Sky Light Rain – Not Every Wound Can Heal

Kostel Sv. Jakuba Vetsiho by james Hainsworth_crop

Kostel Sv. Jakuba Vetsiho by James Hainsworth

Ever wondered how a short story sparks into life? This series of posts offers insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The nineteenth story is ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal’, which is particularly well suited to Halloween week. It was prompted by a misremembered tale of a holy relic glimpsed in Prague’s Kostel Sv. Jakuba Vetsiho. I wanted to examine how we’re occasionally driven to tell ourselves myths to make horrible situations tolerable, and how we find the strength to break free.

The tale was rings in at just over 330 words and was originally published by Spelk.

It begins:

A dark artefact hangs from the ceiling of the Baroque church. It resembles a bit of branch, or a stick covered in rags. Our tour guide tells us it’s a mummified arm.

Afterwards Tim and I each remember the story differently. He’s convinced it’s the relic of a saint. I’m sure it’s the limb of a thief who tried to steal jewels from a statue of the Virgin Mary, and that she came to life and twisted his arm entirely off.

Perhaps it’s not an arm at all.

I can’t get it out of my head.

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

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Elevated Truths‘.

Writing prompt – duo

Boy and Gull cr Judy DarleyI love this moment of curiosity between a boy and a seagull. It feels like each is assessing the other as a potential foe.

But perhaps they’re about to discover they’re each the friend the other has always sought – imagine the adventures they could have together! In fiction, an unlikely pairing can introduce comedy, discomfort or unexpected depths of empathy. What could these two learn from one another?

Of course, observed via Philip Pullman’s rich imagination, one could be the other’s daemon.

From this starting point, invent a duo whose allegiance is as surprising as possible, and use your creative prowess to make them utterly credible.

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.

Book review – Stray Our Pieces by Jason Graff

Stray Our Pieces cover photoLeo Tolstoy opens his novel Anna Karenina with the legendary lines: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

In Stray Our Pieces you’ll discover one of the most authentic representations of the latter – an ordinary family scraping by, with little to bind them together other than inertia.

At the centre of this apathy you’ll find the family matriarch, Gloria, a woman who drifted into marriage and would love to drift back out, if only she could dredge up the energy that would require. Author Jason Graff has created an anti-heroine whose howling discontent reminds us never to grow complacent. Whether you warm to her or (more likely) not, there’s no doubting that she’ll get under your skin.

Gloria grew up with a strong idea about who she would be as an adult. When that plan got derailed in her early twenties, she honed the full force of her ambition into a seething exasperation with the life she’s found herself mired in. This includes her son David, at times gloriously full of promise, and at others, in Gloria’s eyes, achingly disappointing. He, too, has failed to meet her expectations.

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On your marks… NaNoWriMo!

Painted desert, Colorado cr Judy DarleySunday marks the start of NaNoWriMo 2020 on 1st November. Are you taking part? I love the concept of this word-packed month, with ardent writers across the world hunched over laptops sweating out every last drop of inspiration.

New to the concept? It’s pretty simple really. As they state on the NaNoWriMo website: “On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.”

I know plenty of writers this enforced period of productivity really suits. For some folks it seems to be the ideal way to stoke up ideas and get them to catch alight on the page.

For me, the beginning stages of novel-writing are all about thinking ahead, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do some speedy planning even as you begin to write. After all, what else are you going to do when waiting for buses, in post office queues and doing the washing up?

Here are my top five preparation tips to ensure you make the most of this exceptional month.

1. Form a vision of the story you’ll be aiming to tell, with the beginning already shaped in your mind. If possible, do the same for the ending. Having an idea of the finale you’re working towards will mean you’re far less likely to veer off track!

2. Spend some time considering your characters – working out who they are, how they think, what their goals are, how they might help or hinder each other.

3. Know your setting. This is one of my favourites, particularly if it offers a valid excuse to meander in a much loved wilderness or similar.

4. Pick out a few dramatic moments your plot will cover and brainstorm them, then set them aside. Whenever your enthusiasm wanes over the intensive NaNoWriMo period, treat yourself by delving into one of those to reinvigorate your writing energy.

5. Finally, make sure you have plenty of sustenance to hand. For me, the essentials are coffee and chocolate. What are yours?

If you’re not a long-form junkie, why not take part in the flash version? Launched by the inimitable Nancy Stohlman in 2012, Flash Nano urges you to pledge to write 30 mini stories in 30 days. In 2019, more than 800 people took part. Even if not all turn out to be sparkling examples, you should end up with some that make your heart zing!

Sky Light Rain – Elevated Truths

Lift at ABode by Judy DarleyEver wondered how a short story sparks into life? This series of posts offers insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The eighteenth story is ‘Elevated Truths’, a story that has its ups and downs. It began to form in my mind after I went down a rabbit hole researching the invention of the lift, I discovered an innovator called Elisha Graves Otis. My first thought was that this remarkable woman had saved us all from trudging up endless stairs. The second was that she sported an impressive beard in her photo.

I love a good misunderstanding for presenting curious juxtapositions. This one gave me the impetus to explore the balance of truths and lies in a girl’s relationship with her father, and how a ‘smile-lie’ can serve as a form of protection.

‘Elevated Truths’ was originally published by Fictive Dream magazine.

