Literary Heroes of Thanet

Botany Bay, Broadstairs - credit Thanet Tourism

Botany Bay, Broadstairs © Thanet Tourism

Ever noticed how certain places seem to attract more than their share of writers and artists? The eastern corner of England encompassed by Thanet has been pleasing inspiration-seekers for hundreds of years, making it a key location in VisitEngland’s year of Literary Heroes.

You might more readily associate Jane Austen with Bath, but actually Georgian Ramsgate captured the author’s imagination, moving her to write the poem Post Haste From Thanet, and providing a backdrop for flirtations between Mr Wickham and Georgiana Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, and between Tom Bertram and the younger Miss Sneyd “who was not out” in Mansfield Park. Scandal!

From JMW Turner to Tracey Emin, with George Morland and Vincent Van Gogh falling somewhere in between, artists too, have flocked here.

Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge loved to “Ramsgatize”, as he called it, seeking relief from his chronic ailments during a series of holidays between 1819 and 1833 – you’ll find a blue plaque where he stayed in Wellington Crescent.

Charles Dickens described Broadstairs as “the freshest, freest place.” TS Eliot came to Margate in 1921 to recuperate from a nervous breakdown, catching the tram each day to sit in the Victorian Nayland Rock promenade shelter, where he wrote lines that became part of The Waste Land.

Shell Grotto, Margate - credit Thanet Tourism

Shell Grotto, Margate © Thanet Tourism

And that’s not even the half of it. John Betjeman, Arthur Ransome, Wilkie Collins, Charles Lamb, George Eliot, Lewis Carroll (who visited Margate’s Shell Grotto in 1870, describing it as “a marvellous subterranean chamber” – see above), Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw, and Scarlet Pimpernel author Baroness Orczy, were all fans of Thanet and its seaside charms.

Literary Events 2017

Dickens Festival, Broadstairs, 17–23 June. From a Grande Parade featuring Queen Victoria in a horse-drawn carriage to Dickensian feasting and revelry, the festival is celebrating its 80th anniversary in style.

Ramsgate Festival, 22–30 July. Explore the town’s creative side, including theatre, music, talks and a writing competition and running alongside Ramsgate Week sailing regatta from 24–28 July. Throughout the summer, regular Ramsgate Costumed Walks offer a sense of the Regency town as Jane Austen knew it.

Margate Bookie, August 2017. Interactive sessions, workshops, talks and author readings aim to inspire you to read more and get involved in all levels of writing.

For more on Margate, Broadstairs, Ramsgate go to www.visitthanet.co.uk
Twitter and Instagram @VisitThanet. VisitThanet on Facebook.

Writers flock to Winchester

Stripe Image provided by The WInchester Writers' ConferenceWinchester Writers’ Conference returns next month, offering the opportunity to mingle with writers, hungry agents and lots of other interesting literary types.

Founded in 1980, the conference now encompasses a festival, book fair and  in-depth workshop schedule, as well as masses of opportunities to network with other aspiring and established authors.

Lemn Sissay MBE, poet, playwright and broadcaster, will give the Keynote Address at the 2017 Writers’ Festival on 17 June.

Promised highlights include the festival’s renowned One-to-One Appointments with literary agents, commissioning editors, authors, poets and industry experts. There will also be masterclasses, talks and open-mic readings, all devised to inspire and inform you so you can take the literary world by storm!!

The Winchester Writers’ Conference (writersfestival.co.uk) takes place June 16th-18th 2017.

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

Writing prompt – refuge

Home by Judy DarleyI picked up a leaflet recently about Refugee Week at b-side. It asked: “If you could never return home, what would you do and where would you go if you were granted just one minute to be there?”

What a question. Use this as the starting point of a tale on displacement, family or whatever else strikes you as you consider that possibility. Put yourself in the shoes of someone far from home, and imagine the refuge they might crave.

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 literary outing in Hong Kong

Mussel shells cr Judy Darley

I’m happy to announce that my short story Preservation has been selected for the Liars’ League Hong Kong night of literary performances on 29th May.

In case you weren’t aware, Liars League is an event that matches short fiction to actors, celebrating the spoken word while giving it some thespian panache! Their tagline is Writers Write. Actors Read. Audience Listens. Everybody Wins.

The evening my story has been chosen for focuses on the themes Prophecy & History. Splendid!

Susan Lavender will be reading my story, which is great news as she previously read my tales Geese Among The Trees and Night Flights in Hong Kong.

The story was inspired by the fact various words about nature really have been excised from children’s dictionary to make room for more about technology. Sad but true. Mussel was just one of the words removed.

I can’t attend, but hope to catch up on the podcast or videos afterwards. It starts at 8pm on 29th of May at Social Room, a loft style multi functional Hong Kong event venue “ideally located next to the Central Escalator.” If by some chance you happen to be in that part of the world that night, do swing by. It should be a fabulous evening!

