The New York Times seeks your tiny love stories

Love birds by Judy DarleyWhat kind of love story can you share in two tweets, an Instagram caption or a Facebook post? The New York Times invites you to tell them a love story from your own life — happy or sad, capturing a moment or a lifetime — in no more than 100 words.

They say: “Include a picture taken by you that complements your narrative, whether a selfie, screenshot or snapshot. We seek to publish the funniest and heart-wrenching entries we receive. They must be true and unpublished.”

As days shorten and lockdowns tighten, love may be all you need (other than food, fluids, shelter, Netflix, and a decent broadband connection, oh, and books…), but can you condense it down to 100 words that capture the quirks of a love you know intimately?

They add: “Love may be universal, but individual experiences can differ immensely, informed by factors such as race, socio-economic status, gender, disability status, nationality, sexuality, age, religion and culture. As in the main Modern Love column, we are committed to publishing a range of experiences and perspectives in Tiny Love Stories. We especially encourage Black and Indigenous people and other people of color to submit, as well as writers outside of the United States and those who identify as members of L.G.B.T.Q. communities.”

I highly recommend you read some earlier examples of Tiny Love Stories at nytimes.com/modernlove.

Click here for submission terms, and bear in mind that “accepted stories will be edited for clarity and content in consultation with the writer.”

Find full details and submit here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/19/style/modern-love-tiny-love-stories.html

Sky Light Rain – Invertebrates

Arnos Vale woodland grave cr Judy DarleyI don’t know about you, but I adore catching a ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into stories, music and theatrical productions. It’s part of the reason why I launched this series of posts offering insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The twenty-second story is ‘Invertebrates’. It bubbled up in my mind when I was strolling in Arnos Vale Cemetery, a grand Victorian amphitheatre cemetery which recent provided an area for woodland graves.

When I saw this rustic place of mourning, my intrigue and imagination were piqued. The profusion of flowers scattered on the bare earth made this seem an ultimately tender gesture. I pictured the people who might have laid someone to rest here, amid the trees and insects, I couldn’t help thinking of the brutality and beauty of many fairytales.

The resulting story, ‘Invertebrates’, serves as a sequel to a familiar fairytale.

It was originally published in Door Is A Jar Magazine.

The story begins:

We dug her up each solstice; each time she was a little lighter, her joints a little more unhinged. I worried she might come apart entirely, sinew and bones giving way as we propped her in the place of honour.

My brother and I allowed the invertebrates that had made her their home to attend our celebrations too. Sometimes centipedes fell from her eye-sockets and throat cavity to roam among the feast. I watched beetles nestle into her breastbone, and recalled how comfortably my head once rested there.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Elevated Truths‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Little Blessings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Lodged‘.

Writing prompt – hazard

Hidden Malago Flamingo by Judy Darley

I spotted this punctured pink flamingo balloon at a local nature reserve. It’s such a vibrant, cheerful object – and what could be more innocent than a balloon?

Yet this escaped frippery is a hazard to wildlife, and one that could last longer that the trees it’s tangled among. Google ‘balloons’ and “dangers” and countless chilling tales bob up. And that’s without considering the implications for a planet already loaded with plastic.

More than a month after I first glimpsed it, the flamingo is wind-battered, storm-torn and looking far from its best, but it’s still there.

Your challenge this week is to take something designed for fun and weave it into a horror story that serves as a warning. See how dark you can make it.

Now take that story and edit it into a tale that lifts spirits and offers hope.

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 – Don’t Tell The Bees by Mary-Jane Holmes

Don’t Tell The Bees by Mary-Jane HolmesIn this powerfully layered and tightly stitched novella-in-flash, author Mary-Jane Holmes weaves a world where nature waits in corners and on the edge of hearing, barely out of sight.

Our protagonist, known as ‘No-more’ after the refrain her mother was rumoured to have repeated after her birth “over and over again”, is as spirited as the wild creatures who share the landscape she roams. The opening story deposits her in our lap as her mother leaves her “howling in twitch grass by the river” so that she survives only  because her father finds her stumbles back to the loom, leaving her father Maurice to tie her to his back so that her waking moments are spent “in quarry and field” with his blood pulsing against her own.

