Honouring loss through paint and music

26 October 1859 by Anthony Garratt

26 October 1859 by Anthony Garratt

The urge to communicate is key to any artistic endeavour, but for the work to truly connect with others, it helps for artists to look beyond themselves and be moved by the world around them. In 2016, artist Antony Garratt achieved this with his painting installation High and Low.

His 2019 project returns him and his team to Anglesey’s wild spaces, this time looking out to sea.

In October 1859, The Royal Charter, a steamship en route to Liverpool from Melbourne was wrecked in the Irish Sea off Anglesey in a ferocious storm. It’s estimated that 800 lives were lost in the storm, which was coined ‘The Royal Charter Storm.’

“The Royal Charter is legendary on Anglesey, not least due to the heroic efforts of locals from Moelfre who attempted to rescue crew and passengers,” he says. “In a dreadful twist of fate, the ship was carrying a cargo of gold and many of the people on board had sewn gold into their clothes. Upon entering the sea, they were immediately committed to the seabed.”

The tragedy of the Royal Charter Storm led to the development of the meteorological office, with the first gale warning service being launched in 1860 to prevent similar catastrophes.

Anthony and his team, enabled by the Outbuildings, Anglesey, and shipwrights Mark and Loz Cann, are creating a painting and theatrical installation titled To All At Sea, or, in Welsh, ‘i barb ar y mar to mark the160th anniversary of the storm.

26 October 2019 by Anthony Garratt

26 October 2019 by Anthony Garratt

Collaborating with the wind

The work will comprise a 4.5-metre-wide double-sided painting panel with a black steel foresail shaped to echo the rig of the royal charter. It will be located in a coastal position near to the location of the wreck off Moelfre, East Anglesey, on 13th May.

“I have just completed the two sides of the painting – one of which communicates a calm, foreboding day at sea; the other the gale which tragically wrecked the Royal Charter amongst many others that fateful night,” says Anthony. “I created the two paintings in my studio over two months; the time it was meant to take the Royal Charter to reach Liverpool from Melbourne.”

Like a weather vane, the painting panel will pivot on a central mast with each change in wind direction. As a result, chance will dictate whether you see the depiction of the calm day, or The Royal Charter Storm, “just as the weather was a form of roulette on that fateful night, before the days of weather forecasting.”

Now we come to the really clever bit

With each pivot and change of direction in the wind, the painting panel communicates data to a website, which each day at 17.55, (the time of the UK Shipping Forecast), draws an arc representing the change in wind direction.

After two months of these ‘wind arcs’ being collected, the lines will be translated into a musical score to be performed and recorded by concert violinist Philippa Mo, accompanying a local Welsh male voice choir.

The performance and culmination of the installation will take place on 26th October, the 160-year anniversary of The Royal Charter Storm.

The installation and composition will be dedicated to those who lost their lives in the storm and rescue efforts.

An art competition will run concurrently with the installation and dedicated social media channels for the entrants to share their work. The subject will be the weather forecast and The Royal Charter Storm. Prizes will include a day creating a painting with Anthony Garratt to keep.

Find out more about all of this at www.toallatsea.co.uk.

Writing prompt – expedition

Foz bikes at sunset, Porto, by Judy DarleyFollowing on from last week’s Specimens writing prompt, imagine if familiar 21st century means of travel no longer or had never existed, perhaps because of a lack of fossil fuels. No more trains, planes or automobiles!

How might your characters reach a crucial location? What challenges and perils might they face?

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.

How to set up a writing school

Rain on window by Judy DarleyThis week’s guest post comes from author, editor and creative writing tutor Ashley Stokes. He explains how he came to launch the Unthank School of Writing, and the challenges of establishing a writing school.

The first ever Unthank School of Writing workshop took place in January 2011 at the York Tavern in Norwich, with five writers and me in the upstairs room on a rainy night. Some I’d taught before in my various guises. Some were new to me. One, Marc Jones, has a story in Unveiled: The First Unthank School Anthology.

That the little school has now produced a book feels like a milestone. We have something solid to present to the world, something that showcases the talent of the writers we have supported. It’s great to have something solid, great for the contributors to have a book to hold in their hands, and great for us as a school because the school was born not out of solidity but uncertainty.

