Book review – Each of Us a Petal by Amanda Huggins

Whatever season you choose to read, or give, these stories by Amanda Huggins, the gently tended sentences will reward you with a deep sense of connection with nature. Each is a portrait of a character treading carefully through their own personal emotional landscape, set against the sensorial wealth of Japan. Amanda candidly reveals her own fervour for this country in the collection’s foreword and closing essay. Once you start reading the stories, you’ll find the author’s enduring interest in and passion for this country and the people who live or visit it seeping under your skin.

Yearning is portrayed as the enduring human condition, with hints of loneliness and solace whispered in the most enticing settings where hints of Japanese folklore occasionally wriggle into the heart of contemporary tales.

These strands weave together exquisitely in An Unfamiliar Landscape, where we explore a mountainous wilderness with protagonist Sophia: “Dropped into the silence, every noise had a clear meaning, each sound demanded her attention. She was finally connected.”

The remedy for loneliness, it seems, is to be outside amid the beauty of nature.

This idea is reiterated in The Same Pretty Eyes, as protagonist Edie decides to step outside “to salvage something beautiful from the tail end of the day. That was all she wanted: a few moments in the mountain air, the smell of damp bark, the darkening night, the first faint stars.”

In the single-page story Sparrow Footprints, Amanda captures the sweet melancholy lingering in the words unspoken and demonstrates the power of white space on the page. It’s an example the author’s powers of constraint, with every sentence carved and stacked to build into a story’s perfect range. She is the master of crafting and presenting a moment’s interaction between two people, imbuing the most seemingly straightforward setting with drops of emotion that ripple our far beyond the edges of the scene.

In several of the tales, Amanda gifts us artfully understated moments with the bitter-sweet aftertaste of  Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.

From the love embodied in a jar of sweet bean jam to the precision of raked gravel the stories chime with our expectations of Japan while delicately breathing life into the scenes and characters. These stories dive far deeper than the surface clichés and show us the respect of the author through the aspects she chooses to illustrate her themes. You’ll emerge with all your senses tingling from the pleasures of relishing minor details, from a simple cup of tea to a fleeting interaction with someone, or somewhere, with the potential to be the love of your life.

Following the closure of Victorina Press, you can buy signed copies of ‘Each of Us a Petal’ directly from the author.

This book was given to me in exchange for a fair review.

What are you reading? 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.

Inside ‘The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain’

Bristol writer Judy Darley

Ahead of my book launch and literary night for my new short story collection The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain, I wanted to share some of the press I’ve received.

First up is a write-up by Sarski Anderson, Culture Editor at Bristol 247. The feature offers lots of insights into how I used fiction-writing as a sanity-saver during lockdown.

For Darley, walking and writing became a vital tool through which to process her emotions about what was happening in the wider world at the time, and to channel the people that she saw on her daily strolls: “from the woman howling beneath a tree in Victoria Park, who features in Leaf after Leaf, to the child whose mum is a key worker in The Rules of Contagion, which includes a hopscotch grid drawn on a path in Perrett Park”.

Why Rivers Run to the Sea gives voice to rivers, a physical representation of the urge to escape that Darley occasionally felt during the early days of the lockdowns.

She notes that curiously, as a writer, the narrowing of her personal horizons actually served to add new depths and greater complexity to her work. It was a powerful means of escape, into an inner world. “Writing gave me a chance to zigzag through memories and daydreams, and allowed me to recast my anxieties in a form that I could adapt and control in the shape of fantasies that became short stories.

The feature also includes a complete flash fiction from the collection.

You can read the full feature here.

Review

Alison Woodhouse, author of The House on the Corner, has reviewed The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain. She writes:
This new collection of short fiction, the third from Judy Darley, is ambitious. Stories explore the pandemic and possible consequences on our mental and material wellbeing, our relationship with the natural world and the accelerating impact of climate change, alongside both the struggles and joys that arise between siblings, parent/child and lovers. They range from a few thousand words (The Daughters) to just one line (Elegy), traveling across genre and form. Sci-fi, cli-fi, dystopias, utopias, realism, magic realism, surrealism, absurdism, all mixed up to offer a breathtaking range of astute social commentary and emotional complexity.

