Writing prompt – miffed

Geese by Judy DarleyEver noticed how much we humans love to anthropomorphise? This seems particularly true of birds. If I see a group of pigeons, I might mention them gossiping, or if I see a pair of ducks in a hotel swimming pool, my immediate thought is that they’re on holiday.

How about these geese spied recently in Bristol and looking somewhat peeved as the rain churns up their holiday idyll? How might their conversation go?

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


Book review – Who Are You? by Anna Kavan

Who Are You coverLike a long, hot fevered dream, Anna Kavan’s story of a stifling marriage swarms with darkness and half-seen threats. Living in a tropical region labelled only through slang as ‘white man’s grave,’ our heroine is struggling to give up of the illuminated life of academic pursuit she’s left behind and accept the wedded unhappiness she’s been forced into.

Her husband, known by the staff as Mr Dog Head, seems no more satisfied with the arrangement. Her silences make him distrustful, which in turn causes him to simmer with violence. Favourite games include playing tennis with unwary rats, and forcing the girl to look on. At any moment, it appears, he’ll turn that brutality on his wife.

We witness the story through the eyes of an omniscient narrator, who shares one viewpoint, then another, often only speculating about the inward cause of responses and actions. It feels as though we are the mosquitoes that the girl unthinkingly lets into the house – swarming and spying on this desolate marriage.

Continue reading

Head to the Bath Children’s Literature Festival

Child reading cr Julian Foxon Photography

© Julian Foxon Photography

Hungry for writing inspiration, or simply got young book-worms to entertain? Bath Children’s Literature Festival offers up a fantastic, imagination-stirring line-up of events.

The festival runs from Friday 29 September – Sunday 8 October 2017, with events for all ages, including inspiring and entertaining conversations with Julia Donaldson, Cressida Cowell, Jacqueline Wilson and Miranda Hart, as well as Michael Rosen, Eoin Colfer, Harry Hill, Ade Edmonson, David Baddiel, Kate DiCamillo, Ellen Anderson, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Ben Faulks, Christian O’Connell, and Gemma Cairney.

Learn to write picture books with Tessa Strickland or get to grips with writing for TV, take a drawing workshop, try your hand at animation or simply find out how to become a witch with author Kaye Umansky.

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

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

Writing prompt – fairytale

Repunzel photo by Judy Darley

I spotted this torn and disfigured book cover on a shady cemetery path. It feels like an apt reminder of the darkness inherent in traditional fairytales.

As a child the retellings of myths gathered or made up by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen frequently chilled me to my bones. Only in recent years have these twisted tales riddled through with warnings become saturated with the Happy Ever Afters we crave.

Write something skin-shiveringly unsettling inspired by this image.

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

Stitch by glorious stitch…

Ian Berry artistOne of the features I’ve most enjoyed writing recently is Oh Sew Beautiful for Simply Sewing issue 34 (in shops and available to buy online now). It gave me the chance to interview five exceptional artists who use threads and fabric as their medium.

Harriet Riddell, Ian Berry , Jessica So Ren Tang, Nigel Cheney and Michelle Kingdom each create worlds of light, shade, texture and dreams using their textiles of choice.

India, Living Root Bridge stitch by Harriet Riddell

India, Living Root Bridge stitched by Harriet Riddell

Harriet captures the scenes and faces she encounters on her travels using a peddle-powered sewing machine. “I like to work from life and use my surroundings as a colour reference,” she says. “I love the tactile nature of textiles. I love textures and how strong the use of line can be when in thread.”

Detail by Ian Berry

Detail by Ian Berry

The gorgeous painterly quality of Ian’s artwork is achieved through hours of painstaking effort. “They take a long time to create, layering up the denim pieces and also finding the perfect shade,” he says. “When I open up the pocket, underneath you’ve got such a strong indigo, with a gradient to where the pocket opens. I see the fade in the cat’s whiskers, the amazing contrasts around the belt and a hem, and all of this allows me to use the denim like paint.

Blue Willow Plate detail stitched by Jessica So Ren Tang

Blue Willow Plate detail stitched by Jessica So Ren Tang

Jessica fell in love “with the softness and tactile nature of embroidery. I could create 3D objects and illustrative thread paintings with textile and fabric. It offered the potential to create something new and different.”

Nigel Cheney dog portraits photo by Sylvain_Deleu

Dogs by Nigel Cheney, photo by Sylvain Deleu

Nigel is passionate about fabrics. “There’s something about the quality of colour when it’s in a soft material that can’t be beaten,” he says. “The way that linen will have a faded grandeur and silk a bloom and depth of shimmering colour is so seductive. The tactility of different fibres, their textures and physical properties never fail to make my heart sing.”

Using threads was instinctual for Michelle. “While it’s inherently beautiful, there’s also something primitive, awkward and fragile about it, which strikes me as both compelling and honest,” she says. “Undeniably tactile in nature, embroidery touches not only the seamstress in me, but connects me to the memory of so many women with stories buried in thread that came before me.”

Life Will Divide Us by Michelle Kingdom

Life Will Divide Us by Michelle Kingdom

Michelle’s preferred technique is to use thread loosely as a drawing tool. “More and more I move away from traditional stitch technique and prefer to play with thread in intuitive ways to recreate the medium. I tackle one new piece at a time and continue to plough ahead on new ideas. The medium seems the best way for me to express my private thoughts, and its results still surprise me after all these years.”

