Remember Me To The Bees – the book launch!

The Birdcage cr Judy DarleyToday is the day of the Remember Me To The Bees book launch – the party I’ve been banging on about for, well, it feels like months!

It’s all taking place at vey cool and quirky venue The Birdcage, one of my absolute favourite spots for drinking coffee, browsing vintage clothes, discovering new acts, and hours of people-watching.

Everything kicks off at 7pm tonight. You’ll have a chance to meet the lovely and very talented Louise Boulter, who created all the artwork for Remember Me To The Bees, including the gorgeous cover.

Louise Boulter, artistThe Birdcage is hosting an exhibition of Louise’s artwork for one night only, so make sure you take a look. Actually, I don’t think you’ll be able to miss it! In case you were wondering, the pic above was taken at the Birdcage…

I’ll be doing a few, very brief readings at around 8pm, and then special guest Rabbit City will be taking to the stage for some tunes.

Rabbit City

Oh, and you’ll be able to buy the book, which I promise I will sign for you. But more importantly, this should be a chance to have a drink, have a chat, enjoy some live music and original art, and have yourself a very splendid time.

The book has already been getting some great reviews – Ali Bacon posted a lovely one here and interviewed me here, and The Bristol Magazine have chosen Remember Me To The Bees as their book of the month for April – amazing! Ooh, and I got interviewed in the Bristol Post’s Weekend magazine, as well as the Wild Culture website, who also published one of the stories from the collection, Stalagmite. Feeling like a bit of a celeb!

Dress code for tonight is whatever you fancy turning up in, but be warned, photographer Pete Gettins will be ready to take photos of anyone who catches his eye…

Hope to see you tonight :)

The Birdcage parrot cr Judy Darley

Very special star guest – the Birdcage parrot

Writing to entertain – and inform

Canynge Sq reflections cr AA AbbottBristol writer AA Abbott trained as an accountant, which, she says, teaches you to “get concepts across in very few words – it’s a useful skill.”  Here, she explains how that led to self-publishing two novels, her parents’ memoirs and a selection of short stories.

Soak up sheer entertainment

As a very small child, I loved having stories read to me. I used to make up tales too, for my own amusement and for my younger brothers and sister. I was the eldest of five children born in five years, so my parents appreciated my help in keeping the smaller ones occupied. Learning to read opened even more horizons.

I enjoyed fast-moving stories, with plenty happening. In my twenties, I was hooked on Arthur Hailey’s blockbusters, then moved on to Ruth Rendell and Kate Atkinson: gentler stuff, but still with lots of suspense, death, and surprise twists. Although he was paid by the word and probably used far too many for modern tastes, I’ve always loved Thomas Hardy’s novels. He was the master of suspense, ending each chapter on a cliffhanger so readers would buy the next instalment, and he really got under the skin of his characters. That’s what I aim to create too: an exciting story, with flawed but likable characters, suspense and a happy ending. Continue reading

Remember Me The Bees – Girls in Windows

Girls in Windows cr Louise BoulterHard to believe that the official launch of my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is this coming Monday. Don’t forget, you’re invited to the party!

The eleventh story in the collection is Girls in Windows.

For four unseasonably hot and very happy days in October 2011 my hubla and I visited Amsterdam for a travel piece I was writing for easyJet. We had a wonderful time in this city of extremes, and several of the sights and experiences stamped themselves indelibly on my consciousness, providing the backdrop of this story, which I wrote for and had published in Litro magazine’s Dutch edition. Now all I needed was a plot, which came in the form of a young man apparently stalking the protagonist and knowing her to the core. But how?

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Girls in Windows

In the park we ambled along the paths, pausing to hear the skin-shivering strains of a violin echoing beneath a bridge. You grasped my hand, ejecting me abruptly from my reverie. Forcing me to conceal my annoyance, tell myself you’d meant it to be romantic, had meant well.

Deeper into the park, we walked through a fragrant avenue of hedges starred with white flowers where bees stumbled in drunken bliss. “What a wonderful smell!” I exclaimed. “It reminds me of something…”

As always, you were ready with an answer, sniffing hard then declaring: “Honey.”

I breathed in, catching a note of something richer, almost buttery. Honey wasn’t right – it was caramel that caught in my throat. Despite everything, I wanted to be kind to you on our anniversary, so I just smiled.

We reached a lake besides which bikes lounged in the grass like heat-hungry metallic lizards. Small birds shot overhead from tree to tree, silhouetted against the brightness, flickers of colour showing through.

“Parrots?” I asked disbelievingly. You thumbed through the guidebook, finding no answer between its pages.

Our meandering took us back to the bridge, but the violinist had gone, replaced by a group of kids in their late teens, early twenties; bearing handwritten signs offering free hugs. The sight intrigued me, drew me to them, but you pulled me closer to yourself, proclaiming: “We have all the free hugs we need!”

