Monday 25 February 2008

The Book Thief

IT'S JUST a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery...

This wonderful book The Book Thief is in bookshops and on posters here and there and everywhere at the moment and since Tui sneakily bought it for me for Christmas it has been sitting there on the shelf like a delicious thing savoured but not yet begun. I have just finished reading it. Of course the mention of accordions and books ensnared me as did the lovely front cover illustration of Death and a young girl by Finn Campbell-Notman. (some more of his illustrations below)

Author Markus Zusak was inspired to write this book by the stories his mother used to tell about her childhood in Munich, and about how she saw one day a line of Jews being marched through the town to Dachau, there was an old man at the back of the line, stumbling, emaciated and unable to keep up ... and
a teenage boy came forward and gave him bread. The old man fell at the boy's feet and kissed his knees until a soldier noticed, took the bread away and whipped the boy. Zusak saw in this moment two extremes of humanity - kindness and cruelty - which was for him a perfect description of how humans are.

Set during World War II in Germany, The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meagre existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist – books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This book is described as a life changing tale of the cruel twists of fate and the coincidences on which all our lives hinge as well as a joyous and unforgettable look at the power of words and the ability of books to nourish the soul.

It is narrated by Death.

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Kneeling Goats and Mossy Kettles

THESE BRIGHT DAYS have called us outdoors into the hills ... We have walked lots of miles carrying just a camera and a bag of raisins, and not met a soul ... and we have looked in the sunny haze across these beautiful hills. I take this scenery a little for granted nowadays, but remember happily my openmouthed delight at this landscape when I arrived here from London nearly a year ago. I longed then for this kind of wild and find now it is strange how accustomed I have become to it. Nevertheless we do live in a wonderful corner of Scotland don't we?

So we walked and we walked and one day we found a old kettle full of moss, and we wondered how it got there and who the people were who last made tea in it. Perhaps they were lead mining up in these hills and had stopped for some lunch?
Today we came across some kneeling goats and they let me draw them for a while. I don't know why they were kneeling, but it meant they stayed nicely in the same position for some time. I am out of practice and the results aren't great, despite the muddy addition of pawprints placed there by a wagging rabbit-chasing little dog on his way past, but I spent a lovely while with the goats who nibbled me and chewed their cud, blinking at each other in the evening sun.

Sunday 17 February 2008


KAKUARSHUK'S TALE speaks of a time long ago when women got their children by digging in the earth. The would pry children loose from the very ground itself. They did not have to go far to unearth little girls, but boys were harder to find, and often buried deep underground. Thus strong women had many children and weaker women very few or none at all.

Kakuarshuk was one of these barren women, and despite overturning half the earth she could find no child. She was at last told to go to a certain place and dig there... which she did, until she came to the other side of the earth. On the other side everything seemed to be in reverse, there was no snow or ice and babies were much bigger than adults.

She was adopted by two of these, a girl baby and a boy baby who carried her around in an amaut sack and suckled her. They cared for her very much. One day her baby mother said to her "Is there anything you want Dear Little One?" and her baby-mother replied "I would like to have a baby of my own".

So the girl baby then tells Kakuarshuk to go to a certain place and dig... and there follows much tunneling and strange adventures and meetings with Scourge Trolls and little foxes until she finds her self home holding a boy baby in her arms.

This story is an Inuit tale and can be read in full in Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales, which I heartily recommend to anyone who likes fairy tales that weren't meant for children; it is "a celebration of strong minds, low cunning, black arts and dirty tricks".

A while before I read this story, I saw the lovely film Atanarjuat - The Fast Runner, an Inuit tale written, produced, directed, and acted by Inuit. It is set in ancient Igloolik and unfolds as a life-threatening struggle between powerful natural and supernatural characters.

In this film I saw that Inuit women have enormous hoods in which they carry their babies...

Kakuarshuk's tale and these Inuit women's hoods inspired my latest painting, below, in watercolour and pencil.

Prints for sale here

Wednesday 13 February 2008

Stones & Bones

RABBIT SKULLS with long curled hollow grass-chomping teeth and little delicate snap-whispers of leg bones can be found lying all over the mossy grassy heather hills here. Our walk today took us three miles over and round and back again... in the sun past sitting grouse who lumber-flap and chatter out of the heather as we pass. And these below are what I put in my pocket to take home.

Tuesday 12 February 2008

Sun on the chimbleys

THE SMELL OF SPRING is here and has brought a wonderful uplifting sunshine with it. We have walked around the hills scarf-and-gloveless and dawdled to look ... and pick up little crystal stones that glint in the sun without icy winds whipping round our gills and hurrying us indoors again. We've sat on the wet spongy moss grass and noticed frost still lurking in the shadows. And we've sat drinking cups of tea on the front wall listening to playing children on half term holidays .
A little bit of sun makes a big difference and we are busying away with our work with a new vigour. Of course there's more rain predicted by the end of the week but hey-ho... it's lovely for now... and so blue.

Friday 8 February 2008

Honey and Klezmer

A SWARM of bees for you .. a little detail from the album cover I have beeeen busy with. Following the doldrums with the first attempt, I decided to begin again... and am thankfully much happier with this version, which I have drawn in pencilly detail and which is quite different from the first. I was newly inspired by an old folk custom that the band have based their name on and I was lucky in having plenty of time to do this work again, but isn't it just horrible when you hate your own work?
I would like to raise a glass to the tremendous Propelling Pencil which has enabled me to endulge my finicky nature in my drawings lately and dispense with a sharpener!
As I write, Tui is coaxing the fire into life with some kindling cut from some abandoned old fence posts we came across a while ago, whilst we debate what we can muster up for dinner from a few lentils and some brussels sprouts at the bottom of the fridge and listen to the frankly brilliant Amsterdam Klezmer Band...

Saturday 2 February 2008

A Button House for a Button Mouse

A Button House for a Button Mouse.

A quick pencil drawing made today to bring me out of the doldrums of painting anguish ...
I think the Button Mouse came to cheer me up.
He is also for sale here ...
And thanks to Tui again for his antiquery-wizardry .. I think we might be onto something! The Smudge fly has sold to four lovely people already. Thank yous to them too.
Aren't the painting doldrums horrible?