Midweek writing prompt – repressed memories

70s kids cr James NyeImage you’re going through an old photo albums (remember those? Back in the days when photos were physical things?). You find a photograph of a group of children, and 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.

Enter Mslexia’s 2014 Women’s Memoir Competition

Mum's eye view cr Judy DarleyEager to share your life story? There’s still time to enter Mslexia’s Women’s Memoir Competition. The deadline is Monday 22 September 2014, and the competition is open to previously unpublished women memoirists. Submissions must be in prose, and narrate actual events in your life, but can be as creative as you like. The narrative can be in any tense and in first, second or third person.

Mslexia Memoir CompTo be eligible, your complete memoir must be at least 50,000 words long. You must submit the first 5,000 words of the memoir with your entry. Any preface is included in your 5,000 words. There’s no need to submit a synopsis.

To get started, visit Mslexia’s workshops page, with memoir writing exercises by Julia Blackburn.

The six shortlisted authors will be invited to meet literary agents and editors at a special networking event in London. The judging panel are memoirist and novelist Julie Myerson, literary agent Jenny Brown and Women’s Editor at the Guardian Jane Martinson.

Entries must be typed, double-spaced, on single sides of A4 paper, with the page number and your memoir title (but not your name) on every page.

Use a separate cover sheet with your name and full contact details, plus your memoir title.

Entering costs £25, and can be made by post or online.

Find full details at www.mslexia.co.uk. Good luck!

Win a trip to the home of Miffy

Tony Mitton meets MiffyRemember Miffy? The white rabbit from Utrecht, near Amsterdam, embarked on a mass of adventures in 1955 thanks to illustrator, graphic designer and writer Dick Bruna. And now, prompted by her UK publisher Simon and Schuster, she’s setting out again, ready to enthrall a brand new generation.

How could they resist? I’m not sure I can. From Miffy At The Gallery (pictured below) to Miffy At The Zoo, this is one curious and cultural bunny. With her 60th anniversary on the horizon, award-winning poet Tony Mitton has produced updated text modern readers will enjoy. The new books promise to interest children in a wide range of activities, while pleasing adults too.

Miffy at the Gallery

In case you were wondering, that’s Tony pictured at the top of this post, shaking hands with his new muse – Tony’s the one on the left :)

Dick Bruna at work

Dick Bruna at work

To celebrate, Waterstones is running a competition to win a weekend in Amsterdam for a family of four. The prize includes a day trip to Miffy’s home town of Utrecht to find out more about Dick Bruna, the Dutch artist who invented the fluffy adventurer to entertain his young son while on a rainy seaside holiday. He ended up writing and illustrating 32 books about the perky rabbit.

The competition runs throughout August and is open to Waterstones loyalty card members only (you can sign up for a loyalty card in any Waterstones branch or online at www.waterstonescard.com).

The winning entry will receive flights from a UK airport for a family of four, two nights in a hotel in Amsterdam, plus rail tickets to Utrecht and free entry to the Dick Bruna exhibition.

Find the full competition details here. I think it sounds well worth entering – and a great excuse to jump back into the colourful world of Miffy.

Hop by next week to read my review of the latest Miffy titles to hit the shelves.

Malka Dubrawsky’s vivid geometrics

Windows cr Malka DubrawskyNot all artists work with paint and canvas, and yet when we consider ‘art’ those are the materials the majority of us think of. I love art in the broader, more inclusive sense, one that involves expression in all kinds of materials, from ink to fabric.

I encountered Malka Dubrawsky through a snippet on the news pages of a patchwork magazine I wrote for recently. Her use of colour and bold shapes immediately caught my attention.

Malka has been working with and making textiles for the past 20 or so years, but she started out with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art with a focus on printmaking.

“I’m not so sure I wanted to be an artist as much as I wanted to be a maker,” she says. “I have always loved making things, drawings, collages, knitted and sewn items, and photographs.”

These passions led her towards textiles after she finished her formal art education. “I felt like a lot of my drawings reminded me of quilts – I didn’t really know what that meant, but I was drawn to re-imagine them in fabric,” Malka explains. “From there I wanted to create the kind of fabric I felt inspired to work with and so I learned how to pattern and dye fabric, specifically cotton, in various ways.”

Fresh Quilting coverThis artistic vision combined with a practical nature has led to Malka having her work included in prestitious shows, as well as finding her way towards making more functional fabrics, designing for Moda Fabrics, teaching and lecturing, and, writing the books Color Your Cloth: A Quilter’s Guide to Dyeing and Patterning Fabric and Fresh Quilting: Fearless Color, Design, and Inspiration.

