Call for writers to take part in Penzance Literary Festival

Penzance cr Judy DarleyTelltales is inviting writers of short fiction to submit stories on the theme of ‘Tide and Time’ for the chance to be selected to read at Penzance’s annual literary festival.

They’re hoping the theme will “inspire writing flavoured with sea and salt, full of ebb and flow, flotsam and jetsom, in contemplation of being castaway or of eternity – but, as always, pieces on any subject will be considered.”

Your submission must be no more than 2,000 words long. The deadline for submissions is 9 July 2014.

The chosen writers will be invited to read their submission at The Admiral Benbow, Chapel Street, Penzance at 7pm on Saturday 19 July 2014.

I took part in last year’s TellTales at the Penzance Literary Festival, with my story The Scent of Summer, and had a wonderful time at the night of readings at the Admiral Benbow. Highly recommend it!

To find out more, visit

The journey to a debut poetry collection

Water and sky cr Claire TrevienPoet Claire Trévien offers her advice on creating and publishing a successful poetry collection, and keeping your poems alive in some unusual ways.

Back in early 2011 I’d been writing for many years already, with poems published in magazines and anthologies, I went to a weekly spoken word night in Paris (where I lived at the time), and had recently founded Sabotage Reviews, a website promoting indie literature. Despite being involved with the ‘scene’ I was feeling like I was getting nowhere and then, like buses, two excellent things happened to me in the same year.

Low-Tide Lottery coverThe first was the publication of my pamphlet Low-Tide Lottery, with Salt, and the second was Tom Chivers from Penned in the Margins, offering to publish my first poetry collection The Shipwrecked House. The collection finally came out in March 2013.

My process was very different with both of these publications. Low-Tide Lottery was a flotsam of the poems I considered my ‘best’ at the time. There was a fast turnaround from my submitting them to their being published, and no editing involved.

The process was completely different with The Shipwrecked House. For one, there was a set deadline for submission, a year away from our first meeting, which gave me much more time to collect a cohesive set of poems. For another, Tom was involved in the editing process. I’d send him a batch of poems and we’d order them into a yes, no, and maybe pile. After a meeting in which I’d try to argue the case for certain poems, and abandon others, I’d return home with a list of suggestions I could discard or incorporate.

the-shipwrecked-house coverThere was also a clear through-line for me in terms of content. As the title suggests, I wanted to explore the encroachment of one world on another. This is very much a collection about my past encroaching on my present, like a sea gnawing away at the cliff and revealing more and more layers. Being from two countries, I’ve always felt liminal so there was that too.

Around 70% of the poems in the collection were filtered over the course of the year, some were several years old, others quite new, and the ‘missing links’ became clearer. The last 30% were written in the summer of 2012 before the submission deadline when I was back in Brittany. I spent a month reading up on its myths and legends, walking and driving a great deal, which led to the creation of poems such as ‘Whales’, and ‘Origin Story’, among others.


If I’d rushed into publishing my first collection, the content would have been very different, I’m glad I had breathing space in which to let it evolve into the book it became.

What I learned from this and my first pamphlet is that there’s no point rushing into your first publication for the sake of it. Do your research, go for a publisher not just because it’s a ‘good name’ but because you admire what they do and it feels like they’ll be the best fit for your work. It’s worth being sure that you approve of what they stand for and their general behaviour, because once you’re their author, this can have an effect on how your publication is perceived.

Some publishers are very hands on about sending out review copies, organising readings and promoting your work, others leave this to the author, and some are a mixture of both. Ask their current authors for advice, or if you fancy the challenge of being pro-active, maybe read books like 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell by Chris Hamilton-Emery for ideas on how to promote your poetry.

Shore cr Claire TrevienRead

So my first piece of advice is to look at your own reading patterns: what poetry collections do you enjoy? Do they have a publisher in common? If so, they should be your first choice. If you don’t feel ready to send them a manuscript now, then wait. Poetry doesn’t have an expiry date and you want to make sure you send them your best work.

Some publishers I’d recommend for pamphlets or collections include Seren, Penned in the Margins, Nine Arches Press, Oystercatcher Press, Burning Eye Books, Tall-Lighthouse, Happenstance Press, Flarestack Poets, The Emma Press and Valley Press. They each have their individual identity, so read them, go to their launches, follow them on social media, and work out if they’re the right fit for you.