Interview with Bristol Life magazine

I was interviewed by Deri Robins of Bristol Life magazine about my writing and reading loves for their prestigious back page spot. Deri asked some brilliant questions about my writing background, from growing up in a house full of books to learning to be concise and avoid cliches through my work as a travel writer. As a journalist myself, it was fun to be on the other end of the scrutiny for once!  You can read the feature here or online here.
She writes: “Judy Darley has an eclectic CV. Not only has she worked as a journalist and a communications manager, but as a shepherdess – the latter conjuring up an irresistible (though undoubtedly inaccurate) Arcadian vision of Judy depicted in Meissen porcelain.” Now, doesn’t that sound like a perfect writing prompt?

Get in touch!

If you want to know more about my writing, about The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain book launch & literary night or would like a review copy of The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com. Thanks!

The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain book launch & lit night

TheStairsAreASnowcapped Mountain_fullcoverwebTo celebrate the launch of my new short story collection, The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain, I’m hosting a launch party and literary night at Waterstones in Bristol’s Galleries, from 7-9.30pm on Saturday 26th March. It’s open to the public and I’d love you to come along!
There will be live music plus readings from local writers on the themes of things being more than they first appear or different to how they seem at first glance.
There will be heart-stirring live music from singer songwriter Eve Appleton, poetry from former midwife Helen Sheppard and atmospheric readings from local fiction writers, including myself. With hints of fairytales and myths rippling through everyday scenarios, you may emerge seeing the world with fresh eyes.
Here’s the important info:
The Stairs Are A Snowcapped Mountain launch & literary night at Waterstones, Bristol Galleries
  • Date and time: Saturday 26th March 2022, 7-9.30pm
  • Locations: Waterstones, 11a Union Galleries, Broadmead, Bristol, BS1 3XD (street entrance)

    Here’s the line up:

    Judy Darley photo credit Jo Mary Bulter Photography_cropJudy Darley is a British author who can’t stop writing about the fallibilities of the human mind. Her words have been published in the UK, Canada, US, New Zealand and India, including Cypress, The Mechanics’ Institute Review and The Pomegranate. Judy is the author of short fiction collections Sky Light Rain (Valley Press) and Remember Me to the Bees (Tangent Books). The Stairs are a Snowcapped Mountain is her third collection. She is Flash Fiction Editor at Reflex Press and has co-judged competitions for National Flash Fiction Day and Oxford Flash Fiction Prize. You can find Judy on Twitter at @JudyDarley

  • Photo credit: Jo Mary Butler Photography

    Eve Appleton_Photo credit- Beth Butcher Photography @bethbutcherphotography_cropEve Appleton is a singer songwriter performing in the folk tradition but bringing a fresh, contemporary voice to the genre. Her writing is informed by her own experiences of growing up in a British seaside town, observations of adolescence, and the music and poetry she has discovered, or has been introduced to, over the years.

    You can find Eve on Instagram as @eveappletonmusic

    Photo credit: Beth Butcher Photography

    Jo Mary Butler_cropJo Mary Butler is a poet, singer/songwriter, actress and theatre director. As a founding member of Misplaced Theatre, she recently directed Steven Berkoff’s ‘Decadence’ for the company at the Alma Tavern Theatre, Bristol.

    Her debut poetry and short fiction collection Hybrid, with original drawings by Harry Simmonds, will be available in Summer 2022.

    Photo credit: Jo Mary Butler Photography

     

  • Harriet Kline_cropHarriet Kline works part time registering births, deaths and marriages and writes for the rest of the week.  Her story Ghost won The Hissac Short Story Competition 2012 and Chest of Drawers won the London Magazine Short Story Competition 2013. She has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4, has a story at Litro online and at shortstorysunday.com. This Shining Life, published by Penguin, is her first novel and she’s slowly working on the next one, to be published in 2024.

    You can find Hartiet on Twitter as @HareandHarriet and on Instagram as harriet_kline.

    Photo by Jeni Nott Photography.

    Helen Sheppard_crop
    Helen Sheppard
    is a Bristol-based writer and worked as a midwife. Her poetry explores themes of birth, health loss, and those whose voices are often unheard. Events Helen has performed at include Milk Poetry, RTB, Torriano Meeting House and Harvard Medical School. Helen’s work has been Published widely, including These are the Hands and Under the Radar magazine. Her debut poetry collection Fontanelle was published in 2021 by Burning Eye Books. Helen interviews extraordinary poets for her podcast Health Beat Poets, their ‘take’ on Poetry, Health and Community. You can find Helen on Twitter as HelenSheppard7 and on Instagram as helensheppard58 

    Photo credit: Tom Shot Photography

    Get in touch!

