Writing prompt – gap

Gap between houses and streets by Judy DarleyI love the gaps between things (houses, trees, ideas…) – they often offer a slightly skewed view that can lead your brain down an unexpected track.

In this particular slice between buildings and streets, I enjoy the shadow on the righthand wall. It seems to suggest a vast ship docking out of shot. What else might be occurring just beyond the camera’s frame? How can you use this to shape a story or other creative work?

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.

Novelette review – Homemade Weather by Tom O’Brien

Homemade Weather book coverThe title novelette of this anthology from Retreat West Books, Homemade Weather by Tom O’Brien was the winning entry in the publisher’s new novelette-in-flash contest, judged by Damhnait Monaghan, and deserves its star position whole-heartedly.

The author immerses us in his protagonist’s world, keeping the focus tight and intimate. Celia Finn lives within view of a mountain that frames her childhood. Rather than bickering like other families in the area, her parents have periods of tense unspoken exchanges that Celia imagines as she sits on the stairs within earshot of what’s unsaid.

Celia is a faithful believer in rituals, and the novelette opens with her writing her name three times, an act that serves both to introduce her to us and to offer a sense of protection as her dog Ollie whistles his last breaths “to the mountain across the valley, with its band of shadowed woods.”

There’s a striking control to O’Brien’s writing – each word chosen with care and each statement neatly balanced to underplay emotions in a way that ensures they seep under our skin. Each sensation felt by Celia is delivered to us with considered care. At the doctor’s, “I felt his peppermint breath turn from me when he sent a look to my mother”, while her parents fail to argue out loud, she wants ‘to go back to my room, to close the door and hear only clean quiet.”

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Enter Chestnut Review’s Prose Chapbook Contest

Chestnut Tree by Judy DarleyChestnut Review has launched its first ever Prose Chapbook Contest. Editor Maria S. Picone invites you to submit any kind of prose manuscript, whether that’s fiction, CNF, or hybrid forms. A single powerful story is as welcome as a series of vivid flashes.

Submissions are open until 31st July 2021,

Maria S. Picone says: “We are looking for smart, daring manuscripts that overtake us, break us, and rebuild us with beautiful language. We welcome all forms of prose manuscripts: fiction, CNF, or hybrid. Hit us with one powerful story, or delight us with a series of flash. Blur genres or stay true to form. Surprise us. Challenge us. Manuscripts with more than one piece should feel cohesive and coherent.”

The manuscript’s length should be between 5,000 and 8,000 words in total, which amounts to approximately 20-30 pages.

The winner will receive $600 and 20 copies of their published chapbook. Chapbooks will be published through Chestnut Review via a print-on-demand provider. The winner will earn 30% royalties, distributed annually on all copies sold.

The winning chapbook will be advertised in Chestnut Review and on social media, and will be featured for sale on Amazon.com and via https://chestnutreview.com/.

The winning author will be interviewed in a feature in the Summer 2022 issue of Chestnut Review.

Find full details here: chestnutreview.com/contests/

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

National Flash Fiction Day flash flood

River mud and debrisNational Flash Fiction Day UK is celebrating its 10th Anniversary on Saturday 26th June 2021. I’m delighted to have a micro flash selected for the FlashFlood.

My tale The Sideways House will appear on the FlashFlood journal at around 10:20 a.m. BST. In case you weren’t aware, the FlashFlood is an annually occurring tsunami-sized outpouring of mini masterpieces. The tireless team at Nat Flash Fiction towers will publish a flash at every five to ten minutes for 24 hours straight, from 00:01 until 23:59 BST.

I can’t wait to see what other wonders are in the stream. As an added treat, I’ll share a film of myself reading The Sideways House at around the same time as it sails out on the flood.

In other news, my wry eco-poem ‘What’s That’, featuring water voles and Rats, has been published by Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, which describes itself as “a website dedicated to the serious art of writing humorous poetry.”

Writing prompt – hybrid

Freshford bat-sheep by Judy DarleyI love hybrid writing that allows the reader to muse over whether the words before them comprise prose, poetry, or the enticing ‘other’.

It’s a categorisation, or rebuff of attempted categorisation, that creeps into other sources of inspiration too. Recently I contributed to a book of haikus about mixed-up sea and land creatures, which I rather enjoyed.

So when my hub and I strolled past this lamb, and my hub declared it a “bat-sheep” due to its extremely large ears, I wondered how I could spin that into a poem/prose hybrid piece of writing.

The rather more normally endowed lamp photobombing could be BatSheep’s sidekick. What animal hybrid would you dream up to scaffold a poem-tale around, and what enhanced skills might they show off?

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 – the other side of better by Michelle Elvy

the other side of better by Michelle Elvy book coverFans of Michelle Elvy’s novella-in-flash the everrumble (and yes, I very much count myself among them) are in for a treat with the author’s newest offering. the other side of better, is another literary marvel the defies categorisation, skirting genres and forms alike, with flash fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry and general musings all layering together like a bowl of salt, sweet and umami-flavoured popcorn.

I was left with a palpable impression of the author’s deep affection for both her invented and remembered characters and the spaces they inhabit.

In ‘A Midsummer Night’s Shore’, Elvy offers up a painterly scene while drawing on all our senses: “A sandbar juts out and canvas claps as we tack away”, “Squishing feel, wet marsh”, and, most beautifully of all, in writing of a heron: “My wants are a blue-grey ghost, gliding.”

Something about those word choices suggest the cool of the barely discernible sky, the smell of the water and the quiet of the author’s heart, at that time, in that place.

