Midweek writing prompt – view from the tower

Broadway Tower cr Judy DarleyI took this photo while visiting Broadway Tower in the Cotswold’s on a freezing day last February. It’s set at one of the highest points of the area – 1024 feet above sea level.

I love the way you can see get a sense of the location just from the stone work framing the shot, and the extensive views over the surrounding countryside.

The tower was created by 18th Century landscape designer, Capability Brown with the help of architect James Wyatt, and became a weekend getaway for the likes of William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. During the two world wars, the tower was used by Royal Observer Corps as a vantage point from which to track planes passing over England.

It’s this odd mix that has me intrigued, so that residents of the tower may have used the views for inspiration, or for defence. I can imagine peering through the large circular windows and spying on enemy approaches, or, equally, spotting Rossetti romancing one of his latest conquests amid the deer and hares in the overgrown grasses below.

As a further point of interest, in William Morris’ day, the tower boasted a bathtub at its very top – open to the elements with only the crenellated battlements for shelter. I can just picture the pre-Raphaelite artists cavorting up there, almost in the clouds…

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

Book review – A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

A Spell of Winter coverWritten with a vividness that speaks of the poetry behind the prose, A Spell of Winter invites us into a private world mostly inhabited by just one person, Cathy.

Helen Dunmore’s writing is rippled through with a quiet, observant power, travelling backwards and forwards in the space of Cathy’s lifetime, and bearing witness to her preoccupations and passions.

Less dainty than the village girls she mingles with, Cathy’s life seems to be made up of one long frozen winter deep in the countryside, where she plays games with her brother that are at once innocent and brutal, before growing up to cross boundaries into one of the few surviving taboos.

A hare is slaughtered, and later an unfortunate death occurs where the hare was buried. In one remarkable chapter we travel with Cathy and Rob to the infirmary where their father languishes – it’s a tale so filled with layers of emotional truth that I almost craved for it to be a lone short story, so perfect and self-contained and complete did it seem. Continue reading

A celebration of ice in Korea

Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival While we in Britain tend to lament ice and the uninvited thrills it adds to our daily commutes, over in Korea, Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival is busily revelling in the cold slippy stuff in all manner of ways.

Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival

I’m not a fan of winter’s chill, but I’ve been writing a story about an ice sculptor, which has got be entranced by the idea of an entire festival in its honour. There’ll even be an Ice Sculpture Park as part of the spectacle – visit after dark to experience the beauty of glimmering lights against the frozen creations.

Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival sculptures

Other highlights include ice fishing, ice football, sledding, and a snow fun park, all of which promise to be breathtaking.

Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival snowmen

The festival runs (or should that be skates?) until Sunday 26 January 2014.

Utterly inspiring. Just make sure you wrap up warm!

For more information go to the official festival homepage.

Remember Me To The Bees update

Remember Me To The Bees coverA few of you have been asking for updates on my debut short story collection Remember Me To The Bees. Thanks for your interest!

Well, the book exists, which is really exciting! The official launch (more details to follow) will be in March this year, and it will be widely available from that point.

The book contains twenty of my short stories, each accompanied by artwork from the talented Louise Boulter, who also designed the gorgeous cover.

Author Tania Hershman has written a lovely foreword for the book, which made me quite blush! Rather marvellously, she says : “The title is, in fact, very apt: bees may be diminutive (relative to us, at least) but they possess power not only to inflict pain but also to give us the gift of intense sweetness. To my mind, as a reader, painful sweetness is a wonderful way to define the best of short stories, a honeyed sting that this excellent collection most certainly delivers.”

Yeeps! No wonder I blushed.

The back cover copy states:

“The twenty stories in Judy Darley’s debut collection cover the moments that make us the people we are, where actions are taken and sights seen that will change the protagonists’ lives forever – with sometimes startling consequences.

From the small boy grappling with fears both real and imaginary to the married woman being ardently pursued by a man who seems able to read her deepest thoughts, we catch our breath as Judy’s characters make emotional as well as physical journeys, twisting and turning to the very end.”

Over the next few weeks you will see copies of Remember Me To The Bees popping up in independent bookshops and art galleries across Bristol and beyond as well as appearing on sites such as Tangent Books’ online bookshop. Go on, buy a copy, and make a writer very happy!

How to write a thriller

In The Moors book coverNina Milton, author of In the Moors and writing tutor with the Open College of the Arts, explains what it takes to breathe life into a thriller.

There are many strange truths about writing crime and thriller fiction, and one of them is just how much descriptive detail can boost the readability of a novel. John Gardner, one of the great thriller writers, summed it up perfectly when he said ‘Detail is the lifeblood of fiction’.

The more detail you chose to include, the less predictable the writing becomes. Skimming over a description loses the reader, zoning-in absorbs him. It’s a way to create fiction that is strong, absorbing and energetic.

