Writing prompt – mapped


Sarajevo escape map 1996 © Miran Norderland

I have a bit of an obsession with maps – with their beauty and their audacity, and the idea of all the people and terrains they represent.

But until recently I had no idea that the British Library shares my passion. They have one of the largest collections of maps, plans and topographical views in the world, numbering some 4.5 million, with a chronological spread of over 2,000 years.

Pretty mind-boggling.

Harry Beck tube map sketch 1931 cr Victoria and Albert Museum 1931

Harry Beck tube map sketch 1931 cr Victoria and Albert Museum 1931

From now until 1st March 2017, you can visit their exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line, showcasing marvels ranging from an early sketch for the London tube map dating from 1931 to a Russian moon globe. Pore over the first map of A A Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood, or fantasise about traipsing off in a rather exquisite dress made from World War II escape maps printed on silk.

Detail of dress made from silk escape maps. On-loan from Worthing Museum. Photo by Clare Kendall.

Detail of dress made from silk escape maps. On-loan from Worthing Museum. Photo by Clare Kendall.

There are also insights into how maps have shaped the way we understand the world. The possibilities for story ideas are limitless.

Find full details of the exhibition at www.bl.uk.

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 might publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Theatre reviews – Bristol Old Vic Christmas shows 2017

The Snow Queen and Boffin Goblin (Joanna Holden). Photo by Mark Douet

The Snow Queen and Boffin Goblin (Joanna Holden). Photo by Mark Douet

Bristol Old Vic has been undergoing a lot of changes in its 250th anniversary year. A mammoth building and restoration project has put its smaller studio theatre out of action and rendered backstage front of house. And yet, none of this matters – they’ve found ways to keep the smaller productions going by forging relationships with venues throughout the city, and the creativity is as vivid and original as ever.

Jesse Meadows as Little Tim. Photo by Jack Offord

Jesse Meadows as Little Tim. Photo by Jack Offord

Take their festive rendition for under-sevens. Little Tim and The Brave Sea Captain is a joyfully rambunctious performance staged at The Lantern at Colston Hall. Based on the book by Edward Ardizzone, it’s a Bristol Old Vic and homegrown talent The Wardrobe Ensemble co-production, this is a mariner’s tale of huge imagination, beginning with a small boy in a bathtub playing with his toy ship and fish.

Tim, played with brilliant conviction by Jesse Meadows, is obsessed with the sea and soon finds a way to pursue his nautical dreams. Emily Greenslade, Kerry Lovell and Ben Vardy play an assortment of characters including rowdy sailors, a stern but fearless sea captain, and a multitude of magical sea creatures, all engaging their young audience to marvel at the scenes before them, and get involved as much as possible.

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain. Photo by Jack Offord

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain. Photo by Jack Offord

By the end of the hour-long show, we all had our sea legs and were qualified sailors. What more could you want at Christmas time?

The second show of the season, for ages seven and up, is The Snow Queen, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale and directed by Lee Lyford.

Steven Roberts as Kai and Emily Burnett as Gerda) with Zara Ramm. Photo by Mark Douet

Steven Roberts as Kai and Emily Burnett as Gerda) with Zara Ramm. Photo by Mark Douet

This enchanting story focuses on two friends, Kai (Steven Roberts) and Gerda (Emily Burnett). When the Snow Queen (voiced by Gwyneth Herbert) charges her goblin army with stealing naughty children so she can feast on their bad moods, Kai and Gerda are soon the only kids left in their village. Then Kai is taken, and it’s up to Gerda to save her friend, and in the process, the whole world from an eternal winter.

Along the way she meets an extraordinary array of characters, from the flamboyant Flower Witch (Miltos Yerolemou on spectacular form) to Olive Owl (Joanna Holden) and Marty Magpie (Zara Ramm). There are moments of darkness and fear – the Snow Queen puppet is a giant skeletal being, and when she leant over the stage to sniff the audience to check for children, I was glad to not to be sitting in the front row! These are tempered by lashings of colour, laughter and magic – a cast of talking flowers and a reindeer who does an fabulous Morrissey impression are just a few of the treats on offer.

