Theatre review – Bristol Old Vic’s The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker. Bristol Old Vic CREDIT Geraint LewisAt the start of Bristol Old Vic’s seasonal extravaganza The Nutcracker, Claire is struggling to make herself heard in a household where Mum is still working late on Christmas Eve, her brother Eddie is absorbed by his handheld device and her dad is occupied by his own fantastical ideas to listen to his daughter’s worries about her imaginary unicorn Charlie. But then a mysterious visitor comes to the door, describing himself as a nutcracker maker and seeking the person who wants change. He give Claire a nutcracker doll who, she soon discovers, is very afraid, and all because of a mouse.

Director Lee Lyford, writer Tom Morris and lyricist Gwyneth Herbert serve up a rambunctious, colourful family show, with time stretching, skipping backwards and offering Claire a view of a tragedy she believes she can and must undo.

The set and lighting by Tom Rogers and Anna Watson draw us into a psychedelic world of enchantment where almost anything is possible, with clock-faces reminding us that time is precious, even on Christmas Eve when you might be wishing the hours away.

The Nutcracker Tristan Sturrock and Denzel Baidoo. Bristol Old Vic CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Tristan Sturrock as the nutcracker maker and Denzel Baidoo as the nutcracker. Photo by Geraint Lewis

Tristan Sturrock as the mysterious visitor holds the audience, and time, in the palm of his hand, evoking our empathy and keeping the other characters on track as he relays his tale of errors in judgement resulting in a magic-wielding mouse queen (brilliantly conveyed by musical director Gwyneth Herbert) seeking revenge. Mae Munuo as Claire is convincingly child-like, curious and eager to do the right thing, even as she comes to understand how challenging identifying what the right thing to do can be. She also has a clear, powerful singing voice.

The whole cast bring energy and verve to the stage as most they portray multiple characters. Some of the most comical are Claire and Eddie’s discarded toys, among them a blue pants-wearing Action Man (Guy Hughes, who also plays ten-year-old Eddie and saxophone-playing Princess Curly Pearly utterly convincingly), Baboon with a Spoon (an impressively loose-limbed Patrycja Kujawska, who also plays Claire and Eddie’s mum as well as Queen Spoon), and Dog, the toy Claire likes least – a detail never explained (Kirris Rivieré, also Claire and Eddie’s dad and King Sausage).

The Nutcracker Dress Bristol Old Vic. The toys and Claire. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Even musicians Harry Bird and James Gow get in on the toy chest action, playing a chocolate-obsessed rock star teddy bear and a lovelorn long-tailed lemur.

The title role is played by Denzel Baidoo, in the actor’s remarkable stage debut. His complex emotional narrative comes over beautifully, complemented by his dance moves choreographed by Laila Diallo. The dance-off between The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (Tristan Sturrock) is a particular treat.

The Nutcracker teaches Claire, the nutcracker maker and the audience that to understand what needs to change, if anything, you must first see, and treasure, what’s really in front of you.

But this somewhat serious message is by-the-by when you’re taking in the glorious cacophony on-stage. With musicians and dancers populating the cast, it’s no wonder that this is a festive feast for the ears and eyes.

Photos by Geraint Lewis

The Nutcracker is on at Bristol Old Vic until 7th January 2022. Find out more and get your tickets.

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, please get in touch.

The RWA Photo Open Exhibition wants your snaps…

Realm by Judy Darley

Submissions are open for the RWA Photo Open Exhibition. To be in with a chance of showing your photographic work in the RWA’s beautiful galleries, submit your digital images online by Monday 5th December 2022.

Entry is open to emerging talents, passionate amateurs, established artists and professional photographers alike. If you use photography to inform your sculpture, installation, architecture or other artistic practice, you are also encouraged to enter.

All you need is vision, and the courage to send in your finest photos.

A selection panel including internationally acclaimed artists will review every entry.

If selected, your work will be shown in the RWA’s galleries alongside some of today’s leading photographic artists and seen by thousands of visitors and potential buyers, as well as being available for a global audience to buy online.

An assortment of prizes are up for grabs too, including:

  • Teresa Knowles Bursary Award – £1,500 towards a photography trip to Italy PLUS  the opportunity to exhibit the resulting work at the RWA
  • MPB Sponsor Awards – £1000 voucher to spend on photographic kit; plus two runner up awards of £500 vouchers
  • Niche Frames Award – cash prize of £250 plus voucher of £250 towards printing or framing
  • Student Award – £250 cash prize for best work by a student, sponsored by the Friends of the RWA

Entries can be any size and can be single images or make up a limited series. They can be simple photographs or artworks that include a photographic element, including 3-D works. They can be any size.

