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Putting Authors / Illustrators in the Picture: Jackie Morris

By Liz Robinson on 1st October 2019

So, just to let you know that I am one of the cheerleaders in the Jackie Morris Fan Club… well, I would be if she actually had one (does she have one?). I first fell under the spell of her work when I saw some of her notecards… “Oooooh, love those!”. And from there, I slowly started building up a collection. I have badges, notecards, puzzles, books of course (lots of those), and then there is the jewel in the crown, my much adored piece of art of a fox and hare called the ‘Space Between’. 

I feel as though Jackie herself sits in a between space, she is both author and illustrator, able to flip between the two, and also between books for adults and children with ease. In fact most of her books can be enjoyed by both adults and children. Her abundance of love for the natural world fills spaces in hearts and minds. I always find myself slowing down when I read her work, and when I view her illustrations I take a step outside of myself, into the painting or drawing and just exist there for a while. My first Jackie Morris review for LoveReading was with The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow published by Graffeg. It became one of our Books of the Year in 2016 and I still read it (and hug it).

I first met Jackie at an event for the Crickhowell Literary Festival in the autumn of 2017, just as The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie was being published by Hamish Hamilton. She told us how the book had come into being, showed us the pages, read some of the spell songs (and if you’ve seen it you’ll know how important it is to do that). I knew it was special, I wanted to read all of the poems there and then and set them free, wanted to tell everyone I knew about this beautiful, important book. We chose The Lost Words as one of our LoveReading Books of the Year in 2017. The Lost Words took off, it quite literally flew, capturing the imagination of all who touched it. People planned and succeeding in filling school libraries all across the country, exhibitions came into being, and music filled the air (most recently at the Albert Hall with the Lost Words Prom). 

After the event, I wandered along to Book-ish in Crickhowell, the most wonderful bookshop with a cafe attached (is there a more fabulous thing!). I saw Jackie there, and we got chatting, she was simply wonderful, and without realising it, firmly cemented herself as one of my favourite authors.

Her next books to be published are (and we have rather fabulous linked competitions to them both too!):

The Secret of the Tattered Shoes written by Jackie, illustrated by Ehsan Abdollahi, and published by Tiny Owl on 25 September 2019

The House Without Windows written by Barbara Newhall Follett, introduced and illustrated by Jackie, and published by Hamish Hamilton on 3 October 2019

I was thrilled when Jackie agreed to be our Author in the Picture for October, here she shows us six of her favourite photos, and I’ve also asked her about her CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal win, and a little about her next project too.

What is your favourite book cover to date?

For years I have loved the cover of Watership Down. I only discovered recently that the artwork is by Pauline Baynes who illustrated the Narnia books so beautifully. As a child I found it utterly beautiful. I love the detail and character, the typeface, everything about it.

What is your favourite reading or writing spot?

I write up the hill above my house, down the beach before swimming, on St Davids Head. I like to write after walking, carry a pen and notebook everywhere with me. I love reading outside also, but my favourite place to read is anywhere. These days I love reading so much that sometimes it is the only thing I want to do. There are so many books that I want to read, there’s not enough time! I will die before I have read everything. Then after I have died people will write more books that I will never know, and never meet and isn’t that just the most wonderful thing.

What location has inspired you?

My home inspires me. It’s a curious question though. I need the peace of home, the silence I find here, punctuated by birdsong, to work. It’s a beautiful space. But at the end of the day the only thing that matters is the space between my head and the page. This can be anywhere. And inspiration comes from awareness and from being open to awe.

What object has inspired you?

My desk is full with things that wait to tell their stories. This is one. A small gold hare on wheels. It belonged to my partner’s mother. It is small, but exquisite. It sits on the hourglass on my desk because my table is so messy and it would be lost otherwise. The hourglass shows me time passing, helps me to make the most of it, not waste it. Once time is spent you cannot get it back.

Your most memorable book event.

I went to Cheltenham festival where I heard Alan Garner speak about Thursbitch. I loved his books as a child though The Owl Service terrified me. He wove around this book such a powerful myth, had the audience in the palm of his hand so that they believed that there was a valley in the north for England where a mythical beast ( in my mind a minotaur) lives, breathes, hunts, even to this day.


Your most beloved and well-read book.

This is the book that I have owned for the longest. I have read few of the words, but all of the paintings. I have drunk them in so deep into my eyes that I learned the names and the shape of the birds from it. My copy is old, falling apart, but I love everything about it. It was a present from my parents.

"I can't remember how long I have had it. When I was young I would use the images to copy from. I think I did this when I was about 15."

We would like to congratulate you on your recent successes including winning the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for Illustration with The Lost WordsThe Lost Words has become a living breathing entity in its own right, people of all ages have been truly inspired by the beauty of its meaning which has been fabulous to see. Can you tell us a little more about your reasons for the book, your collaboration with Robert Macfarlane, and how the project has grown to what it is today?

It’s a hackneyed phrase ‘this book changed my life’ but in this case it is more than true. It was a joy to work on, but also by far the hardest I have ever worked, but because it was a heart song it was utterly beautiful to work so hard, be so immersed in the subject, to ‘drown in blue’ when painting the bluebells and to rise on lark wings. 

I had always thought of myself as observant, but the close inspection of the nearby wild that was called for when working on the book was intense. And working with such fine words as those created by Robert was a joy also.

It has been incredible to see how people have taken both the book and us to their hearts. It feels like such a privilege to have ones work treated in such a way, and I have loved hearing the words sing, take on new life, in schools and homes. Small seeds spreading, and all the while people noticing the beauty of the natural world in which we live.

Reasons for the book? They change all the time. At its heart, it is a celebration of all things wild.

You have also been successful in obtaining funding with an Unbound project for The Unwinding, can you tell us why you chose this route, a little more about the project and the book itself please?

The Unwinding is a curious creature. It came out of nowhere when I was trying to gather the introduction for The House Without Windows. I wanted to make a small book, like a prayer book, that could be carried around, tucked under a pillow, like a talisman, a place of peace, a harbour. The paintings are mostly ones made over years in between illustrations. They are my ‘unwinding’. Strange dreamscapes, weird thoughts, odd moments caught in the corner of the mind’s eye. And the words are the same kind of thing. 

The aim is to make a catalyst for dreamers.

Why Unbound? Because they treat books as individuals. Because they do things differently. There’s more of a sharing in the making, the design. But it was also terrifying, because I had to raise such a lot of money from sales of a book that isn’t even written yet. That it's funded so fast is really rather wondrous (three weeks I think). That it continues to grow is also wonderful. 

I hope people like it, but you can never write what people want you to write, only what makes your soul sing, and hope people like that.

You can follow Jackie Morris on social media:

Twitter @JackieMorrisArt



You can see her LoveReading bio here. 

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