Writing prompt – nail

Dad's coffin nail by Judy Darley

I recently had the uncanny experience of scattering my dad’s ashes, so he now nourishes trees and other plants in places with glorious views.

Amidst the pale grit of his remains, I found a lone, twisted nail.

There are two possible explanations I’m leaning towards.

Either, this is a coffin nail the undertaker failed to sift out,

Or this is the unexpected proof that my dad was in fact a cyborg.

Either possibility could lead to an eerie Halloween tale.

What does your imagination tell you? What’s your emotional response to this writing prompt?

If you write or create something inspired by water, please send an email to judydarley (at) icloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I might publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Theatre review – Hamlet

Billy Howle as Hamlet holding skull1. Photo by Marc Brenner

Bristol Old Vic’s departing Artistic Director Tom Morris describes Hamlet as a play about memory. This is true for the characters, struggling to come to terms with the changes that caused by loss – in themselves, loved ones and circumstances. The world itself seems altered. In this filmic, visually rich production, the very set moves – graves appear almost underfoot (Firdous Bamji as the gravedigger is a particular delight) and doors, windows and staircases expose themselves as the character reveal their own complex facets. Set designer Alex Eales took inspiration not only from the Danish town Helsinger, which Shakespeare based Elsinore on, but from MC Escher drawings, and it shows.

The actors make full use of this space, portraying a full gamut of human emotion against the starkly lit, rotating, towering background.

Mirren Mack as Ophelia and Niamh Cusack as Gertrude.

Mirren Mack as Ophelia is initially warm and relatable, making her descent into grief and, in this production, drug addiction, all the more shocking. Niamh Cusack brings layers to the role of Gertrude, adeptly unveiling the character’s inner battles between her desire to protect, defend and chastise her son. In Cusack’s skilled hands, Gertrude is perhaps the most nuanced character – hiding her mourning for her dead husband behind the thrills of her new marriage even as she begins to distrust Claudius (Finbar Lynch in deeply sinister form).

As Hamlet, Billy Howle is impassioned, unhinged and utterly believable, as the actor, perhaps best known for his film and TV roles, gives his heart, body and soul to the role. His energy is mesmerising as he contorts himself in the throes of anger, mischief and anguish, while video designer Jack Phelan’s footage reminds us that this tortured creature was once a happy little boy.

Isabel Adomakoh Young at Horatio with Billy Howle as Hamlet_Photo by Marc Brenner

Isabel Adomakoh Young at Horatio with Billy Howle as Hamlet.

On the theme of memory, there’s pleasure to be had throughout from hearing classic lines expertly delivered by all nine actors, and of, as so happens with Shakespearean plays, discovering and re-discovering the root of familiar sayings, from “Get thee to a nunnery” (spoken by Hamlet to Ophelia and far more heartbreaking in context) to the ghost’s line regarding “murder most foul.”

The fight scenes directed by Bret Yount and many deaths are aptly dramatic with plenty of bloodshed, and at the other end of the scale we have parental and filial love, the latter demonstrated elegantly between Hamlet and Horatio (Isabel Adomakoh Young).

This is a production that gleefully toys with all of our senses, including smell, and enthrals throughout.

Photos by Marc Brenner.

Hamlet runs at Bristol Old Vic until 12 November 2022. Buy your tickets at www.bristololdvic.org.uk/whats-on/hamlet / Tel: 0117 987 7877.


