Writing prompt – mimic

Blackberry Ladybird by Judy DarleyI snapped this photo a while back when I had a surprise when blackberry picking. This gorgeous ladybird has made a fatal choice in mimicking a succulent autumn fruit.

Can you use this idea as the starting point for a story? What error might a person or beastie make when selecting its camouflage or warning spots? How could a stealthy skill backfire?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Seven days of books

Alison Uttley A Traveller In TimeA while ago my sister tagged me on social media to share the cover of a favourite book every day for a week. In the shopping frenzy that precedes Christmas, I thought I’d share those recommendations here.

1 On day one I chose one of my favourite childhood books: Alison Ottley’s A Traveller In Time. This book captivated my imagination. We lived in an old house and I often thought I could feel the vibrations of the people who’d lived there before us. Uttley’s words gave these fantasies vivid realisation, as well as introducing me to Mary Queen of Scots.

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer was another favourite at this time.

The Persephone Book of Short Stories2 I knew I wanted to include some short stories, but picking just one writer was a problem.  The Persephone Book of Short Stories came to my rescue.

It comprises 30 stories by women writers, with their original publication dates spanning from 1909 to 1986.

Amongst this number are an array of excellent stories including gems by Katherine Mansfield, Dorothy Whipple and Diana Athill.

Plus it’s a really beautiful book.

The Bone People by Kerry Hulme

 

3 It’s a long time since I read this book, but I was really keen to include The Bone People by Keri Hulme. It’s a truly magical blend of Maori and Christian fables wound into a suspense-filled narrative – begun as a short story before blossoming into a self-published novel that ended up as a Booker prize winner in 1985.

4 Emily Hinshelwood’s On Becoming A Fish is the poetry collection I turn to when asked to read something aloud that I haven’t written myself. I love poems than encompass journeys, and Emily’s invite us to accompany her on a series of meandering strolls through the coastal landscapes of west Wales. Read my full review of On Becoming A Fish.

Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland

5 Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales by Sara Maitland contains her revitalised fairytales interspersed with thoughtful writing on Britain’s great ancient forests, month by month. There’s also a sentimental reason for including this book, as my dad and I went to hear her read twice and got her to sign this volume to us both.

Sara also wrote the wonderful A Book of Silence.

The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett

6 By chance, Terry Pratchett is the only male author to make it onto this elite list. The Carpet People (ironically photographed here against bare floorboards) opened up the possibilities of what grown ups will accept in their fictions – in other words, quite possibly anything, providing it’s done with incomparable skill and daring. Written prior to his Discworld Series, this debut is fabulously bonkers and was an early indication of his imaginative genius.

Beakless Bluebirds and Featherless Penguins by Sister Barbara Ann

7 It was a challenge to decide what to post  ton my final day. My heaving shelves of books all seemed to have an opinion! So I decided to share what I was reading at that time, and in retrospect it was an excellent choice.

Beakless Bluebirds & Featherless Penguins by Sister Barbara Ann is a book I discovered in a remarkable bookstore while visiting my American cousins. It’s part journal, part nature writing, with a passion for flora and fauna expressed with wry common sense and a light touch of humour.

Put simply, it’s like spending a weekend in the rural cottage belonging to a favourite, slightly eccentric aunt.

What are you reading? I’d love to know. 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.

The Island Review invites submissions

Desertas Islands, Maderia

Got a story inspired by islands, or ‘which explores ideas of islandness’? The Island Review is currently open for submissions.

It’s a literary website I drop by often, simply to relish their short stories, poems, photography, and Flotsam. I highly recommend it. Submission periods are intermittent, but they’ve recently put out a call for “fiction, non-fiction, interviews, poetry, photo-essays, illustration, graphic stories, cartography, music, short films – or a combination of these, just as long they’re inspired by islands, wherever they lie (even if they’re just in your head).”

So very enticing!

To find out exactly what they’re seeking, drop by www.theislandreview.com/submissions/.

