Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dedicated to Claire Carlile, SEO Wales, my guide in the tumultuous world of social media

All day long I have been prowling around a painting, looking and wandering and fiddling and colouring. And all day I have been thinking about soup, because my very good friend, Claire Carlile asked on facebook for a recipe for squash soup. So, this posting is dedicated to Claire. 
Ever since I first met her I liked her. She is fierce, fit, hardworking and wonderful, fragile and beautiful and faithful. She has also given me so much advice and help on how to make myself more visible in the very cluttered and untidy world of the internet, on social networking etc. It was Claire who first advised me to start a blog so in some ways she is the Cat's Mother, or mother of the cat blog anyway. And now she speaks a whole new language of SEO that boggles my mind, because she is a freelance search engine optimisation and marketing consultant and has her own website at SEO Wales

So, tonight I too am making butternut squash soup and decided to write about it, or as the kids say 'exploit our supper on your blog'.

My day has been a day of colour, with saffron flowers, bright beads of fresh beetroot pulled from the garden, cheetahs inside, on sunbleached savannah, green grass outside with sheep in the rain.

Get some butternut squash, about 3 lbs of it and being careful of fingers cut the squash into pieces. Baste and paint these with olive oil and put in the oven to roast for about half an hour. They need to be peppered, and ever since I forgot once and then took the hot slices of golden squash out of the oven to grate fresh black pepper on and found that the perfume of the pepper falling on the flesh is so beautiful I always put the squash in for five minutes and then add the pepper. While you wait you can slice an onion into thin strips and begin to stew it in some butter, stirring, to melt the onion. 
Next , after about 20 mins,  add 850 ml of veg or chicken stock to the onion and about 425 of milk. Then scrape the soft peppered flesh away from the tough skin and add the golden glow to the onion and stock. Grate in some nutmeg and add salt. My nutmeg grater is the one and only thing I have that belonged to my grandmother. So far to my knowledge it has passed through three generations of my family. Stir the stuff around, making sure you breathe in the scents and then bring up to simmer and leave for 20-25mins while you read a book, or drink a glass of wine, or both.
Then liquidize and heat back through. The soup should be glorious orange bright. With a dollop of creme freche, some chopped chives and some small cubes of gruyere or other cheese  it should be wonderful, rich, golden and just right for autumn or winter.


Meanwhile the cheetah painting began pale gold this morning, but lacked something, so I added more red. Still didn't look right, but neither did it look too wrong and sometimes it is time to stop before you spoil it, but I decided that it wasn't right so added blue. And the blue makes the atmoshpere more heavy dark, and the red more red.
Still prowling, but need to put it away now and work on the pieces that go either side of it in the book, to make the balance work.

In this very dificult time for books, for the economic life of the country, and in a very competitive world my sales are 'bucking the trend' and increasing, month on month. One of the reasons for this is all the hard work the sales team at my publishers put in, but I am sure that another reason is the advice and guidance from Claire. So, Ms Carlile, I hope you like your soup.

Fast cats and flowers

Working on the first spread for the cat book and thinking about leaving home . 
Yesterday I watched a skein of jackdaws chase a merlin along the hedgerows, a peasant mob after a small falcon.
There is too much to do, as usual and I am trying to do it all at the same time and as a result getting nothing much done.
So far my list of things that need doing is morphing into having sub-lists. Not a good state to be in.
1. Finish cheetahs. I want to do this before I go away, for peace of mind. 
2. Stretch paper. I want to do this before I go away so that I have blank paper ready to begin when I get home.
3. Make list of things to take away. I want to do this before I go as there won't be much point when I get back, and I have to take dragons and bears and maybe my bowl, and amber and silver and paints and brushes.
4. Tidy studio. I want to do this before I leave home so that when I come back I can sit down and work. I have a lot to do.
5. Tidy bedroom. Hmmm...... trolls live here.

It is raining now, and the sunshine and rain and lack of frost makes the vegetables grow. I still marvel at the bright flowers on the courgette plants, like jester's hats and so golden saffron coloured.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Martha walking, Martha resting.

