Book review – The Naming of Moths by Tracy Fells

The Naming of Moths book coverWith such an evocative title and cover, you know you’re in for a world of wonder with this collection of short fiction. The tagline ‘Short stories of myths, monsters and mothers’ adds a flicker of curiosity before you enter the pages’ worlds.

The gorgeous title story won author Tracy Fells the Canada and Europe regional award for the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. This tender tale of loss and solace weaves in the displacement of war with ancient mythologies about the longing for a child. In it, we’re invited to consider ideas of responsibility and ritual, in which the naming of moths has both an emotional and empowering purpose.

Fells has the skill to pepper potentially sad scenes with quirky, images that make you smile: “The woman with the moustache is refreshing her lipstick in the only mirror left uncovered.” In other tales, “computers squatted like fat hens” while in another a cake falls “in jammy clumps” onto a pair of “ballet pumps.”

‘Twisted’ is an exquisitely told, achingly dark tale of birthdays and family, balanced by luscious lines like the ones above.

Fells’ lyrical mastery over word choices gives every passage a special sort of glow, illuminated. A theme of metamorphosis runs throughout, as characters take back some element of control, changing lives for the better or simply shaking off the past in favour of a hopeful future. Vulnerable characters find their strength, often aided by more bolshy, beloved allies, such as Auntie Ruth in ‘Twisted’, who “said exactly what she was thinking, even if it was a bit rude.”

Other stories run along more overtly surreal tracks. ‘The Weight They Left Behind’ is a haunting piece full of colour with a hint of Black Mirror satire.

In ‘Household Gods’, Fells reminds us how little we know of other peoples’ struggles, and of the wells of compassion that run deep. Drawn into a hospital’s Special Care Unit for premature babies, we meet a couple who barely know each other, and are challenged to judge or withhold judgement from Mo, the protagonist, and his fumbling attempts to look after his ageing mother, his new wife and baby Nadira. Even here, the possibilities include the uncanny.

Fly on the Wall Press is a publishing house with a passion for great storytelling that does far more than entertain. The four-times British Book Awards’ Small Press of the Year finalists describe themselves as publishing “unparalleled political fiction, evocative poetry, and genre-defying anthologies addressing urgent global concerns.” These preoccupations are seeded subtly through their carefully selected and beautifully produced books, lodging in your consciousness and prompting you to re-examine a world where nothing should be taken for granted.

The realism in Fells’ collection forms firm foundations elevated by imaginative flights that serve to highlight aspects of human nature. These stories made me marvel at our capacity for love in all its forms, and to forge our own paths despite obstacles. Each story nudges you to remember how much happens unseen in the lives of every stranger we encounter. Sometimes it takes the surreal to help us truly glimpse the realities we live among.

The Naming of Moths by Tracy Fells is published by Fly on the Wall Press and available to buy here.

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 – peril

Unstable cliff. Photo by Judy Darley

Few things rev up a story like a hint of peril. A warning sign like this one announcing an unstable cliff can lead a tale in a multitude of waves. Add in those colourful swimming goggles and you’ve got a full treacherous narrative at your fingertips, or even a twist on the famous “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” attributed to Hemingway, though that’s now said to be untrue (there’s a tale in itself!).

How did these goggles happen to be hanging here? What happened to the person who owned them? What storm cast them here? What drama was left in their wake?

In a terrible twist on this prompt, there was a landslide here just last week, plunging tons of rock and mud over this coastal path, only hours after I strolled here. The area is currently off-limits for safety’s sake. Sometimes real life is more dramatic than any fiction.

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.

The Forward Prizes for Poetry invites entries

Arnos Vale trees cr Judy Darley

More than thirty years after its launch, the Forward Prizes for Poetry welcome submissions from editors and publishers of books, magazines, online journals and competitions, published in the UK or Republic of Ireland, including works from the British Isles.

The submission deadline for all online entries is 4th March 2024.

There are four prize categories:

The Forward Prize for Best Collection

A prize of £10,000 will be given to the author of the best collection of poetry published in the UK or Republic of Ireland between 19th September 2023 and 18th September 2024.

The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection

A prize of £5,000 will be given to the author of the best debut collection of poetry published in the UK or Republic of Ireland between 19th September 2023 and 18th September 2024.

