Writing prompt – idyll

St James Park, London by Judy DarleyVisiting London recently on a fiercely hot summer’s day (remember summer? It lasted a few uncommonly good days!) the happiest i felt was when we stepped from the crush of streets into the leafiness of St James’ Park, where this photo was snapped. Yup, those are our shadows, right there.

Lakes, sunshine, waterfowl… What’s not to love?

And yet, even here, darkness waits to catch you out. As we admired ducks diving and swimming beneath the surface, an old man approached to tell me how he’d watched a seagull drowning ducklings, and a friend later told me the familiar story of one of the park’s resident pelicans swallowing a pigeon in front of his eyes. Gulp.

Could you twist this into a political satire or something more poetic? Think about the surface beauty of settings where threats lie in wait…

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 The Dragonfly by Kate Dunn

The Dragonfly by Kate DunnA father incarcerated for killing his wife. A grandfather ousted from solitude into the care of his granddaughter. An angry nine-year-old, a toy monkey and a boat slicing through the waterways of France.

Got that?

Kate Dunn’s set-up seems as much a surprise to her characters as to readers, seeking a genre to hook her book onto. As we meet Colin, an English man who has buried his loneliness in boatbuilding, there’s a curious comfort in not quite knowing where we’re going.

Colin holds himself separate to us so that it takes a while to get a sense of him and the great, multiple heartbreaks that separated him from his son years before. This aloofness is no error in judgement from Dunn, however, as the pages drift by and you find yourself warming to Colin and his awkwardness.

The story really comes to life when Delphine, the afore-mentioned angry nine-year-old, and her precious soft toy Amandine. Fizzing into the plot, Delphine is full of a barely contained rage that seems only appropriate given the death of her mother Charlotte and subsequent imprisonment of her father Michael. Continue reading

Submit your novel for the Virginia Prize For Fiction

Virginaia-woolfs-house-richmond-hogarth-press-begun-hereBlue PlaqueAurora Metro, the Twickenham-based arts organisation, is searching for the best new fiction by a woman writing in English. The winner will receive £1,000 and a conditional offer of publication by Aurora Metro Books.

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

The 5th Virginia Prize for Fiction is now open  for submissions

The prize is open to any woman (over 18) around the world, writing in English.

The novel can be of any genre but cannot have been published or self-published before.

This biennial prize was launched in 2009 as a tribute to Virginia Woolf who wrote her first novel, The Voyage Out, while living an Hogarth House on Paradise Road in Richmond, where she and her husband Leonard also founded the Hogarth Press in 1917.

The prize’s founder, publisher Cheryl Robson, hopes that “by naming this prize in Virginia Woolf’s memory we will inspire women to find their voice and contribute to the pantheon of great women writers.”

The prize is open to any woman (over 18) around the world, writing in English. The novel can be of any genre but cannot have been published or self-published before. You must submit your entire completed novel to be eligible. The entry fee is £10 per manuscript.

The closing date for entries is 1st October 2017.

Previous winners include Shambala Junction by Dipika Mukherjee, which won the 4th Virginia Prize for Fiction, and The Leipzig Affair by Fiona Rintoul, which won the 3rd Virginia Prize for Fiction in 2013 and was dramatised for BBC R4′s Book At Bedtime. Read by Douglas Henshall and Indira Varma, it was broadcast in March 2015.

Kipling and Trix by Mary HamerMary Hamer, who won in the 2nd Virginia Prize for Fiction in 2011 with her novel Kipling & Trix, is the current Chair of the Kipling Society, and is giving a host of talks across the country about her novel and his life.

Louise Soraya Black who won the inaugural prize in 2009 for her novel Pomegranate Sky, which Fay Weldon described as “vividly written, fresh and eloquent”, has given up her law career to pursue writing full-time.

Could you be next?  For more information about the prize and to enter, go to aurorametro.com/the-virginia-prize-for-fiction.

Find out more about Virginia Woolf’s time in Richmond.

Invigorating imaginations with At-Bristol

Nephew exploring At-Bristol by Judy DarleyAt 10am yesterday, my eight-year-old nephew was the first person to enter At-Bristol. For the fleetest of moments, he had the whole, magical place to himself. The expression on his face was one of awe, but also faint panic. As a child with ADHD, being presented with limitless possibilities can be daunting. Swiftly he focussed on his favourite exhibit and we hurried over to feed a skeleton and watch his energy levels rise and fall.

This is just one of countless interactive exhibits at the Bristol hands-on science centre, and before long we were moving on to listen to music through our teeth, play with pint-sized parachutes, and test our reflexes in countless ways, as rain drenched Millennium Square beyond the plate glass windows.

Glass Microbiology by Luke Jerram1

Glass Microbiology by Luke Jerram

I crept way for a few moments to take in Luke Jerram’s stunning Glass Microbiology exhibit – breathe in a moment’s peace among the viruses sculpted in glass and head back out into the mayhem where my husband was helping the nephew milk a pretend cow.

Exploring the Solar System Planetarium show

Exploring the Solar System Planetarium show

We’d deliberately timetabled in a couple of shows in the Planetarium to allow the nephew and ourselves a bit of quiet time. I’m also partial to a bit of space travel, and the 3D shows offer a sense of swooping through the solar system. We visited Venus (too hot, very stormy, not the best place for a holiday), and Saturn’s Rings (too cold, but very beautiful), before swooping back to Earth (just right, and the most beautiful of all). We spent time on Mars and Pluto, and learnt about atmosphere, gas giants and that Neptune is the most glorious shade of blue.

