There’s something that feels indulgent about reading a short story collection. You get caught up in so many worlds and stories, exposed to so many emotions and people in a short space of time.
Judy Darley‘s Sky Light Rain is special. The character in ‘Fin’ really stayed with me – I was haunted by the splashing of water while I lay in bed at night. I also loved the way so many of the stories felt as though they were right on the edge of our reality. Caught up in it, but touching their fingers at something outside of what we can see.
As you can tell from the title, the collection is separated into three sections that are linked thematically. Within that, the stories are truly varied. Different ages, worlds and perspectives are explored, all with a deft touch and with language that is beautifully unique. I talked to Judy Darley to find out how she created vivid characters with so few words and how nature inspires her work.
As the title suggests, many of your stories are concerned with the elements and their shifting forms. Are you often inspired by the natural world when it comes to writing short stories?
I’m inspired by nature in general! I love walking in forests and taking the time to breathe in the fresh green aromas and listening to the cacophony of robins, finches and other birds. Fiction offers a way to celebrate nature and hopefully remind readers that it’s worth doing what we can to protect it. As well as providing a vivid backdrop with the power to engage every sense, nature can imbue a scene with a sense of safety, beauty or threat. I have the impression of watching the stories as I write, so I try to pick out the richest, most evocative details from all the options unfurling behind my eyes.
My debut collection, Remember Me To The Bees, celebrates pollinators with a bee-related aspect to look out for in every story. Sky Light Rain is, as you say, more elemental, but emphases the influence wildlife and weather can have over our lives, as well as the delights they can bring.
My new collection, The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain, is due out from Reflex Press in 2022. Nature again plays a crucial role, but in several of the stories not all is as it initially seems. I wanted to explore the different influences on our perceptions, as well as our behaviours.
The process of characterisation can be tricky in short stories and I loved how you crafted such rounded characters. How do you go about creating these believable, emotive people with so few words?
Thank you! I think it helps that I like to imagine that my characters have lives beyond the page – I’m capturing just one strand of their stories. If you asked me, I’d be able to tell you what happened next or before the scene that comprises a single tale. As a child I had imaginary friends who I knew as well as, if not better than, my flesh and blood playmates, and I think that helped me learn to build my characters from the inside out, rather than the outside in, which helps me anticipate how they’ll respond to any scenario I throw them into.
Place and setting are very powerful in your stories and there were a lot of small, separate communities in your stories. Did you take inspiration from particular places? Why do you like writing about these unusual, offbeat settings?
I began my writing career as a travel journalist and have always had a passion for strange corners and the people who populate them. The best thing I learnt as a journalist was the necessity of each word earning its space on a page.
I spend a lot of my time walking through my neighbourhood and noticing how each street has its own personality. In Sky Light Rain, the opening story Untrue Blue was an opportunity to explore my own city, Bristol, from above as a brother and sister fly together at night, while in Woman and Birds, a wild goose chase through Barcelona uncovers the beauty of that city and the relationship between two lovers. Reeds and Curlews was an opportunity to revisit Laugharne in Camarthenshire, Wales, while Paper Flowers drew me back to Monte Isola, Lake Iseo, in northern Italy.
It’s actually more unusual for me to pick a well-known city like Barcelona than a little-known spot I can have the pleasure of introducing to my readers. If you find the right setting, you not only have a backdrop but an additional character for your story. Every holiday I go on sets my imagination whirring, and each story I write allows me the chance to summon landscapes and cities I’ve loved. Even the fictional locations in my tales contain elements of real places I’ve known.
I was interested to see that many of your stories have appeared in different publications. How long did it take to write and publish all of these stories and what impact did it have to see them published in various literary journals?
Submitting my stories to literary journals and anthologies is an important part of my writing process. It reminds me of my audiences and gives me the chance to test out weird ideas. When rejections come through, I look at my work with fresh clarity and find I can see what I need to improve the story. Often that’s to do with me understanding better what the heart of the story is so that I can draw it to the surface. When a story is accepted, it’s hugely encouraging and gives me a sense that I’ve succeeded in saying something worth sharing.
What advice would you give to a writer at the start of their career?
Writing is hard work, and often doesn’t pay well. I gain so much from the process of writing and the joy of getting closer to what I’m trying to communicate, draft by draft. The first draft is exhilarating, but it’s finding satisfaction in the editing process that really makes you a writer. Write whenever you feel inspired, and when you don’t feel inspired, edit, proof-read and send your work out into the world.
Also, celebrate even the smallest triumphs, whether that’s a short story acceptance by an online literary journal or simply crafting the perfect metaphor to express a complicated emotion. It’s all part of growing and making progress as a writer.
Judy Darley is a British author and journalist who can’t stop writing about the fallibilities of the human mind. Her stories are widely published by literary anthologies, magazines and websites in Canada, the UK, US, New Zealand, and India, including Cypress, The Mechanics’ Institute Review, The Pomegranate and The Cabinet of Heed. Judy is the author of short fiction collections Sky Light Rain (Valley Press) and Remember Me to the Bees (Tangent Books). Her third collection, The Stairs are a Snowcapped Mountain, will be published by Reflex Press in 2022. You can find Judy at http://www.skylightrain.com; https://twitter.com/JudyDarley.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoy my interviews and reviews, please allow me to continue writing these posts by showing your support. For the price of a coffee you can help me keep going in my creative endeavours. You can also subscribe monthly if you want to be a regular supporter. All donations get a reward!
You can also sign up to my mailing list to get a free copy of my ebook. A collection of short fiction exploring light in the darkness, exclusively for my followers.
You’ll also get weekly blog updates and a monthly newsletter full of lovely creative stuff.