Category Archives: books

Spells of shivelight and shadowtackle

Untitled-1

Beyond hyperbole,’ The Lost Words’ is a book that demands attention.  It is a classic in it’s infancy – an about to be great. A spell book that weaves it’s magic with immediacy , like shivelight and shadowtackle – Gerard Manley Hopkin’s term not mine, it reminds me of those feelings when I am immersed in nature. Fleeting moments of lightness, beingness, the commonplace miracle.

“We must look a long time before we can see….’ Thoreau told us, exhorting the value of feeling ‘the marrow of nature. As a close observer he wanted to bridge the apparent gap between science and art,  valuing the poetic in the endeavours of the scientific classification of plants and animals prevalent in his age.  “Facts fall from the poetic observer as ripe seeds.”

This is genuinely a gift of a book from a joint venture between wordsmith Robert MacFarlane and the stunning illustrations by Jackie Morris. To share this book with anyone is to share in the joy of being alive

If you are near  you may want to try this –  The Lost Words Exhibition at Compton Verney

From <http://www.comptonverney.org.uk/thing-to-do/lost-words/2017-10-21/>

Alternatively , to get more of a close look at this joint endeavour and to find out about the author and artist , this link is a fabulous introduction, I hope it inspires you to find the book out. Penguin books Q and A

Advertisements

The Handmade Maiden

9584137_10919191_lz

Just a quick post to remind my readers (!) that creative endeavour can be life enhancing – a dancing in the dark sort of preoccupation, the moments that transcend time.  Lost in flow, all appears in balance – the world is a more comprehensible place to inhabit. In focusing on the small things, the big things seem to appear in greater perspective.  I like losing myself in my handmade projects which I sell on Etsy. Each handmade book is designed and made by me – every one is unique as I like to make something different each time , so the covers you see on the photos may differ from the book you receive. But don’t worry – I pour oodles of care into each one – and I haven’t disappointed yet! All my reviews from sales are viewable on the Etsy site and I am extremely grateful to my customers for their generosity in sending me them. It is always moving getting feedback that tells you of delight and astonishment!

Some of the designs you will find on the Etsy site are books I have wanted to research and produce myself – many of them arise from lifelong interests in nature and in poetry. Others are created in collaboration with customers who ask me to research a them and produce a book around it. The book celebrating Moths was created on behalf of a customer wanting to surprise a lepidopterist family member! I have created books that illustrated a wedding proposal – a young man had written a poem to his fiance which he asked me to create a book around. She said yes! He even sent me photos of the ring he commissioned!

I think handmade creates connection – between the commissioner, the maker and the recipient. It is as though it has imbibed love – much like houses do, we have all felt the difference between houses that have been filled with love, and those that are just places to function in. It may be strange, and somehow difficult to quantify, but it is real.

I have lots of pictures on the site at Etsy, Storefront  

There are cards that I design too, and that I can personalise if required. They are printed on a wonderful textured watercolour paper, and look great mounted and framed too.

The Voynich Manuscript

Etsy link etsy.me/2sRAG1s

Tree Time

Link etsy.me/2sR7

cica

Bitten by the Moth bug

I don’t always get round to sharing my handmade books which I make on Etsy – but this time I thought I would .  The book came about from a conversation with a wonderful customer, who often orders from me to gift to her ( numerous) grandchildren and friends.  One grandson had recently graduated and specialised in moths, and she was curious whether I could make a book to celebrate his interest.  That is always a great starting off point for me – someone else’s interest. It stimulates and challenges me to research a subject that I wouldn’t have necessarily considered.  This was going to test me, because I could not possibly tell this young man anything he didn’t know about his special interest.  But I decided that coming to it from the angle of art history may be a way in.  And it was.  I was blown away by the fine work that Wencelaus Hollar produced in 1646 in Flanders . I found the drawings in a collection by Gothard Monrad at Te Papa.

Gothard Monrad (1811–1887) was a prominent figure in nineteenth-century Denmark: a bishop in the Lutheran church, he was also a noted scholar and politician. Privately, he was a connoisseur of art, collecting fine prints by numerous European old masters and paintings by contemporary Danish artists.
Monrad’s collection includes engravings, etchings, and woodcuts, beginning with two engravings from the 1470s by Italian artist Andrea Mantegna. The collection’s sixteenth-century German engravings form a significant group, and include works by Albrecht Altdorfer, Albrecht Dürer, and the brothers Hans and Sebald Beham.
The collection has now been reassembled at Te Papa according to Bishop Monrad’s own catalogue of 1869.

