Writing prompt – longitude

Mouse and cat weathervane by Judy Darley. Shows a metal weathervane on top of a school against a blue sky.This mouse and cat weathervane sits on top of a primary school in my neighbourhood.

It’s been a strange year for schools, pupils and parents, with daily routines as changeable as the weather. There’s been a global sense of uncertainty that’s led to some feeling more like prey than humans are accustomed to!

Can you use this thought as a jumping off point to create a tale or artwork with themes of peril, daring and triumph?

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 Evolution of Birds by Sara Hills

The-Evolution-of-Birds. Shows book cover of girl with matchstick legs and a bird's head.As fans of Sara Hills’ flash fiction have learnt to expect, the author’s debut collection The Evolution of Birds is crammed with crisp, heart-glancing prose that will leave you at times reeling, and often desperate to give the narrator a hug.

The title story tells of a group of girls at Survival Camp learning to whittle and fire arrows, a skill many of the characters in the following stories could benefit from. In three compact pages, Hills captures the savagery of girls, where reluctance to kill (a pigeon, though more is hinted at) results in goading and scorn.

“With shaking hands, she held her bow taut and took aim. Her arrow was off by a foot. When the lucky bird rose up in flight, we weren’t far behind.”

Hills excels at duality in tales, slanting her word choices with care so they can be read in multiple ways depending on how you hold them up to the light.

Talking of words, Hills demonstrates a visual, visceral way with language that ensures you can feel her sentences on the tips of your fingers and in the back of your throat. Pre-teen protagonists have “breast buds like bottle caps”, a pink dress is “frilled-lizard ugly.”

In ‘Finders Keepers’, the ravages of parenthood are summed up in little over two pages: “When the baby coughs, you measure your youth in medicinal, syrupy spoonfuls. When it’s teary, you weave a blanket from the pink striated fibers of your heart.”

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Writing prompt – biodiverse

Dragonfly by Judy DarleyThis summer our small garden pond has been offering up treasures. Gigantic creatures have climbed from the depths, emerged glittering from their nymph exo-skeletons and whirred skywards like prehistoric helicopters.

It’s like watching a miracle unfurl. Any of these everyday wonders could prompt a tale, but I ask you to consider the magic of the pond itself. The biodiversity layered beneath the surface of the water is as rich as any forest, with extraordinary predators preparing for metamorphosis, and other wee beasties living out their lives.

Could you write or create a piece that showcases the importance of these wet ecosystems to our human-centric world? Write from the point of view of a human, water creature or even the pond itself, and if you delve into the darkness, draw some hope into your 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.

Sky Light Rain reviews – the kindness of strangers

Sky Light Rain coverweb
Whether you are a reader or a writer and a reader, it can be easy to underestimate the power of a good review. For many of us, discovering that the words we write have the vitality to touch other people is deeply moving, and energising. On a fundamental level, we have attained our goal!

It’s one of the reasons I love to review literature and art – not only does it help me dig into the experience of that particular creation more deeply, but from my own personal experiences, I know how affirming the kindness of strangers can be in this context.

With this in mind I’ve opted to share snippets of some Sky Light Rain reviews that made an impact on me.

Author Amanda Huggins (https://troutiemcfishtales.blogspot.com/2020/05/my-review-of-sky-light-rain-by-judy.html) wrote: Judy Darley’s short story collection, Sky Light Rain (Valley Press), looks up to the sky while digging deep down into the heart of what it means to be human. Darley has a distinctive voice, and her characters inhabit a place which is out of step with the world, in tales steeped in folklore, anchored by a deep connection to the natural world, embroidered with misunderstandings and mistakes. The writing is haunting and multi-layered, the imagery deft and original. And although these are stories exploring the fragility and fallibility of the human condition, we witness transformations and glimpses of new beginnings, making this richly textured collection resonate with hope. 

Matt of Runalong The Shelves (https://www.runalongtheshelves.net/blog/2020/1/11/sky-light-rain-by-judy-darley) wrote:

I do love both story collections and anthologies and I think the ones that really work are those that can tell a cohesive narrative around the themes illustrating the variety of stories any subject can trigger. The short story is very hard to get right but when it does it offers so many possibilities to explore and they’re a delight to read. In Judy Darley’s fantastic collection of short stories tales, they evolve around themes of the natural world in sections relating to the Sky, Light or Rain I found it a wonderfully immersive and often surprising set of tales.

