An artist’s eyes

Casely-Hayford for Tate Britain Great British Walks

Casely-Hayford for Tate Britain’s Great British Walks

I’m a fan of telly channel Sky Arts, and the wonderfully engaging ways they come up with to excite audiences with a love of fine art.

Their latest offering, Tate Britain’s Great British Walks, invites half a dozen celebrities to discover the landscapes that inspired their favourite paintings, chosen from Tate’s national collection.

Flatford Mill by John Constable

Flatford Mill by John Constable

Taking part are Richard E Grant, Michael Sheen, Cerys Matthews, Miriam Margolyes, Danny Baker and Simon Callow, with artwork by John Constable, JMW Turner, William Hogarth, Alfred Wallis, William Powell Frith and Josef Herman revealing some of the UK’s most impressive scenery, from the bucolic to the squalid to the enchanting.

Norham Castle by JMW Turner, chosen by Cerys Matthews

Norham Castle by JMW Turner, chosen by Cerys Matthews

Singer, songwriter and broadcaster Cerys Matthews shares her love of Turner’s more tranquil works, as she heads to the Scottish Borders to discover the majestic Norham Castle, painted by Turner in 1798.

Along the way, art historian Gus Casely-Hayford joins the guests to reveal the stories behind and around their chosen paintings.

“I thought I knew Britain, but seeing it through an artist’s eyes was like seeing it for the very first time,” says Gus. “Stepping into worlds created by some of our greatest landscape painters and walking the very paths that they once trod has changed the way that I feel about our country.”

The Derby Day by William Powell Frith

The Derby Day by William Powell Frith

I love the idea of rediscovering familiar paintings and scenery in this visceral way beyond the art gallery’s walls, and of glimpsing insights into the actors and broadcasters who have selected them.

Tate Britain’s Great British Walks will screen in six one-hour episodes from 2nd May 2017 at 9pm on Sky Arts.

Writing prompt – alone

Old man and pigeons by Judy DarleyWhile looking after my nephew recently, we visited a local park. An old man was minding his own business feeding pigeons and squirrels from a carrier bag of monkey nuts.

My nephew wanted to make friends with him and help feed the wildlife, but it was clear the gentleman wanted only to be left alone. I got the impression this is something he does every Saturday, or perhaps every day, and that it is a source of rare pleasure to him.

I also had the sense he prefers animals to humans and has perhaps learnt to be wary of people. It made me wonder what his story is, whether he lives alone, or may even be homeless. How did he come to be like this? What might happen if a child insisted on befriending him?

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.

Witches of Scotland

Agnes Finnie and Witch Pricker at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, characters in the Edinburgh Dungeon Witch Hunt tour_Nick Mailer Photography

Agnes Finnie and Witch Pricker, characters in the Edinburgh Dungeon Witch Hunt tour © Nick Mailer Photography

Few things beat a good ghost story for making your skin crawl, and a dead witch has to be among the spookier ideas.

This year marks the 420th anniversary of Scotland’s Great Witch Hunt, and the country is going all out to seriously send chills down our spines with a series of events marking this dastardly episode.

The Great Witch Hunt of Scotland took place between March and October 1597, instigated by James VI. According to the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, more than 3,800 people, both men and women, were accused of witchcraft in Scotland during the period 1563 to 1736, which is when the Witchcraft Act was enforced in Scotland*. It’s believed that two-thirds of those accused were executed.

Discover this shady period and source inspiration for your own dark tales by visiting some of the key locations.

From the Witches Well at Castlehill in Edinburgh to monuments and rock formations attributed to witchcraft, there’s plenty to fire you up.

I’m intrigued by the revelation that the seaside town North Berwick was the setting for Scotland’s first mass witch trial, on 31 October 1590. Used to get rid of anyone who made the crown uneasy, accused witches from across Edinburgh and the Lothians were accused of attempting to prevent James VI bring his prospective bride home from Denmark through rituals such as throwing a cat into the sea. Almost all of the accused were tortured into confessing witchcraft, with the ‘Devil’s mark’ apparently found on their necks.

Then there’s the sculpture of Helen Duncan at Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum. Helen Duncan was the last person in Britain to be prosecuted as a witch, but this was far more recent than seems palatable. Born in Callander in 1897, was eventually tried at the Old Bailey in London in 1944, after scaring folks at the séances she held through Britain. On the night of 19th January 1944, one of Helen’s séances in Portsmouth was raided by police. Disturbingly, officers failed to stop the ectoplasm issuing from Helen’s mouth! After some order had been restored, Helen was formally arrested, and eventually brought to trial at the Old Bailey in London.