Read the full issue in Simply Sewing issue 34.

Manchester Poetry and Fiction Prizes

The Royal Exchange, Manchester cr Judy Darley

Manchester Writing Competition 2017 is open to online and postal entries, with categories for Poetry and Fiction. Both prizes offer a £10,000 first prize, so why not enter?

The competitions were instigated in 2008 by by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy in 2008. The aim was designed to attract the best new writing from around the world, and to establish Manchester as a literary focal point. These are the UK’s biggest literary awards for unpublished writing.

The deadline for entries is Friday 29th September 2017.

The chair of poetry judges is Adam O’Riordan, with Mona Arshi and Pascale Petit. The entry fee is £17.50. The £10,000 prize will be awarded for the best portfolio of three to five poems (maximum combined length is 120 lines).

Find full details and enter on the Poetry Prize page.

The chair of fiction judges is Nicholas Royle, with author Bonnie Greer and short story, poet and author ‌Angela Readman also judging. You may enter short stories on any theme amounting to up to 2,500 words. The entry fee is £17.50.

Find full details and enter on the Fiction Prize page.

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.

Reasons to visit AAF Bristol

Channel Orange by Rowdy via Clifton Fine ArtToday the Affordable Art Fair returns to Bristol. *squealswithjoy* Brunel’s Old Station at Temple Meads is already filling up with gorgeous artwork, and I can’t wait to get down there!

If you are after something special and spectacularly original, it’s a great place to go with a wad of cash or a healthy credit card in your pocket. Galleries from across the UK will be representing some extraordinary artists. I’ll be looking out for the Clifton Fine Art stand, which will feature work by the likes of Harry Bunce, Steve Slimm and graffiti artist Rowdy, who painted the vivid beauty at the top of this page.

Waiting For The Cloads To Break by Steve Slimm via Clifton Fine Art

Waiting For The Cloads To Break by Steve Slimm

The fair launches with a Private Charity View tonight from 5.30pm – 9.30pm, and is then open on Friday 9th Sept from 11am – 5pm, with a late view from 5-8pm, on Saturday 10th Sept from 11am till 6pm and on Sunday 11 Sept from 11am till 5pm.

For me the best part is simply to meander the vast space of the Old Station, traversing corridors of exceptional art and letting it set my imagination alight.

Find full details here.

Writing prompt – view

View by Judy DarleyIt may not seem like much, but this is the view I lost when some idiots decided to build a house a few feet from my backyard.

I’ve always relished having some space in front of me – a bit of distance on which to rest my eyes and some inspiring sky to help me come up with the next sentence or the perfect closing line.

What do you take for granted that you would miss if it was taken away?

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


Writers & Artists short story competition

Playa de San Antolin cr Judy Darley.Writers & Artists have teamed up with Retreat West for a free writing competition that offers you the chance to win a place on one of Retreat West’s writing retreats. As well as five days to focus on your writing in a beautiful coastal setting, the prize includes workshops taking place at the retreat.

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is write a short story no longer than 1,000 words.

The only stipulation here is that your story – which can be about anything you like – must use a beach as its setting, and must be written for adults.

Entries are free, though you must have an account with www.writersandartists.co.uk. The deadline for submissions is midnight on Sunday 17th September.

Please send all entries to competition@bloomsbury.com, with a subject line of “Retreat West Short Story Competition“.


The author of the winning story will receive a place on Retreat West’s Plotting Retreat, taking place from 17-21 November 2017 in West Bay, Dorset. Workshops over the weekend will be led by Richard Skinner, novelist and head of the Faber Academy, and Retreat West founder and novelist Amanda Saint. The retreat provides the opportunity to hone your writing skills in a beautiful location. Full details of the retreat can be found on the Retreat West website.

Both the winner and two runners up will also receive the latest edition of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook , a copy of one of our Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook Companion Guide series, and a copy of the 2016 Retreat West Anthology of stories from the annual RW Short Story Prize and RW Flash Fiction Prize. The winning stories will also be published on www.writersandartists.co.uk.

Find full details, including terms and conditions, at www.writersandartists.co.uk/competitions/retreat-west-short-story-competition

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.

Art to rock your weekend

Seawall by Karen Stamper

Seawall by Karen Stamper

The Other Art Fair returns to Arnolfini in Bristol tomorrow, and I can’t wait! It offers up countless brilliant examples of the exceptional art being created, and I’ve met a few of my favourite artists there, including the wonderful Karen Stamper.

Look out for hand poke tattoo artist Sarah Lu aka Needle and Chopstick, screenings from Encounters Film Festival, plus interactive poetry feature ‘I, the Poet. You, the Poet’ by the Cole sisters, Biba and Laurie. There will also be masses of exceptional exhibiting artists. Don’t miss Rosario Galatioto, Evie Kitt, Alan McLeod, Grace Green, Richard Heys and so many others, along with Karen Stamper who will be there again with her vividly atmospheric collage work.

Not Ready To Tell by Karen Stamper

Not Ready To Tell by Karen Stamper

The Other Art Fair is at Arnolfini, 16 Narrow Quay, Bristol BS1 4QA from 1st-3rd September 2017. The opening night is 5-9.30pm on Friday, with the show continuing from 10am till 6pm on Saturday and till 5pm on Sunday.

Find full details and buy your tickets here bristol.theotherartfair.com.