The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain – a new collection

Rocky Mountains_Judy Darley
I’m excited to share the happy news that Reflex Press will be publishing my third short fiction collection in 2022. The title is ‘The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain’, taken from one of the shortest stories in the collection in which a house encompasses the whole world…

I included the following introduction in my submission to Reflex Press. If you’re planning to submit a collection to a publisher, I highly recommend you create something similar to ease them in. This is the second time I’ve done this, and both times it’s culminated in a publishing contract. It also provides them with some copy to share with the announcement and whet readers’ appetites.

The stories in this collection speak of togetherness and separation: how we strive to connect with that one person who could save us, how we attempt to save the people who matter to us and how we sometimes (often) get things wrong.

Consider the things we slowly come to understand, and then can’t grasp how we didn’t know sooner. Not all is as it first appears. Genders and time frames may skew; perceptions warp. What seems to be unreal may be real, or vice versa. Magic may uncurl in the most commonplace corners. Everyday concerns shuttle past minor miracles.

Discover the lost, the self-conscious, the reckless. Learn how to milk an alpaca. Encounter a river with one thing on its mind. Touch on moments of isolation amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Find out how a ghost-tree could bring a community together. Witness the moment when friendship sparks into something more. Consume a life in one mouthful. Meet the lovers, the families and the undefinable others who make up these worlds and sweep us along.

It’s so good to have something positive to look forward to!

Sign up for updates on the Reflex Press website here.

Writing prompt – refresh

Perretts Park during lockdown by Judy Darley. Shows lawns and trees.

I don’t know about you, but for me my local views are growing just a little bit dull. Every day, pandemic restrictions keep me confined to the same limited perimeter.

I have a favourite three-to-four mile route I walk most days in an attempt to stay sane. The other day, I decided to walk it back to front. BLEW. MY. MIND.

Setting out in the direction I would normally come back from made everything look different – the views that would normally be behind me were ahead and even the puddles refracted the light at fresh angles.

Imagine if you could take this far further and harness the hypersensitive smell or hearing of a dog or the ultra-violet aware sight of a bumblebee to understand your surroundings in a fresh way. What if you could see different historic eras your neighbourhood has experienced?

The possibilities are endless. Can you use this idea as a prompt for a short story or work of art?

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.

Flash Frontier entreats your sweet words

The Florist Elderflower meringue dessert by Judy DarleyThe lovely folks at New Zealand’s Flash Frontier magazine are currently inviting submissions of short tales from across the world on the theme of ‘Sweet’.

The deadline is 10th March 2021. Submissions must be only 250 words in length. Stories of 251 words won’t be accepted.

They say: “We are looking for variety and originality. Tickle us, haunt us, gobsmack us. Choose your words carefully and leave our readers wanting more. And do it in a small space. (…) We love original art in all forms – colourful and daring, muted and understated. We’ll choose art each month that reflects the theme.”

Send only previously unpublished stories, and make sure you follow their style guide to the letter!

To get a taste of what the editors like and get inspired, read Flash Frontier’s latest issue, on the theme of doors.

Find full details of how to submit your work here: https://www.flash-frontier.com/submissions/ 

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 – Milk and Other Lies

Kaunas, Lithuania, River2. 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-third story is ‘Milk and Other Lies’. This fable is just 208 words long and tells of a seemingly magical river in a time of famine. I wanted to test ideas around how we see what we want to see, and fear and desperation can prompt us to swallow our own lies. In the story, not everything is as it seems.

The story began with me examining how intense hunger can pervade your every waking thought. The title, ‘Milk and Other Lies,’ refers to the travesty of multinational milk companies convincing women that bottle-feeding their babies was better than breastfeeding, which led to infants dying in poor communities, especially in third world countries. My story aims to examine how something that appears to be enticing can in  fact be a treacherous and dangerous illusion.

The story began life as a poem, which is probably why it’s so distilled. I often write in one mode and then change to another to tease out more depth, hopefully without losing the power of the original form. I like the fact that extreme brevity invites the reader to be fully engaged, as they’re required to fill in the gaps between words.

