Life mimics art mimics life…

Daisy Jacobs paints The Bigger Picture

Daisy Jacobs paints The Bigger Picture

Filmmaker Daisy Jacobs had a small goal for her film The Bigger Picture – to tell the story of how a family copes with the disintegration of one of its aging members, using a painted medium populated by life-sized 2D characters. Oh, actually, not so small then.

It’s something many of us will go through at some point, either as a grandchild, as the son or daughter of an old person, or as the elderly individual ourselves.

The universality of the experience only adds to its power – in dredging up her characters emotions, often through extreme visual storytelling methods, Daisy both reflects our own feelings and reminds us how personal they are to us.

Impressive. And that’s before you consider the technique she’s used.

THEBIGGERPICTURE_DAISYJACOBS_KitchenScene

“I’ve always loved painting and I have just continued with it,” says Daisy, who did a foundation course at Central St Martins in art and design, followed by a BA in illustration and then a Postgraduate in animation before going to the NFTS (National Film and Television School to do an MA in Directing Animation. “The Bigger Picture is my final MA film.”

The idea of creating such large scale characters came about when she set her heart on having one of her 2D characters vacuum a real room. “As it was a new technique it was all made up as we went along, despite loads of preparation and doing tests,” she says. “Much was still unpredictable.”

THEBIGGERPICTUR_DAISYJACOBS_Shower scene

Despite this, the bigger challenge was taking her family’s real life experiences and fictionalising them.

Daisy Jacobs“I made notes and generally internalised lots, then made up fictional characters who I filled with characteristics of all my family,” she says. “My gran, Eileen, was ill with Parkinson’s. It affected me deeply and I found making the film about her was very cathartic. Animation and painting especially are good to take your mind off things as they are so absorbing.”

The results are equally engrossing, resulting in an Oscar nomination for Best Short Film (animated) as well as winning the BAFTA for Best Bristish Short Animated Film, as well as too many other prizes to mention (see the full list of awards here).

Daisy and her team are currently shoulder-deep in the props-making stage for their next film, while The Bigger Picture continues to make waves on the festival circuit.

To find out where you can watch it for yourself, visit www.thebiggerpicturefilm.com and go to the ‘screenings’ page to see where it will be on over the next couple of months.

Writing prompt – cloud

A Cloud Being Born cr Judy DarleyI was at the beach last summer when a strange fog rolled in. One of my companions said it was the result of a cloud being born far out at sea, and forgetting to rise before travelling over the land. Curious!

As we lay there, trying to soak up the sun, we found ourselves bathed in icy water droplets instead. I think it makes an eerie shot – what other reasons, supernatural say, could there be for such an event on a hot summer’s day? What if, instead of dispersing, the fog just kept getting thicker?

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – The Artificial Anatomy of Parks by Kat Gordon

Artificial-Anatomy-of-Parks-coverTallulah Park is the walking personification of the phrase “Could do better.” Aged 21, she’s working a dead-end job, living in a depressing bedsit, and has few if any friends.

Then she receives the news that her estranged father Edward has had a heart attack, and finds herself no longer able to steer clear of the family she’s been avoiding since fleeing boarding school six years before. “I’ve lived like an orphan since I left home,” she says as her father’s life hangs in the balance, “I’ve been completely alone, not counting the others in the hostel, and it’s never bothered me too much until now.”

It’s the “until now” that hints at the heart-wrenchingly vulnerable side to her personality, with an exterior, as one character puts it, “as hard as nails,” but with “a soft centre.” This is a girl who’s learnt to put up barriers, to snap first, ask questions later, even to the detriment of her own happiness.

As the novel unfolds, author Kat Gordon introduces us to Tallie’s sweeter childhood self,  interweaving the versions of her protagonist until the two stories gradually come together to reveal what went wrong in Tallie’s life, and how it could, potentially, come right again.

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Wells Festival of Literature competitions

City of Wells cr Judy Darley

Wells Festival of Literature takes place in October, but before that they hold their annual writing competition, with entries being accepted until 31st July.

Rhidian Brook, an award winning novelist, short story writer, screen writer, copywriter and broadcaster, will judge the 2015 short story competition and present the prizes.

Rhidian will also run a workshop on Sunday October 11, comparing the craft of novel writing with that of writing for the screen.

Peter Oswald, the Poetry judge, is a playwright who writes in verse, and was The Globe’s first writer in residence. He is married to the poet Alice Oswald.

