Book review – Unthology 9

Unthank_Unthology9_Cover_The tales in Unthank Books’ Unthology 9 are awash with troubled souls grappling with twisted ideas about love. From paternal to oedipal, the sensuality is fringed with unease. Protective love, manipulative love, obsessive, idealistic and thwarted, it’s all here, laid out between the pages of Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones’ latest masterpiece.

The introduction is itself akin to a beautiful flash fiction, rich in atmosphere and mood. It’s the perfect introduction to this archipelago of outstanding fiction, where every story is an island and each reader an elective castaway.

And, like all shipwrecked souls, we’re soon immersed in the preoccupations that make up human existence, starting with the mortal coil, and the twin barbs of love and loneliness.

Continue reading

Bristol Short Story Prize 2017 invites entries

Bristol hot air balloons cr Judy DarleyOne of my favourite writing competitions (and not just because it’s local), Bristol Short Story Prize 2017 is now open for entries. Flick through any of their anthologies and you’ll discover a wonderful breadth of theme, topic and style.

The closing date for entries is May 3rd 2017. Submissions can be up to a maximum length of 4,000 words.

The judging panel will be chaired by Tania Hershman. Tania is joined on the panel by acclaimed author Roshi Fernando and award winning bookseller, Simon Key.

BristolShortStoryPrize-vol-9-coverThe 2016 Bristol Short Story Prize was won by Stefanie Seddon for her story, Kãka.

The 2015 Bristol Short Story Prize was won by Canadian writer Brent van Staalduinen for his story A Week on the Water.

The 2014 Bristol Short Story Prize was won by Mahsuda Snaith for her story The Art of Flood Survival.

The 2013 Bristol Short Story Prize was won by London-based writer, Paul McMichael, for his story, The House on St. John’s Avenue.

Stories can be entered online or by post. The closing date for entries is midnight (BST) on May 3rd 2017. Find the full competition rules here.

The writing competition prizes

First prize is £1,000. Second prize is £700, and third prize is £400.

Each of the 17 remaining shortlisted finalists will receive £100.

Entry fees are £8 each.

For full details or to enter, go to www.bristolprize.co.uk.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at Judy(at)socket creative(dot)com.

Unfettered nature

Snowdrop Wood by Jane Betteridge

Snowdrop Wood by Jane Betteridge

The fragrant half-silence of drawing a breath in, easing a breath out, as a woodland stirs around you is one of the most enchanting things about entering a patch of wilderness.

Likewise the headiness of standing on the brink of a stretch of land with the sea forming itself into endless shifting sculptures just beyond. These are the moments that remind us of  the sheer awe-inspiring beauty around us.

These are the moments Jane Betteridge transforms into works of art.

Blossom's Out by Jane Betteridge

Blossom’s Out by Jane Betteridge

Despite this, Jane never imagined she’d become good enough to be a professional artist, Happily, “years and years of practise and experimenting, in between getting on with my day job and raising a family, finally paid off.”

And the pay-off is enviable, as Jane now has the pleasure of being a full-time artist and experimenting with paint daily.

“In my eyes there is no other medium that comes anywhere near the vibrant characteristics of watercolour,” she says. “The way they merge and mix together on the paper, granulating and changing colour is mesmerising. Their glowing luminosity adds life to a painting.”

Berries and Bindweed by Jane Betteridge

Berries and Bindweed by Jane Betteridge

Jane sources inspiration from the ever changing nature of landscapes, as well as ephemera and other potential new materials.

“Changing seasons, country walks, hedgerows, colours, textures, textiles, old stone walls, rusting metal, and peeling paintwork, the sea, the sky, new tubes of paint or unusual watercolour mediums, old postcards, tickets and wrapping paper can all stir a desire in me to paint.”

Teasles and Honesty by Jane Betteridge

Teasles and Honesty by Jane Betteridge

It all adds texture to her art, and enjoyment to the process. Jane’s ongoing desire to experiment are vividly evident throughout the pages of her beautiful book Watercolours Unleashed. But how did the book come about?

