Jackie Morris: Author/Illustrator of The Wild Swans
Format: Hardback, 176 Pages
Age Range: 8 to 12
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Published: Oct. 1, 2015
The Wild Swans is an expansion and retelling of the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson.
I had the honor of interviewing Jackie, and she was so gracious as to indulge more than the usual number of questions! Today, you can enjoy the following treats:
- Q & A with Jackie
- Pattern for knitting your own swan shirt (or scarf)
- Interview with Ivy, canine model for Shadow in The Wild Swans
- A five-minute reading of The Wild Swans
- Watch-Jackie-paint videos
- What’s Next for Jackie?
- Contest—Win a copy of the book!
Grab a cuppa, and enjoy!
Why did you choose to write this story as opposed to a different one?
There was something about this story that called to me for a long time. I have always been fascinated by silence, which is so hard to find in our modern world. Many people are made uncomfortable by silence. There is also much to learn and understand about communication. Even when we speak to each other sometimes we fail to understand each other and this is often when conflict arises.
This and the love of the idea of transformation. Eliza’s brothers are turned to swans. The stepmother, who isn’t really wicked, just misunderstood, perhaps, can turn herself into a wild white hare.
And at the end of the day I write to try and make sense of the world, to learn, to try to understand.
The Wild Swans is a retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. Why do you think some stories are retold, and what’s the significance of a retelling?
I think there are stories that have lived for centuries because they speak to the soul, ask questions of each time. Stories like Beowulf. When I first heard this story I felt as if I was listening with my blood and my bones as well as my ears. And because times change stories do too. And a story heard when a child can mean something different if heard or read again as an adult.
What is the hardest part about retelling a fairy tale?
Always the hardest part of any story is being true to the story and to oneself.
Did you imagine yourself or your friends or family as any of the characters?
I would love to have a pair of fur slippers to tuck under my bed that would transform me into a wild white hare. I would love to fly like Cygfa and feel myself held up in the air on white wings.
When I painted the hound, Shadow, the dog that began as Eliza’s mother’s hound and then became Eliza’s Shadow, she came out of the book and into my life and now sits beside me, silently watching the world while I knit.
I know an illustrator who painted a character to look like his mother. Have you ever painted or written yourself or your friends into a character?
I wrote a book about my friend, Ffion, who rescued a wild peregrine falcon from a watery grave, Queen of the Sky, published by Graffeg.
And yes, I have written familiar characters into my books, but I am not saying who, or where. Everything a writer does works its way in there eventually.
Most, if not all, of your books include animals. Why is that?
Because I love animals; the shape of them, their company.
Please share one of your favorite personal experiences with an animal.
I walk with my cats, write with them beside me on the high hill top above my house. I love their quiet company. On some days it is so quiet here you can hear the air pass through a bird’s wings as it flies, and the soft paw pad of a cat as it steps on the earth.
What animal have you not yet written about that you would like to write about? Can we expect to see something along this line anytime soon?
So many, too many to name. I am working on a book about a small arctic fox, a true story I found in Seattle. I would love to write more about cats and I hope to do a book about the Days of the Grey Dog and the White Cat.
I’m a needleworker, so I’m always keen to see handwork featured in a story. Do you knit or do any other fiber art?
I knit, yes. I love the time spent making, quiet, stitch after stitch.
If so, how did you learn, and what do you do with the skill now?
I used to watch my aunty. I loved her so. She would knit beautiful Aran sweaters with twisting patterns, with seeming ease. And she tried to teach me but I just couldn’t learn. Then one day I saw a Fair Isle cardigan knitting pattern. And I wanted that cardigan. So I taught myself.
I used to knit for a shop in Bath when I first left college and learned why it was referred to as ‘pin money’ because for the hours you put in you get little money back. But I loved the making of things.
Have you ever considered including fiber art in illustrations?
If you look I am always painting textiles. I was told when I was at college that I should do textiles, but I have always loved paper, making marks on paper. But there are textiles woven everywhere in my work.
Have you ever had any writing or illustrating disasters? If so, spill, please! How did you recover or fix the problem?
Many. There is a whole book I failed to illustrate, but will come back to. Sometimes I work pieces 2 or 3 times. Sometimes there’s only a little wrong with a piece, but sometimes it’s a real disaster.
What do you like to read? Where do you read? When do you read?
I love fantasy. I love good writing. Recent reads are Thomas The Rhymer by Ellen Kushner, The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane, Into the Fire by Manda Scott, The Museum of Extraordinary Things and The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman. I love Robin Hobb’s books and have the great good fortune to work on the jacket art in the UK for all her books.
I try to read for half and hour before I get up and again before I sleep. Bookending my days. But sometimes I just read any minute I can. I even take a book with me when I go out to see friends, incase there is a lull in the conversation.
Were you a reader as a kid? If so, what did you like to read then? If not, what did you do instead?
I did read as a child. But I was slow to learn. I used to read the pictures. I loved Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London. Later The Once and Future King by T. H. White. Tarka the Otter, The Bellstone Fox, Watership Down by Richard Adams. I also loved My Friend Flicka, The Green Grass of Wyoming and Thunderhead.
