Writing prompt – future

Wind turbines, Colorado. Photo by Judy DarleyI recently attended a workshop run by Bristol Climate Writers as part of Bristol Festival of Literature. Deborah Tomkins, the workshop coordinator, invited us to think about the things that scare us about the future and then write a utopian story or poem in response.

I invite you to do that too. Think about anything that scares you about the future, whether that’s rising sea levels, drought, famine, or simply your own old age. Then write a piece that contains an antidote or solution to that dread, or a suggestion of better times ahead, however fantastical.

For example, in the story of Noah’s ark, a dove carrying an olive leaf offered the hope that land was nearby.

What image of hope can you dream up or devise?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Submit a bookshop ghost story

The Petersfield Bookshop interior_sketchThe Petersfield Bookshop in Petersfield, Hampshire, is celebrating its 100th birthday with an eerily themed short story competition. ‘Ghosts in the Bookshop’ invites you to summon up your creepiest imaginings to write a ghost story set in a bookshop.

“We want it to thrill us, and chill us, and move us.Your story can be traditional or modern, in any style and with any kinds of characters, just make sure that most of the action takes place in, or centres around, a bookshop,” says John Westwood, managing partner.

There is no specific word limit, as such, but the story should be written with an energy and at a length which makes it suitable to read aloud in less than 20 minutes.

All entries must be received by midnight on 30th November 2018.

The Petersfield Bookshop will announce the winner in mid-December and hopes to host a pre-Christmas event “when the winner and runner up stories will be read aloud in the atmospheric aisles and rooms of our after hours bookshop.”

Michelle Magorian, friend of the shop and award-winning author of Goodnight Mister TomJust Henry, A Spoonful of Jam, and others, will guest-judge entries. The author of the winning story will receive £100, and three runners-up will each be invited to choose bundles of books from the enticing bookshop shelves.

Find full submission guidelines here and take a roam around the site for inspiration.

Image supplied by the Petersfield Bookshop.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com.

Daily creativity with Ulla Maria Johanson

180329 by Ulla Maria JohansonIn 2014, artist Ulla Maria Johanson set herself the challenge of creating and completing a new painting every day. It marked the start of a period of intense productivity that has resulted in a series of exquisite work by the Swedish artist.

There’s a sense of spontaneous energy to Ulla’s paintings that I find utterly enticing, yet her habit of producing daily paintings began as a reaction to something of a painterly drought. “I was in a period when I experienced that I lacked inspiration, time and ability to paint,” she explains. “My dream was to paint big and have a lot of time for creation, which was difficult to combine with full time work. When I did find time, the white canvasses felt scary and I rarely managed to make a whole painting I was pleased with.”

Ulla’s frustration grew, until during a break at work she went to an online bookshop and sought out their art catalogue. “I found Carol Marine’s book Daily Painting,” she recalls. “Interested, I read about the simple concept of painting small and often. I immediately felt that it was something for me, and I made my first daily painting the next morning.”

180509 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Luscious brushstrokes build up abstract scenes that summon up an impression of setting, season and mood.

The biggest challenge, she says, is to find sufficient time each day. “I learned quite soon to make it easier for myself by making a little pop-up studio,” Ulla says. “At first, it was also difficult to find motives and ideas. Some days it seemed hopeless and I thought about giving it up.”

To maintain her determination, Ulla gave herself a feasible end date. “First, I decided that I should give it 30 days in a row before stopping,” she says, “and then I extended it to 100 days.”

180416 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Four years on, the habit is now a deeply ingrained pleasure.

“The joy is to take the time to do what I really want,” she says. “It’s also a great liberation to have this daily habit established. At the beginning, I was often dissatisfied with what I achieved – my internal critic shouted in despair and encouraged me to quit! However, I soon found it became easy to silence the critic – the most important thing was not that the day’s work should become a masterpiece but it should become something. Who can expect to produce perfection when time is tight?”

