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.

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

Book review Live Show, Drink Included by Vicky Grut

Live Show, Drink Included by Vicky GrutIn her debut short story collection Live Show, Drink Included, Vicky Grut reveals her knack for summoning up characters so real they’ll follow you around your house, loitering in your kitchen as you make a cup of coffee until you almost feel you should offer them one too. Her protagonists crackle with unspoken preoccupations that often verge on somewhat unsettling obsessions. These are people you might see marking the perimeter of a social gathering, being avoided largely due to the air of discontentment, and even, resentment, that they exude.

Yet their delivery through Grut’s carefully selected words is deeply relatable. With her skilful hand, she renders them comedic, lyrical, or a shining blend of the two. We eavesdrop and enjoy their conundrums while being glad, for the most part, not to share them.

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Book review – Dip Flash by Jonathan Pinnock

Dip Flash by Jonathan PinnockThe tales in Jonathan Pinnock’s collection quiver on the page, ready to leap in unexpected directions. Hold on tight and they’ll carry you with them, into worlds where the peculiar is commonplace and some things, including houses, refuse to stay where you left them. Pinnock manages to compress entire worlds into a paragraph or two, where the laws of physics are subtly unaligned with our own.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of Pinnock’s unique viewpoint previously, I can assure you you’re in for a heady ride. As the curator of comic poetry site Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, it’s clear that irreverence is a vital ingredient of this author’s often thought-provoking works.

Meet a man whose date decides to up and leave (sounds normal? Wait till you read the tale Dinner With Sylvia), spend time with a women who carries a curiously voyeuristic creature in a octagonal cage, encounter three hundred and sixty thousand bees, and have a chat with a saint called Geoff. See through the eyes of a ventriloquist’s dummy. Discover how your Granny could become a financial asset. Learn to expect the real and unreal to knit around one another in an unfathomable intricacy. Sleep deprivation, unrequited love and astral hi-jinks all have their vital roles under Pinnock’s narrowed gaze.

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Book review – Some of Us Glow More Than Others by Tania Hershman

Some of Us Glow More Than Others by Tania HershmanThis luminescent collection of short stories and flash fictions offers up Tania Hershman’s unmistakable blend of the poetic, the uncanny and the deeply human. Drawing from a background in physics and a fascination with other sciences, Hershman explores our predilections and imperfections with effortless eloquence.  Through her writing you’ll feel yourself at one with nuns, researchers and divers alike, not to mention gas molecules and eerie little immortal girls.

I often see colours when reading fiction, and Tania’s tales in this collection are shot through with shimmering shades – pools of silver, midnight blue, aquamarine and ultramarine are gorgeously offset by threads of vermilion and gold.

Each of the tales examines, in its own way, what it means to be human, and the potential kindnesses and cruelties lying in wait both around and within us. While many lead us into laboratories, other sneak us into more unexpected places of moral and quizzical reflection, sometimes under cover of darkness.

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Book review – A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman by Margaret Drabble

A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman coverThe title of this short story collection by Margaret Drabble was enough to make me put it on my wishlist. There was no doubt in my mind that the smiles of the woman in question would be hiding a multitude of less presentable emotions.

The women in Drabble’s tales are often to be found smiling in the face of adversity. They’re quietly courageous individuals, usually unnoticed for the most part by the boorish men in their lives, and that’s how they like it, because it frees them up to get on with the serious job of living.

This particular collection from Penguin Modern Classics is laid out nose to tail, by which I mean the stories are organised chronologically according to original publication dates, beginning with Hassan’s Tower, published in 1966, and culminating with Stepping Westward, dating from 2000. As a result, we get a sense of Drabble growing and developing with her narratives. Her characters age and so do their preoccupations, not to mention their self-confidence.

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Book review – Storm Warning by Vanessa Gebbie

Storm Warning by Vanessa GebbieI’ve always thought of short stories as being the perfect portable fiction – ideal for dipping in and out of on trains and buses for a few moments of sheer immersion.