In a cast of only ten, including musicians, there was plenty of doubling up, so that most played three or four characters and the final curtain call felt shockingly small. The breadth of talent was wonderful, backed up by a wonderfully nuanced script by Vivienne Franzman that ensured every individual had their own preoccupations wavering in the background, adding layers of interest and believability.

Emily Burnett as Gerda. Photo by Mark Douet

Emily Burnett as Gerda. Photo by Mark Douet

The moral at the heart of the tale, about accepting and loving others as they are, was presented lightly enough to be absorbed with ease, without ever detracting from the delight of the performance. Lighting and projection by Richard Howell and Will Duke transformed the set while presenting the illusion of scale, especially humorously in flight scenes when the cast often ran on the spot while projections on the scenery moved around them.

As in any grand theatrical production, the team behind the scenes far outnumbers those on stage, ensuring every moment was full of life, atmosphere and emotion. A hugely enjoyable show with a fantastically strong heart.

The Snow Queen is at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until 15th January 2017.
 Little Tim and The Brave Sea Captain is on until 8th January 2017. 
Find out more at www.bristololdvic.org.uk.

I’m always 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 – journey

Basque country coastal walk by Judy DarleyThe journey has long been a staple of storytelling. You give a character a mission, send them off on their way, stick a few obstacles in their path and see what happens.

In a recent story, The Daughters, I sent two sisters off on a journey I’d taken myself, into the rural reaches of Spain’s Basque Country. The setting gave me a backdrop for two very different women to come to terms with their relationship, while tasking them with solving the riddle of how to reach a particular beach from the clifftops they were walking along.

That area is on the fringe of the Camino de Santiago, making it ideal for a fictional pilgrimage. You can read the story at www.litro.co.uk/2016/12/the-daughters/

Think of a journey you could send your own characters on and how it might change them, however subtly.

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.

Free up your creativity

Paledrips painting by Sara Easby

Paledrips by Sara Easby – www.sara-easby.com

I’m a great believer in the energy we can derive from creative mediums other than our own. My comfort zone is writing – spooling words together to create stories, narratives, or images in the mind. It fires me up and helps me make sense of the world.

Listening to music can influence this, while baking or any kind of physical activity, from running to dances, makes ideas pop in my mind like mustard seeds in a pan of hot oil. And art has been the starting point of many of my creative written works.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been moved to dabble in making my own art – splashing a bit of paint around or doodling scenes as they form in my head. I’ve begun attempting to draw the views in front of me, or focus on small still lives, in an attempt to get my body to wake up the muscle memory laid down when I drew and painted copiously as a teenager.

But it’s been so many years since I last took an art class. Or at least, it had been.

Last Tuesday I strolled over to the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bedminster to see Sara Easby‘s BRÆTT (MELT) exhibition, inspired by Iceland. The work was raw, elemental, and enthralling. I wanted to know how to capture emotions the page as she does.

Then I discovered that the very next morning she was due to teach an art class at the gallery. I sent her an email and she promised to squeeze me in.

What a wonderful experience. Two hours of freedom to ink, paint, glue, scrape and create.

Artwork by Judy Darley

It connected me to my emotions in a way that reached beyond words – such a liberating change! Creative writing cannot exist in a vacuum – we need to experience life and part of that is to experience art. As enjoyable and moving as it can be to view it, to make it is far more vigorously inspiring.

It doesn’t have to be visual art, of course. You could learn to play the drums, or take up ballet, join a stitch and bitch group or even enrol in a Spanish language class. All these things exercise parts of the creative mind that writing along cannot reach.

To get you started, Sara is co-hosting an Art and Writing Workshop on 10th December from 10am till 4pm with Nigel Gibbons. “This will be a chance to enjoy both creative forms, exploring these two ways of working, and allowing them to interact,” says Sara. “The aim will be to enjoy a space to be creative. No previous skills or experience necessary.”

There is a charge of £20, which includes some art materials. For more details, or to book a place, contact Sara on sara@sara-easby.com or Nigel on 077 40 200 991. The venue is Cotham Parish Church Hall, Cotham Road, Bristol, BS6 6DR.

Who knows what riches it will help you to unearth in your future literary works?

