Writing prompt – tin can

Sand Point, rusted can cr Judy DarleyA couple are rowing on a pebbled beach, their voices cutting the air. Storm clouds are gathering overhead and the low green waves grow rougher and wilder by the second.

One half of the couple splits off and strides away. The other hesitates before stepping towards the car park,  stopping as something catches their eye.

A crushed tin can, rusting to the colour of old blood, nestled in the grass at the edge of the shore. On some impulse they pick it up, put it in their pocket, then continue on their way.

What happens next?

If you write something prompted by this idea, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review: And in Here, the Menagerie by Angela Cleland

There is a delicious sense of solidity to the poetry in  Angela Cleland’s And in Here, the Menagerie. Words slot into their allotted spaces with satisfying clunks that continue to resound long after you put down this debut collection.

Angela has a background in performance poetry, and this experience is evident in her work that just aches to be read aloud, preferably in a seductive Scottish accent. She is adept at conjuring up entire worlds for us to explore, often hurrying us along so we catch glimpses of scenes we crave to see more of. Continue reading

A flurry of short stories

CarolPeace-sculpture-reading

Reading © Carol Peace

October is aglow with literary happenings, and I’m happy to be able to share the news that I’ll be at several literary events in the coming weeks, reading short stories and flash fictions.

First, on Friday 16th October, I’m excited to be heading over the Severn Bridge to the launch of Skylark Journal, a brand new literary magazine from publisher Little Lantern Press. I’ll be reading my story Breathing Water during the annual Made in Roath Festival in Cardiff on the 16th of October in the Waterloo Gardens Tearoom from 6.30-8.30pm.

Then, with Bristol Festival of Literature kicking off on 15th October, I’ll be preparing for two very different events. The first, led by Mike Manson, is Unreliable Histories on Tuesday 20 October, and takes place down in Redcliffe Caves, so wrap up warm! I’ll be reading a tale based on the life of World War II aviator Elsie Davison, better known among her friends as Joy.

The second is Written from Art, led by me and hosted by sculptor Carol Peace in her beautiful studio at Bristol Paintworks on Wed 21 October. Ten writers will be reading stories and poems inspired by art. It promises to be an uplifting evening. Tickets are free but essential due to the small and atmospheric setting of Carol’s studio. Get yours here.

Books, and more books

Books from Bloom and CurllToday I popped into Bloom and Curll to find out whether any copies of Remember Me To The Bees has sold, and the inevitable happened. While browsing the shelves, I discovered three intriguing-looking books, bought them and brought them home.

Funny how often that kind of thing happens.

I also had the opportunity for a happy chat with reader-in-residence, Jason. Actually, he runs the business, but whenever things are quiet, he slips into a nook and opens a book. How lovely does that sound?

Chaotic rhythms with Nick Tommey

Meditations in Metal XXVI detail cr Nick Tommey

Meditations in Metal XXVI detail © Nick Tommey

Resembling the skeleton of a fallen leaf cast in molten metal, this artwork is just one of an immense body of work by sculptor Nick Tommey. I love the way it shifts from sky blue to burnt orange – offering the sense of rivulets of hot and cold air running together. Nick first began to develop his particular artistic style during a period working as a welder in San Francisco, after becoming intrigued by the visual patterns created by ‘energy exchanges’.

“I’m drawn to natural, chaotic patterns and rhythms – anything that shows evidence of an energy exchange – erosion patterns, growth patterns…” he says. “It’s the evidence of an energy exchange that I’m most interested in. The warping of the metal, the coloured oxidation of the stainless steel, coupled with my own energy input by the manipulation of the material, is at the core of my work.”

India cr Nick Tommey

India © Nick Tommey

Nick initially wanted to become a photographer, “but before you can do a degree in photography, you have to do a one-year foundation course which covers a wide range of disciplines, one of which was sculpture,” he explains of the path that led him here. “It seemed the most natural way of working for me, and I have been working and thinking three-dimensionally ever since.

