Head to Bath for the Children’s Lit Fest

Child reading cr Julian Foxon Photography

© Julian Foxon Photography

Hungry for writing inspiration, or simply got young book-worms to entertain? In his second year as Artistic Director of the Telegraph Bath Children’s Literature Festivalaward-winning author David Almond has ensured a fantastic, imagination-stirring line-up of events!

The festival runs from Friday 26 September to Sunday 5 October 2014, with events for all ages, including Shakespeare! with Christopher Lloyd (presumably the literary equivalent of him from Back to the Future – Great Scott!). Christopher will be bringing the bard to life for young audiences, using of all things, a “coat of many pockets.” The mind boggles.

David AlmondGuest speakers include  Charlie and Lola creator Lauren Child, Horrible Histories illustrator Martin Brown,   author Benjamin Zephaniah, that Henry Winkler, and, of course, David Almond.

“The children’s book world is a dynamic, experimental, optimistic place,” says David. “The people who work within it really do believe that books and all forms of art can change people’s lives and make the world a better place. Without fine children’s books, there would be fewer adult readers and fewer properly mature adults. The world would be a meaner place.”

Quite. Workshops during the festival include Turning Nightmares in Stories with Ross Montgomery (ages 9+) on Sunday 28th September, and Spoken Word with Stephen Polarbear Camden (ages 12+) on Saturday 4th October, during which you’ll create autobiographical spoken word pieces drawing on rhythm, rhyme and everyday experiences – eat your heart out, Kate Tempest!

Other highlights include an invitation to learn to dance with Miffy (knew she’d be in there somewhere), a Secret Kingdom Party complete with “glittery craft activities” and the Big, Big Bath Book Quiz presented by children’s author and, ahem, “part-time hazelnut” Andy Stanton.

“Bath will be an exciting place this autumn,” says David. “Come along to our festival. Meet our wonderful authors and illustrators. Be inspired by today’s children, who really do read, and who are active, creative and engaged young citizens. Discover this fascinating world.”

How could you say no?

Find details and book tickets at bathfestivals.org.uk/childrens-literature.

Find out more about Bath, including places to stay, at visitbath.co.uk.

There’s more to Barcelona than Gaudi…

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya views cr Beccy DownesA few weeks ago I posted my Barcelona – 10 Ten Experiences piece. I travelled to Barcelona with my friend Beccy Downes, also a writer, and thought it would be interesting to show you how different two pieces written in response to the same trip can be. Here’s her piece on Barcelona.

Anyone visiting Barcelona will have heard of the work of Gaudi, and there is no doubt that the Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell are unique and stunning to visit.  But what else is there?

For a quick break in Barcelona, the ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ Bus Tours are perfect.  Faced with the challenge of seeing as much as we could in three days, I found that the commentary really helped me to focus, not only on what I had intended to see, but on the things I enjoy that hadn’t even occurred to me to seek out.  The tours all start at Plaça de Catalunya.

FC Barcelona cr Beccy Downes As a football and sports fan in general, I relished the chance to see the impact that sporting events have had on the city.  Having regularly seen and heard about the famous FC Barcelona on the TV, Camp Nou was an obvious early stopping point.  I was immersed in the culture of this football club when first stepping through the gates; in awe of the surroundings which encapsulate the 98,787 seater stadium, a village of eateries and merchandise stores line the approach…player and sponsor images adorn the outside of the stadium itself, although there are a few statues and plaques which pay homage to the club’s auspicious history too…

FC Barcelona sculpture cr Beccy Downes A stadium and museum tour is available for fans of both the club, and wider football in general.  It currently costs €23 for adults, €17 for children aged 6-13 (price taken from Club website) and includes the pressroom and commentary box, the trophy room, and even the players tunnel and dressing room. I didn’t have time to try this out, but if the official club shop is anything to go by, it promises to be a Barcelona FC-themed assault on the senses!

Olympic Stadium cr Beccy DownesAnother stop on the bus tour takes you up Montjuic (which has its own story – you’ll hear it on the commentary) and to the site of the great 1992 Olympic Games. Although I was fairly young at the time, I can still remember being stirred by the Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Caballe song which became the theme for the Games, and when I caught sight of the sheer magnificence of the stadium, I felt a slight tingle as I imagined what it might have been like to stand there surrounded by the thronging crowds…

Olympic Stadium horses cr Beccy Downes

The ambience, even on a quiet day, is majestic – from the horses leaping from atop the stadium wall, to the layers of fountains flowing on three levels below the stadium, I spent some time just taking it all in…with the impressive telecoms tower designed by Santiago Calatrava to resemble the Olympic flame looming above.