The Unthank School was founded both as an accompaniment to Unthank Books, and as a direct response to the cutting of community creative writing after the 2008 crash.

Several of us had been working as associate lecturers in creative writing for many years. As austerity swept its scythe through the system, the university departments that had provided us with employment disbanded around us (without any warning in some cases). Creative writing in the community was becoming a thing of the past. Believing that writing is for everyone, we didn’t want to let this happen.

Kaunas, Lithuania, River. By Judy Darley

A sense of community

We wanted there to be an affordable option outside of time-consuming MAs and prohibitively expensive courses run by big literary agencies and publishers. Furthermore, we also liked the idea of providing a rolling workshop that would always be there for you if you needed it (unlike an academic course). This came to be. We do have students who return to us after going off to work alone on a draft, who now need some feedback, just as we have students who stick with us all the time to be their continual first audience.

Another thing we wanted to nurture was a sense of community between writers, of all being in something together. Our workshops, whether online or face-to-face tend to be fun, relaxed, intimate, spontaneous. Unveiled is testimony that an international Unthank community of writers now exists, and that’s the most rewarding thing of all.

It’s frequently fed back to us that no one teaches creative writing like Unthank. Although we had all benefited from teaching creative writing for universities and art schools – and many of us still do – we were able, outside of the institutional setting, to ditch elements of university teaching that we felt inhibited writers, namely grading, tick-box assessments, self-reflective appraisals, and too much emphasis on close-reading and line-editing.

Kaunas, Lithuania, River1. By Judy Darley

Finding the focus

Close-reading and editing are important, obviously, but with new writers or writers working on a first draft, excessive comma patrol and quibbling about usage can suck the life out of a promising story that’s not yet found its flow.

Instead, in workshops at least, we focus on storytelling and listening to the writer discuss what he or she intends for the story and helping to shape an unfolding narrative. We will help you write what you want to write, whatever that is, whatever the genre. Unthank’s cure is very much a talking cure and uses the example of the writer’s own work from which to teach. We pride ourselves on being eclectic and responsive. We prompt and pre-empt. We try to make things work for the writers, so their stories realise themselves on their own terms.

UnveiledWe have become proud of the work that the school produces, impressed by the wit, doggedness and inventiveness of our students. It is this that inspired us to put out a call for submissions for Unveiled.  Unthank Books has carved out a little niche for itself in the short fiction world, most prominently in the form of Unthology, yearly, eclectic, wide-ranging short story anthologies in which the submitted writing finds the theme. That the school should have its own equivalent anthology was the natural next step. We received writing from over fifty former and current students.

The fifteen stories in Unveiled are the ones Stephen Carver and I felt are the most realised, the stories with the most authoritative voices, that demanded that we include them. They all tell you something about what we are about and what we cultivate.

Ashley StokesAbout the author

Ashley Stokes is Head of the Unthank School of Writing and publisher at Unthank Books. His stories have appeared in The Warwick Review, Bare Fiction, The Lonely Crowd, Wales Arts Review, London Magazine, Staple, and Fleeting, among others. His first novel,Touching the Starfish, was published in 2010 by Unthank Books. Ashley’s short story collection The Syllabus of Errors came out in 2013. He is also co-editor of the Unthology short fiction series and Unveiled, and edited The End: Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings, also from Unthank Books. Find him at www.ashleystokes.net.

Read my review of Unveiled.

Got some writing insights to share? I’m always happy to receive feature pitches on writing genres and writing tools. Send an email to JudyDarley(at)iCloud.com.

Writing prompt – specimens

RWA sculpture exhibition

Chronology by Duncan Cameron

I spotted this curious array of specimens at the RWA’s Sculpture Open Exhibition.

Chronology by WreckDiveIt’s part of Chronology by Duncan Cameron, a multimedia exhibit of cases and cages and glorious curiosities.

To me they look like specimens and luggage collected by some fabulously eccentric 17th century naturalist.

Imagine encountering this lost luggage in an airport arrivals hall.