India detail1 cr Nick Tommey

India detail © Nick Tommey

After finishing his art foundation course in Cheltenham, Nick moved to Sheffield. “I was drawn to the city because of its cheap and plentiful studio space – as the city was in depression and there were a lot of closed down metal workshops,” he comments. “As I was working more and more in metals, it seemed a natural choice.”

Nick lived there for three years before moving to San Francisco, where he found employment as a metal worker, and where, due to high rent prices, “my sculpture had to be put on a back burner. I continued to make work, but very slowly as I could only ‘weld for fun’ during lunch breaks and so on.”

Meditations in Metal XXX cr Nick Tommey

Meditations in Metal XXX © Nick Tommey

Nick worked for various metal shops, “often doing lots and lots of TIG welding. It was my interaction with the materials and observing how they responded to my interaction that provided the starting point of my particular style of work.”

Through his sculptures, he says, Nick is “attempting to set up my own chaotic structures through the almost mindless repetition of the welding. Unintended rhythms appear in my work the same way they do in natural patterns and rhythms like sand dunes, fingerprints, and so on.”

blue tryptic cr Nick Tommey

Blue Tryptic cr Nick Tommey

Nick remained in San Francisco for eleven years before returning to England in 2008. “I am now able to make sculpture the majority of the time.”

Making the work itself is only part of the pleasure for Nick. “One of the things I get the biggest kick out of is thinking about what happens to a piece after it has sold, where will it end up, who will own it, who will it communicate with,” he says. “It’s a way of living beyond yourself. Even after you die, you can still be communicating with people. I’m playing around with some bronze castings at the moment, and it’s great thinking that the bronze pieces that I am making now could last for thousands of years!”

Meditations in Metal XXVI_220cm x 60cm x 10cm_Stainless Steel_cr Nick Tommey

Meditations in Metal © Nick Tommey

The majority of Nick’s larger pieces go to Melissa Morgan Fine Art in Palm Dessert, California. Smaller pieces can be seen at Paragon Gallery in Cheltenham. You can view all of Nick’s work on his website www.nicktommey.co.uk.

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

Writing prompt – Eros bound

Krakow-Igor Mitoraj-thebighead2 cr Judy DarleyIn the centre of Krakow rests a gigantic head. Created by sculptor Igor Mitoraj, it’s titled Eros Bendato (Eros Bound), and was initially hated by local residents when it was first installed. When the artist died in 2014, opinion swiftly changes, and the big head became a favourite local landmark.

Krakow-Igor Mitoraj-thebighead cr Judy Darley

Apparently it’s common for people to gather here before a night out, and by day hordes of tourists arrive to take pictures and hear how the bronze statue became an iconic part of the scenery.

Step inside, and you’ll discover something unexpected – the impression of a cave with rock pools and glimmering light.

Krakow-Igor Mitoraj-thebighead2 cr Judy Darley

It’s a curious mixture of the unwanted and the beloved, the crowded and the solitary, the human and the heavenly, city-bound and coastal.

For this week’s challenge, write a piece inspired by this sculpture and its contrasting facets.

If you write something prompted by this idea, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Krakow’s best bite

GrubaBula-Krakow-best burger ever cr Judy DarleyIf you’re watching the current series of the Hairy Bikers’ adventures – Northern Exposure, you may already have an idea of what to expect from Poland’s cuisine. As befits a population accustomed to sub-zero winters, not to mention decades of regimes under the Nazis, then the Soviets, it’s easy to understand the hearty, occasionally hefty food. Most options are meat-based and seem designed to pile on pounds to safeguard against the next period of hardship.

Many of these dishes are delicious. Pierogi, Polish dumplings, are a highlight, crammed with ingredients ranging from cream cheese to venison. Bigos is also worth tucking into – this national favourite, also known as hunter’s stew, is packed with different kinds of meat and veg, and will certainly keep the cold at bay!

But for me, the finest meal in Krakow was in fact more familiar fare, and turned out to be the best burger I ever ate, courtesy of Gruba Bula.

