Writing prompt – WTF

Elegant vintage car with WTF numberplate. Photo by Judy DarleyI love this little Nissan Figaro I pass on my daily walks. It’s such an elegant piece of engineering, and its number plate seems to sum up this past year. The fact it made this statement before hashtags even existed (ok, it’s not truly vintage, but still pre-hashtag at around 1991 or thereabouts) makes it even more endearing.

Imagine the owner of this glorious vehicle gliding through life nonplussed but unfazed. Can you build a story around this character navigating 2020, and wishing this horrible year a cheery farewell in a way that suits their personality and verve perfectly?

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.

Sky Light Rain – Reeds and Curlews

Laugharne Castle by Judy Darley

I can never resist the opportunity to catch a ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into the workings of a creative endeavour. It’s 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-ninth story is ‘Reeds and Curlews’. It carries us through a rainstorm to one of my favourite places, Laugharne in Wales, at the moment when a mother recognises the hazards of the age her son has reached following the death of one of his friends. Even as she attempts to shepherd him through his grief, she’s swept sideways by the relief that it wasn’t her son who died.

We all have those moments, don’t we? Those terrible, guilty feelings of “Thank goodness that happened to them, not us.”

An earlier version of ‘Reeds and Curlews’, then titled ‘Wriggler’, was published in the October 2018 issue of Ghost Parachute.

The story begins:

The suspension bridge tries to catch us in its wires as we drive from Bristol to Wales, chasing storm clouds as we go.

“It’s a spider with a gazillion legs,” Oli says, staring up throughthe sunroof.

I can’t help but smile. In those words I hear the little boy he used to be, just last year or the year before. Not that twelve is so very close to full maturity, but the perils in his vicinity seem disturbingly adult.

The thirsty July ground is too hard-baked to let rain soak in. Puddles form, then lakes and rivers, gushing down hillsides to meet us. The deluge fills me with a kind of fierce delight. I feel we’re amorphous – regressing to the amphibious beings we were in the womb.

“I was never a frog,” Oli says, holding tight to the backpack cradled in his lap. One hand is closed in a fist, gripping something I can’t see.

“No, but you were a wriggler,” I say, my own hands fixed to the steering wheel as we aquaplane for a second, and then regain the road.

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 ‘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 ‘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.

Enter Oxford Flash Fiction Prize 2021

Oxford University buildings. Photo by Judy Darley. Photo of old buildings in the English city of Oxford.Oxford Flash Fiction Prize 2021 invites you to submit your finest flash fiction tale for a chance to get 2021 off to an excellent start.

The deadline is 31 January 2021.

The word limit is 1,000.

  • First prize is £1000.
  • Second prize is £200.
  • Third prize is £100.

Shortlisted entrants will be offered the chance to be published in the end of year digital anthology.

You can choose to enter one flash at £6, two at £10 or three at £14.

A limited number of free entries are available to low-income writers. Find out more here.

Rules of entry

  • All entries must be formatted as a single-spaced word document or PDF.
    Font: Arial, 12pt. This is to standardise entries so that all stories are treated equally. Only entries that are under the 1000-word limit (not including the title) will be accepted.
  • All entries must include the title of the story but not the name or address, or any identifying information of the entrant.
  • This is an international competition, and all entries must be in English.
  • All entries must be the work of the person entering and must not have been published anywhere online (including blogs and websites) or accepted for publication elsewhere. The copyright remains with the author.
  • Entries will not be accepted without payment, and any entries that do not comply with the competition rules will be disqualified.
  • No corrections post-entry can be accepted or refunds given.
  • The results of the competition will be published online and the decision of the judge(s) will be final.
  • The closing date for entries is midnight (UK time) on the 31st January. Winners will be notified by email within six weeks of the closing dates.

Find full details here.

Sky Light Rain – Breathing Water

Breathing Water by Judy Darley. View of harbour from prow of boat.I can never resist the opportunity to catch a ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into the workings of a creative endeavour. 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-eighth story is ‘Breathing Water’. It examines the small rituals we carry out to feel safe and to try to keep others from harm, and explores the tensions and tenderness within a family where two brothers have chosen very different paths – one an artist and the other a fisherman. The viewpoint is the artist’s son, Gil, whose neurodiversity perturbs his father and uncle.

An earlier version of ‘Breathing Water’ was published by Little Lantern Press.

The story begins:

The moon is thin, casting a faint spool of light that catches in the waves beyond the harbour wall. Gil likes this kind of night, softened by the salt in the warm air, all colours subdued. He pads down to the dock, strips off his t-shirt and shorts, clambers down the steel steps welded to the wall. The metal is cold against his skin, but not, he knows, as cold as the sea itself will be, even here in the harbour where it has been quieted.

He enters slowly, allowing the chill to creep over his skin. Become the blood in his veins. He sinks until his ears are submerged, and exhales with something like relief. There, now not only the sights are muted, but the noises too. All except those he creates himself, which sound distinct and pure.

He swims across the harbour to the first shadowy hull, heaves himself on board and stands, shivering.

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 ‘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 ‘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 – snowmen

Sabah Museum snowmen by Judy Darley. Group of fake snowmen looking a bit worse for wear.In the heat of a southeast Asian summer on the island of Borneo, I turned a corner and unexpectedly encountered this group of motley snowmen.

I love how out of place, and out of season, they look in a sunny corner of an island that’s never seen snow. I also relish the memory of being able to travel to places where I myself was so visibly out of place. I snapped photo in 2012, so who knows what state this snow clan are in now?

