The precarious nature of being

Rosie McLay studioEntering Rosie McLay’s studio at The Island is like gaining admittance to a secret cave. Light floods from on high as rain tumults against windows set into the eaves, while every other surface jostles with art. Breasts cast in copper, resin and coal extend like stalactites from the walls, and etchings of gigantic wasps, octopi tentacles plus a hedgehog who might just savage you, leer from shadowy corners. Mirrors are reverse etched with paint scratched away to reveal negative sketches, proving that Rosie has a view of the world that is entirely her own.

Hedgehog print by Rosie McLay

Hedgehog print by Rosie McLay

It’s not entirely surprising when you consider Rosie’s upbringing. “I come from a family of creatives,” she says. “Dad is a joiner, making bespoke designer furniture, so I was always around the smell of sawdust and stacks of wood waiting to be transformed into other things. Mum was a photographer and film maker as well as doing embroidery and other things. She was always finding old things and turning them into new things.”

Rosie McLayIt was through this that Rosie’s own early artistic explorations began. “We were all encouraged to see the potential in everything, patch things up and reinvent them.”

Rosie graduated with a BA in Drawing and Applied Arts from UWE in 2014. While still on the course she began running makers’ fairs and has been creating and selling her work ever since.

A love of materials has been key to the direction her art has taken. “I love working with copper, but part of that is the machines. I love using those big Victorian presses.” Rosie is a member of Spike Print Studio, an open access organisation that offers technical support and courses, as well as allowing use of a varied selection of presses and other equipment.

Bone Case by Rosie McLay

Bone Case by Rosie McLay

Her most recent fascination is with glass. “It feels so clean and fragile. Working with it is quite spontaneous – you apply the paint and cast a blade and needles across it to etch away the layers you don’t want.”

The slipperiness of the surface is part of the attraction. “It feels so clean, far more so that drawing a pencil nib across rough paper. Working on glass makes me calm.”

If she wants to let out a more vigorous emotion, she says, she’ll turn to woodcuts or copper, “carving, shaping or puncturing holes.”

Wasp sculpture by Rosie McLay

Wasp sculpture by Rosie McLay

The fragility of glass is also appealing. “Glass is slightly dangerous – I like the sense that it can shatter. There’s an element of unpredictability. The material has a say in how the final piece will look.”

Rosie’s approach means that even the mistakes are welcomed, and even encouraged. She points out a beautiful etching on the wall that seems blotched with light. “I think I was a bit careless when preparing it, so it’s got my fingerprints on it and I smudged it with the heel of my hand. When it came out of the press, I thought, well, that’s a day’s work wasted, but now I can see that those marks make it a really interesting piece.”

Breast series by Rosie McLay

Breast series by Rosie McLay

For her latest exhibition, Rosie is toying with the idea of inviting viewer to touch her creations. “Despite the ‘do not touch’ signs at my previous exhibitions, my casts ended up with loads of finger marks all over them, most notably my copper breast where the marks became darkly tarnished over the days. All the fingerprints were in exactly the same place, everyone touched the breast in the same way. It’s as though it’s instinctive.”

Copper breast by Rosie McLay

Copper breast by Rosie McLay

The current exhibition focuses on Rosie’s thoughts about decay and regeneration – how all of us eventually die, and our bodies break down, often with assistance from the woodland creatures and insects she loves to draw.

Heart etching by Rosie McLay

Heart etching by Rosie McLay

“I want to explore our relationship to our bodies,” she says. “I find it very strange that I don’t really know what my organs look like. A lot of the time, we’re very separate to our bodies – it’s as though it’s just a vessel, a vehicle to take us through life.”

She adds with a grin: “I find it a miracle that I even exist. Every part of us is a mass of clever calculations and gungy stuff. I want to appreciate that more. It feels like a miracle to even be born.”

Rosie will be exhibiting at The Station, Silver Street, Bristol BS1 2AG, from 7-28th May. The gallery will be open from 11-8pm Mon-Sat. Find details at

Find Rosie at, RosieMcLay on Twitter and Rosie McLay Art on Facebook.

Writing prompt – influence

Boy meets the busker cr Judy DarleyIt’s my littlest nephew’s 3rd birthday this week, which means that any one of the many adventures he embarks on could well become his earliest memory.

On this day, he met a busker, stood transfixed, and then took the coins his mum gave his to drop into the busker’s guitar case.

