Writing prompt – gender

Gender reveal by Judy DarleyI spotted this sign just a few weeks ago. It feels extraordinary in this time when the issue of gender grows ever more individual and personal that the concept of gender divides still exist. Thankfully the Pussyhat protestors already reclaimed pink as a power colour, but the either/or debate should surely be over.

But even he/she/them doesn’t suffice in the current climate. I’m on the brink of inventing a new pronoun that will cover all genders and fractals of genders – perhaps dot. As in: ‘Judy writes fiction, Dot has been published widely…”

Use this shift in awareness as your tale’s starting point. Just for fun, write your protagonist  with one gender in mind, and then swap to another. How does this deepen your own understanding of their character?

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.

Leavings

Hot Water by Judy DarleyMy eco-story ‘Leavings’ is live on today on paragraphplanet.com. And yes, that is a photo of a dribble of hot water on our kitchen countertop, pretending to be a planet. Read the 75-word story to find out why.

I’m afraid it’s less CliFi (Climate Fiction), than an entirely true tale.

The story will only be on the site for one day before it disappears, so it really is a blink and miss it situation, which feels dauntingly apt. The tale will eventually, however appear in the Archive section, unlike our planet… Just choose December 30th to read it.

Writing prompt – tinsel

Christmas tree 2019

Merry Christmas! As you may recall, this splendid sparkling beauty is on loan from my mum and is an original, possibly extremely flammable, 1960s tinsel tree. The zombie decoration is a more modern addition.

Christmas is a time when childhood memories take particularly prominence. In honour of this, think back and either use one of your own early memories of the festivities, or an anecdote from a parent or grandparent, to weave a seasonal story.

Wishing you a peaceful, joyful Christmas, however you choose to spend it.

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

Join a different kind of book club

NSCRC children with Book Aid boxI love giving books as Christmas gifts – there’s always that sense of offering up a whole world for your recipient to discover!

This year, why not go a little further and offer that gift to someone who can use it to improve their lives?

Book Aid does amazing work to get books to people who need them, and you can help, Your donation will cover the cost of sending books to people in the developing world, bringing all those page-bound possibilities, adventures and experiences to classrooms, libraries and minds hungry for them.

“As a writer and traveller, I think everyone should be able to open a window on the world through books,” says Michael Palin, CBE. “It’s incredible how lives can be transformed through access to books.”

How does it work?

You have the option of signing up for a monthly subscription of £6, £10 or £25, or donating the amount of your choice. You could also give in memory, or give in celebration. If you’re a publisher or other member of the book trade, you could even donate books.

Over the course of a year, a £6 monthly membership translates into 36 books to stock a community library, reaching children and adults who might otherwise not have the opportunity to enjoy reading for pleasure or learning.

A £10 monthly membership could result in a hospital receiving 60 books.

A £25 membership could provide a starter library for a school, equipped with around 150 books.

The Reverse Book Club is simple, practical and cost less per month than your Sunday newspaper. And each monthly gift of £6 means Book Aid International can send three more books!”

To find out how you can help Book Aid change lives for the better, visit www.bookaid.org.

A literary winter solstice

Welsh beach by Judy Darley
This year’s Solstice Shorts Festival hosted by micro publisher Arachne Press sweeps us into the shivery themes of Time and Tide.

Now in its 6th year, Solstice Shorts Festival unfurls in seven port towns in four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Portugal. The festival is on Saturday 21st December 2019. There will be performances by actors, authors and musicians of original  short stories, poems and song, all historically tinged by coastlines and tidal rivers, with echoes of, as organiser Cheryl writes, “fishermen and pirates, wreckers and dockers – making a new life across the sea – escaping pogroms and wars, the shipwrecked and the endlessly travelling – to paddlers and wild swimmers.”

Find full details of what’s happening where and how you can get involved at arachnepress.com

Solstice Shorts Logo

Writing prompt – beast

Fish face by Judy DarleyWith pantomime season upon us, this is the perfect time to play with the old fairytale topes. Imagine a love story where some dazzling beautiful is determined to win the affection of this grumpy-looking aquatic beast.

Here’s the catch – in this modern version of Beauty and The Beast, don’t have the Beast turn out to be a secret stunner too, and don’t Shrek it up and make it so that the Beauty becomes beastly. Instead, find other grounds for their mutual passion. A shared misanthropy, perhaps?