Olympic Stadium communications tower cr Beccy Downes

Another stop on the bus tour, which I had no idea was even there until sheer awe of the view made me disembark, was the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC). Even if art is not your thing, the two Venetian style towers that flank the approach, the fountains which dance in front of the museum (I didn’t get the chance to see them at night but the night bus tour takes in this experience during summer for an additional cost) and the view of Barcelona from the very top of the hill directly outside (see top of post), makes the climb very much worthwhile. There are escalators to help if you find walking uphill a bit difficult.

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya Beccy Downes

And of course, something that you might forget when visiting Barcelona, believing it to be the ultimate city break, is that it’s actually pretty darn close to an absolutely superb seafront. The hotels and casino which make up the Port Olimpic marina were built in readiness for the Olympic Games (the sailing events took place here and the athletes stayed here during the games), but some of the accommodation has since been sold as high value apartments to residents of the city – a lot of the architecture here, as with many of the buildings around the city, is unusual to say the least, and there’s some outstanding artwork too, including Frank Gehry’s giant goldfish!

Gehry's Fish  cr Beccy Downes

And finally, the nearby Barcelonetta beach is the ideal place to take the weight off your weary feet, feel the warmth of the Spanish sun and enjoy a cocktail or two. ¡Salud!

Barcelonetta beach cr Beccy Downes

Cocktails cr Beccy Downes

Find more Barcelona highlights at barcelonaturisme.com.

 

 

 

 

Jessica Albarn draws the bug world into focus

In A Corner © Jessica AlbarnIs that the sound of your skin crawling? Some artwork, however elegant, has the power to make your hair stand on end.

In Jessica Albarn’s case, it’s the primal fear of spiders, bees and other iggly wrigglies that jump from the page to race up your spine. And yet, the beauty of her drawings cannot be denied.

“I began drawing as very small child like all children, but didn’t stop!” Jessica says. “ I did a Fine Art degree with the view to doing an MA. The MA didn’t happen as I had my first child at 24. So from there on in I took my own route into the Arts. I’m an artist because it makes me happy and luckily, it’s what I am best at.”

BEE 2 © Jessica AlbarnI encountered Jessica at the Natural History Museum’s open garden day, when she was showing off her fine sketches of bees, and a mildly macabre collection of dead bees. Startled, I had to admit I have a similar hoard – some summers dead bees glimmer like jewels along the footpaths. It’s an odd thing to bond over, but there you are.

I was unsurprised to discover that Jessica draws inspiration both from nature and human nature – two of my own driving forces.

I asked Jessica what started her off on her series of bee drawings. “I found a dead bee and it seemed to be reaching for something trying to hold onto life,” she says. “It’s delicate dead form touched me and I began drawing it. I then also became increasingly aware of the decline in not only honey bees but also bumble bees and have used my work to raise awareness ever since.”

It’s a brilliant aim, and one neatly exemplified by the work below, titled ‘All Fly – 60 species of bee.’

All Fly - 60 species of bee © Jessica Albarn

Jessica explains that she’s fascinated by creepy crawlies’ in all varieties and forms: “in drawing out their beauty I feel I hold onto in some way the life that is lost,” she says, then adds: “apart from the spiders which I prefer to draw live! I’m interested in how human beings relate to the natural world on an ecological, emotional and symbolic level. Deep in our subconscious, memories lurk that affects our responses.” That explains the hair-raising sensation experienced when a spider runs across your foot – and I don’t even consider myself afraid of the wee beasties!

“Insects are very alien creatures to us, yet our very survival depends on the balance they bring to our world,” Jessica continues.

One of my favourites is Jessica’s hybrid drawing: Butterfly Ball, which reveals the artist’s passion for fairytales.

Butterfly Ball © Jessica Albarn

Butterfly Ball © Jessica Albarn

“I imagine faeries to be shape-shifters masquerading as insects in our world – moving amongst us unnoticed,” says Jessica. “I also wanted to play on the idea in children’s minds that that bug they were about to squash just might be a faerie!”

That’s definitely a good way to preserve insects from unwarranted harm!

Find more of Jessica’s work and details of upcoming exhibitions at  www.jessicaalbarn.co.uk

Midweek writing prompt – junk

Vintage cravats cr Judy DarleyInspired by Lucy Robert’s gorgeous treasure troves, this week’s #writingprompt invites you to consider the old adage of one person’s trash being another hoarder’s treasure.

