Writing prompt – drift

Jelly fish_Clevedon Marine Lake_Photo by Judy Darley.Strolling beside a local saltwater swimming pool, I spotted a visitor. Clevedon’s Marine Lake is replenished by high tides. Occasionally waves bring in fish, eels, and, in this case, beautiful moon jellyfish.

Imagine having the entire ocean at your disposal, and being swept into a patch of water with four seemingly insurmountable sides. Imagine if large splashy primates had infiltrated this space, and hungry predators, aka seagulls, lined the edge closest to the ocean you need to access to survive..

Imagine if your only hope of escape was a high tide and a vigorous wave.

Can you turn this #writingprompt into a tale?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.


Enter The Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize

Terra Nostra Tropical plants cr Judy DarleyWasafari magazine invites submissions of Poetry, Fiction and Life Writing for The Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize.

The prize closes on 1st July 2024 at 5pm BST.

The prize supports writers who have not yet published a book-length work, with no limits on age, gender, nationality, or background. Winners of each category receive a £1,000 cash prize and will be published in Wasafiri’s print magazine. Shortlisted writers will have their work published on the Wasafiri website. All 15 shortlistees and winners will be offered the Chapter and Verse or Free Reads mentoring scheme in partnership with The Literary Consultancy (dependent on eligibility), and a conversation with Nikesh Shukla of The Good Literary Agency to discuss their career progression

The fee is £12 for a single entry and £16 for a double entry. No entry may be more than 3,000 words long.  

Subsidised entry is available for those who would otherwise be unable to enter the prize.  

Shortlisted entrants will be notified in September

Find full details of how to enter at www.wasafiri.org.

About the judges

The chair of judges is Margaret Busby CBE, Hon. FRSL (Nana Akua Ackon) is a major cultural figure around the world. Her career has spanned work as a publisher, editor, interviewer, reviewer, scriptwriter, lyricist, radio and TV presenter, activist and mentor. She has judged prestigious literary prizes, including the Booker Prize, and served on the boards of such organisations as the Royal Literary Fund, Wasafiri magazine, Tomorrow’s Warriors, and the Africa Centre in London. She has been a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. In 2023, she was appointed President of English PEN.

Isabel Waidner (fiction judge) is a novelist based in London. Their work includes Corey Fah Does Social Mobility (2023), Sterling Karat Gold (2021), We Are Made of Diamond Stuff (2019), and Gaudy Bauble (2017). They are the winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2021 and were shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize in 2019, the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction in 2022 and the Republic of Consciousness Prize in 2018, 2020 and 2022. They are a co-founder of the event series Queers Read This at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and they are an academic in the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary University of London.

Cristina Rivera Garza (life writing judge) is an author, translator and critic. Recent publications include Liliana’s Invincible Summer(Hogarth, 2023), which was long listed for the National Book Award in nonfiction. The Taiga Syndrome, trans. by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana, (Dorothy Project, 2018), won the 2019 Shirley Jackson Award. Grieving. Dispatches from a Wounded Country, trans. by Sarah Booker (The Feminist Press, 2020), was a finalist National Book Critics Circle Award In Criticism. She is M.D. Anderson Distinguished Professor and founder of the PhD Program in Creative Writing in Spanish at the University of Houston, Department of Hispanic Studies, and a MacArthur Fellow 2020-2025.

Meena Kandasamy (poetry judge) is a poet, writer, translator, anti-caste activist and academic based in India. Her extensive corpus includes two poetry collections, Touch (2006) and Ms Militancy (2010), as well as three novels, The Gypsy Goddess (2014), When I Hit You (2017) and Exquisite Cadavers (2019). In 2022, she was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL) and was also awarded the PEN Hermann Kesten Prize for her writing and work as a ‘fearless fighter for democracy, human rights and the free word.’ Her latest published work is Tomorrow Someone Will Arrest You, a collection of political poetry written over the last decade.

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.




Novella review – Burn It All Down by Karen Jones

Burn It All Down by Karen Jones_front_coverImagine a farm on a seashore where two sisters celebrate the possible death of their brother-in-law, and the third, his wife, isn’t sure whether to mourn or join in with her sisters’ revelries.