    If you want to know more about my writing, about The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain book launch & literary night or would like a review copy of The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com. Thanks!

    Judy

The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain book launch and literary night

TheStairsAreASnowcapped Mountain_fullcoverweb

I’m delighted to share the news that my new short story collection, The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain, is available to pre-order from Reflex Press here: https://www.reflex.press/product/the-stairs-are-a-snowcapped-mountain/

The image shown above is the full wrap-around book cover created from one of my paintings.

To celebrate, I’m hosting a launch party and literary night at Waterstones in Bristol’s Galleries (11a Union Galleries, Broadmead, Bristol, BS1 3XD), from 7-9.30pm on Saturday 26th March. It’s open to the public and I’d love you to come along!

The evening will include live music from singer songwriter Eve Appleton, poetry from former midwife Helen Sheppard and atmospheric readings from local fiction writers, including myself. With hints of fairytales and myths rippling through everyday scenarios, you may emerge seeing the world with fresh eyes.

Free tickets are available herehttps://www.waterstones.com/events/book-launch-with-judy-darley-the-stairs-are-a-snowcapped-mountain/bristol-galleries

I hope to see you there!

Judy

Book review – The Fisherwoman and Other Stories by Philip Charter

The Fisherwoman and Other Stories coverThis richly packed collection of short stories by Philip Charter carries you across planets and through time. In each instance, Charter shows his talent for summoning just the right level of detail, painting in scenes with startlingly precise vivacity so you can picture and feel the exact slant of sunlight and depth of shade.

The collection opens with the title tale – a story about stories set in a futuristic world. It centres around a koi pond and an old women noticed daily by the narrator, who feels compelled to open up to this stranger during the course of the tale. It reads as a curious and confident fable with a whisper of warning about the harm we’re doing to our home planet.

Other intriguing fables include Peloten, which reports the sighting of “thousands of riderless bicycles” and their impact on the populous.

“They travelled clockwise, around a huge circuit of streets, like they were competing in a race with no rules and no finishing line. Capturing and dismantling them didn’t help, it just resulted in the appearance of an identical one the next morning, completing the herd of exactly eight thousand one hundred and twenty-eight machines.”

Knowing what to resolve and what to leave unknown is clearly another of Charter’s skills. Continue reading

Book review – Am I in the Right Place? by Ben Pester

Am I In The Right Place book coverIf your preferred reading place and time is in bed before sleep, you may need to develop new habits for Ben Pester’s debut collection Am I in the Right Place? Seemingly ordinary settings (a café; an office) twitch with unreliable edges that threaten to upend into the unknown. Cupboards open into other worlds, and roads lead to versions of memories that encroach on the present in unexpected ways.

We open with a character waiting to meet his ageing father, and then spooling into a journey where anxiety lingers with such a palpable presence it almost takes on human form.

Later in the collection, in ‘Low Energy Meeting’ a line manager introduces us to the embodiment of his love, a sorrowful figure in a dingy dressing gown.

Emotions here have powers to shift our surroundings, making every step uncertain. What was floor moments ago could now be a hole with an insatiable appetite.

Some pages, dyed black from corner to corner, abandon us to our rattled thoughts only quieted by the rustle of us scrabbling to get to the next printed words.

Continue reading

Book review – Families and Other Natural Disasters by Anita Goveas

Families and Other Natural Disasters by Anita Goveas coverAt first glance, the five sections of Anita Goveas’ collection appear elemental. A closer look rewards with the dawning understanding that the categories are types of natural disaster, with the final two a little more tongue in cheek. Fire, Water, Wind, Love and Families each warn of the emotions contained within, or, more, likely, poised to spill over.

The opening sentence of a collection is crucial in setting the tone for what’s to come. Goveas does this fearlessly, dropping into our laps the unflinching line: “There’s an ancient prophesy that you’ll die by volcano.” What Really Gets You Is the Rising Heat is a story that speaks of the expectations we fight against to forge our own path, even if that does turn out to be directly to the same volcano’s mouth our parents marked for us.

