Pandemic prompt – dinner party

Bee, beetle, poppy by Judy DarleyI paused to admire the glimmer of a rose chafer beetle inside a poppy when a bumblebee flew in to join the party.

These unlikely dinner companions could prompt a tale of an unexpected bubble pairing or even a satire exploring race relations. Where will it take you?

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.

 

Submit cataclysmic poetry to Ambit

Ruin, Villahormes cr Judy DarleyAmbit invite you to submit your poetry on the theme of ‘Cataclysm’ to their Annual Poetry Competition.

According to Oxford Languages, a cataclysm is

  • ‘a large-scale and violent event in the natural world.
    “the cataclysm at the end of the Cretaceous Period”
  • a sudden violent political or social upheaval.
    “the cataclysm of the First World War”

I suspect you can come up with a few more recent examples.

The deadline for entries is 15th July.

The entry fee is £6 per poem. Submissions will be judged by poet and playwright  Fred D’Aguiar.

Winners receive £500, £250 or £100 and will be published in the October issue of Ambit. Winners and runners up will be invited to read at the October issue launch.

You can submit your work here: http://www.ambit.submittable.com/submit

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

Pandemic prompt response – The Pinnacle of her Existence by Suzanna Stanbury

Stilettos by Judy DarleyAuthor Suzanna Stanbury wrote the following chilling tale in response to Pandemic prompt – stilettos.

Suzanna Stanbury_cr Judy Darley

Suzanna Stanbury

Suzanna’s story provides an insight into the myriad conflicting emotional anxieties arising from lockdown, and a beautifully written answer to the question of how these heels ended up on top of a park rubbish bin.

If you write or create something of your own inspired by Pandemic prompt – stilettos, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I may publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

The Pinnacle of her Existence by Suzanna Stanbury

I’d been planning my wedding since I was five years old. I’d always known since we visited the pearl farm on the Isle of Wight, my wedding colours would be oyster and pearl. I’d had my entire life to work out when to get married. I would be a June bride. On my special day everything would be exactly the way I had always imagined it would be, my own creation of perfection. I had a folder and had been sticking in cuttings from magazines all the way through the passage of school life. On the cover of the folder were pictures of pearls, thousands of gleaming spheres.

And the great day grew ever closer. I’d picked the date.

I couldn’t believe it when the wedding venue emailed me to tell me because of the pandemic they would be closed until at least Christmas, all bookings for weddings were cancelled for the foreseeable future. It was a nightmare.

Then my wedding cake lady messaged me on Facebook, she couldn’t even think about making cakes until after the danger of infection was past. She had emphysema, had to shield herself. My beautiful cake. Oyster-coloured icing spread over five tiers. Little sugar shells, with edible, iridescent pearls inside them. The picture in my mind faded leaving a bitter taste where the dream of vanilla sponge should have been.

My dress was being handmade. The dressmaker had measured me, warned me on pain of death, she said, not to lose or gain any weight. I must remain exactly as I was. She had been adding the final details, sending me photos as each stage progressed. And then the photos stopped arriving. I texted her, no reply. I kept on texting, getting ever more panicky in case something had happened to my gorgeous satin dress and she was too ashamed to tell me she had sliced right through the bodice by mistake when she went to snip off a hanging silver thread, or something just as awful.

It was Sasha, one of my bridesmaids, who told me that the dressmaker, Paula, was ill. Sasha said she knew that because Paula was one of her mum’s friends. Paula was ill with the virus, in hospital, on a ventilator, at death’s door, Sasha said. I imagined my dress imprisoned in Paula’s locked shop, trapped, pinned onto the dressmaker’s dummy, almost finished, nearly ready for me to wear, waiting to have its moment of glory.

I couldn’t believe it. All my dreams were falling down the mountain I had built. My entire life planning the perfect wedding, a day like none other I would ever live. It would be the pinnacle of my existence.

I was Zooming my bridesmaids every day, I had to keep them onside. It may still be okay. This pandemic couldn’t go on for much longer. Could it? All of the things I had ordered, most of them paid for, were enshrined in shops, in the homes of designers. Even the wedding rings were being handmade, Welsh gold, Clogau. My ring was white gold, with a single pearl set into the band. All that gorgeousness was virtual, I had one thing that was real.

