Sky Light Rain – The Moth Room

Moth wings cr Judy DarleyOver the coming weeks, I’ll share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. The thirteenth story in the collection and also the first in ‘Part Two – Light’ is ‘The Moth Room’.

I wrote this flash fiction in response to a visit to the studio of artist Rose McLay, interwoven with strands of Cinderella together with a touch of moonlit iridescence. The story embraces ideas of the scant lines separating beauty and brutality.

‘The  Moth Room’ was originally published in issue 21 of Gone Lawn, which describes itself as “a web journal of artistic and progressive literature.”

The tale only spans half a page and begins:

He follows her home from the ball, trailing in the pitch of her laughter. She’s taken off her shoes for dancing and runs barefoot through the ragged streets, giggles glinting in her wake. 

The warehouse she leads him to is shuttered into rooms, each with its own door to unlock. Hers is labelled The Moth Room.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.

Sky Light Rain – Strawberry Thief

Strawberry Thief by Judy Darley
Over the coming weeks, I’ll share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. The twelfth story in the collection and also the final in Part One – Sky is ‘Strawberry Thief’.

I wrote this story especially to perform at a local literary event, Novel Nights, which was about to host an evening at a bar called The Strawberry Thief. I love writing to prompts, and this was an excellent one. I thought about the sensory pleasure of picking strawberries, and how as a child I’d eat as many as would end up in my pot for weighing.

The drowsy summer days felt like the perfect backdrop to a first love based on shared secrets, thefts, lies and discoveries.

‘Strawberry Thief’ was originally published by the deliciously named Straylight Magazine, biannual literary magazine of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

The tale begins:

The hide is empty but for herself and Jonathan. In the clearing beyond the structure, birds cavort – more species than she can name. Jonathan would know them all. He understood their code of feathers and colours in a way she’s never been able to grasp.

She reaches into the bag beside her and draws the thermos out.

The cup that sits neatly over its lid makes her pause, flooded with a memory. At the hospice, she’d crushed strawberries against its rim, fed the crimson pulp into his mouth with a teaspoon. He’d swallowed, then muttered, soft enough that she had to lean close:

“Wrong season for strawbs. Where’d you get ’em?”

Not wanting to name the shop she’d bought them from, where they nestled in the fridge alongside own-brand sausage rolls, she smiled back and said: “The pick-your-own. Remember?”

That lie had seemed worth it for the brief lessening of the pain she saw in his mud-brown eyes. She popped one of the berries into her own mouth, chewing fast. It was cold against her tongue, and lacked the burst of sweetness she craved, but its flavour connected her to the moment, to him.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.

Sky Light Rain – Paper Flowers

11_Paper Flowers by Judy DarleyOver the coming weeks, I’ll share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. The eleventh story in the collection is ‘Paper Flowers’.

As you may have noticed, I draw a lot of inspiration from my travels. This one sprang from a visit to Mount Isola, Lake Iseo, courtesy of Brescia Tourism. The traditional craft I describe in the tale, of making thousands of paper flowers for the Santa Croce festival that takes place every five years.

I wondered what it would be like to live there as an outsider, and dreamt up Julia, a woman who’d intended only to pass by on holiday, but fell in love with the setting and a man who later died. Now her daughters are almost grown, and she’s wondering what she can do to keep them with her in this place where time seems to hold its breath, or whether she even should.

An earlier version, published by The Island Review, I used the first person perspective, but at my Valley Press editor’s urging, I changed it to the third person.

The tale begins:

Julia hands the yellow felt-tip to Chiara, half watching as she adds a few dots of ochre-yellow to the heart of a paper lily: pollen that will never billow free.

“What’s wrong, ha?” Chiara asks, focused on her task. “You’ve been almost silent since you arrived.”

Julia shrugs, trying to smile, but Chiara re-caps the pen, flicks her eyes towards the younger woman, insistent.

“Bianca…” Julia admits, and she snorts.   

“Of course, Bianca. What’s her trouble now?” Chiara’s own daughters are grown up, married off, safe. Julia’s eldest is fifteen, that most lethal of ages, when everything wants to devour her, and she seems hellbent on devouring everything.

“There’s a boy…”

Chiara hoots. “When isn’t there?” She snips the petals of a tulip a little more roughly than intended, tsks, and tidies the ragged crepe edges. “Who this time?”

“Not local,” Julia admits. This is what perturbs her most.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.

Sky Light Rain – A Blackbird’s Heart

A Blackbird Heart

Over the coming weeks, I’ll share insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. The tenth story in my collection is ‘A Blackbird’s Heart’.

Those of you who loved the multiple viewpoints of ‘Knotted Rope’ may be attracted to this story for similar reasons. It follows two entwined narratives, one by Bron, a young Welsh warrior whose culture include the use of animal hearts to communicate coded messages, and the other by Bronwyn, a foster child who is reading and obsessing over Bron’s dramatic tale.

