There’s more to Barcelona than Gaudi…

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya views cr Beccy DownesA few weeks ago I posted my Barcelona – 10 Ten Experiences piece. I travelled to Barcelona with my friend Beccy Downes, also a writer, and thought it would be interesting to show you how different two pieces written in response to the same trip can be. Here’s her piece on Barcelona.

Anyone visiting Barcelona will have heard of the work of Gaudi, and there is no doubt that the Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell are unique and stunning to visit.  But what else is there?

For a quick break in Barcelona, the ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ Bus Tours are perfect.  Faced with the challenge of seeing as much as we could in three days, I found that the commentary really helped me to focus, not only on what I had intended to see, but on the things I enjoy that hadn’t even occurred to me to seek out.  The tours all start at Plaça de Catalunya.

FC Barcelona cr Beccy Downes As a football and sports fan in general, I relished the chance to see the impact that sporting events have had on the city.  Having regularly seen and heard about the famous FC Barcelona on the TV, Camp Nou was an obvious early stopping point.  I was immersed in the culture of this football club when first stepping through the gates; in awe of the surroundings which encapsulate the 98,787 seater stadium, a village of eateries and merchandise stores line the approach…player and sponsor images adorn the outside of the stadium itself, although there are a few statues and plaques which pay homage to the club’s auspicious history too…

FC Barcelona sculpture cr Beccy Downes A stadium and museum tour is available for fans of both the club, and wider football in general.  It currently costs €23 for adults, €17 for children aged 6-13 (price taken from Club website) and includes the pressroom and commentary box, the trophy room, and even the players tunnel and dressing room. I didn’t have time to try this out, but if the official club shop is anything to go by, it promises to be a Barcelona FC-themed assault on the senses!

Olympic Stadium cr Beccy DownesAnother stop on the bus tour takes you up Montjuic (which has its own story – you’ll hear it on the commentary) and to the site of the great 1992 Olympic Games. Although I was fairly young at the time, I can still remember being stirred by the Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Caballe song which became the theme for the Games, and when I caught sight of the sheer magnificence of the stadium, I felt a slight tingle as I imagined what it might have been like to stand there surrounded by the thronging crowds…

Olympic Stadium horses cr Beccy Downes

The ambience, even on a quiet day, is majestic – from the horses leaping from atop the stadium wall, to the layers of fountains flowing on three levels below the stadium, I spent some time just taking it all in…with the impressive telecoms tower designed by Santiago Calatrava to resemble the Olympic flame looming above.

Olympic Stadium communications tower cr Beccy Downes

Another stop on the bus tour, which I had no idea was even there until sheer awe of the view made me disembark, was the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC). Even if art is not your thing, the two Venetian style towers that flank the approach, the fountains which dance in front of the museum (I didn’t get the chance to see them at night but the night bus tour takes in this experience during summer for an additional cost) and the view of Barcelona from the very top of the hill directly outside (see top of post), makes the climb very much worthwhile. There are escalators to help if you find walking uphill a bit difficult.

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya Beccy Downes

And of course, something that you might forget when visiting Barcelona, believing it to be the ultimate city break, is that it’s actually pretty darn close to an absolutely superb seafront. The hotels and casino which make up the Port Olimpic marina were built in readiness for the Olympic Games (the sailing events took place here and the athletes stayed here during the games), but some of the accommodation has since been sold as high value apartments to residents of the city – a lot of the architecture here, as with many of the buildings around the city, is unusual to say the least, and there’s some outstanding artwork too, including Frank Gehry’s giant goldfish!

Gehry's Fish  cr Beccy Downes

And finally, the nearby Barcelonetta beach is the ideal place to take the weight off your weary feet, feel the warmth of the Spanish sun and enjoy a cocktail or two. ¡Salud!

Barcelonetta beach cr Beccy Downes

Cocktails cr Beccy Downes

Find more Barcelona highlights at





Jessica Albarn draws the bug world into focus

In A Corner © Jessica AlbarnIs that the sound of your skin crawling? Some artwork, however elegant, has the power to make your hair stand on end.

In Jessica Albarn’s case, it’s the primal fear of spiders, bees and other iggly wrigglies that jump from the page to race up your spine. And yet, the beauty of her drawings cannot be denied.

