Sunday November 28th 2021.
There was a storm two days ago; it uprooted trees, shut down power lines all over England, Wales, and Scotland, and trashed cars (by dropping trees on them). The wind was relentless. I was lucky – only a couple of power cuts and then the electricity was back on. And at last, I have heating in my new studios and gallery, so I will no longer have to freeze as I apply paint to the canvas. I have to get back to work, painting, but first, there is rather a lot of paperwork following my exhibition….I believe in paper, if everything is on a computer without a paper copy then, when the power goes down, I’m not only in the dark, I’m powerless.
Same with landline telephones – if there’s no power, there’s no phone without a landline if your mobile is flat. Some people will be without power for up to five days, so there’s no way to charge a mobile. A landline can be a lifesaver, but they are being phased out and replaced with digital phones that won’t work without power. Then storms will isolate the most isolated people in a complete and effective way at the point where they are most in need of help – and their mobile has gone flat or can’t get reception. They call this progress.
Sunday October 31st 2021:
All month has been about preparing for my London exhibition at The Chris Beetles Gallery, which began on the 25th of October. It was brilliant! Exhausting! Mentally challenging, physically demanding, energizing, and a joy to see so many people I haven’t seen for over two years, and new people too.
Loading the van on the 23rd Oct for London.
The Chris Beetles Gallery when we’d hung my paintings.
Some of my favourites!
Today I’m in my van driving back to Wales somewhat lighter, my remaining art exhibition in the back, keen to get home to the builders working on my studios and the new gallery, my rescue huskies, ferret, chinchillas, aging Maltese terrier and Shirley, the Royal python. My exhibition at the Chris Beetles Gallery in Ryder St, St James’s near Piccadilly was fantastic – one week of private views and meeting up with friends and clients, selling, packing, wrapping, and moving paintings to disguise the gaps….
Now for the paperwork!
Saturday 25th September 2021:
Five paintings were sold to a client in Yorkshire, which necessitated a van trip to deliver them in the middle of the petrol shortage. Or rather, the tanker driver shortage. If I didn’t paint, I’d re-train right now for my HGV Class 1 – except that according to the newspapers the DVLA is largely still working from home so processing driving test passes is way behind.
The paintings look simply stunning in their new home.
And I’ve been designing metalwork for the new studio and gallery: Will O’Brien has been making me lizard door handles. He takes my sketches and turns them into three-dimensional works of art.
The Welshpool Printing Group pulled out the stops and got my invitations to my October 25th – 30th exhibition at the Chris Beetles Gallery in London (see EVENTS for details) printed. It took four of us to pack envelopes! The Welshpool Printing Group pulled out the stops and got my invitations to my October 25th – 30th exhibition at the Chris Beetles Gallery in London (see EVENTS for details) printed. It took four of us to pack envelopes!
And there were a lot of people that I wanted to write little notes to, hoping they can come; it is three years since I have seen most of the people I know, and I miss them…. I have no idea what my exhibition will be like, as I’ve never had an exhibition during global attempts to recover from a pandemic. I shall be at the gallery all week.
Monday 23rd August 2021:
I’ve been painting the edges of finished canvases so that I can get them framed for my October exhibition at The Chris Beetles Gallery in London. The frames are going to ‘float’ the paintings so the edges will be exposed and I have to make them look less naked. There aren’t enough hours in the day – as usual. I wonder if I didn’t have dogs, chinchillas, owls, a ferret called Socks (I used to breed ferrets and keep 12, but now I’ve let them die of old age and I’m down to one,) and a Royal python called Shirley, whether I’d have more time to get more work done. But the animals and owls are my joy; there’s nothing like cuddling a little excited ferret to bring one down to earth. Besides, if I didn’t have to walk the two rescue huskies, I’d be sedentary!
This was one of my painting-the-edges-challenges: ‘A Step Forward’. I painted this because life is exciting, and sometimes I take a chance and do something that makes my hair stand on end, when I feel as if I’m stepping forward into the unknown. That feeling propelled me to paint this:
Monday 26th July 2021:
It’s so exciting to finally move into my new studio – the rest of the building isn’t finished yet, but when it is, it will become a private gallery – visits by invitation. All the finished paintings, as-yet-unused frames, and canvases, stock paints, and other materials will remain in the old studio, which has now become ‘the storeroom’ aka ‘the shed’. This means that I won’t be tripping over myself and art materials – only what I’m working on will be in my studio. This is a dream for me – no more clutter! It’s in the shed!
My life currently revolves around building work. It devours time because I’m doing the drawings for electrics and plumbing – I know where I want everything to go. When it’s over, I can get back to work in a real way – but without builders, it’s going to be very quiet. However, there is a lot more brickwork to do before that happens!
Choosing door handles and locks is time-consuming, I discover; it can swallow hours, days, even – and if I don’t want them to rust on the outside doors then they have to be coated….and do I want door handles and locks in a rectangular configuration? Or do I want handles ‘en rose’ and locks separately? Do I want bronze, brass, or chrome? Do I want curly, fancy, or plain? The A&H Brassware catalog became my bible for a bit – such luscious ironmongery…..in renovating some people forget that everything has to be a decision from the replastering of a room to the choice of a doorhandle or window lock.
Monday 28th June 2021:
My almost non-existent family is getting smaller with the death of a second cousin once removed – I only had three of them. Now two. And three cousins on other land masses. Covid funerals are shit; there isn’t enough room for a distant relative with the restricted numbers in a chapel, and watching on Zoom, seeing everyone in face masks not even allowed to sing, I find intensely depressing.
Painting is interrupted spasmodically by sunny days during which I have to get out the cement mixer and mix mortar to re-cement the edges of my 40-foot pond and central island. Had I known what I know now I’d have made a better job of it when I first built it seventeen years ago? But it has been lovely getting close to my shubunkins, frogs, and toads; the pond is teeming with life, although the water lilies need culling as the fish are having to pretty much hop over the stems to get anywhere.
Every year a heron comes and eats the orange shubunkins, so the black ones proliferate – they’re harder to spot for a bird in a hurry with a beak the size of a shovel.
My ‘Getting out of lockdown’ painting remains unfinished, because as long as we have to wear masks to anything, under any circumstances – and we still do in Wales – I don’t feel we are free. But the builders are close to finishing my new studios, which means I’ll get the chance to finish a lot of other paintings that have been stacked up waiting for space.
Monday 31st May 2021:
A baby tawny owl was brought to me so hungry and exhausted that it was horizontal. Baby tawny owls are often found without a parent in tow, and you may think they are deserted, but no, their parents are watching and will feed them when you’re not there. Except this little one was too weak to move. Twenty-four hours later, well-fed and hydrated, he looked like a different bird, so he was put back under the tree where he was found (they can climb!) so that his parents could tend to him.
The good news (for me at least) – the need to paint has taken over from the need to draw electrical and plumbing schemes, and design rooms…to the point where I have today finally finished a painting begun many weeks ago, of a cloud I saw while out on my motorbike. I always think it’s actually harder to stop somewhere safe on a motorbike than it is in a car since a car can be heaped on a verge, or in a gravel ditch, but a motorbike is better on a flat bit of tarmac (as a biker I hate gravel – for me, it’s like riding on ice), and I couldn’t find anywhere to stop that I felt was safe and immediate in order to photograph the cloud. And maybe I was going a bit fast…..
So, I raced home and turned to see the cloud had begun to disperse; this strange rock-shape of a cloud had become a thin thing, strung out across the sky like a skein of sheep’s wool, and deprived of its previous imposing appearance. I painted the way I had first seen it while it was fresh and immediate in my mind, which is what I often do when I get back from a motorbike ride having seen something that I’ve memorized in order to get down on paper or canvas as soon as I get home. I did this a great deal, before COVID and lockdowns.
Then I got side-tracked by drawings for building work, which did, at least, take over from a pre-occupation with all things COVID, and the weeks passed by. But for the past few days I’ve been working on my cloud and now feel I’ve done as much as I want to, finishing off with the far-away sheep that I saw yesterday, on another motorbike ride in the Welsh hills….
I just don’t know what to call it. Cloud? The Idea of Freedom? (As I was riding my motorbike in between lockdowns with the idea of freedom like an unreachable goal – or a far distant elusive cloud….) Cloud With Tiny Sheep?
20x24in – 51x61.5cm
Thursday 28th April 2021:
Painting has taken a knock from COVID because my will to paint was squashed by my inability to go and reboot by escaping the quagmire of my studio and gallery renovations, and the piles of furniture that clutter rooms and the existing studio as I wait for the work to be finished. But I am still designing bits for the renovation – more gates in the shape of leaves and birds and other creatures, a life-size metal tree….and more stained glass. The colors in the stained glass lift my spirit, especially on dismal days when the world outside appears colorless in itself.
Below are the photocopies of my designs for glazed door panels – Tracy Whyte, who makes my stained glass, will work from these as templates. The white lines will become lead lines. I can’t wait to see the finished article! And I have a couple more windows to design yet…..
Tuesday 30th March 2021:
I am lurching from day to day drawing plans for wiring and plumbing and light fittings, as my new studios and gallery are renovated. There is so much to do that it is devouring hours, and it is all urgent as things change from one week to another or one hour to the next. My architect deals with the planning applications because he can, and I don’t want to. But I decide where every light switch, down light, and chandelier goes, every electrical socket, every doorway and sink, and the light fittings I’ve been hoarding for years as I’ve renovated one house after another is all going to come in every, very useful. I like to recycle everything; so, every time someone cried ‘I’ve got this chandelier I don’t want!’ I promised I’d give it a home, and now I am going to do just that. There will be chandeliers in the toilet, in the utility room, in the studios, the gallery, and the office….all given to me by other renovators, or electricians, left over from other jobs, or picked up cheaply at auction.
The thing about recycling something that has outgrown its purpose somewhere else is that it can provoke interesting ideas – it can foster creativity because now you have an item that is limited by its shape, size, and intended purpose, and to recycle it you have to accommodate those limitations – or re-purpose it all together. A challenge!
If you build something new, it has no quirks, but if you have to meld the old with the new, then quirks appear and the whole job becomes more interesting.
Friday 19th February 2021:
Lockdown has made me feel as if the outside world is a different world entirely and my cousins are not just thousands of miles away, but inaccessible altogether. Gone are the days when I could have told Jenny that I’d be on a flight to see her pronto and be there for the funeral. Gone are the days when I could have got on a flight to anywhere. But yesterday I had my first vaccination for COVID: Astra Zenica. Curiously, I haven’t grown a second head, my blood has not changed color and I feel fine, except my upper left arm feels as if a horse has kicked it, and I know what that feels like because once a horse did kick it.
