Writing prompt – ablaze

Man on Fire by Tim Shaw. Photo by Judy Darley
This remarkable sculpture is Man on Fire by Tim Shaw and is on display at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol until 1st September 2019.

Larger than life, the person is frozen in the act of careering through the gallery, trailing smoke and ash. The notes describe it as “a moment trapped between life and death.” To me it resembles a figure in the midst of an extraordinary metamorphosis.

How would you interpret this scene and give it narrative?

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.

Fire: Flashes to Ashes in British Art 1692-2019 is on at the Royal West of England Academy until 1st Sept 2019.

Book review – All That is Between Us by K. M. Elkes

All That Is Between UsWarning: the intimacy in this book sneaks up on you, so that you’re living between the lines before you’ve had a chance to consider the implications – that if you do this, you’re going to empathise. You’re going to feel.

It’s a trait of K.M. Elkes’ writing that’s impossible to avoid. He draws you in with humour, and with exquisitely visual writing, until suddenly you realise you’ve become the character pressing their ear “against a window to feel the vibrations of trains and the deep, deep breath of the city”.

That’s a rare talent, most visible in this collection, perhaps, in You Wonder How They Sleep, in which the lines above appear.

Somehow, Elkes transports you, body and soul, less to another place than to another state of mind, into another’s state of mind.

In this collection, his debut (remarkably, it feels he should already have a shelf-ful of own-works), Elkes not so much invites you into other lives, as commandeers you: for the time it takes to read one of these brief flashes, or one and the next, and the next – as they’re addictive – you are immersed. You breathe the air his characters breathe, and ache exactly where they ache.

Elkes’ elegance with language is vivid throughout, frequently offering fresh terms on which to understand the world – “the buttery tang of trodden grass”, an old book with “the edges of its pages the colour of beer”, taxi cabs “yellow as a smoker’s finger.”

Picking a favourite story seems cruel, like choosing between a class-full of children, but inevitably one charmed me with its wit, its pathos and the ecological truth underpinning its fantasy. The King of Throwaway Islandis a love story in which the tale itself is being written by the protagonist repeatedly and released in plastic bottles from the island of refuse he’s been shipwrecked upon. “My island gets a little smaller ever time I send you a letter. But I stay confident – that’s part of the new me.”

In Swimming Lessons, an overbearing dad battles the ingrained hurt inflicted by his own father. Fathers crop up in many of the stories, often cruel, usually misguided, occasionally striving to do their best, and, at times, succeeding.

In Three Kids, Two Balloons, Elkes takes a passing moment and harnesses it in a way that somehow manages to be funny and moving and powerful. Hints of flippancy here, as in many of the stories, are deceptive, as beneath each is a bolt of such tenderness that you’ll be stopped in your tracks.

It’s intriguing that by fixing our focus firmly on the people at the heart of each tale, the stories themselves swell outwards, so that the details chosen to depict place and time become transferable across countries and, to an extent, eras. Loss is perhaps the most universally recognised emotion, and Elkes has the ability to make every situation he turns to infinitely relatable.

In that sense, the collection’s title rings with particular resonance – chiming with the awareness that in fact all that is between us are the things that make us human, which means that time, location and circumstance matter far less than our responses to the situations we find ourselves within.

 All That Is Between Us by K. M. Elkes is published by AdHoc Fiction and is available to buy here.

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. Likewise, if you’ve published or produced something you’d like me to review, get in touch.

A new inclusive nature-writing prize

Tiny snail cr Judy DarleyThe Nan Shepherd Prize is accepting submissions until 10th September 2019. This new competition launched by Canongate aims to find the next major voice in nature writing. It intends not only to celebrate nature writing but provide an inclusive platform for new and emerging nature writers from underrepresented backgrounds.

The competition has been established in memory of Nan Shepherd. The organisers say:  “While her classic of nature writing The Living Mountain took three decades to first find a publisher, today the book is recognised as a masterpiece and Nan is inspiring a new generation of writers. We felt that a prize named after her was a fitting way to honour her legacy.”

