How to write hungrily

dad, me, shan 1962

Dad, me and Shan, 1962 © Lynne Rees

In today’s guest post, Lynne Rees, aka the hungry writer, shows us how to use the ‘taste of memory’ in our writing. All images in the post were supplied by Lynne.

What’s your earliest memory of food? Mine is Farley’s Rusks, those flattened domes of featherweight biscuits my mother bought for my baby brother. I remember eating them dry, their distinctive sweet wheatiness, or in a bowl with milk where they transmuted into an immediate sludge. I don’t remember the occasion of this photo though, eating chips with my older sister and father on holiday in North Wales. It is 1962. I am four. The year before our brother is born.

Welshcakes cr Lynne Rees

Welshcakes © Lynne Rees

While I was teaching creative writing at the University of Kent a couple of my students commented that I couldn’t get through a seminar without mentioning food or drink. Really? I didn’t set out with that intention. There were no references to food in my lesson plans. But, yes, they were right. A bruise could be the colour of raw liver; the scent of bread heavy with promise. And, of course, if I was teaching around 1st March – St David’s Day, the patron saint of Wales – whichever writing groups I was leading that week got to taste my homemade Welshcakes.

To misquote a popular song, food was all around me!

And there was more. More than I realised. In The Oven House, my first book published in 2004, food is comfort, a metaphor for healing. It appears in my poems in the company of children, an unsettling chip shop owner, a bare-breasted woman striding down the street of a Californian town. And since 2010 it has been the central ingredient in the hungry writer’s weekly blog, a place where I eventually settled to record the moments when food, words and life collide.

Penrhyn railway bridge food cr Lynne Rees

Penrhyn railway bridge food © Lynne Rees

As writers, how do we recognise those compulsions and passions that are worth exploring, the ones that will ultimately feed us and our readers? I’ve come to the conclusion that everything feeds us: the ideas and projects that end up as insubstantial as cappuccino foam as well as the ones that rise like sweet cake and stay risen. I recognise that the process of writing, fully engaging with the discipline and boundaries of our work, is ultimately nurturing, and often delivers in ways we hadn’t planned or anticipated.

The first year of the hungry writer blog, with my self-imposed boundaries of posting weekly without fail, on the subject of food and family, and keeping in mind the idea of simple story telling rather than trying to impress with literary fireworks, gifted me the greater part of my fragmented memoir of home, forgiving the rain (Snapshot Press 2012).

If I hadn’t found that particular story-telling voice, upbeat but not flippant, accessible but with meaning and emotional depth, then I doubt I would have been commissioned to write Real Port Talbot (Seren Books 2013), a psycho-geographical account of my home town in South Wales.

Writing produces writing. It’s that simple. Not always a feast, of course. We have to be prepared for flops and indigestible left-overs. But even they can end up being recycled: our very own writer’s compost.

Food remains my passion on the hungry writer and although the years have seen me expand my original boundaries of food and family to include friends, travel, guest posts, books, social commentary and even jokes, the weekly writing prompts have been a constant. They are obviously formed in response to the specific memory, experience or insight I’m writing about that week but I trust they are universal enough for other writers to use in the exploration of their own lives and imaginations, to assist in lifting the lid on the scents and flavours of their own passions. Dancing, architecture, family history. Music, mountains, mathematical equations. The list is infinite. And if you haven’t identified a passion in your life yet? Don’t worry. Just write and keep on writing. Go deeper. What matters will eventually make itself known.

Hungry writing prompt
Write about a scent that reminds you of home.

 the docks cafe cr Lynne Rees

Lynne ReesAbout the author

Lynne Rees was born and grew up in Port Talbot, South Wales, UK but left in 1978 to work in offshore banking in Jersey, Channel Islands. She moved to Kent, UK in 1985 where she opened and ran her own second-hand and antiquarian bookshop, Foxed & Bound (the inspiration for her novel, The Oven House), for twelve years. She began writing in 1988, obtained her Master’s degree in writing from the University of Glamorgan in 1996 (studying under the celebrated Welsh poet, Gillian Clarke) and was  awarded an International Hawthornden Fellowship in 2003.
The Hungry Writer: Eat, Live Write, a collection of stories, reflections, poems, recipes and a year’s worth of writing prompts will be published by Cultured Llama in Autumn 2015.

