Writing prompt – vessels

Canoes. Photo by Judy Darley

These open-topped canoes are stacked like drying plates in this boatyard all year round, except when they’re hauled to the shore and rowed by teams. The inactivity, as though they’re hibernating insects, struck me recently as I strolled by.

Add in the occasional ‘rush and row’ in salt water and this seems even more extreme – like they emerge for one day to mingle with others of their kind before being returned to this anticipatory torpor.

Or is that just my weird interpretation? What do you see when you look at these boats? What analogies can you draw between this scene and the natural world or human society?

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.

 

Wells Festival of Literature competitions

City of Wells cr Judy Darley

Wells Festival of Literature takes place from 18th-26th October 2024, but before that they hold their annual writing competitions, with entries accepted until 30th June.

The categories are open poetry, short stories, poetry and children’s books, as well as poetry by anyone aged 16-22 inclusive.

The Open Poetry Competition

The fee for each separate entry is £6. Each poem must be under 36 lines long, and may be on any subject.

First Prize is £1,000. Second prizes is £500. Third prize is £250. There’s also a £100 prize for a local poet.

The judge is Dr Anthony Joseph FRSL, award-winning Trinidad-born poet, novelist, academic and musician, is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Kings College, London.   His 2022 collection Sonnets for Albert  featured at the 2023 Festival and won the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry 2022 and the OCM BOCAS Prize for Caribbean Poetry.

The Short Story Competition

The fee for each separate entry is £6. Stories should be between 1,000 and 2,000 words in length. They can be on any subject.

First Prize is £750. Second prize is £300. Third prize is £200. There’s a £100 prize for a local writer.

The judge is Susmita Bhattacharya, whose debut novel The Normal State of Mind was long-listed at the Mumbai Film Festival 2018. Her short story collection Table Manners won the Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection and was a finalist for the Hall & Woodhouse DLF Prize in 2019. The collection has also been serialised on BBC Radio and her latest commissioned Radio 4 short story The Gift is available on BBC Sounds.

Book for Children Competition

The fee for each separate entry is £6. The competition will judge writing for children, age 7 and up. This includes writing for young adults

You’ll need to submit either the first two chapters or first twenty pages, whichever is the shortest, together with the synopsis of up to two pages.

First Prize is £750. Second prize is £300. Third prize is £200. There’s a £100 prize for a local writer.

The judge is Alex Campbell, who currently writes middle-grade novels under the name Alex Cotter. Her recent novel, The House on the Edge, was selected as a WH Smith Travel Book of the Month and also for the ‘Read for Empathy’ collection. She has also written YA novels and was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2016.

The Young Poets Competition

The fee for each separate entry is £3. Each poem must be under 36 lines long, and may be on any subject.

First Prize is £150. Second prizes is £75. Third prize is £50. All three prize-winners also get a year’s subscription to the Poetry Society.

The judge is Clare Shaw. Claire has four poetry collections with Bloodaxe. The latest collection – Towards a General Theory of Love(2022) – is a poetic exploration of love and love’s absence: it won a Northern Writers’ Award and was a Poetry Society Book of the Year.

The closing date for all entries is 30th June 2024. Prizes for all four competitions will be presented on Monday 30th October 2023 during the Festival.

Find the full rules and details of how to enter.

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

SaveSave

SaveSave

Writing prompt – overgrowth

Overgrown gate. Photo by Judy Darley

My hometown appears to boast an unusually high number of gates that lead to nowhere, other than thickets of spiky greenery. It’s a curious sight only becoming evident as spring runs away with itself and fills every available un-tizzied space.

It makes me feel nature is reclaiming parks and woodlands once tamed for human-enjoyment. Birds, insects and wild rabbits care nothing for neatness!

Some of these gates even lead to garden paths no one can possible access. Who might live in the home beyond these tangled trees? How do they survive? What made them choose this nature-enforced seclusion?

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.

Book your Flash Fiction Festival tickets now!

Trinity College BristolFlash Fiction Festival 2024 spreads out over three intensely creative days in July. The in-person version of the festival unfurls from 12th-14th July, welcoming fabulous flashers including Kathy Fish, Nancy Stohlman, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, Carrie Etter and Michael Loveday.

The weekend takes place at Trinity College, Bristol, and is packed with inspiring workshops and panels tackling every aspect of flash fiction, from ‘Good Things Come in Small Packages: Creating Flash from Proverbs’ with Alison Powell, to ‘Writing A Prize Winning Story’, a panel chaired by Audrey Niven with Kathryn Aldridge- Morris, Sara Hills and Marie Gethins. Don’t miss ‘The Biggest Word Cricket in the Whole Wide World’ with Vanessa Gebbie.

These are just a few of the wonderful offerings tempting you to sign up. See the website to find out what else is happening.

The festival team, headed by director Jude Higgins, make this a weekend of imaginative adventures, attracting some of the loveliest writers ever to dip a toe into the art of flash writing. I’m not able to attend this year, but I’m sure it will be brilliant. Join the throng before all spaces fill up!

Book your flash festival admission here.

