Fiction on the radio – Fascinate

Slimbridge by Judy DarleyMy story ‘Fascinate’ aired on Adam Crowther‘s BBC Upload radio show on Thursday 7th December at around eleven past seven. It’s one of the shorter, stranger tales in my new short story collection Sky Light Rain.

Adam describes it as being about “an unusual use for animals.”

This image above hints at the story’s last line…

It’s available to listen to for 23 more days. Listen in here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07r0g2b 

A short story – Knotted Rope

Hair grip, Arnos Vale Cemetery by Judy Darley

My publisher Jamie at Valley Press has shared one of the stories from my new collection Sky Light Rain. Knotted Rope is a tale in three voices exploring what happens when a small child goes missing.

I always think the bigger moments in our life belong to more than just us. Ripples of
grief, or relief, can spread through a community. The story was a challenge to write – I initially wrote it in three voices, and then tried letting Meg’s voice rise to the surface, but the three-voice model won out in getting the tale to make sense.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the tale.

We march the pre-schoolers along leafy paths, avoiding the worst of the mud and pointing out buds on branches, robins and magpies. Occasionally, one will forget themselves and skitter off, drunk on the possibilities. But they’re tiny enough that we’re able to speed over and scoop them up. For most, the threat of missing storytime keeps them gripping onto their knot.

A new one started last week – Andrew. Just moved to the area with his jagged-edged mum. He’s walked with us each morning, clutching onto the blue rope with the others. He doesn’t join in with the songs. In the cemetery I watch as he gawks at the woodland. There’s a light in his eyes that makes me wary. He’s meek, or rather, quiet. Easy to confuse those two. Does as he’s told, silent mouth pursed, but I can see that his mind is swooping away.

It was partly inspired by the marvellous overgrown Victorian cemetery in Bristol, Arnos Vale, and the pre-school little-uns I see being taken for outings there.

Read the story in full here.

Sky Light Rain is available to buy here.

A 100-word story – Minotaur

Beach. Photo by Khurt Williams on UnsplashIf you subscribe to Mslexia magazine, you may be aware that in addition to the print magazine, subscribers receive a regular e-newsletter titled Little Ms. This includes news, inspirations, story prompts and opportunities to submit ideas and fiction.

My favourite bit is always the Flash Card, which offers up an often fairly strange image for you to interpret in 100 words of less.

The inspiration for submissions to the October Little Ms showed a man with his head down a hole in a beach.I’m happy to say that my response, below, was selected for publication in the October newsletter.

He had to admit it was a short-term solution at best. But there was something lovely about the dark, cool quiet of the hole he’d stuck his head down. It calmed his urge to snort and paw his feet against the sand. The aim of the holiday had been to escape work stress. It was an unfortunate coincidence that Jan from accounting had booked the same Cretan resort. Off-duty, his natural minotaur head reasserted its dominance. That the hole his daughter had dug into the beach kept this from view could be his saving grace.

Subscribe to mslexia.

Mslexia’s 2019 Fiction Awards

Mum's eye view cr Judy DarleyThis year, Mslexia Fiction Awards include their Short StoryAdult Novel and Flash Fiction competitions. The deadline for each is 30th September 2019.

Entry fees are £10 per short story, £25 per novel extract and £5 per flash fiction entry.

The winner of the Short Story competition will receive £3,000, plus the optional extras of a writing retreat at Moniack Mhor, and mentoring by an editor at Virago Press.

Three other finalists will each receive £100. All four winning stories will be published in the March 2020 issue of Mslexia.

Shortlisted entries will be judged by award-winning short story author, novelist and performer Irenosen Okojie.

The winner of the Adult Novel competition will receive £5,000 and the option of representatlon by agent Charlotte Robertson. Judges are novelist Louise Doughty, Nicola Holloway from BBC Radio 4, and Literary agent Charlotte Robertson.

The winner and four finalists will receive manuscript feedback and introductions to agents and editors at a special event held in London.

The first prize in the Flash Fiction competition is £500. The winner will be picked by Katy Fish.

Three other flash fiction finalists will each receive £50. All four winning stories will be published in the March 2020 issue of Mslexia.

Find full details at www.mslexia.co.uk. Good luck!