Fiction is often a good route into examining stark truths. We’re all somewhat jaded from relentless bad news, which can mean we close our eyes and ears to what’s actually going on. When we read fiction, our frame of mind is usually more receptive. Fiction helps us get our heads around vast, unpalatable truths.

‘Milk and Other Lies’ was originally published by SmokeLong Quarterly.

The story begins:

One day the river runs with milk. I watch as holloweyed mothers bring infants to the shallows. They pour the clouded liquid, scooped palm by palm, into their babies’ gaping mouths.

The next day I wake to the sound of children’s laughter. I step outside, smelling a cloying sweetness in the air. The river has been gilded overnight, shining with butterscotch. Children hurtle in, barefoot – hungry for its sweet promises.

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 ‘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 ‘Distant Storms‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Sculptor‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Reeds and Curlews.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fin‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Underwire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Blossoming Almond Tree‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Merrow Cave‘.

Writing prompt – window

Painted window. Photo by Judy DarleyI pass this window often on my daily walks, and each time it strikes me a little differently. The bright colours and energetic shapes equally suggest children excited to be creative in an unexpected way, and homeschooling rattling out of control.

It’s possible that these pictures were scrawled by adults trying to cling to their sanity. Or could the adults have been absent physically or mentally for some time and these drawings be the clue that something is off-kilter inside?

I like to think this is a splash of artwork that displays hope – the figures are smiling despite their wonky bodies, and the colours are vivid despite grey weather. What inspiration can you glean from them to write a tale or create something unique and hopeful of your own?

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 Forward Prizes for Poetry invites entries

Arnos Vale trees cr Judy Darley

Thirty years after its launch by Bookmark, the Forward Prizes for Poetry welcomes submissions from the editors and publishers of books, magazines, online journals and competitions, published in the UK and Ireland. The submission period for entries runs to 8th March 2021.

Publishers entering the Forward Prizes for Best Collection and Best First Collection will have a further ten days to send physical copies of books, on 18th March 2021.

There are three prizes: The Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000), The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000) and The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1,000). They are accompanied by the Forward Book of Poetry, an annual anthology which brings together the best new work published in the UK and Ireland.

In collaboration with the Creative Critics’ competition, 16 to 19 year olds are invited to write poems in response to work shortlisted for the Prizes. Poems of the Decade: An Anthology of the Forward Books has been an A level English set text since 2014.

The panel of judges read all the books and individual poem submissions before selecting the shortlists to be announced in June. The judges then reflect on the shortlists over the summer before announcing the winners in autumn. You can find out more about the process and eligibility by reading entry guidance and FAQs.

Will Harris RENDANG cover showing the title in red, yellow, black and blue lettering on a cream background.The Forward Prizes celebrate the best new poetry published in UK & Ireland. 2020 winners were announced in an online event, hosted by the British Library, on Sunday 25th October.

Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000)
Caroline Bird The Air Year (Carcanet)

Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000)
Will Harris RENDANG (Granta Poetry)

Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1,000)
Malika Booker ‘The Little Miracles’ (Magma).

Find full details here of how to enter.

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.

Writing prompt – Angels

Corvus Angelica. Photo of illuminated stilt walkers by James Hainsworth.In the midst of a pandemic, when nothing fun had happened for weeks and we’d seen nothing new for months, a whisper crackled through the streets of Totterdown, Bristol.

After darkness fell on a chilly Friday evening, two stilt-walking angels strode through the streets, trailing sparkles and cheers in their wake. We wore masks to keep our exhalations from harming others and maintained our distance carefully, but for that moment we felt our spirits lift. It was a sighting of such creativity that we were reminded of how our vibrant city used to be, when artists invited us into their homes to witness their mark-making and performances erupted on street corners.

The talented stilt walkers of Corvus Angelicus have been striding their magic through different neighbourhoods in a bid to bring a smile to our faces in these challenging times.