Find the full submission criteria and submit your work here.

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

Book review – Angel by Wendy Beasley

Angel cover
What happens when you hit rock bottom? And what could then prevent you walking into the waves and ending it all?

In Wendy Beasley’s unflinching novel Angel, a night-time moment of impulsive selflessness gives protagonist Lydia the drive not only to stay alive, but to rediscover the things that make life worth embracing.

Having grown up in care, Lydia has already surpassed her own expectations by getting a place at Brighton University and making plans to become a teacher, but when she meets enigmatic Leo and is swept into a love built on possessiveness, her early years of trying to achieve invisibility in foster homes making her less easily able to stand up to his increasingly controlling behaviour.

The opening chapters of the novel are aren’t an easy read, as Leo takes control of every aspect of Lydia’s existence, trapping her in a nightmare marriage.

Continue reading

Enter Mslexia’s poetry competitions

Button on Kilve Beach cr Judy DarleyMslexia’s Women’s Poetry Competition and Pamphlet Competition are open for entries of poetry pamphlets and individual poems.

Both competitions have a closing date of 5th December 2022.

Mslexia Poetry Competition

You are invited to submit poems of any length, on any subject.

The winner of the single poem category will receive £2,000.

The second prize-winner gets £500 and the third prize-winner gets £250.

There’s also a special  Unpublished Poet Prize of £250, which will be awarded to the best poem by an unpublished poet.

The four winners, plus 16 additional finalists, will be published in Mslexia.

The judge is Helen Mort.

The entry fee is £10 for three poems.

Mslexia Pamphlet Competition

You’re invited to submit a collection of up to 20 poems, of up to 24 pages.

The winner of the pamphlet category will receive prize £250, plus publication of the winning pamphlet by Bloodaxe Books. A selected poem from the winning pamphlet will be published in Mslexia.

The judge is Imtiaz Dharker.

The entry fee is £20.

You can find full details of how to enter at www.mslexia.co.uk.

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

Plymouth seeks young writing talent

Plymouth. Photo by Frederica Diamanta on Unsplash

South West literature development agency Literature Works, in partnership with Plymouth City Council, Plymouth Culture and the With Flying Colours project, has launched a search to find aspiring writers in the city aged between 14 and 19 to apply for the Plymouth Young City Laureate post.

You would be the writers’ voice of the city’s young, receiving paid writing commissions and the opportunity to take part in events with other writers or performers. Previous Plymouth Young City Laureates have found this a rewarding and valuable experience, providing an opportunity to celebrate special events and occasions in the city and receive invitations to perform in libraries, schools and at festivals.

The closing date is midnight on Sunday 27th November 2022.

“Although I could never have imagined what the world would be like during my time as Plymouth’s Mayflower 400 Young City Laureate, it has been the most valuable experience for me as a writer,” says Holly Peters, the current holder of the Mayflower 400 Plymouth Young City Laureate title. “The role has allowed me to learn about many important cultures and fascinating people as well as develop my craft as a poet and my confidence as a person. Plymouth is a vibrant city with a lively art sector, which I’m honoured to have been a part of it and I am extremely grateful to Literature Works and Plymouth City Council for granting me this opportunity.”

In 2023, for the first time, the Young City Laureateship offers paid writing commissions – three in the year – each worth £50. We will invite you to perform at least two events across the year, sharing the stage with guest writers that we will help you select.

Applications are invited from individuals and via schools or colleges.

Find full details of how to enter here.

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

Enter the Bath Children’s Novel Award

Roman Baths by Judy DarleyThe Bath Children’s Novel Award invites submissions of books for children or teenagers from unpublished, self-published and independently published authors worldwide.

Previous winners include include Ruth Moore (2020) for The Enemy Inside, Matthew Fox (2019) for The Sky Over Rebecca, and Cassie Powney (2018) for Loops.

The 2022 Judge is Amber Caravéo. Co-founder of the Skylark Literary Agency and previously Editorial Director at Orion Children’s Books, Amber is looking for potential rather than perfection and new voices that offer something unique and brilliant either in terms of story or style.

Amber says: “Believe in yourself and take the plunge! You never know when someone will spot something special in your writing, and a competition is a good way to test the waters.
I can’t wait to see your stories, so please don’t be nervous. Agents and publishers
need authors and their books, so we are always excited to see new work and new
ideas – and we do love a good story!”

Deadline: 30th November 2022
Prize: £3,000
Submission: First 5,000 words plus a one-page synopsis

Entry fee: £29 per manuscript with sponsored places available for low income writers.