The collection includes well over thirty tales some just a few pages; while some a little longer but they’re all well-judged and varied. I liked that I never knew what type of tale would follow next and quite a few tales had a little surprise in store while I read them and had my expectations inverted. They’re not always part of fantasy and sometimes just purely human nature or the impact of the natural world on us but they’re all always with their own sense of magic to them. Darley has a beautiful sense of lyrical description and tailors the tale’s language to suit the characters; all very well-constructed and help bring the reader in.

Writer and writing coach Sarah Tinsley published a mini review and in-depth interview here: https://www.sarahtinsley.com/post/sky-light-rain-with-judy-darley

Judy Darley‘s Sky Light Rain is special. The character in ‘Fin’ really stayed with me – I was haunted by the splashing of water while I lay in bed at night. I also loved the way so many of the stories felt as though they were right on the edge of our reality. Caught up in it, but touching their fingers at something outside of what we can see.

As you can tell from the title, the collection is separated into three sections that are linked thematically. Within that, the stories are truly varied. Different ages, worlds and perspectives are explored, all with a deft touch and with language that is beautifully unique.

Each review, email and tweet about Sky Light Rain lifted my heart and spurred me on to the next creative work. If you have a happy thought or response to anything you read, do the author a kindness and let them know. You might be surprised by the difference it makes!

Discover the inspirations behind the stories in Sky Light Rain.

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 – dig

Someone has been digging by Judy Darley. Shows a flowerbed with disturbed soil.We’ve had a mystery occurring in our garden at regular intervals, and often, but not always, late at night.

Someone has been digging in our flowerbed. Sometimes the hole is so deep and neat it looks like a human has been searching for buried treasure. Other times, a profusion of flies lets us know something had been depositing its own, ahem, treasure.

The area in question is now a tapestry of cut brambles, coffee granules and orange peel – my eco-attempt to deter excavators…

So what does this have to do with writing? Other than the obvious metaphors of excavating for treasure and uncovering, ahem, something else?

This week your challenge is to write a story or create some other imaginative work based on the idea of a mysterious act that keeps happening outside or inside a home, and is beginning to slowly drive the residents bonkers. Write it from the point of view of the residents or the perpetrators, and see how you can harness the emerging mystery to drive the characters’ development.

Alternatively, use this as a prompt to push further in your writing. What can you unearth if you really dig deep?

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 – The Impossibility of Wings by Donna K. Greenwood

Homemade Weather book coverThe final novelette of Homemade Weather: An Anthology of Novelettes in Flash from Retreat West Books is an emotionally-charged story of a girl picking her way through a childhood where parents may present the biggest dangers. The Impossibility of Wings by Donna K. Greenwood was awarded third place in Retreat West’s novelette-in-flash contest, judged by Damhnait Monaghan.

Greenwood paints scenes that layer the unreal over the real, so that we almost need to hold them up to the light to recognise the truths bleeding through. Opening with ‘In the Night They Will Come For Me’, our protagonist talks of the hyenas that gobbled her mother’s eyes, and of how “On Mum’s good days, we watched her fly above the earth”, while on bad days “she would lie at the bottom of the ocean (…) she let us drown a thousand times.”

In ‘Lost Jesus’, we learn that “Dad wants her to be normal” and that “Dad drinks a lot”, a fact that the protagonist blames initially on herself and her sisters. Humour jolts through this story, but panic whispers at the edges of the family’s laughter.

Comedy lifts passages of fear: that the wardrobe the girls take refuge in is known as the War Dog, “because Nessy couldn’t say wardrobe when we first discovered the sanctity of its walls.”

A playfulness with form also delivers otherwise potentially bleak tales with a weft of whimsy. ‘How to Make a Cup of Tea at 3am In The Morning’ is a stunning example of this, with Ingredients including “Sugar, the last hardened clumps at the bottom of the bag are best” and Method including “2. Wake in the midst of a dream (nightmares are best)”, “4. Check all siblings are still sleeping”, “12. Ring your grandma. Tell her your mother has run away.”

I urge you to read the whole hermit crab flash for the full impact of this particular compact masterpiece.

