Head to the Bath Children’s Literature Festival

Child reading cr Julian Foxon Photography

© Julian Foxon Photography

Hungry for writing inspiration, or simply got young book-worms to entertain? Bath Children’s Literature Festival offers up a fantastic, imagination-stirring line-up of events.

The festival runs from 27th September until 6th October 2019, with events for all ages. Look out for inspiring and entertaining conversations, workshops and hands’ on adventures in the company of Harry Hill, Jacqueline Wilson, David Baddiel, Cressida Cowell, Claire Spalding, Sophie Dahl, Michael Rosen, Yuval Zommer, Calorie Blackman, and more. Look out for chances to challenge children to engage their own writing and drawing skills.

Image supplied by Bath Festivals. Photo by Julian-Foxon-Photography.

Find details and book tickets at bathfestivals.org.uk/childrens-literature. Find out more about Bath, including places to stay, at visitbath.co.uk.

Art ablaze – review

Still from film. Provided by RWA BristolThe Royal West of England Academy (RWA) is currently holding an exhibition that examines the beauty and peril of fire.

From the romantic flicker of candle glow to a lurching, gigantic charred figure (Man on Fire by Tim Shaw), the artworks on display at Fire: Flashes to Ashes in British Art 1692-2019 demonstrate the challenges of this most voracious and ferocious of phenomena.

Au centre de la Terre II, Nadege Meriau, Photo courtesy RWA

Au Centre de la Terre II, Nadege Meriau

As always, the curatorial team have called in exquisite classic works, as well as showcasing how modern artists are exploring the element currently devastating the Amazon rainforest. The third of the galleries’ element-themed exhibitions feels weightier, unsurprisingly, than either the Water or Air-themed shows, and yet lacks the otherworldly after-feel of either of those, which I particularly loved.

Catherine Morland artworks

Here, there are fewer pieces that spill outwards from attempts at categorisation, but those that feature, not least Tim Shaw’s afore-mentioned Man on Fire sculpture, made from bin bags, foam and wire, as well as two dreamy pieces by Catherine Morland created using candle-flame on glass (shown above), are powerfully thought-provoking.

There are an array of artworks made by harnessing the power of fire and explosives, if only for a moment. Aoife van Linden Tol blasted discs of sheet copper to render her gorgeous, heat-scarred Sun III. In her case, the explosion was the focal point of a performance, rather than merely the means of creation; rather, it’s the artwork itself that is the byproduct.

Sun III by Aoife van Linden Tol

Sun III by Aoife van Linden Tol

Roger Ankling painted directly with sunlight, with a lens for a paintbrush in an act of heliography, to produce his sculpture Voewood, while David Nash crafted his fingertip-tempting Burnt Bent Book using a blowtorch.

As Mowgli learnt in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, fire is what sets us aside from other animals. It can be terrifyingly destructive, and yet it can also bring us together in comfort and safety.

Single Nights, Naima by Mat Collishaw

Single Nights, Naima by Mat Collishaw

Artists include William Blake, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Jeremy Deller, David Nash, Cornelia Parker, Stanley Spencer and JMW Turner.

Contrary to my own expectations, I found it was the more traditional pieces that drew me in – the richness of colour-play, of the fires’ brilliance against nightfall and its beauty set against what can only be panic and most likely death, makes them illustrations of the fragile line we tread beneath safety and peril.

My favourites include three watercolours by J. B. Pyne depicting the 1831 Bristol riots are jewel-like miniatures – undeniably exquisite despite their subject matter.

Look out for Sophie Clements’ mesmerising film (shown top). And on the way out, take a moment to admire Karl Singporewala’s sculpture of a blackened, skeletal Notre Dame tower – a reminder that human as well as natural wonders are susceptible to the hunger of flame.

Images supplied by the Royal West of England Academy.

Fire: Flashes to Ashes in British Art 1692-2019 is on at the Royal West of England Academy until 1st Sept 2019.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley(at)iCloud.com. I’m also 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.

Writing prompt – ablaze

Man on Fire by Tim Shaw. Photo by Judy Darley
This remarkable sculpture is Man on Fire by Tim Shaw and is on display at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol until 1st September 2019.

Larger than life, the person is frozen in the act of careering through the gallery, trailing smoke and ash. The notes describe it as “a moment trapped between life and death.” To me it resembles a figure in the midst of an extraordinary metamorphosis.

How would you interpret this scene and give it narrative?

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’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Fire: Flashes to Ashes in British Art 1692-2019 is on at the Royal West of England Academy until 1st Sept 2019.

Book review – All That is Between Us by K. M. Elkes

All That Is Between UsWarning: the intimacy in this book sneaks up on you, so that you’re living between the lines before you’ve had a chance to consider the implications – that if you do this, you’re going to empathise. You’re going to feel.