Book review – All That is Between Us by K. M. Elkes

All That Is Between UsWarning: the intimacy in this book sneaks up on you, so that you’re living between the lines before you’ve had a chance to consider the implications – that if you do this, you’re going to empathise. You’re going to feel.

It’s a trait of K.M. Elkes’ writing that’s impossible to avoid. He draws you in with humour, and with exquisitely visual writing, until suddenly you realise you’ve become the character pressing their ear “against a window to feel the vibrations of trains and the deep, deep breath of the city”.

That’s a rare talent, most visible in this collection, perhaps, in You Wonder How They Sleep, in which the lines above appear.

Somehow, Elkes transports you, body and soul, less to another place than to another state of mind, into another’s state of mind.

In this collection, his debut (remarkably, it feels he should already have a shelf-ful of own-works), Elkes not so much invites you into other lives, as commandeers you: for the time it takes to read one of these brief flashes, or one and the next, and the next – as they’re addictive – you are immersed. You breathe the air his characters breathe, and ache exactly where they ache.

Elkes’ elegance with language is vivid throughout, frequently offering fresh terms on which to understand the world – “the buttery tang of trodden grass”, an old book with “the edges of its pages the colour of beer”, taxi cabs “yellow as a smoker’s finger.”

Picking a favourite story seems cruel, like choosing between a class-full of children, but inevitably one charmed me with its wit, its pathos and the ecological truth underpinning its fantasy. The King of Throwaway Islandis a love story in which the tale itself is being written by the protagonist repeatedly and released in plastic bottles from the island of refuse he’s been shipwrecked upon. “My island gets a little smaller ever time I send you a letter. But I stay confident – that’s part of the new me.”

In Swimming Lessons, an overbearing dad battles the ingrained hurt inflicted by his own father. Fathers crop up in many of the stories, often cruel, usually misguided, occasionally striving to do their best, and, at times, succeeding.

In Three Kids, Two Balloons, Elkes takes a passing moment and harnesses it in a way that somehow manages to be funny and moving and powerful. Hints of flippancy here, as in many of the stories, are deceptive, as beneath each is a bolt of such tenderness that you’ll be stopped in your tracks.

It’s intriguing that by fixing our focus firmly on the people at the heart of each tale, the stories themselves swell outwards, so that the details chosen to depict place and time become transferable across countries and, to an extent, eras. Loss is perhaps the most universally recognised emotion, and Elkes has the ability to make every situation he turns to infinitely relatable.

In that sense, the collection’s title rings with particular resonance – chiming with the awareness that in fact all that is between us are the things that make us human, which means that time, location and circumstance matter far less than our responses to the situations we find ourselves within.

 All That Is Between Us by K. M. Elkes is published by AdHoc Fiction and is available to buy here.

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, get in touch.

Book review – the everrumble by Michelle Elvy

the everumbleAt the age of seven, Zettie stops speaking and concentrates instead on listening to the world.

Described as a small novel in small forms, this book is far larger than the sum of its parts. I know people who devoured it in a single indulgent sitting, but for me it was so quenching  that I drip-fed it to myself – page after page, moment by moment. It offered me a place to return to for peace, quietude and stillness, and now that I’ve read it from cover to cover, I know I’ll return again.

Delivered in a series of flashes, served up with plenty of space to hold the words and ideas safe, this is a book of contemplative joy.

I often see sentences as strings of interwoven colours, but in the case of the everrumble, it was a far more textural experience. Grains danced over my bare arms as I absorbed the passages. I felt tendrils of thread waft over the nape of my neck and the polish of seashells against my toes. Most of all, perhaps because of the blanket that Zettie takes refuge beneath at the beginning, which “light enters like tiny diamonds”, throughout the ever rumble I saw the stitch-work of crochet – that alchemy of yarn, deft fingers and hook, and the hushed focus that comes with that skill (which I do not have).

In other words, author Michelle Elvy has somehow conjured a multi-sensory experience through her writing, and, even more powerfully, compressed sensations onto the page that will eke into your everyday life. Sitting here typing this, I feel the pleasure of contact with each key, and a delight in the warmth of this sunlit room, while the soft sounds of bells chiming and traffic passing drift through the window to keep me company.

