Midweek writing prompt – future

Ruined tower by Judy DarleyIt seems fitting that on the final day of 2014, we should look to the future. I passed this building site on a bus and was struck by the bleak beauty of that one remaining tower – ready to come down to make way for whatever’s coming.

Ruined tower1 cr Judy Darley

In a way we need to be that ruthless with our creativity. Tear down old ideas to make way for fresh successes.

This particular shot reminds me rather of Anselm Kiefer’s ‘heavenly palaces’.

With this in mind, I wish you a very happy, fulfilled 2015, and hope that if you’re out celebrating tonight you stay safe, wake warm and recover gently.

Interpret this scene however you like.

If you write something prompted by it, 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 – Waterlog by Roger Deakin

Waterlog by Roger DeakinFew books can claim having seeped into as many lives as Roger Deakin’s Waterlog. An outwardly simple account of one man’s aim to swim across as much of Britain as possible, this quietly joyful tale has gained cult status (and spurred on countless wild swimming societies) since its publication in 1999.

Prompted by his own love of wild swimming, and John Cheever’s iconic short story The Swimmer, Deakin’s account blends his love of nature, a wealth of historical and geographical titbits and a very contemplative view of our country’s waterways.

There are moments of drama too, as in when he visits the aptly named Hell Gill in Cumbria – a canyon with water funnelling through it. “Courage up, I returned to the turbulent rim of the gorge and did what u knew might be an unwise thing. I couldn’t help it. I began to slide into the mouth of the abyss itself.” It’s a dizzying read as he slithers, swims and careens down “Hell Gill’s dim, glistening insides”, descending into the darkness: “I felt like Jonah inside the whale.”

Continue reading

Become a Faber New Poet

Victoria Park cr Judy DarleyIf you’re making headway with your poetry writing, but are yet to publish a first collection or pamphlet, now’s your chance to make that happen.

In partnership with Arts Council England, Faber and Faber is inviting submissions for the 2014-15 Faber New Poets scheme. You have until 30 January 2015 to get your submission to them.

They say: “Faber New Poets exists to encourage new writers at a crucial point in their career. Open to those who have yet to publish a first collection or pamphlet, the scheme offers mentoring, pamphlet publication and financial support.”

If you feel like you would benefit from this, and that your poetry is already gaining substance and momentum, why not apply. There are four place available to poets keen to develop their work.

Manuscripts should meet the following guidelines

• 16 A4 pages of poems
• Set in 12pt Times New Roman or similar, and spaced at 1.5 lines
• Each new poem to be started on a new page

Your submission should be emailed to fnp@faber.co.uk and must be accompanied by a separate cover sheet including contact details and confirmation that you have yet to publish a single-authored volume of poems either in pamphlet or full-collection form.

Submissions may not be agented. Manuscripts must be received on or before 30th January 2015.

The successful candidates will be announced in Spring 2015.

Previous beneficiaries of the scheme include Fiona Benson, Heather Phillipson, Joe Dunthorne, Sam Riviere, Rachael Allen and Zaffar Kunial.

It’s an exciting opportunity, offering the chance to have your talent nurtured and brought to the public’s attention.

Find full details at www.faber.co.uk/blog/faber-new-poets-2014-15/

Merry Christmas!

Little Christmas Tree2 by JDarleyI hope your day is filled with laughter, contentment and warmth.

And if you wanted to know how our little tree is getting on, it survived the year and is thriving!

Here’s how it looked last year…

Little Christmas tree cr Judy DarleyAnd at the top of the post is how it looks now! Last year I called it “a reminder that from small beginnings, great things can grow…”

This year I think I’ve learnt that patience, love and plenty of sunshine is needed too.

Midweek writing prompt – ice skating

Ice skating cr Judy DarleyHow nostalgic is this winter scene? It could be twenty years ago, or last week! When I was a kid ice skating was the best fun in the world, but as I got older and taller, falling seemed more perilous and the soaring joy diminished.

Why is it that as we age, our mortality looms? I had a conversation once with a man who’d been cleaning the windows of a skyscraper for a decade and was just beginning to develop a dread of heights. The idea intrigued me.

Use this as your prompt this week and create a character who loses their love of a potentially dangerous activity that previously held no fear for them. It could be Banksy growing afraid of being caught, or a lion-tamer now terrified of wild animals.

How do they overcome their new-found trepidation? And if they don’t, how does it change their life?

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.

Geese among the trees

Lost Garden of Heligan geese cr Judy DarleyChristmas is coming and the geese are getting fat…

But actually this post is about something entirely different. The lovely folks at Liars’ League Hong Kong are hosting a literary night of performances on 29th December, and invited me to submit a tale. Always a pleasure!

Susan Lavender will be reading my short story Geese Among The Trees as part of a special festive showcase. She considered performing Night Flights again, but thought it might be a little dark for the occasion. That’s probably true!

Geese Among The Trees is a bitter sweet tale of hope and possible redemption. Susan Lavender will be performing it as part of the Liars’ Trump night at the Fringe Dairy jazz and cabaret club in Hong Kong on 29th December. The event starts at 8pm. Do go along if you’re in the area – I wish I could be there!

Asmaa Elnawawy’s paper dolls

Decision by Asmaa ElnawawyDelicate paper dolls strung across a scene instantly bring childhood to mind – such a simple act of folding and oh-so carefully cutting to create countless people!

In the hands of artist Asmaa Elnawawy, however, a more sinister impression forms, as she draws on the fragility of paper dolls to explore concepts of feminism. These figures are easily torn, and once they lose their pristine beauty they’ll be cast away.

