Enter the NFFD Micro Fiction Competition

Sweets by Judy DarleyI’m excited to be one of the judges of the National Flash Fiction Day micro fiction competition 2019, along with the marvellous Diane Simmons, Angela Readman and Kevlin Henney.

We’re hungry for your most finely crafted, resonant unpublished words. Disturb us, discombobulate us, turn our expectations upside down and make us regard the world anew, or draw us into a life and move us, all in only 100 words or fewer.

The deadline is Friday 15th March 2019, 23:59pm GMT. You’re invited to submit up to three flash fictions on any theme.

Titles aren’t included in the word count.

First prize is £75.

Second prize is £50.

Third prize is £25.

The winning and shortlisted authors will be published in the National Flash Fiction Day 2019 anthology. Winning and shortlisted authors will also receive a free print copy of this anthology.

Find full competition rules and entry fees here.

You can read my interview with Diane Simmons, in which I talk about what I’m hoping to see in submissions, here.

I can’t wait to read your submissions. Good luck!

Writing prompt – lion

Lion fountain, Bristol harbourside by Judy DarleyI love this fountain on Bristol Harbourside. At this time of year, freezing weather can result in a beard of icicles, which only adds to the otherworldly quality of the lion.

Fountains have often been the scene of passionate moments in novels and plays. Why not make this one the scene of an illicit tryst, revelation or an act of violence based on jealousy or retribution? The lower the temperatures, the more fiery the emotions…

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 – The Dog Who Found Sorrow

The_Dog_Who_Found_SorrowAn uncanny magic occurs in picture books when you achieve the perfect balance between images and words. The Dog Who Found Sorrow, written by Rūta Briede, is both illustrated and translated from Latvian by Elīna Brasliņa, a combination which may be in part why this book exudes such eloquence. Evocative  illustrations are scattered sparingly with text that entices you into to a fable of resilience against melancholy.

Add in the final incantation of the book being published by The Emma Press, who are increasingly making waves with their poetry anthologies and other books, and it’s small wonder that this book is both beautiful and haunting.

Pages bloom with scant petallings of words layered lightly on a pictorial patchwork that brings our hero’s predicament to life: “One morning my home town was invaded by black clouds – first there was just one, but soon I lost count.”

While the theme of a town submerged in sadness seems decidedly grown up, the handling of the text and artwork opens it up to all demographics. In fact, this feels like an acknowledgement of the sophistication of our emotions, regardless of age.

In the story, everyone is depressed by the clouds filling their town, and no one thinks they can do anything about it, not even our hero. But this is no ordinary dog, this is a dog who wears an overcoat, grows roses and plays the harmonica. He can even climb a ladder.

I love the detail that our hero is a dog living as an equal among humans – it’s one of those appealing touches beloved of children’s books and requiring no explanation.

Our hero soon decides it’s silly to just accept things as they are – sad and grey. “Maybe there was something I could do. I put on my rain hat, took my backpack and climbed up to the attic to get onto the roof.”

The poetry of the book is so elegantly echoed in the rich, world-conjuring imagery that I can easily imagine being transformed into an animation in the future. Our dog is afraid but determined, which is something we can all draw hope and comfort from.

And with such an inspiring protagonist, of course there’ll be a happy ending.

The Dog Who Found Sorrow is published by The Emma Press

Seen or read anything interesting recently? 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 – ambush

Feathers in Arnos Vale_Photo by Judy DarleyWhen I see a spray of feathers like this, I know I’ve stumbled across the site of a mighty battle. Some unwitting bird was beset upon, perhaps by a peregrine or buzzard.

What might the prey and predator have experienced in those frantic moments? Dig deep and conjure the visceral sensations – the fear and bloodlust and the physical tumult.

Then shift those sensations onto a pair of human protagonists. To what dark place does that 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’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Submit tales of doorways to the NFFD Anthology

Azores pufferfish doorway by Judy Darley
Doors can mean so many things to so many people. They can offer refuge, or conceal threats, be locked, swing wide open, or simply represent new possibilities.

Doors are also the theme for the 2019 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology. The deadline for submissions is Friday 15th March 2019, 23:59pm GMT.

This year’s editors are Joanna Campbell and Santino Prinzi, who invite you to submit flash fictions up to 500 words in length.

They say: “We want you to open the door to stories wild with imagination. We’re looking for those creepy mysteries about doors we can’t find the key to. We want those funny tales of frustration when doors do exactly what they’re supposed to when we don’t want them to. Maybe the stories you want to share are about metaphorical doors, filled with the disappointment of doors that are closed to us or brimming with excitement at new opportunities.”

There’s a £2.50 submission fee for one entry, £4.00 for two entries or £6.00 for three (the maximum) entries. Free entries for low income writers are also available.

