The art of foreshadowing with Andés Barba

Such Small Hands by Andes BarbaSuch Small Hands by Andés Barba is an intense, eerie little book that beautifully captures the complexities and conflicts of childhood. Told initially through Marina’s eyes, it begins with one of the most vividly painted car crashes I’ve read, drawing you into the surreal cadence of a tragedy from the point of view of a seven-year-old girl: “The car falling, and where it fell, transforming.”

Before long, Marina learns to recite the appropriate lines: “My father died instantly, my mother in the hospital.” However, it is as though the enormity of the situation has rendered it inconceivable, so that she utters the words without the level of distress the grown ups surrounding her expect.

Confounding expectations is an enduring trait for Marina, as she goes on to unsettle the girls of the orphanage that becomes her home. Her strangeness is an enigma to the other children, attracting them and repelling them in equal measure.

After her doll is stolen and dismembered, Marina invents a game that the other girls can’t resist. Each night, she chooses one of them to be ‘the doll’, ordering the others to strip the chosen one naked and reclothe her in the scratchy dress allocated to ‘the doll’.

The game is frightening, and yet overwhelmingly alluring to the children. They are repulsed and discomforted, each night both dreading and longing to be selected.

But before Marina devises the game, author Andés Barba inserts a scene that chillingly foreshadows it.

A line of caterpillars, which they’ve been warned not to touch, marches across the playground, Marina, alone as she almost always is, watches the caterpillars with obsessive scrutiny. ”It made her dizzy to think that they were dangerous, that they stung. Marina picked up a stick. She thought of a number: four. She started counting from the head of the procession. One. Two. Three. Four. And the fourth one she jabbed with the stick.”

It’s an act so methodical, and so seemingly callous, and it sends a ripple of shock through the yard. In the second when she stabs the caterpillar, all the others stop moving, a detail that fascinates Marina. “How had the news travelled from one to the next?”

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Show your art at the RWA Annual Open Exhibition

RWA Open Exhibition 163

RWA © Alice Hendy

The Royal West of England Academy in Bristol is currently preparing one of my favourite cultural events – the RWA Annual Open Exhibition.

The Royal West of England Academy in Bristol is inviting submissions for its 167th Annual Open Exhibition until 20th August 2019.

Submissions are open until 5pm on Tuesday 20th August.

The 167th Annual Open Exhibition will be open to the public from 29th September until 1st December 2019. Artists of all ages and experience are invited to submit.

They say: “A selection panel assesses every entry and last year 634 works by 413 artists made it into the final exhibition. All work is for sale, and the exhibition attracts art-lovers and art-buyers from far and wide. Submissions are welcome from unknown, emerging and established artists, including RWA Academicians.”

This year’s Selection Panel includes art historian and Artistic Director of the RA Tim Marlow, painter and performance artist Adelaide Damoah, renowned art collector John Talbot and award winning art writer and critic for The Telegraph Mark Hudson.

Applicants must enter online, submitting images using the Online Exhibition Submission System (OESS). The exhibition is a highlight of the cultural year.

Find full details here of how to apply here. Good luck!

Read my review of the RWA Open Exhibition 166.

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Writing prompt – library

Extinction Rebellion Bristol_bookstall_15July2019_Photo by Judy DarleyWhat can you tell about a person from their bookshelves? I snapped this photo of a mobile bookstall at the Extinction Rebellion takeover in Bristol this week, and think the titles on show offer a full backstory for a character.

Who and what might serve as their antagonists? What fired up their interest or obsession in the first place?

Use this as your starting point and see where you end up.

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.

Edinburgh Book Festival welcomes word-lovers

Edinburgh book festival gardensThis year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival is on from 10th-26th August, bringing writers and thinkers from across the globe to an avid lit-loving audience.

They say: “Take a journey of discovery through fact, fiction, poetry, personal stories and world affairs.”

The festival attracts 900 authors from over 60 countries, including novelists, poets, scientists, philosophers, sportsmen, illustrators, comic creators, historians, musicians, biographers, environmentalists, economists, Nobel and Booker prize-winners and more.  Continue reading

Poetry in motion

Track Record_Severn Beach_Photo by Judy DarleyOn Saturday 13th July 2019, a very special train departed from Bristol Temple Meads station. Passengers collected their tickets and headphones from conductors escaped from an earlier era and made their way to Platform 1 (and three quarters, presumably), where poet Elizabeth Parker ushered into the central carriage.

This was the beginning of Track Record, an event harnessing the poetry of The Spoke – Paul Deaton, Elizabeth Parker, Robert Walton and Claire Williamson, simultaneously elevated and grounded by Eyebrow musicians Pete Judge and Paul Widens.

Track Record_train journey_Photo by Judy Darley

Poetry and trains make perfect sense as a pairing – something about the transient scenery and the rhythm means that they feed into each other as a form of literary symbiosis.

