Writing prompt – screen

Teen birthday_phone screen by Judy DarleyI find it fascinating to consider how our addiction to devices could be influencing our  interpretation of the world.

For the generation who are currently teenagers, these devices are an intrinsic means of understanding and experiencing the world. It seems that nothing is real unless witnessed and captured through a phone screen.

But what will happen if one day the super servers simply click off?

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 – the everrumble by Michelle Elvy

the everumbleAt the age of seven, Zettie stops speaking and concentrates instead on listening to the world.

Described as a small novel in small forms, this book is far larger than the sum of its parts. I know people who devoured it in a single indulgent sitting, but for me it was so quenching  that I drip-fed it to myself – page after page, moment by moment. It offered me a place to return to for peace, quietude and stillness, and now that I’ve read it from cover to cover, I know I’ll return again.

Delivered in a series of flashes, served up with plenty of space to hold the words and ideas safe, this is a book of contemplative joy.

I often see sentences as strings of interwoven colours, but in the case of the everrumble, it was a far more textural experience. Grains danced over my bare arms as I absorbed the passages. I felt tendrils of thread waft over the nape of my neck and the polish of seashells against my toes. Most of all, perhaps because of the blanket that Zettie takes refuge beneath at the beginning, which “light enters like tiny diamonds”, throughout the ever rumble I saw the stitch-work of crochet – that alchemy of yarn, deft fingers and hook, and the hushed focus that comes with that skill (which I do not have).

In other words, author Michelle Elvy has somehow conjured a multi-sensory experience through her writing, and, even more powerfully, compressed sensations onto the page that will eke into your everyday life. Sitting here typing this, I feel the pleasure of contact with each key, and a delight in the warmth of this sunlit room, while the soft sounds of bells chiming and traffic passing drift through the window to keep me company.

Weaving in dreamscapes with glimpses into a long life, set against geography and literary musings in the form of notes on books that have captured Zettie’s attention, the everrumble is a glorious odyssey of one woman’s exploration of connectivity. Even her name is notable, borrowed as it is from her aunt – Little Zettie being a nickname bestowed on her by her brother when she was small.

Through her silence, Zettiee opens up herself to the riches of Earth’s sounds, from the human, to the natural, to the unnatural, to “the everrumble. The heartbeat of every living creature.”

And in other ways, she is utterly normal. She gets crushes, falls in love, earns a living, bears and raises children. It’s her contentment, and her intense empathy for the most part, that is extraordinary. But she is mortal, and human, for all her communing with nature – a detail powerfully examined in a segment in which she imagines reading to her children.

In an era when climate change is accelerating at a dizzying pace and governments seem ever more disconnected both from their nations and the environment they’re impacting, the everrumble is a welcome pause, and a reminder: to listen, to savour, to live well.

the everrumble by Michelle Elvy is published by AdHoc Fiction and has been longlisted for the Guardian Newspaper’s Not-The-Booker-Prize. Buy your copy.

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, get in touch.

Plymouth seeks young writing talent

Plymouth. Photo by Frederica Diamanta on Unsplash

Plymouth City Council, in partnership with the South West literature development agency Literature Works, has launched a search to find aspiring new writers in the city aged between 14 and 19 to apply for the Mayflower 400 Plymouth Young City Laureate post.

The successful applicant will be asked to create work to celebrate special events or occasions in the city as well as being expected to perform at events in libraries, schools and at festivals.

The current holder of the Mayflower 400 Plymouth Young City Laureate title, Olivia Templeton, says: “My time as the Laureate has been a better opportunity than I could have hoped for. Meeting new people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise and celebrating such important events have made the past year so incredible.”

There is a cash prize of £100 as well as city-wide recognition for the post-holder’s writing and performance skills, making this an ideal stepping stone for any young person hoping to launch a successful career in the arts.

To enter you must:

  • To be aged between 14 and 19
  • Live, work or go to school or college in Plymouth
  • Submit two samples of your creative writing. One should be inspired by the theme of ‘Plymouth’, and the other should be inspired by the theme of ‘finding your identity’
  • At least one of your two samples should be in the form of poetry
  • Prose should be no more than 2000 words, poetry no more than one page of A4.

The deadline for entries is Friday 27th September 2019.

The winning entry will be chosen by a panel of judges from Plymouth City Council, Plymouth University, Literature Works and a well-known (as yet unnamed) author.

