Midweek writing prompt – history speaks

Leslie SkinnerThis week I received a really moving press release that got me think about how the past can influence works of poetry and prose. It included this handsome image of Captain Leslie Skinner, an army chaplain who landed on the coast of Normandy on the morning of 6 June 1944 with the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry tank regiment. It also included the following snippet from his diary.

Up 0500 hours; cold, wet, sea rough. This is it. Running for beach by 0700. Under fire by 0710. Beached 0725. Man either side of me wounded. One lost leg. I was blown backwards onto Bren Carrier but OK. Made it to beach, though I had hell of pain in left side. Bed on ground about 0130. Dead beat. Fell asleep beside half-track.

It’s an extraordinary glimpse of history, and definitely something that could sow the seed of a powerful piece of writing, especially as the 70th anniversary of D-Day – 6th June – nears.

As part of the commemorations of D-Day, IWM Duxford, Britain’s best-preserved Second World War airfield, will be sharing Captain Skinner’s experience of being one of the first chaplains to make it ashore on D-Day, using his vividly written diary extracts. Why not let his words provide the starting point for yours?

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – The View From Endless Street by Rebecca Lloyd

The View From Endless StreetWith the immense, quiet powers of her skilful prose, Rebecca Lloyd’s short story collection promises to steal inside you and take residence.

From an unsettling yet enticing search for silence in The Snow Room, to the discomforting portrayal of domestic abuse in The Balloon, Lloyd demands we pay attention and work for our rewards. And the rewards – tale after multi-layered tale that will remain with you for weeks afterwards – are well worth it.

I dipped in and out over a period of several weeks, and often found myself replaying scenes that were so vivid I wasn’t sure whether I had read, heard or watched them. Certain images will stay with you long after a story’s end – for me, it was the moment when Jack traps himself underwater in The Oil Drum, and a sodden trilby with a feather in the headband in The River: “it wasn’t Grandpa’s, but he would’ve liked it.” Continue reading

Night Watchman sought for Arts Theatre

Theatre tomb cr Judy DarleyThis may not seem like the kind of job I would normally mention on SkyLightRain.com, but in fact, it’s less a job than an opportunity to step into your very own ghost story.

The applicant search, launched by playwrights Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, is for a new role at the Arts Theatre created to explore spooky incidents at the theatre.

The theatre is currently hosting a production of West End play Ghost Stories, by afore mentioned playwrights, and has been best by curious happenings since the run began.

‘Whilst neither of us believe in ghosts, there is no doubt that there have been a couple of very odd occurrences at the Arts theatre,” say Jeremy and Andy (presumably in unison). “Whilst we are sure there is a perfectly rational explanation for them, neither of us would be prepared to spend the night alone in there.”

The successful applicant will work the 8pm to 4am night shift on Friday 13 June, required due to the reluctance of any members of staff to be there overnight on that date. If chosen, you will be expected to record and attempt to explain any supernatural occurrences that might take place.

Applicants must be over 18 “and brave”.

Publicity stunt? Quite possibly, but also a great opportunity to become part the legends of a living, (or possibly ‘undead’) theatre world.

Apply at www.ghoststoriestheshow.co.uk.

The deadline for submissions is 6pm on Friday 23 May 2014.

60 Postcards – My tribute for Mum

Postcard cr Rachael ChadwickRachael Chadwick – author, blogger and instigator of the ’60 postcards’ project – offers an insight into a remarkable journey, and how a memoir in motion can become more than the sum of its parts.

The reason it all began….

I always thought that I was invincible. I had never considered that anything horrific would happen to me or my family. But that all changed very suddenly when, in February 2012, my mother was diagnosed with bowel cancer after a very short period of feeling unwell. I was preparing myself for the biggest battle of my life for her but there could be no fight. Just eight days after her diagnosis we were delivered the brutal, heartbreaking news that Mum’s cancer was too aggressive to treat. Seven days after that we lost her.

I fell apart inside but put on a front to the world – I had to keep going. As hard as I tried it was all becoming too much – the milestones that followed that year were dragging me down. I felt completely helpless and so, I decided that I had to try something completely different.