We’d just visited the somewhat gruelling museum at Schindler’s Factory and had strolled back across the bridge into the Jewish quarter when a small van caught our eye. Set around it were enormous cable drums and crates being used as tables and chairs, and an enticing smell was rising into the air.

We decided it was worth the risk.

Best decision ever.

GrubaBula-Krakow-eyes off my burger-cr Judy darley

Oi, eyes off my burger!

 

The burgers were immense, tender, and spilling over with flavour. Each is deftly wrapped in swathes of grease-proof paper and there are reams of napkins to hand, but a hose-down might have been more appropriate. A clear sign of a top-notch burger, in my opinion. It’s a feast in a bun – and I’m not usually even that much of a burger fan.

GrubaBula-Krakow-bestburgerchefever cr Judy Darley

The smiley chef (who speaks Klingon as well as English, don’t you know?) adds to the sheer enjoyment of the experience. We’ll definitely be dropping by next time we have the chance to flit over to Krakow. Find Gruba Bula on Facebook at www.facebook.com/grubabula and give that handsome chef our warmest regards!

Theatre review – An Oak Tree

Tim Crouch and Amy Griffiths in An Oak Tree_cr Greg Veit 2

Tim Crouch and Amy Griffiths in a previous performance of An Oak Tree © Greg Veit

It’s an interesting idea – a play with two performers: the playwright himself and an actor who has never seen the script or play before. Tim Crouch, the creator of An Oak Tree, weaves in a sense of precariousness by thrusting his co-star in at the deep end, playing the part not only of the story’s second protagonist, but also of a selection of participants in a hypnotism show taking place in a pub “about a year from now.”

Every word is scripted, but unrehearsed, with the actor reading from a clipboard or responding to instructions from Crouch.

Underneath all this is a bleak tale of loss – the death of a child, accidentally killed by Crouch’s hypnotist character. In our performance the girl’s father, Andy, was played with remarkable skill and empathy by Neve McIntosh. The premise is that Andy, three months into his bereavement, is consumed by the idea that his daughter is in everything – not gone at all – in the dips in surfaces, but most especially in an oak tree. He sees the poster for Crouch’s hypnotism show and volunteers, hoping for answers.

Tim Crouch and Amy Griffiths in An Oak Tree_cr Greg Veit 3

Tim Crouch and Amy Griffiths in An Oak Tree © Greg Veit

That in itself is a compelling concept, one I would have like to have seen explored more thoroughly. Often, Crouch’s instructions to Neve were a distraction – especially when he muttered the lines she then had to deliver.

But this technique did aptly mirror the experience of being in the audience of a third-rate hynotism act, right down to the uneasy impression of perhaps being taken for a fool. At times Crouch addressed Neve directly – as in a section where she, following a heartbreaking scene as Andy, begins to weep and Crouch seems to intervene with concern, but jolts the illusion by saying. “Are you okay? Say yes.”

Andy and Neve are clearly both characters, even if Neve has the luxury of stepping off stage and going home afterwards.

Very meta, and certainly immersive in the sense that we, the audience in the theatre, are playing our role as the audience in the pub. By encouraging us to applaud imaginary volunteers, Crouch ensures we feel like participants in the game – if not collaborators.

Suggestibility and collusion are strong themes, as Andy fumbles his way through the treacherous moonscape of grief, grasping at an shred of comfort he can find.

Neve, with her expressive face, was a joy to watch – somehow embodying six-foot-tall  Andy and utterly convincing at every turn. I had the sense that she had the best time of anyone through her commitment to Andy and his raw bewilderment, grief and love. In fact, following the performance Neve tweeted “One of the most extraordinary, meaningful & beautifully bonkers stage experiences I’ve ever had!” Understood.