The winner of The Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing will receive a book deal with Canongate, including editorial mentoring and an advance of £10,000, as well as the option of literary representation with Jenny Brown Associates.

During the submissions period, the Canongate team will publish resources intended to demystify the publishing process.

The competition judges are Amy Liptrot, Chitra Ramaswamy, Jenny Brown and Nick Barley.

Applications are open to previously unpublished writers based in the UK and Ireland, who consider themselves underrepresented in nature writing, whether through ethnicity, disability, class, sex, gender, sexuality or any other circumstances. This means that entrants must not have published full-length books of fiction or non-fiction (including children’s books) with a trade publisher. Full details of eligibility and how to submit can be found here.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at JudyDarley(@)ICloud(dot)com.

Writing prompt – screen

Teen birthday_phone screen by Judy DarleyI find it fascinating to consider how our addiction to devices could be influencing our  interpretation of the world.

For the generation who are currently teenagers, these devices are an intrinsic means of understanding and experiencing the world. It seems that nothing is real unless witnessed and captured through a phone screen.

But what will happen if one day the super servers simply click off?

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.

Book review – the everrumble by Michelle Elvy

the everumbleAt the age of seven, Zettie stops speaking and concentrates instead on listening to the world.

Described as a small novel in small forms, this book is far larger than the sum of its parts. I know people who devoured it in a single indulgent sitting, but for me it was so quenching  that I drip-fed it to myself – page after page, moment by moment. It offered me a place to return to for peace, quietude and stillness, and now that I’ve read it from cover to cover, I know I’ll return again.

Delivered in a series of flashes, served up with plenty of space to hold the words and ideas safe, this is a book of contemplative joy.

I often see sentences as strings of interwoven colours, but in the case of the everrumble, it was a far more textural experience. Grains danced over my bare arms as I absorbed the passages. I felt tendrils of thread waft over the nape of my neck and the polish of seashells against my toes. Most of all, perhaps because of the blanket that Zettie takes refuge beneath at the beginning, which “light enters like tiny diamonds”, throughout the ever rumble I saw the stitch-work of crochet – that alchemy of yarn, deft fingers and hook, and the hushed focus that comes with that skill (which I do not have).

In other words, author Michelle Elvy has somehow conjured a multi-sensory experience through her writing, and, even more powerfully, compressed sensations onto the page that will eke into your everyday life. Sitting here typing this, I feel the pleasure of contact with each key, and a delight in the warmth of this sunlit room, while the soft sounds of bells chiming and traffic passing drift through the window to keep me company.

Weaving in dreamscapes with glimpses into a long life, set against geography and literary musings in the form of notes on books that have captured Zettie’s attention, the everrumble is a glorious odyssey of one woman’s exploration of connectivity. Even her name is notable, borrowed as it is from her aunt – Little Zettie being a nickname bestowed on her by her brother when she was small.

Through her silence, Zettiee opens up herself to the riches of Earth’s sounds, from the human, to the natural, to the unnatural, to “the everrumble. The heartbeat of every living creature.”

And in other ways, she is utterly normal. She gets crushes, falls in love, earns a living, bears and raises children. It’s her contentment, and her intense empathy for the most part, that is extraordinary. But she is mortal, and human, for all her communing with nature – a detail powerfully examined in a segment in which she imagines reading to her children.

In an era when climate change is accelerating at a dizzying pace and governments seem ever more disconnected both from their nations and the environment they’re impacting, the everrumble is a welcome pause, and a reminder: to listen, to savour, to live well.

the everrumble by Michelle Elvy is published by AdHoc Fiction and has been longlisted for the Guardian Newspaper’s Not-The-Booker-Prize. Buy your copy.

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. Likewise, if you’ve published or produced something you’d like me to review, get in touch.

