Pandemic prompt – lens

Camera lens by Judy DarleyThese times we’re living through are strange and unsettling and stressful. I think we’re all becoming a little blinkered.

This week I challenge you to portray our current #lockdown circumstances through the lens of a pair of eyes other than your own. How is this for the old person separated from their grandchildren, from the homeless person’s point of view, through the eyes of a child too young to fully understand why everything has changed?

What’s happening in that street just beyond sight of your own? What’s occurring behind those doors, inside that home with the curtains closed all day?

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.

Book review – Scratched Enamel Heart by Amanda Huggins

Scratched Enamel Heart cover_Amanda_HugginsThere’s a conciseness to Amanda Huggins’ writing that makes me think of a stitch being drawn taut – her words pull the core of you to the core of a story until you gasp for breath.

Her Costa Short Story Award shortlisted tale ‘Red’ uses crimson dust to create a vivid, slightly melancholy landscape where a lone stray dog provides the hope, and a memory of better times provide the drive to reach like a scrawny sapling for light. Like Rowe, the protagonist of the preceding story “Where The Sky Starts’, Mollie needs to leave the place she’s supposed to call home or risk being trapped in a life that could suck her beyond sight of all hope, drive and light.

Huggins has a vivid mastery of words that whips up a setting you can virtually walk into, and uses that mastery to construct scenery that weaves the story’s mood around you: “Mollie hated the dark, brooding weight of the house, the trees so dense they held a part of the night’s heart within them even when the sun shone.”

It’s poetically precise and powerful.

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Live online – Culture Unconfined Festival

Red Fox Theatre

Seeking some drama, music, poetry and film to see you through the week ahead? Culture Unconfined festival launches online on 11th May.

Masterminded by the University of Liverpool, Culture Unconfined offers five days of drama, documentary, poetry, film and music to help people engage and stave off isolation during these lockdown times.

The online festival opens on Monday May 11th with A Museum for Me!, a chance to imagine and create your own perfect museum, tell your own stories and curate your own exhibition. There is even a special lockdown version to experiment with.

This is followed by renowned Irish composer, Gerald Barry’s dispatch from Los Angeles, where he is composing an opera based on Oscar Wilde’s Salome for the Los Angeles Opera, before former Royal Liverpool Philharmonic violinist Roisin Walters delivers a 30-minute concert connecting Irish songs and Bach dance movements from the Partitas.

The first day concludes with an exclusive radio documentary from Red Fox Theatre, around the making of their Dingle based performance piece, Catch of the Day.

Professor Peter Shirlow is Director of the University’s Institute of Irish Studies and co-organiser of Culture Unconfined. “One of the first casualties of Covid-19 was culture with the closure of venues, rehearsals and programming,” he says. “However, one of the first responses to the lockdown were performances on balconies and people using their creative talents to deal with the trauma of crisis. As much as crisis defined culture, it was clear culture was going to define crisis.”

Shirlow adds: “Culture Unconfined is the University of Liverpool’s response.’ “Culture Unconfined is the University of Liverpool’s response. It drives creative ambition with digital and live performances, it galvanizes hope and history and plays upon mirth and more thoughtful moments.”

Deidre,Ni,Chonghail

Deidre,Ni,Chonghail

Look out for musician, broadcaster, and writer Dr Deirdre Ní Chonghaile mapping the music of the Irish diaspora. This live talk is one of only two you need to rebook for.

Other highlights in the line-up include Alternative Bedtime Stories – definitely not one for the kids – by the Makey-Uppers, and poetry from Rita Ann Higgins.

Each day of the festival follows a schedule, with specific timings for each event. You can access each performance – and view the entire programme – through the Culture Unconfined website.

Festival Director and the University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Cultural Engagement, Professor Dinah Birch says: “As the novelty of working from home begins to settle into a routine, it’s important that our online lives should continue to be refreshing and rewarding. Engaging with a variety of cultural resources is one of the best ways of staying connected, and expanding our sense of the new experiences that a virtual world makes possible.”

To access the performances, see the full schedule and find out more about Culture Unconfined, visit www.liverpool.ac.uk/culture-unconfined

Pandemic prompt – remember when?

