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 creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

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

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 creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

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

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 creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

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

Dorcas Casey’s melancholy menagerie

Bull in the crypt cr Dorcas CaseyThere’s something palpably sorrowful about Dorcas Casey’s creatures. Sculpted from a huge variety of materials, including layers of fabric, they slouch and sag, protrude from unlikely vessels, and gaze at you as though they’ve been rescued from a cruel and peculiar zoo or farm, but now don’t quite know what to do with their freedom. Encounter one in a crowded gallery, and you’ll find they lounge in a friendly but slightly bemused manner, as though to say, ‘What now? Why all these people, staring?”

Sow cr Dorcas Casey

Sow © Dorcas Casey

“Making art is something that’s always been part of my life – I’ve never questioned it really, I’ve just always done it,” says Dorcas. “I’ve developed more sophisticated ways of articulating my thoughts about my work over time, but the core things I’m interested in haven’t changed.”

The animal sculptures have been part of Dorcas’ work for almost longer than she can recall. “I sometimes think that they are a sort of language my psyche adopts as an embodiment of emotions,” she says. “My dreams are always full of animals and these potent images in dreams are what form the inspiration for my sculptures now. I experiment with a huge variety of materials and found objects in my work but recently fabric has become my main sculptural medium. I love the way it stretches and folds like muscle and skin – it translates quite naturally into anatomy. I’ve also been using Jesmonite resin and metal powders as a means of solidifying fabric whilst preserving its subtle textures.”

Familiar cr Dorcas Casey

Familiar © Dorcas Casey

The initial impulse for a new piece of work seeps up from Dorcas’ subconscious, often in the form of a dream. “I start with a dream image – always an animal – and then just start making,” she says. “Working in fabric means I can keep the piece flexible and pose-able so I don’t have to make any big decisions about composition before I start. I work quite quickly and intuitively, and often combine the figurative elements of my work with found objects like old furniture to resolve the piece.”

Examples of this include Sewing Box, the striking artwork shown below. “I love the process of making and the surprises it throws up,” Dorcas says. “It’s always a genuine challenge and this is what keeps me interested. I love being able to give form to feelings which would otherwise be impossible to describe.”

Sewing Box cr Dorcas Casey

Sewing Box © Dorcas Casey

The animals are exhibited in a variety of unlikely setting, each of which contribute their own atmosphere to the experience of the viewers.

“I’ve shown my work in old attics, in derelict buildings, and I exhibited my bull sculpture in the crypt of Gloucester Cathedral,” says Dorcas. “These types of spaces really amplify the uncanny or unsettling aspects of the work. The crypt worked particularly well because a subterranean space seemed appropriate to an image from the unconscious and it imbued the Bull with a deeper mythological significance.”

The image at the top of this post shows Dorcas’ Bull in the crypt.

Working from dreams demands an unexpected level of realism from Dorcas. “Animals in my dreams appear very precise, in crisp detail,’ she explains. “I try to capture this by making the anatomy of the creatures in my sculptures very detailed and meticulous. With the materials I use, for example old gloves, jumpers, and bedding, I try to convey a sense of memories, perhaps that have been stored-up or hidden, and familiarity and domesticity. I hope to communicate a sense of uncomfortable tension between the homely materials I use and the unsettling animals I make.”

Meet more of Dorcas’ animals at www.dorcascasey.com.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. 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) iCloud.com.

Midweek writing prompt – tree art

Childhood Memories by Kurt Jackson

Childhood Memories by Kurt Jackson

It’s no secret that I seek a lot of inspiration for my work from the natural world. Equally, art prompts many of my short story and flash fiction ideas. Happily the current exhibition at the RWA Gallery in Bristol allows me to draw from both these sources at once.

Arboretum: The Art of Trees, The Arborealists and Other Artists (on until 8 March 2015) fills the galleries of the RWA with reaching branches, twisting shadows and a sense of dappled light. Glass cases offer up foraged seeds and leaves transformed to resemble shards of bark, while along the centre of the space a line of spindly saplings stand – half tree, half lamppost – like something from a dream.

Coppice III by Anthony Whishaw

Coppice III by Anthony Whishaw

I found myself gazing at the triptych above, remembering looking into a woodland pool – my eyes suddenly adjusting to the layers of shadows to recognise the mass of copulating toads in the depths. There’s a seed of a story in that.

And then there are all the myths tied in with forests and their damp, half-hidden places.

