Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2022 Short Story Competition

Beautiful skies, Victoria Park cr Judy DarleyThis annual competition is one of my favourites on the literary calendar. There’s no theme for you to base your story on – all you have to do is make sure you’re registered with the website www.writersandartists.co.uk.

Your story must be no more than 2,000 words long. There is no theme this year, so let your imagination run free! The deadline for entries is midnight BST on 11th February 2022.

The winner of the competition – along with two runners-up – will be announced on the W&A blog pages in March 2022.

Entry is free, but don’t forget to register before submitting your story.

This year’s judge is Alysoun Owen, Editor of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook.

Prizes of this writing contest

Find full details and competition rules at www.writersandartists.co.uk/competitions/writers-artists-short-story-competition-2022 

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send me an email at JudyDarley (@) ICloud (dot) com.

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Theatre review – Dr Semmelweis

Mark Rylance (Dr Semmelweis) and the Mothers. Photo by Geraint Lewis

Imagine a world where the existence of germs was still unknown and hand-washing was considered a burden? Imagine being the person who makes the connection between unclean hands and patient deaths, and tries to convince the medical profession that soap and water could save lives?

Stemming from an idea by Mark Rylance from the true story of Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor working in Vienna in the 19th Century, the play has been developed by playwright Stephen Brown, director Tom Morris and the company at Bristol Old Vic have created a show of drama, peril and human heartbreak. With Ti Green’s pared-back split-level set that makes the most of a rotating floor and transforms with artful lighting design by Richard Howell, we’re inserted into a world where women could expect to lose their lives to childbed fever soon after giving birth.

DR_SEMMELWEIS_company. Photo by Geraint Lewis

Dr Semmelweis, played with an extraordinary range and depth of emotions by Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall, The BFG), wants to know why the women directed to the midwives’ ward are so much less likely to die that those taken to the doctors’ ward. We watch him make leaps in understanding with our hearts in our mouths, all while the ensemble of ‘mothers’ die, dance and writhe around him. The eeriness is present throughout, keeping the 19th Century awareness of mortality close. The musicians, dressed as ‘mothers’ and employing all the uncanny spinetingling spookiness provided by strings, contribute to this mood.

Choreography by Antonia Franceschi and sound design by Jon Nicholls serve to keep the audience tautly in tune with the troubled doctor as he fights to save more women joining the ghosts who haunt him.

 Mark-Rylance-and-Clemmie-Sveaas-DR.SEMMELWEIS.-Photo-by-Geraint-Lewis.

Mark Rylance and Clemmie-Sveaas with the ‘mothers’.

Yet there are smatterings of humour too – we open on a scene of Dr Semmelweis playing chess with his pregnant wife Maria (Thalissa Teixeira), a scene that shows off his wit and sharpness with dizzying swiftness. Interactions with his colleagues and friends (Felix Hayes, Sandy Grierson, Daniel York Loh), also bring some light relief. Nurse Anna Muller, played with brilliant forthrightness and feeling by Jackie Clune, while earnest Franz Arneth (Enyl Okoronkwo) and doubter Johann Klein (Alan Williams) provided opposing energies for Rylance to shine against.

Towards the end, it’s Thalissa Teixeira as Maria who won much of my focus, as she struggles to keep her husband from insanity as the medical profession turned their back on him despite the evidence.

Thalissa Teixeira and company of Dr Semmelweis. Photo by Geraint Lewis

It’s Maria who has the final word, standing centre stage and reminding us of how grateful we should be to Dr Semmelweis today. Teixeira shows such compassion throughout that through her character’s eyes we can see the vulnerability and humanity in the sometimes difficult and occasionally cruel genius of Semmelweis.

This is a powerful powerful slice of medical history that feels particularly on point in a time when we’ve been continually urged to wash our hands to save lives. Add to that the beauty of the staging and direction alongside Rylance’s exquisitely nuanced performance and you have a challenging truth gift-wrapped in artistry that makes this a fully sensory experience.

Photos by Geraint Lewis.

Dr Semmelweis is on at Bristol Old Vic until 19th February 2022. 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 – hope

Primroses in leaf matter by Judy Darley

There are few more hopeful sights at this cold and grey time of year than a flash of yellow in wet, brown leaf matter. These primroses are a much-needed reminder of brighter, warmer days to come!

