Writerly resolutions for 2018

Spring crocus cr Judy DarleyAs we edge into the greyest month of the year, I thought it might be a good time to see whether you’ve got any writerly new year’s resolutions, or set any goals for 2018.

Did you make any? Have you successfully kept any you made? Does that seem like an impertinent question?

Before continuing, I must confess, I rarely make new year’s resolutions as such. To me, they seem at best like a form of procrastination (‘oh, I’ll start doing that in Jan’), at worst a way of setting yourself up to fail. But it is a good time to look at how your life is going and see if there’s anything you need to change to stay on or get back on track.

It’s also a fab way to lay the foundations for a new habit that will pay dividends in years to come. Here are three that have served me well in the past.

1. Write whenever I can find the time

Several years ago (2012 in fact – can’t believe that was six years ago!) I set myself the challenge of writing at least one short story every month, which is something I did without fail every month until last year. I found it a great way to keep those creative muscles taut and ready for action 🙂

But it was also a demand I couldn’t keep up with in 2017, as family calamities and new work commitments ate into my time. With writing such an ingrained part of my everyday life, however, I discovered that whenever I did find time to write creatively, whether that was a flash, a poem, a vignette, or simply editing a chapter of a novel in progress, I emerged feeling brighter and lighter and a little bit sunnier. It’s a fuel that keeps me going even when I don’t have the chance to spend as much time dreaming up new characters and worlds as I like. It sustains me in a way I never previously understood.

2. Submit regularly

A few years before that I set about ensuring I submitted at least four works of creative writing somewhere each month, which I also continue. The challenge was flexible enough not to cause undue stress (some months I submit all four pieces in the same week then forget all about them for the rest of the month, other months I’ll find I’ve submitted six or eight by day 30), and also ensures that whenever I receive a rejection, part of me breathes a quiet sigh of relief – now I can send that piece off elsewhere to fulfil part of the current month’s quota.

It also helps me stay positive, because for every rejection, there’s a healthy handful of tales still out there dreaming big dreams. And when I get an acceptance, it’s a lovely surprise, because by continually sending out creative pieces I’m never quite clear what’s out there, and therefore not too focused on any one thing.

Which brings me to the third resolution.

3. Stay organised

Around the same time I started sending out four and more stories each month, I set up a simple spreadsheet to help me keep track of them all.

This helps my writing in two ways, firstly, by ensuring I know what I’ve sent where and whether they’ve responded, and secondly, by distancing me from the process emotionally.

By transforming all these acts of hope into columns and rows, I save myself from heartache. Each time a email or post out a piece of writing, I enter its name into the spreadsheet along with the details of where I’ve sent it and the date. Then, when it comes back, I colour that row according to the response – one colour for ‘no thanks’, one for ‘no, but positive feedback’ and one for ‘yes please!’

It all provides an immense sense of productivity, without too much effort at all, which in turn helps me stay motivated.

4. and 5. This year, as I’ve said, I haven’t made any resolutions other than to keep writing, keep submitting and keep hoping. Actually, I do have two new pledges to stick to (or should that be polish?) – simply to celebrate even the smallest literary successes, and relish writing for its own purpose. Lovely.

How about you?

Share your work at a live literary event

Squat pen by Judy Darley

If you live in the UK’s South West you may be interested to learn of a literary event in Swindon seeking writers. Taking place from 7.30pm till late on Friday 26th January 2018, it offers the chance to share 1,500-2,000 words of your finest fiction.

“We are looking for six (or more) fabulous writer/performers to come along to The Squat Pen, our very first live reading event at ‘The Place’ in the Wyvern Theatre, Swindon,” says the event’s organiser and competition judge Stephen Tuffin. “Write between 1500-2000 words on the subject of your choice, or you can use the prompt ‘new beginnings, then send us your stories for the chance to be selected to read your story on stage and maybe, just maybe, be crowned the very first ever Squat Pen Rests Writing Competition Champion of the World.”

The shortlisted entrants will be invited to come along to perform their piece in front of a friendly audience of short story fans. The outright winner, as voted for by the audience, will be presented with a £50.00 cash prize.

Every finalist will be awarded a limited edition, Squat Pen Rests Writing Competition Finalist mug, as well as having their stories posted on the competition website.

The serious stuff

It costs £3 per story to enter. You can enter up to three stories per event.

Before entering, please ensure you are available to come along and read on Friday 26th January 2018

Each of the entrants will receive free entry, plus one complementary ticket.

Closing date: 19th January 2018. Successful entrants will be notified no later than 22nd January.

