Writing prompt – almost seen

Doorways by Judy DarleySome of my eeriest and most surreal works of fiction have been prompted by the almost but not quite seen, when the over-imaginative mind fills in the information your eyes failed to provide.

Peer through the corridors into the room at the end. What’s down there? What casts those shadows? Is there a figure in there? Are they looking back at you?

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 – Oothangbart by Rebecca Lloyd

Oothangbart By Rebecca LloydDonal Poseidon is an ordinary citizen, living an ordinary life. Each day he gets up and goes to work and each day he does the things expected of him, without grumbling or questioning the way things stand in the town of Oothangbart. But he’s also a fellow with a secret yearning, a quiet curiosity about the world beyond the town’s gates, and a tendency to daydream without meaning too.

And in a place like Oothangbart, all these things spell trouble.

In Oothangbart: A Subversive Fable For Adults and Bears, Rebecca Lloyd has created a world that seems both fairytale perfect and disturbingly controlled. Rules include ‘No slumping or giving the appearance of dejection.’ The greatest insult is to be referred to as “an irregular fellow”. The jobs carried out by the majority of citizens are stultifying dull and even pointless. Indeed, pointless seems to be the key word here, as notable citizens – the top fellows – are allowed privileged access to The Escalator that goes nowhere but up to a flight of steps they then need to climb back down. The exercise seems full of pomposity, yet utterly pointless.

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Anthropomorphic metaphors

Mermaid by Simon Tozer

Mermaid by Simon Tozer

The first time I laid eyes on the screen prints of Simon Tozer, I couldn’t help but laugh aloud. There’s a quiet joy in his artwork that I find irresistible, as his characters appear to ramble through lives far more colourful than our own.

“I was encouraged to draw by my parents early on,” he remembers. “I think art became an important thing for me as a teenager. At the time I wanted to design album covers and the covers for science fiction novels. When I started an Arts Foundation course, I felt more comfortable with the confused artists rather than the technically skilled and apparently very organised graphic designers.”

Simon focused on painting while studying for a Bachelor of Arts. “After college l moved to Oxford and spent a very unhappy and lonely year working as a gardener and trying to be a painter,” he says.

He soon gave up and got “a normal job”, but the desire to make art remained within him and years later he signed up for evening classes at the Oxford Printmakers Co-operative. “Partly I liked it because of the friendly other printmakers, but I also realised that I liked drawing more than painting, and print is all about drawing,” he says. “Also, I liked the constraints of print. Painting always felt like an amorphous activity where you can keep changing what you are painting constantly, and there is never a clear point where the picture is finished.”

Love Calls by Simon Tozer

Love Calls by Simon Tozer

I love the way Simon’s prints resemble scenes in stories, or, stills in quirkily appealing animations. However, he says, his main inspirations are works of art.

“There is a quality of artlessness in some artists’ work which l find inspiring, and energy – energy seems very inspiring,” he comments. “Sometimes it’s subtle like Morandi’s paintings, and sometimes not like Lucien Freud’s. There is a contemporary artist and illustrator called Johnny Hannah who is very inspiring for this quality.”

Quotes can be inspiring as well. “On my studio wall l have a quote from Grayson Perry which goes something like ‘Ideas are like furry creatures, you’ve got to be nice to the first one that comes along, or the others may not come out of the undergrowth.’”

Simon mentions on his website that he tries “to illustrate human dreams, fears and frailties.” I ask him how his subjects, such as vehicles and bears, help him to achieves this.

“There is a lot of visual metaphor in my pictures, and also a lot of anthropomorphism, so animals and cars are usually really people in another guise,” he says, “For instance in the car pictures, each car is an emotion or an anxiety, and the idea is that they are all in one persons head, in an emotional demolition derby, bashing into each other and causing chaos.”

He adds: “With image of animals there is an extra element, which is that animals don’t speak, and usually pictures don’t speak either, but both have their ways of communicating.”

Perhaps that’s why many of his works seem to me to reveal a kind of wry, faintly melancholy humour, which is often most visible in the eyes of viewers drawn into the scene. For example, the small owl watching a sorrowful bear contemplate his furry face in Unwanted Hair, or the child staring, apparently aghast, from beneath his umbrella as a woman strides by in her cozzie, in Swimming Club.

