Enter the Bath Children’s Novel Award

Roman Baths by Judy DarleyThe Bath Children’s Novel Award has opened its doors to submission from unpublished and independently published authors worldwide.

Previous winners include include Lucy Van Smit for The Hurting (Chicken House, Sept 2018) and Struan Murray for Orphans of the Tide (Puffin, 2020).

The 2019 Judge is Lauren Gardner, literary agent for children’s authors at Bell Lomax Moreton. She will pick the winning novel from a shortlist chosen by a team of Junior Judges aged from 7 to 17 years. Read Lauren’s submission tips.

Deadline: 17th November 2019
Submission: First 5,000 words plus one-page synopsis
Entry fee: £25 with sponsored places available for writers on low income

Find full details and submit here: https://bathnovelaward.co.uk/childrens-novel-award/ 

A prose poem – Sunlit

Sunlit tree by Judy DarleyEarlier this year a series of my Care Home Vignettes was published by the Summer 2019 issue of Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing.

These works of creative non-fiction capture my experiences of gradually losing my father to Alzheimer’s Disease.

One of these pieces, titled Sunlit, caught the attention of another contributor to the edition. Poet Carol Barrett, Ph.D. got in touch to let me know she was applying to carry out a workshop for Oregon Poetry Association. The topic would be The Prose Poem As Memoir, the workshop would take place in September, and Carol wanted permission to include on of my pieces as an examples.

I was happy to say yes, and even happier when Carol let me know the workshop had gone ahead, with 33 participants.

Carol wrote: “This community is largely composed of folks over 60, so many have experienced care homes with relatives, or are concerned about whether they will need to take up residence in such facilities. The poignancy of the details came through, as well as the two characters of the speaker and the father. After this discussion, they wrote their own prose poems/vignettes, and some wonderful things were produced.

Writing has always been a means of making connections for me, and I love the idea of this workshop in Oregon including my thoughts and emotions reading a topic that will touch so made of us.

Here’s the piece that went on this journey:

Sunlit

He’s on a mission, striding there and back again. Just woken, his steps are slow at first. He lists slightly to one side, one hip shored up for balance.

I shadow him, spilling memories of holidays we shared. He nods politely, then hurries past. So much ground to cover before nightfall. At a locked door he halts, pressing his fingers against metal screws in different configurations. Puzzling it out.

He seems tall today. A silver birch with crooked branches. We turn, walk on, passing beneath an open skylight.

Rain falls through sunlit silver. Droplets catch in his snow-white hair. He pauses, blinking. Connected for just a moment with the world outside.

The art of pyrography with Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Inlet_Oil, pyrography and gold leaf on wood_by Michelle Loa Kum CheungSometimes an artist’s power lies in their prowess with certain techniques and materials. With accomplished pyrographer Michelle Loa Kum Cheung, that’s certainly partly true, as she commonly works with heat on wood. However, it’s her rarity of vision that elevates Michelle’s art to the status of truly covetable. By recreating rural and coastal scenes in her own precise way, she converts our familiar world into something otherworldly, revealing the precious and fragile beauty of our planet.

Michelle takes her unique viewpoint almost for granted. “As with most young people, I was a creative child who liked to make things out of paper and draw,” she says. “This fascination with analogue, tactile techniques endured throughout university, where I completed Honours in Fine Arts in Australia at the University of New South Wales. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I travelled for the first time to Europe to France, Italy and England and was so drawn to the art and culture that I have now been based in Europe for the past five years.”

Pont_Acrylic and pyrography on wood by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Pont. Acrylic and pyrography on wood by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Michelle’s intricate use of pyrography – using heat as a drawing medium – is particularly impressive.

“I am so fascinated by pyrography as a way to make a mark, and find it very different from the conventional two-dimensional mediums of pencil and paint,” she says. “I first started the technique shortly after finishing university, where my focus had been on trees in the environment as an exploration of phenomenology where I was interested in the science of conscious attention to the surrounding environment.”

Untitled, pyrography on wood by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Following that period, which she describes as “fairly experimental”, Michelle began investigating wood instead of canvas, and developing her understanding of its potential “as a naturally burning material.”

The proves captivated Michelle. “Pyrography requires a lot of attention, focus and delicacy, which I love,” she says. “There is also an irreversible element as you cannot undo a mark once it is made with the pyrography pen, but I believe that all the marks made add to the finished product.”

Against The Current by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Against The Current by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

She finds herself returning to the same questions time and again through her artwork. “What peaks my interest and forms a lot of the ideas in my art practice is the angst of not knowing and desire, memories and nostalgia, particularly memories which aren’t my own and fabricated nostalgia for places that I’ve never been,” she explains. “Moving from Australia and interacting more with old family photos as a result led to me exploring the concept of displaced heritage.”

