Sky Light Rain – Blossoming Almond Tree

Blossoming Almond Tree by Judy DarleyI can never resist 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 thirty-first story is ‘Blossoming Almond Tree’. An extract from a longer work in progress, it’s a story of canals, art, and secrets between siblings. The title is a reference to one of Vincent Van Gogh’s most hopeful paintings, ‘Almond Blossoms’, which he completed as a gift for his brother Theo and sister-in-law Jo to celebrate the birth of their son. Just months later, Van Gogh took his own life.

It creates parallels with my character Elise’s concerns about her brother, Davey, and the dark holes that might be appearing beneath his surface.

The pendant pictured above features in the tale.

The story begins:

We travelled to Amsterdam as a celebration the year you turned eighteen. Mam wasn’t thrilled but I promised her we’d visit too many museums to keep straight in our brains, and that I’d make sure you did nothing more than look at the other options on offer.

I planned to keep at least half that promise.

You’d been quieter than usual in the run up to your exams, only your wordless humming occasionally breaking the silence of several days.

I knew Mam was worried about you. I dug into that anxiety and assured her that seeing a bit of culture would do you good, especially with me, your big sister, to watch over you. She couldn’t argue with that.

The journey to Bristol airport took longer and cost more than the flight to Schiphol.

Somehow, we managed to hit a heat wave that slowed the city to a gentle saunter. We strolled around gawping at the canal houses with their gabled façades, and then went and sat on the National Monument in Dam Square eating cones of chips strung with mayonnaise.

I was intrigued by the smoothness of the travertine stone riddled with tiny cavities – like the marks left by miniature artillery fire.

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 ‘Reeds and Curlews.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fin‘.
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 – portal

Arnos vale portal. Photo by Judy Darley. A natural formation of growing wood or vine that seems to hold a circle of light.The days are gradually growing longer and lighter, but even if the weather is still appalling where you are, if you’re in the northern hemisphere you can cling to the knowledge that spring is heading our way.

And if that journey seems too slow for you, imagine this: strolling in a woodland you come across a curious shining circle. An apparently natural formation of wood or vine has twisted into a loop that appears to contain a view into a glowing day.

Can you step through? If you do, what might you find? Is it really greener and brighter on the other side? Can you write a story or create a work of art that explores these possibilities?

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.

Legend Press offers work experience placements

Cornish shore cr Judy DarleyLegend Times is inviting applications for work experience placements with Legend Press, its fiction publishing company.

The independent book publisher was founded in 2005 by Tom Chalmers. Legend Press specialises in original fiction, crime thrillers and its Legend Classics series, with title including Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Much of the publishing house’s success has been due to keenness to innovate and to be a market-leader for new initiatives. As its ultimate mission, Legend Press aims to produce books of the highest quality, provide a global platform for authors and to inspire and thrill book readers around the world.

They are currently offering two-week unpaid work experience placements, covering a wide range of areas including editing, sales, media and marketing.

This is an opportunity to gain an insight into a varied and dynamic working environment and the full publishing process.

To apply, email info@legendpress.co.uk with your CV and cover letter, detailing your interest in the role and what you think you would bring to it.

Although Legend Times is based in London WC1E 6HJ, all staff are working remotely from home due to the current Covid-19 pandemic with flexibility likely to continue over the next year and onwards. It is therefore likely that work experience placements will include both home and office work once government rules allow a return to offices.

Find out more about Legend Press here.

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

Book review – All Our Squandered Beauty by Amanda Huggins

All Our Squandered Beauty by Amanda HugginsIn her debut novella, Amanda Huggins casts her lyrical storytelling over the ruggedness of wild oceans, churning grief and raw adolescence with dizzying potency.

Set in 1978, the salt and tides of the North Sea flavour Huggins’ words as she introduces us to Kara, named after a sea in the Siberian Arctic and a guardian sprite who carried shipwrecked sailors “into the clouds in fishing nets” spun from her hair. Kara simultaneously thirsts for adventures beyond her field of vision while yearning to dive back into the safety of her past. Huggins captures this inner conflict beautifully, highlighting Kara’s confused emotions against a backdrop of motorbikes, unsuitable suitors, nature and art.

When Kara’s art teacher Leo informs her that she’s eligible for “a funded place for a gifted student” on a three-week art placement on a Greek island, Kara is swept away under a swell of first impressions that absorb every sense. Yet misgivings murmur beneath the surface, even as Huggins’ ribbons of words saturate us.

Continue reading

Writing prompt – sneeze

Photo of BANKSY artwork on a Bristol house showing an old woman sneezing so violently that her false teeth have shot out.Art galleries may be closed, but street art is always open, and this Banksy piece appeared on the side of a house near me recently. In a time when the smallest hint of a cough or stifled sneeze is enough to make passersby cower, this image is brilliantly irreverent.

I love the way the old woman is sneezing so violently that her false teeth have shot out.

Can you take an aspect of the pandemic and transform it into a story or work of art that will make people smile? Perhaps someone breaking the UK’s two-metre social distancing rule to mug an old lady finds the handbag they’ve stolen brimming with Covid-19 laden used tissues! What can you dream up to shock and amuse the masses?

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 the Lucy Cavendish College Fiction Prize 2021

Bud. Photo by Judy DarleyThe Lucy Cavendish College Fiction Prize 2021 invites entries from women over the age of 18 who have written a novel “that marries literary merit with unputdownability.”

The closing date for the competition is 12 noon on Friday 12th February 2021.

The judges say they’re equally open to literary fiction and genre fiction, as well as to young adult fiction and children, providing they are primarily word-based.

