Midweek writing prompt – landscape

Tal y Bont stream cr Judy DarleyLandscape plays a vivid part in many creative works – providing a backdrop, establishing a mood or even introducing peril.

Inspired by Alice Oswald’s poem Dart, I invite you to use the landscape pictured here (Tal Y Bont in South Wales) or one of your choosing to set the tone for your tale. Who walks here, what challenges might they meet, and how might it reflect on their internal struggle or external interactions?

Don’t hold back – if you feel moved to, bring in the voice of the stream and hills to add a deeper sense of your setting. After all, half of the joy of writing is experimenting, and you can’t know what will or won’t work for you unless you give it a try.

Don’t forget, if you write something prompted by this image and idea, 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 – Dart by Alice Oswald

Dart coverFollowing the journey of the river Dart from its source to the sea, Alice Oswald has woven a work of meandering voices that conjures up every person the water encounters on its way.

Using three-years worth of recorded conversations as her starting point, Alice has summoned up the river’s many aspects and visitors, from an elderly hiker carrying “tent, torch, chocolate, not much else” to a naturalist “hiding in red-brown grass all different lengths”, to a forester “knocking the long shadows down”, to a young, drowned canoeist, and the result is a quiet yet powerful deluge you can dip in and out of at your leisure or allow to carry you along at a rate of knots.

I began to read it shortly after Christmas, during a train journey that cut through Somerset’s flooded countryside, where fields had been transformed into shimmering swamplands. It felt curiously apt. Continue reading

Colour Into Liquid Air – an art exhibition

gracjana rejmercanovas paintsHands up if you find this time of year a challenge! Yep, thought so. The utter drabness is hard-going, isn’t it?

Fortunately artist Gracjana Rejmer-Canovas seems to have come up with an antidote, just in time.

Gracjana rejmer-canovas

Gracjana’s vibrant artwork, ‘Colour Into Liquid Air’ is taking over Habitat’s Platform space on the Kings Road in London this February and March. The Slade School of Fine Art graduate has been invited by Habitat to transform its white gallery space into a sea of colour.

gracjana rejmer-canovas painting

Citing her influences as the American Abstract Expressionists and the Colour Field Painters, Gracjana will display her work as an cohesive whole that can be separated into an array of canvases of different shapes and sizes, each offering up its own intrinsic splash of life.

gracjana pigments

For the project, Gracjana will dye linen and cotton canvases with natural pigments and then layer on acrylics and oil paints. Sounds satisfying, no?

gracjana rejmer-canovas shoes

“The result will be walls and floors awash with paintings, and a complete interior world of colour,” says the curator of Platform, Holly Wood. “Her palette of materials and references take you on a journey and remind you of brighter days and faraway trips.”

The boldness of the art on show could be just the thing to get you through till spring.

gracjana rejmer-canovas sea of colour

Rejmer-Canovas’ ‘Colour Into Liquid Air’ at Platform will run until 23 March 2014 and is supported by the Polish Cultural Institute, London. A video of the making process in the space will be shown in the space on loop. Opening times: 10am-6pm weekdays 9:30-6pm Saturday 12-6pm Sunday. The exhibition is FREE to attend.

gracjana rejmer-canovas dyes

How to host a book launch

Book launch cr Aleksandra Warchol from ATP Media

Photography – Aleksandra Warchol from ATP Media

Author and editor Mike French offers his tips on throwing a successful book launch.

When your book is released into the wild you need to celebrate.  After all it’s taken you forever to write the thing and there it goes all on its own where it might be killed by foxes or mauled by hungry bears. And there’s nothing worse than having a launch date where nothing happens. Believe me I know – it will rain if you don’t do anything. Guaranteed.

And no, you can’t celebrate on your own, you’ve spent 12 months on your own writing. This is the time to do a book launch and invite everyone who knows you. Scary? Well, not really if you plan it as a celebration – let’s call it a party. Your friends will want to come to a party. People like parties. Not all your friends will like standing around a bookshop making polite talk whilst re-reading your back cover for the millionth time. They will like a party though – did I mention that?

