On your marks… NaNoWriMo!

Painted desert, Colorado cr Judy DarleyTomorrow marks the start of NaNoWriMo 2019 on 1st November. Are you taking part? I love the concept of this word-packed month, with ardent writers across the world hunched over laptops sweating out every last drop of inspiration.

New to the concept? It’s pretty simple really. As they state on the NaNoWriMo website: “On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.”

I know plenty of writers this enforced period of productivity really suits. For some folks it seems to be the ideal way to stoke up ideas and get them to catch alight on the page.

For me, the beginning stages of novel-writing are all about thinking ahead, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do some speedy planning even as you begin to write. After all, what else are you going to do when waiting for buses, in post office queues and doing the washing up?

Here are my top five preparation tips to ensure you make the most of this exceptional month.

1. Form a vision of the story you’ll be aiming to tell, with the beginning already shaped in your mind. If possible, do the same for the ending. Having an idea of the finale you’re working towards will mean you’re far less likely to veer off track!

2. Spend some time considering your characters – working out who they are, how they think, what their goals are, how they might help or hinder each other.

3. Know your setting. This is one of my favourites, particularly if it offers a valid excuse to meander in a much loved wilderness or similar.

4. Pick out a few dramatic moments your plot will cover and brainstorm them, then set them aside. Whenever your enthusiasm wanes over the intensive NaNoWriMo period, treat yourself by delving into one of those to reinvigorate your writing energy.

5. Finally, make sure you have plenty of sustenance to hand. For me, the essentials are coffee and chocolate. What are yours?

In 2018,14, 527, 438 words were logged across the globe as part of National Novel Writing Month. If you’re signing up, I raise a glass (or rather, a mug of coffee) to you. Good luck!

Writing prompt – memory

Elephant remembering by Judy DarleyAn elephant never forgets. Bring bananas or juicy cucumbers and you’ll have a friend for life. One false act, and you’ll never be forgiven.

Use memory and the possibility of misremembering as the core of a story. What deed could be misattributed through the uncertainty of recollection? What implications could this have?

I photographed this beautiful grandma at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Pattaya, in Thailand. Highly recommended!

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.

A 100-word story – Minotaur

Beach. Photo by Khurt Williams on UnsplashIf you subscribe to Mslexia magazine, you may be aware that in addition to the print magazine, subscribers receive a regular e-newsletter titled Little Ms. This includes news, inspirations, story prompts and opportunities to submit ideas and fiction.

My favourite bit is always the Flash Card, which offers up an often fairly strange image for you to interpret in 100 words of less.

The inspiration for submissions to the October Little Ms showed a man with his head down a hole in a beach.I’m happy to say that my response, below, was selected for publication in the October newsletter.

He had to admit it was a short-term solution at best. But there was something lovely about the dark, cool quiet of the hole he’d stuck his head down. It calmed his urge to snort and paw his feet against the sand. The aim of the holiday had been to escape work stress. It was an unfortunate coincidence that Jan from accounting had booked the same Cretan resort. Off-duty, his natural minotaur head reasserted its dominance. That the hole his daughter had dug into the beach kept this from view could be his saving grace.

Subscribe to mslexia.

Sky Light Rain book launch & literary night

Sky Light Rain by Judy DarleyMy short story collection Sky Light Rain is now out, and I’m celebrating with an atmospheric evening of readings and music on the themes of sky, light, and rain. Drawing on my enduring fascination with the fallibility of the human mind, Sky Light Rain examines aspects of human existence, including our relationship to nature and to each other.

The event will take place at Waterstones Bristol Galleries, from 7pm on Saturday 2nd November 2019, and you’re invited!

Alongside me, participants include writers Paul Deaton, Kevlin Henney and Grace Palmer, and indie art-pop musician Hidden Tide.

You can book your free tickets here.

Buy your copy of Sky Light Rain from Valley Press here.

Here are our bios:

Judy Darley’s short stories, flash fiction and poems have been widely published, and read by the author on BBC radio, in pubs, caves, and a disused church, as well as at literary festivals and charity events. She was co-judge of the National Flash Fiction Micro Competition 2019. Sky Light Rain is her second short story collection. Her debut collection Remember Me to the Bees was published in 2013. @JudyDarley

Kevlin HenneyKevlin Henney has been involved in the organisation of National Flash Fiction Day events, the Bristol Festival of Literature and the Flash in Hand open mic night at Alchemy 198 in Bristol. His stories have won, placed, and been shortlisted and longlisted in competitions. His stories appear on air, online and in print, included in over twenty anthologies. @KevlinHenney

 