The organisers say: “Poems should show imagination, skill and originality.”  They may be on any subject, and must not exceed 40 lines in length.

Stories should be between 1,000 and 2,000 words in length. Intriguingly, the rules add: “There is nothing to be gained from extending the story solely to make it up to the full word length,” making me wonder about last year’s entries…

Find the full rules here.

Prizes in each category are £500 for the winning story or poem, Second Prize of £200 for the second prize winner, and £100 for the third prize winner.

The closing date for entries is 31st July 2015.

To enter online click here.

Find full details at www.wellslitfest.org.uk/competitions.php

How to write a short story collection

Knit graffiti in Arnos Vale cr Judy DarleyToday’s guest post comes from writer KM Elkes and offers an insight into the art of stringing a short story collection together.

Telling people you are working on a novel is easy enough. People ‘get’ novels. Even the least reader-ish person has probably read a couple, either because they were forced to at school or because they were part of Generation Harry Potter.

But a short story collection? Not so much.

Maybe that’s because short story collections are relatively unfamiliar – not so surprising when you consider bookshops force readers into an Indiana Jones-style quest to find them. They lurk unassumingly, a diaspora spread among distant bookcases, waiting for the day when someone has the bright idea to give them a shelf of their own.

But there’s a deeper issue too – even those in the biz, writers and publishers, are sometimes ignorant of what a short story collection really is. Which makes putting one together feel like a Sisyphean task.

Think about it. There’s plenty of advice out there on what makes a good novel – how to write it, pace it, plot it, sell it. But I’ve yet to Google a go-to guide on what constitutes a fantastic collection.

Most short story writers are busy just trying to make each story the best we can. The emotional investment is quick, deep and hard, the art tricky.  It’s only when you come to the point of putting your own collection together that you realise it’s not simply a matter of polishing up your bestest, nicest stories and pressing Send.

So what does a short story collection involve? What does it need?

Well, in my opinion, many of the same things that characterise a good short story – unity of purpose and theme.

I’m not talking specifically about some clunky link (hey, watchya know, they’re all characters from the same street!) but something less obvious, spider silk thin at times, but there, somehow.

Runaway by Alice MunroLook at some wonderful collections – Alice Munro’s Runaway; Cathedral by Raymond Carver; Nathan Englander’s For The Relief of Unbearable Urges; Walk the Blue Fields by Claire Keegan. Whether or not the author planned it, there is a thread that runs through these books, located in place, or in an overarching theme, in the kind of lives they tackle and in that most intangible thing: voice.

Regardless of point of view, tense, sympathetic or abhorrent characters, regardless of timeframe or timeline, great authors have a voice, a way of storytelling that leaves an imprint on their collection.

Think of George Saunders at the frayed edge of satire, or the rich gravy of Saul Bellow’s language, the wry humour of Kevin Barry and Edith Pearlman’s precise concision – all give a shape that is the author’s own.

So what can those of us putting our debut collection learn from this?

Being ruthless is necessary, especially with our earlier work. Yes they might have won prizes or been shortlisted for decent competitions, but do these stories fit with our latest work, where a more individual voice is starting to form? Perhaps it’s time for that tricky chat: “Thanks guys, we had fun, but I’ve moved on. It’s not you, it’s me.”

Tough love is also needed for the stories that are up to scratch, but simply don’t fit in. That cracking three thousand worder, which someone said reminded them of Jorge Luis Borges, probably won’t fit if you are building a reputation as the Cheever of Milton Keynes.

Even then, this process throws up fresh dilemmas. How do you know when you’re done? How do you know that the next story you write won’t be the one to top out the collection, the crowning glory that will pull it all together?

This is particularly tricky for me, and, I suspect, many other short story writers because I don’t (I can’t) write with a collection in mind. Story writing for me is a weird alchemy, when character, voice, theme and tone come together through some process that has little to do with the analytical part of my brain.

So time is important, to allow things to accrete. Maybe the key to creating a short story collection is the key to all writing – keep going, get better at it, read stories by people who are better than you, learn from them, accept your failures, don’t get carried away with your successes, rinse and repeat.

Eventually you may begin to ‘feel’ a group of stories huddling together. You sense a deeper resonance coming through, common themes being explored. You think – and this is as important as anything else – of a title that makes things tick.

Good advice is hard to come by, but fresh perspectives (note the plural), might help you push to keep creating new material or re-think existing work.