In the wardrobe, on the top shelf were stored my wedding shoes. I’d received them from my parents for my twenty-first birthday, they cost five hundred pounds. Kid leather in a soft shade of pearl, they had ankle straps and four-inch stiletto heels. I would take the box out of the wardrobe each year on my birthday, no more than that or I feared the delicate leather could become damaged, and on the sixth time that I would remove the shoes, hear the tissue paper rustle as I lifted them – it would be my wedding day and I would wear the exquisite, gleaming shoes.

It wasn’t fair, I told my bridesmaids, every day something else was cancelled, it was as if the virus was targeting me, every other bride was allowed to have her day, why was mine torn away from me, my dream rent to shreds. Five faces instead of six stared back at me.

“Where’s Sasha?”

They told me in hushed tones, Sasha’s grandma had died the night before. She was in a care home, Elmtrees, just off the ring road. Sasha and I went to visit her before Christmas. Sasha had told me her grandma had a pearl ornamental hair comb that could be my ‘something borrowed’. I was going to fetch it exactly a week before my wedding. Panic enveloped me, a cold swamping feeling, pressing on my bare arms, raising gooseflesh. I was just about to ask about the pearl comb when I realised they were all staring at me.

Each one of them wearing the same awed expression as if they could guess my thoughts. I shut my mouth again, kept the question inside my head. I could always ask Sasha later, when she felt a bit better, when she was up to Facetiming again. I expected she was busy. Sasha lived with her parents. I was glad I didn’t live with my parents. My mother phoned me most days, imparting tales of horror about neighbours’ behaviour, breaking lockdown, not wearing masks in the garden, possibly spreading their germs over the fence. I didn’t want to hear it. I was fit and healthy. I was young, everyone knew the virus didn’t touch the young. We were blessed with strong antibodies; our resistance was mighty.

It occurred to me as I headed off for my daily run, earbuds in place, as I swiftly covered ground, I was the bride denied her wedding. Well, Mr Virus, I shall fight you. I shall have my wedding, there’s still time until the grand day dawns. You can push off, Mr Virus, you’ve done your worst, now go away. Spotify changed tracks to Gloria Gaynor’s, I will Survive. I almost laughed out loud. Things were working for me. That is what I needed to do, be mindful, be positive. Fight this virus, see it off.

What everyone else didn’t realise was most of this was all in the mind. I didn’t know anyone who had had the virus, let alone died from it. And I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone who had had it either. A vision of Paula with pins in her mouth as she tacked my bodice onto me popped into my mind, I cancelled the thought. Second-hand information could be fake information. Perhaps all those people dying would have died anyway, and there was no virus, it was other illnesses, different diseases killing more people than usual. Maybe it was the weather, the unusually hot spring we’d been experiencing. The temperature had made everyone ill. Yes! It could be that.

I had a lovely run, the music was perfect, uplifting, I ran in time to the beat – what could be more wonderful than running along listening to your best tunes?

“That run was awesome.” I’d left Craig on the sofa, where he’d been for days moaning about man flu. Men! Honestly. Total lightweights. Give men period pain, then they would really have something to harp on about. “Are you listening to me? Babe?” I carefully replaced the earbuds in their shiny white case, turned around.

And it was then I stopped thinking. I went to another place. All my life things had always rolled along oiled tracks, my moments were happy, fortunate, blessed. I had never encountered anything that stopped me, caused me to step out of my happy life, to change my plans – and even if I did, if I ignored it for long enough, somehow it would go away.

*

They phoned me this morning, told me Craig was out of danger, he’d been on a ventilator for twenty-nine days, in ICU for thirty days. I had only seen him through glass. I spent most days in a little park near to the hospital, sitting on a bench, waiting. There was a blackbird who had grown so used to me being there he came right up to my feet, pecking for grubs or something, I wasn’t sure what he was after. He had a bright yellow beak, a vivid shade. Under the bushes, the leaves of daffodils fallen in the grass, spread out in fan shapes, drying slowly through shades of green to brown, withering until a strong breeze blew them to oblivion.

The hospital had eased some restrictions, I was allowed to enter, then to stand a little closer, but never to touch.