Imagine a home where chickens, guinea pigs and hedgehogs roam free with the memory of a pheasant on a leash.

Imagine if you couldn’t be sure what was real.

Inspired by the artwork of Andrea Kowch, Karen Jones paints a world where loneliness etches figures against the dusk. Beth has been married off to a man she doesn’t love, which means that the farm where she grew up now belongs to strangers. When her husband fails to return from a sea voyage, the mood grows unstable and Beth’s main concern is whether she will ever be touched again.

Her sisters Olivia and Esther are wild, riddled with spite and mockery, yet seem to want more than anything to lift Beth from her melancholy and infuse her with their unbridled joy. They are also uncanny creatures, who, Beth notes, “know my thoughts and dreams, even though I have never told them of these fancies. They knew my mind as if it were theirs.”

The stories turn you like waves with dreamlike passages soaked through with stark realism as the sisters claim they need no man, and pragmatic Beth disagrees, stating in ‘There Goes The Bride’: “They are naïve. No one would trade with us. No one trades with women, except to take advantage.”

The last line in the same brief tale offers an excellent example of the author’s capacity for wielding wit to devastate unwary readers: “Alone in my marital bed, I counted my blessings; it did not take long.”

The ekphrastic writing is so vivid, it’s easy to envision the paintings they sprang from, but it’s well worth a quick Google – like having a rumour satisfyingly confirmed.

The penultimate story is also the title tale and contains the full novella pinned to just enough words to fill a page. It’s a gorgeously compact work of prose poetry. The rhythm offers echoing refrains and vivid scenes to revel in, from “an ungrateful cat” who spits out milk to the desire to “knead your skin and bruise it like the berries for tomorrow’s pie, because there must always be pie.” These are sentences so artfully crafted they engage all the senses and seem richly scented and as seething with heat as a crowded kitchen.

The entire novella is a feast of impressions, where grief tangles in the wind with delusions and uncertain wishes. By the end of the book however, the yearnings have settled into something satisfyingly sure and possible. An enrapturing read full of heady passages that weave together to draw you inescapably in.

Burn It All Down by Karen Jones is published by Arroyo Seco Press and available to buy here.

This book was given to me in exchange for a fair review.

What are you reading? 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.

Writing prompt – wheel

Window onto Waverley paddle wheel by Judy DarleyI had the pleasure recently of taking a voyage aboard the Waverley, the world’s last seafaring paddle-steamer, from Clevedon Pier. This floating museum featured viewing decks, cafes and bars, plus portholes offering views onto the churning paddle wheels that turn to drive the ship forwards or astern.

It’s a remarkable feat of engineering, and the perfect setting for a sea-going fantasy, mystery or even horror. Imagine peering through that porthole and seeing a face looking back!

However you choose to interpret the scene, let me offer two more senses to accompany the view – the sound of the pistons of the 2100 horsepower, triple expansion reciprocating steam engine, and the scent of the oil used to keep her running smoothly.

The ship named after Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels was built to replace the 1899 Waverley which was sunk on May 29, 1940 at Dunkirk. She carries tourists on trips across the Bristol Channel, as well as up the Clyde, The Western Isles and the Thames. A member of the crew commented as we docked that they’d be moored overnight offshore in the Bristol Channel and sleeping on board.

Really, anything could happen.

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Show your art at the RWA Annual Open Exhibition

RWA Open Exhibition 163

RWA © Alice Hendy

The Royal West of England Academy in Bristol is inviting submissions for its 171st Annual Open Exhibition. The exhibition will be on from 14th September 2024 until 5th January 2025.

The deadline for submissions is Sunday 7th July 2024.

Artists of all ages and experience are invited to submit.

A selection panel assesses every entry. In 2023, 665 works by 455 artists made it into the final exhibition. The RWA Annual Open is the largest open in the South West, with all artworks for sale and the opportunity to immerse yourself in a wide variety of creative works spread over the beautiful galleries at the top of Bristol’s Park Street.

Applicants must enter online, submitting images using the Online Exhibition Submission System (OESS).