Grace Palmer headshotGrace Palmer’s writing can be found in Flashback Fiction, Riggwelter Press, Magma, Flash Fiction One & Two and online at National Flash Fiction Day. She founded and runs Novel Nights and Flash in Hand, and teaches writing at Bristol Folk House. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa Uni. @wordpoppy and @novelnightsuk

 

Paul Deaton headshotPaul Deaton’s Seren collection A Watchful Astronomy was a Poetry Book Society Winter Recommended Book and was a National Poetry Day Book Group selected title. Work is included in the Forward Prize Anthology 2019. He is co-editor of smith / doorstop’s forthcoming Running Anthology, a freelance commissioning art editor and a counsellor in addictions in Bristol. @pauldeaton28

 

Hidden Tide HeadshotHidden Tide uses distorted guitar, programmed loops and thought-provoking lyrics to create ‘sweeping dark electronica’. Performing her own material, she is a regular on the Bristol music scene with gigs including sets at Mr Wolf’s and the Louisiana. @HiddenTideMusic

 

All aboard The Spooky Ship

Dorothy Collins as Emily Lancaster, The Spooky Ship 2017. Photo by Jon Rowley

The ss Great Britain, moored at Great Western Dockyard in Bristol, is a wonderfully intriguing vessel. Populated with impressively realistic models of people and animals, it also has a hint of the uncanny about it.

Each year in collaboration with Bristol Old Vic Theatre, these characters are brought to life in an eerie succession of immersive performances that share stories inspired by real lives lost and lingering, drawn from the depths of the ship’s history…This year The Spooky Ship: Shipwrecked focuses on the night in 1846 when the ss Great Britain ran aground.

Scott Bayliss as a Crimean soldier aboard The Spooky Ship - 2016 - Photos by Jon Rowley

Scott Bayliss as a Crimean soldier aboard The Spooky Ship 2016. Photo by Jon Rowley

Previously, I had the chance to go along, bringing a friend with me to hide behind if necessary. We were expecting something along the lines of a haunted house, but what we got was so much more, as our guide led us through the impressive architecture of the ship to witness vignettes from a pitiful bride, a broken soldier from the Crimean war (Scott Bayliss), a vengeful nun (Kirsty Asher) and a ship’s butcher (Hal Kelly) who happened to enjoy his work just a little too much.

The ship's butcher played by Hal Kelly, The Spooky Ship 2016. Photo by Jon Rowley

The ship’s butcher played by Hal Kelly, The Spooky Ship 2016. Photo by Jon Rowley

We paused in the first class dining saloon where a 19th couple (Julia Head and Matt Landau) were feasting and gossiping – all good and fine until one confessed to chowing down on a plague-ridden rat and the other commented on the deliciousness of the ship’s pudding-faced cat, then turned their eyes hungrily on us.

The atmosphere was heightened by overhearing fragments from early set scenes – while Sister Benedict talked of the fallen women she despised, shrieks from the distressed soldier rose through the floor. Our guide fed us titbits of the histories that gave the performances their foundations, while cabins fitted out as they would have been in previous centuries, complete with realistic figures in the midst of their own frozen adventures, added to the creepiness.

Sister Benedict played by Kirsty Asher, The Spooky Ship 2016. Photo by Jon Rowley

Sister Benedict played by Kirsty Asher, The Spooky Ship 2016. Photo by Jon Rowley

Many of the tales pulled at the heart strings, such as that of Mrs Gray (played by Stephanie Kempson), who arrived at docks to welcome her husband Captain John Gray home only to discover he’d mysteriously disappeared a month earlier when the ship was still at sea. Her wailing grief sent shivers through the crowd.

The story of Emily Lancaster (Dorothy Collins – shown top of post) was particularly disturbing. Crouching on a flight of steps beneath the dry dock, she told us how she’d succumbed to the pox and been flung overboard before she was dead. Her anger and sorrow was palpable, enhanced by the wonderful setting.

The mix of frights, facts, horrors, dark humour and laments, all staged in and around the ship, made this a fabulously immersive Halloween voyage.

The Spooky Ship: Shipwrecked is on from 31 October until 2nd November 2019.

All photo by Jon Rowley. Find out more and book tickets at https://bristololdvic.org.uk/whats-on/spooky-ship-shipwrecked.

Writing prompt – elemental

Elemental by Judy Darley

My short story collection Sky Light Rain is out in just over a week, and I’m really excited. So I thought that this week I would offer some insights into the inspirations behind the 36 works of fiction it contains.

My publisher has described the collection as ‘elemental,’ which I really like. The tales touch on nature, and human nature, and all the fragmented darkness and lightness that coalesce to form the people we become. It’s about the actions we take to try to make our lives better, and how, at times, these actions can make things worse. How good intentions can be twisted, misunderstood or cast adrift, so that we flounder as we struggle to remember what we’d hoped to achieve or attain.