If you have anything that might fit the bill, make sure you get in touch. Who knows where your words, images or thoughts might wash up?

Writing prompt – flight

Glider. Photo by Judy DarleyRecently I had the good fortune to take my first ever glider flight. It was an extraordinary experience, offering the opportunity to ascend through sunlight, mist and cloud to meet the sun head-on. I had a bit of an Icarus-moment, but happily my wings remained unscorched.

The magic of gliding sans engine is accomplished through a boost into the clouds, in my case thanks to a tow plane, which is released when you reach the right spot in the sky. My pilot explained that you then depend on natural lift as the air rises over hummocks in the land. It’s the same principal as birds riding thermals.

I love the fact that a seemingly impossible act is achieved via a phenomenon we cannot see, but trust exists. Can you turn this concept into a written or visual piece?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

A nautical-themed arts trail

Totterdown Front Room Arts trail artwork by Lisa Ravenscroft of LongmooseTotterdown Front Room Arts Trail erupts from 23rd till 25th November 2018 with a nautical theme – perfect for stirring imaginations in the harbourside city of Bristol!

The theme, Arts Trail organiser Gaily Orr admits, was inspired by last year’s torrential rain.

“We thought we should roll with the tide!” She exclaims. In addition, it’s a nod to Bristol’s history. “Bristol’s fortunes have been won and lost at sea and we wanted to celebrate our city’s connection with the great blue in the overriding theme of the Arts Trail.”

Never been to an art trail? This is a great one to dip your toe (or jump head first) into. The first to appear in Bristol almost two decades ago, it offers a chance for artists to showcase their work within their own homes as well as shared spaces, and for us public to a) enjoy said art, and b) get away with being nosy about other people’s décor to our heart’s content.

Each year the Arts Trail attracts thousands of visitors coming from across the city and beyond.” It’s a fantastic opportunity for local artists to display their work to the public, and it’s also a great opportunity for the public to visit, view, discuss and buy original works of arts and crafts directly from the artist.”

There’s also potential for lots of inspiration gleaning, not to mention a golden opportunity to start the Christmas shopping with some one-off originals.

Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail is on from 23rd-25th November 2018. Find full details at frontroom.org.uk. The gorgeous artwork at the top of this post is the official Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail artwork by Lisa Ravenscroft of Longmoose.

Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail_cr Judy Darley

Art review – RWA Open Exhibition 166

Daydream by John Huggins. Photo by Judy DarleyThe galleries at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) have a grandeur about them that rivals many of the world’s finest art museums. Their annual open exhibition opens up those spaces to any artist with vision and talent. I adore the democratic nature of this annual show, where anyone can submit their work for the possibility of seeing it selected to see it hang or stand among notable creations ranging from the famous, to the infamous.

The 166th open exhibition lives up to those aims, with paintings crowding walls to the extent that at times you’ll be crouching, and at others balancing on tiptoe. Inevitably, this leads to some being more difficult to view, and more than once, I was asked by older gallery visitors to read out the small notices revealing artist and exhibit name.

Offerings (Earth) by Jenny Leigh_Photo by James Beck

Offerings (Earth) by Jenny Leigh_Photo by James Beck

Sculptures gathered in unexpected groupings too, from totem-esque found and assembled materials, to a transparent bin bag crammed with what resembled rubbish, amid elegant creations such as Yurim Gough’s Four Elements. Invited artists Jock Mcfadden RA and Carol Robertson provided anchor points, while the RWA’s own Academicians offered some familiarity.

The whimsical Octavia (below) by Caroline Taylor summoned up memories of myths – we sorely wanted to take her home, but found had already sold. Other favourites included Clouds, Fields, Moor by Andrew Hardwick and John Huggins’ Daydream, shown at the top of this post.

Octavia by Caroline Taylor

Octavia by Caroline Taylor

In other instances, it was human figures who enchanted us, in ceramics, bronze, ink and paint. A quizzically tilted head or the choice of a cabbage and pigeon as a crown was enough to elicit charmed giggles.

