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Gavrinis, Standing Stones and a Tiny House

Just off the coast of Brittany, in the Gulf of Morbihan, there’s a special little island called Gavrinis, ‘goat island’. It’s special because it has a large burial mound or cairn known for the detailed engravings that adorn the wall, floor and ceiling slabs of the cairn’s interior passage that are 6000 years old. In Neolithic times Gavrinis was a granite hill on the mainland coast overlooking the River Vannes, but the seas rose and the hill became an island. Today you can visit it by boat. We have just returned from a trip to Brittany where we visited Gavrinis on a day trip.

Gavrinis from the sea
Gavrinis island from the sea
Gavrinis cairn
Gavrinis cairn.

You are not allowed to take photos inside the burial chamber. In the photo below, taken from the Brittany Tourism website, the interior passageway looks longer than it seems in real life. It is an intimate space about three and a half feet wide. The granite slabs are engraved with swirls, chevrons, wavy lines and axe shapes and look very like fingerprints. What they symbolise is a mystery. It has been suggested that the lines represent waves or water or perhaps furrows of ploughed land. The Neolithic creators of the megalith were the first farmers and the land was revered and sacred. Gavrinis appeals to my liking for islands, for caves and for deep, quiet, ancient sacred spaces. The carvings remind me of labyrinths. How tempting it is to trace the lines with one’s finger. Perhaps they depict a kind of map to the next world? Perhaps an underground, underworld way of water.

Cairn de Gavrinis
In the passageway of the Cairn of Gavrinis.

No evidence of any bodies have been found at the cairn. It is thought that the acidic nature of the granire stones may have eroded any bones away.

You can see another island from Gavrinis, Er Lannic.

Er Lannic seen from Gavrinis
Er Lannic seen from Gavrinis.

On the boat journey back we crossed a strong current at high tide to see the half submerged stone circle on Er Lannic. It illustrates how sea level has risen.

Er Lannic submerged stone circle
Er Lannic showing the half submerged stone circle.

The same day we drove to see the long lines of standing stones at Carnac – rows, dolmens and tumuli. There are over 3,000 prehistoric granite stones erected over 5,000 years ago. There is a myth that says the stones were Pagan soldiers turned into stone by Pope Cornelius.

Carnac
Prehistoric stones in the Kermario alignment at Carnac. Kermario means ‘House of the Dead’.
Keriaval Dolmen
Keriaval Dolmen

After our megalithic sightseeing we travelled north to the Parc Naturel A’Armorique where we stayed in a little cabin on a permaculture farm.

Tiny house
Tiny house in Brittany.
Little tin with finds from Brittany.
Little tin given to me by a friend with finds from Brittany – yellow gorse and heather from Ménez Hom; quartz from the sea cliffs; sea purslane from the River Aulne.

Each day we went down to the River Aulne to watch birds, mullet feeding in the shallows and the tide coming in or going out.

Sunset over the River Aulne
Sunset over the River Aulne. The River Aulne was sacred to the Romans, who named it after Alaunus, Gaulish God of healing and prophecy.

From my diary:

River, still as a lake. carrying the sky’s visage, the splintered reflections of egrets, the crescent moon. Fish prick the surface waters of the incoming tide. Golden is the eastern sky. The shore crackles as inch by inch, silt upon silt, salt into fresh the water creeps, almost silently, unobtrusively. A cormorant now wings along the farther shore towards the sun over the white dots of roosting gulls. A curlew calls. The forest that was mirrored in the glass of the river is now bronze, now dense with darkness. The river says nothing. Spleechless it shifts, slowly it sucks up the land. The tide says nothing; this is its prerogative. All is held in a quiet dislocation, a shifting constant of sea and river. Silence bears witness to silence as the shore shrinks and we wait on the bank for some action, for a mammal, for a fox perhaps, or even an otter. Nothing comes and the hour gapes, waiting, waiting, waiting. This is forever. This is what forever sounds like, the silence then the crackling shore. In it comes, slowly, while above the crescent draws and pulls, pulls and draws. The sun behind the hill. A faint breeze. The gloaming now.

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Dusk Night Dawn Book

Over the past couple of years I have been putting together a little book, Dusk, Night, Dawn. It is a collection of nature writings about my encounters with wildlife during the twilight and night hours here in the UK and on trips abroad.

