Free up your creativity

Paledrips painting by Sara Easby

Paledrips by Sara Easby – www.sara-easby.com

I’m a great believer in the energy we can derive from creative mediums other than our own. My comfort zone is writing – spooling words together to create stories, narratives, or images in the mind. It fires me up and helps me make sense of the world.

Listening to music can influence this, while baking or any kind of physical activity, from running to dances, makes ideas pop in my mind like mustard seeds in a pan of hot oil. And art has been the starting point of many of my creative written works.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been moved to dabble in making my own art – splashing a bit of paint around or doodling scenes as they form in my head. I’ve begun attempting to draw the views in front of me, or focus on small still lives, in an attempt to get my body to wake up the muscle memory laid down when I drew and painted copiously as a teenager.

But it’s been so many years since I last took an art class. Or at least, it had been.

Last Tuesday I strolled over to the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bedminster to see Sara Easby‘s BRÆTT (MELT) exhibition, inspired by Iceland. The work was raw, elemental, and enthralling. I wanted to know how to capture emotions the page as she does.

Then I discovered that the very next morning she was due to teach an art class at the gallery. I sent her an email and she promised to squeeze me in.

What a wonderful experience. Two hours of freedom to ink, paint, glue, scrape and create.

Artwork by Judy Darley

It connected me to my emotions in a way that reached beyond words – such a liberating change! Creative writing cannot exist in a vacuum – we need to experience life and part of that is to experience art. As enjoyable and moving as it can be to view it, to make it is far more vigorously inspiring.

Blue and gold by Judy Darley

It doesn’t have to be visual art, of course. You could learn to play the drums, or take up ballet, join a stitch and bitch group or even enrol in a Spanish language class. All these things exercise parts of the creative mind that writing along cannot reach.

To get you started, Sara is co-hosting an Art and Writing Workshop on 10th December from 10am till 4pm with Nigel Gibbons. “This will be a chance to enjoy both creative forms, exploring these two ways of working, and allowing them to interact,” says Sara. “The aim will be to enjoy a space to be creative. No previous skills or experience necessary.”

There is a charge of £20, which includes some art materials. For more details, or to book a place, contact Sara on sara@sara-easby.com or Nigel on 077 40 200 991. The venue is Cotham Parish Church Hall, Cotham Road, Bristol, BS6 6DR.

Who knows what riches it will help you to unearth in your future literary works?

Invent your own interior

AzurArt Studio loungeWith things taking a turn for the worse recently, I’m increasing impelled to retreat into my own imagination and, frankly, pretend this isn’t happening. In my head I can surround myself with things I find beautiful and quietly edit out anything that scares me. I know it’s not real, but that doesn’t make it any less enticing.

Artist Nadia D Manning has come up with a rather more tangible solution. Okay, she can’t undo the judgements and votes of others, but she can make your surroundings far more appealing.

AzurArt Studio notebook

Working in collaboration with her aunt Svetlana Condé in Prague, as well as a creative array of artists and designers, Nadia’s aim is to dream up artwork that can brighten up every part of your life, home, and business, from gorgeous rugs and wallpapers to crockery and even clothing.

AzurArt Studio t-shirt

“At AzurArt Studio we would like to encourage every person to explore and discover their unique style of living, surrounded by art,” says Nadia. “Our spectrum of creative services is broad and our aim is to work with people to design the personalised living or work space which will best inspire their own creative potential.”

AzurArt Studio sneaker

Quite simply, every part of your living and working environment can be ‘made to measure’ your individual style. What a great way to ensure a positive mindset and give your ideas the space to run free! This is interior design in the most extreme sense of the term.

Find out more here www.azurartstudio.com/projects

AzurArt Studio bedroom

How to add drama to your writing

Gigi and The Cat by ColetteI recently read The Cat by French novelist Colette. Now, Colette was no slouch when it came to seeding her stories with escalating tension. Nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, Colette’s most renowned work is the novella Gigi, but for me The Cat far surpasses that tale.

It begins slowly enough with our introductions to Alain and his fiancée Camille; Alain’s beloved rescue cat Saha in the background. As the narrative progresses, Alain’s resentment of Camille’s position in his life deepens. The wedding takes place off-screen, hinting at how little significance this change in circumstance holds for Alain.

The newly weds move in together and muddle along relatively all right, until Alain brings Saha to share their temporary home.

The home, leant by a friend, is in a tall, skinny building the unhappy couple refers to as The Wedge. Their apartment is nine storeys up, and Saha quickly develops a tendency to sit “washing herself at length on the parapet” above the sheer drop.

Initially this behaviour terrifies Camille, but jealousy is a dark and unpredictable thing. Alain’s love-making is “hurried” and “peevish”, while he reserves all his warmth and affection for Saha.