Two facts I discovered about the Moth world that I will share – moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth and scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species. Wowzer!

I was delighted to send this little volume to my customer, and was thrilled to receive in return these lovely comments;

 

‘The MOTH book arrived safely and in fine time. How very astute you were for the covering of the moth pages. It is perfect for a young man, very handsome. As I look through the pages several times, I am beginning to wonder if John will appreciate this work as much as I do. Should I or should I not? Oh, I guess so, I will gift him with it with the stipulation I can view it off and on. I must quit looking through you web site, as I soon will spend all my pennies on your art. Thank you for this piece especially since I ordered it and you came through with flying colors

Appreciation is a wonderful thing!  So if you have any subject you want me to consider adding to my bookshelves over at Etsy, send me a line.  Or you could browse the items I make to order here  Coptic stitch books at Modestly at Etsy

 

The stuff of Life

word

‘ It was about being true to the very stuff of life, it was about trying to capture, though you never could, the very feel of being alive. It was about finding a language. And it was about being true to the one fact, the one thing only followed from the other, that many things in life – oh so many more than we think – can never be explained at all. ‘ Graham Swift ‘ Mothering Sunday’

This , then , is what I have to bring today. The closing sentences of the book I have just laid down. It did not disappoint. Within its narrative Graham Swift refers to one of my storytelling heroes – Joseph Conrad – who himself has an interesting comment on storytelling, whose quest was ‘ by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm — all you demand — and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.’

And the overriding sense I am left with is how fiction gives us permission to be most fully ourselves. I cannot imagine being the me I am without having encountered the characters and the writers I have met throughout my days. Science is mastering many of the facts , we are illuminating the darkness, but only dimly. Science is the first to corroborate how much is still unknown. A particle acts differently dependant upon it being observed – does this strike you as prescient on the human condition? We are and simultaneously are not the person we imagine ourselves to be. The codes we observe do not rely merely on the context of our time and culture, but also on our perception of them and of the fluctuating circumstances. That is confusing, much easier to narrate to you a true account of behaviour which shows how I hold personal codes of truth and loyalty , of fidelity and duty to be central to the person I am and yet act in complete opposition to them, choosing to end one marriage to a wonderful man , and father of my two sons because I had walked blindly into a new relationship where I felt at home. Not even a choice. And reader – I married him.

I haven’t learnt enough just from the handful of people who are present in my life, or who have been there in the past – they are priceless, but they do not bring me the breadth and depth of experience which helps me to understand I can forgive myself for frailty, for impatience, for laziness, for ineptitude. Because I am not alone. Because growing up is not just trying to imitate some version of being human handed down by parents et al, it is about encountering the various selves you inhabit, and allowing yourself not to be intimidated or frightened by them. Listening to voices from elsewhere can somehow bring you closer to knowing how to be your own.

In ‘Mothering Sunday’ Graham Swift practices his alchemy – his narrative is from a woman and it has one of the most authorative voice of being woman I have encountered. He is masterly in how deftly he practices this – the small sentences slipped in that are the ‘tell’ of what it feels like to be 22, free, single, and enjoyably bruised by sexual encounter ( not in a violent, abusive way). On removing from the scene, she mounts her bicycle ‘ slightly sore where she met the saddle’ .

I imagine the novelist’s challenge to himself – inhabiting not only the woman’s pysche at 22, but also later on – in her nineties and remembering. I imagine him imagining the reader – me – enjoying his playfulness, his zest for finding the right word, the correct tone, the piercing stab of the dramatic.

The point I am making, albeit clumsily is this – we need stories to remind us not how to live, but that life is mystery. Inexplicable paradox is what exists around us and about us, and the navigation around this mortal coil is facilitated by the storytellers, the magicians, the soothsayers, the lyric writers, the graffiti artists, the dramatists, the teachers.

There is now such a thing as a bibliotherapy – the art of listening to someone’s personal dilemnas and furnishing them with appropriate bookwear. (bookware?) . Such a stance should please me, but I am contrary enough to find something unsettling in it. Something proscribed – but then why not – we go to doctors, why not book doctors? I have a healthy disposition to challenge anything that is ‘good for me’ , and have only just discovered the heady delight of sucking up oranges. Now I evangelise about oranges. And for me they are the only fruit. I still have a long way to go.