While Vanessa Gebbie’s tales certainly fit the first part of this by being invitingly easy to dip into, it’s far more difficult to dip out of her short stories. In a few, brief beautifully spare paragraphs Vanessa has the power to utterly transport you, immersing you in lives that ring out with authenticity and enmeshing you in their emotions – all without a touch of sentimentality.

I was initially a little put off by the fact this collection is solely focused on war, as the subtitle Echoes of Conflict testifies. But far from being bleak or terrifying or gory, the tales shimmer with humanity – people grieve and remember and regret, but with such elegance that you’ll find yourself savouring the passages like the very best poetry. In Maiba’s Ribbon a boy recalls the day his brother lost his hands, in The Wig Maker a woman shares three truths, the last being the most heart-rending. In Cello Strings and Screeching Metal a musician explains why champagne bubbles transport her back to a single, shocking moment in time. Continue reading

Book review – Astray by Emma Donoghue

Astray coverIn her short story collection Astray, author Emma Donoghue takes us on a journey that leads us through time and across oceans deep into the lives of people both real and imagined (sometimes a skilful blend of the two). We encounter their hardships, bear witness to their darkest deeds, share in their triumphs, and hope, very much hope, that a happy ending is just over the next horizon.

It’s a reminder that travel was once only for the intrepid, the desperate and those determined to find a better life. As a historian, Donoghue is adept at taking shreds of ephemera and transforming it into something with body and spirit, and with each of these tales, she reveals something of the era, and the people concerned

Following each story is a brief explanation of its origins, including the facts that inspired the fiction. More than once I found myself surprised by which pieces were true, and which made up – evidence, I think, both of Donoghue’s powerful imagination and reality’s tendencies towards peculiarity.

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Book review – On the Edges of Vision by Helen McClory

On the Edges of Vision coverI’ve recently discovered a new term, and it describes Helen McClory’s writing perfectly: mythic realism. Aptly titled On the Edges of Vision, this collection offers a precipitous sense of standing on the edge of something, of glimpsing a view of a world just like the one we live in, only with extraordinary neighbours. These creatures are familiar from ancient tales yet fresh on the page, mingling with everyday folk.

There’s a hint of warning swimming through the words, a reminder that venturing out after dark isn’t always a good idea, a hint that the things we fear aren’t always the right things – that dread, and death, can rush up from unexpected sources.

There’s such a pace to McClory’s writing that you may find yourself careering from start to end, crashing through the undergrowth before halting, blood shrill in your ears, at the cliff-edge, wondering why there’s nothing ahead but dizzying emptiness. Continue reading

How to write a short story collection

Knit graffiti in Arnos Vale cr Judy DarleyToday’s guest post comes from writer KM Elkes and offers an insight into the art of stringing a short story collection together.

Telling people you are working on a novel is easy enough. People ‘get’ novels. Even the least reader-ish person has probably read a couple, either because they were forced to at school or because they were part of Generation Harry Potter.

But a short story collection? Not so much.

Maybe that’s because short story collections are relatively unfamiliar – not so surprising when you consider bookshops force readers into an Indiana Jones-style quest to find them. They lurk unassumingly, a diaspora spread among distant bookcases, waiting for the day when someone has the bright idea to give them a shelf of their own.

But there’s a deeper issue too – even those in the biz, writers and publishers, are sometimes ignorant of what a short story collection really is. Which makes putting one together feel like a Sisyphean task.

Think about it. There’s plenty of advice out there on what makes a good novel – how to write it, pace it, plot it, sell it. But I’ve yet to Google a go-to guide on what constitutes a fantastic collection.

Most short story writers are busy just trying to make each story the best we can. The emotional investment is quick, deep and hard, the art tricky.  It’s only when you come to the point of putting your own collection together that you realise it’s not simply a matter of polishing up your bestest, nicest stories and pressing Send.