Vintage bead necklaces

Head to your local flea market or car boot sale and have a good rummage – see what your fingers find. It might be a 1980s Care Bears with chewed paws, or a string of 1960s beads. Whatever it is, think about the person who once owned that item, what it meant to them, and what it might mean to them to rediscover it now.

If you write 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.

Vintage cutlery and cars

Book review – Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary

Someone Else's Skin by Sarah HilaryThere’s something thrilling about dipping into a debut novel, but rarely is the enthusiasm matched by such unerring skill as this.

In Sarah Hilary’s confident hands we’re securely led through a tale woven from multiple viewpoints and with multiple crimes – a juggling act she adeptly controls from intriguing epilogue of Someone Else’s Skin to the satisfying closing sentence. It’s an impressive feat, but one achieved thanks to Hilary’s obvious respect for all the characters she creates, as well as the real life situations she draws inspiration from.

Exploring the sorry and sordid world of women’s refuges, the story swoops us past potential clichés into original, empathetic storylines and elegant, often poetic prose that stands out as something special in this genre. She describes a Secure Unit as “steel and glass, reflective surfaces shivering in the weak sunshine” and a woman’s memory of her childhood circumcision is told in colours: “The blanket was green and gold. Dark patches lay on it, like shadows (…) Her blood was a new shadow, red.”

It takes courage to tackle the subjects Hilary delves into – domestic atrocities far more complex than murder. She introduces us to characters so real that if they were to accost you in a pub, begin pouring out their sorry tales, you might want to run. But Hilary makes us stay, listen, take in all the different and conflicting levels of their damage and betrayal, and gradually come to understand that even the worst of her villains began as a victim – no one is just one thing, from surface to core. Continue reading

Storytelling, seeds and waves

Seeds of Change cr ArnolfiniIf you’re local to Bristol you may have noticed that the floating ballast seed garden set close to Castle Park.

Named Seeds of Change, the garden commemorates the fact that until the early 1900s, trade boats traveling to Bristol from all across the world used earth, stones and gravel as ballast, unloading these into Bristol’s rivers and quayside along with seeds from wherever the ship had sailed.

Seeds of Change1 cr Arnolfini

The garden was created by artist Maria Thereza Alves and designer Gitta Gschwendtner in collaboration with the Univeristy of Bristol Botanic Gardens, Arnolfini and Bristol City Council, utilising a derelict concrete barge donated by Bristol Harbour Authority. It’s re-seeded every year with non-native plants to create “a living history of the city’s trade and maritime past.”

To me it sounds like the perfect ingredients for a story, making the WE ARE FAMILY BOAT TOUR on Saturday 30 August particularly enticing.

Okay, it’s aimed at kids, but I’m whole-heartedly planning to borrow one as an excuse for coming along! Events start with free drop-in sessions from 1-4pm at the gallery’s light and dark studios where you can “explore the world of ballast seed plants, craft your own plant pots, be transformed into a plant by our fabulous face painter and help UnCanny Creations to make a giant fuzzy felt garden picture.”

Then from 2pm-3:30pm you can continue your journey on the water as storyteller Michael Loader invites you on voyage full of adventure to the Ballast Seed Garden. This bit costs £7/£5 concs, £3 for under 12′s (free for under threes), but sounds well worth it!

Stories, boats and a bit of horticultural history – what’s not to like?

Seeds of Change2 cr Arnolfini

 

Book your place via Arnolfini box office.

How to create fiction from family treasures

Terri Wiltshire 4 generationsAuthor Terri Wiltshire offers her tips for using family stories to create fiction, or, as she’s been fondly calling it: ‘Pilfering the Family Jewels.’

There’s an old Jewish saying that goes: “God created families because He liked stories”.  Since the time humans could draw pictures on cave walls, we’ve been collecting and sharing stories of our “clan”. It’s how we connect to others. And we all do it. When we gather for holidays, weddings, and funerals- the stories pour out from each generation to comfort, to celebrate, to reminisce, or to laugh out loud at our outrageous human foibles. The place and time might change, but the struggles and joy of “family” are universal.

Listen and Collect

Writers are constantly told to write-what-you-know and the most fertile resources are the tales we grew up hearing over and over again: the whispered rumours of an ancestor with a criminal past, the hilarious pitfalls of raising six kids with one outhouse, the practical jokes associated with Uncle Dwayne’s paralysing fear of snakes, and the disastrous day that lightening struck your grandmother’s washing machine and killed the cat.

