Towards the end of April I visited the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire with my partner in the hope of seeing wild boar. I’ve written a simple piece about our search that is published today on Caught by the River. Soon I’ll put it on my writing website, From the Fields and Woods.
Here is a wild boar illustration, Summoning the Boar. (Yes, it features brambles once again!)
I’m always happy to see one of my pictures or pieces of writing in print. In the November issue of The Simple Things magazine I have a piece of nature writing, ‘Still’, about encountering a badger. It sits alongside pieces by good writers such as Tim Dee, Alys Fowler and Neil Ansell. It would have been nice if they’d sent me a copy of the magazine. Instead, I had to go and buy one. (There do seem to be a plethora of these cosy, classy, hyggey, crafty, lifestyle magazines around at the moment. Is it ‘our’ need for comfort and reassurance in these somewhat dark, unsettled times?)
The piece was originally published in the Autumn anthology as part of the Seasons series by Elliott and Thompson. I’m now in the process of making little, A6 illustrated books using some of my previously published writings. Here is an example I’ve titled, Into the Wood:
The last badger I encountered was in the scrubby area behind the cabin in France where I stayed in the summer. It nearly ran into me as I stood quietly waiting for nightjars; they have poor eyesight but a great sense of smell.
I’ve just created some little vignettes in pen and ink that I’ve sent to Avocet Gallery in Rye for their Christmas Fair. One of these is of a sleeping badger – pen and ink with a blue copper sky painted with acrylic metallic paint and ink. The others are of a hare, a nest, an owl and, of course, deer:
I love vignettes both in art and writing – moments captured! And I love the way Jay Griffiths describes a badger in her little book, “Twilight“:
“Then I see him touched by two light, day-streaked and night-stroked, a keyboard playing a twilight sonata in a minor key for the maligned creatures of twilight, the badgers themselves, the wolf, the hare and the bat – flittermouse in flights of arpeggios to catch moths. And owls.”
The murmuration over the West Pier in Brighton is fairly well known. Whenever I go down to see it in the autumn and winter, there is always a crowd of people. Nevertheless, I chose to write about it for this month’s Preston Pages and the other free magazines such as The Post and The 7 Directory.
Here is a photo of my article with an illustration, Murmuration 1 (not exactly an inspired title, but still!):
Apparently the illustration is on the cover of The 7 Directory :)
The original illustration has now sold along with another similar one, Murmuration 2. But I now have digital prints for sale in my website shop. They’ll be ready to go out next week if anyone’s interested.
I can’t help including a photo of the pier in the 1990s before it completely crumbled into the sea and later went up in flames, wonderfully derelict :)
The West Pier today:
Chris Watson did a great radio programme of sounds and memories of the West Pier, Ghost Roost, that really brings it to life. It’s well worth a listen.
I have recently been commissioned to make a Harry Potter altered book. I don’t know that much about the Harry Potter books and I’ve only ever seen Harry Potter films on flights, however, this seemed like a good challenge.
I wanted to make the Whomping Willow the main feature and got caught up in the detail of branches and leaves:
It was fun overlayering the crashed car with the top layer:
I added an owl in the foreground and Hogwarts in the background against a starry sky:
Along with the Harry Potter altered book, I created another ‘Into the Beech Wood’ altered book as part of the same commission:
To accompany this I put together a little booklet with a piece of my writing called Time in the Beech Wood. I wrote it when staying in the Forest Cabin last year. I’ve wanted to do something with this piece for a while, so this seemed like a good opportunity. I played around with my World Tree and deer illustrations to create the cover in Photoshop:
(I think there’s a hint of cave painting or Cretan vase in the design!) I’ll add it to the book as a little gift.
I’ve written and illustrated three more pieces for my local Preston Pages magazine, Fox Hour for April, Sparrowhawk for May and Swifts for June.
As I write in the Swifts article, I’m doing a swift survey in my neighbourhood. It’s made me much more aware of all the activity happening in the skies above the city. Swifts are declining and the RSPB is monitoring them and encouraging people to put up swift boxes. To learn more, and see how you can help, go to the RSPB website.
Pearlescent and moon-painted, dusk is falling. In a corner of the park a male blackbird perches in the naked branches of a sycamore tree, yellow bill, eye a ring of gold. He flicks his tail and starts to sing an enquiring, fluty song. Listen…
I’m very pleased to have a second piece of writing, A Song at Dusk, along with a picture in February’s issue of Preston Pages, one of Brighton’s free magazines :)
The original A4 illustration above is available to buy, unmounted, mounted, framed or unframed. Contact me if you’re interested.
