Brilliant hues with Zandra Rhodes

ZandraRhodes cr CoatsEarly this year I interviewed the inimitable Zandra Rhodes for Simply Sewing magazine, and it was an absolute pleasure. The piece has been published in issue 3 of the mag.

I began the feature with the paragraphs:

It’s 1973, 6am in the Red Centre of Australia. In the desert chill a young woman sits sketching Uluru, the sandstone monolith then better known as Ayers Rock. Her hair is bright green, but within a few years it will be shocking pink, and will remain that colour well into her seventies.

“I sat there very early in the morning in the freezing cold light and waited for the sunrise,” says designer Zandra Rhodes, now aged 75. “Then I drew the way the shadows laced over that rock.”

Zandra Rhodes Ayers Rock sketches from 1973

Zandra Rhodes’ Ayers Rock sketches from 1973

Decades later those early sketches have become a series of fabric designs for Coats, which was the reason the interview took place, but it was fabulous to delve into a mind with so much creative energy, to gain an insight into her celeb clientele, but, even more fun, chat about her trademark meandering wiggles.

Zandra Rhodes Lace Mountain

Zandra Rhodes’ Lace Mountain fabrics cr Coats

“All my things have wiggly lines!” she exclaims, seeming amused by this. “When I fill in a background it’s far more likely to have wiggly lines than be plain.” She hesitates then adds: “Wiggles are friendly. Prints have the power to make you happy. They supply extra depth to what you’re thinking about. You put the thing on and the print supplies a jolly face for the day.”

There’s an awful lot more to this interview – and lots more images too. Find the full piece in Simply Sewing issue 3, available from www.simplysewingmag.com.

Midweek writing prompt – photomarathon

Arnolfini and Bristol Harbour cr Judy DarleyWhat’s a photomarathon? I wasn’t sure either, but my photographer friend Stephen Mason sent me a link to this and it sounds amazing. It’s a collaboration between Second Look and M Shed taking place on Saturday 30th May on Bristol’s waterfront, designed to get you creatively fired up and make you look at your surroundings in a brand new way.

Quite simply, it’s a bit like a treasure hunt, but instead of seeking items and clues you’re presented with a disposable camera and a list of topics to capture in as creative a way as you possibly can.

You need to take the photos representing each theme in the order provided and only one pic can be taken for each one. You’ll need to think fast, be innovative and see every corner of the waterfront as a potential work of art.

MShed cr Judy Darley

The rules

All participants are to meet on Saturday 30th May 2015 at M Shed between 10am and 1pm. Cameras need to be returned to M Shed by 5pm. M Shed is also going to be used as a base throughout the day so you can pop in and catch your breath if you need to. Even if you haven’t been able to finish all topics, your completed subjects will be showcased in an exhibition, so do still return the camera. Find further details here: www.secondlook.org.uk/events.htm

The imaginative possibilities stemming from this are pretty immense, and I always find one type of creative endeavour spurs on and feeds in to others, so who knows what story ideas will burst into your mind as you rush around?

If you turn this into a short story, or take part in the photomarathon, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. You could see your words published on SkyLightRain.com.

Made up words

DylanThomas house_Taf Estuary cr JudyDarleyI’m very, very excited. Three words I invented are to appear in an actual, published dictionary!

Not your average Tuesday morning announcement.

The Dictionary for Dylan has been put together by the marvellous Emily Hinshelwood in honour of poet Dylan Thomas, who said: “words are the most important things to me ever” and commented “Out of them came the gusts and grunts and hiccups and heehaws of the common fun of the earth.”

Emily invited submissions from anyone who loved the idea of creating a word, so how could I resist?

My words are Drybernate – to put off going outside due to bad weather, Wellybegging – happily anticipating a soggy day out (get the feeling it was raining a lot when I came up with these) and my personal favourite, Droowlish – struggling to make mind and mouth meet – the gap between succinct thoughts and what actually gets said.