As a child, I looked forward to family gatherings and begged to stay up past my bedtime when I knew the stories would continue into the night. But I was in University before I realised the importance of our oral history and started keeping a file of names, phrases, and recollections.  The stories were spread out over a hundred years and included those that had been passed down from my great-grandparents. Some were funny. Some were heartbreaking. I wasn’t sure how they were connected and I wasn’t sure how I would use them, but I knew I needed to keep them handy.

Terri Wiltshire and cousins

Start Small

Novels based on family experiences don’t have to revolve around a large, life-changing event.  Sometimes we worry so much about finding the BIG story, that we miss the tiny details that make it worth the journey. Good stories can emerge from the smallest snippet of memory.  In my case, it was the shuffling gait of a gentle, reclusive great uncle who seemed to know so much about the world, but so little about how to fit into it. In writing “Carry Me Home” he became the catalyst. I took his sweetness, his awkwardness, his stubbornness to live his life his own way, and created a character and a set of circumstances (the BIG story) that allowed those traits to shine through.

Woven in, are tiny threads of family experience, which I’d heard along the way, including: riding the rails during the Great Depression, making sorghum syrup from sugar cane, and sharecropping. I also added a generous sprinkling of family recipes and cooking tips, along with family phrases, and habits.

The great thing about developing fiction from family stories, is that they are both universal and unique. The emotional aspect of human struggle is universal but the circumstances of that struggle, the dynamic of the relationships, is unique to each family.

Terri Wiltshire Sunday after church

Tread lightly

If you feel My family isn’t that interesting, you might try interviewing a few of the older generation. You’ll be surprised what nuggets will be uncovered. It’s important to remember that family stories are not blueprints for a work of fiction. They can serve as that first seed of inspiration, or a rich source of seasoning, but sticking rigidly to a historical truth (in family terms) will create more problems and limit the scope of your story.

There is also a certain anxiety in using our kinfolk as a resource. We worry about offending or taking advantage of private experiences, so above all, it is important to treat your family “treasure” with respect. I never duplicate a real person or a real event, but there are enough trinkets from the family vault to keep them happy searching for the bits and pieces we’ve shared over the years.  I make sure that whatever I choose, it is used with fondness and care, and not ridicule.

Be true to your heart, not your geography

True places are not found on maps (Herman Melville)

Just as I created fiction from the jumble of memories and recollections of my past and my ancestor’s past, I created a fictional town to set it in. I didn’t want readers to get distracted trying to recognise, or uncover discrepancies, of a specific town. It was the heart of the place that mattered most.  I called the town Lander, which was my grandfather’s first name, and which means ‘of the land.’

Lander, Alabama is a composite of many small southern towns I lived in as a child with a central square borrowed from one place, a railway yard borrowed from another, and a cotton mill borrowed from yet another. Lander is all of those towns, but none of them in particular. Likewise, “Carry Me Home” is sprinkled with traces of my family, but they are there to support the fiction that emerged from a specific time and place.

There is a wealth of raw material that can be collected just by sitting around the kitchen table. Listen. Ask questions. Record. And create… but honour those who have trusted you with their slice of family history.

Terri WiltshireAbout the author

Terri Wiltshire was raised in the Deep South in America. For the last 25 years she lived and worked in the UK, where she ran a role-play company before relocating home to Alabama recently. “I’m surrounded by family and old high school and university friends so I’m pilfering away!”

A former journalist and NBC News presenter, Terri is also an actor and director. Carry Me Home is her first novel.

Meet Lucy Roberts’ hoards

Treasure © Lucy RobertsA week ago I popped into quirky artists’ cooperative Blaze and found myself transfixed by the ‘treasure boxes’ lining one of the walls. these exquisite creations take life’s minutiae*, and turns them into stylish works of art.

Green treasures © Lucy Roberts

Fortunately for me, the artist in charge of minding Blaze that day happened to be Lucy Roberts, creator of said troves. She explained that she first began making the boxes when she was pregnant with her son. “I’m a bit of a hoarder,” she confesses, “and I needed to clear the room that would be his nursery, so I came up with the idea of making these display cases so I didn’t have to throw it all away!”

Yellow treasures © Lucy Roberts

Roll on ten months after her son’s birth, and Lucy joined Blaze, then realised she had no idea what to make for the shop. “I was deliriously sleep deprived and wondering if I would ever get my brain cells back!” she says. “I was wondering what products to make, and my brother suggested I make more of the treasure boxes – he was right!”

The boxes are enticingly pieced together – using all manner of found items from cocktail umbrellas to plastic giraffes and camels to ticket stubs and stamps.