All of this points towards a simple fact – creating a short story collection is also about growing up as a writer, reaching a maturity which enables you to fathom how stories hang together, the palette you work with, the themes which gnaw at you and how that is not such a ‘bad thing’.

And that’s about as much as I can tell you. For now.

Author KM ElkesAbout the author

KM Elkes is an author, journalist and travel writer. He has won the Fish Publishing flash prize, been shortlisted twice for the Bridport Prize and was one of the winners of the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2014. He also won the Prolitzer short story prize in 2014 and wrote a winning entry for the Labello Press International Short Story Prize 2015. His work has appeared in various anthologies and won prizes at Words With Jam, Momaya Review, Writing WM, Bath Short Story Award, Lightship Publishing and Accenti in Canada. He blogs at www.kmelkes.co.uk and tweets via @mysmalltales.

KM Elkes will be sharing more of his writing expertise at free flash fiction workshops taking place at Bristol Central Library for National Flash Fiction Day (this Saturday!), along with NFFD director Calum Kerr and prize-winning author KM Elkes. The workshops take place from 1.30-4.30pm. KM is also taking part in An Evening of Flash Fiction, from 6pm at Foyles Bookstore Bristol, along with a number of other writers, including Zoe GilbertKevlin HenneySarah Hilary, Freya Morris, Grace Palmer, Jonathan Pinnock, and, well, me.

A flash flood this Saturday

Flood cr Judy DarleyMy story On The Rocks is getting another outing this week as part of National Flash Fiction Day’s FlashFlood event.

National Flash Fiction Day is on  Saturday 27th June this year, and the organisers plan to flood the internet with flash-fictions. I’m pleased to say that my story ‘On the Rocks’ will be published on the FlashFlood journal blog at around 9am (BST) on 27th June 2015.

Stories will be posted at flashfloodjournal.blogspot.co.uk throughout National Flash-Fiction Day, so do pop by to take a look!

Writing prompt – orange segments

Orange segments cr Judy DarleyFlavour, along with smell, is one of the most evocative sense. For this week’s story, poem or work of art, start with the simple idea of focusing on a particular taste, such as a firm, tangy sweet segment of orange, and see where it leads you.

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

Wear Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo broochHow stunning is this wry little Frida Kahlo brooch? It’s created by Jennie Walker of www.alittle-vintage.blogspot.com and I think it’s irresistible!

“The Frida brooches are very special – they’re one of my absolute favourite things to make, I love seeing how the faces turn out and what expression they might have,” says Jennie, who makes them from vintage fabrics, felted wool rug, little beads and many, many tiny stitches. “The free motion sewing really makes them one of a kind, I don’t program a pattern into the sewing machine. They are all done free hand.”

The brooches are available from Jennie’s Etsy store, where you can also find her other fabulous creations.

 

Ledbury Poetry Festival – 3-12th July 2015

Ledbury cr John EagerSome British towns seem better suited to literary festivals than others, and Ledbury in Herefordshire is ideal – with reams of streets and architecture that the word ‘picturesque’ could have been invented for. This July, Ledbury welcomes back its annual Poetry Festival, which promises ten days of written and spoken riches.

This year’s highlights include an invitation to write bench-inspired poems or contribute to a poetry tree, Juliet Stevenson reading Emily Dickinson, Simon Armitage dropping by, a tribute to Maya Angelou, plus a performance by John Cooper Clarke in Ledbury’s Community Hall.

“This is the first time that John Cooper Clarke has performed at Ledbury since he headlined the first Festival 18 years ago,” say the organisers. “Now Britain’s best loved and most important performance poet, John Cooper Clarke is as vital now as he was in the 70s.”

You’re also invited to submit your own poems to the festival’s Poetry Orchard, to be harvested by Paul Henry, Herefordshire’s Poet in Residence. Your poem must use the name of a Herefordshire apple as its title. Head to the page to read other entries and find the apples you can choose between. There are some really beautiful poems already there, and a surprising and rich variety of tones and topics, given that each has the simple beginning of an apple’s name. I rather love the evocative poem Garter by Lesley Ingram.

Ooh, and don’t forget to enter the LPF Poetry Competition. The deadline is Thursday July 9th. Top prize is £1,000 plus the chance to attend the writing course of your choice at Ty Newydd (pictured below), the National Writers’ Centre for Wales.

Ty Newydd

Deryn Rees-Jones is this year’s judge.

The image at the very top of this post was supplied by John Eager of www.visitledbury.info. The other image was supplied by the Ledbury Poetry Festival team. Many thanks!