Altogether, despite the number of landscapes and abstracts on offer, this is a very congenial exhibition. The majority of the selected items brim with personality. Whether inspired by human, by animal or by a playful or startling blend of the two, the artworks on show given the impression of freezing momentarily as we enter, and continuing their conversational chatter after we depart.

Mule Head by Dorcas Casey_Photo by James Beck

Mule Head by Dorcas Casey_Photo by James Beck

The less characterful creations are, for the most part, equally enticing. I saw a child zone in immediately to this sculpture below, drawn by its bright colour and resemblance to a familiar toy.

RWA Open Exhibition 2018. Photo by James Beck

RWA Open Exhibition 2018. Photo by James Beck

To me that’s much of the magic of an assembled exhibition like this, where serious themes give way to the joy of originality. It invites us to remember the delight of creating – of letting our imaginations loose to rambunctiously play. This is an open exhibition that celebrates art in all its forms, and invites us to bring our own openness to the mix.

Until 25th November 2018 at the RWA, Bristol.

Seen, read or experienced anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

Art on the street

You can't hide homelessness by John D'ohIf you live in the Bristol area, you may well have already glimpsed work by urban artist John D’oh. Now the author of the freshly published Street Art And Graffiti: A Dissertation, he explains how he reached this new chapter in a life of creativity.

“I used to do street art as a kid but got into a long-term relationship so gave it up for a long time,” he says. “Back then I got into street art and graffiti because of hip hop and I considered them to be part of that culture. These days my style and art has changed and now it’s more about getting a message in with the art.”

From Dreams to Nightmares by John D'oh

These messages can be prompted by a wide range of environmental, societal and political issues. “I follow the news and politics but sometimes I cover other issues like homelessness or environmental issues, which are close to my heart. If I see something that I feel would benefit from my street art then I start thinking about the logistics.”

These include social issues “like civil rights, poverty, racism, bullying, inequality, immigration, and homelessness. There are a lot of politics in my art and some that are just done for humour.”

His aim, he explains, is to encourage views to question what they read in newspapers and online. “People noticed during the last election that there was a lot of bias one-sided right-wing journalism,” he comments. “It’s nice just readdress issues and get people talking and thinking and not just believing the fake news that’s out there in abundance.”

Vote Corbyn Momentum

He adds wryly: “How many people voted for Brexit just based on the extra 350million a week promised to the NHS, which was all lies and deceit which has helped put us all in the mess we are in today?”

killer clown craze cr John D'oh

John describes his creations as “pretty much similar to advertising, as I only have a few seconds to catch the public attention with my art. Hopefully my artwork will make people smile as they go about their daily lives, but also maybe start debate or discussions as they talk to friends, work colleagues or other members of the public, if shared through social media.”

The humour inherent in his work is an essential element, he explains. “I feel we all need a little humour in our lives and it’s often better than the forced advertising that we are forced to endure on a daily basis.”

John D'oh artwork

Often the idea for a new work takes shape thanks to a news story. “I think about how I am going to adapt that to fit into an image, with maybe a short quote that can instantly grab attention of the passing public,” John says. “I then cobble the artwork together with a mixture of photoshop and paint software, which I use badly, and freehand and draw the rest.”

What offshore accountsThe biggest challenge is the speed at which a new idea needs to become an existing work of art in order to be relevant.

“I find the news changes quickly, so the timing has to be right – if you miss the headline or the story then it’s too late; there’s no point in putting it out a week later.”

The design stages are the most crucial. “You ask yourself where you’re going to paint it; whether there are any CCTV cameras; how big you can make it; how many layers it needs; whether it should be pre-made or maybe be an art installation…”

Once it’s completed, John has one goal in mind. “All I hope to do is get that one descent photograph before my artwork is removed, painted over, jet washed or tagged. I consider what I do as a temporary art form and am not too precious about my work once it’s done.”

Street Art And Graffiti A Dissertation book coverThe idea to produce his debut book, Street Art And Graffiti: A Dissertation, was prompted by students and academics asking for insight.