“For me, the paper dolls in my paintings represent the concept of feminism,” Asmaa says. “They form a connected string of figures, which refers to the continuity of life.”

Asmaa is from Egypt, where the paper doll is used in traditional ceremonies to ward off the evil eye “We puncture the paper doll with a needle to prevent negative forces taking hold.” So an apparent act of violence against these paper women is actually intended to be protective. It’s a disturbing thought, given how much domestic violence is dealt out to ‘helpfully’ curb a woman’s behaviour.

Controlling by Asmaa Elnawawy

Controlling © Asmaa Elnawawy

Throughout her work, Asmaa explores “the stories of women in my society – what they’re suffering and what they hope for. I enjoy the art of Frida Kahlo, Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler, Gustav Klimt and the Pre-Raphaelites.”

Asmaa’s influences are evident in the richness of her works, painted in acrylic and oil on canvasses with intricately rendered backgrounds. In fact, the patterns on these ornate wallpapers each represent something significant for the viewer to puzzle out. Continue reading

Midweek writing prompt – Bathhouse

Bath House drawing cr Linda Samson

Bath House © Linda Samson

The beautiful artwork by Linda Samson that I featured a few weeks ago reminded me what a gorgeous time I had at Budapest’s Gellért Baths. There’s something so public and yet so intimate about bathhouses like these, where you can wallow for hours chatting and daydreaming. It’s the perfect place to plan out adventures, swap scandalous stories and reminisce.

Linda says “Woman Bathing appeared first as an etching, but after seeing Lord Leighton’s house with the central atrium and Turkish tiled pool in Holland Park, I reworked the image as the ceramic ‘Bath House’. There was an echo of the past in the piece as one of my earliest oil paintings was Turkish Women, created in homage to Delacroix, but based on my experience as a student where I stayed in a Turkish village near the Syrian border, helping to build a bathhouse for the villagers.”

This week, why not situate yourself as a fly on a (no doubt condensation-slick) wall of a bathhouse and see what you can observe – what rumours or conspiracies might come to your attention? And of course, some first-hand research might be needed, which offers the perfect excuse for an afternoon relaxing at your nearest spa…

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.

Books for wordsmiths

I’m not especially a fan of ‘how to books’ for writers, which often offer the world but yield up only pages of dry, dense writing in return. Books actually about words, however, now they’re fascinating to me.

There are two I’m particularly enamoured with at the moment, both published by Oxford University Press, and either of which would make great gifts for any word-lover in your life.

Word Origins coverLittle Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins edited by Julia Cresswell

Small enough to carry with you wherever you, this beautiful hardback book offers a wonderland of insights into the words we use everyday with very little thought.

For instance, did you know that the word ‘average’ began life as “a shipping term” and referred to “goods lost or damaged at sea”, or that ‘scarper’ stems from “the Italian scappare ‘to escape’, influenced by the rhyming slang Scapa Flow ‘go’”? Me neither, and how that alters my view of those two simple words!

Rather than running alphabetically like your usual dictionary, instead dividing the entries into several topics, including architecture, behaviour and sensations. How curious just those choices are! The chapter on death includes explanations of the words ‘cemetery’ (“literally a place for sleeping” – how unexpectedly sweet) and ‘extinct’, from extinguish. It’s like holding a map to all the places you hold dear, only to realise as you begin to follow it that along every step of the route there are views you’ve never noticed before.

Words in Time and Place coverWords in Time and Place by David Crystal

Crystal’s taut linguistic collection aims to have your characters chattering happily, and authentically by providing examples of words spoken commonly in a variety of historical periods. Again, chapters are themed, and this time with great purpose. Want to know how your protagonist would refer to the loo? Turn to ‘words for a privy’, need your villains to flatter, insult or talk about the weather? There are chapters for those too, as well words for old folks, money, light meals, and even spacecraft, not to mention a whole chapter dedicated to the nose on your face, and a fine selection of oaths from different eras.

Each word is accompanied with an intriguing snippet of context – for instance, the term ‘on one’s ear’, meaning being drunk, apparently refers to the likelihood of a sozzled person being face down on the floor. Too true.

The introductions to each section are crammed with deeper analysis of the wordy offerings as Crystal points out the distinctions between the definitions of various words for fool, for instance “‘blockhead’ (someone with their sense intact who is acting stupidly) and ‘simpleton’ (someone with a weak intellect).”

It’s these subtle differences that make Words in Time and Place so much more that a historical thesaurus – and equips us to enrich our writing with a myriad of nuances, while stuffing our pockets full of words and their meanings along the way.

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

Write a monologue in the voice of a life model

Nude cr Judy Darley

Nude © Judy Darley

In my student days I spent many hours posing as a life model to earn a little extra beer money.

Mslexia‘s latest call for monologues caught my nostalgic eye for this reason. This section of the magazine is aimed particularly towards writers of script, but anyone is welcome to submit.

The biggest challenge is the brief word count, just 200 words. The next issue’s is specifically for a piece in the voice of a life model. It’s a great opportunity to put yourself in the, well, I want to say shoes, but more accurately, under the skin of a life model, whether you’ve experienced this for yourself or not. How do they feel about being naked in a room full of clothed strangers? Are they chilly? Uncomfortable? Or are they to busy thinking about their lives to feel anything beyond the importance of staying still until the art tutor releases them?

The deadline for submissions is 12th January 2015. Send your monologue either to submissions@mslexia.co.uk (with ‘monologue’ in the subject line) or by post to Mslexia, PO Box 656, Newcastle upon Tyne NE99 1PZ.

The writer of the published monologue will receive £20.