Your invitation to my book launch

Remember Me To The Bees cover smlScopophilia Publishing invites you to the launch of Remember Me To The Bees, a short story collection by Judy Darley

In just over a month, my short story collection will finally be out, officially! To celebrate I’m holding a party at local vintage clothes shop/bar/cafe/cool and quirky venue The Birdcage, Bristol, and you’re invited.

Here are the important details:

Time: 7-10pm
Date: Monday 31 March 2014
Venue: The Birdcage, 28 Clare Street, Bristol, BS1 1YE www.birdcagebristol.com

During the eventing there will be a scattering of readings from the collection, live music from Rabbit City and art from Louise Boulter, who illustrated the twenty stories that appear in Remember Me To The Bees and created the original cover artwork.

Signed copies of the book will be available to purchase at the launch.

Please RSVP at judy(at)socketcreative.com to let me know if you can make it.

It should be a fabulous night!

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Rabbit-Hunt-cr-Louise-BoultersmlCondensation-cr-Louise-Boultersml

Remember Me The Bees – Button Maker

Button Maker cr Louise BoulterOh my goodness, can you believe that it’s barely a month till the launch of my short story collection Remember Me To The Bees? Monday 31st March  – put it in your diary – you’re invited!

The seventh story in my  collection is Button Maker, a bittersweet tale of a fleeting romance.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

I wrote this short story after interviewing a woman who made buttons for a living – her craft really intrigued me and made me think of that moment in small talk at parties when someone asks what you do. Wouldn’t it be fab to say something as unusual as button maker? Once I imagined that beginning, the rest fell into place, with the created character become as elusive and alluring as the idea of her profession.

A short excerpt from Button Maker

She comes to a halt over something shining on the pebbles – large and flattish. It gives off a faint stink like earwax and cod liver oil and vomit. The sky-facing eye has been pecked away, consumed.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” She’s nudging at the fish corpse with a twig. Part of me recoils. What if she asks me to help her carry it back up the cliff, through the forest?

“Fish scales, they’d make pretty buttons, wouldn’t they?”

“What about the smell?”

She pauses, like she hasn’t noticed it till now, then wrinkles her nose, shakes her head. “I’ll remember what they look like, make some from silver. And a series of little dead fish buttons, cavities where the eyes should be! People will buy them thinking they’re cute and never even realise the truth of what they’re wearing.”

She drops the twig, turns and hugs me, whispers hot and loud in my ear: “If it wasn’t for the pebbles I’d like to fuck you on this beach. Right now.”

I hold her close but can’t help shivering at the thought of baring my skin to the elements. The heat of passion is locked away deep inside me, far from the wind that is sawing away at my face. In the city it never gets this cold. The buildings give off heat like I imagine stabled cattle do.

I bury my face in her hair, inhale the green apple smell of her. “Can we go back to your house?” I ask, thinking of her room full of buttons, the warm, blanket-laden bed where we cocooned ourselves till daybreak.

Cornish beach cr Judy Darley

Midweek writing prompt – the professionals

Siviano net factory cr Judy DarleyThe world is full of fascinating skill-based professions, and the more specific you get, the more intriguing they become, opening up a whole world of fictional possibilities. Think about the people who make the keys on your computer keyboard for instance, or the person who designs bus stops, whoever designs and makes your buttons, or the people who make football nets.

The latter is something I’ve encountered first time, on an island in an Italian lake. At the net factory there, fishing nets were once high priority, but as time has moved on, and competition has arisen from other parts of the world, they’ve branched out into football nets, tennis nets, volleyball nets, hammocks…

What kind of drama could arise in a place like this? How might their skills be reflected in their personalities?

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

Siviano net factory worker cr Judy Darley

Poetry review – Missing Persons by Patricia Averbach

Missing Persons coverWithin its first few lines, this slim collection plunges you deep into a family home populated by people so real you can visualise them. The poems that follow explore feelings of loss, nostalgia and, in some cases, regret. These are odes to family members long gone, and to the echoes of childhoods when an aunt’s chicken broth and noodles served in “bowls rimmed with fading flowers” summons up the smells and sounds of a home the lives only in nostalgia now.

