Pembrokeshire People…Meet Jackie Morris
Jackie Morris is a Pembrokeshire based writer and illustrator.
Her award winning books have been published in 14 different languages. We caught up with her recently to see just why Pembrokeshire is so important to her.
"Visit Pembrokeshire (VP): You’ve said before that you came to visit Pembrokeshire once and never left, what was it that kept you here?
Jackie Morris (JM): I moved to Pembrokeshire 22 years ago. I came for a weekend. I arrived in the dark after a long journey by train and taxi and woke to a sky so blue and clear. I walked down the street to Cross Square and stood looking. Overhead rooks called. There was a cathedral in the dip, then fields and the sea and tiny islands and there and then I fell in love.
The Welsh have a word for it. Hiraeth. A word that can’t be translated into English. A longing for home, and more than that. What I felt like as I stood under the Welsh sun was an end to hiraeth. A home coming.
So I stayed. I went shopping on the Monday and bought a house. Well, not quite as easy as that, but almost.
VP: When you moved was the effect on your work immediate? Were you consciously aware of it, or did it seep in without noticing at first?
JM: Before that I had lived in Bath and my paintings reflected the space. Tall buildings, narrow, enclosed, mellow honeyed stone. In Pembrokeshire the shape of the peninsula land began to open up and stretch across my work.
The house I bought then, and still live in, is a small stone Pembrokeshire cottage. Behind it is a wild hill where I walk with cats and dogs and watch wild things, foxes, badgers, raven, buzzard, peregrine and chough. Birds distract me from my work. The land at the moment is filled with white blackthorn blossom and small flocks of bright goldfinch and chaffinch. All of these things weave their way into my paintings at some time. And the seals that breed on the beaches a mile or two from my house tangled with the ruins of an old deserted village to weave a tale of love in my mind.
VP: Jan Morris once said of Wales ‘The language itself, whether you speak it or not, whether you love it or hate it, is like some bewitchment or seduction from the past, drifting across the country down the centuries, subtly affecting the nations sensibilities even when its meaning is forgotten.” Your books are particularly bewitching and seductive - although you write in English, do you find an attachment to the language here at all?
JM: I am a stranger here, a foreigner. And yet I am at home. Around me people speak a language that after 22 years I begin to pick up meaning from. It’s a musical language. A language of poets. My children grew up speaking Welsh. Sadly too few of my books have been translated into Welsh.
VP:If you had to recommend a particular place to visit during a stay here, where would it be?
JM: I have been on holiday to the Druidstone Hotel. It’s about 15-20 minutes from home, and you know how people say “it’s like home from home’? Well, it’s not that. It’s more. As the van pulls up I feel worries and the weight of work slide from my shoulders. The hotel is so relaxed it’s almost asleep, at least that’s what it feels like as a guest, but really it’s like a swan, looking beautiful on the surface and the staff working away making the guests feel comfortable and just seeing to everything. Just to sit on the terrace with a glass of wine and watch the sun set. Magic. And once there were even fin whales in the bay. I can write at Druidstone, on the cliffs, on the beautiful beach. They have cats.
Every year I take at least one boat trip, out around Ramsey, island of magic. I love to look back at the land from the water, to get a glimpse of what lies beneath the ceiling of the sea’s surface. There is something wonderful about seeing seals far out at sea, following along with a school of dolphins, watching gannets hunting.
VP: You work with lots of independent retailers in Pembrokeshire, but especially with Solva Woollen Mill, another business creating beautiful Welsh pieces. How important do you feel it is to champion and support local businesses that intrinsically understand the locality your work, alongside selling on larger platforms?
JM: Solva Woollen Mill in Middlemill is a small working mill weaving wonderful rugs in a Pembrokeshire pattern. The valley is beautiful with a fast running river where otters can sometimes be seen, and herons too. Over the years we have built a friendship and also a unique working relationship as the mill now host launches for all of my books and people travel from far away to join us. And the mill sell all of my books, signed and ship to places all around the world.
I always come back to this ridge of rocks that reach up from St Davids Head. When you stand on the hill above my house you can see Ireland on a clear day. This is where I go to write. Close up its lichen on rock, green and gold, wind woven thorn trees, gorse, heather. Look further and you can see the shape of the earth. It’s like living on a map. At night it is dark. You can see all the stars in the night sky and you can hear silence. These are two of the many things I love about Pembrokeshire."
Read more about Jackie Morris, including details of where to view her work in Pembrokeshire.