Rachael Chadwick writing postcardsThe Project….

In the December after she passed, it would have been my mother’s sixtieth birthday and I knew we would have done something special for it. I thought about my wonderful Mum, about the close bond we had and about how we shared a love of all things creative. I decided to hit my grief from another angle and celebrate my mum on that weekend by creating a distinctive tribute.

With Eurostar vouchers as the last gift that Mum had given to me, Paris was the chosen city for the weekend. I wanted to spread a message about her and scattered sixty postcards – one for each year of her life – around the City of Love. I wrote the same handwritten note on them explaining why I was there and put my email address on them asking the finder to get in touch. Eleven of my closest friends came along to support me on my mission of remembrance and we filled the weekend with fun and laughter, we overindulged (an understatement) in cheese and wine and we hid postcards as we went.

Rachael Chadwick in Paris with friends

When I returned back to London I was dreading the first Christmas without Mum but it was just a few days later that I received an email from my first postcard finder. I was completely blown away. I knew that my mum would adore the project and with that in my mind, plus the excitement of the messages that were beginning to flow into my inbox, life was beginning to feel a little brighter.

The Blog…

Eager to share my story, I set up a blog (60postcards.com) three months after my Parisian adventure. I used it to tell my postcard tale while explaining honestly about how I was feeling about my loss. The reaction to the blog was overwhelming as I was supported and encouraged by friends, family and even strangers.

Rachael Chadwick writing postcards with friends

People who had also lost a loved one got in touch, telling me that they could relate to my words and were comforted by them. Knowing that I could potentially help others spurred me on even more and I decided to take a leap of faith and send an email to Stylist’s Emerald Street who mentioned my blog on a daily email. I experienced a surge of new readers and the most mind blowing part of it for me was that I began to gain interest from the literary world.

60 Postcards book coverThe Book…

I couldn’t pinch myself hard enough when I was offered a book deal with Simon and Schuster six months after my blog began. It may sound a little crazy but it was a very confusing decision. Of course, writing a book is such an incredible opportunity – something I had only ever dreamed about before – but this was a book about my very personal experience. I was excited to talk about my postcard journey, but talking about Mum’s death just eighteen months after we had lost her was painfully tough. Still, with the support of my family and friends I wrote 60 Postcards the book – a legacy for Mum that my family can treasure and pass down for generations.

What happens next?….

My project has reignited my passion for life while enabling me to keep my mother’s memory alive. I still suffer from what I call, ‘uncontrollable storms of grief’ (even very recently) but I am determined to keep 60 Postcards moving forward, especially as I am receiving so many incredible emails from readers who have enjoyed the book, are sharing their own experiences and telling me about tributes of their own.

I already have ideas for the next stage for 60 Postcards. I want to blog more regularly again, using it as a platform for stories about inspirational people and projects. I would love to get schools involved, to organise meet-ups for readers and encourage more interaction through social media – all of which, I hope, will continue to spread the message that grief does not need to be shouldered alone.

But the most exciting part about this project for me is that so many serendipitous events have occurred along the way, I never really know what is going to happen next! Who knows?!…

Rachael ChadwickAbout the author

Rachael Chadwick is an author, blogger and freelance writer. Her first book, 60 Postcards, is published by Simon and Schuster, and is available to buy from Amazon. The book began life as Rachael’s blog 60postcards.com. Find out more about Rachael on Twitter and Facebook.

Remember Me To The Bees – Drops of Wax

Drops of Wax cr Louise BoulterThe 17th story in my debut collection Remember Me To The Bees is Drops of Wax. I wrote it while visiting Cyprus with my family, thinking about how powerfully location can match or contrast with our emotions, and how a single moment can change everything in your life.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Drops of Wax

At the nearby tavern I order a strong shot of Cypriot coffee, no sugar. The shock of bitter caffeine helps to keep me in place, preventing me drifting inwards to replay that night again and again.

To the left of the harbour, rock pools glint. Michael loved rock pools. I remember him hunting for hours beneath sea- weed fronds for crabs and small quicksilver fish.

