A sky-themed tale

Bristol crane by Judy DarleyMy short story Altitude has reached dizzying heights with publication at Flash Frontier‘s sky-themed November 2015 issue.

The online literary magazine’s remit is to publish tales no more than 250-words in length, accompanied by gorgeous artwork to enhance the reading experience. My particular flash fiction piece took the thought of sky and paired it with the desire-driven risks we take, and perhaps regret. It was prompted by gazing up at one of the elegant old cranes situated at Bristol’s harbourside.

My story begins: The air seems different up here, Dan thinks – thinner, hungrier. It bites at him as he shudders; nibbles with sharp teeth and lapping tongues. Inside his head, he can hear its snarl.

Read Altitude in its entirety, and all the other stories in this issue, at flash-frontier.com/2015/11/19/november-2015-sky/.

Art, trains and travel

Harbourside, Bristol cr Linda AlvisBristol is a place of iconic views, and talented artists capturing those scenes. It’s also a hub, with buses, trains and boats (not to mention a scary number of bicycles), ebbing in and out of the city almost in rhythm with its tidal river Avon.

The Bridge, Summer cr Linda Alvis

The Bridge, Summer by Linda Alvis

Best known for her atmospheric pastel depictions of Clifton Suspension Bridge and accompanying balloons, Linda Alvis is well aware of these flowing energies. Indeed, she recently had her work showcased as part of an exhibition welcoming commuters and other travellers to another of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s grand works, Bristol’s Temple Meads Station.

Edward 1 at Temple Meads cr Linda Alvis2

Edward 1 at Temple Meads by Linda Alvis2

Linda is just one of the artists with work displayed at several of the platforms, printed as posters and framed throughout the busy station.

“It was the idea of Jon Curnow, who was then the station master,” says Linda. “Jon wanted to improve the look of the station and bring more colour and interest, and, of course, show Bristol at its best. I think I heard of it through the grapevine and acted quite quickly so as not to miss out. It took a year in the making though. There was some subsidy but the artist had to be prepared to pay for part of the poster production.”

Cabot Tower by Linda Alvis at Temple Meads Station

Cabot Tower by Linda Alvis at Temple Meads Station

Linda admits that it’s hard to know how much the artwork is noticed and appreciated. “When folks are catching a train they are thinking more about getting on and getting a seat rather than looking at posters!” she says. “However, it’s great for passengers on stationary trains and those having to wait on the platform. The upside is that work is visible to a great number of travellers and most certainly perks up the station.”

Linda Alvis at Temple Meads Station

Linda Alvis at Temple Meads Station

She adds: “It should catch on nationally as many cities have areas to be proud of and artists already producing paintings of them. On the whole I think it is a most positive move and other stations around the country should be encouraged to consider it. Stations can be very dull and passengers could eventually learn to look for these posters. It’s nicer for staff too.”

Linda Alvis calendar 2016Linda has also produced a 2016 calendar with 12 of her most distinctive Bristol scenes, including the views on show in Temple Meads.

The calendar is available to buy in the Harbourside Tourist Information Centre, Suspenion Bridge Visitor Centre, SS Great Britain, Mele Clifton and Niche Framing.

Linda also sells original and limited prints of her artwork throughout the southwest, as well as leading an informal pastel class every Tuesday during term times. Upcoming courses include Pastel, Watercolour and Drawing in the Algarve during April and May 2016. “I’m a great believer in encouraging people to find their own artistic way, she comments, “develop their own style.”

Find more of Linda’s art at www.alvisfineart.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 – fountain

Brescia fountain cr Judy DarleyHave you ever noticed how in some parts of the world, myths and legends seem to brim at every corner?

Last week I had the good fortune to return to Brescia, one of my favourite towns in northern Italy. Meandering through the streets I happened to glance through a doorway and saw a courtyard watched over by this extravagant fountain.

Brescia fountain entrance cr Judy Darley

Surrounded by ordinary apartment buildings, it’s a glorious work of art in an otherwise unexceptional setting. Beneath the fountain’s base, monstrous feet poke out.

