Tripping the light fantastic with Tina Altwegg

Dancing Nanuqs_Nanuq is Inuit for polar bear cr Tina AtlweggI do love an artist who is capable of extraordinary leaps of logic. While there are plenty of familiar elements to Swiss artist and illustrator Tina Altwegg’s work, there are some wonderfully original skew-whiff details too.

“Part of my work has been inspired by the art of the First Nations of Canada’s West Coast,” Tina comments. “When visiting a few years ago, I was deeply impressed and touched by the striking clarity, strength and beauty of their designs, and the inherent spirituality, passed on over generations. Their connection with both the spiritual and the animal world just struck a chord with me.” Continue reading

Midweek writing prompt – street view

Street view cr Judy DarleyOccasionally I’ll find an unfamiliar corner of a familiar city or town and begin wondering about the people who live and work there, and all the characters who pass by.

This week I suggest you do the same, or just take an imaginary meander through the street pictured here. Pay attention to the details – what are the walls built from? I love the fact that in the shot above one side is neat brick and the other rugged stone. What graffiti has been left here, and who by? I love the cheery but potentially foreboding message: Be Good. Who was that written for, and why?

Street view steps cr Judy Darley

What alleyways open off the street? What windows overlook it? What might be overheard here, or surreptitiously seen?

Street detail cr Judy Darley

There’s a whole tumult of possibilities in any street, especially those off the main track. It’s up to you, and your imagination, to settle on a few and turn them into a tale.

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 Things That Are by Amy Leach

Things That Are book coverA beautiful book crammed with exquisite details about our universe and everything in it. The subtitle is Encounters with Plants, Stars and Animals, and in this collection of poetically observed scientific essays, Stars really do seem like just another bobbling entity, not that dissimilar to a whirligig beetle, a baby penguin (which she describes as a “pear-shaped bit of fluff”) or a biscuit starfish.

I found myself entranced by the juxtapositions Leach throws together – drawing unexpected connections between tomato frogs and bears and grass (they all prefer to live in light) or between man-of-war jellyfish and Leo Tolstoy (both resembling, she asserts, a single entity while actually being made up of many).

Moments of surrealism gather you in – there’s a whole section on sirens, were “free like thunder, and dangerous like tornadoes, and enchanting like fire” and who used to sing songs “people would follow to the other side of life” and now forced into service as Emergency Warning Sirens sounding the alarm.

There’s a whole chapter marvelling on the efforts of the hapless water lily, and another on the delight of peas (which Leach describes pleasingly as “clocky children who become spoony adults”). Continue reading

A cuppa with cartoonist Rolli

RolliRolli is a writer, illustrator and cartoonist from Canada. He’s the author of two short story collections (I Am Currently Working on a Novel and God’s Autobio), two books of poems (Mavor’s Bones and Plum Stuff), the middle grade story collection Dr. Franklin’s Staticy Cat and two forthcoming novels – Kabungo (Anansi/ Groundwood, 2016) and The Sea-Wave (Guernica Editions, 2016). His cartoons appear regularly in Reader’s Digest and Harvard Business Review, among others. Find him at and follow him on Twitter @rolliwrites.

Kettle’s on. What can I get you?

Coffee.  Or failing that, very strong tea.

What made you want to become a cartoonist?

I never wanted to be a cartoonist, funnily enough. I did early on want to be an artist—maybe like Van Gogh only with both ears—and a bit later a writer, but cartooning was never a desire of mine, burning or otherwise. I could draw, though, and believed I was clever, and on a whim doodled a few things and sent them off and had success straightaway.

Bankrupt cr Rolli

Bankrupt © Rolli

Continue reading

Elisabeth Barry’s uncommon interiors

Vessels cr Elisabeth BarryThe soft, rhythmic slap of clay against the potter’s wheel can induce a meditative state. In the case of artist/ceramicist Elisabeth Barry, the resulting creations exude their own quiet peace. The white exteriors and often tantalising interiors invite you to look, lean in and perhaps reconsider your preconceptions. To me this meets all my needs from a piece of art.

Porcelain churns in dove grey cr Elisabeth Barry

Porcelain churns in dove grey © Elisabeth Barry

And yet, those that work with clay are often not considered artists.

