Writing prompt – sea

Oban bay. Photo by Judy DarleyHappy New Year! Have you had any time to write or read over the festive period? I’m currently reading the wonderful A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit. Early on in the book, the author mentions the correlations between science and the creative arts, drawing the distinction between the two thus:

“They [scientists] transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen; artists get you out into that dark sea.”

What dark sea would you choose to lure readers, viewers and other bystanders into? What might they discover through allowing you to get their feet wet, and following you, possibly far, beyond their depth?

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’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Writerly resolutions for 2019

Spring crocus cr Judy DarleyAs we edge into the greyest month of the year, this feels like the ideal time to take stock and see what’s working or not working in your creative life.

But this I mean not necessarily whether you’re creating and selling more, but, rather, whether the moments you can find to write, paint or whatever is continuing to satisfy you, and whether you feel you’re making progress, whatever that may mean to you.

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

In 2012 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. Writing sustains me in a way I’ve only recently come to understand.

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. And I’m happy to say that over the years the colour dedicated to ‘yes please’ is infiltrating the worksheets more and more.

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?

Become a woodland writer in residence

Arnos Vale light in the canopy. Photo by Judy Darley

Forestry Commission England is seeking two writers to share the stories of our country’s woodlands.

They ask: “What do forests mean to you? If you’re a writer with a passion for nature, we want to hear from you.”

The successful applicants of the Writers in the Forest opportunity will be invited to observe the Commission’s expert foresters, wildlife rangers and world-class scientists at work in a bid to understand the trees that make up the forests that still sprawl across sections of England. The works created in response to these experiences will form part of the centenary year celebrations of the Forestry Commission.

You will receive unique access to England’s forests, promotional support and a platform on which to share your work, development opportunities and £2,500.

The submission deadline is midnight GMT on 14th January 2019.

To apply, you need to send your CV and a pitch outlining your interest in the opportunity and how you might respond creatively to our nation’s forests, whether that’s through poetry, short story or something else entirely, providing it is rooted in words.

Pitches can take the form of up to 750 written words, a video of maximum three minutes durations via YouTube or via Dropbox/WeTransfer, or up to three minutes of audio via SoundCloud.

They say: “We’re looking for innovation and imagination, and welcome all forms of storytelling.”

Find full details here: www.forestryengland.uk.

Poetry review – The Weather In Normal by Carrie Etter

The Weather In Normal coverThis limbo time between Christmas and New Year always seems to me to be a period for renewal and contemplation. Few things facilitate this better than a poetry collection that speaks of space, time and what it is to be human. make p

Carrie Etter’s fourth poetry collection, The Weather In Normal, is an ideal choice. A deep tenderness weaves through the pages, from the love of family to the love of place. Etter succeeds in reminding us that the breadth of her setting is echoed within the confines of each person, where rolling prairie sweeps us through the range of emotions, predilections and experiences that make up our psychological topography.

Continue reading

Festive wishes

Tinsel tree 2018. Photo by Judy DarleyMerry Christmas Eve! As feared, our small Christmas tree didn’t make it through 2018 and when we moved to our new home in March, he didn’t come with us. I’m hoping his branches helped to nourish some other growing trees.

However, when I mentioned we might not have a tree this year, my mum immediately offered to loan us her 1960s tinsel tree. This slender silver beauty has pride of place in our cosy living room. We’re just taking care not to place any candles too close!

And yes, in case you were wondering, that is a fairy sheep on top, and a peeping snowman to the right. And no, I can’t (won’t) explain those two little festive oddities.

This year has been tumultuous in many ways, but speckled through with serene pockets of creativity and spangled with small but shining literary successes.

Wishing you a peaceful, joyful Christmas, however you choose to spend it.

Writing prompt – Mall Santa

Mall Santa. Photo by Judy DarleySantas in shopping malls are a familiar sight at this time of year. There’s something so urban and commercial about it, but though the glitter and snow may be plastic, in the eyes of many children this is a truly magical sight.

Imagine your protagonist staring down at this scene. What’s going through their mind? What action might it prompt or provoke in them?

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’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

BBC Upload wants your words

Pressed leaf1 by Judy DarleyIf you have a short story you’ve written that you’d like to hear on the radio and you’re based in the Bristol area, there’s an opportunity you shouldn’t miss.

DJ Adam Crowther invites writers, poets and spoken word performers from Bristol, Bath, North Somerset and South Gloucestershireto get in touch.

All you need to do is record yourself reading your piece, save it as an MP3 file, and upload it at BBC Upload.

If Adam selects your piece to share, he’ll give you a call to find out a few details, and you’ll be able to hear your poem or story on his evening show Upload with Adam Crowther.

Adam aired my short story ‘Pressed Leaves’ on 11th December 2018. ‘Pressed Leaves’ captures a moment in time in which a young girl, Anna, helps her mother clear out the artist’s studio of the grandfather she’s never met.

Listen to me read ‘Pressed Leaves’ here. It’s at about 1 hr 13 min in. #fictionontheair

A literary winter solstice

Dusk by Judy DarleyThis year’s Solstice Shorts Festival hosted by micro publisher Arachne Press takes us from the 2017 theme of Dusk into the apex of the fleeting hours of sunlight with Noon.

For 2018, the Winter Solstice is on Friday 21st December in the UK. While it may not have the latest sunrise or earliest sunset, in terms of daylight, there are eight hours, 49 minutes fewer than on the Summer Solstice.

Marking this special date, Solstice Shorts Festival unfolds in Greenwich and across the UK with prose, poetry and music all centred on the day’s centre.

Everyone who submitted and had their creative works selected should have been informed by now. Congratulations!

Organiser Cheryl says: “This year the festival celebrates the highest the sun gets, which in December, isn’t very far, depending on where you are. In Greenwich, home to Solstice Shorts and the accurate measurement of time, noon on 21st December will be at 11.58. So I guess we’ll be starting a bit before twelve to make sure we mark it appropriately, although of course, in Aberdeen noon isn’t until 12:06, and Cork 12.31!”

Find full details of what’s happening where and how you can get involved at arachnepress.comAnd while you’re at it, why not save yourself some precious time and buy one or more of their 2018 anthologies as festive gifts for your loved ones?

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Apollo’s Offspring – a short story

Rook waterwalking2 by Judy DarleyYou may recall my #WritingPrompt from October, suggesting you draw on myths for inspiration.

Rathalla Review Fall 2018Another of my stories inspired by myths appears in the Fall 2018 issue of Rathalla Review. It involves an au pair, who happens to be a raven, and a mother who’s ex happens to be the Greek God Apollo.

I’m so pleased to see my work in this beautiful publication, and to find a home for this uncanny tale.

Click here and leaf through the issue to read it.

Writing prompt – Christmas past

Escaping Christmas tree close up. Photo by Judy DarleyI mentioned to my mum that we weren’t planning to buy a Christmas tree this year, and she immediately offered to lend us her vintage silver tree. She and my dad bought it in the sixties, and I remember it glittering throughout my childhood (when it was already over a decade old!), but it’s spent the last few years in the damp and shadows of a cellar.

When Mum dropped it off, some silvery tentacles were already emerging. I thought I might leave the room and return to find a tinsel octopus creeping across the ceiling!

What magic and mayhem could unwind from your own Christmas past? Or what shimmering weirdness could you unravel from the scene above?

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’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.