Discover the secrets of award-winning short story writers

I’m excited to be chairing a panel at Clevedon Literary Festival on Saturday 8th June. From 1.30pm until 2.30pm, I will be interviewing writers Keza O’Neill, whose story Lucky Strike placed 3rd in the 2023 Bristol Prize short story competition, and Julie Davies, winner of the inaugural Clevedon Literary Festival short story competition in 2023.

Book your tickets here for just £5 each. Bargain!

Taking place at St John’s Hall, Clevedon BS21 7XJ, the session will cover creative processes, inspiration, and how you know when you have a potentially award-winning story ready to send out into the world. We’ll talk about the impact of a prize win on your sense of yourself as a writer, as well as what these talented writers are working on now.

Find details of the whole summer festival (5th-9th June) here. There are masses of excellent talks and inspiring events taking place throughout the beautiful North Somerset coastal town across these days, as well as pockets of literary goodness throughout the year!

Your panellists

Keza O'NeillKeza O’Neill’s story ‘Lucky Strike’, a tale of thwarted rage and a commentary on the gentrification of coastal towns, recently won the Sansom Award and was awarded third place in the Bristol Short Story Prize with her story Lucky Strike. Keza has been longlisted for the Bath Short Story Award 2023, the CWA Debut Dagger 2021 and the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2019. Keza completed a Masters in Creative Writing in 2023 via The Open University for which she was awarded a Distinction.

Keza is a qualified Coach-Mentor and spent 12 years working in Diversity & Inclusion and Learning & Development in a global Tech company, supporting clients across 40+ countries and multiple timezones. She’s interested in the relationships between people and places and the significance of ‘home’ in shaping identity.

Julie DaviesJulie Davies won the inaugural Clevedon Literary Festival short story competition with her story Remembrance in 2023. Her story Just Dessert was the second place winner in the Winchester Festival I Am Writing Flash Fiction Competition 2022.

Julie writes flash fiction, short stories, and poetry, and is currently working on her first novel. One of her favourites of the stories she’s written is about a Martian craterworm.

When she’s not writing, Julie enjoys time with her grandchildren, especially reading with them and encouraging their love of books. She also enjoys tending her garden, walking, visiting RSPB reserves, travelling, sewing, discussing books in her reading group, and a bit of drawing and mindful doodling whenever her mind needs a calming space.

Judy Darley photo credit Jo Mary Bulter Photography_cropJudy Darley is an award-winning writer, editor and creative workshop leader who relocated to Clevedon in December 2023. She is the author of short fiction collections The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain (Reflex Press), Sky Light Rain (Valley Press) and Remember Me To The Bees (Tangent Books).

She previously judged competitions for National Flash Fiction Day UK and Oxford Flash Fiction Prize, among others, and is one of the judges for Clevedon Literary Festival Open Short Story Competition 2024. She won first prize in the New Writers UK Winter Story competition 2024 with her micro-tale A Bright Day.

In her other life, Judy is a Community Manager and helps to run conferences about financial wellbeing.

Published stories

View between two trees showing other trees
I relish writing and editing short stories and flash fiction, and have a self-imposed rule of submitting every month. If you write, I highly recommend this trick. It ensures that for every rejection, there are still a handful of tales out in the world that may yet be published, plus a gentle flurry of successes to bolster your writing mojo!

Here are some of my recent and upcoming publications.

Forthcoming publications

Reasons to Rescue Strangers – National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2024.

Why We Dance on the Pier – Gooseberry Pie Lit Magazine

May 2024

CleaveTiny Molecules

February 2024

Blue-naped Parrots See More Than They SayNew Flash Fiction Review Issue 32 Family Life.

January 2024

A Bright Day – winner of the New Writers UK Winter Story competition.

October 2023

Mycorrhiza – Flash Frontier GARDEN / MĀRA issue

A Still, Golden Light – The Simple Things Magazine issue 136

What Was Lost & How Insects Signal Their Love – Flash Boulevard

June 2023

Windowledge Archives – National Flash Fiction Day Flash Flood UK 2023

The Long Way Home – National Flash Fiction Day NZ Micro Madness

April 2023

This is Not a Story About Chickens – The Hooghly Review issue 1

February 2023

How Many is 80? Paragraph Planet (scroll to Feb 23rd)

January 2023

Life Hacks – 12 Fragile Things Not to Use as a Doorstop – Wensum Literary Magazine issue 1/Winter 2023