Real life and fiction blur together for Bronwyn, until she’s driven to take drastic action.

I wrote Bron’s story first, but then Bronwyn popped into my head, poring over Bron’s story and avidly daydreaming herself into the adventure. It reminded me of how I yearned to find a world hidden at the back of my wardrobe, or battle the pirates of Neverland.

I drew parallels between Bron’s situation and Bronwyn’s, overlapping their lives as much as possible, but using Bronwyn’s imagination to make up any shortfalls. Through Bronwyn’s eyes, it’s easy for a tabby cat to become a monkey and for the young offenders institution where her brother Craig lives to mirror the castle dungeon where Bron’s brother Caio is imprisoned. Then I only had to decide how far Bronwyn’s fantasy might sweep her…

The tale begins:

Bron watches as Nan grasps her knife and slits the deer from throat to groin, easing the flesh apart until the glistening innards slide free.

She senses the monkey’s anxiety as it climbs from one of her shoulders to the other. “Hush, Caru, you’re safe.”

The smell of blood is sharp in her throat, not just the deer’s but that of her brother’s wife, Derlyn. The birth was difficult.

After his first caterwauls the baby has gone quiet, exhausted by his battle to enter the world. Eyeing the infant’s pink mottled flesh, Bron thinks he seems little different to the piglet that will represent him in the deer’s carcass.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.

Sky Light Rain – Fascinate

9_Fascinate by Judy Darley

Over the coming weeks, I’ll share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. My ninth story in the collection is ‘Fascinate’.

‘Fascinate’ aired on Adam Crowther‘s BBC Upload radio show on Thursday 7th December at around eleven past seven. Adam describes it as being about “an unusual use for animals.”

It’s definitely is one of the shorter, stranger tales in the collection, despite being fully rooted in realism.

For me, fiction writing stems from just about everything my consciousness bumps against. Often these ideas combine and coalesce in barely recognisable forms. In this case, a childhood memory of seeing a hanging basket full of ducklings merged with a magazine feature I’d written about craftidermy.

I used these initial seeds to explore ideas of boundaries. Where do you draw the line? While many people are now vegetarian or vegan, countless others eat meat daily, but even those who do might baulk at eating animals that form part of the normal diet in other countries. If you’ll eat cow, why not horse? If you’ll eat chicken, why not cat…?

The story also explores ideas of different kinds of dominance, and how little we can know about the thoughts bubbling in another person’s head…

The story was originally published in the National Flash Fiction Day UK 2017 anthology Sleep Is A Beautiful Colour, and was later nominated for the Best Small Fictions award 2018.

The tale begins:

I still remember the April when we were small and found a nest of ducklings in a hanging basket. We climbed up on the kitchen roof and scooched close to stare at them.

“Ducklings are magic, Helen,” you told me. “They’re so fluffy they can survive a fall from any height.”

You reached out and scooped one into your palm before I could stop you. It sat there, the breeze weaving through its downy feathers. Then, grinning, you launched it with force into the air.

It splatted against the flagstones below with a squelch that rang through my head. You blinked at me, and giggled.

“Oops. Don’t tell, or I’ll blame it on you.” You slithered off the roof, kicking the tiny corpse beneath the rhododendron leaves where no one would see.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.

Sky Light Rain – The Puppeteer

8_The Puppeteer by Judy Darley

Over the coming weeks, I’ll share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. My eighth story in the collection is ‘The Puppeteer’.

Shirley Sharp picI’m often inspired by the narratives I see in artwork, and ‘The Puppeteer’ 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’s personality. Then I needed to make sense of the two creatures apparently sitting on his hands, and I dreamt up Tib, a puppeteer who has lost his family through his obsession for his craft.

In the end, a pair of socks offer Tib the courage he needs, but is it too little too late?

The story becomes something of a journey, as the sock puppets help Tib find his way through a fog of melancholy towards hope. The tale plays with time, as Tib is unsure how many months or years have passed. I also prod the question of how much of what’s happening is real, and how much is the product of Tib’s sorrowful mind.

An earlier version of this tale was published by Toasted Cheese Literary Journal.

The tale begins:

How long had it been now? Tib wasn’t certain. More than one year, less than two. God, how had so much time crept by? He thought he’d get them back before this many months. Once the numbness and confusion passed, he was certain he’d be able to win Nancy over, persuade her to bring Pippa home, but it had already been eighteen months, maybe twenty. Or more…

He’d only seen young Pippa once since they left him, and that had been in the most humiliating of circumstances.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.

Sky Light Rain – Apollo’s Offspring

Apollos Offspring
Over the coming weeks, I’ll share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. My seventh story in the collection is ‘Apollo’s Offspring’.

I glimpsed the above scene at Bristol Botanic Garden, and got to wondering about the uncanny qualities of a crow who can seemingly walk on water.

