Writing prompt – slide

Slide at Victoria Park. Photo by Judy DarleyThis graffiti-covered slide is the last plaything standing in a local playground. The sight of it shoots Madonna lyrics into my head (This Used to be My Playground rather than Like a Virgin…) and makes me view this as a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or, at the very least, post-active humans.

I’m picturing a world where nature thrives without kids to play tag among trees and stay inside absorbed by virtual reality screens instead.

But what if one child found this abandoned slide and discovered the joy of that whooosh as they hurtle down its metal chute? If one child discovered the fun of this, could others be drawn by their giggles and cheers?

Or might you interpret this #WritingPrompt in an entirely different way?

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

Book review – An Unfamiliar Landscape by Amanda Huggins

An Unfamiliar Landscape cover. Shows small figure in a yellow and green cityscape.If you’ve read Amanda Huggins’ fiction before, you’ll be aware of the richness of her writing. Equally comfortable writing page-long tales, novels and poetry, Huggins appears to inhabit the worlds she conjures, adding details with the power to be both delicious and disconcerting.

In An Unfamiliar Landscape, Huggins’ third full-length collection, the opening short story Aleksandr offers vapour trails of backstory and future story, so that when it ended, it left me hungry and eager for more.

“I know he hates being on land, that he feels tied to the sea by an invisible thread, that it pulls him back with every ebbing tide.”

It’s easy to fall hard for Huggins’ characters, who spring from pages fully formed and eager to make your acquaintance. Their emotions are deftly, colourfully painted, with yearning a key trait. Even seen through others’ eyes, many seem wistful and searching, making me want to offer solace.

Huggins is able to weave more into a single paragraph than many achieve in pages of text, adding texture and significance to the worlds she creates for her characters to inhabit. Many of these worlds are salt-scented UK coastal settings, while others  lure us further away, inviting us to explore Tokyo, Paris, Berlin and other places.

Continue reading

Win a publishing agency consultation via Writers & Artists

Notebook and pen cr Judy Darley

Are you a writer hungry for guidance and encouragement? The folks at Writers & Artists are collaborating with creative publishing agency whitefox for a competition that’s all about getting you the face-to-face time you need with an editor.

If you would benefit from a creative conversation with an expert editor to help make sense of your manuscript, this is the competition for you.

The winner will receive an editorial report and consultation with a member of the editorial team at whitefox, to help you take the next steps with your book, as well as a free place at one of Writers & Artists‘ writing events and a bundle of creative writing guides.

This prize is open to any UK or ROI-based writer aged 18 or over and writing fiction and/or non-fiction.

Deadline

The deadline for entries is Monday 14th November at 9am.

How to enter 

Please submit no more than 1000 words from your unpublished work-in-progress. This should be from the opening of your manuscript, attached to the online submissions form in a doc or pdf format. You also need to include a synopsis providing an overview of your work as well as a short note (200 words) about yourself and your writing influences.

You’re also required to subscribe to whitefox‘s newsletter The Frontlist.

The winner and shortlisted runners-up will be announced on Writersandartists.co.uk in early December 2022.

Eligibility

To enter this competition, you must:

  • Not have a publishing contract or agent
  • Submit an original piece of unpublished writing

Prizes

The winner will receive:

  • An editorial report from an editor at whitefox Publishing
  • A one-off follow-up consultation with a member of the editorial team at whitefox Publishing
  • A place at a W&A writing masterclass
  • A writing guide bundle including the latest edition of the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ YearbookWriters’ & Artists’ Guide To Getting Published or Writers’ & Artists’ Guide To How To Hook an Agent

Three other shortlisted entries will also receive a book bundle and a free place at one of our writing and publishing events.

Submit your entry via the online form here.

Good luck!

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

Writing prompt – nail

Dad's coffin nail by Judy Darley

I recently had the uncanny experience of scattering my dad’s ashes, so he now nourishes trees and other plants in places with glorious views.