Now match it to the owner. What adventures might they be heading home from?

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 review – Unveiled

UnveiledThe first anthology of novel excerpts from the Unthank School of Writing was never going to be a straightforward affair. Created seven years into the School’s existence, editors Ashley Stokes and Stephen Carver describe the contents as brimming “with storytelling verve, imagination and talent.”

That’s all true, but what strikes me most powerfully  is the immense variety within these tales, crossing time and geographic landscapes while presenting us with a multitude of realities, shared in a diverse array of authorial styles.

The anthology opens with Lost Lessons of Imaginary Men by Nicola Perry. Reading the author biographies, it’s clear Perry is one of the more practised Unthank School alumni, and that experience shines through in this prologue and first chapter.

She opens with words that anchor under your skin: “My mother is dead inside. There’s nothing I can do for her. I am instructed in this from a young age.” Questions bubble up immediately: who is our narrator? How young are they exactly? What’s wrong with the mum? Is she the one instructing her son in this peculiar fact? If so, why? Perry has clearly mastered the art of intrigue, and we’re only 21 words in. Impressive.

Continue reading

Smog – a short story

Taf Estuary, mist photo by Judy DarleyThe old woman has been here every day for a week, eyeing the smog and making notes or drawings in a fat notepad that she holds on her lap.

I’m happy to share the news that my short story Smog, a teeny, tiny climate flash, has been published by Porridge Magazine.

The story involves a swingset, an old woman and a flask that may not contain tea. Read Smog in full here.

Writing prompt – links

Daisy chain. Photo by Judy DarleyI spied this daisy chain on the footpath near my office, curling over the grey flagstones. The petals are already closing up as though nightfall in on its way.

I love that it’s a reminder of nature in the midst of the city, and of childhood in a drearily grown up setting.

Who might have linked these flowers stem by stem? What moment of hurry caused them to drop it? Where might they be now?

And who might find the chain? What thought and action might it prompt in them?

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.

 

Join an apocalyptic poetry podcast 

Blurry trees_Glasgow to Oban_by Judy DarleyBedtime Stories For The End Of The World is a podcast series examining the power of myth in a time of political crisis.

As they near the launch of their second series in autumn 2019, they’re seeking 12 emerging poets to join the project.

The chosen rising stars will feature alongside leading poets Malika Booker, Andrew McMillan, Sabrina Mahfouz, Kei Miller, Helen Mort and Jack Underwood.

If selected, you will receive a £300 fee for the commission and for your time on the project.

You’ll be expected to write a five- to seven-minute poem or poem sequence based on a traditional story of your choosing.

As part of this opportunity, you’ll get to take part in a one-day workshop and one-day of recording with the lead artists.

There will also be the opportunity to write for the website, and to participate in readings to promote the project.

The workshops will take place on 1st and 2nd June 2019, and the recording on 27th and 28th July 2019. You will need to be free for at least one workshop date and one recording date.

The Bedtime Stories For The End Of The World team are based in London, but travel costs for writers outside of London are available. “We especially encourage applications from under-represented groups, including women, BAME people and LGBTQ+ writers.”

Applications close at 5pm on Wednesday 1st May 2019.

Find full details of how to apply here.

Guernsey Literary Festival 2019

Guernsey Literary FestivalFancy flitting over to the Channel islands for a long weekend? The Guernsey Literary Festival, which takes place from 1st-6th May 2019, offers the perfect excuse for a peaceful retreat. Over the four days there’ll be creative talks, workshops, film screenings and family story sessions.

GuernseyThe line-up includes an array of expert wordsmiths, including Terry Waite, journalist Lucy Siegle, poet Lemn Sissay, and author Patrick Gale. Libby Purves will talk about her writing and her long career in radio, and award-winning poet, writer and editor Joelle Taylor will shine a light on the art of the poetry slam along with Andrew Hislop and Lawrence Stubbings.

Dr Lucy Christopher, internationally acclaimed academic, teacher and writer of YA fiction, will lead a workshop on developing an authentic teenage voice and offer the chance  indulge in serious creative play.

Other highlights include Lionel Shriver reading from her first ever short story collection, Property.

