Writing prompt – discarded

Toy car cr Judy DarleyI found this plastic racing car washed up on a Malaysian beach some years ago, and have kept it ever since. Each time my eyes graze it, I wonder who it once belonged to, and how it came to be ownerless.

The smallest item, lost or discarded, can resonate with possibilities for a short story writer. Glance down occasionally and look out for a dropped earring, a button, a playing card (quite a lot of those appear close to where I live for some reason!) or a misplaced toy. Then begin your story by wondering how it happened to fall there, to lie alone and abandoned by the side of your path.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Songs Without Music by Tim Stevenson

Songs Without Music coverAuthor Tim Stevenson is a master of the final line, turning a tale on its head with a few carefully chosen words. Throughout his collection of “flash-fictions and curiosities” (what an enticing sub-head!), in just a single page or so Tim creates worlds that feel like close parallels to our own, where our own fate, and how to avoid (or embrace) it, is shown up in eerie technicolour. Human nature is spotlit and dissected, not only in the tales themselves, but through toying unsettlingly with our preconceptions, so that we’re caught off-step without even realising we’ve been led astray, as in Feral Oxide and in An Artist’s Impression.

I’m not a great devourer of sci-fi, but literary thought-provoking futuristic tales please me as much as any well-wrought fairytale, and Stevenson is particularly adept at these. Mother’s Milk is gorgeously chilling, ending with a satisfying pinch of justice, while The Mr Jones Emulator raises questions about what it is to be a person, while remaining a soothingly jolly read.

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Waves, harbours and hills

Beach at Es Trenc, Mallorca by Paul Needles

Beach at Es Trenc, Mallorca by Paul Needles

I initially met Paul Needles when I was a teenager taking GCSE Art and fairly unaware that he had a first name, let alone that he had a thriving practice as an artist beyond the secondary school classroom where he taught. Paintings of oceans, fields and harbours capture the tranquility of the English countryside and Spanish coastlines, and offer evidence that teachers do in fact have lives beyond the schoolyard gates.

“I’m unsure how my interest in art first developed,” he says. “I came from a strong and supportive working class background. Both of my parents needed to work and neither were especially interested in the visual arts although my father was a very accomplished musician, playing a variety of brass instruments.”

Paul was fortunate enough to pass the 11-plus and attended Cotham Grammar School in Bristol “where art was pretty low on the curriculum. We did however have a very inspirational and slightly eccentric art teacher called Gerry Hicks.”

Mr Hicks had a significant impact on young Paul. “He was a well known character on the Bristol arts scene and was also a keen environmental activist at a time when the environment was low on the agenda,” Paul comments. “Gerry was a great inspiration to me. He and his family became great friends and were very supportive when I decided I wanted to follow him into teaching. Sadly, Gerry died last year but I still keep in touch with his wife and family.”

Having such an inspirational art teacher influenced Paul’s career choices. “I guess that I wanted to give kids the experience that he had given me. After all, nobody forgets a good teacher, do they?”

Bristol harbourside by Paul Needles

Bristol Harbourside by Paul Needles

After Paul completed his teacher training he started his career in Kent where he worked for five years before returning to South Bristol. “I taught there for 18 years before moving to Thornbury, staying for just over 15 years.”

Paul had always believed strongly that teachers should be practitioners of their subjects. “I always managed to find time to produce my own art work,” he says. “Some periods were rather lean but I made sure that I kept my hand in throughout my career.”

Then, around 15 years ago, Paul was encouraged by another former teacher and lecturer, John Stopps, to show his work at a gallery in Bristol. “I have done so every couple of years since then. I’ve also shown at Thornbury Arts Festival as well as the Octagon Gallery at the Castle School.”

Mendip stile by Paul Needles

Mendip Stile by Paul Needles

Paul spent his early years painting portraits but his focus shifted gradually towards landscapes. “I love Britain and the West Country in particular,” he says. “The Forest of Dean is a favourite and much loved haunt, as is Bristol itself. I also travel a great deal in Spain and am really inspired by the Spanish landscape with its wide variety of environments.”

