Edinburgh Book Festival welcomes word-lovers

Edinburgh book festival gardensThis year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival is on from 11th-27th August, bringing writers and thinkers from across the globe to an avid lit-loving audience.

They say: “Take a journey of discovery through fact, fiction, poetry, personal stories and world affairs.”

Speakers include broadcaster and comedian Susan Calman on kindness, author Matt Haig on how to feel whole, plus discussions with graphic novelist Isabel Greenberg and Adele Patrick, the Lifelong Learning and Creative Development Manager at Glasgow Women’s Library. Look out for interactive theatrical experience The Hidden, and a celebration of Muriel Spark.
Continue reading

Writing prompt – bus

Bus stop by Judy Darley

There are pros and cons to public transport, and the public straddle both parts of this. On the positive side, bus stops and buses are excellent places to eavesdrop and gather details for realistic characters with believable speech patterns.

Next time you need to go somewhere beyond walking distance, why not catch the bus instead of hopping in your car? It may be less convenient and comfortable, but think of it as a low-cost writing exercise. You might just find the inspiration for a amazing story sitting right beside you, and all for the price of a ticket across town!

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.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Book review – Boy Meets Hamster by Birdie Milano

Boy Meets Hamster by Birdie MilanoFull disclosure, my review copy of Boy Meets Hamster arrived with a stick of rock. A themed stick of rock striped in the book’s colours and with the book title running right through the centre. So let’s just say I was pretty well disposed towards author Birdie Milano before I even read the first page.

But beyond exquisitely en pointe bribery, the concept of this novel immediately grabbed me. Quite simply, this is one of the most inclusive YA stories I’ve had the pleasure of bumping into.

Fourteen-year-old Dylan yearns for a dream holiday, but ends up on a budget trip to caravan park Starcross Sands. When he lays eyes on the beautiful boy in the caravan next door, he’s certain things are looking up, but his best friend Kayla’s not so sure.

Nibbles, the giant hamster who serves as the park mascot, “with a perm-grin and two massive back teeth,” seems to be wherever Dylan goes, much to his distaste.

Dylan’s little brother, Jude, has cerebral palsy, “which is a medical condition where his brain gets a bit muddled about telling his body what to do.” Jude also has a tendency to honk when distressed, and an ardent passion for said-hamster.

Their paramedic parents are embarrassing on a whole range of levels.

And Jayden-Lee, Dylan’s potential love interest, is incapable of speaking without saying something ignorant and cringe-worthy.

Each of these characters is utterly believable. They’re flawed, complex and capable of redemption, even those you might prefer to abandon tied to a miniature train’s tracks (and yes, that happens in one scene). These are people with more than one side to their personalities. In some cases they’re still figuring out who they really are, and that makes them all the more credible.

Birdie summons the spirit of the British seaside and sensibilities with everything from Elvis impersonators to garden gnomes, not to mention fairy-themed hen parties, and plenty of mayhem thrown in for added laughs. Comedic set pieces are stunningly visual, with Dylan always at the centre of them and never quite knowing why.

There’s thievery, football, meat-related catastrophes, and in the midst of it all that a dancing gigantic hamster, not to mention the possibility of Dylan’s first kiss.

And there’s also a startling level of wisdom about love from our teenage hero: “Falling in love felt a lot like falling into a canal. A sudden shock as you’re plunged into murky depths, with all kinds of unexpected dangers just below the surface.”

How could you resist?

The real magic of the story, however, lies in its emotional depth. This is a technicolour daydream rippled through with glitter and laughter, but the true beauty shines through in uncertainties Dylan faces, and overcomes.

Though intended for the YA market, this book is the perfect summer read for anyone who’s ever survived the intensity of a teenage kiss, or a UK caravanning holiday.

Boy Meets Hamster is by Birdie Milano and published by Macmillan Children’s Books. It’s available to buy from Amazon.

Seen or read 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.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Escape to Port Eliot

Port Eliot Festival cr Michael Bowles

All photographs used in this post are taken by Michael Bowles

Port Eliot Festival brings together some of the best creative talents around and plonks them in the midst of a magical sprawling garden party.