You can also decide to self-publish. This might seem like a lonely venture but there’s a very supportive community out there for independent authors (try ALLi), or you could team up with other indie authors and create a writers’ collective, such as Triskele Books. There are lots of advantages to this route, it gives you full creative control for one, but it also has disadvantages – many prizes don’t accept self-published works, for instance.


Depending on which publisher you go with, or if you’ve decided to self-publish, you might not get a thorough editor. This is not an insurmountable problem. Give your manuscript to friends you trust, ask authors you admire for a manuscript appraisal (you’ll generally have to pay for this though, it’ll be worth it). On a poem-by-poem basis, try workshops or writing surgeries (the Poetry School offers both in a variety of formats).

If you’re lucky enough to fall on a good editor then listen to them, but listen to yourself too. I transformed some of my poems from being in my editor’s ‘no’ pile to being in the final manuscript by proving that they could be improved (this includes one of the title poems, as I explain here).

Look beyond the collection

Publishing a collection doesn’t have to be the end of the story, it doesn’t even have to be a necessary step in your story as a writer. Perhaps your poems would work better as an interactive website, a youtube channel, a series of themed chapbooks, or a creation that doesn’t have a name yet… There’s no hard and fast rule here, think about what form would suit the project you are working on rather than forcing it to fit a pre-existing mould.

The Shipwrecked House came out over a year ago, but to me it’s still not quite finished, in part because it is now having a second life as a show. So I’m currently in the midst of memorising my own words, and finding new ways to bring the poems alive using perfume, music, sounds, and my own physicality. That’s not a typical journey for most poetry collections, though live literature is becoming an increasingly attractive option. My publisher is famous for it, as are other creative producers, such as JayBird Live Literature (look out for the fantastic Clare Pollard in particular!).

It’s not the necessary journey for every poetry collection either, but it felt like the right one for this particular collection. So trust your instincts, and go for it!

Claire TrevienAbout the author

Claire Trévien is the author of Low-Tide Lottery (Salt) and The Shipwrecked House (Penned in the Margins) which will tour the UK this autumn. She is currently editing an anthology with Gareth Prior of poems inspired by history.

If you’d like to share your own writing journey on SkyLightRain, get in touch! Just send an email  to Judy(at)

Celebrate National Flash Fiction Day

Eternal Sequential by Judy DarleyTomorrow is the summer solstice, and with the longest day comes the shortest fiction. National Flash Fiction Day celebrates the power of the briefest form of fiction, with events across the UK.

In my home town of Bristol, there will be a free flash fiction workshop takes place from 1.30-4.30pm at the Central Library. I went along last year and found it a great source of inspiration. In fact, one of the pieces I wrote at it, since titled Eternal Sequential, will be published by Farther Stars Than These on Thursday 26 June 2014 – how’s that for timing?

The piece was prompted by a postcard showing a family wearing spacesuits, and the letter E plucked from a sack of Scrabble tiles (yay, I got a vowel!). I didn’t get to keep the postcard – hence the fact I produced the piece of artwork at the top of this post in its place – so if you go along to the workshop, perhaps you’ll get to write something inspired by it yourself!

In the evening, I’ll be reading two pieces of my flash fiction as part of an evening of readings hosted by Bristol Flash upstairs at the Lansdown pub. Other writers taking part include Tania Hershman, Kevlin Henney, Lucy English and Calum Kerr – so please come along. It’s a free evening of literary entertainment, and a great alternative to the footie!

Bristol Flash event poster

Midweek writing prompt – papered house

Some years ago I read a short story about a couple papering over the windows of their home, sealing the doors, preparing a literal last supper of their favourite foods, then waiting to die. Despite how bleak this sounds, the tale was beautiful – eerie, romantic and not half as sad as you might think. I wish I could remember who had written it.

Papered windows cr Judy Darley

A few days ago on a stroll around my neighbourhood I came across this sight, and was instantly reminded of that story, then thought of all the other reasons someone might paste newspaper over their windows.

To prevent nosy people peering in, or to stop someone seeing out? Might they be hiding something (a brutal murder?!)? Is this a curious party venue for the uber cool? Or a social experiment? Does someone particularly paranoid live there, or someone relatively normal up to something incredible? Or in fact is it not what’s behind the windows but the newspapers themselves that are significant. A secret code of sorts, perhaps, but to be interpreted by whom?

