The language of portraiture

Bianca Cork, Bare, Falmouth Art Gallery CollectionThey say a picture speaks a thousand words, and I believe that when the picture is a portrait, that total must be doubled or tripled. Faces tell the stories of the people who carry them – each line, freckle and blemish gives an indication of character, experience and even a hint of aspirations.

Adrian Wiszniewski Echo beach, Falmouth Art Gallery CollectionIt’s one of the reasons why I think the latest exhibition to descend on Falmouth Art Gallery has my full attention. ‘Making Faces’ begins tomorrow and runs until 14 September and promises to explore “the many ways in which artists have captured the uniqueness, beauty and strangeness of face.”

Portraits on show will include works by Adrian Wiszniewski (shown left), Sophie Anderson, Gavin Turk, Peter Blake, and, pictured at the top of this post, Bianca Cork’s ‘Bare’.

Why not go along and see how many stories you can read in each gaze?

Find out more at www.falmouthartgallery.com/Exhibitions/2013/439~Making_faces.

Mid-week writing prompt

People often ask me where my ideas for short stories and fiction come from. It really is one of the hardest questions to answer – the simplest reply is: everywhere.

Zip wire and fog cr Judy Darley

More often than not it’s a couple of prompts combining. For example, in my upcoming short story collection, Remember Me To The Bees, there is a story called Travelling North that started as a thought about pickers following the crops, and consolidated with a news snippet about a 40-something year old man being found dead in a tent on the Isle of Skye (though, spoiler alert, I decided to let my fictional version of the man live).

Sometimes, it’s a scene glimpsed from a train, coupled with an overheard comment, or a snapshot that raises some questions in my mind, and that only writing a fictional account can hope to answer.

With that in mind I’ve decided to launch a Writing Prompts tab on SkyLightRain.com, using the reams of random photos taken over the years.

This is the first one – make of it what you will.

Call for dark poetry and fiction submissions

Forest fog cr judy DarleyGot something shadowy and potentially unnerving you’d like to share? Moon Hollow Press is inviting submissions for a new anthology of dark poetry and fiction by and for women, titled ‘Uneasy Bones: Dark Works by Women’.

As you may for guessed by the name, this is intended as a collection by and for women, though the publishers are keen to point out that they will accept poems and stories from anyone who identifies as being female, “even if she may not qualify biologically.”

The main thing they are looking for is “poems and stories about the discomfiture of womanhood. Stories may be in any genre, as all women know that romance can be just as dark as horror. A good example of this premise is Stephen King’s I Know What You NeedLess Gothic, but equally dark, examples can be found in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series (in the subplot revolving around Snape’s love for Lily) or Sheryl Crow’s Home.”

While bleak internal worlds and dubious moral landscae are welcome, they do not want excessive violence, graphic sex, or vividly described abuse. Anything reminiscent of Shades of Grey or Twilight will also be rejected.

Specifically, Moon Hollow Press are seeking prose in the form of flash fiction and short stories between 250-7000 words. You may send up to three flash pieces at a time with flash pieces of less than 1,000 words, all included in the same file. Alternatively (as opposed to as well) you may submit one short story (1,000-7,000 words) at a time.

You may submit up to three poems at a time, of any form providing it is between three and 50 lines in length.

This call for submissions will remain open until filled. For full details, visit the Moon Hollow Press website.

Get your writing heard

Yikes screenshotAuthor and journalist Adele Park asks the question, should you turn your novel Into an audiobook?

The popularity of audiobooks is on the rise so there is definitely an audience for this form of media.  However, as the owner of Straight to Audio Productions, an indie recording studio in St. George, Utah, there are a couple of things I would encourage writers to consider before heading down this path. Continue reading

Solstice Dawn

Summer solsticeThis is the one, the one that matters, the one to task yourself with. Because what’s challenging about dawn on Christmas, when it arrives so sluggish and late in the day?

Solstice dawn, on the other hand, arrives far earlier than seems decent, when even blackbirds sleep on, uncaring about fat worms in the grass.

First sign is a touch of grey in the darkness, transforming to a weight of dew so urgent that wild garlic stems fall flat against the earth as though pressing their ears to its deep, subterranean murmurings.

Next a glimmer of light that ignites the glistening backs of frogs barely visible by their eyes beading the water of ponds whether their spawn hatched, swam, sprang.

A breath of morning breeze stirs the pale scattering of pigeon feathers – the only evidence of the fox cubs’ first copper-rich taste of self-caught blood.

And the webs the spiders have strung in anticipation to trap each gilded corner of the new day’s sky.

This is the summer solstice dawn – but who is awake to see it? What is it to us but a damp finger tapping the date on a page of an already overstuffed diary, the thumb stroking its cracked spine?

