Saturday, February 26, 2011

A van full of dragons

Dropped Tom off at Tretio and he headed off to rowing. Took the dragons and the dogs to Abereiddi. The Blue Lagoon was deep prussian green and the cliffs gold. While I was away the dragons played and got up to mischief in the van.


Back home, after dropping Hannah at work I settled to paint a sleeping cat curl and inched further into my next book.


Friday, February 25, 2011


I have been very lucky to have been reviewed by many national and international reviewers and never take getting reviews for granted. Now that so many people can review books on sites like Amazon I am cautious of looking. I think people forget that they are reviewing work that is done by other people and writers have feelings too. And sometimes you need to have thick skin.
It is a fact that many people, and I am one, only remember the bad reviews.

Today press cuttings arrived from my publisher including a review in Books For Keeps. If I had been packing these up in the office I think I would have removed this one. I read it. I thought about it, and here is my response. But first, the review, or a part of it . Two thirds of the review is taken up with an abridgement of the storyline as the reviewer interprets it.

" While the illustrations are lovely, the reader may struggle at times to follow the narrative and make sense of it. Clearer textual connections would help draw us in, especially at the beginning. The language is at times lyrical, at times stilted and the text is quite small on the full colour double page spreads- a larger font would add visual appeal. A slightly disappointing read given the dramatic illustrations."

I have thick skin, like a dragon. Just as well.

I could do a short review of the review and suggest that paraphrasing the story is not the best use of space, and neither is reviewing a book that you do not like. It is a little pointless. Also the balance of type and image is carefully thought through and this being a story for older people the text did not have to be large. ( Obviously I also have a soft underbelly like a dragon.)
On the otherhand in Carousel Magazine a short review says,

" This book is written, illustrated and published with loving care. Set in the polar regions of the Arctic the story is magical; easily understood text and stunning illustrations merge to carry a powerful message that we must care that our actions do not endanger the lives of wild creatures."

Two reviewers, one book. 
You cannot please all of the people all of the time.

I sometimes review books on Amazon, if they are something that I have loved and wish to share my passion for. I sometimes review for magazines. And I never ever give a book a bad review because I know, even if I do not like a book, the passion with which each and every author and illustrator works.

Plans for 2011

No matter how hard I cup my hands time slips through my fingers.
Yesterday, when I should have been painting I travelled to Australia and back. I am reading Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. This is my second attempt to read it. It was first recommended to me by Meg Rosoff as a book that I would love. She said if I did not she would eat her hat so I begged a copy from David Fickling Books with a promise to review it. And I did love the way it was written, but somehow became tangled in the pages and the book sort of spit me out. I couldn't settle to it and found it too disturbing. And then I put it aside and moved on. 
Tender Morsels haunted me for a while, and also the fate of Meg's hat. Should I make her a cake shaped like a hat, I thought? Lucky for Meg Marilyn Brocklehurst came to her rescue. When I told her that I could not get on with Tender Morsels she looked at me as if I were quite mad, one of those ' oh for goodness sake' looks and thrust another copy of the book into my hands. In a kind of gently threatening way she said 'read it'.
Now I find that I am lost in the pages in the right way, burning the candle at both ends of the day, immersed in the beautiful language and strange structure of this outstanding piece of fiction that rumbles with echoes of Angela Carter. Brilliant. It is strange how sometimes we are haunted by books and sometimes we cannot settle to read and the fault is often with us rather than the book and somehow it hunts us down and chases us into a corner and demands TO BE READ.
I'm sure Meg's hats will be breathing a sigh of relief and crawling from dark places in her house sure and certain that they will not be consumed.

So, in a moment of work avoidance off I wandered to Margo's Blog. Now I am excited, for this year she is publishing a Selkie novel!
One of her posts talked of the work she has on this year. That pulled me up sharp to thinking, so, here goes:

 1. The Cat and the Fiddle, finished and to be published in Autumn this year.
2. I am Cat to illustrate.
3. East of the Sun, West of the Moon to work on small decorations and a few double spreads.
4. A secret project of great delight and difference for someone or something wonderful.
5. Little Dragon Small and the Search for Story- rough drawings to gather.
6. A gathering of words for new short novel, set in Venice.
7. Art in Action in July at Waterperry Gardens.
8. Various school visits, to Hertfordshire, Paris, Lake District and Norfolk ( must remember to say NO to any more)
9. Odd paintings here and there for the pleasure of pushing coloured water around paper.
10. This years MBF card. Every year it gets harder to come up with something that works in what has become a series. Maybe this year they will re publish some of the old designs as a selection pack. Also may be working on notecards for them. Maybe more mug designs.
11. Update website, change front page, work on books pages etc etc......