You can find full details here.

Charged Particles – a short story

Penis Museum2

My short story Charged Particles has been published by MIR Online. Set in Iceland, it’s about two English sisters seeking common ground, while hoping to glimpse the Northern Lights.

The shot above shows exhibits from the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which features in the story.

Here’s an excerpt from near the beginning of Charged Particles:

Rain transformed to snow somewhere between us unpacking our bags and Aurora’s text asking if we’d arrived. Let’s meet at the penis museum, she suggested. I hear it is adorbs!

I showed Lawrence the text and rolled my eyes.

“Give her a chance,” he said. “You know how you get with her.”

“Only because she brings it out in me!” I snapped.

He shrugged. “All siblings are like that. Come on, let’s go.”

The settling snow glittered with fractures of miniature rainbows. I found myself converted as we strolled amid the drifting flakes, boots crunching into the crisp surface. A smile broke out over my face. I grabbed for Lawrence’s hand and held tight, our mittens squishing together. He cast me a sidelong glance and I knew he was wondering what cheerful changeling had replaced his sceptical wife.

Read Charged Particles in full.

Writing prompt – voices

Dylan Thomas summerhouse at Laugharne CastleWithin the grounds of Laugharne Castle is a stone summerhouse where Dylan Thomas and author Richard Hughes would come to write.

Today there is a note from Dylan’s wife Caitlin warning him not to leave the radio on and run the batteries down. More magical, however, is the fact you can turn on the radio and hear Dylan and Richard nattering (might be actors, but who can say?).

What voices from history would you like to overhear? Can you grant your wish to a character in a story?

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.

Poetry review – Empire of Dirt

Empire of Dirt coverThe poems in Thomas Stewart’s debut pamphlet Empire of Dirt share the enchanted forest feel of the darkest fairytales. Nature appears on these pages as something elemental and vaguely sordid, with humans only one footfall away from entering the shadowy, loam-scented spaces on the fringes of suburban streets.

Moving, enticing and richly redolent, these poems summon the paradoxical sense of peace laced with disquiet that’s so particular to woodlands, where the unseen creeps ever closer.

Many of the poems are about observing. In And then The Flowers Came, he writes: “outside/ the trees can/ smell me, their/ roots/ brew plots,/ they’re watching/ me, with/ everyone else”.

In Skull, Stewart invites us to become the voyeurs, ogling the intimate miracle of Adam birthing his Eve.

More contemporary suspicions come into play with the awareness of a neighbour spying from between the petals of a hibiscus across the road: “she watches/ how many cigarettes/ I smoke/ or how many times/ I check Grindr/ on my phone.” The tension between timeless and modern, and between threat and temptation, is palpable.

Continue reading

Submit to The Mechanics’ Institute

London Millennium Footbridge by Judy DarleyThe Mechanics’ Institute Review (MIR) is inviting submissions of short stories, poetry and non-fiction for issue 16 of their print anthology from writers across the UK.

MIR is a literary print and ebook publication that champions the short story as an art form, promoting diversity and opportunity for all while publishing new work of the highest possible standard.

This year they are inviting you to write in response to the word climate. “Are we living in a climate of fear? Is the climate changing? What does it mean to have a climate? We want you to take the temperature and send us your stories, non-fiction and poetry.”

They’re seeking unpublished short stories up to 5,000 words in length, up to three flash-fiction pieces, to a combined total of 2,250 words, a non-fiction piece (creative non-fiction, essays) of up to 5,000 words, or up to six poems, amounting to a maximum of six pages in total.

Only one submission per person per issue is permitted.

Submissions are welcomed from both new and established authors, but you must live in the UK.

The deadline for submissions is 5pm GMT on Friday 15th February 2019.

Find full details, rules and conditions, visit mironline.org/mir15-entry-form/

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Mapping myths in lino cuts

Detail from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria WillmottWhen I discovered artist Victoria Willmott’s fresh, sketchy linoprints, I fell for the energy they exuded. In particular, I love her beautiful foldout inspired by the Icelandic myth ‘Redhead The Whale Man’. Victoria tells me she’s been drawing inspiration from fairytales and folklore all her life.

“During my Illustration BA course I worked on a project to illustrate a series of fairytales,” she says. “I started to realise these tales were more then just children’s stories, they were little gems to me that sparked my imagination.”

Detail2 from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria Willmott

Detail from ‘Redhead The Whale Man’ by Victoria Willmott

She adds: “What’s interesting is that fairytales have lasted through hundreds of years and several generations and are still so well known today. The stories themselves often carry a hidden meaning that brings sense or a moral message, but sometimes they’re just fantastic stories that take you on a journey far far awayand I love that about them. I like to reimagine these fantastical fairy tales within our every day and place them into our modern world.”