December 2022

Natural Miracles – Flash Frontier Wonder issue

October 2022

The Art of Pivot and Flit – Dually Noted, Brink Literacy Project

September 2022

The Bee Man’s Secret – Flash Fiction Festival Volume Five

August 2022

The Green-Gold of Wet Kelp – Fairlight Books

June 2022

The egret and I don’t belong here – The Phare Literary Magazine Summer 2022 issue

Tricks to uproot a guest who has outstayed their welcome – Tiny Molecules issue 13

After Dad Goes into Care – National Flash Fiction Day FlashFlood 2022

Bees Breathe Without Lungs – Honeyguide Magazine

How to Hook a Heart – And We Live Happily Ever After, National Flash Fiction Day anthology 2022

The Tempest Inside – Micro Madness

April 2022

Milk Tooth – Wyldblood Press

March 2022

Awkward Liaisons – Flash Fiction Festival Volume Four

Falling in a Forest Mslexia magazine issue 93

Oxblood – Flash Frontier

Fishing for Green and Blue – Retreat West 10th Birthday Anthology

December 2021

Reasons Your Kefir Might Sour – Litro Magazine Flash Friday

The Only Language He knows Now is Touch – Blink-Ink, Moonlight #46

The Finch in My Sister’s Hair – The Birdseed

The Sea Lives in Her Mum’s Head – Ellipsis Zine

November 2021

The Salt Sting of Learning When To Say No – Flash Frontier

September 2021

My Choice – Six Sentence Stories

Three Shades of Summer – Flash Fiction Magazine

Storm Beckoner – Bandit Fiction

June 2021

Leaf After Leaf – National Flash Fiction Day Write-In

The Hare I Miss – Thimble Literary Magazine

What’s That? – Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis

May 2021

Reaching (collaborate work – I wrote the first stanza) – 100 Words of Solitude

April 2021

Stretching Out – Hencroft

The Sideways House – Twin Pies Volume IV

March 2021

Unstill Life With Plums – The Pomegranate

See you at ‘Stories for Grown Ups’ at The Festival of Stories, 9th March

Festival of Stories artwork showing drawings of people sitting on books with the words Festival of Stories in white serif font on a black starry background.I’m excited to be running a segment at Bristol’s Festival of Stories on Saturday 9th March. This fabulous one-day event is celebrating storytelling in all its forms, with a book swap, new and second-hand books for sale, writing workshops, kid-friendly stories with children’s authors, and *trigger warning* there might even be a clown or two… The section I’ve been invited to curate is titled Stories for Grown Ups and is from 2pm-3pm..

The word-revelling event takes over Sparks, the old M&S in Broadmead, from 11am-6pm on Saturday 9th March.

I’m a firm believer that adults benefit from being read to just as much as children do, and have invited some fabulous local writers to join me in sharing their words at Stories For Grown Ups from 2-3pm.

Helen Sheppard is a Bristol-based writer and former midwife whose poetry explores themes of birth, health loss, and those whose voices are often unheard. Helen co-runs Satellite of Love Poetry events. Her debut poetry collection Fontanelle was published by Burning Eye Books.

Emma Phillips’ fiction has been placed in the Bath Flash Award, Free Flash Fiction Competition and Best Microfiction 2022 and appear in various other places in print and online. Her flash collection Not Visiting the SS Great Britain is out now from Alien Buddha Press.

Jude Higgins founded Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2015, has co-run The Bath Short Story Award since 2013 and directs the short-short fiction press, Ad Hoc fiction and Flash Fiction Festivals, UK. Her flash fiction chapbook The Chemist’s House was published in 2017 by V. Press. Another flash fiction collection will be out in 2024.

John Wheway’s publications include The Green Table of Infinity, from Anvil Press; Poborden, from Faber; A Bluebottle in Late October, V Press; writings in New Measure, Stand, Magma, Warwick Review, Poetry Review, Yellow Nib, Poetry Quarterly, Compass, South Word, Agenda, High Window. He won the 2023 Wigtown International Poetry Prize.

Chrissey Harrison writes supernatural thrillers and other spec genre fiction. Books about monsters, magic, action and adventure, and fragile human characters trying to muddle through as best they can. Her debut novel, Mime, released in July 2020, is the first in her Weird News Series. Her short stories have featured in several anthologies, most recently Forgotten Sidekicks (Grimbold Books) and Fire (North Bristol Writers).

