Novella-in-flash review – An Inheritance by Diane Simmons

An Inheritance Diane Simmons coverLifetimes pass in a twinkling in this novella-in-flash from Diane Simmons. Eighteen tightly woven short stories sew together moving glimpses into the love, betrayals and reconciliations of four generations over a span of seventy years from 1932 to 2002.

We enter their world via a door into a pawnbrokers’, where kind-hearted Thomas is moved to help those who enter his dad’s shop in their darkest hours. By the end of the novella, we’re rediscovering the unclaimed items from that shop, alongside Thomas’ grandchildren, and understanding the desperation and hope those shops and their glinting miasma of contents represented.

The book’s earliest flashes stream by at disconcerting speed – it took me a few disconcerted chapters to adjust to their pace. Deaths and funerals rattled by with unnerving rapidity, and I found myself craving deeper delves into the lives Simmons’ wafted past my eyes. One blink, and I felt I might miss a crucial triumph or catastrophe.

The velocity eases as the novella progresses, however, and I realise now how accurately Simmons has captured a sense of the past through the her use of acceleration in those early chapters. Ask anyone about an ancestor, and the likelihood is that in return you’ll receive a blurred array of snapshots – births, marriages and deaths, an anecdote of a feud or act of selflessness and little more.

As we near the current century, we have a chance to catch our breath, and fully focus on the people before us.

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Theatre review – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Mark Meadows and Pooky Quesnel as Geroge and Martha in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo Mark Dawson1

George and Martha invite Nick and Honey to join them for a nightcapIt’s way too late in the evening, but what do they have to lose?

So reads the description on the Tobacco Factory Theatres’ website, and the answer is really quite a lot. Dignity, trust and self-respect are just a few of the traits that will be ripped to shreds by the end of the three act, three-hour and 15-minute performance.

Martha (Pooky Quesnel) and George (Mark Meadows) are already deeply embedded in the academic community that Nick (Joseph Tweedale) and Honey (Francesca Henry) have just joined, so perhaps it’s natural that the younger couple accept an invitation for a post-party party at Martha and George’s. But even the hosts aren’t prepared for the toxic darkness of the games that unfold between the four players.

Joseph Tweedale and Honey Francesca Henry as nick and Honey in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo Mark Dawson

Joseph Tweedale and Honey Francesca Henry as Nick and Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo by Mark Dawson

The drama is almost entirely semantic (despite some exuberantly comic dancing from Henry). In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,  language is weaponised, and aimed to cause maximum damage. Director David Mercatali says “When I first read it, I couldn’t believe words could be so exciting.” His four-strong (extremely strong) cast make the most of Edward Albee’s scorching lines, veering from joyful to tearful and vindictive to protective on the head of a pin. At the heart of it is a couple disappointed by circumstance, and displacing that onto each other despite a deep burning love. Without the affection and evident flickers of adoration, the cruelty might be impossible to bear.

Pooky Quesnel as Martha in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo Mark Dawson

Pooky Quesnel as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo by Mark Dawson

Quesnel eases us in with a double-feat of performing Martha doing an impression of Bette Davis, with a touch of Elizabeth Taylor thrown in. George already has his slippers on before she announces they’re expecting guests, delivering her first kick to George as he berates her for “springing things on me all the time.”

Meadows delivers George’s commentary with razor-sharp humour.

“In my mind you are bedded in cement up to the neck,” says George to Martha in an acerbic moment. “No, up to the nose, it’s quieter.”

The laughter, anecdotes and snarky remarks grow increasingly frantic as the booze flows and each individual makes admissions that they’ll most likely regret. A gun presents a joke and flowers become missiles while a broken bottle crushes to dust under their feet.

Mark Meadows and Pooky Quesnel as Geroge and Martha in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo Mark Dawson

Mark Meadows and Pooky Quesnel as Geroge and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo by Mark Dawson

The Tobacco Factory’s in-the-round space presents the ideal arena for the challenges, with Anisha Fields’ minimal set providing only the essentials – two chairs, a long low backed (thankfully – for those sitting behind it) sofa with books strewn beneath it, a side table with a record player, and a well-stocked bar. It paints the era without fuss, and keeps our focus on the couples.

Quesnel is startling and unnerving, veering from welcoming hostess to seductress to weeping child desperate for love. Meadows is equally adept, revealing George’s underlying rage in small parcels between entreaties and insults. Over the course of the play he refers to Martha as his “yumyum”, and a “cyclops” without missing a beat. And when Honey coyly asks to use the bathroom, George says to Martha: “Show her where we keep the euphemism?”

Tweedale’s Nick holds his own against George, defending both his own wife and Martha against the barbs that come their way, even as the alcohol reduces him to a jocular jock, leaning into the toxic tomfoolery. Henry’s Honey is keen to like and be liked by all, slipping in observations that strip away the veneer momentarily. Her comic timing lifts some bleaker moments into laughter, keeping us on the right side of this emotional juggernaut of a play.

It is long, and could perhaps benefit from having a few lines shaved off here and there, especially in act two. But it’s hugely enjoyable too. Even as you squirm in your seat for those on stage, feeling your own adrenalin heighten, you can’t help being aware of the glory of seeing sharp minds battle it out and wonder who if anyone will make it out alive.

A searing indictment of thwarted ambition, with deep sadness and enduring love at its heart.

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is on at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol, until 21st March 2020.

Images: Mark Dawson Photography.

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.

Writing prompt – rose

Rose by Judy DarleyWhile meandering through a local cemetery, I spotted red flowers blooming on a tree. A closer look revealed silk roses attached with green wire. Someone’s clearly had enough of waiting for spring!

Who might have attached these pretend blossoms? What purpose might they have had. How could this perhaps bring two lonely strangers into each other’s lives?

