Writing prompt – dystopia

View from church tower by Judy DarleyLooked at from above, much of England resembles a jigsaw puzzle, from neat fields and allotments to orderly lines of picnic benches.

Use this scene as the starting point of a dystopian tale. What rumblings of dissent could be heard just below the surface, if you listen hard?

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.

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!

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.

Continue reading

Enter The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting 2017

Joseph Quinn and Erin Doherty in Wish List at the Royal Court. Photo by Jonathan Keenan

Joseph Quinn and Erin Doherty in Wish List by Katherine Soper

Fancy seeing your words performed on stage? The Bruntwood Prize invites playwrights of all levels of experience to submit original, previously unperformed and unproduced plays.

The winner will receive £16,000 and a full production of their play at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

Entries can be submitted online at www.writeaplay.co.uk. The closing date is 6pm on 5th June 2017.

“What we want is writers who think big and aren’t afraid to take on challenging subjects or write for large spaces,” says Michael Oglesby, Bruntwood Prize judge, and Founder and Chair of Bruntwood. “Since we founded the Bruntwood Prize it has grown into a prize of major significance. The writers who have won previously have gone on to great things and I hope we find more great talent this year.”

The 2013 Bruntwood Prize was won by Anna Jordan for her play YEN, which received its world premiere at the Royal Exchange in February 2015.

A partnership between the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester and property company Bruntwood, the Prize is an opportunity for writers of any background and experience to enter unperformed plays. Submissions will be judged by a panel of industry experts for a chance to be one of four winners and win part of a prize fund totaling £40,000. Since its inception in 2005, more than 7,000 scripts have been entered, £160,000 has been awarded to 15 prize winning writers and eight winning productions have been staged.

Erin Doherty as Tamsin Carmody in WISH LIST by Katherine Soper. Photo Jonathan Keenan

Erin Doherty as Tamsin Carmody in Wish List by Katherine Soper.

In 2015 Katherine Soper became the fifth overall winner of the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting. Her play Wish List premiered at the Royal Exchange Theatre in 2016 before transferring to the Royal Court Upstairs from 10th January – Saturday 11th February 2017).

The competition is open to anyone over the age of sixteen, in the British Isles. All scripts are judged anonymously by a team of skilled readers and the final ten will be judged by this expert judging panel.

Broadcaster and journalist Kirsty Lang chairs the 2017 judging panel. She’s joined by the award-winning screenwriter Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk, C4; Doctor Who, BBC), previous Bruntwood Prize winner Phil Porter (The Miser, West End; Vice Versa, RSC; The Cracks in my Skin, Royal Exchange Theatre), stage and screen writer Lucy Prebble (The Effect, National Theatre; Enron, Royal Court, Chichester Festival Theatre, West End & Broadway), Director Lyndsey Turner (Hamlet, Barbican; Chimerica, Almeida; Posh, Royal Court & West End and Associate Director of the National Theatre), award-winning actor Don Warrington (King Lear, Royal Exchange Theatre & BBC Four; Death in Paradise, BBC), and Royal Exchange Theatre Associate Artistic Director, Matthew Xia. Chairman of Bruntwood, Michael Oglesby CBE completes the panel.

“The Bruntwood Prize has grown to become much more than a competition and is now a significant event in the theatrical life of the country,” comments Michael Oglesby CBE, Chairman of Brentwood. “It provides a unique opportunity for aspiring playwrights to have access to a network of opportunities which help them to bring their plays to the stage. Challenging plays that make an important statement about the world in which we live are my particular favourites. I’m greatly looking forward to reading the entries which never cease to amaze and surprise.”

Each of the winners will enter into a development process with the Royal Exchange Theatre. The winning scripts, will be announced at an awards ceremony in Manchester this November.

All entries for The Bruntwood Prize are made online. The process happens in four steps. You will need:

  • A pseudonym, or a name that’s not your own
  • A contact email address
  • An address in the UK or Republic of Ireland or British Overseas Territory or British Forces Post Office
  • A title for your play
  • Your finished play in a single document (PDF, DOC, or DOCX)

Don’t forget, the closing date for entries is 6pm on 5th June 2017.

For full details of how to enter, visit www.writeaplay.co.uk.

All images in this post were taken by Jonathan Keenan and supplied by The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting.

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

Exploring experimental poetry

Sunset by Nikki DudleyIn today’s guest post, author, poet and editor Nikki Dudley talks us through how her new collection Hope Alt Delete came about, why she loves to write experimental poetry, and how her words became part of the Blackpool Illuminations 2016.

