Art as a sensory experience

Gloaming by Ange Mullen-Bryan

Gloaming by Ange Mullen-Bryan

For artist Ange Mullen-Bryan, creating paintings is a sensory experience. For starters, there are the materials she uses: oil as a medium and canvas or linen as a base. “I often use coloured linens, using that colour as part of the painting and often leaving areas of the linen unpainted as part of the image,” Ange says. “Sometimes while on location in Sweden I paint with acrylic on unprimed plywood panels using the wood grain and texture as part of the work, again leaving areas unpainted.”

Evig - eternal by Ange Mullen-Bryan

Evig – eternal by Ange Mullen-Bryan

The texture of these materials is important to Ange. “I paint very intuitively and instinctively,” she explains. “Light conditions, choice of music and even smells contribute to the work. The mood of a painting is established as much in the studio as it is in my mind.”

Nearly all of Ange’s paintings are inspired by the landscape of Sweden or other remote Scandinavian locations. “I have been visiting a part of central Sweden for the last 21 years,” she says. “We stay in a cabin a few feet from the lake shore with no running water and no electrics. It is a very important place to me and its remote and beautiful landscape provides endless inspiration and scope for new work.”

Regn by Ange Mullen-Bryan

Regn by Ange Mullen-Bryan

Rural scenery, Ange says, serves as a vehicle “to describe emotions and experience through the medium of painting. Each painting is a journey to somewhere I don’t really know.”

Intriguingly, each work of art is a voyage of discovery. “The painting reveals itself along the way and is often very different from the place in which I began,” Ange says. “The initial idea that made me start the painting is often left far behind as the painting takes its own path and I follow it. I try not to think too much and give myself up to the journey, that’s where the painting really begins, when you are no longer consciously aware of it.”

Borta - Gone by Ange Mullen-Bryan

Borta – Gone by Ange Mullen-Bryan

For Ange the greatest pleasure is, as she put it, “That opportunity to enter into that altered state, that flow state you hear many artists and musicians talk about it. It’s rare and fleeting and the thing you are always trying to achieve. And if you find it you cannot be conscious of it, otherwise it’s lost again by the very fact that you have become aware of it.”

Completing a painting offers up is own set of emotions. “There are a few moments after you finish a painting when you feel certain and complete and relieved, when it is finished and the whirlwind of compulsion to make something is over,” Ange says. “Sometimes that moment comes after a few hours or many months but that certainty about what you do is also really rewarding. And then the process begins all over again.”

Floodlight by Ange Mullen-Bryan

Floodlight by Ange Mullen-Bryan

Despite seeking creative paths throughout her life, Ange didn’t begin to think of herself as an artist until she was in her 20s. “I was very interested in photography and spent endless hours at secondary school in a small cupboard that had been made into a darkroom,” she recalls. “I also liked pottery and lace making, textiles and so on, but also creative writing was really important to me.”

While in the midst of her Art foundation year, Ange had the opportunity to make large oil paintings. “Suddenly it all made perfect sense and I had a language that I totally understood in a different way to anything else,” she says. “But it was probably about 10 years after that that I really found my own way of painting, and I was painting consistently throughout that time. I was steadily learning to find my own voice, I guess.”

Photography, collage, textiles and creative writing are all still a huge part of Ange’s creative practise.

Milk Herb by Ange Mullen-Bryan

Milk Herb by Ange Mullen-Bryan

“Some of my work is exhibited at the St Michaels Bistro in Painswick, Gloucestershire (The Painswick Centre, Bisley Street, Painswick. Gloucestershire. GL6 6QQ), at the moment. Also my studio is an open one so you can call in and meet me and view the work, she says, adding: “Generally by appointment works best.”

Find Ange on Instagram as @ange_jolene, on Twitter as @Angelajolene, and at her website

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley(at)




Writing prompt – bottled

Bottled by Judy DarleyI spotted this old milk bottle in a local woodland. Instead of containing a slip of paper, or a folded ship, it’s half full of living moss and other greenery. I love the idea of it being a kind of ecological message in a bottle.

What might that message say?

Alternatively, might it be the equivalent of a ‘break in case of emergency’ tool? In a moment of planetary crisis could we shatter the bottle glass and release a forest?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at) to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on







Poetry review – Visiting The Minotaur by Claire Williamson

Visiting The Minotaur by Claire WilliamsonDrawing on myths to make sense of our mortality, Claire Williamson’s first collection with Seren is at once heartbreaking and comfortingly human, with the skill to make your spirits soar.

Seen through Williamson’s eyes, a half bull, half man hybrid is nothing compared to the complexities of surviving your average childhood. From the aching tenderness with which she knits memories about her own daughters to the grief and confusion of losing a sibling and mother, Williamson immerses you with such conviction that you can’t help but empathise.

