Novella review – Small Things by Hannah Sutherland

Small Things book cover.Book Balm recommendation: read when you want to taste the bitter-sweetness of love entwined with loss.

Despite its title, Hannah Sutherland’s novella is all about the biggest things in life: friendship, true love, family and loss. Meet Jude, eighteen years old, and as drunk as his dad, Paddy is notorious for being. Now meet Madeline, the young woman who will one day become Jude’s mum. Slip-sliding deftly back and forth through time, each chapter presents a different moment from the lives of four people: Madeline, Paddy, Jude’s beloved best friend Kit and Jude himself, the glow at the centre that the other three orbit around.

There’s so much hope, affection and heartbreak woven into these strung-together stories that at times it’s almost hard to bear. Vulnerability is vividly drawn, not least in The character assassination, a goosebump-inducing account of a parents’ evening in which Jude observes as “Mammy raises her chin and puts on a façade of confidence, seemingly unbothered, which Jude knows will tire her to bed for the next few days.”

This is also our first meeting with Kit, and subtly indicates what these two boys will mean to one another.

Sutherland has a knack for seeding in truths you’ll understand without needing them spelled out, and barely aware of the clues you’ve absorbed until they accumulate and you feel as though you’ve always known.

We, Kit and Jude, invincible captures the exquisite verve and naivety of youth: “We cycle for hours, doing everything and nothing. We build a den in your garden (…) Place your beloved tartan blanket over the top, a temporary sky for us to gaze up at.”

You is a gorgeously tender chapter, written with sparkling honesty from Kit to Jude. “You walk up to me and there’s something inside me, like a butterfly, or a bursting burn, a volcano on the brink, fluttering, rumbling…”

This method of writing directly from the heart of one character to another places us directly at the hub both of action and contemplation. It makes us privy to much that is left unspoken, which gives us an omnipotent view that I found made me care deeply for the key players.

The yearning to and impossibility of protecting those we care for from all harm shines throughout too, heightening the potency of the varieties of love encompassed here. At times you may want to pause to fully absorb the emotions rising from these pages.

Challenging topics pattern scenes like wallpaper, often visible on the peripheral without demanding your full attention. Madeline’s mental illness and grief for her “halfway babies” is explored gently through both Madeline and Jude, as well as bonding Jude to Kit, who has his own “halfway sister.” This shared understanding of what’s it’s like to be framed in the light of those lost is written with startling surety, delivered alongside the understated but distressing revelation of the threats Kit faces at home, with the “bruises on his wrist. choking it like an ugly beaded bracelet.”

Many of the titles speak volumes by themselves. Examples include Losing your virginity, yourself and your preferences.

Paddy’s love for Madeline draws a ‘before and after’ line diagonally through this complex and rich novella, evoking empathy in his less dignified moments.

But it’s the purity of Jude’s feelings for Kit that will stay with you, longing for the innocence of a childhood garden den with a tartan blanket keeping all the world’s dangers firmly at bay.

Small Things by Hannah Sutherland is published by AdHoc FictionBuy your copy.

This book was given to me in exchange for a fair review.

Seen or read anything interesting recently? 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. Likewise, if you’ve published or produced something you’d like me to review, please get in touch.

Enter the Orna Ross Green Stories Prize for eco-novels

Arnos Vale light in the canopy. Photo by Judy Darley
The Orna Ross Green Stories Novel Prize is seeking adult novels showcasing what a sustainable society might look like.

The deadline for entries is 30th December 2021, making this the perfect chance to end the year on a positive, eco-friendly note!

There is a cash prize of £1000 for the winner and £500 for the runner up.

Green Stories aims to create a cultural body of work that entertains and informs about green solutions, inspires green behaviour and raises awareness of the necessary transformations towards a sustainable economy.

A particular aim is to use fiction as a way to reach an audience beyond those who already strive to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, and to support winning authors to translate their stories into published books.

Entry is free, but entrants must show they have read at least one chapter from successfully published pieces from the Green Stories project that provide an example of entertaining mainstream fiction that meets the criteria of showing green solutions (not just problems) that readers can engage with.

Habitat Man book coverThis year the book is Habitat Man by D. A. Baden, an eco-themed rom-com and murder mystery written specifically for the Green Stories project. The submission survey will include a short easy quiz to demonstrate that you’ve read the extract.

Length: Submit three chapters* (minimum of 4000 words, maximum 10,000 words) of a 70,000 – 95,000-word novel as one document that must include the following:

  • the first chapter
  • another chapter that best showcases how your novel meets the green stories criteria
  • a third chapter (suggest the final chapter if possible)
  • a synopsis between 500 and 1000 words (name and contact details optional – we can identify via submission page) that covers genre, plot, characters, and details of how it meets the green stories criteria of showcasing positive visions of a more sustainable society or incorporating green solutions into the context of an otherwise mainstream story.