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.

Your indie Christmas list

Christmas gifts by Judy DarleyI’ve been reading and rereading books from numerous independent presses recently. Here’s my pick of the titles I believe warrant a place on your festive wishlist.

Nia coverNia by Robert Minhinnick

Published by Seren

Written in a style that verges on stream of consciousness, this dream book follows protagonist Nia around her home down fringed by sand dunes, underground and through her memories. With no speech marks in place, it’s occasionally uncertain what is spoken and what’s thought, while some conversations drop all attempts at signposting who speaking. It’s akin to eavesdropping in a place where voices are murmurs blanketed by a sea breeze – curiously soothing. Minhinnick is probably best known for his poetry, and his innate lyricism glows throughout. “Dad down on his knees pulling away the ivy. The ivy leaving scars, that’s how close it clung. I can still see the nettle blisters on the backs of his hands. All these white bumps. Like the ivy scars on the stone.” There is threat here, at times, but the painterly scenes make this a far gentler read than the hint of plot supposes. Ideal for early mornings in bed while the central heating clanks into life.THE COLOUR OF THINGS UNSEEN cover

The Colour of Things Unseen by Annee Lawrence

Published by Aurora Metro Books

An unerring respect for the spaces required for cultural differences underlines Annee Lawrence’s novel. From Java to Sydney, she paints a young artist’s blossoming understanding of the world as he travels from his rural village to art college in Australia. Yet, the real journey is far more internal, as Adi grasps at his own expectations, particularly with regards to women, and learns that there’s more than one route to follow for a relationship to thrive.

Adi is a character who is difficult to know, as Lawrence keeps him at arms’ length. His emotions always take on an abstract sense that not only reflects his own artwork, but illustrates how he feels as he navigates Australian values, so at odds with the ones he has grown up with.

Lawrence’s descriptions of Adi’s painting process, as well as of the locations in Java and Australia, make this an evocative novel that will inspire the urge to travel and discover the richness of cultural diversity for yourself.

Read Annee Lawrence’s guest post for SkyLightRain on how writing connects us across cultures and borders.

The False River coverThe False River by Nick Holdstock

Published by Unthank Books

“It had ben a year of four funerals and a poisoned cat,” writes Nick Holdstock in his story ‘New Traffic Patterns May Emerge’. “His flat had been burgled; his car stolen; he’d been punched in face by a stranger. His perfect girlfriend Rachel had tried to stab him, then broken up with him by text.”

Don’t you want to read on?

This story trembles with the narratives that ripple beyond its confines, sometimes overtly with lines such as “Fifty years later, as he walks through an airport, one of the huge lights will drop from the ceiling and miss him by only a foot.” Holdstock has harnessed the omniscient viewpoint with an enviable aplomb, walking a tightrope between characters that keeps your focus taut. It’s a skill evident throughout his debut collection.

She Was A Hairy Bear, She Was A Scary Bear coverShe Was A Hairy Bear, She Was A Scary Bear by Louisa Bermingham

Published by Valley Press

For something entirely different, Valley Press’ most experimental title to date should tick a few boxes. Not quite poetry, and not quite prose, the story of a fuzzy, passionate bear succeeds in covering issues around depression, self-doubt and the power of embracing our inner bear. Every page features author and artist Louisa Bermingham’s quirky mixed media artwork, with line drawings and paintings brought to life with bundles of her own hair trimmings, not to mention elastic bands and other household scraps.

Don’t let the hair put you off! Our Hairy Scary Bear is a fierce, vulnerable and entirely lovable heroine who will remind you that it’s healthy to have the occasional emotional outburst, but that you might do better to fight fire with water in tricky situations. Plus it’s beautifully printed, so there’s no risk at all of bear hair ending up in your tea.

the everumblethe everrumble by Michelle Elvy

Published by Ad Hoc Fiction

Without a doubt, this is my favourite book of 2019, if not the decade. Just thinking about it, my head fills with its colours and textures.

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.

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.

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.

Read my full review of the everrumble by Michelle Elvy.