“The book took me six months to put together so a lot of thought has gone into it,” John says. “I’ve read many books on the subject and I feel mine is like nothing on the market. It’s an insider’s view and where most artists produce what I call generic coffee table books with just page after page of glossy photos of their art, mine is different and balanced with about 50% text.”

The book covers and raises a lot of questions about the nature of street art, he says, “like should street art be protected and if so how do you choose what to protect? And the re-appropriation of street art, should art be removed from the streets? If you take this art then and stick it in a gallery or a museum, does it then loose its integrity? And lots more.”

Peope Think I'm Banksy. By John D'oh
John’s trademark wit shines through too.

“I’ve included some funny stories, some background information about myself that’s not common knowledge and many unseen photos,” he says.

John is hoping that the book will be used as an educational tool for teachers and students, “as the subject is becoming more common place in the school curriculum. I hope it will be something teachers can use in the class room to generate discussions between teachers and pupils and for students to maybe read.”

Tony Blair Bear Pit Bristol

Plus, as the title suggests, he’d like to see his book provide support for anyone writing a dissertation on the subject of street art. “My book may make it easier and highlight some interesting topics from which to base their work.”

The book is also bound to appeal to anyone who appreciates art in its myriad forms.

You can see original street art by John D’oh all over the UK. “In some areas it stays up longer than others,” he says, listing: “Bristol, Burnham on Sea, Manchester, Liverpool, Cheltenham, Worcester, Upton upon seven and Gloucester, to name but a few. And I’m always on the lookout for new locations, opportunities and walls.”

Street Art And Graffiti: A Dissertation By Street Artist John D’oh is published by Tangent Books and available to buy here.

Writing prompt – future

Wind turbines, Colorado. Photo by Judy DarleyI recently attended a workshop run by Bristol Climate Writers as part of Bristol Festival of Literature. Deborah Tomkins, the workshop coordinator, invited us to think about the things that scare us about the future and then write a utopian story or poem in response.

I invite you to do that too. Think about anything that scares you about the future, whether that’s rising sea levels, drought, famine, or simply your own old age. Then write a piece that contains an antidote or solution to that dread, or a suggestion of better times ahead, however fantastical.

For example, in the story of Noah’s ark, a dove carrying an olive leaf offered the hope that land was nearby.

What image of hope can you dream up or devise?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Submit a bookshop ghost story

The Petersfield Bookshop interior_sketchThe Petersfield Bookshop in Petersfield, Hampshire, is celebrating its 100th birthday with an eerily themed short story competition. ‘Ghosts in the Bookshop’ invites you to summon up your creepiest imaginings to write a ghost story set in a bookshop.

“We want it to thrill us, and chill us, and move us.Your story can be traditional or modern, in any style and with any kinds of characters, just make sure that most of the action takes place in, or centres around, a bookshop,” says John Westwood, managing partner.

There is no specific word limit, as such, but the story should be written with an energy and at a length which makes it suitable to read aloud in less than 20 minutes.

All entries must be received by midnight on 30th November 2018.

The Petersfield Bookshop will announce the winner in mid-December and hopes to host a pre-Christmas event “when the winner and runner up stories will be read aloud in the atmospheric aisles and rooms of our after hours bookshop.”

Michelle Magorian, friend of the shop and award-winning author of Goodnight Mister TomJust Henry, A Spoonful of Jam, and others, will guest-judge entries. The author of the winning story will receive £100, and three runners-up will each be invited to choose bundles of books from the enticing bookshop shelves.

Find full submission guidelines here and take a roam around the site for inspiration.

Image supplied by the Petersfield Bookshop.

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

Daily creativity with Ulla Maria Johanson

180329 by Ulla Maria JohansonIn 2014, artist Ulla Maria Johanson set herself the challenge of creating and completing a new painting every day. It marked the start of a period of intense productivity that has resulted in a series of exquisite work by the Swedish artist.

