Artistic embroidered trendrils

Olivia's Summer Garden by Shuya Cheng My first impression of Shuya Cheng’s embroidered artwork was of encountering an elegant form of climbing plant, with tendrils and foliage in a lip-smacking array of colours. Clusters of leaves, petals, moss, coral, shells and tide-manipulated seaweeds are mounted onto crisp white surfaces where their shadows add another layer of design.

Sun carrier Shell by Shuya Cheng

Sun-carrier Shell by Shuya Cheng

This eye-catching approach took Shuya some time to develop, she admits. “It took me a long while to find my artistic niche,” she says. “In my early twenties, I worked as a general assistant to a fashion designer in Taiwan which taught me a lot about creativity and having and working towards a vision. I then trained and worked as a graphic designer for a period of time. In terms of my current art focus, I’m self-taught with a lot of trial and error and the assistance of the internet where a lot of artists generously share their techniques. I am also an abstract painter and I bring this abstract element to all my embroidery work.”

Mind's Eye by Shuya Cheng

Mind’s Eye by Shuya Cheng

I’m impressed by Shuya’s exquisitely delicate stitching, and ask her to describe her methodology.

“My work is free-hand machine embroidery created by spending hours over a sewing machine stitching intricate designs on to water soluble material,” she explains. “This is then dissolves and I shape, arrange and pin the embroidery in a shadow box (a deep picture frame also called a box frame). Much as I would love to lay claim to having developed the techniques, there are a number of artists out there using and sharing these techniques.”

Seaweed Series by Shuya Cheng

Seaweed Series by Shuya Cheng

Shula says she was initially drawn to the deceptively simple appearance of this technique. “I seek to take a physical structure such as a leaf skeleton and through the process bring an abstract element which makes the viewer pause and take a closer look at the intricacies. Pinning the works in shadow boxes allows me to introduce a living 3D element with the shadows changing along with the light.”

She adds: “For me, the 3D effect created by the shadows brings the piece of art to life. Stillness and movement are integral parts of each piece. They are floating; they are moving; they are alive.”

Indian Summer by Shuya Cheng

Indian Summer by Shuya Cheng

Finding a man-made or natural structure that will translate successfully with Shuya’s desired results can be surprisingly difficult. “Sometimes inspiration does come spontaneously but most of the time it involves hours of research looking at photographs. Occasionally I get lucky – on a beach in Northumberland I found a fascinating piece of kelp root which served as the basis for a piece of work.”

Laying the foundations for each piece of work of art is a painstaking process. “Shaping and arranging the embroidery, whether a single piece or a number of individual pieces, takes almost as long as sewing,” Shuya says. “I spend a long time manipulating the embroidery so that the individual components come together as one piece.”

Blue Coral by Shuya Cheng

Blue Coral by Shuya Cheng

Shula begins by envisioning the finished piece in her mind, “which helps me work purposefully towards my goal. It is almost a form of therapy. However, inevitably surprises, and occasionally disasters, occur at various stages. These can lead to the thrill of an unexpected outcome. The moment I finish and sign the work and complete the framing brings a sense of closure and calmness – at least until I start thinking about my next design! My work has to speak to me and I hope therefore it will speak to others.”

Trios by Shuya Cheng

Trios by Shuya Cheng

Shuya exhibits at art fairs across Bath and Bristol, including the Combe Down Art Trail, Widcombe Craft Fair and Art Trail, Front Room Totterdown  Arts Trail and Cam Valley Arts Trail. “The last two Christmases I have exhibited in the Bath Humbug event hosted by the 44AD gallery. I have also exhibited at a number of open exhibitions including the BSA Open Exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery and Visions of Science at the Edge, University of Bath.”

She also notes that an online presence is essential these days. “I try to post regularly on Instagram and Facebook with regular updates of what I am working on and upcoming events. My website www.shuyacheng.com is a good starting point for anybody who wishes to find out more about my work and my artistic journey.”

 

Writing prompt – rain

Rainy day, Laugharne, by Judy DarleyWeather can heighten or illuminate the emotions concentrated within a story. Imagine a bickering family or couple trapped inside together by torrential rain.

Next, add a fresh element of potential conflict: the arrival of a stranger, the threat of a flood, a leak in the roof or a pet or child escaping into the storm.

How is the issue resolved?

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.