“I began drawing as very small child like all children, but didn’t stop!” Jessica says. “ I did a Fine Art degree with the view to doing an MA. The MA didn’t happen as I had my first child at 24. So from there on in I took my own route into the Arts. I’m an artist because it makes me happy and luckily, it’s what I am best at.”

BEE 2 © Jessica AlbarnI encountered Jessica at the Natural History Museum’s open garden day, when she was showing off her fine sketches of bees, and a mildly macabre collection of dead bees. Startled, I had to admit I have a similar hoard – some summers dead bees glimmer like jewels along the footpaths. It’s an odd thing to bond over, but there you are.

I was unsurprised to discover that Jessica draws inspiration both from nature and human nature – two of my own driving forces.

I asked Jessica what started her off on her series of bee drawings. “I found a dead bee and it seemed to be reaching for something trying to hold onto life,” she says. “It’s delicate dead form touched me and I began drawing it. I then also became increasingly aware of the decline in not only honey bees but also bumble bees and have used my work to raise awareness ever since.”

It’s a brilliant aim, and one neatly exemplified by the work below, titled ‘All Fly – 60 species of bee.’

All Fly - 60 species of bee © Jessica Albarn

Jessica explains that she’s fascinated by creepy crawlies’ in all varieties and forms: “in drawing out their beauty I feel I hold onto in some way the life that is lost,” she says, then adds: “apart from the spiders which I prefer to draw live! I’m interested in how human beings relate to the natural world on an ecological, emotional and symbolic level. Deep in our subconscious, memories lurk that affects our responses.” That explains the hair-raising sensation experienced when a spider runs across your foot – and I don’t even consider myself afraid of the wee beasties!

“Insects are very alien creatures to us, yet our very survival depends on the balance they bring to our world,” Jessica continues.

One of my favourites is Jessica’s hybrid drawing: Butterfly Ball, which reveals the artist’s passion for fairytales.

Butterfly Ball © Jessica Albarn

Butterfly Ball © Jessica Albarn

“I imagine faeries to be shape-shifters masquerading as insects in our world – moving amongst us unnoticed,” says Jessica. “I also wanted to play on the idea in children’s minds that that bug they were about to squash just might be a faerie!”

That’s definitely a good way to preserve insects from unwarranted harm!

Find more of Jessica’s work and details of upcoming exhibitions at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Midweek writing prompt – junk

Vintage cravats cr Judy DarleyInspired by Lucy Robert’s gorgeous treasure troves, this week’s #writingprompt invites you to consider the old adage of one person’s trash being another hoarder’s treasure.

Head to your local flea market or car boot sale and have a good rummage – see what your fingers find. It might be a 1980s Care Bears with chewed paws, or a string of 1960s beads. Whatever it is, think about the person who once owned that item, what it meant to them, and what it might mean to them to rediscover it now.

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 share it on

Vintage cutlery and cars

Book review – Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary

Someone Else's Skin by Sarah HilaryThere’s something thrilling about dipping into a debut novel, but rarely is the enthusiasm matched by such unerring skill as this.

In Sarah Hilary’s confident hands we’re securely led through a tale woven from multiple viewpoints and with multiple crimes – a juggling act she adeptly controls from intriguing epilogue of Someone Else’s Skin to the satisfying closing sentence. It’s an impressive feat, but one achieved thanks to Hilary’s obvious respect for all the characters she creates, as well as the real life situations she draws inspiration from.

Exploring the sorry and sordid world of women’s refuges, the story swoops us past potential clichés into original, empathetic storylines and elegant, often poetic prose that stands out as something special in this genre. She describes a Secure Unit as “steel and glass, reflective surfaces shivering in the weak sunshine” and a woman’s memory of her childhood circumcision is told in colours: “The blanket was green and gold. Dark patches lay on it, like shadows (…) Her blood was a new shadow, red.”