And really, this is the way to go.  If you set out with the aim to sell loads of your books as your prime motive – well it just won’t be so good – but if your focus is on making sure everyone has a good time, then it will be brilliant.  Simple. And of course happy people will buy your books as well 😉

Convergence book coverChoose your venue

For the launch of Convergence, my latest novel, I used a friendly local café based in an arts centre for my party. That meant I could easily lay on food for guests and there would be a plentiful supply of coffee and beers for sale over the counter. It worked without breaking the bank and we packed out the venue.

Get your invitations out early

I knew it was vital to make sure I invited people well before the event. I also posted them invites. Use social networks as well but don’t depend only on them – people like a proper invite popping through the letterbox. If you have a friendly library they might put a poster up for you as well and the venue you choose will normally happily put out invites and posters.

Photography – Aleksandra Warchol from ATP Media

Get other people involved

Don’t be afraid to ask people to help you. There’s nothing better for getting an event to work than to see it as a joint venture with a group of friends. For my launch I had some great mates helping sell the books, hosting the evening and even filming and taking photographs.

Plan your book launch as a party

Photographer – Aleksandra Warchol from ATP Media

Plan it as a party

Make sure you do plan it as a party – spend your time thinking about how to make it fun and think of a theme based around your book. In Convergence Ronald Reagan appears as a clone and the novel is part of a trilogy called The Dandelion Trilogy; so we had Reagan masks, Reagan posters mocked up to show him reading the book and helium balloons with images of dandelions on them. That, together with puzzles of the book cover for the kids and music referenced in the novel in the background, helped build a party atmosphere.

Theme your party cr  Aleksandra Warchol from ATP Media

Photographer – Aleksandra Warchol from ATP Media

At times it felt like planning for a wedding. What colour tablecloth should I get to put on the table with the books? What food should we get for the guests?  When should we serve food? How do I want to use the different spaces in the venue?  But I can honestly tell you that it is worth it.  I thoroughly enjoyed my launch party. Afterwards I opened a bottle of champagne with my wife whilst one of my sons inhaled the left over helium from the balloons and fell about laughing. I was very, very happy!

Oh and it didn’t rain.

I’m still waiting to see if Convergence gets mauled by bears.

Mike FrenchAuthor bio

Mike French is an author and the owner and senior editor of the prestigious literary magazine, The View From Here which has been called many fine things since it started in 2007 including, “Attractive, informative, sparkling and useful” by the late Iain M. Banks. Mike’s debut novel, The Ascent of Isaac Steward came out in 2011 with Cauliay Publishing and was nominated for The Galaxy National Book Awards (which, due to an unfortunate clerical error was awarded to Dawn French). Mike’s second novel a dsytopian sci-fi called Blue Friday was released in 2012 by Elsewhen Press and was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke award. Convergence, his third book, was released by Elsewhen Press in December 2013.

Splitting his time between his own writing, editing the magazine and running workshops, Mike leads The Luton Writers’ Group and works with ATP media in Luton. He blogs at www.mikefrenchuk.com.

Remember Me The Bees – The Taste of Tayberries

The Taste of Tayberries cr Louise BoulterThe official launch of my short story collection, Remember Me To The Bees is on Monday 31 March. Here’s a sneak preview of story four in the collection.

The Taste of Tayberries tells the story of a little girl, Deena, trying to understand the world of grown ups and make the right choice on what to do about something she’s overheard. At the beginning of the tale, her older sister’s boyfriend, Jan, gives her a pair of love birds, and  this gift, what she does with the birds, and the tragedy that follows as a result, all affect her judgement when it comes to a far bigger issue.

As with all the stories in the collection, the artwork for this story is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from The Taste of Tayberries

Jan puts the cage on top of the chest of drawers in Deena’s room. He shows her how to spoon seeds and small grey pellets into the food dish each day, and how to take the water bottle from the side of the cage so she can refill it from bathroom tap. When she goes to bed she covers the cage with the fabric so the lovebirds will know it’s time for sleep.

But they don’t sleep.

Snuggled up under her blanket Deena hears their murmurings, the occasional rustle and flutter. Deena can’t sleep either. What if the birds have a clutch of chicks somewhere, or some eggs that are growing gradually colder without anyone to warm them? She lies there in the darkness with worry gnawing away at her insides.

