Sky Light Rain – Shaped from Clay

4_Shaped From ClayOver the coming weeks, I’ll share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. My fourth story in the collection is ‘Shaped from Clay’.

This tale was prompted by the scene above, photographed in a local school playground, coupled with an urge to write something that made my skin creep. That strange white horse just looked so out of place. I needed to know what and who, and why. Personally, I also believe that any story populated mainly by children teeters on the brink of savagery.

‘Shaped from Clay’ explores how communities can turn unhealthily insular, and the way coincidences might string together to suggest something uncannier. Add a couple of outsiders and you have an inevitable hint of love story…

The tale begins:

On the last day of term I allowed the children to bring in toys to play with. As her choice, Ebie brought a bag of whitish clay dug from the river that ran through the village. It wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind, but she looked at me with those silver-blue eyes, and I couldn’t think of a reason to say no. I instructed her to use the area by the sink where we washed our story-time milk bottles, and watched from the edge of my concentration as she began to pound out air bubbles. Her hands dug into the clay, pushing into the flesh of it like it was something she was attempting to throttle the life out of, or palm life into.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water.

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

Pandemic prompt – rooftops

Rooftops by Judy DarleyLockdown has meant that the city-dwellers amongst us have had more than our share of rooftop views lately. Restrictions have eased considerably in England, but can’t take away from the minutiae of everyday weirdnesses we’ve already observed in these times.

Imagine a neighbour whose natural nosiness has become heightened by these circumstances. What oddity might they glimpse?

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.

Enter a Bedtime Story Competition

Ted. By Judy Darley

The lovely folks at Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts, are inviting entries of bedtime stories for their competition, inspired by their current series of online Bedtime Stories performed by Dorset artist Michele O’Brien.

They say, “Not only do we think bedtime stories can be the best part of the day for lots of children but also for parents. As part of our ‘It’s All About You!’ #Lockdown themed creative engagement programme we are giving you the opportunity to be creative and write your very own Bedtime Story with the winning story performed by one of our associate artists from Black Cherry Theatre Company.”

There are no age restrictions and you may want to team up with your household and do this as a family project. Stories must be typed and no more than 2500 words

All you have to do is read and comply with the Conditions of Entry, give your story a title and submit it with your name, contact number, email address and social media handles to learning@lighthousepoole.co.uk by midnight on Tuesday 21st July 2020.  

Find full details here.

Entries can be on any subject relevant to a bedtime story and in any style or form and you can enter more than once if you wish.

Worldwide copyright of each entry remains with the author, but Lighthouse Poole has unrestricted rights to publish the winning stories and any extracts from the opening chapters along with any other relevant promotional material.  Lighthouse Poole will commission a Lighthouse Associate Artist to perform at least one of the winning stories which will be uploaded to its social media platforms and website.

Winners will be notified by email on or before 31 July 2020.

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.

Sky Light Rain – Woman and Birds

3_Woman and BirdsOver the coming weeks, I’ll share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. My third story in the collection is ‘Woman and Birds’.

This story was inspired by two journeys – one to Barcelona, where the story is set, and an overnight train ride from Sacramento to Portland. In the latter, I sat next to a woman travelling to retrieve her child from her ex-partner who’d had the child in their custody for the summer, and now refused to give them up. The challenges of that scenario stuck with me for more than a decade before surfacing in this tale.

‘Woman and Birds’ takes the form of a treasure hunt through Barcelona as my protagonist follows clues to track down her ex, Eulàlia, and their daughter Ocell. The title is an homage to Catalan artist Joan Miro and his sculptures, most of which seemed to be titled something along the lines of Woman and Bird.

The story begins:

Eulàlia doesn’t meet me at Barcelona Airport as promised. I tell myself that she must be busy with our daughter Ocell, and catch a taxi into the city instead. The driver has a kind face; I tip him more generously than I normally would and feel a stab of something like self-righteousness. See, I’m being good even when Eulàlia is not.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water.

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

Pandemic prompt – dinner party

Bee, beetle, poppy by Judy DarleyI paused to admire the glimmer of a rose chafer beetle inside a poppy when a bumblebee flew in to join the party.