When I ask Malka if she can remember the first piece of art she made that she was proud of, she gives a fervent yes. “Not only can I remember it, I still own it!” she exclaims. “I was in middle school, about 13 years old, and taking the first art class in my life. I actually only signed up for the class to get out of taking Physical Education, but I got lucky and had an amazing teacher, Kay Stapleton. What does that say about a teacher and a class that 30 years later I still remember her name?

“Anyway, we were learning how to work with tempera paints and making nature-inspired paintings. I still have that painting. It is framed and hanging in my house. It may be my most treasured possession.”

Typically pragmatic about her work, Malka says she rarely waits for inspiraton. “If I only worked or thought about working when I’m inspired, I wouldn’t be getting very much done,” she points out. “If I’m feeling sluggish I start doing something mundane in my studio, ironing a piece of fabric or pattern dye cloth in a familiar way, and I find that the inspiration or desire to create and explore often follows.”

Strips and stripes cr Malka Dubrawsky

Looking at Malka’s creations, it’s no surprise that colours have an impact on her work. “I love seeing two intense colours sitting side-by-side in a garden or in a city street and thinking, ‘wow those would look great pieced together in a quilt.’”

Malka is also influenced by textiles from other cultures, including “African Kente and Kuba cloths, East Indian embroideries, and Kilim rugs. I definitely have a soft spot for the textiles of the Bauhaus movement, works by German-American textile artist Anni Albers and Jewish-French artist Sonia Delauney. But I can be deeply moved by patterning in nature or architecture as well.”

Malka has been design and creating hand dyed and patterned fabrics for her Etsy store, stitchindye, for several years, and now designs commercial lines for Moda Fabrics in a similar way.

Variety of fabrics cr Malka Dubrawsky

“My initial interest in designing fabrics came with a sense, 20 years ago, that I couldn’t find the kind of intensely coloured but graphic fabrics I was looking to work with,” she says.

Malka recently filmed a video class that she’ll be offering as part of The Sewing Party, on 8 November, while gearing up for the release of her newest line for Moda Fabrics, Poems from Pebbles (great name – I can’t wait to see it!). “That will premier at the International Quilt Market in Houston, Texas, in late October. I’m also prepping to teach an online Improvisational Piecing class for CreativeLive in early October and steadily working through designing yet another line of fabrics, L.O.V.E., to premier in the Spring of 2015.” Busy, creative times ahead, then!

Twinkle King cr Malka Dubrawsky

“I think that every time you explore a process or an idea it helps you grow as an artist, even if, and maybe especially if, that idea doesn’t succeed,” Malka says. “Making art is a process, an ongoing search. If you’re learning, you’re growing.”

Find Malka at www.stitchindye.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 – shopping trolleys

TrolleysAt Bristol Harbour Festival last month I saw a performance that prompted smiles from everyone watching. Created by C-12 Dance Theatre, Trolleys blends ballet, street dance, storytelling and humour using shopping trolleys less as props than as extensions of the dancers themselves.

Trolleys2The dancers shared stories of rivalry, ostracism and love – all packed with energy, grace and excitement.

For this week’s writing prompt I invite you to consider the humble shopping trolley as, if not a character in your story, then a crucial part – a home, a mode of transport, even a friend for your protagonist, and see where it takes you.

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.


Book review – Carry Me Home by Terri Wiltshire

carry me home By Terri WiltshireBeginning rather shockingly with a case of mistaken identity that leads to a 1904 Alabama lynching, Carry Me Home crosses generations to bring us the story of Canaan and her great-uncle Luke.

Canaan is returning home to Lander, Alabama, nursing a body full of bruises and a heart full of disappointment and mistrust. After spending her childhood plotting  escape from the small country town, she’s been forced retreat to her grandmother, Lou Venie, and try to reclaim some semblance of a life among the gossipers and gripers she’d been so glad to leave behind.

Luke’s story is far more brutal, having spent his own childhood being ignored, beaten and left tied to trees for days on end as punishment for ruining his mother’s life simply by being the product of a union she claimed was forced by a black man, resulting in the violence of the first chapter.

