Sky Light Rain – Underwire

Underwire by Judy DarleyHave you ever created a fictional character who gained traits and powers you didn’t expect? You may have noticed that for a while now I’ve been offering ‘behind-the-scenes’ insights into the inspiration that prompted the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

A few weeks ago, entirely unintentionally, I completely skipped over my story ‘Underwire’. This tale is the twenty-seventh in the collection, and should have appeared in this series of posts between ‘The Sculptor‘ and ‘Breathing Water‘.

This most curious thing about this omission is that ‘Underwire’ tells the tale of a woman who chooses to disappear.

It originally washed up in issue 67 (Winter/Spring 2018) of Tears In The Fence.

The image above shows where the story ends. It begins:

The pebbles of the beach are cold lumps beneath my soles. A January wind whistles in from the sea, but I ignore the goosebumps sprigging my flesh and with effort I think the core of me into heat. That’s a trick, imagining an inferno lit at the centre of my gut, flames licking the ropes of intestines and keeping me warm.

The whole world is dressed in shades of bruises today – bluish pebbles, the greenish sea, a sky like slabs of ice above.

I glance up the beach; see the violet trim of my sneakers where I kicked them off a few steps back. Nearby, my socks lounge untidily like patches of lichen or moss. 

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

Discover the inspiration behind my other Sky Light Rain stories by clicking on the story titles below.

Discover the inspiration behind ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Elevated Truths‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Little Blessings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lodged‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Invertebrates‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Geese Among the Trees‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Distant Storms‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Sculptor‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Reeds and Curlews.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fin‘.

Writing prompt – roam

Mum's Garden. Painting of trees, grass and walls by Pauline DarleyWith travel off-limits for a while, why not treat yourself to an imaginary journey? Reading, gazing at art, writing and generally being creative give us opportunities to roam countless miles within the confines of your own mind.

One artwork that sweeps me away is the above painting by my mum, Pauline Darley. It shows a corner of her garden, the space where I explored and adventured for hours as a child. To the right of the painting is an immense fir tree that contained whole universes, including the occasional dragon, when I was small.

Find something in your own home that carries you away from your here and now, and then see if you can harness that feeling as a prompt to write, paint or otherwise imagine visiting a faraway land.

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.

The Fiction Desk seeks ghost stories

Arnoa Vale Cemetery cr Judy DarleyIn these early days of the year with so many hours to each dark night, The Fiction Desk invites you to seek a home for your spooky scribblings by submitting an entry to their annual call for ghost stories.

They say: “’Ghost story’ can mean a lot of different things, from an encounter with an actual phantom to more unusual paranormal phenomena and unexplained events. All types are welcome, so feel free to experiment: we’re very unlikely to disqualify a story for stretching the definition of a “ghost”. Keep in mind that our general readership (and by extension our judge) may be more likely to respond well to psychological chills and unexplained mysteries than in-your-face gore.”

They pay £20 per thousand words for stories (eg £80 for a 4,000 word story, or £120 for a 6,000 word story). Contributors also receive two complimentary paperback copies. The stories they publish are also eligible to enter the Writer’s Award, a cash prize of £100 for the best story in each volume, as judged by the contributors.

Rules of this call for submissions

Entries should be between 1,000 and 20,000 words in length. The entry fee is £4 for each story submitted.

The deadline for entries is January 31st, 2021. To cover admin costs, submission fees are £4 per story.  Stories should be submitted online.

You might find it helpful to take a look at their previous ghost story anthologies.

Find full details of how to submit your ghost stories here.

Sky Light Rain – Fin

Fin. Photo by James Hainsworth

I can never resist a ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into the workings of a creative endeavour. It’s why I launched this series of posts offering insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The thirtieth story is ‘Fin’. It surfaced in my mind one rainy January when I was certain our cellar (the same cellar that brimmed with uncanny encounters in my story ‘Lodged‘) was filling with water.

The idea merged with a whale watching trip I’d taken the year before, when I’d seen and fallen in love with the majesty of fin whales.

The story is about an ending, so the title works on two levels.