The book started when I was having mentoring with Amy Liptrot. She commented that much of my writing was about dusk. I then collected a few pieces together and set out to have more experiences that I could write about. These included the time when I saw nightjars in King’s Wood, Kent and looking for bears in Romania. Some of my pieces have been published in magazines, on websites or blogs and in anthologies, but I have put them all together in one book and have included pen and ink illustrations to accompany many of the pieces. Here is an example:

Dipper
Bird of the Black Waters.

I submitted my book to WriteNow in 2017 and it was shortlisted. I submitted it to Spotlight Books and again it was shortlisted, but it didn’t win. It was suggested that I should include more of myself in the book and make it into a narrative. Well, it is what it is, a collection of writings like an anthology. I have sent it to a couple of publishers but I am expecting to hear the same problems with the book, so I won’t be surprised when I hear back from them. In the meantime I’ve put together a mocked up copy with the help of my partner Kevin.

It took Kevin quite a while tp format and lay out the book ready for printing and help design the cover. He took it on as a project.

Having got the printing done, I was keen to investigate ‘perfect binding’ to put it together. This means that when the pages are put together, there is no creep. I researched how to do perfect binding and Kevin made me a page vice. Some commercial printers only do staple bound, so I chose to do the whole thing myself.

Folding paper
Folding paper for making the book by perfect binding.
Homemade book clamp
Homemade book clamp.

I applied PVA glue to the vice-bound page edges and attached the cover.

Glueing book
While the pages were in the book clamp, I clued the spine using PVA glue.

Here is the finished book, front and back:

Dusk Night Dawn book
Dusk Night Dawn book
Dusk Night Dawn back cover
Dusk Night Dawn back cover.

The process was tricky but fun. I’ll wait to see what the publishers say before I do anything else with it.

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On the Trail of Boar

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!)

Summoning the Boar
Summoning the Boar
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Badgers and Vignettes

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?)

Still - Writing Piece in The Simple Things Magazine
Still – writing piece in The Simple Things magazine

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:

Into the Woods Book
Into the Wood book

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.

On the theme of badgers, I have a Two Badgers altered book currently available in my Etsy and website shop:

two Badgers Altered Book
Two Badgers Altered Book

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:

Vignettes
Vignettes for Avocet Gallery
Badger at Rest
Badger at Rest

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.”

Avocet Gallery Art and Craft Show 2018
Avocet Gallery Art and Craft Show 2018
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Murmuration Over Brighton’s West Pier

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!):

Murmuration in The Preston Pages
Murmuration in The Preston Pages

Apparently the illustration is on the cover of The 7 Directory :)

Murmuration1
Murmuration 1

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 Brighton in the 1990s
The West Pier Brighton in the 1990s

The West Pier today:

The West Pier at Sunset
The West Pier, Brighton at Sunset

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.

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Harry Potter Altered Book

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.

The suggested scene to illustrate was from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter Five when Harry and Ron crash the Ford Anglia they are driving into the Whomping Willow in the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Harry Potter - extract.
Harry Potter – extract.from The Chamber of Secrets.

I wanted to make the Whomping Willow the main feature and got caught up in the detail of branches and leaves:

Making a Harry Potter Altered Book
Making a Harry Potter Altered Book

It was fun overlayering the crashed car with the top layer:

Harry Potter Ford Car in Whomping Willow
Harry Potter Ford Car in Whomping Willow

I added an owl in the foreground and Hogwarts in the background against a starry sky:

Harry Potter Altered Book
Harry Potter Altered Book

Along with the Harry Potter altered book, I created another ‘Into the Beech Wood’ altered book as part of the same commission:

Into the Beech Wood Altered Bookb
Into the Beech Wood Altered Book

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:

Time in the Beech Wood
Time in the Beech Wood

(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.

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Foxes, Sparrowhawks and Swifts

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.

Preston Pages Wildlife Reflections
Preston Pages – Wildlife Reflections
Fox Hour
Fox Hour
Sparrowhawk
Sparrowhawk over Brighton.
Swifts
Swifts

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.

You can read ‘Swifts’ here.

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A Song at Dusk

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…

Preston Pages - A Song at Dusk
Preston Pages – A Song at Dusk

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 :)

Blackbirds at Dusk
Blackbirds at Dusk

The original A4 illustration above is available to buy, unmounted, mounted, framed or unframed. Contact me if you’re interested.

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My New Writing Blog

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.

The new blog is called From the Fields and Woods.

From the Fields and Woods Homepage
From the Fields and Woods Homepage
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Book Review of “Turning” by Jessica J. Lee

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.

Turning by Jessica J. Lee
Turning by Jessica J. Lee

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.

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