There’s an intimate feel to the whole, akin to overhearing family legends, with countless lines that could be preceded with “Do you remember…?”

A simple storytelling feel gives Patricia Averbach’s poems an unshowy strength – every sentence is thoughtfully placed, with no attempts to dazzle with trickery. And, I think, that’s just how it should be. Continue reading

Explore ideas of identity at the Barbican

 Fevered Sleep at the BarbicanLooking for something creative to get up to this weekend (yes, I’m already looking that far ahead)? On Saturday 1 & Sunday 2nd March 2014, from 11am till 6pm, the Barbican is hosting We Create: technology for self-expression.

Part of the regular Barbican Weekender series, the mini festival of digital media offers up a packed programme of free workshops and experiences exploring ideas of image and identity, with genres including music, dance, art, and film.

Black Country Atelier, credit Georgie Clarke

Black Country Atelier, © Georgie Clarke

If you go along you’ll get the chance to take part in activities ranging from 3D printing with Black County Atelier, computer coding and animation workshops by SketchTag, to image printing with The Photocopy Club.

You can experience the first multi-user art and film app by Fevered Sleep; project your energy in award winning dance-based installation danceroom Spectroscopy; watch a short film selected by the Barbican Young Programmers, or compose your own tunes with Musicjelly’s visual library of sounds.

Danceroom Spectroscopy, credit Paul Blakemore

Danceroom Spectroscopy © Paul Blakemore

Every wanted what the texture is of the music you hear? Then investigate Pod, a blue sphere that allows you to touch sounds!

Other highlights include I’ll be Your Mirror by choreographer Darren Johnston in which a hologram mirrors and emulates movement through digital technology; and Transformer, a 20-person game designed by Usman Haque, which takes place in the darkness of Barbican’s Pit Theatre.

In the Curve, there’ll be a chance to see the new commission by United Visual Artists: Momentum. Visitors entering the space are invited to express thoughts and feelings via a live blog and record written fragments in an audio booth. The Barbican Young Poets will then transform words into new works of poetry and spoken word in performances taking place on the Barbican foyers throughout the weekend.

Sounds like an amazing adventure!

Find out more about We Create: technology for self-expression.

When is a novel finished?

Beach cr Maithreyi NandakumarAuthor-in-progress Maithreyi Nandakumar guides us through a novel-writing journey of false starts and false finishes, but ultimately hope…

As anyone attempting writing a full-length novel knows, the process is not exactly a supercharged 100m sprint. A decathlon that includes all the gruelling hours of training would be a more appropriate description! When I started writing my novel, Stirring the Pot, I wanted it to be about one woman’s transformative journey.

Shoba, who is in her mid-30s, faces a crisis in both her personal and professional life and decides to take off to Chennai, India with her children, leaving her husband behind in Bristol. She hasn’t lived in India for fifteen years – the past comes to greet her in many different forms and new things happen – eventually she sees some clarity for her future.

That was the gist and I’m pleased to say still is the summary of the novel through the eyes of the main character. However, as I progressed with the story, other fictional people started cropping up and I was faced with the task of giving all these supporting characters a credible storyline. It was a task that I relished – being master of so many destinies is, not surprisingly, quite a buzz.

Read to research how others do it

Reading other novels which had multiple plotlines was crucial in helping me understand how to structure my story. From translated Latin American, Egyptian fiction to literature written in English by well-known and lesser known writers – I got inspiration and confidence from a range of wonderful works, in order to juggle the individual stories of my characters deftly.

The books that helped especially included Disgrace by J.M. CoetzeeThe Road by Cormac Mc CarthyHappy Families by Carlos FuentesThe Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (the multiple points of view really helped), Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Corday and Chicago by Alaa-al-Aswany.

I also read the non-fiction book Love Will Follow: Why the Indian Marriage is Burning, by Shaifali Sandhya, about the state of marriage among middle class Indians resident and abroad.

Indian children cr Maithreyi NandakumarSeek support and criticism from other writers

There were times when I felt these creations of mine simply froze and went on strike – someone advised me to convene a meeting of my characters around a conference table and talk to each one of them! It helped. As did the weekly writing group meetings – in the convivial atmosphere of many a Bristol café (Goldbrick House, Watershed, Bordeaux Quay, the Arnolfini café and, more recently, The Birdcage), with Judy Darley and a few others. Feedback was rigorous as it was also mutual and the moral support that such meetings give cannot be emphasised enough.