The story begins:

It began after their trip to the Azores. Toby had booked it as a celebration of their years together, complete with a voyage to look out for whales. Rachel glued on a smile and let Toby take her hand when he reached for it. She didn’t know how to tell him it was over, but something in the skitter of his glance made her wonder if he’d already guessed. It was as though he no longer dared to fully see her, in case he mistakenly found himself staring at a truth he’d rather not face.

Of the numerous species those Atlantic waters attracted, it was the fin whales that deigned to make an appearance. While other tourists, including Toby, stood and snapped photos, lens to eye, Rachel sat back in her seat and drank the sight in. The slap of fin against the waves, the slide of an immense, narrow body swooning up then over and down into the depths.

“Second largest mammal after the Blue Whale,” their biologist tour guide commented. “These ones are behaving strangely. Normally they come up for air only, but these ones have risen, what, three, four times?”

Each time the pair rose, they came a little closer, and each time, Rachel felt herself singled out by their deep-set, knotted gaze.

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

Discover the inspiration behind my other Sky Light Rain stories by clicking on the story titles below.

Discover the inspiration behind ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Elevated Truths‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Little Blessings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lodged‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Invertebrates‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Geese Among the Trees‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Distant Storms‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Sculptor‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Reeds and Curlews.

Writing prompt – gloves

Gloves. Photo by Judy Darley. Mismatched gloves placed on railings in Reykjavik, Iceland.I spied this curious shrine to lost gloves in Reykjavik, Iceland, in January 2017, and found myself asking a string of questions.

Who does each of these gloves belong to? What happened to those individuals? Where is their other glove? How have they solved the problem of having one cold hand? Or is this glove all that remains of them?

There are so many directions you could take this story in. Drawing on the island’s rich mythology, could it be an offering to Icelandic trolls, or, considering the Scandi Noir genre, a clue in a chilling thriller? Do they have the other glove in their home as a souvenir of some grisly act?

Or is it an altruistic act hoping to reunite people with their dropped knitwear, and the excuse for a Richard Curtis-worthy meet-cute?

Whatever strands you choose to follow, can you knit them together into a winter’s 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 may publish it 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 aimed at aspiring novelists. Usually they offer London-based and an online options to choose between, but at the moment all courses are run online.

If you book before 31st January 2021, you can get £20 off the price of six-week courses with the code shown on their website.

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 plenty of 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 the chance to learn to write short fiction with award-winning short story-writer Cynan Jones, starting on 4th February, and a breakthrough novel-writing course with Jacob Ross and Laura Barnett (Act fast! Applications close on 10th January). In some cases, course places are awarded on merit, so make sure your entry shines.

“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.

Writing prompt – WTF

Elegant vintage car with WTF numberplate. Photo by Judy DarleyI love this little Nissan Figaro I pass on my daily walks. It’s such an elegant piece of engineering, and its number plate seems to sum up this past year. The fact it made this statement before hashtags even existed (ok, it’s not truly vintage, but still pre-hashtag at around 1991 or thereabouts) makes it even more endearing.

Imagine the owner of this glorious vehicle gliding through life nonplussed but unfazed. Can you build a story around this character navigating 2020, and wishing this horrible year a cheery farewell in a way that suits their personality and verve perfectly?

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.

Sky Light Rain – Reeds and Curlews

Laugharne Castle by Judy Darley

I can never resist the opportunity to catch a ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into the workings of a creative endeavour. It’s why I launched this series of posts offering insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The twenty-ninth story is ‘Reeds and Curlews’. It carries us through a rainstorm to one of my favourite places, Laugharne in Wales, at the moment when a mother recognises the hazards of the age her son has reached following the death of one of his friends. Even as she attempts to shepherd him through his grief, she’s swept sideways by the relief that it wasn’t her son who died.

We all have those moments, don’t we? Those terrible, guilty feelings of “Thank goodness that happened to them, not us.”

An earlier version of ‘Reeds and Curlews’, then titled ‘Wriggler’, was published in the October 2018 issue of Ghost Parachute.

The story begins:

The suspension bridge tries to catch us in its wires as we drive from Bristol to Wales, chasing storm clouds as we go.