Small child at Bristol City Museum by Judy DarleyLooking through a few ancient photos, I found this one snapped in Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery. Seems like a different lifetime!

Remember when we could go to museums? Remember when we were allowed to indulge our curiosity and actually touch? Do you think you’ll ever take these freedoms for granted again?

What narratives could you spin 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.

Poetry review – dare i be gentle by Susan Hitching

dare i be gentle cover_web1Susan Hitching’s debut poetry collection, dare i be gentle, alights on moments glimpsed and spins them into observations that feather outwards to encompass entire worlds.

A line of bras on a washing line offer up the soar, sway and surge of garments, and perhaps people, pegged out over boglands, while ‘The Shirt You Left Behind’ becomes a lover’s tender lament. Storytelling weaves its spell in ‘DIY Wizard’, deftly evoking the quirky magic of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, in lines such as “The screeching of owls is heard/ in his dreams as an orchestra of power tools…”

Like Thomas, Hitching has a knack of hooking the glory in the overlooked and the extraordinary grace in the apparently commonplace.

Details are harnessed and hoisted into prime position, such as the ‘Little Red Shoes’, laboriously and triumphantly buckled onto the wrong feet.

In fact, our well-intentioned mistakes are celebrated throughout. One of my favourites in the collection is ‘Stealing From The Arboretum’, a perfect micro story in 20 vivid lines. Hitching describes the ‘stolen forest’ with humour and affection – a gleeful, rueful anecdote aglow with wit and vivacity.

Word are harvested and arranged with a delicacy that imbues more than is written, creating expanding ripples of understanding. In ‘Feral Shadows’, it’s the vulnerability of the infant lying “peeled/ between feathered and cottony sleep’, while the act of pincering “the dissolving/sherbet lemon/ from between my fizzing teeth” in ‘Kissing At Barking Station’, crows of the delights of a rebellious attitude, regardless of age.

Dreamier, briefer poems appear in clutches like hedge-snagged sheep’s wool, with larger font and plenty of clean white space to flutter against on the page. Evoking the County Kerry scenery that Hitching lives amidst, these poems are deft sketches of time and place. ‘lone tree’ is an ode to a solitary stalwart:

lone tree

you survive

a symbol
drawn in the land

catching the moons
on shannon’s hill

where

reed and wire
play for you

all        year    long

In ‘Tonight I Feel Uneasy’, Hitching harnesses whispers of folklore, mentioning the shadowy “long tailed furries” “while rats and hares in guises/ rustle the gorse and grasses, and “a monstrous cow” that “coughs an echo”.” Eerie and beautiful.

Hitching’s poems invite us to stray from signposted footpaths and explore the sun-dappled, mud-fringed shadows. In the quiet pleasures of her words I glimpse hints of Sheenagh Pugh’s  http://www.skylightrain.com/poetry-review-afternoons-go-nowhere-by-sheenagh-pugh/ playful poetic prowess, while Hitching’s talent for the more painterly arts gleams through in colourful strands.

Susan Hitching

Susan Hitching

These are poems of that strive to, and succeed in, capturing the wild beauty of the south-western toes of Ireland, while shining up the wonder to be found in the mundanity of of everyday life and all its glorious oddities and follies. Hitching is a writer, and a human, with a passion for her surroundings, in all its forms, and through her gaze we can learn to delight anew.

dare i be gentle by Susan Hitching is available to buy from: https://www.facebook.com/dare-i-be-gentle-102586724779527/

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 judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

A short story – The Go-Get-Gone

The Go-Get-Gone by Judy Darley
My short story The Go-Get-Gone, about a teen trying to enjoy a night out despite the best efforts of her dissociative identity disorder symptoms, has been published on the Lucy Writers’ Platform. I’m thrilled!

I’m delighted to see Amanda and her so-called friends coaxed out of the shadows!

This story has taken a long while to grow strong enough to fumble its way into the light. I believed in it from the start but needed to translate the story in my mind from its nebulae state into something other people could understand. Somehow that seems really apt, given the topic, and now I’m cheering for Amanda and Bim for remaining resolute throughout.

