Celebrate writing at Manchester Literature Festival

Barton Arcade, Manchester cr Judy Darley

Barton Arcade, Manchester

Beginning today, the tenth annual Manchester Literature Festival promises numerous events celebrating writing in all its forms.

Highlights include novelists Margaret Atwood and Sarah Hall sharing disturbing visions of the future through their fiction, and Joanne Harris presenting a specially commissioned Writer’s Manifesto.

Words and music combine through unique collaborations with Manchester jazz festival and Manchester Camerata, an examination of WB Yeats influence on composers, and singer songwriter Kathryn Williams performing songs from her new album Hypoxia inspired by poet Sylvia Plath.

In another strand focusing on literary re-imaginings, with Anthony Horowitz introducing his new James Bond novel Trigger Mortis, and Jeanette Winterson launching her retelling of Shakespeare’s A Winters’ Tale. There’ll be discussions and literary strolls focusing on icons such as John le Carré, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Virginia Woolf, WB Yeats, and others.

Look out for theatrical adaptations of children’s picture books, an afternoon tea with Deborah Moggach, a screening of 45 Years – an adaptation of a short story by David Constantine – and much, much more.

Find full details at www.manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk.

Illustrated insights with Laura Hallett

The BFG cr Laura Hallett

The BFG © Laura Hallett

I first spotted Laura Hallett’s beautiful illustrations in Bristol coffee shop The Crazy Fox. Her delicate doodles capture a sense of life and, often, wistfulness, that I find really appealing. Roald Dahl’s The BFG was one of my favourite books when growing up, and seeing Laura’s original take on the gentle dream-catching giant is utterly entrancing.

“I love the surrealism and inventiveness of the Roald Dahl stories that offer potential for a wealth of endless inventive visual images,” Laura says. “I enjoy developing my own vision for well known tales, defining the characters in the stories through my own eyes and trying to capture distinct atmospheres through the use of colour, light and composition.”

A passion for stories and narratives influenced Laura’s decision to become an illustrator.

“I’ve always loved creating things and the freedom that comes with being an artist,” Laura explains. “Initially when I was young I simply enjoyed the process of drawing and painting and playing around with colours and characters. I love reading and writing short stories so I think part of that came from enjoying the storytelling and narrative process – art was just another avenue for this.”

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe cr Laura Hallett

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe © Laura Hallett

As she grew older the chance to experiment with drawing and painting became a driving force. “Making art in the pursuit of expressing myself and communicating ideas really began to be exciting.”

But she still wasn’t sure art was a viable career path. “When I left school I initially studied History and Politics at University as I wasn’t sure whether art was a good career plan, but I found that I just kept on painting and decided that I had to pursue it or I’d regret it.”

Laura worked on developing her own style and creative ideas, and studied Illustration at Falmouth. “Since I graduated it’s just been about working really hard and developing my work to a point where I feel confident in my own personal visual language,” she says. “This year has been a highlight; moving to a creative city like Bristol where I’m surrounded by people pursuing their own creative path has been really inspiring, and I’ve also seen my first published narrative illustration in American poetry anthology Rebels, held my first solo exhibition in the Crazy Fox Cafe and produced two large painted public art sculptures in Birmingham and Sheffield.”

Little Women cr Laura Hallett

Little Women © Laura Hallett

Illustration, she explains, “is a very broad area that permits considerable creative freedom. The goal is to communicate an idea or feeling or story but the route you take to get there can incorporate almost any medium or approach. I also enjoy the importance of a strong sense of design and aesthetics.”

Laura adds that the “escapist quality of children’s literature” is a particular attraction. “The stories take you into another world and allow room for your imagination to run free. Everyone sees something quite different when they read a story and it can be fascinating to see how different illustrators approach the same narrative from completely different places.”

The characters are also crucial, she comments. “As a child, being inspired by a character from your favourite book can shape the kind of person you want to be; even if it’s often just until you read your next book and meet a new character to go on a journey with!”

She adds: “From an illustrative perspective I also love the strange juxtaposition you often get from children’s literature, whereby stories, which often have a comforting familiarity and generate feelings of nostalgia, are often also quite strange and surreal. Children have fewer pre-conceptions so are very open to this.”

The tiny details Laura includes in her artwork all contribute to making her work sing on the page.

“I’m a bit obsessed by the small details of everyday life that help me to capture a sense of it. I try to produce work that you can keep coming back to and noticing new things in for the first time.”

Telling a story through one picture is an exciting challenge, she says. “I’m inspired by stories about people’s lives and by simply taking in what is going on around me. Having studied history and politics I am also inspired by historical events and social changes and would love to explore this area more through my work in the future.”

Bristol Map cr Laura Hallett

Bristol Map © Laura Hallett

Laura’s fascination with informative details has led to a series of illustrated maps, which were recently exhibited in Bristol.

“The Map of Bristol was a focal point of my exhibition at The Crazy Fox. As a new resident of Bristol, the map was my way of getting to know my new home. I love the very distinct different characters the different areas of the city have, and the varied architecture that reflects this and reflects the very individual artistic and creative spirit of the city.”

Laura also loves mapping trends and fashions through her work. “The London trends piece (below) was completed for a design competition run by London Transport Museum. It’s one of my favourite illustrations and one of the pieces I most enjoyed doing as it enabled me to indulge my passions for music, the fashions and tribes connected with it, and historical and social changes. It was also a great opportunity to focus on characterisation and design. I love being able to develop my illustrations through my own evolving interests and passions.”