A different way of looking

Up the wall by Annie Coxey

Up The Wall by Annie Coxey

Annie Coxey’s abstract artworks ripple with unstated emotions. Colours and textures nestle together to become aerial landscapes, underwater explorations or extreme close up of natural phenomena.

Becoming an artist, she says, “was a slow burner. At school I enjoyed art, but never really shone. I trained as a staff nurse and had three children, looking after them while working part time at the local hospital.”

All three of Annie’s offspring have special educational needs, which required a lot of Annie’s energy when they were small.

“When my youngest child was two years old and I was 35, I became ill with an overactive thyroid,” she says. “It took the doctors a long time to diagnose me and by then I’d lost a lot of weight and I had to go on medication to regulate my heart. So I took time out and resigned from my job and signed up for an art course on a whim.”

Annie was fortunate to have a very inspirational teacher “who opened my eyes.”

Soon afterwards, Annie signed up to do a degree at Cheltenham School of Art. “I had an amazing experience over the next three years and learnt so much about art, painting and also the philosophy of Art,” she says. “I also discovered I was dyslexic, which I had long suspected and this too made me discover so much about myself. A whole new world opened up to me and there was no going back – I couldn’t get enough of all the things I was learning about.”

Ever since, Annie has developed her practise as a painter and continues to learn. “I teach and also work in a college as an Art Technician, which I love, and I have a studio I manage to get to two days a week.”

Her preoccupations include “the balance between ‘the happy accident’ – control is something I do to push boundaries with in my work. It involves risk taking and exciting moments with the materials I use. I like to use materials in an unconventional way.”

She is adept at using collage, “particularly dress making patterns which remind me of the symbols on maps.”

Other favourite techniques include mark making, “and materials such as resin, inks and paints. I believe strongly that risks have to be taken and as an artist you need to be working outside your comfort zone. It needs to be scary and a rollercoaster of pleasure and pain!”

From Above by Annie Coxey

From Above by Annie Coxey

She adds that it’s also important “to be acutely aware what is happening with the work and to actually ‘see’ the magic moments as they happen.” This is where the control element comes in, to identify what needs to be kept and what needs to change in order to prevent Annie’s works becoming “a messy mix of materials on the canvas. Some paintings are resolved in weeks, others take months and months of work.”

Annie recognises that her ideas of shape and colour have evolved over the last 15 years. “I have an intuitive feeling for what looks ‘right’ and is an exciting combination.” She attributes this skill at least in part to her dyslexia. “ One of the perks of being dyslexic is the ability to think outside the box, problem solve and also to know visually what works,” she explains. “Due to the fact I’m using layers with paint, collage and resin, I’m able to experiment – knocking it back and adding new layers as I go.”

The real and imagined worlds collaborate in Annie’s creations. “I gather a great deal of inspiration from the Cumbria landscape around me,” she says. “However, I never work directly from photos or sketches. I don’t know what the work will look like when I start – it develops and becomes a conversation between myself and the painting.”

A fascination with maps, textures and layers all add interest and curiosities that draw the viewer in. “At the moment many of my paintings have developed from my sketches and photos taken around the time of the floods in Cumbria,” she says. “I have been interested by the changes in the landscape by the floods and the flood debris that is still evident.”

Flood Debris by Annie Coxley

Flood Debris by Annie Coxley

Annie relishes the mix “between working as an artist and working with young people at college.”

The ups, and even the downs, of making the work in the studio can be equally enjoyable. “I love the feeling I get when exciting things happen in studio.”

And all the other aspects of being an artist feed into Annie’s pleasures derived from looking, learning and developing her abilities. “I love lots of the things I do that make me an artist – visiting exhibitions, doing workshops with artists I admire, sketching in the landscape and reading articles and books.”

Annie is beginning to look beyond Cumbria and the North West of England too. “This summer I went to Italy on a residency which was an amazing experience,’ she says. “I was inspired by the landscape in Italy and enjoyed working alongside other international artists. The studio I worked in had the most fantastic view and it was wonderful to only have to think about working as an artist every day and nothing else.”

More recently she visited Art Fair Cologne “with all my paintings in my car boot – this is very new for me and is both scary and exciting! I feel I am at the stage now where I’m more confident about my work, what I do and why I do it.”

You can see more of Annie’s work at anniecoxeyartist.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.