Below are the photocopies of my designs for glazed door panels – Tracy Whyte, who makes my stained glass, will work from these as templates. The white lines will become lead lines. I can’t wait to see the finished article! And I have a couple more windows to design yet…..
Painting has taken a back seat to designing stained glass windows for fanlights over doors because without a sense of freedom my brain feels to be atrophying in the creative sense, so I’m turning my attention to the more practical. My paintings have ground to a halt.
And my vocabulary is eroding as I hardly ever have conversations that include words of more than two syllables, mostly ‘COV – ID’. In Wales, we have no ‘get out of lockdown’ date – even prisoners know their release date – but residents of Wales don’t. It’s stultifying. Without anything to look forward to it seems that many people are becoming deeply depressed, feel pointless, and have nothing to talk about so they no longer call others. Or maybe that’s just me.
Tuesday 26th January 2021:
After weeks of Lockdown No 3, it takes an act of uncommon will every day to do exercises just to stop me from rotting away. In Wales, we have at least another three weeks to go – at least. There is no end date, no date to look forward to, no date that I can scribble a circle around on the calendar and think ‘ah, that’s when the pubs will open, and I can meet a couple of friends.
Last year my art shows and poetry readings were canceled; I feel as if, work-wise, I have ceased to exist. Every now and then I record another video of me, reading one of my poems, and post the video on YouTube – that is my voice, as is this. My two rescue huskies keep me walking and sane – just. Daily, I count my blessings to make sure they haven’t worn away. I forget whether it’s Tuesday or Friday….. The common denominator in all the people I talk to is a sense of hopelessness because even with the vaccine (I’m around 25,000,000th in the queue apparently) there is no TANGIBLE end. No one is telling us that we can buy unnecessary items from (for instance) the 15th of Feb, or even the 22nd of March. I had to get my car fixed last week, and wandered aimlessly around the empty town, past all the closed shops – many won’t open again, ever – and longed to just BROWSE, or sit in a coffee shop. Oh, for the freedom of simply looking at things, exploring, enquiring, exchanging information in person with other real, actual people who aren’t submerged in folds of stifling fabric that, if not actually medical in appearance, look a little as if they’re wearing men’s strippergram posing pouches… Supermarket-cordoned-off areas of ‘nonessential goods’ are ridiculous; you are already in the supermarket, so what difference will it make? And define ‘non-essential’!
I’ve been drawing the stained glass windows that I want to get made up, and will start painting them this week….but what I really want to paint is a sky from a hilltop on which I can actually stand, legally, without COVID restrictions, staring out across the landscape, feeling free..….
This is an Australian sky that I painted years ago when I was living there. I sold it soon afterward, but now, all these years later, it is coming up for auction at Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury in the near future. It is four feet high and six feet wide and makes me feel free and alive just to look at it.
Friday 25th December 2020:
Christmas Day – in Wales we went into lockdown on the 20th of December. On Christmas Day we were allowed a visit from one other family plus one single person. That was it. So, a couple of friends, then. But oh, the joy of being able to share a turkey with someone else – it’s just a shame there’s not a lot to talk about because we don’t go anywhere or do anything. COVID dominates all thought, conversation, and behavior. I walk my two rescue huskies in the grey, frozen country lanes, dodging delivery vans, and I’m aware that the seasons are changing regardless; life is passing by at a terrific rate, while we remain stagnant, at home. I still haven’t finished my ‘Getting out of Lockdown’ painting, because we’re not out of it yet.
UNFINISHED – No 3: Coming out of Lockdown.
Coronavirus painting No 1: Going into Lockdown
Tuesday 24th November 2020:
Gwynnie, my oldest owl, finally drifted off to sleep and died; she wound down like a clock, peaceful, warm, and loved. My efforts to file and organize my life continue, as does work on renovating my new studio. If it wasn’t for the builders doing the building work, I’d have no social life – despite being briefly out of lockdown, we’re not supposed to have a social life in Wales. Of course, I can’t see the faces of the builders because they’re wearing masks….. My art consists of drawing plans for my renovations and stained glass for windows that I have longed to turn into explosions of color. And I write…..I keep writing…
Tuesday 27th October 2020:
Gwynnie, my oldest owl, a Bengal who is so crabby and wizened that you can easily imagine her as a feathered great-grandmother, is slowly fading away. I’ve been keeping her indoors in the utility room with Wyddfa, my snowy owl, where I can watch over her, feed her when she wants to eat – if she will eat – and give her tiny amounts of water to keep her fluids up. Normally an owl will get fluids from its food, but if it isn’t eating….
Frustrated by the lack of available LIFE outside the house as a result of COVID I’ve been making myself useful by doing things I need to do, that I have put off for too long – like updating my website. I took off all the sold pieces, added new paintings, and put prices on, so people will no longer wonder if it’s worth getting in touch, they can just look at my website and think ‘no, really?’ and move on, saving themselves some time in asking via email. It’s a lot of work, so while the weather is miserable and there’s nowhere to go, I’m getting on with it. But it would help if there was a visible reason – a purpose, a goal, a happening that I was aiming for
Friday 23rd September 2020:
Testing new contact lenses – a couple of options with interesting results, both of which leave me needing reading glasses in any case. I find myself writing poems about the lockdown, squinting over my scribbles, and trying to find the right distance from which to view them for them to be in focus – the other side of the room in some cases. I write poems about COVID-19 and the lack of logic in the rules that now govern us. These rules appear to be attempting to obliterate the word ‘logic’ from the dictionary altogether. Logic, however, is a word I live by; if my emotions cloud my judgment then I ask myself what a logical answer to a problem or thought process would be.
Sunday lunch with friends last week accidentally became lunch for 7 when the rule of 6 still applied. So, we asked for two tables and were told that we would have to have two tables in different rooms, as the manager now knew that we ‘knew each other. If we had met in the pub by accident, it would have been acceptable to sit adjacent. Or perhaps not – perhaps we would have to feign ignorance and pretend we’d never met, passing notes and glances like naughty schoolchildren…
Tomorrow here in Wales we’re going into lockdown again, this time for 17 days until the 9th of November. People I talk to are angry, dismayed, desperately depressed, and hopeless. I have no desire to paint. Being separated from friends makes me feel as if my brain is atrophying.
However, I’m drawing plans for the details of my new studios, which are in progress right now – I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about anything, except passing my motorbike test in 2008. But still, I haven’t gone back to work on my ‘getting out of lockdown painting’ – and now you know why.
Tuesday 15th September 2020:
My eyes are getting worse, so I saw my optician today. Since yesterday, here in Wales, we’re all in masks indoors, and being warm and muggy, everyone was sweating behind their face coverings. Whoever would have thought that the sight of someone’s mouth could be so demonized? And how long for? Weeks? Months? Forever? I took the chance to get to the gym, where they have see-through screens between and in front of some of the equipment, but you have to wear a mask up the stairs and along the corridor until you get in the door to the gym itself, despite the fact that there is no one else there…. On the way a blond woman greeted me, but her entire face was obliterated by her mask and I couldn’t tell who she was. At least we don’t have to wear masks in the street (as in Paris) yet, but some do it anyway. And in their cars, when they’re on their own. And walking down a country lane with only the neighboring cows for company…
I can’t finish my Coronavirus Painting No3 because it is about coming out of lockdown, and really, we’re not out of it yet.
Friday 21st August 2020:
Today was my first motorbike track day of the year – possibly my only one. Donington – very fast, fabulous tarmac, and it only rained a little bit. Social distancing was in place, and we all had to do our ‘briefing’, where we are told about the meaning of the different colored flags and the accompanying protocols, in addition to the track rules and regulations. It was such a blast to race around a track without a police officer pointing a speed gun in my direction and then half-killing themselves to make sure they got my number plate as I went past (motorbikes having no forward plate).
This is what clears my head; it’s like meditation because I don’t think of anything else, just the bends, my speed, my braking points, and tipping points – riding a motorbike at speed becomes ten times more dangerous if you suddenly think you haven’t put the bins out….Or you’ve left the gas on….Or you think you’ll outbreak the bike in front of you but it would put you on entirely the wrong line for the up-coming hairpin bend.
Sunday 5th July 2020:
My second Coronavirus painting is finished: Being in Lockdown. It goes some way to describe how I have felt about being constrained. See my YouTube channel; the playlist for Painting With Purpose. I couldn’t get perspective on my poetry, painting, and other writing, because I couldn’t get away as I usually do; a long motorbike ride and a coffee with a notebook of good intentions and poetry-in-progress. I ended up oiling garden benches, moving furniture, cataloging books, and trying to re-organise my office as my brain atrophied without input, without new scenery, without new conversations and I couldn’t escape work….but tomorrow, here in Wales, we are at last supposed to be able to ‘go anywhere within the Covid restrictions. And a week later, we hope the cafes and pubs will open – England is two weeks ahead of us. Hopefully, public toilets will open so people won’t be forced to go on beaches….
Coronavirus Painting No2: Being In Lockdown. 35 ½ in x 31 ½ in / 91cm x 80cm approx. Oil on canvas and wood.
I am now working on my third Coronavirus painting – coming out of Lockdown.
Tuesday 9th June 2020:
My five little Lockdown ducklings can fly, so today I let them go on a friend’s lake, where they joined another group of assorted ducks. They are free – and I am not. Still in Lockdown here in Wales, while we watch the English over the border enjoy going places – albeit without cafes and pubs and public toilets
My Coronavirus Painting No1 – Going Into Lockdown – is finished. I have been posting clips on my Frieda Hughes YouTube channel in the ‘Painting With Purpose playlist. The painting conveys the cutting off of friends, the chaos of preparation, the search for food, and toilet rolls, and the frustration at being told to isolate when I live that way already. Being told to do something I already do makes me NOT want to do it of course. But I did it. The ducklings were a welcome distraction, and now they are swimming free.
Blue is peace and a sense of freedom, which is passing, orange is friends, yellow is happiness, black spikes with red indicate painful happenings; there are shapes of constriction and contortion – green is creativity (being stifled by Covid rules); grey is exhaustion. I felt I was passing from a life full of hope and friends and an occasional sense of freedom, into a suffocating cage that had little to do with my environment and everything to do with the psychology of normal life being forbidden by the State.