She adds: “The next day there is another chance to do something, and then it could only get better. Painting small and often also makes it easy to try new, experimental techniques and take chances.”

180205 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Ulla usually uses acrylic paint “because it dries quickly and you can paint over with several layers. I do small paintings (15x15cm or 20x20cm) on canvas or on a board, while larger works are always on canvas.”

Ulla prepares her surface an uneven layer of white primer “so that it becomes a structure. Once the foundation is properly dry I paint with a wide brush with short, stiff synthetic bristles, rarely cleaning the brush while I work.” This allows the colours to mix with one another as she transfers them from palette to canvas or board.

“As I work,  I turn and turn the canvas to look at it from different angles and notice what appears. In addition to the broad brushes, I sometimes also use finer round natural brushes and a thin synthetic brush.”

180414 by Ulla Maria Johanson

The early stages are the most intuitive for Ulla. “When I start to work, I do not know at all where it will go. Often, it becomes layer upon layer, before the motif emerge,” she admits.

Her own frame of mind is part of the adventure. “At first, I’m curious about what’s going to happen,” she says. “Sometimes I quickly find something that feels interesting and worth exploring and reinforcing, and at others I find that the work feels it reaches a sticky dead end where the colours do not work together and I wonder how to go on. Then something happens and I introduce a shade or shape that makes the whole thing feel harmonious.”

180820 by Ulla Maria Johanson

The biggest challenge is to know when to stop. “Sometimes I’m sure the painting is done when I finally clean the brush off, and on other occasions I need to let the painting be for a while so I can study the work when it’s dried and make a choice. Maybe it will stay as it is or maybe I will change all or part of the painting.”

180607 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Ulla lives on the Swedish west coast, which influences her artwork. “I often walk and enjoy nature and sea,” she comments. “It is reflected in my art and I also find inspiration in the environments and pictures I come into contact with online and in books.”

For Ulla the finished artwork is only the first stage. “What I want to communicate with my paintings is the beginning of a story that can grow and blossom in the viewer’s mind,” she says. “It’s wonderful to hear people tell me about the different things they see in one of my abstract paintings. I’m also happy every time I hear that my work has prompted someone to feel inspired to create something of their own.”

Find more of Ulla’s work at the following: umjartoneartworkeveryday; instagram.com/umj.art; facebook.com/umj.art

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley(at)iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

Writing prompt – gourd

Autumn gourd by Judy DarleyWith this being the season of mellow fruitfulness and all, I couldn’t resist sharing this photo of a rather impressive gourd.

Imagine the person who managed to grow such a beast. Might they have an unsavoury secret to their success that no one on their allotment could guess at?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

The Emma Press craves your gothic poetry

Taf Estuary and mist cr Judy DarleyThe Emma Press are seeking poems inspired by the theme of gothic, for an anthology edited by Nisha Bhakoo and Charlotte Geater. Consider the things that make your skin creep – the uncanny, eerie and deeply dubious – and consider how you can give it a fresh and unexpected twist. Write it modern and unsettling, lace it with light, lust and loathing, or simply make your readers thrill to their core.

They say: “We are looking for uncanny poems that make us think about the gothic in a new way. We want to see dark poems that spook us to our core, as well as lighter poems that engage with gothic themes or motifs.”

Gothic stories are full of hidden urges and unutterable acts, but equally, it can be about the way light and shade fall on a scene and evoke a mood. They say: “It’s a big genre and it encompasses so much – think of Jane Eyre and Dracula, but also think of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Nick Joaquin’s Tropical Gothic.”

I’d also recommend a look at Poppy Z. Brite’s splendidly sultry gothic fiction.

You’re invited to send a maximum of three poems by 9th November 2018, but make sure you follow these guidelines:

  1. You must be a member of the Emma Press Club, which means you must have bought a book or ebook from the Emma Press website in this calendar year (i.e. since 1st January 2018), or already have been accepted into an Emma Press book. Read more about the Emma Press Club.
  2. Place a maximum of three poems, each no longer than 65 lines, into a single Word/PDF/ODF document. Please only include text in the document, and no images.
  3. Make sure your submission is anonymous. Make sure you haven’t put your name or any biographical notes in the document, and be aware that you will be asked to rename your document at a certain stage within the Google form.
  4. Fill in the Google form, which is accessible from here. It will tell you everything else you need to know.