Entries should not include any photographs, maps or artwork.

Full manuscripts may be of any length, but they recommend 500 – 600 words per picture book, 6-10,000 for a chapter book, 40-60,000 for middle grade and 50-70,000 words for YA (or longer for fantasy novels).

Unrepresented shortlisted writers will be offered the opportunity to be introduced to an individually tailored list of literary agents by email or other means.

The writer of the most promising longlisted novel, as chosen by the Bath Novel Awards and Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, will receive a free place on Cornerstones’ 18 week online course Edit Your Novel the Professional Way (worth £1,800).

Bath Children’s Novel Award 2022 entrants can claim a 10% discount on all editorial reports from prize sponsors Cornerstones Literary Consultancy until the winner’s announcement in Feburary 2023

Find full details and enter here: https://bathnovelaward.co.uk/childrens-novel-award/ 

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

Win a publishing agency consultation via Writers & Artists

Notebook and pen cr Judy Darley

Are you a writer hungry for guidance and encouragement? The folks at Writers & Artists are collaborating with creative publishing agency whitefox for a competition that’s all about getting you the face-to-face time you need with an editor.

If you would benefit from a creative conversation with an expert editor to help make sense of your manuscript, this is the competition for you.

The winner will receive an editorial report and consultation with a member of the editorial team at whitefox, to help you take the next steps with your book, as well as a free place at one of Writers & Artists‘ writing events and a bundle of creative writing guides.

This prize is open to any UK or ROI-based writer aged 18 or over and writing fiction and/or non-fiction.

Deadline

The deadline for entries is Monday 14th November at 9am.

How to enter 

Please submit no more than 1000 words from your unpublished work-in-progress. This should be from the opening of your manuscript, attached to the online submissions form in a doc or pdf format. You also need to include a synopsis providing an overview of your work as well as a short note (200 words) about yourself and your writing influences.

You’re also required to subscribe to whitefox‘s newsletter The Frontlist.

The winner and shortlisted runners-up will be announced on Writersandartists.co.uk in early December 2022.

Eligibility

To enter this competition, you must:

  • Not have a publishing contract or agent
  • Submit an original piece of unpublished writing

Prizes

The winner will receive:

  • An editorial report from an editor at whitefox Publishing
  • A one-off follow-up consultation with a member of the editorial team at whitefox Publishing
  • A place at a W&A writing masterclass
  • A writing guide bundle including the latest edition of the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ YearbookWriters’ & Artists’ Guide To Getting Published or Writers’ & Artists’ Guide To How To Hook an Agent

Three other shortlisted entries will also receive a book bundle and a free place at one of our writing and publishing events.

Submit your entry via the online form here.

Good luck!

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

On your marks… NaNoWriMo!

Dove Holes to Whaley Bridge gap in wall by Judy DarleyTuesday 1st November marks the start of NaNoWriMo 2022. Are you taking part? I love the concept of this word-packed month, with ardent writers across the world hunched over laptops sweating out every last drop of inspiration.

New to the concept? It’s pretty simple really. As they state on the NaNoWriMo website: “On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.”

I know plenty of writers this enforced period of productivity really suits. For some folks it seems to be the ideal way to stoke up ideas and get them to catch alight on the page.

For me, the beginning stages of novel-writing are all about thinking ahead, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do some speedy planning even as you begin to write. After all, what else are you going to do when waiting for buses, in post office queues and doing the washing up?

Here are my top five preparation tips to ensure you make the most of this exceptional month.

1. Form a vision of the story you’re aiming to tell, with the beginning already shaped in your mind. If possible, do the same for the ending. Having an idea of the finale you’re working towards will mean you’re far less likely to veer off track!

2. Spend some time considering your characters – get to know who they are, how they think, what their goals are, and how they might help or hinder each other.

3. Know your setting. It really helps if you can really picture the place where your characters are spending time. Base it on somewhere you know, use maps or, for an imagined place, doodle your map! This is one of my favourites, particularly if it offers a valid excuse to meander in a much loved wilderness or similar.

4. Pick out a few dramatic moments your plot will cover and brainstorm them, then set them aside. Whenever your enthusiasm wanes over the intensive NaNoWriMo period, treat yourself by delving into one of those to reinvigorate your writing energy.

5. Finally, make sure you have plenty of sustenance to hand. For me, the essentials are coffee and chocolate. What are yours?

