Flock to Penzance LitFest

Penzance cr Judy Darley

Fancy a glorious train journey to Penzance? From July 5-8 2023, Penzance LitFest will host flocks of authors, poets and performers, including Raynor Winn, Lucinda Hart, Scot Pack, Kate Mosse and Tim Hannigan, plus Wyl Menmuir talking about his passion for the ocean, which inspired his first venture into full-length, non-fiction, The Draw of the Sea (which won the Roger Deakin Award from the Society of Authors).

Take a performance poetry workshop with Megan Chapman, get to grips with publishing PR with Becky Hunter, or gain insights into book-to-stage adaptations with director Nick Bamford, author Mary Oliver, with scenes performed by actor Kate Edney.

From classic poetry and coastal myths to modern conservation stories, there will be plenty to whet your appetite.

Perched on the south-westerly tip of England, Penzance boasts the most westerly mainline railway station in the UK and is easy to reach by train from London, the Midlands and Scotland. Why not bring a notebook or sketchpad and turn your journey into a creative residency-in-motion?

Find the full programme and book here.

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

Starstruck by art

The Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Edward Kemeys, Lions

Edward Kemeys, Lions, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago is bound to be a highlight for any art aficionado visiting this extraordinary city. This vast space is teeming with renowned artworks, as well as plenty of less famous gems. From the intriguing Thorne Miniature Rooms to marvels such as Georgia O’Keefe’s Sky Above Clouds IV (below), I found myself floating on an excess of wonder.

Sky Above Clouds IV by Georgia O'Keefe

Stairways and soaring corridors led us to the Contemporary Wing, housing an impressive assortment of notable works. Frankly, it was like attending a party attended by an eccentric assortment of heroes. Meeting creations by the likes of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Charles Ray, and Damien Hirst made me feel a little starstruck: wide eyed and at a loss for words! I also had a the pleasure of encountering some artists for the first time, including Katharina Frisch, whose ‘Woman With Dog’ brought to mind happy hours scouring coastal rock pools as a child.

Woman With Dog by Katharina Fritsch

Woman With Dog by Katharina Fritsch

Downstairs I found myself drawn to the implied magic of the miniature rooms conceived by Mrs James Ward Thorne and created, under her guidance, by master craftsmen between 1932 and 1940.

Cape Cod Living Room 1750-1850

Cape Cod Living Room 1750-1850

Each represents a home from a particular time and location, with details down to the carpets and knick-knacks summoning up an impression of the lives that might have been lived there. It’s entrancing for any lover of art, architecture, history or humanity.

The Art Institute of Chicago. Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Elsewhere, the halls of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan and Islamic art instilled us with a sense of tranquillity, while the Architecture and Design exhibits inspired is with its grace and practicality.

We were also fortunate to visit when the John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded Age exhibition was on, and to walk among excellent work not only by the artist himself, but by his contemporaries, including Claude Monet.

The scale of these galleries makes it unlikely you’ll be able to see every exhibit in a single visit. My advice is to select a few galleries and do them justice. To me the Art Institute of Chicago felt like a portal through time, space and sensibility, with each doorway offering admission to another absorbing world.

Find out more at www.artic.edu.

Discover Bilbao.
Discover Brescia.
Discover Budapest.
Discover Bath.
Discover Barcelona.
Discover Laugharne.
Discover Reyjavik.

Got an inspiring venue, event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com.

Take a trip with memory game Arabicity

Arabicity game by Daradam

This beautifully packaged memory game takes a familiar idea and carries it overseas. The first thing that struck me on opening the box was the sweet smell of plywood. Each smooth cornered square sports a miniature artwork, showing an architectural landmark from an Arab country, such as Jordan, Algeria or Lebanon, with the name written in one or two of three languages – English, French or Arabic.

