Midweek writing prompt – scaffolding

Castle district scaffolding cr Judy DarleyI took this photo on the Buda side of the Danube in the Hungarian capital – something about the grandeur of the building behind its metal exo-skeleton caught my eye. It made me wonder who was inside, whether they too were a faded beauty – a relic from another era shored up by modern ugliness.

Are they contented in their situation, or mourning the savage socialist years that still mark the city?

Your challenge is to take this idea and run with it – write a piece inspired by the mix of elegance and necessity, age and modernity, and make of it what you wish.

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.

Book review – Beautifully Different

Beautifully Different cover1With exquisitely shot photographs, information-filled chapters and commentaries both from autistic children and their parents, this is that rare thing – a universal and yet deeply personal insight into the experience of life on the spectrum.

The book is a collaborative effort between photographer Makiko, Dr. Rebecca Landa at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in the USA, and the parents of children treated at the Institute.

While described as a photographic book, the compelling images take up far fewer of the pages that I expected, and I would have loved to see more. Instead we’re presented with interviews presenting different views of autism, most notably a q&a with Chase, an autism activist who speaks eloquently about his experiences of diagnosis, social marginalisation, friendships, and his future plans. It reveals the strength and joy he finds in his own company as well as the heartbreaking lament that haunts the boy so much of the time: “What did I do wrong?”

It’s a message that rings out clearly from the pages, that these children, through being different, having different responses to the expected ones, risk being made to feel ‘wrong’ simply for being themselves.

When he’s alone, Chase says: “I don’t have to play rules […] I will go out and find the excitement on my own.” Effectively, for Chase, being with others is far lonelier than being left to his own company.

It helped me to glimpse the richness children in the spectrum gain from the world around them – and to understand that they can enjoy exploring their fascinations, with numbers, nature, music, architecture, with the same depth of pleasure we may gain from spending time with others.

One of these interests highlighted in the book is Ben’s ‘obsession’ with lighthouses, which contrasts sharply with his brother Alex’s (also autistic) dread of heights. It begins with the boys’ mother overcoming her own vertigo  as she follows Ben’s race up the lighthouse stairs, emerging with her legs “shaking from the stress of the climb.” It’s a magical moment as she sees, and shares, her son’s happiness. “It was infectious. The moment was worth more than the fear I had overcome.”

The next challenge, encouraging Alex to ascend a lighthouse, is far more difficult, and takes many more lighthouses. Eventually, they succeed and he’s as awestruck as his brother. “Take the time to join your child in his world,” says their mother, “and you may be surprised that eventually you will find the strength and tenacity to pull your child out of their world and into yours, no matter how briefly.”

For me that’s the power at the heart of this book. It’s not about changing or ‘curing’ children with autism, it’s about understanding them and what they present you with, and finding ways to engage with them, or help them engage with you.

While I would have preferred the different elements of each child’s story to be presented together, so that the parents’ insights came alongside the images and diary entries from the children, these separate sections each layer up to a vivid whole that will draw you into the world and lives of these children – not wrong, but beautifully, wonderfully and sometimes awe-inspiringly different.

Beautifully Different: Autism: Viewing the World Through a Different Lens is published by Matador and is available to buy from Amazon.

To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

How to crowdfund your next creative project

With art funding continually diminishing, getting a creative endeavour off the crowd now requires a whole new set of skills – negotiating the arena of crowdfunding! I think it can be a really positive way to launch a new endeavour – true democracy in action as anyone with a pound to spare can choose to make a big difference to their cultural landscape!

Clock Face by Claire M Hutt

Clock Face by Claire M Hutt

I spoke to Pete Sutton of North Bristol Writing Group to find out how they’re engaging with Bristol-based Fundsurfer in the hope of funding their debut anthology.

“North Bristol Writing Group (NBCWG) was started by Jemma Milburn a couple of years ago,” says Pete. “I joined shortly after and helped the group to grow due to my work for Bristol Festival of Literature. We meet once or twice a month on a Thursday night at the Inn on the Green at 19:30. We’re happy to have new members. Drop us a line at northbristolwriting@gmail.com or join our Facebook page for the latest updates.”

Decide on your goal

The North By Southwest anthology is a collection of 15 stories by ten writers, illustrated with artwork by Claire M Hutt.

The first step was choosing a title.

“Ian Millsted, one of our writers, came up with the title when we were brainstorming ideas. We wanted something that was evocative of both the group and the geography.”