Imagine if you’d never before lived through a winter or had no memory of ever experiencing these cold months. How alarming might the apparent death of most growing things be? How keenly might you seek signs of life, and how might you respond to finding it?

Would you share the news or guard it jealously for fears these might be the only blooms, or that someone might deliberately or clumsily damage the precious plants?

If you choose to share news of the sighting, could this clutch of yellow flowers be the prompt for a riotous fiesta thanking unseen powers?

Can you turn this into a tale that works on more than one level?

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.

Jaipur Literary Festival

Jaipur Literary Elephant

Image © Steppes Travel www.steppestravel.co.uk

Dreaming of far-off places? Founded by William Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale, Jaipur Literature Festival takes place from 5th-14th March 2022, with a hybrid version that makes the most of Jaipur’s magnificence as well as allowing global attendees to join in from home via virtual events. From Nobel Laureates to local language writers, Man Booker prize winners to debut novelists, the annual event brings together authors, thinkers, politicians, journalists and popular culture icons from India and from around the globe.

Events to look forward to include talks and author insights from Anuradha Roy, Colm Tóibín, Monica Ali and Rupert Everett. Learn about mythological retellings with Charlotte Higgins and dive into David Mitchell’s novel Utopia Avenue with the author. There will also be yoga sessions and music to send your spirits soaring!

Keen to take part yourself next year? Contact the organisers through the website to find out more.

Find full details of Jaipur Literature Festival here.

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Novella review – The Listening Project by Ali McGrane

The Listening Project book coverBook Balm recommendation: Read to sink into a symphony of sensations.

The opening story of Ali McGrane’s novella-in-flash The Listening Project, Arnie’s Bear offers a cascade of impressions, textures and churning emotions buried deep. It’s a clear indication of the treasures, and pleasures, in store from this beautiful debut, and the mastery at work. At less than a page in length, this concise flash has the depth of a novel-length exploration of the bewilderment of loss from the viewpoint of a child, Imogen.

This is the start of a journey of more than forty years, beginning when Imogen is seven, and her brother Arnie is nineteen – the age at which he becomes fixed by death. Each story is labelled with the year it is set, starting in 1976, and rippling through to 2019, with Imogen asking questions and seeking truths while finding her way through a world with the volume gradually being turned right down. In Life Lessons, McGrane writes: “She’s learned to lip-read, alert to clues, running parallel possibilities, backtracking, re-routing, bridging chasms.”

McGrane engages all our senses in her storytelling, so that your skin tingles and your lungs contract in rhythm with the protagonist’s. In Seedlings, we join Imogen in planting sweet peas, anticipating the scent and tenderly separating tangled roots as she remembers her brother through the colour green: “A darker green jacket with a hood. Green sea-glass ranged along his window sill. (…) Were there green flecks in his eyes?”

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Writing prompt – jigsaw

Jigsaw pieces.Judy Darley

During the past 20 months or so of the pandemic, some people I know have written books; others have grown addicted to jigsaw puzzling. Whoever experienced this jigsaw-piece cascade was either utterly fed up or had a moment’s calamitous cack-handedness.

What intrigues me is that they opted not to gather up their fragments. Does that mean it really was the last straw? I suspect a temper tantrum of epic proportions, but what other distraction or emotional fall-out could explain this pavement disarray?

Or perhaps they’ve deliberately strewn the pieces here in a superstitious act intended to keep Covid-19 at bay.

Can you use this as the prompt for a tale about how we hold up (or fail to cope) in challenging times? What could these scattered jigsaw sections represent? Or what could you swap them with to give your tale a surreal edge?

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.

Curtis Brown Creative courses for aspiring writers

Notebook and pen cr Judy DarleyAs the new year gets underway, why not rev up your writing skills? Curtis Brown Creative, the creative-writing school run by Curtis Brown Literary Agency, is inviting applications for an array of writing courses, including plenty of online options.

Whether you want to dig into specific genres such as historical, psychological or YA and children’s fiction, or want to untangle the knots of editing and pitching your novel, there are opportunities to gain insights and hands-on help from successful authors and experienced editors. The creative writing school was launched in 2011 and remains the only one run by a literary agency.