I’ve always believed that reading and playing are two key ingredients for nourishing a child’s empathy and interest in the world. The third is undoubtedly travel. Arabicity is excellent example of how well this can work, encompassing all three elements as the squares offer glimpses of enticingly foreign settings, with each successfully matched pair providing an insight into a language entirely unlike English.

Arabicity game by Daradam1

The smooth, light playing pieces are a pleasure to handle, making this a refreshingly multi-sensory alternative to on-screen games. The illustrations by Noha Habaieb are exquisitely detailed too. Shady stepped streets, grand buildings and friendly locals abound, bringing a sense of distant cities into my chilly British living room.

Arabicity game by Daradam2

Arabicity is created by Daradam, a French-based publishing house that specialises in educational toys inspired by the cultural heritage of the Arab world. “Our concept is to awaken kids’ curiosity for this part of the world,” says founding director Hanna Lenda. “For instance, Arabcity takes players to the narrow streets of Sanaa’s old city, in front of the Samaraa mosque in Irak or to visit the Sursock palace in Beyrouth. Some of these architectural wonders are out of reach these days, and Daradam enables little ones to discover them in a fun way.”

I’m planning to take my younger two nephews on a whirl through Arabicity this Christmas, and I’m pretty sure their art-loving nan will relish the game just as much as they do.

Find out more at www.daradam.com, www.facebook.com/daradamkids and www.instagram.com/daradamkids/

Penzance Literary Festival 2016

Penzance views cr Judy DarleyPenzance Literary Festival runs from 6th-9th July 2016. It’s the perfect excuse to enjoy Cornish views and sea air while revelling in the written and spoken word!

Look forward to a guest appearance by best-selling author Gavin Knight, whose new book, The Swordfish and the Star, a gritty portrayal of life in the fishing communities of Newlyn and The Lizard.

I love how inclusive and friendly this festival is – in 2013 I had the chance to read my short story The Scent of Summer at a Telltales literary event in the Admiral Benbow and loved the experience.

Headliners for this year’s festival include Rachel Joyce, author of best-selling The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, and writer of BBC Radio’s dramatised version of Jane Eyre, part of this year’s 200th anniversary celebration of Charlotte Brontë’s birth.

Other folks set to tingle your literary tastebuds include Costa award-winning novelist Andrew Miller, Guardian journalist Patrick Barkham, whose book Coastlines: The Story of Our Shore celebrates many of Cornwall’s coastal National Trust properties, and poets Bert Biscoe, Pol Hodge, Gray Lightfoot and Colin Stringer. And don’t miss the Bookshop Band, with a brand new selection of bookish songs!

There will also be writing workshops, theatre, and literary tours of Penzance run by local tour guide Anna McClary. It’s a great way to get to know the heritage of this Cornish town, and be inspired! Find full details at www.pzlitfest.co.uk.

For details of where to stay in Penzance, go to www.visitcornwall.com.

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

A meeting of minds

Dario Fo exhibition cr Judy DarleyI’m an ardent admirer of the inspiration one art form can fuel in another. Occasionally these prompted pieces can take the form of a dialogue with the original works, adding meaning and verve to those earlier pieces.

At the Santa Giulia museum of Brescia, a duel exhibition is performing just this feat, showcasing 35 works by 1997 Nobel prize winner Dario Fo created in direct response to the work of his hero Marc Chagall.

Rather like a duet of piano and cello playing out to exquisite effect, with one passage of notes echoing and building on the other, the exhibition features celebrated pieces by Chagall reflecting moments from his youth and early adulthood, with dreams and impressions woven into the paintings and sketches, many of which have never been displayed before.

Marc Chagall sketchbook

Marc Chagall sketchbook

I entered this gallery first, accompanied by dozens of members of the Italian press, all jostling for a closer look and a quote from curator Eugenia Petrova and artist Dario Fo.

The images, which include stunning early works from Chagall’s childhood in Russia, resounded against the walls of the narrow space, presenting scenes of farmland against portraits of Jewish workers – this is the artist whose painting The Fiddler inspired the musical Fiddler on the Roof, a detail I rather love, and which demonstrates the visceral energy of his work.

