Sky Light Rain – Edge of the Sand

Cornish shore cr Judy DarleyI can never resist a ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into the workings of a creative endeavour. It’s why I launched this series of posts offering insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The thirty-fourth story is ‘Edge of the Sand’. The story began to take shape when I visited a millinery shop in Bristol and learnt how feathers are used to create extraordinary hats. An image popped into my mind of a woman walking along the edge where sea meets sand and collecting seagull feathers. I wondered who she wanted to make a hat for, and why.

The answer took shape early as I imagined her brother preparing to get married, and what it would take for her agoraphobic mother to attend. The seagull feathers felt like the perfect representation of taking a leap into freedom, even if that feels like trusting your weight to be carried by the wind buffeting a cliff edge.

The story begins:

The tide has just begun to turn. Arianne walks along the edge of the sand, collecting seagull feathers one by one.

They’re white, the feathers, and dappled with grey, mirroring the clouds overhead.

Her meandering route carries her to the narrow stairs that lead to her childhood home. Deepening shadows cast a chill over clumps of delicate purple flowers that sprout from the cracks between rocks. Her dad would have known what they were named. He always knew details like that – it was he who first got her interested in insects and other invertebrates when she was barely more than a dot herself.

The back door is sticky, its wood swollen by spring rain. She forces it open and steps into the stillness and stands motionless for a moment, feeling the thrum of her heart.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my other Sky Light Rain stories by clicking on the story titles below.

Discover the inspiration behind ‘Untrue Blue‘. 
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Elevated Truths‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Little Blessings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lodged‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Invertebrates‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Geese Among the Trees‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Distant Storms‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Sculptor‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Reeds and Curlews.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fin‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Underwire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Blossoming Almond Tree‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Merrow Cave‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Milk and Other Lies‘.

Writing prompt – battle

Robin by Judy DarleyEach weekday morning I set out early for a half-hour stroll before starting work. The wilderness I choose is a haven for birds, and recently they’ve seemed louder day by day.

It astounds me how nature came up with a creature small and light enough to fly, yet loud enough for the volume of its song to carry throughout woodlands.

This robin is a frequent sight, and it just one of the birds shouting at that early hour. I know they’re ferocious beasts, and love that the song we find beautiful is in fact their battle cry.

Imagine if we handled disputes in this way, where the most exquisitely varied song won a patch of ground. Instead of resorting to guns and bombs, could this be opened up to dance-offs, painting challenges or defiance portrayed in the form of spoken-word poetry? Could a couplet win a war?

Can you use this as the prompt for a story or work of art?

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.

Fix invites you to imagine climate fiction for future ancestors

Colby Garden ripple by Judy DarleyGrist’s solutions lab, Fix, has announced the launch of its first-ever, free-entry, climate-fiction short story contest — Imagine 2200: Climate fiction for future ancestors. They say: “We’re dipping a toe into the world of fiction, and we want you to join us.”

Can you dream up a story of a climate restored, solutions found and a population that looks at our era and marvels at our ignorance?

Fix is calling for submissions of fictional stories of between 3,000 and 5,000 words. Your stories must “envision the next 180 years of climate progress – roughly seven generations.”

How might we be living by then?

“Fiction gives us an opportunity to imagine the world we want to live in, in a way that journalism doesn’t,” the organisers explain. “Our hope is that the stories presented in the Imagine 2200 collection will inspire, delight, and motivate readers to take action to make elements of those worlds a reality.”

Submissions close on 12th April, 11:59 p.m. U.S. Pacific Standard Time.

Contest prizes

The winning writer will receive $3,000, with the second- and third-place finalists receiving $2,000 and $1,000, respectively.

An additional nine finalists will each receive a $300 honorarium. Winners and finalists will be published in an immersive digital collection on Fix’s website and will be celebrated in a public-facing virtual event.

The board of expert literary judges includes authors Adrienne Maree Brown, Morgan Jerkins, and Kiese Laymon.

Contest guidelines

  • Entry is free!
  • Authors must be 18 years or older at the time of submission
  • No previously published, multiple, or simultaneous submissions accepted
  • Submissions must be 3,000–5,000 words (sorry, flash fictioneers!)
  • Worldwide copyright and ownership of each story remains with the author
  • If a story is accepted for publication, Grist retains the first serial rights of the work to publish, produce, reproduce, distribute, and market
  • All other remaining rights revert to the author upon publication
  • If you need accessibility accommodations, please email at imaginefiction@grist.org

Grist’s mission is to make the story of a better world so irresistible that you want it right now. “Our award-winning journalism has done that for the past 20 years (if we do say so ourselves). And now, with this contest, we’re embracing the opportunity to look beyond the confines of the present moment and share visions of solutions that haven’t even been dreamt up yet.”

