Sky Light Rain – Elevated Truths

Lift at ABode by Judy DarleyEver wondered how a short story sparks into life? This series of posts offers insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The eighteenth story is ‘Elevated Truths’, a story that has its ups and downs. It began to form in my mind after I went down a rabbit hole researching the invention of the lift, I discovered an innovator called Elisha Graves Otis. My first thought was that this remarkable woman had saved us all from trudging up endless stairs. The second was that she sported an impressive beard in her photo.

I love a good misunderstanding for presenting curious juxtapositions. This one gave me the impetus to explore the balance of truths and lies in a girl’s relationship with her father, and how a ‘smile-lie’ can serve as a form of protection.

‘Elevated Truths’ was originally published by Fictive Dream magazine.

The tale begins:

2000 <> 1852

“The elevator was invented by a woman in 1852,” I tell my father when he looks up from the article he’s writing and asks me what I’ve learnt today. “Her name was Elisha Graves Otis, and she founded the Otis Elevator Company. See, women can do anything men can.”

He looks at me over his laptop screen, his eyebrows doing that weird pinch in, thrust out move that means he’s not sure what to correct you on first.

“That’s not quite right,” he says, and I scowl.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Lamp Black‘.

Writing prompt – robot

Lamp at Arnos Vale cr Judy Darley

This small lantern was sitting abandoned on a wall in a local cemetery. Something about its squat, green slightly rusted trunk appealed to me.

Then I realised I was seeing this inanimate object as a character. A little robot, to be exact. With four arms, and possibly two feet tucked away underneath, a somewhat beetle-y, forest robot.

And there, a story began to sprout, running away in my imagination. Could he be a man-made robot gone feral? Perhaps he spends his day foraging and gathering vital resources (but what might those be?), or perhaps he’s solar powered! What risks could he face? I suspect priorities include trying to keep out of the rain to avoid further rust, and avoiding the squirrels, roe deer, dogs and cats that could potentially cause him mischief.

What object, seen askance, might prompt a fantastical work of fiction in your mind?

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’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Going Short by Nancy Stohlman

going-short-coverThis book is the perfect cheerleader to see you on your first steps of the flash fiction journey. If you’ve been playing in the flash arena for a while, Going Short may well be the coach to take your flash skills to the next level.

With a subtitle of “An Invitation  To Flash Fiction”, Nancy Stohlman’s guide is a warm welcome, with chapters arrayed in bite-sized segments where every word earns its place. She leads by example, explaining the definition of flash fiction as you might to a non-writer friend in a pub (or, more likely these days, over Zoom), laying out word count (under 1,000) and purpose “to tell a story even if much of that story is implied.”

Immediately, I’m bubbling with questions. How do we know how much to tell and how much to imply? How can we trust the reader to be on our wave length and understand the unwritten?

In Part One: Writing Flash Fiction, I reach a paragraph titled ‘The Blank Page’ and am immediately gripped. Stohlman’s concise sentences brook no arguments as they command you’ to let go: of clever tricks, of descriptions, of our need to explain – all things I struggle with in my own writing. “Let silences be potent,” she urges, “don’t rush to fill them.”

It’s advice that sounds almost languid until you reach the next page, titled ‘Urgency.’

Continue reading

Sky Light Rain – Lamp Black

Train station cr Judy DarleyEver wondered how a short story sparks into life? This series of posts offers insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The seventeenth story is ‘Lamp Black.’ This unsettling tale took root when I was waiting at Bath Spa Train Station. On the platform opposite I saw two children playing. One was giving the other a piggyback and they were wobbling close to the edge, just a stumble away from toppling onto the tracks. My pulse was beginning to race when the train roared up and they ran on board, thoughtless of the danger they’d been in moments before.

I got to wondering where their parents were and why no one had been keeping them safe. A story began to unfold in my mind of a woman sending her two daughters out searching for the dad they’ll never find, just to get a but of time to herself. But then one day they come home and tell her they’ve found him…

The tale’s beginning faithfully reports what I saw and felt:

Two children on the other side of the station are playing close to the platform edge. One is giving the other a piggyback ride, stepping along the yellow warning line like it’s a tightrope. None of the adults within reach intervenes.

