Flit to a spooky forest this Halloween

Wolf chases Red Riding HoodI do love a theatrical woodland spectacular, particularly one designed to chill and charm in equal measure. Over at Groombridge Place in Tunbridge Wells, The Human Zoo Theatre Company have created a creepy and magical immersive performance that will take place every day during October half term from Sunday 26 October to Sunday 2 November 2014.

It’s designed to enthrall all age groups from adults to kids, and includes some truly enticing features, such as a ghostly boat ride down the runaway river to the Pirate’s Lair, where you can visit Captain Timber’s Tavern and sup on scorching BBQ, tankards of mulled wine (possibly not for little ones) and a hearty, homemade pumpkin soup. Dodge fire-breathing, sword-fighting mutineers, take part in a devilish dance workshop led by a deranged Pirate Queen, and follow Little Red Riding Hood through the Enchanted Forest for a fantastical trick-or-treat experience.

Red Riding Hood1 cr The Human Zoo Theatre Company

An interactive Find-The-Missing-Bones treasure hunt will take you on a toe-curling journey around this magnificent forest, past a giant spider’s web, into the Tunnel of Terror and onwards to the Abandoned Gypsy Campsite, where the ghosts of a travelling circus have taken up residence. Have your palms read at ‘Esmeralda’s Unfortunate Fortunes’, as the spirits of the forgotten gather around the crackling campfire to tell their spine-tingling tales. And look out for the wayward clown seeking the circus in the woods.

Lost Clown cr The Human Zoo Theatre Company

By day the adventures promise to be mischievous, while after nightfall, shadows descend and the host of crooked characters who emerge will be far more menacing. Don’t forget, the best fairytales are the ones that are a bit frightening…

For further information visit www.groombridgeplace.com.

Red Riding Hood cr The Human Zoo Theatre Company

How to write a travel memoir

Sunset and sea cr Emma BamfordAuthor, journalist and adventurer Emma Bamford shares her experiences of writing a travel memoir, and offers her tips on turning your journeys into a book.

They say everyone has a novel in them somewhere. What I never expected, though, was that I would have a travel memoir in me.

I hadn’t lived a particularly interesting life up until recent years, so there wasn’t much worth committing to paper. I’d been to school, university, made friends, been in and out of love. Sure, my career – as a news editor on a national newspaper – sounded glamorous to outsiders, but really it was just a desk job and, chained to my computer for 12 hours a day, I rarely got anywhere near the kinds of stories that might be woven into an interesting autobiography.

But then I did something unusual – I answered an advert on the internet for ‘crew wanted’ and bought a one-way ticket to Borneo to live on a yacht with a man I’d never met.

Emma Bamford at helm

Do something different

That’s when things got interesting – and when I became interesting. A colleague in the newsroom put me in touch with a literary agent. I emailed him, mentioning what I was about to do, and he was straight on the phone, asking questions. “Sounds like it could be the new Castaway,” he said, referring to Lucy Irvine’s 1983 best-seller that was made into a film starring Oliver Reed and Amanda Donohoe. “Keep in touch and let me know how you get on – but it all depends on your writing, of course.”

Emma Bamford and pygmy elephant

I didn’t think much of it after that. I was out in the beautiful wilds of Borneo, chasing wild pygmy elephants up jungle rivers and swimming with turtles. I was making friends with Buddhists up in Sri Lankan tea plantations, hiding from Somali pirates and hobnobbing with billionaires on the Amalfi coast. I was having too much fun to think about writing.

I kept a diary, though, and eventually, when the itch to do some work finally came back, I started to write it up, fast and quick, my notebook on my parents’ sofa next to me, my small laptop on my knees. I didn’t think much about what I was doing.

Andamans beach cr Emma Bamford

Speak to the right people

A friend of a friend, Brendan Hall, had published a sailing-related book, Team Spirit, and I managed to get an invite to the launch party in London. I felt overawed as I stepped over the townhouse threshold into the centre of Bloomsbury Publishing’s HQ. After building up some Dutch courage on the complimentary white wine, I wandered up to Brendan’s editor at Adlard Coles Nautical, Liz Multon.

