Writing prompt – dip

The Sea is Still the Sea_by Judy Darley

The sea is still the sea even if it’s contained. Clevedon’s Marine Lake welcomes waves, brave swimmers and the occasional bobbing jellyfish. There’s even an annual New Year’s dip at 11am to embrace 2024 with a breathtaking adrenalin-boosting splash in aid of Marlens, the charity who manage and maintain the pool. Other charities are also getting involved and asking for donations from folks daring to join in.

On most winter’s days, however, you could be the only swimmer – just you, the saltwater and the sky.

Could you make this the setting for an unexpected meeting? Who might you encounter here? What peril could bond two people here?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Submit your words to the Moth Poetry Prize

Moth by Judy Darley

The Moth Magazine invites you to enter the Moth Poetry Prize. The deadline for entries s 31st December 2023.

It’s one of the biggest prizes in the world for a single previously unpublished poem on any subject and is open to anyone over 16.
The prize is judged anonymously by a single poet, and this year that poet is Hannah Sullivan. Hannah’s debut collection, Three Poems, won the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2019. She studied Classics at Cambridge, received her PhD in English from Harvard, and taught as an Assistant Professor at Stanford University. She is an Associate Professor of English at New College, Oxford. Her latest collection, Was It For This, was published by Faber earlier in 2023.
The Prize is open to anyone (over 16) from anywhere in the world, as long as the work is original and previously unpublished.
There is no line limit, and the poems can be on any subject.
The shortlist will be announced in March 2024 and the four shortlisted poems will appear in the Irish Times online.
The winner will receive €6,000.

There is a fee of €15 per entry.

The winner of The Moth Poetry Prize 2022 was British poet Laurie Bolger with her poem ‘Parkland Walk’ chosen by Louise Glück.

Visit www.themothmagazine.com for full details.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Merry everything

Star lights cr Judy Darley

I hope you are lucky enough to have those you love close by, and all the frivolity or serenity you crave throughout this joyful season, however you choose to spend it.

May your festive tangles bring you light, sparkle and laughter.

I wish you a creative, fulfilling and hopeful 2024.

Writing prompt – sparkle

Sparkle street. Photo by Judy DarleyJPGWe recently moved to a new home in a different town and have been heartened by the volume of festive lights. It all feels very welcoming!

But imagine if January comes and goes, then February and March, and the Christmas lights remain?

What if it turns out we’ve accidentally moved to a town where it’s always Christmas? How will we fit in? And how will we retain our sanity in the face of festive year-round cheer?

The same premise works just as well for Halloween, Valentines’ Day or any number of seasonal celebrations. Can you turn this idea into an unnerving or comic tale?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Searchlight Writing for Children Awards chapter book contest

Brandon Hill, Bristol, child in tree by Judy Darley

The Searchlight Writing for Children Awards is launching an exciting new competition seeking the Best Chapter Book for children aged between five and eight years old

The closing date for entry is 1st February 2024.

Your entry can be from a stand-alone book or part of a series. All you need to submit is the first chapter and a short pitch that tells Searchlight what the book is about.

Winners will be chosen by Katie Blagden of The Bright Agency.

The top ten entries will feature in a Pitch Book of winning stories, which will be sent to an extensive list of literary agents and publishers who have requested it so will be paying close attention!

First prize = £350 +plus a one-to-one call with judge Katie Blagdon, who will be happy to share her expert viewpoint as a literary agent.

The entry fee is £12.

For full details, visit www.searchlightawards.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 – adrift

Floating island in Avon River by Judy Darley

This floating island drifted past on the River Avon. It made me think of how species can travel from landmass to landmass thanks to flood, tide and chance.

I wonder what could have got caught up in this tangle. Might they have been peacefully dozing, only to wake up on their move to a new home?

I love how this castaway seems to float on a sea of clouds, suggesting a voyage not only between landmasses but between worlds.

Can you turn this into a story, or other creative work?

Could this be an opportunity to explore the growing plight of refugees and immigrants?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

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 a young stranger who needs the light of fiction in their life?