The Young City Laureate will be announced at a celebration event in October.

Find full details of how to enter here.

Writing prompt – shoe

Shoe in cememtery by Judy DarleyI’ve been playing with fairytales and fables recently, remastering them with a twist that may make them more appealing to modern audiences such as this one published by Enchanted Conversation.

When I spied this mislaid shoe on a forest path, my first thought was ‘Cinderella!’

Use this as the prompt for a modern take on the Cinderella story. What kind of Cinders might have lost this battered sneaker, and in what circumstances? What sort of happy ending could they be stumbling towards?

And if I were to tell you that this path happens to be in a woodland cemetery, how might that influence your tale?

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.

Manchester Poetry and Fiction Prizes

The-Royal-Exchange-Manchester-cr-Judy-DarleyManchester Writing Competition 2019 is open to online and postal entries, with categories for Poetry and Fiction. Both prizes offer a £10,000 first prize.

The competitions were instigated in 2008 by by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy in 2008. The aim was designed to attract the best new writing from around the world, and to establish Manchester as a literary focal point.

The deadline for all entries is 5pm GMT on 20th September 2019.

The chair of poetry judges is Adam O’Riordan. The entry fee is £17.50.

Find full details and enter on the Poetry Prize page.

The chair of fiction judges is Nicholas Royle. The entry fee is £17.50.

Find full details and enter on the Fiction Prize page.

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

Two flashes and a poem

Spring of the MusesI love how art forms can inspire and nourish one another, so when published Deborah Gaye of Avalanche Books let me know that her next anthology would be poetry and prose poems prompted by music, art and dance, I was immediately entranced.

The anthology, Spring of the Muses, is now out, and contains three of my two of my flash stories and a poem: Fermented Cherries, Heliography and Ingrained.

Here are the first lines of Fermented Cherries, inspired by the powerful lament of Fado music.

The Fado rolls out, washing over me. It’s a salt-weighted tide that ebbs and rises above the listeners’ heads. The vocalist leans on the humid air, lungs hauling in breath and pushing it out as song.

I stand in the doorway, held steady by the sound and by a burst of heat from the kitchen where sardines roast in rows.

I can see him sitting near the bar, a glass of ruby liquid cradled in one hand. The light catches on his hair and settles in crows’ feet like sediment.

To read the rest you’ll need to buy the anthology. There are some real gems in there, including Alison Brackenbury’s conversation between Handel and Hendrix: Purple Haze, and Alwyn Marriage’s jubilant Nancy’s Star Turn.

Buy the Spring of the Muses anthology.

Writing prompt – ancestors

AncestorsImagine finding these photographs abandoned on a cafe table.

What preoccupied the individuals at the time the pictures were taken? What message might they have wanted to share? What clue could they hold to your protagonist’s past?

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.

The Aesthetica Creative Writing Award

MShed cr Judy DarleyThe Aesthetica Creative Writing Award celebrates outstanding short fiction and poetry from around the world. The deadline for entering the award is 31st August 2019, making this the perfect time to get polishing your poetry and prose.

Prizes include publication within Aesthetica Creative Writing Anthology and £1,000 for each category winner. Winner of the short fiction competition will receive a consultation with literary agency Redhammer Management, while the Poetry winner will have a Full Membership to The Poetry Society. To whet your appetite for creating more literary works, the winners will also receive, a subscription to Granta and books courtesy of Bloodaxe Books and Vintage Books.

There’s no theme – just submit your finest story or poem offering your own unique window on a slice of the world!

Fiction entries should be no more than 2,000 words each and poetry entries should be no more than 40 lines each. Both short fiction and poetry entries should be written in English.

Remarkably, entry fees have actually dropped for 2019.

Short Fiction: NOW £13.50 WAS £18  |  Poetry: NOW £9 WAS £12

Works published elsewhere are accepted.

For full details, visit www.aestheticamagazine.com/creative-writing-award

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Theatre review – Malory Towers

Malory Towers production photography by Steve TannerEmma Rice revels in the high jinks of vintage boarding school fiction, with a typically shrewd yet tender take on the Enid Blyton ‘Malory Towers’ classics.

Riddled with song and dance numbers, oozing energy and awash with acts of heroism shored up by a compassionate heart, Wise Children‘s second production, in collaboration with York Theatre Royal and in association with Bristol Old Vic and Bristol City Council, is as complex, entertaining & irresistible as any of the characters.