Crashing Wave and Gulls by Jane Betteridge

Crashing Wave and Gulls by Jane Betteridge

“I spoke to Search Press when at an art fair in Nottingham and then sent them some images of my work and they asked me to go to their offices for a chat about writing the book.”

An urge to capture the sense of a moment drives much of her work.

“It’s the atmosphere of a place that makes me paint. For example, an isolated bluebell wood with the sun streaming through can be ethereal, magical and peaceful,” she says. “A rough sea lashing against the rocks can be awe-inspiring. Whether or not I do actually capture the atmosphere doesn’t really matter to me as it’s the fact that it made me create a work of art which is the most important thing.”

Bluebell Woodland by Jane Betteridge

Bluebell Woodland by Jane Betteridge

Looking at her glorious, energetic paintings, I’d say Jane captures the atmosphere with every stroke, offering glimpse of the world that can quietly infuse any room in which you choose to hang them.

Cow Parsley by Jane Betteridge

Cow Parsley by Jane Betteridge

Along with teaching, which she finds “so rewarding”, Jane feels hugely fortunate to be able to devote so much of her time to creating new work.

“I feel like I’m in heaven working as an artist,” she says. “If I wasn’t a full time artist, I’d be painting every spare minute I had anyway, so how lucky I am to be able to earn a living at what is essentially my hobby and favourite pastime.”

Poppy Field by Jane Betteridge

Poppy Field by Jane Betteridge

Jane has studios in Leicestershire and in St Ives, Cornwall. “People can make an appointment to view my work when I’m there. I’m in a couple of galleries at the moment and you can view my work on my website www.janebetteridge.com and my Facebook page Jane Betteridge Art.”

Forest Blues by Jane Betteridge

Forest Blues by Jane Betteridge

She adds: “I’ll be taking part in the St Ives September Festival (from 9th-23rd September) this year when my studio will be open to the public. I do quite a few commissions and had solo exhibitions every year for around 10 years until recently when writing the book took all of my time.”

Watercolours Unleashed has been such a success that Jane is now writing her second book for Search Press. I can’t wait to see what she creates for us this time.

Read my review of Watercolours Unleashed.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – grave companion

Grave companion cr Judy DarleyMy local Victorian cemetery where I like to run is littered with tombs topped by curious effigies. When I spied the small horse above, my only thought was, “Funny, I never noticed that one before.”

I actually ran past, then trotted back for a closer look, and realised that what I’d taken for carved stone was in fact sodden fur, moss-stained and sullied by spending who knows how long in a graveyard?

Grave companion by Judy Darley

Who could have lost this precious companion? What lonely soul might have claimed it as their own?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Watercolours Unleashed by Jane Betteridge

Watercolour Unleashed by Jane BetteridgeThe cover of this beautiful book offers a vivid preview of the treat you’re about to experience. Mouthwatering shades and intriguing textures abound. Inside, Jane presents an array of wonderful techniques, using everything from clingfilm and tissue paper to threads, seeds and (my alchemical favourite) salt to create effects that will lift and transform your art.

With chapters devoted to materials, colours and preparing your paints, Jane ensures you’re equipped to make the most of any opportunity to capture a scene. A section on composition will help you present your subject in the most breathtaking or pleasing way possible, while a series of projects will ease everything you’ve learnt beneath your skin so that it becomes an everyday part of your artistic arsenal.

With Jane’s exquisite paintings appearing through, the book is also a pleasure simply to pore over for a hit of energising colour.

I spent a very happy Sunday afternoon dabbling with a few of the techniques, and watching the results. My painting, below, created using Jane’s tips and encouragement, turned out a bit clumsy and abstract, but was infinitely satisfying.

Textured Haze by Judy Darley1

As Jane comments in her intro to the book, it turns out that “Watching paint dry can be extremely exciting.” She also takes a moment to remind us that painting should always be a pleasure, never a chore. “Free yourself up. Unleash your passion for watercolour by keeping an open mind, experimenting with techniques, and enjoying yourself by trying new ideas. The watercolour medium has a mind of its own.”

