The Puppeteer published by Toasted Cheese

My short story The Puppeteer has made it onto the pages of the tastily named Toasted Cheese lit mag’s September issue.

Shirley Sharp picI am very excited about this! The Puppeteer is a rather sad but ultimately hopeful story that 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 Peter’s personality. Then I needed to make sense of the two creatures apparently sitting on his hands, and suddenly the idea came to mind of a puppeteer who’d lost his family through his obsession for his craft. Thanks for the inspiration, Shirley.

Here is a paragraph from the tale:

He tried not to feel their bewilderment, not to hear their shrieks of fear, as the flames sent acrid, choking smoke into the night sky and made a dark scorched circle on the grass. Tears streamed down his sooty face, and he told himself he was committing some kind of sacred act; a magician’s trick to bring his wife and Pippa home to him, prove how little hold the puppets had over him, compared to his love for the two of them.

Read the full story here.

I’ll be teaching a workshop on writing from art at the Bristol studio of sculptor Carol Peace on Wednesday 12 November from 2-5pm. Find out more here.

Soviet shapes with Leonid Borislov

phaton cr Leonid BorislovSometimes all you need is a few carefully crafted geometric forms and colours to rest your eyes on. Work by the late Leningrad-born artist Leonid Borisov (1943-2013) simultaneously soothes and ruffles the mind in the most delightful way.

Icon cr Leonid Borislov

Borislov’s artistic output spanned five decades through Soviet and post-Soviet eras, drawing inspiration from American abstract art and Moscow’s conceptual art scene alike.

Alexander Borovsky, Head of the Department of Contemporary Art at the State Russian Museum describes Borisov’s artistry: “There is no mathematics behind his geometrical compositions; his three-dimensional objects are not based upon aerodynamic calculations; his sculptures and boxes nailed together lack industrialism, but it is his geometry, his volumes, his roughness, irregularities, naïveté.”

The Ball cr Leonid Borislov

There’s a satisfying cleanness to his creations, as shapes slot together neatly and allow your imagination room to unfurl. Making use of any medium that suited his aims, from painting to sculpture, and photography to collage, and even ceramics, his works are deceptively simple, sitting calmly within their allocated space, but yet, there’s a suggestion of something simmering – a disquiet beneath the surface.

The Wheel cr Leonid Borislov

For the first time ever, Borislov’s artwork is to be showcased in the UK, with an exhibition titled Lessons in Geometry at Gallery Elena Shchukina in London, from 18 September 2014 until 16 January 2015.

Midweek writing prompt – eye of the beholder

Mother of Pearl © Stephen MasonLast week I showcased some of Stephen Mason’s extraordinary photography. The images in this post are also by Stephen. His interest in the differences between our own perception and that of the camera’s lens really caught my imagination.

Stephen explains that when watching a moving subject, the eyes and the brain “combine, through time, to make sense of the movement. They ‘see through’ the motion to perceive what’s actually there. The camera is much more literal. It ‘sees’ only what the film or digital sensor is exposed to in a certain; very short, period of time.”

In a longer exposure, this blurs the image, but in a shorter exposure, Stephen says, it records a single moment in time that the eye has missed. “The result can be quite surprising, even startling.”

For this week’s #writingprompt I suggest that you take your camera for a wander round your neighbourhood. Keep your eyes and mind open, and take shots of anything that catches your attention. When you get home, sort through the images and find one that nudges at you, gets you wondering. Then let the words begin to flow…

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to share it on

Persistance of Time © Stephen Mason

Recipe – Blackberry brownies

Blackberry brownies cr Judy DarleyThese brownies have a lovely lustrous blueblack colour thanks to their healthy autumnal ingredient! I came up with this recipe as a way to use up the berries I adore picking, but aren’t that keen on eating – all those annoying seeds! Hence last year’s blackberry vinegar recipe. For these brownies, the berries are puréed to remove all the unpleasant bits. If you have a bumper crop, the purée can be frozen to ensure a year-round supply.

If you like, add 50g chopped walnut, but I rather enjoy the unadulterated chocolatey-ness of it all, with just a hint of saintly September berries.