You can submit more than three chapters if you need to, in order to make up to 4,000 words. If you reach the shortlist, Green Stories may request more chapters or the full novel from the best entries to help them choose a winner.

Eligibility

Open to all adults (18+) of any nationality, as long as the submission is in English and has not been published elsewhere.

All submissions must conform to the green stories criteria of showcasing positive visions of a more sustainable society or incorporating green solutions into the context of an otherwise mainstream story.

The competition is open to novels that are either:

–          Partially complete (at least 50%) in the first draft phase
–          Fully complete and unpublished (between 70,000 and 100,000 words).

Prizes

£1000 for the winner and £500 for runner up, plus the following: 

A half-price manuscript appraisal by established literary consultancy Daniel Goldsmith, worth £300 to £400, will be available to the authors of the top three entries.

Winners will also have the choice of either a one-to-one mentoring session with the winners (at their office in London or virtually) with literary agency Redhammer Management, or a package of self-publishing support from the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) set up by Orna Ross including a year’s membership of ALLI and a free pass to the Self-Publishing Advice Conference.

Publishing is just half the battle, to help winners achieve sales we will promote the winning book (once published) via our networks.

Submission

Find the full details of how to submit your novel excerpt entry here: https://www.greenstories.org.uk/upcoming-competitions/adult-novel-deadline-dec-2021/.

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 – Tree Week

St Johns Burial Ground tree by Judy DarleyAs we reach the midway point of National Tree Week, this feels like the perfect excuse to revel in the sheer magic of our lofty companions. As a child, I spent a lot of time exploring the wonder of their leafy worlds. I loved how you could be enclosed by their branches and hidden from view, and how they were home to so many creatures too.

The dramatically twisty tree above stands on the slopes of Bristol’s St John’s Burial Ground.

It seems natural to me that trees crop up in so many imaginative tales, from Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree Adventures to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia chronicles (well, how to you think that wardrobe came to be?), not to mention J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth Ents.

Do you have a favourite tree or one you notice daily? Can you write it into a tale of epic proportions or emotive depths? It could be where your protagonist shelters while eavesdropping on a conversation that changes their opinion about a key topic. Or could you feature a tale of tree planting that changes our future for the better?

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.

Novella review – Crossing the Lines by Amanda Huggins

Book Balm recommendation: read when you need reminding that every person you meet has their own story.Crossing-the-Lines-by Amanda Huggins cover
Reading almost like a novella in flash and expanding outwards from her Costa Award shortlisted tale Red, Amanda Huggins’ latest creation is a tensely told yet heart-affirming work. The focus is fifteen-year-old Mollie, seemingly trapped in a nightmarish situation until she finds the courage to escape with stray dog Hal.

The friendship between Mollie and Hal is a steel thread through the story, offering solace and strength in the face of disappointments, betrayals and the occasional kindness. This is a journey full of perils and adventure, with happy as well as sour memories trailing behind and the hope of a safe return to what was once home ahead.

When Mollie’s mum Ellie meets Sherman Rook, it’s clear almost at once that he’s no good. “Something in his eyes glittered hard and bright as he appraised her cloud of unruly blonde hair, the jut of her determined chin and her long tanned legs.”

Before the chapter’s end Ellie and Mollie are moving to live with Sherman far from everyone they know. The sense of danger is palpable.

It contrasts sharply with the coastal life Mollie loves, close to her brother Angel and father. The close yet roaming third-person narrative allows chapters to read like flash fictions, with some focused on Ellie and opening up insights into her behaviour, while others share aspects of people Mollie meets only briefly, providing an exterior view of Mollie that helps us see both her vulnerability and gumption.

It all contributes to a richly layered whole.

Continue reading

Enter the Fractured Lit monsters, mystery and mayhem prize

The team at Fractured Lit urge you to dig into the darkest recesses of your imagination to write stories of monsters, mystery and mayhem in 1,000 words or less that explore our humanity.

The deadline is 19th December 2021.

They say: “Using these genre themes, please remember that we’re searching for flash that investigates the mysteries of being human, the sorrow, and the joy of connecting to the diverse population around us. We want something new. Something that scares as much as it resonates; stories that help us discover the roots of desire and conflict, that shimmer on the page, that keep us reading, and wondering long after the last period on the page. Transport us from the here and now to a new land of discovery, a new way of being terrified, a new way of embracing all of the ways we show our humanness.”

A $20 reading fee allows you up to two stories of 1,000 words or fewer each per entry.

The competition prizes

The winner will receive $2000 and publication, while the 2nd and 3rd place winners will receive publication and $300 and $200, respectively. All entries will be considered for publication.

The judge is Amber Sparks, the author of four collections of short fiction, including And I Do Not Forgive You: Revenges and other Stories and The Unfinished World, and her fiction and essays have appeared in American Short Fiction, the Paris Review, Tin House, Granta, The Cut and elsewhere.

