Mid-week writing prompt – stories in gravestones

Gravestone cr Judy DarleyI encountered this overgrown gravestone at a local cemetery a while back, and was moved by the idea of this couple reunited in death after so very long apart.

It also set me wondering. Accepting the concept of an afterlife (I’m not entirely convinced I do), presents a number of possible conflicts for this pair. For starters, given that Lillie was 54 when she died and Arthur was 84, I wonder how much they’d have in common.

And it also seems that Arthur didn’t remarry, and presumably therefore spent the latter 32 years of his life as a swinging bachelor, or mourning his lost love. What impact would these details have on his reconciliation with Lillie, not to mention all the changes the Western world experienced between 1947 and 1979?

Yep, I’m all kinds of intrigued by this scenario. How about you?

If this image prompts you to write something, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. You could end up published on the site!

Getting people writing!

Tomorrow I’m taking part in an event as part of Bristol Festival of Literature aimed at encouraging aspiring writers. 

Southville Writers will be staging an ‘instant flash fiction’ workshop, while writers, including me, will be sharing their experiences and advice on getting started, maintaining motivation and sending your words out into the world.

We’ll also be performing a few stories – I’ll be reading a short tale from my soon-to-see-the-light-of-day collection, Remember Me To The Bees.

I’m really excited to be part of this event with such a great group of talented writers.

It’s all taking place at Hooper House Café from 1.30-4pm. If if you make it along, please come and say hi!


Mid-week writing point – an unexpected POV

Tree cr Judy DarleyLast week I wrote a piece of flash fiction that turned out to be from the point of view of a dog, and that small detail altered the whole tone of the tale (or should that be tail?). Suddenly my main character’s preoccupations, goals and interpretations of the world shifted. It was a fun piece to write, and made me realise that the value of unconventional narrators, especially for the writer.

Imagine if your torrid love scene, brutal murder, or calculating plot for world domination was being related to the reader via an unexpected voice, such as a child, a pet, or even a piece of furniture. It would skew every word. Continue reading

A fairytale and a ghost story

Mossy tree cr Judy DarleyThis week I received the exciting news that one of my short stories has been chosen to appear on the Enchanted Conversations websites, a fabulous hub of original fairytales and homages to traditional ones.

You can read my story, Sapling, here. The atmospheric image selected by editor & Publisher Kate Wolford is by artist Richard Doyle.

My story begins like this:

I was the only one who saw him. Everyone else, even my mother, it seems, only saw the tree. I lay in the long grass playing with my soldiers who were using the lawn as a jungle. Sunlight fell thick and heavy through the strands of grass, darkness falling briefly as my mother passed. I glanced up to see where she was going – saw her reach the tree, climb the trunk and disappear into the leaves. I gazed, amazed. My mother had never climbed a tree in my life, that I knew of. I stared at the old oak, then heard a rustling, a sharp gasp, and my mother fell. By the time she hit the ground, my father was halfway down the lawn, running full tilt. Yet only I saw the man in the branches, his skin the color and texture of bark, eyes like two bright spaces between the leaves where light leached through.

Read on…

Find out how to write fairytales here.

We’re already into October, and the run up to Halloween. Britain never celebrates this most gruesome of fiestas with as much fervour as I’d like, but this is also the time of year when ghost stories are most successful, so I’m really pleased to have one of mine published by the wonderful Origami Journal.

My tale, Unwanted Guests, was inspired by a rental property I moved into where the cellar was filled with the previous tenant’s possessions – everything from old pots and pans to gymkhana ribbons and old teddy bears – seriously eerie! Why on earth would anyone leave those kinds of things behind? That was the seed – read the result here.

A candid chat with author Candida Lycett Green

Candida Lycett Green portraitThis interview was originally published by the New Writer magazine.

As the daughter of legendary poet Sir John Betjeman and travel writer the Hon. Penelope Valentine Hester Betjeman, Candida Lycett Green had an imposing literary legacy to live up to, but it doesn’t seem to have daunted her one bit. Now in her sixties, she’s the author of over a dozen books, has written and presented a clutch of television documentaries, is a contributing editor to Vogue and a member of the Performing Rights Society. Since 1992 she has been writing a regular column for the Oldie, and her latest book is a compilation of 100 of her columns. She says that  writing seemed to be a logical career path.

“I needed to get a job and earn my living, and as I was quite good at English at school and writing was part of my parents’ trade it seemed obvious,” she says. “I saw it as a craft I could do rather than being inspiration-driven. I think people can be very airy-fairy about writing – I’ve only ever seen it as a method of earning a living. There’s a terrific mystique about writing that to me seems completely unfounded.” Continue reading

Mid-week writing prompt – a willingness to believe

Feather cr Judy DarleyThe other day while out for a run I noticed two women with pushchairs blocking the path ahead. Seeing me, they moved the buggies out of my way (thanks!) so I sped past, then slowed on seeing two toddlers ambling ahead.