And if that is not enough to keep me busy then I may find time to run away and join the circus.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

June Tabor : The King Of Rome

I love June Tabor. She is the Queen of Music. Such heart and soul. And this is my favorite and never fails to make me cry.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A catalyst for slovenly behaviour

My grandmother said, " Them that reads has dirty 'ouses." She said this in a rich Black Country accent. She married a man from the same street, lived and died within a mile radius from where she was born and the furthest she travelled was Blackpool on a charabanc. She made chain and nails in a workshop at the bottom of her garden.
If she saw me reading a book as a child she would clack and clatter her false teeth at me with disapproval.
What she would make of my writing such catalysts for dirty homes I cannot say.
My grandfather, who died before I can remember, was a collier. He liked beer and smoked Woodbines. He would sit in the chicken house of an evening and talk to the chickens and feed them small cakes. In the winter he would bring them in to warm by the range with its blackened hearth. I think I would have liked him.
My uncle was a foundry man. He worked with cast iron, making covers for drains and manholes at Dudley and Dowells. He said that there were monuments to his work all over Britain, and there are. There is one at Ninewells in Pembrokeshire. At the end of his working day his hands would be lined like a drawing with coal dust. Sadly his lungs were too. He would bathe in a tin bath in front of the fire while we read or talked in the 'best room' next door. When he was young he kept pigeons in a pigeon loft. A great giant of a man with these gentle cooing creatures. He loved everything I did and would have been so proud.
Frances Lincoln are taking East of the Sun and West of the Moon onto their list for publication in Spring 2013.
In my case my grandmother was right. I read, I have a dirty house, but my mind is too full and lively for the dust to settle.

A small deluge.

Last night,peaceful wanderings around the village with my healing bowl. Across the fields a forlorn fox sang a duet with the deep resonance of the bowl's song. The darkness had texture, brought on by close cloud. All around a quiet calm.

Just off to bed and a sound like waterfalls outside. Rain? Rain on one side of the door only. Then rain in the house and panic as I realised the water tank was overflowing!
I was rescued by my neighbours who turned off the water at the stopcock and then found the switch for the tank and while the ceiling drip dripped my heart began to slow down and calm return.
This morning I texted Graham, the plumber and he came and made all well again with a new ballcock and a new stopcock and a fix to a joint in the tank that had leaked into the house. Brilliant.
Graham also pots and paints and his beautiful bowls are available through Cole & Co.

Print outs arrived from Frances Lincoln and now my head is unsteady and too full with text and design and page orders and waiting to hear if East of the Sun will get a definite go ahead. So hard to find that still point required to work. Caught up in the past with The Cat and The Fiddle finishing and moving on to I am Cat.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Things to do.

East of the Sun and West of the Moon- editing and illustrating and designing.
I am Cat- illustrating.
Cutting powerpoint discs and making new ppt for trip to Herts.
Posting prints to various destinations.
Posting dvd back to patient people.
Trying to arrange book launch for The Cat and the Fiddle with Marilyn Brocklehurst and Norfolk Children's Book Group for Sept and visit to Lake District, both in autumn.
Tidying studio and the room of chaos.
Thinking about whether to or whether not to, and what and which.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A moment in Attleborough

In Attleborough library I watch as children from local schools came in. At one moment a group of about four gathered up Tell Me a Dragon and placed it flat on the floor and sort of tumbled into the pages. Such a joy to see it working as it should do, a dragon charm to lure children to a land of the imagination.

Dragon adventure no 1.

I suppose if you are going to go for a trip you might as well drive from one side of Britain, right across to the other, in a van wrapped in dragons. So, armed with a Nepalese Healing bowl, some dragons, a book or two and some pencils that is just what we did.
Before I left I gentley broke it to my parents that I had sold sensible car and bought rediculous van and then wrapped it with dragons. Lucky really, as I think they would have noticed.

At Annie Dalton's house the van snuggled up against the cottage walls for the night and the wind dragon kept an eye on all that we did. Riley seemed untroubled by a visitation by dragons and it was good to see that Annie too talks to the cats.
As we set off the next morning Millie tapped me on the shoulder to wish me luck.


Again the dragons watched through the windows, this time of Attleborough Library, as children talked about the books they had shortlisted for the Norfolk Childrens Book Award. Then Kasuno Kohara showed how she printed a block for the Jack Frost book. Beautiful colours and mesmeric to watch. I talked nonsense about dragons and read the children Little Dragon Small, a new story, just hatched.
And Tell Me a Dragon won, and the children gave me a beautiful small dragon of my very own to keep, and I was pleased and so were all the dragons in the book, and Little Dragon Small was pleased to.


