Novella review – Crossing the Lines by Amanda Huggins

Book Balm recommendation: read when you need reminding that every person you meet has their own story.Crossing-the-Lines-by Amanda Huggins cover
Reading almost like a novella in flash and expanding outwards from her Costa Award shortlisted tale Red, Amanda Huggins’ latest creation is a tensely told yet heart-affirming work. The focus is fifteen-year-old Mollie, seemingly trapped in a nightmarish situation until she finds the courage to escape with stray dog Hal.

The friendship between Mollie and Hal is a steel thread through the story, offering solace and strength in the face of disappointments, betrayals and the occasional kindness. This is a journey full of perils and adventure, with happy as well as sour memories trailing behind and the hope of a safe return to what was once home ahead.

When Mollie’s mum Ellie meets Sherman Rook, it’s clear almost at once that he’s no good. “Something in his eyes glittered hard and bright as he appraised her cloud of unruly blonde hair, the jut of her determined chin and her long tanned legs.”

Before the chapter’s end Ellie and Mollie are moving to live with Sherman far from everyone they know. The sense of danger is palpable.

It contrasts sharply with the coastal life Mollie loves, close to her brother Angel and father. The close yet roaming third-person narrative allows chapters to read like flash fictions, with some focused on Ellie and opening up insights into her behaviour, while others share aspects of people Mollie meets only briefly, providing an exterior view of Mollie that helps us see both her vulnerability and gumption.

It all contributes to a richly layered whole.

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Writing prompt – sheep

Sheep on a truck_Wells Rd, Totterdown by Judy Darley

Occasionally, a truck passes my neighbourhood crowded with animals like these sheep.

It makes me think of the way we humans treat the planet and its inhabitants, including other humans, as resources to be plundered. Often we act just like sheep, following our leaders in whatever they tell us is for the best, or for the greater good.

Are there other ways to keep our population fed and secure? What alternatives can you dream up or uncover through research?

Turn this into a hopeful story of a future where we live in tune with our neighbours, from other humans to flora and fauna. Keep plenty of suspense in place by including hints of true atrocities, as Margaret Atwood did in writing The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley (at) to let me know. With your permission, I may publish it on

A conversation about keeping it short

The Stairs snippetI’m so looking forward to heading to the latest instalment of the Flash Fiction Festival on Saturday 27th November 2021. It’s going to be an amazing, energising and inspiring day crammed with workshops and talks from some of the world’s finest flash fiction writers!

My touch-typey fingers are already twitching in anticipation of the workshop on prose poetry, hermit crab flash, ekphrastic writing and more, plus a Great Pottery Throwdown-esque competition, from amazing authors including Kathy Fish, Jude Higgins, Lorette C. Luzajic, Ingrid Jendrzejewski and Sara Hills.

I’m especially thrilled to be joining Sharon Telfer to chat about our Reflex Press collections. We’ll be talking about our books’ themes, how we put them together, reading an exclusive flash fiction from each of our collections and answering any questions you might have.

My short fiction collection The Stairs Are A Snowcapped Mountain will be out in March 2022. I’m hoping to do a cover reveal live at the festival, but for now you can feast your eyes on the shard above.

Get your ticket here:

Hope to see you there.

Writing prompt – insulin

Insulin by Judy DarleyAs a type 1 diabetic diagnosed at the age of eight, I was startled to learn that last Sunday, 14th November 2021, was the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin as a treatment. Prior to that, there wasn’t much doctors could do for diabetics other than put them on a strict low-carb diet, which gave them at best a few extra years.

It shocked me how recently this discovery was made. If my sister and I were born 100 years earlier, my mum would have lost one daughter at around the age of eight and the other not much later.

I suspect people living with conditions such as asthma and epilepsy have similar stories.

Being born in the right time and place really does have the biggest impact on how long you’ll live and how well you’ll thrive.

Can you use this as fuel for a short story about life-enhancing medical discoveries?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley (at) to let me know. With your permission, I may publish it on

Book review – The Fisherwoman and Other Stories by Philip Charter

The Fisherwoman and Other Stories coverThis richly packed collection of short stories by Philip Charter carries you across planets and through time. In each instance, Charter shows his talent for summoning just the right level of detail, painting in scenes with startlingly precise vivacity so you can picture and feel the exact slant of sunlight and depth of shade.

The collection opens with the title tale – a story about stories set in a futuristic world. It centres around a koi pond and an old women noticed daily by the narrator, who feels compelled to open up to this stranger during the course of the tale. It reads as a curious and confident fable with a whisper of warning about the harm we’re doing to our home planet.

Other intriguing fables include Peloten, which reports the sighting of “thousands of riderless bicycles” and their impact on the populous.

“They travelled clockwise, around a huge circuit of streets, like they were competing in a race with no rules and no finishing line. Capturing and dismantling them didn’t help, it just resulted in the appearance of an identical one the next morning, completing the herd of exactly eight thousand one hundred and twenty-eight machines.”

Knowing what to resolve and what to leave unknown is clearly another of Charter’s skills. Continue reading

The return of the arts trail

Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail_cr Judy DarleyAfter a hiatus in 2020, Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail returns on 20th and 21st November, offering the perfect opportunity to see what local artists have been up to during lockdown and get a few early, unique Christmas gifts!

The joyful theme is ‘Into the light.’

Now managed by artists Cai Burton and Luci Bearman, the trail has introduced some special measures to keep participants and visitors safe, which you can read about here.

