Book review – Murmuration by Robert Lock

Murmuration by Robert LockDrawing us into the magic and squalor of a seaside town, Murmuration by Robert Lock is that rare thing, a novel strung from several stories, each of which contributes to the greater whole.

In this sense, the opening imagery of a flock of starlings performing their nightly show mirrors the nature of this unusual narrative. Rippled through the the starlings’ calls as they execute their extraordinary dance, “as perfectly orchestrated and paced as the finest symphony”, our omniscient view through their eyes takes in several centuries and lives – each disparate and yet mysteriously connected.

Discovering how our protagonists link together presents a quest-like element, as each story immerses us in the concerns of a single, stand-alone character. From the dizzying success and tragic losses of 19th century “music hall clown” Georgie Parr, to Michael ‘Mickey’ Braithwaite battling his “difficulties” to volunteer in World War II’s Observer Corps, to sceptical, shrewd, pier fortune-teller Bella Kaminska in 1965, to truth-seeking 1980s archivist Colin Draper, to, almost bringing us a full circle, modern day comedian Sammy Samuels. Continue reading

Writing prompt – elliptical

Duck eggs cr Judy DarleyI can’t get over the beauty of these duck eggs!

Imagine you go to collect the morning’s eggs from your hens, ducks, ostriches or whatever. Among the ones you gather you find an egg that’s more beautiful, far larger, has a different temperature (think ice-cold or painfully hot) and actually glows a little.

What might hatch from this spectacular egg? Or might it not be an egg at all?

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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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