Tim Crouch and Amy Griffiths in An Oak Tree_cr Greg Veit

Tim Crouch and Amy Griffiths in An Oak Tree © Greg Veit

There are moments when the grief shines through so vividly it’s almost unbearable, such as a scene in which Neve as Andy wakes his wife Dawn (Crouch sitting back to back with Neve, and with his back to us) to read her a meditation transcript, and she clearly reaches breaking point, screaming that his loss is less than hers because their daughter only existed in his head anyway – they all exist only in his head. It’s a breathtaking statement, and one flurried with possibilities. For a second I was convinced we were about to discover Andy in a padded cell, mourning a family that had never been real.

When An Oak Tree was first performed ten years ago it was groundbreaking. Today, while still clever, I found myself longing for a simpler, less tangled performance that focused more directly on a father, his pain and the tree he hoped might be his redemption. That, in itself, would be powerful enough.

An Oak Tree is at Bristol Old Vic until 19th September 2015.

Writing prompt – facing fears

PlacSzczepanski-clowns cr Judy DarleyI offered up a writing prompt about fearful things and my dread of puppets some time ago, and last week had the opportunity to face down another of my fears – clowns – thanks to a rather gorgeous sculpture made by the guys at rzezba.com.pl.

PlacSzczepanski-clowns1 cr Judy Darley

 

This tangle of clowns and bicycles is in Plac Szczepański, Krakow, and is far more elegant than it has any right to be. Plus it gave me the chance to stand squarely on the nose of a clown and yell yah boo sucks at the terrible tribe!

PlacSzczepanski-Judy vs clowns-clowns-crJH

Look smug, don’t I?!

With this as your starting point I invite you to write a piece in which a person overcomes a terror of something – whether that’s clowns, kerbs (just watch this vid of a little blind boy beating his own personal horror for extra inspiration), heights or something entirely unexpected. And remember that fear is just the fuel to achieve your goals. Cheesy, but true.

If you write something prompted by this idea, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Deep Water by Lu Hersey

Deep Water by Lu HerseyLu Hersey’s debut may have been written with a teen readership in mind, but it transcends the YA category with a tender, eerie tale of marine myths and magic. Lu won the 2013 Mslexia Children’s Novel Writing Award for Deep Water, and the gentle, almost stealthy start belies the thrill and beauty of this book.

Danni is your average 15-year-old with an average family life, or so she thinks until the day she comes home to find her mother missing and a mysterious pool of salt water on the kitchen floor.

Along with cheery sidekick Levi, Danni is packed off to stay with her dad in Cornwall and soon becomes immersed in a world where curses take the form of ‘poppets’, the weather can be charmed with knotted fabric and a select few can take the form of seals when the fancy takes them.

In Cornwall, Danni gets to meet a family member she thought was long deceased, and discovers an inherited trait that will change her life forever – she’s a sea person, and needs to transform into a seal on a regular basis to retain her health and sanity.

Drawing on Celtic legends, Lu has created a version of the metamorphous stories that’s far removed from the fey prettiness most mermaid tales – changing is physically excruciating for Danni and a mackerel she consumes while in seal form is painfully thrown up when returned to human physiology. Details like this keep the fantasy elements firmly rooted in reality, and make you invest wholeheartedly in the flawed yet potent core characters.

The underwater scenes are powerfully written – atmospheric and charged with dazzling energy. “Out in the open water, we circle a swarm of ghostly jellyfish with cauliflower-like tentacles that have somehow survived the winter, drifting along on some invisible current. I swim through the darkening water, somersaulting round and round in sheer joy at the sensation and the freedom.”

There’s plenty of suspense and danger too, mainly at the hands of murderous minister Crawford who is determined to do away with as many sea people as possible. Fortunately, Danni has an array of friends, old and new (charm-maker Robert is a particular delight) to help her out when things get perilous.

A few elements needed more exploration for me, including an all-too brief sighting of an intriguing bull seal who is never glimpsed again. I did wonder if book two is on its way (I hope so!), and whether the few loose ends in Deep Water are paving the way for the second novel. If it is, I’ll gladly devour the next book two – Danni and her friends are well worth revisiting.

Deep Water by Lu Hersey is published by Usborne Publishing Ltd and available to buy from Amazon.

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