Writing prompt – bricks

Deconstructed Wall by Judy Darley. Shows a pile of red bricks.

Building work is taking place all over my neighbourhood, and yet builders tell me that thanks to Brexit, there are far fewer competent construction contractors available than there were a year ago. Hardworking, skilled have gone home to their countries, leaving us with a terrible skills shortage.

This heap of bricks is a wall in all but execution. It makes me think of the fairytale of the Three Little Pigs, shoddy cut-price choices and, frankly, the difference between what we’re promised and what we sometimes actually get. In fact, instead of a pile of bricks, a big mound of something else might be more fitting in this case!

Can you build this into a cautionary satire or 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.

Writing prompt – extrapolate

Flying Ant Day by Judy Darley. Shows gulls flying against clouds, with blue sky showing through gaps.I glanced up during a stroll to find the sky full of wheeling gulls. It’s a sight that local folklore attributes to storm at sea, or, conversely, a spillage of chips.

I was unsure what had prompted this tumult of excitement until I lowered my gaze and spotted the winged ants scurrying and taking flight.

Passion for the ants equals feasts for gulls and other ant-munchers.

There are two details I love about this, which could prompt a tale:

  1. To deduce the cause and effect, I had to look both up and down
  2. Nature behaves in its wild ways even deep in the city’s urban reaches.

Of course, there’s a level of assumption in my extrapolation, which leaves plenty of room for something else to incite the frenzied birds. What story could you spin from this moment in time?

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.

Poetry review – 100 Poems to Save the Earth

100 Poems to Save the Earth coverHow could a single poem, or 1000, hope to save our world? That’s the question laid out by Seren in their latest anthology, 100 Poems to Save the Earth. In 127 pages they answer time and again – through revealing the ecstatic beauty of nature, and its perilous fragility, as expressed here by poets ranging from Simon Armitage to Sheenagh Pugh to Alice Oswald.

The anthology’s editors, Zoe Brigley and Kristian Evans, state in the Introduction that “we live in a time of unprecedented crisis”, but that poetry “calls us to stay awake, to find the words to describe how it feels, to sing to what hurts, to reach out, to attend more closely and with more care, (…) to see all things as our kin.”

In Chorus, David Morley reminds us how “The swallow unmakes the Spring and names the Summer” while “The bullfinches feather-fight the birdbath into a bloodbath”. It’s a vivid reminder both of the majesty of nature, and the characteristics we’re prone to share.

Some of the poems ache with such exquisiteness that I felt a lump in my throat as I read. Carrie Etter’s Karner Blue is one such work, with its echoing refrain of “Because” drawing you in: “Because its wingspan is an inch./ Because it requires blue lupine./ Because to become blue it has to ingest the leaves of a blue plant.” And once we’ve marvel at the wonders that comprise this butterfly, the damning line is served: “Because it has declined ninety per cent in fifteen years.”

Yearning lines abound throughout, urging us into wild spaces: “I go and lie down where the wood drake/ rests in his beauty on the water” (The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell Berry); “Stride out with your boots on, or, better still/ barefoot, and be inside the wind a while” (Water of AE, Em Strang).

Meanwhile, Isabel Galleymore’s Limpet & Drill-Tongued Whelk devotes 14 lines to seaside molluscs, describing a limpet as: “moon textured, the shape of light/ pointing through frosted glass.”

Elsewhere there are conversations with and between trees, and “redwoods veined with centuries of light” (Earth, John Burnside), while Kei Miller brings us the world’s palette in To Know Green from Green. In Sean Hewitt’s Meadow, loss of a loved one tangles in with “the beehive’s sultry/ murmur” as the poet watches “each floret and petal/ inscribe life in its colour.”

Nature in this context offers both consolation and affirmation.

