Jackie Morris is a prize winning, internationally best-selling illustrator, artist and author of over forty children’s books. In 2016 she was shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for Something about a Bear and she then won the prize in 2019 for the bestselling, critically acclaimed modern classic, The Lost Words. She also won the CILIP Greenaway Shadowers Choice Sward that year, chosen by children and The Books are My Bag Readers Award. The book was voted the most beautiful book of 2017 by UK booksellers. It was shortlisted in 2017 as one of the nations’ favorite books of all time on the natural world (alongside The Wind in the Willows). She is twice the recipient of the Tir na n-Og Award for Seal Children in 2005 and Cities in the Sea in 1997.
Morris has had a number of long term collaborations during her career, with eg. Ted Hughes, Robin Hobb, Barbara Newhall Follett as well as Robert Macfarlane. With Robert she created the phenomenally successful ‘spellbook’ for all ages, The Lost Words, for readers both young and old, that seeks to bring back an experience of nature as astonishing, strange, beautiful, eerie, and magical
In her own words; “I was born in Birmingham, Loveday Street hospital, in 1961. Shortly afterwards they knocked down the hospital. I didn’t take it personally.
When I was four the family moved to Evesham. My dad was a policeman, my mum a housewife. My sister was older, cleverer and just simply better at everything than me. My grandmother, who always seemed old, had been a nail and chain maker in the Black Country. Grandad was dead, and it never occurred to me that my mum might have a mother. I knew her dad had died when she was very young, and her home life hadn’t been the best. My great grandparents were illiterate.
Aged six I wanted to be an artist. I endured school. I was part of the first year of the experiment in ‘Comprehensive Education’. My parents had been congratulated by friends in having two girls as they wouldn’t have to waste money educating us. Fortunately they enrolled us in the library, encouraged us to do well at school. Fortunately I ignored all those who advised me that art was a hobby, not a profession. Much later I met a woman who told me it was a waste of time educating the working classes as it only made them discontent with their lot, didn’t I agree? As one of the educated working classes ( by this time I had a degree in Art, BAhons from Bath Academy) I said that, no, I couldn’t agree. But I wasn’t content, as I was living in Thatcher’s Britain. I blamed the government for my discontent rather than the fact that I was educated.
On leaving college I headed to London, began working as a freelance illustrator for magazines and newspapers, living in a small flat with too many people. Within weeks I ran back to Bath to a stone farmhouse that was glorious in summer, (£16 a week rent) but where in winter I learned where the idea of frosted glass came from. I enjoyed the patterns on the windows, but not the cold in the bones. But I did discover that a cat up the jumper was a hot water bottle that never went cold.
Work continued. I had part time jobs, including selling cheese in the Guildhall Market, washing up in the Circus restaurant ( fav job), while illustrating front covers for New Statesman, radio pieces for Radio Times, working for magazines like New Socialist, New Internationalist, Country Living, doing book jackets ( very badly). But years of Thatcher sent me running away to Australia as I thought I should see more of the world the the piece of paper in front of me.
A year in Australia, where I did some illustration work, but also worked in a supermarket part time, and handed out tickets for a strip show ( least fav job, but interesting) and I was more than ready to return home.
Back to Bath, I began working for card companies, and clients like Amnesty, Greenpeace, Oxfam ( I guess by now you know where my politics lie) and from these I was offered my first children book contract. It just so happened that I was having a baby the following week, having met and fallen in love with the man who was to become my ex-husband, so I said I could begin work the following week. ( Later I learned that the art director’s heart had hit her boots at my reply. She couldn’t take the work away from me, so would have to wait until my naiveté hit home) Nine month later my first child, Tom was nine months old and the first book, Jo’s Storm, by Caroline Pitcher, was done. I had picked up an agent, had more contracts, and had mastered the art of balancing a sketchbook on a breast feeding child. Oh, and I had, while pregnant, done something I had never thought I would be able to do as an artist- I’d bought a house, a little stone cottage by the sea near St Davids, moved into it, and over 28 years filled it with memories, cats, dogs, laughter, children, friends, a lot of books, stuffed animals and tears ( not necessarily in that order).
So, all going well. Shortlisted for an award or two, and illustrating a book by Ted Hughes ( How the Whale Became) Two children now, as one was so lovely, it seemed to be a good idea to have another ( though Tom wasn’t keen on his sister, Hannah, and suggested I might like to return her to the hospital) Working hard to hit a deadline I failed to notice the unhappiness of my husband ( house husband, with a growing internet business) and his growing affair with a good friend, until it was too late. From this point life spiraled into chaos. After much pain ( it helps when you separate if you don’t love your husband, and lose a good friend, I guess) he left. We tried hard not to fall into traps solicitors set, that pitch parents against each other. Somehow we came out of it all ok, though I now look back and feel that for a couple of years I slipped into a chaotic kind of heartbreak and head-break. I couldn’t work, almost lost the house, but held on by fingertips and selling paintings and artwork from How The Whale Became. It’s so hard to make a living as an illustrator. By this time I had begun writing though still didn’t think of myself as a writer, despite winning the Tir Na Nog for The Seal Children.
