Art review – The Power of the Sea, RWA

The Power of the SeaWith expert and evocative curation from artist Janette Kerr and academic Christiana Payne, The Power of the Sea immerses you in an ocean less of tranquility than of peril and otherworldly eeriness.

Ask a person to name the first word that comes to mind when they think of the sea, and you’ll find that no two people offer the same response. This exhibition has served up the artists’ equivalent of these answers – in the form of paintings, etchings, sculptures and so much more.

Device for Disappearing at Sea by Andrew Friend1

Andrew Friend’s Device for Disappearing at Sea, shown above vaguely resembling a collection of immense, upturned banana peels, bemused me until I saw the photograph of it far out at sea and recognised it as a portal to another realm – or perhaps to some Malaysian isle where tropical fruits flourish.

Succession by Jethro Brice

Jethro Brice’s painstakingly precise model, Succession, gives the delicious impression of the viewer being a giant visiting a Lilliputian land under threat from encroaching tides, bringing the concept of rising seas into sharp focus. In one of the smaller side galleries, Annie Cattrell’s wave machine seems to exhale the breaths of a vast creature sleeping, and Janette Kerr’s passages plucked from logbooks detailing 19th-century Atlantic crossings form both a disquieting prose poem and an ode to the sea’s shifting shades and moods.

Annie Cattrell's Currents

And, yes, of course JMW Turner is present, along with John Constable, Joan Eardley, Paul Nash and others, each presenting a different view of our relationship with the oceans that both provide sustenance and threaten our survival, offer sun-lit pleasure and stormy exhilaration, yet ultimately erode the islands we call home.

This is an exhibition to take your time over, to let the stillness of some pieces to creep into you, before others shudder through you with enough strength to set your teeth clattering.

Until 6 July 2014 at the RWA, Bristol. All images provided courtesy of the RWA.

Call for writers to take part in Penzance Literary Festival

Penzance cr Judy DarleyTelltales is inviting writers of short fiction to submit stories on the theme of ‘Tide and Time’ for the chance to be selected to read at Penzance’s annual literary festival.

They’re hoping the theme will “inspire writing flavoured with sea and salt, full of ebb and flow, flotsam and jetsom, in contemplation of being castaway or of eternity – but, as always, pieces on any subject will be considered.”

Your submission must be no more than 2,000 words long. The deadline for submissions is 9 July 2014.

The chosen writers will be invited to read their submission at The Admiral Benbow, Chapel Street, Penzance at 7pm on Saturday 19 July 2014.

I took part in last year’s TellTales at the Penzance Literary Festival, with my story The Scent of Summer, and had a wonderful time at the night of readings at the Admiral Benbow. Highly recommend it!

To find out more, visit

The journey to a debut poetry collection

Water and sky cr Claire TrevienPoet Claire Trévien offers her advice on creating and publishing a successful poetry collection, and keeping your poems alive in some unusual ways.

Back in early 2011 I’d been writing for many years already, with poems published in magazines and anthologies, I went to a weekly spoken word night in Paris (where I lived at the time), and had recently founded Sabotage Reviews, a website promoting indie literature. Despite being involved with the ‘scene’ I was feeling like I was getting nowhere and then, like buses, two excellent things happened to me in the same year.

Low-Tide Lottery coverThe first was the publication of my pamphlet Low-Tide Lottery, with Salt, and the second was Tom Chivers from Penned in the Margins, offering to publish my first poetry collection The Shipwrecked House. The collection finally came out in March 2013.

My process was very different with both of these publications. Low-Tide Lottery was a flotsam of the poems I considered my ‘best’ at the time. There was a fast turnaround from my submitting them to their being published, and no editing involved.

The process was completely different with The Shipwrecked House. For one, there was a set deadline for submission, a year away from our first meeting, which gave me much more time to collect a cohesive set of poems. For another, Tom was involved in the editing process. I’d send him a batch of poems and we’d order them into a yes, no, and maybe pile. After a meeting in which I’d try to argue the case for certain poems, and abandon others, I’d return home with a list of suggestions I could discard or incorporate.

the-shipwrecked-house coverThere was also a clear through-line for me in terms of content. As the title suggests, I wanted to explore the encroachment of one world on another. This is very much a collection about my past encroaching on my present, like a sea gnawing away at the cliff and revealing more and more layers. Being from two countries, I’ve always felt liminal so there was that too.

Around 70% of the poems in the collection were filtered over the course of the year, some were several years old, others quite new, and the ‘missing links’ became clearer. The last 30% were written in the summer of 2012 before the submission deadline when I was back in Brittany. I spent a month reading up on its myths and legends, walking and driving a great deal, which led to the creation of poems such as ‘Whales’, and ‘Origin Story’, among others.