The scene makes me think about the friendships that can form between the very young and very old – the positive influences each can have on the other.

Imagine your protagonist’s childhood. Who did they meet who helped shape the person they grew into? Alternatively, imagine your character very old – what small person might help them see the world with fresh eyes?

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

Life, Love and Mortality – a literary night

St John in the Wall photo credit Andy MarshallSt John in the Wall photo credit Andy Marshall

St John in the Wall © Andy Marshall

I’m really excited to be hosting a special literary event on 9th June 2016, at a very special Bristol venue. St John on the Wall is one of those magical places you can pass a thousand times without truly realising it exists, and then find it hard to believe you ever failed to notice it.

Late last year, I visited this church embedded in one of the only remaining sections of Bristol’s walls still standing. The atmosphere of the place, which is no longer used for religious purposes, immediately stirred my imagination.

Happily the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), who manage the space, were just as taken with the idea of a literary evening at this site as I am.

So this is what’s happening – nine individuals (poets, prose writers and musicians) are creating works inspired by the space and the themes life, love and mortality. These pieces will be performed in the setting of St John on the Wall, with many pieces being read from the pulpit. Doors open at 7pm, with the evening expected to end around 10.30pm.

There will be a small entrance fee of (£3 for early bird tickets, £4 thereafter, and a bar selling drinks. Proceeds will be split between the CCT, and homelessness charity St Mungo’s. Tickets are available from

Here’s some text from the official press release that has gone out:

“Featuring the words of Judy Darley, Paul Deaton, Louise Gethin, Harriet Kline, Mike Manson, Helen Sheppard, and Claire Williamson, plus the music of Joanna Butler and Paul Bradley, this will be an evening focused on the things that can stop us in our tracks, and spur us on to achieve our dreams.”

Hope you can come along!

Expressive views by Tim Mullins

On the Camino by Tim Mullins

On the Camino by Tim Mullins

“It’s been said that all art, whether it’s abstract, landscape, still life or portraiture is all really just a self-portrait of the artist themselves,” comments Tim Mullins. “With this in mind, I’d like to think people would also see a bit of themselves in my work and maybe understand how their own lives, past, present and future may link with the landscape.”

Tim’s landscapes are an uncanny mix of the serene and the explosive – tranquil backgrounds revved up by foregrounds overlaid with brushstrokes and scratches that suggest the movement, changeability, and unpredictability any true vista is subject to.

Windy day on the south downs, early spring by Tim Mullins

Windy day on the south downs, early spring by Tim Mullins

“Coming from a very artistic family on my mother’s side, I was always given interesting advice on my work as well as encouragement to be creative and try new things,” Tim says. “I learnt from an early age that art wasn’t just about pretty pictures and colour but was also a way of expressing yourself in the same way as one could with poetry or music. For me, art is the creative medium through which to express my feelings or to capture fragments of memories of places and times.”

Rather than attempting to capture a particular landscape or scene, Tim aims to “use a landscape or scene to express an idea, feeling or emotion. So for me the idea comes first and then I’ll use my memory to find a scene with which I can best illustrate the idea, feeling or emotion.”

Noon Alentejo, Hot Grey Sky by Tim Mullins

Noon Alentejo, Hot Grey Sky by Tim Mullins

Although his paintings are expressionist rather than representational, Tim does sometimes like parts of them to be accurate. “I’ll use photos or sketches of the particular area to make sure the hills, trees or fields are as I remember them.” Other times, he explains, he’s “more interested in the ‘feel’ of an area or habitat maybe say downland or the sea shore, so the painting could be of any range of hills or any coastline. I rarely, if ever, paint in situ as I find that there is too much visual stimulation and a temptation to record what I see rather than recreate what I feel.”

Storm on the Downs by Tim Mullins

Storm on the Downs by Tim Mullins

Painting predominantly from memory in his studio, Tim is freed up to  “allow my imagination to dominate reality. If I was to paint a typical downland scene one could change the whole mood and feel by simply having a very stormy sky. It would, of course, be up to the viewer to interpret the meaning of this and whether the storm was coming or going.”

This ambiguity is part of the satisfaction for Tim. “I hope my paintings evoke an emotional response, and encourage people to look at a landscape a little differently.  I would also hope people would feel the power of nature and its elements and how hard it is for us to control or use them. This is why many of my paintings are of very wild places and the edges of cultivation – moorlands, mountains, shorelines and wastelands where people struggle to make a living.”