Although rooted in “the marshlands from Damvix to Gruelle” in France, there’s a sensuous texture to the novella that evokes folk tales from all parts of the world where people are in rhythm with the land.

Holmes draw us ever deeper into a place where we can feel the cool mud under our feet, and when No-more’s beloved father is hooked by a tip of a weather-vane he is repairing, we fly with him, caught on the same breeze, so visceral is the writing.

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Sky Light Rain – Lodged

Lodged by Judy DarleyI don’t know about you, but I adore catching a ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into stories, music and theatrical productions. It’s part of the reason why I launched this series of posts offering insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The twenty-first story is ‘Lodged’, which is one of the first ghost stories I have had published. It tells of a couple who move into a house where a former tenant has left behind more than a creepy atmosphere. I was inspired to write it while living in a rental property where the cellar was filled with items belonging to the previous resident – everything from old pots and pans to gymkhana ribbons, asthma inhalers and old teddy bears. My brain began mulling over why anyone would abandon things that seem so necessary, and of such sentimental value?

The second spur for the story sprang from ‘The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This eerie story seeded in the idea of Charlie, my character named in honour of Charlotte, becoming increasingly obsessed with the former tenant, July. I began to wonder what had happened to make the person leave so abruptly that they didn’t take half their things with them, and then to wonder whether they’d truly left at all…

An earlier version of ‘Lodged’ was published by Origami Journal.

It begins:

It’s just after 5am when Graham comes to find me. I’m in the cellar, still in my pyjamas, one leg half over the old armchair that sits in the section where the landlord’s dumped the former tenant’s possessions. I pause when he comes in.

“Charlie, what are you doing?”

“Did I wake you?” I push my tangled hair out of my eyes with one hand. “Sorry. Couldn’t sleep.”

I’ve found all kinds of things: old paintings, teddy bears, dressmaking fabrics… I wave a blue gymkhana ribbon in the air, half amused, half aghast. “Why would anyone leave this stuff behind?”

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Elevated Truths‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal’.

Writing prompt – never have I ever

Pendine Beach cr Judy Darley

I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic this week, celebrating the first birthday of my second collection Sky Light Rain, and remembering writing the tales in my first collection Remember Me To The Bees. The first story in that first collection is ‘Never Seen The Sea’, and is, as the title suggests, about a person’s first ever sighting of the sea.

Remember Me To The Bees coverIt was a fun challenge to imagine never having seen something most of us take for granted. My parents took me to the seashore as a baby, so it has always been part of my landscape and understanding of the world.

I set you the challenge of writing a short story about someone experiencing something ordinary for the first time and finding it extraordinary. Perhaps its their first tree (how astonishingly tall!), thunderstorm (terrifying!), or music.

Whatever it is, write it from the point of view of the person seeing, feeling, tasting, hearing, smelling and tasting this first-in-their-lifetime event. Describe it using all the senses and try to capture the wonder for your readers to share.

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.

Enter Mslexia’s poetry competitions

Button on Kilve Beach cr Judy DarleyMslexia’s competitions for poetry pamphlets and individual poems are open for entries, so now’s the time to ensure every word earns its place in your work.

Both competitions have a closing date of 7th December 2020, and are open to women of any nationality from any country.

The first prize of the pamphlet competition is £250 plus publication by Seren Books.

The entry fee is £20 per pamphlet.

The judge Amy Wack, is Poetry Editor at Seren Books and started her career with Seren in 1989. She was reviews editor for Poetry Wales before becoming commissioning poetry editor.

The annual pamphlet competition  welcomes completed collections of up to 24 pages of up to 20 poems. The poems may be in any style, of any length, on any subject.

In addition to the top prize of £250, the winning pamphlet will be published in 2021 by Seren Books. One or more poems from the pamphlet will be published in Mslexia in June 2021.

Each £20 entry fee allows you to enter one pamphlet. You may enter as many times as you like, provided each collection is accompanied by the £20 entry fee.

The first prize of the poetry competition is £2,000. The entry fee is £10 for up to three poems. You can enter as many poems as you like, provided each trio is accompanied by the £10 entry fee

Poems may be any length, in any style, and on any subject.