BookTrust aims to send 17,000 festive book gifts to children who need them most. Your gift will help send book parcels to food banks to make sure that as well as food on the table, children have presents under the tree. Or it could go to a child in care, spending their first Christmas in an unfamiliar home.

As well as a book — or two! — BookTrust festive book parcels include a beautifully illustrated bookmark and poster plus a heartfelt letter from an author.

BookTrust say: “It’s so much more than a book parcel. It’s joy. It’s wonder. It’s discovering worlds unknown. It’s making sure children feel special this Christmas. It’s magic, when it’s needed most.”

£10 could send a book parcel to a child who is spending their first Christmas in care.

£50 could light up Christmas for five children who are vulnerable or in care.

£100 could send ten book gifts to a community foodbank for children facing a difficult time this Christmas.

If you’re donating on behalf of someone, you will be sent a special Christmas gift certificate you can personalise to let them know.

Find out how to donate here.

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 classrooms and libraries in the developing world to reach the minds hungry for all those page-bound possibilities, adventures and experiences.

How does it work?

You have the option of signing up for a monthly subscription of £6, £12 or £25, or donating the amount of your choice. You could also give in memory of a loved one or leave 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.

Find out how your gift could help by reading the readers’ stories.

Find out how you can help Book Aid change lives for the better.

Writing prompt – pat a cat

Cat graffiti at Bristol Harbour. Photo byy Judy Darley

Bristol is renowned for exceptional graffiti and for its particularly eccentric turns of phrase, which can also be heard across Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Cornwall, including ‘Pat a cat’, an urging to nuzzle a moggy… Ahem, why does that sound rude?

Quite simply, anywhere you stroll in Bristol away from the hectic centre, there’s a high chance you’ll meet a cat seemingly keen for a stroke

This gorgeous artwork appeared at Bristol harbour a while back, and is one of many giant feline portraits to pop up across the city in this style. The attitude of the cat makes me wonder if they’d welcome a pat, though.

The artist who created this work must have had to balance precariously over the murky water, or paint from a boat. What might their motivation have been? Part of me feels it could have been one of the many local cats with inky paws, tempting gullible humans to come in for a stroke and get a scratch!

Can you turn this into a tale?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Enter The Masters Review chapbook contest

Arnos Vale in the morning frost_by Judy Darley
The Masters Review is inviting submissions to their chapbook contest for emerging writers.

The deadline for entries is 17th December 2023 at midnight PT.

The winning writer will receive $3,000, digital and print manuscript publication, and 75 contributor copies.

Michael Martone, author of almost 30 books and chapbooks, will choose this year’s winner.

Michael  says: “I have always loved chapbooks. The first two books I published were chapbooks. What excites me is when a chapbook takes itself seriously as a literary form –up to something unique and different from other ‘packaging,’ other narrative or lyrical delivery devices — the novel, the short story collection, the novella, etc. (…) I love when a chapbook presents itself on an equal footing as those other forms. Not lesser or better but different, special. Its content is unable to be expressed in any other manner but this compact, shaped-charge of a book.”

Last year’s winner, Coats by Naomi Telushkin, selected by Kim Fu, will be published next spring.

The Masters Review say: “We’re interested in collections of flash fiction, creative nonfiction essays, short stories, and anything in-between. We encourage you to be bold, to experiment with style and form, as long as you stay under 45 pages.”

Find full details heremastersreview.com/chapbook-contest/ 

Got an event, challenge, competition, new venture or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Play review – Arabian Nights sets Bristol Old Vic aglow

Arabian Nights production photos taken at Bristol Old Vic on 24th November 2023 in Bristol. Arabian Nights Company_Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Bristol Old Vic has a tradition of staging festive productions that transport us to other worlds, with colour-infused sets and costumes, modern twists on familiar tales and a dash of humour to keep the audience enthralled.

Writer Sonali Bhattacharyya and director Blanche McIntyre have delivered in full with Arabian Nights, treating audiences to an imaginative production packed with characters designed to win hearts and jolt emotions.