It takes courage to tackle the subjects Hilary delves into – domestic atrocities far more complex than murder. She introduces us to characters so real that if they were to accost you in a pub, begin pouring out their sorry tales, you might want to run. But Hilary makes us stay, listen, take in all the different and conflicting levels of their damage and betrayal, and gradually come to understand that even the worst of her villains began as a victim – no one is just one thing, from surface to core. Continue reading

How to create fiction from family treasures

Terri Wiltshire 4 generationsAuthor Terri Wiltshire offers her tips for using family stories to create fiction, or, as she’s been fondly calling it: ‘Pilfering the Family Jewels.’

There’s an old Jewish saying that goes: “God created families because He liked stories”.  Since the time humans could draw pictures on cave walls, we’ve been collecting and sharing stories of our “clan”. It’s how we connect to others. And we all do it. When we gather for holidays, weddings, and funerals- the stories pour out from each generation to comfort, to celebrate, to reminisce, or to laugh out loud at our outrageous human foibles. The place and time might change, but the struggles and joy of “family” are universal.

Listen and Collect

Writers are constantly told to write-what-you-know and the most fertile resources are the tales we grew up hearing over and over again: the whispered rumours of an ancestor with a criminal past, the hilarious pitfalls of raising six kids with one outhouse, the practical jokes associated with Uncle Dwayne’s paralysing fear of snakes, and the disastrous day that lightening struck your grandmother’s washing machine and killed the cat.

As a child, I looked forward to family gatherings and begged to stay up past my bedtime when I knew the stories would continue into the night. But I was in University before I realised the importance of our oral history and started keeping a file of names, phrases, and recollections.  The stories were spread out over a hundred years and included those that had been passed down from my great-grandparents. Some were funny. Some were heartbreaking. I wasn’t sure how they were connected and I wasn’t sure how I would use them, but I knew I needed to keep them handy.

Terri Wiltshire and cousins

Start Small

Novels based on family experiences don’t have to revolve around a large, life-changing event.  Sometimes we worry so much about finding the BIG story, that we miss the tiny details that make it worth the journey. Good stories can emerge from the smallest snippet of memory.  In my case, it was the shuffling gait of a gentle, reclusive great uncle who seemed to know so much about the world, but so little about how to fit into it. In writing “Carry Me Home” he became the catalyst. I took his sweetness, his awkwardness, his stubbornness to live his life his own way, and created a character and a set of circumstances (the BIG story) that allowed those traits to shine through.

Woven in, are tiny threads of family experience, which I’d heard along the way, including: riding the rails during the Great Depression, making sorghum syrup from sugar cane, and sharecropping. I also added a generous sprinkling of family recipes and cooking tips, along with family phrases, and habits.

The great thing about developing fiction from family stories, is that they are both universal and unique. The emotional aspect of human struggle is universal but the circumstances of that struggle, the dynamic of the relationships, is unique to each family.

Tread lightly

If you feel My family isn’t that interesting, you might try interviewing a few of the older generation. You’ll be surprised what nuggets will be uncovered. It’s important to remember that family stories are not blueprints for a work of fiction. They can serve as that first seed of inspiration, or a rich source of seasoning, but sticking rigidly to a historical truth (in family terms) will create more problems and limit the scope of your story.

There is also a certain anxiety in using our kinfolk as a resource. We worry about offending or taking advantage of private experiences, so above all, it is important to treat your family “treasure” with respect. I never duplicate a real person or a real event, but there are enough trinkets from the family vault to keep them happy searching for the bits and pieces we’ve shared over the years.  I make sure that whatever I choose, it is used with fondness and care, and not ridicule.

Be true to your heart, not your geography

True places are not found on maps (Herman Melville)

Just as I created fiction from the jumble of memories and recollections of my past and my ancestor’s past, I created a fictional town to set it in. I didn’t want readers to get distracted trying to recognise, or uncover discrepancies, of a specific town. It was the heart of the place that mattered most.  I called the town Lander, which was my grandfather’s first name, and which means ‘of the land.’

Lander, Alabama is a composite of many small southern towns I lived in as a child with a central square borrowed from one place, a railway yard borrowed from another, and a cotton mill borrowed from yet another. Lander is all of those towns, but none of them in particular. Likewise, “Carry Me Home” is sprinkled with traces of my family, but they are there to support the fiction that emerged from a specific time and place.