L'ebreo in Rosa by March Chagall

L’ebreo in Rosa by March Chagall


Fo, you may recall, is most celebrated for his work in the theatre (as a playwright, set and costume designer, director and even composer) explaining in part, perhaps, this match made in heaven.

Many of Chagall’s works speak of love, too, which is also an enduring theme for Fo.

Blue Lovers by Marc Chagall

In a separate hall, I strolled amid the 20 works by Dario Fo, each created especially for the exhibition. Accompanied by 15 preparatory paintings, the companion pieces draw from Chagall’s work but also Fo’s own life.

They fizz with vigour, revelling in their colour-saturated canvasses. Even pieces depicting traumatic events (such as this one by Fo showing the new-born Chagall being plunged into an ice-cold bath to shock him into breathing), are packed with humour.

Dario Fo birthThere’s a wonderful sense of Dario’s personality imbuing the pieces, a wry wickedness and a glint of mischief. This is, after all, the man who muddled together European languages to create a brand new theatre experience.

Dario Fo cr Judy DarleyWhile Dario (pictured left) claims to have learnt storytelling from fisherfolk and glassblowers, his passion for the work of Chagall means much of his mark-making has been influenced by the artist described by Pablo Picasso as “the only painter left who understands what colour really is.”

It’s a legacy that lifts both segments of the conjoined exhibition, along with a passion for the fantastical and surreal.

Dario Fo was born in March 1926, and discovered Chagall’s work when he was only in his twenties.

It’s such a happy and harmonious union that I can only wonder that this collaborative exhibition didn’t happen earlier, and be glad that it happened at all.

Dario Fo's signature

Marc Chagall. Russian years 1907-1924: with a story in pictures by Dario Fo is on at the Santa Giulia museum in Brescia until 15 February 2016. I can’t think of a more delightful excuse to flit over to this beautiful Italian town than an exceptional spot of culture. Find out more about Brescia at www.bresciatourism.it/en/

A Chagall-inspired writing prompt.
A Chagall-inspired play.

Ghostly getaways

Lumley Castle Hotel, County DurhamI love a spine-chilling, skin-tingling old fashioned ghost story, especially with Halloween almost upon us. If you’re seeking an inspirational spot to retreat to this All Hallows’ Eve, it seems Britain is rife with unsettling options. Just think of the inspiration you could glean for your next eerie tale!

Hoping for a heart-rending haunting? Head to Lumley Castle Hotel in County Durham (pictured above). Legend has it that in the 14th century the lady of the manor, Lily Lumley, was chucked down a well, and continues to trawl the castle grounds and corridors after nightfall.

Abbey Combe Hotel

Abbey Combe Hotel

Over at Coombe Abbey Hotel in Warwickshire, a 12th Century Cistercian Abbey, the tranquility is disrupted by an unearthly Hooded Monk, said to be the ghost of Abbott Geoffrey who was brutally murdered in 1345. His cloaked figure has been seen wandering the formal gardens designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and causing mayhem with poltergeist activity in the kitchens.

Abbey Combe Hotel gardens

Abbey Combe Hotel gardens

If the monk doesn’t make your heart lodge in your throat, look out for a green-eyed girl known as Matilda, rumoured to be the spirit of a stablehand taken advantage of by the master of the house. When he refused to accept responsibility for her pregnancy, Matilda cursed the house, and still storms through the rooms, slamming each door she passes through.

The Langham in London boasts the capital’s most haunted hotel room – room 333. Since it opened in 1865, it’s said to have been as popular with the dead as the living. Look out for a silver haired gentleman wearing a cravat – the ghost of a Victorian who murdered his wife and then killed himself while on their honeymoon at the hotel. Charming.

Then there’s Redworth Hall Hotel, Darlington, a Georgian manor house standing in 150 acres of woodland. If you book a night here, you could encounter the ghost of a jilted lover and hear the sound of ghostly children crying throughout the building.