In the first pages of chapter eight, Camille’s thwarted dreams of wedded bliss crack through to the surface. While Alain is out, she and Saha “were resting on the same parapet”, providing Colette with the perfect setting for a truly dramatic scene. “They exchanged a glance of sheer mutual investigation and Camille did not say a word to Saha.”

Instead, Camille behaves as if Saha is not there, perhaps pretending to herself that her “rival” truly does not exist. Yawning, stretching and pacing, she impels the cat to move endlessly, over and over, in the small space they inhabit high above the ground.

After a few near misses, “the cat was looking at Camille’s back and her breath came faster. She got up, turned two or three times on her own axis and looked questioningly at the closed door. Camille had not moved. Saha inflamed her nostrils and showed a distress that was almost like nausea. A long desolate mew escaped from her, the wretched reply to a silent, imminent threat. Camille faced round abruptly.”

As Camille strides to and fro, Saha has continually to dodge her feet to avoid being kicked, or trodden on. Rhythmically, the torture continues, with Camille feigning ignorance while forcing Saha to leap onto the parapet and back to the balcony floor to save herself, again and again.

And, as in any great drama, it is just as Camille is distracted and Saha has a chance to relax that the scene reaches its breathtaking climax.

My copy of The Cat by Colette is part of a volume published by Vintage in 2001, which also contains the novella Gigi. Buy it from Amazon.

What are you reading? Impressed by a particular scene? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews and comments on books, art, theatre and film. Please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing between the lines with Heidi Heilig

The Girl From Everywhere coverIn reading Heidi Heilig’s luminescent The Girl From Everywhere, I encountered an elegantly written scene that shows (rather than tells) you everything you need to know about how to portray emotion through what is left unsaid.

In the 2016 edition from Hot Key Books, it occurs 63 pages in. Kashmir, our narrator Nix’s closest friend and crewmate, has just given her a stolen necklace. It’s one of many “trinkets” (his words) he has stolen for her in the time they’ve known each other.

When Nix tries to give him the necklace back, he demurs, saying he enjoys it too much to stop “‘Bringing you treasures you care nothing for.’” And here the author gets Nix involved: “He spoke lightly, but his words were too flippant and behind his eyes was something I recognised: loneliness.” Three extra words add an infinite level of tension to the scene: “The moment stretched.”

Nix has to find a way to respond to their intensity, and does so by telling him that she does care, and lifting her hair – that subtly sensual movement – so that he can clasp the necklace around her throat, “His breath smelled of cloves, and his fingers were warm.” The word ‘throat’ is Heilig’s choice: so much more loaded than ‘neck.’

The atmosphere heightens as Nix tries “to remember the Persian phrase I’d found in an Iranian guidebook and tucked away in my head for a moment like this, ‘Takashor.’”

The fact she has made a mistake and Kashmir corrects her: “Tashakor”, only adds to the intimacy of the scene, as Nix thanks him again, this time in her own language, and “we both smiled like it didn’t mean anything.”

What are you reading? Impressed by a particular scene? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews and comments on books, art, theatre and film. Please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Suspense writing with Iris Murdoch

The Nice and The GoodThere is a scene in The Nice And The Good by Iris Murdoch that encompasses everything you need to know about suspense writing.

Plumped 295 pages towards the end of the 1969 edition of this rather meandering novel, it involves Gunnar’s cave, “its sole entrance only above water for a short time at low tide.” Murdoch drops this line in far earlier, building on the cave’s status in “the mythology of the children.”

For 15-year-old Pierce in particular, this sea cave is a place of fascination and dread. He fears it more than the other children do, and, equally, wonders about the possibilities of this hidden space, and marvels over the chance there could be a secret safe spot in there, or whether one would inevitably be drowned.

Towards the end of the novel, his heart has been broken, he’s cross with the world, and his behaviour is becoming increasingly erratic. The cave, seems to be the answer to this – the opportunity to face the threat head on, while allowing it to prise from him the choice of life over death. Once inside, with the entrance sealed by the tide, he will be at its mercy, and that, in his current state of mind, is oddly appealing.

But even this disastrous plan doesn’t go quite to plan. No sooner is he swallowed up by the darkness than he hears splashing nearby and discovers that Mingo, the family dog, has followed him in. Then John Ducane, a friend of his mother’s, swims in to see if he can find the boy. Now three lives are at peril in a dense, cold, alien blackness of the cave, and the reader (in my case, at least), is transfixed.

Continue reading

How to give a book wings

Craftivist Collective_hopeHave you heard about Unbound? They’re a rather ingenious new kind of publisher. They’ve already attracted the literary talents of Salena Godden, and are now jumping up and down in support of craftivism queen Sarah Corbett.