Journal review – Riptide Vol 8

riptide_volume8From fiction for children to fiction about children. Riptide Volume 8 subtitles itself: a collection of childhood-themed stories for adults, and right from the start it immerses you in a form of nostalgia as rich but indefinable as the moment between dreaming and waking.

Starting with a foreword from Floella Benjamin (a detail which will fire up memories of early days for any readers of my generation), the stories sweep you through moments from the characters lives when they were both extremely vulnerable and capable of anything. Floella sums it up in describing childhood as “that concentrated but half-understood world that children inhabit.”

Through the collection, we encounter dreams of crows, a robot hunter squad, a terrifying glass-cased pike, girls who become ravens. The stories carry us through suburban streets, caravan sites and mysterious islands. And the children in the tales each observe and cope with all of life’s complications in their own unique way. It’s a journey of an anthology in the same way that childhood is a journey – thrilling, at times distressing, and ultimately enlightening. Continue reading

Red Squirrel Press seeks poetry submissions

Squirrel cr Judy DarleyRed Squirrel Press are inviting submissions for a forthcoming poetry anthology, *Double Bill: poems inspired by popular culture*.

It’s a great premise, with all poems required to draw on advertising for inspiration. Specifically, they must be written about a particular product or advert, from this list: Guinness, Fairy Liquid, Ferrero Rocher, Domestos, Hovis, Go Compare, PG Tips.

Intriguing, right? I have a sudden urge to pour a slug of whisky and channel the ‘Mad Men’ vibe. And apologies, I know the pic above is of a grey squirrel, not a red one – no red squirrels live in my part of the UK :/ But this one is a rather cute little fella, don’t you think?

Your poems can be up to 10 lines long, and must be must be submitted by 1 August 2013 to a.z.jackson@dundee.ac.uk

RedSquirrellogoThe best poem submitted for each product/theme, as judged by the editors at Red Squirrel Press, will appear in the anthology. You may send as many poems as you like, but one per person can be used.

There is no payment aside from a copy of the anthology, which will contain over 100 poets, including John Hegley, George Szirtes, Adam Horovitz, Luke Wright, Simon Barraclough, Sheenagh Pugh – not bad company to be in!

The anthology is due out in 2014.

Memories of an autobiographer

The Cuckoo coverNever throw away anything you write, however banal it seems – you never know how it may come in useful, as author Tony Bayliss discovered when he came to write the first instalment of his autobiography The Cuckoo

One of my all-time favourite books isThe Diary of a Farmer’s Wife – 1796 -1797. It was written by Anne Hughes, a woman whose existence would be unknown to us had her diary not been found under floorboards over a hundred and fifty years later.

It’s an account of how Anne lived in a small English village at the end of the eighteenth century. She makes no mention at all of the wider world, perhaps because communications were so poor in those days that she felt remote from it all; indeed, the village WAS her world. Had the title not already been used, I suppose ‘Diary of a Nobody’ would seem appropriate, except that none of us is a nobody: we each have a story to tell.

Most of us think that our lives are not worth writing about – who would be interested? Anne Hughes certainly thought that, and was writing to herself, as do most diarists, but every page is filled with fascinating information and insights into the life she lived.

It’s more than fifty years since I wrote my first diary and, like Anne Hughes, I wrote it to myself, having no idea that the passing years might make it interesting to readers from the future. I was ten-year-old boy, coping with the break-up of my parents’ marriage, my emerging sexuality, and feeling at odds with my dysfunctional family. I was the proverbial cuckoo in the nest, hence the title I have given to the memoir. Continue reading

An urban idyll

ArnosValeMeadow cr Judy DarleyIn the curious time directly after the morning’s rain and just as the afternoon’s sun was slanting in, I took myself for a walk to the green wilds of Arnos Vale Cemetery yesterday. With a Guardian Books’ podcast muttering in my ears, I set out to explore, meandering up paths that trailed away into nothing, striding through silvery meadow grasses that had grown as tall as my waist (and some right up to my shoulders) stepping carefully around gravestones too overgrown to read.

Ash keys cr Judy Darley

As I made my way past the hanging keys of the ash trees, there was a shift in the air and the whole tide of waist-high grasses suddenly shivered, leant forward very slowly, then began to sway back and forth as though in response to some choreography I’d failed to learn, or had forgotten.

High overhead the poplars poppled and a pigeon leapt, and soared free.

Slug cr Judy Darley
The headstones were warm to the touch and glistening, emerald-backed flies sat soaking up reflected rays, while the rainfall-roused slugs turn resentful antennae to the swift-drying stems.

Yellow snail cr Judy DarleyTiny snails as yellow as seashore periwinkles clung to the rough stones. Lone spiders scattered this way and that as though trying to convince me they were each more than one, and striped beetles sunbathed in the cups of flowers, while gold-fluffed bees dipped and nestled among them.

 

Peace, in the midst of the city.

Wild flowers and bee cr Judy Darley