The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem – Written
A prize of £1,000 will be given to the author of the best written single poem that has been published in a newspaper, periodical or magazine in the UK or Republic of Ireland between 5th March 2023 and 4th March 2024, or has been the winner of a poetry competition with a prize awarded between the same dates.

The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem – Performed

A prize of £1,000 will be given to the author of the best new performance or a new poem to camera filmed between 5th March 2023 and 4th March 2024.

This prize category views “performance” as the act of a poet inhabiting a poem using their voice and the body. Though the poem may also be published in written form, this category is not simply for a poet reading their poem, but for the delivery of a poem that is crafted and shaped with an eye to engaging a viewing audience, whether it be down a lens or sitting in a venue. The performance should make the poem come alive in a new and exciting way and be an authentic experience of a single live moment rather than a tailored, edited film. They say: “We invite submissions that push the boundaries beyond the written form and give a different experience to simply reading a poem.”

The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem – Performed, is the only Forward Prizes category that allows for self-submission. Only one submission, which must not exceed five minutes in length, may be entered per poet.

Note this is not a poetry film competition; the poem must be filmed in a single take without a professional filmmaker/filtering or editing the final submission. The only tools to be used are the poet’s voice and body, no other instruments, music, or technology should be included (though poets can use their voice in any manner they choose, including singing, rapping, beat boxing).

Find the full entry guidance 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.

Writing prompt – season

Red tree in January. Photo by Judy Darley

In the woodlands you can hear spring being heralded by birds forging friendships and boasting about territory.

One small tree shines out in this tiny forest, where its autumnal red leaves blaze against the glossy greens.

What made this tree hang on to its autumn foliage all the way into February? What is it declaring about the seasons?

What will happen as spring fully arrives, and then summer?

Can you weave this into a story of nature and folklore?

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.

Come to ‘Stories for Grown Ups’ at The Festival of Stories, 9th March

Festival of Stories artwork showing drawings of people sitting on books with the words Festival of Stories in white serif font on a black starry background.I’m excited to be running a segment at Bristol’s Festival of Stories on Saturday 9th March. This fabulous one-day event is celebrating storytelling in all its forms, with a book swap, new and second-hand books for sale, writing workshops, kid-friendly stories with children’s authors, and *trigger warning* there might even be a clown or two… The section I’ve been invited to curate is titled Stories for Grown Ups and is from 2pm-3pm..

The word-revelling event takes over Sparks, the old M&S in Broadmead, from 11am-6pm on Saturday 9th March.

I’m a firm believer that adults benefit from being read to just as much as children do, and have invited some fabulous local writers to join me in sharing their words at Stories For Grown Ups from 2-3pm.

Helen Sheppard is a Bristol-based writer and former midwife whose poetry explores themes of birth, health loss, and those whose voices are often unheard. Helen co-runs Satellite of Love Poetry events. Her debut poetry collection Fontanelle was published by Burning Eye Books.

Emma Phillips’ fiction has been placed in the Bath Flash Award, Free Flash Fiction Competition and Best Microfiction 2022 and appear in various other places in print and online. Her flash collection Not Visiting the SS Great Britain is out now from Alien Buddha Press.

Jude Higgins founded Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2015, has co-run The Bath Short Story Award since 2013 and directs the short-short fiction press, Ad Hoc fiction and Flash Fiction Festivals, UK. Her flash fiction chapbook The Chemist’s House was published in 2017 by V. Press. Another flash fiction collection will be out in 2024.

John Wheway’s publications include The Green Table of Infinity, from Anvil Press; Poborden, from Faber; A Bluebottle in Late October, V Press; writings in New Measure, Stand, Magma, Warwick Review, Poetry Review, Yellow Nib, Poetry Quarterly, Compass, South Word, Agenda, High Window. He won the 2023 Wigtown International Poetry Prize.

Chrissey Harrison writes supernatural thrillers and other spec genre fiction. Books about monsters, magic, action and adventure, and fragile human characters trying to muddle through as best they can. Her debut novel, Mime, released in July 2020, is the first in her Weird News Series. Her short stories have featured in several anthologies, most recently Forgotten Sidekicks (Grimbold Books) and Fire (North Bristol Writers).