I pay for my coffee and skitter down the road to the pools, pretending Michael is skipping along beside me. I even imagine his voice, nattering away about some sea beastie he intends to hunt down and capture with his small blue net. But the rock pools, when I reach them, are oddly still. No seaweed wafts in this salt water; no crabs scuttle for shelter as my foot descends. It’s like stepping into a warm bath.

I wade in the water, disconcerted by the jagged volcanic rocks surrounding them. Nothing seems to live here at all.

“Karen? How are you?”

I turn and see Nola, Gigi by her side wearing a pink swim- suit and a pair of jelly shoes. They both beam at me.

“Nola,” I manage. “Kalimera, good morning.”
“Oh, you speak Greek.”
“Just a few words.” I’m self-conscious suddenly. “What are you doing here?”

“Gigi likes to look for crabs. They don’t live in the pools though – we find them in the sea, where it is cooler.” She says something to Gigi who holds out a small plastic bucket to me. Several miniscule white shells lie inside, spiralled into sharp points. The child picks one up, showing me the thin spiky legs that poke out. Look, I want to say, Look at that, Michael.

“Lovely,” I say, and Nola laughs.
“I think they’re horrid,” she says. “More like, what is the word? In Spain we call them araña. Oh yes, spider. I think these are more like spider than crab.”
“Spain?” I ask. “You’re on holiday here?”
“Georgios, my husband, is Greek Cypriot. Gigi and I just flew back from visiting my family in Madrid.”
The word husband makes me swallow hard. “You must miss your family when you’re here.”
“And I miss my husband when I’m there,” she shrugs, accepting the situation with a matter-of-factness I crave.

St Georges rock pools cr Judy Darley

Midweek writing prompt – an intrusion

Lake, Madeira cr judy DarleyImagine this – it’s a hot, beautiful day. Your protagonist has a day of tranquil indolence planned, and sneaks to the grounds of an abandoned stately home where they know there is an ornamental lake just perfect for whiling away a few quiet hours in.

But when they arrive they discover that someone else is already there.

Who is this person? Are they allowed to be there, or are they trespassing like your protagonist? Does your protagonist dare approach them, or do they simply hide in the shadows and watch?

What happens next?

If you write something prompted by this idea, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Lake and waterfall, Madeira cr judy Darley

Hiding out in Bloom & Curll

Bloom and Curll interior cr Judy Darley

Independent bookshops seem few and far between these days, but if you know where to look and what to look for, you’ll discover they’re far from extinct.

Bloom and Curll exterior cr Judy DarleyOne of the finest I know totters on a sweep of road just above Bristol’s Christmas Steps. Currently sans signage, it’s easy to spot thanks to the heaps of books piled inside and out.

This is Bloom & Curll, owned and run by Jason, though occasionally ‘babysat’ by his mum (her words).

What a treasure trove this is. Modern classics nestle alongside works be emerging local authors, shiny new volumes next to previously own and beloved texts.

Lanterns hang from the ceiling, toy trains sit ready on tracks (in the adult department, no less), and clocks show a random assortment of times, as though to remind you that inside this shop the only times that truly exist are those mentioned in the passages of the books.

Bloom and Curll clocks

And should you need sustenance to fuel you through your literary treasure hunt, there’s almost always a plate of Jaffa cakes near the till.

Bloom and Curll Jaffa cakes

My short story collection Remember Me To The Bees recently took up residence at Bloom & Curll, and I find myself both proud, and a little jealous that it gets to spend its days there, waiting to be discovered by some reader seeking a few short stories to transport them in the way Bloom & Curll does me.

Bloom & Curll, 74 Colston Street, BS1 5BB Bristol, United Kingdom; tel: 07786 960941.

Remember Me To The Bees at Bloom and Curll

Audience + theatre = Mayfest magic

Nightwalk cr MayfestMayfest kicks off this month (as you might expect) in Bristol, with a line up dedicated to  “presenting a broad range of unusual, playful and ambitious work from leading theatre makers from Bristol, the UK and beyond.” As with last year’s stellar programme. I have a feeling that the main challenge will be choosing what NOT to go to.