As grim as this all sounds, there’s a warmth to Terri Wiltshire’s writing that brings her characters to life and prevents this becoming a fictionalised misery memoir. Even during his worst experiences, Luke shines through – humble but hopeful and wonderfully stubborn when it comes to living life in his own unconventional way. His early years present a vivid look at the sub-culture of 1920s hobos in the American Deep South – as exotic and curious as a hidden tribe leaving messages for each other “carved into wooden trestles, on fences , and along the tracks; a secret code that ordinary people, bound by the restraints of what hobos referred to disdainfully as a ‘settled life’, passed by without noticing.”

Continue reading

Apply for creative residency in Paris

Georgia Fee, 50 Kisses, Paris, 2001

Georgia Fee, 50 Kisses, Paris, 2001

Fancy spending a couple of months in Paris honing your creativity? The Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency hosted by ArtSlant is open for applications for their Winter 2015 term. This term will take place during January and February 2015 and includes a monthly stipend of $1,000 USD to to be used for studio space, materials, and other costs, plus airfare to and from the residency site in the Montparnasse neighbourhood of Paris.

The Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency in Paris aims to support and invest in emerging artists and writers, to provide an opportunity for them to advance their work and explore and engage with the cultural landscape of Paris, to encourage experimentation, and to increase exposure of their work to an international audience.

The Residency is open to visual artists of all mediums, art critics and “experimental writers who elevate the discourse of art into an art itself.” You must also be aged 24 years or older. “The selection will be made based on the merit of past work and the potential for future success, the ability to independently develop new work, and the proposed project’s relevance to the city of Paris.”

Recipients will be required to maintain a blog, which will be posted on ArtSlant. Get a sense of the residency by dipping into the blog from current resident Sara Shaoul.

If you’re successful, you’ll be housed in a Haussmann-style apartment and, thanks to the scheme’s strategic partner, Residency Unlimited, will be asked to participate in studio visits with prominent Parisian arts professionals from Paris that have experience relevant to your current project. It’s a great opportunity to explore your creativity further and take it to the next level!

To submit an application, go to your ArtSlant Profile and click on apply to residency in your Manage My Profile box. It you don’t have a profile, don’t worry – it’s free and easy to sign up!

Applications will be accepted until August 31, 2014.

 Candidates must submit
A professional CV
A statement of intent
2 references
A $25 administrative fee

You can upload images of your work onto your profile slideshow for consideration, or add samples of their writing as reader reviews on ArtSlant, or onto your profile blog.

The Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency was established in memory of ArtSlant’s Founder who died on December 8th 2012. “Georgia was dedicated to supporting and investing in young artists and writers, and she had a deep connection with the city of Paris. This residency, which offers artists and writers the opportunity to create work in Paris, has been created in Georgia’s memory.”

More info on the Georgia Fee Artist|Writer Residency can be found here. Check the FAQs, or send an email to residency@artslant.com.

Poems about trees

Common Yew - berries cr Judy DarleyIn a leafy echo of this week’s #writingprompt, Tony D’Arpino offers up a few poems inspired by trees. Thanks Tony!

Yew Tree Cottage

it’s not really there anymore
like a name lost in the war

like a blackboard with old chalk
showing through the eraser’s path

but if I called you ash or oak
would you come with me now

past a round spider’s web
as bright as an archer’s target

to the bole of a treehouse
once in the world

Spider web cr Judy Darley


spring has sprung
and wet the rungs
of the bad ladder
to the tree house
in the rain when
the sun is shining

The Coppice

Rare pussy willow
On the border of the allotments
Salix of all middle worlds
A beauty spreading in her rose
A tree of spring in silver light
The branches like cupped hands her fingers
A perfect forest in one tree

The cutter has not coppiced here
For a generation or three
Perhaps he died before passing on his craft
Or the skill was not transferable
At the particular wild place
The young moved on
As the world moved on
Into a digital forest

In dark daylight
The cutter returns with sharp tools
In fitted wood
He shows the sky
His shining tools
And turns to work the borders
Where seasons dream

Old Friends in print

My short story Old Friends appears in the August issue of The Simple Things magazine, now on sale across the UK.

sim26coverThe story taps in to a lot of nostalgia, and I’ll confess to raiding my own childhood for one of the memories. It’s a sweet, sad but hopefully heart-mourning tale. Two people have already been in touch to tell me Old Friends made them cry, but hopefully in a good way!

The tale is accompanied by artwork from talented designer and illustrator Christine Rosch. I think it’s gorgeous!

Get your copy of the mag online or find it on sale in stores such as WHSmith.