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.

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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.

Book review – A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland

A Book of Silence coverIn A Book of Silence Sara Maitland takes us on a journey not just into her own quest but those of countless others, as she searches for the pure joy she equates with the experience of true silence.

According to Sara, silence is not a vacuum or an absence of something, but rather an element in its own right, and one we are losing a sense of in our increasingly fraught and noisy lives.

On the surface this is an almost political attempt to overthrow a deluge of lies and misconceptions about the concept of silence: “We say that silence ‘needs’ – and therefore is waiting – to be broken: like a horse that must be ‘broken in.’”

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This week I’m reading…

Christmas 2016 haul by Judy DarleyI got a rather excellent haul of books this Christmas, including Kate Atkinson’s beautiful companion book to Life After Life, A God in Ruins, and Rainbow Rowell’s gritty nostalgic Eleanor and Park.

The latter of these I devoured in less than a week, the former I’m mid-way through, but being away this week (in Iceland) I opted to bring the three slimmer volumes with me – The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers (thanks, Emerald Street, for the suggestion), Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter, and Tales from Nowhere (Lonely Planet Travel Literature).

So far, each is providing me with moments of magic, immersion and intrigue, and each could not be more different from the others. The perfect travel reads.

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.

Poetry review – Woven Landscapes

Woven Landscapes coverThis slim, blue volume from Avalanche Books brings together the words of six strong poets with a shared love of the world around us. Selected and arranged by editor Deborah Gaye, the affect is of attending an evening of readings, with each poet’s work presented as a mini collection within the book. It’s an unusual approach for an anthology, but it works beautifully, giving you the chance to absorb each writer’s tone and rhythms before drifting into the companionship of the next.

And each one truly does have a clear, resoundingly individual voice. Section one, from Roselle Angwin, is a sensual tangle of the intimate and universal, beginning with Apple Tree and a wassail in an orchard that offers up memories of rural customs even as the poet urges us to rest “your palm to the trunk, tell you how to open/ the eyes and ears of your hand” to experience the “journey between earth and star.” It’s a powerfully enticing beginning. Each poem conjures the same magic, elevating the ordinary details of life while contemplating big issues – politics, mortality, pilgrimage and migration, all elegantly laid out in vivid verse.

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Book review – The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

The Magic Toyshop by Angela CarterAngela Carter’s riches-to-rags story reads like an exquisitely written fairytale in reverse. Beginning in the summer Melanie turns 15, when she is swooning with the romantic possibilities of her future and increasingly enamoured with her own blossoming beauty, things swiftly turn dark.

A borrowed wedding dress, an altercation with a cat and a midnight scramble up a tree spells the end of Melanie’s dreamtime as she and her younger siblings are packed off to live with their mother’s brother, an uncle they have never met.

Uncle Philip, the proprietor of a gloriously old-fashioned toyshop, has all the potential to be a wonderful guardian but is swiftly revealed to be the ogre lurking at the heart of Melanie’s childhood fairytales. Foul-mouthed and riddled through with violence, he doesn’t even bother to pick up the children from the train station when they arrive, instead dispatching his wife’s brothers to collect them.

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Book review – Shambala Junction by Dipika Mukherjee

shambala-junction-coverThis vividly written, courageous book begins with a train journey that’s unexpectedly aborted long before its destination. An American with Indian parents, Iris alights from her carriage at Shambala Junction at 2am, drawn by the sight of a doll-sellers stall. Left behind when the train resumes its route, she’s plunged into a terrifying situation. With little Hindi language at her disposal and only a small amount of cash, her only option is to trust the strangers who surround her.

Spending a night in a slum was never on Iris’ ‘to-do’ list – through her eyes we experience the shock of poverty, and the discomfort of shamelessly leering eyes. More crucially, however, we enter into the crisis of the people next door, a couple with a missing baby Iris may be able to help recover.

Alone without backup for the first time in her life, Iris reveals a vein of inner strength that she’s never suspected existed. For the first time in her life, without her father or fiancé by her side, she’s forced to draw on her own resources.

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Enter the mind of Angela Carter

The Misfits by Nicola Bealing

The Misfits by Nicola Bealing

Author Angela Carter put her own twist on many traditional fairytales, as well as dreaming up her own unsettling stories that hark from ancient fables. In celebration of her askew imagination, the RWA is hosting Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter, an exhibition of artworks inspired by her writing, as well as original cover art from her novels and more.

After The Masked Visitor by Lisa Wright

After The Masked Visitor by Lisa Wright

Eerie, beautiful, thought-provoking and discombobulating, the pieces on show include Marc Chagall, Paula Rego and some truly luscious works by Leonora Carrington, as well as plenty of others that seem selected to haunt your dreams and stir your imagination.

The exhibition is curated by Dr Marie Mulvey-Roberts of UWE, and the artist and writer Fiona Robinson. Among my favourites were works by the wonderfully macabre Heather Nevey (below), and an understatedly unnerving oil painting titled Grandma’s Footsteps by Angela Lizon.

The Murder 1 cr Heather Nevay

The Murder 1 cr Heather Nevay

Other highlights include the chance to see Angela Carter’s photos, pens and other artefacts. For me the best part of all, and the most alarming, was stepping through a curtain into a gallery populated by strange figures with outlandishly large egg-like heads, seated around a table where a naked, terrified man lay prostrate – an installation by Ana Maria Pacheco titled The Banquet.

Wonderfully, while some of these works were inspired by Carter’s fiction, others, such as Chagall’s work, helped to fuel her creativity, while others still sprang from similar ideas, proving what a rich conversation visual and written works can enjoy.

Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter is on at RWA, Queens Road, Bristol, BS8 1PX until 19th March 2017.