If I’d rushed into publishing my first collection, the content would have been very different, I’m glad I had breathing space in which to let it evolve into the book it became.

What I learned from this and my first pamphlet is that there’s no point rushing into your first publication for the sake of it. Do your research, go for a publisher not just because it’s a ‘good name’ but because you admire what they do and it feels like they’ll be the best fit for your work. It’s worth being sure that you approve of what they stand for and their general behaviour, because once you’re their author, this can have an effect on how your publication is perceived.

Some publishers are very hands on about sending out review copies, organising readings and promoting your work, others leave this to the author, and some are a mixture of both. Ask their current authors for advice, or if you fancy the challenge of being pro-active, maybe read books like 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell by Chris Hamilton-Emery for ideas on how to promote your poetry.

Shore cr Claire TrevienRead

So my first piece of advice is to look at your own reading patterns: what poetry collections do you enjoy? Do they have a publisher in common? If so, they should be your first choice. If you don’t feel ready to send them a manuscript now, then wait. Poetry doesn’t have an expiry date and you want to make sure you send them your best work.

Some publishers I’d recommend for pamphlets or collections include Seren, Penned in the Margins, Nine Arches Press, Oystercatcher Press, Burning Eye Books, Tall-Lighthouse, Happenstance Press, Flarestack Poets, The Emma Press and Valley Press. They each have their individual identity, so read them, go to their launches, follow them on social media, and work out if they’re the right fit for you.

You can also decide to self-publish. This might seem like a lonely venture but there’s a very supportive community out there for independent authors (try ALLi), or you could team up with other indie authors and create a writers’ collective, such as Triskele Books. There are lots of advantages to this route, it gives you full creative control for one, but it also has disadvantages – many prizes don’t accept self-published works, for instance.


Depending on which publisher you go with, or if you’ve decided to self-publish, you might not get a thorough editor. This is not an insurmountable problem. Give your manuscript to friends you trust, ask authors you admire for a manuscript appraisal (you’ll generally have to pay for this though, it’ll be worth it). On a poem-by-poem basis, try workshops or writing surgeries (the Poetry School offers both in a variety of formats).

If you’re lucky enough to fall on a good editor then listen to them, but listen to yourself too. I transformed some of my poems from being in my editor’s ‘no’ pile to being in the final manuscript by proving that they could be improved (this includes one of the title poems, as I explain here).

Look beyond the collection

Publishing a collection doesn’t have to be the end of the story, it doesn’t even have to be a necessary step in your story as a writer. Perhaps your poems would work better as an interactive website, a youtube channel, a series of themed chapbooks, or a creation that doesn’t have a name yet… There’s no hard and fast rule here, think about what form would suit the project you are working on rather than forcing it to fit a pre-existing mould.

The Shipwrecked House came out over a year ago, but to me it’s still not quite finished, in part because it is now having a second life as a show. So I’m currently in the midst of memorising my own words, and finding new ways to bring the poems alive using perfume, music, sounds, and my own physicality. That’s not a typical journey for most poetry collections, though live literature is becoming an increasingly attractive option. My publisher is famous for it, as are other creative producers, such as JayBird Live Literature (look out for the fantastic Clare Pollard in particular!).

It’s not the necessary journey for every poetry collection either, but it felt like the right one for this particular collection. So trust your instincts, and go for it!

Claire TrevienAbout the author

Claire Trévien is the author of Low-Tide Lottery (Salt) and The Shipwrecked House (Penned in the Margins) which will tour the UK this autumn. She is currently editing an anthology with Gareth Prior of poems inspired by history.

If you’d like to share your own writing journey on SkyLightRain, get in touch! Just send an email  to Judy(at)

Sail away with Michael Praed

Arrival by Michael Praed

There’s a postcard that lives on my mantelpiece in my bedroom that I find myself gazing at from time to time. It shows a few curiously upturned triangles of boats set against a misty background. When I look at it, I find I almost hear the sound of lanyards ringing together, and the lap of waves against hulls. I breathe in and almost catch the scent of salt on the air. It’s a magical painting that can achieve that, and this is only a small reproduction of Michael Praed’s work.

“My grandfather was a fisherman, operating three boats, including luggers, from Mousehole,” he says. “My son, Nicky (also a keen painter), has continued the family tradition and skippers netters out of Newlyn harbour. My own interest was sparked partly by the numerous handmade models of fishing boats that adorned the family home in my childhood.”

For more than forty years Michael has lived in the heart of Newlyn, Cornwall’s last major fishing port, and the preservation of the county’s heritage is very important to him, says Matt Piper, who runs Eleven and a Half, the gallery that shows his work. “This is most evident in the frequency with which his painting focuses on the old harbours of the region, notably at Lamorna, Mousehole and Newlyn. The small fishing boats that once worked these ports have been rendered obsolete by large modern trawlers. The harbours themselves have lost their importance: in Newlyn a more modern harbour engulfs the old quays while in Lamorna the pier is gradually collapsing into the sea. However, they retain their appeal to Michael, in their rounded shape and in the manner in which they interact with the natural contours of the coastline to provide protection against the elements.”

