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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Recent publications

Judy all at seaI relish writing and editing short stories and flash fiction, and have a self-imposed rule of submitting every month. If you write, I highly recommend this trick. It ensures that for every rejection, there are still a handful of tales out in the world that may yet be published, plus a gentle flurry of successes to bolster your writing mojo!

Here are some of my recent publications.

June 2022

The egret and I don’t belong here – The Phare Literary Magazine Summer 2022 issue

Tricks to uproot a guest who has outstayed their welcome – Tiny Molecules issue 13

After Dad Goes into Care – National Flash Fiction Day FlashFlood 2022

Bees Breathe Without Lungs – Honeyguide Magazine

How to Hook a Heart – And We Live Happily Ever After, National Flash Fiction Day anthology 2022

The Tempest Inside – Micro Madness

April 2022

Milk Tooth – Wyldblood Press

March 2022

Awkward Liaisons – Flash Fiction Festival Volume Four

Falling in a Forest Mslexia magazine issue 93

Oxblood – Flash Frontier

Fishing for Green and Blue – Retreat West 10th Birthday Anthology

December 2021

Reasons Your Kefir Might Sour – Litro Magazine Flash Friday

The Only Language He knows Now is Touch – Blink-Ink, Moonlight #46

The Finch in My Sister’s Hair – The Birdseed

The Sea Lives in Her Mum’s Head – Ellipsis Zine

November 2021

The Salt Sting of Learning When To Say No – Flash Frontier

September 2021

My Choice – Six Sentence Stories

Three Shades of Summer – Flash Fiction Magazine

Storm Beckoner – Bandit Fiction

June 2021

Leaf After Leaf – National Flash Fiction Day Write-In

The Hare I Miss – Thimble Literary Magazine

What’s That? – Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis

May 2021

Reaching (collaborate work – I wrote the first stanza) – 100 Words of Solitude

April 2021

Stretching Out – Hencroft

The Sideways House – Twin Pies Volume IV

March 2021

Unstill Life With Plums – The Pomegranate

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.

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.

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.

Ledbury Poetry Festival 2021

Ledbury cr John EagerSome British towns seem better suited to literary festivals than others, and Ledbury in Herefordshire is ideal – with reams of streets and architecture that the word ‘picturesque’ could have been invented for. This year, Ledbury’s annual Poetry Festival is from 2nd-11th July 2021 and invites you to the first ever hybrid Ledbury Poetry Festival with a mixture of online and in-person events. Digital events are happening across the ten days of the Festival, with the second weekend (10th-11th July) offering a full schedule of readings, workshops and open mics.

Online, you can look forward to events with Jorie Graham, Margaret Atwood, Kwame Dawes, Fred D’Aguiar, Chen Chen, Luke Kennard, Kim Addonizio, Phoebe Stuckes, Gillian Clarke, Zoë Brigley, Billy Collins, Martina Evans, Valzhyna Mort, Victoria Chang, Anthony Anaxagorou, Nikita Gill, Séan Hewitt, and John Challis, Versopolis, Ledbury Poetry Slam Online, Juliet Stevenson on Stevie Smith, readings from Ledbury Poetry Competition Winners and more events to be confirmed.

In-person events include readings, talks and performances from Julia Copus, Rosalind Hudis, Ruth Stacey, Jamie Thrasivoulou, Beth Calverley, plus community events including an interactive poetry trail.

There will also be a mixture of online and in-person workshops with Phoebe Stuckes, John Challis, Zoë Brigley, Martina Evans, Jamie Thrasivoulou, Ruth Stacey, and Rosalind Hudis.

Don’t forget to enter the LPF Poetry Competitions. Poems for the adult and under 18s (12-17 years) categories must be received on or before Thursday 15th July 2021 at 5pm British Summer Time.

The image at the very top of this post was kindly supplied by John Eager of www.visitledbury.info.

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.

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Book review – Deep Water by Lu Hersey

I originally wrote and published my review of Deep Water by Lu Hersey in September 2015. I really loved this book and have been awaiting the sequel avidly! The book has just been released in a fresh edition by Tangent Books, so I decided to re-publish the review in support of Lu’s beautiful writing.

Deep Water by Lu HerseyLu Hersey’s debut may have been written with a teen readership in mind, but it transcends the YA category with a tender, eerie tale of marine myths and magic. Lu won the 2013 Mslexia Children’s Novel Writing Award for Deep Water, and the gentle, almost stealthy start belies the thrill and beauty of this book.

Danni is your average 15-year-old with an average family life, or so she thinks until the day she comes home to find her mother missing and a mysterious pool of salt water on the kitchen floor.

Along with cheery sidekick Levi, Danni is packed off to stay with her dad in Cornwall and soon becomes immersed in a world where curses take the form of ‘poppets’, the weather can be charmed with knotted fabric and a select few can take the form of seals when the fancy takes them.

In Cornwall, Danni gets to meet a family member she thought was long deceased, and discovers an inherited trait that will change her life forever – she’s a sea person, and needs to transform into a seal on a regular basis to retain her health and sanity.

Drawing on Cornish Celtic legends, Lu has created a version of the metamorphous stories that’s far removed from the fey prettiness of most mermaid tales – changing is physically excruciating for Danni and a mackerel she consumes while in seal form is painfully thrown up when returned to human physiology. Details like this keep the fantasy elements firmly rooted in reality, and make you invest wholeheartedly in the flawed yet potent core characters.

The underwater scenes are powerfully written – atmospheric and charged with dazzling energy. “Out in the open water, we circle a swarm of ghostly jellyfish with cauliflower-like tentacles that have somehow survived the winter, drifting along on some invisible current. I swim through the darkening water, somersaulting round and round in sheer joy at the sensation and the freedom.”

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