Ixora shrub cr Maithreyi NandakumarAccept that the final chapter will be a challenge

Reaching the end was another trial altogether. Even though I followed the rule of knowing beforehand how it was going to finish – creating the right circumstances to reach that point wasn’t easy despite a tsunami featuring at the climactic finale.

It isn’t easy to describe the mixed feelings on getting to the finishing point. The predominant one is the rush of sheer relief at having accomplished it. And then, there is the unrealistic assumption that everything else from now on would be easy to tackle. Before too long, I’d succumbed to a strong sense of dissociation from my effort and was weighed down by the intangible nature of the enormous task ahead.

Consider using a literary consultancy

I was always aware of literary consultancies and been loath to use them – the cost was a factor and in some way, it felt as if I would be admitting defeat. After some soul-searching and rustling about my savings, I hunted around. In the end I went with a recommendation from someone who had heard the people from Cornerstones agency speak at an event in Bath. The manuscript was printed, boxed and delivered to a local writer cum editor, Kate Dunn.

Find a way to make the feedback manageable

In less than five weeks, I received a detailed 25 page report that covered all these headings: General Comments, Opening, Setting, Exposition, Point of View, Principle Characters, Minor Characters, Tone, Style, Show and Tell, Dialogue, Pace, Suspense and tension, Coherence and Believability, Ending and Concluding remarks.

The thoroughness of the analysis was initially overwhelming and difficult to absorb in its entirety. I printed it off and opened a folder – there I could see the results of my efforts – they were similar to a tutor marking a course dissertation. There were many encouraging comments – the scope was ambitious and the complex threads were interwoven well. Dialogue was effective, the minor characters were well developed and their ambivalent natures rang true. So where was it going wrong?

I’d also asked for a face-to-face meeting which proved to be really useful where Kate and I had a long conversation about what needed attention.  My main character Shoba, though appealing, required more emotional depth – the occasions where she doesn’t reveal her inner world enough were pointed out. And the worst offence of them all was the many occasions where I was ‘telling’ not ‘showing’.

Kigali pinnata cr Maithreyi Nandakumar

Settle down to the redraft

After allowing some time to digest this detailed breakdown of my efforts, I set about working on the re-drafting. Literary consultancies offer a discounted rate for the second reading, but so far I haven’t been tempted. Now, it seems, it is my own responsibility to understand the novel I’m trying to finish and take it to a new level. Feelings of depletion and hopelessness are there but have to be shown the open palm – the endurance test is ongoing and there’s more to do before the end.

Maithreyi NandakumarAuthor bio

Maithreyi Nandakumar is a journalist, broadcaster and writer of fiction. She recently started blogging at vaguelyprofound.wordpress.com.

Remember Me The Bees – Rabbit Hunt

Rabbit Hunt cr Louise BoulterThe sixth story in my short story collection Remember Me To The Bees is Rabbit Hunt, which tells the tale of schoolyard bullying, from the bully’s point of view.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

I originally wrote these scenes as part of a novel, but lifted them out to create this short story. I often find that doing this – taking scenes from a novel-in-progress and revising them to suit the short story form – tightens and strengthens them, ready to be reinserted into the longer storytelling form.

In this story, I wanted to explore the feelings of the bully faced with a new potential victim, in this case a progressive mute, and how the bully’s emotions might become confused through their interaction.

A short excerpt from Rabbit Hunt

Sue and Abi loiter nearby – ready to grab Rabbit if she tries to break away.

“Why d’you do that, Rabbit?” Letty asks, trying to sound reasonable. “Why get us in trouble like that? Didn’t I try to be your mate? Why turn on me when all I’ve been is nice?”

Letty widens her eyes reproachfully and the girl shrugs her shoulders ever so slightly. The movement shifts Letty’s palm from her arm and Letty scowls, slapping both hands onto her shoulders and knocking her backwards against the trunk of an old oak.

