Poetry review – Other Women’s Kitchens by Alison Binney

Other Women's Kitchens book coverThe winner of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2020, the 23 poems in this small but powerful volume capture the frustrations of being gay in a straight-centred world, but also the joys to be found in understanding who you truly are and having the courage to seek and accept love.

Opening with a prose poem titled The way you knew, Alison Binney speaks of the utter innateness of self-knowledge with a light yet poignant touch that rings throughout the pamphlet, making you smile while simultaneously feeling your breath catch in your throat.

Keeping the tone buoyant, Binney launches into Lesbianism by numbers, which resembles a found poem pieced from click bait: “9 awkward things that happen when you’re the only lesbian at work (…) 16 lesbian power couples from history who got shit done…”

The L word digs deeper at a soreness rubbed raw by a thousand unthinking comments and slurs as a child deciphers clues about her own nature. The quietly emotional response to the ‘L word’ of the title spoken as an insult reveal a quiet, burning shame that’s deeply moving: “Later it flicked like a spitball/ from the back of the class, and slipped down the nape of my neck./ If you wiped it away they knew it had stuck./ I kept it under my tongue like a piece of old gum/ brought out to chew in the dark…”

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Writing prompt – haunt

Haunted tree by Judy Darley

This lime tree appears to be haunted by a flock of unhappy ghosts, which makes it the ideal #writingprompt as we slide closer to Halloween.

Imagine the spirits who jostle within this tree. What terrible things have they witnessed and heard? What are they trying to warn us to avoid?

Now take this prompt slightly sideways – perhaps the deeds that haunt them are needless deaths of wild fauna and flora. Perhaps each small species made extinct keeps this tree’s spirits trapped and lamenting.

How could you spin and resolve this tale? What could set these spirits free?

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.

On your marks… NaNoWriMo!

Photo by Muhammad Haikal Sjukri on Unsplash. Shows a person holding a map in front of a wildnerness.Monday 1st November marks the start of NaNoWriMo 2021. Are you taking part? I love the concept of this word-packed month, with ardent writers across the world hunched over laptops sweating out every last drop of inspiration.

New to the concept? It’s pretty simple really. As they state on the NaNoWriMo website: “On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.”

I know plenty of writers this enforced period of productivity really suits. For some folks it seems to be the ideal way to stoke up ideas and get them to catch alight on the page.

For me, the beginning stages of novel-writing are all about thinking ahead, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do some speedy planning even as you begin to write. After all, what else are you going to do when waiting for buses, in post office queues and doing the washing up?

Here are my top five preparation tips to ensure you make the most of this exceptional month.

1. Form a vision of the story you’re aiming to tell, with the beginning already shaped in your mind. If possible, do the same for the ending. Having an idea of the finale you’re working towards will mean you’re far less likely to veer off track!

2. Spend some time considering your characters – get to know who they are, how they think, what their goals are, and how they might help or hinder each other.

3. Know your setting. It really helps if you can really picture the place where your characters are spending time. Base it on somewhere you know, use maps or, for an imagined place, doodle your map! This is one of my favourites, particularly if it offers a valid excuse to meander in a much loved wilderness or similar.

4. Pick out a few dramatic moments your plot will cover and brainstorm them, then set them aside. Whenever your enthusiasm wanes over the intensive NaNoWriMo period, treat yourself by delving into one of those to reinvigorate your writing energy.

5. Finally, make sure you have plenty of sustenance to hand. For me, the essentials are coffee and chocolate. What are yours?

If you’re not a long-form junkie, why not take part in the flash version? Launched by the inimitable Nancy Stohlman in 2012, Flash Nano urges you to pledge to write 30 mini stories in 30 days. In 2020, more than 1,000 people took part. Even if not all turn out to be sparkling examples, you should end up with some that make your heart zing!

Theatre review – Wuthering Heights

Kandaka Moore (Zillah), Ash Hunter (Heathcliff), Nandi Bhebhe (The Moor), Lucy McCormick (Cathy) and Witney White (Frances Earnshaw:Young Cathy). Credit Steve Tanner

Kandaka Moore (Zillah), Ash Hunter (Heathcliff), Nandi Bhebhe (The Moor), Lucy McCormick (Cathy) and Witney White (Frances Earnshaw:Young Cathy). Credit Steve Tanner.

Emma Rice’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights contains all the energy, humour and darkness you’d expect from the love child of Emily Bronte’s novel and Wild Children’s imaginative prowess. As with all the company’s productions to date, the first thing you’ll notice is the spectacle.

Puppetry, cleverly minimal sets, mood-altering lighting, original music and some truly stirring dance choreographed by Etta Murfitt, all serve to drive the story and setting directly into your veins.

TJ Holmes (Robert), Tama Phethean (Hindley Earnshaw:Hareton Earnshaw), Witney White (Frances Earnshaw:Young Cathy) Ash Hunter (Heathcliff) and Jordan Laviniere (John). Credit Steve Tanner

TJ Holmes (Robert), Tama Phethean (Hindley Earnshaw:Hareton Earnshaw), Witney White (Frances Earnshaw:Young Cathy) Ash Hunter (Heathcliff) and Jordan Laviniere (John). Credit Steve Tanner.

