1st October. Lovely day with Val and then off to Clitheroe to stay with Andy and Julie. Much easier to find their house. Still smarting from the sting from the hotel, but the countryside around was beautiful and Andy and Julie gave us a warm welcome and then confessed that they did not realise Robin would be with me and so they very kindly abandoned their room for us. And then Andy took us off into the Forest of Bowland to look for hares.
On the road up there were walking hawthorne trees, roots like legs and feet in the grass bank, twisted by the wind. So green everywhere. For a while we walked and looked. Nothing. Then we stood and watched and there over a deep scoop of valley, amongst the scrubby grass a hare sat, nibbling. Then another loped into view. There were hares hunched in the hummocks of ragged grass, slow loping over fields, long bleached ears twitching. Under a hawthorne tree one sat with its chin on its chest, chestnut eyes clear and bright, ears back, whiskers white. In the gloaming light a lump of grass became a hare and as twilight fell in a hare loped casually across the road, big as a fox. Magic.
2nd October. Still full of the magic of hares.
Signing books for Madelaine Lindley's, and the family made us very welcome, showed us around the fantastic book centre and also part of their collection of artwork.
Driving to Whitewell the hills snagged clouds on stone walls, to keep and put in their pockets.
Outside the room in the hotel the river was full of peat runoff from the rain. At The Inn at Whitewell the room was all and more that it promised to be, surrounded by emerald high hills where hares are waiting. In a place like this you want there to be more minutes in each hour, more hours in each day.
3rd October. Do hotel rooms keep the secrets of people passing through them?
Here in the comfort, lounging, having driven through beautiful countryside, sharp hills rising to moorland bluffs. Reading Niall Williams, snagged on memories thorns.
In the mirror I see that I still have an "hour glass" figure, but now it is more of a two or three hour glass.
Birds fill the trees outside with song. Soon the leaves will fall.
6th October. Morning in the archive at Seven Stories looking at a very small part of the collection including some pieces by Pat Hutchins, and letters from James Mason and Robert Westall drawings and notes jotted down on paper scraps.
Back at Seven Stories I now know that somewhere in the building is a ships figurehead, washed up after a shipwreck and part of one of Westall's stories, it will be part of the new exhibition to open soon.
Sleep most of the rest of the day, nursing a headache, but now in Ripley, on the way to Manchester.
7th October. The castle grounds at Ripley are green. Fallow deer gather, shy, beneath trees, dappled and hidden. The kitchen gardens have ancient apple trees heavy with fruit.
Later in Manchester there is an edge to the streets. Sirens and screams and chanting split the night and the city smells of fast food, beer and sweat.
11th October. Starlings sit like musical notation on wires in the sky. Hannah does her homework on the new sofa with the help of many ginger cats and the music of KT Tunstall.
12th October. Flocks of starlings dot the sky. Gray and lowering but walked anyway, around St Davids Head, and the cloud lifted and the sun came out. West wind, warm but wild. Parasol mushrooms on the Head, growing out of heather. Back home and edge slowly towards the studio trying desperately to pick up enthusiasm on the way, and later feel a little better for having pushed some coloured water around on a painting. A little closer to the end of the Snow Leopard and this stage is always a little like trying to run through treacle.
The sky is full of birds and the waves are turning over sweet and crisp.
Sunshine is warm and the evenings are cold, but the autumn trees look drab, rather than full of golden autumn colour.
17th October. Woke up and all was quiet, so quiet, just the call of crows outside. The day was full of rain so stayed in and painted.
Working on the last few pages of the Snow Leopard, in the morning drawing out and then washing in colours.
In the afternoon painting in to the leopard to pull the ghost cat out of the page, listening to the rain beating down outside and the dogs getting restless. Almost abandon painting as I decide that the face of the leopard has gone drastically wrong, but then come to my senses again. Then the noise of rain stopped and hunted out wellies and out into the green, where the rust bracken was made red by the weight of water, colour intensified by the rain and the low gray cloud. On the way home Floss found the biggest pile of badger poo and turned herself a shade of filth. She thought it very attractive, but I was not convinced. For a dog that likes being in a pond she is devilishly difficult to get in the bath. Now again she is bright white and smells of Lush shampoo and has glitter sparkling her coat. Much better than badger poo.
Late evening painting more into the leopard and background. It feels cold in the house. Only two and a half pages to paint now. A warm bath beckons, then I remember the badger poo.
