20 Questions... Jackie Morris

To mark 20 years of Hay Festival Winter Weekend, we are asking speakers and performers to answer 20 questions. Here's how artist and writer Jackie Morris responded...

1. If you could put one question to anyone on the planet, who would you choose and what would it be?

I would like to ask Wendell Berry so many things. To sit for a while in the evening, listening to crickets and birds as the sun goes down and ask him how he writes, how he holds such a community in his head, and to walk with him to where the wood drake rests in his beauty and be reminded of what is important, and to let go of what isn’t.

2. What was the last book you read and loved?

The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern.

3. What are you most proud of?

My children, both so different and both so wonderful.

4. What was the best question you were ever asked in an event and how did you answer it?

“When was the beginning of time?” and I answered it with some difficulty.

5. What one piece of advice do you wish you could give your 16-year-old self?

Life is difficult, but can be beautiful, but in order to make it so, and in order to be happy you need to work hard at it. You wouldn’t ‘expect’ to be able to play the piano. You need to work, learn, practice. So don’t just ‘expect’ to be happy. Work, learn and practice it. And shut up more and listen.

6. What's the most famous book you've never read?

What’s a ‘famous book’? There’s so many I haven’t read, I am so ignorant. Moby Dick. That’s one I always think I want to read but never get around to.

7. What author or book do you think is most underrated? And why?

I love the writing of Kij Johnson. The Fox Woman is a wonderful odyssey. And The Man Who Bridged the River of Mist is rather a fine thing too. She has a way with words and her books draw you back in to them. I can never see a fox without thinking of The Fox Woman.

8. Which writers today will still be read 100 years from now?

Robert Macfarlane, Sei Shonogan, Ted Hughes.

9. Favourite word?


10. Least favourite word?


11. What is the first thing you wrote?

I drew letters written on a chalk board at school, not understanding how the beautiful shapes of the alphabet connected to the sounds of speech. First book was The Seal Children.

12. What one thing should each writer know before they begin?

To write from the heart.

13. Where's your favourite place to write?

I write on a hill above my house, down the beach, always preferring to write with pen on paper, still drawing words.

14. Pen and paper, or laptop?

Pen and paper.

15. Favourite book of 2019?

Stand by Me by Wendell Berry.

16. Favourite book to read at Christmas?

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

17. What is the best book you've ever been gifted, and who gave it to you?

Stand by Me by Wendell Berry. It was sent to me as a proof copy by Chloe Currens from Penguin. I loved it so much, everything about it. There’s such a depth of humanity in it.

18. What books are you most excited about reading in 2020?

The Starless Sea, Erin Morganstern.

19. Best Hay Festival memory?

Peter Florence and Becky, after Spellsongs, coming back stage, lost for words and giving me the biggest hug in the world. Knowing that I had,, then, for that moment, and with my great friends from Spellsongs, done my job quite well.

20. What are you working on right now?

The Unwinding with Unbound, a catalyst for dreaming with words and images, and something secret.

Jackie Morris is an artist, writer and winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal 2019 and Hay Festival Medal for Illustration. She presents the Welsh-language version of her bestselling book The Lost Words at Hay Festival Winter Weekend on Saturday 30 November 2019 - buy tickets here. Explore her work in depth here.