Find full details and lots of tips here.

The deadline for submissions is midnight  on at the end of 9th November 2018. Good luck!

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com.

On your marks… NaNoWriMo!

Painted desert, Colorado cr Judy DarleyIt’s less than a day until the start of NaNoWriMo 2018 on 1st November. Are you taking part? I love the concept of this word-packed month, with ardent writers across the world hunched over laptops sweating out every last drop of inspiration..

I know plenty of writers this enforced period of productivity really suits. For some folks it seems to be the ideal way to stoke up ideas and get them to catch alight on the page.

For me, the beginning stages of novel-writing are all about thinking ahead, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do some speedy planning even as you begin to write. After all, what else are you going to do when waiting for buses, in post office queues and doing the washing up?

Here are my top five preparation tips to ensure you make the most of this exceptional month.

1. Form a vision of the story you’ll be aiming to tell, with the beginning already shaped in your mind. If possible, do the same for the ending. Having an idea of the finale you’re working towards will mean you’re far less likely to veer off track!

2. Spend some time considering your characters – working out who they are, how they think, what their goals are, how they might help or hinder each other.

3. Know your setting. This is one of my favourites, particularly if it offers a valid excuse to meander in a much loved wilderness or similar.

4. Pick out a few dramatic moments your plot will cover and brainstorm them, then set them aside. Whenever your enthusiasm wanes over the intensive NaNoWriMo period, treat yourself by delving into one of those to reinvigorate your writing energy.

5. Finally, make sure you have plenty of sustenance to hand. For me, the essentials are coffee and chocolate. What are yours?

In 2017 more than 26,000 people took part in National Novel Writing Month. If you’re signing up, I raise a glass (or rather, a mug of coffee) to you. Good luck!

Book review Live Show, Drink Included by Vicky Grut

Live Show, Drink Included by Vicky GrutIn her debut short story collection Live Show, Drink Included, Vicky Grut reveals her knack for summoning up characters so real they’ll follow you around your house, loitering in your kitchen as you make a cup of coffee until you almost feel you should offer them one too. Her protagonists crackle with unspoken preoccupations that often verge on somewhat unsettling obsessions. These are people you might see marking the perimeter of a social gathering, being avoided largely due to the air of discontentment, and even, resentment, that they exude.

Yet their delivery through Grut’s carefully selected words is deeply relatable. With her skilful hand, she renders them comedic, lyrical, or a shining blend of the two. We eavesdrop and enjoy their conundrums while being glad, for the most part, not to share them.

Continue reading

Chicago 10 Top Experiences

Lake Michigan and Navy Pier. Photo by Judy DarleyThe first sighting of Chicago – long before the towers come into view – is of the lake. Big M, a landlocked ocean licking the shore of three states, sans salt, sans sharks, sans tides. Lake Michigan.

Our Airbnb is just a stroll from its edge, in the Gold Coast district where ornate mansions speak of an almost grotesque excess of money, while more time-worn streets have been turned over to a more Bohemian clientele.

We’re close enough to stride along the water’s edge into the city, using the John Hancock Center or Navy Pier’s big wheel to guide us. Nature battles against the rampant urbanity here. Cormorant spread their wings in the harbour and fish dart, while tourist paddle kayaks, ride tour boats or pause on bridges to admire the soaring architecture. All human life jostles here – wealthy residents sidestepping broken-down beggars to enter designer shops, while holidaymakers hurry to the next museum, the next work of art, the next tower to ogle and ascend.

Here are my top ten recommendations of what to see, eat and experience in and around Chicago.