The festival runs from 15-25 May 2014, with performances taking place throughout the city,  in venues ranging from Bristol Old Vic Theatre to the Trinity Centre to Leigh Woods, for the tantalising Nightwalk exploratory event with artists Tom Bailey and Jez riley French.

FREEZE! cr Greg MacveanTop of my wish-list are haunting-sounding Butterfly Man (Fri 23-Sat 24 May at Tobacco Factory Theatre), the intriguing FREEZE! with Nick Steur (pictured left), at Circomedia from Fri 23-Sun 25 May, and Laura Dannequin’s intriguing and undoubtedly moving Hardy Animal (pictured below; Sat 24-Sun 25 May at the Arnolfini Auditorium), described as “a tender solo that looks at chronic pain and human resilience,”and “a goodbye letter to a former self and an ode to dance.”

What will you experience this Mayfest?

Explore the full 2014 programme and more.

HARDY ANIMAL cr Mayfest

Creativity without restraint

Drop A Stitch Drive cr Heather ChildI popped down to see the latest Expressions exhibition at Paintworks, Bristol, last week, and left with a massive smile on my face! It’s such an effusive display of the imaginations, not to mention craft skills, of Milestone Trust’s service users.

Nathan Filer cr Judy DarleyI was lucky enough to be present for the opening, when Nathan Filer, author of the Costa Book of the Year award winning The Shock of the Fall, explained his motivations for writing a book with a mental health patient as its protagonist. He mentioned his desire to put the person first and the condition second, just as he has done in his work as a mental health nurse.

It was a fantastic start to the evening, where the beauty, humour and playfulness of the items on display came before the underlying conditions of the people who made them. This was talent on display, rather than the learning disabilities, mental health needs and dementia of the hundreds of people who created them. Continue reading

Remember Me To The Bees – Hedgehog

Hedgehog cr Louise BoulterThe 16th story in my debut short fiction collection Remember Me To The Bees is Hedgehog.

I wrote this story  in a bid to examine the challenges we can face when trying to identify right over wrong. When does it become acceptable to poke your nose into someone else’s family life? What gives you the right to draw judgement on their home life?

To explore these questions I created a protagonist in the form of a young school teacher whose life seems to be a quagmire of querulous and often inconsistent ideals of morality, and the bullied pupil she wants to rescue.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Hedgehog

The estate is at the far end of the town from Kiran’s own smart rented flat, line after line of little terraced houses with square scrubby lawns sprouting sofas, armchairs, old television sets – like impromptu open air living rooms. A silver-grey Alfa Romero is parked outside – incongruously posh for the area. Other than that, Timothy’s house is like so many others, the discoloured curtains twitching when she rings the bell. She’s seen his mum just once before, and it’s a shock to be greeted by her narrow, suspicious face, see the deep lines burrowing into her cheeks. She’s only a few years older than Kiran, yet resentment and uneasiness hang over her like the cloud of cigarette smoke she seems to exude through her pallid skin.

“What you want?” She keeps the door half-closed behind her, as though trying to prevent the young art teacher seeing inside.

“Mrs Hedginstall? I’m from Hedgeh… Timothy’s school. He leant me some items of school uniform for a project on Guy Fawkes. I’m just returning them.”

The air smells of milk on the turn, a faint tang of old nap- pies. She looks at the skinny woman in front of her, trying to assess whether it’s possible she’s recently had a baby. There’s no sign of one in the crack of room visible behind her – just a lot of old magazines, ashtrays, general detritus, and a glimpse of a man’s bare arm: strong-looking, densely haired. “Guy Fawkes?”

“Yes, yes,” Kiran tries to refocus on the task in hand. “He tried to burn down parliament. We were building Guys, some of the children supplied uniforms to dress them in.”

She hands over the bag quickly, anxious to be out of there, away from the resentment and the sorrow and the disconcerting stink of outright fear. She all but runs down the front path to her car, all but breaks the speed limit on her way back to the school, and back towards the safety of Ben’s bungalow.

School cr Judy Darley