Just the thing to ensure a night of sweet dreams.

Happy Halloween!

Find full details of all these hotels at www.laterooms.com.

Book review – Walking Away by Simon Armitage

Walking Home by Simon Armitage“There’s a sameness to this kind of walking, with the corner of my right eye always full of the blueness of the water and my left always full of the greenness of the land.”

So writes Simon Armitage shortly into the follow-up to his troubadour travelogue Walking Home, in which he hiked the Pennine Way. In Walking Away, Simon is again travelling without a penny to ease his way, instead relying on his poems to secure bed and board, plus the funds for the occasional ice cream, by reading his work to enthralled and occasionally bemused gatherings between Minehead and The Scilly Isles.

It’s a pleasingly audacious idea – a challenge to himself to discover whether or not poetry has a relevance in the present day. Almost every evening he gives a reading, in part to see who will attend, and after each event a large sock is left out which attendees are invited to drop donations into, not all of which turn out to be monetary.

Armitage is a hugely likeable fellow, with a keen eye for the gentle absurdities of the world, making each step of the way a delight. He notices things many of us might overlook, so that his commentary is peppered with oddities such as “wilfully quirky signposting”, lanes “so upholstered with spongy luminous green moss it has the appearance of a sea bed or coral reef” and, as the tide rolls in, moored boats in the bay “stirring and righting themselves like horses after sleep.”

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Be inspired in Manchester

Bjork Copyright Inez and Vinoodh 2015

Bjork © Inez and Vinoodh 2015

Manchester International Festival returns from Thursday 2nd to Sunday 19th July, with a programme of dazzling world premieres, unique concerts and one-off events, including a scattering of free events across the city.

It’s the festival’s tenth birthday, so expect some jaw-dropping and inspirational acts, including theatre commissions such as Neck of the Woods, a collaboration between Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon, novelist and playwright Veronica Gonzalez Peña, pianist Hélène Grimaud and actress Charlotte Rampling. The show’s been described as “a portrait of the wolf brought to life in a startling collision of visual art, music and theatre.” Sounds spectacular!

You’ll also have a chance to take a surreal culinary journey to mark the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, with High Tea In Wonderland by chef Mary Ellen McTague. The event takes place at a part of Manchester Museum not usually open to the public, and Mary Ellen says “even that space will be transformed and will allow us to take our participants on a journey through Alice’s wonderland via the flavours, aromas, sights and sounds of the experience.”

High Tea In Wonderland - Mary Ellen McTague and friends Photography by The Mancorialist and Hemisphere

High Tea In Wonderland © The Mancorialist and Hemisphere

Oh, and queen surrealist Bjork will also be dropping by to perform a special one-off gig at Manchester’s Castlefield Arena.

And those are just a few of the highlights.

Discover more events and book tickets at www.mif.co.uk. And if you attend any of the happenings, do let me know! I’d love to publish your festival review on SkyLightRain.com. Just email me at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Tranquility and elegance in Bath

Judy outside Dukes Hotel cr James HainsworthThere’s something deliciously decadent about a hotel stay only ten miles or so from home. Add in the fact that our stay was at Dukes on Great Pulteney Street in Bath and I really felt I ought to have been swishing down grand staircases in a floor-length gown.

We arrived soon after midday on a sunny March day and were warmly welcomed by Carole, who runs the boutique guesthouse with her husband Christopher. Reaching the property from Bath Spa train station meant a lovely stroll alongside the River Avon frothing over its weir, and across the 18th century Pulteney Bridge. Bath is a famously pretty Georgian town with biscuit-coloured buildings, and few more striking than Great Pulteney, with a broad sweep leading the beautifully columned Holburne Museum.

The Holburne Museum cr James Hainsworth

We dropped off our bags and heading straight to the museum, where we spent a happy afternoon ogling the permanent collection’s portraits (including this one of the Byam family by Thomas Gainsborough, with the child added later – fascinating to think how they altered their formal portraits over time!) and peering into narrow drawers showcasing intricately carved netsuke and the like.

