A knitted book launch

I love an ingenious book launch – something that engages and intrigues attendees (and passerbys!), firing up imaginations along the way.

Knitted cab cr Ian Thomas

© Ian Thomas

This is easier said than done. For one thing, you need to have produced a book that offers up relevant ideas that will garner these kinds of results. Secondly, you need to have the kind of lateral thinking that comes up with those ideas in the first place.

Safia Shah achieved this on both counts, in reams, for her rambunctious children’s book, Carnaby Street’s Great Uninvited: Around the World in 80 Years, which celebrates, endangered words, eccentricity and, um, knitting.

CarnabyStreet cr Paul Knivett

Photo © Paul Knivett

The book features a young girl called Carnaby Street who lives in Morocco with her brother Oxford, her pet aardvark Alice, ten tiny tortoises, Martin the cat, her father (who is writing a sequel to the film Casablanca) and her sun-worshipping mother. Into this world a stream of peculiar relatives begins to arrive, including knitting-mad Great Aunt Amelia.

“The stories were easy for me to write as the colourful characters are based on relatives of mine and the mad romps played out in the pages of the book are generally scenarios that actually happened in my childhood,” admits Safia. “ To give you an example of how the stories reflect real life, I live in Morocco, my twin brother has by complete coincidence written a sequel to Casablanca, I have tiny tortoises living wild in the garden and my mother is a compulsive knitter.”

CarnabyStreet-3 cr Paul Knivett

Photo © Paul Knivett

For Safia the idea for creating a car cosy, or in Safia’s case a car cosy, for the book launch made perfect sense, as that’s exactly what Great Aunt Amelia does in the book. “Once I had the idea for the car cover, I needed knitters.”

Help came in the form of Sue McBride and the Materialistics, a South Shields based knitting group known for their fearless knitting escapades.

“By collection day, they were so focused that they were still knitting flowers and ladybirds and attaching them as the taxi was driving away!”

Creations for the car cosy include incredible knitted representations for characters ranging from picnic-munching tortoises to Alice the aardvark.

“My very favourite panels must be those showing the endangered words (knitted of course). These are great words like ‘snarky’ and ‘plodging’, ‘flizzy’ and ‘brouhaha.’”

When news spread about the knitted cab, Safia was invited to take the knitted masterpiece to the Knitting and Stitching Show at the Alexandra Palace, and drove through the vibrant vehicle streets of London. “Suffice to say,” Safia comments, “this is not an easy vehicle in which to ride incognito.”

Safia Shah knitted cab cr Ian Thomas

© Ian Thomas

When the taxi arrived, it created a buzz of curiosity at the entrance to the Knitting and Stitching show, and resulted in Safia being offered masses more opportunities to publicise her writing.

“It turns out that many teachers are keen crafters, so I’ve had endless requests for taxi visits to schools, which I am more than happy to fulfil!”

Find out more about Carnaby Street’s Great Uninvited and all those endangered words at  www.carnabysuninvited.com.

A woodland writing retreat

Sometimes the kindest thing we can do for ourselves and everyone around us is run away to a quiet hut in the woods and close the door.

Shepherds hideaway snow

Writing, and most creative endeavours for that matter, generally requires space – in my experience, the more creative the endeavour, the more silence and space required.

Fortunately, my attention has been drawn to the Shepherds’ Hut Hideaway on the Isle of Wight, a surprisingly luxurious cluster of cosy huts designed to withstand winter storms. Created by specialist hut maker (yes, that’s a thing) Blackdown, they’re fully insulated with snuggly sheeps’ wool, and have good reliable heating, plus plenty of nooks where you can curl away to write or muse to your utter contentment.

Shepherds' Hideaway bedroom

My heart, however, is set on the extra special accommodation option in this group – the treehouse.

What? Didn’t you know writers never grow up?

Mid-week writing prompt – the camera’s eye

Iona beach cr Judy Darley

Photographs are fantastic starting points for stories, offering up a wealth of ideas. But what if you were to consider what was behind the camera instead of what’s in front? Who might be taking the photograph you’re looking at, and why?

If it’s a travel shot, where are they, and where are they going next? If the photo is skew-whiff, why might that be? And how might the person respond to the imperfect image when they see it on-screen or printed?

If this idea prompts you to write something, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. You could end up published on SkyLightRain.com!


Poetry review – Animals by Miles Salter

ANIMALS coverA fluttering mix of religion, politics and the plethora of scandals large and small that fall between, Animals is a collection designed to nudge you into wakefulness, like a cat early on a Sunday morning.

In his second collection, Miles Salter takes you by the scruff of the neck and shoves you into a world of smells and sounds – always on the brink of chaos.

From the pandemonium of ‘Two By Two’ where “Ants queued up at the flattened hamster”, to an uneasy peek into Jimmy Savile’s caravan, there’s plenty to catch you with your guard down and slap you sideways.

There’s beauty amid the sorrier tales too, where ageing dogs have eyes that are “milky with lack of sight” and in ‘Apology’ a slap to a child’s backside transforms bath water into “a trickle, a stream, a river/that carried you away from me.” Continue reading

Submit short fiction to The View From Here

View from the sea cr Judy DarleyThe View From Here literary magazine invites submissions of short stories up to 5,000 words in length.

They seek weird, unusual, thought-provoking and above all, original stories.