Just as they turned towards me, a feather dropped from the sky and landed from the path between us, and the toddlers gazed up at me with astonishment, as though they thought that somehow I had made that happen. A magic trick under the shadowy canopy of the trees.

All fiction writing is a form of magic trick, asking of our readers that they suspend their scepticism just long enough to slip into our carefully crafted reality. The best writing does this so skilfully we don’t realise it’s happening until we emerge from the tale.

Small children, by nature, have a head start on the rest of us. Try taking one of your old stories with a grown up POV and re-write it from the point of view of a very small child. You might be surprised by what emerges!

If this image prompts you to write something, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. You could end up published on the site!

Book review – Unwrecked England by Candida Lycett Green

Unwrecked England coverBooks compiled from magazine or newspaper columns occasionally struggle to offer the cohesion of a coffee table book written with that end in mind, but this isn’t the case with Candida Lycett Green’s Unwrecked England.

Selected from 17 years worth of her columns from The Oldie magazine, Unwrecked England is a vast, deep pool of a book that you’ll want to dip your toes into, wade up to your waist in or dive head-long into.

Candida’s passion for England’s wild places was passed down to her by her mum Penelope and dad, St John Betjeman, and in her preface to the book she writes of happy childhood memories spent exploring the countryside. Far from being a simple travel-guide, the book is a celebration the best of England’s unspoilt areas, from entire villages to a single oak-tree, so that while her entry on Ashdown is largely factual, other pieces are a glorious mishmash of impressions supplemented with quotes from diverse sources ranging from modern-day horse traders and pub landlords to historical diarists, artists and poets. Continue reading

Mid-week writing prompt – the ‘-est’

An ‘-est’ is always a good starting point for any work of creativity, and nothing makes a road-trip more interesting than a chance turn off to see the largest, the biggest, the widest, the, um, hairiest. Or, in this particular case, the southerliest – or rather, the most southerly –point of England.

England's most southerly point cr Judy Darley

Just think if your character were on a journey to see the four corners of a country, or indeed, the world. What might make them set off on such a pilgrimage? Who might they meet or collect on the way? And what might the outcome be?

Lizard Point cr Judy Darley

The season of mellow fruitfulness

Azienda Agricola Tenuta degli Angeli mushrooms cr Judy DarleyJohn Keats’ wistful description of this time of year has been utilised so often and by so many that it’s almost slipped into the arena of clichés. Yet what is a cliché but an example of someone who’s said something so succinctly we all borrow and steal their phrase time and again?

As the first leaves start to turn gold and fall from the tree, a faint dread grips me. While the rising fragrance of the woodland and the crimson encroaching on the greens please me aesthetically, it’s what they lead to that fill me with dread. The long, endlessly long, dark and cold winter.

Last year winter stretched right until May, which was fairly dispiriting even for people who unlike me aren’t mainly solar powered. When it came, summer was truly gorgeous and exceptional, but far too short – I’m not ready to say goodbye!

And yet, Keats was right, this is a season of fruitfulness, for writers no less that farmers.

Change is always a good instigator of creative ideas, and even the change in seasons can be valuable, if only in prompting a change in focus and pace.

As the days get shorter, and the weather less inviting, staying in to write seems more inviting than ever. Snug woollens and a laptop definitely seem like a good match, and if all else fails there are always fingerless gloves to help out.

It’s also a good season for reading – discovering new exciting writers and reacquainting yourself with old favourites. And if the writing gets stale, few things help better than a crisp cold country walk or run enjoying the sight of the changing leaves.

Here are a few others that might help

Reasons to celebrate autumn

Country walk cr Judy DarleyFewer people about to disturb thoughtful strolls and runs
Less sun-glare on the laptop screen
oraging for autumn berries

Cherry red cherry tree cr Judy DarleyThe splendour of crimson leaves
The pleasure of cuddling up on the sofa as rain lashes the window
Fewer festivals, fetes, barbecues and other distractions
More dreamtime…

Mid-week writing prompt – seaside contemplation

There’s something about seeing someone absorbed in contemplation that is deeply intriguing. Add to that a gorgeous backdrop of sea and sky, and I’m hooked.

Gyllenvase Beach, Cornwall cr Judy Darley

Not to mention the intrigue of the kayakers in the water beyond. Are these three people linked in some way, or is the man on the shore entirely separate? Is he merely thinking about what he wants to have for tea, putting off going home for some reason, or plotting lord-only-knows what?

If this image prompts you to write something, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com.