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.

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

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

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

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.”

1.3 Seconds by Sarah Duncan

1.3 Seconds by Sarah Duncan

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.”

Nova Stella by Sarah Duncan

Nova Stella by Sarah Duncan

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.”

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

Engraving the world

Andalucia by Ben Goodman

Andalucia by Ben Goodman

The tactile qualities of wood and paper are at the heart of Ben Goodman’s art. Using a minimal palette, he offers up the aesthetic essence of the world around him, distilling views down to expertly rendered, deceptively simple portrayals.

Domesday Oak by Ben Goodman

Domesday Oak by Ben Goodman

“I’ve always had many interests but the main theme running through my life has always been art,” he says. “Even when I was very young I drew cartoons and took a sketchbook round with me. At school I gained higher grades in Art than any other subject so this inevitably pushed me towards an art degree. My parents were (and still are) a huge influence on me and have always encouraged my interest in art. They regularly took me to exhibitions, plays and festivals, which I am eternally grateful for.”

Etching, engraving and woodcuts soon earned their place as the central skills of his craft, as he fell in love with the processes in their entirety.

“Quite simply, I love everything about the act of creating a print – the slow pace, the materials, the possibilities (and limitations), and the attention to detail,” he says, then adds: “But also the printing community, the history of it and the relative commercial potential of printmaking.”

Ben enjoys engraving particularly, “because what I engrave into the block is exactly what prints, which is something I could never achieve with etching.”

The “slow and steady process” of engraving is particularly appealing to Ben, who describes himself as “a very impatient artist. In engraving, he says,  “there is no opportunity for fast mark-making – anything that makes me slow down is beneficial. Unlike etching where one can burnish away mistakes, engraving is extremely unforgiving and there is no way of repairing an error. This makes me think more carefully before I cut into the wood, which is always advantageous.”

Among Ben’s earlier work is a powerful series of pieces capturing scenes of thunderstorms. “During the stormy weather we experienced in 2014, I made quite a few trips between Bristol and London on the coach,” he says. “I was always mesmerised by the extreme cloud formations and the contrast that was created between the black rain clouds and the setting sun on the horizon. This series of prints are my attempt at capturing this chiaroscuro landscape.”

Scafell Pike by Ben Goodman, etching

Scafell Pike by Ben Goodman

Despite this, Ben says it’s unusual for him to have a theme running through his work. “Each piece has been inspired by something completely different. Sometimes it is a particular view or an idea but other times I might be inspired out of the desire to try a new graver (engraving tool) and to test its potential,” he comments.

Dundry by Ben Goodman

Dundry by Ben Goodman

“Currently my work is taking a much more conceptual route and I’m working on a series of engravings that cover my ideas of life and death and also how these ideas relate to printmaking.”

Nightingale by Ben Goodman

Nightingale by Ben Goodman

I often ask artists what they love about being an artist, and Ben’s response to this question is refreshing. “What I love about being an artist is that I am able to be an artist,” he says. “It’s an extremely privileged position that allows me to make work that I love and am proud of. I like the idea that I’m creating things that will outlive me.”

You can find more of Ben’s work on his website, www.bengoodman.co.uk. Currently he has “at least one engraving touring round the country” with The Society of Wood Engravers annual exhibition. “I’m a regular exhibitor at the RWA’s annual open exhibition, and occasionally at the RA Summer Exhibition in London.” Ben send out newsletters throughout the year with details of upcoming exhibitions, events and new work – sign up at www.bengoodman.co.uk/contact.html

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

How to turn memories into memoir

Xhosa Lady, South Africa Image cr Toko LosheIn a special guest post, author Toko Loshe guides us through the thorny issue of turning real, raw and emotional experiences into a memoir.

Life in Africa was not easy, with hurt, anger and revenge rampant all around you, yet the little Zulu girl, her swollen tummy hiding strings of brightly covered beads wound around her waist, was giggling. Playing hide and seek behind her mother’s legs as she bargained for some small fish we had kept for bait. Bargaining for life, for just another day before hunger gripped again.