As in, “Sorry, I’m droowlish before my first coffee.”

The idea that these slightly bonkers contributions are going to be printed in the Dicionary For Dylan is pretty immense. The book is being launched on Thursday 14th May, so look out of it cropping up on a shelf near you soon.

When metaphors come to life

Harriet's catAward-winning short story writer Harriet Kline tells us how and why she likes to use animals as metaphors in her fiction, but warns us that they sometimes they take on a life of their own. 

I talk a lot to my cat. I ask her if she’s having a lovely sleep, or if she knows how beautiful she is. I talk to other animals too. I’ve been known to greet butterflies, thank blackbirds for their songs, hurl insults at flies. Trees, recalcitrant computers, zippers also get comments aimed their way.  I know I’m not the only one. Plenty of people name their cars and tell hamsters not be scared when they lift them out of the cage. Once I heard a woman say to her dog, we’ve talked about this before.

For me, there’s a particular set of feelings that comes with addressing things that won’t reply: A sense of power perhaps, in knowing that my comments will not be contradicted. A sense of foolishness, especially if I’m overheard. And also a sense of creativity. There really is no significance in a fly buzzing at my window or a zip sticking on my favourite dress, but when I speak to these things I fill them up with meaning. I create a relationship with them, through my words. We all do. We gain a sense of ourselves, of where we are in the world by relating to the things around us.

This set of feelings also occurs when I’m writing short stories. I feel powerful, creative and foolish all at once. I believe the link is that as I create a narrative, I simultaneously fill it up with meaning. As the story unfolds, the deeper, metaphorical layer is revealed. So a story about a young woman who finds a ladybird caught in her blouse is really about how she finds a small but gritty determination to survive. A story where three siblings neglect their guinea pigs is really about their unwillingness to admit to any vulnerability in themselves.

Harriet's dog

How it feels to use metaphors in your writing

What really interests me is not simply that I use metaphor as a writer, (many of us do,) but what it actually feels like to do that. I am intrigued by the very moment when something becomes significant. That twinge of self consciousness when I catch myself in the act of appropriating meaning. The pause between addressing the animal and remembering that it definitely won’t reply.

It is this active interface with metaphor, that I wanted to examine in Familiars, my collection of short stories. I wanted to make that moment of self consciousness central to each narrative and explore its effects on a range of protagonists. In some stories the significant animal relationship allows a transformation: A young woman comparing a dog’s whining with her own, comes to accept her feelings of grief.

In others the protagonist resists the moment, refusing to see significance when it is clearly present: A teenage boy is horrified by his sister’s attempts to imbue a robot with character. He insists it can have no feelings because he would rather not to admit to his own. In some stories the moment is fleeting: A woman, unable to express herself honestly is struck by the hideous hawing of a donkey. In others it is stretched into something magical: A mother struggling with feelings of awkwardness transforms repeatedly into a hare.

I chose animals (and a few magically animated objects) for this exploration because I’m certain that the impulse to talk to animals is almost universal. I guessed that the interface between animal, human and meaning is something my readers would recognise. I also suspected that many of us have imagined how the animals might reply.

And it was here that I had the most fun with my writing. What would a cat say if it could speak its mind? How does a ghost dog feel when someone walks through it? I thought it would be difficult to put language into the minds of animals, but what I’ve learned through writing Familiars is that is even more difficult not to. When the cat walks across my notebook as I write, I can’t help imagining her thoughts: Hey, don’t look at the paper, look at me. Or when my friend’s dog brings me a ragged slipper in his jaws it’s impossible not to believe he’s thinking, love me, love me, go on, please. So it was almost a relief to give free rein to this impulse, and create whole narratives from the minds of animals. It was as if the metaphors I had chosen began to take on a life of their own.

And yet, I also wanted to show that this impulse to make meaning is really a human concern. It’s how we connect, how we love and learn, take our place in the world. So I decided that my talking cat would have no reverence for language and less for any moments of significance. Despite her abilities her priorities would still be the food bowl and a warm place to lie in the sun. And by doing this, I hope I was also able to suggest that for humans it is different. Language gives us a richer and more wonderful life. We thrive on stories and metaphors and I believe they are central to our humanity.