Swimming Club by Simon Tozer

Swimming Club by Simon Tozer

There’s something about Simon’s prints that opens up conversations – they make you want to smile and share your discovery with other people, not to mention discuss what the rest of the story might be. For Simon, however, the delight is far more visceral.

“I am grateful be able to have the creative freedom to explore my imagination,” he says, “and make something tangible from it, and to be able to work with my hands.”

You can see more of Simon’s work at simontozer.co.uk. His print Mermaid, which originally caught my attention, is on show as part of the 164th RWA Annual Open Exhibition, which is on until 27th November 2016.

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 – fisher

Pendine Beach fisher cr Judy DarleyI spied this fisherman on the beach at Pendine near Laugharne. At least, I assume he’s a fisherman, although I never saw him make any visible attempt to catch a fish.

Pendine Beach fisher cr Judy Darley

As the tide swept in, he backed away from the waves. In fact, it was almost as though he was only pretending to fish, while surreptitiously awaiting the start of some momentous sea-borne event.

What do you think might be happening here?

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.

A retreat in Laugharne

Taf Etsuary, Laugharne cr Judy DarleyWhile others seek winter sun (and yes, I’m tempted), I often find myself drawn to the more secluded places, the out-of-season contemplative corners where mist and moss hang from the trees and the only sound may be the distant waterfall of a curlew’s call.

Laugharne in Carmarthenshire, Wales, on the estuary of the River Taf, is one such place. I had the chance to spend four foggy, magical days there in Spring 2012, and returned there this November.

Laugharne signpost cr Judy Darley

Home to poet Dylan Thomas for the last four years of his life (he died in 1953), Laugharne is the perfect spot to squirrel yourself away for plenty of thinking space and glorious views.

With my family, I stayed at the Season’s resort situated on the hill there, in a self-catering cottage with views over the Taf Estuary and the village rumoured to have been the starting point for the fictional Llareggub in Dylan’s Under Milk Wood. Although the invented name looks genuine enough for that area of Wales, if you reverse it you’ll discover the words bugger all, which tells you everything you need to know about this peaceful retreat.

Milk Wood, Laugharne cr Judy Darley

Ironically, Dylan’s time there has resulted in a number of attractions to visit and influxes of literary minded tourists in high summer, but at this time of year the majority of the visitors are wading birds, searching the estuary’s shallows for molluscs.

Dylan's Walk cr Judy Darley

Just along a little forest track from the resort, called Dylan’s Walk (and decorated lavishly with the afore-mention mist and moss hung trees), you’ll find Dylan’s writing shed, where you can peer in through the glass-panelled door and see it just as he left it, with a jacket hung over the back of his chair and bottles, books, paper and other ephemera littering the desk and shelves. I think it looks as though he’s nipped out for a moment’s think, and is standing somewhere nearby staring out at the Taf and swilling words around his mouth.

Dylan Thomas writing shed cr Judy Darley

A short way beyond this, you’ll find the Dylan Thomas Boathouse where he lived with his family, and now a museum. It’s a lovely building, with a cute café so you can pause for a coffee and a ponder. The Boathouse is also a great place for a spot of word bombing, as I did in 2012!

Boathouse word bomb cr Judy Darley

Boathouse word bomb cr Judy Darley1







A few minutes walk in the other direction leads to the village past the dramatic ruined Laugharne castle, which apparently boasts a summerhouse where Dylan used to write – presumably when he needed a very slight change of view. He described the castle as “Brown as owls” in his Poem in October.

Laugharne Castle cr Judy Darley

He was also known for frequenting Brown’s Hotel, which still thrives today – apparently his routine was to write at his shed in the mornings and then head to Brown’s in the afternoons, where he could drink beer as he wrote. According to the hotel’s website, he said he liked to “moulder” in the corner facing the entrance as he worked. Back then it was known simply as a bar with room, but now it’s a luxury boutique hotel – ideal for a romantic hideaway.

Dylan Thomas grave cr Judy Darley

If you head inland from Dylan’s writing shed, you’ll eventually reach St. Martin’s Church, where Dylan Thomas’ grave is marked by a plain white cross with exquisitely curly lettering. The name of his wife, Caitlin, adorns the other side as she’s buried with him. It looks like they’re finally achieving the marital harmony in death that eluded them in life!