Paul retired in 2006 at the age of 60. “I still loved teaching but didn’t want to become one of those sad old teachers who were out of touch with the pupils and decided, after teaching for almost 39 years, my time was up,” he says. “I had a great team of young teachers at Castle School and felt confident that they would carry on where I left off.”

With his teaching years behind him, Paul is busy creating his own artwork rather than guiding other people’s. “I built a large studio at the end of my long garden a couple of years back,” he says. “It means that I can be as untidy as I want and can leave my work out. My former studio was much smaller and is now used as a workroom by my wife.”

Spanish wave 2 Fuengirola by Paul Needles

Spanish Wave 2, Fuengirola by Paul Needles

Paul is now lucky enough to paint every day. “I enjoy the solitude of working with only with the radio or my CD player for company,” he says. “I can easily get lost in my own thoughts as I work.”

Paul’s already has an exhibition planned for next year, taking place at the Guild Gallery on Park Street in Bristol from 12th August – 2nd September 2017. In the meantime, find more of his work at paulneedles.com.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Writing prompt – weir

Bath weir cr Judy DarleyThis photo shows Bath weir, but cropped so close I think it resembles some kind of vortex! The seagulls paddling around the edge just add to the weirdness.

Imagine your protagonist coming across this unexpectedly. You can either use it as a prompt for a straightforward sci fi tale, or delve into a character’s damaged mind – why are they so convinced the weir leads to another dimension or world? What dramatic implications could follow on from this?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Art in and of a view

Anthony Garrratt High and Low, on Llyn Llydaw, Snowdon © Richard Broomhall, Fractured Ether

High and Low by Anthony Garratt, on Llyn Llydaw, Snowdon

You may recall me posting a piece on extraordinary landscape artist Anthony Garratt  when he created four spectacular al fresco paintings on Anglesey in 2015.

Anthony’s latest venture, High and Low, or ‘uchel ac isel’, captures the wild beauty of Snowdonia, with epic paintings and a film bringing together natural and manmade art.

Sponsored by self-catering holiday company Menai Holiday Cottages, the film and outdoor painting installation offers plenty of jaw-dropping views of the area.

Anthony Garratt High and Low, at Llechwedd slate mine, Snowdonia © Richard Broomhall, Fractured Ether

Anthony Garratt’s High and Low at Llechwedd slate mine, Snowdonia

“Menai Holidays hopes that the installation will tell the history, geography and industrial heritage of North Wales, and encourage visitors to make a deeper connection with the region’s dramatic landscapes and the incredible forces that have shaped them,” says Judith ‘Bun’ Matthews, the owner of Menai Holiday Cottages.

A preview of the film, which accompanies the High and Low installation, has been released online, with a full-length version of the film due to tour arts festivals and galleries across the UK from the autumn of 2016.

Like landscape artists Richard Wilson and JMW Turner before him, Anthony has drawn inspiration from the majesty of Snowdonia, in his case to fuel two immense paintings using water-based paint as well as naturally occurring local materials like slate dust and copper.

The two paintings were created directly within the views they represent, and are now in position – one floating with soaring light and reflections of Snowdon on Llyn Llydaw, and the other suspended deep beneath the mountains amid the shadows of an abandoned slate cavern at Llechwedd Slate Mine.

What powerful motivation to visit Snowdonia and engage with it anew.

Anthony Garratt_High and Low, on Llyn Llydaw at Snowdon © Richard Broomhall, Fractured Ether

Anthony Garratt’s High and Low, on Llyn Llydaw at Snowdon

If you would like to see ‘High’ should park at Pen-y-Pass car park and follow the Miner’s Track path which ascends Snowdon. The easy, track-based walk to Llyn Llydaw takes around 40 minutes.

To see ‘Low’, head to Llechwedd Slate Caverns at Blaenau Ffestiniog. Entrance is via the mine visitor tour desk.

The High and Low installation will remain in situ until the end of October 2016.

Find out more at www.menaiholidays.co.uk/highandlow. All images credit Richard Broomhall / Fractured Ether.

Exploring starfields with Sarah Duncan

White Noise by Sarah Duncan

White Noise by Sarah Duncan

The skies above are full of beauty, wonderment and mystery. For artist Sarah Duncan, the big secrets are not what they show us of the universe, but what they help us to perceive about ourselves.

