Writing prompt – snowmen

Sabah Museum snowmen by Judy Darley. Group of fake snowmen looking a bit worse for wear.In the heat of a southeast Asian summer on the island of Borneo, I turned a corner and unexpectedly encountered this group of motley snowmen.

I love how out of place, and out of season, they look in a sunny corner of an island that’s never seen snow. I also relish the memory of being able to travel to places where I myself was so visibly out of place. I snapped photo in 2012, so who knows what state this snow clan are in now?

Can you use this as the prompt for a tale where your protagonist is somewhere they don’t belong? What motivation might they have for being there? Are they in control of their destination or has someone else placed them somewhere they stand out like a fibreglass snowman in a heatwave?

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.

Join a different kind of book club

NSCRC children with Book Aid boxI love giving books as Christmas gifts – there’s always that sense of offering up a whole world for your recipient to discover!

This year, why not go a little further and offer that gift to someone who can use it to improve their lives?

Book Aid does amazing work to get books to people who need them, and you can help, Your donation will cover the cost of sending books to people in the developing world, bringing all those page-bound possibilities, adventures and experiences to classrooms, libraries and minds hungry for them.

How does it work?

You have the option of signing up for a monthly subscription of £6, £10 or £25, or donating the amount of your choice. You could also give in memory of a loved oneleave a gift in your will, or give in celebration. If you’re a publisher or other member of the book trade, you could even donate books.

Michael Palin head shot“As a writer and traveller, I think everyone should be able to open a window on the world through books,” says Michael Palin, CBE. “It’s incredible how lives can be transformed through access to books.”

Over the course of a year, a £6 monthly membership translates into 36 books to stock a community library, reaching children and adults who might otherwise not have the opportunity to enjoy reading for pleasure or learning.

A £10 monthly membership could result in a hospital receiving 60 books.

A £25 membership could provide a starter library for a school, equipped with around 150 books.

To find out how you can help Book Aid change lives for the better, visit www.bookaid.org.

Sky Light Rain – The Sculptor

The Sculptor by Judy Darley. Photo of an ice sculpture against a sunset.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-sixth story is ‘The Sculptor’.

When my father was diagnosed with semantic dementia, it was difficult, ironically, to find the words to express that cruel incremental loss. Fiction gave me a way to express what I was experiencing and communicate it to others.

Semantic dementia is the gradual erosion of language and meaning, and watching my father battling to recall the words he needed was both heart-aching and alarming. I’ve always written, and my working life has been centred around words as a journalist and fiction writer, but finding the form to talk about this particular situation was a challenge. I needed to create some distance, and fiction provided the means to do that.

I grew increasingly aware that other people around me were suffering shockingly familiar drawn-out plummets into grief. It seemed every other stranger I fell into conversation with was struggling to survive a similar tragedy. In this way, fiction became a way not only to understand my own emotions around my loss of a man who still lived, but as a means to reach out to and connect with others.

My first successful short story on this subject became The Sculptor. I made my protagonist, Isha, an ice sculptor and had her fall in love with a glassblower, using these elemental artisan-ships to create a fictional landscape in which to place the ‘dad’ character. Nothing was true to my life apart from the situation, Isha’s grief, and the words stumbled over by the man representing my own dad.

The photo shows an ice sculpture at my cousin’s Thailand wedding in 2019. Remember when travel was a thing? *sigh*

An earlier version of ‘The Sculptor’ was published in Unthology 8 by Unthank Books.

The story begins:

She has to pause every hour – that’s what the orthopaedist advised – to take a break from the frozen quiet and ease warmth back into her body. Standing in the studio, Isha cradles a steaming mug close to her throat so that the licking fingers of vapour lap at her chin. She feels the quietness inside her soften and begin to melt.

Even the juddering growl of the chainsaw can’t disperse the peace that takes hold while she’s working. She feels it grip her interior like the shy fingers of ghosts. Isha wonders how much time she has left before the orthopaedist’s caution makes itself known.

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‘.