The museum has a lovely café overlooking the Sydney Gardens Vauxhall, where Jane Austen walked daily when living in Bath. We meandered through it happily, admiring the many bridges crossing the Kennet and Avon Canal and railway, the Minerva Temple (pictured below), and a profusion of early spring flowers.

Judy at Minerva's Temple cr James Hainsworth

Back at the hotel, we were shown to our room by Roman (as Carole commented, very appropriately named when you consider the town’s heritage!), and found we’d been allocated the sumptuous Athol, one of two fitted with glorious four-poster beds. What a room! Luxurious, comfortable and utterly refined with numerous corners to nestle into and read or write, it’s the perfect retreat.

Dukes Hotel four-poster bed by Judy Darley

We ventured out again to explore the shops on Pulteney Street (and indulge in coffee and cake at the Bridge Coffee Shop, pictured below) and dip into the Victoria Gallery before ambling up to the Rostra Gallery and a whole array of dinky little independent shops selling assorted covetable things.

Bridge Coffee Shop cr Judy Darley

Dinner that night was at the Huntsman, where we feasted on pheasant followed by creamy panna cotta. Downstairs it seemed to be open mic night, so we curled into a corner festooned with fairy lights and listened to an excellent miscellany of local musicians.

The next morning we woke in our beautiful room and feasted on breakfast in the Duke’s dining room before leaving our bags at reception and heading off to the Thermae Bath Spa. Tucked away down a warren of streets just off the main shopping thoroughfare, the imposing structure has been controversial over the years (due mainly to its late completion and cost to taxpayers), but as marketing manager Charlotte Hanna says, any objectors who’ve sampled the spa’s services for themselves have found it difficult to maintain their annoyance with the place.

In fact, it’s fairly impossible to hold onto annoyance of any kind. The waters of the only natural thermal spring in Britain eases muscles and minds alike, and after a couple of hours of mostly bobbing around I was in a semi-comatose blissed out state.

I’d previously visited just a year after it opened when a few small kinks were being worked out, and was happy to find that in the seven years since it has only got better. The Minerva Bath, a large indoor pool, gave us the chance to acclimatise to our surroundings and enjoy drifting gently with the current. From there we climbed the stairs to the spa’s standout feature, the open-air rooftop pool, where sunlight bounced off the water’s surface and regular deluges of bubbles transformed it into a gigantic mineral-rich hot tub. The height of the building offers views over the surrounding buildings and countryside, which ensuring a sense of relative privacy, not that you’ll care once the tranquility kicks in.

We wandered downstairs to the Aroma Steam Rooms, where four large pods each offer a different aromatherapy experience from sandlewood to lotus flower. In the centre of the room, a waterfall shower ranged from light mist to a tropical downpour, a great way to liven ourselves up after each steam.

Time was slipping by so we headed back upstairs for one last sunlit wallow before heading to the Spring Restaurant to feed our relaxed selves on fresh fish, wine and salted caramel cheesecake. Well, we had to get those toxins back in somehow!

Find out more about visiting the city at visitbath.co.uk.

Apply for a creative residency in Paris

Georgia Fee, 50 Kisses, Paris, 2001

Georgia Fee, 50 Kisses, Paris, 2001

Fancy spending a couple of months in Paris honing your creativity? The Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency hosted by ArtSlant is open for applications. The next term will take place from July 1st – August 31st 2015 and includes a monthly stipend of $1,000 USD to to be used for studio space, materials, and other costs, plus airfare to and from the residency site in the Montparnasse neighbourhood of Paris.

The Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency in Paris aims to support and invest in emerging artists and writers, to provide an opportunity for them to advance their work and explore and engage with the cultural landscape of Paris, to encourage experimentation, and to increase exposure of their work to an international audience. Continue reading