Harnessing British Gothic and the New Weird

old_factory_dusty_large_space_emptiness_abandoned_outdoors_empty_oldToday’s guest post comes from author and Bristol Festival of Literature founder Jari Moate. His latest novel, Dragonfly, ventures into the territories of British Gothic and New Weird. Here he explains how he found himself harnessing these niche yet powerful genres.

Some writers are born to a genre, others reject it as formulaic. Some have genre thrust upon them. At its best, genre gives useful shapes and a ready-made audience.

For ages, ‘Literary Thriller’ was as far as I would go, after my first novel, Paradise Now, was tagged as such by a marketing chap at a London Book Fair depopulated by an Icelandic volcano – weird enough, already. I still think the tag is broadly right, though.

Dragonfly - cover art by Joe Burt, Tangent Books, 2018When fellow Tangent author Mike Manson told me that my novel Dragonfly was ‘the New Weird,’ I was puzzled at first, but I quickly took it, like a coat I’d been wearing suddenly had pockets where I needed them. Into those pockets I’ve since added ‘British Gothic’ and it feels like I can finally leave the house with somewhere to keep all my kit!

But why did it feel this way? And what is the New Weird? Isn’t it just a bit… weird? And what’s all this talk of ‘British’ Gothic?

So this is my very rough and ready, personal take on it.

Reorder the world

Have you ever woken from a nightmare, feeling scared to your bones but also renewed, refreshed even, as if the world has been ever so slightly reordered? The deck reshuffled? That, in essence, is the New Weird.

Examples of the genre include the work of China Miéville, beginning with Perdido Street Station and its mind-consuming moths, or his City And The City dramatised for TV in 2018 with its invisible wall no one must breach. Or David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and its creepy harvesters. Or consider Neil Gaiman.

Some describe it as alt-reality or horror-related, eschewing happy or moral endings, although I’d argue its authors have profound morality.

old disused factory stairwell

For me, although I don’t write fully inside the genre, it’s about the freedom to express ideas. So if I say in Dragonfly that a derelict building is coming alive, then I really do want you to tingle with the thought that I mean it, those bricks have swallowed us, or if parrots fly out of derelict ground, it serves a purpose in the story where you, and I, have joined forces to discover something truer than by simply avoiding what ‘couldn’t happen’.

At the very least, it’s a form of playfulness – a reshuffling of the cards. And it feels different from Magical Realism because of its implied threat, or spiritual jeopardy.

Disobey all limits

My writing is often about disobedience – not just about breaking a few taboos, but something harder.

St Paul storm drain_original uploader was Brockert at English Wikipedia. Transferred to Wiki CommonsIn Dragonfly, a working man, a soldier known only as Marine P, returns from a war that’s propped up a world in which the suffering he witnesses – and causes – is crushing him. He can’t see how to disobey it but he knows that he must. He fails, at first, as he tragically obeys orders, wrecking his love-life and running aground on protest politics until he’s homeless and out of his mind.

But then his quest really begins, in a monstrous building with a cook who burns water, a lost map-maker, a heretic chaplain and a fake-tan villain whose sidekick dresses as Red-Nosed Rudolph… The pack is dealt for disobedience – against what people say is possible in life.

We all have times when we want to disobey the limits placed upon us, but how could my traumatised Marine P do this? Exploring this meant taking Dragonfly, beyond Realism. Within its military and political themes there had to be a grounding in some ‘facts’ but it’s not a documentary. It’s a metaphor.

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality,” said TS Elliott – so we’ll have a beer, watch the Great British Bake Off, bury ourselves in spreadsheets and bedsheets… or in a book that bends ‘reality’.

Adding my themes of love, addiction, madness and faith, I also needed Coleridge’s “suspension of disbelief” to hang from the ceiling by its fingernails – while trying not to lose the reader, nor, indeed, the plot. Weird indeed.

Make sure it rings true

All fiction is unreal. But it has to ring true. The fiction I enjoy most gets beneath the skin of life, into its soul, where we may find alarming and alluring shapes. The New Weird tag allows me to bend those shapes as far as they want to go. What decent writing must never do, though, is make those shapes feel untrue.

At times it hatches angels, at times monsters, and truest of all are the angel-monsters.

