Writing prompt – lens

Flying in Laugharne by Judy DarleyI was looking at some photos I took in Laugharne this summer and almost deleted this one because of a strange mark I mistook for a smudge on the lens.

But then I zoomed in a little and discovered a slightly blurry image of a bird in flight, or perhaps a pterosaur.

Flying in Laugharne crop by Judy Darley

It made me consider how easily this could create a plot twist in a story, as your character notices something unexpected or revealing in a photo they thought they knew…

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.

Apply to be Bristol’s City Poet

Clifton Suspension Bridge cr JDarley

Poets are invited to apply to become Bristol’s new City Poet.

Miles Chambers was appointed the first City Poet following his rendition of his specially composed work ‘Bristol, Bristol’ at the official swearing-in ceremony for Mayor Rees in May 2016.

If you live in and love Bristol, this could be the chance to rhapsodise about our hilly, creative, quirky metropolis. The winner will be required to compose 10 poems for specific events or projects and will take part in public performances and community engagement activities during Mayor Marvin Rees’ second term in office between May 2018 and May 2020.

The prestigious role of the City Poet is managed by Bristol Cultural Development Partnership as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas in association with the Mayor’s Office. The City Poet is given an annual fee of £5,000 for the core poems.

Events that current City Poet Miles Chambers has performed at include the Mayor’s Annual State of the City Address in 2016 and 2017, the council’s Annual General Meeting and at a city twinning celebration, as well as appearing in a video for Bristol Energy.

It’s fantastic that we can continue the post of City Poet, which has been filled by Miles Chambers over the past year,” says Martin Rees. “Miles’ gift with words has enriched several important events in the city and I’m thankful to him for sharing his distinctive voice with us. I’m looking forward to being involved in the process of appointing a new City Poet and would encourage all poets who love this city to apply. Being the next City Poet is a huge opportunity and I can’t wait to read your submissions.”

Applicants should be experienced poets living in Bristol who already have work published in print and/or online. In addition to filling in an application form, you need to submit two poems (new works or ones already published) of up to 65 lines, one of which should have Bristol as its subject matter. You also need to include a personal statement of around 300 words expressing what you feel you would bring to the role.

The application deadline is Friday 1 December 2017. 

The decision will be made in January 2018 with a handover from the present City Poet Miles Chambers to the new city poet in May 2018.

Find out more and apply here.

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.

Hay Festival Winter Weekend

Hay Festival Winter Weekend montage1The folks at Hay Festival Winter Weekend have announced the line-up for their largest winter festival to date, giving you plenty to rev up your writing this frosty season. It all takes place in Hay-on-Wye from 23rd till 26th November 2017.

See how many participating writers and speakers you can spot in the montage above. Inspiring participants include novelists, storytellers, illustrators, journalists, comedians, chefs, sports tars, composers, musicians, poets, actors, broadcasters and more. Look out for Robert Macfarlane, Jeanette Winterson, Shazia Mirza, Matt Haig, Nikesh Shukla, Patrick Barkham; Matt Lucas, Catrin Stewart, Jeremy Vine, Monty Don, Jackie Morris, Gillian Clarke, Owen Sheers, Ed Vere, Catherine Barr, James Campbell, Anna Jones and Hay Community Choir, among others.

“Hay Festival Winter Weekend is now in its 18th year, blending literary conversation, immersive performances and interactive workshops, with the best of the town’s seasonal shopping and a chance to explore the famed natural surroundings in all their autumnal splendour,” says Peter Florence, Director of Hay Festival.

A new venue will double the festival’s seated capacity, while events begin a day earlier than in previous years, with programmed talks and performances from Thursday 23 November.

“Come and join us in Hay for fireside storytelling and feasting,” Peter says. “The town is decked in Christmas lights and glistening with winter cheer for a celebration of scrumptious food, glorious vintage clothing and high times. Bring a story, bring a new idea, bring a friend. Everyone is welcome.”

Tickets are on sale now. Book online at hayfestival.org or call 01497 822 629.

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.

A fairytale-themed arts trail

Totterdown Front Room Art Trail 2017Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail erupts on 18th and 19th 2017 November with a Fairytales, Myths and Legends theme – perfect for stirring imaginations.

“This doesn’t mean to say the art needs to reflect the theme, but expect to see some folklore related ‘goings-on,’” says Trail organiser Gail Orr. “This year we hope to attract 200 local artists across 90 different venues, with thousands of visitors coming from across the city and beyond. It’s a fantastic opportunity for local artists to display their work to the public, and it’s also a great opportunity for the public to visit, view, discuss and buy original works of arts and crafts directly from the artist.”

Never been to an art trail? This is a great one to dip your toe (or jump head first) into. The first to appear in Bristol 17 years ago, it offers a chance for artists to showcase their work within their own homes, and for us public to a) enjoy said art, and b) get away with being nosy about other people’s décor to our heart’s content.

