Open eyes and minds


Fuelling Up by Jason Lanes photo cr Jack Offord

Fuelling Up by Jason Lanes

The RWA 164th open exhibition is currently on at the galleries on Queen’s Road, Bristol, populated by strange creatures, wondrous landscapes and portraits with soulfully intriguing expressions.

The open exhibition is always a highlight, showcasing a wonderful breadth and variety of artistic talent. Narratives whisper and wriggles on every page, canvas board and plinth.

The Maenads Series by invited sculptor Tim Shaw (shown at the top of this post) exudes a wonderfully satisfying sense of joy as they cavort, drum and wave their arms in the air, filling more space than their few inches in height would have you expect.

Other works prompt laughter and smiles, such as Simon Tozer’s Mermaid screen print and Fuelling Up by Jason Lanes. Jean Crosse’s A Bowl of Eyes is exactly what its title suggests – a ceramic bowl with eyes on stalks, which led us to remembering old teddies with cataracts and myopia or a single off-centre orb offering the impression of a sly wink.

Tabula Rasa (Elsie 1914) by Ruth Wallace photo cr Jack Offord

Tabula Rasa (Elsie 1914) by Ruth Wallace

Quieter, meditative artworks take their place on the edges. Self-portrait as Icarus by Richard Twose depicts the artist conducting a flock of pigeons on strings, as though they are marionettes or kites, while the Tabula Rasa (Elsie 1914) by Ruth Wallace gazes steadily back at the viewers, unfazed. Grey Rouge by Rhiannon Davies, is a miniature portrait in watercolour and gouache, well worth crouching down to see.

Yurim Gough with her Heart Chakra -> Ego bowl at RWA annual open exhibition 2016 photo cr Jack Offord

Yurim Gough with her Heart Chakra -> Ego bowl at the exhibition launch

Heart Chakra -> Ego by Yurim Gough looks to me like a new take on her elegant life studies on clay, with a serene face imposed over the model’s own and a perimeter of dreaming figures kneeling at the bowl’s rippled edge.

In a trio of paintings by Karen Bowers (Flood and Willow, Sue’s Field, Late Autumn, Late Afternoon and The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden), autumn mists catch in trees and halt us with their atmospheric beauty. These are artworks that present a moment in which to pause, exhale and renew your strength – how fitting for this time of year.

Quite simply, this is an exhibition where humour, contemplation, landscape and memory are offered up in an exceptionally wide-ranging array of works. Escape there for an hour or two, and you’ll inevitably emerge refreshed and inspired.

The 164th RWA Annual Open Exhibition is on until 27th November 2016. Find details.

All photography in this post is by Jack Offord, provided courtesy the RWA.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) 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)

Writing prompt – spooky settings

ss Great Britain by Judy DarleyWith Halloween almost upon us, it’s got me thinking about ghost stories and what makes them work. In my opinion, a large part of this is the setting you choose, whether that’s a cemetery, a cave, a toyshop (a la Angela Carter), a ship… There are so many options, each of which can be mined for their own particular creepiness.

Last night I read a scary tale at Redcliffe Caves, as part of Bristol Festival of Literature’s Writers in the Caves event. My ghost story is set in the caves themselves. I read it surrounded by flickering by candlelight, in the darkness of the man-made caverns.

And then on Saturday, I’m excited to be heading to Brunel’s ss Great Britain, a beautiful ship built more than 170 years ago, and now set in a dry dock on Bristol’s harbourside. In association with Bristol Old Vic, actors will brings the ship’s history to life (or, rather, underneath), in the manner of a haunted house. Eeeps!

This week, I urge you to consider an intriguing or unsettling location and use that as the starting point of an eerie tale.

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

Poetry review – Impossible Memories by Chris Tutton

Impossible Memories coverA palpable joy of language ripples through Chris Tutton’s latest poetry collection, Impossible Memories. Wry comments on human existence and musings on advancing age are tempered by heartfelt declarations of love.

I had the impression of memories being savoured throughout, as though Tutton was leafing through his mind for moments worthy of being rescued and pressed onto the page. There are whispers of regret over love’s dissolution, but also incidents glowing with quiet bliss – held gently cradled in two hands to share with another before it flutters away.

Frequently, humour spikes through, reminding us that human relationships are more complex than daydreams, as in the drolly titled Fawning in Love Again, in which our narrator laments: “Your wool is coarse as a/ drunken curse, yet I wear it/ next to my skin.”

Continue reading

Litro invites stories on reflection

Bristol reflection cr Judy DarleyLitro magazine invites short stories, flash fiction and non-fiction for on the topic of reflection. Successful submissions will be published in Litro 158, the December 2016 print issue.