Adding detail to your crime story isn’t the same as over-describing. By looking closely at the most interesting parts of the whole – whether it’s an artifact, a character, a landscape or an interior – the description of it will be enhanced. The reader doesn’t want to see it all; that’s like being too close to the screen in the cinema – too much information. Continue reading

Glimpse an underwater gallery

It’s a shiny new year, so why not make a plan to do something amazing? Travel and art are always top of my list when it comes to inspiration-seeking, and there’s an exhibition coming up soon that ticks both those boxes.

Little Red Riding Hood cr Andreas FrankeThe art world is full of architectural gems that enhance the qualities of the works they showcase and are creative masterpieces in their own right. But what if the gallery itself isn’t so much a building as a sea floor? That’s the premise Andreas Franke’s ‘Fantasy Fairytale’ exhibition has been devised around.

Artist Andreas Franke brings together his passions for photography and diving to stage and photograph dreamy scenes drawing inspiration from familiar fairytales, including The Snow Queen, Little Red Riding Hood (shown above) and Snow White.

The pictures shown here offer just a glimpse of what’s on offer. To see the exhibition in full, flit over to NIYAMA and Huvafen Fushi in the Maldives with Exceptional Travel this spring. The two Per AQUUM properties both boast extraordinary underwater structures ideal for showcasing Andreas Franke’s creations.

Niyama, The Maldives_Aerial Continue reading

Midweek writing prompt – unexpected art

Thanks to Banksy and other great street artists, Bristol has long been associated with vibrant, thought-provoking graffiti that goes way beyond tagging.

Snowy cemetery graffiti cr Judy Darley

This particular example was commissioned by a Victorian cemetery to liven up an abandoned building. Doesn’t it look spectacular against the snow?

The setting makes me wonder what a passing Victorian ghost may make of the vivid splashes. What would they think of an entire wall transformed with such bold shapes and colours? Might they wonder if it was the work of aliens, radicals or, perhaps, lunatics?

Bristol grafitti cr Judy Darley

Could they be moved to add their own artwork to one of the incomplete canvasses? What might the result look like?

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

Watch this film – The Missing Picture

The Missing Picture_MQ_ScreeningA sideways look at the facts often provides a more direct route to the truth than a face-on glance ever can. It’s what makes art such a powerful means of communicating emotion.

In The Missing Picture, out now on general release in cinemas such as Watershed, Bristol, art and filmmaking come together with autobiographical fragments and archive footage to examine a regime that destroyed the childhoods of thousands of Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.

The Missing Picture_MQworking

Director Rithy Panh presents a deeply personal account of his own childhood years in various Khmer Rouge labour camps.

Watershed say: “After spending his early years in a comfortable middle-class household in Phnom Penh, [Rithy Panh] suffered profound hunger and brutality in conditions that saw the rest of his family perish.”

It’s a unique approach, and undoubtedly contributed to the film’s growing catalogue of awards (including Official Selection, Un Certain Regard, Cannes Film Festival 2013; Winner, Un Certain Regard Prize, and London Film Festival 2013, Documentary Competition).

As you can see from the images, the figures portraying this story have a curious childlike quality – they made have been made by the children themselves. Through using them, Panh brings to life experiences that might otherwise be too harrowing to bear.

The-Missing-Picture-netThe figures remain mute throughout, overlaid instead by narration co-written by Rithy Panh and Christophe Bataille. Watershed describes the award-winning film as “A searching rumination on the relationship between memory and trauma.” I urge you to see it for yourself.


Write to win a trip to the isle of Jura

Jura Distillery_viewJura Whisky, makers of single malt Scotch whisky, are searching for the world’s greatest storyteller and invite you to submit your best tale.

All you need to do is submit your story to the whisky producer’s #WinningWords competition, and you could win a luxury trip for two to Jura, a remote isle off the west coast of Scotland.

The prize includes three nights accommodation at the Jura Lodge, famously used as a writing retreat by the likes of George Orwell, who wrote much of 1984 there.

Currently, each week a different theme is posted on Jura Whisky’s website, and writers encouraged to submit a story in just 1,000 characters (that’s characters, not words!) or fewer on that theme. Three stories will be chosen each week and turned into illustrations.

Once all themes are complete, voting will open, and one lucky writer to win a three-night trip for two to the isolated isle. The island has just one road, one shop, one pub and one distillery, but with views like these what more could you need?

Jura Island_view

The trip will include a VIP tour of Jura with a speedboat trip to the Corryvreckan whirlpool – plenty of inspiration for more tales!

The competition closes on Tuesday 4th February 2014.

For full details and the chance to read tales already submitted, head to www.jurawhisky.com.

How to turn poetry into art

Waiting...2013 Simon LeakeNot all printed words need to be flat, as you’ll have seen if you read my post on paper poetry snowballs. Here poet and artist Simon Leake talks us through his creative process.