On my lockscreen was a photo of us, touching cheeks, grinning into the camera lens for a selfie, the wrinkles of his smile contrasting my smooth skin. It didn’t matter to either of us the age difference between us. Sometimes I was reminded of it by tiny things, other than that, nothing. A clock tower somewhere struck the hour. I could go and visit now, distantly visit, of course.

“See you tomorrow.” The blackbird cocked his head at me, then continued pecking.

I felt different today, seeing Craig on a new ward, not so many wires, fewer tubes, still some medical contraptions keeping him alive, monitoring that he was on the way back. A tiny feeling of relief popped into my head, then left again almost immediately, he still wasn’t out of the woods. A doctor, swathed in blue protective gear told me Craig’s body would take a long time to recover, he would need to be nurtured when he was discharged, treated with kid gloves, he said.

I looked at our house when I returned home, thinking of things I would need to do to care for Craig, make life more comfortable for him in his painful progress through recovery. Kid gloves. Suddenly I was overcome with emotion, a brutal fury descended, a need to rid myself of what had caused this, the reason for all of this awfulness.

I fetched a carrier bag from the kitchen cupboard, went upstairs, retrieved the expensive shoes from their chic box, unwound them from yards of mauve tissue paper, dumped them into the bag, saw the CO-OP logo bulge out as a stiletto heel stabbed at it from within. I walked up the road, through the gate and into the cemetery, down the main path, and there by the litter bin, I removed the shoes, placed them neatly, side-by-side, on top of the bin. Those shameful, sinful, show-off shoes – remain there for all to see. I looked at them with distaste for a micro-second before turning on my heel, my trainers grinding on the gravel ready to stalk up the path, home.

The end

Sky Light Rain – Weaving Wings

Weaving Wings by Judy DarleyOver the coming weeks, I will share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. My second story in the collection is ‘Weaving Wings’.

This flash fiction story is only half a page long, but it was inspired by a huge true tale. I’d read articles about Mexican migrant children separated from their parents by the US government, and the idea haunted me. It seemed so barbaric. Two details about this really got to me – the fact that some of the children were writing letters they weren’t even sure would be sent to their parents, and the heaps of yarn brought out to keep them occupied during leisure time.

According to this news story published in October 2019, 5,460 children were separated from their parents due to the Trump administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

In my flash fiction I try to examine this ludicrous behaviour from the point of view of a child trying to make the best of an appalling situation.

My version of this story begins:

The best time is when we have an hour outside and can run and race like we’re still on our way. I pretend that I’m running to my mama and that this is all a game.

I’ve recorded myself reading ‘Weaving Wings’, which you can watch here. It also featured in National Flash Fiction Day’s #FlashFlood on 6th June 2020.

Discover the inspirations behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.

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

Pandemic prompt – stilettos

Stilettos by Judy DarleyDuring the depths of lockdown, these stilettos appeared balanced on a bin in our local park. It felt like a clue in a pandemic crime. Who had been out partying when the rest of us were mostly confined to our homes? What ball did they skitter home from barefoot?

Or were the shoes an offering to the Covid-19 gods, in a bid to save us all?

Write a modern myth or fairytale with these abandoned stilettos at its heart.

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.

Ledbury Poetry Festival 2020

Ledbury cr John EagerSome British towns seem better suited to literary festivals than others, and Ledbury in Herefordshire is ideal – with reams of streets and architecture that the word ‘picturesque’ could have been invented for. This year, Ledbury’s annual Poetry Festival is relocating online for 4th-5th July 2020, promising two days of written and spoken riches.

All events are FREE, but do remember to register beforehand, and please consider a donation to LPF and support the Festival in this uncertain and challenging time. Each event will be recorded and posted on the Festival’s YouTube channel

This year’s highlights include the Festival Launch, during which UK Poet Laureate Simon Armitage will introduce and read poems written during Lockdown, readings from Ledbury Poetry Festival International Poetry Competition 2019 winners, including Sarah Wimbush (read my review of Sarah’s award-winning pamphlet Bloodlines), Elisabeth Murawski and Denise Bundred, hosted by Daljit Nagra, plus a Spanish Poetry Translation Duel, and much much more!

Don’t forget to enter the LPF Poetry Competition. Entries will be judged by Liz Berry. The closing date is Thursday 16th July 2020.