The choice is yours.

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to publish it on

Papered windows cr Judy Darley

Barcelona – 10 Top Experiences

Parc Guell Barcelona cr Judy DarleyThink of Barcelona, and what comes to mind? It’s one of those cities that’s far larger than itself, with a personality and reputation so distinct that long before you walk the streets paved with art (literally, thanks to the likes of Joan Miro), spied the towering twisted of Sagrada Familia or breathed in the air at Barcelona FC, you’re likely to have a pretty firm impression of what you’re in for.

But how much will that impression match up to reality?

Well, that all depends on when you visit, your mood, the tourists and locals you encounter. Because each day in Barcelona is different, and every alleyway, road and cable car leads to a new experience. You’re bound to come up with your own, but for now here are my top ten.

1 Listen to the song of the Palau Nacional

The beautiful Palau Nacional houses the MNAC, the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. As you enter the museum you’ll find a flight of stairs leading up to the roof terrace, offering sweeping views over Plaça d’Espanya and the city beyond. Hang about a bit and you’ll hear the haunting murmur of the wind creeping through crevasses and around the turrets – as though the angel perched on top is uttering a lament in the voice of the sea.

Ciutadella Park boating lake cr Judy Darley

2 Go boating at Parc de la Ciutadella

Along with the parrots, pigeons and tourists, the locals flock to this large leafy park on weekends and bank holidays. It’s a big enough space to ensure it never feels crowded, and there’s a great little boating lake where you can row to your heart’s content. Just don’t fall in – that water is a worryingly vivid shade of green!

Montjuic cable car cr Judy Darley

3 Travel by cable car

What better way to see the city, and scale the heights of Montjuïc? Recently refurbished, it’s a lovely way to swoop 84.5 metres over the inclines of Montjuïc and take in the views over the port from the top of the hill. It costs around €10, so not too pricey either.

Sardines cr Judy Darley4 Sample some local cuisine

Everyone says it, and it’s true, the tapas and pinxos are to die for. The seafood, like these beheaded sardines, are highlights, as are the salty fried Padron peppers. Save room for dessert – the turron ice cream is the perfect end to any meal.

5 Cuddle up to some art

A rotund little fella stands outside the Fundacio Joan Miró and he’s definitely friendly. Venture inside to see the great artist’s sculptures, paintings and remarkable tapestries, mostly named Bird, Woman or Woman and Bird.

Sagrada Familia bougainvillea cr Judy Darley6 Gorge on Gaudi

Even if you can’t face the hours of waiting to get inside, hop off the tourist bus at Sagrada Familia to ogle the extraordinary neverending story of Gaudi’s masterpiece. Each façade has different points of interest, and the cranes themselves add to the striking scenes. I couldn’t resist photographing the builders too – thanks to Gaudi’s legacy they’re now part of something remarkable.

Parc Guell The Dragon cr Judy Darley

Talking of Gaudi, of course you need to visit Parc Güell. Yes, it’s crowded, yes, the toilets are horrible, but the setting and the many glories from the Greek Theatre (aka the Nature Square, pictured at the top of this post) to the sweet dribbling dragon, make this all worthwhile.

Then there’s the Casa Batlló and Casa Milà aka La Pedrera, and numerous other Gaudi bits and pieces to enjoy.

7 Walk la Rambla de Mar

Once you’ve experienced La Rambla (keeping a tight grip on your belongings) keep going until you pass onto the Rambla de Mar, a bridge that stretches out onto Maremagnum, a leisure complex with shops, restaurants and cinemas. On busy days the press of people will force you to take your time. I recommend pausing at one of the seats to enjoy views over the water and of the Stargazers, two white buoys topped by skywards-facing figures by Robert Llimós.

Poet and playwright Pitarra cr Judy Darley8 Seek out something literary

There are no shortage of literary haunts in Barcelona, where you can listen to up and coming poets and writers share their work – and possibly even have the chance to perform your own. The city also offers up plenty of statues and monuments to poets, including this one of Pitarra, a poet and playwright from Barcelona, set just off La Rambla beside La Plaça del Teatre. For a more romantic literary homage, head back to Montjuïc where each of the gardens is named after a poet who wrote in Catalan.