After a magical mystery tour of Norfolk with Robin navigating we finaly arrived at Marilyn's bookshop and have since been hatching plots.
We stayed at The Saracen's Head and all I can say is that I am so looking forward to going back again in the autumn. I do love it there. So relaxed and comfortable.


Very glad to say that later the next day, while driving to Wimslow to see Charlie with picture books to read and the van to show him, the dragons managed to dodge the shower of s**t that the muck spreader flung at us in passing! 

Meanwhile great to see that when I park my van in the street children siddle up to it to converse with dragons.


On our travels we saw red kites, buzards, ravens and rooks, four herons flying, a duck up a tree, swans, morehens, a great flag with a deep red dragon, drifts of snowdrops, hedges of old man's beard and probably more of Norfolk than we needed to. But it was very beautiful.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A wish and a hope

I wish I had a photograph of the beautiful face of one of the young children as she looked at my van yesterday. It has made me realise how seldom we see true delight on the faces of the children in this country.
I hope to see that more often.

When tidying up and cleaning I am always distracted by poetry

Statues in the Park
By Billy Collins
I thought of you today
when I stopped before an equestrian statue
in the middle of a public square,

you who had once instructed me
in the code of these noble poses.

A horse rearing up with two legs raised,
you told me, meant the rider had died in battle.

If only one leg was lifted,
the man had elsewhere succumbed to his wounds;

and if four legs were touching the ground,
as they were in this case-
bronze hooves affixed to a stone base-
it meant that the man on the horse,

this one staring intently
over the closed movie theater across the street,
had died of a cause other than war.

In the shadow of the statue,
I wondered about the others
who had simply walked through life
without a horse, a saddle, or a sword-
pedestrians who could no longer
place one foot in front of the other.

I pictured statues of the sickly
recumbent on their cold stone beds,
the suicides toeing the marble edge,

statues of accident victims covering their eyes,
the murdered covering their wounds,
the drowned silently treading the air.

And there was I,
up on a rosy-gray block of granite
near a cluster of shade trees in the local park,
my name and dates pressed into a plaque,

down on my knees, eyes lifted,
praying to the passing clouds,
forever begging for just one more day.

Billy Collins is always so precise, accessible and this is just how I feel. Tomorrow I will take "The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems" with me, just incase I get stuck in traffic.

Powered by dragon

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Back in the office.

Always a strange feeling to have finished something, especialy something that has taken so long. The Cat and the Fiddle began years ago and then turned into The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems.
Although I enjoyed working on Classic Poems I still wanted to go back to nursery rhymes. Their strange, anarchic rhythm and rhyme appealed so much and gave such a freedom that I just wanted to play. But not just play. So many very young picture books are simple, strong  bold images. I wanted to do something with more detail, more complexity. From my own experience of reading picture books when my children were young they just loved books where the pages were packed with detail and pattern, stories in the pictures. And the time we spent in the company of books like The Little House By the Sea by Benedict Blathwaite were precious hours. Always more to see each time.


Finished now.

For about four years now I have had a story lurking. Ever since I painted the small dragon in Tell Me a Dragon, hatching from his egg, he has been stomping around inside my head demanding attention. A few times I have tried, eventualy caught the idea for a story, the shape of it, but try as I might I couldn't catch the words. Next week I am going to Norfolk for the Norfolk Children's Book Award, very much looking forward to meeting Kazuno Kohara.
 I was hoping to catch the words for Little Dragon Small and the Search for Story before I went so that I could try it out on the children in Norfolk. 
I finished the last bit of painting on the cuckoo and headed for the door with a notebook, a pen, three dogs and Elmo. Up to the top of the hill where the sun shone and there was space to let go. A pair of ravens flew by close as we sat on the hill. On the way up something had clicked, a small dragon hatched, a character was dropped, things went like the cogs in a watch and each piece turned so that while I sat and ravens flew in tumbling flight the words fell onto the paper.
It was cold. Elmo snuggled up and pushed his way inside my sweater like a ginger hot waterbottle with purrs. The ravens flipped in courtship, tumbling for the sheer pleasure of flight.

The story had been struggling to hatch out for days now and just needed time for the rhymes to be cleared away. 


Back home and back to the computer and email came in with the most amazing review from Judith Philo at IBBY.