Which leads us to British Gothic. There are good reasons for a culture to bounce away from demons, mythical settings and so on. But what can result is a version of art using only the verifiable, as if fiction can ‘colour in’ what we might call the priestly religion of our times: the scientific method. But fiction refuses to be governed by those priests. As, I think, does the human soul.

walpole horace gothic 2nd edition

Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto 1764 was the first novel to call itself “Gothic” pitching “imagination and improbability” against “a strict adherence to common life,” he said, summoning his ghosts from Shakespeare.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley book coverFor me, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the sharper attack, electrifying British readers against scientific hubris, ensuring the Gothic steamed into the mechanised scientism of the industrial age, its ghostly tales piling up, taking a leisured-class trip with Lewis Carroll’s  Alice in Wonderland before its apotheosis in Dracula by Bram Stoker.

After the real horrors of two World Wars, it feels quiet until Tolkien and non-Narnia CS Lewis refuel it, flying into the Transatlantic jet age with rediscovered Lovecraft, even Vonnegut and Burgess, cruising into Stephen King’s haunted hoovers and now Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, or the masterful Beast by Paul Kingsnorth.

What’s ‘British’ about the Gothic is its rootedness in shadows that need no translation to its natives, but which like the Queen or Chicken Tikka Masala, may need justification to others.

Embrace the Absurd

Talking of others, the Absurd has its impact. Borges, Calvino, Ionesco or Albert Camus spring to mind, especially La Peste: in a merciless universe, a doctor is unable to save a child in a city of rats flanked by a beast – the sea. French Gothic?

The Loney book coverIn Arto Paasilinna’s The Howling Miller, industrialism sparks absurdity in darkest Finland. Forest Gothic? It certainly disobeys.

When the science-priests seem unable to explain our souls to us, in our age of encircling tech and algorithms it feels ok to explore New Weird-leaning representations of who and where we are. Even Crime gets more fantastical, dipping its toe again in the mystery, Nosferatu-like. And Gothic gains energy as Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney steps out of a niche imprint to stand in the English mudflats abandoned by technology, calling to us to be bone-scared of all our absolutism, pagan and otherwise, while winning polite book awards.

If some disobedience is healthy, then perhaps allow the ghosts to step beyond the machine, to speculate and thrill, in new and weird revelations of the flesh beneath. And to ring true.

Jari Moate by Paul BullivantAbout the author

Bristol writer and founder of Bristol Festival of Literature, Jari Moate has been a finance worker, folk musician, soldier in Finland, an arranger of investment into buildings that create social good and, in his own words, “always a writer”. Previous work includes Paradise Now and stories such as This Brick In My Hand, published by various independent presses. His latest novel, Dragonfly, is available from Tangent Books.

Author pic by by Paul Bullivant.

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

Enter the NFFD Micro Fiction Competition

Sweets by Judy DarleyI’m excited to be one of the judges of the National Flash Fiction Day micro fiction competition 2019, along with the marvellous Diane Simmons, Angela Readman and Kevlin Henney.

We’re hungry for your most finely crafted, resonant unpublished words. Disturb us, discombobulate us, turn our expectations upside down and make us regard the world anew, or draw us into a life and move us, all in only 100 words or fewer.

The deadline is Friday 15th March 2019, 23:59pm GMT. You’re invited to submit up to three flash fictions on any theme.

Titles aren’t included in the word count.

First prize is £75.

Second prize is £50.

Third prize is £25.

The winning and shortlisted authors will be published in the National Flash Fiction Day 2019 anthology. Winning and shortlisted authors will also receive a free print copy of this anthology.

Find full competition rules and entry fees here.

You can read my interview with Diane Simmons, in which I talk about what I’m hoping to see in submissions, here.

I can’t wait to read your submissions. Good luck!

Writing prompt – lion

Lion fountain, Bristol harbourside by Judy DarleyI love this fountain on Bristol Harbourside. At this time of year, freezing weather can result in a beard of icicles, which only adds to the otherworldly quality of the lion.

Fountains have often been the scene of passionate moments in novels and plays. Why not make this one the scene of an illicit tryst, revelation or an act of violence based on jealousy or retribution? The lower the temperatures, the more fiery the emotions…

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.

Book review – The Dog Who Found Sorrow

The_Dog_Who_Found_SorrowAn uncanny magic occurs in picture books when you achieve the perfect balance between images and words. The Dog Who Found Sorrow, written by Rūta Briede, is both illustrated and translated from Latvian by Elīna Brasliņa, a combination which may be in part why this book exudes such eloquence. Evocative  illustrations are scattered sparingly with text that entices you into to a fable of resilience against melancholy.