If you’re not a long-form junkie, why not take part in the flash version? Launched by the inimitable Nancy Stohlman in 2012, Flash Nano urges you to pledge to write 30 mini stories in 30 days. In 2021, more than 1,500 people took part. Even if not all turn out to be sparkling examples, you should end up with some that make your heart zing!

Enter The SmokeLong Award for Flash Fiction

MerryGoRound cr Judy DarleyUntil Tuesday 15th November 2022, the SmokeLong editors invite you enter The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey). Submit your most powerful compressed stories for this “biennial competition that celebrates and compensates excellence in flash.”

The first grand prize winner of The Smokey in 2018 was “Whale Fall” by Alvin Park. In 2020 Abby Feden won the top prize with “To Pieces”. Both stories appeared in The Best Small Fictions in their respective years. In addition. Jasmine Sawers’ piece “All Your Fragile History” was a finalist for Best of the Net in 2020, and Leonora Desar’s third-place story “*69” was included in The Best Small Fictions.

Prizes:

The grand prize winner of The Smokey is automatically nominated for The Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart, Best of the Net, and any other prize the editors of SmokeLong deem appropriate. There are also some substantial cash prizes.

The grand prize winner receives $2500.
The second place winner receives $1000.
The third place winner receives $500.
Finalists receives $100.

All finalists and placers will be published in the special competition issue of SmokeLong in December 2022.

Entry Fees

One Entry: $14
Two Entries: $18
Up to Four Entries: $32

Guidelines:

Your entry must be 1,000 words or fewer, excluding the title. There is no minimum word count.

Enter as many times as you like, but make sure the right entry fee accompanies each one. If you submit multiple entries at the same time, they must all be in the same document.

Your name must NOT appear on the entry itself. This includes the filename, headers and footers. Your name and contact information should appear ONLY in the cover letter.

Judging

SmokeLong competitions are judged by the SmokeLong editors. They say: “Our process is similar to our general submissions workflow. We send rejections as soon as we can so that your work is not tied up for the entire entry period. This means you will receive a response within about a week if we have decided to decline the entry. If we are taking longer than one week, this is a great sign.”

If you’re unable to pay an entry fee, don’t give up hopes of entering – email editor@smokelong.com.

Before you enter

I highly recommend that before submitting your words, you devote some time to reading the kind of stories SmokeLong publishes. The editors have a very specific tastes in micro tales – sharp edges polished thin enough to see sunlight through are definitely preferred.

Two that caught my eye are Our Lady of Perpetual Plastic by Rosaleen Lynch and The Reason Wolverine and Deadpool Are Flambeing on the Barbecue by Jo Withers.

Find the full contest guidelines and enter here.

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

Be inspired at London Literature Festival 2022

Greta Thunberg cr Kim Jakobsen To. Black and white portrait of activist Greta ThunbergFollowing a year’s hiatus, London Literature Festival hosted by the Southbank Centre is returning from 20th to 30th October 2021, with a literary programme headlined by Greta Thunberg in a world exclusive launch of The Climate Book.

Greta Thunberg’s The Climate Book features crucial climate voices including Kate Raworth, Naomi Klein and Margaret Atwood. The event, in collaboration with Penguin Live at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, will be live streamed for free around the world.

Science journalist, author and broadcaster Gaia Vince reframes the climate crisis and demonstrates how migration could be the answer in an event around her new book Nomad Century. In a special live recording, BBC Radio 4’s Open Book explores how the urgency of our natural environment has shaped our fictional landscapes. Writers Jessie Greengrass and Daisy Hildyard discuss the imminent emergencies of everyday life as they launch their respective new books. The Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Library – situated in the Royal Festival Hall – hosts Earthbound Press for an evening of contemporary poetry featuring twelve critically-acclaimed poets, including Iain Sinclair, Nisha Ramayya and Eley Williams.

There’s also a free family programme celebrating the natural world and the environment, with talks and readings highlighting upcoming children’s authors.

Other highlights include events with literary greats Malorie Blackman, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Karl Ove Knausgård and George Saunders, plus well-known names Minnie Driver, Graham Norton, Rob Delaney, Jon Snow, among others.

New and emerging voices will be recognised by the prize for under-represented writers in the Creative Future Writers’ Awards Showcase 2022 on 22nd October, hosted by novelist Dorothy Koomson and poet Joelle Taylor.

On 23rd October, London Literature Festival partners with Creative Future for Writers’ Day – a day packed with talks for writers, publishers and literary professionals sharing hints, tips and initiatives.

Plus, just three days after the 2022 Booker Prize Winner is announced, they’ll join the Festival for their very first public event on 20th October.

For the full programme, visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk.

All image supplied by the Southbank Centre.