Seeking out myths on the topic, I discovered masses about ravens, and decided to shift my corvid focus for purely artistic purposes. I then catapulted my characters into the present and made my protagonist a perfectly ordinary modern mother fretting over the  inevitable guilts of farming out child-care.

Giving the children such old-fashioned names (Mabel and Stanley) reminded me of Ladybird books and their resolutely matter-of-fact prose. I get a lot of pleasure from mixing the mundane and otherworldly. Perhaps because of its utter oddness, this is one of my favourite tales in Sky Light Rain.

The tale begins:

Raven comes highly recommended, but despite this, something about him makes me nervous. That beak, those clawed feet, and his way of looking at Mabel and Stanley with one eye and then the other makes me deeply uneasy.

The children are delighted by their new au pair, however. I haven’t heard Mabel chatter like this since before their father left.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.

Sky Light Rain – Two Pools of Water

Twin Blue and Green Lakes, Sete Cidades cr Judy Darley
Over the coming weeks, I’ll share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. My sixth story in the collection is ‘Two Pools of Water’.

As you may have noticed, I have a passion for myths and fairytales. This story is inspired by a local legend of a princess and lowly shepherd I was told while visiting Sao Miguel, one of the Azores islands.

My tour guide took me to a ruined hotel to take in views of Sete Cidades, the twin blue and green lakes. The stark contrast between the rotting building and the extraordinary contrasting pools struck a chord with me. It became the prompt for a story about two sisters, the elder of which, Estella, is trying to protect her younger sibling from the adventures she craves.

Initially I was intrigued by how different the two sisters seemed, but discovered as I wrote that Estella, too, once yearned for escape, and learnt to quell her unquiet nature. In this way, the girls mirror the two pools that appear so unalike, but are far more similar than you might suspect beneath the surface. The question is whether the younger sister will listen to Estella, or instead follow their mother’s example in seeking something more.

An earlier version of this tale was published by Dear Damsels.

The tale begins:

The hotel has stood empty for seven years, or eight. In the humid island air, lichens and moulds bloom along the balustrades. Almost every valuable item, from linens to sinks, has been stripped out by creditors. The carpet remains – squelching under our sneakers. In one en-suite a claw-footed bath still stands; its curve of porcelain laced with grime.

My sister Estella leads me to a balcony. The twin lakes show beyond, half-shrouded in cloud. With the sky overcast, the green and blue are harder to see.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspirations behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspirations behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspirations behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspirations behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspirations behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.

Sky Light Rain – Knotted Rope

5_Knotted Rope_by-Judy-DarleyOver the coming weeks, I’ll share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. The fifth story in the collection is my three-voice tale ‘Knotted Rope’.

I used to live next door to a nursery school that took its tiny charges on daily meanders in the nearby Victorian cemetery – the atmospheric sprawling wilderness that provides the setting for this tale. I’d encounter them occasionally playing amid the headstones or obediently clinging to their strip of rope like the one pictured above.

I think we’ve all experienced that dizzying moment when you realise you’ve mislaid your wallet or door keys. As a child I liked little better than disappearing for a time. I decided to combine the two to examine the plummet of mislaying a child, as well as touch on the tot’s motivations for wanting to be gone, if only momentarily.

An earlier version featured four voices, including that of the tot who’s gone missing.

The tale begins:

Rita and I and our two volunteers count with care on the nursery steps. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen… That’s everyone, isn’t it? A whole flock of little ones. Every child wears a fluorescent tabard and clasps tight to the length of blue rope, tiny hands wrapped around knots tied like memories.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.

Sky Light Rain – Shaped from Clay

4_Shaped From ClayOver the coming weeks, I’ll share a few insights into the stories that make up my collection Sky Light Rain. I’ll explore them in the order in which they appear in the book. My fourth story in the collection is ‘Shaped from Clay’.

This tale was prompted by the scene above, photographed in a local school playground, coupled with an urge to write something that made my skin creep. That strange white horse just looked so out of place. I needed to know what and who, and why. Personally, I also believe that any story populated mainly by children teeters on the brink of savagery.

‘Shaped from Clay’ explores how communities can turn unhealthily insular, and the way coincidences might string together to suggest something uncannier. Add a couple of outsiders and you have an inevitable hint of love story…

The tale begins:

On the last day of term I allowed the children to bring in toys to play with. As her choice, Ebie brought a bag of whitish clay dug from the river that ran through the village. It wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind, but she looked at me with those silver-blue eyes, and I couldn’t think of a reason to say no. I instructed her to use the area by the sink where we washed our story-time milk bottles, and watched from the edge of my concentration as she began to pound out air bubbles. Her hands dug into the clay, pushing into the flesh of it like it was something she was attempting to throttle the life out of, or palm life into.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.