High Fields Asturias by Tim Mullins

High Fields Asturias by Tim Mullins

He admits that the character of his work means it can occasionally be a frustrating experience.

“Sometimes a painting just won’t work however hard I try,” he says. “My style of painting is vigorous and dynamic where paint can be applied carefully with a delicate brush or smeared on with a large palette knife or even thrown at the canvas. When it does work and it all comes together, there is a wonderful feeling of achievement. It’s very rewarding when an image successfully captures a memory and this is made all the better when other people gain pleasure from looking at them.”

Wet Spring, Hawkley by Tim Mullins

Wet Spring, Hawkley by Tim Mullins

Tim exhibits regularly at the Affordable Art Fair in both Bristol and London through the Mae Gallery. He also participates in Hampshire Open Studios each August when Artists open their studios to the public. “As my studio is attached to my home,” he says, “I am always happy for people to come and see my work and give me feedback.”

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

Writing prompt – superstition

Wells Cathedral cr Judy DarleyI visited this impressive Gothic cathedral in Wells a while ago and was struck by a curious piece of information in the museum. Apparently back in the days when the cathedral was built (between the 12th and 15th century), it was traditional for a worn left shoe to be buried in the foundations of a new building to bring luck.

What a brilliant, random idea! Who might this shoe have belonged to? Why was it significant to the residents of that home?

I love the concept of weaving a piece of superstition like this into a story, making it the motivator for your protagonist’s deed – the more unsettling the better.

Find more superstitions-from-around-the-world here.

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

Enter the Bridport Prize

Port cr Judy DarleyOne of the UK’s most prestigious writing competitions, the Bridport Prize is currently seeking submissions of short stories, flash fiction, poems and debut novels.

The deadline for all competition entries is 12 midnight on Tuesday 31st May 2016.

So, first things first, choose your species of writing.

Bridport Prize artwork cr Paul Blow

@copy; Paul Blow

Here are the details of each section of the competition:

Poems may be up to 42 lines in length. Entries will be judged by Patience Agbabi. The winning poet will receive £5,000.

Short stories may be up to 5,000 words long. Entries will be judged by Tessa Hadley. The winning short story writer will receive £5,000.

Flash fiction may be up to 250 words long. Entries will be judged by Tim Stevenson. The winning flash fiction writer will receive £1,000.

Novel extracts may be between 5,000 and 8,000 words long, and must be from the opening chapters. You must also supply a 300-word synopsis. Entries will be judged by Kerry Young in conjunction with The Literary Consultancy. The winner of the Peggy Chapman-Andrews first novel award will receive £1,000, plus up to one year’s mentoring.

Find full details and enter your creative works at

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

Theatre review – Dark Land Light House

Dark Land Light House_credit Paul Blakemore3The scene opens on a tall metal structure and a single figure apparently fixing things. As the audience files in and takes its seats, he carries on – we are irrelevant. All that matters is keeping the lighthouse working and preventing ships from being drawn into the dark land below.

The man is Parcival (Derek Frood) and he has been here alone for ten years. Then Teller (Jessica Macdonald) arrives and takes the helm.

Dark Land Light House_credit Paul Blakemore

This is a story about loneliness in its biggest sense – the human race has dispersed throughout the universe and Teller is very much afraid that we truly are alone. However, as she is about to discover, there is one far more frightening possibility – that we are not alone.

Using footage, haunting lighting, sound and music by North Sea Navigator & Timothy X Atack, and even smell (courtesy of the dry ice), the play is a mastery of suspense and wonder. Jessica Macdonald is compelling as the woman left to keep the lighthouse working, with only a sentient computer, Hypatia (voiced by Laura Dannequin of Hardy Animal) for company.

Hypatia is a source of much of the wry comedy in the piece, trying out turns of phrase that seem out of place, but have been harvested from each of the preceding lighthouse keepers. There are times, however, when she also adds a thread of horror, not least when she takes too long answer, and then answers: “Sorry, I was reading a book.” Then fumbles and says, no, that’s not right. She was looking at something and now it’s gone.

There’s something deeply chilling about a machine revealing its frailties, particularly when that machine is the only thing standing between you and death.

Dark Land Light House_credit Paul Blakemore2

The dark land itself holds its own menacing presence – threatening, unknown and inexplicably enticing. Parcival calls it a siren. Teller gazes into the audience as she stares at the dark land so we get the full power of her awe face-on.