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor, Chicago_Photo by Judy Darley

1 Encounter the Cloud Gate

Known by locals as the Bean, the Cloud Gate sculpture by Anish Kapoorresembles a gigantic silvery globular mirror. It rests in the AT&T Plaza at Chicago’s Millennium Park like a capsized UFO, enticing tourists and passersby to pause and photograph their own reflection.

A vehicle to our own selfie-obsessed vanity, it’s a perfect tool for people-watching, as well as capturing majestic views of the Chicago cityscape. The one thing it doesn’t seem to me to meditate on is sky – but perhaps it’s in the Illinois winter, when sub-zero temperatures halt human hive activity, that it truly comes into its own.

Architecture river cruise. Photo by Judy Darley

2 Embark on an architecture tour

In a city riddled with extraordinary towers, there’s plenty of scope for admiring the architecture. With the river attracting many of the most ambitious designs, the most leisurely way to take in the their grandeur is with a Chicago Architecture River Cruise by Shoreline Sightseeing. From just over £30, you’ll get a 75-minute guided voyage through the urban masterpieces, learn about the fire that destroyed 3.3 square miles of Chicago in 1871, and discover that in Chicago, the word Willis is pronounced Seeears. As an added bonus, our excellent tour guide Jalen seemed to be warming up for a set at legendary comedy hotspots Second City.

View of the John Hancock Building from the Willis Tower. Photo by Judy Darley

View of the John Hancock Building from the Willis Tower

3 Ascend the towers

In a city of skyscrapers, there are several that stand out more than others, and you can pay to visit two of the more notable of these.

The Skyjack of the Willis Tower (previously the Sears Tower), offers exceptional views over Chicago and some unexpected treats. We glimpse a kestrel swooping on the thermals and a few vertigo-defying spiders too. Don’t miss the chance to step onto the Ledge, a glass balcony that juts out from the 103rd floor of the tower (1,353 feet up!) – the perfect opportunity to snap your next profile pick/author photo/ album cover. Buy your tickets.

Above Michigan Avenue, 360 Chicago is accessible from the 94th floor of the John Hancock Centre, overlooking the city and Lake Michigan. You also have the chance to test your nerves with thrill ride Tilt, try Sky Yoga, get into photography, challenge your artistic side, or simply enjoy happy hour at the bar up in the clouds. Get your ticket here.

Pancakes for breakfast. Photo by Judy Darley4 Eat

The people of Chicago are ravenous. Hungry for better views (how else do you explain all the skyscrapers?), bigger lives, and most of all for food. There are several dishes you have to try here: deep pan pizza, best served against a backdrop of TV screens each showing a different sport; burgers and fries; pasta; cheesecake; ice cream…

There are tricks to getting the most out of these dining experiences without losing your mind and gaining a ton of weight. 1) be ready to answer questions about the types of bread, side orders, salad dressings and cooking methods you want (fried eggs just won’t do, you need to know whether you want them over easy, sunny side up or whatever). 2) Request a box and save half of your breakfast/lunch/dinner to eat the next day. 3) Share your dessert with your beloved. It will be ever so romantic and ensure you can get amble afterwards without waddling too badly.

And if you decide to opt for something a bit classier, you could do a lot worse than Café Robey. Read my review of Café Robey.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Edward Kemeys, Lions

Edward Kemeys, Lions, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

5 Mingle with art stars

Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago is bound to be a highlight for any art aficionado visiting this extraordinary city. This vast space is teeming with renowned artworks, as well as plenty of less famous gems. From the intriguing Thorne Miniature Rooms to marvels such as Georgia O’Keefe’s Sky Above Clouds IV, I found myself floating on an excess of wonder. To me the Art Institute of Chicago felt like a portal through time, space and sensibility, with each doorway offering admission to another absorbing world.