Weaving in dreamscapes with glimpses into a long life, set against geography and literary musings in the form of notes on books that have captured Zettie’s attention, the everrumble is a glorious odyssey of one woman’s exploration of connectivity. Even her name is notable, borrowed as it is from her aunt – Little Zettie being a nickname bestowed on her by her brother when she was small.

Through her silence, Zettiee opens up herself to the riches of Earth’s sounds, from the human, to the natural, to the unnatural, to “the everrumble. The heartbeat of every living creature.”

And in other ways, she is utterly normal. She gets crushes, falls in love, earns a living, bears and raises children. It’s her contentment, and her intense empathy for the most part, that is extraordinary. But she is mortal, and human, for all her communing with nature – a detail powerfully examined in a segment in which she imagines reading to her children.

In an era when climate change is accelerating at a dizzying pace and governments seem ever more disconnected both from their nations and the environment they’re impacting, the everrumble is a welcome pause, and a reminder: to listen, to savour, to live well.

the everrumble by Michelle Elvy is published by AdHoc Fiction and has been longlisted for the Guardian Newspaper’s Not-The-Booker-Prize. Buy your copy.

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, get in touch.

Heading to the Flash Fiction Festival?

Bee sheltering from April shower. Photo by Judy DarleyThis Friday marks the start of one of the hottest UK-based events for fans of intense, bite-sized fiction – the Flash Fiction Festival.

Taking place at Trinity College, Bristol, it promises a high calibre assortment of workshops, readings and talks from the field’s finest literary luminaries.

Stellar attendees are too many to mention, but include Vanessa Gebbie, Kathy Fish, David Gaffney, Meg Pokrass, Jude Higgins, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, K M Elkes, Santino Prinzi, Carrie Etter, David Swann, Michelle Elvy, Nod Ghosh and Nuala O’Connor.

I’ll be attending as a volunteer, which means I get to relish as much of the festival as I can fit around bar shifts and so on. I’ll also be reading my flash Skip Diving at the Friday night launch of the National Flash Fiction Day anthology 2019, And We Pass Through.

Hope to see you there.

Writing prompt – flash

Footprint. Photo by Judy DarleyJune is a joyful month for all things flash fiction-related, with National Flash Fiction Day UK happening on Saturday 15th June, with events happening nationwide and the Flash Flood journal publishing flashes throughout the day. My story Clatter will appear on the journal at around 11.10 a.m. BST.

Flash Fiction Festival is celebrating the mastery of the shortest literary prose form, from Friday 28th until Sunday 30th June.

Over in New Zealand, Micro Madness has begun, publishing a 100-word tale every day between now and 22nd June, which is Flash Fiction Day in New Zealand. My shortlisted tale Aftermath went live on 4th June.

Happily, each of these mini word-hits also serves as a fantastic creative prompt, firing up synapses with possibilities. Why not drop by to see what journey the published stories can set you off on?

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.

Book review – This Is (Not About) David Bowie by FJ Morris

This Is (Not About) David Bowie by F. J. Morris coverFJ Morris has a unique way of viewing the world that feeds into every piece of fiction she writes. Loosely using the theme of David Bowie as a connecting point, the stories in her debut flash fiction collection examine the magic of our human contradictions in glittering, meteor showers of prose.

Morris’ vivid turns of phrase bring scenes into focus – puddles ‘pop’ with rain, bodies can become rubble, and confessions are preceded by “the deepest of breaths, for the deepest of dives.”

There’s a sense of unearthing ancient fables through her tales, as even the most unexpected imagery is presented with such innate confidence in us readers to digest it that it seems at once commonplace and utterly peculiar. That’s a skill many writers fail to master in a lifetime – akin to achieving the ability to harness a trick of the light.

Morris’ sideways glance at the world equips her to embrace huge themes in a way that helps you see them anew. She tackles grief via the motion of a freshly vacated swing, and explores on questions about gender, sexuality and more in a way that invites strange flavours onto your tongue and unfamiliar textures under your bare feet.

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Smog – a short story

Taf Estuary, mist photo by Judy DarleyThe old woman has been here every day for a week, eyeing the smog and making notes or drawings in a fat notepad that she holds on her lap.

I’m happy to share the news that my short story Smog, a teeny, tiny climate flash, has been published by Porridge Magazine.

The story involves a swingset, an old woman and a flask that may not contain tea. Read Smog in full here.