Outside the morning light is astonishing, bright. 
This morning I was greeted by a shimmering pool of ginger twisting-turning-hungry-cats as I opened the bedroom door. Four cats. 
Some of the books I have written and illustrated masquerade in the world as children's books, because they have pictures in, because the language is simple, because there are not many words. The Seal Children is a book about separartion. About loss. It has space within the story so that if the reader and the child want to they can find a safe place to talk about things that trouble them. The Snow Leopard also, although I suppose that is more about death, but then death is a separation also. And The Ice Bear has loss, has decisions. Maybe this is not the best way to try and sell a book, but whilst they deal on a level with important issues I hope none of them do it in a maudlin way, preaching but rather give space to find your own understanding.
So yesterday was a day of learning my own lessons. 15 years of sharing days with Martha, from kitten play to walking the wilds and then old lap cat purring by the fire. I dreaded the moment of calling in Kath, but I can only say that I think Kath is the most amazing person, so kind, so gentle and I am so lucky to have her as a friend. She helped to make Martha's passing a beautiful thing, reinforced my decision that it was time to let her go, even offered to help me dig her grave but then gave me space to grieve. She is such a gift of a woman.

Last night I was draped in cats, cuddled by Maurice and Pixie. Elmo was out and about being Elmo, Max sat vigil over Martha. He is now the oldest cat.
Today I have work to do and I am astonished by the beauty that I found yesterday in such a difficult day.

Birds, flowers and books.

In the garden a few blooms of honeysuckle still cleave the memory of summer to the old pear tree. Now it bustles with birds as they have found the feeders with seeds and fat balls. So, bright, so busy, where once there was a riot of flowers, now there is a riot of birds. The one sweet scented, the other sweet voiced.
And I have planned out my day. One hour painting, fifteen minutes reading, Firebrand by Gillian Philip published by Strident.
In my pocket a talisman. The breast feather of a peregrine falcon.

Later: Some days do not go according to plan. Martha, my oldest cat, had been ailing for some time. Today Kath, friend and vet came and confirmed my decision to help Martha out of life and away from the terrible decline into old age that she had fallen. Although she had drunk a little over the last four days she had eaten little. And so in the warm late summer sun Kath put Martha to sleep in the garden. I was amazed at how quick, how peaceful this was. Pixie sat by our side, her paw on Martha. Max watched from a distance and Elmo got very distracted by the birds on the bird feeders and flung himself up a tree.
Many tears were shed and I went to get a spade to dig a hole. There is something very cathartic about being able to dig and bury and keep close the shells of the cats after life has left them.
First I tried to dig a hole where Martha had been sitting in the warm sun that day. It was a favorite place, beneath the roses, next to the moonjar, warm, sheltered, hidden. And very shallow of soil. I soon hit rock.
Next I thought to place her next to her brother, Arthur, who died years back. So I started to dig and was surprised to find a half brick, and then some duplo toys. I dug a bit further and there was Arthur. Not next to Arthur, but on him! He was a big cat. Even his bones were beautiful. What could be better than for Martha's resting place to be with her brother. Conceived together, they grew in the womb of the same she cat, mother a moggie, father a handsome Siamese filanderer. They grew and were born together and now they would rest together until their bones mingled in the dark soil. So I placed Martha in and covered them both again, and put a heavy slate over them both.

She was a good cat.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Art Exhibition and Sale.

On Sunday 3rd October there will be an exhibition at The Orangery in Margam Park near Cardiff and Neath in South Wales. The exhibition is only open to the public between 2.30 and 5pm on Sunday 3rd October and there will be 20 artists exhibiting, with sculpture, jewellery, sketches and paintings. Most of the work is for sale, and donations on entry and any profit raised from the event is for C.A.R.E, The Campaign for Alzheimer's Research in Europe.
Work of mine showing includes original art from Can You See a Little Bear, The Terry Pratchett Disc World Calendar, Little One We Knew You'd Come and other pictures.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Walking in woods.

Walking in the woods, my first kick through autumn leaves this year, towards the sea where the waves pull at pebbles on the wide beach, and in my head thoughts of poetry. It is National Poetry Day on 7th October and I will be working in a school in Norfolk and also doing an open event for the Norfolk Children's book group in Aylesham in the evening. ( You can get detail from Marilyn at the Children's Book Centre in Norfolk)
The National Poetry people want facebook users to change their status updates to lines from their favorite poem on 7th October. Easier said than done. 
Walking through the woods, trying to think of poems that I love and what it is I love about words and the way they can fall together or be crafted together to make stories, to make people, to make places. More often than not it is lyrics I remember more than poems. I read poetry but the while the taste of the words in the mind's eye is strong at the time my memory can not always hold them, where as songs haunt me.
The first time I found Yeats's Stolen Child was through song, The Waterboys wonderful song and the way the words ran and rang was wonderful and fit so well with my wood walking. Perhaps these would be the lines I would choose?