Amidst the pale grit of his remains, I found a lone, twisted nail.

There are two possible explanations I’m leaning towards.

Either, this is a coffin nail the undertaker failed to sift out,

Or this is the unexpected proof that my dad was in fact a cyborg.

Either possibility could lead to an eerie Halloween tale.

What does your imagination tell you? What’s your emotional response to this writing prompt?

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

On your marks… NaNoWriMo!

Dove Holes to Whaley Bridge gap in wall by Judy DarleyTuesday 1st November marks the start of NaNoWriMo 2022. Are you taking part? I love the concept of this word-packed month, with ardent writers across the world hunched over laptops sweating out every last drop of inspiration.

New to the concept? It’s pretty simple really. As they state on the NaNoWriMo website: “On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.”

I know plenty of writers this enforced period of productivity really suits. For some folks it seems to be the ideal way to stoke up ideas and get them to catch alight on the page.

For me, the beginning stages of novel-writing are all about thinking ahead, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do some speedy planning even as you begin to write. After all, what else are you going to do when waiting for buses, in post office queues and doing the washing up?

Here are my top five preparation tips to ensure you make the most of this exceptional month.

1. Form a vision of the story you’re aiming to tell, with the beginning already shaped in your mind. If possible, do the same for the ending. Having an idea of the finale you’re working towards will mean you’re far less likely to veer off track!

2. Spend some time considering your characters – get to know who they are, how they think, what their goals are, and how they might help or hinder each other.

3. Know your setting. It really helps if you can really picture the place where your characters are spending time. Base it on somewhere you know, use maps or, for an imagined place, doodle your map! This is one of my favourites, particularly if it offers a valid excuse to meander in a much loved wilderness or similar.

4. Pick out a few dramatic moments your plot will cover and brainstorm them, then set them aside. Whenever your enthusiasm wanes over the intensive NaNoWriMo period, treat yourself by delving into one of those to reinvigorate your writing energy.

5. Finally, make sure you have plenty of sustenance to hand. For me, the essentials are coffee and chocolate. What are yours?

If you’re not a long-form junkie, why not take part in the flash version? Launched by the inimitable Nancy Stohlman in 2012, Flash Nano urges you to pledge to write 30 mini stories in 30 days. In 2021, more than 1,500 people took part. Even if not all turn out to be sparkling examples, you should end up with some that make your heart zing!

Theatre review – Hamlet

Billy Howle as Hamlet holding skull1. Photo by Marc Brenner

Bristol Old Vic’s departing Artistic Director Tom Morris describes Hamlet as a play about memory. This is true for the characters, struggling to come to terms with the changes that caused by loss – in themselves, loved ones and circumstances. The world itself seems altered. In this filmic, visually rich production, the very set moves – graves appear almost underfoot (Firdous Bamji as the gravedigger is a particular delight) and doors, windows and staircases expose themselves as the character reveal their own complex facets. Set designer Alex Eales took inspiration not only from the Danish town Helsinger, which Shakespeare based Elsinore on, but from MC Escher drawings, and it shows.

The actors make full use of this space, portraying a full gamut of human emotion against the starkly lit, rotating, towering background.

Mirren Mack as Ophelia and Niamh Cusack as Gertrude.

Mirren Mack as Ophelia is initially warm and relatable, making her descent into grief and, in this production, drug addiction, all the more shocking. Niamh Cusack brings layers to the role of Gertrude, adeptly unveiling the character’s inner battles between her desire to protect, defend and chastise her son. In Cusack’s skilled hands, Gertrude is perhaps the most nuanced character – hiding her mourning for her dead husband behind the thrills of her new marriage even as she begins to distrust Claudius (Finbar Lynch in deeply sinister form).

As Hamlet, Billy Howle is impassioned, unhinged and utterly believable, as the actor, perhaps best known for his film and TV roles, gives his heart, body and soul to the role. His energy is mesmerising as he contorts himself in the throes of anger, mischief and anguish, while video designer Jack Phelan’s footage reminds us that this tortured creature was once a happy little boy.

