Flash novella review – In the Debris Field

in-the-debris-fieldA novella in flash in a canny concept. Flash, by nature and when done well, can contain within a few hundred words the resonance of an entire novel. By layering one on top of another to build up to the length of a novella (or at least, a meaty short story), you get a cumulative effect. Each individual piece, ranging from a single paragraph to a page or two, has the strength to standalone, but by adding more attuned pieces to the slew, you end up with a distinctly explosive novella form. Quite simply, you get more bang for your buck.

This is never truer than with Luke Whisnant’s In the Debris Field, the title novella of Bath Flash Fiction Award’s trio of novellas in flash. Whisnant tells the story of Dennis (referred to throughout almost solely as ‘You’), his twin sister Denise and brother Donnie as they skid through childhood to middle-age. Contained in such small parcels, each tale’s narrative is heightened, summoning the raw emotions of adolescence with soaring skill. Continue reading

Writing prompt – proposal

Marry Me street art, Stokes Croft. Photo by Judy DarleyWhat better way to declare your undying love than with a gigantic bit of street art that spells out your honourable intentions for all to see?

Get inside the head of the person who went to all this effort, or of the person this grand gesture was intended for. Do you think the outcome was a happy one?

In case you were wondering, the real life version of this scenario had a happy ending, but it’s entirely up to you whether your characters fare likewise…

Marry Me response_StokesCroft. Photo ju Judy Darley

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.

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Book review – What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi Sold as a short story collection, Helen Oyeyemi’s latest creation has more in common with a sort of atlas, or a street view of a world most of us only glimpse between the places we walk and the places we avoid, or are avoided by. Shadowy gardens where unthinkable things bloom, doors that only stay closed when locked, marshlands where the drowned form communities, puppetry schools where the living and the made blur and tangle – all these and more make up the richly imagined dreamscape these stories inhabit.

Helen Oyeyemi’s writing is gorgeously painterly and wryly, sometimes wickedly, funny. Passion ripples under the characters’ skin, and reminds us that boundaries and societal rules are often less natural than the yearnings that drive us. Contemporary fictions hinged on social media sit alongside dark fairytales that feel eons old, and characters swim from one tale to emerge as cameos in others. It further deepens the sense of entering a fully formed world where history and present blend, and nothing matters more than the characters’ own foibles. Continue reading

Enter The Bare Fiction Prize 2018

Almunecar cr Judy DarleyThe excellent folks at Bare Fiction are inviting submission to their creative writing awards. This year Deborah Alma judges the Poetry category (max 40 lines), C.G. Menon judges the Flash Fiction category (max 500 words), and Luke Kennard judges the Short Story category (max 3,000 words).

First, second and third prize winners in each category will receive £500, £200 and £100 respectively, plus two highly commended entrants will receive £25 each.

Fee per entry is £5 for poetry, £6 for flash fiction, and £8 for fiction, however, Bare Fiction is offering free entry to the Bare Fiction Prize 2018 for 50 UK low income writers. To be eligible you must be in receipt of benefits such as Job Seeker’s Allowance, Working Tax Credits, Universal Credit, Disability Living Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, or Employment and Support Allowance, or earn less than the London Living Wage of £9.45 per hour.

Eligible applications for free entries will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, and must be received by Tuesday July 31st 2018.

Click here to submit your application for free entry.

There’s no theme, but bear in mind that the British periodical aims to “offer a platform for new creative writing across poetry, fiction and plays to encourage writers who are testing their boundaries to stretch themselves creatively.”

The deadline for all non-free entries is 31 October 2018. Find full competition details here.

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Book review – Murmuration by Robert Lock

Murmuration by Robert LockDrawing us into the magic and squalor of a seaside town, Murmuration by Robert Lock is that rare thing, a novel strung from several stories, each of which contributes to the greater whole.

In this sense, the opening imagery of a flock of starlings performing their nightly show mirrors the nature of this unusual narrative. Rippled through the the starlings’ calls as they execute their extraordinary dance, “as perfectly orchestrated and paced as the finest symphony”, our omniscient view through their eyes takes in several centuries and lives – each disparate and yet mysteriously connected.