Theatre reviews – Bristol Old Vic Christmas shows 2017

The Snow Queen and Boffin Goblin (Joanna Holden). Photo by Mark Douet

The Snow Queen and Boffin Goblin (Joanna Holden). Photo by Mark Douet

Bristol Old Vic has been undergoing a lot of changes in its 250th anniversary year. A mammoth building and restoration project has put its smaller studio theatre out of action and rendered backstage front of house. And yet, none of this matters – they’ve found ways to keep the smaller productions going by forging relationships with venues throughout the city, and the creativity is as vivid and original as ever.

Jesse Meadows as Little Tim. Photo by Jack Offord

Jesse Meadows as Little Tim. Photo by Jack Offord

Take their festive rendition for under-sevens. Little Tim and The Brave Sea Captain is a joyfully rambunctious performance staged at The Lantern at Colston Hall. Based on the book by Edward Ardizzone, it’s a Bristol Old Vic and homegrown talent The Wardrobe Ensemble co-production, this is a mariner’s tale of huge imagination, beginning with a small boy in a bathtub playing with his toy ship and fish.

Tim, played with brilliant conviction by Jesse Meadows, is obsessed with the sea and soon finds a way to pursue his nautical dreams. Emily Greenslade, Kerry Lovell and Ben Vardy play an assortment of characters including rowdy sailors, a stern but fearless sea captain, and a multitude of magical sea creatures, all engaging their young audience to marvel at the scenes before them, and get involved as much as possible.

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain. Photo by Jack Offord

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain. Photo by Jack Offord

By the end of the hour-long show, we all had our sea legs and were qualified sailors. What more could you want at Christmas time?

The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic - Zara Ramm and company. Photo by Mark Douet

The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic – Zara Ramm and company. Photo by Mark Douet

The second show of the season, for ages seven and up, is The Snow Queen, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale and directed by Lee Lyford.

Steven Roberts as Kai and Emily Burnett as Gerda) with Zara Ramm. Photo by Mark Douet

Steven Roberts as Kai and Emily Burnett as Gerda) with Zara Ramm. Photo by Mark Douet

 

This enchanting story focuses on two friends, Kai (Steven Roberts) and Gerda (Emily Burnett). When the Snow Queen (voiced by Gwyneth Herbert) charges her goblin army with stealing naughty children so she can feast on their bad moods, Kai and Gerda are soon the only kids left in their village. Then Kai is taken, and it’s up to Gerda to save her friend, and in the process, the whole world from an eternal winter.

Miltos Yerolemou as Flower Witch with Jessica Hayles as Parrot. Photo by Mark Douet

Miltos Yerolemou as Flower Witch with Jessica Hayles as Parrot. Photo by Mark Douet

Along the way she meets an extraordinary array of characters, from the flamboyant Flower Witch (Miltos Yerolemou on spectacular form) to Olive Owl (Joanna Holden) and Marty Magpie (Zara Ramm). There are moments of darkness and fear – the Snow Queen puppet is a giant skeletal being, and when she leant over the stage to sniff the audience to check for children, I was glad to not to be sitting in the front row! These are tempered by lashings of colour, laughter and magic – a cast of talking flowers and a reindeer who does an fabulous Morrissey impression are just a few of the treats on offer.

Steven Roberts (Kai) Dylan Wood (Goblin Apprentice) and Joanna Holden (Boffin Goblin) Photo by Mark Douet

Steven Roberts (Kai) Dylan Wood (Goblin Apprentice) and Joanna Holden (Boffin Goblin). Photo by Mark Douet

In a cast of only ten, including musicians, there was plenty of doubling up, so that most played three or four characters and the final curtain call felt shockingly small. The breadth of talent was wonderful, backed up by a wonderfully nuanced script by Vivienne Franzman that ensured every individual had their own preoccupations wavering in the background, adding layers of interest and believability.

Emily Burnett as Gerda. Photo by Mark Douet

Emily Burnett as Gerda. Photo by Mark Douet

The moral at the heart of the tale, about accepting and loving others as they are, was presented lightly enough to be absorbed with ease, without ever detracting from the delight of the performance. Lighting and projection by Richard Howell and Will Duke transformed the set while presenting the illusion of scale, especially humorously in flight scenes when the cast often ran on the spot while projections on the scenery moved around them.

As in any grand theatrical production, the team behind the scenes far outnumbers those on stage, ensuring every moment was full of life, atmosphere and emotion. A hugely enjoyable show with a fantastically strong heart.

The Snow Queen is at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until 15th January 2017.
 Little Tim and The Brave Sea Captain is on until 8th January 2017. 
Find out more at www.bristololdvic.org.uk.

Book review – Oothangbart by Rebecca Lloyd

Oothangbart By Rebecca LloydDonal Poseidon is an ordinary citizen, living an ordinary life. Each day he gets up and goes to work and each day he does the things expected of him, without grumbling or questioning the way things stand in the town of Oothangbart. But he’s also a fellow with a secret yearning, a quiet curiosity about the world beyond the town’s gates, and a tendency to daydream without meaning too.

And in a place like Oothangbart, all these things spell trouble.

In Oothangbart: A Subversive Fable For Adults and Bears, Rebecca Lloyd has created a world that seems both fairytale perfect and disturbingly controlled. Rules include ‘No slumping or giving the appearance of dejection.’ The greatest insult is to be referred to as “an irregular fellow”. The jobs carried out by the majority of citizens are stultifying dull and even pointless. Indeed, pointless seems to be the key word here, as notable citizens – the top fellows – are allowed privileged access to The Escalator that goes nowhere but up to a flight of steps they then need to climb back down. The exercise seems full of pomposity, yet utterly pointless.

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