The way it works is: an author pitches an idea for a book, then you, the potential reader, can choose whether or not to make a donation towards the completion and publication of that book.

In return, you receive a beautiful e-book, paperback or hardback copy of the finished book, depending on how much you pledge. You also get access to ‘the author’s shed’, showcasing their progress and offering insights into the process of putting the book together.

Craftivist Collective_minibanner

Sarah’s book is How to be a craftivist: the art of gentle protest.

Intrigued? Sarah says, “If we want our world to be more beautiful, kind and fair, then shouldn’t some of our activism be beautiful, kind and fair?”

Sarah’s been running Craftivist Collective since 2009, tackling issues ranging from climate change to the businesses failing to pay employees a living wage.

“My approach to Craftivism is to tackle issues not with anger and shouting, but with gentle protest. Gentleness is not weak, it requires self-control in the face of anger, injustice and sadness. Gentle protest lets us have conversation instead of an argument, debate instead of shouting, and collaboration instead of opposition.”

Craftivist Collective_heartonyoursleevecampaign1

Sarah vows that her book will get to the heart of Craftivism – the purpose, process and pitfalls. Areas it will cover include:

1. How to use the process of making to engage thoughtfully in the issues you care about.

2. How to see every detail of your creation as important: from the colour you use to the fonts, the size, the messaging….

3. How Craftivism can engage people on and offline around the world.

4. How Craftivism can create conversations and action.

“Gentleness, conversation and collaboration can make our world a better place, and the road there less angry, aggressive and divisive.”

Craftivist Collective_minibanner1

Find out more and help Sarah on her way to making her book a reality at unbound.co.uk/books/craftivist.

Find out more about Unbound here.

How to write children’s books

Sunshine snail cr Judy DarleyI’ve decided to treat myself to a special gift by signing up to Rachel Carter’s Children’s Book workshop at Bristol Folk House.

Taking place on Saturday 12th March 2016, Children’s Book in a Day promises inspiring exercises that will help you explore aspects of writing “such as character, setting and plot.”

Ethan's Voice coverRachel Carter is the author of children’s novel Ethan’s Voice, about a boy who cannot speak. I was keen to discover more about the course teacher, so got in touch with Rachel to find out what drives her own writing.

“I was always drawn to creative writing as a child,” she says. “When I was twelve, I was chosen to be sent on a residential writing course in a big old house for a week. I think that experience sowed a seed.”

Rachel grew up surrounded by animals and fields on a Somerset smallholding. “There was lots of space and time to reflect. I worked in publishing for years, including children’s non-fiction publishing. I decided instead of editing other people’s work my heart lay in creative writing and I was drawn to writing for children because it felt like such a flexible medium…a really broad genre.”

She admits that writing for children is challenging. “I think it’s harder than writing for adults because you have to tailor your language and so on to the age of the children you’re targeting. It’s very competitive and hard to make a living just from being a writer. There is a lot of rewriting involved as with any form of writing.”

Rachel CarterThe best things, Rachel suggests, are “being able to lock yourself away, or sit in a cafe, and focus on creating something you really want to create; meeting children who genuinely love what you have written, and going into schools to do author visits.”

The course is designed to provide the tools needed to start writing your children’s book. “It’s a combination of discussion, imparted advice and inspirational creative writing exercises,” says Rachel, who is also available for school author visits, talks and workshops. “It covers character, plot, setting, the ages and stages and the industry/getting published side of things. It is a fun, uplifting day that uses pictures and objects, and guided exercises to prompt the imagination.”

Sounds wonderful to me.

Children’s Book in a Day at Bristol Folk House is on Saturday 12th March 2016. Taking part costs from £18.10 to £25.90. Find out how to book your place at www.bristolfolkhouse.co.uk.

Lessons in storytelling

The Trip #9 (2015) cr Matt Henry, Short Stories

The Trip #9 © Matt Henry, Short Stories

They say an image is worth 1,000 words, and that the camera never lies. In Matt Henry‘s new photographic book, Short Stories, these hypotheses are tested to the limit.

Each of the scenes displayed in this beautiful and unsettling book offers countless possible narratives. Cast in vivid sun-drenched technicolour, they sing shrilly of a far earlier era, and yet each was snapped sometime between 2007 and 2015. Even more unexpected, the majority were staged on UK soil with a cast of actors and friends playing the characters apparently caught while going about their everyday lives. Powerfully, it suggests, the American Dream really is an illusion.