Coronavirus Painting No1: Going into Lockdown. 31 ½ in x 28in / 80cm x 71cm approx. Oil on canvas and wood.
I have a skip in the yard now, so that I can clean out my cellar and chuck junk from the garden – including an old shed. Fed up with work, I’m finding displacement activities that might make me feel as if I’ve achieved something useful in improving my environment.
The gym I go to is still closed, so exercises at home are a must, or I will rust like an old boat and my cogs will seize up. Walking the two rescue huskies makes certain that my legs don’t cease to work.
I find I have several heaps of poems, all of which need typing up because I always write the first draft of a poem by hand – that is a MUST because the hand is such an immediate, vital connection to the brain. I don’t want to alienate my thoughts by typing them first. Poems are not like prose – prose I can type up straight away – poems need to be felt through the fingers.
Monday 11th May 2020:
Depressing news for those of us in Wales; we have another three weeks of lockdown, while the inhabitants of England are allowed to sunbathe, walk in the park, AND ACTUALLY SIT ON A PARK BENCH without being arrested. They will be able to take a long drive for a short walk, whereas we can only drive a distance that is LESS than our walk will be. To drive ten miles we must then walk eleven, (I’d like to see their police that in practical terms,) and no one has explained if the ten miles should be the distance to get there, or the total distance has driven there and back.
My huskies are bored of pissing in the same hedges, day in and day out. Apparently, I have been breaking the rules because they have always had two walks a day – and I have only been allowed one, until recently. Try telling a husky that he/she can’t exercise because of an invisible bug, in a countryside where meeting another person is a rarity, and the chances of catching Covid-19 while out on a walk are quite literally zero.
The big Welsh ‘let out’ has been to give us one extra exercise outing a day. If we keep our social distance if we hand wash and sanitise, then why can’t we sit at the end of a friend’s drive and have a chat with them at a distance of 20 paces?
Zoom, Teams, Whatsapp, Facetime – and even the telephone – are all great to keep us connected, but despite paying for fibreoptic broadband my only attempt at Zoom came up with messages telling me that I didn’t have enough broadband speed, and the image of my friends froze on the screen – we ended up talking on the telephone. So, no video calls for me; no need for make-up and a hairbrush. So much for technology in Mid-Wales.
In the meantime, my lockdown ducklings are half-grown, and all five are females. The mother was photographed waddling off with six of her brood (when she left this lot behind) and I bet she took all the boys….
At the moment it is a competition to see whether we get our freedom before they get theirs……one of them has developed a quack.
I have started painting a ‘Covid-19’ painting of how lockdown makes me feel……watch this space. But otherwise, I feel I am grinding to a halt without any inspiration – no new scenery, no new news, no meetings with friends, and a growing disbelief at rules that say two people from the same lockdown household can’t see two other people from another lockdown household – they are only supposed to meet one at a time. That’s in England of course – since we, in Wales, aren’t supposed to even chat across the street to a passing friend who is out for their constitutional in case we enjoy ourselves, as that would constitute a ‘meeting’.
Thursday 16th April 2020:
When I take the huskies for a walk now, along the back roads where I live that are normally empty, I meet people running and cycling who have never been known to do that before. Initially, people seemed to think that even talking from across the road might spread Coronavirus, but now some of them smile and exchange pleasantries.
My 60th birthday on 1st April was canceled – no dinners in London, no party in Wales, no birthday cake, as it was no flour in the shops – or polenta. I did have ten bags of chocolate peanuts (see post of me on April 1st on Instagram and Facebook, in my party dress). While I’d like to think it is only ‘postponed’ I know that is unlikely. When we come out of the other side of the lockdown the world is going to be a different place and everyone is going to be preoccupied with survival in one form or another. Chris Beetles at his gallery in London, however, is optimistic that I will have my art exhibition on the 16th of November. If it happens, then THAT will be my party!
Before lockdown, I already lived in a sort of isolation – so much so that the gym three times a week was my way of getting out. But the thing that kept me going, the thing that rebooted my brain, the thing that was my deadline every day, and the end of every week, so that I would work hard to try and finish all that needed finishing before then, was my daily motorbike ride. Sometimes only 50 miles, but I would take my poetry folder and find a spot to work, and my camera – to photograph material to paint. I would return home feeling as if I’d re-joined the world (although usually, I wouldn’t have seen anyone, unless I stopped at a trucker café for a coffee). Now, without that deadline – that absolute joy – to look forward to, I find myself working more slowly, getting more easily distracted….oiling benches, fixing the dripper system in the garden….doing stuff that is useful and necessary, but not my actual job of work. I am very lucky that I have a garden, with flowering trees and space, but if this were the only world one ever saw, day in and day out, without hope of reprieve, it could drive a person mad. Our freedom of movement has been taken from us, and the psychological ramifications are going to run on, and on………
My new joy is that I now have mallard ducklings – lockdown ducklings – that I was given two days ago. A friend phoned; a duck had nested beside the wall of his house, then, when the eggs hatched, she had only taken six of the chicks across the field to the river with her. The remaining chicks wouldn’t have been ready to leave the nest, and if she’d stayed, they would all have been at risk from foxes and other chick-eaters, because chicks can’t help but cheer, giving themselves away.
So, in an emergency dash, I collected the four remaining day-old duck chicks and an egg (keeping social distance). The ducklings went under an incubator platform to keep them warm, and I put the egg in a rotating incubator overnight. It hatched at three thirty the following morning – now I am a foster mother to five chicks: these are lockdown ducks and they are going to help me keep sane!
Monday 23rd March 2020:
It seemed that people found it too difficult to socially distance themselves in the face of the march of Covid-19, the virus that appears to have originated from China’s Wuhan market. Covid – 19 (Coronavirus) has been making itself known since the end of last year, but in February, appeared in Spain and Italy, and now it’s here in the UK. So, this evening, Boris Johnson announced that we would go into lockdown. All but the most vital shops must shut – gyms, cafes, restaurants, clothes and shoe shops, gift and antique shops, and all manner of other businesses must close. Anyone who can work at home, must, and many who can’t work at home are going to have to stay there anyway. Over 70s are advised to self-isolate. Anyone with symptoms must self-isolate. We must try not to overload the already struggling NHS with coughing patients requiring respirators that they currently don’t possess.
This morning I had a bad feeling when the pet shop where I get my frozen chicks for the owls told me that despite the fact they could stay open – for they sell pet food, animal feed, food for human beings, and other essentials – they would close in the event of a lockdown because they also sell clothes, shoes, furniture, and gifts, and it would be too hard to separate the departments. This meant that my owls could starve, because my freezer only holds a month’s worth of chicks, and the primary supplier won’t supply small orders. If I chucked a bit of road-kill rabbit at them, they wouldn’t recognise it; they are used to small, yellow fluffy things – or mice (but a frozen mouse is between £1 and £1.50 and the owls would eat several dozen a day, where’ve frozen chicks are only a few pounds for a box of 250).
Frantically, I tried to buy freezers, but initially, the main local supplier thought they’d sold out, as everyone else had the same idea. I begged them to look harder and eventually, they came up with three small upright freezers, but couldn’t deliver until Wednesday. I couldn’t risk waiting – we all hoped we wouldn’t be going into lockdown but… Fortunately, I have a van to carry my art exhibitions in and was able to race over to pick up the freezers and get back to the chick-selling pet shop before 5 pm, to pick up 20 boxes of frozen chicks. I was still unpacking them when Boris made his lockdown announcement, but now I have enough owl food to get the fifteen of them through a number of weeks.
Tuesday 25th February 2020:
Today, I finished reading the 1,595-page manuscript that is Heather Clark’s biography of my mother, Sylvia Plath. There have been other biographies, but I have never been compelled to read them. This one, however, required permission for many hundreds – if not thousands – of quotes of my mother’s work. I read it with the drizzle outside adding to the floods that we have been experiencing for weeks. (The village I live in was cut off three times in three weeks.) Heather’s book is a remarkable achievement; after spending so long with it I found it a relief to get back to my own work, but also rather a wrench as I’d lived with it – and the life of my mother – for so many days.
Now I’m working on the corrections for my own ‘Magpie Madness’ manuscript, and some black and white sketches of George, my adopted magpie in 2007, star of the book.
Monday 24th January 2020:
After just over a month of drawing sheep every day, I moved on to painting them in oils on canvas, which slowed me down considerably. The painting on the left is 12 x 10in and the other two are 8 x 10in.
Work has been disturbed by having to read a 1,600-page manuscript (not mine) which meant that normal progress has been seriously curtailed. I’m on the last 100 pages so I get my life back shortly……..then, more sheep, some drawings for my magpie book, and working through the poems I’ve been writing over the past four years to put together another collection. In the meantime, everything is flooded – I look over the fields and there’s nothing but water.
And I’m preparing for my 60th birthday on the 1st of April, which, when I say it, doesn’t sound right……the age, that is…..I can’t lie about my age; it’s too easy to look up. Somehow it doesn’t seem very old. 120 is what I’m aiming for. That’s why I’m off to the gym now.
Thursday 20th January 2020:
The year is off to a galloping start – I’m editing my last draft of Magpie Madness, my book about rearing George, my rescue magpie, which was serialised in The Daily Mail on the 28th and 30th of December. And I’ve been drawing a sheep a day on the basis that I need the practice, and the last of my sheep paintings all sold in my ‘Open Studio’ so I am sheep-less. It has become a personal challenge – the drawings measure about 24 in by 18 in. But I don’t know how long I can keep it up because it’s another commitment. I think I’m going to halve the size of the paper for February……
My exhibition in November is something that drives me to work harder – I have been painting portraits of people in the abstract.
Sunday 29th December 2019:
The ‘Open Studio’ weekend in mid-December was fantastic; the caterers, Hugh and Jill Jones, produced an astonishing array of food, and the people who came were fabulous. It was so good to catch up with so many. Lack of sleep (in order to get rid of the aforementioned chaos) was worth it. After months of preparation I thought I’d have a week off afterward, but felt compelled to send out Christmas cards instead. This turned the only time off I had this year into no time off at all, and I wondered about Christmas cards altogether. I love to get them, especially if they contain messages that make them more of a connection, but then I have to throw them out in January. What a waste! And writing them takes days. So, I sent what I could, then wrote individual emails as Christmas cards – with photos of my snowy owl, Wyddfa, when he was younger, looking seasonal. This meant that I got individual replies, which was a joy, so I think that’s what I’m doing next year, and so much better, I think, than e-cards, which just annoy me because I have to open them and watch what they display and I’m too impatient, and they don’t have a personal sentiment. There’s nothing like a direct message from the person, even if it’s via email.