These unlikely dinner companions could prompt a tale of an unexpected bubble pairing or even a satire exploring race relations. Where will it take you?

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.

 

Submit cataclysmic poetry to Ambit

Ruin, Villahormes cr Judy DarleyAmbit invite you to submit your poetry on the theme of ‘Cataclysm’ to their Annual Poetry Competition.

According to Oxford Languages, a cataclysm is

  • ‘a large-scale and violent event in the natural world.
    “the cataclysm at the end of the Cretaceous Period”
  • a sudden violent political or social upheaval.
    “the cataclysm of the First World War”

I suspect you can come up with a few more recent examples.

The deadline for entries is 15th July.

The entry fee is £6 per poem. Submissions will be judged by poet and playwright  Fred D’Aguiar.

Winners receive £500, £250 or £100 and will be published in the October issue of Ambit. Winners and runners up will be invited to read at the October issue launch.

You can submit your work here: http://www.ambit.submittable.com/submit

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.

Pandemic prompt response – The Pinnacle of her Existence by Suzanna Stanbury

Stilettos by Judy DarleyAuthor Suzanna Stanbury wrote the following chilling tale in response to Pandemic prompt – stilettos.

Suzanna Stanbury_cr Judy Darley

Suzanna Stanbury

Suzanna’s story provides an insight into the myriad conflicting emotional anxieties arising from lockdown, and a beautifully written answer to the question of how these heels ended up on top of a park rubbish bin.

If you write or create something of your own inspired by Pandemic prompt – stilettos, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I may publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

The Pinnacle of her Existence by Suzanna Stanbury

I’d been planning my wedding since I was five years old. I’d always known since we visited the pearl farm on the Isle of Wight, my wedding colours would be oyster and pearl. I’d had my entire life to work out when to get married. I would be a June bride. On my special day everything would be exactly the way I had always imagined it would be, my own creation of perfection. I had a folder and had been sticking in cuttings from magazines all the way through the passage of school life. On the cover of the folder were pictures of pearls, thousands of gleaming spheres.

And the great day grew ever closer. I’d picked the date.

I couldn’t believe it when the wedding venue emailed me to tell me because of the pandemic they would be closed until at least Christmas, all bookings for weddings were cancelled for the foreseeable future. It was a nightmare.

Then my wedding cake lady messaged me on Facebook, she couldn’t even think about making cakes until after the danger of infection was past. She had emphysema, had to shield herself. My beautiful cake. Oyster-coloured icing spread over five tiers. Little sugar shells, with edible, iridescent pearls inside them. The picture in my mind faded leaving a bitter taste where the dream of vanilla sponge should have been.

My dress was being handmade. The dressmaker had measured me, warned me on pain of death, she said, not to lose or gain any weight. I must remain exactly as I was. She had been adding the final details, sending me photos as each stage progressed. And then the photos stopped arriving. I texted her, no reply. I kept on texting, getting ever more panicky in case something had happened to my gorgeous satin dress and she was too ashamed to tell me she had sliced right through the bodice by mistake when she went to snip off a hanging silver thread, or something just as awful.

It was Sasha, one of my bridesmaids, who told me that the dressmaker, Paula, was ill. Sasha said she knew that because Paula was one of her mum’s friends. Paula was ill with the virus, in hospital, on a ventilator, at death’s door, Sasha said. I imagined my dress imprisoned in Paula’s locked shop, trapped, pinned onto the dressmaker’s dummy, almost finished, nearly ready for me to wear, waiting to have its moment of glory.

I couldn’t believe it. All my dreams were falling down the mountain I had built. My entire life planning the perfect wedding, a day like none other I would ever live. It would be the pinnacle of my existence.

I was Zooming my bridesmaids every day, I had to keep them onside. It may still be okay. This pandemic couldn’t go on for much longer. Could it? All of the things I had ordered, most of them paid for, were enshrined in shops, in the homes of designers. Even the wedding rings were being handmade, Welsh gold, Clogau. My ring was white gold, with a single pearl set into the band. All that gorgeousness was virtual, I had one thing that was real.

