Dartington Trust seeks poet in residence

Dartington Hall sculpureDartington Trust, a centre for progressive learning in arts, ecology and social justice, is inviting applications for the post of Poet in Residence for the Grade II* Listed Gardens.

The deadline for applications is midnight on 30th November.

The position is open to any poet in the UK and will run for the first time from January to December 2022. The successful poet will make four weekend trips to Dartington’s  1200-acre campus near Totnes in Devon – one in each season to write a poem about the gardens in winter, spring, summer, and autumn.

The poems will be shared on the Dartington Trust digital channels, in events at the Totnes Bookshop, and in workshops with students.

The Trust will pay a fee of £1,000 and cover the costs of accommodation and travel for four visits.

To stir your imagination, they say: “Our gardens have been shaped and inspired by the remarkable custodians of this special place for over 1,000 years. Nationally and internationally renowned landscape architects and designers including Henry Avray Tipping, Beatrix Farrand, and Percy Cane played a large part in the development of the gardens in the 20th century. Dartington Gardens are the only example of work by the pioneering landscape architect Farrand in the UK. She was brought over from America by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst to redesign the courtyard in the 1930s. Farrand’s 150th anniversary is celebrated in 2022.”

Sculptures on sit include Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure, pictured above, commissioned especially for the gardens in 1946.

There are also some impressive champion trees to get to know amidst the wheel-chair accessible gardens, with a 1,500-year-old yew tree and a line of sweet chestnuts said to be over 400 years old. “Visitors return year on year to admire the stunning burst of colour at the Azalea Dell and the soft muted tones of the 80-metre-long Sunny Border created by Dorothy Elmhirst in 1928, which overlooks The Tiltyard at the heart of the gardens.”

How to apply

Submit three of your poems plus a covering letter explaining why you would like to become the first Poet in Residence for the historic gardens. “We are especially interested to hear from candidates from backgrounds and communities that are under-represented in the publishing and arts sectors, including black, minority ethnic, and disabled candidates.”

Poet Alice Oswald and writer Dr Martin Shaw will select a small number of candidates for interview. Both writers are core teaching staff for MA Poetics of Imagination at Dartington Arts School, which focuses on orality and story. The MA examines the stories woven into modern culture from ancient folktales, myths, and fables to contemporary tales and poetry. Students explore what happens when humans imagine and ask what story is trying to be told right now.

Your role, if successful, will be to communicate some of the magic brimming within this exceptional landscape.

Applications should be sent to poetinresidence@dartington.org.

The Poet in Residence will be announced in December to start in January.

Find out more here: https://www.dartington.org/search-for-poet-in-residence-for-our-historic-gardens/

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.

Writing prompt – golden

Arnos Vale turns gold by Judy Darley. Shows trees painted gold by the morning sun.The most glorious thing about this time of year is walking early in the morning and watching the rising sun paint the trees. The leaves in this photo have yet to lose their chlorophyll (and yes, I did nearly type chloroform then, which would make this a very different story prompt!), but the sun is sharing its clairvoyance of the weeks’ to come.

I love how the sunlight is visible here like a sentient creature in the form of a mist. It looks like it’s exploring the woodland with curious breath that gilds every item it touches. A Midas mist, perhaps, but with a far happier outcome.

Can you take this scene and build it into a tale celebrating our natural spaces and shifting seasons?

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.

Anthology review – The Weight of Feathers

The Weight of Feathers cover. Shows purple book cover with pink, yellow and orange dots loosely shaped into a feather.The Weight of Feathers anthology comprises the winning, short-listed and highly commended fictions plucked from the riches submitted for the Retreat West Prize 2020. It opens with The Stonecutter’s Masterpiece by Jennifer Falkner, a bitter-sweet short story with a vivid sense of place, opening as it does with a paragraph that includes an expertly crafted line on the valley setting: “His workshop was the only thing in it, curled at the bottom like a sleeping cat.”

As short story judge Peter Jordan writes in his report: “It won because the writing on an individual sentence level was superb.”

In fact, there are outstanding sentences throughout this anthology. The book brims with intriguing short stories and flash fictions, each of which shimmers and hums with sensory details: a butterfly fluttering inside a double-glazed window; a woman turning to stone; a mouthful of damson jam. The delights are myriad, offsetting the sadness at the heart of many of these tales.

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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 2021 Judge is RWC literary agent and children’s author Sam Copeland, who will judge the winning manuscript from a shortlist chosen by Junior Judges aged seven to seventeen. Read Sam’s submission tips here.

Deadline: 30th November 2021
Prize: £3,000
Submission: First 5,000 words plus one page synopsis

Entry fee: £28 with sponsored places available for low income writers

Shortlisted authors will receive manuscript feedback from the Junior Judges plus literary agent introductions.

The writer of the most promising longlisted manuscript will win a place on the online course Edit Your Novel the Professional Way (worth £1,800) from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.

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.