Brescia fountain foot cr Judy DarleyThe fountain was dry when I saw it, perhaps due to the season, or perhaps it’s been disused for decades.

It made me wonder, what has this fountain witnessed and overheard through the years? I can imagine shy lovers meeting, clandestine trysts, conspiratorial gatherings, or simply the gossip of women trading the news and scandal as the sound of the water’s song rises about them.

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’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com. Find out more about Brescia at www.bresciatourism.it/en/

Book review – Between Here and Knitwear by Chrissie Gittins

Between Here and Knitwear coverUnrolling from childhood and deep into adulthood, Chrissie Gittins’ autobiographical short story collection strikes at the heart of a family getting on with the business of living.

From the wonder of a nest full of curlew eggs to the difficulties of finding stockings long enough for her adolescent legs to the quiet sorrows of aiding ailing parents, author Gittins captures the preoccupations of each age and individual with such unflinching clarity that you’ll feel a jolt of recognition, even if you’ve yet to reach the part of life she writes of.

The 22 interlinked stories weave together beautifully to form a heartfelt family portrait, in particular the tales focused on the relationship between Gittins and her parents. At the same time, every story stands alone as a self-contained missive rich with layers of observation. We’re treated to the embarrassment of learning lurid lines of Shakespeare, experience the raw confusion of Gittins’ teenage self attempting to get to the bottom of “why my mum is how she is”, listen in on tender conversations with her father when, as he says himself, he is losing his reason, accompany Gittins through a debate on the disparate weightiness of two apparently identical lemon chiffon cakes.

Continue reading

Leave your hat on

#HappytoesTotterdown Front Room Arts Trail gets underway today with a hat-themed extravaganza of art, music and lots of cake.

This year there will also be free taster sessions in a range of creative pastimes, from silk painting to needle felting to (ooh, dizzy with anticpation!) messy art play for adults!

Turning the hat theme on its head, I’m sticking my foot in with a scattering of mini-socks emblazoned with positive messages (and an assorted of tootsie-related puns – thanks Zan!) that I’m hoping will make people smile. If you spot one, feel free to take it home with you to remind you that there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Even better, tweet me @JudyDarley with the hashtag #happytoes to let me know.

Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail is on from 20th-22nd November 2015. Find full details at frontroom.org.uk.

Images of war and peace

Deenagh Miller - Images of War and  PeaceArtist Deenagh Miller paints the aftermath of war. Not the lightning-fast explosions, bullets and fires that shatter people’s lives, but the quiet pain afterwards. Broken houses, limbs, lives and dreams.

Her latest exhibition is hosted by the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution, its genteel honey stone façade a bland wrapping for the disturbing images within. In a foreign country far away, a family stand mute in the ruins of their home. A man hugs his brother. Is he relieved to see the hero return from war, or is he clutching a corpse? We can’t know. Similarly, the small child hooked up to a life support machine is blurred at the edges, fading away, or perhaps already dead. The ambiguity adds to the nightmare these innocents endure.

Deenagh Miller - Images of War and Peace

Many of Deenagh’s other paintings are dark and brooding, often with a fairytale quality but always hinting at secrets below the surface. Here, emotions are written on the subjects’ faces: love, loss and even acceptance. Family, friends and medics pick up the pieces long after the fighters have moved on.

Fearing that war was about to break out, Deenagh began this body of work in 2001. She decided there was only one way to make a difference: by using her painting skills to show others the damage war causes. Her oil paintings and her monochromatic drawings (starkly picked out in pen and ink and charcoal) are indeed powerful media. I defy anyone to see them without shedding a tear for the desperate plight of the victims of conflict.

Deenagh Miller and one of her powerful Images of War and Peace

Deenagh Miller and one of her powerful Images of War and Peace

Deenagh’s paintings, together with abstracts by Brian Goodsell, are on display at the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution until 24 November 2015. More of Deenagh’s work can be viewed in her online art gallery. The first instalment of her autobiography, The Adulterer’s Daughter, is available to buy from Amazon – it’s a gripping read, as dark and shocking as her artwork.

This guest post is from AA Abbott, a British crime thriller writer, whose third book, The Bride’s Trail, taps into the darker side of London, Birmingham and the vodka business.