Find full details of how to enter here: fracturedlit.com/fractured-lit-monsters-mystery-and-mayhem-prize

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 – sheep

Sheep on a truck_Wells Rd, Totterdown by Judy Darley

Occasionally, a truck passes my neighbourhood crowded with animals like these sheep.

It makes me think of the way we humans treat the planet and its inhabitants, including other humans, as resources to be plundered. Often we act just like sheep, following our leaders in whatever they tell us is for the best, or for the greater good.

Are there other ways to keep our population fed and secure? What alternatives can you dream up or uncover through research?

Turn this into a hopeful story of a future where we live in tune with our neighbours, from other humans to flora and fauna. Keep plenty of suspense in place by including hints of true atrocities, as Margaret Atwood did in writing The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments.

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.

A conversation about keeping it short

The Stairs snippetI’m so looking forward to heading to the latest instalment of the Flash Fiction Festival on Saturday 27th November 2021. It’s going to be an amazing, energising and inspiring day crammed with workshops and talks from some of the world’s finest flash fiction writers!

My touch-typey fingers are already twitching in anticipation of the workshop on prose poetry, hermit crab flash, ekphrastic writing and more, plus a Great Pottery Throwdown-esque competition, from amazing authors including Kathy Fish, Jude Higgins, Lorette C. Luzajic, Ingrid Jendrzejewski and Sara Hills.

I’m especially thrilled to be joining Sharon Telfer to chat about our Reflex Press collections. We’ll be talking about our books’ themes, how we put them together, reading an exclusive flash fiction from each of our collections and answering any questions you might have.

My short fiction collection The Stairs Are A Snowcapped Mountain will be out in March 2022. I’m hoping to do a cover reveal live at the festival, but for now you can feast your eyes on the shard above.

Get your ticket here: www.flashfictionfestival.com/booking/

Hope to see you there.

Enter Mslexia’s poetry competitions

Button on Kilve Beach cr Judy DarleyMslexia’s Women’s Poetry Competition and Pamphlet Competition are open for entries of poetry pamphlets and individual poems.

Both competitions have a closing date of 6th December 2021.

Mslexia Poetry Competition

The winner of the single poem category will receive £2,000.

Second Prise is £500.

Third prize is £250.

There is also a new Unpublished Poet Prize of £250, which will be awarded to the best poem by an unpublished poet.

The four winners, plus 16 additional finalists will be published in Mslexia.

Award-winning poet Pascale Petit will judge entries.

The entry fee is £10 for up to three poems.

The winner and finalists will be announced on 1 March 2022.

Mslexia Pamphlet Competition

The winner of the pamphlet category will get £250 plus publication by Seren Books.

A selected poem from the winning pamphlet will be published in Mslexia.

The entry fee is £20 per pamphlet.

The judge Amy Wack, is Poetry Editor at Seren Books and started her career with Seren in 1989. She was reviews editor for Poetry Wales before becoming commissioning poetry editor.

The winner and finalists will be announced on 1 September 2022.

You can find full details of how to enter at www.mslexia.co.uk.

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 – insulin

Insulin by Judy DarleyAs a type 1 diabetic diagnosed at the age of eight, I was startled to learn that last Sunday, 14th November 2021, was the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin as a treatment. Prior to that, there wasn’t much doctors could do for diabetics other than put them on a strict low-carb diet, which gave them at best a few extra years.

It shocked me how recently this discovery was made. If my sister and I were born 100 years earlier, my mum would have lost one daughter at around the age of eight and the other not much later.

I suspect people living with conditions such as asthma and epilepsy have similar stories.

Being born in the right time and place really does have the biggest impact on how long you’ll live and how well you’ll thrive.

Can you use this as fuel for a short story about life-enhancing medical discoveries?

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 – The Fisherwoman and Other Stories by Philip Charter

The Fisherwoman and Other Stories coverThis richly packed collection of short stories by Philip Charter carries you across planets and through time. In each instance, Charter shows his talent for summoning just the right level of detail, painting in scenes with startlingly precise vivacity so you can picture and feel the exact slant of sunlight and depth of shade.

The collection opens with the title tale – a story about stories set in a futuristic world. It centres around a koi pond and an old women noticed daily by the narrator, who feels compelled to open up to this stranger during the course of the tale. It reads as a curious and confident fable with a whisper of warning about the harm we’re doing to our home planet.

Other intriguing fables include Peloten, which reports the sighting of “thousands of riderless bicycles” and their impact on the populous.

“They travelled clockwise, around a huge circuit of streets, like they were competing in a race with no rules and no finishing line. Capturing and dismantling them didn’t help, it just resulted in the appearance of an identical one the next morning, completing the herd of exactly eight thousand one hundred and twenty-eight machines.”

Knowing what to resolve and what to leave unknown is clearly another of Charter’s skills. Continue reading