Your submission must be previously unpublished, and you must not have had other full-length novels published. However, having short stories, poetry, non-fiction or picture books published previously does not exclude you.

To be considered, you need to submit the first 40-50 pages of the novel via the online form and a three to five-page synopsis of the remainder. Authors must not have agent representation at the time of submission.

The entry fee is £12. Sponsored entries for low income writers are available.

All shortlisted entrants be offered a one-to-one consultation, editorial feedback and advice on the marketability of their work from PFD literary agency.

The 2021 winner will receive a cash prize of £1,500.

Shortlisted applicants will also be invited to the prize-giving drinks reception and awards ceremony where they will have the chance to meet. Industry representatives.

Award-winning author and journalist Allison Pearson is chair of the judging panel. For full details, visit www.lucy-cav.cam.ac.uk/fictionprize/how-to-enter, and make sure you follow the competition Terms and Conditions.

Before entering, read these tips.

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.

Sky Light Rain – Underwire

Underwire by Judy DarleyHave you ever created a fictional character who gained traits and powers you didn’t expect? You may have noticed that for a while now I’ve been offering ‘behind-the-scenes’ insights into the inspiration that prompted the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

A few weeks ago, entirely unintentionally, I completely skipped over my story ‘Underwire’. This tale is the twenty-seventh in the collection, and should have appeared in this series of posts between ‘The Sculptor‘ and ‘Breathing Water‘.

This most curious thing about this omission is that ‘Underwire’ tells the tale of a woman who chooses to disappear.

It originally washed up in issue 67 (Winter/Spring 2018) of Tears In The Fence.

The image above shows where the story ends. It begins:

The pebbles of the beach are cold lumps beneath my soles. A January wind whistles in from the sea, but I ignore the goosebumps sprigging my flesh and with effort I think the core of me into heat. That’s a trick, imagining an inferno lit at the centre of my gut, flames licking the ropes of intestines and keeping me warm.

The whole world is dressed in shades of bruises today – bluish pebbles, the greenish sea, a sky like slabs of ice above.

I glance up the beach; see the violet trim of my sneakers where I kicked them off a few steps back. Nearby, my socks lounge untidily like patches of lichen or moss. 

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 ‘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 – roam

Mum's Garden. Painting of trees, grass and walls by Pauline DarleyWith travel off-limits for a while, why not treat yourself to an imaginary journey? Reading, gazing at art, writing and generally being creative give us opportunities to roam countless miles within the confines of your own mind.

One artwork that sweeps me away is the above painting by my mum, Pauline Darley. It shows a corner of her garden, the space where I explored and adventured for hours as a child. To the right of the painting is an immense fir tree that contained whole universes, including the occasional dragon, when I was small.

Find something in your own home that carries you away from your here and now, and then see if you can harness that feeling as a prompt to write, paint or otherwise imagine visiting a faraway land.

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 Fiction Desk seeks ghost stories

Arnoa Vale Cemetery cr Judy DarleyIn these early days of the year with so many hours to each dark night, The Fiction Desk invites you to seek a home for your spooky scribblings by submitting an entry to their annual call for ghost stories.

They say: “’Ghost story’ can mean a lot of different things, from an encounter with an actual phantom to more unusual paranormal phenomena and unexplained events. All types are welcome, so feel free to experiment: we’re very unlikely to disqualify a story for stretching the definition of a “ghost”. Keep in mind that our general readership (and by extension our judge) may be more likely to respond well to psychological chills and unexplained mysteries than in-your-face gore.”

They pay £20 per thousand words for stories (eg £80 for a 4,000 word story, or £120 for a 6,000 word story). Contributors also receive two complimentary paperback copies. The stories they publish are also eligible to enter the Writer’s Award, a cash prize of £100 for the best story in each volume, as judged by the contributors.

Rules of this call for submissions

Entries should be between 1,000 and 20,000 words in length. The entry fee is £4 for each story submitted.

The deadline for entries is January 31st, 2021. To cover admin costs, submission fees are £4 per story.  Stories should be submitted online.

You might find it helpful to take a look at their previous ghost story anthologies.

Find full details of how to submit your ghost stories here.

Sky Light Rain – Fin

Fin. Photo by James Hainsworth

I can never resist 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 thirtieth story is ‘Fin’. It surfaced in my mind one rainy January when I was certain our cellar (the same cellar that brimmed with uncanny encounters in my story ‘Lodged‘) was filling with water.

The idea merged with a whale watching trip I’d taken the year before, when I’d seen and fallen in love with the majesty of fin whales.

The story is about an ending, so the title works on two levels.

The story begins:

It began after their trip to the Azores. Toby had booked it as a celebration of their years together, complete with a voyage to look out for whales. Rachel glued on a smile and let Toby take her hand when he reached for it. She didn’t know how to tell him it was over, but something in the skitter of his glance made her wonder if he’d already guessed. It was as though he no longer dared to fully see her, in case he mistakenly found himself staring at a truth he’d rather not face.

Of the numerous species those Atlantic waters attracted, it was the fin whales that deigned to make an appearance. While other tourists, including Toby, stood and snapped photos, lens to eye, Rachel sat back in her seat and drank the sight in. The slap of fin against the waves, the slide of an immense, narrow body swooning up then over and down into the depths.

“Second largest mammal after the Blue Whale,” their biologist tour guide commented. “These ones are behaving strangely. Normally they come up for air only, but these ones have risen, what, three, four times?”

Each time the pair rose, they came a little closer, and each time, Rachel felt herself singled out by their deep-set, knotted gaze.

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 ‘Reeds and Curlews.
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.