The little hands reached out as the fish were gently laid in them. A tear ran down her mother’s face as she bowed with thanks, and the little girl’s face beamed with joy – a smile just visible through the hard crust of snot running from her nose, as a raspy cough gurgled up in the tiny chest.

Stay true to yourself

Having a balanced view of your life is always a challenge. It may be riddled with personal hurts and experiences. Specifically when loved ones are still around, you might ask yourself whether there’s any point in dragging up that old stuff again. “Move on, stop being a victim,” a little voice in your head keeps telling you.

“We all went through it,” your siblings, children and partners may warn you. “If you mention that I will never forgive you. Do not under any circumstances include my name in your story.”

Worst of all, your own little voices may be telling you: “For God’s sake, nobody wants to read about that.”

Wrong, many people may want to read about that. In fact, many readers are looking for answers, to their own torments and hoping to see that someone else understands. They may hope that reading a story of a hardship or emotional upheaval similar to their own will help them to make sense of and cope with it.

Fountain, South Africa Image cr Toko Loshe

Let the memories flood in

Don’t get me wrong, you must have shades of light and dark in your writing, and a good story should have more light than dark. The light side of your life is there hiding behind your emotional scars that you have not allowed to heal. You will be amazed how those memories will come flooding back once you allow them to.

Telling stories became a part of me when I was living in South Africa. Whenever a topic was highlighted in the media, I would remember another time when just such a thing had happened. Sometimes it made me sad that society was not learning from their mistakes. Every story will trigger a memory, no matter who you are or where you have been, no matter what life you have lived.

These memories that linger can be the foundation of your story, but remember that yours is just one of many. Even within your own family, each person will have their own version with its own little twist. Tell is as you recall it. Don’t try and make everyone happy by telling it their way, unless of course it is also your way and a shared experience with the same recollection of joy, love or horror. Be true to yourself.

Don’t shirk from the uglier truths

Creating a vision in the mirror of a perfect life, this is the story that you tell people. The lies we tell ourselves are much worse than the lies we tell others. Cracking that false image, be it yours or someone else’s close to you, is extremely painful.

Start with the good life, the fun things and the love that may not always have been expressed yet deep in your heart you knew it was there. That is the depth of your story. The ashes of your life. Pull out that love, display it and talk about it by bringing out the love in your mother’s eyes as she tucked you in while smiling through a split lip and bruises around a swelling cheek, as she managed to kiss you on your forehead.

River, South Africa Image cr Toko Loshe

Identify your message

There is joy and love in my story, yet I was very aware of the desperate battle of survival many families faced around me as they tried to keep themselves and their children alive. Ask yourself: “What am I trying to say?” What is the message you are to put out? Behind all good stories is a message as you invade someone’s space and get into their head.

Tell a love story with love – say it, feel it and most of all mean it. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to say how much you loved someone, how they made you feel. If it is a romantic part of your life, when you were in love for the first time, even the first time you experienced sex in a loving union, try to summon up what you were thinking and how your emotions were in a turmoil with these new feelings.

Choose your starting point

Decide where you are going to start your story, then create chapters by the turning points and changes as your story evolved. Where were you? What did you look like at that particular time, and most of all, what were you thinking? This is you, this is your story. Even if you stole the rosary beads from the bibles in the church on Sunday and feared that God would never forgive you!

There will be many ups and downs in your life, you must display them all as you seesaw through your chapters bringing each episode to a climax before moving on to the next. Most of all, you must enjoy your writing, it will not be easy and there will be tears both of joy and sadness. Write those feelings down.

About the Author

Toko LosheToko Loshe lived in South Africa during some of the most turbulent years in the country’s history. Born in 1944, Loshe experienced racism, political unrest, violence, and social upheaval as South Africa’s divisions grew deeper. Her new book Shades of Africa is an intensely personal account of the dangerous world in which she lived. The book has been described as “a photo album in prose about the brutality of life in British South Africa.” Loshe now lives in Australia.