In the wardrobe, on the top shelf were stored my wedding shoes. I’d received them from my parents for my twenty-first birthday, they cost five hundred pounds. Kid leather in a soft shade of pearl, they had ankle straps and four-inch stiletto heels. I would take the box out of the wardrobe each year on my birthday, no more than that or I feared the delicate leather could become damaged, and on the sixth time that I would remove the shoes, hear the tissue paper rustle as I lifted them – it would be my wedding day and I would wear the exquisite, gleaming shoes.

It wasn’t fair, I told my bridesmaids, every day something else was cancelled, it was as if the virus was targeting me, every other bride was allowed to have her day, why was mine torn away from me, my dream rent to shreds. Five faces instead of six stared back at me.

“Where’s Sasha?”

They told me in hushed tones, Sasha’s grandma had died the night before. She was in a care home, Elmtrees, just off the ring road. Sasha and I went to visit her before Christmas. Sasha had told me her grandma had a pearl ornamental hair comb that could be my ‘something borrowed’. I was going to fetch it exactly a week before my wedding. Panic enveloped me, a cold swamping feeling, pressing on my bare arms, raising gooseflesh. I was just about to ask about the pearl comb when I realised they were all staring at me.

Each one of them wearing the same awed expression as if they could guess my thoughts. I shut my mouth again, kept the question inside my head. I could always ask Sasha later, when she felt a bit better, when she was up to Facetiming again. I expected she was busy. Sasha lived with her parents. I was glad I didn’t live with my parents. My mother phoned me most days, imparting tales of horror about neighbours’ behaviour, breaking lockdown, not wearing masks in the garden, possibly spreading their germs over the fence. I didn’t want to hear it. I was fit and healthy. I was young, everyone knew the virus didn’t touch the young. We were blessed with strong antibodies; our resistance was mighty.

It occurred to me as I headed off for my daily run, earbuds in place, as I swiftly covered ground, I was the bride denied her wedding. Well, Mr Virus, I shall fight you. I shall have my wedding, there’s still time until the grand day dawns. You can push off, Mr Virus, you’ve done your worst, now go away. Spotify changed tracks to Gloria Gaynor’s, I will Survive. I almost laughed out loud. Things were working for me. That is what I needed to do, be mindful, be positive. Fight this virus, see it off.

What everyone else didn’t realise was most of this was all in the mind. I didn’t know anyone who had had the virus, let alone died from it. And I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone who had had it either. A vision of Paula with pins in her mouth as she tacked my bodice onto me popped into my mind, I cancelled the thought. Second-hand information could be fake information. Perhaps all those people dying would have died anyway, and there was no virus, it was other illnesses, different diseases killing more people than usual. Maybe it was the weather, the unusually hot spring we’d been experiencing. The temperature had made everyone ill. Yes! It could be that.

I had a lovely run, the music was perfect, uplifting, I ran in time to the beat – what could be more wonderful than running along listening to your best tunes?

“That run was awesome.” I’d left Craig on the sofa, where he’d been for days moaning about man flu. Men! Honestly. Total lightweights. Give men period pain, then they would really have something to harp on about. “Are you listening to me? Babe?” I carefully replaced the earbuds in their shiny white case, turned around.

And it was then I stopped thinking. I went to another place. All my life things had always rolled along oiled tracks, my moments were happy, fortunate, blessed. I had never encountered anything that stopped me, caused me to step out of my happy life, to change my plans – and even if I did, if I ignored it for long enough, somehow it would go away.

*

They phoned me this morning, told me Craig was out of danger, he’d been on a ventilator for twenty-nine days, in ICU for thirty days. I had only seen him through glass. I spent most days in a little park near to the hospital, sitting on a bench, waiting. There was a blackbird who had grown so used to me being there he came right up to my feet, pecking for grubs or something, I wasn’t sure what he was after. He had a bright yellow beak, a vivid shade. Under the bushes, the leaves of daffodils fallen in the grass, spread out in fan shapes, drying slowly through shades of green to brown, withering until a strong breeze blew them to oblivion.

The hospital had eased some restrictions, I was allowed to enter, then to stand a little closer, but never to touch.

On my lockscreen was a photo of us, touching cheeks, grinning into the camera lens for a selfie, the wrinkles of his smile contrasting my smooth skin. It didn’t matter to either of us the age difference between us. Sometimes I was reminded of it by tiny things, other than that, nothing. A clock tower somewhere struck the hour. I could go and visit now, distantly visit, of course.