Words are as much a part of my landscape as the things to which I apply them. It seems only natural to include them in any image of the world I create. A quick tour of a museum’s antiquities department, or folk art for that matter, shows us the symbiotic relationship of image and word. Having a background in fine art it’s hard for me to draw a distinction between text and image: they are both forms of communication that can be deployed when and as necessary: pictures arranged in sequence can become text; text can be written anywhere; poetry can distil experience.

When I was an undergraduate art student I had the following epiphany:

…litter blown
in the swirl of air
from a passing bus
may not be beautiful
but for the fact
it was
and therefore is
undeniably real. 

(from Compañero—or how to speak with those incognito)

I stopped looking for a definitive truth in things for things themselves were rewriting this truth every second: the world tells its own story, a story without end. We can only mirror it, edit it, frame it.

Pub Culture cr Simon Leake

The work of Ian Hamilton Finlay, in particular his garden called Little Sparta, and the early graffiti of Jean-Michel Basquiat were two early influences on me. They may seem to be from extreme ends of the artistic spectrum but they both engaged directly with the environment in which they found themselves. Finlay by shaping his garden around the poems it suggested and Basquiat by spray painting his acerbic comments onto the free canvas offered by the city that provoked them. They are both entering into a form of dialogue that is as old as the cave paintings in Lascaux.

Here-for-Now-Front-Room-Art cr Simon Leake

Say what you have to say by whatever means necessary

I use whatever means necessary to get out what it is I have to say. Once, in a fit of panic, I painted a self-portrait to fix the thing that was causing me distress. The image I produced was a soundless yawn; a gasping for breath. For an exhibition in London that had a fraught and intellectually tangled development, I took the text from all the correspondence, re-edited it and presented it as the wall text at the entrance.

I hoped it would forewarn the audience of what was to come and be a statement in its own right on such introductions. I thought that if I couldn’t make sense of the cacophony I could at least mirror it.

Challenge yourself

I regularly read out my poetry at local open-mic nights. Coming up with something new to say every week can be a great way to challenge yourself. You can give your thoughts an airing in a fairly safe environment before deciding which would be better left unsaid and which are worthy of elaboration in printed form.

kaliayev-Hamburg-Vending cr Simon Leake

Last year I was invited by the artist Marina Moreno, with whom I had previously collaborated, to make a small work, no larger than 9cm across, and capable of fitting into a plastic sphere as part of a vending machine project. The vending machine was installed as part of the Kunst Altonale Hamburg with each sphere containing a unique work of art. I had written a poem about a Russian poet named Kaliayev, which I included in my last pamphlet, The Long View. He was nicknamed ‘Poet’ by his friends and is infamous for the assassination of Grand Duke Sergei in 1905.

It was a volatile time in Russia and artists, as elsewhere, were in the front line. There was a reality to their lives that I think doesn’t exist these days; their aesthetic choices were closely tied to their ideological beliefs. Today contemporary art seems to have taken a more ironic stance, questioning and poking fun at the world but at a safe financial remove.

There is an extraordinary photograph of Kaliayev taken shortly after the assassination. I found his look strikingly unapologetic yet human. I decided to inter my poem and his image in a box as a memorial. I drew separate parts of his face on the sides of the box as a sign that we end with disparate fragments of history and lose the full picture. The date and time on the box are those of his execution.

Despite, or because of, the ease of reproduction contemporary media offers, I still like my work to have some form of objective presence. If I’m not turning my words into art, I usually resort to pamphlets for their versatility and simplicity, they are also fairly cheap!

We are used to the idea of text being throwaway (newspapers, flyers, facebook, twitter). With the pamphlet you at least give the text some space or a frame for it to live within and hope that the person reading it will give it a bit more time for this fact, however, the printed word is still something of a fragile medium today.

Maybe in the future the only way to get someone’s attention may be to resort to the ancient technique of handwriting, because it is direct, personal and undeniably human. In Soviet Russia dissident writers such as Sergei Dovlatov did just this using a method called ‘samizdat’. In a world of 24hr news/entertainment the least you can do is prick somebody’s conscience, for a moment, and hope the little sting is memorable!

Simon LeakeAbout the author

Simon Leake is an active participant in the Bristol poetry scene. He has published several pamphlets of poetry and exhibited work in Sheffield, Bristol, London and Hamburg. From 2005 to 2006 he edited and published Deficit: a journal for poetry, prose and art with a political edge. In 2010 he gave a lecture on the influence of Japanese culture on 20th Century American poets at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. He has been published in Aesthetica, the Bristol Evening Post Seven Magazine, Various Artists, Carillon, The Cannon’s Mouth, Neon Highway and The Delinquent.

Simon’s pamphlet The Long View can be found on Amazon. Further poems, pictures and a publications list can be found at his website, www.simonleake.wordpress.com.