Poetry review – Other Women’s Kitchens by Alison Binney

Other Women's Kitchens book coverThe winner of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2020, the 23 poems in this small but powerful volume capture the frustrations of being gay in a straight-centred world, but also the joys to be found in understanding who you truly are and having the courage to seek and accept love.

Opening with a prose poem titled The way you knew, Alison Binney speaks of the utter innateness of self-knowledge with a light yet poignant touch that rings throughout the pamphlet, making you smile while simultaneously feeling your breath catch in your throat.

Keeping the tone buoyant, Binney launches into Lesbianism by numbers, which resembles a found poem pieced from click bait: “9 awkward things that happen when you’re the only lesbian at work (…) 16 lesbian power couples from history who got shit done…”

The L word digs deeper at a soreness rubbed raw by a thousand unthinking comments and slurs as a child deciphers clues about her own nature. The quietly emotional response to the ‘L word’ of the title spoken as an insult reveal a quiet, burning shame that’s deeply moving: “Later it flicked like a spitball/ from the back of the class, and slipped down the nape of my neck./ If you wiped it away they knew it had stuck./ I kept it under my tongue like a piece of old gum/ brought out to chew in the dark…”

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Writing prompt – haunt

Haunted tree by Judy Darley

This lime tree appears to be haunted by a flock of unhappy ghosts, which makes it the ideal #writingprompt as we slide closer to Halloween.

Imagine the spirits who jostle within this tree. What terrible things have they witnessed and heard? What are they trying to warn us to avoid?

Now take this prompt slightly sideways – perhaps the deeds that haunt them are needless deaths of wild fauna and flora. Perhaps each small species made extinct keeps this tree’s spirits trapped and lamenting.

How could you spin and resolve this tale? What could set these spirits free?

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.

On your marks… NaNoWriMo!

Photo by Muhammad Haikal Sjukri on Unsplash. Shows a person holding a map in front of a wildnerness.Monday 1st November marks the start of NaNoWriMo 2021. 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 2020, more than 1,000 people took part. Even if not all turn out to be sparkling examples, you should end up with some that make your heart zing!

Theatre review – Wuthering Heights

Kandaka Moore (Zillah), Ash Hunter (Heathcliff), Nandi Bhebhe (The Moor), Lucy McCormick (Cathy) and Witney White (Frances Earnshaw:Young Cathy). Credit Steve Tanner

Kandaka Moore (Zillah), Ash Hunter (Heathcliff), Nandi Bhebhe (The Moor), Lucy McCormick (Cathy) and Witney White (Frances Earnshaw:Young Cathy). Credit Steve Tanner.

Emma Rice’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights contains all the energy, humour and darkness you’d expect from the love child of Emily Bronte’s novel and Wild Children’s imaginative prowess. As with all the company’s productions to date, the first thing you’ll notice is the spectacle.

Puppetry, cleverly minimal sets, mood-altering lighting, original music and some truly stirring dance choreographed by Etta Murfitt, all serve to drive the story and setting directly into your veins.

TJ Holmes (Robert), Tama Phethean (Hindley Earnshaw:Hareton Earnshaw), Witney White (Frances Earnshaw:Young Cathy) Ash Hunter (Heathcliff) and Jordan Laviniere (John). Credit Steve Tanner

TJ Holmes (Robert), Tama Phethean (Hindley Earnshaw:Hareton Earnshaw), Witney White (Frances Earnshaw:Young Cathy) Ash Hunter (Heathcliff) and Jordan Laviniere (John). Credit Steve Tanner.

Not to mention the fact that one of the cast members is credited as the Leader of the Moor.

It feels only fitting that the landscape with such a crucial role in the story should have an aspect in human form, with Nandi Bhebhe crowned as the Leader, while often surrounded by other actors contributing to the sense of stormy weather and, perhaps unexpectedly compassion for the characters. In fact, every cast member other than Ash Hunter (Heathcliff) and Lucy McCormick (Catherine) takes their turn, while Heathcliff and Catherine embody the wildness of the moor in their own particular way.

The play opens as the book does with Lockwood (Sam Archer, who is also a wonderfully nuanced Linton) arriving in futile hope of a hospitable welcome at Wuthering Heights, where Heathcliff is master, and his daughter-in-law Cathy (Catherine’s daughter, played with endearing warmth by Witney White) and her cousin Hareton (Tama Phethean) live in fearful servitude. As the storm makes Lockwood an unwelcome and unwilling guest, he soon discovers that the place is haunted by more than chilly draughts and Heathcliff’s tempers.

Ash Hunter (Heathcliff) and Katy Owen (ISabella Linton:Linton Heathcliff). Credit Steve Tanner

Ash Hunter (Heathcliff) and Katy Owen (ISabella Linton:Linton Heathcliff). Credit Steve Tanner

As he flees the ghost of Catherine, Lockwood, and the audience, learns the story of Wuthering Heights from the Moor. Violence, betrayal and death are ever present, but comedy rears up at every opportunity, not least in Katy Owen’s marvellous portrayal both of Isabelle Linton and her son Little Linton. If you recall Katy Owen’s performance as Grandma Chance in the company’s debut production of Angela Carter’s Wise Children, you won’t be surprised by her apparent ability to shapeshift between these roles.