Saturday 30th November 2019:
Somehow, I seem to have run out of years…I’ve been re-hanging over 300 paintings for an ‘Open Studio’ in December. But the amount of fixing of things, the decorating of bits and pieces, and the repairing of things broken in order to create a space that looks clean and welcoming, makes me realise that maintenance can eat up your life. For people like me, who like order, it is frustrating to have chaos – I find that it stultifies creativity. But equally, tidying chaos, filing it, labelling it, repairing it, or simply chucking it out, deprives me of work time. I reside in a semi-permanent state of conflict over this. The only resolution is acceptance of the dilemma.
Tuesday 29th October 2019:
Yesterday I was reading for the Mayfair and St James’s Literary Festival at the Maddox Gallery, with curious art on the walls, followed by an amazing curry at Chutney Mary’s – so many Indian restaurants add sugar to every meat dish that I find them too sweet to eat, but Chutney Mary’s was the real thing. Now I’m back to work for my next exhibition at the Chris Beetles Gallery in Ryder St, London, the week of 16th November 2020. Sadly too far away from Chutney Mary’s – and, for that matter, anywhere that makes really good sushi…..
Sunday 29th September 2019:
Just got back from reading at the Jersey Festival of Words in the Opera House, St Helier. What a marvelous audience! And thank you to the organisers for getting me there.
I’ve never been to Jersey before, at nine miles long and seven miles wide the highest speed limit is 40mph, and in town, it’s 20 to 30. I saw a 1300cc Suzuki Hayabusa (it’s a motorbike – for anyone not familiar with them!) cruise by; a Hayabusa is capable of over 180mph even when restricted. There were some rather fast cars, too….all driving at 20 to 40 miles an hour. Everywhere.
Now I’m getting ready for my next reading on the 28th of October for the Mayfair and St James’s Literary Festival, where I will be reading from Out of the Ashes, my recent volume of selected poems from previous collections, and my illustrated poetry collection, Alternative Values. There will be a small selection of my paintings from Alternative Values for sale on the night. The link for my reading at the Maddox Gallery in Maddox St is:
Sunday 25th August 2019:
Having had a big clear-up in my studio over the past few days, I’m back at the canvas working on two oil paintings that describe the turmoil of thought-process that occupies me at the moment: what am I here for? I find it helps to order my thoughts to write them down – but painting the way I feel about them adds a whole other dimension.
I’ve also been learning how to post film clips on YouTube; there are a couple of clips of my owls, and some clips of me reading poems from my illustrated poetry collection ALTERNATIVE VALUES. One clip per poem: Poems From Home I call them, because they’re just clips of me, at home, reading poems – nothing fancy. I wonder if people who have been bereaved will find poems about living beyond the death of loved ones helpful. Or if the wedding poems will make someone smile… Or ‘The Rolling Car’ poem about the time my Dad left my little brother and me in a car (I was seven) and it began to roll down a hill, but I couldn’t persuade my brother to get out of the car, so I sat there with him, knowing that it meant I would be damaged too if the car crashed. You’ll have to listen to the poem to know what happened next.
Wednesday 31st July 2019:
More rewriting of my Magpie Madness book, which may or may not find its way between actual book covers – but it won’t be for the lack of trying. Hand-rearing my magpie in 2007 I kept a diary, and reading it again as I’ve put the diary into more of a story for the book, brings home what hysterical fun it was to rear a bird that was so smart – burying light bulbs beneath the floorboards (the house was slowly being renovated back then, so there were holes everywhere), hiding the sink plug in plant pots out in the yard, so I eventually had to weight it with a six-inch length of chain that was strong enough to pull a car out of a ditch, and having to keep the toaster covered to prevent the magpie posting doggie ‘Smackos’ into it, as he liked to do.
For five months that magpie made life interesting and laid the foundation for the owls that I now keep – owls that feature in my paintings, and that were, in all but a handful of cases, given to me by owners who could no longer keep them for various reasons. Now I have fourteen of them.
Tuesday 25th June 2019:
This month I was back at the local high school as a counselor on Fridays. My social life took a bit of a nose-dive as I tried to fit in other work around a six-week stint of this. But I did manage to get to London for an event at the British Library, where I had been persuaded by Shevaun Wilder, director of the Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation, to introduce an evening of my mother’s poetry, read by Eileen Walsh and Sophie Cookson. Before she died in 2011 Josephine Hart organised British Library readings of poets such as TS Eliot, Philip Larkin, and my mother, Sylvia Plath, read by some of our most notable actors. Her work continues through the foundation.
My introduction to each of my own mother’s poems was the same introduction that Josephine had written years earlier, and which I had read once before, after Josephine’s death. The only way I could manage this, as I stepped into Josephine’s shoes for the evening, was to read Josephine’s words as she had – ie where I was mentioned I read about myself in my mother’s life in the third person. It was my attempt at distancing myself from the immediacy of the connection and the story of the mother I had lost when I was not quite three. This way I could try to give a summary of her life through Josephine’s own words.
Eileen Walsh, me, Maurice Saatchi, Sophie Cookson (who’s playing Christine Keeler in a BBC program soon) and Shevaun Wilder, Director of the Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation.
Wednesday 29th May 2019:
Working on admin, painting, writing, more paperwork, and filing, drained my imagination and I got to the point where I couldn’t see the wood for the trees, and that even if I was painting them…..so I gave myself five days off in Devon, where I was brought up and lived until I was in my early twenties. I hoped that a break would give me perspective. Traveling down on my Hayabusa I managed to leave the torrential rain in Wales and rode in sunshine all the way – and for the week. I visited places I remember from all those years ago and met up with people from all those years ago. I imagined that I would find it sad and nostalgic, but instead, I found that every day and every meeting made me smile and was a joy. I stayed at the Moto Velo Café, 1 Union Road, Crediton (lovely rooms, in the center of town and in the center of Devon) – breakfast with motorbikes, this was the view from my table:
For five months that magpie made life interesting and laid the foundation for the owls that I now keep – owls that feature in my paintings, and that were, in all but a handful of cases, given to me by owners who could no longer keep them for various reasons. Now I have fourteen of them.
Then I had a lunch meeting back in Wales with two marvelous writers: Lalline Paul (left) and Julia Hobsbawm (right). The Hay Festival means that I get something of a literary social life for a week or so when writers in London venture into the sheep hills of Wales. (Memo to self: must get back to painting the sheep eventually.)
Friday 26th April 2019:
More work this month on my magpie story and owl book…..and I am back to painting. I have been working on finishing some sheep-in-a-field paintings I started a long, long time ago: When I work for an exhibition there are always paintings that I didn’t get to complete, which I began in the vain hope that I am superwoman and would have time to finish – but only if I neglect sleep, personal hygiene, the telephone, emails, utility bills, and mealtimes. This April entry is getting posted in June because I did neglect a little bit of maintenance work in order to paint more….
In the end, I gave up on the tiny sheep, because what I really want to paint are BIG sheep, so the sheep-in-a-field series of six is still sitting on the wall easel. Should I paint over them and thereby get rid of the reminder that I just don’t feel like working on them? Or should I keep them just in case one day I find myself in the mood to work on them again? One day I’d like to have an exhibition of just sheep, so perhaps I’ll save them until then.
Thursday 28th March 2019:
It’s amazing how much time can vanish when the computer isn’t working properly. Emails were getting all screwed up and the computer search facility wouldn’t find anything at all; it turned out to be the result of a dodgy multi-flash-drive adaptor that I’ve used for years. Nothing seems to last any longer, but the way we find it’s dying is when everything attached to it goes haywire. This month went on what I’d call admin; computer faults, car faults, Rayburn faults, printer faults, and enough paperwork to reconstruct a decent-sized tree. If I don’t paint, I get irritable so I was getting a bit scratchy. I did, however, get some more work done on my Magpie book and Kitchen Owls book……I wish I could include photographs; the magpie I once hand reared was hysterically funny (I have hours of film that I could put on YouTube, that only a mother could love,) and the owls are beautiful – this is one of my favorite photographs of Max and Charlie (in that order) on top of the kitchen dresser. They are about two feet tall with five-foot wing spans. The paintings behind them are for sale!
TITLE: November 2009
TITLE: December 2009
Wednesday 22nd February 2019:
And when they were put in place, they filled an otherwise useless space. Sometimes I find I need to take time out to make my environment more workable – even if I have to decorate first! It’s amazing how much clutter small, neat bits of furniture can devour. It was a question of improvising with what I already had….
Sunday 27th January 2019:
I’d like to have hit the new year running – full of energy and painting up a storm. But life was rather more mundane; the rescue husky, Sam, was taking time to settle in and so was quite labor-intensive. He made more deposits in a day than a successful business. And I found that I really just wanted to finish writing what I call my ‘bird book’ – about Kitchen Owls. I’ve re-writing it almost every year since the first draft in 2008 and it has been getting longer and longer because my owl population has increased.
Several people bought paintings from my 400 Days series, which meant a good deal of packing, weighing, and shipping and I worked on sorting out the house a bit; when I’m working for an exhibition as I was up until November last year, everything else falls behind, and my studio had become a dumping ground for all the things I didn’t have time to put away. So I had to get to grips with finding places for things – and in some instances, MAKE places for things, which is why I started painting up a pair of old beside drawer cabinets to put all the doggy nibbles, doggy brushes, sticky hair rollers (to de-dog-hair one’s clothes), spare dog bowls, and dog paraphernalia of all kinds. They began like this:
Tuesday 25th December 2018:
A day to cook for. On Christmas Day 2015 this was my daily painting: No 28 of my 400 series and it’s still for sale! It is my visual diary of that day; each shape and color has significance – yellow, happiness, and friends, orange, the presence of friends. Red is always difficult, sometimes indicating pain, and brown is an obligation or some kind of restrictive commitment. Grey is tired. Blue is joy or happiness, my owls in this case.
I’m having another London exhibition in November 2020 at the Chris Beetles Gallery again, and I’m already working on it! Right now I’m thinking ahead to a possible exhibition in Shropshire at the end of next year, except I’ve been distracted by writing – I’m finishing up my book about Kitchen Owls, which seems to have become the title in lieu of anything more gripping. It’s simply a story about how a magpie chick that stole my heart and five months of my life in 2007, led to my owl family. Only someone who loves owls could live with the owl shit. Oh, and on the 11th of December, I adopted Sam, a Siberian husky with a mind of his own.