Tenby cr Judy Darley

Further afield there are plenty of diversions. On our previous visit, we spent a pleasant day visiting the pretty harbour town of Tenby (above), and this time we went to Carmarthen and Pendine Beach, and called in at the excellent National Botanical Garden of Wales – another perfectly tranquil spot – on our way back to England.

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Writing prompt – exodus

Prague tram cr Judy DarleyThe politics of recent times has made many people dream of escape. This photo taken in Prague some years back shows a tram, taxi, cars and people crossing a bridge, which all seems suitably symbolic.

Imagine a scenario (there are plenty of real ones to draw from) where people leave a place en masse.

What might they be fleeing? Where will they go? And what will they find when they arrive?

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.

Invent your own interior

AzurArt Studio loungeWith things taking a turn for the worse recently, I’m increasing impelled to retreat into my own imagination and, frankly, pretend this isn’t happening. In my head I can surround myself with things I find beautiful and quietly edit out anything that scares me. I know it’s not real, but that doesn’t make it any less enticing.

Artist Nadia D Manning has come up with a rather more tangible solution. Okay, she can’t undo the judgements and votes of others, but she can make your surroundings far more appealing.

AzurArt Studio notebook

Working in collaboration with her aunt Svetlana Condé in Prague, as well as a creative array of artists and designers, Nadia’s aim is to dream up artwork that can brighten up every part of your life, home, and business, from gorgeous rugs and wallpapers to crockery and even clothing.

AzurArt Studio t-shirt

“At AzurArt Studio we would like to encourage every person to explore and discover their unique style of living, surrounded by art,” says Nadia. “Our spectrum of creative services is broad and our aim is to work with people to design the personalised living or work space which will best inspire their own creative potential.”

AzurArt Studio sneaker

Quite simply, every part of your living and working environment can be ‘made to measure’ your individual style. What a great way to ensure a positive mindset and give your ideas the space to run free! This is interior design in the most extreme sense of the term.

Find out more here www.azurartstudio.com/projects

AzurArt Studio bedroom

Writing prompt – tea cards

Tea cardsI found these vintage tea cards at a recent yard sale. The tiny rectangles offer up wonderfully retro works of art, each one of which could serve as a stand-alone writing prompt.

I invite you to write a piece inspired by one of these, or by the thought of a full set of tea cards, painstakingly sought out and saved. Can you build up an idea of the person who collected them, their traits and hopes? What significance might the cards have held for them?

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 add drama to your writing

Gigi and The Cat by ColetteI recently read The Cat by French novelist Colette. Now, Colette was no slouch when it came to seeding her stories with escalating tension. Nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, Colette’s most renowned work is the novella Gigi, but for me The Cat far surpasses that tale.

It begins slowly enough with our introductions to Alain and his fiancée Camille; Alain’s beloved rescue cat Saha in the background. As the narrative progresses, Alain’s resentment of Camille’s position in his life deepens. The wedding takes place off-screen, hinting at how little significance this change in circumstance holds for Alain.

The newly weds move in together and muddle along relatively all right, until Alain brings Saha to share their temporary home.

The home, leant by a friend, is in a tall, skinny building the unhappy couple refers to as The Wedge. Their apartment is nine storeys up, and Saha quickly develops a tendency to sit “washing herself at length on the parapet” above the sheer drop.

Initially this behaviour terrifies Camille, but jealousy is a dark and unpredictable thing. Alain’s love-making is “hurried” and “peevish”, while he reserves all his warmth and affection for Saha.

In the first pages of chapter eight, Camille’s thwarted dreams of wedded bliss crack through to the surface. While Alain is out, she and Saha “were resting on the same parapet”, providing Colette with the perfect setting for a truly dramatic scene. “They exchanged a glance of sheer mutual investigation and Camille did not say a word to Saha.”

Instead, Camille behaves as if Saha is not there, perhaps pretending to herself that her “rival” truly does not exist. Yawning, stretching and pacing, she impels the cat to move endlessly, over and over, in the small space they inhabit high above the ground.