In the half hour journey between Bristol Temple Meads and Severn Beach, we listened to atmospheric recordings of the poets sharing verses inspired by the stations we were passing through, the people and wildlife who pass through, and memories from their own lives. Between or behind the words, Eyebrow’s sonorous trumpet and drums duo painted textures against the poets’ words and wove beneath our skins.

And all the while, the views: city streets giving way to wastelands, fields, industry’s sculptural effigies and the glorious sweep of the tidal Severn.

From Temple Meads to Lawrence Hill, memories of Stapleton Road, a chance encounter at Montpelier, from Redland to Clifton Down, Sea Mills, where we were joined by a Poplar Grey moth, to Shirehampton, where the moth disembarked, and onto Avonmouth’s metallic giants, St Andrew’s Road and the estuary’s feathered ebb and flow,
to Severn Beach.

Track Record_train journey_Avonmouth7_Photo by Judy Darley

Avonmouth seen from Severn Beach train line

Favourites for me included the conversational poem read almost as a list of observations by Robert and Elizabeth near the journey’s start, Paul’s Chicaning and Sweeps of Time between Sea Mills and Shirehampton, and Claire’s Migrations as the estuary stretched before us, shining.

The limited edition CD and booklet of Track Record published by Mulfran Press will be launched at St George’s Bristol in the Glass Studio on Saturday 7th September 2019. Buy tickets.

Writing prompt – overturned

Slipper limpet baby. Photo by Judy DarleyIn a local woodland, I happened across a flash of magenta pink. Intrigued, I reached out, turned it over and discovered a curious work of art – a figure tucked up as though in bed, inside a slipper limpet.

How could you explain this delightful oddity? Alternatively, could you focus on the theme of ‘overturned’?

Use either of these as the basis of 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.

Slipper limpet. Photo Judy Darley

Poetry review – Afternoons Go Nowhere by Sheenagh Pugh

Afternoons Go NowhereTime, in Sheenagh Pugh’s hands, has a tendency to turn gleefully slippery. In Afternoons Go Nowhere, her tenth collection, Pugh turns her poetic sorcery to humanity, history, geology, nature, and the spaces between all those magical things.

Silken strings of words offer up glorious catches: bewildered kings, harangued statues, a lord’s horse, a  bored husband building cairns, and monks speculating about saints exhale alongside bus passengers “postponing goodbyes”, not to mention glacial water scooping “a hollow in limestone.” In Pugh’s eyes, it seems, each of these has equal gravitas.

Lit by Pugh’s keen gaze, every plant, stone, animal or person has the potential to grow playful or impatient, coy, attention-seeking, or ashamed. Unexpected characters emerge humming tunes that seem familiar, but which curl with their own original lilt.

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Escape to Port Eliot

Port Eliot Festival cr Michael Bowles

All photographs used in this post are taken by Michael Bowles

Port Eliot Festival brings together some of the best creative talents around and plonks them in the midst of a magical sprawling garden party. Irresistible.

Enticingly, they say: “Our home is your playground for one magical weekend and nothing makes us happier than seeing you explore the Estate. Whether you’re swimming in the estuary, catching a literary star on the Bowling Green, rocking out at the Park Stage, canoeing on the river, catching an intimate gig in the church, watching a cooking demo on the Flower & Fodder Stage, a fashion show or dancing ‘till the wee hours in the Boogie Round – our home is yours for the weekend.”

It all kicks off on 25th July, running till 28th July, at St Germans, west Cornwall.

This year’s speakers, performers, mixologists and visionaries include Simon Armitage, Lily Allen, JoJo Mehta, Ben Okri, poet Iona Lee, Stephanie Theobald, Hafsah Aneela Bashir, Sir Tim Smit of the Eden Project, and so many others.

Don’t miss Frisbee Tree Golf, a new show by Ben Moor.Port Eliot woodland cr Michael BowlesFind full details of all the mysterious and mind-boggling goings-on.

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Writing prompt – clouds

Storm cloud over Bristol by Judy DarleySometimes a summer storm can creep in like a wall that hangs in the sky and threatens to fall. The contrast is so vivid – a perfect metaphor for a country’s political state or a family in crisis.

What do these forbidding clouds bring to mind? How could you use them 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.

Book review – Unthology 11

Unthank_Unthology11 coverThere are some writers capable of winding entire worlds into a few thousand worlds, ready for readers to unpack and explore. The team at Unthank Books have a skill for identifying this particular breed of author, as showcased in the latest Unthology.

The theme of this tangled assortment of spaces is hinterlands, and the worlds contained within are appropriately shadowy – these are the places and people that exist on the edges, where starlight is more at home than the city lights, and it’s wise to wait until your eyes adjust.

In Peasant Woman Number Four, Angela Readman conjures a living museum where the protagonist Meredith takes a job bringing the past to life for tourists and school children. Near the beginning she seeds in the line “It was impossible to tell if anyone was ashamed at the museum”, hinting at the darkness she herself is hoping to escape.

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