Imagine 2200 draws inspiration from Afrofuturism, as well as Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, disabled, feminist, and queer futures, and the genres of hopepunk and solarpunk. They ask you to “bring into focus what a truly just, regenerative future could look like.”

Find full details of how to submit a story in their Submissions portal.

Good luck!

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

The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain – a new collection

Rocky Mountains_Judy Darley
I’m excited to share the happy news that Reflex Press will be publishing my third short fiction collection in 2022. The title is ‘The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain’, taken from one of the shortest stories in the collection in which a house encompasses the whole world…

I included the following introduction in my submission to Reflex Press. If you’re planning to submit a collection to a publisher, I highly recommend you create something similar to ease them in. This is the second time I’ve done this, and both times it’s culminated in a publishing contract. It also provides them with some copy to share with the announcement and whet readers’ appetites.

The stories in this collection speak of togetherness and separation: how we strive to connect with that one person who could save us, how we attempt to save the people who matter to us and how we sometimes (often) get things wrong.

Consider the things we slowly come to understand, and then can’t grasp how we didn’t know sooner. Not all is as it first appears. Genders and time frames may skew; perceptions warp. What seems to be unreal may be real, or vice versa. Magic may uncurl in the most commonplace corners. Everyday concerns shuttle past minor miracles.

Discover the lost, the self-conscious, the reckless. Learn how to milk an alpaca. Encounter a river with one thing on its mind. Touch on moments of isolation amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Find out how a ghost-tree could bring a community together. Witness the moment when friendship sparks into something more. Consume a life in one mouthful. Meet the lovers, the families and the undefinable others who make up these worlds and sweep us along.

It’s so good to have something positive to look forward to!

Sign up for updates on the Reflex Press website here.

Writing prompt – refresh

Perretts Park during lockdown by Judy Darley. Shows lawns and trees.

I don’t know about you, but for me my local views are growing just a little bit dull. Every day, pandemic restrictions keep me confined to the same limited perimeter.

I have a favourite three-to-four mile route I walk most days in an attempt to stay sane. The other day, I decided to walk it back to front. BLEW. MY. MIND.

Setting out in the direction I would normally come back from made everything look different – the views that would normally be behind me were ahead and even the puddles refracted the light at fresh angles.

Imagine if you could take this far further and harness the hypersensitive smell or hearing of a dog or the ultra-violet aware sight of a bumblebee to understand your surroundings in a fresh way. What if you could see different historic eras your neighbourhood has experienced?

The possibilities are endless. Can you use this idea as a prompt for a short story or work of art?

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.

Flash Frontier entreats your sweet words

The Florist Elderflower meringue dessert by Judy DarleyThe lovely folks at New Zealand’s Flash Frontier magazine are currently inviting submissions of short tales from across the world on the theme of ‘Sweet’.

The deadline is 10th March 2021. Submissions must be only 250 words in length. Stories of 251 words won’t be accepted.

They say: “We are looking for variety and originality. Tickle us, haunt us, gobsmack us. Choose your words carefully and leave our readers wanting more. And do it in a small space. (…) We love original art in all forms – colourful and daring, muted and understated. We’ll choose art each month that reflects the theme.”

Send only previously unpublished stories, and make sure you follow their style guide to the letter!

To get a taste of what the editors like and get inspired, read Flash Frontier’s latest issue, on the theme of doors.

Find full details of how to submit your work here: https://www.flash-frontier.com/submissions/ 

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

Sky Light Rain – Milk and Other Lies

Kaunas, Lithuania, River2. By Judy DarleyI can never resist a ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into the workings of a creative endeavour. It’s why I launched this series of posts offering insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The thirty-third story is ‘Milk and Other Lies’. This fable is just 208 words long and tells of a seemingly magical river in a time of famine. I wanted to test ideas around how we see what we want to see, and fear and desperation can prompt us to swallow our own lies. In the story, not everything is as it seems.

The story began with me examining how intense hunger can pervade your every waking thought. The title, ‘Milk and Other Lies,’ refers to the travesty of multinational milk companies convincing women that bottle-feeding their babies was better than breastfeeding, which led to infants dying in poor communities, especially in third world countries. My story aims to examine how something that appears to be enticing can in  fact be a treacherous and dangerous illusion.