Not to mention the fact that one of the cast members is credited as the Leader of the Moor.

It feels only fitting that the landscape with such a crucial role in the story should have an aspect in human form, with Nandi Bhebhe crowned as the Leader, while often surrounded by other actors contributing to the sense of stormy weather and, perhaps unexpectedly compassion for the characters. In fact, every cast member other than Ash Hunter (Heathcliff) and Lucy McCormick (Catherine) takes their turn, while Heathcliff and Catherine embody the wildness of the moor in their own particular way.

The play opens as the book does with Lockwood (Sam Archer, who is also a wonderfully nuanced Linton) arriving in futile hope of a hospitable welcome at Wuthering Heights, where Heathcliff is master, and his daughter-in-law Cathy (Catherine’s daughter, played with endearing warmth by Witney White) and her cousin Hareton (Tama Phethean) live in fearful servitude. As the storm makes Lockwood an unwelcome and unwilling guest, he soon discovers that the place is haunted by more than chilly draughts and Heathcliff’s tempers.

Ash Hunter (Heathcliff) and Katy Owen (ISabella Linton:Linton Heathcliff). Credit Steve Tanner

Ash Hunter (Heathcliff) and Katy Owen (ISabella Linton:Linton Heathcliff). Credit Steve Tanner

As he flees the ghost of Catherine, Lockwood, and the audience, learns the story of Wuthering Heights from the Moor. Violence, betrayal and death are ever present, but comedy rears up at every opportunity, not least in Katy Owen’s marvellous portrayal both of Isabelle Linton and her son Little Linton. If you recall Katy Owen’s performance as Grandma Chance in the company’s debut production of Angela Carter’s Wise Children, you won’t be surprised by her apparent ability to shapeshift between these roles.

Early on a nod is made to the confusing multitude of names and connections. Each death is trailed by a character carrying a chalkboard showing the deceased’s name, while the evocative digital screen at the rear of the stage shows a flock of birds taking off with each final breath.

There are no ends to the ingenious means employed to tell this story, and the cast, band and creative team’s skills are showcased throughout. Under Emma Rice’s direction, Ash Hunter and Lucy McCormick expose a possessive, obsessive love as disturbing as Heathcliff’s dogged revenge against all who have wronged him. Lucy McCormick’s vocal exertions are sometimes sweet, sometimes eerie and often powerfully emotional, not least her song in the first half as she chooses between comfort and love. The musical performances provide the sense you’ve attended a gig as well as a play.

Nandi Bhebhe (The Moor, Lucy McCormick (Cathy) and Kandaka Moore (Zillah). Credit Steve Tanner

Nandi Bhebhe (The Moor, Lucy McCormick (Cathy) and Kandaka Moore (Zillah). Credit Steve Tanner.

As the Moor sings in the start of act two, this is not a love story – if we want love we should go to Cornwall. Yet despite this, there is hope for happiness at end. With such beauty, verve and vivacity in every scene, you’ll emerge buzzing.

Wuthering Heights is on at Bristol Old Vic until 6th November 2021 and runs at York Theatre from 9th-20th November and the National Theatre from 3rd February-19th March 2022. Live broadcasts will be available to watch from home from 4th-6th November. Find out more and book tickets. Production images by Steve Tanner.

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.

Writing prompt – guardian

Arnos Vale grave cat by Judy Darley

I love the spookiness of this time of year and the excuse to indulge my passion for ghost stories.

One of my favourite places in my neighbourhood is the sprawling Victorian cemetery Arnos Vale, where nature thrives amidst centuries of history.

Around this time in 2020, I was strolling through when I spotted this glorious ginger cat. It may well be keeping an eye out for mice to chase, but I like to think it was either acting as the guardian of this grave, or is perhaps a human spirit returned in feline form.

What directions could your imagination carry you? Could you conjure a satisfyingly eerie tale from this scene?

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.

Write 250 words celebrating trees

Arnos Vale star tree by Judy DarleyTrees in local public gardens and parks boost our spirits, offer a natural haven, improve air quality and willingly offer us something to hug. Sydney Gardens TREE WEEKENDER Writing Competition invites you to put your feelings about trees in public gardens and parks into just 250 words.

The deadline for entries is midnight (GMT) on Monday 1st November 2021, or whenever 125 entries have been received.

It is free to enter. Entrants are limited to two entries only – you may submit a poem and a flash story, two poems or two stories.

Sydney Gardens in Bath, UK, has been a public park for more than 100 years attracting residents and visitors alike, including Jane Austen. Once a private Georgian pleasure garden limited to those who could afford a subscription, it’s now a green jewel within the World Heritage site of the City of Bath.

A recent recipient of Heritage Lottery funds, Sydney Gardens has undergone a restoration that has been delayed by the pandemic but is now coming to fruition, which is being celebrated with a ‘Tree Weekender’ on the weekend of 27 & 28th November.