The key detail for me is that although this has long been known as the Front Room art trail, this year there is a greater emphasis on outdoor and larger spaces as well as community venues. Can and Luci say: “Gone are the days of this only being a front room trail – perhaps you’ll put art in your windows? Your front garden? Your roof? Get creative with how you show your work!”

Most venues are open from 12-5pm.

Never been to an art trail? This is a great one to dip your toe (or jump head first) into. It offers a chance to meet the people dreaming up and making the works that capture your imagination and your heart, buy original creations directly from the artists and maybe come away with ideas for an ekphrastic short story or two as well!

Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail is on from 20th-21st November 2021. Find full details at

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 – extra

Mini snail and marigold by Judy DarleyAs the Northern Hemisphere turns a little colder and greyer, the vivid orange of this free-growing marigold caught my eye.

It was only as I admired the petals that I discovered I wasn’t its only fan and that a teeny snail had arrived to offer its respects (and perhaps have a small snack).

Have you ever been drawn to something beautiful, only to discover it comes with something you didn’t bargain for? Can you turn this into a satirical tale about expectations surpassed or thwarted in the name of love, greed, politics (or all three) due to some clause or enforced extra your protagonist didn’t anticipate?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley (at) to let me know. With your permission, I may publish it on

Dartington Trust seeks poet in residence

Dartington Hall sculpureDartington Trust, a centre for progressive learning in arts, ecology and social justice, is inviting applications for the post of Poet in Residence for the Grade II* Listed Gardens.

The deadline for applications is midnight on 30th November.

The position is open to any poet in the UK and will run for the first time from January to December 2022. The successful poet will make four weekend trips to Dartington’s  1200-acre campus near Totnes in Devon – one in each season to write a poem about the gardens in winter, spring, summer, and autumn.

The poems will be shared on the Dartington Trust digital channels, in events at the Totnes Bookshop, and in workshops with students.

The Trust will pay a fee of £1,000 and cover the costs of accommodation and travel for four visits.

To stir your imagination, they say: “Our gardens have been shaped and inspired by the remarkable custodians of this special place for over 1,000 years. Nationally and internationally renowned landscape architects and designers including Henry Avray Tipping, Beatrix Farrand, and Percy Cane played a large part in the development of the gardens in the 20th century. Dartington Gardens are the only example of work by the pioneering landscape architect Farrand in the UK. She was brought over from America by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst to redesign the courtyard in the 1930s. Farrand’s 150th anniversary is celebrated in 2022.”

Sculptures on sit include Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure, pictured above, commissioned especially for the gardens in 1946.

There are also some impressive champion trees to get to know amidst the wheel-chair accessible gardens, with a 1,500-year-old yew tree and a line of sweet chestnuts said to be over 400 years old. “Visitors return year on year to admire the stunning burst of colour at the Azalea Dell and the soft muted tones of the 80-metre-long Sunny Border created by Dorothy Elmhirst in 1928, which overlooks The Tiltyard at the heart of the gardens.”

How to apply

Submit three of your poems plus a covering letter explaining why you would like to become the first Poet in Residence for the historic gardens. “We are especially interested to hear from candidates from backgrounds and communities that are under-represented in the publishing and arts sectors, including black, minority ethnic, and disabled candidates.”

Poet Alice Oswald and writer Dr Martin Shaw will select a small number of candidates for interview. Both writers are core teaching staff for MA Poetics of Imagination at Dartington Arts School, which focuses on orality and story. The MA examines the stories woven into modern culture from ancient folktales, myths, and fables to contemporary tales and poetry. Students explore what happens when humans imagine and ask what story is trying to be told right now.

Your role, if successful, will be to communicate some of the magic brimming within this exceptional landscape.

Applications should be sent to

The Poet in Residence will be announced in December to start in January.

Find out more 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.

Writing prompt – golden

Arnos Vale turns gold by Judy Darley. Shows trees painted gold by the morning sun.The most glorious thing about this time of year is walking early in the morning and watching the rising sun paint the trees. The leaves in this photo have yet to lose their chlorophyll (and yes, I did nearly type chloroform then, which would make this a very different story prompt!), but the sun is sharing its clairvoyance of the weeks’ to come.

I love how the sunlight is visible here like a sentient creature in the form of a mist. It looks like it’s exploring the woodland with curious breath that gilds every item it touches. A Midas mist, perhaps, but with a far happier outcome.

Can you take this scene and build it into a tale celebrating our natural spaces and shifting seasons?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley (at) to let me know. With your permission, I may publish it on

Anthology review – The Weight of Feathers

The Weight of Feathers cover. Shows purple book cover with pink, yellow and orange dots loosely shaped into a feather.The Weight of Feathers anthology comprises the winning, short-listed and highly commended fictions plucked from the riches submitted for the Retreat West Prize 2020. It opens with The Stonecutter’s Masterpiece by Jennifer Falkner, a bitter-sweet short story with a vivid sense of place, opening as it does with a paragraph that includes an expertly crafted line on the valley setting: “His workshop was the only thing in it, curled at the bottom like a sleeping cat.”

As short story judge Peter Jordan writes in his report: “It won because the writing on an individual sentence level was superb.”

In fact, there are outstanding sentences throughout this anthology. The book brims with intriguing short stories and flash fictions, each of which shimmers and hums with sensory details: a butterfly fluttering inside a double-glazed window; a woman turning to stone; a mouthful of damson jam. The delights are myriad, offsetting the sadness at the heart of many of these tales.

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