Just before dawn she climbs out of bed and goes to the cage, slips off the cover. The birds stare at her.

“It’s all right,” she whispers. “I’m going to rescue you.”

The bedroom window is stuck fast. Deena struggles with the latch, using all her strength. The birds tweet softly in alarm. At last the latch creaks back and the glass rushes up so fast Deena nearly topples out onto the inky-shadowy flagstones far below.

She hangs onto the windowframe and sucks in the dawn air, feeling her heart pound in her chest, wilder than next-door’s cat.

The sky is just beginning to turn gold where it meets the city roofs. Here and there a windowpane flares like it’s on fire.

“Look,” Deena says to the lovebirds, hauling their cage over to the windowsill. “See all that sky? It’s all for you.”

She pops open the little gilt door and waits.

Bird cage

Midweek writing prompt – peoplewatching

A crowded street scene is always good writing fuel – thousands of mini dramas unfold all around you, and countless characters present themselves for your consideration.

Rua Mouzinho da Silveira cr Judy Darley

I took this photo on Rua Mouzinho da Silveira in Porto, Portugal. There are several folks who catch my attention in moments, including the elderly couple walking together in the foreground, and the lad in yellow rushing along slightly behind them.

But the star of the scene for me is the older lady with her back to us, stalking through the crowd in her leather jacket and skirt – the woman who walks like she owns the street. Now, there’s a character with a story to share.

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 – Light Boxes by Shane Jones

Light Boxes cover

Told in beautifully crafted puddles of prose, Light Boxes tells the story of a town in the grip of a malevolent force known only as February.

Thadeus, Selah and Bianca form a tight family unit that’s torn apart when Bianca disappears from her bed one night.

Unexpectedly, February turns out to be a fully rounded (if not fully grounded), flawed and fearful being like any other, and his motives are never clear. But this isn’t a book for seeking answers in.

The imagery is powerful, evoking half-forgotten fairy tales as children are “twisting the heads of owls” and “giant flowers bloomed over clouds.”

I particular liked the group for former balloonists who call themselves The Solution, each wearing a different coloured bird mask. This scene is the focus of the cover illustration by Ken Garduno, and is the kind of iconic image that will surely be decorating the walls of student dorm rooms in years to come. Continue reading

BBC Radio seeks short fiction submissions

Fancy hearing your words read on the radio? BBC Radio Drama Readings Unit’s annual series, Opening Lines, is seeking stories to broadcast on BBC Radio 4 later in the year.

Speaker cr Judy Darley

The main stipulation is that you must be new to writing for radio – ie, you must not have previously had a story broadcast on network radio or have substantial writing credits in other areas of radio such as comedy and drama.

They will be accepting submissions until February 14th 2014.

The types of stories being sought

They say: “We are looking for original short stories which work being read out loud i.e. with a strong emphasis on narrative and avoiding too much dialogue, character description and digression. Pay particular attention to how the story opens and closes. We’ll be looking to see whether the beginning of a story successfully links to how it ends.”

They add: “We are interested in seeing stories which cover a broad range of subject-matter but material which explores particularly dark, harrowing themes is not best suited to Opening Lines. We recommend visiting the Opening Lines programme pages to read transcripts of stories which have featured in recent series (bbc.in/r4openinglines).

The time allotted for each story is up to 14 minutes, which means your submission must be between 1,900 and 2,000 words in length.

How to submit your story

Send your submission (one only, please) along with a brief covering letter or email giving your name, email address (if applicable), the story’s title, word count and details of writing track record. Please also mention how you heard about the creative window and Opening Lines.

Stories can email your story to us at OpeningLines@bbc.co.uk or you can send a hard copy to BBC Radio Drama Readings, Room 8015, Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London W1A 1AA.

Writers whose stories have been shortlisted for the 2014 series of Opening Lines will be informed by Friday 16th May 2014.

As well as broadcasting the three strongest stories, BBC Radio Drama Readings Unit will publish the transcripts of the best stories submitted on the Opening Lines programme pages.

The three successful writers will be invited to London for an afternoon in Broadcasting House and have the chance to see their stories recorded.