Remember Me The Bees – Condensation

Condensation cr Louise BoulterThe fifth story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is Condensation. The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

This story went through a variety of versions before it appeared in this form. I knew I wanted to write about the influences of the past on the present and how you might attempt to reconcile the two, and I knew I needed letting go to be a big part of that. So it seemed natural to give the main character, Yolanda, a beloved mother who was dying from cancer, and a young daughter who had grown up in a different culture to her own.

A short excerpt from Condensation

Their first months in the village had been hard. Beatriz insisted they speak only English at home, to help them along, but there was far more to learn than the words. Yolanda found herself picking the vocabulary up faster than her mother, as well as learning new ways to behave, to dress, to eat. Even years after their relocation, when Yolanda had shed almost every trace of her Mexican identity, Beatriz continued to seem foreign, different.

When her mother came back from the village grocery shop, having failed in her search for fresh avocados, Yolanda’s teenage self cringed as Beatriz complained in her thick Mexican accent about the woman behind the cash register. “She was so condensation to me!” Beatriz exclaimed.

“Condescending, Ma, not condensation!” Yolanda shrunk into herself with embarrassment.

Now, Yolanda’s own daughter, deliberately named Ellen rather than Elena, had begun asking questions about her heritage. Yolanda was reluctant to talk about the country they’d left behind. At just the thought of it alarming sensations stabbed through her – desire, trepidation, and bitter, brutal heartbreak. She would swiftly change the subject, avoiding Ellen’s questioning gaze, and bury the emotions as deeply as the animal bones in the garden.

Remember Me The Bees – The Taste of Tayberries

The Taste of Tayberries cr Louise BoulterThe official launch of my short story collection, Remember Me To The Bees is on Monday 31 March. Here’s a sneak preview of story four in the collection.

The Taste of Tayberries tells the story of a little girl, Deena, trying to understand the world of grown ups and make the right choice on what to do about something she’s overheard. At the beginning of the tale, her older sister’s boyfriend, Jan, gives her a pair of love birds, and  this gift, what she does with the birds, and the tragedy that follows as a result, all affect her judgement when it comes to a far bigger issue.

As with all the stories in the collection, the artwork for this story is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from The Taste of Tayberries

Jan puts the cage on top of the chest of drawers in Deena’s room. He shows her how to spoon seeds and small grey pellets into the food dish each day, and how to take the water bottle from the side of the cage so she can refill it from bathroom tap. When she goes to bed she covers the cage with the fabric so the lovebirds will know it’s time for sleep.

But they don’t sleep.

Snuggled up under her blanket Deena hears their murmurings, the occasional rustle and flutter. Deena can’t sleep either. What if the birds have a clutch of chicks somewhere, or some eggs that are growing gradually colder without anyone to warm them? She lies there in the darkness with worry gnawing away at her insides.

Just before dawn she climbs out of bed and goes to the cage, slips off the cover. The birds stare at her.

“It’s all right,” she whispers. “I’m going to rescue you.”

The bedroom window is stuck fast. Deena struggles with the latch, using all her strength. The birds tweet softly in alarm. At last the latch creaks back and the glass rushes up so fast Deena nearly topples out onto the inky-shadowy flagstones far below.

She hangs onto the windowframe and sucks in the dawn air, feeling her heart pound in her chest, wilder than next-door’s cat.

The sky is just beginning to turn gold where it meets the city roofs. Here and there a windowpane flares like it’s on fire.

“Look,” Deena says to the lovebirds, hauling their cage over to the windowsill. “See all that sky? It’s all for you.”

She pops open the little gilt door and waits.

Bird cage

Remember Me To The Bees – Singing For Seals

Singing For Seals cr Louise BoulterThe third story in my short story collection Remember Me To The Bees is Singing For Seals. I wrote it to explore how a child might react to a traumatic experience. After a few re-writes the point of view shifted from the daughter to the father, Damien, who is trying to fix his family after a miscarriage has torn it apart.

By focusing on the father’s promise to his daughter and his determination to win back her trust, this becomes a far more hopeful and less bleak story than it might have been.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Singing for Seals

It roared before us, the colour of slate with streaks of violent green, waves like huge animals leaping to smash themselves against the glassy black rocks. The air rang with pellets of water and the storm whipped around us, pulling at Carrie’s skirt and dragging Aylene’s tired curls free from her tur- quoise headscarf.
“Where are the seals?” Carrie asked, “I can’t see them.”

“Maybe they’re sheltering in a cave.” I wished I hadn’t made yet another stupid promise.

“But you said! You told me I would see them!” Carrie scowled. The disappointment was as vivid on her face as it had been after the night of bloodied sheets, when I’d sat her down and explained that the baby was no longer coming. She’d wanted to know what had gone wrong, why she wasn’t going to be a big sister after all. There was nothing I could say to that; I just hugged her and promised that everything would be better soon.

But I’d lied. Months passed and Aylene was still the frozen stranger she’d become when the baby died inside her.

“You said the seals would be here!”

“We have to sing to them,” I said desperately. “They’ll like that, they’ll swim to shore to listen. Let’s sing ‘All Things Bright And Beautiful’ good and loud. I know you learnt it at school.”

We shouted the words into the churning air, and after a few moments even Aylene joined in with the chorus.

Then I heard it: a frail, screeching cry that cut through the storm like a distress signal.
“Hush a moment. What’s that sound?”

Aylene’s hands closed tightly over Carrie’s shoulders, and I looked at her pinched face, eyes half-closed against the rain as she listened.

“Is it seals?” Carrie asked, excitement bringing her to the tips of her welly boots.

“I’m not sure.” I glanced down the rocks to a dark hole; a cave. “It came from over there. Stay here with your mum, I’m going to see.”