Cary Grant (who was born and grew up close to Bristol) was mentioned and the title, a play on the Hitchcock film North by Northwest was quickly born.

Next, the writers had to produce the tales that would fill the collection.

“Once we’d decided on the title and a loose theme we set the writers off to write their tales,” Pete says. “Every member of the group was given the opportunity to bring up to three stories or up to a set word limit. We’ve spent the last few months polishing all of the stories through critique sessions and we now have editor Joanne Hall, who is adding that final edit to bring them up to professional quality.

Claire M Hutt’s artwork will be a crucial part of the finished product. “I approached Claire M Hutt because I admire her artwork and she’d done some work for Far Horizons (a magazine I help edit). Claire has been enthusiastic about the project and is providing the cover and individual art work for many of the stories despite being super-busy.”

Work out how to fund it

“We knew we wanted to do an anthology and we looked at all of the options: approaching a publisher, doing PoD with Lulu, KDP or Createspace, and crowd funding,” says Pete. “Then Amy Morse ran a successful Fundsurfer campaign to get her book Solomon’s Secrets published. I approached Richard Jones from Tangent Books and he very kindly offered to help publish the book if we could pay for the typesetting, design and printing thereby providing the book at ‘cost’. Once I had this offer, crowdfunding seemed like the logical way of going about things.”

With the information from Richard, the group set their target amount at £2,000.

Christmas Steps by Claire M Hutt

Christmas Steps by Claire M Hutt

Source your rewards

Having an artist on board also assisted with an important incentive for potential funders – the rewards.

In the case of the North By Southwest anthology Fundsurfer campaigns, potential contributors can choose the following:

  • For just £1 you receive the writing group’s lifelong thanks and appreciation.
  • For £5 your name will be included in a list of backers printed in the book, as well as a copy of the e-book.
  • For £10, you’ll receive the actual, physical copy of the book, plus the spoils of all earlier reward levels.
  • For £25, you’ll receive all of the above, plus your choice of three signed Claire M Hutt prints from the anthology.

And so it goes on, with ever grander and more personalised rewards. Tempted?

“The rewards are all important,” says Pete. “We started with a list of around fifteen and whittled them down. I thought choice was paramount but apparently the fewer rewards the better! We had a session over a pint or two and all came up with things we could give away and the ones on the page made the cut. Pretty much all of the rewards are things we can easily provide.”

Fundsurfer1Put your crowdfund page together

Your page is all important – it’s how people will a) find out what you’re trying to achieve, and b) decide whether they want to get involved. In addition to the rewards, you need a description, which Pete wrote with suggestions from the group, and (a vital part of it) the video.

“The video was the most difficult part of creating the Fundsurfer page!” Pete admits. “We had a session dedicated to creating it but in the end, due to technical difficulties I ended up putting it together on my laptop alone, but using some of the audio we’d recorded.”

This included story extracts read by their authors. “I read a bit from Christmas Steps,” says Pete. “Desiree Fischer reads a bit from Taxi Driver, Roz Clarke reads from The Noon Train, John Hawks-Reed reads a bit from Miss Butler and the Industrial Automation Group and Kevlin Henney reads from Like Giants. All of the photographs in the video (apart from the elephant) were provided by Kevlin Henney.”

Kevlin1-300x424Drum up support

No crowdfunding campaign can run indefinitely, and the North by Southwest page closes on Friday the 12th of December, 2014. This means you have a small window in which to let everyone know what you’re up to and how they can help, spreading the word as widely as possible.

And as seems to be the case with all crowdfunding options, if the financial goal isn’t met, all funds will be returned to their pledgers.

In which case it’s time for plan B.

Pete wants to draw one final thing to our attention. We’ve got a celebrity endorsement which is entertaining and worth highlighting.”

To whom it may concern,

This prepatent publication features the work of several persons it is my great misfortune to know. Indeed, I have already been acquainted with some of the stories. I must warn you, if you help fund this anthology, you will be instrumental in unleashing a collection of splendid fiction upon an unsuspecting public. Is that what you want? Do you really wish to be forever associated with a “good read”? An “enjoyable collection of eclectic tales”? When you dangle your grandchildren on your knee in some distant time, do you really want the trusting poppets to ask of you, “Grandparental unit, what did you do during the North by Southwest fundraiser?” and for you to have to turn your face to the wall and sob, “Gods forgive me, offspring-of-one-remove, but I donated!”

Think on, that is all I ask. Think on.

Jonathan L. Howard (author of the Johannes Cabal series and Russalka Chronicles).

