Book review – Down in Demerara by Mike Manson

Down In Demerara coverFelix Radstock isn’t an instantly likeable protagonist. Fumbling his way through the unfamiliarity of Guyana, the best way to describe him might be as a tropical fungus – he’ll grow on you, whether you want him to or not.

It’s 1999, and the world is anticipating an ‘end of days’ scenario courtesy of the Millennium Bug. Felix has been sent to Guyana, a South American country described as ‘culturally Caribbean’ by Wikipedia, to gather evidence on the country’s economy and, he assumes, make suggestions to improve it. He regards himself as a whizz-kid with data and numbers – seeing colours in the information that highlight patterns that could lead to solutions.

In truth, to start with, he seems a bit of a waste of space, floundering around missing his girlfriend Aurora. As he reminisces about his first meeting with his love, in Bristol Zoo’s butterfly house, she offers up the line: “You have to be still and let them get used to you.”

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Imaginative city

Waterstones Bristol. Photo by Judy DarleyBristol Festival of Literature begins on Friday 19th October and runs until Sunday 28th October, with a variety of imagination-stirring events taking place across the city. I’ve written about it for The Bristol Magazine, and can’t wait to dig into the riches promising to well up.

You can read my feature in the October print edition, or online here: https://thebristolmag.co.uk/word-on-the-street-bristol-festival-of-literature/

Jari Moate. Photo by Paul Bullivant

Jari Moate. Photo by Paul Bullivant

I’ve already got my tickets for two of the highlights I mention in the piece The first of these is Festival founder Jari Moate’s launch of his novel Dragonfly, taking place on Saturday 20th October at Waterstones, the Galleries. It starts at 7.30pm. Tickets are free but need to be booked here: www.bristolliteraturefestival.org

The second is the very last event of the festival – Finding the Positive –Dystopias and Utopias in a Changing Climate.

This CliFi (aka Climate Fiction) workshop is from 2-5pm on Sunday 28th October at Bristol’s YHA, and promises to offer insights into how we can share stories of our changing climate and inspire action in a positive way. I’m looking forward to soaking up plenty of inspiration!

Bristol Writers Group in Redcliffe Caves1. Photo by Paul Bullivant

Bristol Writers Group in Redcliffe Caves1. Photo by Paul Bullivant

Lots of other intriguing happenings are unfolding throughout the days of the festival, including Dark Confessions with Bristol Writers Group and friends. I’m one of the friends and looking forward to sharing my story Tunnelled in the setting that prompted it – Redcliffe Caves. Find out more and book tickets here.

And if you make it to anything on the Festival calendar, let me know how you get on!

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

Starstruck by art

The Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Edward Kemeys, Lions

Edward Kemeys, Lions, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago is bound to be a highlight for any art aficionado visiting this extraordinary city. This vast space is teeming with renowned artworks, as well as plenty of less famous gems. From the intriguing Thorne Miniature Rooms to marvels such as Georgia O’Keefe’s Sky Above Clouds IV (below), I found myself floating on an excess of wonder.

Sky Above Clouds IV by Georgia O'Keefe

Stairways and soaring corridors led us to the Contemporary Wing, housing an impressive assortment of notable works. Frankly, it was like attending a party attended by an eccentric assortment of heroes. Meeting creations by the likes of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Charles Ray, and Damien Hirst made me feel a little starstruck: wide eyed and at a loss for words! I also had a the pleasure of encountering some artists for the first time, including Katharina Frisch, whose ‘Woman With Dog’ brought to mind happy hours scouring coastal rock pools as a child.

Woman With Dog by Katharina Fritsch

Woman With Dog by Katharina Fritsch

Downstairs I found myself drawn to the implied magic of the miniature rooms conceived by Mrs James Ward Thorne and created, under her guidance, by master craftsmen between 1932 and 1940.

Cape Cod Living Room 1750-1850

Cape Cod Living Room 1750-1850

Each represents a home from a particular time and location, with details down to the carpets and knick-knacks summoning up an impression of the lives that might have been lived there. It’s entrancing for any lover of art, architecture, history or humanity.

The Art Institute of Chicago. Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Elsewhere, the halls of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan and Islamic art instilled us with a sense of tranquillity, while the Architecture and Design exhibits inspired is with its grace and practicality.

We were also fortunate to visit when the John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded Age exhibition was on, and to walk among excellent work not only by the artist himself, but by his contemporaries, including Claude Monet.

The scale of these galleries makes it unlikely you’ll be able to see every exhibit in a single visit. My advice is to select a few galleries and do them justice. To me the Art Institute of Chicago felt like a portal through time, space and sensibility, with each doorway offering admission to another absorbing world.

Find out more at www.artic.edu.

