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.

Writing prompt – unexpected

Bristol Bridge sculpture cr Judy DarleyI often walk over this bridge on my way into town, and one day glanced down to see this face smiling to itself.

Bristol Bridge sculpture1 cr Judy DarleyWhat an unexpected encounter! It reminds me of films like Labyrinth, when any supposedly inanimate object might wake up and spout an opinion, invited or not.

In Norse mythology, Bifrost, the bridge to heaven, is guarded by a watchman called Heimdallr. Apparently his hearing is so keen he can listen to the grass growing on the earth, the wool growing on the sheep, which may be why he has his eyes closed and such a beatific expression on his face.

What everyday items in your story could surprise your protagonist by coming to life? What advice or warning might they offer? Are they wise, mischievous or downright evil? Will your character heed them? With what consequence?

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 – Single Mother on the Verge by Maria Roberts

Single Mother on the Verge coverSporting as it does a pastel-shaded cover of the type usually reserved for chick-lit novels, the opening page may come as a shock.

Single Mother on the Verge is far from a fluffy romance. Protagonist, Maria, is three-dimensional and very real, unsurprising when you realise this is no work of fiction, but an autobiographical account that was inspired by her award-winning blog of the same name.

Maria is certainly the winning agreement, as she takes us through her life as mother of Jack, girlfriend of Rhodri, lover of Toga and Morton, and ex-girlfriend of the terrifying Damian, whose l cruelty left her with emotional scars that make her quiver with fear any time anyone knocks on the door after midnight.

The issues faced here are complex, as Maria deals with Jack’s desire to see his dad, while dealing with Rhodri’s unwillingness to ever take the easy option about anything. Continue reading

Adventures with Alice

BRITISH LIBRARY - ALICE IN WONDERLAND POP UP SHOPEveryone knows the story of Alice, who fell down a rabbit hole and discovered a strange land crammed with kooky characters and potential for mishaps.

This winter at the British Library a special exhibition and pop-up shop marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The exhibition opens on 20th November 2015.

Illustration of Alice from the Arthur Rackham illustrated edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907) (c) The British Library Board

Illustration of Alice by Arthur Rackham © The British Library Board

Exhibits on show include Carroll’s original manuscript, along with exquisite illustrations by the likes of Salvador Dali, Mervyn Peake, Arthur Rackham, Ralph Steadman, Leonard Weisgard, and others, including Carroll himself.

A drawing of Alice by Lewis Carroll's manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, written between 1862-64 (c) The British Library Board

A drawing of Alice by Lewis Carroll © The British Library Board

Carroll’s rollicking story has entranced readers, artists and other creatives for decades, and understandably so, with so many fantastical creatures and curious situations to contend with! From the baby who becomes a pig to the Cheshire Chat who becomes a smile, not to mention the Mad Hatter and his guests, these are figures that have become embedded in our cultural identity.

The Wonderland postage stamp case designed by Lewis Carroll (1889-1890) (c) The British Library Board

The Wonderland postage stamp case designed by Lewis Carroll © The British Library Board

As part of the celebrations, part of the British Library has transformed into a whimsical space, with Arantxa Garcia (described rather fabulously as a visual merchandiser), using larger than life illustrations from the original Alice in Wonderland book to capture a sense of the bizarre and boundless possibilities that eke from the pages. “Alice shrinks and grows around the shop space amongst tables piled high with teatime themed treats and wondrous gifts.”

To draw even more originality into this space, the British Library teamed up with Etsy for a competition inviting contemporary designers to create wares inspired by  Alice’s 150th birthday. The winning designs were chosen by a panel of both representatives from Etsy and the British Library as well as independent judges Emma Mawston, Head of Design Interiors at Liberty, and designer Michelle Mason.

The shop and exhibition combine to become an immersive journey into the imaginative whirrings spilling out from Carroll’s tale – dip in a toe and you may find yourself inspired to create something new, and decidedly eccentric, of your own.

Find full details of the Alice In Wonderland exhibition (on until 17 Apr 2016) and pop-up shop (open until 31 January 2016) at www.bl.uk/events/alice-in-wonderland-exhibition.

Nature cast in ceramic, glass and bronze

Ancient Echos cr Debra Steidel_Nature_shot

Ancient Echos © Debra Steidel

Drawing inspiration from the landscapes around her Texas Hill country home, Debra Steidel creates vessels that look as though they’ve been unearthed from a grotto far underground.

These beautiful works seem to offer insights into lost civilisations with a deep love and respect for the natural world. Alternatively they could have form through the movements of nature – tide or quake or even eruption. Their appearance is enticingly elemental, yet these are contemporary sculptures made with skill and a lifetime’s worth of experimenting with clays and glazes.

Debra never had any intention of being anything other than an artist.I sketched as a young child, dug clay from a creek behind the house where I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia. I even drew architectural drawings of houses at the age of 10. My mother bought me my first set of oil paints at 11 years old.”