Lina Lofstrand’s marine magic

Flying whale cr Lina LofstrandEver seen a whale soar through the air, just skimming the tops of the waves with its tail trailing behind? No, me neither, but this picture by Lina Lofstrand makes me feel like that’s just because I haven’t happened to be in the right place at the right time to glimpse one.

“The Flying Whale is a whale with really small wings so he can only jump out of the water and stay in the air for short periods,” Lina says. “He uses this technique to see if any of his family or friends are close by.”

All of Lina’s work offers up this sense of a world sitting beside ours, or perhaps entangled with it but only visible as reflections in raindrops and oil-slicked puddles. In other words, the overlooked magic in everyday life.

Mermanmaid cr Lina Lofstrand

Mermanmaid © Lina Lofstrand

 

I’ve loved drawing and making things for as long as I can remember,” Lina comments when I ask her how she got started. “When I was little I used to scribble on receipts and bits of paper from my mum’s bag whenever I had to sit and wait. I don’t think I ever decided to become an artist, more that I was lucky enough to find a way to continue drawing and also make a bit of money from it.”

The marine theme, Lina explains, comes from “growing up in Sweden close to the sea. I use to take the dog for walks and watch the ships come in or leave Stockholm’s harbour. Both my mum and my brother are professional sailors so a lot of my inspiration is from my family and the stories they tell me. My mum and stepdad have been living on a boat for the last four years and are travelling the world together.”

The majority of Lina’s male characters boast impressive facial hair, which she said is “ partly from looking at old photographs of sailors and sea farers with big beards and moustaches, but also because it’s fun to draw and gives a lot of character and personality to the figure I might be drawing!”

Windy Couple cr Lina Lofstrand

Windy Couple © Lina Lofstrand

Lina built on her early love of creating by studying a Drawing and Applied Arts degree at University of the West of England. She’s now a member f Blaze, the artist run co-operative in Bristol you may have seen mentioned on SkyLightRain.com before. “I make most of my art in my basement studio at Blaze, and sell the things I make in the shop upstairs,” she says. “I also do a lot of markets where I sell my work and get a chance to meet with people and other local artists.”

I really enjoy how much personality Lina imbues her drawings with – many of her characters look like they’ve escaped from a children’s book or fime – Alice in Wonderland and Labyrinth both spring to mind. Lina’s heroes include American author and illustrator Edward Gorey, an influence evident in many of her line drawings. She also find inspirations in the work of “Scandinavian artist Carl Larsson’s beautiful paintings and Sven Nordqvist  and Elsa Beskow’s children’s books illustrations.”

Shrimp riders by Lina Lofstrand

Shrimp riders © Lina Lofstrand

She adds. “I love working with my hands and creating something that didn’t exist before, either from clay, fabric or just a blank piece of paper. I really enjoy being able to give life to characters and places from my imagination. Shrimp Riders is a bit of a joke of what I think the mounted troops would look like underwater, where they ride shrimps instead of horses and look rather goofy!”

Lina finds inspiration and ideas “very easily and feel like time is never enough to make all the things I want to! Mischievous Marauders is a watercolour painting under the theme Allotments that I did as a part of a group show for a shop in Bishopston. I made it last summer after a particular unlucky season at my allotment where there were a lot of hungry animals that nibbled my crop!”

Mischievous Marauders cr Lina Lofstrand

Mischievous Marauders © Lina Lofstrand

Other inspiration sources include “meeting people, being outside in the nature and animals. I get a lot of ideas from the pine woods in Sweden and the animals that live there, but also from people I meet or see around in town.”