I think about shouting out, but don’t want to startle her. As I watch, she wobbles and staggers towards the train tracks. My hands clench and unclench at my waist.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.

Writing prompt – shame

Porto homeless cr Judy DarleyWhile visiting Porto in late February/early March, I was struck by the grandeur of many of the buildings set against the hardship of the people sleeping on their steps.

It’s a story you’ll see enacted in cities across the world, unless officials have moved them out of sight. During the UK lockdown, homeless people were moved into hotels temporarily, but what happens now? I’ve noticed that on the rare occasions I now meander into the city centre, more individuals are begging again, asking for any germ-laden coins I can offer.

It feels like we’ve already entered a dystopian future. Can you explore this idea with a touch of exaggeration (sadly, a touch is all that’s needed), where a ravaged society is in desperate need of a solution before the health of those on its lowest rungs are poised to infect those at the top?

Can you invent a solution leading to a happy ending to give your readers hope?

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.

Enter the Bath Children’s Novel Award

Roman Baths by Judy DarleyThe Bath Children’s Novel Award has opened its doors to submission from unpublished, self-published and independently published authors worldwide.

Previous winners include include Lucy Van Smit for The Hurting (Chicken House, Sept 2018) and Struan Murray for Orphans of the Tide (Puffin, 2020).

The 2020 Judge is Stephanie Thwaites of Curtis Brown literary agency. She will pick the winning novel from a shortlist chosen by a team of Junior Judges aged from 7 to 17.

Deadline: 29th November 2020
Prize: £3,000
Submission: First 5,000 words plus 300-word synopsis
Entry fee: £28 with sponsored places available for writers on low income

Shortlisted authors will receive manuscript feedback from the Junior Judges plus literary agent introductions.

The writer of the most promising longlisted manuscript will win a place on the online course Edit Your Novel the Professional Way (worth £1,800) from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.

Find full details and submit here: https://bathnovelaward.co.uk/childrens-novel-award/ 

Sky Light Rain – Flamingos and Ham

Flamingos and Ham by Judy DarleyEver wondered how a short story sparks into life? We’re now well over a third of the way through my series of posts offering insights into my writing process and sharing the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The sixteenth story is ‘Flamingos and Ham.’ This dystopian flash fiction tale could be a metaphor for 2020, but seeded in my mind when I interviewed the instigators of the Pussyhats that appeared in photos of the 2017 Women’s Marches – Krista Suh, Jayna Zweiman and Kat Coyle – for a crochet magazine. Do you recall the sea of hot pink cat-eared hats in those visuals? That was thanks to these three women.

I was inspired by how they’d taken a colour associated with women and weakness, and reclaimed it as something powerfully striking and unifying.

Imagine if the colour pink was outlawed. What infringements might come next?The story looks at how our freedoms can be eroded almost without us noticing. It was originally published in Ellipsis Zine Two.

The tale begins:

I was twelve when the ruling came in, banning certain words, colours, and clothing. It seemed farcical at first. My mum and dad laughed in disbelief as they watched the news.

“How can they outlaw pink?” Dad hooted. “What about flamingos and… and, ham?!”

Mum grimaced, clutching her crochet hook. “Why forbid hats, and yarn? What are they afraid of?”

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Lamp Black‘.

Writing prompt – message

Giraffes Against RacismI spotted this giraffe campaigning in my neighbourhood, reminding us that black lives matter just as much as everyone else. It’s, sadly, an important message in these difficult times, and feels particularly fitting coming from such a dappled creature.

Imagine if all creatures were able to have their say regarding prejudice (racism, sexism and homophobia, among others), human rights infringements, animal cruelty, the climate crisis and more. What might a blue whale want to tell us about the state of our oceans, or an orang-utan about the impact of deforestation?

Could you embark on your own searing version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm to make a clear point about the troubles we’ll face if we don’t sort ourselves out?

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.

This Too – a short story and a prize!