Jessica MacDonald is superb – she has us enthralled throughout, drawn in by her passion, her humour, and, towards the end, her raw distress. Derek Frood’s rough-edged Parcival is the perfect balance – the moment when they crouch together muttering about the end of the universe isn’t all easy to follow, but the depth of emotion rings true.

Dark Land Light House_credit Paul Blakemore4

We believe in these characters and care about Teller’s fate. More than that, though, you may find yourself considering the stars above you, and wondering what you could overcome and what you would give up for the thrill of travelling among them.

Eerie, thought-provoking, moving, exquisite – Dark Land Light House is a reminder of all that theatre can achieve, when done well and with a dauntless imagination.

Dark Land Light House is on at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until 30th April 2016. To book tickets, visit Presented by Sleepdogs, it’s produced by MAYK and is a Jerwood Charitable Foundation & Bristol Old Vic Ferment Commission.

Creative Team
Writer Timothy X Atack
Director Tanuja Amarasuriya
Original Music and Sound North Sea Navigator & Timothy X Atack
Production Design Rosanna Vize
Lighting Design Ben Pacey
Projection and Video Design Rod Maclachlan
All photography Paul Blakemore

Industrial splendour with Lisa Malyon


Clevedon Pier on jade by Lisa Malyon

Clevedon Pier by Lisa Malyon

Artist Lisa Malyon has an eye for the most intricate arcs and lines that form the structures that surround us. Her work mainly focuses on built things – bridges, piers and cranes are among her muses, captured in ink and on paper, with a touch of collage adding texture and a pleasingly abstract element.

“I have always loved the element of control in using a fine art pen and as a lover of detail it suits my style well,” she says of her technique. “I introduced a collage element onto the page, initially, to avoid the dread of an empty white page. The placement of collage paper, as well as giving my drawings a focal point adds texture referencing back to my textile degree.”

Textiles were an early passion for Lisa, leading her to gain a degree in Textile Design before “going slightly adrift with my career as a retail buyer.” She began drawing seriously after moving to Bristol in 2000.

Clifton Suspension Bridge by Lisa Malyon

Clifton Suspension Bridge by Lisa Malyon

Fittingly, given her new home amidst many of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s finest works, she soon “discovered a love of industrial architecture in particular. Drawing initially in a sketchbook, I progressed to larger paper.”

She adds: “I enjoy drawing the struts and supports in a pier or bridge as it helps me to make sense of them. Sometimes I wonder why I set myself such difficult challenges, but it helps concentrates the mind. Industrial architecture does it for me every time!”

Exhibiting at Bocabar Bristol in 2009 encouraged Lisa to find new possibilities for her line drawings.

“I attended a lampshade-making workshop at Bristol Folk House using printed fabric,” she says. “I replaced an old white drum lampshade with new handmade one. The white cotton lampshade sat on my dining table for weeks until one day I decided to draw on it.”

Clevedon Pier lampshade by Lisa Malyon

Clevedon Pier lampshade by Lisa Malyon

Lisa gave that first hand-drawn lampshade to a relative, and was pleased by how positively it was received. “This encouraged me to draw more. The fact that they are artworks with a purpose appeals to my pragmatic nature. A common misconception is that I print the lampshades but they are all hand drawn, and I want to keep it that way.”

Lampshades by Lisa Malyon

Selection of hand drawn lampshades by Lisa Malyon

Today, Lisa’s artwork, as well as her inspirations, are scattered throughout Bristol and beyond, including a selection of framed prints are exhibited at Hidden Art Gallery in Clifton Arcade, Clifton, Bristol, and original drawings at Café Grounded, Fishponds, Bristol.

Lisa will be exhibiting her hand drawn lampshades in the The Southville Centre at Bristol’s Southbank Arts Trail on 14th and 15th May 2016.

Find Lisa at and on Twitter at @lmalyondraws.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

Writing prompt – high wire

The Bullzini Family cr Joe Clarke

The Bullzini Family © Joe Clarke

This stunning photo was sent to me by the clever folks promoting Day At The Lake. I think it’s overflowing with potential stories.

Every love affair is something of a high wire act, requiring patience, trust and strength. Is this man proposing, apologising or entreating?

If you write something prompted by this idea, please send an email to Judy(at)socket to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on