There’s also potential for lots of inspiration gleaning, not to mention a golden opportunity to start the Christmas shopping with some one-off originals.

Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail is on from 18-19th November 2017. Find full details at frontroom.org.uk.

Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail_cr Judy Darley

Writing prompt – positivity


A couple of years a friend and I wrote up a mass of cheery statements and attached them to my nephew’s discarded baby socks, then scattered them through the neighbourhood. It became part of the Totterdown’s Front Room Arts Trail 2015.

Our only goal was to spread a few smiles.

Why not attempt something similar with your writing?  Word or poetry bomb a public place to make someone stop in their tracks and think for a moment.

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 might publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Shades of thought

Feature of Landscape1 by Clare Thatcher

Feature of Landscape1 by Clare Thatcher

The concept of painted landscape representing human emotions is intensely appealing to me. Stormy skies, wind-lashed fields and scenes verging on abstraction can all evoke a state of mind.

It’s a school of thought artist Clare Thatcher is fully enrolled in with her dark, contemplative layers of oil paint applied to linen or plywood.

Formation by Clare Thatcher

Formation by Clare Thatcher

“I’m a Contemporary British artist based in Bristol with a passion for painting,” Clare says. “I attended University of West of England from 2011 till 2014 graduating with a First Class BA Honours Degree in Drawing & Applied Arts, and then gained a MA Fine Art at Bath Spa University. Since graduating I’ve exhibited in London, Belgium, Nottingham, Bristol & Bath.”

It’s the psychological impression of a setting that she aims to capture in her paintings. “My work is deeply connected with a sense of place, taking influence from the idea of liminal space in landscape,” she says. “The locations I choose and the focus of my attention is highly selective, personal and resonant of individual landscape features and associated thoughts, emotions and reflections. The emphasis is upon the sense of contemplation within place.” Continue reading

Writing prompt – Story Week

Cheetham Library, ManchesterThe UK’s National Short Story Week takes place from 13th-19th November 2017, with events including workshops, readings, exhibitions and more.

The aim of the week is to make the British public more aware of the pleasure of reading and writing short stories. There are numerous short story writing workshops, short story readings, ‘meet the author’ events and short story competitions to get involved with, all in the guise of “celebrating the short story and the short story writer.”

Why not use this as a prompt to write a short story inspired by the setting of your local library, or a favourite cafe, and then find out if then find out if you can exhibit the completed work of fiction there to inspire others?

Find out what’s happening for National Short Story Week in your area.

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 might publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Poetry review – A Watchful Astronomy by Paul Deaton

A Watchful Astronomy by Paul DeatonIn his first full-length collection from Seren, Paul Deaton eases us into the depths of his life, awakening us to the complex constellations of families. Carried through months and years, we take in moments of sorrow, wonderment and self-depreciating humour that seems to sum up both the experience of one individual in a moment, and of the scope of human existence on Earth.

The key relationship here is Deaton’s uncertain navigation around his late father, but his sister, mother, friends and rivals populate his journey, along with the moon, weather systems and unexpected flurries of flora and fauna. These latter, from Starlings’ “tall-tree trumpeters” to Sea Bream Dinner’s “wholesome, silver sea thing” reveal a quiet observance of the natural world that borders on reverence.

Despite casting his net occasionally into the sky above, to me Deaton’s poems resonate so powerfully because they are rooted in the earth, drawing our attention to the cumulative marvels of minutiae that could seem mundane in other hands. It’s here that Deaton’s fluid metaphors gleam. A reference to the central heating’s “dull milk shed moan” in Late Hour sketches parallels to other lives we could have lived, while Voices draws back the curtain on what comes after as well. The loss of his father ripples throughout, most poignantly for me in DIY: “He turned up at my house too, when I hadn’t asked.” The recognition and faint irritation of unuttered love is spine-tinglingly palpable.

Throughout the collection, momentum builds as Deaton urges us to contemplate the unstoppable force of time and mortality. Our planet rotates, seasons change and we age, seemingly without mercy. Yet in the midst of this, plants and wildlife flourish, offering echoes of beauty and wonder that lift Deaton’s poetry and illuminate the gloaming.

At his launch in Bristol, Deaton described his poems as “an attempt to make the darkness visible.” He certainly achieves that, but at the same time this poet reveals the light shining amongst shadows, and what could be more human than that?

Read my review of Paul Deaton’s Black Night.

A Watchful Astronomy by Paul Deaton is published by Seren and is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Buy your copy from Amazon.

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.

Submit your poetry or prose pamphlet to The Emma Press

MerryGoRound cr Judy Darley

If you haven’t yet discovered The Emma Press, you’re in for a rare treat. This fabulous little publishing house has a keen eye for talent, especially when it comes to poetry.

They’re currently inviting submissions of prose and poetry pamphlets, and this time around you’re encouraged to send your work to the editor you would most like to read it. To help you choose, they’ve published profiles of all four editors, offering a valuable insight into the writing that makes their blood sing and their hair stand on end.

The editors are Rachel Piercy, Yen-Yen Lu, Richard O’Brien and Emma Wright.

“This doesn’t mean that you have to have this editor if your book is chosen, and nor does it guarantee that your chosen editor will be the one who reads your manuscript in the first round, but we will try our best,” says founder and publisher Emma Wright.

She adds: “We do recommend that you read all four profiles and give them some thought, but don’t agonise over your decision – if the editor reading your manuscript thinks it’s good but might appeal to another editor more, they will pass it on to them.”

Please note that you need to have purchased a book or e-book from the Emma Press to take up this chance.

It’s a tantalising opportunity. For guidelines, visit the Emma Press website for guidelines, and submit your words before 10th December 2017. 

Helena Park’s Shadowlands

Hinterland etching by Helena Park

Hinterland etching by Helena Park

Helena Park learnt at art college that self-motivation is key. “You must become your own agenda-setter,” she says. “Stay true to what you want to make and follow whichever direction it takes you in.”

It’s a lesson that has served her well as she’s pursued her aim of being a working artist.

We met at The Other Art Fair, where Helena was showing her beautiful yet unsettling etchings and monoprints depicting scenes of monstrous hinterlands.

Gossip etching by Helena Park

Gossip etching by Helena Park

“Books have always been my biggest resource,” she says of her inspiration. “When drawing a new series of initial sketches I usually spread out a selection of books around me and pick and choose imagery which catches my interest.”

Much of her work is figurative, so existing images of people with expressive gestures “like an Egon Schiele painting or photographs of dynamic movement” are key to her process. “Ancient art is another inspiration, in particular Mayan, Anglo-Saxon Christian and Ancient Greek artworks,” she says. “I find that there’s a visceral and expressive quality to such works which transcends time and remains relevant to contemporary life.”

Helena enjoys examining her ideas, while protecting their ambiguity. “My concepts for new work are always vague and I like them to remain so,” she says. “This leaves room for me to keep exploring ways of creating a tangible conception of those ideas. I’m drawn to other artists who create a world within their art that’ both highly stylised and immediately recognisable as the artist’s own. This is something which I try to channel and in my own practise.”

This instinctual yet informed approach offers a dark dreaminess to Helena’s work, which often seems to be capturing images from the shadowy subconscious. “Particular figures often reoccur in many of my etchings,” she says. “I like to repeat certain characters in order to test whether they have staying power. In effect, I’m developing a core cast of players in the work. I like the idea that viewers will be able to recognise reoccurring characters throughout the etchings and that through this repetition the characters gain a significance.”

The Conversation etching by Helena Park

The Conversation etching by Helena Park

She builds up images drawing from her own rich imagination as well as through close observational study of the human body.

“A good example of these different attitudes would be the etchings; ‘The Conversation’ and ‘Morning Light’,” she says. “‘The Conversation’ exemplifies my imaginative or stylised approach whilst ‘Morning Light’ comes from my desire to move away from just distorting the human body but rather to make a study of it in it’s true form.”

Morning Light etching by Helena Park

Morning Light etching by Helena Park

Helena created her etching Morning Light by tracing a photograph she’d taken onto a soft-grounded zinc plate. “A soft-ground picks up any impressions you make onto the plate,” she says. “I placed my photograph on top of the grounded plate and with a pen drew the lines of her body. This process is unlike using a hard-ground which requires you to scratch through the waxy layers in order to create a line which can later be etched.”

Other surface marks and textures were added using sugar-lift and spit-bite – painting with acid onto an aquatint. “Through these textures I could convey a damaged or corroded appearance to the girl’s skin which was suggestive of some organism growing on her or perhaps acts of violence,” Helena says. “This particular print led to my making a whole series of further etchings and mono-prints all of which used the same female subject.”

Helena’s core aim is to create a sense of another world, “within which exists a cast of characters I am constantly building on and adding to. The series of etchings entitled ‘Hinterland’ are my largest explorations to date of such an imagined world. I hope to keep exploring this concept in my future work.”

Life Study monoprint by Helena Park

Life Study monoprint by Helena Park

The palpable darkness in Helena’s work seems to be directly at odds with her sunny personality. When I comment on this, Helena is surprised.

“It’s gratifying to hear that you think that I seem cheery, but I admit to occasionally suffering from spells of hanger and that at the times when I have missed lunch my sunny disposition has immediately clouded over,” she exclaims. “In such moments anyone unlucky enough to have be in my vicinity has certainly caught a glimpse of my stormier side.”

As it happens, Helena doesn’t regard her work “as just being unremittingly dark or grotesque. I think that there is a healthy dose of black humour in the work. This comic aspect is very important as it is this sense of humour which I utilise as a vehicle to convey sensitive topics or my personal emotions in an accessible way.”

See more of Helena’s work and purchase art at www.helenapark.co.uk or on her Instagram account: helenapark_ where she regularly post updates on new projects.

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.