It’s a trait of K.M. Elkes’ writing that’s impossible to avoid. He draws you in with humour, and with exquisitely visual writing, until suddenly you realise you’ve become the character pressing their ear “against a window to feel the vibrations of trains and the deep, deep breath of the city”.

That’s a rare talent, most visible in this collection, perhaps, in You Wonder How They Sleep, in which the lines above appear.

Somehow, Elkes transports you, body and soul, less to another place than to another state of mind, into another’s state of mind.

In this collection, his debut (remarkably, it feels he should already have a shelf-ful of own-works), Elkes not so much invites you into other lives, as commandeers you: for the time it takes to read one of these brief flashes, or one and the next, and the next – as they’re addictive – you are immersed. You breathe the air his characters breathe, and ache exactly where they ache.

Elkes’ elegance with language is vivid throughout, frequently offering fresh terms on which to understand the world – “the buttery tang of trodden grass”, an old book with “the edges of its pages the colour of beer”, taxi cabs “yellow as a smoker’s finger.”

Picking a favourite story seems cruel, like choosing between a class-full of children, but inevitably one charmed me with its wit, its pathos and the ecological truth underpinning its fantasy. The King of Throwaway Islandis a love story in which the tale itself is being written by the protagonist repeatedly and released in plastic bottles from the island of refuse he’s been shipwrecked upon. “My island gets a little smaller ever time I send you a letter. But I stay confident – that’s part of the new me.”

In Swimming Lessons, an overbearing dad battles the ingrained hurt inflicted by his own father. Fathers crop up in many of the stories, often cruel, usually misguided, occasionally striving to do their best, and, at times, succeeding.

In Three Kids, Two Balloons, Elkes takes a passing moment and harnesses it in a way that somehow manages to be funny and moving and powerful. Hints of flippancy here, as in many of the stories, are deceptive, as beneath each is a bolt of such tenderness that you’ll be stopped in your tracks.

It’s intriguing that by fixing our focus firmly on the people at the heart of each tale, the stories themselves swell outwards, so that the details chosen to depict place and time become transferable across countries and, to an extent, eras. Loss is perhaps the most universally recognised emotion, and Elkes has the ability to make every situation he turns to infinitely relatable.

In that sense, the collection’s title rings with particular resonance – chiming with the awareness that in fact all that is between us are the things that make us human, which means that time, location and circumstance matter far less than our responses to the situations we find ourselves within.

 All That Is Between Us by K. M. Elkes is published by AdHoc Fiction and is available to buy here.

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, get in touch.

A new inclusive nature-writing prize

Tiny snail cr Judy DarleyThe Nan Shepherd Prize is accepting submissions until 10th September 2019. This new competition launched by Canongate aims to find the next major voice in nature writing. It intends not only to celebrate nature writing but provide an inclusive platform for new and emerging nature writers from underrepresented backgrounds.

The competition has been established in memory of Nan Shepherd. The organisers say:  “While her classic of nature writing The Living Mountain took three decades to first find a publisher, today the book is recognised as a masterpiece and Nan is inspiring a new generation of writers. We felt that a prize named after her was a fitting way to honour her legacy.”

The winner of The Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing will receive a book deal with Canongate, including editorial mentoring and an advance of £10,000, as well as the option of literary representation with Jenny Brown Associates.

During the submissions period, the Canongate team will publish resources intended to demystify the publishing process.

The competition judges are Amy Liptrot, Chitra Ramaswamy, Jenny Brown and Nick Barley.

Applications are open to previously unpublished writers based in the UK and Ireland, who consider themselves underrepresented in nature writing, whether through ethnicity, disability, class, sex, gender, sexuality or any other circumstances. This means that entrants must not have published full-length books of fiction or non-fiction (including children’s books) with a trade publisher. Full details of eligibility and how to submit can be found here.

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

Writing prompt – screen

Teen birthday_phone screen by Judy DarleyI find it fascinating to consider how our addiction to devices could be influencing our  interpretation of the world.

For the generation who are currently teenagers, these devices are an intrinsic means of understanding and experiencing the world. It seems that nothing is real unless witnessed and captured through a phone screen.

But what will happen if one day the super servers simply click off?

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’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – the everrumble by Michelle Elvy

the everumbleAt the age of seven, Zettie stops speaking and concentrates instead on listening to the world.

Described as a small novel in small forms, this book is far larger than the sum of its parts. I know people who devoured it in a single indulgent sitting, but for me it was so quenching  that I drip-fed it to myself – page after page, moment by moment. It offered me a place to return to for peace, quietude and stillness, and now that I’ve read it from cover to cover, I know I’ll return again.

Delivered in a series of flashes, served up with plenty of space to hold the words and ideas safe, this is a book of contemplative joy.