I forced a laugh, pulled away, and the boy must have seen his chance. His warmth enveloped me, along with a faint smell of perspiration that wasn’t entirely unpleasant.

Vondel Park cr Judy Darley

 

 

Midweek writing prompt – needful things

Love Birds cr Judy DarleyI received a press release this week about classical dance company MurleyDance (pictured below) exploring “the emotional attachments we form with objects, from technology to trinkets and treasures.”

On the same day I edited a magazine feature about gardeners and the tools they are most fond of, from the ancient trowel inherited from a grandparent to the knife brought back from Istanbul.

It’s something that’s always fascinated me – the way a seemingly worthless piece of costume jewellery or holiday souvenir can come to mean so much. I believe the reason for this value is the stories such items contain – the memories they resonate with (either that or as in Tolkein’s vision, they have a real, deadly power).

So this week, I urge you to pause a moment and consider the items you hold dear. Select the most unlikely of these, an old chipped mug, for example, a tiny pair of cast iron love birds, or a key that fits no lock you know, and make one or two the focus of a short story. Horror elements optional.

If you write something prompted by this idea, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I may publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Simona Marsibilio, Bianca Hopkins and Sarah Kundi cr Drew Forsyth

Simona Marsibilio, Bianca Hopkins and Sarah Kundi © Drew Forsyth

Book review – The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell

The Making of Us coverReviewed by Beccy Downes.

This is the first of Lisa Jewell’s books that I’ve read and although it doesn’t quite have the urgency of the work of some other authors of contemporary women’s literature (Marian Keyes for example), it is well worth a read.

Right from the start we’re pulled into the stories of four main characters through their interwoven narratives:

Lydia – a rich and successful thirty-something, whose humble past makes her believe she doesn’t deserve it; Robyn – a teenage ‘princess’ who’s got it all planned out, and is secretly convinced she may well be the most beautiful girl in the world; Dean – a young waster whose life falls to pieces when his baby is born, and Maggie – a divorcee who falls in love with the attractive and mysterious Daniel Blanchard, only to discovers that romance is not on the cards after all. Continue reading

Why writing success takes more than just talent

Judy abseiling cr James HainsworthWriter, storyteller, musician and musician Miles Salter examines the importance of tenacity in a writer’s career.

Writing, like life, is hard. People may perceive it as glamorous, but the truth is a little different. In her novel One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson describes the life of a writer as: “Sitting alone in a room for days on end, trying not to go mad.”

This is more akin to the life of most writers than the glamorous image associated with awards ceremonies and lunches with agents. If you REALLY want to be a writer you are going to need a work ethic. You need discipline. And – most important when you’re trying to get somewhere – you need to keep going. Continue reading

Remember Me The Bees – The Scent of Summer

The Scent of Summer cr Louise BoulterThe tenth story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is The Scent of Summer. This tale began life in a short story workshop, when we were each presented with a postcard and invited to write a story about it.

Mine showed a family of four standing awkwardly in a back garden. They looked so very ill-at-ease it made me wonder whose garden it was, and why they were there. This made me think about how one misfortune can lead to another, and the strains this can put on an family. As the character of the younger daughter, Jo, grew in my mind, I knew I wanted to give her the mission of bringing the family back together.

An earlier version of the story was highly commended by the Frome Festival Short Story Competition committee. The version of the tale in Remember Me To the Bees resulted in me being invited to read it out at the Penzance Literary Festival 2013 – a fabulous experience!

The artwork is by Louise Boulter. If you read to the end of the story, you’ll understand why I chose to post the photo of poppies too.

A short excerpt from The Scent of Summer

Dad had been a postie for as long as I could remember, rising early each weekday to walk to the sorting office and collect his load. I’d go with him sometimes, strolling through the streets of south Bristol and listening to him greeting everyone he saw.

But a week after we moved in with Aunt Maura he got himself fired for stealing letters. It felt like a big mystery, big enough to hold the answers to all our troubles.

Dad’s bosses at the Royal Mail thought he was trying to rob money, taking the fat envelopes that might contain cash, but I couldn’t believe that. I found a few tucked into his jacket pocket, reeking of patchouli oil, and while he and Mum edged around each other in frosty silence I carried one away with me. Later, I slid the sheet of paper out of its envelope, inhaling the exotic fragrance.

“Kath, what does it say?”

“Where did you get this?”

“It was in the bin,” I lied. “Will you read it to me?”

“It’s a love note,” she said, surprised, then read aloud: “My angel, you keep my world in orbit. Yeurgh! Oh god, this could be one of the letters Dad nicked. Don’t tell Mum – they have enough problems right now.”

