Writing prompt – survivors

Windmill Hill City Farm turkeys by Judy Darley

With Christmas Day wrapped up for another year, the surviving turkeys across the UK should be breathing a sigh of relief! We assume they don’t understand what’s going on, but imagine if they did. It would be a fantastic cue for a dystopian tale or a story of resilience and survival against all odds.

There’s no reason your story should be depressing, however. Aardman imbued a similar topic with humour in Chicken Run. Perhaps you could change the species from turkey to human, or give a gang of middle school kids the job of saving a town’s turkeys, go mystical with a tale of wild turnkeys living in harmony with humans, or even give the tale an Orwellian political satirical twist.

However you tackle this writing prompt, have fun creating characters that will make us care and take us along for the ride!

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it to me in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

Writerly resolutions for 2022

Spring crocus cr Judy DarleyI publish a version of this post almost every year, but I find it always fills me with hope and determination. As we edge into the greyest month of the year, this feels like the ideal time to take stock and see what’s working or not working in your creative life.

But this I mean not necessarily whether you’re creating and selling more, but, rather, whether the moments you can find to write, paint or whatever creative forms you choose continue to satisfy you, and whether you feel you’re making progress, whatever that may mean to you.

Before continuing, I must confess, I rarely make new year’s resolutions as such. To me, they seem at best like a form of procrastination (‘oh, I’ll start doing that in Jan’), at worst a way of setting yourself up to fail. But it is a good time to look at how your life is going and see if there’s anything you need to change to stay on or get back on track.

It’s also a fab way to lay the foundations for a new habit that will pay dividends in years to come. Here are five that have served me well in the past.

1. Write whenever you can find the time

In 2012 I set myself the challenge of writing at least one short story every month, which is something I did without fail every month until 2017, by which time the habit was well and truly entrenched. I found it a great way to keep those creative muscles taut and ready for action.

But it was also a demand I couldn’t keep up with in 2017, as family calamities and new work commitments ate into my time. With writing such an ingrained part of my everyday life, however, I discovered that whenever I did find time to write creatively, whether that was a flash, a poem, a vignette, or simply editing a chapter of a novel in progress, I emerged feeling brighter and lighter and a little bit sunnier.

It’s a fuel that keeps me going even when I don’t have the chance to spend as much time dreaming up new characters and worlds as I like. Writing sustains me in a way I’ve only gradually come to understand.

2. Submit regularly

A few years before that I set about ensuring I submitted at least four works of creative writing somewhere each month, which I also continue. The challenge is flexible enough not to cause undue stress (some months I submit all four pieces in the same week then forget all about them for the rest of the month; other months I’ll find I’ve submitted eight by day 30), and also ensures that whenever I receive a rejection, part of me breathes a quiet sigh of relief – now I can send that piece off elsewhere to fulfil part of the current month’s quota.

It helps me stay positive, because for every rejection, there’s a healthy handful of tales still out there dreaming big. And when I get an acceptance, it’s a lovely surprise, because by continually sending out creative pieces I’m never quite clear what’s out there, and therefore not too focused on any one thing.

Which brings me to the third resolution.

3. Stay organised

Around the same time I started sending out four and more stories each month, I set up a simple spreadsheet to help me keep track of them all.

This helps my writing in two ways, firstly, by ensuring I know what I’ve sent where and whether they’ve responded, and secondly, by distancing me from the process emotionally.

By transforming all these acts of hope into columns and rows, I save myself from heartache. Each time a email or post out a piece of writing, I enter its name into the spreadsheet along with the details of where I’ve sent it and the date. Then, when it comes back, I colour that row according to the response – one colour for ‘no thanks’, one for ‘no, but positive feedback’ and one for ‘yes please!’

It all provides an immense sense of productivity, without too much effort at all, which in turn helps me stay motivated. And I’m happy to say that over the years the colour dedicated to ‘yes please’ is infiltrating the worksheets more and more.

4. and 5. Finally, pledge simply to celebrate even the smallest literary successes, and relish the pleasure of writing for its own sake. Lovely.

What works for you?

Here’s to a creative, fulfilling 2022, whatever that means to you xxx

Merry sparkle!

Vintage 1960s silver tinsel Christmas treeAs we open our eyes to the second Christmas Eve of these strange pandemic times, I hope you are lucky enough to have those you love close by, and all the frivolity or serenity you crave.

I wish you a safe, healthy and joyful festive season, however you choose to spend it.

And yes, in case you wondered, that is a 1960s tinsel tree, given to us by my mum – re-use and re-home is a far more eco-option than recycle! Here’s to a green and hopeful 2022.