Seals cr Judy Darley

Remember Me The Bees – The Big Clean

The Big Clean cr Louise Boulter

The second story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is The Big Clean. An earlier version was published by The View From Here literary magazine. The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

I’ve always been interested in the way different people’s minds work, and at what point those differences become defined as madness. This story takes the point of view of a small boy who is witnessing his mother’s latest ‘episode’ and worrying about how his dad will react when he gets home.

In an homage to earlier tales of women’s madness, such as the outstanding The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the story also contains echoes of the understated sexism of yesteryear.

A short excerpt from The Big Clean

Mum’s gone mad again. That’s why I’m sitting in the tree house. It’s just a few planks of wood nailed together, but it feels safe up here. When the wind blows the branches creak and I imagine I’m on a boat sailing far away. We had an astronomy lesson at Scouts today, so I can use my telescope to navigate by the stars.

Dad’s not home yet, but when he gets back from work I know he’s going to go mad too, not in a crazy way, like Mum, but in a shouty, angry way.

He hates it when Mum gets like this. I wouldn’t mind her madness so much if it wasn’t for the way it makes Dad so cross. Sometimes when she’s mad Mum’s magic to be around. The usual rules disappear and life becomes a game. I never quite know what to expect. Right now though, she’s busy digging up the garden and filling the house with soil. She’s doing it ever so thoroughly, sprinkling a fine layer of earth over every single thing and making the whole house smells damp and dusky, like a cellar. She calls it “the big clean”.

When I walked into the kitchen earlier, she told me to be careful not to get dirty footprints on her nice clean floor, so I tiptoed across the soil to the counter and tried to open the biscuit tin without tipping any of the chocolate-brown mud off. I couldn’t do it though, and half of it fell on the floor in a heap, but Mum just smiled brightly, passed me a custard cream and layered the earth back on top of the tin.

Photo illustration of short story The Big Clean

Remember Me The Bees – Never Seen The Sea

Never Seen The Sea cr Louise BoulterEver wondered where a writer gets their ideas from? It’s something I’m often asked about, so over the next 20 weeks I thought I’d offer you a bit of an insight.

As you may know, the official launch of my short story collection, Remember Me To The Bees, is going to happen in March, and over the coming weeks, I’ll introduce each of the 20 short stories in turn, let you know the inspiration behind them and share a short extract to hopefully whet your appetite.

The first story in the collection is Never Seen The Sea, which tells the story of Sally, who, funnily enough, has never seen the sea. The original seed of it was me trying to imagine how the sea would look to someone who’d never laid eyes on it before, and then I started thinking of the reasons someone might never have had the opportunity to see it for themselves. Living on a tiny island like Britain, it’s a difficult thing to grasp!

I also wanted to think about how not having experienced a thing most people take for granted might colour an individual’s personality – how it might set them apart.

An earlier version of Never Seen The Sea was published in The Love of Looking, an anthology from Scopophilia Publishing, and led directly to me being offered the chance to have my debut collection published.

In case you were wondering, the artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Never Seen The Sea

Gusts of air buffeted the Fiat as they raced along the motorway. Sally fought the urge to open the window and hang her head out, mouth agape. She’d never felt anything like it before, this sense of wild abandon. No one knew where she was, not even her mother, no one but this man, Paul, this almost stranger, driving the car and her towards the sea.

“So, you’ve never been there?” He’d been disbelieving at first, half watching the road and half gazing at her in what she supposed was amazement. “Not even as a small child?”

“Never,” she said defiantly, for the first time feeling the power in that statement. Rather than flushing with shame, as she usually did when the topic came up, she felt the novelty of her innocence, saw the way he stared into her, a girl who needed educating. She saw the yearning in his cloudy blue eyes when he contemplated being the one to reveal it to her, as though he was showing her the world.

Tintagel beach1

Remember Me To The Bees update

Remember Me To The Bees coverA few of you have been asking for updates on my debut short story collection Remember Me To The Bees. Thanks for your interest!

Well, the book exists, which is really exciting! The official launch (more details to follow) will be in March this year, and it will be widely available from that point.

The book contains twenty of my short stories, each accompanied by artwork from the talented Louise Boulter, who also designed the gorgeous cover.

Author Tania Hershman has written a lovely foreword for the book, which made me quite blush! Rather marvellously, she says : “The title is, in fact, very apt: bees may be diminutive (relative to us, at least) but they possess power not only to inflict pain but also to give us the gift of intense sweetness. To my mind, as a reader, painful sweetness is a wonderful way to define the best of short stories, a honeyed sting that this excellent collection most certainly delivers.”

Yeeps! No wonder I blushed.

The back cover copy states:

“The twenty stories in Judy Darley’s debut collection cover the moments that make us the people we are, where actions are taken and sights seen that will change the protagonists’ lives forever – with sometimes startling consequences.

From the small boy grappling with fears both real and imaginary to the married woman being ardently pursued by a man who seems able to read her deepest thoughts, we catch our breath as Judy’s characters make emotional as well as physical journeys, twisting and turning to the very end.”

Over the next few weeks you will see copies of Remember Me To The Bees popping up in independent bookshops and art galleries across Bristol and beyond as well as appearing on sites such as Tangent Books’ online bookshop. Go on, buy a copy, and make a writer very happy!

First glimpse – Remember Me To The Bees

So, the proofs are back, changes have been made, a few more minor corrections may be needed, but it exists! My debut short story collection Remember Me To The Bees, nestled in my hands with its heart beating like a live thing.

Remember Me To The Bees first glimpse

And here’s the front cover for you to gaze at, featuring bespoke artwork by the talent Louise Boulter.

Remember Me To The Bees spine

And here’s the spine…

Not long at all now till it will be available to buy. What do you think?