Visiting Iceland in 2018 was the starting point for a special project.

“I brought myself a book on Icelandic fairytales. It was filled with short stories from elves to trolls, and ghosts with some very dark endings,” she says. “I was drawn to the story ‘Redhead The Whale Man’because it has an element of surprise and absurdity and because it’s a story at sea.”

Detail3 from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria Willmott

Detail from ‘Redhead The Whale Man’ by Victoria Willmott

She explains that Redhead The Whale Man tells the story of a young fisherman who is turned into a whale by elves. “He betrayed his elf wife and elf child by dis-owning them in his homeland. His punishment for doing so was to live as a whale for the rest of his life and haunt the seas his fellow fisherman sailed in.”

The red head is actually nothing to do with his hair colour, but instead comes from the fact he was wearing a red cap at the moment when he was cursed.

Detail4 from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria Willmott

Detail from ‘Redhead The Whale Man’ by Victoria Willmott

“In this story I like the symbolism with the red cap and that it is a simple object that you can associate to your own world,” Victoria says. “I like to see fairytale emblems in ordinary items, and now a red cap can be added to that as an object that could conjure up a fantastical story.”

Victoria has bookshelves crammed with fairytales ripe for informing and inspiring her work. These include books by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, and Charles Perrault, as well as folk tales from Ireland, Africa, Iceland and India.

“I created a piece of work called ‘The Lost Slipper in Southville’ which was a reimagining of Cinderella in my neighbourhood of Bristol, Southville. It purely started from personal experience of loosing my own shoe as it flew out of my bicycle basket. It was found, not by prince charming but on a kerbside – luckily in good condition considering it would have been rained on for four days.”

The Lost Slipper in Southville by Victoria Willmott. Lino cut

The Lost Slipper in Southville by Victoria Willmott

From this, Victoria began to see how elements of the Cinderella story could appear in her day-to-day life. “The ugly stepsisters, for instance, I saw in two geese at the local City Farm, which I pass to get to the studio,” she says. “Their webbed feet could never fit into the lost slipper and their constant cackling gave them an unpleasant manner just like the stepsisters bickering.”

Victoria decided that the Prince’s Ball should be held at the local South Bank Club, “where dance classes and evening do’s are abundant. I imagined the dancers there dancing out onto the streets. In one of the original tales of Cinderella she goes to the ball three separate occasions with three different dresses, in the colours of sunlight, moonlight and starlight. I used the colour referencing those aspects for the dancers.”

Victoria created the artwork using lino cut and devised a map that leads you through her alternative Cinderella tale, “but you could take any path you wanted and perhaps make up your own version of the story.”

Crop of The Lost Slipper in Southville by Victoria Willmott

Crop of ‘The Lost Slipper in Southville’ by Victoria Willmott

Victoria is keen to share her interest in fairytales through her artwork. “I find that I want to communicate that there are stories everywhere and people can use their imagination to read between the illustrations and make up their own tales,” she says. “That’s the essence of storytelling – originally fairytales and folk tales would have been passed on through oral telling and each storyteller would have their own take or version of the story. I like to think people are given the option to read my prints in their own way and make up their own story about them too.”

Victoria begins a new piece of work by sketching on location and then takes those drawings back to the studio to refine. “I have an abundance of sketchbooks that hold precious ideas,” she says. “When I look back at them I start to see characters and scenes that I could use in future work. I enjoy the sketching process where I work quickly and produce loose and free drawings. I try to hold onto that looseness and transfer drawings into lino cut prints.”

Recently, Victoria has been working on large-scale map-style prints that are built up from individual lino cut stamps. “The process of making these requires printing each lino cut by hand,” she says. “I have a rough idea of how these prints will end up but I let spontaneity happen on the day of printing and use my instincts about what colours and images will work well together.”

Crop of Icelandic Whale Man Story Map by Victora Willmott

Crop of ‘Icelandic Whale Man Story Map’ by Victora Willmott

The trickiest part, she admits, is recognising when to stop working on a piece of art.

“I feel there is part of my brain that is more critical and aware of my choices and the other half is being playful and spontaneous and having more openness to creating,” she says. “I think the playful side comes out mostly in the sketching and printing process, and then I have to allow the critical side of my brain to come through and make a judgement to see if the piece is finished.”

She smiles and then adds: “I often have to take a photograph of the artwork, make a cup of tea and then let both sides of the brain either agree or not. It’s useful to take a step back and then let you mind see it from a new perspective.”

You can find more of Victoria’s art at www.victoriawillmott.com, twitter.com/vlwillmottwww.instagram.com/vlwillmott and www.facebook.com/VictoriaWillmottIllustration.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley(at)iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.