Enticingly, they say: “Our home is your playground for one magical weekend and nothing makes us happier than seeing you explore the Estate. Whether you’re swimming in the estuary, catching a literary star on the Bowling Green, rocking out at the Park Stage, canoeing on the river, catching an intimate gig in the church, watching a cooking demo on the Flower & Fodder Stage, a fashion show or dancing ‘till the wee hours in the Boogie Round – our home is yours for the weekend.”

It all kicks off on 26th July, running till 29th July, at St Germans, West Cornwall.

This year’s speakers, performers, mixologists and events include poet Hollie McNish, Helen Pankhurst, Robert Webb, Lucy Mangan, Tim Clare, Salena Godden, Geoff Dyer, Three Cane Whale, Salena Godden, Savannah Miller, Raleigh Rye, and so many others.

Look out for Travel Writing for Adventurers, the Great Diary Project, and Mindful Masculinity with Caspar Walsh.

There are also exhibitions to be inspired by: In The Round Room, you’ll find live play readings and poetry performances, a Virtual Reality installation, and late night screenings… There’s also the brand new Cinematheque celebrating women in film, Midnight Trapeze & Circus School, and Museum of Witchcraft Nightwalks.

Each of the stages have names that seem plucked straight from fairytales: Lark’s Haven, Walled Garden, Flower and Fodder, The Idler Academy and The Dead Man’s Fingers bar, being just a few.

Port Eliot woodland cr Michael Bowles

It helps, of course, that the surroundings are some of the finest SW England has to offer, with historical attractions including the oldest church in Cornwall – St Germans Priory Norman church. Natural delights range from the Grade 1 listed park and garden, to the estuary. Take a Bee Trail Workshop, go stargazing, try Canadian Canoing or enjoy a mid-summer wassail.Port Eliot estuary cr Michael Bowles

That’s not all though, not by a long short. As the organisers say: “we’ll celebrate words, music, imagination, ideas, nature, food, fashion, flowers, laughter, exploration, fun and all that is good in the world!”

Now, that’s my kind of party.Night at Port Eliot Festival cr Michael Bowles

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Writing prompt – found

Goblin by Judy DarleyImagine, a small stone goblin appears in a forest.

Where did it come from? Did someone leave it there? If so, why?

Imagine, one day the goblin disappears as mysteriously as it arrived.

Where did it go? Did someone take it? If so why?

What happens in the time these two events? What will happen next?

Puzzle out the answers to each of these questions, even if you don’t intend to share them all with your readers. Just knowing them will help to give your writing clarity and depth.

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.

SaveSave

Flash Walk – the stories

Flash Walk 2018. Photo by Judy DarleyOn Saturday 16th June I hosted a Flash Walk as part of the National Flash Fiction Day celebrations. We invited competition entries on the theme of Urban Landscapes, between 40 and 400 words in length. Wonderful submissions arrived from all over the world, which we managed to narrow down to 12 winning entries.

Ashley Green, Christopher Ryan and Poppy Hocken.

The stories were performed by actors Ashley Green, Christopher Ryan and Poppy Hocken, during the #FlashWalk from Bristol’s M Shedon Bristol Harbourside to The GreenHouse It was a wonderful to lead our audience across the city, and attract a few curious folks along the way. The rain held off until the very last story!

The winning stories are incredibly varied. Some are funny, some moving, some thought-provoking, some a touch surreal. You can read a selection of them here. Continue reading

Wasafiri New Writing Prize

Terra Nostra Tropical plants cr Judy Darley
Wasafari magazine invites submissions of Poetry, Fiction and Life Writing for its New Writing Prize. Each category offers a top prize of £300 plus publication in Wasafiri.

The competition is open to anyone worldwide who has not published a complete book in their chosen category.

Entries for Fiction and Life Writing should be no longer than 3,000 words, and Poetry submissions should comprise no more than five poems.

