A short story – First Light

Victoria Park frost by Judy Darley

My short story First Light has been published in the December issue of Living Quietly magazine. This Christmas story is inspired by my dad, who in retirement used to go and watch the sunrise and share stories with a group of friends. I remember him coming home more than once wearing a carved wooden medal enscribed with the words Best Liar!

My story begins:

Living Quietly Issue 4 front coverIt’s still dark when he wakes me, the familiar creak of the bedroom door and his low “Time to get up, love” making me think for a moment that I’m a child still, on the brink of a school day’s slog. The blaze of his white hair catches the light spilling in from the landing, dragging me back to the present.

I haul myself out of bed and pull on thermal underlayers, jeans, socks, extra socks, a lambswool jumper. A scent of spice catches the back of my throat: cinnamon and nutmeg.

Downstairs the kettle rumbles, a flask standing by ready to be filled. Dad’s wrapping oven-warmed mince pies in a clean tea-towel so they’ll hold their heat.

Download your copy of the issue here or click on the lovely glowy issue cover above.

A short story – Fish Flakes

Reggie cr Judy DarleyYesterday I received the news that a short story I submitted to an online publication in May has been accepted. And today they notified me that it’s been published!

Just shows it’s worth being patient! I’m excited because it’s a creepy/ridiculous work of fiction (honest!) that stars our resident goldfish Reggie. Apologies to our neighbour’s cat who cameos, but doesn’t fare so well. Click on the link below to read it in full. They even used the photo of Reggie, with a slightly sinister filter…

If you’re having a vague sense of deja vu, it may be because I posted a writing prompt about Reggie some months ago. I followed my own advice and wrote a piece inspired by our unexpected lodger, with a rather twisted ending. Perfect for Halloween week!

Sunday Stories: “Fish Flakes”

A short story – Evening Tide

Little House by Gilly Mound

Little House by Gilly Mound

My story Evening Tide has been published in the October issue of Living Quietly magazine. It’s a version of my tale Farewell Gifts, which I shared at Salon Soirées’ mirror-themed evening on Tuesday 11th September. It reveals the crunch moment in a woman’s life, and a fresh start within earshot of the sea.

The story was partly inspired by artist Gilly Mound’s painting Little House, pictured above.

Here are a few lines from it:

The house sits on the edge of a field, its tiled roof sagging in camaraderie with windows and doors. Sunbeams bounce from the panes as though someone inside has turned on a light.

The lettings agent allows me to spend half an hour exploring.

“Let me just…” I keep saying as I try to imagine how the spaces will feel with only me and the resident spiders to occupy them. Cobwebs glint wherever the sun sneaks in, nestling where beams meet and holding the place together.

“It’s perfectly safe,” the lettings agent says as we emerge.

“I’ll take it,” I respond. My heart flutters as I utter the words, and I grin at the crooked house.

I’m really pleased to have Evening Tide included in the magazine, which describes itself as being for people “who want to tread more gently through life.” How lovely.

Writerly resolutions for 2018

Spring crocus cr Judy DarleyAs we edge into the greyest month of the year, I thought it might be a good time to see whether you’ve got any writerly new year’s resolutions, or set any goals for 2018.

Did you make any? Have you successfully kept any you made? Does that seem like an impertinent question?

Before continuing, I must confess, I rarely make new year’s resolutions as such. To me, they seem at best like a form of procrastination (‘oh, I’ll start doing that in Jan’), at worst a way of setting yourself up to fail. But it is a good time to look at how your life is going and see if there’s anything you need to change to stay on or get back on track.

It’s also a fab way to lay the foundations for a new habit that will pay dividends in years to come. Here are three that have served me well in the past.

1. Write whenever I can find the time

Several years ago (2012 in fact – can’t believe that was six years ago!) I set myself the challenge of writing at least one short story every month, which is something I did without fail every month until last year. I found it a great way to keep those creative muscles taut and ready for action 🙂

But it was also a demand I couldn’t keep up with in 2017, as family calamities and new work commitments ate into my time. With writing such an ingrained part of my everyday life, however, I discovered that whenever I did find time to write creatively, whether that was a flash, a poem, a vignette, or simply editing a chapter of a novel in progress, I emerged feeling brighter and lighter and a little bit sunnier. It’s a fuel that keeps me going even when I don’t have the chance to spend as much time dreaming up new characters and worlds as I like. It sustains me in a way I never previously understood.

2. Submit regularly

A few years before that I set about ensuring I submitted at least four works of creative writing somewhere each month, which I also continue. The challenge was flexible enough not to cause undue stress (some months I submit all four pieces in the same week then forget all about them for the rest of the month, other months I’ll find I’ve submitted six or eight by day 30), and also ensures that whenever I receive a rejection, part of me breathes a quiet sigh of relief – now I can send that piece off elsewhere to fulfil part of the current month’s quota.

It also helps me stay positive, because for every rejection, there’s a healthy handful of tales still out there dreaming big dreams. And when I get an acceptance, it’s a lovely surprise, because by continually sending out creative pieces I’m never quite clear what’s out there, and therefore not too focused on any one thing.