“It’s a spider with a gazillion legs,” Oli says, staring up throughthe sunroof.

I can’t help but smile. In those words I hear the little boy he used to be, just last year or the year before. Not that twelve is so very close to full maturity, but the perils in his vicinity seem disturbingly adult.

The thirsty July ground is too hard-baked to let rain soak in. Puddles form, then lakes and rivers, gushing down hillsides to meet us. The deluge fills me with a kind of fierce delight. I feel we’re amorphous – regressing to the amphibious beings we were in the womb.

“I was never a frog,” Oli says, holding tight to the backpack cradled in his lap. One hand is closed in a fist, gripping something I can’t see.

“No, but you were a wriggler,” I say, my own hands fixed to the steering wheel as we aquaplane for a second, and then regain the road.

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

Discover the inspiration behind my other Sky Light Rain stories by clicking on the story titles below.

Discover the inspiration behind ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Elevated Truths‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Little Blessings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lodged‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Invertebrates‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Geese Among the Trees‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Distant Storms‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Sculptor‘.

Enter Oxford Flash Fiction Prize 2021

Oxford University buildings. Photo by Judy Darley. Photo of old buildings in the English city of Oxford.Oxford Flash Fiction Prize 2021 invites you to submit your finest flash fiction tale for a chance to get 2021 off to an excellent start.

The deadline is 31 January 2021.

The word limit is 1,000.

  • First prize is £1000.
  • Second prize is £200.
  • Third prize is £100.

Shortlisted entrants will be offered the chance to be published in the end of year digital anthology.

You can choose to enter one flash at £6, two at £10 or three at £14.

A limited number of free entries are available to low-income writers. Find out more here.

Rules of entry

  • All entries must be formatted as a single-spaced word document or PDF.
    Font: Arial, 12pt. This is to standardise entries so that all stories are treated equally. Only entries that are under the 1000-word limit (not including the title) will be accepted.
  • All entries must include the title of the story but not the name or address, or any identifying information of the entrant.
  • This is an international competition, and all entries must be in English.
  • All entries must be the work of the person entering and must not have been published anywhere online (including blogs and websites) or accepted for publication elsewhere. The copyright remains with the author.
  • Entries will not be accepted without payment, and any entries that do not comply with the competition rules will be disqualified.
  • No corrections post-entry can be accepted or refunds given.
  • The results of the competition will be published online and the decision of the judge(s) will be final.
  • The closing date for entries is midnight (UK time) on the 31st January. Winners will be notified by email within six weeks of the closing dates.

Find full details here.

Sky Light Rain – Breathing Water

Breathing Water by Judy Darley. View of harbour from prow of boat.I can never resist the opportunity to catch a ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into the workings of a creative endeavour. It’s part of the reason why I launched this series of posts offering insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The twenty-eighth story is ‘Breathing Water’. It examines the small rituals we carry out to feel safe and to try to keep others from harm, and explores the tensions and tenderness within a family where two brothers have chosen very different paths – one an artist and the other a fisherman. The viewpoint is the artist’s son, Gil, whose neurodiversity perturbs his father and uncle.

An earlier version of ‘Breathing Water’ was published by Little Lantern Press.

The story begins:

The moon is thin, casting a faint spool of light that catches in the waves beyond the harbour wall. Gil likes this kind of night, softened by the salt in the warm air, all colours subdued. He pads down to the dock, strips off his t-shirt and shorts, clambers down the steel steps welded to the wall. The metal is cold against his skin, but not, he knows, as cold as the sea itself will be, even here in the harbour where it has been quieted.

He enters slowly, allowing the chill to creep over his skin. Become the blood in his veins. He sinks until his ears are submerged, and exhales with something like relief. There, now not only the sights are muted, but the noises too. All except those he creates himself, which sound distinct and pure.

He swims across the harbour to the first shadowy hull, heaves himself on board and stands, shivering.

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

Discover the inspiration behind my other Sky Light Rain stories by clicking on the story titles below.

Discover the inspiration behind ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Elevated Truths‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Little Blessings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lodged‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Invertebrates‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Geese Among the Trees‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Distant Storms‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Sculptor‘.