“Borneo! …Journalist! …Stranger!” I slurred at her. Luckily, she finally worked out that I was trying to pitch a book to her and gave me her business card.

She asked for two chapters, ‘showing different styles’, a synopsis and sent me a detailed form to fill in, for which I had to research other similar books in the market (there weren’t any close matches).

I sent the same material to that agent I’d spoken to two years earlier. His response: ‘This is a mess, too much of a mix of style and genre. You’ll never get a publisher interested.’ Ah.

The publisher’s response: ‘Send me everything you’ve got’.

Excited, I did. Her feedback was disheartening, to say the least: ‘I’m afraid it doesn’t quite work. There’s not enough of a narrative arc.’

Henry goes head to wind cr Emma Bamford

She was right. What makes a good memoir, first and foremost, is a good story. You need to have something to tell. Then it needs meaning, a message – you need to have something to say. Finally, it needs good writing.


Find the narrative in your story

While Liz said she liked my writing style, it was clear to her – and to me, now I had her feedback – that what I’d written was a 100,000-word-long ‘What I did on my summer holiday’ essay of the kind that nine-year-olds write each September.

Kindly, she promised to re-read it if I wanted to re-write it – and who turns down an offer like that?

So I set to work.

I worked on drawing out a stronger story line. Like a novel, I needed a beginning (deciding to quit my job and answering that advert), a middle (the adventures I had and how they affected me) and an end (a Hollywood-style happy romance ending). I decided that what I wanted to say, my theme, was ‘learning to let go’.

Gillaroo and damaged coral cr Emma Bamford

I went through the MS with a fresh pair of eyes and I looked for gaps where I could add inner thoughts, explanations for my actions and more detail about the romance sub-plot. I described the other characters more clearly, moved chapters to help the flow of the story and removed entire sections if I thought they weren’t adding to the flow of the story. I furiously pencilled notes in the margin and plastered the printed pages with Post-it notes.

Don’t be shy

Then I re-submitted

It took Liz an age to get back to me, but eventually she did. ‘I don’t know how you’ve done it, but it really works,’ she emailed.

She had to get it through two sales and marketing board meetings before she could offer me a contract, and then it was a case of two more drafts, proofs to go through and legal changes to make before Casting Off was published in July, to coincide with the summer holiday market.

Casting Off coverLaunch week was intense – I had two launch parties, spoke to a standing-room-only hall at Lowdham Book Festival, appeared on the radio three times and saw my face on the cover of my old newspaper, i.

Casting Off went straight to #1 in the Amazon chart for sailing books on its first day of release and reached #632 overall, out of 6million books. I started to receive kind reviews, both in magazines and newspapers and on Amazon and Goodreads. I was sent my first piece of fan email, and it made me cry to think I had touched someone that deeply.

And then people started demanding to know what happened next. I hadn’t thought about a sequel but now, due to popular demand, I have started to write it.

So that novel will have to stay unwritten inside me for a little while longer.

Emma BamfordAuthor bio

Emma Bamford is an author, journalist and sailor who has worked at The Independent and the Daily Express. Tropical settings and the seas inspire much of her writing, although she lives in land-locked Derbyshire. She teaches Life Writing at Nottingham University and is working on a sequel to Casting Off and a novel set on a paradise island in the Indian Ocean. Find Emma at www.emmabamford.com.

Gothic Frights at the British Library

Newly discovered Ann Radcliffe letter, 31 August, London, p2. Photography (c) British Library Board

© British Library Board

With Halloween just a couple of weeks away, this feels like the perfect time to tell you about a special exhibition currently creeping out visitors to the British Library.

Terror and Wonder – The Gothic Imagination is on until 20 January 2014, celebrating all aspects of the unnerving genre. Astonishing to think now that it was all launched by one sensational piece of literature – Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto – which was published 250 years ago.