Thursday 14th November 2018:
Thank you to all of you who came to my London exhibition at the Chris Beetles Gallery in Ryder Street, London last week – and to those of you who bought, and gave my paintings new homes and a new life; I had three fantastic Private Views, and caught up with friends, collectors, and new invitees. I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit to exhaustion. Now that I have decided to sell my ‘400 Days’ project as individual paintings they are proving popular as gifts, Christmas and otherwise, for people whose birthday or anniversary is the title of the painting. If you are interested in seeing if I have yours then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you an image. They are £2,500 each for a 10in x 14in oil-on-canvas painting and come already framed. Examples:
No 63 – 29th January 2016:
No 87 – 22nd February 2016
No 103 – 9th March 2016
No 267 – 20th August 2016
Sunday 14th October 2018:
Two hundred of my four hundred daily paintings from 28th November 2015 to 31st December 2016 are back from the framers and look fantastic. The remaining 200 will be home next week. 100 of them will be exhibited for sale at the Chris Beetles Gallery, 8 & 10 Ryder St, London SW1Y 6QB from 5th to 10th November, together with other autobiographical abstracts and a handful of owl paintings: I have almost finished the last of the paintings that I have been working on over the last few weeks and months…..nearly there!
Before that, on Friday 19th October, I am reading from my newly selected poems, ‘Out of the Ashes and my illustrated collection, ‘Alternative Values’ at the Ted Hughes Festival in Hebden Bridge with one of my favorite poets, Simon Armitage:
Friday 17th August 2018:
When everything is going smoothly it’s easier to multi-task, to race between the office, studio, and study, to juggle jobs and commitments, to achieve the maximum result for the amount of effort and energy I put into everything. But when the computer decides that ‘no boot disc is detectable’ and has shut up shop, closing access to 57,000 photos, and thousands of word documents, refusing to restart, throwing up the same three error messages in what seems like monotonous rotation, then I become impatient, irritable, and slightly desperate.
The computer was useless for a week, went away to be looked at, came back working for a day, and is now producing the same error messages, but does start up in between them – then runs at slug speed so that opening an email can take three or four minutes, by which time I could have painted my nails – useful if I ever wanted to paint what’s left of them after they’ve been worn away by a life that requires agile fingertips and working hands.
My latest paintings, some of which will go in my November exhibition, are called ‘THINGS THAT CONCERN ME’ and that’s where I’m putting my thought process; all the thoughts about catching up with myself, earning a living, repairing a house, writing another book, fixing a computer, burying a dead ferret (today; cancer), excess plastic, the colour of people’s teeth, obesity, loneliness, depression, getting older, dying friends, the beauty of flowers. Sometimes a thought process makes me feel as if I’m stepping off a cliff and into the void, so I paint what that feels like to me. Or I feel a crowding and exploding of thoughts coming from an idea about the subject, for instance, of overpopulation, which translates as a mass of coloured shapes, knotting together, craving freedom on canvas…….
Thursday 5th July 2018:
For my Chris Beetles exhibition the week of 5th November I am exhibiting the first 100 paintings of the 400 DAYS OF MY LIFE that I completed at the end of 2016, which were exhibited as one gigantic panel at Chichester Cathedral last year. The framing of these has provided my framer with a challenge because they’ll be ‘floating’ on a background within their frames – and there are 400 of them. 400! They all need to be framed together, rather than months – or years – apart, so that they match. Only two colours, however – black or white. I’ve enlisted the help of artistic friends who stand and look at the paintings with me, as I place them first in a black frame and then in a white one – the difference is so extraordinary in some cases that the result looks like two different images altogether
Thursday 17th May 2018:
Owl paintings continue, and tree paintings, and abstracts, and poems…. My next exhibition is officially the week of 5th November at the Chris Beetles Gallery, 8-10 Ryder St, St. James’s, London SW1Y 6QB – there will be three private views for those who would like to email me their postal address and a contact telephone number via email@example.com. (This information isn’t shared with any third parties.) I’m still trying to finish my book about my owls – and why I keep them, but life and painting keep getting in the way. That, and the fact that one of my two ageing little Maltese terriers is becoming incontinent, and I spend a lot of time mopping up after her.
Eddie, the baby owl, is now so fully feathered that it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between him and his older brothers – except he still wants to play and demands attention; he is curious about every little thing.
Wednesday 11th April 2018:
Events overtook me after I returned from Australia, when the two Eurasian eagle owl eggs that were laid before I left, hatched in the incubator. Then I was on feeding duty for weeks – although sadly one of the chicks died, the other, Eddie, is going strong. I’ve been posting photographs of his development on Instagram under ‘Frieda Hughes’. He’s the one on the right, with my white-faced scops owl imaginatively called ‘Scops’. I’ve been working on owl paintings for a while now and I’m planning an art exhibition of new work at the end of the year.
The photograph of me painting Eddie stretching (below) was taken by Jonathan Myles-Lea, an incredible fine art painter of country houses, historic buildings, and landscapes, when he visited my studio recently.
POETRY NEWS: I’ve just received the advance copy of my new poetry collection, ‘Out of the Ashes’, which incorporates poems from my first four collections with Bloodaxe Books: Wooroloo, Stonepicker, Waxworks, and The Book of Mirrors. It is a substantial volume for only £12, containing an enormous amount of personal history. The front cover is a painting called ‘Fire Series 1’, which I painted after my property in Wooroloo, Western Australia, was in the centre of the biggest bushfire in WA history at the time, in January 1997. The boulder is a kind of stone that is often egg-shaped and exfoliates its layers like an onion. I found plenty of them in the Australian bush; some as big as houses, and some as small as pebbles. The stone is, I was told, a form of dolerite.
Sunday 28th January 2018:
This week I returned from three weeks in Western Australia on a motorbike trip with Martin, to collect material for my next exhibition: I’m going to be painting trees, trees, and more trees – trees with jagged elbows, trees with a leaning gait resembling drunks, salmon gums with silky-smooth pale pink trunks, ghost gums with stark white limbs, trees with fire-burned branches and tufts of regrowth that sprout like verdant explosions, paper bark trees with layers and layers of bark peeling off like crispy newspaper, trees growing other trees, trees flowering their little hearts out – the Australian Christmas Tree (so named because that’s when it flowers) turns into a blazing orange feast for the eyes – and the dead trees are sculpted by shadows and light as the baking sun beats down on them, those light and dark contrasts make me want to paint more than almost anything else.
Except for my owls – when I left for Australia, my female Eurasian eagle owl Nancy had laid two eggs, one on Christmas Day and one on the 28th of December. I candled them although I knew it was too soon, but I was about to get on a plane and couldn’t wait; they looked like duds. This meant that I went away thinking I’d probably come back to a couple of rotten eggs, although in truth, there was the opportunity for hope. It meant that I wasn’t preoccupied with them.
When I got back I found they weren’t rotten, they were fertile and so now they’re in the incubator. Today the first egg, Jess (Jesse if it’s a boy) began to crack open. For two days she’s been teasing me with tiny, almost unnoticeable little movements. Previous eggs have cheeped when they’re about to crack open, in response to my voice, and talking to them can encourage them to rock from side to side in their effort to respond. Talking to an egg that cheeps back is surreal….. But Jess hasn’t made a noise yet…….hopefully, the chicks will hatch safely and survive; I want to paint them as they grow, although they grow at a terrific rate, doubling in size every three days. This new development is rapidly becoming the last chapter of my book about why I have owls in the first place.
Tuesday 26th December 2017 –
Yesterday was marvelous, Martin, his mother, and three fabulous friends, and enough food for eighteen people. I like to cook too much food because leftovers mean that I don’t have to cook for another week, leaving me more time to do other things….
I’ve been learning YouTube and it’s taking some getting used to. But I think I’m getting somewhere: The following links are videos of Charlie, my Eurasian eagle owl, getting to grips with the news in Owl Origami: and another of Charlie not-washing-up My Instagram account already has a growing collection of owl videos.
In the meantime, my painting has been fighting for attention, as I’ve been working on my next poetry collection, and the book about how I came to keep Eurasian eagle owls when I started off with a magpie.
Below is a photograph of Charlie, snoozing on top of the fridge in the kitchen, with the backdrop of the painting I did for my poem called ‘For Shura’ from my poetry collection Alternative Values. He seems to be melting into the picture……
Tuesday 17th October 2017:
I can’t believe that it has been so long since I updated this commentary. If anyone follows it I shall a/ be impressed at their patience and b/ be delighted. It is my resolution to upload information more often, but in truth, the summer passed so fast and I was pre-occupied because while my Chichester Cathedral exhibition was up, I took the opportunity to sort out papers, books, and personal things that I need to shed, plan my next art show, and work on some poems…..
Normally I’m a pack rat, but there comes a point when even the most assiduous filing system can’t cope with the overload of ‘articles that will one day become a book’ or ‘magazine clipping on subjects that I am fascinated by – most of which are psychology-based. Not to mention Christmas cards from the last three years, because they might be useful for decoupage – if I knew anyone who did decoupage – and then there are stacks of childhood books that I think I can stop being sentimental about now…..
And also, I have found another social media platform that suits me; it’s Instagram. It is so easy to upload a photo from my phone onto Instagram, where to post one on this Diary page I have to download all the photos on the computer, label them, shrink them to size, and it’s those extra steps that put me off. So most of the time here, all you get is writing. On Instagram, I find I can post little clips of my owls doing silly things – or just nothing – because I’m still working on my book about why I have owls at all, so it feels relevant.
However, Keith, who guides me through the workings of my website, has recently shown me how to download film clips onto this page, so watch this space………..
Friday 16th June 2017:
As it turned out, painting the edges of those 400 diary paintings was the best thing I could have done, because on Monday 12th June, when I installed the entire work at Chichester Cathedral with the help of Martin, the edges of each painting showed, just as I’d feared – only more so! All extra work had paid off, and I was more relieved than I can tell you. The paintings read from left to right like a book. The first day, 28th November 2015, is in the top left corner, and the last day, 31st December 2016, is bottom right. The colour, the shades of colour, and movement of the paint describe the way I felt about events and happenings each day, and my reaction. Yellow is happy, blue is calm and free, white is almost meditative, black is bad, red is painful and fresh and bad, grey is being exhausted, brown is usually constraint and commitment, orange is friends, and green is usually writing……….some of the most difficult days produced some of my favourite paintings.