 

Writing prompt – festive fleet

Leo Castle_bristol harbour. Photo by Judy DarleyI adore knowing that in Bristol even the boats are full of festive sparkle! This gorgeous narrowboat is all set for some seasonal revelry.

It’s not long till the big day now, but you still have time to conjure a tale of wonder, whether it’s a modern take on the Nativity with a narrowboat standing in for a stable, or the idea that inside this shining vessel Santa and a few motley elves are putting the finishing touches to gifts in preparation for a few water-bound deliveries.

What can you create with this scene as your starting point? It’s up to you whether you write a tale to delight the children in your life or angle it towards adults with a few comic or darker twists.

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it to me in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

Novella review – The Death and Life of Mrs Parker by Jupiter Jones

The Death and Life of Mrs Parker cover. Shows a guppy with an extravagant tail swimming against a black background.

Book Balm recommendation: read for stalwart cheerfulness in the face of adversity.

Spoiler alert, this wry, tragi-comic novella opens with the apparent lethal poisoning of the main character, but for the dauntless Aveline Parker, these moments are far from the end. While her heart races towards the finish line, memories flood in and we’re treated to chapters from decades filled with love and misadventure. When the paramedics tell her that she seems to have a problem with her heart, she comments inwardly: “I’ve always had problems with my heart, giving it away, getting it broken”, and proceeds to think through the medical attributes of the human heart, ending with: “The heart is fickle.”

Aveline’s voice rings with authenticity as she relays anecdotes that weave threads of excitement into knots of heartbreaking regret, each edging us closer to the paramedics working to keep her alive on a restaurant floor. The originality of the story and its telling is anchored in this voice, the skilful use of colourful clichés (such as when Aveline observes that the lines around an elderly woman’s mouth contract “like a cat’s arse”) that suit the character so well and the rich textural details that pin each recollection in place.

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Writing prompt – glitter

Christmas lights by Judy DarleyThis glittering bird caught my eye when meandering at dusk with two small nephews. They were entranced by the magic it suggests, and it made me think what a fabulous fairytale it could prompt – a bird made of ice paradoxically powered by fire, perhaps, or an enchanted robin condemned to only sing after nightfall. You could even give it an ecological spin!

Alternatively, you could focus on the person who decorated their home with such shining decorations. What are their hopes and anticipation, or what loneliness are they keeping at bay?

What could you dream up in the best Hans Christian Andersen style? Could you give it the underlying darkness that always seems to thread through those traditional tales? Or do you want to make your story as bright and cheerful as this festive light? The choice is yours.

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it to me in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

Poetry review – Much with body by Polly Atkin

Much With Body book cover. Shows figure floating in green water.Book Balm recommendation: Read to remind yourself to pause and pay attention to your natural surroundings.

From frogs and toads ambling into her home to the herons glimpsed nearby to the imposed quieter times of lockdown, Much with body by Polly Atkin is a reminder to take a breath, open your eyes and observe.

In Lakeclean, Atkin immerses us in the magic of wild swimming. The lines are dizzyingly visual and elemental, while hinting at the freedom and physical relief offered fleetingly in water, as opposed to time spent on land. Atkin alludes to the joy of  being: “released from the tyranny of gravity”, dwelling “in transparency”, and sweeping “mountains aside with our arms without wincing.”

Notes from a transect offers series of determinedly hopeful snippets, each of which works as a standalone poem. In What’s Under Your Feet she records: “One school wins a visit from a scientist. When she asks/ does anyone have wildlife stories to share?/ the whole school put up their hands.” In Windows we glimpse “Those lightless days when pain/ keeps you in, under, and the feeder/ at the window is the only source of movement/ you count birds.”

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Enter The Masters Review chapbook contest

Bible_St John On The Wall. Photo by Judy DarleyThe Masters Review is inviting submissions to their chapbook contest for emerging writers. The type of submission is up to you (they actually mention flash collections, mini novellas, 40-page short stories, braided essays, eclectic brainchildren and experiments…), providing it is original, between 25 and 40 double-spaced pages, and is not poetry.

The deadline for entries is 31st December 2021.

The winning writer will receive $3,000, digital and print manuscript publication, and 50 contributor copies.

Matt Bell will choose this year’s winner.