As winter draws in, turn your mind to the challenges of finding contemplative moments in the river of social media and continual contact that besieges us daily.

You’re welcome to send one piece of up to 4,000 words in length.

The deadline for submissions for Litro’s December ‘Reflections’ issue is 1st November.

Never a still moment

Dancer Flora 1 by Cody Choi

Dancer Flora 1 by Cody Choi

Capturing the essence of movement through the stillness of photography is no easy feat. Choreographer and teacher Cody Choi has a deep understanding of the way the human body’s capabilities, and has made it his goal to portray this dynamism through the split-second click of a camera’s shutter.

Dancer_Gama 2 by Cody Choi

Dancer Gama 2 by Cody Choi

Step one of gaining this knowledge was becoming a dancer himself. After graduating in Modern Dance from The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (where he twice received the Jackie Chan Scholarship), he received a full scholarship to join the Transitions Dance Company in London, and has since danced with Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, English National Opera, Royal National Theatre, and more, including being a feature dancer in the films 47 Ronin and Walking on Sunshine!

Above The Clouds 3 by Cody Choi

Above The Clouds 3 by Cody Choi

Yet, his early goals as a youngster were to be a pop star.

“I learnt my dance moves from music videos and I began to dream of becoming a dancer,” he admits. “I went to a full time performing arts school when I was 17.”

Cody began to experiment with dance photography when he was doing a three-year world tour with Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, “And loving every minute of it!”

He says: “There were many places I felt I would only get the chance to go to once, so I bought a Nikon D50 to capture different places and start to take dance photos of my colleagues. Years later I started doing exhibitions and art fairs.”

The 3rd Day 16 by Cody Choi

The 3rd Day 16 by Cody Choi

Cody’s aims are self-evident in the sizzling vitality of his work.

“I love energy, I love moving, I love jumping,” he says. “I always like to capture the highest point of a jump – the max point of any movement.”

Dancer Flora 13 by Cody Choi

Dancer Flora 13 by Cody Choi

At present, Cody manages to balance his time between dancing, choreography, teaching, modelling and dance photography, saying blithely that he devotes himself to: “Whatever comes. The things I love most about life are the freedom to seek inspiration and to grow.”

You can see more of Cody’s photography, and find out where he will be dancing next, at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) 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)

Writing prompt – underwater

Underwater By Judy Darley This photo was taken at a seal sanctuary, but something about it reminds me of a low-budget, possibly amateur, horror film.

I love the idea of creating a story within a story – so write a tale about some people putting  on a performance of some kind, and all kinds of comic, tragic or terrifying calamities befalling them.

Or just use this image as a springboard and see where you end up.

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

Writing between the lines with Heidi Heilig

The Girl From Everywhere coverIn reading Heidi Heilig’s luminescent The Girl From Everywhere, I encountered an elegantly written scene that shows (rather than tells) you everything you need to know about how to portray emotion through what is left unsaid.

In the 2016 edition from Hot Key Books, it occurs 63 pages in. Kashmir, our narrator Nix’s closest friend and crewmate, has just given her a stolen necklace. It’s one of many “trinkets” (his words) he has stolen for her in the time they’ve known each other.

When Nix tries to give him the necklace back, he demurs, saying he enjoys it too much to stop “‘Bringing you treasures you care nothing for.’” And here the author gets Nix involved: “He spoke lightly, but his words were too flippant and behind his eyes was something I recognised: loneliness.” Three extra words add an infinite level of tension to the scene: “The moment stretched.”

Nix has to find a way to respond to their intensity, and does so by telling him that she does care, and lifting her hair – that subtly sensual movement – so that he can clasp the necklace around her throat, “His breath smelled of cloves, and his fingers were warm.” The word ‘throat’ is Heilig’s choice: so much more loaded than ‘neck.’

The atmosphere heightens as Nix tries “to remember the Persian phrase I’d found in an Iranian guidebook and tucked away in my head for a moment like this, ‘Takashor.’”

The fact she has made a mistake and Kashmir corrects her: “Tashakor”, only adds to the intimacy of the scene, as Nix thanks him again, this time in her own language, and “we both smiled like it didn’t mean anything.”

What are you reading? Impressed by a particular scene? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews and comments on books, art, theatre and film. Please send an email to Judy(at)

Flight Journal seeks writing inspired by cities

Bilbao Bridge cr Judy DarleyFlight Journal is calling for short story writers to submit their micro fiction up to up to 500 words in length. The chosen writers will receive £25 and have their work professionally published.