Harriet KlineAbout the author

Harriet Kline won the London Magazine Short Story Competition 2013 and the Hissac Short Story Competition 2012. She was highly commended in the Manchester Fiction Prize 2014 and has been shortlisted and longlisted elsewhere. Two of her short stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Familiars as a collection is as yet unpublished. You can read Ghost at www.hissac.co.uk/Ghost and and Donkeys at shortstorysunday.comChest of Drawers appears in The London Magazine April/May 2014. Hares appears in Story.Book, Unbound Press and Spilling Ink Review. If you are interested in reading any of the other stories, contact Harriet through her website www.harrietkline.com “and we may be able to come to an arrangement.”

Familiar strangers with Pippa Young

Unreliable Evidence by Pippa Young

Unreliable Evidence © Pippa Young

Like dreamscapes populated by strangers you almost recognise, Pippa Young’s pictures intrigue and unsettle in equal measure. Her figures gaze out of the canvass with a preoccupied air, so that we’re left wondering what they’re thinking about and how we can attract and keep their attention. Hang on, surely that should be the other way around, shouldn’t it?

Talented Pippa says she never actually made a conscious decision to become an artist. “I think I was destined to do something creative from an early age, but it took me a long time to become a fine artist,” she says. “I was always drawing or making something as a child and apart from a brief period as a teenager when an aptitude for maths made me consider sound engineering as a career, I’ve always been involved in visual art in one way or another.”

The need to earn a living pushed her to find something “more lucrative” than fine art. “I had early forays into jewellery making and knitwear design before I became a graphic designer,” she says. “It was only later, when my children were older, that I realised I wanted to create work on my own terms rather than always answering someone else’s brief. That was when I signed up for a fine art degree course at Falmouth University as a mature student.”

Self-Imposed by Pippa Young

Self-Imposed © Pippa Young

After so many years “solving other people’s creative problems as a designer”, Pippa says it took her a while to find her own direction creatively. “The degree course was a decompression zone and once I got into my stride I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” she recalls. “I was lucky in that my degree show sold out and I had a lot of interest in my work early on. But I have had to make a conscious effort to market myself – the world doesn’t beat a path to your door!”

Approaching Entropy by Pippa Young1

Approaching Entropy © Pippa Young

Despite most of her work featuring human figures with disconcertingly intense expressions, Pippa says she doesn’t think of herself as a portrait artist, or even particularly interested in portraiture. Instead, she says, she’s “seeking to connect with the viewer in the most direct way I know through depicting something about the human condition. I’m not interested in making a likeness – I’m interested in painting a figure in which the viewer might recognise something of themselves. I choose faces which are youthful; models who perhaps haven’t quite grown into their identity yet which means, hopefully, that the viewer is able to project their own interpretation onto the image.”

Glancing at them, I can sense that these characters have rich and complex back stories. I can imagine what they’re thinking, the act they’ve just committed and what that brought them to that point. Then the next time I look, I see a whole other set of emotions, an entirely different scenario. It makes them endlessly interesting.

Inheritance by Pippa Young1

Inheritance © Pippa Young

And if the style of the work seems in any way familiar, it’s probably due to what Pippa refers to as her “obsession with early and mid renaissance painting” which influences her creations, along with photographic imagery in the media, pattern, colour, the nature of the reality we construct around ourselves, the fragmentation of contemporary experience, visual languages…”

The latter of these seems to particularly fascinate Pippa, as she talks of exploring notions of reality, juxtaposition of visual language, recontextualisation of renaissance poses, ideas of second–hand experience through mediated imagery, formal qualities of painting like composition, colour, scale…”

But all you really need to know if that Pippa invites you to interpret her painings however you wish – in fact she urges you to.

