Writing prompt – parade

The Festival of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres on the Azores, 2017. By Judy DarleyI took this photo in Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel, the largest of the Azores islands. Jetlagged after a full day of airports and planes, I was mesmerised by the shininess of this man’s shoes against the black and white pavement.

The Festival of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres is a major holy event on Sao Miguel. It’s up to you whether you want to research the intricacies of the religious beliefs and rites, or invent something original. Who might this man be? Why the red coat? What’s with the floral carpeting in the centre of the road? Whose feet appear almost out of shot?

Are drums playing, women ululating, children tooting on horns, animals braying? Can you smell beer or coffee, toasting sugar or crushed petals? Is the air warm and drowsy or crackling with excitement? How might the festival’s zenith impact one person or group?

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.

Writing prompt – b-hotel

Bee Hotel, Bristol Botanic Garden. Photo by Judy DarleyI’ve already mentioned No Mow May, and tomorrow is World Bee Day 2021. Visiting Bristol Botanic Garden, I was impressed by the size of their Bee Hotel. It really is the Hilton of Bug  Hotels. It also reminds me slightly oddly of the properties in the opening credits to ‘The Jetsons‘, when the future was full of hope and razzmatazz.

This is a chance to play with concepts of scale to create an adventure tale.

Who might choose to stay here? Might they be a refugee family displaced by the climate crisis? Notice the webs on some parts of the structure. What kinds of neighbours could lurk in shadowy corners? How can the family attempt to keep themselves safe?

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 – Am I in the Right Place? by Ben Pester

Am I In The Right Place book coverIf your preferred reading place and time is in bed before sleep, you may need to develop new habits for Ben Pester’s debut collection Am I in the Right Place? Seemingly ordinary settings (a café; an office) twitch with unreliable edges that threaten to upend into the unknown. Cupboards open into other worlds, and roads lead to versions of memories that encroach on the present in unexpected ways.

We open with a character waiting to meet his ageing father, and then spooling into a journey where anxiety lingers with such a palpable presence it almost takes on human form.

Later in the collection, in ‘Low Energy Meeting’ a line manager introduces us to the embodiment of his love, a sorrowful figure in a dingy dressing gown.

Emotions here have powers to shift our surroundings, making every step uncertain. What was floor moments ago could now be a hole with an insatiable appetite.

Some pages, dyed black from corner to corner, abandon us to our rattled thoughts only quieted by the rustle of us scrabbling to get to the next printed words.

Continue reading

Writing prompt – horses

Eastwood Farm horses by Judy DarleyOn the same day that we came across farmland where we’d expected no farm, we encountered two horses behaving uncannily un-horselike. They were motionless in their field, standing there as though someone had forgotten to switch them on.

I’ve since been informed this is perfectly normal – this is them resting while their bodies get on with the exhausting business of digesting hay. But their stillness made them seem like a museum scene, and made me feel for an instant that none of it was real.

Can you use this eerie feeling to build up a scene where someone gains the awareness that their home is no longer quite what it seems? What might the clues be? How might your protagonist test their inkling? What could ensue?

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.

2020 Costa Book Award Winner Hosts UK Writer’s Retreat 

The Grange by the Sea_Skyros_2021Fancy taking a trip to the masterclass of a lifetime? Costa Book Award winner 2020 for her novel for The Mermaid of Black ConchMonique Roffey is hosting a life writing coastal masterclass on behalf of Skyros. The ‘Your Story’ Writer’s Retreat will take place at Skyros’ UK Retreat, The Grange by the Sea on the Isle of Wight, within earshot of the ocean.

Eight hours of tuition on top of afternoon drop-ins will offer a solid start to any life writing project.

Mermaid of Black Conch coverMonique Roffey is an award-winning Trinidadian-born British writer. As well as winning the Costa Book of the Year 2020, The Mermaid of Black Conch was also shortlisted for the Goldsmith Prize 2020 and longlisted for the Rathbones/Folio Award. She is author of seven books, six novels and a memoir. She is Senior Lecturer on the MFA/MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and has taught for Skyros for many years.

“In the world of writing memoirs, understand how shame can limit your potential and tap into your vulnerabilities, transforming them into strengths.”

The Grange has Good To Go accreditation with Covid measures in-place, and is well suited to solo travellers as well as couples and friends.

Monique’s masterclass runs from Monday 17th until Friday 21st May, 2021.

The price, £575 includes:

* Eight hours of coaching per week
* Breakfast, lunch and dinner
* Afternoon drop-in classes for three afternoons
* Additional ad-hoc morning and evening activities
* Community structures unique to Skyros that bring everyone together in a fun and authentic way
* Twin shared 4-star guest accommodation at The Grange by The Sea (single upgrades available).
* Coastline walks and opportunities for excursions

For more information, call +44 (0)1983 865 566, email holidays@skyros.com and see the full season of UK retreats here www.skyros.com.

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

Writing prompt – No Mow May

Bee on purple flowers by Judy DarleyAs #NoMowMay begins, it reminds me of how much damage we’ve done to our busy pollinators with pesticides and eradication of much of our planet’s green spaces.

Happily, this initiative from Plantlife offers us the chance to make a difference by… doing nothing. Don’t tidy your garden or titivate your lawn – allow it to grow unkempt and unruly with wildflowers as bees and other insects search for vital nectar.

If you’ve glimpsed my first short story collection Remember Me To The Bees (available from Tangent Books), you’re probably already aware of how much I love natural in general and bees in particular.

This #NoMowMay, can you write a small, celebratory tale about the important work our pollinators do and how we can help them, whether that’s by banning pesticides, planting bee-friendly flowers or just being a little more willing to let our green spaces run wild?

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.

Publications in April

Mushrooms by Judy DarleyMy flash fiction Stretching Out found a home in Hencroft’s Issue One, a spectacular debut entirely focused around the theme of Fungus. It’s about the relationship between Agnes and her Grandfah, who encourages her to be more that society dictates.

Here’s a paragraph from the tale:

It was Grandfah who encouraged her thirst for knowledge about the natural world. When she knelt to admire the gills of clouded agaric fungi clustered in leaflitter, he told of their strands stretching and intertwining far underground.  He suggested Agnes sketch the honey fungus clinging to rotted boughs, nodding in response to her observations as though her words had weight. He even had a special name for her interest: mycology, and said that one day she’d be a great mycologist.

My small strange micro tale The Sideways House, inspired by the so-called ‘new normal’, appeared in Issue 4 of Twin Pies Literary.

At just 92 words, it explores the challenges of living within previously unforeseen constraints.

Here’s a line from the centre:

All our pictures hung askew, books domino-ed, and the showerhead swung like a perturbed cat’s tail whenever we dared turn it on. 

You can read the rest here www.twinpiesliterary.com/volume-four/thesidewayshouse

In other news, I was nominated for a Sabotage Reviews Award in the Best Reviewer of Literature category. You can vote in all the categories here by 5th May. If you enjoy my reviews, please consider voting for me. Thank you!