This spectacular moment was a reminder of what we’re aiming for – a return to the weirdness we call normality.

Can you turn this into an encouraging or fantastical 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 – Light by C. M. Taylor

Light front cover showing an illustration of a man in a white suit looking at fields, a house and barns.For a story bookended by deaths, Light by CM Taylor is for the most part a refreshingly cheerful affair.

Set in the 1990s against a backdrop of rural England a train ride from London, e-millionaires and enfant terribles of British art, Light  could have easily been titled Chiaroscuro, because it brims with as much darkness as light.

The core thread running through the novella is the friendship between narrator Ben and Will, formed in childhood, set aside for ten years and rediscovered when Will hires Ben as a gardener and odd-job man. A variety of stage-worthy characters jostle beneath Ben’s gaze, most notably Will’s ruthless wife Jessica and son Archie (named for a dead stranger), Sue, who has made a fortune from e-commerce, artist Maggie, and her boyfriend, the mostly silent Pavel.

Ben himself is rarely named – a choice that serves to emphasise how adrift he is as the novella unfolds. He’s a habitual witness impelled by people around him to take an active role.

“I was a grown up,” he observes early on. “I thought I was going to make it.”

Continue reading

Enter National Flash Fiction Day’s microfiction competition

Sweets by Judy DarleyNational Flash Fiction Day’s 100-word microfiction competition 2021 invites your submissions. Send something funny, something that resonates, is fresh and exciting, and leaves the judges lost for words.

The deadline is Monday 15th February 2021. You’re invited to submit up to three flash fictions on any theme.

This year’s judges are Rachael Dunlop, K M Elkes, Sharon Telfer and Alison Woodhouse.

Titles aren’t included in the word count.

  • First prize is £150
  • Second prize is £100
  • Third prize is £50

The winning and shortlisted authors will be published in the National Flash Fiction Day 2021 anthology. Winning and shortlisted authors will also receive a free print copy of this anthology.

Find full details here.

This year, National Flash Fiction Day is on Saturday 26th June. How will you be celebrating?

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 – Merrow Cave

Iona Abbey carving cr 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-second story is ‘Merrow Cave’. It tells the story of a young boy, Callum, who is sent to live with his aunt and granddad on a remote island when his mum is unwell, and discovers a rather fishy family secret.

The story grew from someone telling me how their ageing grandma was forgetting her English and reverting to her mother tongue, which his granddad had never learnt, so that it was as though the grandma was being cast adrift with no one to understand her.

The route I took to explore this sorry situation wove in marine folklore, in particular Irish tales of mermaids, or the merrow. Imagine if your relative came from a world more alien than simply being from another country? How could those differences reemerge as they aged and grew frail?

Introducing Callum as the protagonist gave me an opportunity to examine the scene with an outsider’s eyes. Relocating him from his inland home to the windswept isle makes him feels as out of place as his grandma is becoming.

‘Merrow Cave’ was one of those rare tales that seemed to almost write itself, as though carried by a tide I had little control over.

‘Merrow Cave’ was originally published by Querty Magazine, the literary journal of University of New Brunswick Department of English in Canada.

The story begins:

It’s carved into the side of the rock – a face tilted to one side, hair streaming behind. The jaw is angular and strong, the whole thing larger than life.

Running his hands over the smooth stone of the cheeks and nose, Callum senses it again, that feeling of someone behind him, watching. He lets his arms drop to his sides and turns, slowly, gazing into the darkness at the rear of the cave. The shadows are so deep he feels blind for a moment, but then there’s something, a movement of some sort, and the thin light crawling in from the entrance snags on something back there.

“Hello?” he calls, and his voice bleeds back to him, causing him to shudder with self-consciousness. He wants to run outside into the sunshine, but as the last echoes ebb away, he hears something very like a cough being stifled. Whatever it is in the darkness, it sounds unwell.

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 ‘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 ‘Distant Storms‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Sculptor‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Reeds and Curlews.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fin‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Underwire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Blossoming Almond Tree‘.