The tale begins:

2000 <> 1852

“The elevator was invented by a woman in 1852,” I tell my father when he looks up from the article he’s writing and asks me what I’ve learnt today. “Her name was Elisha Graves Otis, and she founded the Otis Elevator Company. See, women can do anything men can.”

He looks at me over his laptop screen, his eyebrows doing that weird pinch in, thrust out move that means he’s not sure what to correct you on first.

“That’s not quite right,” he says, and I scowl.

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

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Lamp Black‘.

Writing prompt – robot

Lamp at Arnos Vale cr Judy Darley

This small lantern was sitting abandoned on a wall in a local cemetery. Something about its squat, green slightly rusted trunk appealed to me.

Then I realised I was seeing this inanimate object as a character. A little robot, to be exact. With four arms, and possibly two feet tucked away underneath, a somewhat beetle-y, forest robot.

And there, a story began to sprout, running away in my imagination. Could he be a man-made robot gone feral? Perhaps he spends his day foraging and gathering vital resources (but what might those be?), or perhaps he’s solar powered! What risks could he face? I suspect priorities include trying to keep out of the rain to avoid further rust, and avoiding the squirrels, roe deer, dogs and cats that could potentially cause him mischief.

What object, seen askance, might prompt a fantastical work of fiction in your mind?

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’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Going Short by Nancy Stohlman

going-short-coverThis book is the perfect cheerleader to see you on your first steps of the flash fiction journey. If you’ve been playing in the flash arena for a while, Going Short may well be the coach to take your flash skills to the next level.

With a subtitle of “An Invitation  To Flash Fiction”, Nancy Stohlman’s guide is a warm welcome, with chapters arrayed in bite-sized segments where every word earns its place. She leads by example, explaining the definition of flash fiction as you might to a non-writer friend in a pub (or, more likely these days, over Zoom), laying out word count (under 1,000) and purpose “to tell a story even if much of that story is implied.”

Immediately, I’m bubbling with questions. How do we know how much to tell and how much to imply? How can we trust the reader to be on our wave length and understand the unwritten?

In Part One: Writing Flash Fiction, I reach a paragraph titled ‘The Blank Page’ and am immediately gripped. Stohlman’s concise sentences brook no arguments as they command you’ to let go: of clever tricks, of descriptions, of our need to explain – all things I struggle with in my own writing. “Let silences be potent,” she urges, “don’t rush to fill them.”

It’s advice that sounds almost languid until you reach the next page, titled ‘Urgency.’

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Sky Light Rain – Lamp Black

Train station cr Judy DarleyEver wondered how a short story sparks into life? This series of posts offers insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The seventeenth story is ‘Lamp Black.’ This unsettling tale took root when I was waiting at Bath Spa Train Station. On the platform opposite I saw two children playing. One was giving the other a piggyback and they were wobbling close to the edge, just a stumble away from toppling onto the tracks. My pulse was beginning to race when the train roared up and they ran on board, thoughtless of the danger they’d been in moments before.

I got to wondering where their parents were and why no one had been keeping them safe. A story began to unfold in my mind of a woman sending her two daughters out searching for the dad they’ll never find, just to get a but of time to herself. But then one day they come home and tell her they’ve found him…

The tale’s beginning faithfully reports what I saw and felt:

Two children on the other side of the station are playing close to the platform edge. One is giving the other a piggyback ride, stepping along the yellow warning line like it’s a tightrope. None of the adults within reach intervenes.

I think about shouting out, but don’t want to startle her. As I watch, she wobbles and staggers towards the train tracks. My hands clench and unclench at my waist.

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

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Elevated Truths‘.

Writing prompt – shame

Porto homeless cr Judy DarleyWhile visiting Porto in late February/early March, I was struck by the grandeur of many of the buildings set against the hardship of the people sleeping on their steps.

It’s a story you’ll see enacted in cities across the world, unless officials have moved them out of sight. During the UK lockdown, homeless people were moved into hotels temporarily, but what happens now? I’ve noticed that on the rare occasions I now meander into the city centre, more individuals are begging again, asking for any germ-laden coins I can offer.

It feels like we’ve already entered a dystopian future. Can you explore this idea with a touch of exaggeration (sadly, a touch is all that’s needed), where a ravaged society is in desperate need of a solution before the health of those on its lowest rungs are poised to infect those at the top?

Can you invent a solution leading to a happy ending to give your readers hope?

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.

Enter the Bath Children’s Novel Award

Roman Baths by Judy DarleyThe Bath Children’s Novel Award has opened its doors to submission from unpublished, self-published and independently published authors worldwide.

Previous winners include include Lucy Van Smit for The Hurting (Chicken House, Sept 2018) and Struan Murray for Orphans of the Tide (Puffin, 2020).

The 2020 Judge is Stephanie Thwaites of Curtis Brown literary agency. She will pick the winning novel from a shortlist chosen by a team of Junior Judges aged from 7 to 17.

Deadline: 29th November 2020
Prize: £3,000
Submission: First 5,000 words plus 300-word synopsis
Entry fee: £28 with sponsored places available for writers on low income

Shortlisted authors will receive manuscript feedback from the Junior Judges plus literary agent introductions.

The writer of the most promising longlisted manuscript will win a place on the online course Edit Your Novel the Professional Way (worth £1,800) from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.

Find full details and submit here: https://bathnovelaward.co.uk/childrens-novel-award/