Tiresias by Nicola Bealing

Tiresias by Nicola Bealing

So this week, if you’re in the Bristol, why not visit the RWA and spend an afternoon in the company of painted trees? And if you’re further afield, a wintery woodland will do just as well.

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.

How to adapt a graphic novel for the stage…

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil poster…And not just any graphic novel, but Stephen Collins’ award-winning, darkly humorous and surreal The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil. Director and writer Stephanie Kempson talks us through how she and a team of twenty young actors collaborated to take the story from page to stage.

Choose your material

I discovered The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil through a friend who’s into comics. I don’t generally read graphic novels, but I really love words and I’m a big fan of picturebooks. Something about all the space in them is exciting – it offers up lots of possibilities. Stephen’s work is like a picturebook in a way – there are lots of one-panel pages and plenty of space for ideas.

The story is quite fantastical, yet political too, whimsical but also very melancholy, which appealed to me. It’s a book about confronting your own mortality. It’s far more than a simple allegory – it’s very rich, really exciting and fun.

Find your cast

I suggested the idea of adapting The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil to the Bristol Old Vic Young Company, and they were instantly interested. We then needed to get the rights to the book, which wasn’t easy. Stephen had turned down several companies, but the Young Company have a fantastic reputation for innovative work, and that helped. There are 20 cast members aged between 14 and 23, and you don’t often get that.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil_rehearsal photos by Kitty Wheeler Shaw2

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil rehearsal © Kitty Wheeler Shaw

As soon as we had the go ahead, I began auditions, and discovered there were some really talented singers in the group, as well as excellent actors. Oscar Adams, who is 16 and plays the lead role of Dave (who grows the gigantic beard) is just brilliant.

Get to know your material

I took the opportunity to talk to Stephen about the piece. He’s well known in comic book circles and writes strips for The Guardian. The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil was his first full book and had been shortlisted for Waterstone’s Book of the Year and won the Edinburgh Festival’s inaugural 9th Art Award. He told me he’d been influenced by the 1993 film Groundhog Day, which stars Bill Murray and is about the importance of really living your life.

While writing it, Stephen also listened to a lot of Kate Bush but opted for The Bangles Eternal Flame as the story’s repeating refrain. In the play you hear fragments of it five times in the beginning section of the performance, but only the whole way through twice.

Begin collaborating

We had a really decent chunk of time to work with. We started in September, working in groups of four or five with each group devising something different for each scene. It was an incredibly exciting process. The Young Company are full of energy and original thoughts – in the end I had to say, stop with your ideas!

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil_rehearsal Photos by Kitty Wheeler Shaw

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil rehearsal © Kitty Wheeler Shaw

As well as the book, we drew inspiration from the real world, including the recent Question Time debate with Nigel Farage. It gave us the chance to look at the ways The Gigantic Beard ties in with issues to do with immigration, intolerance and how quality of life can be reduced due to a single characteristic.

Make essential changes

We had to make some tough calls to achieve the transition from graphic novel to the stage. The whole middle section was a real challenge – we needed a narrative and characters that could be followed from beginning to end. Professor Darren Black, who is played by 23-year-old Elliot Winter, doesn’t appear in the book until half way through. We needed to bring him in far earlier. It’s about choosing which of your characters to develop. We also expanded the role of the Prime Minister, who is played by Kate Alhadeff.

Survive some drastic cuts

We needed to change the play’s ending drastically in the last week before opening night – which meant a lot of rewriting. We cut out around 25-minutes worth of material and lost a third of all the scenes. That part of the process can be a challenge, particularly if one of your favourite scenes has to go. The young people understand that it’s all about making the best show possible. You will find your moment in the show, even if the scene you loved has been cut.

Draw on everything at your disposal

Stephen’s story has a touch of Roald Dahl about it, and to this end we wanted to recreate the melancholic grey-scale of the graphic novel. We were able to do this partly through shadow puppetry, thanks to Tim Streader, a hidden gem at Bristol Old Vic who is overseeing all of our lighting. We also have fantastic music by Verity Standen, has created wonderful, moving a capella arrangements with our four singers, and some bizarre soundscapes too. It all serves to bring the graphic novel to life.

Stephanie KempsonAbout the author of this post

Stephanie Kempson is a Made in Bristol graduate and JMK Assistant Director Bursary recipient. She previously worked at Bristol Old Vic as Assistant Director to Sally Cookson on Jane Eyre. Stephanie runs Sharp Teeth, hosting nights of theatre, storytelling, poetry, music and more.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil performed by Bristol Old Vic Young Company will be at The Bristol Old Vic Studio between 7-10 January 2015.

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