“There does seem to be a gaping divide between art and pottery, which troubles me. I like the fact that my pieces are all very much designed for use (and benefit from a trip through the dishwasher) but will also be beautiful when placed on a shelf,” says Elisabeth. “I struggle with the idea that something is ‘too good’ to be used. Pottery came about to fulfil very functional needs. And yet we started to decorate them and refine the shapes. What a joy it is to be able to use something we deem to be incredibly beautiful.” Continue reading

Midweek writing prompt – portrait

Old Woman, Burma cr Premgit

Old Woman, Burma © Premgit

Some faces really tell a story – their lives are printed on their skin, in the lines like rivers in a   landscape tracing the journeys around their eyes, mouths, brows.

The image above was caught by Premgit, and you may use this if you wish, but equally look to the people you know, and see if you can pick out the experiences marked out on their faces. What has made them joyful, hopeful or afraid? And how can you spin this into a fictionalised narrative?

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

How not to procrastinate

Severn River shadows cr Judy Darley

In this week’s guest post, poet Sheenagh Pugh offers her thoughts on why we procrastinate, and how we can overcome the fears that lead to that urge.

‘A piece on my writing habits’ is very liable to turn into a piece on my non-writing habits. When it comes to writing, especially poems, I can procrastinate for Europe; indeed I am doing so now, for what could be a better excuse for not writing than penning a blogpost about writing?

It starts, after all, with a blank page, and on this page, potentially, is the perfect poem, the one in your head that you set out to put into the exact, right words. The only trouble is, directly you make a mark on said page, it starts to be less than perfect, less the poem you had in your head, and the more you write, the further from the ideal it gets. Well, it does for me, anyway, at least most of the time. I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve looked at a poem and thought “yes, that was how I wanted it to be.” Continue reading

Photographer Premgit invites you to open your eyes

Dai-Chin Woman 2, Chin State, Burma cr Premgit

Dai-Chin Woman 2, Chin State, Burma © Premgit

Some photographers have a skill that goes beyond lenses and shutter speeds to offer up views of the world and its people that tell entire stories. I’m a fan of portraits anyway – the human face is endlessly interesting to me. Premgit’s work, which also includes landscapes and abstracts, captures glimpses of people’s lives, loves and hopes. It’s incredibly powerful.

And yet, Premgit says that he never set out to become a photographer, instead dreaming of being a musician. “I spent a good few years pursuing this course, having lots of fun, but then realising I was not a musician,” he says. “I wasn’t very good, I did not practice, and I felt totally unfulfilled. So armed with an old Rolli 35mm, my then wife and I left England for India.” Continue reading

Midweek writing prompt – giant

Giant foot, Gloucester Cathedral cr JDarleyThe season of pantomimes and fairytales continues well into January, which reminded me of this astounding sculpture I photographed outside Gloucester Cathedral a few years back.

This week’s writing prompt is simple. Imagine that your character is strolling to a place they know well and suddenly sees an outlandish figure there. Perhaps the person they meet is gigantic, or tiny, or sporting iridescent wings.

That particular detail is up to you, as is what happens next. One thought, though – the more serious and common-sensible your protagonist, the greater the opportunities for surrealism and humour. Have a play, and see what occurs!

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

Play review – The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

Oscar Adams in The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil cr ShotAway1An immense cast, a diverse array of techniques (from shadow puppetry to cunning lighting), and a huge amount of imagination – Bristol Old Vic Young Company have taken an award-winning graphic novel and given it life.

As we enter the Bristol Old Vic’s Studio to take our seats, we find the cast already in place, all 20 of them, standing and gazing out at us.

At its heart a political tale about a town’s reaction to one of its residents growing a truly massive beard, the play is shot through with humour and joy. Characters are larger than life, from level-headed Professor Darren Black, played by 23-year-old Elliot Winter, to vehement Nigel-Farage-alike acted by Joshua Robinson, to the quiet, unassuming Dave, who just wants to be left alone to draw and listen to Eternal Flame by The Bangles, but whose facial hair is causing all the furore. Oscar Adams portrays Dave’s personality beautifully, ensuring that even when weighed down by metres of beard he still shines through. Continue reading