Elvy’s specificity illuminates images in your mind’s eye. Consider ‘And in the museum: triptych’, in which fledging yearnings are offset against whaling memorabilia. “Beth is always at Marianne’s side. They have matching sweaters. John is wedged in, trapped behind the girls. (…) Beth takes Marianne’s hand: a barricade of laced fingers.” Those tightly written sentences capture a moment wholly particular and yet entirely universal.

Interspersed between some of the stories, and in a 27-page wedge in the collection’s centre, you’ll find notes from “the Fuddy-Duddy Editor” who “was once a Fuddy-Duddy Writer.” These intrusions, the literary equivalent of a theatrical aside, add humour and insight, as well as making you, in some cases, feel a surge of defensiveness towards the tale you just enjoyed and which she is now picking holes in. It’s a neat trick.

“Lost and found in Berlin” is a self-contained tale that re-emerges in this central part as a powerfully constrained abbreviation. By shifting from first to third person, the second version shines up our impression of the protagonist and of her tenderness towards an old man with a trainset in his basement at the end of an East Berlin trainline. “The girl recalled  the tiny free world, and the bigger walled world.”

It’s an imperfect echo that ripples through many of Elvy’s works – the themes explored, exquisitely polished, and then tipped on their heads; the memories subverted into fictions that read truer than any inventory of facts; and of sounds swelling with unuttered secrets just beyond the pages’ confines. It all succeeds in challenging us to engage in dialogue with Elvy’s hybrid forms.

Adventures small and large brim within these pages, where you’ll only need to hold your breath for exhilaration’s sake.

In the final section, ‘in a dream in a dream in a dream’, Elvy splices together fragments of climate fiction in the voices of an elephant, a sloth, a giraffe, and a deeply self-satisfied hippo, among others. The author sweeps us across oceans to shores where “waves roll in like timpani” and libraries serve up poetry with tea, draws us into childhood dreams of sails and pectoral fins, and enshrouds us in loss and discoveries. Through it all, Elvy reminds us of the joy to be found in this extraordinary world of ours, and that it’s up to us to choose to “give it a try.”

the other side of better by Michelle Elvy is published by AdHoc Fiction. Buy your copy.

This book was given to me in exchange for a fair review.

Seen or read anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com. Likewise, if you’ve published or produced something you’d like me to review, please get in touch.

Enter the Fractured Lit Flash Fiction Prize

Lake Michigan and Navy Pier. Photo by Judy DarleyFractured Lit invite you to submit flash fiction to the Fractured Lit Flash Fiction Prize.

The closing date for entries is 18th July 2021.

Guest judge K-Ming Chang will choose three winning stories from a shortlist. All entries will be considered for publication.

The winner will receive $3000 and publication, while the 2nd and 3rd place winners will receive publication and $300 and $200, respectively.
K-Ming Chang is a Kundiman fellow, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. She is the author of the New York Times Editors’ Choice novel Bestiary (One World/Random House, 2020), which was longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Her short story collection, Gods of Want, is forthcoming from One World in June 2022.

I recommend you submit work that embraces the publication’s tagline: fiction that lingers long after the flash.

In exchange for a $20 reading fee, you may submit up to two stories of 1,000 words or fewer each per entry, set within the same document.

Find the full guidelines and submit your flash fiction here.

Good luck!

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 – Unreal

Making friends at the Art Institute of Chicago. Shows woman in an art gallery standing with outsize sculpture of child. Photo by James HainsworthMy hub took this photo a while ago when we were visiting Chicago’s Art Institute. It’s one of the most exceptional art establishments I’ve had the pleasure of exploring.

Imagine waking to find yourself in a world where everything is a) larger than life, and b) slightly unreal. Would you embrace the opportunity of adventure or devote your energies to getting back to reality?

The fact this huge boy-child and I are wearing matching shoes only adds to the sense of the strange, in my opinion. I can’t remember what we’re both staring at, but I appear to share his amazement!

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.

Time to rev up for the Writers’ Weekend 2021

Butterfly cr Judy DarleyThe Writers’ Weekend 2021, formerly Winchester Writers’ Festival, runs from 24th-27th June 2021, and is your virtual opportunity to mingle with writers, agents and lots of other interesting literary types.

Authors Diana Gabaldon and Chris Riddell have been announced as keynote speakers.

Book for events with a wide array of novelists, including Robert Fabbri, Kate Mosse, Lissa Evans, Tracey Corderoy, MG Leonard, Derek Miller, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Helen Fields and Ness Wood, as well as talks from top literary agents on the craft of writing and how to get published. Learn, discuss, ask questions, be inspired and entertained, and meet other writers.

There are more than 600 opportunities to sign up for virtual one-to-one appointments and Group Chat rooms for topic-driven small-group discussion. This year look out for Writers’ Circles too. These virtual writing groups offer the chance for peer feedback.

The programme will close on Sunday evening with a panel discussion from international best-selling author Kate Mosse, novelist Abi Daré and literary agent Lucy Morris. Read all about it in the programme.

The Writers’ Weekend takes place from 24th-27th June 2021. Choose the package that suits you.

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

Writing prompt – ladybird

Red ladybird on a red rosebud. Photo by Judy DarleyWith so much rain followed by an abundance of sunshine, everything around us is blooming, and that inevitably includes invertebrates. I’ve been struck by the sheer numbers of iggly wiggles besieging our roses, from vast number of greenfly and aphids to the ants farming and milking them for honeydew.

Happily, the juicy green critters have alerted a patrol of predators, including this beautiful crimson ladybird. Nature always has a solution for keeping things in balance.

Can you use this truth to seed an eco-optimist #clificlifi story or other creative work?

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.