I find myself drawn to the stillness of the paintings, and the light he captures in the water. There’s a sense of stealing down to the quayside early in the day, before anyone else is awake.

Harbour Shapes, Morning Light by Michael Praed

Matt tells me that Michael’s ‘nascent talent’ was discovered by watercolourist Sheila Cavell Hicks when he was eleven, and it was she who bought him a first book of watercolour paper and encouraged him to continue drawing.

Michael attended Penzance School of Art, then Falmouth School of Art (now University College, Falmouth) where he studied for a National Design Diploma. “The experience instilled a discipline and an academic approach to his painting that he has retained throughout his career,” says Matt. “In particular, the training he received in etching and engraving continues to play an indirect part in his work. Michael attributes his interest in paintings with strong linear qualities back to the techniques learned in these courses.”

The strong though delicate lines of the harbours and boats in Michael’s artwork stand out against the dreaminess of the sea, sky and fog, offset further by the bright crimson of several of the boats.

Harbour Light by Michael Praed

“The view from his former studio window is the single most important influence on my work,” he says. “From halfway up Paul Hill in Newlyn, the house in which my wife Margaret and I lived for many years perches above the roof-tops, looking down to the port, fish market and old harbour, along the seafront to the Jubilee Pool in Penzance and across the bay to St Michael’s Mount and the Lizard peninsula. It offered me all the content I need for my paintings: the variety of boats, the effects of light and reflection on the sea that create every shade of blue, the rusty orange-brown of the granite piers.”

He adds: “In addition it’s an ever-changing panorama. Changeable weather patterns, the height of the sun in the sky, shadows cast by clouds on the sea, and the incoming and outgoing tides all generate different and rapidly evolving moods.”

Full Harbour by Michael Praed

Matt says that Michael tells of starting a painting one Monday morning in calm, bright sunshine. “By lunchtime the scene had completely changed and he put the painting to one side. The next morning, with overcast conditions, he started a second painting, only for the weather to change once again. By the end of the week he had seven paintings, all unfinished, and each almost unrecognisable from the others.”

Local artists who have had a major influence on Michael’s work include Alexander McKenzie, John Tunnard and Jack Pender.

He describes his own work as striking “a careful balance between realism and abstraction: my paintings are descriptive enough to generate a broad appeal and yet stylised enough to satisfy my own quest for simplification and lack of detail.”

Matt comments: “Michael’s paintings often have an eerie calm, and a sense of foreboding about what may happen next. The landscape is usually devoid of human form and generally of all living things. However, this also gives them a timeless quality, and a sense of detachment from much of modern life.”

No wonder they’re so alluring. Looking at them, I want to dip a toe into that water, feel it cold against my skin, and swim listening to the lanyards’ song.

 Find more of Michael’s work at

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

Traditional Fishing Craft, Low Water cr Michael Praed

Midweek writing prompt – Claire Trévien’s poetry

Museo della Rete nets cr Judy DarleyOccasionally I’ll read a poem that contains such vivid poetry it takes residence in my imagination and spawns entire works of prose fiction.

Claire Trévien’s Shipwrecked House is packed with surreal, evocative lines, such as these from ‘Origin Story’:

They were to place seaweed in my cot 
so that I’d grow with nets for hands
to better haul mica-strewn salmon. 

To me this feels like the start of a haunting fairytale, but where could the lines lead? Claire has generously given her permission for us to use them as this week’s writing prompt.

I advise you to mull them over, like grit in an oyster shell, and see what emerges…

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

Museo della Rete nets cr Judy Darley1

Book review – Unthology 5

Unthology 5A flawless short story anthology is a rare thing, but this may well be it. Editors Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones have selected 14 startling, unsettling tales and strung them together in an order that best shows off their facets, of which, of course, there are many.

I’d expect nothing less from the duo who have already put together four excellent Unthologies. There’s a sense of them curating the book as an event, hanging each tale so that the preceding and following stories will enhance the impression each one leaves you with. In this scenario the first and last have added responsibility, drawing you in one end, and easing you out of the other, a little altered despite yourself.

The opening story, A Little More Prayer by Angela Readman, does this effortlessly with the story of a teenager in the aftermath of a kidnapping, subtly shifting your understanding of events until you emerge, troubled but intrigued. Continue reading

Celebrate National Flash Fiction Day

Eternal Sequential by Judy DarleyTomorrow is the summer solstice, and with the longest day comes the shortest fiction. National Flash Fiction Day celebrates the power of the briefest form of fiction, with events across the UK.