The Masters Review say: “We’re seeking to celebrate bold, original voices within a single, cohesive manuscript of 25 to 40 pages. We’re interested in collections of short fiction, essays, flash fiction, novellas/novelettes, longform fiction or essays, and any combination thereof, provided the manuscripts are complete (no excerpts, chapters, works-in-progress, or other incomplete work). We are NOT interested in poetry. (We’re sure your poetry is fantastic, but we’re not qualified to judge its merit!).”

Find full details here: mastersreview.com/chapbook-contest/

Got an event, challenge, competition, new venture or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Theatre review – Robin Hood: Legend of the Forgotten Forest

Dorian Simpson (JJ), Tom England (Will Scarlet) Pic Craig Fuller Seeking a festive show with love, laughter and unexpected poignancy? Attending Bristol Old Vic’s Christmas show is a firm festive tradition for many families, and 2021’s offering meets and surpasses all expectation. In collaboration with the Wardrobe Ensemble, this retelling of Robin Hood is as imaginative and visually spectacular as you’d expect. In the hands of directors Tom Brennan and Helena Middleton, the production also unexpectedly moving in a way that ensures it lingers.

We open with twelve-year-old school boy JJ (played brilliantly by Dorian Simpson, who succeeded in making me forget his six-foot+ frame so that at times I was truly concerned for the little child’s safety). JJ is a die-hard fan of Robin Hood and, as mentioned in a passing comment, of Oceans Eleven. When he opens a mysterious handwritten book about his favourite folk-hero, he is magically transported back in time to the 13th century.

What follows is a glorious mash-up of medieval adventure and Hollywood heist. If you’ve seen any of the Wardrobe’s previous film re-imaginings, you’ll be unsurprised by how beautifully this works.

Robin’s Merry Crew have long since disbanded due to a tragedy no one wants to talk about. That leaves JJ with the task of getting the gang back together, which requires family man Will Scarlet (a witty and urbane Tom England), a really angry Maid Marion (the convincingly lethal Katya Quist), and drunken, gambling Friar Tuck (embodied by Jesse Meadows with fabulous comic aplomb).

Jesse Meadows as Friar Tuck.

Jesse Meadows as Friar Tuck.

But the first task is to convince Robin Hood that she actually wants to step back into the role of hero.

Bristol Old Vic and the Wardrobe Ensemble are never too concerned about sticking to gender norms, and in this case , Kerry Lovell is the perfect casting for the troubled ex-outlaw as she unwillingly reunites with her former friends under JJ’s ebullient insistence and absolute belief.

Kerry Lovell (Robin) and Dorian Simpson (JJ), Pic Craig Fuller

Kerry Lovell as Robin and Dorian Simpson as JJ

JJ’s determination that they should all wear bright green tights adds to the visual humour (not least at Meadows Friar Tuck somehow manages to tuck her robes into hers, creating the portly figure earlier incarnations have presented.

The Sheriff of Nottingham is on the brink of celebrating his 29th birthday for at least the second year, while fleecing his subjects of every hard-earn penny. With a page-boy wig that keeps his evil persona comic rather than terrifying, actor James Newton expertly crafts a spoilt but deadly rich boy who craves love but only knows how to inspire ridicule and fear.

James Newton as The Sheriff with the company. Pic Craig Fuller

James Newton as The Sheriff with the company.

There are nods to the film productions JJ and much of the audience grew up with, as well as more modern movie and TV references, not least a sing-off and a dance-off. Look out for Will Scarlet ascending from above the stage in a lime-green body suit, plenty of sword-fighting from Robin and the Sheriff, and some exceptional slow motion running from the full Merry Crew. There’s also an outstanding kiss that will make you want to cheer.

Original compositions from Tom Crosley-Thorne alongside some familiar tunes had the audience clapping along, and there was a sense of being part of the story throughout.

This is a hugely enjoyable theatrical extravaganza crammed with jokes, drama and a few tears as well as a strong message about friendship and self-forgiveness. Exactly what’s needed on a dark winter’s day.

Photos by Craig Fuller.

Robin Hood: Legend of the Forgotten Forest is on at Bristol Old Vic until at 8 Jan 2022. There are specific socially-distanced performances, signed, captioned, relaxed and audio described performances during the run. Find out more and get your tickets.

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 – missive

Let It Snow by Judy DarleyThis time last year, things seemed particularly challenging globally thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. In Bristol, we were festively distracted by seasonal song lyrics being projected  as light installations across buildings after nightfall.

Given your choice, what message would you sweep across your landscape? Would you opt for a missive of hope, a warning, or a note to remind someone you’re thinking of them? If the latter, who would you write it to?

What affect would you expect your word or words to have on neighbours and those further afield? What action might it move them to take?

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.