There has been a bit of a fashion lately for shows where an artist’s works are projected at huge size on the walls and floors. The Hockney one at Lightroom (‘Bigger and Closer, not smaller and further away’) is the first I know of where the artist is alive and actively involved in the show. Hockney, of course, has always been up for using technology, whether cameras or more recently iPads.
This show amounts to a guide or commentary to all the different periods of his career, narrated by the man himself. I thought a few things worked particularly well – watching the construction of some paintings, joining in his ‘Wagner Ride’ and animations of his set designs (he has apparently suggested the Lightroom set up could be used to stage a short opera).
It’s lucky that Hockney is good at explaining his views on perspective, say, or the representation of time. He tells us how much he liked it being always warm and sunny in L.A., but he also says there is no bad weather. (‘If it’s raining, I’ll paint the rain: if it’s snowing, I’ll paint the snow. All of the world is beautiful, really, but people don’t look at it.)
I’ve fallen a bit behind with my reviews, but I have to say a belated word about ‘Famous Puppet Death Scenes’ by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop from Canada. It is indeed essentially a puppet show with a series of death scenes showing off a range of jokes and ingenious stunts. You could call the style Gothic Absurd, perhaps: supposedly the sponsor, a puppet himself, has put together for our edification these celebrated death scenes, culminating in his own. The series is loosely bound together by some repeated motifs, especially a number of extracts from that seminal work The Feverish Heart by Nordo Frot. The pieces are funny and ingenious (sometimes you may suspect a bit has found its way into the show because it’s such an amusing idea, rather than because it fits the theme brilliantly, but hey, what’s wrong with that?) and actually have some genuine shock value. You won’t expect deep philosophy, but things are rounded out with a little moral reflection, delivered as snappily as the rest. If this show or this group ever come your way, give it a try.
Sutton Writers has renamed its annual competition after Ann Pattison, a stalwart of the group who passed away recently. This year there had to be a link with St Mary’s church in Beddington, and they introduced separate categories for poetry and prose. I won the poetry (but not the overall trophy)! Maybe I should give poetry more of a try…
Here is a look at writing competitions I might enter which have deadlines in the coming month (so no poetry or flash, for example).
Not to be missed, the Alpine Fellowship seeks stories of up to 2,500 words on the theme of ‘Flourishing’. They interpret this word in a particular way, so I recommend reading what they say about it. It’s free to enter: first prize is £3,000, down from the massive £10,000 of previous years, but still generous, and it comes with an invitation to their August symposium in Fjällnäs, Sweden. The deadline is 1 March.
Not actually a competition, but with the same deadline, Guts Publishing is open for submissions of works at least 30,000 words long.
Is March 1 Guts Day? Because with the same deadline again we have the Gutsy Great Novelist competition, looking for Chapter One of your novel. This one costs $20 to enter, with a prize of $1,000.
The Fowey Festival competition has a deadline of 5 March, and seeks up to 1,500 words. It’s £10 to enter, with a £250 prize and the melancholy theme is ‘I’ll Never Be Young Again’.
Entries to the Tennessee Williams Short Story contest should have some link to the great author and be between 1,500 and 4,000 words. $10 to enter, a prize of $200, and the deadline is 11 March.
The BBC National Short Story Award is a big one, with a prize of £15,000 and your work published and broadcast. Entrants need a record of prior publication and self-publishing does not count. It’s free, however, and there’s a generous word count limit of 8,000. The deadline is 13 March.
The Perkoff Prize, from the Missouri Review, wants up to 8,500 words on health or medicine. It costs $15, the prize is $1,000, and the deadline is 15 March.
With the same deadline, Lorian Hemingway (granddaughter of Ernest and a notable writer herself) looks for up to 3,500 words. Entry is $15 if you’re quick or $20 later, and the prize is $1,500.
Also with a deadline of 15 March, Phoebe wants up to 5,000 words. Entry is $7 and top prize $500. The link goes to the Submittable page, scroll down for the relevant details.
All the rest have a deadline of 31 March.