You are no longer allowed to be an author/illustrator. What will you do instead?
No. Just no. When I left college I did part time jobs to make a living, but for 27 years, since I have been 27 this is all I have done. Drawing to me is like breathing. I can’t stop, until I die.
But maybe. Yes. A sculptor.
Rapid-fire Round (Don’t think too hard about these):
You must illustrate your next book with just two colors. What colors do you use?
Black and white
You’ve won transportation to a place you’ve never been so that you can illustrate it. Where do you go?
Faeryland, through a hill, for seven years.
You can have any animal in the world as a pet. What do you choose?
I don’t think of my animals as pets, more as companions. So, if I could live with another? Perhaps a horse. Or an owl.
You are granted one super power. What is it?
Easy. Time travel.
Can I have another one? The power to help people realise that watching tv can be such a waste of time.
You’re making a float for a parade based on one of your books. What do you do?
Panic because I am rubbish at that kind of thing.
There is no more paint in the world. How do you illustrate your next book?
I use stone, and earth, and make pigment from plants, etc.
A celebrity will read and tout your book publicly, and as a result you’ll become rich and famous (not to mention brilliant, beautiful, and the best human ever) overnight. Who is the celebrity doing the reading?
I’m not a fan of celebrity, so, I’ll just stay obscure and remote in my house by the sea.
Your next book features a dessert. Yes, that after-dinner yummy thing. What is the dessert?
Fruit, lots of it. And honey. Peaches, toasted nuts.
Can you hold your breath for a really long time? No.
Do you parachute out of planes on the weekend? Never.
Name one skill that we might be surprised to discover you have. I make very, very good bread.
In The Wild Swans, to break the spell that transforms her eleven brothers into swans, Eliza must spin yarn from nettles and knit a shirt for each—a swan shirt—and she must do so in silence. To understand what this would entail, Jackie spent time exploring nettles (ouch!) and knitting in silence.
Jackie really is a knitter, and she really did knit a swan shirt! It’s a versatile pattern, so if you’re not a swan, you can wear it as a scarf. She provides the pattern so we can all knit our own swan shirts (or scarves).
In The Wild Swans, Eliza enjoys the companionship of a faithful hound, Shadow. Ivy was the model for Shadow. She came into Jackie’s life just as Jackie was writing this story. I asked if Ivy would be willing to answer a few questions, and she agreed—anything to support Jackie.
How do you prepare for modeling a story character, and what’s the hardest part of the job?
It’s hard work being an artist’s muse. I prepare for it by sleeping a lot. It’s the only way to keep my wonderful good looks. I am indeed exquisite.
What character from literature would you jump at the chance to portray?
I would like to play the wolf dog in White Fang because at heart I am a wild thing.
How else do you help Jackie with her work?
I mostly help Her with Her work because I need to go out for a walk every day, and that helps to keep her fit but also gives Her time to think, about ideas for paintings and stories. And it also gives Her time to rest her head.
Enjoy a sample of the book from the author/illustrator herself. The video is just over 5 minutes long.
If this viewer gives you problems, you can watch the video on YouTube.
What’s Next for Jackie?
When Jackie learned that Oxford University Press was eliminating a slew of nature words (including acorn, fern, heron, and otter) in favor of tech words (including blog, chatroom, and MP3 player) from it’s Oxford Junior Dictionary, her response was to start a new book with Robert MacFarlane, commemorating these words and what they really mean.
Drawing and painting are not in my arsenal of skills, and I wish they were—though not enough to make them so, apparently. I’m curious about and dazzled by an artist’s process, and Jackie indulges this curiosity by filming herself as she creates her art. Then she speeds up the film so that what takes her hours over several days can be enjoyed by us in minutes. Grab the kids and take a look. It’s fascinating!
Here are four videos filmed this year that allow to watch Jackie paint “Hare’s Egg,” from start to finish. It’s fascinating—and impressive!
Hare’s Egg, part 1
Hare’s Egg, part 2
Hare’s Egg, part 3
Hare’s Egg, part 4
Jackie’s publisher has generously offered to give away a copy of The Wild Swans to one of our readers in the US or Canada. If you’re my friend, and you live in, say, Norway or Australia or anywhere else on Earth, enter the contest anyway. If you win, I’ll have the publisher send the book to me, and I’ll send it to you from here. Enter to win by simply leaving a comment telling me what segment of this post you like best:
- Q&A with Jackie
- Interview with Ivy
- Knitting pattern
- Jackie reading an excerpt from the book
- Watching Jackie paint
- What’s next for Jackie
Comments must be made by 11:59 p.m. Alaska Time on Thursday, October 29th. We’ll consult the Random Number Generator and post a winner on Friday, October 30th.
Visit Jackie Online
Tomorrow, Jackie will be visiting the Imagination Soup blog.
If you’d like to visit other stops on The Wild Swans blog tour, the entire list of Jackie’s stops is here.
Some of Jackie’s Books
Note: Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post might provide me a modest commission through affiliate relationships.