There’s a distinct irreality to much of the carefully conjured imagery, which only serves to heighten the stark honesty of the sensations being shared. Family members long gone return as horses: “She thrusts her black muzzle/ into the cleft of my torso and arm/ and I feel her warmth for the first time/ since she drank that poison.”

Bereavement is a theme throughout, but even in the bleakest contemplations, Williamson manages to find humour in the moments she captures.

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Fancy a Flash?

FlashWalk2016_Actors JoButler TomParker

National Flash Fiction Day UK 2018 erupts tomorrow – Saturday 16th June – with events across the UK and a special trio of celebrations in Bristol.

The day unfolds with the #FlashWalk organised by yours truly.

We invited competition entries on the theme of Urban Landscapes, between 40 and 400 words in length. Wonderful submissions arrived from all over the world, and we managed to narrow it down to 12 winning entries, which will be performed by our talented actors, Ashley Green, Christopher Ryan and Poppy Hocken, during the #FlashWalk.

Ashley Green, Christopher Ryan and Poppy Hocken.

Actors Ashley Green, Christopher Ryan and Poppy Hocken

The fully guided #FlashWalk begins at 10.30am on 16th June, outside the harbourside entrance to Bristol’s M Shed. It will finish at the GreenHouse, Hereford Street, BS3 4NA (just under a mile’s stroll away), between an hour and an hour and a half later.

The GreenHouse will be the venue for the afternoon’s free writing workshops. There will also be an evening of flash fiction performances at Bedminster Library, and the launch of the 2018 National Flash Fiction Day anthology.

You can find more details here:,
and here:

Hope to see you there!




Writing prompt – missing

Hair grip, Arnos Vale Cemetery by Judy DarleyOne of the early inspirations for my story Knotted Rope (published on the Seren website) was a small pink hair clip I saw lying beside a grave in Arnos Vale Cemetery. It made me wonder about the child who had lost it, and then wonder what would happen if the child want missing instead of the clip.

Could this inconsequential item serve as a clue? In the end my story about a missing child took a different route, and that initial thought was reduced to the following:

       I overhear one police officer mutter to another: “Shame it’s not a girl.”

       “Excuse me?” My voice rattles through the air. “What difference would that make?”

       “Oh, none, nothing. Just, little girls tend to carry things, hair slides…” He flounders, pointing to a broken clip on the side of the path. The pink paint is peeling away; it’s spotted with rust. “They’re more likely to leave a trail.”

       I glare at him. “If you’re any good at your job you won’t need a trail, will you?”

What ephemera you spotted by the side of a path or road? What directions could it carry you in your writing?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at) to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on


Poetry review – In Her Shambles by Elizabeth Parker

In Her Shambles by Elizabeth ParkerI recently had a conversation with poet Elizabeth Parker in which I mentioned that post-it notes are a reviewer’s greatest ally. They’re a tool that can work brilliantly, but also have their fallibilities. With In Her Shambles, I ended up needing almost as many post-it notes as pages, as every poem contained lines to call me back, and make me want to re-absorb their power.

Parker is a master of shimmering last lines, drawing you quietly to a crescendo – a moment of thrill or unease. In each case, the final few words lie in wait, ready to tilt you off kilter, steadied only by the surety of Parker’s pen.

In Lasagne, the making of a meal represents a deeply rooted love affair, in which the ending stanza speaks volumes: “I peg pasta/ between fingers and thumbs/ lay it down for him.”

In Lavinia Writes, a eulogy of sorts to Shakespeare’s ill-fated character from ‘Titus Andronicus’, that ultimate declaration is a shout of rebellion, as the silenced victim, her tongue cut out, finds a way to share her anger by unpicking the stitches of her wound: “I tear more, free more/ until I am fluent.”

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Ledbury Poetry Festival 2018

Ledbury cr John EagerSome British towns seem better suited to literary festivals than others, and Ledbury in Herefordshire is ideal – with reams of streets and architecture that the word ‘picturesque’ could have been invented for. From 29th June till 8th July 2018, Ledbury welcomes back its annual Poetry Festival, which promises ten days of written and spoken riches.

This year’s highlights include poetry and mediation day retreats with Maitreyabandhu, Fiona Sampson and Matthew Sweeney, plus workshops led by Sara-Jane Arbury, and salons featuring poet Yvonne Green, with short reading slots available.

Don’t forget to enter the LPF Poetry Competition. The closing date is 5PM British Summertime on Thursday 12th July, 2018. Top prize is £1,000 plus the chance to attend a writing course at Ty Newydd (pictured below), the National Writers’ Centre for Wales.

All winners get to read at the Ledbury Poetry Festival 2019 – if abroad there is the possibility of Skyping at the winners’ event.