My editor Hannah at the Lucy Writers’ Platform introduces my story with the following words:

Amanda is out for the night with her new school mate, Lea. But when her so-called friends – an assortment of symptoms from her Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – turn up, she finds it hard to determine who and what is real.

You can read the story in full here.

A short story – Rocked Awake

Earthworm by Judy Darley
I’m chuffed to bits that my mini myth Rocked Awake has been published as part of Dear Damsels‘ nature theme.

In the story, a mother attempts to solve the riddle of why her baby daughter is usurped in her crib by wild flora and fauna. Nature’s clues lead her to a fresh interpretation of the changeling myth. 
Here’s a fragment from the centre of the tale:

This morning, it was an earthworm, fleshy and pale, curled into a shape like a shepherd’s crook.Sometimes it wasn’t even a creature that breathed – last week my daughter had been usurped by an acorn.

You can read my full story, and the other fabulous words published by Dear Damsels, here.

Pandemic prompt – more wine…

More Wine by Judy DarleyThis heartfelt plea on a pavement near my home caught my eye. As the lockdown continues, the parameters of our world narrow, along with our viewpoints on essential and non-essential items.

Could this post-it note provide the prompt for a story for our peculiar times, with a focus on our shifting priorities? Alternatively, use it as part of a found poem.

If you prefer, use this prompt to jump forward to when our country is run by the kids currently being homeschooled by day-drinkers.

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.

Porto in five senses – touch

São Bento Railway Station by James Hainsworth

There’s more to see (and touch) at São Bento Railway Station than trains. By James Hainsworth

In February 2020, my hub and I spent a long weekend in Porto, little knowing that the coronavirus pandemic was about confine us for the most part to our own homes.

In this time, I believe it’s vital to recall the beautiful, wide and varied world that exists beyond our immediate locality, and with this in mind I’ve been sharing a five-part travel guide to Portugal’s second largest city.

Each Tuesday in lockdown I’ve posted a new travel guide to Porto focusing on a different sense, beginning with the most evocative – the sense of smell. Last week was all about the sounds that knit this city together.

Today I’ll guide you through this characterful town via the sense of touch.

Touch – the city walls

Porto is famed of its tiled edifices, one of the finest examples of which is the foyer of São Bento Railway Station (Praça de Almeida Garrett, 4000-069 Porto, Portugal).

Porto tiled boulder by Judy Darley

Even some of the boulders are tiled in Porto. By Judy Darley

I couldn’t help reaching out to run my fingers over the city’s ancient walls. This was before touching became a risk-seeker’s adrenalin sport, don’t forget. The moist atmosphere, which is part of the reason why so many buildings are tiled way and beyond our own bathroom tiling at home, ensures that any uncovered stones tend to sport lichen or lovely moss.

Porto craggy walls by Judy Darley

Stepping inside buildings such as Chocolateria Ecuador (Rua de Sá da Bandeira 637, 4000-437 Porto, Portugal) reveals the textural riches within, as well, in this case, the scent and flavour sensations.

Chocolateria Ecuador by James Hainsworth

Treat your sense of touch, taste and smell at Chocolateria Ecuador. By James Hainsworth

Plus, quite a few shops we visited have their own shop cat mewing out for a consensual stroke.

Porto shop cat by Judy Darley

Come on in to meet today’s special purr-chase. By Judy Darley

Explore Porto’s other sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – smell
Porto in five senses – taste
Porto in five senses – sight
Porto in five senses – hearing

A 75-word story – Other residents’ symptoms confine you

Perretts Park during lockdown by Judy DarleyMy 75-word story ‘Other residents’ symptoms confine you’ is the story of the day on the excellent Paragraph Planet.

I often use writing to soothe myself, and this small piece is a response to my worries about my dad, now confined to his room in his care home due to other residents’ Coronavirus symptoms, with no way of understanding why. It’s a situation that makes me feel powerless, so all I can do is wish him memories of tree branches and leaves, and transform his four-wall cell into a forest.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m writing rather a lot of Coronavirus fiction at the moment.

Stories published by Paragraph Planet are live for just 24 hours. In case you missed mine, here it is:

Other residents