Can you use this as the prompt for a tale where your protagonist is somewhere they don’t belong? What motivation might they have for being there? Are they in control of their destination or has someone else placed them somewhere they stand out like a fibreglass snowman in a heatwave?

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.

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.

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 of a loved oneleave a gift in your will, or give in celebration. If you’re a publisher or other member of the book trade, you could even donate books.

Michael Palin head shot“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.”

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.

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

Sky Light Rain – The Sculptor

The Sculptor by Judy Darley. Photo of an ice sculpture against a sunset.I can never resist the opportunity to catch a ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into the workings of a creative endeavour. 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-sixth story is ‘The Sculptor’.

When my father was diagnosed with semantic dementia, it was difficult, ironically, to find the words to express that cruel incremental loss. Fiction gave me a way to express what I was experiencing and communicate it to others.

Semantic dementia is the gradual erosion of language and meaning, and watching my father battling to recall the words he needed was both heart-aching and alarming. I’ve always written, and my working life has been centred around words as a journalist and fiction writer, but finding the form to talk about this particular situation was a challenge. I needed to create some distance, and fiction provided the means to do that.

I grew increasingly aware that other people around me were suffering shockingly familiar drawn-out plummets into grief. It seemed every other stranger I fell into conversation with was struggling to survive a similar tragedy. In this way, fiction became a way not only to understand my own emotions around my loss of a man who still lived, but as a means to reach out to and connect with others.

My first successful short story on this subject became The Sculptor. I made my protagonist, Isha, an ice sculptor and had her fall in love with a glassblower, using these elemental artisan-ships to create a fictional landscape in which to place the ‘dad’ character. Nothing was true to my life apart from the situation, Isha’s grief, and the words stumbled over by the man representing my own dad.

The photo shows an ice sculpture at my cousin’s Thailand wedding in 2019. Remember when travel was a thing? *sigh*

An earlier version of ‘The Sculptor’ was published in Unthology 8 by Unthank Books.

The story begins:

She has to pause every hour – that’s what the orthopaedist advised – to take a break from the frozen quiet and ease warmth back into her body. Standing in the studio, Isha cradles a steaming mug close to her throat so that the licking fingers of vapour lap at her chin. She feels the quietness inside her soften and begin to melt.

Even the juddering growl of the chainsaw can’t disperse the peace that takes hold while she’s working. She feels it grip her interior like the shy fingers of ghosts. Isha wonders how much time she has left before the orthopaedist’s caution makes itself known.

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 ‘Geese Among the Trees’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Blue Suitcase’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Distant Storms‘.
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 – legends

Seals near Mull, Scotland by Judy DarleyEvery family I know has quirks of its own – a private culture built from childhood mythology and misunderstandings.

One I love as a child was spun by my mother who believed wholeheartedly that if you stood on a seashore and sang, seals would be drawn by curiosity to appear. I have no idea if it works, but have clear memories of stand on a drizzly beach somewhere on the edge of Scotland bellowing song lyrics while gulls wheeled overhead, probably wondering if choirs carry sandwiches.

I wove this legend into my story ‘Singing To Seals‘, which appears in my first collection, Remember Me To The Bees.

What childhood myth or memory could you spin into a 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 – Straw Gods by Tom O’Brien

Straw Gods coverSet in a coastal village and on the surrounding seas, Tom O’Brien’s intensely told novella-in-flash examines the insularity and isolation of grief.

Our narrator is Rosa, living on the shore of the sea that swallowed her husband Matteo ten years ago. With the sound of waves endlessly within earshot, she can’t move on from the hope that Matteo will re-emerge with the next tide.

It opens with a powerful declaration: ‘“I know that you’re dead,” I said to my husband. He didn’t respond.’

Rituals bring scant comfort – the making of tea for a wraith who can never drink it, the poring over of treasures he gave her as tokens of their love – each repeated as if Rosa can lull nature into letting what it has taken slip back to where it, or rather he, belongs.

Rosa confides: ‘There was no storm when he drowned. A freak wave hit the boat, they told me, caused by something far away.’ The details of this sentence are intriguing – the idea of something so seemingly inconsequentially distant could cause such devastation in the centre of a woman’s life ripples through every story that makes up the novella.

Continue reading

Sky Light Rain – Distant Storms

Sunlit water cr Judy DarleyI can never resist the opportunity to peek behind the curtain and catch a ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into the workings of a creative endeavour. 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-fifth story is also the first in the ‘Rain’ section, in which all tales are dappled with rain, or washed by ocean waves and rivers. ‘Distant Storms’ invites us to glimpse a future when rising sea levels creep above the lower areas of cities, isolating many people.

Imagine you and one other have been finding ways for the two of you to survive for a decade when a column of smoke lets you know you’re not entirely alone. What will you do?

I originally wrote this flash fiction for the Redcliffe Future Way story walk.

A shorter version was published in Mslexia’s Little Ms newsletter.

The story begins:

When the floods came, most people stuck it out for a time, then lost their nerve and travelled beyond the outer reaches of the city, seeking higher ground.

Not us. We stayed put in the tower block, watching as the streets went under, and then the bridges and even the skyscrapers closest to the strand. You showed me how to fish from the windows, going up a floor each month as the water levels climbed. We learnt to swim through the murky waves, salvaging anything that floated, diving down through waterlogged buildings to rescue anything we could make use of.

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 ‘Geese Among the Trees’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Blue Suitcase’.
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.