The story began life as a poem, which is probably why it’s so distilled. I often write in one mode and then change to another to tease out more depth, hopefully without losing the power of the original form. I like the fact that extreme brevity invites the reader to be fully engaged, as they’re required to fill in the gaps between words.

Fiction is often a good route into examining stark truths. We’re all somewhat jaded from relentless bad news, which can mean we close our eyes and ears to what’s actually going on. When we read fiction, our frame of mind is usually more receptive. Fiction helps us get our heads around vast, unpalatable truths.

‘Milk and Other Lies’ was originally published by SmokeLong Quarterly.

The story begins:

One day the river runs with milk. I watch as holloweyed mothers bring infants to the shallows. They pour the clouded liquid, scooped palm by palm, into their babies’ gaping mouths.

The next day I wake to the sound of children’s laughter. I step outside, smelling a cloying sweetness in the air. The river has been gilded overnight, shining with butterscotch. Children hurtle in, barefoot – hungry for its sweet promises.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my other Sky Light Rain stories by clicking on the story titles below.

Discover the inspiration behind ‘Untrue Blue‘. 
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Elevated Truths‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Little Blessings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lodged‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Invertebrates‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Geese Among the Trees‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Distant Storms‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Sculptor‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Reeds and Curlews.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fin‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Underwire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Blossoming Almond Tree‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Merrow Cave‘.

Writing prompt – window

Painted window. Photo by Judy DarleyI pass this window often on my daily walks, and each time it strikes me a little differently. The bright colours and energetic shapes equally suggest children excited to be creative in an unexpected way, and homeschooling rattling out of control.

It’s possible that these pictures were scrawled by adults trying to cling to their sanity. Or could the adults have been absent physically or mentally for some time and these drawings be the clue that something is off-kilter inside?

I like to think this is a splash of artwork that displays hope – the figures are smiling despite their wonky bodies, and the colours are vivid despite grey weather. What inspiration can you glean from them to write a tale or create something unique and hopeful of your own?

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.

The Forward Prizes for Poetry invites entries

Arnos Vale trees cr Judy Darley

Thirty years after its launch by Bookmark, the Forward Prizes for Poetry welcomes submissions from the editors and publishers of books, magazines, online journals and competitions, published in the UK and Ireland. The submission period for entries runs to 8th March 2021.

Publishers entering the Forward Prizes for Best Collection and Best First Collection will have a further ten days to send physical copies of books, on 18th March 2021.

There are three prizes: The Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000), The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000) and The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1,000). They are accompanied by the Forward Book of Poetry, an annual anthology which brings together the best new work published in the UK and Ireland.

In collaboration with the Creative Critics’ competition, 16 to 19 year olds are invited to write poems in response to work shortlisted for the Prizes. Poems of the Decade: An Anthology of the Forward Books has been an A level English set text since 2014.

The panel of judges read all the books and individual poem submissions before selecting the shortlists to be announced in June. The judges then reflect on the shortlists over the summer before announcing the winners in autumn. You can find out more about the process and eligibility by reading entry guidance and FAQs.

Will Harris RENDANG cover showing the title in red, yellow, black and blue lettering on a cream background.The Forward Prizes celebrate the best new poetry published in UK & Ireland. 2020 winners were announced in an online event, hosted by the British Library, on Sunday 25th October.

Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000)
Caroline Bird The Air Year (Carcanet)

Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000)
Will Harris RENDANG (Granta Poetry)

Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1,000)
Malika Booker ‘The Little Miracles’ (Magma).

Find full details here of how to enter.

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

Writing prompt – Angels

Corvus Angelica. Photo of illuminated stilt walkers by James Hainsworth.In the midst of a pandemic, when nothing fun had happened for weeks and we’d seen nothing new for months, a whisper crackled through the streets of Totterdown, Bristol.

After darkness fell on a chilly Friday evening, two stilt-walking angels strode through the streets, trailing sparkles and cheers in their wake. We wore masks to keep our exhalations from harming others and maintained our distance carefully, but for that moment we felt our spirits lift. It was a sighting of such creativity that we were reminded of how our vibrant city used to be, when artists invited us into their homes to witness their mark-making and performances erupted on street corners.

The talented stilt walkers of Corvus Angelicus have been striding their magic through different neighbourhoods in a bid to bring a smile to our faces in these challenging times.

This spectacular moment was a reminder of what we’re aiming for – a return to the weirdness we call normality.

Can you turn this into an encouraging or fantastical 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 may publish it on SkyLightRain.com.