The exhibition will showcase rare manuscripts on display including Gothic classics such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde alongside the work of contemporary writers influenced by the genre, including Angela Carter and Sarah Waters.

Fuseli's suitably Gothicized image of the ghost of Hamlet's father in Boydell’s Shakespeare. Photograph courtesy of the British Library

Fuseli’s Gothicized image of the ghost of Hamlet’s father in Boydell’s Shakespeare. Photo courtesy of the British Library

The eerie imaginings of the earlier spawned a whole artistic genre, encompassing every medium from painting to photography, fashion to film, and you’ll be able to see artwork by Henry Fuseli, William Blake and Philip James de Loutherbourg, contrasted against modern art and photography – including the brilliant brand new artwork created by  artist Dave McKean especially for the exhibition, shown below.

Artist Dave McKean's artwork for Terror and Wonder

The overall question will be: “Why are we so fascinated by the dark and the monstrous?”

Look out for literary, film and music events accompanying the exhibition, with input from the likes of Susan Hill, Sarah Waters, actor Reece Shearsmith, comedian Stewart Lee and musician Brian May. Find more details on the library’s What’s On pages.

Midweek writing prompt – writing from art

Stargazer by Robert Llimos photo by Judy DarleyIn around a month’s time I’ll be leading a creative writing workshop at Carol Peace’s sculpture studio on writing from art, and I thought I’d give you a sneak preview.

The pictured sculpture is actually Stargazer by Robert Llimós, snapped in Barcelona when I visited in June. I chose it for this post because I know Carol retreats to the Catalan city at every opportunity to draw inspiration for her own art.

I also particularly love the contemplative quality of this piece – it makes me think of beautiful fantastical children’s books involving journeys across oceans and into the stars.

Consider what might be going through the mind of the boy, what his fears and hopes might be. Throw in a detail from a child you know or knew (yourself as a child, perhaps) – a passion such as playing football or eating popcorn – then turn your impressions into a prose poem. Discard any bits that seem trite or clichéd, and explore further the sections that ring particularly true. You might be surprised by what takes hold.

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 share it on SkyLightRain.com.

Poetry review – Beautiful Girls by Melissa Lee-Houghton

beautiful girls coverHalf truth, half dare, Melissa Lee-Houghton’s second collection, Beautiful Girls, carries you through a landscape of secure hospitals, red light districts and bedrooms where little sleep seems to happen, through adolescent yearnings, childhood dread and adult regrets piled together in a disconcerting, fragile heap that seems likely to topple over at the slightest pressure.

Sinister undertones give way to outright panic, and Lee-Houghton unflinchingly casts grenades in our midst, strewn with lines so tightly wound they may well explode.

In Jade, the opening lines can refer to nothing good: “They called me at three o’clock in the afternoon to tell me/ you’d no longer be able to call me at three o’clock in the morning”.

Couplets like these bound from poem to poem, each so original I want to copy them down, savour their sly promises. (In Sundown by the Abattoir, “Nobody trusts a blue sky./ I am too good to be true and you are too good to be true.” Irresistibly damning.)

Continue reading

Ariadne’s Thread poetry competition

Maze cr Judy DarleyAriadne’s Thread literary magazine are inviting entries for their poetry competition, with a closing date of midnight on Friday 31 October 2014 (GMT).

Your entry may be on any subject and in any style or form. You can submit up to five poems per entry but are allowed to submit any number of separate entries.

Each poem must be no more than 120 lines long, but can be as short as you like, and the title is not included in the word count. Lines between text and stanzas are not counted either.

The top prize is a hefty £600 – up from £300 in 2013!

The fee is £4 per entry (just £3 for subscribers).

Find full details of this writing competition here.