Discover Bilbao.
Discover Brescia.
Discover Budapest.
Discover Bath.
Discover Barcelona.
Discover Laugharne.
Discover Reyjavik.

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

Writing prompt – myth

Arnos Vale woodland grave cr Judy DarleyFairytales feed into our consciousness from our earliest days. From myths to the whispers that emerge on shadowy evenings, to the fear of that creature that may lurk under beds or inside cupboards, they rattle through our blood and shape our understanding of narrative, as well as of the world.

I recently read Amy Wilson‘s excellent debut A Girl Called Owl, which draws on old mythology concerning Jack Frost, his brethren and the fay. And I often dip into an ancient copy of Tor Åge Bringsvaerd‘s entrancing book Phantoms And Fairies From Norwegian Folklore.

When I saw this woodland grave in a rustic cemetery, my intrigue was piqued. I imagined the people who might have laid someone to rest here, amid the trees and insects. I couldn’t help thinking of Hansel and Gretel, and the trauma they’d had to overcome.

My resulting story, Invertebrates, has been published in Issue 8 of Door Is A Jar Magazine, which is available to buy here.

Here are the first lines, to set the scene for you:

We dug her up each solstice, and each time she was a little lighter, her joints a little more unhinged. I worried she might come apart entirely, sinew and bones giving way as we propped her in the place of honor.

Why not turn an unexpected glimpse into a story of your own, shouldering it in fairytales or fables for added resonance?

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.

Beautifully balanced Chicago flavours

Cafe Robey Gnocchi

Set on the corner where North, Damen and Milwaukee Avenues meet in Chicago’s Wicker Park Bucktown neighborhood, Café Robey is just one ingredient of the immense art deco tower that also houses the hotel of the same name.

The wait staff are as attentive as America has taught us to expect, with a soupçon of elegance layered on top. Our water glasses never fall more than a half inch below brimful, and Mr J is called Sir so often he has trouble holding onto his composure.

Cafe Robey Ford Model cocktail

I start with the Ford’s Model cocktail, a reference to the Chicago Assembly, Ford Motor Company’s longest running manufacturing plant. It may not sound like the most mouthwatering premise, but the cocktail itself, with Hibiscus Ford’s Gin, Chareau, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, cucumber and 11th Orchard Pine Bitters, is as refreshing as stepping into an air-conditioned store after a stroll down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, aka North Michigan Avenue.

Mr J opts for a beer, taking advantage of America’s flourishing microbreweries. We find ourselves discussing the beauty of the glassware between sips and feeling just a touch Great Gatsby.

The menu is pleasingly simple, with each dish sporting a single word description to whet your appetite: Gnocchi, Scallop, Pork, Duck…

Mr J starts with the Pork Belly, a treasury of braised pork belly, almond mole, charred pineapple gel (gel proves to be a key a feature on this menu), corn fritters, spiced cabbage and pickled radishes. He describes it as “tenderly glazed”, and “perfectly balanced.”

Cafe Robey Prawn

I opt for the head-on prawn with fried green tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, Acqua Pazza, Three Sisters’ Grits and fresh basil. The grits are crisp, the prawns deliciously meaty and the Acqua Pazza (yes, I had to Google that) delightfully light, but unexpectedly, it’s the heirloom tomatoes that steal the show, with a delicate juicy flavour that sweetly asserts their fruit status.

Mr J chooses the gnocchi as his main, and raves about their crunchy exteriors and soft, moist centres.

Cafe Robey Duck

I can’t resist ordering the lavender-cured duck breast, accompanied by duck consommé, faro (a whole grain) fava bean succotash and kumquat marmalade. The whole dish taste wonderfully nutritious, the antithesis to the burgers and deep pan pizzas more commonly associated with Chicago cuisine. The duck is utterly luscious, while the succotash and faro add just the right amount of bite.

Cafe Robey Honeycake

For dessert I’m all about the toasted cardamom honey cake, served in glistening wedges with moreishly rich pistachio custard, raspberry gel, zingy raspberries and thyme and lavender salt. It’s a texture and taste bonanza; my mouth has rarely been happier.

At the end of our meal, we’re each brought a shot of milk and a cookie. Glancing around, I spot diners across the restaurant cosying up with their own cookies and milk. It’s an unlikely touch of comfort at such a chic establishment, but one received with as much appreciation as the finest gastronomic mouthfuls on this indulgent and imaginative menu.

Find Café Robey at 1616 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL, USA,
872 315 3084 https://www.caferobey.com.

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

Bristol art – Autumn 2018

Before Nightfall by Nigel Shipley

Before Nightfall by Nigel Shipley

There’s so much art happening in Bristol at present that I barely know where to look first. Last weekend (6th-7th Oct 2018) was Art on the Hill – the ever-inspiring Windmill Hill and Victoria Park arts trail. The Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail will follow from 23rd till 25th November. Can’t wait!