There is a wealth of raw material that can be collected just by sitting around the kitchen table. Listen. Ask questions. Record. And create… but honour those who have trusted you with their slice of family history.

Terri WiltshireAbout the author

Terri Wiltshire was raised in the Deep South in America. For the last 25 years she lived and worked in the UK, where she ran a role-play company before relocating home to Alabama recently. “I’m surrounded by family and old high school and university friends so I’m pilfering away!”

A former journalist and NBC News presenter, Terri is also an actor and director. Carry Me Home is her first novel.

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

Midweek writing prompt – repressed memories

70s kids cr James NyeImagine you’re going through an old photo album (remember those? Back in the days when photos were physical things?). You find a photograph of a group of children, and you think you recognise yourself as one of them. The others are all family friends, siblings or cousins.

Straightforward enough, right?

But then you realise that one of them is a stranger. You don’t recall ever laying eyes on his or her face before. In the photo, they’re very much part of the group, yet now you don’t think you even know their name.

And, looking at that photo, you feel something stir deep inside, as a long-buried memory begins to emerge…

Image kindly supplied by James Nye.

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

Malka Dubrawsky’s vivid geometrics

Windows cr Malka DubrawskyNot all artists work with paint and canvas, and yet when we consider ‘art’ those are the materials the majority of us think of. I love art in the broader, more inclusive sense, one that involves expression in all kinds of materials, from ink to fabric.

I encountered Malka Dubrawsky through a snippet on the news pages of a patchwork magazine I wrote for recently. Her use of colour and bold shapes immediately caught my attention.

Malka has been working with and making textiles for the past 20 or so years, but she started out with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art with a focus on printmaking.

“I’m not so sure I wanted to be an artist as much as I wanted to be a maker,” she says. “I have always loved making things, drawings, collages, knitted and sewn items, and photographs.”

These passions led her towards textiles after she finished her formal art education. “I felt like a lot of my drawings reminded me of quilts – I didn’t really know what that meant, but I was drawn to re-imagine them in fabric,” Malka explains. “From there I wanted to create the kind of fabric I felt inspired to work with and so I learned how to pattern and dye fabric, specifically cotton, in various ways.”

Fresh Quilting coverThis artistic vision combined with a practical nature has led to Malka having her work included in prestitious shows, as well as finding her way towards making more functional fabrics, designing for Moda Fabrics, teaching and lecturing, and, writing the books Color Your Cloth: A Quilter’s Guide to Dyeing and Patterning Fabric and Fresh Quilting: Fearless Color, Design, and Inspiration.

When I ask Malka if she can remember the first piece of art she made that she was proud of, she gives a fervent yes. “Not only can I remember it, I still own it!” she exclaims. “I was in middle school, about 13 years old, and taking the first art class in my life. I actually only signed up for the class to get out of taking Physical Education, but I got lucky and had an amazing teacher, Kay Stapleton. What does that say about a teacher and a class that 30 years later I still remember her name?

“Anyway, we were learning how to work with tempera paints and making nature-inspired paintings. I still have that painting. It is framed and hanging in my house. It may be my most treasured possession.”

Typically pragmatic about her work, Malka says she rarely waits for inspiraton. “If I only worked or thought about working when I’m inspired, I wouldn’t be getting very much done,” she points out. “If I’m feeling sluggish I start doing something mundane in my studio, ironing a piece of fabric or pattern dye cloth in a familiar way, and I find that the inspiration or desire to create and explore often follows.”

Looking at Malka’s creations, it’s no surprise that colours have an impact on her work. “I love seeing two intense colours sitting side-by-side in a garden or in a city street and thinking, ‘wow those would look great pieced together in a quilt.’”

Malka is also influenced by textiles from other cultures, including “African Kente and Kuba cloths, East Indian embroideries, and Kilim rugs. I definitely have a soft spot for the textiles of the Bauhaus movement, works by German-American textile artist Anni Albers and Jewish-French artist Sonia Delauney. But I can be deeply moved by patterning in nature or architecture as well.”

Malka has been design and creating hand dyed and patterned fabrics for her Etsy store, stitchindye, for several years, and now designs commercial lines for Moda Fabrics in a similar way.