Where the wandering water gushes,
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star, 
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;

Thursday, September 23, 2010


This time last year I had a new roof put on the house. Now I have raised beds that have grown out of left over building materials and old roof beams.
And I have leeks from the old roof beams, but a different kind to the leeks I had last year.
Courgettes are still growing, and beetroots and spring onions which are so lovely to pull fresh with the lambs lettuce for lunch.
Today I started painting for I Am Cat. I have until Tuesday to get the dummy book and a spread to London in time for the presentation meeting for Frankfurt. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Finding cats

Working hard on drawings for I Am Cat and I have had help from the cats, but especialy Pixie who managed to cat-sneak into my studio in order to act as editor and designer, and life model all rolled into one.
Putting the pages together so that they work as a book, illustrate the text, add to the words, is always difficult, especialy when there are so few words.

Small sketches come first, doodling around a design, asking questions. Like dreams, in my head I can see these in colour as finished pieces, the drawings just remind me later, what goes where and how. And sometimes pages change altogether.

The sketch above is for the last but one page and I realised half way through that it needed to change to be more intimate, closer.
Still have a cougar and a leopard to find.  

Monday, September 20, 2010

A confusion of blogs, a charm of goldfinch, and an alarm of blank pages.

Morning walking and looking back towards home from the airfield. I can see my house in a pool of sunlight. Goldfinches fly, bright flashes of colour, beautiful charms.

Back home, working on the cat book roughs for Frances Lincoln to try and get work finished and ready for Frankfurt book fair. All the time I am watched by my cat editor.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Seal Music part 2.

The sky was coloured like soft sealskin early this morning, and though I know I should be working away at 'I am Cat' I can't help but walk out to search again for seals. Across the water from Ramsey's beaches seal song drifts into hearing mingling with sea song and bird cry. This time walking from the lifeboat station at St Justinians along the cliffs above Ramsey Sound.

And today there are seals, and pups, porpoise and gannets, raven, jackdaws in skeins across the sea, bright chough with curved scarlet beaks, small flocks of bell voiced birds and parasol mushrooms in plenty. And this time I had my long lens and a charged battery on the camera.

She wore a sealskin coat that was dappled like the stones. Her flippers were like the rich dark ribbons of kelp, eyes dark pools of the soul as she stroked her child's head. So beautiful. When you sit for a while and watch you realise that it is hardly a surprise that everywhere there are seals there are also stories of seals.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Seal Music

You can hear them long before you see them, on a still morning like this where the air whispers with butterfly wings. Swallows are gathering over fields of gold stubble, gathering to pull the summer away on their wings as they head for Africa. The sea breathes in shallow breath, as though sleeping, its surface, a mirror for the sky. It is warm, and there again, on the edge of the slightest breeze, is a cry that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
I thought it was a lullaby as I walked towards the cove. 
Flocks of jackdaws tumbles over cliff edge where small rockpools held the light, like moonstones in the dark rocks. A lazy buzzard lifted heavily into the blue.
Closer, and louder, closer and louder, and mournful and beautiful. Then, there in the water, two seals. It was a love song, not a lullaby.
And on the beach, on a hard bed of stones smoothed by the sea, a pup.

This year there were two pups, and in the sea two seals, perhaps mother and daughter and a bull seal courting. They say that seals return to the beach where they were pupped.
The sun was warm as I sat for a while and watched. Still so calm. I could hear the seals calling across Ramsey Sound from the stone beaches there. 
In the sky the blackest ravens circled and called and somewhere a chough joined in the song.

Above the cove a small herd of ponies basked in the morning sunshine, calm on their cliff top perch, some coloured like the bracken, others like the white lichen that grows on the rocks.

On days like this it is so hard to go home and into the studio to work, but I have things to do for my publisher for Frankfurt Book Fair, and I will come back, with a long lens. Now it is time to draw cats.