A dystopian short story competition

Children and trees cr Alice DarleyThe RSPH and the Health Foundation are seeking submissions of short stories that raise awareness of a disturbing statistic.

The health gap between the richest and poorest children for obesity has widened every year for the past nine years. A quarter of the most deprived 10 year olds are now obese, more than twice the number of their least deprived peers.

And it’s not just obesity. Across many aspects of health, inequalities are widening. The most deprived can now expect at least 19 fewer healthy life years than their most affluent counterparts.

“Fast forward 10, 20, 50, 100 years. Where are we headed? What are the consequences for our health, for us as individuals and as a society, if we keep on this trajectory? RSPH and the Health Foundation want your help. We want talented creative writers with an interest in health and wellbeing to help us imagine a dystopian future (near or far) where the consequences of the social and commercial determinants of health are played out.”

The story should shed light on the lack of choice people currently face about the factors that shape their health and wellbeing such as work, education, housing, social networks and communities. These factors are largely outside of individual control and are influenced by political, social, economic, environmental and cultural factors.

If this idea captures your imagination, submit a short story of up to 5,000 words (no minimum) to the Health: from here to where? short story competition by Sunday 11 June 2017.

“We would like the stories to convey the implications of not taking action now on the factors that shape health and wellbeing.”

Entries will be judged by an expert panel of authors and health experts, based on their imagination, readability and thought-provoking nature.

The winning author will receive £1,500, while a selection of highly-commended entrants will receive £500 each. Winning and highly commended stories will be published in electronic form and a limited edition print booklet illustrated by artist Thomas Moore. The author will also have the opportunity to take part in press and publicity around the competition.

Find full details of how to enter, plus vital info on the subject you’re drawing inspiration from.

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

The power of music

Judy Darley and her dad, Philip DarleyToday, Thursday 18th May 2017, is the inaugural National Memory Day, celebrating the power of creativity to aid people with memory impairments such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

My dad, Philip, is one of those people. In an effort to connect with him, I recently persuaded his former choir, the excellent City of Bristol Choir, to bring some of their finest alto, soprano, tenor and bass voices to his care home and sing. It was a magical and heart wrenching experience.

I wrote about it for The Bristol Magazine. You can read the full feature here.

Investigating authorial voice

Italian Alps pic cr Catherine McNamaraCatherine McNamara is the author of short story collection The Cartography of Others. In today’s guest post, she urges us to consider the moral implications of the voices we choose to assume for our fiction.

One of the first questions I was asked when my debut collection Pelt and Other Stories came out concerned the opening story Pelt.

Pelt is narrated by the feisty pregnant Ghanaian lover of a German man, who wants to keep him from falling back into the arms of his ex-wife. Kurt is wracked with guilt. His petite, commandeering wife is in town for a conference. I won’t tell you how that story panned out, but being asked with what permission I assumed the voice of a young pregnant Ghanaian woman made me feel a little uncomfortable.

Author Catherine McNamara

Whose story is it anyway?

It’s true I had lived in Ghana for nine years. The characters were influenced by people I’d lived with and come upon, and I’d thought that the young woman’s voice was the vehicle of a valid story that dealt with jealousy, guilt and sex. I’d also carried several children and been through marriage havoc. I knew the environment intimately, and all of these elements combined to produce a story I felt like telling. But I wasn’t a Ghanaian woman. So was it theft? Did I have a right to invent this woman’s story?

In my new collection The Cartography of Others, which I am currently funding with Unbound, similar situations with ‘voice’ crop up several times. In The Wild Beasts of the Earth Will Adore Him, a South African advertising executive is sent up to Ghana to manage a local office, where he discovers, among other unsettling things, a corpse in an Elvis shirt and an American employee who sleeps with her dogs. In The Healing of Santo Boateng, a West African migrant is tossed off his bicycle while riding home from work in northern Italy. And ignored. In The Cliffs of Bandiagara, a West African photographer considers his craft, and the viability of the love story he has embarked upon with a European journalist.

Statue pic cr Catherine McNamara

Consider your motives

In all three cases, the thoughts of an African male are conveyed. Whether ‘voice’ is effective or not must be judged by the reader. But whether a ‘theft’ is involved must be addressed by the writer. Is the story designed to use the situation of the character, without authenticity and empathy? Has the author been responsible and written with respect?

These are tricky waters. In all stories, we writers impersonate others, steal from people we know, and from our own experiences. We use locations we know to carry our stories. We instil our inventions with real truths to make them resonate. When we fail, we write within clichés and our work feels borrowed or cheapened or exploited. When we succeed, our stories transcend categories and speak with clarity and allure.