Plymouth seeks young writing talent

Plymouth. Photo by Frederica Diamanta on Unsplash

Plymouth City Council, in partnership with the South West literature development agency Literature Works, has launched a search to find aspiring new writers in the city aged between 14 and 19 to apply for the Mayflower 400 Plymouth Young City Laureate post.

The successful applicant will be asked to create work to celebrate special events or occasions in the city as well as being expected to perform at events in libraries, schools and at festivals.

The current holder of the Mayflower 400 Plymouth Young City Laureate title, Olivia Templeton, says: “My time as the Laureate has been a better opportunity than I could have hoped for. Meeting new people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise and celebrating such important events have made the past year so incredible.”

There is a cash prize of £100 as well as city-wide recognition for the post-holder’s writing and performance skills, making this an ideal stepping stone for any young person hoping to launch a successful career in the arts.

To enter you must:

  • To be aged between 14 and 19
  • Live, work or go to school or college in Plymouth
  • Submit two samples of your creative writing. One should be inspired by the theme of ‘Plymouth’, and the other should be inspired by the theme of ‘finding your identity’
  • At least one of your two samples should be in the form of poetry
  • Prose should be no more than 2000 words, poetry no more than one page of A4.

The deadline for entries is Friday 27th September 2019.

The winning entry will be chosen by a panel of judges from Plymouth City Council, Plymouth University, Literature Works and a well-known (as yet unnamed) author.

The Young City Laureate will be announced at a celebration event in October.

Find full details of how to enter here.

Writing prompt – shoe

Shoe in cememtery by Judy DarleyI’ve been playing with fairytales and fables recently, remastering them with a twist that may make them more appealing to modern audiences such as this one published by Enchanted Conversation.

When I spied this mislaid shoe on a forest path, my first thought was ‘Cinderella!’

Use this as the prompt for a modern take on the Cinderella story. What kind of Cinders might have lost this battered sneaker, and in what circumstances? What sort of happy ending could they be stumbling towards?

And if I were to tell you that this path happens to be in a woodland cemetery, how might that influence your tale?

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.

Manchester Poetry and Fiction Prizes

The-Royal-Exchange-Manchester-cr-Judy-DarleyManchester Writing Competition 2019 is open to online and postal entries, with categories for Poetry and Fiction. Both prizes offer a £10,000 first prize.

The competitions were instigated in 2008 by by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy in 2008. The aim was designed to attract the best new writing from around the world, and to establish Manchester as a literary focal point.

The deadline for all entries is 5pm GMT on 20th September 2019.

The chair of poetry judges is Adam O’Riordan. The entry fee is £17.50.

Find full details and enter on the Poetry Prize page.

The chair of fiction judges is Nicholas Royle. The entry fee is £17.50.

Find full details and enter on the Fiction Prize page.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at JudyDarley(@)ICloud(dot)com.

Two flashes and a poem

Spring of the MusesI love how art forms can inspire and nourish one another, so when published Deborah Gaye of Avalanche Books let me know that her next anthology would be poetry and prose poems prompted by music, art and dance, I was immediately entranced.

The anthology, Spring of the Muses, is now out, and contains three of my two of my flash stories and a poem: Fermented Cherries, Heliography and Ingrained.

Here are the first lines of Fermented Cherries, inspired by the powerful lament of Fado music.

The Fado rolls out, washing over me. It’s a salt-weighted tide that ebbs and rises above the listeners’ heads. The vocalist leans on the humid air, lungs hauling in breath and pushing it out as song.

I stand in the doorway, held steady by the sound and by a burst of heat from the kitchen where sardines roast in rows.

I can see him sitting near the bar, a glass of ruby liquid cradled in one hand. The light catches on his hair and settles in crows’ feet like sediment.

To read the rest you’ll need to buy the anthology. There are some real gems in there, including Alison Brackenbury’s conversation between Handel and Hendrix: Purple Haze, and Alwyn Marriage’s jubilant Nancy’s Star Turn.

Buy the Spring of the Muses anthology.