“I love the autonomy of art, the chance to discover and play. I love the sensuality of paint and colour,” she says. “I love that although I am pleasing myself, what I do seems to have a resonance with others.”

Goldfinch 1 by Pippa Young

Goldfinch 1© Pippa Young

View more of Pippa’s artwork to deduce the stories they contain at www.pippayoung.co.uk, as well as in a number of galleries including Medici Gallery in London, Beaux Arts Bath, Coombe Gallery Dartmouth, Cornwall Contemporary in Penzance, and Saatchi.com. She’ll be at Art15 in London from 21-23 May with Arusha Gallery and is having two solo shows with them in September this year and September 2016.

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

Midweek writing prompt – Raindance

Raindance by Sophy ThomasThis beautiful work of art is Raindance by Sophy Thomas, and is currently on show as part of the Drawn exhibition at the RWA galleries in Bristol.

I find it an utterly intriguing scene. The stance of the two men is more challenging than friendly, which makes me wonder whether they’re having a dance-off, rather than lovingly swaying together. Perhaps one is teaching the other to dance for a special occasion such as a wedding, or maybe, following the clue in the title, this is a ritual that has nothing to do with a passion for movement and music and everything to do with ending a drought.

The beauty of it is than any or none of these might be right. What do you think is happening here?

If you turn this into a short story, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. You could see your words published on SkyLightRain.com.

Andrew Motion and the poetry of war

Andrew Motion_Credit University of Leeds

Andrew Motion © University of Leeds

How can we make sense of human atrocities? Often only through art in one form or another, and even then barely at all. But at least by reconstituting through paint, clay or words, we can ensure it is considered anew.

This May, former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion will share his specially created work, reflecting on the 1945 atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Look at it this way. From the observation plane flying high
over the city with sunlight rippling along its silver belly
there is a clear view of offices and schools and factories
and wood-frame houses all with roofs of the same dark tiles
Extract from A Tile from Hiroshima by Sir Andrew Motion, 2015

The one-off, intimate performance will take place at IWM North, part of Imperial War Museums, on Thursday 14 May at 7.30pm, timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and as part of Museums at Night 2015.

The new poem, inspired by objects and stories in IWM’s collections, will form the culmination of the A Conversation with Sir Andrew Motion event, in which he’ll discuss new and past works on the subject with Dame Jennie Murray OBE, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour since 1987 and formerly BBC TV’s Newsnight.

The Museums at Night event will also include a screening of An All-Encompassing Light – winner at the IWM Short Film Festival – in which Lee Jong Keun, a long-time resident of Hiroshima, tells his story, a story he kept secret for decades, in order to remember friends and family, and to reveal the lingering effects of the bombing.

Motion’s new poem will be subsequently installed as a sound recording within IWM North’s Main Exhibition Space to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombings. It will be displayed alongside the objects that inspired the piece, including roof tiles recovered from Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the explosions.

It promises to be a thought-provoking and moving evening.  Tickets to In Conversation With Sir Andrew Motion cost £6 and are on sale from www.quaytickets.com or from the Admissions Desk at IWM North.

For further details, visit www.iwm.org.uk. You can connect with @IWMNorth on Twitter and www.facebook.com/iwm.north.

Rewriting urban fantasy

Avon Gorge Bristol cr Judy DarleyThis week’s guest post comes from author L.E. Turner and explores how you can give old genres fresh blood.

Writing can be daunting. There’s always the worry that everything has already been done and there is no way to create something original that will capture the imaginations and interest of the readers.

Feedback I’ve received many times regarding About the Nature of the Creature is an expression of surprise that I’ve managed to do something new and fresh with vampires and werewolves. If I’m honest, it was quite by accident that I ended up writing a novel that puts a fresh twist on a well known and popular genre. I say it was by accident because when I started writing I didn’t set out purposely to do something different – it just happened.