In case you were wondering, in Greek mythology Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos, and her thread helped Theseus to find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth. Just saying…

Free literary event today – Books Are My Bag

Foyles Bookshop, Bristol cr James HainsworthToday, Saturday October 11th, I’ll be at Foyles bookshop Bristol for the Books Are My Bag event co-hosted by Southville Writers and Bristol Women Writers. It’s on from 2 till 7pm and promises to be a really fun, informative afternoon of literary riches.

Fancy coming along? Writers taking part include Jo Reed, Ali Bacon, Mike Manson, Nina Milton, Kevlin Henney and Amy Morse. There will be readings of poetry, flash fiction and short stories, plus pop-up workshops, writing surgeries and masses of opportunities to pick up some ideas and inspiration on how to further your writing career, or simply what to read next.

It will also be a great chance to meet some really interesting Bristol-based writers – I’m looking forward to finding out what self-publisher extraordinaire Amy Morse has been up to since her guest post for SkyLightRain.com.

Tickets are free – just register on the Foyles website to get yours.

Books Are My Bag is from 2-7pm on Sat October 11th at Foyles bookshop in Quakers Friars, Bristol.

Poetry – seen and heard

Speaker cr Judy DarleyWritten and performed poetry are often classified as completely separate genres, but until you start to place words on a page, or step onto a stage, how do you know which one you are creating? Here Joanna Butler attempts to untangle what it is that sets written and spoken poetry apart.

It’s possible to become a poet almost by accident

First things first, not every poet starts out by making it their life’s goal to become a poet, performance or otherwise.

“Writing and performing poetry was not my life’s ambition,” Joanna Butler say. “I always loved reading and listening to poetry when I was younger, and poetry and performance were always connected in my mind because of Shakepeare. But being a poet just never crossed my mind as being a career choice.”

Joanna comments that she “seriously underestimated poetry’s seductive power over the course of a life. I got to the age of thirty-five and poetry just fell out of me. It had slowly been creeping up on me all that time.”

Joanna began by writing poetry, but felt that “it just seemed like the words wanted to get out into the world and be heard – not just stay within the pages of a book.”

Let the poetry out

Of course, there is a distinct difference between poetry being read aloud, and poetry being performed, but in either of these instances the poet makes contact with their recipients that goes unnoticed when confined to the page.

Joanna feels poetry as  “a physical impulse in my chest. A compulsion to capture something in words and share it with someone else – an aching to make a connection.”

And that’s all before the writing even happens. “It feels like something that has to get out,” she says. “Then my job is to craft it into a form that can then be given to someone else. To share moments that strike me as amazing.”

Don’t take yourself too seriously

Joanna sees herself as the audience when she’s writing poetry, as opposed to preparing to perform. “I’m more interested in how the words sound to me. I have my fantasy audience, of course, when the writing’s not going well. The audience are big, appreciative and have come specifically to hear my work. This usually allows my ego to have the free rein it wants, enables me to stop being too serious, laugh at myself and continue to play with the writing and avoid mentally stiffening up. “

Expect conflicts between the ‘writing poet’ and the ‘performing poet’

While for Joanna, the writing poet and the performance poet are both parts of her, she admits that she’s met poets who hate performers and performance poetry and performers who think poets are the dullest people on earth. Everyone has an opinion and they always will. I don’t worry about it too much. I just do what feels right to me.”

Embrace the fear

However experienced you are, getting up on stage to perform poetry can be terrifying.

“I’d worked as an actress and drama teacher so I had a personal history of performance, but you need a different kind of courage to take to the stage with something you’ve written yourself,” Joanna says. “Always the worst moments for me are when I realise I am performing after another poet whose words have just blown me away. That’s tough. There’s nothing else that makes me feel like my own work is suddenly inadequate, when half an hour before it seemed like it could stand up to anything.”

But, she adds, this fear can be useful too. “Afterwards, moments like that actually drive me forward in my own work. One of my best moments was when, six months after a reading I’d done in Bristol Central Library, I bumped into a guy who’d been in the audience. He told me he couldn’t get a couple of the poems I’d read out of his mind. He could recite some lines word for word. This was after one hearing. That was pretty special.”

