Enter Skylark Soaring Stories Competition

Climbing by Judy DarleySkylark Literary Agency are inviting unaccented, unpublished writers with a manuscript in progress for middle-grade readers or YA readers to enter their ‘Soaring Stories’ competition.

The deadline is midnight UK-time on Christmas Eve, 24th December 2022.

Entries must comprise a one-page synopsis and the first three chapters or 4,000 words of your novel (whichever is shorter) submitted by email as attached Word or pdf documents. The ‘subject’ of your email should read ‘Competition: [insert title of your novel] by [insert your author name]’.

You must include the anticipated word-count of the full novel, and clearly state whether the story is intended for middle-grade readers or young adult readers.

Skylark have enlisted the help of top editors from some of the biggest and best UK publishers to help find their winners.

Joanna and Amber of Skylark Literary say: “We always aim to seek and support the best writing for young people, and this competition is specifically for new stories aimed at either middle-grade (8-12-years) or YA readers (ages 13+). If you are an un-agented, unpublished writer, working on a jewel of a manuscript for either of these age groups, now is your time to shine!”

They add: “We know it can be daunting to send your work to an agency and then wait to hear what they think, but please be brave! Our competition is designed for new writers who are just finding their way. We’re looking for real, raw talent – so if you’re a writer from an under-represented group and publishing feels like a strange and baffling beast, or if you’re just shy about sending your manuscript out into the big, wide world then why not start here? It’s a golden opportunity to get your work in front of top-notch industry professionals and we’ll read with kindness, we promise!:

The Judges

The competition judges are:

Ben Horslen, Fiction Publisher, Penguin Random House Children’s

Amina Youssef, Senior Comm. Editor, Simon & Schuster Children’s Fiction

Tom Bonnick, Editorial Director, HarperCollins Children’s Books

These three champions of great new writing for children will form the judging panel, together with Joanna and Amber of Skylark Literary.

The Prize

The prize will be a one-hour one-to-one editorial critique of your finished manuscript, by phone or over Zoom, with Joanna or Amber. “We will suggest ways in which you could polish and perfect your novel to improve its chances of representation and publication, and seek to answer any queries you may have about the children’s publishing industry in general.”

This year, Skylark Literary are also offering second- and third-place prizes of a half-hour one-to-one on your submitted chapters and synopsis – so there are more chances than ever to get feedback on your work.

Find the full details plus full terms and conditions here.

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

Writing prompt – epic

Northern Slope jelly fungus and woodlouse, Bristol by Judy DarleyI witnessed this tiny epic adventure taking place on a winter’s day when streams were roaring and the sun shone so fiercely the damp woodland all but fizzed.

A woodlouse raced right up this tree trunk, by-passing a juicy looking jelly fungus (yes, that’s the actual name!), before halting at the top, surveying its surroundings and setting off once more.

What mission could be driving this woodlouse onwards? What dangers does it face, and what rewards might it reach? What characters might it meet on the way?

Why not see what lives in your garden or street and use that as the starting point for a tale worthy of Tolkien’s Middle-earth?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

Writing prompt – circles

Circle by Judy Darley

I once went on an inspiration-gathering walk with the poet Holly Corfield Carr and she asked me to photograph or note down any objects I saw that were circular. It was a shape-specific scavenger hunt! We were near the harbour, so I ended up making notes of mooring bollards, lengths of rope and even coconuts. Then we turned these images into a collaborative piece of writing about time as a circular object, bringing us back to ourselves.

Recently, in a similar area, I spotted the above and couldn’t resist snapping a photo. To me it looks like a winter moon within a circle of hazy cloud.

This week I invite you to take a stroll. Before you set out, choose a particular shape to look out for – circles, squares, triangles… See what creative symbolism you can draw from the objects that make your list, or what stories these disparate items with only their shape in common can inspire.

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

Kirsty Logan urges you to embrace writing unusual structures

Pebble man by Judy DarleyWriters & Artists has announced that brilliantly eccentric author Kirsty Logan will be providing a writing weekender dedicated to ‘Writing Unusual Structures’. Kirsty is known for her love of writing weird (read her three top tips on writing weird here). Taking place on Saturday 10th to Sunday 11th December from 10.00am-1.30pm UK time, the course costs £95 and promises the chance to explore approaches to unusual structures and embed in your own work through writing exercises.

It sounds ideal for any writer who feels their WIP is “somewhat out of kilter with those you’d typically associate with a particular genre”, and needs reminding that this could be a very positive thing!