The anthology contains countless lines of awe regarding our wild neighbours, from fungus to octopus, woven in with notes of foreboding. One of the most chilling for me vaults from Sina Queyras’ From ‘Endless Inter-states’: 1, in which the narrator offers “coffee, hot while there is still/ coffee this far north, while there is still news/ to wake up to, and seasons”.

There’s humour too, as in Rhian EdwardsThe Gulls are Mugging and Samuel Tongue’s Fish Counter, which offers “Wise lumps of raw tuna”, “Fish fingers mashed from fragments of once-fish”, and “Hake three-ways”, before delivering the warning: “Choose before the ice melts.”

Near the end, in Dom Bury’s Threshold, we uncover the urgency beneath these poems – these declarations of love, of alarm, of sadness amid beauty, as the poet shares the realisation “That we have to be taken to the edge of death/ to choose, as one, how we live.”

A thought-provoking, at times disconcerting, occasionally heartbreaking, but more often veneration-inspiring hoard of nature-observations, this anthology speaks the message we all need to hear: we must do more than just notice nature to save it and ourselves, but noticing is a good first step.

100 Poems to Save the Earth, edited by Zoe Brigley and Kristian Evans, is published by Seven Books and available to buy here.

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 – construct

Roofers by Judy Darley. Shows two people seen over a hedge on a rooftop against a bright blue sky.Imagine the person peering over this hedge to see a new construction taking shape. Might they be intrigued, perturbed or annoyed? Now imagine that the owner of the house being renovated is a rival of the witness. How might their history colour responses?

Now broaden your viewers’ understanding of what they’re seeing, based on earlier conversations or arguments. Rather than an extension, could the item being built be a spaceship or time travel machine? Remember that in the realms of fantasy, these can be constructed any shape and from any material.

Or could the builders be the focus of the witness’ attention? Is there one of particular interest? Why?

Can you weave in the emotions and backstory through your protagonist’s reactions and behaviour rather than telling your reader?

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 – Inside Fictional Minds by Dr Stephanie Carty

Inside-Fictional-Minds-book coverI don’t know about you, but I often find ‘how to’ books a little hard to digest. Rules can be particularly off-putting when it comes to creative acts such as writing fiction.

With Inside Fictional Minds, Dr Stephanie Carty overcomes those barriers with ease. A light, hearty tone delivers psychological insights that will help you to regard your protagonist, and, let’s face it, yourself, afresh.

The book falls into three sections: The Basics, The Specifics and Putting It All Together. As Carty writes in the introduction: “The first section will cover a wide range of topics about how characters (well, humans… but let’s keep saying characters) feel, think and interact.”

Through exploring the fundamental beliefs, relationships and perceptions that inform  behaviour, alongside exercises that place your characters in settings beyond the story world you’ve created for them, Carty equips us to view our created people with dazzling clarity and to unpick the complex myriad of experiences that have shaped them. Even if these moments happen off-page and aren’t mentioned within the story itself, through identifying these influences and their impacts, Carty furnishes us to build three-dimensional characters whose responses to the plot will be as richly nuanced as any real person’s.

Continue reading

Writing prompt – absurd and poignant

Tortoiseshell butterfly sunning itself on a pair of white satin knickers by Judy DarleyI love attempting to photograph the natural beauty that crops up in my surroundings, though the shots often have more to do with luck than skill.

One of my best butterfly pics is also one of my most absurd, as I happened to snap this beauty as it alighted on a pair of white satin smalls, on a washing line.

The butterfly has no idea of the absurd elegance of its sunspot choice.

It brings to mind an art exhibition I saw over two decades ago, which appeared to show rows of taxidermy pinned butterflies, which on closer inspection turned out to be exquisite pairs of miniature knickers.

Can you turn this into a story that is comical and poignant, perhaps examining the disappearance of our butterfly species in favour of fast fashion fixes?

Thank you to John Jackson on Twitter who told me this is a Painted Lady butterfly (not Tortoiseshell as I mistakenly believed). How perfectly absurdly poignant!

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.