This is the moment I’d placed the last painting; each one had to be fastened onto a massive wall made by Tony, Clerk of Works at the cathedral, who has done an incredible job. This was the first moment that I had seen my 400 paintings together. On Tuesday 13th we hung the new work, and paintings from ALTERNATIVE VALUES, on display panels that directed the viewer towards 400 DAYS, and suddenly, it was all done and we were in the middle of the private view – my thanks to all who came and made it a really brilliant evening!
Friday 12th May 2017:
At last, I have finished painting the edges of my 400 daily paintings. It has taken weeks, and the relief is enormous; next, I must photograph them for the website – no small feat in itself. When the paintings go up on their massive ‘wall’ at Chichester Cathedral for my June to August exhibition, no white edges will show between the paintings and I’ll feel that the installation is as finished as I can make it.
On Tuesday my framer delivered the frames for the other new work that is going up in the exhibition, and the feeling that time is running out is increasing the pressure. A month from now, my 400 DAYS project, the other new work, and the images from my latest poetry collection ‘Alternative Values’ will be on display. Then maybe I can finish the book I’ve been writing about rearing my magpie and living with owls…………..
Monday 24th April 2017: 371 Down! 29 to go!
Since I last wrote anything here, I have done very little else but paint the edges of my 400 canvases. There is nothing I can think of to describe the monotony of mixing all the colours again, painting the edges of each of 400 paintings to carry over the colours and match the ‘face’….and the backache from sitting so long in one position. Yesterday I stood outside in the front yard in the sun for two minutes, just to feel the air on my face and have a look at the dozens of miniature azaleas that are flowering pinkly in the garden. Then I had to return to the task of painting; I have ten brushes on the go, all steeped in different colours. The rest of life has gone ‘on hold’ except for the most urgent of commitments – and designing the invitations for the up-coming exhibition. But I’m almost there. This is what the first finished half of the job looks like:
Monday 27th March 2017:
I have tried to look objectively at my 400 daily paintings, ending on 31st December 2016, and each depicting, in abstract, my day. I have placed them side by side and on top of each other on the wall easel in my studio, and I have tried to imagine them in their entirety, in the North Transept of Chichester Cathedral, where they will be from Wednesday 14th June this year. And I have noticed that it is possible to see strips of unpainted canvas edge between them, which annoys me! In fact, it annoys me so much that I am painting all the edges of all the pictures – something that couldn’t be done when I first painted them, as the face was wet, which made it too difficult.
It is a sort of self-imposed endurance test because it is terminally boring – I can’t dress it up any other way to tell you how exciting it is, because mixing all those colours up again, and attempting to get as good a match as possible, is mind-numbing for a dozen; stultifying for fifty – imagine 400! I have done about 135 so far. This is my new evening task. A single colour edge (like a nice, pale grey) won’t do, as the images are too varied and bright.
The reward is the result: Each of the paintings with an unpainted edge looks unfinished; normally that unpainted edge would be concealed by a frame – but not if the paintings are naked, and place next to, or on top of, each other; those slithers of canvas edge glint bleakly at me from the narrow gaps between the pictures. Whereas when finished, the paintings look somehow solid and three-dimensional and I feel they are complete. Only 265 to go……
Thursday 2nd February 2017: My next exhibition and poetry reading:
Today M and I met with the Chancellor of Chichester Cathedral to have a look around; I have been invited to exhibit there in June. It is a stunning building, with extraordinary stained glass windows, one of which is designed by Chagall. The cathedral combines the ancient with the modern in a blaze of colour and intricacy. The art throughout the ages meets in this building and merges into a representation of us.
The astonishingly colourful and modern John Piper tapestry hangs behind the High Alter, it’s central blaze of red draws the eye, and is the background against which the Holy Trinity is represented by a central green triangle, not solid, but an outline that reaches out to encompass three other elements: God the Father, represented by the white disc of the sun; the Son of God represented by the purple tau cross [Greek letter T], and the Holy Spirit represented by a feathered flame. Piper used the tau cross for authenticity because only Roman citizens were crucified on a ‘traditional’ cross and Jesus was not a Roman citizen. (See their website for more details: http://www.chichestercathedral.org.uk/about-us/delve-deeper-1/john-piper-tapestry/ )
I will be exhibiting in the North Transept – a generous space with the Great Window on the north side, beneath which are a series of paintings of the Bishops of Selsey and Chichester, commissioned by Bishop Robert Sherborne from St Wilfred in the 1530s.
In addition to other recent work, my paintings from my most recent poetry collection, ALTERNATIVE VALUES, will be exhibited here, together with my mammoth project, 400 DAYS. A stand measuring approximately 13ft high by 29 ft long will accommodate all four hundred 10 x 14-inch canvases, and I can hardly wait to see what that really looks like. I’ve never been able to see more than thirty or so canvases at once when there were placed in block fashion together in my studio on my wall easel. Virtual reality allowed me to show 96 on a PowerPoint page (shown below, here) but June this year will be the first time that all 400 paintings will be shown together as one single installation.
The exhibition is scheduled to take place from Wednesday 14th June until Thursday 17th August and will coincide with my poetry reading, which is on Thursday, June 29. 7.30 pm at the Poetry & Jazz Café, Edes House, West Street, Chichester, PO19 1RW.
(Music – Jazz, Blues, Folk, World; Spoken Word – see their website for more details: http://festivalofchichester.co.uk/whats-on-daily/ )
29th January 2017 – Belated Burns Night at the Mid Wales Arts Centre in Caersws.
Poetry amid paintings and the most extraordinarily delicious food – particularly the haggis. Normally January 25th marks the annual celebration of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns, but sometimes artistic licence must be applied if it’s not possible to celebrate on an actual day, and I wouldn’t want to argue with the cook! Fabulous food, fabulous company. Time off painting and back to working on poems; my next collection is a ‘selected’ called OUT OF THE ASHES, which is published this autumn by Bloodaxe, and draws from four of my previous collections, WOOROLOO, STONEPICKER, WAXWORKS, and THE BOOK OF MIRRORS.
Sunday 22nd January 2017: Daily painting project – 400 DAYS.
On the 31st of December, last year, I painted my last painting for my Daily Painting project. After seeing the New Year in with friends, when everyone else had gone to bed, I was still awake, painting, painting, painting, knowing that I could lie in the following day, and would be able to avoid the sleep deprivation that was a by-product of my project for months.
The project is now a single artwork that runs from 28th November 2015 to 31st December 2016 – since the first three paintings of the original 403 became too difficult to include in an exhibition format. I call it simply: 400 DAYS.
The first 96 consecutive images look like this:
Sunday 4th December 2016: Daily painting project:
On the 31st December, I will finish the project that has ruled my whole year – my project began as a challenge: to paint a single 10-inch by 14-inch abstract oil painting of the way I felt about my day, every day. In fact, there will be more than 365 paintings because this year was a Leap Year, and, on November 25th, 2015 I decided to get a feel for the project and do a few in advance to see if I could ‘commit’ to a calendar year. As a result, there will be 403 paintings.
What am I going to do when I have 403 ten-inch by fourteen-inch oil-on-canvas paintings to exhibit? This is a thought that’s bothered me during the year because they will require a vast amount of wall space. Also, should I exhibit them as individual paintings, nicely framed, in double or triple rows, in something the size of an aircraft hangar? Or as a mass, clustered together confusingly, but brightly, almost as a gigantic single artwork…..?
On the wall easel in my studio where I set them out to dry they look like this:
Friday 11th November 2016: Armistice Day.
The move into my new studio is almost complete, but it is taking time as every day I work on my book about the magpie, George, AND my daily 10-inch by 14-inch oil painting on canvas, which take priority. In my daily paintings I reflect on how the day influenced my moods; was I happy? Frustrated? Efficient but bored with chores? Did I feel free – or trapped and obligated? Day by day I’m creating a painted diary of internal landscape: A day where nothing happens can produce a very soft, mellow painting, and a day when, for instance, I crash a motorbike at low speed pulling out of a junction (last week) on a brand-new rear tyre in front of an unmarked police car, because the roads were salted and the salt, being slightly oily, gave the tyre nothing to grip on to, can produce something quite interesting in a painting. The policeman who helped me lift my motorbike up and get it out of the road confirmed that I’d been slow, and steady and had done nothing apparently wrong, which went some way to assuage my feelings of embarrassment – although it could be argued that I had done something wrong since I crashed in the first place. Motorbike tyres must be ‘run in’ for 90 – 100 miles before they are considered reasonably safe. But the salt didn’t give me a chance…… In addition to the tyre I had to buy a new mirror and indicator, but crash bungs saved the rest of the bike.
Sometimes I’m so tired when I paint it that I can hardly move my arm, so then I tend to paint tiredness. Sleep deprivation is a problem because sometimes the paintings take a long time, and I work into the early hours, then I still get up at a reasonable time to feed the animals and owls. But come 31st December, I will finish my last ‘daily painting’ and I will be free of the commitment!
Monday 10th October 2016:
At last, I’m moving into the new workshop. The old studio will be my drawing studio, but this new building – this ‘shed’- is for all my oil paintings,canvas,stretchers,frames and storage. Sometimes I ask myself why I didn’t take up painting miniatures, which would have meant that I could save myself a lot of time, effort and money. Years of accumulated art-related furniture and artefacts are going into my new workplace; cupboards full of oils, easels, rolls and folds of linen, bundles of stretcher pieces, and I am walking miles to carry out the move. What struck me is the number (about 30) of unfinished paintings I had – unfinished because as my old studio became more and more cluttered as I painted myself into a corner (literally) I had to stack canvases and frames in inaccessible towering columns, and it really was a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
Friday 16th September 2016:
The summer vanished in the building of my new studio-workshop. It began as a shed to store my canvases, stretchers, wheelbarrow, hedge cutter and cement mixer. Then the idea grew; it sprouted out of a useless strip of garden beside the house that I only ever weeded, and was overgrown and dark. Now it is a light, airy space with a paved terrace between the new ‘shed’ and the house: there is something completely absorbing about building work; the number of things that go wrong, the roofing materials, cladding, doors, windows and sand and cement that have to be organised, scaffolding that must be arranged, paving that must go down, and of course the slab for the building which has to go in first….which was when it became apparent that someone had misinterpreted my feet and inches footprint drawing for a two-foot-shorter version in metric measurements. Another couple of tons of concrete later, and a quick re-calculation of the wooden frame that was to go on top, and it was okay. Now, all that’s left is the last of the woodwork – the finishing touches; architrave, skirting board, door handles and locks, before the painter can finish. Then the flooring can go in; I’ve chosen something simple and washable.