Variety of fabrics cr Malka Dubrawsky

“My initial interest in designing fabrics came with a sense, 20 years ago, that I couldn’t find the kind of intensely coloured but graphic fabrics I was looking to work with,” she says.

Malka recently filmed a video class that she’ll be offering as part of The Sewing Party, on 8 November, while gearing up for the release of her newest line for Moda Fabrics, Poems from Pebbles (great name – I can’t wait to see it!). “That will premier at the International Quilt Market in Houston, Texas, in late October. I’m also prepping to teach an online Improvisational Piecing class for CreativeLive in early October and steadily working through designing yet another line of fabrics, L.O.V.E., to premier in the Spring of 2015.” Busy, creative times ahead, then!

Twinkle King cr Malka Dubrawsky

“I think that every time you explore a process or an idea it helps you grow as an artist, even if, and maybe especially if, that idea doesn’t succeed,” Malka says. “Making art is a process, an ongoing search. If you’re learning, you’re growing.”

Find Malka at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Midweek writing prompt – shopping trolleys

TrolleysAt Bristol Harbour Festival last month I saw a performance that prompted smiles from everyone watching. Created by C-12 Dance Theatre, Trolleys blends ballet, street dance, storytelling and humour using shopping trolleys less as props than as extensions of the dancers themselves.

The dancers shared stories of rivalry, ostracism and love – all packed with energy, grace and excitement.

For this week’s writing prompt I invite you to consider the humble shopping trolley as, if not a character in your story, then a crucial part – a home, a mode of transport, even a friend for your protagonist, and see where it takes you.

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 share it on


Book review – Carry Me Home by Terri Wiltshire

carry me home By Terri WiltshireBeginning rather shockingly with a case of mistaken identity that leads to a 1904 Alabama lynching, Carry Me Home crosses generations to bring us the story of Canaan and her great-uncle Luke.

Canaan is returning home to Lander, Alabama, nursing a body full of bruises and a heart full of disappointment and mistrust. After spending her childhood plotting  escape from the small country town, she’s been forced retreat to her grandmother, Lou Venie, and try to reclaim some semblance of a life among the gossipers and gripers she’d been so glad to leave behind.

Luke’s story is far more brutal, having spent his own childhood being ignored, beaten and left tied to trees for days on end as punishment for ruining his mother’s life simply by being the product of a union she claimed was forced by a black man, resulting in the violence of the first chapter.

As grim as this all sounds, there’s a warmth to Terri Wiltshire’s writing that brings her characters to life and prevents this becoming a fictionalised misery memoir. Even during his worst experiences, Luke shines through – humble but hopeful and wonderfully stubborn when it comes to living life in his own unconventional way. His early years present a vivid look at the sub-culture of 1920s hobos in the American Deep South – as exotic and curious as a hidden tribe leaving messages for each other “carved into wooden trestles, on fences , and along the tracks; a secret code that ordinary people, bound by the restraints of what hobos referred to disdainfully as a ‘settled life’, passed by without noticing.”

Continue reading

Poems about trees

Common Yew - berries cr Judy DarleyIn a leafy echo of this week’s #writingprompt, Tony D’Arpino offers up a few poems inspired by trees. Thanks Tony!

Yew Tree Cottage

it’s not really there anymore
like a name lost in the war

like a blackboard with old chalk
showing through the eraser’s path

but if I called you ash or oak
would you come with me now

past a round spider’s web
as bright as an archer’s target

to the bole of a treehouse
once in the world

Spider web cr Judy Darley


spring has sprung
and wet the rungs
of the bad ladder
to the tree house
in the rain when
the sun is shining

The Coppice

Rare pussy willow
On the border of the allotments
Salix of all middle worlds
A beauty spreading in her rose
A tree of spring in silver light
The branches like cupped hands her fingers
A perfect forest in one tree

The cutter has not coppiced here
For a generation or three
Perhaps he died before passing on his craft
Or the skill was not transferable
At the particular wild place
The young moved on
As the world moved on
Into a digital forest

In dark daylight
The cutter returns with sharp tools
In fitted wood
He shows the sky
His shining tools
And turns to work the borders
Where seasons dream