I’ll wrap up the session. I’m 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). My words have been published and performed on BBC radio and aboard boats, in museums, caves, a disused church and artists’ studios.

It will be an inspiring, emotionally enriching day of events, so why not pop in? With Mothering Sunday just the day after, it’s also a great, unusual way to celebrate any literature-loving mums.

Writing prompt – two

Two benches_Clevedon. Photo by Judy Darley

These two benches each offer glorious coastal views, but I can’t help noticing that the one further from the water also provides an excellent view of the other bench.

Imagine a person quietly gazing at the sea and sky, but gradually becoming aware of the person sitting on the bench before them. They might be intrigued or even entranced by the stranger there, but too shy to approach them.

What could bring them together? Is this the beginning of a love story, or something more sinister?

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.

Plymouth seeks young writing talent

Drakes Island_evening. Photo by Judy Darley

South West literature development agency Literature Works is teaming up with Plymouth Culture, to find the next Plymouth Young City Laureate. The selected young writer will meet people in the city, develop as a writer and performer, and respond to what is happening, acting as a voice for the young people of Plymouth.

If you are or know a young writer in Plymouth aged between 14 and 19 years, encourage them to apply.

The Plymouth Young City Laureate will be paid for a minimum of three commissions between April 2024 and March 2025 and will also have the opportunity to take part part in paid events with invited guest writers.

The deadline for submissions is midnight on Sunday 25th February 2024.

The writer selected this year will follow in the footsteps of previous Laureates Jessica Holloway, Olivia Templeton, Holly Peters and Mimi Jones.

Find full details of how to enter 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.

Writing prompt – purse

Mermaid's Purse_Photo by

This black pillowy scrap was lying on the ground in a boatyard, possibly dropped by a gull after being scooped from the nearby rocky beach. These scorched-looking ravioli are known colloquially as mermaid’s purses, which is an interesting idea. Why would a mermaid adorned with peals and shells carry such a dull little bag?

Besides, the truth is even weirder, when you think about it. These are actually egg cases for sea creatures such as rays, skates and sharks. The one I saw looks like it might once have cradled the eggs of a spotted ray.

Imagine the teeny sea creature emerging from this leathery bag!

I love that myths and marine biology have been woven together in this way, making nature even more enticing by creating a narrative. Could you turn this into a story that encourages wonder and respect?

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 National Flash Fiction Day’s microfiction competition

Sweets by Judy DarleyNational Flash Fiction Day’s 100-word microfiction competition invites your submissions. Send something funny, something that resonates, is fresh and exciting, and leaves the judges lost for words.

The deadline is 15th February 2024. You’re invited to submit up to three flash fictions on any theme at no more than 100 words each. Titles aren’t included in the word count.

Last year’s winning micro was ‘All my lovers’ by Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar. Read it and the other winning tales here.

In 2022, Jan Kaneen won with her beautiful mini-tale ‘Just a Word to the Snowblind.’ Read it and the other winners here.

The microfiction competition prizes are:

  • £150 for first place
  • £100 for second place
  • £50 for third place

There are also seven awards of £20 for highly commended pieces. The winning and highly commended authors will be published in the National Flash Fiction Day 2024 anthology, and will receive a free print copy of this anthology.

This year’s judges are Sara Chansarkar, Jan Kaneen, David Rhymes and Alison Wassell.

Read more about the judges here.

By submitting work to the NFFD Microfiction Competition, you are agreeing to publication online and in the 2024 NFFD Anthology if your work is selected as a prizewinner or highly commended flash.

The submission fees for this year’s anthology is:

  • £2.00 for one (1) entry.
  • £3.75 for two (2) entries.
  • £5.25 for three (3) entries.

Find full details here, including details of the free entry scheme.

This year, National Flash Fiction Day is on Saturday 15th June. How will you celebrate?

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.

Writing prompt – frost

Ice in the shadow of a bench.

Walking along Clevedon’s waterfront, I noticed that where shadows lay, ice lingers, while it’s melted away anywhere sun has reached.

I’ve been writing a lot about memory and the act of remembering recently, and it’s almost as though the shadows preserve the memory of frost and ice. The shadow shelters its own mirror image in white.

Can you turn this into a story about memory, or about shelter?

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.