Alice (2013) cr Matt Henry, Short Stories

Alice (2013) © Matt Henry, Short Stories

“Everything was to play for in this era,” says Henry of 1960s and 70s USA. “Culture and politics fused like no other time. The tension between burgeoning liberal ideas and the stubborn conservatism of rural America is fascinating for me, and provides the most fantastic backdrop for storytelling.”

Phone Call (2012) cr Matt Henry, Short Stories

Phone Call (2012) © Matt Henry, Short Stories

There’s so much happening in each of the scenes – even empty rooms ripple with a sense of anticipation. Paranoia and hope sizzle with equal emphasis, suggesting that drama awaits at the every corner – and the direction each life will take could rest in the spin of a nickel. Any writer who can imbue their work with such palpable tension will be a master of their art.

Short Stories Matt Henry cover

Short Stories by Matt Henry is published by Kehrer Verlag and is available to buy from www.artbooksheidelberg.com or from www.matthenryphoto.com.

How blogging can make us more present

Krakow chimneys cr Judy DarleyI began blogging in 2008. I’d already been working as a journalist for several years, and having recently gone freelance, was seeking to fill the slightly alarming time between assignments. After years of following briefs, making my writing meet the expectations magazine readers and editors, writing a blog felt refreshingly free. For the first time since I was a child keeping a journal, I could, to some extent, write whatever popped into my head.

But soon came the disconcerting and simultaneously exhilarating realisation I had an audience. I needed to be aware my eyes were not the only eyes one the screen.

I needed to make sure I had plenty of quality content, so I did what I’d always done. I carried a notebook. I wrote down the things that occurred to me, the sights and snippets of daily life that amused or intrigued me, and some of them formed blog posts for a section I named ‘Foraging.’

More recently, one blog down and three years into blogging at SkyLightRain.com, many of these take the form of ‘Writing Prompts’. It makes me pay attention in a way I might not otherwise, and it’s deeply satisfying.

At the same time, as I seek out creative opportunities for my readers, I grow more aware of the literary and art events taking place, the courses, festivals, calls for submissions and competitions that might benefit my own output.

In a sense, a blog is a magazine, with each post an article or feature. The beauty of the blog is that there are few costs (just the hosting and domain name to shell out for if you want a bespoke name), and therefore no advertisers to appease. You have freedom, but also copy to provide. So you keep your eyes and ears open, pay attention to what’s happening around you, both online and out in the actual world.

I once attended a talk on mindfulness in which we were advised to take note of chimneys. It’s a simple way to ensure you look up, notice the sky, and, besides, many chimneys are beautiful.

Gathering material to blog about works in the same way. I’m a habitual daydreamer – a half hour amble could pass without me seeing anything but the thoughts inside my head. Requiring myself to spot things, and think about them, ensures I’m more aware of my surroundings – not only that, but enjoying them.

Arnos Vale trees cr Judy Darley

As my mind hops from idea to idea, my eyes can dart around and draw my attention to the way sunlight flickers between branches, the discarded toy on a wall, the faint absurdity of a lone shoe nestled in the shade of a bus stop. And then my mind stops wandering and wonders – whose toy is that? Why just the one shoe? Is someone right now limping home?

The world is full of intrigue.

As a blogger you’re a modern day hunter-gatherer. The snippets you overhear, the conversations you have, the twitter feeds and other blogs you read, all contribute to making your blog, and your life, more interesting. And, I would say, all that can add up to making you a more engaged, happier person.

What’s not to like?

The power of reading aloud

Remember Me To The Bees launch photographer Pete GettinsThis month I’ll be doing readings at events in Cardiff and Bristol, sharing flash fictions pieces inspired by art, a short story based on the life of a lady aviator, and a tale prompted by superstition and the sea.

I love doing readings – it’s always somewhat terrifying, but at no other time do you receive such an instantaneous reaction to your work. I even enjoy reading out during sessions with the writing groups I attend. Somehow speaking the words I’ve written gives them life beyond the page, which is, in part, what every written word requires in one form or another.

With works in progress, it also helps me to hear where my writing would benefit from being tightened up or amended in some way. I sometimes wonder if the neighbours are ever puzzled to overhear me reading my latest story or chapter aloud, sometimes stopping mid-sentence as some previously unnoticed clunkiness or typos come to my attention.

If a sentence trips you as you speak it, something’s generally amiss. A few tweaks can smooth out the structure and rhythm, enrich each sentence, and get it closer to the flawless piece of prose or poetry you intended to construct in the first place.

If you haven’t tried it before, I definitely recommend giving it a go, even if it’s just you alone in a forest with an audience of trees. Even better, as one of my friends does, dictate your writing pieces into a Dictaphone or similar and play it back to yourself – you may find yourself cringing, but surely that will be worth it for the enhanced end result.