With contemporary references and ironies sprinkled in, including mention of TikTok and a mobile phone as a gift for a girl who would prefer a bag of lentils, the central messages are the power of stories and of working together.

When Schere heroically takes the place of a neighbour to become the King’s next wife, she breaks a pattern the peevish king has been wedded to since his wife left – marrying a woman and then casting her into the palace dungeon the very next morning. At this point, we are told, around 100 ex-wives languish in the dungeons. Schere is determined no more women will be sacrificed to the King’s broken heart, and intends to keep the King’s attention with stories, with each nightly tale ending on a cliff-hanger.

Yasemin Özdemir as Schere is a force to be reckoned with, fearless and determined to help the King learn to be a better person. Sara Diab as Dina portrays Schere’s younger sister, deftly demonstrating her blossoming from a person who’s always believed they’re less than their sibling, and discovering her own courage.

As the King, Nicholas Karimi brings to the stage a character who is both comical and terrifying – basically a toddler who might have you thrown in the dungeon if you fail to serve him the dinner he demands.

As the King’s whims empty the sea and rob his people of food, hope begins to flourish in the form of candles glowing in the windows of parents in gratitude for their daughters who have not been summoned to marry the King thanks to Schere.

Yet when Schere is asked to make one final sacrifice, it’s more than she can bear.

Arabian Nights production photos taken at Bristol Old Vic on 24th November 2023 in Bristol. Nicholas Karimi as the King and Yasemin Özdemir as Schere with Hannah Sibai’s palace windows lit by Nao Nagai. Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Nicholas Karimi as the King and Yasemin Özdemir as Schere with Hannah Sibai’s palace windows lit by Nao Nagai.

Hannah Sibai’s set is gloriously realised. Simple windows hanging in mid-air to represent the village, and an ornate trio of windows as the palace, with atmosphere painted with lighting from the talented Nao Nagai.

And, yes, Samuel Wilde’s puppets are magnificent – relying at times on the full eight-strong cast to work the horse in flight, an extraordinary serpent and the tentacles of a leviathan.

Arabian Nights production photos taken at Bristol Old Vic on 24th November 2023 in Bristol. Full company working the serpent.

Full company working Samuel Wilde’s serpent puppet.

Family sits at the heart of the tale, with Schere and Dina’s dad Maruf (Saikat Ahams) desperately trying to keep his daughters safe. We’re never told what happened to their mother, only that they miss her and set a place for her at meals. I thought she might appear in a moment of crisis, but in the end she is only a memory. The neighbours join in to help, however, and show that family can be more than biological.

One wonderful strand in the production is the discovery that the ex-wives are far from passively awaiting rescue, and are instead busily striving towards their own great escape.

It’s an apt reminder that while the stories we see ourselves represented in can empower us, we ultimately have the ability to write our own stories and be an active player in our own triumphant tales.

Arabian Nights is at Bristol Old Vic until 6th January 2024. Book ticket from £10 (plus concessions) here.


  • Saikat Ahams as Maruf
  • Ajjaz Awad as Gulab/Umm
  • Sara Diab as Dina
  • Roxy Faridany as Maryam
  • Nicholas Karimi as The King
  • Patrick Osborne as Jafar
  • Yasemin Özdemir as Schere
  • Arinder Sadhra as Rahiq/Zara

Everyone else

  • Writer Sonali Bhattacharyya
  • Director Blanche McIntyre
  • Designer Hannah Sibai
  • Lighting Designer Nao Nagai
  • Sound Designer & Composer Oğuz Kaplangı
  • Movement Director Aline David
  • Puppetry Designer and Consultant Samuel Wilde
  • Casting Director Christopher Worrall CDG
  • Associate Director Melina Namdar
  • Costume Supervisor Anna Dixon
  • Associate Puppetry Designer Hannah Southfield
  • Puppet Maker Izzy Bristow
  • Puppet Maker Bryony Harrison Pettit
  • Puppet Dresser Katy Hoste
  • Placement Maker Jessica Miller
  • Placement Maker Blue Harrison
  • Fight Director Annie Mackenzie

Have you watched, seen or read anything interesting? 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.