This Too_ladybirdI was delighted when my short story This Too was selected for publication by The Great Margin, a project set up by Paper Nations. The selection included a chance to have my story edited by the splendid Michael Loveday, who pointed out a mixed metaphor, which led to me amending a single sentence. Other than that, the story went live exactly as it had been submitted.

The story began to bubble up in summer 2019, when our garden was parched and everything felt poised by the heat for something big to happen. In my story, the ‘something’ becomes a wait for a phone call following medical tests.

Roll forward to summer 2020, and we were all on tenterhooks thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. I found myself thinking about everyone who’d had to put immune suppressing treatment on hold, and about the strain that was causing them and their loved ones. The story gained a new dimension.

I brought in the ladybird plague of 1976 because it’s something so strange and dramatic, and yet as someone who wasn’t yet born it seems to be like the stuff of folklore. I wanted to imagine that one day the Covid-19 pandemic will seem that remote and strange thanks to the passage of time. This too will pass.

This week, I have cause to celebrate the story once more as the amazing folks at Paper Nations got in touch to let me know This Too has been chosen as story of the month. I won a book voucher for the marvellous Mr B’s Emporium. Even better, they published a piece explaining all the reason’s they love my story. Aww. *blushes*.

Bristol Festival of Literature goes digital

Bristol waterways cr Judy DarleyFor its grand ten-year anniversary, Bristol Festival of Literature is taking its celebration of the written words and going digital by hosting the entire festival via Zoom.

An array of literary events, all of which are free to attend this year (although donations are encouraged), will take place between 10th and 25th October 25th, entirely accessible from your living room.

“The festival has a policy of using unusual places and going out into the community,” says Jari Moate, one of the founders. “So we have a lot of experience of working with venues, but doing everything on Zoom is entirely new to us. I’m sure we will have a few adventures along the way!”

As always, the grassroots festival is offering opportunities for local authors to show off their stories, but is taking advantage of the online element by casting its net further afield. On Saturday 24th October, authors from Georgia will be joining the Festival to discuss the evolving literary scene in their country and to share experiences with British authors.

Events kick off on Saturday 10th October with the Bristol Short Story Prize Awards, offering your the chance to writers, agents, publishers and literature lovers from around the world as the Bristol Short Story Prize reveals the winner of its 13th annual competition.

The Book Of EchoesA week later the festival proper begins on ​Friday 16th October with highlights including Rosana Amaka in Conversation with novelist Dr Sanjida O’Connell as they discuss Amaka’s powerful debut novel The Book Of Echoes.

​On Saturday 17th October, you can take part in The Bristol Festival of Literature 2020 Writers’ Retreat and book a sessions with an industry expert to help you pursue dreams of publication.

​Also on Saturday 17th October, Poets 4 The Planet will perform thought-provoking poetry responding to the climate crisis.

​On Sunday 18th October you can carry on the climate crisis theme in a more proactive way with Imagine: Writing Bristol’s Future. Bristol Climate Writers will guide you through using creative techniques to explore and interpret issues based around climate changed seeking solutions for a sustainable Bristol.

​On Monday 19th October, find out more about the abolitionist movement in Bristol with Colston: Fact And Fiction with Roger Ball, Mark Steeds and Ros Martin.

On​ Thursday 22nd October, discover Landscapes: A showcase of work by The Diverse Creative Writing Group when  members of the Diverse Creative Writing Group for adults with Autistic Spectrum Condition.

​Also on Thursday, learn to craft short poems in response to your dreams with Dream Haiku with Asha Sahni and gain an insight into challenging the status quo with Novel Nights: Taking Risks As A Writer with Julie Cohen, hosted by David Lloyd.

Friday 23rd October brings Stories of Strong Women – Inspirational Female Authors, in which Jane Duffus, Elle Spellman and Heather Child with discuss trailblazing women writers, and a chance to see the UK’s hottest spoken word/performance/slam/stand up poets at Burning Eye Presents.

​​Finally, Story Sunday – The Great Escape with Just Write Bristol will offer showcase of original fiction written and performed by local writers.

For the full programme and to book your spots before they all disappear, visit https://www.bristolliteraturefestival.org/2020-festival-programme.

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.