The closing date is 5pm GMT on 13th July 2018. Prize winners will be announced on 25th October, 2018.

Entries cost £6 each.

Find full details of how to enter at www.wasafiri.org.

Get a feel for the kind of thing Wasafari likes, read Anubha Yadav’s short story, The Beauty of Reality.

This year’s judges are include Malika Booker, who will be judging the poetry, Kerry Young, who will be judging the fiction, and Elleke Boehmer, who will judge the life writing category. Wasafiri Editor-in-Chief Susheila Nasta will chair the judging panel.

It’s worth bearing in mind the international ethos of the magazine. ‘Wasafiri’ is Kiswahili for ‘travellers’ and, as the Editor explains, “the name was chosen because many of those who created the literatures in which [Wasafiri was] particularly interested … have all in some sense been cultural travellers either through migration, transportation or else, in the more metaphorical sense of seeking an imagined cultural ‘home.’”

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.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Writing prompt – spirit

Les Colomes by Michael Pendry. Photo by Judy Darley.During a recent visit to Salisbury I made a special stop at the cathedral to see this beautiful exhibit by artist Michael Pendry, titled Les Colomes. It features more than 2,500 paper doves flocking in the cathedral nave.

The sculpture inspired a spectacular community project. Beyond the cathedral, paper doves flutter in windows across Salisbury, depicting the locals’ refusal to succumb to fear, following the chemical attack in the city last March, which poisoned former Russian spy Sergei Scribal and his daughter and Yulia.

Imagine a peaceful town becoming the epicentre of some kind of attack. How might the townspeople decide to show their resilience?

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.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Book review – Raising Sparks by Ariel Kahn

Raising Sparks by Ariel KahnOpening on a vibrant domestic scene as protagonist Malka prepares the Shabbat feast with her mother and sisters, Ariel Kahn’s novel Raising Sparks immediately immerses you in a life, locale and culture.

Malka has grown up in a strictly Orthodox Jewish household in old Jerusalem, where women are born only to marry and bear children, with education and thought reserved for the male members of society.

Malka’s father, a Yeshiva teacher of traditional texts, allowed her to learn at his knee for many years, but suddenly withdrew her illicit privileges without warning, and closed his study door to her without explanation. Malka remains frustrated, and hungry to learn more.

When she meets one of her father’s students, Moshe, and has a vision of a terrifying tree, she knows she needs to find out more on her own terms. For the first time, she leaves her restrictive, overprotective home, and boards a bus out of the city she has never previously been beyond.

Malka’s journey may only take her from Jerusalem to Safed to Tel Aviv, but in emotional and cultural terms is feels like a thousand miles. Kahn paints each step of her pilgrimage in vivid technicolour, throwing in friendships, foes and plenty of food along the way. Moments of magic realism are offset by Malka’s growing scepticism as she develops from innocent child to an independent being, with a few exceptional abilities for good measure.

I spent several months travelling in Israel at Malka’s age, and recognised myself in her naivety set against those distinctive backdrops. My favourite moments are those that unfold whenever Malka finds some inner piece – especially when she teaches herself to swim in the sea that laps Tel Aviv’s shore: “She was still terrified when the current tugged her under, but now she had faith that she would float back up. There were precious moments when she soared, weightless on the crest of a wave, smiling through the salt and foam.”

To me those lines sum up Malka’s character: her bravery, resilience and openness to finding joy. These are the qualities that keep us journeying beside her and invested not only in her story, but in the stories that incite her own curiosity and passion.

In many ways, Raising Sparks is a love letter to a conflicted country, riddled with questions about human nature and stupidity, as well as excitement about a world of possibilities. In a book all about the true power of words, Kahn is adept at bringing symbolism to vivid life. He captures the essence of vast societal problems whilst never losing sight of the heart of the matter – family and what that word actually means.

Raising Sparks by Ariel Kahn is published by Blue Moose Books and available to buy from Amazon.

Read Ariel Kahn’s guest post on the sights and encounters that sparked the inspiration for his debut novel Raising Sparks.

Seen or read 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.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave