Poetry review – Bloodlines by Sarah Wimbush

Bloodlines by Sarah WimbushSarah Wimbush won the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2019 with this slim yet seductively insidious collection. Wimbush’s verses creep in under collar and cuff, sending shivers across your scalp.

Weaving in the salt and pepper of Traveller idioms, Wimbush draws us into a journey through her own heritage, where we meet heroes and queens of lanes and fields.

You’ll learn some gorgeous terms along the way: “nose warmer” for pipe, “hedge mumper’ for tramp, and “drum” for road, as well as less familiar words, such as “yog” for fire and “chokka” for shoes. Some felt familiar without me knowing why – “mush” for man, for instance, and “shushti” for rabbit. It all adds to the richness of the telling.

In some poems Wimbush conjures the litany of a life in just a handful of lines, such as with Our Jud, who “rarely missed a fisticuffing up the Old Blue Bell./ And that time calmed the lady’s filly bolting up the road.” Each sentence has the fireside flavour of a blustering anecdote, yet summons facets of courage, heart and honour beside the bravado. Any of us could be proud to be seen as clearly as Wimbush describes Jud.

And yes, there is romance in much of the lustrous imagery, but unfrilled and honest. There’s a nod to the rebellious, the eternally loyal and the larking, with hints of hardship and hard work among revelries.

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Enter the Bath Short Story Award

Roman Baths pigeons by Judy DarleyThe seventh annual Bath Short Story Award is open now for entries from aspiring and established writers worldwide. Why not use this time of event cancellations and self-isolation to dream up a prize-worthy work of fiction?

The competition closes to entries at midnight GMT on 20th April 2020. You’re invited to submit stories up to a maximum of 2200 words on any theme or subject.

This year, literary agent Kate Johnson from Mackenzie Wolf Literary Agency is the shortlist judge. Read an interview with Kate and discover what she means when she says she’s seeking “authentic voices.”

Each submission costs £8.

The Bath Short Story Award prizes

  • First prize is £1200
  • Second prize is £300
  • Third prize is £100
  • The Acorn Award for a unpublished writer of fiction is £100
  • One highly commended story writer will receive £50 in book tokens from Mr B’s Emporium of Books, Bath

In addition, the top 20 entries will feature in the Bath Short Award anthology 2020, to be published by Ad Hoc Fiction.

Find full details of how to enter here. Good luck!

Oceans, harbours and ecological art

Jellyfish. Part of a collaborative project to illustrate a coffee-table book on plankton with a focus on phytoplankton. By Scott Luis Masson.I was walking along Bristol’s harbourside when I spied Scott Luís Masson’s glorious oceanic artwork for the first time. Schools of fish spooling towards sunlight, small rowers battling gigantic waves and other-worldly, gelatinous orbs netted my attention. Diving a little deeper, I discovered an intriguing ecological slant to the artwork, with a focus on oceans and responsible plastic use. Scott tells me this was very much a conscious choice.

“I’ve lived by the sea for parts of my life and always found it an inspirational environment,” he says. “Soon after my career change into illustration I began illustrating ocean and sea life pieces for various personal and then collaborative book projects, and ended up with a lot of images as a result that became stand-alone prints.”

Diatoms Study. Part of a collaborative project to illustrate a coffeetable book on plankton with a focus on phytoplankton.

Diatoms Study. Part of a collaborative project to illustrate a coffee table book on plankton with a focus on phytoplankton.

Prior to this, Scott was a teacher of secondary and A-level Design Technology and ks3 Art. “I always knew I had to pursue my own creative aspirations at some point, and was actually doing woodwork part time whilst teaching as the potential start of a career change, but I realised when I began making guitars that it was just an expensive hobby!” he recalls. “Illustration seemed a more viable option and I always wanted to get back into drawing and artwork in general and knew that later in life I’d regret not doing this. It was actually when my dad passed away unexpectedly that I was prompted to question what I was waiting for and to finally take the decision.”

Scott’s marine-inspired images led to further projects and opportunities including exhibiting at conferences and fairs alongside ocean conservation organisations.

“Regarding plastics, this topic obviously goes hand in hand with the ocean,” Scott comments.

Plastic Attack by Scott Luís Masson

Plastic Attack by Scott Luís Masson

As he was becoming known for his ocean-themed artwork, Shambala Festival 2018 approached Scott to illustrate the plastics problem as a large-scale painting. “The painting acted as a stage backdrop for the Raw Foundation ‘Raw Talks’ that took place at Shambala Festival 2018.

Shambala Painting by Scott Luis Masson

Shambala Painting by Scott Luís Masson

“As someone who wants to live responsibly where I can – which is definitely a work in progress – I relish the chances to use art to promote awareness of the issue,” Scott says. “I started packaging my prints in biodegradable waxed paper last year instead of plastic sleeves.”

Narrative is a natural component of Scott’s artwork, and he particularly enjoys storytelling as an element of creating illustrations.

“It’s an opportunity to fully use your imagination!” he exclaims. “Illustration is a midway point between art and design, creating art work to what is essentially a design brief, even if that brief is a personal one, and it can be asking for your creative response to many possible things. This interpretation is what I enjoy, trying to depict something visually, often someone else’s concept, as you imagine it, and then seeing the author’s response to this.”

http://www.skylightrain.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Ardid-and-the-Seagull-ollaborative-project-to-illustrate-a-childrens-storybook.-By-Scott-Luis-Masson.jpg

A scene from Ardid and the Seagull, a oollaborative project to illustrate a children’s storybook.

The opportunity to work with creatives in other disciplines is another part of the appeal.  “Often illustration can be a fairly solitary activity so it can be great to work with a ‘colleague’ for a while.”

He says that juggling myriad demands is the biggest challenge of any collaboration.

“Time is hard enough to manage individually and we’re all busy with countless aspects to our lives,” he says. “When collaborating with writers the source of the content is the text, but projects can often get stalled for a variety of professional and personal reasons. It’s great when one gets going again, though. Perhaps that break allows for reflection and the outcome will be better for it.”

Jellyfish by Scott Luis Masson

A passion for music drives other projects and commissions. “I love anything related to music,” Scott comments. “As someone who grew up with albums, I’ve always appreciated amazing artwork on covers and within sleeves. Responding to something audial with visuals always excites me. I’ve created the art and sleeve design for one album so far and hope to work on more in the future if opportunities come my way.”

Fish by Scott Luis Masson

A new work of art or series of artworks begins with a design process of “first thoughts, research and sketches,” Scott explains, “by which point I can normally see if a good composition is going to be possible. I tend to move onto ink as quickly as possible as my style is very linear and it’s the loose inky lines that hopefully bring the image to life, after which I scan and usually add colour digitally.”

Scott describes his frame of mind when starting a new artwork as being “a mixture of excitement and anxiety. I’m my own ‘best’ critic and always feel I can produce better work, so the beginning is often an overwhelming feeling of wanting to do so.”

Ocean Drifter's book_illustration by Scott Luis Masson

Fortunately, he finds he’s usually happy with the outcome. “That brings a sense of achievement as well as relief, after which I’ll start that process of reflection about how the next piece can be better.”

Scott hopes to inspire viewers with “a level of intrigue about an image, maybe a sense of depth, which I try to bring to anything I draw. Hopefully they might feel like it’s something that stands out a little, which has been said to me a few times at illustration and craft fairs and is always really pleasing to hear!”

To see more of Scott’s artwork, visit slmillustration.com, where you’ll also find links to his social media feeds.

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 – incarceration

Lemur, Bristol Zoo, by Judy DarleyI once came across a call for poetry, short fiction and creative non-fiction, which specified that submissions were free of charge “for people who are currently incarcerated.”

Today I invite you to dream up a story with a fresh take on incarceration, bearing in mind that not all those charged with a crime are guilty, not all those locked up have been charged with a crime, and not all jails are physical.

Even more intriguingly, not all those who are trapped are aware of their lack of liberty.

Use this as the starting point of a tale.

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 may publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – One Scheme of Happiness by Ali Thurm

One-Scheme-of-HappinessA deliciously discomforting read that will creep under your skin.

Set against a vividly realised setting of a small Northern town in the shadow of a defunct lighthouse, author Ali Thurm paints a journey into obsession and manipulation with steadily building menace. The title is drawn from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and Helen, Thurm’s narrator, regards Fanny Price as her role model. They are both quiet and easily overlooked. Helen hopes to share in Fanny’s happy ending, and is prepared to do whatever she can to achieve that.

Helen has been living with and caring for her ailing mother for twenty years, and has become a little set in her ways. When her mum passes away, it feels like the start of something, but at first it isn’t clear what. A friend of her mum’s suggests a trip abroad, “now that you’ve got some money”, but Helen isn’t ready for the unknown. “Why would I give up the comforts of home to wait around in airports and be ruled by timetables? (…) I don’t want anything to change. This is where I want to be.”

It takes the return of two old school friends to help her realise that this is only partly true. Through the fog of grief and coping strategies, Helen’s former bestie Vicky emerges, with her husband Sam, who Helen adored at school, coming home for reasons unspecified until the novel’s end.

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Writing prompt – surface

Judy all at seaMy sister snapped this pic of me enjoying the balmy depths of the South China Sea. It’s such a peaceful scene, and yet it is part of a power struggle that’s been going on for decades as countries vie for control of this major shipping channel and its oil and gas reserves. It’s also, according to Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources, home to one third of the entire world’s marine biodiversity.

Yet from this level, it looks gloriously tranquil. Transform this into a metaphor for someone who seems calm but is cracking apart beneath the surface, or play with what you see above. What’s could be lurking below the sunlit surface?

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.

Book your Flash Festival tickets now!

Trinity College Bristol***Cancelled for 2020 due to coronavirus pandemic***

Celebrating its fourth year, Flash Fiction Festival 2020 spreads out over three intensely creative days in June. The festival unfurls on Friday 19th, Sat 20th and Sun 21st June, welcoming fabulous flashers including Kathy Fish, Nuala 0’Connor, Ingrid Jendrzejewski and Tania Hershman.

`the weekend takes place at Trinity College, Bristol, and is packed with inspiring workshops tackling every aspect of flash fiction, from Climate Writing with Deb Tompkins, Creative Visualisation with Karen Jones, Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Creating Emotion & Yearning on the Page: with Kathy Fish, Going Further With the Novella-in-Flash: With Michael Loveday, Writing the Prose Poetry Sequence. With Carrie Etter, I Didn’t Sign Up for This! How to Get on Stage and Read Your Work with Confidence: with Nancy Stohlman, Hybrid flash with Tania Hershman, and Foraging For Inspiration with me!

These are just a few of the wonderful offerings tempting you to sign up. See the website to find out what else is happening.

I helped out at the festival in 2019 and came away with a notebook full of ideas, and a hunger to power up my laptop. The festival team, headed by directors Jude Higgins and Diane Simmons, plus festival curator Meg Pokrass, make this a weekend of imaginative adventures, attracting some of the loveliest writers ever to dip a toe into the art of flash writing. Join the throng before all spaces fill up!

Book your flash festival admission here.

Novella-in-flash review – An Inheritance by Diane Simmons

An Inheritance Diane Simmons coverLifetimes pass in a twinkling in this novella-in-flash from Diane Simmons. Eighteen tightly woven short stories sew together moving glimpses into the love, betrayals and reconciliations of four generations over a span of seventy years from 1932 to 2002.

We enter their world via a door into a pawnbrokers’, where kind-hearted Thomas is moved to help those who enter his dad’s shop in their darkest hours. By the end of the novella, we’re rediscovering the unclaimed items from that shop, alongside Thomas’ grandchildren, and understanding the desperation and hope those shops and their glinting miasma of contents represented.

The book’s earliest flashes stream by at disconcerting speed – it took me a few disconcerted chapters to adjust to their pace. Deaths and funerals rattled by with unnerving rapidity, and I found myself craving deeper delves into the lives Simmons’ wafted past my eyes. One blink, and I felt I might miss a crucial triumph or catastrophe.

The velocity eases as the novella progresses, however, and I realise now how accurately Simmons has captured a sense of the past through the her use of acceleration in those early chapters. Ask anyone about an ancestor, and the likelihood is that in return you’ll receive a blurred array of snapshots – births, marriages and deaths, an anecdote of a feud or act of selflessness and little more.

As we near the current century, we have a chance to catch our breath, and fully focus on the people before us.

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Theatre review – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Mark Meadows and Pooky Quesnel as Geroge and Martha in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo Mark Dawson1

George and Martha invite Nick and Honey to join them for a nightcapIt’s way too late in the evening, but what do they have to lose?

So reads the description on the Tobacco Factory Theatres’ website, and the answer is really quite a lot. Dignity, trust and self-respect are just a few of the traits that will be ripped to shreds by the end of the three act, three-hour and 15-minute performance.

Martha (Pooky Quesnel) and George (Mark Meadows) are already deeply embedded in the academic community that Nick (Joseph Tweedale) and Honey (Francesca Henry) have just joined, so perhaps it’s natural that the younger couple accept an invitation for a post-party party at Martha and George’s. But even the hosts aren’t prepared for the toxic darkness of the games that unfold between the four players.

Joseph Tweedale and Honey Francesca Henry as nick and Honey in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo Mark Dawson

Joseph Tweedale and Honey Francesca Henry as Nick and Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo by Mark Dawson

The drama is almost entirely semantic (despite some exuberantly comic dancing from Henry). In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,  language is weaponised, and aimed to cause maximum damage. Director David Mercatali says “When I first read it, I couldn’t believe words could be so exciting.” His four-strong (extremely strong) cast make the most of Edward Albee’s scorching lines, veering from joyful to tearful and vindictive to protective on the head of a pin. At the heart of it is a couple disappointed by circumstance, and displacing that onto each other despite a deep burning love. Without the affection and evident flickers of adoration, the cruelty might be impossible to bear.

Pooky Quesnel as Martha in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo Mark Dawson

Pooky Quesnel as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo by Mark Dawson

Quesnel eases us in with a double-feat of performing Martha doing an impression of Bette Davis, with a touch of Elizabeth Taylor thrown in. George already has his slippers on before she announces they’re expecting guests, delivering her first kick to George as he berates her for “springing things on me all the time.”

Meadows delivers George’s commentary with razor-sharp humour.

“In my mind you are bedded in cement up to the neck,” says George to Martha in an acerbic moment. “No, up to the nose, it’s quieter.”

The laughter, anecdotes and snarky remarks grow increasingly frantic as the booze flows and each individual makes admissions that they’ll most likely regret. A gun presents a joke and flowers become missiles while a broken bottle crushes to dust under their feet.

Mark Meadows and Pooky Quesnel as Geroge and Martha in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo Mark Dawson

Mark Meadows and Pooky Quesnel as Geroge and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo by Mark Dawson

The Tobacco Factory’s in-the-round space presents the ideal arena for the challenges, with Anisha Fields’ minimal set providing only the essentials – two chairs, a long low backed (thankfully – for those sitting behind it) sofa with books strewn beneath it, a side table with a record player, and a well-stocked bar. It paints the era without fuss, and keeps our focus on the couples.

Quesnel is startling and unnerving, veering from welcoming hostess to seductress to weeping child desperate for love. Meadows is equally adept, revealing George’s underlying rage in small parcels between entreaties and insults. Over the course of the play he refers to Martha as his “yumyum”, and a “cyclops” without missing a beat. And when Honey coyly asks to use the bathroom, George says to Martha: “Show her where we keep the euphemism?”

Tweedale’s Nick holds his own against George, defending both his own wife and Martha against the barbs that come their way, even as the alcohol reduces him to a jocular jock, leaning into the toxic tomfoolery. Henry’s Honey is keen to like and be liked by all, slipping in observations that strip away the veneer momentarily. Her comic timing lifts some bleaker moments into laughter, keeping us on the right side of this emotional juggernaut of a play.

It is long, and could perhaps benefit from having a few lines shaved off here and there, especially in act two. But it’s hugely enjoyable too. Even as you squirm in your seat for those on stage, feeling your own adrenalin heighten, you can’t help being aware of the glory of seeing sharp minds battle it out and wonder who if anyone will make it out alive.

A searing indictment of thwarted ambition, with deep sadness and enduring love at its heart.

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is on at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol, until 21st March 2020.

Images: Mark Dawson Photography.

Seen or read anything interesting recently? 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. Likewise, if you’ve published or produced something you’d like me to review, get in touch.

Writing prompt – rose

Rose by Judy DarleyWhile meandering through a local cemetery, I spotted red flowers blooming on a tree. A closer look revealed silk roses attached with green wire. Someone’s clearly had enough of waiting for spring!

Who might have attached these pretend blossoms? What purpose might they have had. How could this perhaps bring two lonely strangers into each other’s lives?

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 may publish it on SkyLightRain.com.