Submission fees are charged per item:

  • £22 per item for General Public (£18.33+VAT)
  • £16.50 per item for Students (£13.75+VAT)
  • £16.50 per item for Friends of the RWA (£13.75+VAT)
  • £11.00 per item for RWA Artist Network members (£9.17+VAT)
  • RWA Academicians (who pay an annual subscription fee) receive free submission.

Find full details here of how to apply here. Good luck!

Read my review of the RWA Open Exhibition 166.



Discover the secrets of award-winning short story writers

I’m excited to be chairing a panel at Clevedon Literary Festival on Saturday 8th June. From 1.30pm until 2.30pm, I will be interviewing writers Keza O’Neill, whose story Lucky Strike placed 3rd in the 2023 Bristol Prize short story competition, and Julie Davies, winner of the inaugural Clevedon Literary Festival short story competition in 2023.

Book your tickets here for just £5 each. Bargain!

Taking place at St John’s Hall, Clevedon BS21 7XJ, the session will cover creative processes, inspiration, and how you know when you have a potentially award-winning story ready to send out into the world. We’ll talk about the impact of a prize win on your sense of yourself as a writer, as well as what these talented writers are working on now.

Find details of the whole summer festival (5th-9th June) here. There are masses of excellent talks and inspiring events taking place throughout the beautiful North Somerset coastal town across these days, as well as pockets of literary goodness throughout the year!

Your panellists

Keza O'NeillKeza O’Neill’s story ‘Lucky Strike’, a tale of thwarted rage and a commentary on the gentrification of coastal towns, recently won the Sansom Award and was awarded third place in the Bristol Short Story Prize with her story Lucky Strike. Keza has been longlisted for the Bath Short Story Award 2023, the CWA Debut Dagger 2021 and the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2019. Keza completed a Masters in Creative Writing in 2023 via The Open University for which she was awarded a Distinction.

Keza is a qualified Coach-Mentor and spent 12 years working in Diversity & Inclusion and Learning & Development in a global Tech company, supporting clients across 40+ countries and multiple timezones. She’s interested in the relationships between people and places and the significance of ‘home’ in shaping identity.

Julie DaviesJulie Davies won the inaugural Clevedon Literary Festival short story competition with her story Remembrance in 2023. Her story Just Dessert was the second place winner in the Winchester Festival I Am Writing Flash Fiction Competition 2022.

Julie writes flash fiction, short stories, and poetry, and is currently working on her first novel. One of her favourites of the stories she’s written is about a Martian craterworm.

When she’s not writing, Julie enjoys time with her grandchildren, especially reading with them and encouraging their love of books. She also enjoys tending her garden, walking, visiting RSPB reserves, travelling, sewing, discussing books in her reading group, and a bit of drawing and mindful doodling whenever her mind needs a calming space.

Judy Darley photo credit Jo Mary Bulter Photography_cropJudy Darley is an award-winning writer, editor and creative workshop leader who relocated to Clevedon in December 2023. She is the author of short fiction collections The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain (Reflex Press), Sky Light Rain (Valley Press) and Remember Me To The Bees (Tangent Books).

She previously judged competitions for National Flash Fiction Day UK and Oxford Flash Fiction Prize, among others, and is one of the judges for Clevedon Literary Festival Open Short Story Competition 2024. She won first prize in the New Writers UK Winter Story competition 2024 with her micro-tale A Bright Day.

In her other life, Judy is a Community Manager and helps to run conferences about financial wellbeing.

Writing prompt – vessels

Canoes. Photo by Judy Darley

These open-topped canoes are stacked like drying plates in this boatyard all year round, except when they’re hauled to the shore and rowed by teams. The inactivity, as though they’re hibernating insects, struck me recently as I strolled by.

Add in the occasional ‘rush and row’ in salt water and this seems even more extreme – like they emerge for one day to mingle with others of their kind before being returned to this anticipatory torpor.

Or is that just my weird interpretation? What do you see when you look at these boats? What analogies can you draw between this scene and the natural world or human society?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.


Wells Festival of Literature competitions

City of Wells cr Judy Darley

Wells Festival of Literature takes place from 18th-26th October 2024, but before that they hold their annual writing competitions, with entries accepted until 30th June.

The categories are open poetry, short stories, poetry and children’s books, as well as poetry by anyone aged 16-22 inclusive.