Dragon Without Saint George by Andres Nagel cr Judy Darley9 Play ‘spot the art’

Okay, a pretty easy one, as artwork crops up all over the city – even children’s slides are works of art in Barcelona. This one by Andrés Nagel is called Dragon Without Saint George, and sits close to the Barcelona’s Sants railway station.

The Communications Tower Bacelona cr Judy Darley10 Gaze at an immense Olympic flame

… or rather, a communications tower designed to represent an athlete carrying the iconic flame. This one caught me by surprise. While the height of the tower means you spy it from afar, it’s only when you enter Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium that you grasp the sheer scale and majesty of Santiago Calatrava’s creation.

Find more Barcelona highlights at

Discover Budapest.
Discover Bath.
Discover Brescia.
Discover Laugharne.
Discover Bilbao.
Discover Brescia.
Discover Reyjavik.

Writing myself sane

Manukan beach cr Judy DarleyDo you ever write as a form of therapy? Writing for health is a way to take control of your world, and make sense of it. In a candid guest post, Fiona Sinclair offers an insight into how writing poetry has impacted on her emotional and physical wellbeing.

I have had a stop start relationship with writing.  I first began when I was twenty. I remember my excitement at being published in ‘Purple Patch’ which had just started and I received a charming letter from Geoff Stevens.  I recall too getting paid £5 for a poem from ‘The Lady’ magazine no less!

Life events overtook me in my late 20s and I found that great unhappiness crippled any desire to write. Free to resume my life in my 30s, I went to university. Funnily enough, studying great literature thwarted any return to writing on my part. I felt humbled by writers such as TS Eliot and Seamus Heaney. It seemed as if everything been written about the human condition. So why bother?

Going on to teach English at Secondary school level eroded my love of literature. Reading became homework and to teach well I simply had no free time.

Unleash your creativity

Ironically it was becoming ill that started me writing again. It was discovered that I had suffered from, amongst other things, depression for decades and once a course of CBT (Cogntive Behavioural Therapy) and medication kicked in, it opened the floodgates.

However I made a deal with myself that if my work was rubbish I would not bother. The world did not need, I felt, another bad poet.  My first poems were sent out to modest magazines. Some wrote back encouraging letters and a few took my work. By this time ill-health, both physical and mental, meant that I was only working part time so I was able to write for longer periods of time but I was still only averaging a handful of poems a year, since school work still needed to take precedence.

Nevertheless as my work improved I began to be placed in better magazines. By this I mean the live list of magazines on the Poetry Library website. These are the periodicals any aspiring poet should aim at.

Find balance through writing

It was when I developed a balance disorder and became housebound that, ironically, I was able to write every day.  Writing saved me, giving me a vital outlet when I was unable leave the house for three years. During this time the poems that were to form my first pamphlet ‘Dirty Linen’, simply poured onto the page. They charted the life I had led with my beautiful but flawed mother during my 20s. I published as I went along, in magazines such as the now defunct ‘Poetry Monthly’ and ‘Snakeskin’.

I always seek publication of every poem I write. It is the only means I have of judging if it is any good. When it is accepted I then place the poem in a file that will form my next pamphlet or collection.

By the end of that year I had a complete narrative and sent the MS to publishers I found in The Writer’s Handbook and online.

There were, of course, many rejections. Then, one Saturday while I sat watching Strictly Come Dancing, the phone went and it was Doug from Koo Press, Scotland. We spoke for an hour and he explained how intrigued he had been by my story. All through our conversation I kept thinking ‘but are you going to publish my pamphlet?’ At the end of the call he confirmed that he was. I can scarcely describe the feeling. For the first time I felt like a proper writer.

Strive to improve your writing

I received mixed reviews for Dirty Laundry. But I accepted that the reviewers were correct about my style, it was much too baggy and prose-like – a fault I still tend towards.  Clearly I needed to improve my technique so I acquired a copy of Steve Kowitt’s In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop.  This was revelatory. I suddenly understood the concept of ‘show don’t tell,’ which has become my mantra.

A Game of Hide and Seek coverMy next two mini collections, A Game Of Hide And Seek and Wonderland were accepted by Indigo Dreams Press. They  were fabulous products, being glossy – like ‘proper books’ but again, even though I had improved some poems were still too longwinded. Influenced by poet Sharon Olds, I had taken to writing in block form, not giving a thought to my poor reader. I think part of my problem lies in the fact that my poems tell stories hence their predisposition to being prose-like. However I know that my strength is my language – I have a way with similes often employing black humour as well.

