Writing prompt – juxtaposition

Abbots Pool showing heron in foreground. Photo by Judy Darley

At a beautiful local pond called Abbots Pool, I was struck by the tranquility of the foreground, the lily pads and sun-drenched green and purple reflections, while in the background a group of teens are planning to jump in and disrupt the calm.

As I sat enjoying the scene, a grey heron flew in, waded for a while, and then flapped away.

This clash of natural idyll and human nature seems at first an affront, but this pool is far from wild – it was used by medieval monks from St Augustine’s Abbey as a spot to farm fish, and has been landscaped in the 1920s.

And yet, wildlife, including humans (and dogs) loves to splash here.

Can you turn this juxtaposition of rural and landscaped, wild and domestic, into a tale?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Writing prompt – world

Dizzying trees_Photo by Judy Darley

Occasionally I glance up and feel awed by the beauty of the trees and the sky above me. It’s as though I’ve stepped into another, possibly far away, world. The extreme beauty can be dizzying.

Other times I glance into the heart of a flower, and feel the same.

With natural world flourishing in the summer sunshine, it seems there are multiple worlds of all different sizes and complexities all around us. This offers the perfect opportunity (and perhaps excuse) to dive headlong into fictional world-building.

How can you build up textures, smells, sounds and sights to create an imagined space that feels authentic? What details have you chosen to notice, or invent to include?

Now, who or what will you devise to populate the world you’ve built? Are they peaceful or warlike? Petty or magnanimous, or as varied and strange as human beings?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Ledbury Poetry Festival

Ledbury cr John EagerSome British towns seem better suited to literary festivals than others, and Ledbury in Herefordshire is ideal – with reams of streets and architecture that the word ‘picturesque’ could have been invented for. This year, Ledbury’s annual Poetry Festival is from 30th June – 9th Julyand boasts the tag-line ‘inclusive, international, inspiring.’

With online and weekend-only options, there’s a full schedule of readings, art, workshops, conversations, music, open mics, and even a wild swim, with luminaries including Michael Morpurgo, Alycia Pirmohamed and Nina Mingya Powles, Preti Taneja and Zaffar Kunia, Maya C. Popa and Matthew Hollis, as well as Nasser Hussain examining joy as a process for writing poetry. There will also be readings and celebrations of classic and lesser known historic poets with a ‘Dead Poets Society’ series.

I love the idea of the Poetry Passeggiata at  5.15pm on Friday 30th June (St Michael’s and All Angels Church Courtyard, free), which revels in the Italian tradition of stepping out to  enjoy people-watching in golden evening light, and adds the magic of poets sharing morsels of works in progress. The organisers say: “Ledbury may not have a piazza, but the stone of the church will be bathed in a rosy glow, and all are welcome to join us in the courtyard.”

Ledbury Poetry Competition 2023 is open for entries.

The closing date is 10th July 2023. Each entry costs £6.

This year’s judge is Philip Gross. Philip has published 27 collections for adults and for young people over 40 years of publication. He won the T.S. Eliot in 2009, a Cholmondeley Award in 2017, and is a keen collaborator, e.g. with Lesley Saunders on A Part of the Main (Mulfran, 2018), with scientists on the young people’s collection Dark Sky Park (Otter-Barry, 2018) and with artist Valerie Coffin Price and Welsh-language poet Cyril Jones on Troeon/Turnings (Seren, 2021). His latest, The Thirteenth Angel (Bloodaxe, 2022), a PBS Recommendation, was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize.

When asked what he’s looking for from submissions, Philip Gross says: “Poems that aren’t whatever I might think I’m looking for. Poems intent on being wholly, intensely themselves, regardless of what a judge, the zeitgeist or even their author might want them to be. Poems that have to be poems because they couldn’t be expressed in any other way.”

The first prize for the competition is £1,000 cash and a week-long partnership Arvon poetry course. Second Prize is £500. Third Prize is £250.

Winners will be invited to perform their work at Ledbury Poetry Festival 2024.

The image at the very top of this post was kindly supplied by John Eager of www.visitledbury.info.

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 – arson

Burntout boat. Photo by Judy Darley

A Bristol landmark blazed into headlines in May when a local arsonist set Underfall Boat Yard alight. The beautiful harbourside business lost boats and “a lifetime’s collection of tools” in the fire. This boat was dragged out burning in an effort to save ships moored nearby. Sooty remains of historic vessels languish in the water.

It’s a terrible loss, but could have been far worse if it had happened a few weeks’ earlier when the city’s ferries were undergoing their annual survey by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The Bristol Ferry Boats workshop was destroyed.