Penglai_Oil, pyrography, liquid leaf and conte pencil on wood, by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Penglai_Oil, pyrography, liquid leaf and conte pencil on wood, by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Michelle is also exploring the Chinese concept of shan shui. “My understanding of shan shui is that a realistic depiction of the landscape is not as pertinent as how the artist perceives it, emotionally and mentally,” she says. “Focal points and perspective function differently in traditional Chinese landscape painting than in Western art. Looking into Chinese mythology has also introduced me to Chinese utopia and mythological mountains and landforms which represent an idyllic world which could exist concurrently to ours but which is, as yet, unmarred by human interaction.”

Archipel_Acrylic and pyrography on wood_30x30cm_2017

Archipel by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

As a very visual person, Michelle says “Each new piece is generally inspired by something I have seen personally or a memory which I have ingested second hand through someone else, whether their own recent memory or an old family memory, before I was even born. I try to walk every day and even moving through my environment in a casual manner not only brings new visual inspiration but also clears my mind for imagining.”

Danxia No. 1_oil and pyrography on wood by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Danxia No. 1 by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Michelle says her personal favourite artwork is Danxia No. 1. “It was one of the first circular paintings I have done, and in fact one of the first paintings since permanently relocating to London,” she says. “Dana refers to the naturally occurring red landforms in the Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park, which for me hold resonance with the Chamarel Coloured Earth in Mauritius, where my parents were born.”

Once she has an idea for a fresh piece of work in mind, Michelle’s creative process is precise. “There are certain works where the mark making is very planned, usually if I am combining paint and gold leaf, because the preparation of the wood and intentional empty spaces dictate it,” she says. “In this way mistakes can be particularly unforgiving. My art book is a combination of rough sketches, finished sketches and measured grids. For these artworks, it is important for me to pre-visualise the structure.”

However, the colour is usually applied instinctively, while many pieces are almost entirely intuitive. “It surprises most people that the most intricate pyrographic works on wood and paper which are usually monochrome have the least planning – close to none. There are no mistakes in these works, just the continuation of form.”

Sierra, Oil, pyrography and liquid leaf on wood by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Sierra by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

The beginning phase of the artwork spans from the design process right up until Michelle has filled in the first layers, “whether that be of pyrography or paint. Generally I will do most of the pyrography first as the foundation and switch to the paint. Once these areas have been blocked in, contemplation starts because I tend to not plan the colouring as much as the initial structure.”

The next stage requires a little more space from the actual work. “I’II sit back and stare at the painting for almost as long as I actually work on it,” she says. “I usually need to leave an artwork for a few days and come back to it before realising it is complete. As artists work in such close quarters to their art, separation is definitely needed so we can contemplate what we have done and regard it from a distance.”

Furl by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Furl by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Michelle will be exhibiting her work as part of the Counter Balance Artcan Group Show from 30 October – 10 November, Trinity Art Gallery, London. You can also see Michelle’s work at Cultural Diaries, a group show with Milenna Saraiva, KV Duong and Tom Cox, from 25 November – 1 December at Old Brompton Gallery, London.

Find out more about Michelle and her work at www.michellelkc.com, on Instagram @michelle_lkc and on Twitter @michelle_lkc

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

Writing prompt – tithe

Tithe Barn at Bradford on Avon by Judy DarleyThis impressive Tithe Barn is situated in Bradford on Avon. The beautiful structure dates back to the 1330s, and has had a number of uses attributed to it, though the name suggests this may have been where people were expected to bring the wares that made up their taxes – basically ten per cent of every crop or animal yield paid to the local church establishment.

I love that this photo catches two modern-day visitors treading in the ancient space, almost as though they are the ghosts in this scenario. What produce might they be expected to submit ten per cent of to this building’s holy masters?

What aspects of history, religion, society and community could you explore with this as your starting point?

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 short story – Shifting Sands

Shifting Sands by Judy DarleyI’m proud to have my ecological fable ‘Shifting Sands’ included in the Mechanics’ Institute Review 16: The Climate Issue. Such an important topic to think, write and take action about.

The MIR team have been lovely to work with, and I can’t wait to see my story in print. It will be my longest published work to date, rocking in at just over 5,000 words.

The sands, when we get to them, show evidence of those who’ve attempted to cross before – an abandoned sleigh here, a dropped backpack there. No footprints though. No bones. The winds erase or cover those each day.