Add in the final incantation of the book being published by The Emma Press, who are increasingly making waves with their poetry anthologies and other books, and it’s small wonder that this book is both beautiful and haunting.

Pages bloom with scant petallings of words layered lightly on a pictorial patchwork that brings our hero’s predicament to life: “One morning my home town was invaded by black clouds – first there was just one, but soon I lost count.”

While the theme of a town submerged in sadness seems decidedly grown up, the handling of the text and artwork opens it up to all demographics. In fact, this feels like an acknowledgement of the sophistication of our emotions, regardless of age.

In the story, everyone is depressed by the clouds filling their town, and no one thinks they can do anything about it, not even our hero. But this is no ordinary dog, this is a dog who wears an overcoat, grows roses and plays the harmonica. He can even climb a ladder.

I love the detail that our hero is a dog living as an equal among humans – it’s one of those appealing touches beloved of children’s books and requiring no explanation.

Our hero soon decides it’s silly to just accept things as they are – sad and grey. “Maybe there was something I could do. I put on my rain hat, took my backpack and climbed up to the attic to get onto the roof.”

The poetry of the book is so elegantly echoed in the rich, world-conjuring imagery that I can easily imagine being transformed into an animation in the future. Our dog is afraid but determined, which is something we can all draw hope and comfort from.

And with such an inspiring protagonist, of course there’ll be a happy ending.

The Dog Who Found Sorrow is published by The Emma Press

Seen or read 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.

Writing prompt – ambush

Feathers in Arnos Vale_Photo by Judy DarleyWhen I see a spray of feathers like this, I know I’ve stumbled across the site of a mighty battle. Some unwitting bird was beset upon, perhaps by a peregrine or buzzard.

What might the prey and predator have experienced in those frantic moments? Dig deep and conjure the visceral sensations – the fear and bloodlust and the physical tumult.

Then shift those sensations onto a pair of human protagonists. To what dark place does that take you?

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 tales of doorways to the NFFD Anthology

Azores pufferfish doorway by Judy Darley
Doors can mean so many things to so many people. They can offer refuge, or conceal threats, be locked, swing wide open, or simply represent new possibilities.

Doors are also the theme for the 2019 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology. The deadline for submissions is Friday 15th March 2019, 23:59pm GMT.

This year’s editors are Joanna Campbell and Santino Prinzi, who invite you to submit flash fictions up to 500 words in length.

They say: “We want you to open the door to stories wild with imagination. We’re looking for those creepy mysteries about doors we can’t find the key to. We want those funny tales of frustration when doors do exactly what they’re supposed to when we don’t want them to. Maybe the stories you want to share are about metaphorical doors, filled with the disappointment of doors that are closed to us or brimming with excitement at new opportunities.”

There’s a £2.50 submission fee for one entry, £4.00 for two entries or £6.00 for three (the maximum) entries. Free entries for low income writers are also available.

You can find full details here.

Charged Particles – a short story

Penis Museum2

My short story Charged Particles has been published by MIR Online. Set in Iceland, it’s about two English sisters seeking common ground, while hoping to glimpse the Northern Lights.

The shot above shows exhibits from the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which features in the story.

Here’s an excerpt from near the beginning of Charged Particles:

Rain transformed to snow somewhere between us unpacking our bags and Aurora’s text asking if we’d arrived. Let’s meet at the penis museum, she suggested. I hear it is adorbs!

I showed Lawrence the text and rolled my eyes.

“Give her a chance,” he said. “You know how you get with her.”

“Only because she brings it out in me!” I snapped.

He shrugged. “All siblings are like that. Come on, let’s go.”

The settling snow glittered with fractures of miniature rainbows. I found myself converted as we strolled amid the drifting flakes, boots crunching into the crisp surface. A smile broke out over my face. I grabbed for Lawrence’s hand and held tight, our mittens squishing together. He cast me a sidelong glance and I knew he was wondering what cheerful changeling had replaced his sceptical wife.

Read Charged Particles in full.

Writing prompt – voices

Dylan Thomas summerhouse at Laugharne CastleWithin the grounds of Laugharne Castle is a stone summerhouse where Dylan Thomas and author Richard Hughes would come to write.

Today there is a note from Dylan’s wife Caitlin warning him not to leave the radio on and run the batteries down. More magical, however, is the fact you can turn on the radio and hear Dylan and Richard nattering (might be actors, but who can say?).

What voices from history would you like to overhear? Can you grant your wish to a character in a story?

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.