Blue treasures © Lucy Roberts

“I’ve always loved drawing and making,” says Lucy. “My dad was a primary school teacher and a great graphic artist himself. He used to make us cards and gifts and decorate various bits of DIY around the house with funny characters to cover up the cracks and wonky bits. We grew up making birthday cards and gifts and never and that’s always been one of my most favourite things to do.”

Lucy graduated from the University of Wales, Newport in 1998 with a degree in Animation. “When I joined the course it was Fine Arts based with lots of drawing, mark-making and experimentation. By the time I graduated, computers had taken over the whole of the Animation world and it wasn’t really a direction I wanted to go in… so for years I did various jobs, community film work, set dressing and other work on music videos and then when I went back to work after my son was born I needed something flexible.”

Red treasures © Lucy Roberts

Blaze is run as a co-operative and allowed Lucy to come back to work in an environment “where there wasn’t a boss in the conventional sense.”

She explains: “Blaze was started as a co-operative about 12 years ago and was mainly ceramics. Over the years Blaze has changed as we take on new members and fill the shop with their work. At the moment there are eight of us and we range from illustrators and textile creators to furniture makers.”

Unsurprisingly, Lucy herself is an avid car boot sales attendee, hovering up all kinds of quirky goods unwanted, unloved and in need of a new adventure!

“I am inspired by old stamps, fabric and packaging, stained glass windows, unusual plants and animals, things washed up on the seashore, children’s art and old men’s garages,” she says. “Put simply, I’m a hoarder who likes to create a bit of pattern and order in the things I find and arrange as artwork.”

Orange treasures © Lucy Roberts

It looks utterly additive to me, and makes me wonder what I have tucked away that Lucy could find new life for!

*by which I don’t mean the tedium of junk mail or taxes, but the glory of all those little bits and pieces you don’t know what to do with, but can’t bring yourself to chuck out.

Find Lucy at madebylucy.com.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

 

Midweek writing prompt – repressed memories

70s kids cr James NyeImagine you’re going through an old photo album (remember those? Back in the days when photos were physical things?). You find a photograph of a group of children, and you think you recognise yourself as one of them. The others are all family friends, siblings or cousins.

Straightforward enough, right?

But then you realise that one of them is a stranger. You don’t recall ever laying eyes on his or her face before. In the photo, they’re very much part of the group, yet now you don’t think you even know their name.

And, looking at that photo, you feel something stir deep inside, as a long-buried memory begins to emerge…

Image kindly supplied by James Nye.

If you write 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 publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book reviews – Thoroughly modern Miffy

Miffy activity booksHow do you take a beloved character and her endeavours and update them for a modern audience? In the case of poet and author Tony Mitton’s work on Miffy, it seems the answer is with great respect, grace and subtlety.

Of all the children’s books I’ve encountered, the Miffy books by Dutch artist Dick Bruna have embodied the genre with the greatest restraint – by which I mean that he invented something good, and ran with it.

The Miffy original artwork is key here, with simple shapes, bold colours and sharp outlines – not unlike the later work of Matisse who so inspired Bruna – just take a peek at the legendary ‘Miffy At The Gallery’ to see what I mean!

Miffy at the Gallery

The text is far from secondary, but works in seamless harmony with the images, with clean, straightforward ideas and words telling uncomplicated yet pleasing stories about adventures any child can relate to.

Tony’s work on the new releases from Miffy’s UK publisher Simon and Schuster has ensured a tightness of phrase and clarity of language that modern children will enjoy – with plenty of questions included to ensure that reading these books is an interactive experience.

Two of the releases in particular hold interactivity at their centre – Miffy Draws: a wipe clean book (complete with a special Miffy pen!), and Miffy Outdoors, a sticker scene book with 50 individual stickers using Dick Bruna’s artwork. Both encourage children to get involved creating the scenes Miffy explores, and think about their own favourite pastimes.

Miffy Draws sunny and snowy

I think they’re great fun, and work beautifully with Tony’s prose – “Miffy is sailing on the sea! What can you add to the picture? Maybe you could draw a friendly whale or a quacking duck.”

It’s the perfect balance of informative and open to prompt kids to use their imaginations and thoroughly engage. I have a sense these will become treasured family heirlooms, packed with children’s early artwork – and the sweet stickers, which include a gorgeous one of Miffy in a bright yellow tent, are bound to be collectors’ items in years to come. But only if no one peels a single sticker, and where’s the fun in that?

Miffy stickers

They books are wonderful gifts for children, artists, or anyone with an enduring fondness for the little white rabbit with an inquisitive nature.

Miffy Draws and Miffy Outdoors are both available to buy from Amazon.

Find out how you can win a family trip to Amsterdam and Utrecht.