Vineyard pic cr Catherine McNamara

In The Cartography of Others there is a raft of stories with voices from different countries and social environments. A Ukrainian woman is judged by an English woman, a boy reacts to a car accident in the north of France, a man’s violent upbringing is assuaged by a ballerina. We meet a man whose mother has been killed in the Italian Alps, and a young woman whose eggs are being harvested for her infertile aunt. While the locations used are often places that I know well, each character is an invention that must transport the reader into the realm of storytelling, and I hope that the voice of each story bears its own truth.

If you’re interested in reading more, do consider pre-ordering a copy of The Cartography of Others at unbound.com/books/the-cartography-of-others. Or come to Italy where I live for a writing retreat, a hike in the Dolomites, an opera night in Verona or a wander through Venice speaking about short stories.

Catherine McNamara portraitAbout the author

Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and ran away to Paris to write but ended up in Ghana running a bar. Her collection Pelt and Other Stories was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize. She was recently named in the Wigleaf Top 50 and was a finalist in the Royal Academy/Pin Drop Short Story Award, and shortlisted in the Hilary Mantel/Kingston University Short Story Competition and the Willesden Herald Short Story Competition, among others. Her work has been published widely. Catherine lives in Italy.

All images in this guest post have been supplied by Catherine McNamara.

Got some writing insights to share? I’m always happy to receive feature pitches on writing genres and writing tools. Send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Theatre review – What if the plane falls out of the sky?

What if the plane falls out of the skyThree dysfunctional siblings invite us to examine our fears in this raucously comedic tragedy.

Heron (Susie Riddell), Magpie (Adam Fuller), and their little sister Feral Pigeon (Emma Keaveny-Roys) have been left to fend for themselves, and are struggling to keep their inner dread at bay. To face their terrors head-on they’ve devised a multi-step reward programme of badges and affirmations, and some eerily familiar dance moves.

As we took our seats, the siblings asked us for our fears. A curious number of audience members mentioned audience participation. And yes, as you might expect, there was plenty of that to go around. One pair got to try froggy bagging (don’t google that. I just did and cannot unsee what I have seen). For the rest of us the participatory element mainly involved partaking of a complimentary in-flight snack and drink, then doodling the things that scare us.

What if the plane falls out of the sky_inflight refreshments

The play was a tableau of exquisite moments, occasionally switching from humour to pathos in the twinkling of an eye. The afore-mentioned dance routine began lightly enough, but piled in the tension as Heron’s darkest thoughts rose to the surface. Co-director and performer Susie Riddell’s talents shone as she portrayed Heron’s slowly shifting mood through subtly modified dance moves and an increasingly distressed expression. As her brother and sister faltered to a halt, the whole room fell silent.

The emotional peaks and troughs were breathtaking, a roller-coaster equivalent of hitting reset whenever the hilarity or the grief veered to the brink of hysteria.

At one point we were instructed to blow our anxiety into brightly coloured balloons. My friend’s balloon burst four breaths in, releasing a gale of giggles, but the rest of us released ours in a gorgeous moment of synchronised farty rainbow childishness.

What if the plane falls out of the sky

Talking of rainbows, Magpie overcoming his dual qualms about glitter and intimacy was a vision to behold. I’m just hoping the glitter was applied with oil, not glue, as he’s a somewhat furry man and the removal later could be excruciating.

Presented by experimental theatre company Idiot Child as part of Bristol Old Vic‘s Studio Walkabout Season, the show featured too many perfect moments to share them all here. In short, a dizzyingly cathartic show that will imbue you with a sense of joy you hadn’t known you were missing.

In Bristol, What if the plane falls out of the sky? took place at The Loco Klub. The show is also travelling to Shoreditch, Brighton, Birmingham and beyond.

I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – science

Krakow Botanical gardens palm house cr Judy DarleyI’ve been immersed in Tania Hershman’s beautiful collection Some Of Us Glow More Than Others, and was struck with how elegant, creative and fantastical the stories seeded in science can be.

I took this photo in the palm house of Krakow Botanical Gardens, Poland. What concoctions could be brewing here? What investigations might be underway, and with what aim? How could you use that as the root of a tale?

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 – Some of Us Glow More Than Others by Tania Hershman

Some of Us Glow More Than Others by Tania HershmanThis luminescent collection of short stories and flash fictions offers up Tania Hershman’s unmistakable blend of the poetic, the uncanny and the deeply human. Drawing from a background in physics and a fascination with other sciences, Hershman explores our predilections and imperfections with effortless eloquence.  Through her writing you’ll feel yourself at one with nuns, researchers and divers alike, not to mention gas molecules and eerie little immortal girls.

I often see colours when reading fiction, and Tania’s tales in this collection are shot through with shimmering shades – pools of silver, midnight blue, aquamarine and ultramarine are gorgeously offset by threads of vermilion and gold.

Each of the tales examines, in its own way, what it means to be human, and the potential kindnesses and cruelties lying in wait both around and within us. While many lead us into laboratories, other sneak us into more unexpected places of moral and quizzical reflection, sometimes under cover of darkness.

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