I’ll wrap up the session. I’m the author of short fiction collections The Stairs are a Snowcapped Mountain (Reflex Press), Sky Light Rain (Valley Press) and Remember Me to the Bees (Tangent Books). My words have been published and performed on BBC radio and aboard boats, in museums, caves, a disused church and artists’ studios.

It will be an inspiring, emotionally enriching day of events, so why not pop in? With Mothering Sunday just the day after, it’s also a great, unusual way to celebrate any literature-loving mums.

How to keep writing – making sense of the mud

Victoria Park frost by Judy Darley

I’ve written articles for mindfulness and creativity magazines about how to stay motivated, and yet this year has been the first where I actually struggled with something like writer’s block myself. Life is a big, unwieldy and yet disproportionately short edifice, and nothing has made me more aware of this than losing my dad last year. My imagination has been narrower and darker than I’ve ever known it, which I think may be hormonal, or a symptom of life.

But, and here’s the sunshine, I’ve continued to write. Not all of it worth showing to anyone,  but an occasional scattering of words on a page or a screen that came from my brain to my fingertips in an order that made some kind of sense, even if not the glowing sensational sense I always secretly hope for.

More importantly, I’ve realised that that’s enough – for now, for this muddy, clarty year. (If you don’t know the word ‘clarty’, ask a northerner. Funnily enough, auto-correct wants to change it to ‘clarity’ which is almost the exact antithesis of the meaning).

I’ve realised that while I’ve been fretting about losing my flow, other things have been happening. I’ve been absorbing and thinking and mulling and above all, reflecting. Sometimes we need to hit pause and simply digest.

So if you’ve hit a similar wall or got stuck in some clarty mud, don’t fret. It’s all part of the process, and, hopefully, will pass.

In the meantime, treat yourself kindly, read widely, think deeply, and when the sun shines, walk out into it. Maybe some of that glow will rub off on you and your writing.

Be inspired by a Writing on Water workshop – 30th September

Writing on Water graphic
I’m brimming with excitement about teaming up with brilliant poet Helen Sheppard again to teach our on-ship writing workshop Writing on Water. It will take place from 10am-3.30pm on Saturday 30th September 2023.

Book here.

Whether you write about a raindrop or an ocean, you can harness water as a powerful writing muse.

Join us for a voyage of discovery aboard the historic John Sebastian Lightship, moored in central Bristol, this one-day workshop encourages you to draw inspiration from the setting alongside creative exercises designed to help you find original, meaningful ways to use water in your writing.
There will be plenty of time to write, and no pressure to share.

How do you write about water? Does it trickle? Surge? Roar?

Is it hungry? Foreboding? Volatile? Reflective? Tranquil?

Taking place on Bristol’s atmospheric, historic lightship moored in John Sebastian Quay, this workshop encourages you to draw inspiration from the setting alongside creative exercises designed to help you find original, meaningful ways to use water in your writing.

Whether you write about a raindrop or an ocean, you can harness water as a powerful writing muse.

Start the day gently with readings from your hosts author Judy Darley and poet Helen Sheppard before exploring different ways of using water to shine up themes in your writing, with generative exercises, poetry and prose examples from a variety of writers, and plenty of time to write.

“Judy and Helen led such a supportive and inspiring workshop, with the Lightship as a unique venue. I loved the walk, prompts and time to explore ideas. My story that began on the Lightship went on to win 2nd prize in the Retreat West Flash Fiction Competition!”  Emma Phillips, participant in the first Writing on Water workshop in October 2022.

The day at a glance

10am – 12pm Judy Darley and Helen Sheppard introduce the day with two readings to ease you into the theme of water, followed by creative prompts, generative writing exercises, examples, time to write and the opportunity to share your writing if you wish. Hot drinks and biscuits are included in the ticket price. 

12pm – 1pm Inspiration-gathering harbourside walk (less than a mile in total) with prompts to engage each of your senses, and time for lunch (not included, but lots of options around the venue in Bristol, or bring your own).

1pm – 3pm Generative writing exercises, hot drinks and homemade cake (included in the ticket price), plus the opportunity to work with other writers, and the option to share your writing from the workshop.

3pm – 3.30pm Your chance to ask questions about how to develop your writing, what to do with it next (such as performance or publication), and share feedback on the day’s experiences.

Book your ticket for Writing on Water.

Why write about water?

I’ve been drawn to this mercurial, enigmatic element throughout my writing career, opening my debut short story collection Remember Me To The Bees with a story titled ‘Never seen the Sea’.

