintings on the wall that we had worked on all those years ago, framed behind perspex in the big hall.

mural of a rainforest picture by children at Barn Street School, Haverfordwest, made in 1997 or there abouts.

Later walking in the moonlight the cats held their fiery red colour. Or maybe it is just the memory of the colour held in my mind's eye that makes them shine so and glow in the white light of the moon.

2nd March. Toady I am squashed by the weight of washing that needs doing. The house is a mosaic of discarded shoes and muddy wet paw prints. It is held up only by the opaque webs of spiders. All speaks of a cavern where uncivilized creatures dwell.

A thick blanket of cloud has wrapped and tucked up this part of the world and kissed it goodnight with rain on its cheek.

looking back towards Fishguard and Newport in the Preseli Hills, Pembrokeshire

Clouds over the Preseli Hills, Pembrokeshire

3rd March. Woken by the soft miaow of Max. Clear sky turning blue with the new light of day. Headed for the hills with Tom. Pools, deep in the peat, hold jewels of frog spawn. Beneath a thick layer of dark black soil the hills have hearts of bluestone.

The west wind moves through the tops of the straight rows of pines with a sound like waves.

At night the shadow of the earth covered the full moon, changing the night from bright moonlight . The moon became a reddened smoky circle. As the earth and the sun and the moon moved through their dance the stars deadened and the bright sharp light of the moon emerged from the shadows, at first just a clawed splinter of white, then moonlight once again ate the light of the stars.

pool of frogspawn

Tom and Floss by a dark pool of water on top of the preseli Hill, Pembrokeshire

5th March. The Shalom Trust did not like the rough for the Christmas card that I did for them. So they asked me to think again. Thinking has been difficult as I am locked in dispute with Orange phones over Hannah's Christmas present which only worked for two weeks and has been a nightmare to sort out. More of that later, but spending four hours on the phone over a weekend make it difficult to relax into a state of mind to think as well as being put off some of your favorite music as time and again you are put on hold, where Jack Johnson and David Gray sing mournful songs. Phones aside, I still want to paint the strange woman with the cathedral in her hands so will try and sell the idea to someone else, and meanwhile the new ideas for Shalom are below.

sketch for Christmas card, woman and bear

sketch for Christmas card, barn owl and towers

sketch for Christmas card, bears and lions

sketch for Christmas card, parade of lights with snow leopard

6th March. Early morning walking with blue sky after days of rain. Ginger cats shining in the sunlight. The air is still, but full to the brim with the song of skylarks, and all around small black specks of birds soar and sing.

photograph showing the hills above Triorci, Rhondda Valley, Wales

7th March. Working all day with children from The Rhondda Valley, in libraries. In the afternoon I painted while a class of children watched ad asked questions. Behind them the business of the library continued. At one point a woman came in. As she walked across the floor she carried with her the sound of falling rain.

8th March. All day in Williamstown School, where the children were wonderful and the teachers made me so welcome. They could model a course on how to look after a visiting author. Here I was asked one of the best questions ever from a child, "If you could go and look at one painting, and only one, anywhere in the world, which would it be?" Wonderful. Now there is a question to cause one to think long and hard.

Driving home through the narrow valley where rows of houses climb the hills and moorland sweeps right down to the gardens, then over the hills and far away, through a forest of tall oaks on steep hills, minutes from Port Talbot, I stopped to rest at Pont Abraham. In the late evening light a flock of birds rose from the car park and landed again like a flurry of snowflakes. Pied-wagtails, black and white with long bobbing tails, one hundred or more.

At home it was difficult to walk in through the door for the gingercats, who were there to greet me. It seemed that they knew I would be back and were waiting in the garden. Then, in the house, everywhere I went to step was a moving carpet of curling gingercat!

http://www.wethreecats.blogspot.com

photograph of white wild pony, pebble round with a tiny foal curled up inside, waiting for the sun to warm so that she can be born

11th March. Yesterday I spent painting, with the phone unplugged and the door locked. All day I painted, apart from an hour when I walked with the cats and the dogs. On the hill the stonechat's are back, chipping at the cold spring air with there pebble song. The wild ponies are round with foals.

Back in the studio I worked on a page for "Singing to the Sun", whilst listening to "The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents". Then later read "The Fool's Errand" by Robin Hobb, to catch an idea for the cover, but also for the great pleasure of reading such a wonderful book. Such multi-tasking muddled my dreams to a tangle of rats, cats and wolves and dragons.

Sunday Morning......

unfinished painting of Thorfinn and a donkey and the jester on their journey, Jackie Morris.