Isabel Adomakoh Young at Horatio with Billy Howle as Hamlet_Photo by Marc Brenner

Isabel Adomakoh Young at Horatio with Billy Howle as Hamlet.

On the theme of memory, there’s pleasure to be had throughout from hearing classic lines expertly delivered by all nine actors, and of, as so happens with Shakespearean plays, discovering and re-discovering the root of familiar sayings, from “Get thee to a nunnery” (spoken by Hamlet to Ophelia and far more heartbreaking in context) to the ghost’s line regarding “murder most foul.”

The fight scenes directed by Bret Yount and many deaths are aptly dramatic with plenty of bloodshed, and at the other end of the scale we have parental and filial love, the latter demonstrated elegantly between Hamlet and Horatio (Isabel Adomakoh Young).

This is a production that gleefully toys with all of our senses, including smell, and enthrals throughout.

Photos by Marc Brenner.

Hamlet runs at Bristol Old Vic until 12 November 2022. Buy your tickets at www.bristololdvic.org.uk/whats-on/hamlet / Tel: 0117 987 7877.

Credits

Writer William Shakespeare                                Director John Haidar

Set Designer Alex Eales                                        Costume Designer Natalie Pryce

Lighting Designer Malcolm Rippeth                     Movement Director Lucy Cullingford

Composer & Sound Designer Max Pappenheim   Video Designer Jack Phelan

Casting Director Sam Stevenson                           Fight Director Bret Yount

Costume Supervisor Zoe Hammond                     Assistant Director Elinor Lower

Hamlet Billy Howle                                                Ophelia Mirren Mack

Gertrude Niamh Cusack                                       Claudius Finbar Lynch

Laertes/Rosencrantz Taheen Modak                    Polonius/Osric Jason Barnett

Horatio Isabel Adomakoh Young                         

Ghost/King/Gravedigger Firdous Bamji

Guildenstern/Reynaldo/Player queen Catrin Stewart

Have you watched, seen or read anything interesting? 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 – sprig

Green plant growing on red-painted wooden boat, John Sebastian Lightship. Photo by Judy Darley

This flourishing greenery is sprouting near the gangplank of one of Bristol’s most notable vessels, the John Sebastian Lightship. where I’m co-hosting Writing on Water with poet Helen Sheppard on Saturday 22nd October (just one ticket left, but more workshops like this planned for the future!).

How have these seeds found their way into the wood of this boat? Where have they travelled from, and where has the Lightship carried them? What stormy weather have they withstood to thrive in this unlikely spot?

Could you use this hardy and persistent plant-life as a metaphor?

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

Enter The SmokeLong Award for Flash Fiction

MerryGoRound cr Judy DarleyUntil Tuesday 15th November 2022, the SmokeLong editors invite you enter The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey). Submit your most powerful compressed stories for this “biennial competition that celebrates and compensates excellence in flash.”

The first grand prize winner of The Smokey in 2018 was “Whale Fall” by Alvin Park. In 2020 Abby Feden won the top prize with “To Pieces”. Both stories appeared in The Best Small Fictions in their respective years. In addition. Jasmine Sawers’ piece “All Your Fragile History” was a finalist for Best of the Net in 2020, and Leonora Desar’s third-place story “*69” was included in The Best Small Fictions.

Prizes:

The grand prize winner of The Smokey is automatically nominated for The Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart, Best of the Net, and any other prize the editors of SmokeLong deem appropriate. There are also some substantial cash prizes.

The grand prize winner receives $2500.
The second place winner receives $1000.
The third place winner receives $500.
Finalists receives $100.

All finalists and placers will be published in the special competition issue of SmokeLong in December 2022.

Entry Fees

One Entry: $14
Two Entries: $18
Up to Four Entries: $32

Guidelines:

Your entry must be 1,000 words or fewer, excluding the title. There is no minimum word count.

