stories and illustration

Hirsel 1

“The Moon is made of groundsel

The Sun is made of grass

And in the cornflower summer sky

There is a looking glass

Back and back and back and back

The further and further on

Look in the weed-dark herring pond

For the place where you come from”

For some reason, when copying out this rhyme from Old Merlaine, I kept writing the last line as “for the place where you belong”. Which has quite a different resonance. I just used to write off the top of my head, so have no idea why the sun might be made of grass, though reflected in water it might appear this. But perhaps it is just nonsense. However, the image above, a photograph taken whilst walking in the Hirsel and looking down into the small river that runs through it, the Leet, made me think of this long-ago, badly remembered rhyme. I rarely reread my own work. It is like something written by another person whom I know to be myself, as I can remember that person, but someone whose mind now works in a different way.

March 25, 2023 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Painting, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daughters of Thyme

Much to my pleasure, I was asked by a friend, Jane Keenan to produce a cover for this book written by herself and two other poets. They met whilst on an Open University Course, and made this lovely book of poems, with subjects that branch out from the personal to ramifications in the wider world. For anyone wanting to see more about the book, the Daughters of Time site is at

I hand-painted the lettering, as until I do Musical Bears, which will probably be later in the year, I am too mean to get the Adobe programme for laying lettering over text, to present to printers. However, I think with this book the hand-painted lettering does fit the feeling of the book, so I may do the same thing with the cover for Musical Bears. The imagery on the lilac strip is actually taken from a sprig of thyme taken from a pot just outside the Tardis, my octagonal, dark blue studio at the end of the garden.

January 2, 2023 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Painting, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Wishing you all a Happy Christmas

and a New Year with more delight and a lot less trouble x

December 23, 2021 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Painting, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Little Musician

This small personage turned up amongst a heap of papers, I see the coloured drawing is inscribed inside as a birthday card to my mother. I used to have a big plan chest and kept my paintings and drawings in there, but when I got all my stuff out of store, where it had been hunkered for about seven years, the plan chest was too big for the room intended, so it was hauled downstairs a week or so later by someone who took it away free, fettled it and sold it to someone who obviously had more room. My drawings went into some drawers under a bed, and elsewhere. My life is piling up behind me, unsorted. I shall have to do something about it. The question is what? Anyway, this little musician has a peaceable air, so no harm in putting him up here. In the new book I am working on, the banjo player has become a bear….

November 13, 2021 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Painting, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Liddesdale Flowers: Orchid 1

I’m just posting the image of a flower from a place that is dear to my heart. Today I needed to walk to clear my head, then I did not listen to the news, but picked up a book that was in a pile on the edge of the table, one of those wide-ranging and exemplary anthologies produced by Bloodaxe Books, a publisher based in Newcastle upon Tyne. I read poems by Denise Levertov, whilst waiting for the oven to heat up. There comes a time when walking in the woods (thank you, Scotland, for the right to roam, it means more even than it sounds) and reading quietly seems like a way to deal with a feeling of strangeness and stress. Much better than Facebook….

September 14, 2021 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Seagull Steals the Bear’s Fiddle

Illustration for The Berwick Bear & His Fiddle. Serafina Books.

This was the first of the Serafina Books, and was written and illustrated when I lived in Berwick upon Tweed. It was great fun to go round photographing the background material. I used to see this lovely jumble of pantile roofs when I had a table at the Farmers’ Market, which was held in those days under cover in the Maltings Art Centre, once a month. Happy memories of that market, and of this view. The book is really a search romp through the town. Musical Bears, which is the book I have been working on, and am going to try and find a publisher for, also has a fiddling bear, plus a guitarist, a drum player, a banjoist and a tin whistle player. It is based on my affection for those musicians who travel the world. In the back of my mind, some Chilean musicians of that ilk whom I saw long ago playing in the theatre in Alnwick, in Northumberland. The next book is about automata, but there will doubtless be some instrumentalists among the participants.

September 7, 2021 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Painting, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Poem from “Old Merlaine”

Another poem from some time ago. I think there are more Bitterbirdie Birds around now than there were then. Prescience….