Find full details here.

Writing prompt – hiatus

Dylan walk estuary serenityThese days between Christmas and New Year often feel like a secret to be stepped into. Moments of quiet to be inhaled and exhaled, to be harnessed or released – sand through fingers, light over water…

We’re on the brink of an ending, and a fresh start, and for many of us this offers a wealth of possibilities.

What ideas does this time unfurl within you?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com to let me know. With your permission, I might publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Seasonal cheer

Christmas Tree Year 5 cr Judy DarleyWhat an immensely complex year it’s been. So much change. My life has taken such twists and turns that this Christmas period I’m most excited about the hiatus from from every day life. I need to catch my breath, absorb everything that’s happened and take a moment to both appreciate all that, and look forward to the new year preparing to break its first wave on my shore.

Little Christmas tree_yr 4_2016 cr Judy Darley

Our little tree in Christmas 2016, apparently relishing a new, roomier pot…

Our little tree has had its own challenges to face. Early on in 2017, our wee spruce began to drop needles at an alarming rate, and no amount of TLC would revive him. So we sorrowfully planned to chop him up and bid farewell.

But the thing is, we’re both really busy. After dragging the tree and his pot closer to the house, we left him alone for a week or two.

In which time he began to sprout fresh green needles at the end of each bough. And while the boughs and stem remain skeletal and bare, each one boasts a green flourish – a hell yeah, I’m still here, suckers! to the world.

Zombie tree?

I’m concerned this year’s bedecking could mark the end for our fine, if confused, tree, but we’re counting it as a final hurrah for this feisty fir. Whatever comes this January, we’ll know he’s done us proud.

Our little Christmas tree 2015 by Judy Darley

Our little Christmas tree 2015 – year 3.

LittleChristmasTree yr1 and 2

So Merry Christmas, however you choose to spend your day. And as always, remember, however dire things get, don’t give up. You never know what a burst of determination can achieve!!

A giant Bristol bauble

Buoyble by Vicky HarrisonThe ultra-talented Vicky Harrison of Crafting The City has brought an extravagant splash of colour to Bristol’s waterfront in the form of a gigantic crocheted bauble!

In fact, it’s a crochet covered buoy, or ‘buoyble’, as Vicky has dubbed it. This spectacular community project comprises around 1,120 hexagons, which completely transform the massive buoy on Brunel Square, located beside Brunel’s SS Great Britain and on loan from M Shed.

Take a stroll to the dockside this Christmas season to catch a glimpse for yourself! There’s also a possibility of encountering a crocheted crocodile and a flock of woolly seagulls – not quite so festive but equally fabulous.

Writing prompt – greetings

Dylan walk post box by Judy DarleyOne of the loveliest things about this time of year is the excuse to reconnect with friends and family. Distant relatives suddenly bob to the surface of your mind with the help of a card or email, and some heartfelt Christmas greetings.

Imagine two people who haven’t been in touch for months or years, and the Christmas card that changes that.

Use this as the foundation of a story – who is the person sending the card? What has motivated them to reach out now? Who is the recipient? What has prevented them speaking for so long? Does the card have the desired result?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

A literary winter solstice

Dusk by Judy DarleyYou may have spotted a call for Dusk-themed stories and poetry on here in October. The call came via micro publisher Arachne Press, who are hosting the fourth annual Solstice Shorts Festival – an evening of stories, poems and music – this December.

Everyone who submitted and were selected should have been informed by now. Congratulations!

Excitingly, for the first time the Solstice Shorts Festival will take place across the UK.

Over the years the event has become so popular that for 2017 it will happen in multiple venues.

“On 21st December, Dusk starts in the UK in the far North East (Shetland at 16:53 and finishes in the far South West (Cornwall) at 18:21, taking between 40 and 50 minutes depending where you are,” says Cherry. “We want the performances to match this exactly, and to have a live link up (Facebook, Youtube…) – so that Cornwall wouldn’t start reading until Shetland had almost finished (supposing we can get someone in Shetland interested) and all the other performances will overlap, so that somewhere in the ether we are all reading/singing together, like a murmuration of starlings.”

The stories and poems to be performed are all inspired by dusk, which Cherry describes as “the last ‘official’ segment, when the sun is down, but there’s still a lingering light in the sky, through to out and out night.”

There will also be traditional and modern music at each venue. It sounds likely to be a magical, creative way to mark the solstice!

Find full details of what’s happening where and how you can help at arachnepress.com.