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

Writing prompt – candle

Horse Chestnut candles. White and pink towers of flowers against green leaves_Photo by Judy Darley

I once wrote a story inspired by the sight and smell of horse chestnut candles, those fragrant towers of flowers that bloom extravagantly at this time of year. In ‘Reaching Branches’ the ghostly scent of a tree that no longer stands brings strangers together.

You can read it in my collection The Stairs are a Snowcapped Mountain.

The pollen and nectar of these flowers are incredibly important to bees, hover flies and other pollinators. I love the idea of an aroma being such a strong presence that it has the power to change a community for the better even after the blooms are long gone.

Can you create a story about a community being enhanced, or destroyed, by something that initially seems insignificant?

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.

Novella review – A Tricky Dance by Diane Simmons

A Tricky Dance Cover. Shows figures dancing in a swirl of red and blueContained within just forty pages, Diane Simmons’ novella-in-flash portrays a 1970s childhood and adolescence that shines with possibilities. Exploring the ways we discover, confound or eschew our assumed paths through life, Diane introduces us to Elspeth, not the richest and maybe not the smartest, the most popular or the prettiest, but very much the star of her own story.

Diane seeds in the important details with a deft hand. In the second story, ‘Things in Common’, we learn that new girl Lorna “doesn’t mention her dad. Maybe she’s not got one. It’d be great not to be the only one in our class without a dad.”

The slim volume shimmies with what isn’t, who hasn’t and what can’t possibly be, with dreams held close to protect them from being quashed with mockery. This is a community where it doesn’t do to let others know you’re bolshy enough to crave the stars, as Rory, the one person who truly seems to see Elspeth for all wonder she contains, discovers when he’s reckless enough to admit to wanting to be an astronaut. “‘We don’t have rockets in Scotland, stupit!’ Jennifer sneered at him when he gave his answer. ‘We’re no America!’”

Elspeth wisely keeps her dreams to herself, for now.

This is a place and time where liking (or pretending to like) the right Bay City Roller sits alongside the practice of “guising” – going from house to house to earn some pennies with a dance or a song.

For Elspeth, ballet lessons seem as far out of reach as the moon, as she counts the coins in her piggy bank, “calculate what I’ll need for Guides, for the school trip to Edinburgh Castle, for my mum’s birthday next week. Maybe if I stopped Guides, sold my uniform, scrounged a few quid off Mum… And then I remember the hole in my school shoes, remember Mum’s face when I told her.”

There’s a huge amount of power in this matter-of-fact, uncomplaining tone. Elspeth is determined to find a way to dance, to get on and fit in, despite the challenges she faces, and that makes her hugely appealing as a protagonist.

In the early stories, the loneliness and treachery of playground rivalries and betrayals take centre stage, but before long Elspeth’s spirit and determination grow unmistakable.

The steadiness to the prose keeps you rooted in Elspeth’s world, where extra paper rounds and hand-me-down dancing shoes provide opportunities. Small triumphs come in the form of mastering Pythagoras, while letters written to the Jackie Magazine advice page manifest gifts as crucial and magical as any glass slippers.

Elspeth’s quiet confidence elevates these interlinked tales. As she heads to the football field and notice that one of the lads, Ewan, has the ball, she notes: “He always has the ball. And he’s always Jennifer’s dancing partner. But me and Ewan hang out some nights and play football – I bet he’d rather dance with me.”

The language pops throughout, painting Elspeth and her classmates in your mind’s eye as vividly as any description could. Filmic and absorbing, I felt I’d streamed a mini-series and binged it in one sitting, and was now desperate for Season 2 to drop.

A Tricky Dance by Diane Simmons is available to purchase here.

This book was given to me in exchange for a fair review.

What are you reading? 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.

Enter Frome Festival Short Story Competition

Frome rooftopsFrome Festival Short Story Competition welcomes submissions until 31st May 2024.

This small Somerset town of layered roofs is set roughly between Bath and Taunton has become a hive for writers, with the  annual festival featuring writing residencies throughout the small, characterful shops, and street performances seemingly on every corner.

The competition costs £8 to enter. You can purchase a detailed critique of your work for an additional payment of £70 per story.

Stories may be on any theme, but must be between 1,000 and 2,200 words in length, not including the title.

First prize is £400, second prize £200 and third prize £100, plus special prizes for writers living within a 25-mile radius of Frome Library, in a bid to support and encourage local writers.

Long and shortlists will be posted at www.fromeshortstorycompetition.co.uk in late June; winners will be announced at the Frome Festival by this year’s judge, author, editor and educator, Kylie Fitzpatrick.

The Frome Festival runs from Friday 5th-Sunday 14th July and is well worth visiting for its own charms, especially the incredible busking that takes place throughout the narrow streets.

For full details of the competitions, visit the competition website.

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 – real estate

Tree house in horse chestnut tree_Photo by Judy Darley

Exploring my new home town in January, I strode up hill to an area of ‘mini’ Gothic mansions valued at £1m+. The property that caught my eye, however, was a gorgeous treehouse with a seaview.

Now horse chestnut leaves are flourishing that may obscure the view, and some prickly conkers could soon invade this cosy space, but in my heart I still covet this space.