In my home town of Bristol, there will be a free flash fiction workshop takes place from 1.30-4.30pm at the Central Library. I went along last year and found it a great source of inspiration. In fact, one of the pieces I wrote at it, since titled Eternal Sequential, will be published by Farther Stars Than These on Thursday 26 June 2014 – how’s that for timing?

The piece was prompted by a postcard showing a family wearing spacesuits, and the letter E plucked from a sack of Scrabble tiles (yay, I got a vowel!). I didn’t get to keep the postcard – hence the fact I produced the piece of artwork at the top of this post in its place – so if you go along to the workshop, perhaps you’ll get to write something inspired by it yourself!

In the evening, I’ll be reading two pieces of my flash fiction as part of an evening of readings hosted by Bristol Flash upstairs at the Lansdown pub. Other writers taking part include Tania Hershman, Kevlin Henney, Lucy English and Calum Kerr – so please come along. It’s a free evening of literary entertainment, and a great alternative to the footie!

Bristol Flash event poster

Review – Dumbstruck

Dumbstruck 1 (photo by Owain Shaw)

photo by Owain Shaw

Beginning with a list of things a man alone on an Alaskan island misses about home (“fingers on the back of his neck”, “salad”), this poetic, sweetly melancholy tale explores the obsessions that can come between us and our potential for happiness.

With a live soundtrack providing haunting sounds of the sea and whales (especially impressively from Carolyn Goodwin) interspliced with original song and dance, this is a multi-sensory tour of one man’s journey through love, betrayal and a hunger for connection.

Dumbstruck 3 (photo by Owain Shaw)

photo by Owain Shaw

Ted, played by Robin McLoughlin, is an expert in hydroacoustics tracking the movements of whales, when he discovers a mysterious whale and finally finds someone he can really talk to. Theatre group Fine Chisel have taken the true story of the lone 52-Hertz whale, which sings at a frequency far higher than any other species, and turned it into an emotional force of nature.

The tale carries us through Ted’s memories of his uncle Mal (played by George Williams with some excellent, simple puppetry from artistic director and performer Tom Spencer), and of fiery Fiona (Holly Beasley-Garrigan), quite possibly the love of Ted’s life, who makes some dangerous decisions. Add in the music, some audience participation (nothing too taxing, I promise), and it all contributes to highlight Ted’s current solitude in the middle of the North Pacific ocean, with only the cries of the whale for company.

Dumbstruck 4 (photo by Owain Shaw)

photo by Owain Shaw

The version being performed in the current tour has been developed from its Edinburgh Festival premiere.

It’s a joyful, tragic and deeply moving examination of our desire, and inability, to communicate effectively. Go and see it while you can. You’ll emerge struggling to find adequately effusive words.

Dumbstruck by Fine Chisel will be at The Tobacco Factory’s Brewery Theatre, Bristol, until Sat 21 June 2014, and will then be touring until 19 July. Find full dates here.

Midweek writing prompt – papered house

Some years ago I read a short story about a couple papering over the windows of their home, sealing the doors, preparing a literal last supper of their favourite foods, then waiting to die. Despite how bleak this sounds, the tale was beautiful – eerie, romantic and not half as sad as you might think. I wish I could remember who had written it.

Papered windows cr Judy Darley

A few days ago on a stroll around my neighbourhood I came across this sight, and was instantly reminded of that story, then thought of all the other reasons someone might paste newspaper over their windows.

To prevent nosy people peering in, or to stop someone seeing out? Might they be hiding something (a brutal murder?!)? Is this a curious party venue for the uber cool? Or a social experiment? Does someone particularly paranoid live there, or someone relatively normal up to something incredible? Or in fact is it not what’s behind the windows but the newspapers themselves that are significant. A secret code of sorts, perhaps, but to be interpreted by whom?

The choice is yours.

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

Papered windows cr Judy Darley

Book review – Trees of Bristol

Trees of BristolI’m a huge fan of Bristol’s green spaces and their towering, leafy residents, so couldn’t resist this beautiful book. Packed with gleaming photography by Frank Drake and accompanied by Tony D’Arpino’s thoughtful, knowledgeable prose, Trees of Bristol is a finely balanced blend of words and images that offers up a wooded (rather than potted) history of the city, or simply give you a few moments’ light-dappled respite.

Explaining the choices made by himself and Drake, D’Arpino says the trees featured within aren’t included because they’re “ancient or rare (although some are), but because they are the pervasive icons of our daily forest. They are the friends we meet every day”. It’s a pleasing concept, and a reminder that Bristol is an urban space edged by forest – and no street or square lacks a view hedgerows, fields and grassy hillside ­– which D’Arpino attributes to a “legacy of luck and planning.” Continue reading