Friday 26th August 2016:
I have recently been given a snowy owl with a defective wing today; he is only three months old and called ‘Wyddfa’; he came with the name, which is also the name of Mount Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa – The Tomb). He will never fly; his wing has been x-rayed and it seems that the joint in the ‘elbow’ never developed. I’ve been told that if I’m not selling owls then maybe I shouldn’t mention them in this commentary, but they are part of my life, and I paint them and write poems about them. I see my owls – and other animals – as models for my work, although I have been ‘helpfully’ informed by friends that people might not be interested in large paintings of ferrets.
Wednesday 20th July 2016: ALL BECAUSE OF GEORGE – the book:
I have been working on this book for a very, very, very long time. Years actually. And now I find that the need to finish it is so strong that I have had to cancel things – my social life is non-existent at this point. I keep telling myself that as soon as the book is finished and I have delivered it to my agent, I will be free. But aspects of life get in the way – even if it is going to collect two boxes of frozen day old chicks for the owls (who feature in the book) and some formula milk for the baby ferrets to give their mother a bit of a break.
Saturday 9th July 2016 – Ledbury Poetry Festival: poetry reading 12.45pm at Burgage Hall:
It was a spirited motorbike ride to get to Ledbury. My apologies to the poet giving a reading in the churchyard when I pulled up near the venue; I couldn’t see what was going on behind the high churchyard wall until I got off the bike. I like to arrive early for my readings, find my bearings, then sit to go over what I am going to read and what I would like to talk about, while drinking copious amounts of tea. There was a handsome buffet for the performers, although the room allocated was somewhat deserted when I got there, so it was easy to graze, and change out of my motorbike gear and into something visually easier on the eye (for the audience). The heavily beamed room was in an extremely aged building, which was listing enough to make sitting on any chair a case of facing very much uphill or downhill. After a brief journey through a few poems from my previous collections I read from ‘Alternative Values’ with a power point of the artwork that went with each poem. The book sold out at the end, and I extend my thanks to all those who were at the end of the queue with the last of the books, who waited so patiently for me to sign them.
Saturday 25th June 2016 – Ted Hughes Poetry Festival: 6pm at the Mexborough Business Centre:
As I had to take books to sell I drove there in the car, rather than on the motorbike, which was possibly a good idea, since the journey home included a heavy storm in the dark, and the sat nav took me over the Trans Pennine Way. Very picturesque in the gathering gloom as the rain increased and the tight bends in the road shone blackly beneath a thick, slippery, watery coat. (Memo to self – ignore sat nav; use map.)
Somehow I had missed the fact that the Business Centre is actually my father’s old school, and one of his school friends was there to tell me all about it – with girl he met back then, who is now his wife. The idea that my Dad had, as a boy, run through the main hall where the event was taking place, and had played in what was now a car park outside, escaping to the fields and hills beyond at every opportunity, was a poignant one. I found myself blocking those thoughts out for the duration of my reading because they made me so sad that he wasn’t with us. I have to remind myself that if he was, he’d be 86 now, so might want to stay at home…..But the audience and organisers were warm and welcoming and the whole event had a sense of being a great gathering of friends and fellow poetry-lovers. It was a delight to read there.
8pm on Tuesday 7th June 2016 at the Salisbury Literary Festival:
I was ‘in conversation’ with Matthew Stadlen, something I have never done before; there was no poetry reading around which to base my discussion of subject matter – I was the subject, feeling a bit like a butterfly on a pin. Matthew mentioned the suicide of my mother, the suicide of the mother of my half-sister – she also killed the child, my brother’s suicide at the age of 47; I felt as if I was listening to a misery memoir, but Matthew used this information (from which there is no escape since it is embedded in my history) to introduce me as a positive human being, more akin to the way I actually feel. Things happen to all of us in life, things that are often beyond our control, and it is up to us – me, in this case – to determine how we react and carry on. I don’t believe happiness is a right, or easy to come by, but I believe it can and should be worked at. As I was signing copies of my latest book ‘Alternative Values’ at the end of the event, a book that contains poems about Love, Marriage, Life, Death and other aspects of living, I heard the words that every writer dreads: ‘Sorry, we’ve sold out’, at which point the writer privately thinks WHY DIDN’T YOU STOCK UP? WHY DIDN’T I BRING SOME MYSELF? RATS! One can only hope the disappointed prospective purchasers go home and log onto Amazon.
18th May 2016 – Midweek with Libby Purves.
Libby, who has ready pretty much all my poetry, observed how much more personal my latest poetry collection, ALTERNATIVE VALUES, is. While the paintings accompanying each poem in this book are my emotional response to (and visual record of) my poems, the subject matter is ever closer to the bone for me. I have always processed my feelings and experiences through the prism of my poems and paintings, but more so than ever, I find I am able to ‘tell them as they were’ rather than exploring them through allegory and metaphor – to date two of my favourite disguises. There is something a little unnerving about the accompanying feeling of exposure…..
7.30pm on Friday 8th April 2016 at the Cambridge Literary Festival: poetry reading – Frieda Hughes and Andrew McMillan:
It was really great to share a stage with Andrew; his poetry, both moving and personal, in a library stacked with books and people. It was afterwards that I realised our age difference really did make a difference, when I left him at the ‘after-party’ because all I could think of was driving home (alcohol free) to Wales and a bevy of owls, which were being looked after by my long-suffering partner.
2pm on Saturday 2nd April 2016 at the Oxford Literary Festival: poetry reading –:
I had to take two owl chicks to Oxford with me to stay overnight, as they were only just ten days old (too young to entrust to anyone else’s care at that point) and needed feeding with ground up defrosted day old chick bits every four hours with tweezers. So my reading and preparations were interspersed with vanishing to feed two tiny, squeaking birds.
8th January 2016 –
My series of small daily paintings (over sixty so far) threatens to overrun the studio. By the end of the year I may have to build a small extension to house the overflow. The diary of basic daily events that I keep is quite matter-of-fact and does not always explain my feelings about the day that I’ve had: but I look at what I’ve painted and realise that while my written words describe what happened, my painting really does describe my resulting mood – a day with very little going on can be full of light and joy because I get to work on what I want, whether it be painting or writing – and maybe I get to take the motorbike out for a ride, or spend some time with the owls, dogs and ferrets. Whereas a day of unrelenting paperwork and filing in the office, as necessary as it is, can make me feel trapped and frustrated – although I feel immensely efficient when it’s done.
In the meantime the baby Eurasian eagle owls, Charlie and Max, that I hatched last April, have grown up – every night they come in from the aviary to spend a couple of hours with me, because the kitchen is still ‘home’ where they were reared – this is what they look like now:
18th December 2015 –
I’m already working on another series of small paintings based on my daily reactions to events – the paintings have to be quick and specific and are mounting in number as the weeks pass. I have been offered a figurative art exhibition in Shropshire in October 2016, but here I am painting more abstracts….. Quite soon I may have to direct my attention to sheep and owls…..
6th November 2015 –
While getting back into the pattern of working on new paintings and a couple of book ideas, I’ve started counselling at a local high school one day a week; I don’t want my recent qualification to atrophy! And it goes a long way towards reminding me that there is a whole other world outside my studio and office walls.
18th October 2015 –
It’s a relief to be home with the owls, ferrets and dogs (not to mention the rabbits, chinchillas and chickens….) But the paperwork that I have studiously ignored for months in order to complete a/ my exhibition and b/ my counselling course assignments can’t wait any longer. But I think I’ll just sleep for the next month….
13th and 14th October 2015 –
The two private views for the exhibition at the Belgravia Gallery in Maddox Street, London, were packed and I want to thank everyone who came and all those who bought paintings! The private views doubled up as the book launches for my poetry collection, ALTERNATIVE VALUES, and the paintings for sale were the originals of the images in the book. Some of those images have poems actually painted into them – one person was moved to ask if it was possible to ‘lift’ the white patch on which the lettering was painted (my oil-paint script with brush) and see ‘the rest of the painting’ underneath. Maybe I’ll think about that for the next time…..
4th October 2015 –
Today I read from my new poetry collection, ALTERNATIVE VALUES, at the Cheltenham Literary Festival in the Salon in Montpelier Gardens. It was fantastic; I had a power point backdrop of the paintings that I have spent the last two years working on (and in the case of some of the paintings – eight or ten years) to accompany the poems. These paintings are my emotional response to the content of each poem – if I were to paint them now, they would be different, since I’ve changed already from the person I was when I finished them. It has been a real joy to put the two driving forces in my life, together. And since I last wrote, I’ve qualified as a counsellor – but as Martin would say ‘Frieda, you have to explain to people that it doesn’t mean you are giving up being a writer and painter!’ And of course I’m not. The counselling is very part-time.
Now I’m framing the last of my Alternative Values paintings for the exhibition next week….
4th May 2015 –
4.30 am: the last painting for ALTERNATIVE VALUES IS FINISHED! In all honesty, I despaired of finishing in time for the Bloodaxe deadline; in the end I stopped going out and lived on whatever was forgotten at the bottom of the freezer, didn’t go for motorbike rides, didn’t to the gym, put friends off, only checked the computer for emails once a week, didn’t open the mail for days at a time, and didn’t get a lot of sleep. Feeding the animals and owls was the only non-negotiable, and now I have two new chicks that I hatched from Eurasian eagle owl eggs that I was given. The two male chicks, Charlie and Max, are now almost a month old. In this photo they are fifteen and twelve days old.
At last I can get back to a more sensible life-timetable, in which I can also take on one or two more clients for CRUSE, the bereavement counselling body.
24th March 2015 –
At last I was able to deliver the manuscript for my next poetry collection, ALTERNATIVE VALUES, to Bloodaxe Books. BUT that is only half of the book – each poem will have an image to go with it. The images are based on my response to each poem at the time of painting, adding colour, and a very personal visual description of my emotional reaction. These mostly small paintings are well on the way as I’ve been quietly working on them for many months, but as there are sixty poems and time is running out I feel as if I am climbing a sheer rock face without being able to see the top of the cliff yet.