“Throughout history, the night sky had been a screen for our projected dreams. My work seeks to reflect this screen, and to find others to illuminate,” Sarah says, stealing lines from her website blurb. “I’m inspired by our relationships with the remote and inaccessible, seen via telescopes and microscopes. We’re fascinated by phenomena, which appear on the surface to be constant, but on further inspection reveal themselves to be unique, constantly in flux and ever changing.”

Sarah has “always made things and created pictures, there was obviously a time when I had to work out how I was going to make a career out of my artwork.” The answer came in the form of a BA in Textiles and Print, followed by an MA in multidisciplinary printmaking.

“My practice aims to embed the humanly experienced physical world into the unimaginable enormity of the cosmos,” Sarah says, explaining that in a philosophical sense her art “shares the central aims of science” in trying to understand the marvels of nature and the physical laws that guide them.

Neutrino by Sarah Duncan

Neutrino by Sarah Duncan

Taking a step sideways and beyond a straightforward scientific gaze, Sarah also brings into the puzzle a focus on our “emotional and embodied response rather than just an intellectual one.”

I love the idea of Sarah’s portrayal of astral spectacles being laid out with all the questions and curiosities that define us as a sentient species.

Doppler Effect by Sarah Duncan

Doppler Effect by Sarah Duncan

“I think being an artist is part of who I am; it has grown with me, and I have developed as an artist alongside growing as a person, says Sarah. “I love that my practice means that every day is different; that a final piece could have taken many mistakes, multiple rejects, and a lot of learning to arrive at the end result.”

Intrigued? You can discover more about Sarah and her art at print.sarahduncan.net, and at www.instagram.com/sarahduncanprint. “I currently work at Spike Print Studio in Bristol and often exhibit with them, and have also got work at the Gas Gallery in London and Cambridge Contemporary Arts,  as well as forthcoming at The Printroom in Suffolk and Zillah Bell Gallery, in Thirsk, North Yorkshire.”

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Writing prompt – residence

Tent in Arnos Vale Cemetery cr Judy DarleyI was meandering in Arnos Vale Cemetery the other day, and noticed that someone has taken up residence by one of the more secluded paths. Like a nylon mushroom, a tent has sprung up.

As rents increase in this area, it looks like a distinctly tempting option, though living among the graves may not be to everyone’s taste!

Similar tents crop up in parks all over the city at this time of year, offering alternatives to the local homelessness hostels, and ripe fuel for fiction as well. Who might live here and why? What consequences could this have?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Writing prompt – bench

Bench on Bristol Downs cr Judy DarleyA park bench can seem like a raft floating on the surface of a green ocean, and, perhaps as a result, can often become the site of a moment’s explosive tension.

Imagine you are strolling through a park and overhear a blazing row, a romantic (or less than romantic) proposition, or a brilliant but potentially dangerous idea being touted. What happens next?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Writing prompt – Lily pond

Lily pond, Natural History Museum garden by Judy DarleyI am rather a fan of your average, unprepossessing lily pond – the life that teems on and beneath that gleaming surface is ideal for idle observation as your mind drifts.

But imagine if the pond you gazed upon, only half-seeing what lies before you, suddenly offered up something rather more sinister than a water boatman or gaping goldfish…

What could rise unexpectedly from the depths to break the surface tension? What tale might that unfold into?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – The End

The End coverWe’re often told to begin at the beginning, but in art, as in literature or film, sometimes it’s far more interesting to begin at the end, or, at least, the beginning of the end.

So it is with this upcoming anthology, The End, from the adroit Unthank Books, commissioned by Ashley Stokes, for which authors were invited to respond to the artwork of Nicholas Ruston. Each painting itself uses the words The End, imprinted on shadowy backgrounds that offer the sense of a narrative drawing the close.

With a subhead of Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings, you know you’re not in for the sunniest of rides, but with contributors ranging from Tania Hershman to David Rose and u.v.ray, you’ll want to hold on tight, right till the actual end.

The variety is wonderful. Each story examines a different image, veering off in dazzlingly unexpected directions. Yes, there are deaths, but also near misses, recoveries and quiet moments of realisation.

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