Sunday evening......

unfinished painting of Thorfinn and a donkey and the jester on their journey, Jackie Morris.

Had confirmation through in the daytime that the Shalom House Trust would like the bottom of the four designs above as the Christmas card design for this year, called "Parade of Lights".

14th March. On Tuesday there were swifts in the air over Pen Arthur. Today there were butterflies in the garden and bats hunting the lanes in the dark.

Yesterday I woke feeling lousy and after taking Tom and Hannah to school went back to the refuge of bed for the rest of the day, to sleep away the morning and read away the afternoon, kidding myself that I was working, because I have to do the cover for the book, but immersing myself in the glorious escapism of the world of The Farseers and "The Tawny Man".

Felt better this morning, but though I worked away all day I seemed to get little done. Talked to Phil Ardagh for a while about the beauty of "The Book Thief" and how amazing it is that simple words can bring out such emotions. I wept hot tears at the end of "The Book Thief". And we talked about the sad demise of Swansea Festival.

This was the festival that I think more than any other we all really enjoyed not the least because over the years we had seen children from the schools around Swansea growing up. The children were lucky enough to be some of the first to meet characters like Artemis Fowl, Eddie Dickens and Alex Rider before any other children. It brought in the biggest names in children's literature including Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Morpurgo, Lauren Child, Viv French and Eoin Colfer ( as well as Phil) In fact I met and made many good friends over the years in Swansea. First heard "Singing to the Sun" during a session there. I fail to understand why the council feel that having grown something so successful that publishers were clamouring to attend, schools booked up sessions almost before the program came out and authors wanted their books launched there, they throw it all away.

After working through the day I walked the cats and dogs to the top of the hill and sat in the sunshine away from the studio and the phone. Silver spider threads held the earth together and glittered in sunshine. All was quiet, but for a tractor in a field and the calling of ewes and lambs. Skylarks ruled the air.

 

 

ginger cats walking

snow leopard and parade of lights, Christmas card for Shalom House Hospice Trust, unfinished. Jackie Morris. Watercolour.

snow leopard and parade of lights, Christmas card for Shalom House Hospice Trust, unfinishedbut a little mre coloured in than above. Jackie Morris. Watercolour.

16th March. The week has been full of illness, and I have struggled to work. Some moments good, with butterflies and sunshine and silver threads of spiders' webs, other moments crashing and oppressive headaches that debilitate. Working at the Shalom painting like a patchwork while other ideas fly around and I still have no ideas for the Musicians Benevolent Fund card.

Frances Lincoln are working on making "Can You See A Little Bear?" into a board book. I would like blue wings I think, the colour of a clouded blue butterfly's wings.

people and a snow leopard walking with lights on a dark night in a landscape of snow, watercolour painting by Jackie Morris.

19th March. Finally rid myself of the headache, then took Tom and Hannah to school this morning and headed for Ninewells to walk dogs and clear head before settling back in to the studio. Caught an idea that I had been chasing for weeks, but that had until now stayed hidden somewhere out of the corner of my eye. The wind was cold, fierce, but more sheltered than walking the cliffs at home. Sunshine and shadows. At tug beach the rusted engine block of the tug just showed above the waves.

Steep cliffs down to a grey sea with Ramsey Island in the distance lit by sunshine. Pembrokeshire, March 2006.

Tom walked back from school in the cold, so I worked until it was time to collect Hannah from hockey, then walked the cats in the evening sunshine. The wind was still a cold knife of a wind, flattening the cats' ears to their heads. In the distance it raged through Ramsey Sound and the waves whipped up with the tide looked like a stampeding herd of horses, racing through the water, manes pulled back in streams of spray.

Distant photograph of Ramsey Sound, with the waves running through the Sound on the turn of the tide, white horses.

20th March. Flurries of dancing snowflakes floated in the hail this morning. It is cold outside, the wind bites. Having a fire is like keeping another animal in the house. Every night I put the fire to bed, banked up with coal and in the morning take out the ashes and stir the fire back to life. It takes care to keep it burning and this is a winter ritual, before anything of the day can begin. Bringing in the coal is heavy, dirty work.

When I was young I had an Uncle, my father's brother. He worked in an iron foundry and sometimes when we visited my dad and I would walk to where he worked to meet him when his shift finished. On the way my Dad would talk about where he grew up, and where he would play, and when he was young, and I loved to listen to his stories. My dad was the baby of the family, his brother was eighteen when dad was born. As the factory shift ended men would pour out from the gates of the factory and my uncle would smile to see us there. His hands were huge shovels and after work the lines of his hands would be drawn over with coal dust. Whenever I get the coal in for the fire, see my hands patterned with the tracks of the coal dust, I think of him. He had an allotment garden in which he grew onions as big as my head. And he was a big man, yet before he died I remember my father could pick him up in his arms like a child.