In fact, seeking out these ideas and finding ways to capture them on the page fuels Lina’s creativity more than anything else does.

“I love the freedom drawing gives you to create your own characters and imaginary worlds. I love finding inspiration in everyday life and using that to create my own imaginary characters.”

Find Lina’s creations at Blaze in Bristol, on www.linalofstrand.com or at her Etsy shop  Lina Makes.

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

Midweek writing prompt – mistakes

Handwashing in Hospital by Susi Bancroft, plus reflections of figuresHave you ever wondered how artists work? From the conversations I’ve had and the observations I’ve made it seems that experimentation is to be at the forefront of many’s processes, with ‘mistakes’ and happy accidents leading to some of their best works.

Last week I attended the exhibition launch of Drawn at the RWA (a fabulous exhibition full of works using and interpreting drawing in an astonishing variety of ways), and fell in love with a triptych of works by Susi Bancroft titled Handwashing in Hospital, and using a mixture of drawing and free machine sewing. They’re filled with a sense of movement, even haste, and I crouched down to take a photo (flash off, and with permission, natch).

What I hadn’t considered were the crowds milling through the room, who’s silhouettes showed up on the crisp white background as I snapped it. When I realised what I captured, it made me smile. Purely by accident, I’d taken an artist’s work of art and added a new dimension to it. Tahdah! Perhaps the shadows imprinted on the scene offer a sense of the people waiting to be looked after in the hospital.

I’m not suggesting you take others’ work and subvert it too your own ends. My point is that accidents happen, and can be embraced. A misspelling that tweaks the meaning of a sentence, a spill of ink that changes the shape of a drawn tree into a possible monster in your artwork. Embody printmakerJulie Paterson’s Imperfect manifesto – don’t delete your mistakes or cast them aside too quickly, take a moment to consider whether they add something to the work you hadn’t anticipated. You might find yourself wanting to welcome them in.

Drawn will be at the RWA in Bristol until 7th June 2015.

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 Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

The Shock of The Fall coverThis beautiful, funny, sorrowful book is an impressively assured debut. Drawing on the realities of the modern day health services from the point of view of a ‘service user’, Nathan Filer has woven a tale of sibling love, family grief and mental disintegration that begins with a funeral for a doll at a Dorset campsite.

Filer has been interviewed extensively about the Costa Award-winning book, and is open about the influence of his work as a mental health nurse in creating the world of 19-year-old schizophrenic Matthew Homes. Strikingly, however, he has dug deep in Matt’s state of mind and has devised a variety of means to immerse us in it, including sketches, typefaces and, always, a heart-achingly upfront voice.

This first person account gives Filer a freedom that he has made full, and very skilful, use of. Flipping backwards and forwards through time gives him the opportunity to keep the suspense ramped up, as we revisit crucial moments and sometimes (now putting the unreliability of Matt’s narration to excellent use) encountering several different versions of the same scene. I found his unique style swept me along as I vied to find out the truth – what happened to Matt’s brother Simon on that family holiday in Devon? And what’s happened to Matt since? Continue reading

Tackle an art project exploring mental illness

What's in my headIt’s remarkable that fifteen year’s into this century mental illness remains a taboo subject. The ‘What’s in Your Head’ exhibition for the Fringe Arts Bath Festival aims to tackle the stigma head on, literally.

Curated by Bath Mind, a charity that works to alleviate the suffering of people with mental health problems, the exhibition will be a collaborative venture inviting participation from anyone interested in exploring the topic in a visual way.

All you need to do is download a picture of an outline of a head (a version of it is shown at the top of this post) and fill it with the thoughts they wouldn’t normally dare to share.

“We’re really excited about What’s in my Head and hope to get some really interesting entries,” says Kate McDonnell, Bath Mind trustee. “You don’t have to be an artist to submit work, and you can do so anonymously if you wish. With around 25% of us experiencing some kind of mental health issue at some point in our lives, it’s really important to stand up and talk about it. It can help those suffering mental distress to feel less alone and more able to get help when they need it; it can help their family and friends gain insight into what their loved ones may be going through.”

