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.
Down holloway of bramble, thorny briar and teasel, to where the fabric of the world wares thin, she walks. Autumnal winds whip the bleached branches. Softly she sings her silent lament to the wind. Across the silent moor her echoing answer rings. Shadows creep up hillsides. In valleys mist gathers as she wanders through the encroaching dusk, She calls and waits, calls and waits. The hour is crow feather black and barn owl soft. A figure at the crag edge, she stands…
Samhain is a Celtic day when the veils between our world and the Otherworld are at their thinnest. It falls halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. I don’t usually recognise or celebrate Samhain or Halloween, but this year I feel a touch of magic as though I am at a threshold, ready to welcome in the gifts of darkness – reflection, imagination, story and mystery. For me these things come from ‘the other side’ or from another, deeper side of myself.
So I visualise a cloaked woman walking the land, walking through a thick, dark night. I watch her wander. I watch her roam the night. Night,… I have more to say about you,…soon.
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.
It was lovely receiving my copy of the new AEVA, Woman Earth Soul magazine in the post today. Formerly it was She Who Knows. AEVA means life, sound and voice. AEVA is different from your typical women’s magazine. It honours the beauty and wisdom in every woman and aims to empower, replenish and inspire it’s readers. It is full of wonderful words and beautiful art by women for women.
In this issue one of the themes is rivers. I have a few words on my relationship to rivers and a photo of me in the River Lot, France.
Rivers have been and still are important to me. My need for a river is sometimes a thirst and I do not visit rivers enough. I am a river person more than a sea person. The sea is too big, too overwhelming, too impersonal sometimes, but I need it as well. However, it is to freshwater I go and where I always feel welcome.
Below is a photo of the cover of AEVA showing women in a river :) How good is that!
Here is a spread of the article, ‘Entering the River’s Flow’:
You can get 10% off a year’s subscription with the code sharethelove8. See the AEVA website.
At my request I’ve received a wonderful bundle in the post, a series of poetry pamphlets created by poet, writer and artist James Roberts, who lives in Wales. Beautiful artwork and imagery accompany the poems. It is great to connect with other people creating with night, wood and river as inspirations.
James set up Night River Wood as “a space to explore the interaction between human creativity and our wild surroundings, particularly the qualities of hiddenness and mystery (night), creative flow (river), and communal growth (wood).”
Occasional poetry pamphlets are created and left ‘hidden in plain sight as pieces of inspiration’ in places to be found by passers-by. Then, it is hoped, the pamphlets will be placed elsewhere to reach more people.
James has also written some great essays. I first came across his writing in Zoomorphic journal with his piece, In the Eyes of a Wolf. It made an impression on me.
I think the poetry pamphlet idea is lovely and the project interesting. The poems are beautiful, thought provoking with a hint of the mysterious, elusive animals at the edges of our lives and psyches – owls, the last wolf, rooks. I’ll savour the poetry and then think carefully about where I’ll leave the pamphlets, or who I’ll give them to.
“… You enter the vanished wood last
where darkness prepares to idle through day,
iterleaved and understoreyed,
A cabin on a wooded hillside with cicadas all day long; the forest song. Heat, there the sun beats. The sun beats and the grasses are dry, bleached. A hawk tilts over, dark and long against the blue. Then a kestrel. Drowsy butterflies drift over our glade – scarce swallowtails, white admirals, dryads. There are bush crickets. capricorn beetles, dragonflies patrol at dragonfly hour – ‘horse stingers’, ‘snake doctors’. Stag beetles emerge horns upright, haphazardly in search.
It’s the hour of the bat, or perhaps of the nightjar churring from a tall oak in the scrub. churring softly Softing churring – the purr of an engine.
Owl hour, the tawnies are about. The moon rises, a biscuit moon, buttery, warm, almost whole. Night.
In the little cabin, off grid in southern France in July, we immersed ourselves in nature, reading, writing and visiting the local palaeolithic cave art. It was a sort of retreat. The world above – the sun, the wood, the cicadas, the deer, the badgers, the moon. The world below – roots, caverns of calcite sculpted over time by the hands of water and ice; an underworld of beautiful beasts solitary or shifting in silent herds painted thousands of years ago.
Living was simple; drinking filtered water, washing in a bucket, cooking on a ring using a gas cylinder. I had time to think, time to dream, time to watch spiders weave intricate webs;
time to watch Jupiter rise in the south; time to revel in the constellations; time in the hills with the trees; time to contemplate deep time, listening to the sunlight through trees,
dreaming in gold and sweat. Dreaming in thunder.
We swan in the River Lot
and in the River Cele with butterflies on the bank for company.
I sat out at night in a storm while the sky ripped itself into shreds of white light and warmth came up from the earth all around. And it rained thick pillars of rain. So immediate it was, in the midst of it all – wood, hillside, storm, then darkness, the moon’s shadow and the milky way.
And on our last night the moon became shy and subdued into shadow. Red and warm bloodied it pulsed like an embryo in its swathe of sooty cloud, the longest lunar eclipse of the century.
The retreat was wonderful, relaxing, a little hot. Now, with all the images and the experience inside me I want to respond somehow – painting, writing, drawing… new projects.
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.
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.