I leave the last words to a woman author of impeccable skills, Marilynne Robinson, author of ‘Housekeeping’, ‘Gilead’ and others you may want to discover.

“While you read this, I am imperishable, somehow more alive than I have ever been.”

Shinrin-yoku

trees 2trees

I was entranced to discover there is a word for the feeling of well being I share with millions of you – Shinrin-yoku, a Japanese term that means “forest bathing”. The idea being that spending time in the forest and natural areas is good preventative medicine, lowering stress. Allelochemic substances ‘phytonicides’help slow the growth of fungi and bacteria. When humans are exposed to them, these chemicals are scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress and boost the growth of white blood cells.  garlic, onion, pine, tea tree and oak are all examples of plants emitting phytonicides.

When we walk in Scotland, we spend most of our time simply being in the landscape, enjoying the feeling of well-being that we both find there. I take lots of photographs there and these inform much of what I do when I am creating both illustration and the handmade books. I go back to those photographs time and again, both to recreate the feeling of creativity, and to inspire new designs.  Just browsing through my back catalogue  provokes a feeling of joy, remembered tranquillity and when I am in a slump of not knowing how to move forward, I take a step back and invariably come across something to make the spark reignite.

Today I rediscovered these woods, and immediately I am reminded of the wonderful treatise by Herman Hesse on the sanctuary of trees. I breathed a sigh of recognition when I first read his words – they are beautiful – I can only urge you to find a copy.

You can find the essay online here ; Herman Hesse Wandering

In the meantime, don’t forget to get some time in to shinrin-yoku

 

‘let life take it’s course.’

“But your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.”

 

nightingale

I have sons and stepsons- five young adults – and I am vexed about the same concerns for all of them.  How can I help them to live well in the world?  And every time I ask myself this question I come to the conclusion that I can’t. I am still struggling with the question myself as we all do.  I know in the rational part of my mind that each individual must ask their own questions, find their own path to some sort of equilibrium.  That said, there is the other part of me, the spark of optimistic longing that wants to share that wealth of experience from authors and artists that have resonated with me, moved me, performed some magical alchemy that has allowed me to feel some sort of transcendent moment which makes life worthwhile, meaningful, exciting. It’s also why I write a blog, a catharsis of sharing what I have found valuable to my living. A howl into the wilderness to connect with other lives, belong to a tribe where I am accepted, nourished, nurtured.

Thus I come to the nub of today’s post – the illuminating writing from Rainer Maria Rilke in ‘Letters to a young poet’.  The words of that hopeful young man  preface the Penguin Little Black Classics version, as an older version of himself  speak for themselves.

‘And where a great and unique person speaks, the rest of us should be silent’

-Franz Xaver Kappus , Berlin , 1929.

I will choose some of the text of the letters and share it here, but recommend the book to be read in its entirety,

On being asked to give criticism to the poets verses, Rilke writes to him ;

‘You ask whether your verses are good.  You ask me that. You have asked others, before, You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you worry…let me ask you to give up all that.  You are looking to  the outside, and that above all you should not be doing now.  Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself.’

‘…read as little as possible in the way of aesthetics and criticism (of works of art) – it will either be partisan views, fossilized..or neat wordplay, where one opinion will triumph one day and the opposite the next. Works of art are infinitely solitary…. Only love can grasp them and hold them and do them justice. – With regard to any such disquisition, review or introduction, trust yourself and your instincts; even if you go wrong in your judgement, the natural growth of your inner life will gradually, over time, lead you to other insights.  Allow your verdicts their own quiet untroubled development which like all progress must come from deep within and cannot be forced or accelerated. Everything must  be carried to term before it is born. To let every impression and the germ of every feeling come to completion inside, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, in what is unattainable to one’s own intellect, and to wait with deep humility and patience for the hour when a new clarity is delivered. ‘

Rilke doesn’t just advise the young man about art – it is fuller than that – but expresses his views on sexuality too – ideas about how to take deep pleasure in mature love, acknowledging that man often gets it wrong when  ‘he loves only as  a man, not as a human being’. If I could just take that line and impress it on my progeny, that would be enough.

More to follow!!

 

 

 

Meet Ceridwen

IMG_5744

 

I have named my medieval lady – meet Ceridwen – isn’t she absolutely heavenly?  She was helped into the world by the marvellous ceramacist Midori Takaki , whose work I have adored since first finding it.  I had told Midori how much I loved her work, and she was the most kindhearted seller -offering to save me the particular item I wanted until I was ready.  I didn’t do that at the time as we were pennypinching and I couldn’t justify an art purchase.