You can download the application form and head outline here, and send your completed artwork to What’s in My Head, Bath Mind, 13 Abbey Church Yard, Bath, BA1 1LY.

Closing date for entries is 17th April, ready for the exhibition taking place as part of Fringe Arts Bath Festival this May. It’s a curated show, so not all entries will make it in, but all entries will be displayed online on the Fringe Arts Blog.

So why not put your creativity where your mind is and challenge concepts of normality?

Tranquility and elegance in Bath

Judy outside Dukes Hotel cr James HainsworthThere’s something deliciously decadent about a hotel stay only ten miles or so from home. Add in the fact that our stay was at Dukes on Great Pulteney Street in Bath and I really felt I ought to have been swishing down grand staircases in a floor-length gown.

We arrived soon after midday on a sunny March day and were warmly welcomed by Carole, who runs the boutique guesthouse with her husband Christopher. Reaching the property from Bath Spa train station meant a lovely stroll alongside the River Avon frothing over its weir, and across the 18th century Pulteney Bridge. Bath is a famously pretty Georgian town with biscuit-coloured buildings, and few more striking than Great Pulteney, with a broad sweep leading the beautifully columned Holburne Museum.

The Holburne Museum cr James Hainsworth

We dropped off our bags and heading straight to the museum, where we spent a happy afternoon ogling the permanent collection’s portraits (including this one of the Byam family by Thomas Gainsborough, with the child added later – fascinating to think how they altered their formal portraits over time!) and peering into narrow drawers showcasing intricately carved netsuke and the like.

The Byam Family by Thomas Gainsborough

The Byam Family by Thomas Gainsborough, on long-term loan from the Andrew Brownsword Arts Foundation

The museum has a lovely café overlooking the Sydney Gardens Vauxhall, where Jane Austen walked daily when living in Bath. We meandered through it happily, admiring the many bridges crossing the Kennet and Avon Canal and railway, the Minerva Temple (pictured below), and a profusion of early spring flowers.

Judy at Minerva's Temple cr James Hainsworth

Back at the hotel, we were shown to our room by Roman (as Carole commented, very appropriately named when you consider the town’s heritage!), and found we’d been allocated the sumptuous Athol, one of two fitted with glorious four-poster beds. What a room! Luxurious, comfortable and utterly refined with numerous corners to nestle into and read or write, it’s the perfect retreat.

Dukes Hotel four-poster bed by Judy Darley

We ventured out again to explore the shops on Pulteney Street (and indulge in coffee and cake at the Bridge Coffee Shop, pictured below) and dip into the Victoria Gallery before ambling up to the Rostra Gallery and a whole array of dinky little independent shops selling assorted covetable things.

Bridge Coffee Shop cr Judy Darley

Dinner that night was at the Huntsman, where we feasted on pheasant followed by creamy panna cotta. Downstairs it seemed to be open mic night, so we curled into a corner festooned with fairy lights and listened to an excellent miscellany of local musicians.

The next morning we woke in our beautiful room and feasted on breakfast in the Duke’s dining room before leaving our bags at reception and heading off to the Thermae Bath Spa. Tucked away down a warren of streets just off the main shopping thoroughfare, the imposing structure has been controversial over the years (due mainly to its late completion and cost to taxpayers), but as marketing manager Charlotte Hanna says, any objectors who’ve sampled the spa’s services for themselves have found it difficult to maintain their annoyance with the place.

In fact, it’s fairly impossible to hold onto annoyance of any kind. The waters of the only natural thermal spring in Britain eases muscles and minds alike, and after a couple of hours of mostly bobbing around I was in a semi-comatose blissed out state.