My first full collection was recently accepted by Lapwing Press and on initial sight of this beautlul book I burst into tears – overcome by seeing the culmination of seven years’ work. I have since revisited the’ baggy’ poems from my first two collections and have re-written them, cutting them down to quarter of their original size. There is something rewarding about severely editing work in this manner! I try to remember my first publisher’s advice that I am creating art and must not be bogged down by facts.

Mix with other writers

When I was able to get out and about, albeit with some strong medication, I began to attend a local poetry meeting in Canterbury. My aim was to mix with and listen to other writers. The ‘SaveAS’ poetry group have been instrumental in encouraging me to read my world aloud, which terrifies me to this day; the group also organises book launches. Such launches are an ordeal for me but I know that every poet has to get out and self-promote in order to sell books. Kent, where I live, doesn’t have many such venues but I do my best to read my work out where I can. I even undertook a speech/reading with the WI recently, which was quite an eye opener!

The fact is that I am an average poet in the midst of many fine writers. I’m suitable fair for small presses, although it still amazes me that they choose me over any other writer. I know that neither Blood Axe or Faber are likely to come knocking, however I think of myself as a work in progress and want to continue improving making my work a viable proposition to small publishers.

Moreover, writing every day is good for me. It gives me a routine and orders my thoughts. It still seems to work as therapy. I would not say that I enjoy writing. In fact, I have to force my poor old brain to get working at times. However the results are pleasing and I get a strong sense of accomplishment.

Fiona SinclairAbout the author

Fiona Sinclair is an ex-English teacher. She is the editor of the online poetry magazine Message In A Bottle. Her work has been published in numerous journals. Fiona’s first full collection ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ will be published by Lapwing Press, Belfast in September. Her pamphlet ‘Write Me Into Bed With Casanova Craft’ was published in May 2014 by Original Plus Press. Fiona loves handbags and Fred Astaire. Find out more at

If you would like to share your own writing journey on SkyLightRain, get in touch! Just send an email with a line or two about your proposed guest post to Judy(at)

Midweek writing prompt – suitcases

Suitcases at Manchester Art GalleryI encountered this display as part of an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery in May 2011. I was about to fly to Tunisia to discover the country’s efforts to revamp their tourist industry in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, so the heaps of suitcases seemed particularly apt.

They’re far more stylish than what you might usually see on an airport conveyer belt, don’t you think? In case you were wondering about all the luggage tags, visitors to the exhibition were invited to write their favourite place on a tag, then add it to the display. I think I wrote something like “Above the clouds, where the sun always shines.”

I invite you to take a flight of fancy and select one of theses cases as your writing prompt. Who does it belong to? What’s inside? Where are they going? What excitement, stress or joy lies ahead?

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to publish it on

Short stories to listen to

Capsized by Judy DarleyAre you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…

There’s a simple joy in listening to a story, whether it’s being read aloud online, on the radio or by someone a few feet away from you. And this week I have two pieces of news you might like to hear if you can’t help but agree with author Tania Hershman when she says: “Ooh, I love being read to.”

Last week I discovered that one of my very short tales, Capsized, has been selected for the Literature Works’ ‘Writers’ Bites’ podcast. As well as having written the piece, I had to supply the MP3 recording of myself reading it, which turned out to be pretty easy with a little help! At less than three minutes long, it’s ideal for a brief break from whatever you’re working on.

If you enjoy that tiny flash, you might want to attend A Night of Flash Fiction, happening at the Lansdown in Bristol on 21st June to celebrate National Flash Fiction Day. I’ll be reading brief tales along with Tania Hershman, Kevlin Henney, Calum Kerr, Lucy English, and other talented writers.

If you can make it, please come along! It would be lovely to see you.

Where land once was cr Judy DarleyWhere land once was cr Judy Darley


Midweek writing prompt – three challenges

Rainy day by Judy DarleyLast week author, activist, teacher, and poet Maya Angelou died – a tragic loss for the world.

In her honour, this week’s #writingprompt draws inspiration from one of her quotes.

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

Present one of your characters with any combination of the above challenges, add a goal such as a special celebration to prepare for, and see how they get on.

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to publish it on

Christmas lights cr Judy Darley