Malory Towers production photography by Steve Tanner. Rose Shalloo as Mary Lou Atkinson and Francesca Mills as Sally Hope.

Rose Shalloo as Mary Lou Atkinson and Francesca Mills as Sally Hope.

Staged within the impressively adapted Passenger Shed at Bristol Temple Meads, (which happily includes a popup by Storysmith bookshop, and a bar – what a fabulous combination, as well as plenty of tiered seating), Malory Towers is conjured with a simple set by Lez Brotherstoni (who also designed the costumes), featuring rolling desks and pull-out dorm beds.

Malory Towers production photography by Steve Tanner5With the outline of the turreted school doubling up as a perilous cliff top, you’ve got everything you need to provide the backdrop to a story full of jollity, treachery, heartbreak and forgiveness. The costumes are deceptively simple, comprising burgundy blazers and pleated tunics, boaters, virgin socks and patent leather t-bar shoes.

Projected animations add to the atmosphere, from the steam train journey to head mistress Mrs Grayling (voiced by Sheila Handcock). It’s a trick that makes much of little, and allows the focus to remain firmly on the pupils, including gorgeous ‘Bill’ Robinson, played with swagger by Vinnie Heaven.

Malory Towers production photography by Steve Tanner. Vinnie Heaven as Bill Robinson

Vinnie Heaven as Bill Robinson, centre.

If you attended the company’s debut production of Angela Carter’s Wise Children, you may recognise Mirabelle Gremaud, who plays Irene Barlett, who turns backflips at the slightest provocation, and supplies much of the music composed by Ian Ross, along with pianist Stephanie Hockley.

Francesca Mills as Sally Hope delivers that character’s sensible lines with a comic touch, and reveals her megalomaniac side and “fearful heart” with such verve you can’t help but delight. Alicia Johns, played by Renee Lamb, is the class clown hiding her own secret shame beneath her humour.

Malory Towers production photography by Steve Tanner. Rebecca Collingwood’s Gwendolyne Lacey

Rebecca Collingwood as Gwendolyne Lacey, centre

Rebecca Collingwood’s Gwendolyne Lacey is possibly the biggest challenge – a truly unpleasant piece of work who is sneakily spiteful to Rose Shalloo’s meek but sweet Mary Lou Atkinson, while Izuka Hoyle’s Darrell Rivers is the fierce bestie who’d you wished you’d had on your side at school. The characters each reveal the strength wound through with vulnerability that makes them relatably comparable. This is girl power in a time before the Spice Girls claimed the phrase, a applying equally well to men with that core strength of fallibility.

Inevitably, the dramatised version has a slightly tongue in cheek tone, not least when Darrell Rivers (Izuka Hoyle, pictured below with Francesca Mills), comments on how Alicia Johns’ is ‘deliciously naughty.’

Malory Towers production photography by Steve Tanner3

In true Blyton style, there’s a convenient storm for our school chums to rush recklessly out into (perhaps a teacher who is more than a silhouette would have been helpful at this point), and a horse to ultimately save the day (although, the girls claim the hero is in fact “working together as a team.”)

The only weakness in the plot is that it begins in the present and deposits us here again after a superfluous foray into the school pals’ attempt at staging Midsummer Night’s Dream (a nod to Rice’s brief tenure at London’s Globe Theatre?). It these bookends were deleted, the story would hold together seamlessly, but as it is they feel like unnecessary distractions.

Malory Towers production photography by Steve Tanner10

The play neatly encapsulates the idea that each rock-solid friendship group, production company, or, let’s take a leap and say board room, benefits from a diverse and varied assortment of skillsets and points of view.

As with the Wise Children play, the power bolstering Malory Towers lies in the empathy the characters demand from us and from each other. In fact, compassion surrounded by drama, laughter and song, is becoming something of a this flourishing theatre company’s trademark.

Malory Towers is on at Bristol Old Vic until 18th August 2019 and will then be touring the UKFind out more and book tickets. Production images by Steve Tanner.

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.

Writing prompt – white van

Arnos Vale Cemetery graves cr Judy DarleySometimes a random glimpse contains all the ingredients you need to set a story in motion.

What could this white van be doing here in an old Victorian cemetery? What does it contain? What will it soon be filled with?

Think retribution (divine or otherwise), smuggling, theft, off-beat children’s parties, vampires, or whatever your twisted mind can conjure.Go as dark, or as funny, as you like.

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.