I often see sentences as strings of interwoven colours, but in the case of the everrumble, it was a far more textural experience. Grains danced over my bare arms as I absorbed the passages. I felt tendrils of thread waft over the nape of my neck and the polish of seashells against my toes. Most of all, perhaps because of the blanket that Zettie takes refuge beneath at the beginning, which “light enters like tiny diamonds”, throughout the ever rumble I saw the stitch-work of crochet – that alchemy of yarn, deft fingers and hook, and the hushed focus that comes with that skill (which I do not have).

In other words, author Michelle Elvy has somehow conjured a multi-sensory experience through her writing, and, even more powerfully, compressed sensations onto the page that will eke into your everyday life. Sitting here typing this, I feel the pleasure of contact with each key, and a delight in the warmth of this sunlit room, while the soft sounds of bells chiming and traffic passing drift through the window to keep me company.

Weaving in dreamscapes with glimpses into a long life, set against geography and literary musings in the form of notes on books that have captured Zettie’s attention, the everrumble is a glorious odyssey of one woman’s exploration of connectivity. Even her name is notable, borrowed as it is from her aunt – Little Zettie being a nickname bestowed on her by her brother when she was small.

Through her silence, Zettiee opens up herself to the riches of Earth’s sounds, from the human, to the natural, to the unnatural, to “the everrumble. The heartbeat of every living creature.”

And in other ways, she is utterly normal. She gets crushes, falls in love, earns a living, bears and raises children. It’s her contentment, and her intense empathy for the most part, that is extraordinary. But she is mortal, and human, for all her communing with nature – a detail powerfully examined in a segment in which she imagines reading to her children.

In an era when climate change is accelerating at a dizzying pace and governments seem ever more disconnected both from their nations and the environment they’re impacting, the everrumble is a welcome pause, and a reminder: to listen, to savour, to live well.

the everrumble by Michelle Elvy is published by AdHoc Fiction and has been longlisted for the Guardian Newspaper’s Not-The-Booker-Prize. Buy your copy.

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, get in touch.

Plymouth seeks young writing talent

Plymouth. Photo by Frederica Diamanta on Unsplash

Plymouth City Council, in partnership with the South West literature development agency Literature Works, has launched a search to find aspiring new writers in the city aged between 14 and 19 to apply for the Mayflower 400 Plymouth Young City Laureate post.

The successful applicant will be asked to create work to celebrate special events or occasions in the city as well as being expected to perform at events in libraries, schools and at festivals.

The current holder of the Mayflower 400 Plymouth Young City Laureate title, Olivia Templeton, says: “My time as the Laureate has been a better opportunity than I could have hoped for. Meeting new people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise and celebrating such important events have made the past year so incredible.”

There is a cash prize of £100 as well as city-wide recognition for the post-holder’s writing and performance skills, making this an ideal stepping stone for any young person hoping to launch a successful career in the arts.

To enter you must:

  • To be aged between 14 and 19
  • Live, work or go to school or college in Plymouth
  • Submit two samples of your creative writing. One should be inspired by the theme of ‘Plymouth’, and the other should be inspired by the theme of ‘finding your identity’
  • At least one of your two samples should be in the form of poetry
  • Prose should be no more than 2000 words, poetry no more than one page of A4.

The deadline for entries is Friday 27th September 2019.

The winning entry will be chosen by a panel of judges from Plymouth City Council, Plymouth University, Literature Works and a well-known (as yet unnamed) author.

The Young City Laureate will be announced at a celebration event in October.

Find full details of how to enter here.

Writing prompt – shoe

Shoe in cememtery by Judy DarleyI’ve been playing with fairytales and fables recently, remastering them with a twist that may make them more appealing to modern audiences such as this one published by Enchanted Conversation.

When I spied this mislaid shoe on a forest path, my first thought was ‘Cinderella!’

Use this as the prompt for a modern take on the Cinderella story. What kind of Cinders might have lost this battered sneaker, and in what circumstances? What sort of happy ending could they be stumbling towards?

And if I were to tell you that this path happens to be in a woodland cemetery, how might that influence your tale?

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’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Manchester Poetry and Fiction Prizes

The-Royal-Exchange-Manchester-cr-Judy-DarleyManchester Writing Competition 2019 is open to online and postal entries, with categories for Poetry and Fiction. Both prizes offer a £10,000 first prize.

The competitions were instigated in 2008 by by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy in 2008. The aim was designed to attract the best new writing from around the world, and to establish Manchester as a literary focal point.

The deadline for all entries is 5pm GMT on 20th September 2019.

The chair of poetry judges is Adam O’Riordan. The entry fee is £17.50.

Find full details and enter on the Poetry Prize page.

The chair of fiction judges is Nicholas Royle. The entry fee is £17.50.

Find full details and enter on the Fiction Prize page.

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