Enter as many times as you like, but make sure the right entry fee accompanies each one. If you submit multiple entries at the same time, they must all be in the same document.

Your name must NOT appear on the entry itself. This includes the filename, headers and footers. Your name and contact information should appear ONLY in the cover letter.

Judging

SmokeLong competitions are judged by the SmokeLong editors. They say: “Our process is similar to our general submissions workflow. We send rejections as soon as we can so that your work is not tied up for the entire entry period. This means you will receive a response within about a week if we have decided to decline the entry. If we are taking longer than one week, this is a great sign.”

If you’re unable to pay an entry fee, don’t give up hopes of entering – email editor@smokelong.com.

Before you enter

I highly recommend that before submitting your words, you devote some time to reading the kind of stories SmokeLong publishes. The editors have a very specific tastes in micro tales – sharp edges polished thin enough to see sunlight through are definitely preferred.

Two that caught my eye are Our Lady of Perpetual Plastic by Rosaleen Lynch and The Reason Wolverine and Deadpool Are Flambeing on the Barbecue by Jo Withers.

Find the full contest guidelines and enter here.

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 – chat

Happy to Chat bench, Pavilion Gardens, Buxton. Photo by Juduy Darley

I spotted this bench at Buxton’s Pavilion Gardens. Along its top are carved the words: ‘Happy to chat’. What a simple and lovely way to encourage friendliness and counteract loneliness! I have to confess, I sat on it without reading the message, but as I’m almost always glad to have a natter, it wouldn’t have been a problem if someone mistook my intentions and joined me.

I don’t know if you can read it, but the bench’s words state that it’s paid for by Soroptimist International, which I googled to discover a ‘worldwide volunteer service organisation for women who work for peace, and in particular to improve the lives of women and girls.’

What a lovely thought! It sounds to me like a inconspicuous brand of superhero, spreading comfort and community.

What story ideas does this prompt in you?

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

Be inspired at London Literature Festival 2022

Greta Thunberg cr Kim Jakobsen To. Black and white portrait of activist Greta ThunbergFollowing a year’s hiatus, London Literature Festival hosted by the Southbank Centre is returning from 20th to 30th October 2021, with a literary programme headlined by Greta Thunberg in a world exclusive launch of The Climate Book.

Greta Thunberg’s The Climate Book features crucial climate voices including Kate Raworth, Naomi Klein and Margaret Atwood. The event, in collaboration with Penguin Live at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, will be live streamed for free around the world.

Science journalist, author and broadcaster Gaia Vince reframes the climate crisis and demonstrates how migration could be the answer in an event around her new book Nomad Century. In a special live recording, BBC Radio 4’s Open Book explores how the urgency of our natural environment has shaped our fictional landscapes. Writers Jessie Greengrass and Daisy Hildyard discuss the imminent emergencies of everyday life as they launch their respective new books. The Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Library – situated in the Royal Festival Hall – hosts Earthbound Press for an evening of contemporary poetry featuring twelve critically-acclaimed poets, including Iain Sinclair, Nisha Ramayya and Eley Williams.

There’s also a free family programme celebrating the natural world and the environment, with talks and readings highlighting upcoming children’s authors.

Other highlights include events with literary greats Malorie Blackman, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Karl Ove Knausgård and George Saunders, plus well-known names Minnie Driver, Graham Norton, Rob Delaney, Jon Snow, among others.

New and emerging voices will be recognised by the prize for under-represented writers in the Creative Future Writers’ Awards Showcase 2022 on 22nd October, hosted by novelist Dorothy Koomson and poet Joelle Taylor.

On 23rd October, London Literature Festival partners with Creative Future for Writers’ Day – a day packed with talks for writers, publishers and literary professionals sharing hints, tips and initiatives.

Plus, just three days after the 2022 Booker Prize Winner is announced, they’ll join the Festival for their very first public event on 20th October.

For the full programme, visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk.

All image supplied by the Southbank Centre.