The Deborah Rogers Foundation offers a big prize of £10,000 for a promising work in progress. Send 15 to 20,000 words of your manuscript so far. It’s free: the intention is to help give someone who is struggling the support they need to get their writing project delivered. You must reside in Britain, the Commonwealth, or Eire. As a comfortably retired person with plenty of opportunity to write, I probably won’t enter, but I hope they find a worthy winner.
The Clay Reynolds Prize from the Texas Review is a relatively rare opportunity for works in the novella form (20 to 50,000 words). Entry is $20, and you could win $500 plus publication.
The Crazy Cats are back with an Easter competition in which you must include swearing and/or insults: however, you are to use the names of pastries or chocolate as the offensive terms, you bunch of glazed croissants. Up to 2,500 words, £7.50 to enter and a prize of £70 (not huge but it would buy you a few pains au choc).
The focus is on experiences for the Long Covid anthology, which is free to enter. There will be no single winner, but selected accounts of the continued impact of the disease (up to 1,500 words) will be published and the authors will receive an honorarium.
That old warhorse the Henshaw prize is still plugging away, with the latest competition offering the usual £200 prize for stories up to 2,000 words: it’s £6 to enter and for a modest extra fee you can get feedback.
Finally, Pinch Literary Awards, from Memphis, wants up to 5,000 words. Entry is $20 and the prize is a nice $2,000.
Good luck if you enter any of these; if you get anywhere, please do let me know.
At Sutton Central Library where Sutton Writers launched not one, but two anthologies: House of Stories (fiction) and Without Boundaries (poems). Among many excellent readings, I did the beginning of my story ‘Stairway to Heaven’, which is in the former.
‘Spain and the Hispanic World’ at the Royal Academy is a mixed bag which doesn’t really aim for a coherent view but presents a large selection from the American Hispanic Society’s collection (I believe their building is being refurbished at the moment). There are works by El Greco, Velasquez and Goya as well as other items whose interest is more historical or even ethnographic. There are fascinating maps and they also have a fine set of knockers on display (thank you, I’m here all week).
Goya’s large painting of the Duchess of Alba (‘The Black Duchess’ – he also did a white one), used on posters for the exhibition, is interesting. You notice she is pointing down, and at first I thought she was drawing attention to the remarkable shoes she is wearing, which are silver and sharply pointed. In fact, there is a message written in the sand at her feet: ‘Only Goya’ it says. Goya treasured this picture and kept it for himself. Hmm.
We also have a remarkable bust of Saint Acisclus, life size and unsettlingly realistic. The saint’s expression, which seems to change slightly when viewed from different angles, expresses a curiously anaemic distress at his head being cut off (here indicated only by a delicate red line).
Also memorable is the set of little pieces depicting the Four Fates of Man (death, hell, purgatory and heaven). Death doesn’t quite fit here: it seems to suggest that total extinction is another option hereafter, which surely isn’t the orthodox view.
El Greco’s work is always fascinating and here we’ve got good old St Jerome, recognisable by the invariable presence of a cardinal’s hat (though he never seems to wear it). His usual friend the lion is not shown, though. You couldn’t mistake El Greco for anyone else. Did those distortions, that otherworldly sense in his paintings, really come in part from poor eyesight? People have said something similar about Turner.
Mother Goose, starring Ian McKellen with John Bishop, is essentially a traditional pantomime, complete with absurd storyline, corny jokes, audience participation and of course, a dame.
In a pretty negative review, the Guardian said that if you were just going to see McKellen do his dame, you wouldn’t be disappointed, but that the rest of the show is underpowered. It is true that McKellen is really what the show is about: he is brilliant and it’s astonishing that at his age, he can take on a run of this length (touring till April). I think the Guardian is also right that when he briefly does a bit of Shakespeare straight, you kind of wish he would forget the panto and carry on. It is at least a welcome acknowledgement that he has played other parts besides Gandalf, a rôle we are reminded of perhaps a little too often here.
Yes, it’s true the jokes are not very sharp, especially the handful of political ones, but then this is panto, not satire. Granted, there is a sort of uneasiness about a pantomime with no children in the audience (a point they make a joke of). And I really wish they hadn’t decided to wrap things up with a rousing singalong of Sweet Caroline.