Find out more at www.artic.edu. Read my full write up of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Kalamazoo Public Library.Photo by Judy Darley

6 Hop on a train!

Have an adventure and take an Amtrak train journey to one of the quirky towns that sit outside the major cities. Kalamazoo is just over a couple of hours from downtown Chicago, yet lies in a different state (Michigan) and timezone. Trains run here infrequently, so we got up early, and saw dawn break over the Chicago towers during our stroll to the elegant Union Station.

Our train passed through industrial areas and by sparsely populated woodlands before reaching this small township of cute shops, breweries and one of the most attractively housed public libraries I’ve seen. Intriguingly, the town was once renowned for its celery crops, but don’t let that put you off. We pass the time in coffee shops, admired unexpected sculptures, and visit the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. Sadly, there is no longer a zoo in Kalamazoo – it closed its doors in ’74. Hmm, that sounds like the start of a Dr Seuss story…

Lincoln Park Zoo Harbour Seal. Photo by Judy Darley

7 Explore Lincoln Park Zoo

A good zoo done well with plenty of imagination and an emphasis on conservation is a wonderful thing, and Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the world’s finest. Even better, it’s free to visitors, providing families and passerbys with the opportunity to glimpse wonderful animals and learn about the natural world both within and beyond America’s shores.

We watched grey seals cavort with harbour seals, spotted a pygmy hippo being groomed by fish, saw black and white colobus monkeys playing, met an aardvark and glimpsed a slow loris, among so many other species I couldn’t possibly list them all. Plus, beyond the confined areas a chipmunk darts by, turtles sunbathe with ducks, and a hummingbird dances in mid-air for its supper. There are some exquisite sculptures too.

Lincoln Park Nature Boardwalk. Photo by Judy Darley

Outside the confines of the zoo, but in this case considered part of its realm, you’ll find the Nature Boardwalk, which teems with wildlife and offers a tranquil spot within sight of the city. Find out more.

8 Sample the neighbourhoods

Old Town. Photo by Judy DarleyChicago is made up of an assortment of different districts, or neighbourhoods, each with boasting its own distinct personality. While Downtown is where you’ll find the major highlights such as Millennium Park, even this area boasts an assortment of areas, including Gold Coast, Magnificent Mile and the Loop.

Check out Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) at transitchicago.com to discover the treasures awaiting you in the other areas, from Andersonville to Old Town.

Picasso Baboon Daley Plaza. Photo by Judy Darley

9 Search for public art

As treasure hunts go, this is one with endless riches. Sculptures pose on Chicago’s street corners, in plazas and outside edifices. The Chicago Picasso is one of the more notable – untitled it stands 50 feet tall in the Daley Plaza, a monumental artwork that doubles up as a kids’ slide.

Gentlemen by Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming. Photo by James Hainsworth

On the AMA Plaza beside the river, look out for Gentlemen, a series of statues by Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming resembling quirky businessmen complete with umbrellas.

The Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa. Photo by Judy Darley

In Millennium Park, the Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa comprises two 50-foot blocks that stand adjacent to one another, each made up of screens that present a vast visage of a Chicago citizen. The faces blink, smile and occasionally purse their lips so that spouts of water emerge. It’s especially appealing on hot summer days.

ake Michigan beach.Photo by Judy Darley

10 Be amazed by Lake Michigan

This shining pool is so vast that the far side is beyond the horizon’s edge. One of the five Great Lakes of North America, it’s unique in being set entirely within the United States. I’ve heard that in winter, it freezes over. In summer it attracts swimmers, kayakers and sand castle builders. Cyclists and runners pelt up and down the shore, while fish dart in the depths. A short train-ride away, more rural areas appeal to day-trippers, but within the city, the beauty of the water framed by gleaming skyscrapers is undeniable.

Discover more about Chicago at www.choosechicago.com.

Save money on some of Chicago’s top attractions with the Chicago CityPASS.

Discover Bilbao.
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Discover Laugharne.
Discover Reyjavik.

A short story – Fish Flakes

Reggie cr Judy DarleyYesterday I received the news that a short story I submitted to an online publication in May has been accepted. And today they notified me that it’s been published!