I remembered how Dad woke us at sunrise on his and Mum’s anniversary last year and dragged us down to the lawn outside our old house. Dad had rescued Mum’s bridal veil from the attic and she wore it with her nightdress – Kath said she looked like an angel in white glimmering against the shadowy garden.

Poppies cr Judy Darley

Midweek writing prompt – perception

Scottish Storytelling Centre ghost cr Judy DarleyI’ve been thinking a lot recently about the puzzles of perception – about how much of what we see and think we comprehend is influenced by our own state of mind. Not all other worldly apparitions are truly ghosts, after all.

I took this photograph at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh and still don’t understand quite how this image was formed, but I find it rather beautiful, and particularly apt for the setting.

Make the explanation for this the basis of your story.

 

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

Poetry review – What Am I Doing Here? by Liz Cowley

What Am I Doing Here coverWry, observant and deeply human, the poems in this collection provide a glimpse less into one woman’s life than into the collective consciousness of shoe-shopping, Cosmo-reading, dinner-party-hosting, career-forging women everywhere. Like the rhyming equivalent of a witty Marie Claire blogger, Liz Cowley’s couplets will have you wincing, laughing and nodding in recognition all at once.

On the whole the poems don’t delve much deeper than that, but then that’s not their purpose. These poems don’t claim to be contemplating the universe, or at least not the universe beyond the supermarket checkout. After all, the title is the pragmatic What Am I Doing Here? rather than the more philosophical Why Am I Here?

It’s enough that they offer a moment’s respite from the stress of daily life. Like a good chat over a cup of coffee, it’s a gentle reality check, and a reminder that you’re not alone.

Some of the poems do speak beyond comically dreary self-help seminars and disastrous first dates. One glittering example is Stranded, a poem that feels written right from the heart rather than merely skimming the surface for situational humour: “No-one picks me up/ Because no light is reflected back,/ And I am far away from the tide.” Continue reading

Remember Me The Bees – Broken Circle

Broken Circle by Louise BoulterThe ninth story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is Broken Circle. The idea for the story began with me thinking about the way our various selves overlap. If you’re not sure what I mean, just think about how it feels when you return to your childhood home or spend time with a sibling – don’t you feel your childhood self bubbling up beneath your adult shell?

I wanted to examine the way all these different, often contradictory, versions of our selves drift in and out of each other, and how these can conflict with the self we’re busily trying to portray to the world. As a diabetic I also wanted to look at how low blood sugar levels plays with perception, so that reality ebbs and flows in much the same way.

Presenting all this within the heady, surreal environment of a fairground visited by the main character Bex and her niece Kayleigh seemed utterly ideal for emphasising the transience of each of the states experienced by Bex, while introducing a note of peril.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Broken Circle

The playing fields throb with screams and laughter, growing louder as we near the blur of the chair-o-planes and glittering waltzers. I gaze at the teenagers kissing, running, cavorting all over the carnival, and feel a faint, deep-buried churn of envy. I used to have that exuberance, didn’t I? Before I got so old. I hear Mum’s tut in my ear: If you’re old what does that make me? But I’m roughly the age now that she was when she died, closer to my forties than my teens.

Kayleigh tugs on my hand, Mum’s old handbag hanging heavy from her shoulder. She looks very small suddenly with her stick-insect limbs and pale cap of blonde hair.

I kneel beside her on the yellowing grass. “If you don’t want to go on the rides we can just watch, Kayls. What do you reckon?”

She shrugs, faking nonchalance, and lets me lead her into the throng, past the swooping turns and spinning lights of the scarier rides to the relative calm of the Big Wheel. “How are you with heights?”

“Not scared if you’re not.” She grins at me and clambers into the seat. The metal bar swings across us, pinning me down but barely touching Kayleigh.

“Hold on tight,” I shriek as we begin to move and I envision Kayleigh sliding out into the popcorn-scented air. I remember being on a similar wheel twenty years or more ago, sitting beside my little sister Melinda and waving at Mum, tiny below us. It seems like yesterday. Part of me wishes I could go back to that time.

As we rise upwards, telltale lights spark at the corners of my eyes and the world turns concave, then convex against the lens of my eye; slippery as oil.

Kayleigh’s chattering about everything she sees, and I try to pay attention, but the air is big and fat around us, and I want to eat it, eat something. I’m eight years old with Melinda beside me, her blonde hair gleaming in the sunlight like spun caramel. That’s what I need – something sugary. My bag is at my feet, emergency jellybabies far out of reach. “Mel…” I say imploringly. “Mel, I need…”

“You called me Mel!” Kayleigh giggles.

“Did I?” I pant, pinching the skin on the back of my hand, trying to regain a sense of myself.

Spanish fairground cr Judy Darley