Joanna ButlerAbout the author

Joanna Butler is a multi-disciplinary artist who produces poetry, prose, songs, sculptures, photographs, films and live performance. She has given poetry readings at Bristol Poetry Festival, The Poetry Cafe, Covent Garden, Bristol Folk Festival and Tate Modern. She has made spoken word recordings of her poems ‘twisted history’ and ‘Snowstorm’ with musicians Paul Nash (North Sea Navigator), Doug Bott (Angel Tech) and Ian Wood (Cubeshiner). Joanna is currently developing an inter-species performance art project with dancers and horses.

Joanna will be performing her poetry and short prose at Travel, Home & Identity on November 7th 2014. Get tickets here.

Roaming with Serena Curmi

According to Plan © Serena CurmiSerena Curmi’s paintings have a curious, nostalgic feel to them – it’s as though I’ve have seen them before, perhaps in my childhood, or someone else’s. She’s illustrating the Russian faerytales I was never told. I love the snowy, misty landscapes and uncanny encounters between girls and forest creatures, especially the way the wolf is just lurking in the background in the piece above. Friend or foe?

Caught in the light © Serena Curmi

And yet, she says, her creative awakenings began as a merchild – or rather, as a small child roaming a sailing boat.

“I’ve always been a creative person of some description,” she says. “I grew up on a sailboat and I think being creative was an outlet for me during the many boring days at sea in a confined space with three other people. I was always coming up with great ideas that I would daydream about. Once I tried to make my own perfume by gathering a very small amount of rose petals together in a jar and adding some cooking oil. Needless to say it turned into a soggy mess.”

Brilliantly, on recalling this she adds: “I improved a little and went on to do a degree in Illustration at Falmouth College of Arts in Cornwall.”

Departure © Serena Curmi

The first piece of art she remembers being proud of was “painting a picture of Minnie the Minx on the back of a white 80s cotton jacket that I was pretty pleased with” when she was aged about seven.

Today she draws inspiration from online sources including Pinterest. “I’m addicted. It’s a great tool for finding and compiling images. I look at a lot of surreal fashion photography actually, probably more than the work of other painters. But sometimes it’s something completely uncreative that sparks something in me. The other week I took a trip to Bethlem Royal Hospital (otherwise known as Bedlam) which I found incredibly inspiring.”

Italian Bathers © Serena CurmiIt’s true that her work exudes a sense of the unsettled and uncanny, but also, as her name befits, a great deal of serenity.

“I have quite a minimalist approach to life,” she tells me. “I don’t like clutter and I think this reflects in my paintings. My work is concerned with storytelling with a touch of the fairytale. Through a restrained technique, I try to focus the attention onto only the important elements in the painting which I hope helps to create a narrative which is sometimes peaceful and still, sometimes melancholy, and sometimes provoking a sense of unease of apprehension.”

Queen © Serena Curmi

And this ongoing narrative is evolving all the time, “which means that in a year or so, it might have gone a slightly different direction. I am getting very interested in social behaviours and norms (hence the trip to Bethlem) so I see my work going more towards this kind of thing in the future.”

Find out more at serenacurmi.com.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Midweek writing prompt – voyage

Edith Grey, Bristol cr Judy DarleyThis week’s writing prompt was inspired by Casting Off by Emma Bamford, and her adventures crewing sailing ships.

Imagine your character is setting off on a journey. They’re preparing their boat and packing up all the belongings they hold dear, kissing loved ones goodbye and thinking about a voyage into the unknown. They may be afraid, excited, eager to go or reluctant. They may be running to, or away from something.

But here’s the catch – you can’t write about the voyage itself, only the days or hours running up to that moment when they cast off and let the waves take hold, wind in the sails, harbour mouth ahead.

Can you create a full tale, beginning, middle and end, action and consequence, conflict and resolution, personal development, without your character actually leaving shore?

Give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised by what such narrow constraints bring out in your writing.

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 share it on SkyLightRain.com.