After a few near misses, “the cat was looking at Camille’s back and her breath came faster. She got up, turned two or three times on her own axis and looked questioningly at the closed door. Camille had not moved. Saha inflamed her nostrils and showed a distress that was almost like nausea. A long desolate mew escaped from her, the wretched reply to a silent, imminent threat. Camille faced round abruptly.”

As Camille strides to and fro, Saha has continually to dodge her feet to avoid being kicked, or trodden on. Rhythmically, the torture continues, with Camille feigning ignorance while forcing Saha to leap onto the parapet and back to the balcony floor to save herself, again and again.

And, as in any great drama, it is just as Camille is distracted and Saha has a chance to relax that the scene reaches its breathtaking climax.

My copy of The Cat by Colette is part of a volume published by Vintage in 2001, which also contains the novella Gigi. Buy it from Amazon.

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)socketcreative.com.

Natural wonders illustrated

Clent Hares by Shelly PerkinsFor illustrator Shelly Perkins, the natural world is full of small wonders. While otters or hares may take centre stage, every leaf, snail shell or length of seeding grass adds a swirl of beauty to her canvas, and reminds us of the wealth of life in every corner of woodland, field and river.

“My work is all influences by my love of the outdoors,” says Shelly, “I spend a lot of time in the countryside, out walking the dog, riding my horse and running. I see the British landscape in all shades of colour and seasons and I am constantly getting inspiration from it.”

Increasingly her work has been influenced by travels. “My husband and I are keen wildlife enthusiasts and love travelling abroad and seeing animals in their natural homes,” she says. “Our trips recently have included the Okavango Delta, Namib Desert and Yellowstone national park, all wonderful places for getting inspiration for wildlife pieces.”

In fact, Shelly’s enthusiasm for drawing animals hasn’t wavered since childhood.

“I have always loved to draw,” she says. “I spent hours drawing after school, on weekends and school holidays and nurtured the art of drawing from a young age. Those early years spent mastering getting a horse’s hocks right or the lie of hair on a cats face have been very important to my drawing style now. I always tell anyone who asks me for tips on becoming an artist that practise makes perfect!”

Mallard by Shelly Perkins

Mallard by Shelly Perkins

Shelly accepts commercial illustration jobs from magazines, as well as from organisations such as the national Trust, RSPB and WWF. “I am fortunate that I have now become known as a wildlife artist and as a result I get clients who commission the sort of work that I enjoy creating!” she says. “Commercial jobs are always challenging for different reasons – often deadlines are tight and clients may want a lot of input into what the illustration will include. Frequently I’m expected to represent a variety of species very accurately, which can be a challenge as I tend to create looser freer work when I’m creating work for my own portfolio.”

Otters by Shelly Perkins

Otters by Shelly Perkins

Shelly begins a work of art by creating rough sketches “to get a feel for the composition that I want to achieve, I tend to sketch out my idea for the composition fairly small and may make several rough drawings of the same idea until I get a feeling for the movement I want to achieve through the piece.”

For the final drawing, Shelly works with HB pencils onto thick smooth paper, and warns: “Timid lines will be lost in the scanning process if they are too weak, but it’s important to have a balance in the depth of line to make it look flowing and varied, I try to use a rubber as little as possible and to keep the pencil really sharp at all times.”

She splits the artwork into three groups: “the main characters, the background landscape and the flowers, foliage and trees that are prominent in the piece. Each drawing is finished to a high standard line drawing with details like the way the fur lies, the bark on a tree and the veins on a leaf all being included.”

Colourwashes and textures give each illustration a lively, graceful finish, offering the sense of that magical moment when you glimpse a wild creature for a moment, before it disappears into the undergrowth.

Wild_Roses by Shelly Perkins

Wild Roses by Shelly Perkins

“I love that each of my days as an artist are different,” Shelly says. “Sometimes I’m out and about visiting wildlife reserves or visiting galleries, sometimes I’m dealing with framers or suppliers or sometimes I’m just tucked away on my own creating my work. It’s a very diverse role and you have to be very proactive to keep lots of plates spinning!”

You can see Shelly’s artwork at galleries throughout the UK. Find details at www.shellyperkins.co.uk.

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.