I’d previously visited just a year after it opened when a few small kinks were being worked out, and was happy to find that in the seven years since it has only got better. The Minerva Bath, a large indoor pool, gave us the chance to acclimatise to our surroundings and enjoy drifting gently with the current. From there we climbed the stairs to the spa’s standout feature, the open-air rooftop pool, where sunlight bounced off the water’s surface and regular deluges of bubbles transformed it into a gigantic mineral-rich hot tub. The height of the building offers views over the surrounding buildings and countryside, which ensuring a sense of relative privacy, not that you’ll care once the tranquility kicks in.

Thermae Spa Rooftop Pool steaming in sunlight by Andy Short

We wandered downstairs to the Aroma Steam Rooms, where four large pods each offer a different aromatherapy experience from sandlewood to lotus flower. In the centre of the room, a waterfall shower ranged from light mist to a tropical downpour, a great way to liven ourselves up after each steam.

Time was slipping by so we headed back upstairs for one last sunlit wallow before heading to the Spring Restaurant to feed our relaxed selves on fresh fish, wine and salted caramel cheesecake. Well, we had to get those toxins back in some how!

Find out more about visiting the city at visitbath.co.uk.

Organic shapes with Cheryl Brooks

Elderflower buds - lino cr Cheryl Brooks

Elderflower buds lino print © Cheryl Brooks

Organic silhouettes and echoes printed on circles enclosed within squares form the heart of artist Cheryl Brooks’ work. “I lived in Barcelona for eight years and grew very interested in the geometry of Islamic tile patterns – they can’t depict anything natural, so it’s all about the shapes, and they must look perfect, but can never actually be perfect. That was the beginning of the idea for me.”

Drawing these ideas into her own work, Cheryl began to meld it with an obsession with the geometry seen in plant life, and then expanding it.

Geometric Sero - Green & Peach cr Cheryl Brooks

Geometric Sero © Cheryl Brooks

“While in Barcelona I had a dog who was not my dog,” she smiles, “and I would walk in the park with this dog who was not my dog. I began taking lots of close-up photos of the flowers I saw there, examining their intricate forms.”

Back in England, Cheryl continued to explore, developing a series of pieces playing with the visuals of cow parsley, elderflowers and other botanical shapes. “I love taking something small and making it bigger,” she says. “No matter how small the original blossoms are, the natural geometry is still there.”

Bloom 2 cr Cheryl Brooks

Bloom 2 © Cheryl Brooks

Long before she realised she wanted to be an artist, Cheryl recognised the joy making things gave her. “I love working with my hands – cutting, pasting and printing,” she says.

The desire to make and create initially led to Cheryl training to be an interior designer, gaining both a BA and MA in the discipline before taking a job designing spaces for pubs and nightclubs. “I eventually left that because it was so stressful and on such a large scale,” she says, “but I still wanted to be in that industry, so I worked with an architect in Cheltenham, still as an interior designer, but on much smaller projects.”

At this time Cheryl began taking a life drawing class, and then left Cheltenham to go travelling. “An Australian friend I had met while travelling asked, what do you really want to do? And I said, be an artist. Then she asked, are you good enough? And that got me thinking.”

With questions like that, who needs a life coach? The result was another BA followed by an MA, both in Fine Art. “So now I was MA squared,” Cheryl grins.

The most important thing she felt she learnt on these courses was how to transfer her ideas into art. “I had all these thoughts in my head and wanted a way to express them, to find my own way to make sense of the world and share this.”

Cow Parsley - 2 Blues, 3 Flowers cr Cheryl Brooks

Cow Parsley – 2 Blues, 3 Flowers © Cheryl Brooks

Part of Cheryl’s MA was spent in Barcelona, a city she fell in love with so deeply she returned in about 2004 to make a go of being a full time artist there. “It was really hard,” she admits. “I did have a gallery who sold my work, but still… You have to get used to being very poor, and after a while that’s all you can think about. It gets in the way of the work, of the creating.”