The festival will mainly be based in Guernsey’s capital St. Peter Port. Venues include hotels, the inflatable Literary Festival Hub and, especially intriguing, Hauteville House, where Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables. Event tickets are bookable at www.guernseyliteraryfestival.com where you can also find the growing diary of events.

Theatre review – Equus

EQUUS. Ira Mandela Siobhan, Ethan Kai (Alan Strang) and Keith Gilmore. Image The Other RichardThere’s an explosive power within the play Equus, currently on stage at Bristol Old Vic. Peter Shaffer wrote it in 1973, inspired by a crime involving a 17-year-old who blinded six horses. Why would someone do that? The question resounds throughout the script, again and again, gaining intensity as we learn of Shaffer’s imagined boy’s deep-rooted love of horses.

There’s no doubt that Shaffer was a visionary, and his words hold their own more than four decades on, but the freedom given to English Touring Theatre’s production, directed by Ned Bennett, feels like an intoxication. The resulting creation is a sensuous and cerebral tour-de-force forged in horse sweat and breath.

EQUUSR~4

The set is minimal to the extreme, with three vast plain curtains containing the space, while contributing to the atmosphere of the scenes. At times, figures or props emerge through them, silhouettes of the horses are shown through use of backlighting, and on one occasion psychiatrist Dr Martin Dysart, performed with startling sensitivity by Zubin Varla, twitches up a section to reveal Alan sitting behind.

Played by Ethan Kai, Alan is a wonderfully complex character. Initially communicating only in advert jingles (sung excruciatingly out of tune), his gradual willingness to open up is believable and moving.

And, yes, there is full frontal nudity. Perhaps, especially following the notoriety of he ‘naked Harry Potter’ production of 2008, if there had not been the audience would have felt short-changed.

What there is not, in this fresh production, are horse masks. Instead the actors embody horses through movement directed with masterful insight by Shelley Maxwell. In the pre-show talk Assistant Director Denzel Wesley-Sanderson and English Touring Theatre Producer James Quaife explained that while they tested masks in the show’s development stages, they decided they weren’t necessary.

EQUUS. Ira Mandela Siobhan (Nugget) and Ethan Kai (Alan Strang). Image The Other Richard

Ira Mandela Siobhan as Nugget and Ethan Kai as Alan.

It’s a wise choice, as it ensures no barriers stand between us and the performers. Ira Mandela Siobhan as Nuggets melts from man to horse through subtle shifts in stance. Hands become hooves, and the harrumphs of horses breathing become almost a form of communication. In a sense, it leaves interpretation of the worship elements of the story wide open, adding to the levels of this already richly layered script.

EQUUS. Ethan Kai (Alan Strang). Image The Other Richard

There are moments of sheer magic, not least when Dysart asks Alan, “What’s your first memory of a horse,” and we’re relocated to a seashore via the addition of six sandcastles that slide on stage fully formed. The production leaves it up to us to make sense of what we see. This trustfulness invites us to participate in envisioning the play, adding details and scope from our own frames of reference.

EQUUS. Zubin Varla (Martin Dysart), Ethan Kai (Alan Strang). Image The Other Richard.

Alan refers to horses as slave-gods, and speaks of the remarkable fact that horses allow us to control them when their size equips them to crush us in moment, if they wanted to. This idea of strength in submission pushes us to question ingrained ideas more deeply, a path Dr Dysart leads us further down in the second act as he queries his patient’s madness in contrast to his own perceived sanity. Alan’s confusion and vulnerability acts as a field into which Dr Dysart’s, and our own, can be thrown and examined.

EQUUS_Zubin Varla (Martin Dysart). Image The Other Richard.

Rubin Varla as Dr Martin Dysart

The second act takes things up a pace, as we rocket through revelations or increasing emotional intensity. The play touches on so many themes – devotion, loyalty, passion and guilt are just a few – that by the exquisitely disconcerting finale, you may find yourself ready to interrogate your own heartfelt or socially imposed beliefs.

Equus is on at Bristol Old Vic until at Saturday 20th April 2019. Find details of cast and ticketing here.

All images by The Other Richard.

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.