Nephew in Planetarium by Judy Darley

The Planetarium is also on the floor with some of the most engaging displays, in my opinion. The Aardman area animation is ideal for children and adults who like to doodle, while an impressive wind drum provided the chance to build structures to mimic a sycamore seeds spin. We discovered the cause of the Bermuda Triangle’s many ship disappearances, and entered a tilted room where perspective skewed in a pretty magical way.

Constructing roadways

Elsewhere the nephew devoted himself to building roadways for plastic balls, spun metal disks and proved himself to be impressively adept at creating bubbles within bubbles within bubbles. Just watching him get to grips with his surroundings was a masterclass in harnessing a fizzing mind to gain the most rewarding experience possible.

Exiting the science centre into sunshine, the research continued as we headed up to College Green and discovered the tree full of shoes (close to the cathedral, in case you’d like to see it for yourself), met a shy juggler (the nephew’s many questions seemed to alarm him somewhat!) and discovered that it’s possible to skim pennies on the water surrounding the fountain – four skips across the surface from one side to the other.

At-Bristol is a marvel for curious minds, giving adults a way to access their own inquisitive side and nourishing children’s natural sense of wonder. The clamour and chaos is all part of the mix, but if you get in tune with that, you’ll emerge prepared to reinvent the world.

Find out more about At-Bristol

Writing prompt – adventure

Climbing by Judy Darley

Today I’m looking after my middle nephew, who is quite an extraordinary child. Strong, speedy, inquisitive and bright, he’s endlessly hungry for adventure. That’s him in the red jacket, negotiating a climbing frame.

Here he is making friends with a pair of girls who apparently got the same memo as him about wearing red.

Swinging by Judy Darley

In his effort to make friends, my nephew used to attach himself to other families he encountered, and sometimes even follow them out of the park.

It reminded me of someone who once told me about how they took a gaggle of their children’s pals out for a birthday treat, then got back home to find out they’d somehow ended up with one extra…

Use that as the conundrum for a new short story.

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.

The science of colour

Explore Watercolour Still_lapislazuliI’ve grown quietly addicted to Winsor & Newton’s art masterclasses, emailed in tasty chunks with each short film exploring a new painting technique or titbit. As the world’s leading supplier of fine art materials, they have a dizzying array of colour knowledge, which makes it no surpsie that they’ve teamed up with the Royal Academy of Arts to produce two films exploring the history of colour.

Rose Madder

Hosted by the Royal Academy of Art’s president and renowned painter, Christopher Le Brun PRA, the films illuminate the medium and materiality of paint, revealing the techniques of painting masters past and present and the contemporary practice of artists today.

The first is Exploring Watercolour, providing professional insights into the history and myths of the medium and insights into the inspiration behind Le Brun’s practise, and the relationship between paint, colour and light. Later in 2017, Winsor & Newton and the RA create a film exploring the story and development of colour, its chemical and cultural origins, the philosophy of pigmentation and its impact on artists’ work.

Explore Watercolour Still_Christopher Le Brun

“What you want to remember about colour is that it’s inexplicable, and that is the pleasure of it.” Christopher Le Brun PRA.

Watch the film here.

This August, Winsor & Newton are offering the chance to hear Le Brun discuss colour in person. You can win two tickets to attend the exclusive event ‘The Art and Science of Colour’ at the Royal Academy on Monday 11 September 2017.

The prize also includes a personalised Winsor & Newton Series 7 brush, and a signed copy of Composer by Christopher Le Brun, President of Royal Academy.

Hosted by Christopher Le Brun PRA, the evening will feature distinguished speakers across a range of disciplines, including artist and authority on colour David Batchelor and Senior Lecturer in Earth Sciences at UCL Dr Ruth Siddall. The event will be moderated by art Historian and Lecturer, Ben Street.

The competition closes on 25th August 2017. Find full details here

All images courtesy of Christopher Le Brun and the Royal Academy of Arts. Photography by Nick Watson.

New Flash Fiction Review invites submissions

Arnos Vale tangle tree cr Judy DarleyThis attractive online magazine caught my attention thanks to the alumni of excellent contributors, including Jude Higgins, and the editor’s apparent passion for brief, splendid, often whimsical works.

Founded in 2014 by author and editor Meg Pokrass, they describe themselves as “an online magazine devoted to flash fiction and prose poetry.”

They are open for submissions under 1,000 words in length until September 12th 2017. How could you resist?

Happily, simultaneous submissions are encouraged. If your piece has been accepted elsewhere, simply withdraw it from the Submissions manager.

Find full details here: newflashfiction.com/our-guidelines-2/

Writing prompt – Signs

Laugharne Castle sign by Judy DarleyI have to admit, I love a sign – the kind that advises you to beware of something or be extra careful about something you, as a sentient being, should be fully able to engage your common sense to deal with.

I spotted this one at Laugharne Caste. What on earth (or, say, off earth?) could be happening here?

The one below is fixed onto the gate at a local school.

This gate must be kept shut at all times

Such fabulous nonsense. What might happen if the gate is left open? What might get in, or escape?

Imagine you’ve never encountered such things before. How might you interpret them? Use it as the start of a story or work of art.

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.