Back in the studio, trying to catch ideas for this years MBF Christmas card and at least the weather is seasonal. Sketches are a bit like thinking aloud, but without the noise. Thinking in lines. Hoping they choose the last of the three.

drawing of hot air balloons for The Musicians Benevolent Fund Christmas Card, 2007, by Jackie Morris

small drawing of a line of painted horses carrying musicians

small drawing of painted horses, dancing bear and musicians with Moondog in the parade.

Walking, the wind blew sand, snaking across the beach, and hail down from the clouds, and the sea carved pools to strand itself and the waves lashed high over rocks in the Sound. It is a day for finishing work and tidying up to start all over again.

Thorfinn and the Jester walking towards the golden palace while kingfisher and heron and hoopoes and goldfinches go about their business of being birds. And Thorfinn, for the first time in his life, is happy. Watercolour painting for Singing  to the Sun by Vivian French and Jackie Morris.

21st March. Red kite, wide wings, forked tail, sailed across the sky high above the fields, effortless.

22nd March. A pair of peregrines fly over the fields below Penberi. Falcons must have nested for hundreds of generations, on the black cliff wall. Further up a buzzard circles.

23rd March. Outside the studio window a goldfinch, bright like a jewel in the crisp sunshine. Two phone calls throw me in to a strange melancholic state. The first from a publisher about my novel. Very positive, very encouraging and leaving me in no doubt that I need to get on and write. The other with an offer for a book of nursery rhymes that I have been waiting for for about a year. I am so lucky to have so much to do, but why oh why are there only 24 hours in a day. How to find the time, headspace and courage to write.

24th March. The sun is shining bright and warm, the sky is full of song, and on the hillside the first shy violets of the year are blooming. Each day more skylarks. Each day a little lighter in the morning than the last and each day the evening light lasts a little longer.

unfinished watercolour for Singing to the Sun illustrated by Jackie Morris

26th March. Today could be a day in summer. Warm sun shining and the tide out and lines drawn on the sand by the sea. It started in chaos as my alarm was set for seven, but I had not altered the clock to take into account summertime!

Outside it is the most beautiful of days. Inside I feel like I have to do battle with a painting that is not going well.

Meanwhile this morning in the supermarket I saw the vicar buying red wine. Was this wine for the confirmation ceremony in church, I wondered? Somehow it seemed wrong that the wine that represents the blood of Christ, and in some sections of Christianity, becomes the blood of Christ, should be bought in CK's supermarket in St Davids. Too mundane for this element of religious magical realism. But then maybe the vicar is just having a dinner party and my imagination has once again got the better of me.

 

27th March. Still struggling. Had the go-ahead from the MBF to do the design of the horses with the carriage and the dancing polar bear, so now I have to thread the image through the weft of my working week. The sun is shining and the top of the hill beckons, and I am tired as the cats woke me up too early, and I have lost all perspective on what I am painting and one minute it looks ok and the next it looks muddy and amateurish. But I should not use the word amateur to denote something that looks of poor quality, as an amateur is someone who does something for the pure love of a thing.

 

waterclour painting of a window with a jester and a cat. Almost finished but not quite

photograph on lines drawin in the sand of the beach by the waves of the sea. Each day different.

28th March. Coming away from the beach this morning watched a flock of martins swooping against the gray sky, brought in by the summer weather, early harbingers of spring. Each day the sea draws lines and patterns in the sand, and each day the patterns change. Today I began drawing out the image for the Musicians Benevolent Fund card.

31st March. After two days of working on the MBF card it only looks like this.

unfinished watercolour

Later in the day there was a bit more coloured. The sun shone warm through my studio window, swelling the blossoms tight buds on the blackthorn bushes outside the window and pulling the clematis out into spring. In the chimney the jackdaws have bee weaving moss and sticks and horse hair to make this years nest.

photograph of studio with huge painting on the go and sunshine pouring in through dirty windows, decorated with a lace curtain of cobwebs

On the hill the ponies are as swollen as the blossom buds, with foals curled tight and warm and safe inside.

photograph of two gray horses in the sunshine, round with foals and waiting for warmer days.

 

And the ginger cows still graze the gorse covererd hillside.

photograph of huge horned ginger cow.

 

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©Jackie Morris