They say: “What do we mean by unusual structures? To give you an idea, Kirsty’s own writing has included a story in the form of an auction catalogue, a questionnaire (only the questions, not the answers), a list of items bought in a shop, entirely in footnotes, a series of monologues, told in reverse chronological order, and containing no words.”

Kirsty Logan’s latest book is Things We Say in the Dark. She is the author of three short story collections (including the fabulously weird The Rental Heart & Other Fairytales, two novels (and two more scheduled for publication), two flash fiction chapbooks, a short memoir, and several collaborative works with musicians and visual artists.

Kirsty’s writing has been optioned for TV, adapted for stage, recorded for radio and podcasts, exhibited in galleries and distributed from a vintage Wurlitzer cigarette machine. Her next publication is an original audio novel with a full cast and sound design for Audible, The Sound at the End. When asked what sort of things she writes, she can never give a straight answer.

Through a combination of practical advice, discussion, and writing exercises, Kirsty will show you how to create characters, structures, and settings that hop beyond the familiar and relish not fitting neatly into classification.

Over the weekend you will discover new writers, discuss their work, and embed their approaches to unusual structures into your own work through regular writing exercises.

Kirsty will also offer more general guidance on story, including how to ensure your narrative and your characters don’t get lost in a structure, but find one that expands them. By the end of the course you will have a better understanding of ways to experiment with how you are telling your story and find the best structural fit for it, however unexpected it might be.

Weekender Benefits:

– 6 hours of expert tutoring and advice from Kirsty

– Practical sessions with hands-on exercises to support your writing development

– Course materials available to view ahead of each session, plus catch-up audio recordings

– Access to your course writing community beyond the weekend itself

Book your space here: https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/events-and-courses/writing-unusual-structures-weekender 

Got an event, challenge, competition, opportunity or call for submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send me an email at JudyDarley (@) ICloud (dot) com.

Theatre review – Bristol Old Vic’s The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker. Bristol Old Vic CREDIT Geraint LewisAt the start of Bristol Old Vic’s seasonal extravaganza The Nutcracker, Claire is struggling to make herself heard in a household where Mum is still working late on Christmas Eve, her brother Eddie is absorbed by his handheld device and her dad is occupied by his own fantastical ideas to listen to his daughter’s worries about her imaginary unicorn Charlie. But then a mysterious visitor comes to the door, describing himself as a nutcracker maker and seeking the person who wants change. He give Claire a nutcracker doll who, she soon discovers, is very afraid, and all because of a mouse.

Director Lee Lyford, writer Tom Morris and lyricist Gwyneth Herbert serve up a rambunctious, colourful family show, with time stretching, skipping backwards and offering Claire a view of a tragedy she believes she can and must undo.

The set and lighting by Tom Rogers and Anna Watson draw us into a psychedelic world of enchantment where almost anything is possible, with clock-faces reminding us that time is precious, even on Christmas Eve when you might be wishing the hours away.

The Nutcracker Tristan Sturrock and Denzel Baidoo. Bristol Old Vic CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Tristan Sturrock as the nutcracker maker and Denzel Baidoo as the nutcracker. Photo by Geraint Lewis

Tristan Sturrock as the mysterious visitor holds the audience, and time, in the palm of his hand, evoking our empathy and keeping the other characters on track as he relays his tale of errors in judgement resulting in a magic-wielding mouse queen (brilliantly conveyed by musical director Gwyneth Herbert) seeking revenge. Mae Munuo as Claire is convincingly child-like, curious and eager to do the right thing, even as she comes to understand how challenging identifying what the right thing to do can be. She also has a clear, powerful singing voice.

The whole cast bring energy and verve to the stage as most they portray multiple characters. Some of the most comical are Claire and Eddie’s discarded toys, among them a blue pants-wearing Action Man (Guy Hughes, who also plays ten-year-old Eddie and saxophone-playing Princess Curly Pearly utterly convincingly), Baboon with a Spoon (an impressively loose-limbed Patrycja Kujawska, who also plays Claire and Eddie’s mum as well as Queen Spoon), and Dog, the toy Claire likes least – a detail never explained (Kirris Rivieré, also Claire and Eddie’s dad and King Sausage).

The Nutcracker Dress Bristol Old Vic. The toys and Claire. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Even musicians Harry Bird and James Gow get in on the toy chest action, playing a chocolate-obsessed rock star teddy bear and a lovelorn long-tailed lemur.

The title role is played by Denzel Baidoo, in the actor’s remarkable stage debut. His complex emotional narrative comes over beautifully, complemented by his dance moves choreographed by Laila Diallo. The dance-off between The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (Tristan Sturrock) is a particular treat.