Equally unsettling is the memorial at Maxwellton Cross in Paisley, where a circle of cobblestones surrounds a steel horseshoe centered within a modest bronze plaque. Located in the middle of a busy intersection, it may not seem like much at first glance, but actually marks the final resting place of seven people put to death on charges of witchcraft. All seven bodies were burned, and the ashes buried at Maxwellton Cross, where the intersection of Maxwellton Street and George Street now stands.

Finally, don’t miss the Witch Hunt tours at Edinburgh Dungeon.

According to records, Agnes Finnie was one of Edinburgh’s most infamous witches. She reportedly lived in the Potterrow Port area of the city and was convicted of Witchcraft in 1644 with a total of 20 charges made against her.

Evidence of her dark magic include a retaliation to a young boy calling her names. Agnes publically cursed him, and within 24 hours he had completely lost the use of his left side and became bedridden with “so incurable a disease” that one week later, he was dead.

You can find out all about Agnes at the Edinburgh Dungeon Witch Hunt’s interactive tour, and even discover if you would be accused of being a witch yourself! If you happen to be a creative writer or artist, then I’m thinking the answer is probably yes.

Art in motion

Art On The Run credit TenEight and Wild Rumpus CIC

© TenEight

Looking for something fun, creative and energetic to get your teeth (and feet) into? Wild Rumpus (producers of the award-winning Just So Festival and last year’s A Day At The Lake Festival) and Forestry Commission England have joined forces to present a brand new kind of fun run this May.

Art On The Run offers the chance to combine a passion for the arts, woodlands and exercising outdoors in a comical dash like no other.

Art On The Run credit Mark Carline and Wild Rumpus CIC

© Mark Carline

Those brave or wild enough to take part will enjoy a 5k hurtle through a beautiful, Forestry Commission managed landscape encountering surprising and fantastical large-scale art installations along the route. “Expect the unexpected to help you on your way,” says Wild Rumpus co-director Sarah Bird. “Look out for eccentric warm ups in advance, then race, run, scamper, chase, sprint, scurry, bound, dart, canter, gallop, jog, scuttle, trot or walk.”

Once you’ve crossed the finish line you can join in some revelry and dancing amid a soundscape of footstomping musicians. It’s idea for those spilling over with beans and eagerly imaginative.

Art On The Run cr Wild Rumpus CIC

© Wild Rumpus CIC

“We love running, we love music, we love art and we love exploring forests, so we put all this together to create a new event,” says Wild Rumpus’ other co-direct Rowan Hoban. “We’re thrilled to have found such a beautiful and inspiring site to host our first ever Art On the Run.”

Art on the Run takes place at Drinkwater Park, Prestwich, Greater Manchester on 11am, Sunday 21st May 2017. Tickets cost £20 for adults and £10 for children.

Find full information and book tickets at www.artontherun.org.uk. Please note that tickets will not be available to purchase on the day.

Follow @_wildrumpus and www.facebook.com/wildrumpuscic.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at Judy(at)socket creative(dot)com.

The intrinsic beauty of glass

Fallen Leaves by Simon Alderson

Fallen Leaves by Simon Alderson

Shards of diffused light bring boiled sweets and glimmering beetle casings to mind as you glance over glasswork created by Simon Alderson. Describing himself as “a designer/maker specialising in stained and fused glass”, his love of craftsmanship only flourished after he understood the potential of his artistic urges.

“I loved drawing and painting when I was growing up, so I was always going to follow some sort of creative path,” he says, “but it wasn’t until I got to art college that I realised the numerous options that could take! It’s the practical ‘hands on’ making that I loved the most.”

Splash - in construction by Simon Alderson

Splash – in construction by Simon Alderson

He admits that he’s always had a passion for stained glass. “One of my favourite places is Durham Cathedral,” he says. “I could spend hours staring at Tom Denny’s Transfiguration window. During a gap year after college I took some evening classes in stained glass, and another in ceramics.”

Simon’s ceramics tutor recommended a look at Sunderland University Glass and Ceramics department.

“From there I just fell in love with the material! Glass has an intrinsic beauty and has endless possibilities of manipulation, both hot and cold.”

The Butterfly Effect by Simon Alderson

The Butterfly Effect by Simon Alderson

There are challenges in chooses to work with such a fragile material, however.

“Glass can be a tricky medium, temperamental at times!” Simon exclaims. “One of the greatest pleasures is opening the kiln with that slight flutter of butterflies in your tummy at what awaits inside. Exploring and mastering new techniques, and learning from the mistakes and mishaps along the way is all part of it.”