Entries will be judged Karen McCarthy Woolf, whose poems have take roost in numerous publications, including her collection An Aviary of Small Birds, which was shortlisted for both the Forward Felix Dennis and Fenton Aldeburgh prizes. Her poems have been translated into Spanish, Turkish and Swedish, selected for Poems on the Underground, and made into poetry films.

As well as £2,000, the winner will receive two optional extras: a one-to-one feedback session with acclaimed poet Malika Booker; and a one-week retreat at Cove Park Centre in Scotland. The second-place poet will receive £500; the third-place poet will receive £250 and 17 runners up will receive £25. All winners and runners up will be published in the March 2021 issue of Mslexia.

In addition, there is a special prize of £250 for the best poem by a previously-unpublished woman poet.

To find out more and enter, comprehensive Poetry and Pamphlet Competition FAQs, and make sure you read the rules before entering.

You can find full details of how to enter at www.mslexia.co.uk.

Book review – The House on the Corner by Alison Woodhouse

The House on the Corner coverBookended by the purchase and sale of a home, Alison Woodhouse’s debut novella in flash explores the bricks and mortar that form a family. Woodhouse mines the emotions grinding below the activities of everyday life – the small resentments, disappointments and unspoken dreams we pick up on without identifying, knowing only that we feel uneasy.

The unnamed estate agent has ambitions for the home she needs to sell – “She hoped she’d found the right family to bring the house back to life.”

In less than four pages, Woodhouse introduces us to the individuals that make up the 1980s family tasked with this job: Martin, “who turned up in a smart suit, carrying a briefcase”, Helen, “flustered and fifteen minutes late”, plus the children, later named as Joe and Natalie, who “had climbed into the pink bath. They sat opposite each other, foreheads touching as they whispered.”

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Sky Light Rain – Little Blessings

Bench, Victoria Park by Judy DarleyEver wondered how a short story sparks into life? This series of posts offers insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The twentieth story is ‘Little Blessings’. One scene in this story was plucked in its entirety from a moment when a man rushing to reach a train almost shoved me in front of it in his haste – I actually fell against the side of the train as it halted, but as I lost balance I had a strange instant when I was aware I was right in its path. The righteous anger that issued towards him by other commuters on my behalf was even more surreal. It was as though everyone had unknowingly been seeking an excuse to release some bile, and this hapless man ended up the recipient.

The story also features a box of mice that have been sitting in my subconscious since I glimpsed them on a bus while visiting my sister in France around twenty years ago, and a park bench where an abandonment occurs.

I wanted to use this tale to explore our weaknesses and the small, unexpected things that bring us solace.

It was originally published by a Canadian magazine called The Germ.

It begins:

My counsellor once told me to count my blessings, so I do.

I have my work. That’s a blessing. When the alarm clock shocks me out of sleep to the bleakest, rainiest mornings, it gives me a reason to uncurl myself, step outside, present my best side to the world.

I have my health. That’s a blessing. It equips me for the long, tedious walk to the train station. When my umbrella crumples, defeated, I stride onwards, strong.

And in its own way, the commute is a blessing too – a chance to travel faster than I can run without any discernible effort, an opportunity to people-watch, nose into the exterior layer of lives that are none of my business. A blessing of sorts even on a particularly frantic morning, when the trains are delayed and everyone is single-minded with one intent: get to work, and a man shoves me out of his way with such unexpected force I topple against the train that’s waiting. At least it wasn’t the moment before the locomotive arrived, at least I didn’t plummet down the chasm of the tracks, get gulped down by the train as it arrived. And to add to the celebratory sense of survival, success, at boarding the train in one complete piece, I have that odd, self-righteous enjoyment of being the wronged, of hearing other commuters berate my reckless shover. Of imagining his shame, quietly revelling in it till I almost feel I ought to apologise to him.

Almost, but not quite.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Elevated Truths‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal’.

Writing prompt – quarantine

Treehouse cr Judy DarleyMy husband has tested positive for COVID-19, which means we’re currently under house arrest. Happily his symptoms are mild, and we’re hoping they stay that way,

Imagine a character who isn’t allowed to leave their home for some reason, but happens to live somewhere unconventional. Make their location key to the story’s mood – perhaps they live in a treehouse, boat or lighthouse.

How secure do they feel? How might their emotional state be influenced by their surroundings? How could this impact on the people they’re trapped with?

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.