Discovering how our protagonists link together presents a quest-like element, as each story immerses us in the concerns of a single, stand-alone character. From the dizzying success and tragic losses of 19th century “music hall clown” Georgie Parr, to Michael ‘Mickey’ Braithwaite battling his “difficulties” to volunteer in World War II’s Observer Corps, to sceptical, shrewd, pier fortune-teller Bella Kaminska in 1965, to truth-seeking 1980s archivist Colin Draper, to, almost bringing us a full circle, modern day comedian Sammy Samuels. Continue reading

Writing prompt – elliptical

Duck eggs cr Judy DarleyI can’t get over the beauty of these duck eggs!

Imagine you go to collect the morning’s eggs from your hens, ducks, ostriches or whatever. Among the ones you gather you find an egg that’s more beautiful, far larger, has a different temperature (think ice-cold or painfully hot) and actually glows a little.

What might hatch from this spectacular egg? Or might it not be an egg at all?

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.

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Writing prompt – bus

Bus stop by Judy Darley

There are pros and cons to public transport, and the public straddle both parts of this. On the positive side, bus stops and buses are excellent places to eavesdrop and gather details for realistic characters with believable speech patterns.

Next time you need to go somewhere beyond walking distance, why not catch the bus instead of hopping in your car? It may be less convenient and comfortable, but think of it as a low-cost writing exercise. You might just find the inspiration for a amazing story sitting right beside you, and all for the price of a ticket across town!

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.

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Book review – Boy Meets Hamster by Birdie Milano

Boy Meets Hamster by Birdie MilanoFull disclosure, my review copy of Boy Meets Hamster arrived with a stick of rock. A themed stick of rock striped in the book’s colours and with the book title running right through the centre. So let’s just say I was pretty well disposed towards author Birdie Milano before I even read the first page.

But beyond exquisitely en pointe bribery, the concept of this novel immediately grabbed me. Quite simply, this is one of the most inclusive YA stories I’ve had the pleasure of bumping into.

Fourteen-year-old Dylan yearns for a dream holiday, but ends up on a budget trip to caravan park Starcross Sands. When he lays eyes on the beautiful boy in the caravan next door, he’s certain things are looking up, but his best friend Kayla’s not so sure.

Nibbles, the giant hamster who serves as the park mascot, “with a perm-grin and two massive back teeth,” seems to be wherever Dylan goes, much to his distaste.

Dylan’s little brother, Jude, has cerebral palsy, “which is a medical condition where his brain gets a bit muddled about telling his body what to do.” Jude also has a tendency to honk when distressed, and an ardent passion for said-hamster.

Their paramedic parents are embarrassing on a whole range of levels.

And Jayden-Lee, Dylan’s potential love interest, is incapable of speaking without saying something ignorant and cringe-worthy.

Each of these characters is utterly believable. They’re flawed, complex and capable of redemption, even those you might prefer to abandon tied to a miniature train’s tracks (and yes, that happens in one scene). These are people with more than one side to their personalities. In some cases they’re still figuring out who they really are, and that makes them all the more credible.

Birdie summons the spirit of the British seaside and sensibilities with everything from Elvis impersonators to garden gnomes, not to mention fairy-themed hen parties, and plenty of mayhem thrown in for added laughs. Comedic set pieces are stunningly visual, with Dylan always at the centre of them and never quite knowing why.

There’s thievery, football, meat-related catastrophes, and in the midst of it all that a dancing gigantic hamster, not to mention the possibility of Dylan’s first kiss.

And there’s also a startling level of wisdom about love from our teenage hero: “Falling in love felt a lot like falling into a canal. A sudden shock as you’re plunged into murky depths, with all kinds of unexpected dangers just below the surface.”

How could you resist?

The real magic of the story, however, lies in its emotional depth. This is a technicolour daydream rippled through with glitter and laughter, but the true beauty shines through in uncertainties Dylan faces, and overcomes.

Though intended for the YA market, this book is the perfect summer read for anyone who’s ever survived the intensity of a teenage kiss, or a UK caravanning holiday.

Boy Meets Hamster is by Birdie Milano and published by Macmillan Children’s Books. It’s available to buy from Amazon.

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.

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Writing prompt – found

Goblin by Judy DarleyImagine, a small stone goblin appears in a forest.

Where did it come from? Did someone leave it there? If so, why?

Imagine, one day the goblin disappears as mysteriously as it arrived.

Where did it go? Did someone take it? If so why?

What happens in the time these two events? What will happen next?

Puzzle out the answers to each of these questions, even if you don’t intend to share them all with your readers. Just knowing them will help to give your writing clarity and depth.

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.

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