Solstice Shorts Logo

Writing prompt – hull

Azores Boat Underside cr Judy Darley

I’m always intrigued by the parts of things that we rarely see – the underside of bridges, backstage catacombs, caves…

The underside of boats are particularly beautiful when hoisted into the air for maintenance. Someone told me recently that this is a seven-yearly process, which is curiously poetic. Every seven years these hulls are hauled from water to be licked by breezes.

Azores Boat Underside Moon cr Judy Darley

It seems to me that they carry with them the memories of navigations, stars and moons. The barnacles, rust and mottled paint are riddled through with sea shanties and myths. Some parts seem less than vessels than curious whales and other marine creatures….

Azores Boat Underside Hole cr Judy Darley

What do they stir in you?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

How to handle a multi-person narrative

Image2 by Ewa DoddIn today’s guest post, debut author Ewa Dodd talks us through the challenges, and delights, of tackling a multi-person narrative in your fiction writing.

The idea for The Walls Came Down came to me quite suddenly when reading a Polish magazine article one idle summer afternoon in Warsaw. A grainy photograph of a crowd at a football game caught my eye. The poor quality shot looked like it has been enlarged many times, and the editor had placed a red ring around something in the far right hand corner of the image.

I peered at it closely. It looked like two people, one much smaller than the other, walking to the exit hand in hand. It was possible that the larger one had grey hair, or was wearing a grey-coloured hat, but I couldn’t make out any further details. To my surprise, the article revealed that this still from the footage of a 1987 football game formed a key part of the evidence of a child’s abduction. The child (now an adult), had miraculously been found more than fifteen years after she’d disappeared and had lived a seemingly uneventful life in another part of the country with people she believed to be her parents.

I read the article out to my grandmother. ‘That would make for a very interesting novel,’ she said, before getting back to peeling the potatoes. Later that evening, I opened my laptop and began to write. I changed the setting of the event and the gender of the missing child, but the premise remained the same. Of course, a great story is nothing without a good narrator and for the weeks that followed, I puzzled over the protagonist. Should it be the missing person? Somebody involved in the search? A casual observer loosely linked to the incident? After much internal debate, I ended up with three distinct voices.

But how do you handle a multi-person narrative? Read on to find out.

Image by Ewa DoddEnsure each small story feeds into a larger whole

Each of my protagonists has their own unique story to tell, but I had to be careful to ensure that they all furthered the broader narrative. I frequently checked that every chapter left the reader guessing about how the different pieces slotted together.

We meet Joanna for the first time in 1988 in Warsaw, when she is four years old. She discovers that her twin brother Adam has gone missing in the crowds during a protest that they have both attended with their mother. At first, she firmly believes that he will come home, but days, weeks and months pass and there is no news of him. She refuses to give up the search and uses her job as a journalist to keep the story in the public eye.

Matty is a young city slicker, set on a route to becoming a successful investment banker with a six figure salary and a mansion in one of the posher suburbs of London. On the surface he has everything, and is envied by most of his friends. But there’s something that gnaws away at his subconscious, never allowing him to fully relax into his success. An unusual news story about a plane crash in Russia spirals off a chain of events, which leads him to question who he is and where he has come from.

We first meet Tom when he gets a diagnosis of liver cancer by his doctor, having noticed some worrying symptoms, including huge weight loss. Tom has recently retired from forty years of hard labour, and the unfairness of the situation hits him with full force. Lacking any immediate family to look after him, he goes to nursing home, to live out the last months of his life amongst other people suffering from terminal illnesses.

It’s fairly apparent from the outset how Joanna and Matty’s narratives tie together, but my aim with Tom was to keep the reader guessing for longer.

Image1 Ewa Dodd

Make each voice distinct, and work out a backstory

I realised early on that in order for the three protagonists to be believable, they would each need a highly unique voice. Before I properly began writing, I wrote a rough backstory for each character and even sketched out what they looked like.

Joanna shares many of the traits of determined and successful young women that I know, but she has additional, almost super-human resolve to continue pursuing what she believes, whilst everything implies that she should give up.

Matty was a complex character to create, as he is so multi-dimensional. Superficially, he is cocky, confident and not always likeable. But on another level, he is burdened with a deep anxiety about having lost his true identity. When writing his sections, I based his narrative on the experiences of people who have lost their memory and the heart-wrenching emotions associated with slowly regaining these.

I found Tom’s character very difficult to bring to life, as I’d never previously written from the point of view of somebody both male and of a very different age to my own. What was most challenging was convincingly conveying the pain, fear and devastation that come with the diagnosis of a terminal illness, and here, I am deeply indebted to a number of brilliant and talented people who were brave enough to write about their experiences of exactly this, including the wonderful Kate Gross.

