20 January, 2009

The Girl from the Sea by George Mackay Brown

That particular and exciting moment has come round again - the day when the first complete copy of a new book arrives from the binder. Has it worked? Are the pages in the correct order? Do all the colours, carefully compared from swatches of cloth and papers, harmonize as we hoped they would? Does the book 'sing'?

I am happy that, on this occasion, the answers to these questions are very positive, so I am very pleased to share some photographs which will give an idea of what the book looks like while the rest of the edition is being bound.

Eighteen years ago we celebrated the seventieth birthday of George Mackay Brown by publishing In the Margins of a Shakespeare. This lovely book has long been out of print (as is our first venture with George, Keepers of the House) - but we are now able, with the enthusiastic help of his literary executors, to undertake a third venture. This is a ‘play for voices’ written in 1984 and, we think, given a single performance then, before going back, metaphorically (and probably literally!), into the drawer in the poet's kitchen table where it remained, unpublished, until after his death.

There are many stories and legends of selkies - the seals that surround the shores of Orkney - their deep brown eyes that captivate humans, their singing that mesmerises. George Mackay Brown had written stories of them.

Quite separately, we had met an American artist, Michael Onken, and had learned that he came regularly to Scotland to draw and paint. He had developed a passion for the writing of GMB and . . . for selkies, which he drew while on Orkney. In a 'long shot' bid to link two disparate strands, we asked the literary executors if by any chance there might be any unpublished writing about selkies. You will be able to sense our disbelieving delight when the typescript was offered to us for The Girl from the Sea.

It is a simply told but very moving play involving a young man, his elderly parents and the arrival of a beautiful girl in their midst . . .

Michael Onken has indulged his love of representing the antics of seals in the water, extending over several page openings at the start and end of the book but has also cut wood and lino to tell the actual story with imagery which captures the isolation of a croft on Orkney.

For each of the 10 copies of the Special edition, Michael Onken has included an original watercolour which is included, within a portfolio, together with signed proofs of four of the prints from within the book. (For more about Michael Onken and these watercolours, scroll down to 22 October 2008.)

In a much treasured letter sent to us when George Mackay Brown was still alive, he wrote:
‘Go on for a long time making beautiful books’. Here, many years after his death, we hope we have carried out his wish!

330 x 230mm. 56pp. The paper is VĂ©lin Arches. 27 images printed directly from wood engraved, woodcut and lino cut blocks. Type is Albertina. The binding is by The Fine Book Bindery, Wellingborough.

Main edition: 195 copies.

Special edition: 10 copies with a portfolio of prints and an original watercolour. Numbered I-X

All are numbered and signed by the artist.

ISBN-13: 978-0-907664-82-6

The book will be on show for the first time at this Fair in an exciting new venue in London.

18 January, 2009

"Hope"- for 20th January 2009

How powerful is this short word, and how deeply important to all of us, especially at this time in world history.

This was a New Year gift, sent to us by our friends in New York, Russell Maret and Annie Schlecter who we know spent much time and energy electioneering. They have stayed with us here briefly but were egregiously kind to Frances last year, when she ended up in New York after a Bookfair.

I particularly wanted to show off this treasure here because that is exactly what I think it is. I am not sure exactly how Russell 'did it' and I really don't need to know. I simply think it is one of the most exquisitely beautiful pieces of letterpress printing that I have ever seen. View it as large as you can.

This morning has been sunny and quite warm so my brain has come alive again! I walked around the domain with my camera on the look out for my own take on the theme of "Hope".
This is what I found and this is what we offer.

07 January, 2009


The margins and sheltered backwaters of our river are frozen. This is one of the manmade piers (called cribs in this part of the world) made for fishermen to operate from, which are visible at low tide as here.

The country is afflicted at the moment by very cold winds from the north and frost and frozen water have been with us, morning and night, for many days. I am blissfully happy at the end of the day when we can snuggle under a large duvet but, to be honest, for the rest of the time, my brain freezes as solid as my body and any amount of thermal attire can hardly keep me functioning from one cup of coffee to the next . . . and that is without having had a very painful tooth removed yesterday!

Heigh Ho!

If rather miserable, go for a walk . . . with the camera!

That one is quite pleasing but the photograph below is pretty boring, I hear you say. Yes, but fascinating to me. The grass does not LOOK very frosted but is, in fact, hard and crunchy, like wedding icing. I suddenly realized that I was looking at deer slots quite clearly made and preserved and that there was a great number (indeed pretty well a fieldful) of them. We know that the deer do always come down from the hill behind us to the river but only seldom do we see them. Clearly, if I were a better Boy Scout than I ever could have been (even had I joined ), I might have been to answer the crucial question. In the moonlight of last night (with me firmly under the duvet), were there scores of roe deer leaving all those elegant footprints or was it just a few who spent the night running up and down and round in circles?

Here they some, anyway, down by the riverside.

Just when I was concentrating on something else, I heard one of my (and most everyone else's, I reckon) favourite sounds . . . the beating of swans' wings. I was at the riverside, at least, but had no time for anything other than to press the button and hope. By the time these two lovely creatures had disappeared round the bend of the river, I had taken four shots. Two proved to be complete failures but I am happy that (with some careful cropping) I got these two beauties. 50% is not too bad!

03 January, 2009

Great Christmas Present!

William Morris is famous for having said . . .

Have nothing in your house [or garden!] that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

I feel that he would heartily approve of this, as both beautiful and useful . . . a customized wheelbarrow, given to us at this festive season by our son Dan.

He has customized cars for himself over many years but this venture relates to the time when our ride-on mower was removed from here by local ruffians and the police discovered it on top of a local hill - on view, as it were, as a 'lot' in a somewhat bizarre rural auction. We got it back unharmed and Dan had the brilliant idea of painting it all over in strange and wonderful colours so that its ownership would never again be open to doubt and a thief would have as much difficulty in disposing of it as if he had nicked the Mona Lisa!

So, we now have this fine work of art which will also do a fine (and secure) day's labour in the garden.

Thanks Dan!