What does a short story collection involve? What does it need?

Well, in my opinion, many of the same things that characterise a good short story – unity of purpose and theme.

I’m not talking specifically about some clunky link (hey, watchya know, they’re all characters from the same street!) but something less obvious, spider silk thin at times, but there, somehow.

Runaway by Alice MunroLook at some wonderful collections – Alice Munro’s Runaway; Cathedral by Raymond Carver; Nathan Englander’s For The Relief of Unbearable Urges; Walk the Blue Fields by Claire Keegan. Whether or not the author planned it, there is a thread that runs through these books, located in place, or in an overarching theme, in the kind of lives they tackle and in that most intangible thing: voice.

Regardless of point of view, tense, sympathetic or abhorrent characters, regardless of timeframe or timeline, great authors have a voice, a way of storytelling that leaves an imprint on their collection.

Think of George Saunders at the frayed edge of satire, or the rich gravy of Saul Bellow’s language, the wry humour of Kevin Barry and Edith Pearlman’s precise concision – all give a shape that is the author’s own.

What can those of us putting our debut collection learn from this?

Being ruthless is necessary, especially with our earlier work. Yes they might have won prizes or been shortlisted for decent competitions, but do these stories fit with our latest work, where a more individual voice is starting to form? Perhaps it’s time for that tricky chat: “Thanks guys, we had fun, but I’ve moved on. It’s not you, it’s me.”

Tough love is also needed for the stories that are up to scratch, but simply don’t fit in. That cracking three thousand worder, which someone said reminded them of Jorge Luis Borges, probably won’t fit if you are building a reputation as the Cheever of Milton Keynes.

Even then, this process throws up fresh dilemmas. How do you know when you’re done? How do you know that the next story you write won’t be the one to top out the collection, the crowning glory that will pull it all together?

This is particularly tricky for me, and, I suspect, many other short story writers because I don’t (I can’t) write with a collection in mind. Story writing for me is a weird alchemy, when character, voice, theme and tone come together through some process that has little to do with the analytical part of my brain.

So time is important, to allow things to accrete. Maybe the key to creating a short story collection is the key to all writing – keep going, get better at it, read stories by people who are better than you, learn from them, accept your failures, don’t get carried away with your successes, rinse and repeat.

Eventually you may begin to ‘feel’ a group of stories huddling together. You sense a deeper resonance coming through, common themes being explored. You think – and this is as important as anything else – of a title that makes things tick.

Good advice is hard to come by, but fresh perspectives (note the plural), might help you push to keep creating new material or re-think existing work.

All of this points towards a simple fact – creating a short story collection is also about growing up as a writer, reaching a maturity which enables you to fathom how stories hang together, the palette you work with, the themes which gnaw at you and how that is not such a ‘bad thing’.

And that’s about as much as I can tell you. For now.

Author KM ElkesAbout the author

KM Elkes is an author, journalist and travel writer. He has won the Fish Publishing flash prize, been shortlisted twice for the Bridport Prize and was one of the winners of the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2014. He also won the Prolitzer short story prize in 2014 and wrote a winning entry for the Labello Press International Short Story Prize 2015. His work has appeared in various anthologies and won prizes at Words With Jam, Momaya Review, Writing WM, Bath Short Story Award, Lightship Publishing and Accenti in Canada. He blogs at www.kmelkes.co.uk and tweets via @mysmalltales.

KM Elkes will be sharing more of his writing expertise at free flash fiction workshops taking place at Bristol Central Library for National Flash Fiction Day (this Saturday!), along with NFFD director Calum Kerr and prize-winning author KM Elkes. The workshops take place from 1.30-4.30pm. KM is also taking part in An Evening of Flash Fiction, from 6pm at Foyles Bookstore Bristol, along with a number of other writers, including Zoe GilbertKevlin HenneySarah Hilary, Freya Morris, Grace Palmer, Jonathan Pinnock, and, well, me.