Greenwood has a magic touch when it comes to these topics, lacing sorrows with beauty and darkness with innocence that elevates her novelette to a poignant and entrancing read. In the world she crafts, mental illness is elemental, with the suffocating sting of salt-water and the “mad glare of the moon.” A drunk father may be a bear, even as “its great paws scoop” you out of bed to go and watch fireworks. A mother’s eyes are “two dark holes” and the line between love and hate is perilously sheer.

In “Things I Can’t Pack Into My Suitcase” we’re treated to another hermit crab flash, in which love and fear is spelled out through a litany of “sleepy giggles”, “belly laughs” and “unnameable bangs and slaps.” It’s a list that builds to a heart-fracturing crescendo that explains the presence of the suitcase and the desire to leave, stronger than the need to stay.

In the title flash, ‘The Impossibility Of Wings’, the experience of a farewell is only brought into focus in retrospect, when love finally unfolds and shows us its wings. It’s a whisper to the child hiding in the wardrobe and making tea at 3am that through all the darkness, tenderness curls, seeking the strength and courage to emerge.

An intense and deeply moving portrayal of a child growing up mired in both parents’ mental frailties.

Read my review of Homemade Weather by Tom O’Brien and my review of What The Fox Brings In Its Jaw by Ian O’Brien, the first and second award-winning novelettes in Retreat West’s anthology.

Homemade Weather: An Anthology of Novelettes in Flash is published by Retreat West and is available to buy from www.retreatwest.co.uk/homemade-weather.

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

What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Writing prompt – tree

Victoria Park Black Poplar. By Judy DarleyOccasionally I see a tree that stops me in my tracks. Recently, it was this one in Bristol’s Victoria Park. I think it’s a black poplar. Its jaunty new leaves springing from those pollarded branches make it resemble a literary character.

Do you have a favourite tree, or one that you simply find beautiful? Can you make it the star of a satire, speculative story or other creative work? Perhaps two strangers meet beneath it, or perhaps its foliage or trunk hides a secret. Perhaps the shadow it casts offers a route to another world. Or could you write a satire about human society by focusing on the many species colonising a tree?

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 – What The Fox Brings In Its Jaw by Ian O’Brien

Homemade Weather book coverThe second novelette of Homemade Weather: An Anthology of Novelettes in Flash from Retreat West Books draws you into the life of a man who has gone awry. What The Fox Brings In Its Jaw by Ian O’Brien was awarded second place in Retreat West’s novelette-in-flash contest, judged by Damhnait Monaghan.

It begins with a scene of such contemplative observation that it would be easy to miss the significance of the word craving: “Another craving has brought him to the window and he is standing there with a cigarette when he sees it.”

The ‘it’ is a fox passing by with something in its jaws. This vivid visual serves as a metaphor for the entire novelette, where our protagonist drifts from being the fox to, more naturally it seems, being the helpless creature between the predator’s teeth.

None of the characters are named in this exquisitely melancholic novelette, hinting that in one unthinking moment we could find ourselves in such an existence. Snow, blood on snow, and leafless trees, are recurring images, emphasising the perilous wilderness at the edges of our everyday lives. At times, reading this, I felt physically cold.

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Submit your manuscript to Soft Skull Press

Sad Ghost Cereal cr Judy Darley

Soft Skull Press invites un-agented authors to submit complete manuscripts until 21st July 2021.

They describe themselves as “a home for projects that dissolve categories and hierarchies, provide an alternative to dominant narratives, and make room for new and unexpected ideas and feelings. We aim to create lasting and transformative relationships with writers, and to continually reimagine how a book can be written, published, and sold.”

They publish adult literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and hybrid projects. At this time they are especially seeking and encouraging submissions from BIPOC writers and underrepresented voices of any race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, class, and physical or mental ability.

Authors of accepted submissions retain full copyright license to their work.

For your chance to be published by Soft Skull Press, upload your full manuscript and a statement of intent to their Submittable queue.

There is no submission fee.

In the ‘cover letter’ field, include:

  • A one-paragraph summary of your project
  • The total word count
  • A brief author bio
  • Your contact information

Please submit only one manuscript.

They welcome simultaneous submissions, but ask that if your work is accepted elsewhere, you withdraw your submission promptly.

They also advise: “Please send your work only if you feel it is ready to be read; we will not be accepting updated versions of the same work once submitted.”

Find full submission details here.

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.