Prior to that, HOURS Gallery is hosting Daydreams, an exhibition of Nigel Shipley‘s abstract paintings, accompanied by music and readings of poetry created in response to the works. Sounds really intriguing! I love work that transcends form in this way. The performers are all members of Bristol Tonic.

Bristol Tonic poet

  • Date: Saturday 13th October 2018
  • Venue: HOURS Gallery, 10 Colston Yard, Bristol BS1 5BD (HOURS is in Colston Yard, accessed from the top of Colston Street, through an archway between Bike Workshop and Blaze)
  • Times: Gallery open from 10am-10pm. Performance from 7-8pm. The exhibition can be viewed by appointment until 1st November, ring 07909874586 to arrange this.
  • For more details, go to: www.nigelshipley.com
Wind by Yurim Gough, part of her Elements artwork

Wind by Yurim Gough, part of her Elements artwork

And the RWA’s wonderful Open Exhibition has launched, revealing a spectacular array of works, including Yurim Gough‘s ‘Four Elements’. Definitely one for your calendar! The show is on until 25th November 2018.

Judy Darley in Redcliffe Caves

If you’re seeking further inspiration, don’t forget Bristol Festival of Literature, running from 19th-28th October. I’ll be reading in Redcliffe Caves on Tuesday 23rd October as a guest of Bristol Writer’s Group for an event titled Dark Confessions. There are masses of other curious happenings too, so I’m hoping to get to as many as possible. Hope to see you at an event or two!

A short story – Wriggler

Laugharne Castle by Judy DarleyMy bittersweet story Wriggler has been published in the October 2018 issue of the intriguingly named Ghost Parachute. It captures the moment when a mother recognises the hazards of the age her son has reached.

The picture above shows Laugharne Castle, a destination for my duo.

Here are the first couple paragraphs to give you a taste:

The suspension bridge tries to catch us in its wires as we drive from Bristol to Wales, chasing storm clouds as we go. “It’s like a spider with a gazillion legs,” Sam says, staring up through the sun roof.

I can’t help but smile at him. In those words I hear the little boy he used to be, just last year or the year before. Not that 12 is so very close to fully grown, but the perils he faces now seem disturbingly adult.

To read the story in full and see what other fab fictions this literary ezine has to offer, visit ghostparachute.com.

Writing prompt – direction

Lavender Farm way in sign by Judy Darley

Sometimes a story just won’t take root, however much you love the seedling idea. If that happens, try a change of direction.

Look at your cast of characters and assign a different one the role of narrator, change their gender, turn your protagonist from good to bad, switch from past to present tense or go from first to third person point of view, or vice versa. Far from just tweaking the occasional word or pronoun, you’ll find ripples travelling through the entire text, and may even see new plot lines bob into sight.

And if that doesn’t work, change the narrator, tense, point of view or moral code back again, but collect up the most interesting traits and nuances that have shifted along the way.

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 – Safe Arbor

Apples by Judy Darley

My surreal story Safe Arbor has been published by the excellent fairytale magazine Enchanted Conversation as their Saturday Tale.

It’s an exploration of old age and sibling loyalty, and includes the line: My sister nods her branches with the breeze and murmurs…

…which gives you a clue to the direction I’ve taken it in 🙂

You can read the story in full here.

Blenheim Festival of Literature, Film and Music

Blenheim PalaceTaking place mainly in the grand surroundings of Blenheim Palace and nearby Woodstock, Oxfordshire, from  11th-14th October 2018, Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature, Film and Music offers up an eclectic mix of notable talents.

Authors and speakers to look forward to include novelist Esi Edugyan, entrepreneur Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, biographer Judith Mackrell, and noted jumper-wearer Giles Brandreth.

The exquisite setting is as much a part of the attraction as the famous names. Enter The Orangery to see actors Caroline Langrishe and Adrian Lukis perform some of Jane Austen’s most beloved characters, while vocalists and musicians, including harpist Camilla Pay and soprano Rosie Lomas, bring the era to life.

Step into The Indian Room at Blenheim Palace with curator Nino Strachey for an insight into the Bloomsbury Group homes of Virginia Woolf, of her lover Vita Sackville-West, and of Vita’s cousin Eddy Sackville-West, and how their design choices “reflected changing social and moral attitudes towards sexuality and gender in the 1920s and 30s.”

And encounter weird and scandalous flora-behaviour with Author, artist and botanist Dr Chris Thorogood in The Malborough Room.

Those are just a few of the options on offer. It may only be four days, but they’re set to be jam-packed with inspiration, opinions, intrigue and entertainment.

Visit blenheimpalaceliteraryfestival.com for full details.

Find out more about Oxfordshire, including places to stay, at www.visitoxfordandoxfordshire.com.