My starting point for each was a questions: ‘What if…?’

So for this week’s writing prompt I invite you to think about the things that niggle at you, that really pique your curiosity, and then dig deeper by asking yourself why, and what might happen if…?

My book launch is also a wider literary night featuring three additional exceptionally talented writers, Grace Palmer, Paul Deaton and Kevlin Henney, and amazing musician Hidden Tide, who will all share their work. The launch is at 7pm on 2nd November 2019 in Waterstones Bristol. Get your free tickets here.

Sky Light Rain is available to pre-order here.

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.

Readings in the Crypt

Bristol Writers Group in Redcliffe Caves1. Photo by Paul Bullivant

Bristol Writers Group in Redcliffe Caves1. Photo by Paul Bullivant

On Tuesday 22nd October as part of Bristol Festival of Literature, I’m reading a short story in the crypt of St John on The Wall. Along with members of Bristol Writers’ Group, including, Gavin Watkins, Sarah Rowles, Piers Marter and Corinne Robinson, I’ll share a short original folktale of redemption and forgiveness, titled The Ties That Bind.

I’ve read with the group previously in Bristol’s Redcliffe Caves, and the event is always excellent. This year, the theme was ‘Thing’, and the ‘thing’ I chose was a ribbon.

Book your tickets here

Hope to see you there!

Find out what else is on during Bristol Festival of Literature.

Writing prompt – backdrop

Wonder by Judy DarleyWhile travelling in Thailand, I became increasingly intrigued by the large number of tourists only interested in snapping selfies or seeing their surroundings through the screen of smart devices. Rather than breathing in the moment, they seem intent on how they will look on social media, with that particular backdrop.

In this case, a young girl would rather flick through her phone than take notice of the natural wonder of the Haew Suwat waterfall.

Use this as a starting point for a story. What might happen if one day this girl actually looks up from her phone? What might have changed while her attention was elsewhere?

Alternatively, consider what it could take to remind her that the world can be more than a backdrop to her Instagram photos.

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.

Enter the Bath Children’s Novel Award

Roman Baths by Judy DarleyThe Bath Children’s Novel Award has opened its doors to submission from unpublished and independently published authors worldwide.

Previous winners include include Lucy Van Smit for The Hurting (Chicken House, Sept 2018) and Struan Murray for Orphans of the Tide (Puffin, 2020).

The 2019 Judge is Lauren Gardner, literary agent for children’s authors at Bell Lomax Moreton. She will pick the winning novel from a shortlist chosen by a team of Junior Judges aged from 7 to 17 years. Read Lauren’s submission tips.

Deadline: 17th November 2019
Submission: First 5,000 words plus one-page synopsis
Entry fee: £25 with sponsored places available for writers on low income

Find full details and submit here: https://bathnovelaward.co.uk/childrens-novel-award/ 

A prose poem – Sunlit

Sunlit tree by Judy DarleyEarlier this year a series of my Care Home Vignettes was published in the Summer 2019 issue of Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing.

These works of creative non-fiction capture my experiences of gradually losing my father to Alzheimer’s Disease.

One of these pieces, titled Sunlit, caught the attention of another contributor to the edition. Poet Carol Barrett, Ph.D. got in touch to let me know she was applying to carry out a workshop for Oregon Poetry Association. The topic would be The Prose Poem As Memoir, the workshop would take place in September, and Carol wanted permission to include one of my pieces as an example.

I was happy to say yes, and even happier when Carol let me know the workshop had gone ahead, with 33 participants.

Carol wrote: “This community is largely composed of folks over 60, so many have experienced care homes with relatives, or are concerned about whether they will need to take up residence in such facilities. The poignancy of the details came through, as well as the two characters of the speaker and the father. After this discussion, they wrote their own prose poems/vignettes, and some wonderful things were produced.

Writing has always been a means of making connections for me, and I love the idea of this workshop in Oregon including my thoughts and emotions on a topic that will touch so many of us.

Carol plans to repeat the workshop at Deschutes Public Library in Oregon on 8th December.

Here’s the piece that went on this journey:

Sunlit

He’s on a mission, striding there and back again. Just woken, his steps are slow at first. He lists slightly to one side, one hip shored up for balance.

I shadow him, spilling memories of holidays we shared. He nods politely, then hurries past. So much ground to cover before nightfall. At a locked door he halts, pressing his fingers against metal screws in different configurations. Puzzling it out.

He seems tall today. A silver birch with crooked branches. We turn, walk on, passing beneath an open skylight.

Rain falls through sunlit silver. Droplets catch in his snow-white hair. He pauses, blinking. Connected for just a moment with the world outside.