Ewa DoddAbout the author

The daughter of a bookseller, Ewa Dodd has been writing since she was young, starting small with short self-illustrated books for children. More recently, she has delved into novel-writing, and is particularly interested in literature based in Poland, where her family is from. The Walls Came Down is her first published novel, for which she was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize for Fiction. Buy it from Amazon or from Aurora Metro.

All images in this guest post have been supplied by Ewa Dodd.

Got some writing insights to share? I’m always happy to receive feature pitches on writing genres and writing tools. Send an email to JudyDarley@icloud.com.

Eerie, magical beasts

Crow and toes by Rachel FalberI interviewed Rachel Falber for SkyLightRain some time ago, intrigued by the elegant and precise darkness evoked in her deliciously named Hare Raising Designs. I adore the way her artworks always hint at what lies just beneath the surface, not just physically, through the animal skeletons she often draws, but psychologically.

Over the past few years I’ve continued to see Rachel’s creations cropping up at art shows all over Bristol and beyond, and couldn’t resist finding out where she and her work are at now.

Crab print by Rachel Falber

Crab print by Rachel Falber

“Quite a lot has been happening recently,” Rachel says. “Most exciting of all is I am now a Princes Trust Enterprise Young Person, which means I did the four-day course and am attending meetings and workshops to help me launch Hare Raising Designs officially! It’s been amazing and I still have a couple of years’ worth of support with them. Other things I have been up to include re branding myself as a designer and artist, launching new products and trying out new places to sell like markets and Arts Trails.”

Screen printed sperm whale by Rachel Falber

Screen printed sperm whale by Rachel Falber

Rachel’s debut solo exhibition Semblance took place a while back “for a few different reasons, mostly to make myself do a fine art-based body of work, to give myself a time frame to do it in, to get a bit of exposure and to try new things and do some experimenting.”

To achieve this, Rachel had access to a large space “where I could go big and messy”, which became the birthplace of all art for the show.

“I thought the word ‘Semblance’ fitted the themes within my work as well as how I felt people perceive my art,” she explains. “I feel like my fine art has folklore and anthropomorphic themes as well as sometimes having macabre elements to it, but what inspires me to make the work are things that aren’t obviously connected.”

Narwhals by Rachel Falber

Narwhals by Rachel Falber

I love the card above. My husband bought it for me when I was writing some fiction filled with these peculiar, magical sea-beasts, and it always makes me smile to see it.

Research forms the foundation of much of her projects. “I was doing lots of research on quite current things like the internet and our personas both online and off, and how different they can be,” she says. “For example, people who are shy in real life can be outgoing and confident online, even though thousands more people can see them. It’s like they’re using the screen as a mask and a tool to distance themselves from the rest of the world. I took elements of these ideas and elements from more traditional ways people use masks and made art that reacted to it. So, I guess I feel like my art has hidden depths which mirrors the essence of the word ‘semblance’.”

Folklore, mythology and culture all inspire her creations, “also human behaviour and natural history, which is a huge element that spans across all the art and design work I create.”

I’m a huge fan of Rachel’s shadowy view of the natural world, not least her darker-than-average take on Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer, which is serving as my Christmas jumper this year 🙂

Rudolf sweatshirt by Rachel Falber

Currently Rachel is devoting some of her energy to focusing on the business side of things. “The actual creating of work has been put on the back bench while I try and get the business off the ground,” she admits. “I guess I’m developing my work, but from a more business point of view, I’m learning a lot about the things that run alongside creating work, promoting myself, expanding my customer base and getting my products and art out to more people. That takes a huge chunk of time and I’m really experiencing what it’s like to be a one-woman band.”

Collection of work by Rachel Falber

Rachel relishes getting feedback from people who encounter her work through art trails and markets. “I love talking to likeminded people who maybe create themselves or are starting a business of their own,” she comments. “I find great comfort and pride in being able to advise someone on something which helps them in some way, and which I have experienced as a self employed creative. The feeling I get when someone is willing to part with their hard earned money to buy something I’ve made, even just to buy a card, humbles me greatly and I will never take that for granted.”

Rachel has a website for her design work at www.hareraisingdesigns.com, plus a second website solely for her fine art at www.rachelfalber.com.

You can also find her on Etsy, on Twitter as @hareraisingd or @Rachel_Falber, and on Instagram as hareraisingdesigns or rachelfalberartist.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com!