“See you tomorrow.” The blackbird cocked his head at me, then continued pecking.

I felt different today, seeing Craig on a new ward, not so many wires, fewer tubes, still some medical contraptions keeping him alive, monitoring that he was on the way back. A tiny feeling of relief popped into my head, then left again almost immediately, he still wasn’t out of the woods. A doctor, swathed in blue protective gear told me Craig’s body would take a long time to recover, he would need to be nurtured when he was discharged, treated with kid gloves, he said.

I looked at our house when I returned home, thinking of things I would need to do to care for Craig, make life more comfortable for him in his painful progress through recovery. Kid gloves. Suddenly I was overcome with emotion, a brutal fury descended, a need to rid myself of what had caused this, the reason for all of this awfulness.

I fetched a carrier bag from the kitchen cupboard, went upstairs, retrieved the expensive shoes from their chic box, unwound them from yards of mauve tissue paper, dumped them into the bag, saw the CO-OP logo bulge out as a stiletto heel stabbed at it from within. I walked up the road, through the gate and into the cemetery, down the main path, and there by the litter bin, I removed the shoes, placed them neatly, side-by-side, on top of the bin. Those shameful, sinful, show-off shoes – remain there for all to see. I looked at them with distaste for a micro-second before turning on my heel, my trainers grinding on the gravel ready to stalk up the path, home.

The end

Sky Light Rain – Weaving Wings

Weaving Wings by Judy DarleyOver the coming weeks, I will share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. My second story in the collection is ‘Weaving Wings’.

This flash fiction story is only half a page long, but it was inspired by a huge true tale. I’d read articles about Mexican migrant children separated from their parents by the US government, and the idea haunted me. It seemed so barbaric. Two details about this really got to me – the fact that some of the children were writing letters they weren’t even sure would be sent to their parents, and the heaps of yarn brought out to keep them occupied during leisure time.

According to this news story published in October 2019, 5,460 children were separated from their parents due to the Trump administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

In my flash fiction I try to examine this ludicrous behaviour from the point of view of a child trying to make the best of an appalling situation.

My version of this story begins:

The best time is when we have an hour outside and can run and race like we’re still on our way. I pretend that I’m running to my mama and that this is all a game.

I’ve recorded myself reading ‘Weaving Wings’, which you can watch here. It also featured in National Flash Fiction Day’s #FlashFlood on 6th June 2020.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water.

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

Pandemic prompt – stilettos

Stilettos by Judy DarleyDuring the depths of lockdown, these stilettos appeared balanced on a bin in our local park. It felt like a clue in a pandemic crime. Who had been out partying when the rest of us were mostly confined to our homes? What ball did they skitter home from barefoot?

Or were the shoes an offering to the Covid-19 gods, in a bid to save us all?

Write a modern myth or fairytale with these abandoned stilettos at its heart.

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.

Ledbury Poetry Festival 2020

Ledbury cr John EagerSome British towns seem better suited to literary festivals than others, and Ledbury in Herefordshire is ideal – with reams of streets and architecture that the word ‘picturesque’ could have been invented for. This year, Ledbury’s annual Poetry Festival is relocating online for 4th-5th July 2020, promising two days of written and spoken riches.

All events are FREE, but do remember to register beforehand, and please consider a donation to LPF and support the Festival in this uncertain and challenging time. Each event will be recorded and posted on the Festival’s YouTube channel

This year’s highlights include the Festival Launch, during which UK Poet Laureate Simon Armitage will introduce and read poems written during Lockdown, readings from Ledbury Poetry Festival International Poetry Competition 2019 winners, including Sarah Wimbush (read my review of Sarah’s award-winning pamphlet Bloodlines), Elisabeth Murawski and Denise Bundred, hosted by Daljit Nagra, plus a Spanish Poetry Translation Duel, and much much more!

Don’t forget to enter the LPF Poetry Competition. Entries will be judged by Liz Berry. The closing date is Thursday 16th July 2020.

The image at the very top of this post was supplied by John Eager of www.visitledbury.info. Many thanks!

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.

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