The Ice Bear
Jackie Morris, London: Francis Lincoln Children’s Books, 978 1 8450 7968 0, £11.99,
2010, 32pp.
The portrait of the ice bear on the front cover, in close up, seizes the attention of the reader, inspiring a shiver of awe. On the back cover a dark-eyed boy, brown hair covered by a fur hood, studies us. These two figures direct us into the book inviting us to see the world through their eyes.
Themes of birth, loss, separation, restitution and new beginnings shape a dramatic narrative of mythic dimensions, set in the vast open space of the Arctic region. This landscape of far horizons contrasts with representations, in close up, of the principal
characters: the ice bear and her offspring, the hunter and his family. There is also the dark brooding presence of the raven. She acts in ways that are catalytic to the bears and the humans and to the child who is bound to them both. When a choice has to be made, this child declares that he will live with the bears during the winter and spend the summer months with his human family. In this way the relationship between and the
understanding of the two worlds will be strengthened.
This is a beautiful, painterly book. The unframed pages place the reader at the scene at each turn of the page. Small children will be engrossed by the close-up nature of the pictorial representations. For older readers, the visual power of the illustrations is amplified by the poetic sensibility of the narrative text. Jackie Morris reminds us that we are caretakers of the natural world, especially that far-off region where bears and hunters inhabit the earth and the sky. Such mindfulness for the outer world will also enrich our inner world.
Judith Philo

 I wrote The Ice Bear on the hill, on a blue sky day while ravens flew in the sky. I always think of Raven as the heroine of the story. In some ways it seemed as if the ravens told me the story because it was theirs.

Yesterday I finally got round to sending a biog to the Kids Need to Read Foundation, a wonderful organisation who aim to get books into the hands of children, through libraries in the USA. A few weeks back they asked if I would like to be on their advisory council. I had given them a couple of ideas for fund raising, hopefully good ideas. What could I say except, "Yes please". Made my day!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Half a cuckoo and a stick to go

On the slant of celing above my desk Frieda Kahlo with angel wings watches over me. Weasels and a barn owl watch me while I work. Fragments and images mosaic the roof. In the bowl on the weasel case that once held a brace of cheetahs a snake skin curls around a small bat. And the spooky shoe sits and waits its turn as it has done for at least a century.

A curl of dragons.

48 hours left to finish a book. Drove van to Haverfordwest where there were dragons 'gassing off' ( I am assured that this is a technical term for this stage of the process, proir to laminating). Amazing curl of huge printed images and I was as excited as a small child on Christmas morning.
Now I am nervous. And I have about 24 hours to finish the book, soup to make, people coming around for supper and I have left my van with people who are going to wrap it up.
Collect on Saturday. Until then I try not to think about it.
Conversation with publisher about next two books, East of the Sun and West of  the Moon and I am Cat, which will probably both be published together. 
Time to make soup and settle head.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Save our libraries no 3.

Libaries are not just buildings with books.They are living, breathing hearts of our communities. And amongst all the richness within the walls, the least valued by some, are the librarians. As a tax payer I would like to put in a plea for the safeguarding of assets that I have invested in for years. When councils talk of closing libraries one of the things they are doing is throwing away hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax payers money.
Librarians do not just stamp out books and put them back on the shelves.
To try and understand even a small part of what a school librarian does I asked a friend to write just a little about her work.
Here is one day:

A typical day in Francis Combe Academy Library

When I arrive at the library at 8am I am met by about 70 students. They are draped all over the libary and have been since 7.30. Some are reading, some are chatting, some are even doing homework. School has not yet begun! Put up news from the papers and email selection to whole school.

Between 8.30 and 9.00 another group of students, maybe a bit more structured arrive to change books, do quizzes on what they have read and do reserach for homework. This is followed by three lessons looking at library skills with year 7 , seeing how we can use them in our everyday school life. Today they have to trawl an encyclopdia to find a fact that astounds me. Some do mangage this. Its great fun and guess what they dont even realise that they are learning. Very competitive and after 3 lessons I feel quite knowledgable.

This is interspersed with break and lunch. Break for who, not us librarains. We are once again answering queries, looking for books and sorting out the odd squabble. There are 3 of us and it is still manic. Who else has 60 plus children in 1 area. Lunch is spent catching up with project partners to ensure we are all on target.

The afternoon is not so manic and I can catch up on shelving, adding books to library catalogue and planning for visiting authors . Oh no here comes another class researching Gothic Horror this time. Do I have time to help them do some research. Best made plans etc

School ends and unlike everyone else we have a room full of students doing homework. Sadly no time for the shelves or the stock or well, did I have lunch.

Best bit of the day. Assistant Head of Learning told me a boy in her class had been reading a book in isolation ( naughty chair in our time) and hadn't finished it. On finishing it he announced it was brilliant. Oh and he had never read a book before. Find the library she said.