Upcoming courses include a one-day ‘Edit Your Novel’ course with the Rewrite Doctor aka Anna Davis from 15th February, and an intensive online five-day short story writing course with award-winning short story-writer Cynan Jones, starting on 21st February.

“I’m proud to say that over the past few years, many of our alumni have gained deals with major publishers,” says Curtis Brown Director Anna Davis. “Some of our former students have written international bestsellers, others have won prizes and several more have gained representation with literary agents and are working to edit their novels for publication. Yet more are still working away, often with the support of their former Curtis Brown Creative cohort. It’s great to see how many of our alumni stay closely in touch with their student groups long after their courses end.”

Find full details of upcoming courses here.

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

Poetry review – The Country With No Playgrounds by Elena Croitoru

The Country With No Playgrounds by Elena Croitoru coverBook Balm recommendation: Read to have your empathy heightened and awareness deepened.

In her debut poetry pamphlet The Country With No Playgrounds, award-winning British-Romanian poet Elena Croitoru has captured a place and period in time so precisely and skilfully that you’ll find yourself transported.

Stark scenes are highlighted with words that seem fondly chosen for their beauty: “We grew up in our spare time,/ beyond a tower block island/ where pearly cement dust lay…”

Relayed with disarming matter-of-factness, many of the poems are almost cinematic, such as in The Last Wedding: “She looked out of the window/ at the militiamen who watched our balcony/ from below, the way one would watch/ the funeral of someone still moving.”

It’s heart-stoppingly alarming, yet clearly for the inhabitants utterly normal, to live with such a palpable threat. As worrying as the situation must have been for the adults she mentions, for the children Croitoru counted herself among, this was nothing more than ordinary. This gives her the tools to describe moments with a lightness of touch that draws us in rather than pushing us away, so that we read each stanza with wide open eyes.

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Writing prompt – dragon

Hill Crest School dragon by Judy Darley

As I walked by this primary school early one day, I was struck by the atmospheric beauty of its towers against the morning light and paused to take this photo. At that moment a man came outside, and to explain myself I told him how dramatic the vapour looked pouring out of the boiler flue. I even commented: “I suppose that’s from the central heating.”

He responded with a grin: “Or the dragon.”

Ah, what a response. Now, here’s your choice: either write about the dragon that keeps a school cosy all winter long (what does it do in summer?), or write about the man who lives in the school and tells perfect strangers that it’s inhabited by a dragon. How could his imaginative whimsy transform the outlooks and lives of other people?

Whichever angle you opt for, make sure it has plenty of heat!

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.

Enter the Lucy Cavendish College Fiction Prize 2021

Bud. Photo by Judy DarleyThe Lucy Cavendish College Fiction Prize 2022 invites entries from women over the age of 18 who have written a novel “that marries literary merit with unputdownability.”

Deadline for low-income writers’ submissions: 12 noon on Wednesday 9th February 2022.
Deadline for paid submissions: 12 noon on Friday 11th February 2022. 

The judges say they’re equally open to literary fiction and genre fiction, as well as to young adult fiction and children, providing they are primarily word-based.

Your submission must be previously unpublished, and you must not have had other full-length novels published. However, having short stories, poetry, non-fiction or picture books published previously does not exclude you.

To be considered, you need to submit the first 40 to 50 pages of the novel via the online form and a three to five-page synopsis of the remainder. Authors must not have agent representation at the time of submission.

The entry fee is £12. Sponsored entries for low income writers are available – simply tick the appropriate box on the entry form. You will need to be able to provide proof of financial eligibility such as: Jobseeker’s Allowance; Disability Benefit; Income Support; Working Tax Credit; proof of being a full-time student; Housing Benefit; proof of being a full-time carer.

All shortlisted entrants will be offered a one-to-one consultation, editorial feedback and advice on the marketability of their work from PFD literary agency.

In addition, the 2022 winner will receive a cash prize of £1,500.

Shortlisted applicants will also be invited to the prize-giving ceremony where they will have the chance to meet and mingle with industry specialists.

Jackie Ashley is chair of the judging panel.

For full details, visit www.fictionprize.co.uk, and make sure you follow the competition Terms and Conditions.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send me an email at JudyDarley (@) ICloud (dot) com.