Well, how could you resist? Watercolours Unleashed offers full, unreserved permission to play. Whether, like me, you’re fresh to your artistic journey and seeking the courage to tackle the beauty about you, or experienced and wishing to rediscover that early joy, Jane is the artist to take you there, and inspire you every step of the way.

Watercolours Unleashed by Jane Betteridge (RRP £14.99) is available to buy from www.searchpress.com

Discover more of Jane’s art.

What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Enter the Poetry on the Lake Competition

Carzano harbour cr Judy DarleyThere’s still time to enter the Poetry on the Lake Competition with a closing date of 30th April 2017.

There are three categories:

Silver Wyvern (all forms, max 40 lines). The theme is precious, base, and anything metallic, and can be interpreted in anyway you wish, but must bear a reference to the theme.
Short poems (max 10 lines). No theme.
Formal (max 40 lines). No theme.

Carol Ann Duffy is the Silver Wyvern adjudicator. Short poems will be judged by Oz Hardwick, while Kevin Bailey adjudicates the formal poems.

Prizes range from €500 to €100. Interestingly, all fees are donations to the organisation and events of Poetry on the Lake, so while there is a suggested amount, they add: “If you genuinely can’t afford the fee, just send what you can. Of course, if your bank manager kisses the ground when you walk in, please donate generously.”

Find full details at www.poetryonthelake.org.

Mapping the world

Installation for Rio Olympics at the Belmond Copacabana Palace, Rio de Janeiro by Kristjana S Williams

Installation at the Belmond Copacabana Palace, Rio de Janeiro by Kristjana S Williams

From maps to globes to nature’s extravagance, Kristjana S Williams’ art encompasses the whole world.

“I grew up in Iceland where the visual landscape is entirely dictated by nature,” she says. “Whilst striking, I always felt the scenery lacked colour and it was this aspect that I craved. Having been born in the UK, I longed to return to England and discover London and its cultural diversity.”

When she was 20, Kristjana moved back to the UK and studied engineering. “I initially worked in this field, however, I had always dreamt of pursuing my artistic nature,’ she says. “I finally had a chance to do this when I got a place on the Illustration course at Central Saint Martin’s.”

Portrait for RIO 2016 by Kristjana S Williams

Portrait for RIO 2016 by Kristjana S Williams

Kristjana always had an interest in Illustration. “This passion stems from an early age when I discovered maps in a Cartography class at school in Iceland,” she says. “I used to draw the maps and fill them in, I would imagine where I would go and what I would do and that was the happiest I have ever been.”

Globe by Kristjana S Williams

Globe by Kristjana S Williams

At first, Kristjana’s drew most elements by hand, “but I later discovered the technique of using Victorian engravings which I recoloured and reinvented making them individual. I started to combine these with my old love of maps and was pleased with the result I got.”

Falin Viltur Blar Solar Palm III detail by Kristjana S Williams

Falin Viltur Blar – Solar Palm III detail by Kristjana S Williams

Her creations form from three key ingredients.

“Colour, narrative and shape are all equally crucial components in my work and it is the combination of all of them in unison that make a piece successful.”

Mood image by Kristjana S Williams

Mood image by Kristjana S Williams

These days, Kristjana receives commissions from large corporations as well as members of the public, many of whom “have seen a large 3D artwork I have done for a big client, such as The Knowledge for The Shard.”

The Knowledge in the Shard by Kristjana S Williams

The Knowledge in the Shard by Kristjana S Williams

Clients have included a series of glorious butterfly and bird-infused installations for the Belmond Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics.

“Sometimes people fall in love with an element the work and want something of their own,” she says. “Once I have gathered a good body of research on the individual and have got to know them, the design begins to flow quite freely.”

Kristjana relishes the independence that comes with being a freelance artist. “Expressing yourself visually is such a great feeling.”