“Why couldn’t you just take the blame for us?” she snarls, fury crackling through her. “What harm would that have done? Worst you’d have had is a telling off. Me, I’ve got a letter for my mum that’s going to ruin her week, and Sue and Abi have the same. What’d you rat on us for? We’re in deep shit, and all because you weren’t mate enough to take the blame.”

“Smack her one, Letty,” Abi says, edging closer. “Whack her in the face and give her a nosebleed. It’s not like she’s going to tell on us, is it?”“I could do that.” Letty narrows her eyes in a way that she hopes makes the rabbit feel like she’s being sized up by a hungry cat. “Or I could do something a bit more lasting.”

She lets go of one of Rabbit’s shoulders and takes a cheap lighter from her pocket. Still eyeing the girl, she fingers the lighter, stroking her thumb over the red plastic and trying to look menacing.

Abi nods eagerly. “Oh, yes! We haven’t done a branding in ages!”
That does the trick. The girl gasps for air, body twitching as fear spikes through her.

Cornish rabbits cr Judy Darley

Midweek writing prompt – creatures

Baby birds cr Judy DarleyApologies if you’re eating. I took these photos while visiting a local farm park – I believe they’re baby raptors, but can’t be absolutely certain.

They are fairly revolting in their nearly nude state – but who’s to say they won’t grow up to be glorious creature? They could be majestic eagles, dinosaurs, or even infant dragons.

Baby birds cr Judy Darley3

I love the idea of something small and grotesque and seemingly insignificant holding the potential to grow into a truly awe-inspiring beast. And when it comes to fiction, it’s a idea that’s been played with time and again, from tales of changelings to the old Ugliest Duckling story. How would your version stand out? Whose nest might the unformed creature be found in, and what might the consequences be?

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

Baby birds cr Judy Darley1

Book review – Letters of Note

Letters of Note coverRemember letters, those fragile sheets of paper that used to flutter through that curious rectangular hole in the door only bills and fast food fliers now fall through? It was such an exciting  moment when you realised there was an envelope with your name hand-scrawled across it, just waiting for you to open it and start reading.

Even more thrilling were the moments when you received a response to your fan letter or query sent weeks before. Look, he/she/they’ve written back! Look, that’s their signature!

Amazing. Like being retweeted or followed on Twitter by someone you admire, only 100 times better.

In this beautiful, decidedly hefty book, Shaun Usher has compiled some fantastic, examples of this increasingly rare art.

Based on Shaun’s website, which receives more than 1.5 million hits each week, Letters of Note provides well over 100 pieces of correspondence and their transcriptions (thank goodness, some are pretty illegible). Continue reading

Remember Me The Bees – Condensation

Condensation cr Louise BoulterThe fifth story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is Condensation. The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

This story went through a variety of versions before it appeared in this form. I knew I wanted to write about the influences of the past on the present and how you might attempt to reconcile the two, and I knew I needed letting go to be a big part of that. So it seemed natural to give the main character, Yolanda, a beloved mother who was dying from cancer, and a young daughter who had grown up in a different culture to her own.

A short excerpt from Condensation

Their first months in the village had been hard. Beatriz insisted they speak only English at home, to help them along, but there was far more to learn than the words. Yolanda found herself picking the vocabulary up faster than her mother, as well as learning new ways to behave, to dress, to eat. Even years after their relocation, when Yolanda had shed almost every trace of her Mexican identity, Beatriz continued to seem foreign, different.

When her mother came back from the village grocery shop, having failed in her search for fresh avocados, Yolanda’s teenage self cringed as Beatriz complained in her thick Mexican accent about the woman behind the cash register. “She was so condensation to me!” Beatriz exclaimed.

“Condescending, Ma, not condensation!” Yolanda shrunk into herself with embarrassment.

Now, Yolanda’s own daughter, deliberately named Ellen rather than Elena, had begun asking questions about her heritage. Yolanda was reluctant to talk about the country they’d left behind. At just the thought of it alarming sensations stabbed through her – desire, trepidation, and bitter, brutal heartbreak. She would swiftly change the subject, avoiding Ellen’s questioning gaze, and bury the emotions as deeply as the animal bones in the garden.