Fiction, non-fiction and poetry can all swim into watery themes, whether that’s to add atmosphere, provide a setting or build an evocative metaphor.

As a taster, here’s a splash from ‘Never seen the Sea’ from my short story collection Remember Me to the Bees:

A triangle of blue sharper and brighter than the sky – that was the first of it. Then a tang in her throat like the savoury suck of a chip dipped in salt and vinegar.
As she got closer, other sensations rang through her: a crack and crash like a glass falling and rolling and splintering again and again in a bathroom washbasin; a deep breath in, gasp out shuddering through the shore; the freshness of rain in the air, bursting against her skin from every direction possible.
And the triangle soared, spread out, transforming into a strip that hurtled all the way to the horizon, meeting the sky with a dazzle that forced her to glance away; a size too vast to comprehend; bigger than the confines of her mind could contain.
But more than that was the endless movement, less like one vast thing than a mass of smaller things, heaving, jostling, vying for the surface yet never quite breaking through.

Who will be teaching you?

Judy Darley photo credit Jo Mary Bulter Photography_cropJudy Darley is a fiction writer, journalist and occasional poet from Bristol. Her fiction has been described as ‘shimmeringly strange’, possibly because she can’t stop writing about the infinite fallibilities of the human mind. Judy’s words have been published and performed on BBC radio and harbour walls, as well as in bookshops, museums, cafés, caves, pubs, a disused church and an artist’s studio. Judy is the author of three fiction collections: The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain (Reflex Press), Sky Light Rain (Valley Press) and Remember Me To The Bees (Tangent Books). Find Judy at SkyLightRain.com and on Twitter as @JudyDarley.

Helen Sheppard_cropHelen Sheppard is a Bristol-based writer and worked as a midwife. Her poetry explores themes of birth, health loss, and those whose voices are often unheard. Helen has performed her poetry at Milk Poetry, RTB, Torriano Meeting House and Harvard Medical School. Her poems have been published widely, including These are the Hands. Helen co-runs Satellite of Love Poetry events. Her debut poetry collection Fontanelle was published in 2021 by Burning Eye Books. Helen interviews extraordinary poets for her podcast Health Beat Poets. Find Helen on Twitter as HelenSheppard7 and on Instagram as helensheppard58.

Unlock your fairy tale toolkit

Rainbow by Judy Darley

Are you coming to the Flash Fiction Festival 2023. The in-person version of the festival unfurls from 14th-16th July, welcoming fabulous flashers including Kathy Fish, Nancy Stohlman, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, Carrie Etter and Tania Hershman.

The weekend takes place at Trinity College, Bristol, and is packed with inspiring workshops tackling every aspect of flash fiction.

From 8.45am to 9.45am on Sunday 16th July, I’m inviting writers to wake up with my ‘Unlock your fairy tale toolkit’ workshop where fairy tale motifs offer the chance to shine new light on modern day darkness. We’ll be examining the fairy tales that resonated with us when we were children, and still resonate now, looking at what gives fairy tales their magic (hint: it’s not fairies), and writing the first draft of our own flash fiction fairy tales.

I hope to see you there!

Review and interview – The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain

Stretching Out_JudyDarley

I’m delighted by Sarah Tinsley’s lovely review of my Reflex Press collection The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain and thought-provoking accompanying interview. Thanks Sarah!

Sarah, who is a brilliant author herself, writes:

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be welcoming Judy Darley back to the blog. Last year I featured her collection Sky, Light, Rain, a themed collection that contained beautiful stories and gorgeous writing. This time, we’re talking about The Stairs Are A Snowcapped Mountain, a collection of stories that similarly revolves around the natural world and relationships, but feels a little darker at the edges.

One thing I love about Darley’s writing is the style. There are the odd turns of phrase that just lift the whole story off the page, like ‘mushroom-hued water’ from Tidal Suck and ‘Crumbs drop between us like pollen. Like rain.’ from Wild Times. (…) The way she captures the essence of these lives in sometimes very short pieces is truly astounding. Do take the time to read it, you won’t regret it.”

Sarah asked me some really interesting questions, which gave me the chance to mention some favourite characters and stories, including Hera in Self-Defence Against Yesterday, Pippa in Tunnelled, Zel in Stealing from Windowsills, and the River in Why Rivers Run to the Sea. We also talked about Stretching Out, about a grandfather’s influence on his granddaughter’s love of nature, and one of my favourite stories to read aloud.