September 6, 2021 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Painting, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Poem from “Old Merlaine”

From the third book I had published, Old Merlaine, poems about an imaginary kingdom found as far as I can remember by the Moonwuzo, who fell into a bucket of water which opened up into this other country. But I’d have to check up. The idea came to me between the bottom and the top of an elevator in Green Park Underground Station. Those were the days….

I have no idea who the Silly Swimpswamp was based on.

September 6, 2021 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Bear in a Boat in the Borders

Illustration for Bear in a Boat in the Borders. Serafina Press.

I met Jennifer Doherty in my old studio, an ex-animal shed, in Berwick upon Tweed, we sat opposite this large table I worked on for ages, and she told me she wanted to start up a local press, doing picture books with local themes. We were going to make up some myths for North Northumberland and Scotland. This was the start of a collaboration that was the most fun I’ve had working (though with larger publishers I have worked with some wonderful and creative editors – editors are good news, on the whole). The first book we did with Serafina was something I had, co-incidentally already done a rough of, The Berwick Bear & His Fiddle – many of my family are musicians, who marry other musicians, so the fiddling bear fitted in quite well. Two Bears in Chains are part of the Berwick’s crest. I like to free the Berwick Bear of his fetters.

Serafina Press has worked with several young illustrators, with Jennifer Doherty creating most of the local myths – unicorns, mermaids, lions, all sorts…. and also writing two story books with Gerald Goldin, The Mouse of Gold and The Fierce and Gentle Wolf, which have been published in dual language editions… Arabic and English…. these versions used for educational purposes in Arabic establishments in Israel.

Bear in a Boat in the Borders, for which the above is an illustration, was a story Jennifer Doherty and I wrote together. We took a journey right up to the source of The Tweed, a small stream in the middle of a field, and followed it down to the estuary in Berwick.

The Serafina Books sell well, several of them are well into their second editions, from an original print run, in the case of Bear in a Boat in the Borders, of 4000 copies. Luckily there is a brilliant book printer in Berwick, Martins, who run their business from large buildings round a courtyard up in Spittal, right on the edge of Berwick, on the other side of the River Tweed, up towards where the river turns into the North Sea.

September 5, 2021 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Painting, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parchment House

Scraperboard Chapter Headings

My WordPress site is a mish-mash of photographs, paintings, illustrations and memories of times spent in the Debateable Lands of the Borders. The images are from a book which Methuen published, years ago. I will also put the images in my “illustration” page, which needs jigging up, as it appears, these days, and quite sensibly, to be de rigueur to put work on-line, rather than the old-fashioned way of tasteful portfolios. Not that my portfolios were over-tasteful. I remember once, many years ago, going to see an agent and handing over a whole jumble of unmounted, unsorted pictures, and I remember the look of horror on his face….mmmm…oh well, I have managed to scrat a living.

Parchment House was written as a response to impending disaster, to start off with, but it was one of those ideas that has an energy one is not expecting, like words coming out of the wall. My mother had pointed out to me an article in a newspaper about a restaurant in Leith, Edinburgh, that had bought a second-hand robot to serve the drinks; however, the robot had gone amok, had thrown the drinks all over the customers, and then its head had fallen off in a customer’s lap. There was a court case, as the restaurant owners wanted their money back, and the judge demanded that the robot appear in the dock, dressed in its wine waiter clothes, so he could see what the case was about.

Some weeks later, I got a letter from my Bank, saying that I wasn’t allowed to draw any more money out. This was the early in the summer holidays, I was at the time a mature student and was not due a grant until the next term started, and I also had a son to support. I remember receiving the letter on a Saturday, and I had two cheques left in my cheque book, so I thought the Bank dictat could be ignored until Monday, so with one cheque I went and bought a week’s food, and with the other I went out and bought a whole heap of typing paper, and even an envelope to send off the story when it was finished.

I then set to work. Of course, Parchment House went through many vicissitudes, and wasn’t published until about two years later. But that’s another story. I don’t know how we managed to eat for the rest of the holidays, but probably with a little help from our friends and relations…..

One has work that one stays fond of, quite apart from publishers, advances, royalties, reviews, time, angst etc etc and this is one of them.

The robot in my book is called Archy. As in An Archy.

September 4, 2021 Posted by | Art, Illustration, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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