Dancing at Lughnasa

The new production at the Olivier is very good. I’ve read criticism of the stage, but I thought the way it combines inside and outside with a real sense of perspective was very clever and effective. The cast, featuring Siobhán McSweeney and Ardal O’Hanlon (as Father Jack) is very strong. The play itself is a vivid slice of life with strong and interesting characters, living complex lives that are just about to break down. It is clearly about memory, with the protagonist narrating his life in retrospect and providing the voice for his otherwise invisible younger self. At the end of the day, though, I don’t know what it tells us beyond what any bit of a life might do. To mention a small reservation, I wasn’t sure about Father Jack’s accounts of the beliefs of the Ugandans he lived among: are they accurate or just invented? But an interesting evening.

May 2023 Competitions

These are some writing competitions with deadlines during the coming month. This list is really for me (I’ll probably end up entering about half of them), so it is not comprehensive (I don’t bother with flash much, for example), but I hope it might be of interest.

  • The Bloom prize requires up to 2,500 words on ‘Beauty’: it’s £3 to enter and the prize is £500. The deadline is close, on 1 May.
  • With that same tight deadline, Pigeon Pages will take up to 3,000 words: entry is $15 and the prize $250.
  • There’s an extra week for the Leapfrog contest, which has a deadline of 8 May, but they are looking for a full length piece. It can be a novel, novella, or collection of short stories, but must be at least 22,000 words long. It’s $35 to enter: you could win $150 plus publication.
  • Ploughshares will take up to 6,000 words, and offer a $2,000 prize for a $24 entry fee. The deadline is 15 May.
  • Even better value is Philadelphia Stories’ Marguerite McClinn prize, where you can spread yourself to 8,000 words, entry is $15 and the top prize $2,500.
  • subTerrain offers their Lush Triumphant Literary Award: up to 3,000 words, entry $30 and prize $1,000. I’m guessing they don’t want spare, minimalist prose? The deadline is 15 May.
  •  The Raymond Carver prize is back: up to 10,000 words, entry $18, prize $2,000 and the deadline is 17 May.
  • Folly Journal has launched its inaugural competition with a prize of $NZ1,000: entry is $NZ6. The word limit is 2,000 and the deadline is 30 May.

All the rest have a deadline of 31 May.

  • MTP wants a maximum 3,000 words: the top prize is £2,000 and they print a number of commended entries in a nice thick anthology (they also help people publish their manuscripts, but I’ve entered previously and didn’t get any kind of sales pitch for their services). Entry is £8.
  • The lively Frome Festival wants between 1,000 and 2,200 words: it’s £8 to enter and the top prize is £400.
  • You do not want to miss the prestigious Bridport competition. £5,000 for 5,000 words, with entry £14.
  • Autumn House Press are looking for larger works, of between 37,500 and 75,000 words. You could win $2,500 and publication, for an entry fee of $30.
  • Black Lawrence will also publish your winning entry, as a chapbook of 16-36 pages (a format which is perhaps more familiar for poetry). There is also a prize of $500. Entry is $17.

If you enter any of these and get anywhere, do let me know!

Van Gogh and Hals

While we were in Amsterdam we naturally went to the Van Gogh Museum, which is great: and by coincidence we arrived on Van Gogh’s 170th birthday. The gallery shows works by various other artists, highlighting the influence of Japanese pictures and pointillism, for example.

I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of this picture before – it’s by Gauguin, of Van Gogh painting sunflowers!

One other artist admired by Van Gogh was Frans Hals, whose works we saw in Harlem.

Hals’s brushwork was always loose and became extraordinarily free in old age. Lace collars from this period look like random slashes of white paint close up, but when you back off they look perfect from a distance. Apparently at the time some though he was senile, but then other artist’s styles (Turner, El Greco) have been attributed to poor eyesight, and indeed Van Gogh’s to mental illness.


I’ve got a bit behind with these posts: we went to the amazing exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where the largest ever collection of Vermeer’s works are gathered (and we got in before Girl with a Pearl Earing went back to the Mauritshuis).

With so many works together, it becomes very clear that Vermeer had certain favoured themes. Many of the images seem to have been staged in the same place: a room with a window to the left, a chequered floor, and a map or a picture on the back wall. Posed in this space are women reading, or with musical instruments, and the same pieces of clothing get re-used (that yellow, fur-edged jacket).

I had had the impression that Vermeer’s stuff was pastel coloured and just a little soft focus, but neither of those things proved to be true. A great experience, slightly impaired by the crowds. and I’m afraid these snaps are not great quality. I would urge you to go, but I’m afraid it’s too late.

Tin Rose

I quite enjoyed doing the butterfly, so I thought I’d use a few more cans and try a flower – here is the result…