WBTC London Cushion by Kristjana S Williams

WBTC London Cushion by Kristjana S Williams

You can see Kristjana’s large commissions at The Shard, The Connaught and The Trinity restaurant. “We will soon be opening a pop up shop at Harrods, which will stock new products and limited edition prints, which will be exciting.”

Find out more at www.kristjanaswilliams.com.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – change

Deceased March wasp photo by Judy DarleyApologies, I realise this post should have come with a warning for those entomophobes among us.

I stepped over this deceased wasp on a sunny day last week and was struck by how wrong it is to see a wasp, alive or dead, at this time of year. To my knowledge, they’re best known for spoiling late summer picnics, so what was this one doing out and about so early, and what caused its demise?

To me this insect corpse is a potent symbol of climate change – a seemingly minor anomaly, but heralding potential catastrophe – the equivalent of a butterfly effect with a sting in its tail. It seems ripe with metaphor and satire for cli-fi (yes, that is a genre) writers.

Curiously enough, when I googled the definition of wasp, as well as getting lots of info about White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (go figure), I was informed that a wasp is A) a social social winged insect which has a narrow waist, and B) a solitary winged insect which has a narrow waist.

So there you go, plenty of tangents to fly with.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

How to use myths in your writing

Sphinx, Egypt, by Justin NewlandIn today’s guest post, author Justin Newland talks us through the ancient stories that helped to inspire his novel Sources of the Genes of Isis.

I guess I’ve always had an inquiring mind. I wanted to explore our origins. Where did we come from? How did we get where we are today? I wanted to conceive a story that offered the discerning reader a different entry point to these age-old questions.

I began by looking through the glass darkly into the past. I quickly ended up in Ancient Greece, and eventually in Ancient Egypt, the earliest recorded historical culture.

The Ancient Egyptians also imagined their origins though creation myths, of which one is the myth of Osiris. He was king to Isis’ queen. But Set murders Osiris, dismembers him and distributes his body parts all over Egypt. Isis gathers them together, miraculously brings him back to life, and bears him a son, the hawk-headed Horus.

This is a story of life and death, procreation, rebirth and the struggle for power, all of them archetypal themes. And the basic ingredients of the myth are not a bad template for a novel: start, weave the threads, spread them far and wide, then collect them altogether, breathe new life into them for a pulsating climax.

That wasn’t all. Many great men have set their feet upon the path to Egypt: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte. It was the first and oldest civilisation, and therefore influenced everything that followed. The first in any field always does. In this respect, Egypt is the Mother and Father of all things.

That set me going. 

Fish Man Depicted on Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

Explore infinite possibilities

Next up, I discovered legends from other ancient cultures that mentioned cross-breeding between species, of mixed genetics, and hybrids. The apocryphal The Book of Enoch spoke of the Grigori, or ‘fallen angels’, who came to Earth and mated with ‘the daughters of men,’ spawning the Nephilim, an antediluvian race of giants. The Epic of Gilgamesh talked of strange beings such as fish-men, who came ashore for the day, and returned to the sea at night. Even today, you can see a stone carving of such a creature at the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut behind the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. (see above)

These and other sources fired my imagination. What if these ‘fallen angels’ manifested in human form and settled in Ancient Egypt? What if antediluvian genetics were unstable, in that the normal bindings that prevented the existence of crossbreeds had become loosened, spawning mixed genetic creatures and humans with the head of animals?

The germ of the idea for the novel was born: an alternative genesis of the human race.

Interwoven with these threads was esoteric information about such concepts as the astral light and the akashic record, referenced by the Theosophical Society and, more recently, the Emin Society. They conceived of the akashic record as a compendium of thoughts, events, and emotions encoded in a non-physical plane of existence.

This is where I derived the name for the novel’s heroine, Akasha, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘aether’ or atmosphere.