Which brings me to the third resolution.

3. Stay organised

Around the same time I started sending out four and more stories each month, I set up a simple spreadsheet to help me keep track of them all.

This helps my writing in two ways, firstly, by ensuring I know what I’ve sent where and whether they’ve responded, and secondly, by distancing me from the process emotionally.

By transforming all these acts of hope into columns and rows, I save myself from heartache. Each time a email or post out a piece of writing, I enter its name into the spreadsheet along with the details of where I’ve sent it and the date. Then, when it comes back, I colour that row according to the response – one colour for ‘no thanks’, one for ‘no, but positive feedback’ and one for ‘yes please!’

It all provides an immense sense of productivity, without too much effort at all, which in turn helps me stay motivated.

4. and 5. This year, as I’ve said, I haven’t made any resolutions other than to keep writing, keep submitting and keep hoping. Actually, I do have two new pledges to stick to (or should that be polish?) – simply to celebrate even the smallest literary successes, and relish writing for its own purpose. Lovely.

How about you?

Savages – a short story

Field by Judy DarleyI’m thrilled to let you know that my short tale Savages has been published in issue three of Ink In Thirds magazine.

This beautiful publication describes itself as ‘a magazine of poised prose, precarious poetry, and photography that makes us want to pilot our own realms again.’

Inspired by the wilderness of childhood, including glimpses from my own, I’m glad my tale has found a home here.

Read issue three of Ink in Thirds magazine here.

The opening line of Savages is:

The field has been scalped; sharp spikes are all that remain of the wheat that whispered here, green stems that leaned with the wind and hissed tickling promises as we drifted by on our way to school.

The Moth Room – a short story

Moth wings cr Judy DarleyMy very short story The Moth Room has been published in issue 21 of Gone Lawn, which describes itself as “a web journal of artistic and progressive literature.” What a lovely home for my tale!

Inspired by a visit to the studio of artist Rose McLay, my flash fiction draws strands of Cinderella together with a touch of moonlit iridescence.

Click here for a read.

The opening line is: He follows her home from the ball, trailing in the pitch of her laughter: bright as glass, bleak as snow.

A story, a poem and a literary event at Foyles

Woman preparing pineapple, Borneo cr Judy DarleyMy very short story ‘Towelling Robe‘ has been published by The Pygmy Giant, a brilliant online home for UK flash fiction and very short non-fiction. You can read it here.

And my poem ‘Strays’ (sort of pictured left – you’ll understand when you read it) has been picked up by Literary Bohemian and will appear on the site soon. Such lovely company my words are keeping these days!

Plus tomorrow I’ll have the pleasure of taking part in ‘A Hint of Crime’, a literary event at Foyles Bookshop, Bristol. I’ll be reading my tale Flyleaf, which appropriately enough begins in a bookshop. Other readers include Suzanna Stanbury, AA Abbott, Tim Kindberg and bestselling crime writer Sarah Hilary. Ooh, and it’s free, so do come along (4-6pm) if you’re in the area!

The Puppeteer published by Toasted Cheese

My short story The Puppeteer has made it onto the pages of the tastily named Toasted Cheese lit mag’s September issue.

Shirley Sharp picI am very excited about this! The Puppeteer is a rather sad but ultimately hopeful story that was initially prompted by this amazing painting by artist Shirley Sharp. (published here with her permission).

The characters populating Shirley’s canvasses often have a somewhat melancholy air, which gave me the first seeds of my protagonist Peter’s personality. Then I needed to make sense of the two creatures apparently sitting on his hands, and suddenly the idea came to mind of a puppeteer who’d lost his family through his obsession for his craft. Thanks for the inspiration, Shirley.

Here is a paragraph from the tale:

He tried not to feel their bewilderment, not to hear their shrieks of fear, as the flames sent acrid, choking smoke into the night sky and made a dark scorched circle on the grass. Tears streamed down his sooty face, and he told himself he was committing some kind of sacred act; a magician’s trick to bring his wife and Pippa home to him, prove how little hold the puppets had over him, compared to his love for the two of them.

Read the full story here.

I’ll be teaching a workshop on writing from art at the Bristol studio of sculptor Carol Peace on Wednesday 12 November from 2-5pm. Find out more here.

A ghost story

We’re already into October, and the run up to Halloween. Britain never celebrates this most gruesome of fiestas with as much fervour as I’d like, but I’m hoping to make up for that with as many relevant posts here as possible over the next few weeks. You may already have spotted my posts about zombie tag and zombie chic fashions.

Cellar cr Judy Darley

The crowded cellar that inspired ‘Unwanted Guests’

This is also the time of year when ghost stories are most successful, so I’m really pleased to have one of mine published by the wonderful Origami Journal.

My tale, Unwanted Guests, was inspired by a rental property I moved into where the cellar was filled with the previous tenant’s possessions – everything from old pots and pans to gymkhana ribbons and old teddy bears – seriously eerie! Why on earth would anyone leave those kinds of things behind? That was the seed – read the result here.