The Open Poetry Competition

The fee for each separate entry is £6. Each poem must be under 36 lines long, and may be on any subject.

First Prize is £1,000. Second prizes is £500. Third prize is £250. There’s also a £100 prize for a local poet.

The judge is Dr Anthony Joseph FRSL, award-winning Trinidad-born poet, novelist, academic and musician, is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Kings College, London.   His 2022 collection Sonnets for Albert  featured at the 2023 Festival and won the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry 2022 and the OCM BOCAS Prize for Caribbean Poetry.

The Short Story Competition

The fee for each separate entry is £6. Stories should be between 1,000 and 2,000 words in length. They can be on any subject.

First Prize is £750. Second prize is £300. Third prize is £200. There’s a £100 prize for a local writer.

The judge is Susmita Bhattacharya, whose debut novel The Normal State of Mind was long-listed at the Mumbai Film Festival 2018. Her short story collection Table Manners won the Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection and was a finalist for the Hall & Woodhouse DLF Prize in 2019. The collection has also been serialised on BBC Radio and her latest commissioned Radio 4 short story The Gift is available on BBC Sounds.

Book for Children Competition

The fee for each separate entry is £6. The competition will judge writing for children, age 7 and up. This includes writing for young adults

You’ll need to submit either the first two chapters or first twenty pages, whichever is the shortest, together with the synopsis of up to two pages.

First Prize is £750. Second prize is £300. Third prize is £200. There’s a £100 prize for a local writer.

The judge is Alex Campbell, who currently writes middle-grade novels under the name Alex Cotter. Her recent novel, The House on the Edge, was selected as a WH Smith Travel Book of the Month and also for the ‘Read for Empathy’ collection. She has also written YA novels and was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2016.

The Young Poets Competition

The fee for each separate entry is £3. Each poem must be under 36 lines long, and may be on any subject.

First Prize is £150. Second prizes is £75. Third prize is £50. All three prize-winners also get a year’s subscription to the Poetry Society.

The judge is Clare Shaw. Claire has four poetry collections with Bloodaxe. The latest collection – Towards a General Theory of Love(2022) – is a poetic exploration of love and love’s absence: it won a Northern Writers’ Award and was a Poetry Society Book of the Year.

The closing date for all entries is 30th June 2024. Prizes for all four competitions will be presented on Monday 30th October 2023 during the Festival.

Find the full rules and details of how to enter.

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



Writing prompt – overgrowth

Overgrown gate. Photo by Judy Darley

My hometown appears to boast an unusually high number of gates that lead to nowhere, other than thickets of spiky greenery. It’s a curious sight only becoming evident as spring runs away with itself and fills every available un-tizzied space.

It makes me feel nature is reclaiming parks and woodlands once tamed for human-enjoyment. Birds, insects and wild rabbits care nothing for neatness!

Some of these gates even lead to garden paths no one can possible access. Who might live in the home beyond these tangled trees? How do they survive? What made them choose this nature-enforced seclusion?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Book your Flash Fiction Festival tickets now!

Trinity College BristolFlash Fiction Festival 2024 spreads out over three intensely creative days in July. The in-person version of the festival unfurls from 12th-14th July, welcoming fabulous flashers including Kathy Fish, Nancy Stohlman, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, Carrie Etter and Michael Loveday.

The weekend takes place at Trinity College, Bristol, and is packed with inspiring workshops and panels tackling every aspect of flash fiction, from ‘Good Things Come in Small Packages: Creating Flash from Proverbs’ with Alison Powell, to ‘Writing A Prize Winning Story’, a panel chaired by Audrey Niven with Kathryn Aldridge- Morris, Sara Hills and Marie Gethins. Don’t miss ‘The Biggest Word Cricket in the Whole Wide World’ with Vanessa Gebbie.

These are just a few of the wonderful offerings tempting you to sign up. See the website to find out what else is happening.

The festival team, headed by director Jude Higgins, make this a weekend of imaginative adventures, attracting some of the loveliest writers ever to dip a toe into the art of flash writing. I’m not able to attend this year, but I’m sure it will be brilliant. Join the throng before all spaces fill up!

Book your flash festival admission here.

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.