Although that was the case with this work, it is something that I am keeping in mind whilst writing the two remaining volumes in this trilogy, and is something other aspiring authors can think about when writing in a genre that has been extensively covered, especially since moving into the mainstream in the way we’ve now experienced with vampires and werewolves.

About the Nature of the Creature coverI started writing About the Nature of the Creature in 2002 when I was studying for my undergrad degree in Archaeology, and between studying, working and redrafting as I matured as a person and writer, it wasn’t published until 2011. Even so, the basics of the story and characters were there from the beginning. This is especially true of the origins I use, giving vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures and elements a mythic root in ancient history. These origins came to me in an inspiration from my university studies and I ran with it, happy to have stumbled onto something different from the usual Transylvanian, diseased or religious roots of these creatures.

In recent years we’ve seen huge successes from the likes of Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series and Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series, to name but two, and in the Young Adult genre via the Twilight Saga and its subsequent imitators. When I compare About the Nature of the Creature to these as examples, I can see some clear differences. I describe my novel as a gritty British urban fantasy with elements of gothic horror in order to highlight the aspects in which it differs and these have met with positive feedback from readers.

Avon Gorge Bristol cr Judy DarleyFind the right setting

  • Think carefully about your setting and chose something that feels right for the story
  • Don’t chose a setting just because you think it will appeal to a wider readership

The setting is important to all stories, whether a type of location, specific town or city, or just to create a necessary atmosphere. Most well known urban fantasy novels are set in the United States. I have read several in the genre that are written by non-American authors who have chosen to set their stories in either specific or non-descript US towns or cities, which can have the feel of trying to appeal to the widest readership rather than be necessary to the story.

Some of the best urban fantasy and YA stories I have read from British authors in the last couple of years have been set in the UK, and if anything this makes them stand out from the bevvy of US set stories.

Arnos Vale gravestone cr Judy Darley

Know your origins

  • Try to find a new slant on an old myth or take it in a new and unexpected direction
  • Create an entirely new, well researched, myth

A lot of urban fantasy focuses on well trodden myths that dates back over a century in fiction covering vampires, werewolves, zombies, and general dystopia. Often it can be hard to find new ground, or at the least cover old ground in a new and original way. I was fortunate with About the Nature of the Creature to be inspired to create a whole new origin and history for vampires and werewolves based on my personal and academic knowledge of ancient history.

In the last few years I have read some very good books that have done just this – breaking from a traditional or popular culture view of the subject. I have also read some that have fallen slightly short, and the reason for this has been a lack of research. A good idea, especially one historically based, cannot always stand on it’s own – it needs to be backed up with fact (historical or scientific for example). Even fiction as fantastical as urban fantasy should be grounded in enough cause and effect reality so as not to jar the reader.

Experiment with your genre

  • Think about setting your story in a completely different genre
  • Blending genres can give a new angle on known genre tropes

A good tip for any writer is to keep reading! Read widely and often. Although you should never copy anyone else’s ideas, you can often find inspiration from other genres that will take your story into a new direction. With About the Nature of the Creature I always wanted to blend together two stories – the then and the now. When writing, it felt quite natural for the ‘then’ to fall into historical gothic fiction, and the ‘now’ into modern urban fantasy. Arguably many stories do this to a degree – maybe there has been a murder mystery involved or combines strong horror elements – but there is still plenty of scope out there. I haven’t yet read a zombie apocalypse story from the point of view of the Mob yet, have you?

Author L.E. TurnerAbout the author

L.E. Turner lives in Bristol, the setting of her first novel About the Nature of the Creature, in which she turns the city into a home and haven for a variety of supernatural creatures. She started writing stories in small notebooks at the age of six and struggles to go a day without writing, whether fiction or blog post. She has a BA and MA in Archaeology and has previously worked in museums and heritage. She describes herself as a nerd, feminist, performer, blogger and slightly surreal writer of urban fantasy, gothic horror and science fiction. She is currently working on the sequel to About the Nature of the Creature and regularly posts short stories on her blog, leturnerwrites.wordpress.com.