Writer William Shakespeare                                Director John Haidar

Set Designer Alex Eales                                        Costume Designer Natalie Pryce

Lighting Designer Malcolm Rippeth                     Movement Director Lucy Cullingford

Composer & Sound Designer Max Pappenheim   Video Designer Jack Phelan

Casting Director Sam Stevenson                           Fight Director Bret Yount

Costume Supervisor Zoe Hammond                     Assistant Director Elinor Lower

Hamlet Billy Howle                                                Ophelia Mirren Mack

Gertrude Niamh Cusack                                       Claudius Finbar Lynch

Laertes/Rosencrantz Taheen Modak                    Polonius/Osric Jason Barnett

Horatio Isabel Adomakoh Young                         

Ghost/King/Gravedigger Firdous Bamji

Guildenstern/Reynaldo/Player queen Catrin Stewart

Have you watched, seen or read anything interesting? 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 – sprig

Green plant growing on red-painted wooden boat, John Sebastian Lightship. Photo by Judy Darley

This flourishing greenery is sprouting near the gangplank of one of Bristol’s most notable vessels, the John Sebastian Lightship. where I’m co-hosting Writing on Water with poet Helen Sheppard on Saturday 22nd October (just one ticket left, but more workshops like this planned for the future!).

How have these seeds found their way into the wood of this boat? Where have they travelled from, and where has the Lightship carried them? What stormy weather have they withstood to thrive in this unlikely spot?

Could you use this hardy and persistent plant-life as a metaphor?

If you write or create something inspired by water, please send an email to judydarley (at) icloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I might publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Writing prompt – chat

Happy to Chat bench, Pavilion Gardens, Buxton. Photo by Juduy Darley

I spotted this bench at Buxton’s Pavilion Gardens. Along its top are carved the words: ‘Happy to chat’. What a simple and lovely way to encourage friendliness and counteract loneliness! I have to confess, I sat on it without reading the message, but as I’m almost always glad to have a natter, it wouldn’t have been a problem if someone mistook my intentions and joined me.

I don’t know if you can read it, but the bench’s words state that it’s paid for by Soroptimist International, which I googled to discover a ‘worldwide volunteer service organisation for women who work for peace, and in particular to improve the lives of women and girls.’

What a lovely thought! It sounds to me like a inconspicuous brand of superhero, spreading comfort and community.

What story ideas does this prompt in you?

If you write or create something inspired by water, please send an email to judydarley (at) icloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I might publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Writing prompt – water

New Mills Waterfall by Judy Darley

How do you write about water, and harness its power in your words?

Does it trickle? Surge? Roar?

Is it hungry? Foreboding? Volatile? Reflective? Tranquil?

Is it a backdrop?

A playground?

A graveyard?

A symbol of climatic change?

A way to examine loneliness, or love?

Can you use it as a metaphor for a relationship on the rocks?

To explore mental health?

To furtively or overtly examine fertility?

What does the sea wash up, transform or leave behind?

Whether you write about a raindrop or an ocean, you can harness water as a powerful writing muse.

Taking place on Bristol’s Lightship from 10am to 3pm on Saturday 22nd October, the Writing on Water workshop with Helen Sheppard and Judy Darley will include writing prompts, generative exercises and an inspiration-gathering stroll on Bristol harbourside.

Tickets for Writing on Water are available here.

If you write or create something inspired by water, please send an email to judydarley (at) icloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I might publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – The Shadows We Cast by Sarah Tinsley

The Shadows We Cast book cover_Sarah TinsleyWith chapters headed by names and starting with two time-frames (Now, After), the moment you open The Shadows We Cast by Sarah Tinsley, it’s clear we’re in psychological thriller territory. The first chapter, from Nina’s point of view, crackles with alarm, while the second, from Eric’s viewpoint, is no less gripping.

Tinsley layers in sharp, pithy descriptions that match the tone: “His pulse is a train-click”, “The stretched darkness of winter has always grated on him.” We’re fed settings and circumstances line by atmospheric line, so we’re fumbling with the characters to understand what’s happened and who is in the wrong.

There’s humour too, as Nina navigates the perils of getting a coffee at work while avoiding chat, speeding past “the HR lot, wallowing around the kitchen like it’s a watering hole” and passing Brian in Sales, who, thankfully “seems safely amused by something on his phone, either that or he’s checking up his nostrils.”

Later, a group of ‘office drones are described through Eric’s eyes as having “gel swooping their hair, like a wind has caught each one in a different direction.”

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