Writing prompt – boat

Lizard Point, Cornwal cr Judy DarleyI took this photo at Lizard Point in Cornwall on a gloriously sunny autumn day. At this time of year I often feel conflicted by relishing the beauty of the season, and dreading the cold grey months to come.

To me this boat tucked away far from the reach of even the stormiest waves sums up this conundrum neatly. What do the community here face when the last of the tourists head for home and the sea turns wild about them? How do they prepare for this? What conversations and revelations might the challenges ahead bring to the surface?

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’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

Nora WebsterDrawing on the months and years after the death of his father, Colm Tóibín has created an elegant, honest portrayal of grief – not his own but his mother’s.

By shifting the point of view he edges from memoir into fiction, but the truths remain. Nora Webster has lost her husband Maurice, the man she’d intended to spend her life with, and now has to re-learn herself without him.

Through the novel Colm captures the sense of small town Ireland in the sixties, where to have your hair dyed is borderline scandalous and wearing a red coat to the first day on a job is regarded as distastefully showy. Nora is a quiet woman who left much of the opinion spouting to her husband, but now he’s dead she realises she has beliefs and ideas of her own. Continue reading

A call for writing on migration

Slimbridge wildfowl cr Judy DarleyShortStops recently drew my attention to a call for creative works from Avis Magazine.

Run by students on the MMU’s MA Creative Writing programme, Avis seeks work from new and emerging writers on the theme of migration.

Avoid the obvious and consider the topic in a more lateral way to be in with a chance of publication. The editors urge you to muse “Across geographies big and small, wide and minor; across borders and boundaries, fences, walls, and lines in the sand. Think comets through the cosmos and piercings through the skin; people, their lives, their losses. Dip your fingers in your inkwells and let us have it.”

You’re invited to submit one short story (up to 2,000 words), up three pieces of flash (between 100 and 1,000 words) or up to four poems (no more than 40 lines each). There;s also a small section for non-fiction on the theme of migration, up to 2,000 words in length. How could you resist?

The deadline is 10th December 2015.

Find full details, including the format for submissions, at www.avismagazineblog.wordpress.com

A quality of stillness

Swimming Dog by Stephen Jacobson

Swimming Dog by Stephen Jacobson

There’s an enticing quality of light in the work of artist Stephen Jacobson. He describes his main interest as “translating the stillness to be found in landscapes and interiors,” which explains at least in part the serenity exuded by his work.

I discovered Stephen through a painting currently on show as part of the RWA’s annual open exhibition.

Boxers by Stephen Jacobson

Boxers by Stephen Jacobson

Unlike many of his work, this piece features two figures, sparring partners, though the impression of early peace remains unbroken. It’s possible that rabbits graze nearby, unperturbed by the concentration of the two men atop the hillside, bathed in the first rays of the sun.

Stephen says that this tranquil scene betwixt night and day appeals to “something deep in my subconscious – I seek images that I find are able to convey this slightly other-worldly atmosphere. My first pictures were more overtly surreal but I realised this atmosphere, without the psychological overtones, can be found around us in the everyday world.”

Tree of Birds by Stephen Jacobson

Tree of Birds by Stephen Jacobson

It’s an entrancing thought, and one enhanced by Stephen’s careful choice of what to depict, and what to omit from his work. “I edit highly and select only the parts that will convey the feeling I want to create,” he says. “I’m concerned with the timelessness of the images I choose and you will notice there is no evidence aging or decay in any of my pictures.

Seaside Cafe by Stephen Jacobson

Seaside Cafe by Stephen Jacobson

Stephen loves the fact that being an artist is not a job you work from nine till five, then step away from.

“It’s with you constantly and even when you’re not physically making work it pervades your life and world is constantly full of wonder.”

Field of Crows by Stephen Jacobson

Field of Crows by Stephen Jacobson

To see more of Stephen’s work, visit his website, www.stephenjacobson.co.uk, head over to the RWA before 29th November, or visit Sladers Yard Gallery in West Bay, Dorset, where Stephen has work in the current exhibition, aptly named Dream Visions.

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