As I do both drawing and writing these days, I’ve decided to create a new blog for my writing – pieces that have mainly been published elsewhere online (a few in print too) along with anything nature inspired.
I haven’t had a lot of practice writing book reviews, but I thought I’d try. Here’s one I’ve written recently:
I am drawn to water and freshwater in particular. Inspired by Roger Deakin’s “Waterlog”, I was keen to read “Turning”, a swimming memoir by Jessica J. Lee – and really enjoyed it.
The author, a Canadian with British-Chinese parents, is living temporarily in Berlin to write up a thesis. Feeling depressed she turns to swimming in the hope that she’ll heal a broken heart. She decides to set herself the challenge of swimming in 52 lakes around Berlin over the course of a year. With just her bicycle and packed lunch she sets off during breaks in her writing to swim in a lake every week, sometimes using the train and often alone. Swimming in all weathers, she likes winter the best and occasionally has to break lake ice with a hammer. Her relationship with the lakes grows as the environment subtly changes with the seasons.
Swimming becomes a way for her to find a sense of belonging in a new city. She hopes to find solace and gain an understanding of herself by literally immersing herself in the landscape. The book works well in various ways. For example, the author’s experiences, memories and feelings are reflected in the landscape and water with the use of simple similes and metaphors,
“I’ve been angry with myself for losing my equilibrium, for confusing swimming with love. I’ve been furious at myself for sinking… Feeling as clear as the day, as deep as the lake.”
When she swims, the language is sensual and lyrical but hints at her deep hurt,
“…The lake feels cleaner on your arms, less like velvet, more like cut glass.”
She has a keen eye for the details of the natural world, illustrated when her current situation as a newcomer to the region is accentuated by some wildflowers she notices,
“I’m struck by a tiny flash of pale pink in the green. Himalayan balsam… They are aliens here.”
During her explorations she encounters the ghosts of Berlin’s past as well as her own. Musings by writers such as Theodor Fontaine and the research of water scientists interweave with the author’s story.
Water permeates the book; cities, countries and continents are linked by their lakes and the author’s history. Relationships ebb and flow, sometimes serving as anchors, sometimes causing grief. Her present story shifts to her past and back again until we are acquainted with her life – like the stratified layers of a lake.
In the last chapter Margaret Atwood’s “Surfacing”, is mentioned, an influential book for the author. Perhaps this could have been introduced earlier in the book.
Like Roger Deakin in “Waterlog”, Jessica J. Lee successfully gets “under the skin of things”. But her story is markedly different. “Turning” is beautiful book about lake swimming, loss, resilience, solitude and finding a sense of belonging.
I’m just writing a brief post to spread the word about a new literary journal, The Curlew, in which I have an essay and some artwork.
I was very pleased to have my essay accepted. It’s about a bat survey I took part in at Ebernoe Common woods in the summer. My image, Echoing Swans and a pen and ink illustration of a dark wood also feature.
The Curlew donates to wildlife charities such as Cheetah Conservation Fund and The Born Free Foundation and is looking for contributions of creative non-fiction, poetry, artwork and photography. It’s also keen to involve young people with a special section called “Sanderlings”.
My piece in Summer was about the hares on Havergate Island, an island I’ve mentioned before here. Below is an extract:
“…Evening, and the moon over Orford Ness is round and full, a warm, butter moon. Below, in its light, I can make out the dark shapes of fishermen casting into the rippling Narrows. The hares will be out feeding on grasses and herbs now. At night I sleep and dream reed-lined, silt-laden dreams, drifting channels in my skiff, hugging the shallows, calm and sheltered from a ravaging sea beyond. I wake and the winds are playing havoc with the wind turbine again.”
For Autumn, I wrote about a badger encounter I’d had with my partner in Woodchester Park in Gloucestershire. I find myself often drawn to nocturnal wildlife:
“Nocturnal wildlife has a special fascination; it usually lives out of sight beneath the radar of our everyday, human lives…”
(As I am writing about my writing, back in February, I wrote a piece about seeing Manx shearwaters and storm petrels on the island of Skokholm, birds of the night. You can read it on the Caught By The River website.)
As my Autumn piece is about badgers, I thought I’d show my latest altered book, Badger Family. I was given a tatty old Observer’s guide to Wild Animals, beautiful in a wabi sabi sort of way. I’ve transformed the book’s interior into a woodland scene with badgers.