The theme for the issue is The City: Isolation and/or Togetherness.

We would like to read a range of voices and tones, particularly those which can move or amuse (or both!). Everything else is left completely open for you as a writer to interpret,” say editors Marianne Tatepo, Sara Jafari and Shreeta Shah. “In some instances we may choose works that we would like to develop with the author through one-to-one conversations and edits. Please bear this in mind when submitting your stories.”


  • Published and unpublished writers are both welcome. Any genre or style is welcome.
  • Your work must be no more than 500 words long (the emphasis for Issue 3 is on micro fiction), and should not have been published before – on your personal blog, other websites, or in print.
  • Flight Journal accepts submissions written in English from anywhere in the world (however, you must have a UK bank account for payment).
  • Only one story per submission.
  • Your work must be submitted as a Word document.
  • Submissions will be judged ‘blind’ so please do not include any biographical information or your name within the text, or with your submission.

To enter please submit your story via Submittable by clicking here

The deadline is 31st October, 11.59pm (as in the last minute of that day).

I spotted this opportunity on the excellent Short Stops.

Gazing upon serenity

Big Sky, Small Trees by Laura Boswell

Big Sky, Small Trees by Laura Boswell

Laura Boswell has a distinctly economical way of regarding a view. With a sharp eye for the most important and aesthetically pleasing or telling elements, she strips everything else away, until all that remains are a few colours, sweeping lines, and a sense of utter serenity.

For me there’s an impression of having struggled uphill or through a tangled forest, and then happened upon the most beautiful, breath-taking, equilibrium-restoring scene.

Persimmons And Rice by Laura Boswell

Persimmons And Rice by Laura Boswell

Laura studied printmaking at university, but then went into the photographic industry. “It was only in my forties with the loan of a printing press that I began work again as an artist, and I sort of fell into it as a career,” she says. “ My main drive was that my work should be good enough to sell to strangers, rather than amassing a drawer full of prints, so by that very ambition, rather than by planning, I became a fulltime artist.”

Likewise, Laura’s affinity for linocut and Japanese watercolour woodblock printing came about through practicality.

“I was the only student in my year to embrace printmaking and, from necessity, I found I could work on lino alone and still achieve good results,” she says. “Consequently it became the focus of my work. Japanese woodblock I admired, but knew nothing of the technique until I studied in Japan (again a chance comment from a friend led to that residency) where I found that Japanese woodblock’s subtle painterly quality was such a good counterpoint to linocut that the two techniques give me everything I need for a lifetime’s printmaking.”

Laura’s landscapes and shorelines have a wonderful lightness and elegance about them, which is due in part to her overarching aims for each piece.

“I think I try to give people space and room to escape through my work – a private escape for the viewer,” she says. “I also hope to catch something of the familiar for the viewer – the feel of a remembered walk or view. My main ambition is to allow my viewer a quiet moment of pleasure and peace.”

Mission accomplished most beautifully, in that case.

Barrow Beach After The Rainstorm by Laura BoswellBarrow Beach After The Rainstorm by Laura Boswell

Barrow Beach After The Rainstorm by Laura Boswell

“I get a lot of ideas from craft-made items, such as textiles, jewellery, and ceramics,” Laura says. “Since my work is chiefly about shape and colour, inspiration can come from anywhere. I do love a good transport poster and spend a lot of time simply looking at historical prints and engravings. Of course, mainly I work with landscape so do a lot of staring and sketching outside.”

More recently, teaching has become “an essential part” of Laura’s artistic life. “It challenges me and keeps me on my toes,” she comments. “It allows me to put my thoughts and methods into words and it always encourages me to rush home and work. I also get a genuine thrill out of coaxing a good print from my students and that happy feeling has to be good for my own work.”

The best part of Laura’s life as an artist is simple. “The fierce delight of beginning a new project. I can’t think of anything else as purely pleasurable as working on a set of design drawings and then working towards a finished project, whether that’s a commission or a personal project or even my annual Christmas card!”

Discover more of Laura’s work, plus a list of the galleries that stock Laura’s work along with full details of shows and events at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) 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)

Writing prompt – billboard

Bilbao billboard cr Judy Darley.I spotted this billboard in Bilbao, and was charmed by the statement: More Poetry Is Needed. So helpful that they included Spanish and English translations from the Basque!

If you were presented with a billboard to fill with the statement of your choice, what would you choose? Alternatively, invent an intriguing declaration, then imagine the person who devised it, and what prompted them to invest in a billboard to share it with the masses.

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