Is there a type of home that fills your inner (or outer) child with wistfulness or glee? A caravan, cave or palace perhaps? Can you turn this yearning 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.

Enter the Bridport Prize 2024

Pebble man by Judy DarleyThe Bridport Prize, one of the UK’s most prestigious writing competitions, is currently seeking your short stories, flash fiction, poems and debut novels.

The deadline for all competition entries is 31st May 2024.

All entries are judged anonymously. To avoid disqualification, make sure you do not include your name, address, phone number, email, website, twitter handle etc on the document or in the file name.

Poems may be up to 42 lines in length (not including the title). There is no minimum line count. The entry fee is £12. The winning poet will receive £5,000.

Short stories may be up to 5,000 words long. The entry fee is £14. The winning short story writer will receive £5,000.

Flash fiction may be up to 250 words long. The entry fee is £11. The winning flash fiction writer will receive £1,000.

Novel extracts must be between 5,000 and 8,000 words long taken from the opening chapters. You must also supply a 300-word synopsis, which should be the first page of your entry. The fee is £24.

First prize is £1,500 plus mentoring by The Literary Consultancy and consultations with literary agent AM Heath and publisher Headline.

Memoir extracts must be between 5,000 and 8,000 words. You must also supply a 300 word overview. The fee is £24.

Bridport Prize judges

Liz Berry is the poetry judge. Liz is an award-winning poet and author of critically acclaimed collections Black Country (Chatto); The Republic of Motherhood (Chatto); The Dereliction (Hercules Editions) and The Home Child (Chatto), a novel in verse. Her poem Homing is part of the GCSE English syllabus.

Wendy Erskine is the short story judge. Wendy is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, an interviewer and broadcaster. She has published two short story collections Sweet Home and Dance Move with Stinging Fly Press and Picador. A past Seamus Heaney Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast, she is a secondary school teacher.

Jasmine Sawyers is the flash fiction judge. Jasmine is a Kundiman fellow and Indiana University MFA alum. Their work has won awards from Ploughshares, NANO Fiction, Fractured Lit and Press 53, appearing in Norton’s Flash Fiction America, Best Microfiction, SmokeLong Quarterly and Wigleaf. Their Anchored World book was a PEN finalist.

Ross Raisin is judging novel entries. Ross has written four novels: A Hunger, A Natural, Waterline and God’s Own Country. His work has won and been shortlisted for over ten literary awards. He won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year award and was named the Best of Young British Novelists on Granta’s once in a decade list.

News of the Bridport Prize Memoir competition coming soon.

Don’t forget to check out the Writers’ Room on the Bridport Prize website for resources and inspiration.

Find full details and enter your creative works at www.bridportprize.org.uk. And don’t forget to sign up for their newsletter full of useful tips and inspiration.

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.

Book review – Each of Us a Petal by Amanda Huggins

Whatever season you choose to read, or give, these stories by Amanda Huggins, the gently tended sentences will reward you with a deep sense of connection with nature. Each is a portrait of a character treading carefully through their own personal emotional landscape, set against the sensorial wealth of Japan. Amanda candidly reveals her own fervour for this country in the collection’s foreword and closing essay. Once you start reading the stories, you’ll find the author’s enduring interest in and passion for this country and the people who live or visit it seeping under your skin.

Yearning is portrayed as the enduring human condition, with hints of loneliness and solace whispered in the most enticing settings where hints of Japanese folklore occasionally wriggle into the heart of contemporary tales.

These strands weave together exquisitely in An Unfamiliar Landscape, where we explore a mountainous wilderness with protagonist Sophia: “Dropped into the silence, every noise had a clear meaning, each sound demanded her attention. She was finally connected.”

The remedy for loneliness, it seems, is to be outside amid the beauty of nature.

This idea is reiterated in The Same Pretty Eyes, as protagonist Edie decides to step outside “to salvage something beautiful from the tail end of the day. That was all she wanted: a few moments in the mountain air, the smell of damp bark, the darkening night, the first faint stars.”

In the single-page story Sparrow Footprints, Amanda captures the sweet melancholy lingering in the words unspoken and demonstrates the power of white space on the page. It’s an example the author’s powers of constraint, with every sentence carved and stacked to build into a story’s perfect range. She is the master of crafting and presenting a moment’s interaction between two people, imbuing the most seemingly straightforward setting with drops of emotion that ripple our far beyond the edges of the scene.

In several of the tales, Amanda gifts us artfully understated moments with the bitter-sweet aftertaste of  Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.

From the love embodied in a jar of sweet bean jam to the precision of raked gravel the stories chime with our expectations of Japan while delicately breathing life into the scenes and characters. These stories dive far deeper than the surface clichés and show us the respect of the author through the aspects she chooses to illustrate her themes. You’ll emerge with all your senses tingling from the pleasures of relishing minor details, from a simple cup of tea to a fleeting interaction with someone, or somewhere, with the potential to be the love of your life.

Following the closure of Victorina Press, you can buy signed copies of ‘Each of Us a Petal’ directly from the author.

This book was given to me in exchange for a fair review.

What are you reading? 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.