Read the full review and interview here.

Find out more about The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain and purchase here.

A sparkling review of The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain

I’m chuffed to bits with this beautiful review of my Reflex Press collection The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain.

Necessary Fiction review of The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain

Reviewer Nicie Panetta of Necessary Fiction says some rather lovely things about my stories, including: 

The collection’s title comes from the story “Family Psychology,” which speaks to the power of a child’s imagination. For the young person at the center of the story, the confines of the family home transform into imaginary worlds filled with companionship and adventure. The stairs become an alpine peak, and “the uncharted territory of the roof” becomes the moon. Suffering limitations, isolation, and loss, Darling’s characters find comfort and connection where they can — on lockdown zooms, in a dumpster, and while milking an alpaca. Whether the threat comes from cancer, lockdown, or climate change, creativity, and empathy are usually the active ingredients in the medicine for what ails.

Yep, I noticed I’ve been re-named Darling in that excerpt, but I’ve been called worse.

It’s a truly wonderful review that has made my day. Thanks Nicie and Necessary Fiction!

Read the full review here.

Find out more about The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain and purchase here.

‘Family Psychology’ on the radio

BBC Upload

My flash fiction ‘Family Psychology’ is being aired on Chris Arnold’s BBC Upload radio show this evening (7-10pm). It’s a micro tale from my Reflex Press collection The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain, and inspired the title.

The story itself draws on memories of playing a game my sister and I dived into on rainy days, when we turned our home into the whole world. The UK’s pandemic lockdowns brought that to mind vividly!

There’s a lot of talent on the show tonight, but mine is the only scrap of fiction.

Update: If you missed it, listen in here – my micro is at approx 1.38min: bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0

It’s available for 21 days.

Upload your own stories here: bbc.co.uk/send/u16896881

Inside ‘The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain’

Bristol writer Judy Darley

Ahead of my book launch and literary night for my new short story collection The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain, I wanted to share some of the press I’ve received.

First up is a write-up by Sarski Anderson, Culture Editor at Bristol 247. The feature offers lots of insights into how I used fiction-writing as a sanity-saver during lockdown.

For Darley, walking and writing became a vital tool through which to process her emotions about what was happening in the wider world at the time, and to channel the people that she saw on her daily strolls: “from the woman howling beneath a tree in Victoria Park, who features in Leaf after Leaf, to the child whose mum is a key worker in The Rules of Contagion, which includes a hopscotch grid drawn on a path in Perrett Park”.

Why Rivers Run to the Sea gives voice to rivers, a physical representation of the urge to escape that Darley occasionally felt during the early days of the lockdowns.

She notes that curiously, as a writer, the narrowing of her personal horizons actually served to add new depths and greater complexity to her work. It was a powerful means of escape, into an inner world. “Writing gave me a chance to zigzag through memories and daydreams, and allowed me to recast my anxieties in a form that I could adapt and control in the shape of fantasies that became short stories.

The feature also includes a complete flash fiction from the collection.

You can read the full feature here.

Review

Alison Woodhouse, author of The House on the Corner, has reviewed The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain. She writes:
This new collection of short fiction, the third from Judy Darley, is ambitious. Stories explore the pandemic and possible consequences on our mental and material wellbeing, our relationship with the natural world and the accelerating impact of climate change, alongside both the struggles and joys that arise between siblings, parent/child and lovers. They range from a few thousand words (The Daughters) to just one line (Elegy), traveling across genre and form. Sci-fi, cli-fi, dystopias, utopias, realism, magic realism, surrealism, absurdism, all mixed up to offer a breathtaking range of astute social commentary and emotional complexity.

Interview with Bristol Life magazine

I was interviewed by Deri Robins of Bristol Life magazine about my writing and reading loves for their prestigious back page spot. Deri asked some brilliant questions about my writing background, from growing up in a house full of books to learning to be concise and avoid cliches through my work as a travel writer. As a journalist myself, it was fun to be on the other end of the scrutiny for once!  You can read the feature here or online here.
She writes: “Judy Darley has an eclectic CV. Not only has she worked as a journalist and a communications manager, but as a shepherdess – the latter conjuring up an irresistible (though undoubtedly inaccurate) Arcadian vision of Judy depicted in Meissen porcelain.” Now, doesn’t that sound like a perfect writing prompt?

Get in touch!

If you want to know more about my writing, about The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain book launch & literary night or would like a review copy of The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com. Thanks!