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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the hill the ponies are as swollen as the blossom buds, with foals curled tight and warm and safe inside.
And the ginger cows still graze the gorse covererd hillside.