It’s worth reading a scattering of the tales posted at The Front View before you submit to get an idea of the type of work they publish.

They say: “We seek to foster a culture of a co-operative environment so that our creativity isn’t just channelled into promoting our own work but also helping others realise their creative potential.”

As I mentioned in a review I wrote of the mag some time back: “A distinct sense of energy exudes from the pages of The View from Here magazine. This is a magazine to leaf through for diversion and inspiration.”

Wouldn’t that be a nice thing to be part of?

It’s free to submit via the link on the website (they’re no longer accepting email submissions).

Find out more here.


Become a poet

Gyllenvase footprints cr Judy DarleyMiles Salter shares his experiences of becoming a poet, from inspiration to tinkering. His second poetry collection, Animals, was published this autumn.

I’ve been writing since childhood. I had a great English teacher, Chris Copeman, in the 1980s and I wrote what I thought was ‘poetry’, although it was probably more like prose. I read a bit of poetry at University and went on a creative writing module. Much later, I read Philip Larkin when I lived in Hull.

Then, around 2003, I went to some gigs that Antony Dunn put on in York called ‘Poetry Doubles’ – he had some brilliant people like Andrew Motion, Colette Bryce, Wendy Cope and Douglas Dunn. They were great gigs – intimate and very inspiring. All of life was contained in those evenings: humour, grief, hope, sadness. Poetry is very life affirming.

Developing as a poet

It wasn’t until 2007 that I realised I needed to be more disciplined in my approach, so I started to read more widely. It took a while, but I started to improve and develop my own voice. I entered a lot of competitions and my writing improved gradually. I usually read at least ten collections each year, and try to write with a critical eye. You become very self-critical of what you’ve written. Continue reading

Word art at Spike Island

I recently attended an outdoor writing workshop led by Spike Island’s writer-in-residence Holly Corfield Carr.

Judy Darley cr Holly Corfield Carr

The workshop was one in a series taking place each Sunday from 2pm until December 6th, exploring the area around the Spike Island art gallery. They’re part of a collaborative literature project called Spike Archipelago.

On the day I went along, the air was bright and uncommonly warm. We strolled down past to Lockside to an area where we could see both the Floating Harbour and the Avon Gorge with Clifton Suspension Bridge hanging across it. We gazed up at the colourful stacked houses of Clifton and down at the river sucking at its mud. Holly had brought extracts from works including Dart by Alice Oswald, and other pieces on rivers and that day’s theme, circles.

Wheel and river mud cr Judy Darley

As we walked and paused and looked about, and talked about our lives, hot air balloons rose into the blue sky. Not quite circles, but close enough.

Hot air balloon cr Judy Darley

Our wanderings resulted in a collaborative piece of writing called Concentric, which Holly describes as “a lyric narrative for two voices”, adding: “We wrote around each other, leaping from one circular frame to the next, producing this pleated poem of first loves, last loves, a guilty city and coffee-rings.”

A wonderful experience. You can see the outcome here, and find out about future workshops (which are free to attend) here.

Mid-week writing prompt – classifieds

It’s an old trick, but a good ’un. Take a classifieds page from any newspaper, and use one of the ‘for sale’, ‘wanted’ or ‘searching for love’ adverts as your starting point.

Classifieds cr Judy Darley

Better still, take a handful and mix vigorously. That way there’s far less chance of your subjects discovering themselves mired in your fiction.

More often than not this approach will offer up the seeds of plot and characters in one neat newspaper-print package. Then all you’ll need to supply is the story arc.

If this idea prompts you to write something, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. You could end up published on the site!

Book review – The Pools by Bethan Roberts

The Pools coverReviewed by Ben Macnair.

The Pools examines the aftermath of the death of a 15-year-old boy, Robert, and the repercussions the event has on people involved with the boy’s life.

The novel is set in a small town in middle England, in the mid-1980s, where nothing seems to happen. The teenagers endure terminal boredom, and when not at school talk about nothing in particular.

The characters of the parents are distinctly well drawn, and Bethan’s handling of the courtship of Robert’s parents, Kathryn and Howard, reveals the foundation to their lives together.

Howard works at the local power station, while Kathryn is a librarian, and their quiet domestic existence of work, home, and the garden, which is Howard’s pride and joy, is bought into sharp relief by the arrival of their son Robert. Continue reading

Submit flash fiction to 1000words

Gyllyngvase Beach cr Judy DarleyThis short story website has a rather fun premise. They invite you to go to their Pinterest boards, find an image that intrigues you, and write a story of 1,000 words or less in response to that photo.

I really enjoy visual writing prompts, and Natalie Bowers’ image (Some Rights Reserved) inspired me to write To The Horizon And Back, which you can read at http://1000words.org.uk/to-the-horizon-and-back.

Boots and spade cr Natalie Bowers

I set the tale on Gyllyngvase Beach in Cornwall, but the close crop of the image means it could be almost any beach in the world.

My tale begins:

Kath gazed at the white-whiskered old man trudging along the curve of beach and tried to recognise him as the dad she’d grown up with. Each gust of salty air seemed to make him hesitate, as if searching momentarily for his sense of balance. He wasn’t dressed appropriately for an outing to the sea – heavy boots and jeans keeping every crumb of sand away.

Read on…

This kind of writing challenge is a fun exercise, and could lead to you being published on the 1000words website. I urge you to give it a go!