To counteract this, Cheryl trained as an English language teacher, which freed her up to focus fully on creating whenever she had the time. After eight years in Barcelona, though, it felt like time to return to England, this time to Bournemouth with its profusion of foreign students in need of a good language teacher.

Teaching, for Cheryl, is about sharing her knowledge and encouraging others to join in – an ethos that also informs the collaborative art project she launched, titled Image Flowers https://imageflowers.wordpress.com. “We have a series of core images that people can look at and think, that reminds me of… and then produce a work in response to it, or simply submit a photo,” she explains. “The idea it that the initial image is the centre of the flower and each of the responses is a petal. It’s about opening up dialogue. Anyone can get involved.”

Being involved, a part of something bigger, has worked well for Cheryl. While settling into her new Bournemouth life in 2013, Cheryl joined Poole Printmakers. “They’ve been going for over 20 years. It’s a cooperative where you can go and use the presses, meet other printers, do courses. It’s very inspiring!”

Having a space to go and be creative in was especially important to Cheryl at that point. “I was renting a room in a shared house, so had nowhere to work,” she remembers. “These days I have a studio in my own house, where I tend to hand roll the prints, but if I want to use a press I go to the cooperative and make as many as I need.”

Natural Geometry cr Cheryl Brooks

Natural Geometry © Cheryl Brooks

The break away from painting to printing made a huge difference to Cheryl’s perception of her work. “Printing takes me away from concentrating too much on the concept and allows me to focus on the image,” she explains. “It allows me to create something more immediate, and by making multiples rather than a single image that takes a long, long time, it means each piece is not so precious.”

Cheryl’s materials emphasise this, as many of her striking round pieces are created using the polystyrene circles you find in the packaging of shop-bought pizzas. “I love the round shape,” she comments. “The polystyrene is very receptive to the oil-based printing inks I like to use. The surface is quite soft so you can create a lot of expressive marks simply by pressing lightly.”

It sounds really satisfying! Cheryl also creates linocuts, which is a lot more challenging but results in a very different effect. “A pizza base plate has a very limited life, while a lino plate will print again and again,” she points out. “The lino is harder which means they’re much more precise. A pizza base will always squidge a little, which produces a very different look.”

This technique for creating prints has in itself formed the idea for another online project, this time in the form of an arts hub called Pizza Base 15 http://pizzabase15.wordpress.com. “It’s a virtual arts centre, with workshops, a café with cake recipes, exhibitions and more,” she explains.

More recently, Cheryl has been taking a course in surface printing on textiles. “I’d like to take it away from fine art and back towards craft,” she says. “I want to explore the possibilities of making things you can actually use and wear rather than just hanging them on a wall – learn about pattern repeats, the dyes and inks you need to use, and try printing with pizza bases onto fabric.”

Elderflower Circle - Lemon, aqua cr Cheryl Brooks

Elderflower Circle © Cheryl Brooks

Cheryl particularly relishes the juxtaposition of circles within squares, a pairing seen in many of her framed works.

“It’s the infinite within the rational,” she says, “The organic world is full of spirals and spheres, but there are no squares in nature. It’s a manmade shape. I love putting the two together.”

Find Cheryl at pizzabase15.wordpress.com, imageflowers.wordpress.com and cherylbrooks.weebly.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 – lost

Rocky Mountains cr Judy DarleySome places certainly are more hospitable than others. Imagine you wake from a deep sleep and find yourself here. You don’t know where in the world you are, or how you got here. There’s no one else in sight and no sign of civilisation. It’s cold though – bone-chillingly cold, and you can’t simply wait for help to arrive. For one thing, you can see the shapes of large wild animals in the distance, and they might just be hungry…

What happens next? You decide.

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.

Film review – Still Alice

Julianne Moore as Alice in Still Alice1There are a lot of films out there about Alzheimer’s disease. Since my father was diagnosed with the disease I’ve been advised not to see several. The trailer for Still Alice, in which Julianne Moore’s character explains to her daughter (played by Kristen Stewart) how having the disease feels, intrigued me. But I wasn’t sure I had the nerve to watch it.