The titles form a poetry of their own, with the second tale warning us from the off that A Pilgrimage Can Be One Way, before enfolding us in ‘packing’ and ‘to do’ lists that contain humour, love and heartache within deftly rendered brevity. It’s the kind of hermit crab flash that hints at tireless hours of crafting.

Continue reading

Book review – This Alone Could Save Us by Santino Prinzi

This Alone Could Save Us coverDespite the saying that a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover, inevitably, we all do it to some extent. In the case of This Alone Could Save Us, though no doubt completed long before we were up to our necks in global calamities, the cover image by artist Stuart Buck paired with that title feels prescient, and, reader, it delivers.

Story after story, some barely half a page long (one only a sentence), feed our darting minds, offer distraction and comfort.

And, yes, there are flashes of sorrow and regret, but there are also stories here of quiet, quivering joy. One of my favourites is Costume: “I taste salt and camaraderie on my tongue. The wind whips past our skin and the sand flicks behind us as we run towards the waves.”

Exhilaration and triumph rise outwards with those flicks of sand.

Continue reading

Sky Light Rain book launch & literary night

Sky Light Rain by Judy DarleyMy short story collection Sky Light Rain is now out, and I’m celebrating with an atmospheric evening of readings and music on the themes of sky, light, and rain. Drawing on my enduring fascination with the fallibility of the human mind, Sky Light Rain examines aspects of human existence, including our relationship to nature and to each other.

The event will take place at Waterstones Bristol Galleries, from 7pm on Saturday 2nd November 2019, and you’re invited!

Alongside me, participants include writers Paul Deaton, Kevlin Henney and Grace Palmer, and indie art-pop musician Hidden Tide.

You can book your free tickets here.

Buy your copy of Sky Light Rain from Valley Press here.

Here are our bios:

Judy Darley’s short stories, flash fiction and poems have been widely published, and read by the author on BBC radio, in pubs, caves, and a disused church, as well as at literary festivals and charity events. She was co-judge of the National Flash Fiction Micro Competition 2019. Sky Light Rain is her second short story collection. Her debut collection Remember Me to the Bees was published in 2013. @JudyDarley

Kevlin HenneyKevlin Henney has been involved in the organisation of National Flash Fiction Day events, the Bristol Festival of Literature and the Flash in Hand open mic night at Alchemy 198 in Bristol. His stories have won, placed, and been shortlisted and longlisted in competitions. His stories appear on air, online and in print, included in over twenty anthologies. @KevlinHenney

 

Grace Palmer headshotGrace Palmer’s writing can be found in Flashback Fiction, Riggwelter Press, Magma, Flash Fiction One & Two and online at National Flash Fiction Day. She founded and runs Novel Nights and Flash in Hand, and teaches writing at Bristol Folk House. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa Uni. @wordpoppy and @novelnightsuk

 

Paul Deaton headshotPaul Deaton’s Seren collection A Watchful Astronomy was a Poetry Book Society Winter Recommended Book and was a National Poetry Day Book Group selected title. Work is included in the Forward Prize Anthology 2019. He is co-editor of smith / doorstop’s forthcoming Running Anthology, a freelance commissioning art editor and a counsellor in addictions in Bristol. @pauldeaton28

 

Hidden Tide HeadshotHidden Tide uses distorted guitar, programmed loops and thought-provoking lyrics to create ‘sweeping dark electronica’. Performing her own material, she is a regular on the Bristol music scene with gigs including sets at Mr Wolf’s and the Louisiana. @HiddenTideMusic

 

How to write a themed short story collection

FJ Morris This is Not About David Bowie giveawayJPGToday’s guest post comes from FJ Morris, flash fiction writer extraordinaire and author of the short story collection This is (not about) David Bowie. Here she shares her seven top tips for putting together a successful themed short story collection.

I’m a big fan of restrictions. They force you to be more focused and more creative. That’s why I wanted a central idea or concept for a collection. It wasn’t until someone asked me to write a chapbook that the idea struck me like lightning from the heavens. Permission had been given. David Bowie had spoken.

