Submit your words to the Wild Atlantic Writing Awards

Azorean views over the Atlantic by Judy DarleyIreland Writing Retreat and Wild Atlantic Writers invite you to submit flash fiction and creative non-fiction inspired by nature. The closing date is 10th December.

The Flash Fiction Award is open to all genres from sci-fi to crime, and romance to horror, providing nature features as a key element, “It could even be that a tree, plant, stone or other being or Nature in its multitude of expressions plays a key role in your story. ”

The maximum length is 500 words, not including the title.

The Creative Nonfiction Award offers a similar challenge, only instead of a fiction story it should take the form of memoir, personal essay, travelogue (even one about your hometown) or anything other true tale, providing nature plays significant role in your submission.

It must be no more than 500 words, not including the title.

For both competitions, the prize is 500 euros in cash.

A fee of 10 euro is required for each entry.

The closing date is 10th December.

Find the full rules and link to enter here.

Book review – When It’s Not Called Making Love by Karen Jones

when-its-not-called-making-love coverFewer friendships are more complicated than the same-sex ones we have as we near and break into our teens. In ‘When It’s Not Called Making Love,’ Karen Jones draws us into the intimacy that straddles bullying and lust, as innocence sloughs off cell by cell.

Jones makes powerful use of the novel-in-flash form, with each of her 16 flash fictions building on the last as her characters hurtle towards adulthood.

While each story could be siphoned off to stand alone and shimmering in solitary perfection, each plays such a crucial role to the overarching tale that should any be removed, the whole structure could shatter. This contributes to the tension of the underlying story, with a sense of characters clinging on by their fingertips.

The novella opens with ‘Recommended Stopping Distance’, a flash that rings out for almost a full page in one long torrential sentence, before finally a full stop allows us to take a breath. There’s so much crammed into this first sentence that it’s worth reading twice – once for the sheer exhilaration of it, and again, to catch the details that may become important later.

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Sky Light Rain – Geese Among the Trees

Geese Among the Trees cr Judy DarleyThere’s something magical about 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-third story is ‘Geese Among the Trees’. Just a few times in my life I’ve seen geese grazing – it always seems to me to be something uncanny and incongruous. I wanted to harness that feeling while exploring the challenge of being someone who’s been hurt too many times to give into wonder, and offset this against a person who actively seeks opportunities to be amazed. Can the cynic and the innocent ever find a happy ending together?

This story was written for the lovely folks at Liars’ League Hong Kong for their literary night of performances in December a few years back. I wanted to write something that wasn’t Christmassy, but captured some of the sense of childlike awe the season can evoke in those that way inclined.

Susan Lavender performed my short story as part of the special showcase.

The story begins:

I see it from the train each day, nestled between the fields and the canal. If I’m travelling at dusk or the day is overcast and stormy, the windows glint against the stone walls. I can imagine you then, moving about in there, doing whatever it is that you do without me. Or perhaps you’re resting your elbows against a window ledge looking out, wearing a worn-thin, oversized jumper, watching the train zipping by like something fleeing through the landscape, headed god knows where – who cares where, as long as it’s away?

Away from the house we shared – the one and a half rooms downstairs, two and a half up, if you counted the loft where the bats lodged and paid rent in foul-smelling droppings.

“Guano,” you told me, and scooped it up to fertilise the garden, transforming it into carrots and lettuces – a kind of alchemy. I never could eat them without feeling squeamish, although I knew they’d been scrubbed clean.

Country living, it’s not for everyone.

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

Discover the inspiration behind my other Sky Light Rain stories by clicking on the story titles below.

Discover the inspiration behind ‘Untrue Blue‘. 
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Weaving Wings’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Woman and Birds’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Shaped from Clay’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Knotted Rope’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Two Pools of Water’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Apollo’s Offspring’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fascinate’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘A Blackbird’s Heart’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Paper Flowers’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Strawberry Thief’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Moth Room’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Far From the Farm’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Flamingos and Ham’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lamp Black’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Elevated Truths’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Little Blessings’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lodged’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Invertebrates’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Blue Suitcase’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Distant Storms‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Sculptor‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Underwire’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breathing Water’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Reeds and Curlews.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fin‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Blossoming Almond Tree‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Merrow Cave‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Milk and Other Lies‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Edge of the Sand‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘What Rises’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Carry the Sky’.

If you’d like to request a review copy of Sky Light Rain or interview me about my writing, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Writing prompt – balance

Rock-Cornwall-by-Judy-Darley
Picture a pair of children who have been told to wait somewhere unexpected and increasingly perilous, such as on a crumbling cliff-edge or at the edge of rising water.

Use this extreme situation to dig into their relationship. How do they feel about each other? Is their primary emotion jealousy or devotion.

What dramatic event has led to their predicament? How will they each help the other to escape?

Add in an unconventional characteristic the pair have in common, and explore how they might use it to improve their situation.

To skew the balance of power, provide just one with a tool that could help with their situation. Do they choose to share their advantage or keep it to themselves?

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.

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 other Sky Light Rain stories by clicking on the story titles below.

Discover the inspiration behind ‘Untrue Blue‘. 
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Weaving Wings’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Woman and Birds’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Shaped from Clay’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Knotted Rope’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Two Pools of Water’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Apollo’s Offspring’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fascinate’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘A Blackbird’s Heart’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Paper Flowers’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Strawberry Thief’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Moth Room’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Far From the Farm’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Flamingos and Ham’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lamp Black’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Elevated Truths’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Little Blessings’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lodged’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Geese Among the Trees’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Blue Suitcase’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Distant Storms‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Sculptor‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Underwire’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breathing Water’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Reeds and Curlews.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fin‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Blossoming Almond Tree‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Merrow Cave‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Milk and Other Lies‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Edge of the Sand‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘What Rises’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Carry the Sky’.

If you’d like to request a review copy of Sky Light Rain or interview me about my writing, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

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.

Continue reading

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 other Sky Light Rain stories by clicking on the story titles below.

Discover the inspiration behind ‘Untrue Blue‘. 
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Weaving Wings’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Woman and Birds’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Shaped from Clay’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Knotted Rope’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Two Pools of Water’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Apollo’s Offspring’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fascinate’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘A Blackbird’s Heart’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Paper Flowers’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Strawberry Thief’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Moth Room’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Far From the Farm’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Flamingos and Ham’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lamp Black’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Elevated Truths’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Little Blessings’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Invertebrates’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Geese Among the Trees’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Blue Suitcase’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Distant Storms‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Sculptor‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Underwire’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breathing Water’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Reeds and Curlews.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fin‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Blossoming Almond Tree‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Merrow Cave‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Milk and Other Lies‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Edge of the Sand‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘What Rises’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Carry the Sky’.

If you’d like to request a review copy of Sky Light Rain or interview me about my writing, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

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.