London Fashions and Trends cr Laura Hallett

London Fashions and Trends © Laura Hallett

Keep an eye on www.laurahallett.co.uk to find out what Laura’s up to and see more of her work. Many of her pieces are available to buy as limited edition giclee prints at www.etsy.com/shop/LauraBHallett

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

Writing prompt – Horse whisperer

HorseWhisperer cr Judy DarleyI love this photo of my nephew and an elderly retired police horse. To me it looks like the horse is sharing an important secret, possibly about something uncovered on a criminal investigation case years before, and undivulged till now.

What might the horse be telling the boy? Will the boy believe what he’s heard? What adventures might the revelation of that secret lead to?

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to judydarley(at)gmail.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – On the Edges of Vision by Helen McClory

On the Edges of Vision coverI’ve recently discovered a new term, and it describes Helen McClory’s writing perfectly: mythic realism. Aptly titled On the Edges of Vision, this collection offers a precipitous sense of standing on the edge of something, of glimpsing a view of a world just like the one we live in, only with extraordinary neighbours. These creatures are familiar from ancient tales yet fresh on the page, mingling with everyday folk.

There’s a hint of warning swimming through the words, a reminder that venturing out after dark isn’t always a good idea, a hint that the things we fear aren’t always the right things – that dread, and death, can rush up from unexpected sources.

There’s such a pace to McClory’s writing that you may find yourself careering from start to end, crashing through the undergrowth before halting, blood shrill in your ears, at the cliff-edge, wondering why there’s nothing ahead but dizzying emptiness. Continue reading

The power of reading aloud

Remember Me To The Bees launch photographer Pete GettinsThis month I’ll be doing readings at events in Cardiff and Bristol, sharing flash fictions pieces inspired by art, a short story based on the life of a lady aviator, and a tale prompted by superstition and the sea.

I love doing readings – it’s always somewhat terrifying, but at no other time do you receive such an instantaneous reaction to your work. I even enjoy reading out during sessions with the writing groups I attend. Somehow speaking the words I’ve written gives them life beyond the page, which is, in part, what every written word requires in one form or another.

With works in progress, it also helps me to hear where my writing would benefit from being tightened up or amended in some way. I sometimes wonder if the neighbours are ever puzzled to overhear me reading my latest story or chapter aloud, sometimes stopping mid-sentence as some previously unnoticed clunkiness or typos come to my attention.

If a sentence trips you as you speak it, something’s generally amiss. A few tweaks can smooth out the structure and rhythm, enrich each sentence, and get it closer to the flawless piece of prose or poetry you intended to construct in the first place.

If you haven’t tried it before, I definitely recommend giving it a go, even if it’s just you alone in a forest with an audience of trees. Even better, as one of my friends does, dictate your writing pieces into a Dictaphone or similar and play it back to yourself – you may find yourself cringing, but surely that will be worth it for the enhanced end result.

Rolling landscapes with Relton Marine

Starbotton cr Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Starbotton © Christine Relton and Tom Marine

I relish paintings that offer a sense of scale and space, with paths that guide the eye to the horizon and skies that could turn stormy without a moment’s notice. It provides the impression of fresh air, clear-headedness and all the pleasure that comes with being somewhere wild, and it’s all captured in the work of Christine Relton and Tom Marine.

Christine studied at Leeds and Lancaster and Tom at Byam Shaw and Chelsea School of Art. Since graduating, they each continued to paint constantly, and after becoming a couple in 1996, they began painting together, “and that’s when it really took off professionally.”

Compares cr Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Compares © Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Working collaboratively like this is unusual, but Tom and Christine take it in their stride. “These days Tom tends to start the paintings by under painting with intense colour and pattern using stencils made from objects collected on our travels,” says Christine.

Tom explains. “Christine uses this under-painting as a basis for the finished piece by making the composition over the top and letting a lot of the under colour and pattern inform the finished painting.”

They say they developed their particular style through “chance, accident, playing around – talking about what to paint and how to make it better. Colour has always been a starting point.”

Pondicherry cr Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Pondicherry © Christine Relton and Tom Marine

The pair have the advantage of being able to travel a lot, and often use their journeys to springboard concepts for new works. “Imagery that’s unfamiliar always gets us thinking about how to represent it in a painting so we travel a lot. Asia and India are big favourites for ideas.”

Still Life With Almond Blossom cr Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Still Life With Almond Blossom © Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Being based in West Yorkshire, they also draw inspiration from the natural glory of the landscape surrounding them, creating works that appear in collections across the world.

These days they also run their own art gallery, Colourbox, into order to showcase their own and other artists work at art fairs across the UK, as well as join forces with other galleries to participate in art fairs in Hong Kong, New York, Singapore, Seattle, Stockholm, Brussels, Milan, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Toronto.

Above Grassington cr Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Above Grassington © Christine Relton and Tom Marine

The biggest delights of their lives as artists are reflected in their paintings, especially those depicting the sprawl of Yorkshire hillsides and skies.

“We love having the total freedom to do what we want and go where we like and paint when and what we want, knowing that people love our work and want to have it in their homes.”

And what artist could truly want more than that?

Find more of Christine and Tom’s work at www.reltonmarine.com

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