The image at the very top of this post was supplied by John Eager of www.visitledbury.info. Many thanks!

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

SaveSave

SaveSave

Sky Light Rain – Untrue Blue

1_Untrue Blue by Judy Darley
Over the next few weeks, I will share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book, so will begin with the tale ‘Untrue Blue’.

This story examines a relationship between a brother and sister, from the point of view of the sister Tia. Themes include trust and betrayal, and when the truth can be the greatest cruelty of all.

You might notice if you’ve read my stories that sibling relationships and rivalries are recurring topics. A brother or sister might be the first person you come to know on an equal footing – your earliest memories are likely entwined with theirs, and there’s a high possibility that they know all the versions of you. It gives them a rare power. If anyone can derail you, I bet it’s them!

Bristol’s Cabot Tower, which I can see in the distance from my home and spent many childhood days climbing, is a key location for the pair in ‘Untrue Blue’.

The story begins:

As children we would go flying at night. You were always the instigator, shaking me awake then unlatching the window to let the night creep cool and bright beneath our pyjamas, under our skin. I’d edge out first, blinking in the sweep of orange-tarnished sky, beneath the faint stinging stars.

The story contains hints of fairytales and a touch of magic realism. For me, there’s a bit of wish fulfilment too – as a child I believed there was no more enviable superpower than the ability to fly!

I started writing it with the image the tale opens with, and then wanted to know why Tia seemed so wary of her brother. A lot of my fiction unfurls that way – with a scene I glimpse in my head like something from a film, and a question that leads me to what happens next. In fact, a lot of my writing is a journey of discovery.

Discover the inspirations behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.

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

Pandemic prompt – mask

Mask by Judy Darley
I photographed a discarded face-mask in early April, just one week after the UK went into lockdown. At the time I was disturbed that someone had dropped it so carelessly – like a perilous form of litter! I’ve since heard that millions of face-masks and other items of PPE  are being thrown away every day.

Considering that 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans everyday, it’s no wonder that scientists are warning that that will soon be more masks than jellyfish in our seas.

Can you turn this into a warning fable? More challengingly, can you find a way to give it a hopeful or positive twist?

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.

A short story – Wild Times

Bees_MIR_darleyI’ve really been relishing the wildlife in my garden and surrounding area over the difficult months of lockdown. My short tale ‘Wild Times‘ takes this thought, exaggerates it and blends in a splash of curiosity about human nature,

I’m thrilled to share the news that ‘Wild Times‘ has been published as part of MIR’s Stories in the Time of Covid 19 project. A meditation on nature, both human and other…

You can read ‘Wild Times‘ in full here: http://mironline.org/wildtimes/

Online writing classes with Writers & Artists

Dylan walk estuary serenityThe folks at Writers & Artists are plotting their next series of online writing courses following their successful virtual classes in May.

They say: “We’re excited to launch Fiction Writing: Fundamentals and Fiction Writing: Advanced, courses designed to give you the time, expertise and confidence required to develop your book this summer.”

Fiction Writing: Fundamentals

Monday evenings from 20th July-10th August | 6-8.30pm | £275

Fiction Writing: Fundamentals is an introduction to the essential elements of the writing process, lead by critically acclaimed author William Ryan, and a perfect opportunity to learn about the nuts and bolts of writing fiction. You’ll receive guidance on how to apply these tips to your own work, develop your confidence as a writer, and receive invaluable critical feedback on both your prose and story structure.

To book and view the full course outline click here.

Fiction Writing: Advanced

Mondays from 14th September-19th October | 6-8:30pm | £395

Following on from Fiction Writing: Fundamentals, William Ryan leads Fiction Writing: Advanced, a six-week course designed to stress-test your work-in-progress.

Expect an interrogation of your plot, tightening of dialogue, and tough questions asked of your cast of characters. As well as live workshopping, presentations on critical aspects of the writing process and regular professional feedback, participants also have the opportunity to hear from a commissioning editor and pitch their writing to a leading UK literary agent.

Book your place now

There’s also the option of special combined price if you want to take both courses.

For special discounts, insights (including interviews with authors such as picture books author Hannah Lee, register to receive the newsletter here

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