The Nutcracker teaches Claire, the nutcracker maker and the audience that to understand what needs to change, if anything, you must first see, and treasure, what’s really in front of you.

But this somewhat serious message is by-the-by when you’re taking in the glorious cacophony on-stage. With musicians and dancers populating the cast, it’s no wonder that this is a festive feast for the ears and eyes.

Photos by Geraint Lewis

The Nutcracker is on at Bristol Old Vic until 7th January 2022. Find out more and get your tickets.

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.

Writing prompt – figure

Tiny figure. Photo by Judy Darley

This tiny figure clings to a fence outside a home. Are they on their way somewhere or escaping from something?

The intensity in their expression and that lifted hand suggests they have an important message to deliver, so maybe this is the miniature figure equivalent of Speakers’ Corner in London.

Who are their audience? What do they want to say? What will it take for one of the big figures (i.e., in this scenario, us) to listen and take action?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

The RWA Photo Open Exhibition wants your snaps…

Realm by Judy Darley

Submissions are open for the RWA Photo Open Exhibition. To be in with a chance of showing your photographic work in the RWA’s beautiful galleries, submit your digital images online by Monday 5th December 2022.

Entry is open to emerging talents, passionate amateurs, established artists and professional photographers alike. If you use photography to inform your sculpture, installation, architecture or other artistic practice, you are also encouraged to enter.

All you need is vision, and the courage to send in your finest photos.

A selection panel including internationally acclaimed artists will review every entry.

If selected, your work will be shown in the RWA’s galleries alongside some of today’s leading photographic artists and seen by thousands of visitors and potential buyers, as well as being available for a global audience to buy online.

An assortment of prizes are up for grabs too, including:

  • Teresa Knowles Bursary Award – £1,500 towards a photography trip to Italy PLUS  the opportunity to exhibit the resulting work at the RWA
  • MPB Sponsor Awards – £1000 voucher to spend on photographic kit; plus two runner up awards of £500 vouchers
  • Niche Frames Award – cash prize of £250 plus voucher of £250 towards printing or framing
  • Student Award – £250 cash prize for best work by a student, sponsored by the Friends of the RWA

Entries can be any size and can be single images or make up a limited series. They can be simple photographs or artworks that include a photographic element, including 3-D works. They can be any size.

Find the full submission criteria and submit your work here.

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

Writing prompt – quirks

Cormorant, Bristol. Photo by Judy Darley

I love how most families have their own in-jokes that tap directly to happy or weird and personal memories. In my family, one of these was my dad’s wildlife photos. Back in the days before digital cameras and the option to crop in, he’d come back from our holidays (mostly to South Wales and Devon) with a film full of anticipation.

Once the pictures were developed we’d spend ages trying to spot what he’d actually been photographing – in the midst of a clump of leaves there’d be a distant bird no one could hope to identify.

Sometimes we’d simply make it up: “Ah, I see you’ve snapped the rare lesser-spotted leaf mimicker! Extraordinary.”

This photo I took in September of a far-off cormorant reminds me of that and makes me smile.

What family quirks could you turn into a short story?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Angel by Wendy Beasley

Angel cover
What happens when you hit rock bottom? And what could then prevent you walking into the waves and ending it all?

In Wendy Beasley’s unflinching novel Angel, a night-time moment of impulsive selflessness gives protagonist Lydia the drive not only to stay alive, but to rediscover the things that make life worth embracing.

Having grown up in care, Lydia has already surpassed her own expectations by getting a place at Brighton University and making plans to become a teacher, but when she meets enigmatic Leo and is swept into a love built on possessiveness, her early years of trying to achieve invisibility in foster homes making her less easily able to stand up to his increasingly controlling behaviour.

The opening chapters of the novel are aren’t an easy read, as Leo takes control of every aspect of Lydia’s existence, trapping her in a nightmare marriage.

Continue reading

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 5th December 2022.

Mslexia Poetry Competition

You are invited to submit poems of any length, on any subject.

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

The second prize-winner gets £500 and the third prize-winner gets £250.

There’s also a special  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.

The judge is Helen Mort.

The entry fee is £10 for three poems.

Mslexia Pamphlet Competition

You’re invited to submit a collection of up to 20 poems, of up to 24 pages.

The winner of the pamphlet category will receive prize £250, plus publication of the winning pamphlet by Bloodaxe Books. A selected poem from the winning pamphlet will be published in Mslexia.

The judge is Imtiaz Dharker.

The entry fee is £20.

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.