Having a parent, or any loved one, with Alzheimer’s, is like watching a gradual, unstoppable erosion. Sometimes it’s difficult to see what’s been lost, and other times it’s hard to remember what was once there. This film is an excellent reminder to live in the moment – because that’s all you can do.

I occasionally find postcards or emails from Dad that I’ve saved and recall suddenly his wit, his intelligence, his humour and emotional grace. He’s still here, and still full of passion for life, but he’s old in a way I never thought possible. He can’t always understand what’s said to him, and is often confused.

I think of the enormous conversations we used to have, the flights of fancy and the moral conundrums we’d explore, and realise how much I miss him. I think that’s important. I can give the him that remains all the love in the world, but I need to mourn the man already lost to us. And that’s hard, I think, for most people to understand.

Still Alice explains it far, far better than I can. My sister (who happens to be called Alice) suggested we go together, which deepened the experience and also opened up our shared but generally uncommented on experience of what’s happening to Dad, and, in reflection, to us.

We sat in the dark cinema and watched the on-screen Alice, only a decade or so older than us, begin to disintegrate. We saw her fear, and the dread of her husband and children. We watched her find moments of comfort and humour against lovely scenery, and we cried (quietly so as not to disturb other viewers around us) as she travelled the journey our father is still in the early stages of.

Regardless of whether you have any personal connection to the film, it’s a heart-rending, sensitively portrayed story well worth watching. Human beings are frail, but we’re also resilient, and Julianne Moore, in her Oscar-winning performance, gave the character a sense of realism that made me feel I knew her, and understood on some small level what she was going through.

Julianne Moore as Alice in Still Alice

There are many moving scenes in the film, including some instances I recognised from my father’s behaviour, such as when she and her husband (played brilliantly by Alec Baldwin) go for ice cream and she echoes his order rather than ask for what she really wants. My dad does that, not always, but occasionally. It makes me realise how important it is that I try to remember what he likes, for the times when he doesn’t.

The standout scene for me, however (the one that made me sob onto my sister’s shoulder) was the one when she gives a talk at a meeting of the Alzheimer’s Association and, using a highlighter pen to follow her words, talks eloquently about her condition. She’s not suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, she corrects us, she’s struggling with it. It’s a delicate distinction, but a crucial one, and a reminder of the exhaustion that comes with each unfamiliar day.

Still Alice was a beautiful experience to share my sister. I’m glad to have seen such a powerful film, filled with stunning acting and cinematography, but more than that I’m glad we watched it together, because at the heart of it, this is a film about family, and about love.

Director Wash Westmoreland
Screenplay Wash Westmoreland, Richard Glatzer
Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart

Still Alice is available to watch at Watershed, who kindly supplied the images for this post, and cinemas across the UK

Enter a comic poetry contest

flying spaghetti monster cr Ruth Haydock

While I’m a fan of sensitive, thought-provoking poetry, there’s definitely something to be said for an intelligent comical poem. Just writing one can lift your spirits – especially necessary through these wet winter storms.

The Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest, sponsored by Winning Writers, seeks to celebrate the art of writing poems that make others smile. The creature at the top of this post may well be the closest we’ll come to viewing a true Wergle Flomp, and was created by Ruth Haydock of www.knittwittowo.wordpress.com and instagram.com/knittwittowo.

There’s no fee to enter the writing competition, so what have you got to lose?

Your poem may be of any length. Have a read of last year’s winners, to get some inspiration, then let your imagination run riot, and unleash your talent for comic verse.

Make sure you upload your masterpiece to winningwriters.com/wergle before the submission deadline of April 1st (April Fools’ Day – how apt is that?).

Jendi Reiter is the final judge, assisted by Lauren Singer. Top prize is $1,000 and there will be ten Honorable Mentions of $100 each.

All the winners will be published on the Winning Writers website.