Writing prompt – legends

Seals near Mull, Scotland by Judy DarleyEvery family I know has quirks of its own – a private culture built from childhood mythology and misunderstandings.

One I love as a child was spun by my mother who believed wholeheartedly that if you stood on a seashore and sang, seals would be drawn by curiosity to appear. I have no idea if it works, but have clear memories of stand on a drizzly beach somewhere on the edge of Scotland bellowing song lyrics while gulls wheeled overhead, probably wondering if choirs carry sandwiches.

I wove this legend into my story ‘Singing To Seals‘, which appears in my first collection, Remember Me To The Bees.

What childhood myth or memory could you spin into a 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.

Book review – Straw Gods by Tom O’Brien

Straw Gods coverSet in a coastal village and on the surrounding seas, Tom O’Brien’s intensely told novella-in-flash examines the insularity and isolation of grief.

Our narrator is Rosa, living on the shore of the sea that swallowed her husband Matteo ten years ago. With the sound of waves endlessly within earshot, she can’t move on from the hope that Matteo will re-emerge with the next tide.

It opens with a powerful declaration: ‘“I know that you’re dead,” I said to my husband. He didn’t respond.’

Rituals bring scant comfort – the making of tea for a wraith who can never drink it, the poring over of treasures he gave her as tokens of their love – each repeated as if Rosa can lull nature into letting what it has taken slip back to where it, or rather he, belongs.

Rosa confides: ‘There was no storm when he drowned. A freak wave hit the boat, they told me, caused by something far away.’ The details of this sentence are intriguing – the idea of something so seemingly inconsequentially distant could cause such devastation in the centre of a woman’s life ripples through every story that makes up the novella.

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Sky Light Rain – Distant Storms

Sunlit water cr Judy DarleyI can never resist the opportunity to peek behind the curtain and 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-fifth story is also the first in the ‘Rain’ section, in which all tales are dappled with rain, or washed by ocean waves and rivers. ‘Distant Storms’ invites us to glimpse a future when rising sea levels creep above the lower areas of cities, isolating many people.

Imagine you and one other have been finding ways for the two of you to survive for a decade when a column of smoke lets you know you’re not entirely alone. What will you do?

I originally wrote this flash fiction for the Redcliffe Future Way story walk.

A shorter version was published in Mslexia’s Little Ms newsletter.

The story begins:

When the floods came, most people stuck it out for a time, then lost their nerve and travelled beyond the outer reaches of the city, seeking higher ground.

Not us. We stayed put in the tower block, watching as the streets went under, and then the bridges and even the skyscrapers closest to the strand. You showed me how to fish from the windows, going up a floor each month as the water levels climbed. We learnt to swim through the murky waves, salvaging anything that floated, diving down through waterlogged buildings to rescue anything we could make use of.

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

Writing prompt – hierarchy

Chickens cr Judy DarleyFlocks and herds naturally have their own strictly observed pecking order. As humans, however, it’s up to us to decide whether everyone gets treated well or not.

Imagine a future where none of the existing rules apply. How do your characters establish order? Who thrives, and who barely survives? Who finds themselves top of the heap? How can balance be maintained without anyone being left out in the cold?

Can you glimpse any solutions to current world problems through the fictional story that arises?

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.

Book review – if there is no shelter by Tracey Slaughter

if there is no shelter book cover showing seats in a bus shelter.Piecing together the gritty aftermath of an earthquake in extraordinarily vivid and poetic language, Tracey Slaughter’s novella-in-flash has the strength to shake you to your core.

Written entirely in the second person, she places ‘you’ directly inside the drama that unfolds as people count their loved ones, their possessions and their blessings. With each header a line from instructions on what to do in a disaster, she both deepens and lessens the horror through the relationships shivering around her narrator: her severely injured husband, her missing, presumably dead, lover, her guilt-stricken father and his determinedly buoyant friend Jack, who provides much of the comfort while seeking relief from his own fears through gathering and hoarding fragments of other people’s shattered lives.