Life was a struggle. Friends were kind. We survived. Together. I got a dog. We walked. A lot. And I kind of walked my way back to some kind of sanity, and threw myself back into work.
The next eighteen years went by raising children, painting, writing. Through marvelous coincidence I met Jane Johnson who edits George RR Martin and Robin Hobb. She commissioned me to do Robin’s covers.( At the time she asked if I might consider illustrating covers for a fantasy series. I was busy, but reading this AMAZING book, so flippantly said, only if it’s by Robin Hobb, and it was) Twenty books later, and second time around, I have good friends in both Robin and Jane.
Kids grew up lovely. Tom is still nearby, working in The Shed in Porthgain, Hannah seems to be everywhere, having become a sailing, marine biologist and yoga teacher. I did get to take her back to the hospital, when she had to have spinal surgery, but that’s another story, and given that she was sky diving the other day I guess she’s ok. She’d gone to art college on leaving school, but said she didn’t want to be an artist, because she’s watched me working, really hard, when she was growing up, said I had been nowhere and done nothing and she didn’t want to be like me. Got to love your kids! I always worried that at the end of the day I was more involved and interested in paper than anything else. I am not sure they noticed. Tom had gone to uni to study navigation, and then navigated his way back to Pembrokeshire, which he loves.
There was another split in my life, when the publishing company I had worked with for twenty years was bought up by another, and it became clear that their aesthetic didn’t aline with mine. Falling out with a publisher after this much time, and so many books, was almost as painful as divorce, a different kind of heartbreak, but luckily for me I began working on a book called The Lost Words with another publisher. This was a big book of art and poetry. The words are by Robert Macfarlane, the publisher is Hamish Hamilton, and the experience renewed my love of working in publishing. Through this book I met Jessica Woollard who is now my agent.
For the last eighteen years I’ve had a wonderful partner beside me, Robin. Whenever I try to read him anything I have written he falls asleep.
I’m still in the same house I bought all those years ago. I’ve spent my time doing something I love, that drives me crazy. I love to write, usually on the cliff above my house. I’m still educating myself, despite the advice that it might make me discontent with my lot. I’ve illustrated many books, written some too, been published in about 14 languages and this year, 2019 I won the Greenaway Award, for The Lost Words.
Despite what my child said, my brush has taken me to many places. Most curious was on her birthday this year when I was on stage at the Albert Hall for the Lost Words prom ( Prom 49). She stated that, if you were going to be upstaged by your mum on your birthday there was no better way to do it”.
Some of Jackie Morris’s key titles:-
• Cities in the Sea (1996) with Siân Lewis
• The Seal Children (2004) Frances Lincoln – in three languages
• Can You See a Little Bear (2005) with James Mayhew – in five languages
• Compilation and Illustration of The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems (2006)
• The Snow Leopard (2007) now Graffeg – in 10 languages
• Tell Me a Dragon (2009) 2018 Graffeg – in 8 languages
• The Ice Bear (2010) – now Graffeg- translated into eight languages
• The Cat and the Fiddle: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes (2011)
• Queen of the Sky (2011)
• I am Cat (2012) – translated in ten languages
• Song of the Golden Hare (2013) 2020 Unbound
• East of the Sun, West of the Moon (2013) – also in Korean and Romanian
• Words of Little Evie in the Wild Wood (2013) illustrated by Catherine Hyde
• Something About a Bear (2014) – in 3 languages
• The Wild Swans (2015) – Barrington Stoke – also in Korean
• Cat Walk (2015) – Graffeg
• The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow (2016) Graffeg
• The While Fox (2016) – Barrington Stoke
• The Lost Words (2017) with Robert Macfarlane
• Words of Mrs Noah’s Pockets (2018) illustrated by James Mayhew – Otter Barry Books
• The Secret of the Tattered Shoes (2019) with Ehsan Abdollahi – Tiny Owl
• The House Without Windows (2019) with Barbara Newhall Follett – Hamish Hamilton
She has illustrated the following titles:-
• The Snow Whale (1996) by Caroline Pitcher
• Out of the Ark: Stories from the World’s Religions (1996) by Anita Ganeri
• The Time of the Lion (1998) by Caroline Pitcher – in 3 languages
• The Fourth Wise Man (1998) by Susan Summers
• Stories from the Stars: Greek Myths of the Zodiac (1998) by Juliet Sharman-Burke
• Lord of the Dance (1998) by Sydney Carter
• Grandmother’s Song by Barbara Soros
• How the Whale Became (1963) by Ted Hughes (2000)
• Marianna and the Merchild (2000) by Caroline Pitcher – in four languages
• Parables: Stories Jesus Told (2000) by Mary Hoffman- in 8 languages
• Animals of the Bible (2003) by Mary Hoffman- in three languages
• Lord of the Forest (2004) by Caroline Pitcher – in eight languages
• Little One, We Knew You’d Come (2006) by Sally Lloyd-Jones
• Singing to the Sun (2008) by Vivian French
• Starlight Sailor (2013) by James Mayhew
• Walking on Water: Miracles Jesus Worked (2017) by Mary Hoffman- 6 languages
• Lost and Found: Parables Jesus Told (2017) by Mary Hoffman