Early on a nod is made to the confusing multitude of names and connections. Each death is trailed by a character carrying a chalkboard showing the deceased’s name, while the evocative digital screen at the rear of the stage shows a flock of birds taking off with each final breath.

There are no ends to the ingenious means employed to tell this story, and the cast, band and creative team’s skills are showcased throughout. Under Emma Rice’s direction, Ash Hunter and Lucy McCormick expose a possessive, obsessive love as disturbing as Heathcliff’s dogged revenge against all who have wronged him. Lucy McCormick’s vocal exertions are sometimes sweet, sometimes eerie and often powerfully emotional, not least her song in the first half as she chooses between comfort and love. The musical performances provide the sense you’ve attended a gig as well as a play.

Nandi Bhebhe (The Moor, Lucy McCormick (Cathy) and Kandaka Moore (Zillah). Credit Steve Tanner

Nandi Bhebhe (The Moor, Lucy McCormick (Cathy) and Kandaka Moore (Zillah). Credit Steve Tanner.

As the Moor sings in the start of act two, this is not a love story – if we want love we should go to Cornwall. Yet despite this, there is hope for happiness at end. With such beauty, verve and vivacity in every scene, you’ll emerge buzzing.

Wuthering Heights is on at Bristol Old Vic until 6th November 2021 and runs at York Theatre from 9th-20th November and the National Theatre from 3rd February-19th March 2022. Live broadcasts will be available to watch from home from 4th-6th November. Find out more and book tickets. Production images by Steve Tanner.

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.

Writing prompt – guardian

Arnos Vale grave cat by Judy Darley

I love the spookiness of this time of year and the excuse to indulge my passion for ghost stories.

One of my favourite places in my neighbourhood is the sprawling Victorian cemetery Arnos Vale, where nature thrives amidst centuries of history.

Around this time in 2020, I was strolling through when I spotted this glorious ginger cat. It may well be keeping an eye out for mice to chase, but I like to think it was either acting as the guardian of this grave, or is perhaps a human spirit returned in feline form.

What directions could your imagination carry you? Could you conjure a satisfyingly eerie tale from this scene?

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.

Write 250 words celebrating trees

Arnos Vale star tree by Judy DarleyTrees in local public gardens and parks boost our spirits, offer a natural haven, improve air quality and willingly offer us something to hug. Sydney Gardens TREE WEEKENDER Writing Competition invites you to put your feelings about trees in public gardens and parks into just 250 words.

The deadline for entries is midnight (GMT) on Monday 1st November 2021, or whenever 125 entries have been received.

It is free to enter. Entrants are limited to two entries only – you may submit a poem and a flash story, two poems or two stories.

Sydney Gardens in Bath, UK, has been a public park for more than 100 years attracting residents and visitors alike, including Jane Austen. Once a private Georgian pleasure garden limited to those who could afford a subscription, it’s now a green jewel within the World Heritage site of the City of Bath.

A recent recipient of Heritage Lottery funds, Sydney Gardens has undergone a restoration that has been delayed by the pandemic but is now coming to fruition, which is being celebrated with a ‘Tree Weekender’ on the weekend of 27 & 28th November.

As part of this celebration of trees, you’re invited to write a flash story or poem of 250 words or under about trees in your local public garden or park.

In particular, they are seeking pieces that examine the value of trees in local parks and public gardens. They want to know the stories from where those trees came from, how they’ve been managed, cared for and loved, and what they mean to you.

Poet Samantha Walton & Charlotte Smith from the B&NES Parks and Trees Service will judge the poetry competition. Nigel Bristow and Andrew Stuck are the judges for the flash pieces.

Judges will draw up a longlist from the entered poems and stories, and all works on the list will be published on the TREE WEEKENDER web pages during November. Shortlisted poems and stories will be chosen, audio recorded and geo-located within and around Sydney Gardens to be available over the TREE WEEKENDER.

Shortlisted authors will be invited to join an exclusive nature writing on- line roundtable on Saturday 27 November, and will be invited to read their work at the TREE WEEKENDER Showcase online finale on Sunday 28th November 2021.

The winner and runner up in both the poetry and prose categories will receive a Book Token to the value of £50. They and the runners up, will each receive an artwork that illustrates their poem or story, created by Alban Low. There will also be special prizes of artwork for the best poem and story submitted by a resident living within Bath & North East Somerset.

The longlist and shortlist will be announced by Monday 22nd November.

The Sydney Gardens Tree Weekender writing competition is run by Rethinking Cities Ltd / Museum of Walking on behalf Bath & North East Somerset Council.

Find full details and terms and conditions here: https://www.bathnes.gov.uk/sites/default/files/sgtw_writingcomp_final_eligibilityrules.pdf

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.