Also mooted was the astral body, a sort of personal spirit entity, which could leave a person (usually during sleep) and travel the astral light, there to explore the akashic record and so re-live any event or person from any time in history. This is what Edgar Cayce, an American mystic, claimed to have done. His profuse and profound writings speak of the time before the Flood.

All this nourished my fascination for the supernatural.

Doris Lessing’s Shikasta contained some original and interesting ideas about how humans may have lived in the times before recorded history.

I got the name Samlios, where the Akasha is born and where the initial action of the novel unfolds, from Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson.

Then the Flood. Where did that fit into the story? Now, think about it for a moment. If it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, how did all that water get up there in the first place?

What about this utterance from the Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts‘I shall cross the great lake in the sky and return home to my double on the sun.’

More recently, Old Mother Shipton, a Yorkshire prophetess, coined her answer: ‘Beneath the water, men shall walk. Shall ride, shall sleep, shall even talk.’

What if the waters were already up there in the sky, and the earth had shrunk like a dried prune, leaving the remaining oceans on narrow and shallow sea beds?

Another element of the world of The Genes of Isis was taking shape.

Egypt by Justin Newland

Build a narrative and characters

With two main sources, I needed two protagonists, one to speak for the humans, and the other for the angels, whom I called the Solarii. I envisaged the embryonic human race as blue-blooded, gentle folk, and kind. The Solarii on the other hand, were drawn as severe, powerful and dedicated.

A comparison of opposites yielded a girl and boy, young and old, Akasha and Horque. The main characters took shape.

The Genes of Isis cover by Justin NewlandThen in the novel, I twisted another Biblical weave: instead of having the Jews as slaves to the Egyptians, I conceived of them as willing helpers and servants.

When I started work on the novel, I began with the idea, a rough storyline, giving me the destination. Then the characters emerged out of the plot and suggested parts they could play. Sometimes I heard their voices when composing the dialogue. Sometimes my imagination revealed things about them, like what they carried in their pockets.

I found my characters crouching behind the plot lines, emerging out of the shadows of the narrative, and in the great halls of the unconscious (yes, even in dreams).

Looking so far back into pre-history, there was an abiding sense of peering into a dark timeless abyss, and where sometimes, as Nietzsche predicted, the abyss stared back. That was unnerving. Especially as most of what I was researching had no fixed points, no salient facts on which anyone agreed.

Then again, it did leave plenty of room for the imagination.

All this and more is in The Genes of Isis.

Justin NewlandAuthor bio

Justin Newland lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills, in Somerset, England. His short stories published in anthologies: The Fool of Abbot’s Leigh in Hidden Bristol and Fisher of Men in North by Southwest. Vallum Hadriani is published in The Dark Half of the Year, a collection of ghost stories by the North Bristol Writers.

Justin’s debut novel, The Genes of Isis, is published by Silverwood Books. It’s set in Ancient Egypt, and draws on two main sources: the myth of Osiris and the story of the flood in the Book of Genesis. Find out more at www.thegenesofisis.com.

All images in this post were supplied by the author.

Let the Book Fair commence!

English Pen Literary Cafe

London Book Fair 2017 begins at Olympia, London, on Tuesday 14th March, so don’t expect any response from agents of publishers for a while! I attended a few years ago with a publisher I was working with, and it was one of the most exhausting, intriguing, chaotic, exhausting, extraordinary events I’ve ever attended. Sorry, did I say exhausting twice?

It’s a vast, sprawling space filled with people who haven’t slept in days and aren’t quite sure where they’re going – a bit like an international airport but with the added requirement of being ready to schmooze at a moment’s notice.

Previously I’ve always urged aspiring authors not to attend with the aim of pitching unpublished novels, but this year for the first time there is a special Author Club section of the fair which is worth investigating, while the usual offering of seminars will help you find out about self-publishing, marketing and more.

On the whole though, this is very much a trade show, where the emphasis is on publishers pushing titles, discussing international rights and new markets, seeking out new business collaborators, stifling yawns and drinking rather a lot of coffee.

If you’re going along, good luck!