You can contribute to the  the North by Southwest Fundsurfer page here.

Karen George’s stormy seascapes

Bracing Stroll © Karen GeorgeAutumn’s rain and wind are definitely enhanced by a coastal backdrop. That raw, reckless energy smashing itself against the rocks – extraordinary.

Karen George manages to capture the feel of this in her seascapes. Far from tranquil, these beach and headland scenes are moody and wild – and I love them.

Unexpectedly, Karen’s interest in art began in far more academic and scientific grounding, as she studied architecture before moving onto product design.

“At school I enjoyed Biology and Art in equal measure,” she explains, “When I was looking at courses to study I found a ‘Landscape Design and Plant Science’ course at Sheffield University, which then led me to an MA in Landscape Architecture.”

Release © Karen George

The leap into product design came about from a practical prompt when she had her second daughter, and began taking her baby with her to the allotment. “I was inspired by necessity to create a sunshade that met my needs,” she recalls. “I was always making things at home so it seemed a natural thing to do. It was only when people stopped me in the street to ask where they could buy one that I decided to launch the BuggySail – so the move into product design was accidental.”

With the product an instant success, Karen embraced product design for a time, before realising she relished “the creating’ more than the marketing. After attending an ‘Experimental painting’ workshop I spent more and more time painting.”

Crofter's cottages © Karen George

These two elements of Karen’s experience feed into her fine art in subtle but far-reaching ways.

“It’s not something I’ve really thought about before, but with Landscape Architecture you have to be able to imagine the end design and transpose that onto paper,” she says. “This really helped with the product design – creating a mock up of the product to create a pattern. How my painting has been influenced is a little more ambiguous. I enjoy leading the eye through a painting with the use of light and capturing an energy into a painting – both aspects of which are important in design.”

Coastal-flats © Karen George

I think that may be why and how Karen’s paintings offer up an almost visceral sense of being close to the power of waves and tides. “In any environment it’s good to give a space a sense of belonging – being a place you enjoy being in and travelling through,” she says. “I hope people enjoy my paintings much the same way.”

For Karen, however, the perfect day at the beach is a lot more serene than you might think from gazing at her paintings. “Not many people.  Not too windy.  Not too hot.  A bit of rock pooling and a good book with the sound of the waves in the background.”

Karen will be exhibiting her artwork at in the Jarman Hall of Totterdown Baptist Church as part of Totterdown Front Room Art Trail 2014.

Find more of Karen’s art at www.trenjorydesigns.co.uk.

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

Midweek writing prompt – net-menders

Asia Pacific Winner - Ly Hoang Long - Net MendingIsn’t this an extraordinary image? I find it incredibly potent. It’s by Ly Hoang Long, Asia Pacific Winner in the CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year competition. I love the saturated hues and the mass of delicate but strong netting, the skilled, patient fisherfolk mending their nets. Nets are a powerful symbol – they’re cast into a perilous environment of unfeasible depths, and drawn up carrying riches, horrors, joy, disappointment. They can be treacherous, yet potentially provide all we need to live.

This scene also brings to mind the Moirai, or Fates, who in Greek Mythology manipulated the threads of life of every mortal being. The idea of unknowable figures weaving, snipping and altering our lives is a striking one., but who’s to say the figures shown here aren’t simply taking control of their own lives?

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.

Writing updates

BlazeTwo rather nice literary things happened last week. The first was that the marvellous folks at Liars’ League Leicester posted their recording of actress Helen Vye-Francis doing a fabulous job of reading out my short story Wee Glory Boy.

Helen got the accents and emotions spot on – I definitely recommend watching it if you have 7.29 minutes to spare, and not just because I wrote it. There’s something magical for me about hearing my characters’ words in someone else mouth, which only adds to my enjoyment of Helen’s performance.

The second thing is that gorgeous artists’ collective Blaze Studio (pictured at the top of this post in all their Day of the Dead finery) agreed to stock my short story collection Remember Me To The Bees. Lucy put some effort into arranging the copies prettily and attaching the bees I’d brought for the purpose, cut from an early, unproofed copy of the book.

Remember Me To The Bees at Blaze

I think the collection looks right at home there, surrounded by curious and lovely works of art. If you’re passing Colston Street in Bristol, pop in and take a look for yourself!

Ooh, and tomorrow from midday you can hear me on Ujima Radio, when I will be chatting to DJ Cheryl Morgan about my writing and multi-arts interests. So tune in to 98FM!