A #FestiveFlash #AdventCalendar

Red yarn by Judy Darley

I’m delighted that my flash fairy tale ‘Click clack twitch’ has been selected by STORGY magazine for their #FestiveFlash #AdventCalendar. My story is live today, 12th December 2019. 😃🥳

This Advent Calendar such a wonderful idea – a perfect parcel of fiction each day of December, far more nourishing and satisfying than substandard chocolate. My story involves knitting, a dropped mitten, a hint of romance and an unlikely fairy godmother…

Read  ‘Click clack twitch’ here.

Writing prompt – beetle

Beetle. By Judy DarleyThis glorious iridescent beetle is only the size of a ladybird, yet it glimmers as though its been bedazzled. I encountered it in a woodland near my home.

According to a report published by the Wildlife Trusts, 41% of insect species face extinction due to pesticides and habitat loss.

Your challenge is to write a piece that focuses on solutions rather than loss – could you dream up a cheerful story about how efforts to save an extraordinary beetle lead to a more positive outcome for us 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.

Anthology review – No Good Deed

No Good DeedUnexpected gems abound in Retreat West’s 2019 Charity Anthology. You’ll unearth them like lost ancient treasures by  roadsides where characters dreamt up by an assortment of outstandingly original writers immerse themselves in stories of generous acts, for the most part committed for no better reason than to alleviate someone’s anxiety or improve a slim chance of a better life.

In the case of the latter, it’s not only humans on their way to hopefully improved circumstances. Johanna Robinson‘s exquisitely wistful Bufo Bufo juxtaposes an ailing father with a communal project to help toads cross a road. “A toad stirs next to my foot, and I crouch and reach. I’m careful to hold it and not-hold it. It’s a new sense, to grip but not squeeze. Not too hard; not too soft. (…) Body soft but bony and skin glowing like topaz. Dangling legs every now and again pumping the air, like an electrical fault.”

Climbing Wall by Rosie Garland offers an askance view of what happens when we only take care of others and forget to look after ourselves, while in Seedlings by W.T. Paterson, a child’s belief converts a father’s lie into a startling truth.

“‘The first language a child learns is story,’ Navi said. ‘The second language is games, things like risk/reward, probability and chance, and what if. Their third language, which is spoken, becomes their native tongue.’”

A Longing For Clouds by Amanda Huggins is redolent with aromas that weave through the passages, evoking the rich, sensual squalor of heat, from “the pungent scent of overripe mangoes” to “sandalwood on warm skin”. Huggins’ story is a masterclass in engaging the senses, as she evokes scenes vivid with jewel colours, textures and flavours, overlaid with a yearning nostalgia.

“The only sound she could hear was the faint tinkle of the tiny bells on the women’s bracelets and ankle chains. The noise reminded Maggie of the dress she wore to Deepak’s wedding; cerulean blue with bells around the hem. It conjured the warmth of the soft Jaipur dusk; the air heavy with incense and sandalwood attar, the gate adorned with flowers. Bright saris, silk scarves billowing like jewel-bright parachutes. The bride, nervous and pale, beautifully gift-wrapped in red and gold.”

Thought-provoking lines shine throughout the anthology, often revealing a wealth of backstory in only a few, carefully chosen words. In Blue Swing by Matty Bannond, it’s the memory of a father “who was always there but usually facing the wrong way”, while in Dancing Crimson by Claire Hinchliffe, we encounter the zigzagging narrative of a woman, Miranda, who we begin to decipher through her simple yet poetic description of a common kitchen implement: “There’s a strange silver bowl covered in tiny holes, like rain and sprinkles and Blackpool.”

The breadth and variety of the stories is at times startling, with a focus that zooms into the minutiae of everyday lives before swooping outwards to carry us thousands of miles across our planet to concentrate on another life, another viewpoint and another example of empathy.

In many cases, the theme of ‘Help’ is the only connecting thread among these compact, heartfelt, and occasionally surreal stories. But what a strong thread that is, reminding us that regardless of our protagonists’ preoccupations and concerns, the underlying characteristic they share is humanity and the desire, however confused or grudging, to reach out and make a positive difference. An uplifting read for our times.

Sales from No Good Deed raise funds for the Indigo Volunteers charity. No Good Deed, edited by Amanda Saint and Sophie Duffy, is available to buy here.

Confession: My story What We Talk About When We Talk About Owls is included in this anthology.