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.

Ganga Puja 6, Varanasi, India cr Premgit

Ganga Puja 6, Varanasi, India © Premgit

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 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

Have your writing performed at Liars’ League

Book launch cr Pete Gettins

© Pete Gettins

There are few experiences more exhilarating than hearing your fiction performed by an accomplished actor.

Liars’ League offers opportunities for this across the globe, with regular literary nights in London, Leicester, Leeds (returning in March after a hiatus), Hong Kong and New York, matching up writers’ tales with actors (the liars) and audiences.

Why not submit a tale to see if you can become a part of it? Continue reading

Write for SkyLightRain.com

Bloom and Curll bookshop, Bristol

Bloom and Curll bookshop, Bristol

If you’ve made a resolution to have your writing read more widely this year, you might be interested to know that SkyLightRain.com welcomes input from other writers. I’m always happy to receive suggestions for reviews and features, as well as creative pieces produced in response to the midweek writing prompts.

Every piece published includes an author pic and bio, with links so that people can find out more about you.

Book, film, art or magazine reviews

Get in touch and let me know what you would like to review, and why. In the case of art reviews, images are a must, but in the other cases a few stills or the book cover will do. I can contact publishers on your behalf to request review copies to be sent to your home. The word-count should be between 300 and 600 words.

Writing genres or writing tools

This is a great opportunity to share your skills, and talk up recent projects such as novels. Contact me to let me know what you would like to write about, and why. The word-count should be between 600 and 1000 words. Previous examples have included author-in-progress Maithreyi Nandakumar exploring the question ‘When is your novel finished?’ and Nina Milton sharing her tips on thriller writing.

Creative writing

I’m always happy to receive short pieces of prose or poetry inspired by the midweek writing prompts. These are posted each Wednesday and provide story ideas, hints and potential plot lines. No need to send a query first – just email me your creative work as soon as you feel it is ready to be seen by the world!

I also accept ideas for this slot, so please get in touch if you’re happy to share your own prompts for firing up a new creative work. What inspires your writing?

Feel free to spread the word about these opportunities.

To get in touch about any of these slots or just get in touch, you can find me on Twitter @JudyDarley, or send me an email at judy(at)skylightrain.com

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.”

Familiar cr Dorcas Casey

Familiar © Dorcas Casey

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.”

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.

Sewing Box cr Dorcas Casey

Sewing Box © Dorcas Casey

“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.”

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.

Goat cr Dorcas Casey

Goat © Dorcas Casey

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.

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

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil_rehearsal photos by Kitty Wheeler Shaw

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil rehearsal © Kitty Wheeler Shaw

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.

Submit a lengthy tale to Strand

Riverside strand Buda cr Judy DarleyStrand Publishing invites submissions of tales for inclusion in the Strand Book of International Short Stories.

This is not a competition but the rules for admission to the anthology of short stories must be followed.

All submissions must be written in English.

Any subject matter is acceptable, and your story must be between 3,000 and 5,000 words.

Go easy on the sex scenes, as references of a sexual or obscene nature that do not display literary merit or interest are unlikely to be accepted for inclusion in the book.

All submissions must include the name of the writer and email address, and the story submitted must be the original work of the person submitting (got that?).

In the case of an agent or similar third party submitting the agent must give the details of the person they are representing.

Authors are strongly advised to retain copies of their submissions.

The author retains copyright in every instance.

How to submit your story

Save the document in Microsoft Word or similar format and send it as an email attachment to the editor at info(at)strandpublishing(dot)co(dot)uk with the subject line labeled The Strand Book Of International Short Stories.

One final point – don’t attempt to contact the publisher by telephone, as only email submissions will be accepted.

For further information please visit www.strandpublishing.co.uk.

The Return by Rachel Smith

70s kids cr James Nye

It’s always exciting to receive a response to one of my writing prompts. This intriguing tale was written by Rachel Smith from the prompt ‘repressed memories‘ prompt I published in August.

The Return by Rachel Smith 

Having a clear out isn’t always easy. You can end up keeping things just in case you find the time and affection to use them again, but eventually you reach that point when you know it’s time to let go. That’s how I felt about my guitar. The dream was over. I leant it against the box with ‘Rubbish’ scrawled on the side.

Wanting to break the bond quickly before I changed my mind, I moved straight on to the next task: my desk drawers.

I like clearing out drawers. You find things you’ve forgotten you even had. They become brand new again. It feels like opening presents. There’s something about having new things that gives me a warm feeling inside.

I spent about half an hour sorting through bits of old paper. It all turned out to be rubbish, apart from a pad of drawings I’d done as a child and some humorous letters my friend and I had written in a made up language in primary school.

Re-discovering childhood memories is my favourite part of clearing out drawers. They bring me back to a time of fun, when I could make a game out of anything, where my endless free time allowed me to explore and imagine more. And of course, when everything seemed so much simpler. Well, most of the time.

The second best thing I like about clearing out drawers is the organisation. The act of sorting through what’s needed and what’s not, helps to de-clutter my mind as well the drawer. I divided things into a pile for shredding and recycling. I’d heard it’s best to shred things with your name on, although I’m not sure if it’s paranoia really, as in the rare likelihood that the bin men did go through your recycling, why is your name such private information? Anyway I figured it’s better to be on the safe side. I took the staples out, because who wants that added on to their boring job of sifting through recycling? And anyway, if you’re going to do a job, I always think it’s best to do it properly.

There were only a few pages left now, revealing a thicker object, which I could see by the plastic edges of the pages was a photo album. I reached out for it. A jolt ran up my arm and I pulled away. There was something familiar about the feeling that made my stomach churn.

I took a deep breath and reached out again. The same thing happened, but this time I didn’t draw back. I opened it quickly.

I relaxed. Just photos. Well, what were you expecting, really? I thought, letting out a relieved chuckle.

I looked more closely at the photos. My friends and I were in mid-bounce on a bouncy castle at my tenth birthday party. I studied the faces. There was my best friend Josh, and my other friends, Daniel and Mike… and

Who was that?

He was wearing a blue shirt, done up to the top, and brown trousers. The rest of us were all wearing jeans and t-shirts with our favourite cartoon character on them. My aunty worked in a factory that produced them so we’d got them at a discount. Why wasn’t he wearing one?

I frowned. How did I not know who that was? There were only five of us; it wasn’t like it was one of those big parties where you’d invite the whole class. I brought the photo closer to my face and looked again.

I gulped. How could I forget?

Continue reading