In “use common sense, keep calm, and follow any instructions given’, Slaughter depicts the discombobulation following a cataclysm on this scale, wryly observing the sightseers venting in the narrator’s dad’s taxi. “They feel compassion, but also ripped off. It’s like booking a luxury break in a carpark.” Even in the bleakness, Slaughter serves up humour amid lines of startling beauty: “The gouge through the Cathedral roof is like a hole straight through to God.”

Slaughter describes unfathomable terrors in sentences so perfectly crafted that we’re standing right there beside the narrator. Her husband, being carried through a fractured hospital, is “all the emergency I could breathe.” Glass is a threat: “we know it careens at you in jerks, until your freckles are lit up, red studded.”

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Theatre review – The Night That Autumn Turned to Winter

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter cr Jack Offord2

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter photo by Jack Offord

We may not be able to make it out to theatres this festive season, but Bristol Old Vic has come up with an ingenious way for you to get your cultural Christmas fix from home, and support them in their efforts to keep their noses above the snow.

The Night That Autumn Turned to Winter is a visual and musical feast that I originally reviewed in December 2015. To tempt you to take a look, I’m re-publishing this review here.

While aimed primarily at tiny tots aged 2-6, like all the best children’s fiction, it includes plenty of humour for grown folks too, thanks to the talents of the three multi-tasking performers, Clare Beresford on the double base, Miriam Gould on the violin, and Dominic Conway playing guitar, banjo and ukulele.

Clare Beresford and Dominic Conway in The Night Autumn Turned To Winter Photo by Jack Offord

Clare Beresford and Dominic Conway. Pic cr Jack Offord

The show is a collaboration between the celebrated Little Bulb Theatre, Farnham Maltings and Bristol Old Vic, and is crammed with moments to treasure, regardless of age. Keen on opera-singing rabbits? They’ve got those. A moral conundrum between a fly, a frog and a spider? It’s in there. A Scottish owl quoting poetry by Robert Burns? Absolutely (and this one is a particular pleasure). There’s also a smattering of audience participation as we aid the woodland wardens (who happen to be fairies, though not of your usual fey and Disney-fied variety) in helping the animals prepare for the long winter ahead, but just enough to keep the smaller audience members entranced.

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter photo by Jack Offord

Miriam Gould and Clare Beresford as opera-singing rabbits. Photo by Jack Offord

As clever lighting shifts the timescale from day to night, one final treat may be in store – a glimpse of the winter unicorn. Give yourself up to the magic of the spectacle and you’ll feel a shiver run down your spine as it finally trots into view…

To invite the wonder into your home, you can buy the Bristol Old Vic At Home Season Pass and watch The Night That Autumn Turned to Winter along with four other stellar Bristol Old Vic productions (including their extraordinary A Christmas Carol), for just £12.99. Alternatively, you can rent The Night That Autumn Turned to Winter on its own for 48-hours for just £4.50.

Find full details here.

Sky Light Rain – The Blue Suitcase

The Blue Suitcase. Photo by Anete Lusina on UnsplashI can never resist the opportunity to peek behind the curtain and 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-fourth story is ‘The Blue Suitcase’. This is the last in the ‘Light’ section of stories about journeys and change. It was inspired by discovering that someone close o me accidentally went home with the wrong suitcase from an airport carousel. Whoops! How must they have felt when they opened the case they thought was there’s, and found it filled with someone else’s things? How confused and distressed might the person whose case had been taken have been?

Seed in a marital betrayal, and there’s a drama, ripe for the writing.

It’s also a chance to relive those heady pre-pandemic days when we could jet off to Greece without worrying about quarantine.

The story begins:

I’m looking out for mine, I really am, hoping and hoping it will be next, but then I spy it, a little blue case bouncing jauntily along the conveyor belt. I can’t help myself – I just… reach out.

I don’t know what makes me do it. It doesn’t resemble mine in the slightest. Bella is sobbing and squirming in my arms, it’s too hot with everyone crowded around the luggage carousel, and it takes forever for the first weary bags to roll into view.

Somehow I feel like this is the suitcase I’ve been waiting for. The handle fits comfortably in my palm, as though it’s chosen me.

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

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