As part of this celebration of trees, you’re invited to write a flash story or poem of 250 words or under about trees in your local public garden or park.

In particular, they are seeking pieces that examine the value of trees in local parks and public gardens. They want to know the stories from where those trees came from, how they’ve been managed, cared for and loved, and what they mean to you.

Poet Samantha Walton & Charlotte Smith from the B&NES Parks and Trees Service will judge the poetry competition. Nigel Bristow and Andrew Stuck are the judges for the flash pieces.

Judges will draw up a longlist from the entered poems and stories, and all works on the list will be published on the TREE WEEKENDER web pages during November. Shortlisted poems and stories will be chosen, audio recorded and geo-located within and around Sydney Gardens to be available over the TREE WEEKENDER.

Shortlisted authors will be invited to join an exclusive nature writing on- line roundtable on Saturday 27 November, and will be invited to read their work at the TREE WEEKENDER Showcase online finale on Sunday 28th November 2021.

The winner and runner up in both the poetry and prose categories will receive a Book Token to the value of £50. They and the runners up, will each receive an artwork that illustrates their poem or story, created by Alban Low. There will also be special prizes of artwork for the best poem and story submitted by a resident living within Bath & North East Somerset.

The longlist and shortlist will be announced by Monday 22nd November.

The Sydney Gardens Tree Weekender writing competition is run by Rethinking Cities Ltd / Museum of Walking on behalf Bath & North East Somerset Council.

Find full details and terms and conditions here: https://www.bathnes.gov.uk/sites/default/files/sgtw_writingcomp_final_eligibilityrules.pdf

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.

Book review – Random Observations

Random Observations cover. Shows sepia photo of woman and boy.One afternoon in September, a slim envelope was pushed through my door. It contained a book with a title but no indication of the authors, and 32 pages of text interspersed with curious images.

Random Observations begins with a foreword that encompasses in two pages a rescue from a crevasse and a devastating marital rift, plus an introduction to Nevil Short, the apparent author of this work. What follows are snippets of klutz – a spaceship gone awry, a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time, and her child, Short, looking on. Our narrators vary from Short himself at various points in his life to Xyllophital, aka Colin, the extraterrestrial who accidentally kidnaps a human. Oh, and then there’s Inky the dog, who gets a chapter all of his own.

Often the people stepping into the spotlight seem incidental to Short’s central tale, but as he explains in his introduction: “The notes below have been painstakingly compiled through my lifetime’s association with persons of a perplexed disposition.”

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Writing prompt – moped

Moped in Arnos Vale. by Judy DarleyThis poor moped was abandoned in a local Victorian Cemetery, looking utterly at odds with the gravestones and lush greenery.

There are plenty of questions you could explore to create a story inspired by the sight.

Who might the culprit be, and why did they leave it there? Could this be a statement about fossil fuels and our fragile grasp on life, or might a bunch of squirrels, badgers or buzzards have gotten up to no good in the gloaming? Is the Learner plate significant to the tale?

Why not make a play on the word ‘moped’, meaning small-engined two-wheeled vehicle, and ‘moped’, meaning behaviour revealing a melancholic mood?

Given the setting and the season, you also have the option to take a spookier route and write of ghouls taking nostalgic joyrides. I saw it at 7.15am and when I returned a few hours later, the bike had disappeared…

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.

Enter a Halloween podcast Flash Fiction competition

Pumpkin eating person. Photo by Judy Darley

The Failing Writers Podcast Halloween Flash Fiction Writing Competition is eager to hear your words.

Entry is free. The prize is £100 plus the chance to hear your story performed in full by professional voice actors.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 22nd October 2021.

They invite you to send them a Halloween-themed flash fiction story of no more than 666 words. It can be any style, any genre, anything you like, as long as it’s themed around Halloween.

To enter, you need to listen to Episode 24 of the Failing Writers Podcast (available here) for a specific word or phrase that you MUST include in the story. They also recommend you subscribe to the podcast and sign up to their newsletter.

Once it’s ready, email your eerie masterpiece to failingwriterspodcast@gmail.com by Friday 22nd October.

Find full terms, conditions and entry requirements here.

Good luck!

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 – pork

Bramble Farm pig by Judy DarleyAt local urban farmstead Bramble Farm open day. a friend and I enjoyed sausage baps before strolling over to meet this meat, ahem, pork, ahem, pig

As someone who rarely eats meat and loves wildlife, it shocks me how much is consumed daily, and how that impacts our planet.

This pig trotted over to have its ears scratched before toppling onto one side, I assume in hope of a belly-rub, but it made me think of the cow-like creature in Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe that’s been bred to want to be eaten.

I’ve been reading recently about scientific advances in lab-grown meat, whereby a single cell from a pig can be nurtured into a batch of sausages or mince. As sci-fi as this sounds, it’s happening right now, with the target audience being uneasy meat-eaters who want to limit their contribution to deforestation and questionable animal husbandry practices.

Can you turn these strange truths into a fantastical work of fiction?

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.