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

Merlins Crags, Liddesdale

Happy New Year to everyone. So long since I posted, the last year has been strange; but among my wishes for 2023 is to create a post, however brief or nutcase, at least a few times each week, to get me back into my environment of making imagery, posting, communicating . Where I used to live, with my son, in the Liddel Valley, where part of me still exists, there was this hill which was called Merlins Crags, and I used to think it was part of the King Arthur legend, as there were rumours of him haunting these parts on the Border between England and Scotland. But then when I went back there and walked for miles, alone, all day, I saw merlins up there, the smallest of the hawks in this country, in that exact place, and the only place I have ever seen them; so maybe that is why the name is as it is. I shall have to look up how the word Merlin come to mean these apparently two different things.

Nearly 10 years ago I wrote two or three lines about these crags. But this painting was created since then.

January 1, 2023 Posted by | Art, Painting, Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

January the First

January 1, 2022 Posted by | Art, Painting, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 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

November Leaves

Quite a few Novembers have passed through my life – one of the first things I had published (in the school magazine) was a poem called November which I wrote, aged about 12 maybe, while sitting on the station platform waiting for the train home. But I can’t remember a November where I have been so fascinated by fallen leaves. I don’t really understand this. Is it because my eyes look downwards more, or is it the colours, because I am thinking of painting again? Maybe. These are, I think, leaves from some kind of a cherry, lying on the grass of a local park, Henderson Park, which is small, and full of personal memorials.

I like to scan leaves, and picked up a large handful, and because was busy threw some water on them and left them in an empty bird food bucket, in the cupboard of my workroom; and of course when I remembered them they were nowt but a soggy mess.

Perhaps it is this that so touches me, the transience of those beautiful colours.

I am trying to learn Italian, as I have told learning a new language is good for the mind, and find I am using a dried leaf as a bookmark.

November 19, 2021 Posted by | Art, Painting, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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