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 may publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Short story – Enduring Night

Iceland by Judy DarleyI’m utterly delighted that my short story Enduring Night, inspired by a visit to Iceland, is feeding the wonderful, eternally ravenous The Cabinet of Heed. It has taken up residence in Issue Twenty-Nine, out now.

Enduring Night is a love story that may not be a love story, set against the elemental beauty of Iceland in the snow.

It begins with a moment of anticipation, which I wrote before I actually visited Iceland, and long before the rest of the tale took shape.

I haven’t been here yet, but this is what I imagine it will be like. Dark as ink from waking till sleeping, with an occasional reprieve when the sun lifts its lead-heavy head. Fissures of aurora borealis dancing above bare-branched trees as ice crystallises in the air. Eyeballs rolling in the fight not to freeze; skin tightening; breath blooming like fog.

Read Enduring Night in full.

Enduring Night

Writing prompt – family

Me and Mum_Colby Gardens 2017 by Judy DarleyThis curious picture shows my mum and me reflected in a pool of water. As her birthday happens this week, it seems like an excellent writing prompt. What eerie marine family might this photo represent? How could you capture the essence, or at least a suggestion, of your own family in a slightly askew 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 may publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – With One Eye On The Cows

with-one-eye-on-the-cowsGathering together 137 stellar micro fictions, With One Eye On The Cow: Bath Flash Fiction Volume Four is an anthology full of stamping, harrumphingly insistent words.

I have a particular fondness for slow-burn flashes, by which I mean the ones that burrow in and quietly stop then restart your heart. Not the well-worn trope of a twist in the tail, but the stories that seed in subtle clues that burst into bloom with startling vivacity. Those authors in my opinion have mastered the tricky craft of the short short.

A Kind God by Jesse Sensibar is a particularly fine example, beginning with the sublime and finishing with the prosaic, with a sliver of shock in between.

Elsewhere we rub shoulders with displaced families, and a vastly varied assortment of starting points of PTSD. We encounter the bravura of sexual, awakenings and dawning realisations, and seethe with the knowledge of thoughtless wrongs impossible to undo.

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Liars’ League NYC seeks stories to perform

Kalamazoo railway tracks by Judy Darley

The folks at Liars’ League NYC have announced a new set of submissions themes and deadlines for 2020. they say: “In a nutshell, we’re looking for fresh, character-driven fiction up to 3,000 words, except in the case of our Flash Fiction event in May, where the word limit is 1000.”

Liars’ League offers creative opportunities across the globe, with regular literary nights in London, Hong Kong and New York, matching up writers’ tales with actors and audiences.

Submission themes

Success & Failure – Deadline: Wednesday, 4th March 2020

Short & Sweet Flash Fiction – Deadline: Wednesday, 6th May 2020

Before & After – Deadline: Wednesday, 9th September 2020

Weird & Wonderful – Deadline: Wednesday, 4th November 2020

Simply send your story by email to info@liarsleaguenyc.com by midnight PST of the deadline day in either doc., docx., or rtf. format. Not sure what to send? It’s worth taking a look at the stories in their Archive to get a sense of the type of work they love.

Find full details of how and what to submit here.

Meanwhile, Liars’ League London are currently inviting submissions on the theme of Young & Old, with a submission deadline of Sunday March 1st 2020. Find full details on their website. 

Liars’ League Hong Kong are seeking submissions on the theme Terms & Conditions, with a submission deadline of Friday 24th April 2020. Find full details on their website. 

 

A spot of mindfulness

Early One Morning painting by Judy DarleyMy first feature for Planet Mindful appears in issue 10, aka Planet Mindful 2020 issue 2, out today. The lovely editor, Becky, commissioned me to write about the benefits of mindful reading and writing. As you might suspect, I had a lot to say on the topic! The feature’s titled ‘Through the Looking Glass’, and offered me a chance to chat about my favourite pastimes. Heaven!

Planet Mindful 10 coverI also wrote a guided visualisation for the magazine. It felt a bit like writing an extremely peaceful ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ story, with lots of opportunities for readers to interpret their imagined surroundings in ways that personalised the experience to themselves and their own life

‘A blackbird resting on a nearby branch pauses, mid-song, to watch you pass.’

As part of the process of dreaming it up, I painted a picture of the scene I was envisioning, and Becky printed that too. Very exciting!

Becky also included a mention of my short story collection Sky Light Rain. Marvellous.

Planet Mindful magazine is available to buy here.

Writing prompt – cookies

Cookies by Judy DarleyIn just two days it will be Valentine’s Day. Use this picture of a plate of heart-shaped cookies as your starting point and imagine who baked them. Who is the recipient?

Is this a romantic gift, a desperate or courageous declaration of love, an act of revenge, or something far more frightening?

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 may publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Green Stories invites upbeat #CliFi flash fiction

Pataya, Thailand beach by Judy DarleyThe Green Stories’ team are inviting entries of Flash Fiction for their latest competition.
This competition is free to enter.

The deadline is 21st March 2020. Entries should be no longer than 500 words, excluding title.

Specifically, they are seeking Flash Fiction entries that explore themes around building a sustainable society.

“Most stories set in the future are dystopian, meaning they have a pessimistic view of society. We will consider all stories, but we encourage you to imagine a more positive settings and practices for your stories,” they say. “The story doesn’t have to be about sustainability or climate change directly. A rom-com, for example, could be set in a society that replaces ownership with borrowing and the heroine goes to a clothes library to pick up a posh dress and borrow jewellery for her big date.”

The Green Stories website is packed with information on the topics they’d like you to consider, ranging from practices such as the sharing economy to advances such as nanotechnologies and green transport.

For full details of prizes and how to enter, visit www.greenstories.org.uk/flash-fiction/

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