Naturally, Bristol residents are outraged and busy fundraising to help rebuild.

Can you write a story where a single criminal act disrupts a city’s day-to-day activities? Might it bring people together in surprising ways?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Flock to Penzance LitFest

Penzance cr Judy Darley

Fancy a glorious train journey to Penzance? From July 5-8 2023, Penzance LitFest will host flocks of authors, poets and performers, including Raynor Winn, Lucinda Hart, Scot Pack, Kate Mosse and Tim Hannigan, plus Wyl Menmuir talking about his passion for the ocean, which inspired his first venture into full-length, non-fiction, The Draw of the Sea (which won the Roger Deakin Award from the Society of Authors).

Take a performance poetry workshop with Megan Chapman, get to grips with publishing PR with Becky Hunter, or gain insights into book-to-stage adaptations with director Nick Bamford, author Mary Oliver, with scenes performed by actor Kate Edney.

From classic poetry and coastal myths to modern conservation stories, there will be plenty to whet your appetite.

Perched on the south-westerly tip of England, Penzance boasts the most westerly mainline railway station in the UK and is easy to reach by train from London, the Midlands and Scotland. Why not bring a notebook or sketchpad and turn your journey into a creative residency-in-motion?

Find the full programme and book here.

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

Writing prompt – mollusc

Albino slug. Photo by Judy Darley

Few gardeners are fans of slugs. Their voracious appetites are far from made up for by their oozing bodies. And yet… And yet this curiously pale specimen caused me to stop in my tracks for a closer look, and then google ‘albino slug’.

I found this page, with the statement: “Emphasizing its spooky nature, we gave the species the scientific name Selenochlamys ysbryda, based on the Welsh word ysbryd, meaning a ghost or spirit. The common name “Ghost Slug” soon became popular. Identifying it with the obscure genus.”

Intriguingly, the page also state: “The bizarre Ghost Slug made headlines in 2008 when described as a new species from a Cardiff garden.”

Where were these slugs before then, and if they didn’t yet exist, why did they evolve? What evolutionary advantage could their white skin have, given that they’re most often discovered in dark, damp spaces, rather than snow?

Incidentally, I spotted this one in Arnos Vale Cemetery, which is very apt given the name.

My searches also informed me that slugs and snails are more closely related to octopuses than insects, which is a detail I love.

Can you turn this into a tale of evolution, oddities and unexpected beauty?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Porto in five senses – touch

São Bento Railway Station by James Hainsworth

There’s more to see (and touch) at São Bento Railway Station than trains. By James Hainsworth

In February 2020, my hub and I spent a long weekend in Porto, little knowing that the coronavirus pandemic was about confine us for the most part to our own homes.

In this time, I believe it’s vital to recall the beautiful, wide and varied world that exists beyond our immediate locality, and with this in mind I’ve been sharing a five-part travel guide to Portugal’s second largest city.

Each Tuesday in lockdown I’ve posted a new travel guide to Porto focusing on a different sense, beginning with the most evocative – the sense of smell. Last week was all about the sounds that knit this city together.

Today I’ll guide you through this characterful town via the sense of touch.

Touch – the city walls

Porto is famed of its tiled edifices, one of the finest examples of which is the foyer of São Bento Railway Station (Praça de Almeida Garrett, 4000-069 Porto, Portugal).

Porto tiled boulder by Judy Darley

Even some of the boulders are tiled in Porto. By Judy Darley

I couldn’t help reaching out to run my fingers over the city’s ancient walls. This was before touching became a risk-seeker’s adrenalin sport, don’t forget. The moist atmosphere, which is part of the reason why so many buildings are tiled way and beyond our own bathroom tiling at home, ensures that any uncovered stones tend to sport lichen or lovely moss.

Porto craggy walls by Judy Darley

Stepping inside buildings such as Chocolateria Ecuador (Rua de Sá da Bandeira 637, 4000-437 Porto, Portugal) reveals the textural riches within, as well, in this case, the scent and flavour sensations.

Chocolateria Ecuador by James Hainsworth

Treat your sense of touch, taste and smell at Chocolateria Ecuador. By James Hainsworth

Plus, quite a few shops we visited have their own shop cat mewing out for a consensual stroke.

Porto shop cat by Judy Darley

Come on in to meet today’s special purr-chase. By Judy Darley

Explore Porto’s other sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – smell
Porto in five senses – taste
Porto in five senses – sight
Porto in five senses – hearing