I’m generally fascinated by language: how people received it; how the words we use can change how people perceive us; misunderstandings and errors, and the crossovers between languages and different sounds. I particularly like to use a kind of homophone style and break up words to make the readers think about how easily words can be misconstrued and how the individual syllables can be separated and made into something else.

I hope different readers let their minds drift in different ways, and take an active approach to reading my poems. There’s no right answer about where your mind is supposed to go.

Blackpool Illuminations 2016Let your themes choose you

When I was putting Hope Alt Delete together, I pulled together a lot of work – some old and some new. I noticed some themes running through a lot of the poems: hope, home and a sense of misunderstanding. It was kind of reassuring to see that I’m the same person I was when I wrote the older poems as some of the essential themes have stuck in there but I think I’ve changed too, so some edits were necessary.

Sometimes the misunderstanding stems from me, hence the playing around with words and sounds, yet other times, it’s the confusions and frustrations that occur in everyday communication with others.

As for the idea of home, I think it’s something I’ve always been fascinated by; your roots, where you identify as your home, whether you can have different homes and whether you class somewhere as home for a particular reason.

Lastly, in relation to hope, I’ve always been a realistic but hopeful person. That’s where the title came from. Instead of pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete to terminate something and start again, I wanted to put some hope in there too – even if you do have to start again, all is not necessarily lost.

Submergence4

Identify your poetic intentions

I really like experimental poetry and sometimes the nature of it is that it’s more random. However, usually there are hidden themes as well. I think themes are good if they are more naturally occurring but the poet can obviously dictate them too by constraining themselves with certain devices to dictate how they write, for example only writing at night or writing in a certain location.

Sometimes I think themes tend to shine through no matter what you do, unless a writer is deliberately trying to edit themselves out of the writing process. So, is it important? Yes and no. I think it depends on the writer’s intention and how they want the audience to receive their work.

For me, of all my themes and despite all the terrible things that happen to us personally or that happen all around us on a daily basis, the main thing I wanted to put out there was hope.

Submergence5

Understand what works for you

I wish I could say I was really organised and had a routine for writing but creativity comes to me in waves. Sometimes I can’t stop writing things down and other times I can’t put two words together it seems.

I usually get an idea stuck in my head and just have to write it down and then once I start going, it just flows out of me. I’ve been writing some found poetry lately though so that’s been good in terms of having a starting point. In the past, I’ve also used different methods to help me write, such as writing whilst doing another action (inspired by the Fluxus movement of artists, composers and poets), waking myself up at night and other silly things like that.

I also like to put tragedy and comedy side by side, which hopefully can be reassuring in a sense for readers, as it kind of reassures me! Another thing I like to do is to break up the flow of sentences sometimes, as life is never completely flowing and I quite enjoy the natural connections your brain makes and then contradicting them.

Keep an eye on what’s out there

I had a chapbook published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press previously in 2010. At the time I believe they were looking for submissions. I keep an eye on experimental publishers as I work on an online magazine, streetcake, myself. It’s good to keep the links updated on our site and see what else is out there. Also, I enjoy reading KFS’s other publications.

I sent my Hope Alt Delete poetry collection to Alec Newman, the editor, a while ago and he said he wanted to publish it. In the end, he actually featured my poem Ctrl+Z – along with nine poems by other poets – as part of the 2016 Blackpool Illuminations. He is subsequently publishing the collections of all ten poets.

KFS are one of the best experimental poetry presses around and Alec is also a lovely guy. He really helped me with the formatting of my poems for my chapbook in the past. What’s great about KFS is that they obviously love what they do – they work hard at getting experimental stuff out there. There are more experimental poetry outlets nowadays but that wasn’t always the case.

Hope Alt Delete coverCelebrate being seen

Hope Alt Delete is supported by Arts Council England, which gives a kind of seal of approval to the writing. Funding like this is absolutely essential to poetry. Although there are poets, editors and publishers working hard all over the shop to get writing out, it’s still a tough medium to sell and get people reading.

Council England fund various projects that present poetry in new and innovative ways. For instance, featuring poetry as part of the Blackpool Illuminations was fantastic because lots of people who don’t tend to read poetry read some as they walked past, therefore new audiences were reached.

Getting people to see things in a new way is one of the best things about life and writing, so anything that helps with that is vital in my view.

Nikki DudleyAbout the author

Nikki Dudley has published two novels, Ellipsis (Sparkling Books) and Semblance (CreateSpace). Her chapbook, exits/origins, and her first collection, Hope Alt Delete, are both available from Knives Forks and Spoons Press. She has been published widely online and one of her poems was featured in the Blackpool Illuminations 2016. She co-edits streetcake magazine, which publishes experimental writing bi-monthly. Find out more about what Nikki’s writing.

Read my review of Hope Alt Delete by Nikki Dudley.

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.