Ty Newydd

The image at the very top of this post was supplied by John Eager of The other image was supplied by the Ledbury Poetry Festival team. Many thanks!



Theatre review – A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls11There are some stories that seem seeded in the emotional centres of our imaginations, where grief is almost made bearable by the multitude of disguises we hide it behind. In Patrick Ness’ exquisitely painful A Monster Calls, the stories themselves take on characters, revealing truths about our lead, 13-year-old Conor, while offering him a way to grapple with the tragedy unfolding around him.

A Monster Calls4

Director Sally Cookson has taken this tale, itself inspired by an original idea by Siobhan Dowd, and worked with the ensemble and writer in the room Adam Peck to create a play that gives voice to our darkest fears.

A Monster Calls13

Conor’s mum (Marianne Oldham, shown left) is seriously ill, and everybody knows it. What they don’t know, because he’s working so hard to hide the fact, is how much the situation is taking its toll on him.

In the role of Conor, actor Matthew Tennyson is extraordinarily expressive, embodying the fear, rage and determined self-delusion with heartbreaking vulnerability. Unusually, the ensemble remains on stage throughout, offering the impression of a world populated by unseen beings who guide or trip us – when Conor needs a bowl for his breakfast cereal, one is held out to him, and his school tie is placed unceremoniously over his head. It highlights the skill of the cast, as well as the director and set designer Michael Vale, that this seems at once normal and oddly moving.

A Monster Calls5

Vale has devised a set that leaves our imaginations free to unfurl, where chairs and ropes perform a multitude of functions.

While the monster itself is performed with visceral otherworldliness by Stuart Goodwin, the immense, ancient yew tree he represents takes shape thanks to an assortment of artfully strung ropes, which the actors clamber through with unnerving agility.

A Monster Calls1

From the start we find ourselves in the midst of Conor’s nightmares, where screened visuals, the physicality of the ensemble, and powerful use of sound, plunges us into a storm-torn horror that leaves the actor, and us, fighting for breath.

A Monster Calls24

Cookson has created a skin-shiveringly immersive show, aided by a soundscape from Benji Bower and Will Bower, that adds infinite atmospheric layers. We, the audience, may remain in our seats, but as Conor battles demons, both real and metaphorical, including a trio of school yard bullies (John Leader, Hammed Animashaun and Georgia Frost) we’re pulled along with him every step of the way.

A Monster Calls23

Selina Cadell is compelling as the grandmother torn between her own distress over her daughter’s illness and the challenges of a largely non-communicative, anguished grandson. Her home is signified by a swinging pendulum and relentless ticking that probably feels familiar to anyone who’s ever visited a grandparent’s house. The ticking heightens tension, which the possibility of an actor being accidentally flattened by the vast pendulum only adds to.

A Monster Calls10

Time is a prevalent theme in the story, with the monster only ever arriving at 12.07, and the terrible sense of time running out for Conor’s mother.

Throughout the play, this is the awful truth that no one quite dares speak. And yet, as the monster reminds Conor, right and wrong, true and false, and, above all, belief, are all complicated, ambiguous things. Not unlike an ageless yew tree that walks when called, represented by an armful of rope.

A Monster Calls is on at Bristol Old Vic until Sat 16th June 2018. Suitable for ages 10+.  Find out more.

Seen or read anything interesting recently? 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)

Writing prompt – busker

Street performer by Judy DarleyAt this time of year, magical performances begin unfolding on every city centre street. It’s a touch of the bizarre that I love to see, but it does make me curious.

What could lure or drive a person to such a precarious, public way of making a living? Or are they investment bankers in the week and unicyclists on weekends?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at) to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on


Book review – Unthology 10

Unthology10 coverThe tenth instalment in Unthank Book’s excellent series of Unthologies is all about mental and physical journeys, and people on the brink of savagery.

An encounter at a playground has as much unspoken barbarity seething beneath the surface as a meeting with a bear, and a flight on a mythical beast. The characters in the tales selected by editor Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones have little to loose, which makes them all the more compelling. More than one have demons on their shoulders, and reckless bravado seems par for the course within a few pages. It’s a dizzying read, full of bile, venom and tantalising swoops of the imagination. These are worlds to visit, and then disentangle yourself from, breathless and relieved.

In K.M. Elkes’s Ursa Minor, the brutality of IVF treatment brings a primitive urge to the surface.

In The Best Way To Kill A Butterfly by Hannah Stevens, that urge breaks through as something enchanting is turned ugly with shocking speed: “At dinner parties it became customary to have butterfly centrepieces. The insects would be pinned to cork and cased behind beautiful frames.”

Looking at the way crazes take hold and how we can succumb or resist, this story feels like it’s about far more than an influx of insects, examining instead our desire to possess, and to belong.

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