Arcadia commission by Simon Alderson

Arcadia commission by Simon Alderson

Inspiration arrives in all forms. “At university I did a lot of autobiographical work,” he comments, “and nature provides a constant wealth of possibilities.  My current line of work is about letting the glass itself inspire me through colour and shape.”

Simon has spent the last couple of years exploring the medium, “experimenting and mastering different techniques with in kiln forming. Sometimes I find just letting the glass speak for itself works best, harnessing the flow, and letting one piece inform the next. With the pattern bar techniques I’ve currently been using you don’t really know what’s inside until you start cutting up the blocks of glass. Once open this then inspires the work, such as the piece Rorschach Spine (below).”

Rorschach Spine by Simon Alderson

Rorschach Spine by Simon Alderson

At the heart of it all is a delight in making.

“I just love being able to head into my studio and create,” he says. “I’m lucky to have such a great work space, and one of my greatest pleasures is sharing the love of glass through teaching – inspiring others to create and explore the versatile medium.”

Turquoise Rorschach by Simon Alderson

Turquoise Rorschach by Simon Alderson

Currently Simon is exhibiting work at Glass Designs Gallery on North Street in Bristol, and Bristol Handmade Glass, plus The Marlow Gallery up in Melbourne, Derbyshire. “I’ll be taking part in the Celebrations exhibition up in Stourbridge as part of the International Festival of Glass in August. And there are open studios in September and arts trails in October.”

Find full details at www.aldersonglass.com.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – curious

Child holds beetle cr Judy DarleySpend time with any young child and you’ll soon realise they’re overflowing with curiosity. Why is the sky blue? How does the moon stay up? Where do beetles fly away to? How does electricity work?

Instead of throwing your hands in the air with exhaustion (now, there’s a funny mental image), use one of these questions as the start of a story, trying to answer it in as elegant, funny or enchanting way as you can.

Why not?

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.

Enter the Tillie Olsen Short Story Award

Solive Winery, tractor cr Judy DarleyThe Tishman Review has launched a short story competition in honour of author Tillie Olsen.

“Olsen is one of our heroes,” says the magazine’s co-founder and prose editor Jennifer Porter. “She was born in 1912 on a tenant farm in Nebraska, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. Early in her life, she began crusading for worker rights, jailed for organising packinghouse workers and for participating in strikes. She continued working as an activist her entire life. (…) Olsen died at the age of 95 – a mother, grandmother, award-winning writer, feminist, and human rights and anti-war activist.”

Tell Me A Riddle by Tillie OlsenOlsen was the author of the short story collection Tell Me a Riddle and her story Requa I appeared in the publication Best American Short Stories 1971. She also wrote journalistic pieces from the 1930s about the struggle for economic justice.

Entries are invited of unpublished (including online and personal blogs) short stories not longer than 5,000 words in length. Manuscripts and file names must not contain any identifying information. Please double-space and paginate your entry. Please use only one space after a period.

All entries must be received through Submittable with the $15entry fee per story.

You may enter as many stories as they wish, but each one must be entered separately and with the $15.00 fee.

The closing date for entries is April 30th 2017.

The final judge is author Linda LeGarde Grover.

Contest winners will be announced on July 30th 2017. The winner will receive $500 and publication in the July issue of The Tishman Review.

All entrants will receive a one-year e-book subscription to The Tishman Review.

Find full details of the Tillie Olsen Short Story Award.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at Judy(at)socket creative(dot)com.

An insight into Indie Publishing

Novel nights at The Square ClubI’m a big fan of independent presses. Often small but perfectly formed, they often have the courage to publish authors without a proven track record, and discover exceptional writing talent.

Richard Jones, Tangent BooksThis month, Bristol’s premier literary salon Novel Nights welcomes Richard Jones from Tangent Books, to offer an overview of the Indie Publishing world.

Topics Richard will touch on include

  • Current trends in publishing
  • Opportunities for authors
  • Empowering writers

Sounds promising, doesn’t it? I’m happy to say I’ll be co-hosting for the evening, along with Novel Nights founder Grace Palmer.

As always, the night will open with quality readings from local up and coming authors. It takes place on Wednesday 26th April 2017 from 8pm till 10pm at The Square Club, 15 Berkeley Square, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1HB.

Find full details and book your tickets.

Find out how to submit your writing for upcoming Novel Nights.

Illuminated myths

Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

When visiting Cardiff recently, I happened to wander into the Wales Millennium Centre and discovered a mural of such imaginative beauty that it stopped me in my tracks. Emblazoned with tigers, dragons, foxes and more, it conjured up the sense of folk tales, myths and literature from a multitude of cultures.

The Dragons - Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

The Dragons – Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

When I got in touch with the artist, Florence Jackson, it became clear that this was no fluke.