Read some words from an online blog recommended by a friend earlier in the day, threebeautifulthings.co.uk. Lovely end to the day.
18th October. Woke early and the stars were bright in the sky. Walked as the daylight dropped colour into the landscape. Birds began to sing, first blackbirds calling alarm, then wren, huge voice singing to the sun. Walking I realise I understand so very little about how the world works. Finally settle to reading again, "this is all, The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn" by Aidan Chambers. Have missed the company of a good book. Now I have found the poems of an 11th century Japanese woman, Izumi Shikibu, and they still sing over centuries and through cultures.
In the dusk the path
IZUMI SHIKIBU (11th century)
Painting in the morning, restless, then through the afternoon and evening, listening to Equation and then an old David Gray, "Flesh". A feeling of restless waiting hangs over everything.
23rd October. Busy weekend with many people looking at paintings and buying books. Too busy to think and so tired by the end of the day, but met some lovely people.
To see something of the exhibition click here and the click through the next few pages.
Two reviews came through the post for the Classic Poems book. You try hard not to be affected by bad reviews, but somehow they linger in the back of the mind waiting to undermine. So after three years of hard and careful work compiling and illustrating the book, many thanks, Mr Fred Sedgwick, for this one, in the Times Educational Supplement.
"Barefoot's Classic Poems looks lovely, but I've been leafing through books like this for decades. It's full of old favourites. The Tyger , for example, is a great and complex poem, but seeing it printed time after time detracts from its power."
How lucky you are, Mr Sedgwick, to have access to so many books of poetry. What a shame you didn't comment on the illustration, which is not yet another tyger burning brightly in the forest of the night ,but an attempt to illustrate something of the complex content of the poem and the poets life and beliefs. Ambitious, maybe, and maybe you did not like it, but to suggest that it should not be included because it bores you to find it in yet another collection?
So far people have bought the book for new babies (who will have the great good fortune to come to these poems fresh for the first time) and for grandparents who remember many of poems from their own school days. It is not a children's book. It is a celebration of poetry. But still somehow the acid phrase lurks and I fear to have detracted from the power of quite so many poets with my paintings.
But, Emily Dickinson comes to the rescue.....
A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just
Begins to live
Meanwhile the light across the sea is silver with reflections from the rain filled clouds. Everywhere birds of prey sit on poles and fences, or fly low along hedge banks, inches from the ground, chasing small birds.
For the first time this winter have made a fire and the house is warm and full of ginger cats melting by the fire.
24th October. Peregrine falcon rose like a sickle in the wind from a field of golden grass. Over the rocks black birds flew and chased the falcon, turning and twisting in the sky.
26th October. On the way to Solva in the evening the thin sickle moon hung golden in the sky above Ramsey Island. The moon setting at the beginning of the night, and suddenly the world seems to be spinning very fast.
27th October. The week seems to have become lost in time, night so tired, soul adrift and days confused. So disappointed with "Little One, We Knew You'd Come" as each one I take out of the box to sign and sell at the exhibition is damaged in some way. My computer has a pink line down the screen and Apple seem to think that a 12 hour drive too and from Cardiff to drop off for repairs and pick up four weeks later is acceptable as part of their "Apple Care " program. Looking at buying another computer so that I have one to work on and one to repair which is a bit of a joke, but not very funny. So decided to hide in a painting of hares as the world turns upside-down.
28th October. On the beach at 6.20am waiting for the light to come. Dark. The waves a wash of white noise over which broken calls of the curlew whistle. Rain, gentle, like walking through cloud. The light comes into the day in stages and jumps. First picked up in the water on the beach then outlining the cliffs of the headland. No stars today. The sky is full of cloud.
30th October. Some days it seems that no matter how far from home you are the road back is very very long.
31st October. Many thanks to Nick Green for pointing out a lovely review of Classic Poems. Walking in search of curlew calls this morning, and the pied piper oystercatchers, black and white on the beach.
Painting is like constantly asking and trying to answer questions. Why the hares running in circles? Feeling an edge of madness hovering. Round and round in an endless circle. Why paint? Is it because I like the absurdity of making a living by moving coloured water around on paper? Why hares when I have to get the leopards finished by 20th November because i have said that I will go to London again to sign books. Displacement activity?
Tomorrow is November. Tonight the Halloween wind howls round the house, cold from the north, like a demon banshee, and in through the holes in the doors, chilling the fire's edge from the air.