There’s a sense of spontaneous energy to Ulla’s paintings that I find utterly enticing, yet her habit of producing daily paintings began as a reaction to something of a painterly drought. “I was in a period when I experienced that I lacked inspiration, time and ability to paint,” she explains. “My dream was to paint big and have a lot of time for creation, which was difficult to combine with full time work. When I did find time, the white canvasses felt scary and I rarely managed to make a whole painting I was pleased with.”

Ulla’s frustration grew, until during a break at work she went to an online bookshop and sought out their art catalogue. “I found Carol Marine’s book Daily Painting,” she recalls. “Interested, I read about the simple concept of painting small and often. I immediately felt that it was something for me, and I made my first daily painting the next morning.”

180509 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Luscious brushstrokes build up abstract scenes that summon up an impression of setting, season and mood.

The biggest challenge, she says, is to find sufficient time each day. “I learned quite soon to make it easier for myself by making a little pop-up studio,” Ulla says. “At first, it was also difficult to find motives and ideas. Some days it seemed hopeless and I thought about giving it up.”

To maintain her determination, Ulla gave herself a feasible end date. “First, I decided that I should give it 30 days in a row before stopping,” she says, “and then I extended it to 100 days.”

180416 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Four years on, the habit is now a deeply ingrained pleasure.

“The joy is to take the time to do what I really want,” she says. “It’s also a great liberation to have this daily habit established. At the beginning, I was often dissatisfied with what I achieved – my internal critic shouted in despair and encouraged me to quit! However, I soon found it became easy to silence the critic – the most important thing was not that the day’s work should become a masterpiece but it should become something. Who can expect to produce perfection when time is tight?”

She adds: “The next day there is another chance to do something, and then it could only get better. Painting small and often also makes it easy to try new, experimental techniques and take chances.”

180205 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Ulla usually uses acrylic paint “because it dries quickly and you can paint over with several layers. I do small paintings (15x15cm or 20x20cm) on canvas or on a board, while larger works are always on canvas.”

Ulla prepares her surface an uneven layer of white primer “so that it becomes a structure. Once the foundation is properly dry I paint with a wide brush with short, stiff synthetic bristles, rarely cleaning the brush while I work.” This allows the colours to mix with one another as she transfers them from palette to canvas or board.

“As I work,  I turn and turn the canvas to look at it from different angles and notice what appears. In addition to the broad brushes, I sometimes also use finer round natural brushes and a thin synthetic brush.”

180414 by Ulla Maria Johanson

The early stages are the most intuitive for Ulla. “When I start to work, I do not know at all where it will go. Often, it becomes layer upon layer, before the motif emerge,” she admits.

Her own frame of mind is part of the adventure. “At first, I’m curious about what’s going to happen,” she says. “Sometimes I quickly find something that feels interesting and worth exploring and reinforcing, and at others I find that the work feels it reaches a sticky dead end where the colours do not work together and I wonder how to go on. Then something happens and I introduce a shade or shape that makes the whole thing feel harmonious.”

180820 by Ulla Maria Johanson

The biggest challenge is to know when to stop. “Sometimes I’m sure the painting is done when I finally clean the brush off, and on other occasions I need to let the painting be for a while so I can study the work when it’s dried and make a choice. Maybe it will stay as it is or maybe I will change all or part of the painting.”

180607 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Ulla lives on the Swedish west coast, which influences her artwork. “I often walk and enjoy nature and sea,” she comments. “It is reflected in my art and I also find inspiration in the environments and pictures I come into contact with online and in books.”

For Ulla the finished artwork is only the first stage. “What I want to communicate with my paintings is the beginning of a story that can grow and blossom in the viewer’s mind,” she says. “It’s wonderful to hear people tell me about the different things they see in one of my abstract paintings. I’m also happy every time I hear that my work has prompted someone to feel inspired to create something of their own.”

Find more of Ulla’s work at the following: umjartoneartworkeveryday; instagram.com/umj.art; facebook.com/umj.art

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, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.