Just shows it’s worth being patient! I’m excited because it’s a creepy/ridiculous work of fiction (honest!) that stars our resident goldfish Reggie. Apologies to our neighbour’s cat who cameos, but doesn’t fare so well. Click on the link below to read it in full. They even used the photo of Reggie, with a slightly sinister filter…

If you’re having a vague sense of deja vu, it may be because I posted a writing prompt about Reggie some months ago. I followed my own advice and wrote a piece inspired by our unexpected lodger, with a rather twisted ending. Perfect for Halloween week!

Sunday Stories: “Fish Flakes”

Milk Poetry review

Tom DenbighUnfolding in Foyles Bookshop Bristol as part of Bristol Festival of Literature, Milk Poetry wound through our ears, hearts and minds, reminding us that words have a life beyond the page. This group of skilful poets and their guests each imbue their lines, rhymes and musings with startling individuality and honesty.

Malaika Kegode founded Milk Poetry in January 2015. “Milk Poetry was conceived to be a friendly, nurturing night that treated all performers with equal respect, warmth and room for growth,” she says. “The impetus behind the night was to offer equal billing and opportunity for up and coming poets, with a focus on artist development. Many poets can get stuck in limbo after performing for a couple of years; not quite a headliner but creating work more advanced than standard open mic fare. So Milk Poetry was created to bridge that gap and offer chances for people to hone their skills on stage and perform shoulder-to-shoulder with ‘big name’ acts, so they can feel like the true artists they are!”

She adds: “As Milk Poetry has grown, I think that nurturing backbone has just become stronger, and some artists who started performing for the first time at Milk Poetry have gone on to be major players in the poetry world.”

Tom Sastry

The evening opened with the wit and self-depreciating humour of Tom Sastry. Tom is one of the 2016 Laureate’s Choice poets. He brought us the first and only use of the word “ersatz” and wrote of “ganging up on our past selves who we secretly love” and “dead cakes in cellophane.” Many of his poems were a whisper away from being reclassified as flash fictions, pouring whole lives into our ears distilled down into a few vivid lines.

Malaika Kegode. Photo by Judy Darley

Next up, Malaika Kegode’s poem rattled through and over us, drawing us into a train journey, a relationship gone awry, and an ending so tragic that it made my teeth shake. There’s something powerfully filmic about her composition, so that you see the train carriage and its passengers, see the passing fields with their excess of sheep, and see the moon and the sun each highlighting what went wrong.

Next up, multiple slam winner Tom Denbigh (picture at the top of this post) delivered a story in the form of a poem, setting word choices at curious angles that created a sense of eavesdropping, and getting caught. He brought us the evening’s first use of the word “cardigan.” Offbeat and comic, the poem twitched with a sense of the search for identity, and of trying to solve the puzzles that make up the people we encounter.

Sam Grudgings. Photo by Judy Darley

Milk co producer Sam Grudgings, who describes himself as a poet perpetually on the edge of collapse, had rather delightfully brought his granny along. Taking us collectively by the hand, Sam led us on an excursion into a haunted house, speaking not to us but to the ghost herself, with her “arson fingers.’ Exquisite imagery drew us into a gloriously painterly scene, pegged with emotion.

Beth Calverley. Photo by Judy Darley

The potent Beth Calverley, co producer of Milk and Chief Operator of The Poetry Machine, performed Witchcraft, a poem laced with tenderness. Her words glimmered as though lit from within, with echos sounding quietly on the peripheral of our hearing. As Sam said in introducting Beth, her poetry is comprised of layers of meaning – there’s far more here than a single read or listen can reveal.

Rebecca Tantony. Photo by Judy Darley

Our final poet Rebecca Tantony shared a set of poems rooted in the complexities of family. Visceral, raw and compellingly intimate, Rebecca’s poems sent tremors oscillating the bookshop’s air, rustling pages and ricocheted empathetic shivers down listeners’ spines.

Find Milk on Facebook.

Seen, read or experienced anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.