6th March 2015 –
Today was the last day with my general counseling clients; I have completed in excess of the necessary 100 hours required to go towards the completion of my counseling course later this summer.
For almost a year I have been stepping out of my own world on a weekly basis, leaving whatever concerns me personally at the threshold, so that for a few hours only those issues that my clients bring are of any importance. It has been both a privilege and a humbling experience. Now I need to concentrate on the final stages of my next poetry collection, ALTERNATIVE VALUES. The deadline is racing toward me and I am short of time.
28th February 2015 -
I took part in a tribute event at the Bath Literary Festival for my late father, Ted Hughes, with Kate Tempest, David Robb, and Tom Paulin, hosted by Bel Mooney, one of the original founders of the festival.
I read a selection of poems that I had written about my father over the years; ‘Birds’ from Wooroloo, ‘Conversation With Death’ from Stonepicker, ‘Prometheus’ from Waxworks, ‘Poet With Thesaurus’ and ‘Things My Father Taught Me’ from The Book of Mirrors.
Kate Tempest’s delivery of her poems from her collection, Brand New Ancients, for which she won the Ted Hughes Award in 2013, was breathtaking.
3rd November 2014 –
The second Private View at Halls Fine Art Auctioneers took place yesterday. Thank you to all those who came, and for those who bought paintings, I hope they bring great joy! The exhibition was a marvelous success and now there are three days open to the general public for the remaining artworks. The temptation to give a home to a couple more owls is almost irresistible, my excuse being that I can use them as new models. Also yesterday one of my four chinchillas gave birth to two babies, so if anyone is interested in a four-foot-high portrait of a chinchilla mother and babies…..there may be one in the offing.
25th October 2014 –
Yesterday Martin and I hung the exhibition of my latest work at Halls Fine Art in Shrewsbury, ready for the opening this coming week; it looks fantastic! The two big Bengal eagle owl paintings of Arthur (on the left) and Gwynnie take center stage – and here they are in the studio just before I packed them up, with one of my other models perched on top of Gwynnie’s head: Caspar, the burrowing owl – can you see him?
7th August 2014 –
The weeks are passing by far too fast while I try to finish paintings for my October/November exhibition at Halls, near Shrewsbury. I find myself unable to take anything else on at all – but still have the assignment to complete for my college course in counseling, and I am still working as a volunteer counselor to accumulate the necessary hours to qualify at the end of my course. Time management has suddenly become a serious consideration.
24th May 2014
Today I gave a talk about my painting and writing as dual disciplines at Somerset House, the Strand, London, as part of a symposium to coincide with an exhibition of paintings by the writer, Beryl Bainbridge. Increasingly, I find that I am asked to discuss the correlation between the two disciplines. I am currently working on a poetry collection for publication in 2015 in which the poems will be accompanied by a series of related abstract images.
12th May 2014 – BBC World Service:
Outlook’s Matthew Bannister interviews Frieda Hughes. “The Trouble With Death…..” http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01yjjc0 My interview with Matthew Bannister followed my ‘Bliss’ lecture at the Bath Literature Festival, where, during my talk, I mentioned that I was training to be a counselor (Person Centred) and that I had also trained with CRUSE in bereavement counseling – although they call their counselors‘ volunteers’. http://www.cruse.org.uk/ I didn’t choose to study with CRUSE because of the suicide history in my family (my mother and brother), or even the other untimely deaths of other members (my father included), but because I felt it would be an area where, when I qualified, which I have now done, I might be able to help someone else in some small way, to face their own losses. We cannot escape loss, because by the very nature of being human we come into contact with others and will care about them in some way, and in varying degrees. So when they die or move on in their lives, or circumstances change, we feel bereft. But to avoid loss we would have to avoid love and how empty a life would that be?
26th April 2014: MUCH WENLOCK POETRY FESTIVAL
Being local to Much Wenlock in Shropshire, although I am actually over the Welsh border, they put me to work: in the morning I gave out the prizes for the children’s poetry competition winners, with Daljit Nagra who was responsible for the adults’ awards. One of my six ferrets, Lizzie, accompanied me.
Daljit, if you read this, I’m really sorry that you had to share lunch in the festival café with my ferret, Lizzie. She’d just had surgery so I couldn’t leave her unattended for any length of time. She did, however, have almost faultless table manners. Oddly, very few people appeared to notice the presence of a ferret eating its lunch on a table with a plastic cone over its head to prevent it from nibbling its stitches.
In the early afternoon, it was a case of INSPIRATION OR APPLICATION. WRITING POEMS TO A BRIEF, with Philip Monks as chair, Geraldine Clarkson, Jane Commane, David Boyles, and me, in the discussion.
Finally, in the late afternoon, it was: MY DESERT ISLAND POEMS: Fiona Talkington interviewed me in front of the audience about the poem that I felt would be most important on a desert island. I could have chosen a poem by someone else, but someone else’s poem wouldn’t matter to me on a desert island – but my own poems would, and the poem that would be most like having a verbal Swiss Army Knife for useful jobs is ‘How it Began’. This is a poem from my collection ‘The Book of Mirrors’ published by Bloodaxe, and it is about the time in 1994 when I first developed Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, better known as M.E. or Chronic Fatigue.
The reason I chose this poem is because of the process I went through in order to write it, having been diagnosed with M.E. and finding myself unable to read effectively. It describes the very symptoms that made its conception so difficult. It also reminds me of what I did to get around this new obstacle (M.E.) and I felt it would inspire me with finding ways to cope with being stranded on a desert island.
5th March 2014: BATH LITERATURE FESTIVAL – Bliss Lecture.
This was an opportunity to do something I hadn’t done before: I gave a BLISS LECTURE based on my poetry collections, exploring how my desire to create something out of raw materials – even if the raw materials are my own experiences – drives me, and how that drive has plowed a furrow through my exploration of who I actually am. I believe that finding our passion is one of the ways in which we can drive ourselves through life with considerable energy if we wish to do so.
5th March 2014: BATH LITERATURE FESTIVAL – Poetry Reading.
The poems that I chose for this reading were drawn from Wooroloo, Stonepicker, Waxworks, and The Book of Mirrors, which is my most recent collection. I wanted to take the audience on a journey not only through my own life but the lives of the characters in my poems who have made certain choices……..
Almost a month in New South Wales, Australia, renting a motorbike and riding 2,000 miles, was a source of more material for future art exhibitions. In a town many miles from Sydney and surrounded by nothing but rolling countryside-cum-wilderness, I found a shop that sold evening dresses and ball gowns. Astonishingly, not only did they exist in what appeared to be the most unlikely environment (apparently all the schools have summer balls), they were open at six thirty in the evening when my partner, Martin, thought it was safe to go window-shopping with me. The evening dress that I couldn’t resist wouldn’t have been out of place at Buckingham Palace and I managed to squeeze it into the top box on my hired motorbike by sheer willpower, ejecting some more practical items such as bottles of water.
19th November 2013:
An invitation to Buckingham Palace for a poetry event resulted in an unexpected handshake with Her Majesty The Queen and a conversation about my Bengal Eagle owls with Prince Philip. It was only after the event that it struck me how odd it really was that I hadn’t imagined for one moment those two meetings might take place, this was, after all, their home.
A BIT ABOUT THE POETRY:
15th October 2013: The next poetry book is in the making
As the years pass I add new poems in various states of completion to one of several files, and out of that bank of poetic effort I gather one collection after another. When forming a new collection it’s like an archaeological dig; I find out where I was at different times in my life both physically and emotionally, my poetry reflecting my environment and my emotions, describing me back to myself and to others – that’s one of the reasons my most recent collection was called ‘The Book of Mirrors’.
My first collection was written when I was living in a hamlet of that name in Western Australia from 1994 to 1997; it was one of the only two places I have really loved, the other being where I am now. In the grip of Chronic Fatigue, I had limited time awake and could only write short pieces in a race against the next period of unconsciousness. The book was forged in the battle against something over which I felt to have no control – the book was my rebellion against my own incapacity. The fact that it came to exist where I could have done nothing but lie inert while the weeks and months passed I believe aided my recovery; the positive exercise of dragging effort from the well of exhaustion helped to alleviate the depressive aspects of the illness. It was like living beneath a black sky and finding a way to stagger up a ladder and stab holes in the very fabric of the sky, as if punching out stars which, one by one, increased the available light.
The painting on the front of the book records the Australian sunsets that I loved so much, over the open landscape that I found so appealing; where a single rock or tree or outcrop became a thing of interest and where the mind and eye could wander without rules or bars or regulations (or wind turbines). ‘Wooroloo’ is published in the UK by Bloodaxe Books and in the US by Harper Collins.
My second collection was a continuation of ‘Wooroloo’; it built up on the ideas derived from my exploration of myself and of others; increasingly, my view turned from my surroundings and the things that happened to me, to the people around me and the things that happened to them. The death of my father is addressed in the last two poems in the book, while the title poem was the inspiration for the painting on the cover of the book; it is a picture of the woman who collects grievances in her barren landscape of stones. ‘Stonepicker’ is published by Bloodaxe Books in the UK. Harper Collins in the US published ‘Stonepicker’ and ‘The Book of Mirrors together as a double book in the US, where the double collection became ‘Stonepicker and The Book of Mirrors – which is also a poem in which she meets her reflection.
Was something different: life in allegory. I had already experimented with putting my observation of situations in my life into allegory, since making them obvious made me feel as if I had no skin on – raw and all too visible, something that may come easier with time and practice but wasn’t easy then, but the allegorical poems were mounting up and it seemed sensible to give them a home together. They were coming thick and fast as my father’s death, family disputes, and my resulting relapse into Chronic Fatigue under the strain, put pressure on me. Even politics seeped in – the Dome was in the news at the time, for being useless among other things, and that became a ‘palace’ in the Nebuchadnezzar poem. ‘Waxworks’ is published in the UK by Bloodaxe Books and in the US by Harper Collins.
is a collection of 45 autobiographical poems, one for each of the first forty-five years of my life, which were the basis for the series of paintings shown here on the website; the 45 panels each measure four feet high and five feet long and they form an image that is 225 feet long in total. Harper Collins published the collection in the US.
‘The Book of Mirrors’
is where many autobiographical poems that arose when working on 45 now reside, along with new members of Stonepicker’s family and two poems that address my brother’s unexpected death. There are poems about imaginary dogs, real crows, and dead pheasants among other subjects too numerous to mention; I have lived through this book.