“I remember as a child, my dad would read me bedtime stories including a lot of Roald Dahl books,” she says. “I loved the vivid imagery that came to mind and transport me to a different place, inviting me to take part in the adventure…”

Florence’s interest in illustration sprang from the same source. “Quentin Blake always stood out to me – his illustrations worked perfectly in sync with Roald Dahl’s words,” says Florence. “His fluid lines have always looked so effortless. I don’t really think I actively chose to be an artist; it was and always has been my way of communicating thoughts and ideas (and I have a lot of them!).”

Tiger - Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

Tiger – Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

She adds: “In the day to day, I’m always drawn to imagery and design, whether it’s some rice packaging at my local shop or a quirky poster in the underpass on my way to work, there’s always something visual that speaks to me.”

Florence regards illustration as “an all-encompassing art form, which allows you to work through any chosen medium. To me, it’s all about communicating ideas in a way that even people who ‘don’t really get art’ get. I don’t believe art should be exclusive.”

Kainotophobia by Florence Jackson

Kainotophobia by Florence Jackson

Florence found herself being directed towards illustration after studying Fashion & Textiles at Pembrokeshire College. “I much preferred designing and illustrating the garments than the creating part,” she admits. “Seams and hems were not my forte. When I went on to study illustration in university, I worked in photography, print, ceramics, paint… There were no boundaries. I really enjoyed this freedom of expression.”

Kraken by Florence Jackson

Kraken by Florence Jackson

I love the way Florence’s art often resembles scenes in stories, so it was no surprise to discover that her inspiration reaches beyond Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl.

“I was largely influenced by Eastern philosophy, Folk Art and Indian miniature paintings,” she says. “My projects don’t really have a beginning, middle and an end ­ they’re sort of an ongoing series that started when I first started drawing. I see everything as a story though, always wandering to myself where people at the bus stop are going. Do they live alone? Do they have a cat? Are they in love? I feel sort of obligated to make up stories for them.”

Kakorrhaphiophobia by Florence Jackson

Kakorrhaphiophobia by Florence Jackson

Florence’s commission for the Wales Millennium Centre come about when she was contacted by Lydia Meehan, the Centre’s arts and creative officer.

“Lydia had studied illustration in the year above me and had remembered my work,” says Florence. “Initially she’d spoken about doing something for the Diwali celebration, but instead it opened up into a winter theme.”

Winter Mural by Florence Jackson2

Winter Mural by Florence Jackson2

The main challenge was the sheer size of the piece, stretching a massive 8x5m sq. “I’m used to working on A3 sheets of paper normally!” Florence exclaims. “To be able to reach the space, I had to get a cherry-picker license, which was a pretty scary ordeal. I don’t even drive a normal car, so turning up to an industrial estate to navigate a seven-ton vehicle round some orange cones whilst elevated 10 meters in the air was pretty terrifying.”

Understanding when the artwork was complete was also difficult. “Knowing whether to add another tree or some more stars… It was difficult to walk away and say it was finally done.”

Winter Mural by Florence Jackson1

Winter Mural by Florence Jackson

The mural represents parallels between a wide range of winter-themed stories. “I wanted to look at the similarities within religious winter tales, such as Babushka, Diwali, Hanukah and Christmas,” says Florence. “Most involved a pilgrimage of some sort, often following a light towards warmth and shelter. This is what I wanted to convey – coming out from the cold dark night and into the warm festive spirit with people from all walks of life. I wanted to depict togetherness and safety, which I think is what we’re all looking for, especially when there seems to be so much conflict and uncertainty in the world.”

Florence considers art to simply be her means to live, eat and interpret the world.

“I still have to make money to pursue my artistic endeavors,” she says. “I think it’s just a way of seeing the world that makes things a little more magical, noticing small details that may otherwise be invisible, conjuring up fantasies of great escapes and adventures.  It’s just something I have to do, or need to do… it’s the language I speak best.”

Villains by Florence Jackson

Villains by Florence Jackson

Currently Florence is working on new material and focusing on freelance illustration, with new murals and a possible animation in the pipeline. You can find out more at florencejacksonillustration.tumblr.comwww.facebook.com/florencejacksonillustration and www.instagram.com/flow_illustrates

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – glimmer

Easter egg cr Judy DarleyA few weeks ago I was leaving my house, when I spotted a small foil-wrapped egg on the footpath. Intrigued, I picked it up, then put it in the bin. Days later, a glimmer of gold caught my eye and I found an identical egg nestled in the leaves of a dandelion like a small precious meteor.

#Writingprompt Where could these eggs have been coming from, and why? And more curiously, if they’re intended as Easter offerings, why were they appearing so early?

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.