Quite a long time later I mentioned to my husband how much these works meant to me – how I longed to own one.  He knows it is not often that I see something I want to own, mainly I am happy to just be in the world alongside what I have.  So being the romantic he is, he immediately asked me to choose the one I liked for Valentine. I did.

Midori is a busy lady, so I waited a while before the mask arrived. And I wasn’t disappointed.  Now I never anticipate. It is something of a strange attribution and connected to memory or lack of it. I cannot see things that are in the past of the future, only the present. So in the same way I hadn’t named my sons prior to their birth, neither had I given Medieval Lady a name.  I had to come up with something that meant something to me, and that suited her.

After some reflection, and some of Keat’s ‘negative capability’ I remembered a poem that goes back to the myths of Celtic Britain which I had fallen in love with moons ago.

I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre

I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre,
Which will last to the end of the world.
My patron is Elphin…

I know why there is an echo in a hollow;
Why silver gleams; why breath is black; why liver is bloody;
Why a cow has horns; why a woman is affectionate;
Why milk is white; why holly is green;
Why a kid is bearded; why the cow-parsnip is hollow;
Why brine is salt; why ale is bitter;
Why the linnet is green and berries red;
Why a cuckoo complains; why it sings;
I know where the cuckoos of summer are in winter.
I know what beasts there are at the bottom of the sea;
How many spears in battle; how may drops in a shower;
Why a river drowned Pharaoh’s people;
Why fishes have scales.
Why a white swan has black feet…

I have been a blue salmon,
I have been a dog, a stag, a roebuck on the mountain,
A stock, a spade, an axe in the hand,
A stallion, a bull, a buck,
I was reaped and placed in an oven;
I fell to the ground when I was being roasted
And a hen swallowed me.
For nine nights was I in her crop.
I have been dead, I have been alive.
I am Taliesin.

 

I wanted my lady to be Taliesin , the bard in the Tales of Taliesin but I couldn’t cross the gender gap. Taliesin is a man. So it made sense to me that if she couldn’t be the bard, then she would mother the bard. She would be responsible for bringing into the world this legendary bard whose tales would ring through history. She would give birth to Awen  – the Welsh, Cornish and Breton word for  the inspirational muse of creative artists in general.

It is not all pretty though – Ceridwen in the stories of Celtic myth had given birth to a son, Morfan  who was deformed, hideous to look at. In order to somehow compensate for this misfortune Ceridwen went to work to make a potion which would give her son wisdom and poetic inspiration. This was no simple task – it was to take a year  and a day to brew in her magical cauldron, and she had helpers – a blind man and a young boy Gwion. Gwion’s task was to stir the concoction, and as luck would have it three drops of the mixture spilt onto his thumb, which he instinctively sucked.  Now only the first three drops of the mixture would have the transformative powers, the rest would be fatally poisonous. So Gwion did waht any young man would do faced with a powerful woman fatally disappointed. He ran. As Ceridwen gave chase , he used the powers of  the brew to turn himself into a hare, and was then pursued by Ceridwen transformed into a greyhound. He became a fish and jumped into a river. She transformed into an otter. He turned into a bird; she became a hawk. Finally, once he became a single greain of corn Cerdwen ate him as a hen. Even this did not destroy him because of the power  ofthe potion – Ceridwen became pregnant, and knew the child was Gwion, deciding to kill him when she gave birth.  Of course she could not do it – he was so beautiful, but she did set him into the sea in a leather-skin bag.  Fortunately for the child a passing prince rescued him on a Welsh shore, and this infant became Taliesin.

Some tale – the celtic tales are full of magic and imagination- powerfully romantic and date as far back as the 6th century. It is from the 12th century that the stories of the Mabinogion appear , and these were translated into English in 1849  when Lady Charlotte Guest’s version was produced. The tale draw upon the myths and history of Celtic Britain, with four branches of a storyline mainly set within Wales and the otherworld. They have a dreamlike atmosphere, preserving the primitive, imaginative world of Celtic myth.  A link to The Harvard Classics Volume 32 will fill you in further on the importance of this body of work on European literature that followed. Link to Harvard Classics page 146 Volume 32

For those interested in researching the work of Midori Takaki , her website is wonderful.-website of artist Midori Takaki