My flash fiction collection ‘This is (not about) David Bowie’ isn’t about him, but it’s inspired by his music and art, and that title was one of the first things I came up with. The collection would never be about David Bowie, but about us. I was drawn to the same themes, the same topics, and had the same upward stare towards space that David Bowie had. I didn’t really see it at the time. My subconscious made those connections for me.

So with 20/20 hindsight, here are my tips on putting together a themed short story collection.

1 Get inspired

When you choose a theme or concept, it really needs to get you excited. It should be an ‘Aha’ moment. Angels should sing. Clouds will part. Ideas will begin to flood in. It should make you glad to be alive. Because it’s about the things that matter you, the song in your heart will sing and shout when the connection is made to the right idea. You may not fully see why at first, but you’ll see and feel its impact.

2 Live in it

Whether that’s through music, art, reading, rolling around or just stewing in thought, spend time dreaming. Let your dream state surround you so that it seeps into your subconscious. When you come to write, it’ll be there, bubbling away.

My best stories popped up when the theme was held in the peripheral of my vision. I’d start with an idea, a Bowie starting point, and then let it grow.

3 Have courage

Not everything you write will or should make the cut. But write it anyway. Every act of creation is an act of courage, of love. Leave fear and doubt at the door. Show up for yourself and only yourself. Embrace the mess that you’re about to create, because it should be wild. That’s what growing is all about.

If Bowie can teach us anything, then it’s to be bold with ourselves. Take those risks.

4 Think outside the book

Break outside of the box. It wasn’t until I had some distance and came at it again that I could look at the collection differently. I stopped looking at it as a book and started seeing it as an album. I needed to add more to it: rhythm, bass lines, movement, tempo, volume changes, signalling.

It was Bowie’s music and a booked called The Voyager Record: A Transmission by Anthony Michael Morena that helped me envision a different sort of collection; one that would mix short stories, Bowie quotes, flash fiction, plays and poems. Like an album, I wanted to give people a sense of journey, and a sense of order, mystery and growth on their way through the collection. Quotes from Bowie act as sign-posts of what was to come.

It was Bowie who gave me permission and inspiration to do more than what was expected – to go beyond the conventional.

5 Question everything…

It’s important to ask yourself some difficult questions: What is the point? Why does this matter? Why should it matter to anyone else? Why am I doing this?

Each time I went back to the drawing board, I went back with a critical eye and questions. Have I been true to Bowie, true to myself? What doesn’t feel right?

One thing I really noticed on the last round was that I had some missing voices, some missing stories, including one on friendship and one about fatherhood. So I went back in.

6 Let go

FJ Morris collection book trail

You will never know when to let it go. Someone else will make that decision for you because of time or opportunity. Recognise it. Embrace it. There’s more I could’ve done with my collection; more I could look at, rewrite, redo, reimagine. That’s the wonderful thing about creativity – it doesn’t finish, it evolves with you.

This collection will forever be a snapshot of a time in my life, and it should stay that way – flaws and all. Art is not about perfection. It’s about being human and being true to who you are.

7 Have fun and ignore what doesn’t serve you

FJ Morris This Is Not About David Bowie

Throw out any rules or advice or tips (even these here) if they don’t serve you. Give yourself permission. Give yourself time.

This is supposed to be fun. Enjoy every minute of creating it. Embrace who you are and how different you might be. What makes you different will make your writing different too, and that really is something to celebrate and get excited about. Follow what’s in your heart.

In the words of David Bowie: I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.

FJ MorrisAbout the author

FJ Morris is a proud Bristolian and award-winning author. Her collection This is (not about) David Bowie was published by Retreat West Books in November 2018 and received a special mention in the Saboteur Awards for Best Short Story Collection in 2019.

She’s been published in numerous publications in the UK and internationally, and shortlisted for a variety of awards. Recently, you can find her stories soaring the skies thanks to a short story vending machine in a Canadian airport, and gracing pillows in a hotel in Indonesia. You can also find her stories in Bare Fiction, Halo, The Fiction Desk, Popshot, National Flash Fiction Day anthologies, and many more.

All gifs via GIPHY.

Read my review of This is (not about) David Bowie by FJ Morris.

Read other writing masterclasses in the SkyLightRain Writing Insights series.

Got some writing insights to share? I’m always happy to receive feature pitches. Send an email to JudyDarley(at)iCloud.com.