List of jobs for tomorrow. Everything I didn't do today!
My thanks to Jayne Truran for that.
I have been to Jayne's school and the library was one of the busiest I have seen.
I do not trust the holders of the purse strings to have the good sense to realise what they are sweeping away so casualy.

I have no confidence in this government.

A Spell for Beauty.

Today when I walked I found some cow's eggs, tangled tight and watered by fog. Rare ones, from the Welsh Black.
Back home I prepared a print that is going to America once it has been mounted.


Finally I began work on the last piece from The Cat and the Fiddle. And I wondered what it would feel like when it is finished. It has been a long haul.

The fair maid who on the first of May
Goes to the field at break of day
And washes in the dew of the hawthorne tree
Will ever more handsome be.

Old work ( from Bath Academy)

At college I loved drawing old cars, 2cvs and Morris Minors. Trawling through photos, looking for something but failing to find it, I found this instead.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Only one left to go

Four and twenty tailors
Went to catch a snail.
The bravest one amongst them
Dare not touch her tail.
She put out her horns
Like a little kylie cow.
Run tailors run
Or she'll catch you even now.


An attempt at a personal definition of the word 'multicultural'; or Why I Do Not Agree with David Cameron

  • Stories, diverse stories, of people from different backgrounds, different cultures.
  • Languages, so diverse, that can express in a single word things that I struggle to say in many.
  • Ways of looking, beautiful faces of so many different colours and hues and shapes.
  • Ways of seeing.
  • Ways of being.
  • So many different ways of thinking about a single thing and bringing to a problem ways of seeing, understanding.
  • A celebration of difference.
  • Music. Songs from cultures, from distant lands, hot, cold, desert and forest. And from different ages too.

( One of my favorite books is The Ink Dark Moon by Shikibu , 1000 years old, Japanese)

When I left home I began to learn about how different people lived. I learned to make a little sense of the world through the myths of Aboriginal people, from America to Australia to Sami and Innuit. I learned about world music, folk music and I loved the richness that this wove into my life. I learned the roots of mathematics did not lie in dusty books but in faraway lands, that the world did not centre at all on the white people of Europe. And I loved this and I still do.
So, more power to multi-culturism, and I wish I wish I wish that I could express a clearer vision in words of this truth that I hold in my heart.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Save our libraries no 2.

My life is made from words. For years I have worked as an illustrator. Recently I began to write. I also read.
When I was young we did not have books in my house. Well, maybe one or two. Every week we would go to the library and choose maybe 3 or 4 books to take home. I was slow to learn to read and would often take out picture books.
I loved the silent hushed shelves where the books would whisper to me and it often seemed that certain books would push themselves out to be noticed. They all held doorways to other worlds.
I would gather up my new friends, carry them carefully to the counter and reach up high for the lady to stamp them. Books seemed bigger then, but maybe I was smaller.
I loved to see how long they had been sleeping on the shelves, waiting for me to come and breathe life into them, waken them by reading. I would wonder about who last had held each book, what they had thought of it. And then, after a week or two I would take it back and choose again. A dance of books.
And one book I would always choose more than others. The Jungle book, with coloured plates, hard backed, heavy paged. I can still smell it now, just thinking of it.

Without libraries I would not have had access to a world of books. I would not have been able to feed the hunger for stories that made me learn to read. My life would not be made of words now, and my future would have been very different.

To join in the protest and in praise of libraries please send your thoughts to

Heart and soul.

The primitive part of my heart fears that the time of darkness will stay. The modern part of my brain accepts that just because she is cloaked in darkness does not mean that she is gone, never to return.
My brain knows that she will grow again from syckle splinter to full. My heart enjoys the skies painted thick with stars.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Save our libraries

Sometimes it is not possible to get out and protest when you want to. I am tied to my studio table with a deadline to meet that feels impossible to achieve. All over Britain  authors and illustrators are going in to libraries in support of the library services in Britain. I can't go. In Sheffield a creative writing workshop for children was denied permission by the council on this day. The council thought that it might prove to be political. So the library decided to have a "Ssshhh" protest on 5th February.
In support of this I would like to ask all those who read this post to send to the library in Sheffield a short piece of writing about why it is that they love libraries, what the library meant to them when they were young, anything about the positive place of thelibrary in our society. A poem, haiku, sonnet, prose, anything. Just a few short lines, a silent, written protest piece in praise of the library, librarian. Send all writing  to 
If you want to send a piece in on Saturday send it to
Sometimes words unspoken can shout very loud.

Thank you.