Soul Mates cr Debra Steidel

Soul Mates © Debra Steidel

Debra’s desire to throw on the potter’s wheel arose during her senior year in high school. “We had very little equipment or funding in the two classroom art department. There was a treadle wheel in one of the rooms and a trash barrel full of lumpy clay. My teacher didn’t really know how to throw so I tried to figure it out myself!”

Debra took a six-week beginner’s class in throwing, then bought herself a professional potters’ wheel. This was in 1974 – she was 18 years old. “I got books from the library to learn how to glaze, fire a kiln and just threw pots every day. It was a passion.”

Debra had discovered the medium she loved. She began to produce exquisite vessels, eventually coming up with the unique artworks I saw at the Affordable Art Fair in Bristol. With these works, the lids – handcrafted from clay then cast in bronze or in frosted glass resembling sea glass – are as much a part of the designs as the pots themselves.

Shadow Dancer cr Debra_Steidel

Shadow Dancer © Debra Steidel

“Oddly enough, my current body of work of crystalline glazed vessels with lids resulted from an injury to my hand,” she says wryly. “At that time my work was thrown and then manipulated – it was very sculptural. With this injury I couldn’t throw pots or sculpt for several months. I took this recovery time to experiment with glazes and that is how I discovered the current glazes I use. When I finally could throw again, it was small vessels. I wanted to make them special and so the lid was born.”

The lids take the form of birds, leaves or other shapes spied in nature, a driving force for Debra throughout her career.

“A body of work I created in the 90s was totally inspired by sea life,” she recalls. “During the last few years, each visit to a museum has given me another jump start. Lately the work of René Lalique, an amazing artist and glass designer born in France in the 1800s, has given me so much inspiration. The ideas I have for my work extend way beyond the years I will have to make them! What a fortunate position to be in.”

Ocean Whisper cr Debra Steidel

Ocean Whisper © Debra Steidel

Debra relishing the expressiveness of creating at every opportunity. “I work pretty much every day, either making my work or at an art fair exhibiting and selling my pieces. That may not sound like freedom, but if it is what you want to be doing with your life, it truly is freedom!”

You can see more of Debra’s work at www.steidelfineartporcelain.com, which features a fantastic video of Debra making Shadow Dancers – one of her lidded vessels. She takes her work to 26 art fairs a year in the United States as well as exhibiting in US galleries. In the UK Debra is represented by Maxwell Chapman at Opper & Webb Fine Art Dealers.

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

Writing prompt – craftivism

30 socks cr Judy DarleyThe other day my sister presented me with a carrier bag filled with baby socks that had formerly been worn by her sons. We tipped them out and discovered 30 odd socks. “Do something with those,” she challenged me.

After a lovely conversation with craftivist Sarah Corbett (check out her Craftivist Collective website for more on her inspiring activities) on Monday, I’ve had an idea. Each of these mini socks could be the perfect vessel for a positive thought or suggestion – think fortune cookies that offer recommendations for a happier life, and that once kept tiny feet warm.

For this week’s writing prompt I invite you to come up with a message for one of these socks to bear. It could be something to make a person smile (as simple as “You’re really fab!”), or a statement that could make the world around them better (“Kindness is sexy”). It could even be a line from a favourite poem or song.

Whatever springs to mind, send it my way via twitter or email and I’ll stitch, stick or write thirty of them onto socks, ready to distribute everywhere I go, maybe during the upcoming Totterdown Front Room Art Trail.

Of course, if you have some spare small socks of your own, you’re more than welcome to take this idea and run with it.

If you write something prompted by this idea, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com or a tweet to @JudyDarley.

Entering the inner Sanctum

Santum exterior cr Judy DarleyThe day before yesterday we took a stroll in the November sunshine to visit Sanctum, opting to join a queue of people all eager to catch a glimpse of the treasures inside.

The art and performance installation, housed within the shell of a church bombed out in World War II has been high on my list since it launched on October 29th. It features a structure built by Chicago artist Theaster Gates, and while I was expecting a few boards fixed together, it turned out to be an entire building, complete with windows and a gloriously peaked roof.

Santum edifice by Theaster Gates pic cr Judy Darley

Within ten minutes we were inside, joining the other 48 people (only 50 are allowed at any one time) relaxing to the epic tunes and disconcerting visuals of DJ Moody Groover and his Wheels of Steel.

DJ Moody Groover1 cr Judy DarleyMoody’s passion for the music soon seeped under our skin, as he wriggled around the stage space in his rainbow-emblazoned red boiler suit, occasionally stepping up to the mic to offer words of wisdom, (“Multiculturalism has failed. Multiculturalism has succeeded!”), sometimes donning a red helmet with song lyrics running across its forehead. Somehow, extraordinarily, he had captured the sense of a 3am rave on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

DJ Moody Groover cr Judy Darley

We left after our allotted half hour with broad smiles on our faces, wondering what else we’ll have the chance to experience at Sanctum before it draws to a close on November 21st.

Find full details at sanctumbristol.com.