The story began life in a climate fiction workshop run by Deborah Tomkins, and was inspired by a visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. It takes the form of a journey for the characters, as they explore themes of human frailty and resilience in the aftermath of the climate change crisis and plastics polluting the planet. I’d like to think it’s threaded through with hope too.

I’ve excited to meet the other authors, and the editors who’ve worked so hard to polish our words, as well as come face-to-cover with the anthology itself!

The image at the top is by Lionello DelPiccolo, who did a fabulous job of imbuing the whole anthology with stunning visual beauty. Buy your copy here.

Mechanics' Institute Review 16

Writing prompt – trail

Snail trail_Photo by Judy DarleyThis week’s prompt follows on from last week’s snail adventure. I frequently see snail trails like this one, where the snail has apparently looped-the-loop. They always stir my curiosity. Why would a ponderous, slow-paced mollusc backtrack like this? What purpose could this have, other than the snail wanting to check it isn’t being followed and hasn’t dropped something en-route?

Could something more whimsical or satirical be going on?

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.

The unlikely magic of bitumen

Leaping Through The Dragon's Gate by Nigel Shipley

Leaping Through The Dragon’s Gate by Nigel Shipley

“In a world of hard-edged technology, expressionist painting connect us with the human hand and emotions,” says artist Nigel Shipley. “My abstract paintings don’t represent things that already exists, but do have connections with the real world.”

The title of Nigel’s latest exhibition, Wine Gums and Moonbeams, sums up this ethos with mouth-watering immediacy. One is tangibly flavoursome, drumming up the inimitable sensation of a mouth full of colourful sweets (especially vivid thanks to their childhood connotations), while the other shivers with impressions of ethereal beauty, other-worldliness, potential romance and possible danger. In other words, they’re each jam-packed with suggestiveness. His work is deliciously evocative and playful.

ironside by Nigel Shipley

Ironside by Nigel Shipley

Following on from my 2018 interview with Nigel, the artist has continued to experiment with abstract painting, finding new routes to capturing the images he envisions. “In many of my recent painting I have used bitumen paint, which is made to repair leaking roofs,” he says, “It is dreadful stuff to work with, sticky, stinking and as black as can be. It is like the dregs of a barrel of crude oil, but when dried on a painting it can be a sublime, rich, and deep black. It’s pure black like Japanese lacquer, but with a velvety softness.”

Nigel has fully immersed himself in investigating the behaviour and effects of this medium. “Oil paint applied in a thin wash over a pure white base acts like a sheet of coloured glass through which light passes and reflects back off the white base. This can illuminate the colour from behind and make it glow, contrasting vividly with the dark bitumen. The black has a dramatic effect on a thin wash next to it.”

Melancholy by Nigel Shipley

Melancholy by Nigel Shipley

Other materials also come into play. “I can make a simple mould out of clay and melt metal to cast silvery pieces to embed into bitumen – the black and silver challenge each other like yin and yang.”

Nigel’s influences inform his trial-and-error process. “The emotional rawness of Abstract Expressionists attracts me, as does the composition of Japanese prints and the light and movement of Renaissance painting. Like Japanese lacquer, bitumen paint gives a sublime, rich, deep black which I contrast with thin transparent misty washes of paint. It creates a hint of a landscape with objects floating in space give a suggestion of surrealism.”

Interference by Nigel Shipley

Interference by Nigel Shipley

The result is a glorious visually tactile series of paintings brimming with emotion yet utterly open to interpretation.

Nigel is an ardent fan of what he terms controlled accidents. “By painting a thin wash of oil paint over a white base of water based acrylic paint, the oil and the water may react and create natural patterns that reflect those in nature,” he says. “These patterns can have an infinite complexity that it would be impossible to design, and mirror the patterns found when frost settles on an icy winter’s window, or the cracks of a dry muddy river bed. Scraping wet paint with a squeegee can create similar accidental textures or rhythms that reflect nature.”

In The Beginning by Nigel Shipley

In The Beginning by Nigel Shipley

His approach is purely based on intuition and curiosity, which contributes to the originality of the finished pieces.

“My method of working is to follow my instincts and not to try to communicate an idea about a social issue but to celebrate beauty,” he explains. “I work on many paintings at a time. I make marks, leave the paint to dry and then come back to look at it afresh before deciding what I feel to be the correct next move. At some point I either decide that it’s finished or throw it away as a painting that didn’t work but from which I learnt something.”

Wine gums and moonbeams will be on at The Hours, Colston Yard, Bristol, BS1 5BD, from 4th-31st October. Viewings by arrangement. For details, visit www.nigelshipley.com