50g cocoa
5 tbl sp water
2 eggs
50g butter
200g blackberries
225g caster sugar or 150g fructose
100g sieved self raising flour
1 pinch salt


  • Heat oven to gas mark 4, 180 c, 350 f.
  • Line an oblong tin (at least a few cm deep) with greased greaseproof paper.
  • Crush the blackberries through a sieve into a bowl using a fork. You should end up with around 100g purée.
  • Crushing the berries cr Judy DarleyMix cocoa with water in a small pan. Add butter and your blackberry purée and place in a small pan over a low heat, stirring till smooth.
  • Whisk the cocoa blackberry mixture into the sugar. Add the eggs and whisk some more.
  • Fold in flour and salt. It should be quite thick and creamy – add more flour or water as needed to get the right consistency.
  • Pour into prepared tin.
  • Pop in oven for 35 minutes, then check. It may need up to 45 min, depending on your oven.
  • When cooked the brownies will have shrunk back from the edges of the tin.
  • Leave to cool then peel off paper and cut into fat wodges ready to serve.

NB: My first batch didn’t have the crust on top that’s usually associated with brownies, so I read up on it and discovered that it’s because I didn’t whisk the mixture enough after adding the eggs. Something to bear in mind for next time!

Autumn’s literary events 2014

Cherry red cherry tree cr Judy DarleyThis October is full of literary events to tempt you out of your cosy home to listen, participate and be inspired. If your event isn’t mentioned and you feel it should be, please email me at Judy(at) and let me know!

The Bath Children’s Literature Festival is on until Sunday 5th October.

London Literature Festival – 30 September –13 October 2014

Hosted by the South Bank Centre, this year’s festival holds a tribute to Maya Angelou at its centre. Speakers will include Hilary Mantel, Stephen Fry, and Kate Tempest.

Dawn cr Judy DarleyMy pick: Tithonus  – the world premiere of a specially commissioned new poem, read by the poet herself, Alice Oswald. The poem draws on the Greek myth of Tithonus, who the Dawn fell in love with. She “asked Zeus to make him immortal, but she forgot to ask that he should not grow old. Unable to die, he grew older and older, until at last Dawn locked him in a room where, several thousand years later, he still sits babbling to himself. This is an account of his babbling, written in real time, through a series of dawns from spring to midsummer 2014.”

The performance begins in darkness and lasts 46 minutes (the length of dawn in midsummer).

For the full programme visit

The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival – 3-12 October 2014

Speakers will include David Nicholls, Caitlin Moran, Judi Dench and Kazuo Ishiguro).

Art and Ecology NowMy pick: Can Artists Change The World? Artists Ackroyd & Harvey, along with Kathleen Soriano, former Director of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts and Andrew Brown, the author of Art & Ecology Now, explore how contemporary artists are responding to growing ecological threats and creating positive environmental impacts. On Monday 6th October.

Visit for details and to book tickets.


Manchester Literature Festival – October 6-13 2014

Look out for numerous events celebrating writing in all its forms. Speakers include Colm Tóibín, Esther Freud, Maggie Gee and Daljit Nagra.

My pick: Face 2 Face with Kay Mellor. In an event run in partnership with BBC Writersroom you’ll have the chance to draw on the wisdom and experience of Kay Mellor, whose award-winning television dramas include Band of Gold, Fat Friends, The Chase, A Passionate Woman and The Syndicate. She will be talking with Kate Rowland, Creative Director of New Writing at the BBC. On Thursday 9 October.

For the full programme visit

Bristol Festival of Literature – 10-12 October 2013

For it’s fourth outing, Unputdownable are taking things down a notch, with “a compact collection of performances, showcases and socials across the weekend.”

Remember Me To The Bees coverMy pick: Ok, I admit, I’m biased. Southville Writers / Bristol Women Writers are hosting Books Are My Bag at Foyles bookshop in Quakers Friars from  2-7pm on Saturday October 11th, with a line up of literary activities including talks, workshops and readings. I’ll be there, chatting about my short story collection Remember Me To The Bees.

Find the full Bristol Festival of Literature programme here:

Guildford Book Festival – 12-19 October

Authors will be sharing insights into their inspirations and working days, with speakers including Kathy Lette, Laura Bates, Stuart MacBride and Andrew Marr.

My pick: Turning Your Life Into Literature, a workshop with Debbie Taylor, Editorial Director of Mslexia. On Tuesday 14 October.

Find the full Guildford Book Festival programme here

Travel, Identity & Home – a Literary Night Inspired by Art

I’m pleased to share the news that this November I’ll be co-curating an event celebrating art, poetry and prose at the studio of sculptor Carol Peace. The event is on Friday 7 November, from 6-7.30pm.

Sailing boat cr Carol PeaceI discovered Carol’s work many years ago, when my dad took me to her open studios event. I was completely entranced by the sculptures, in particular three life-sized pieces that resulted in the flash fiction tale Draughts.

Since then we’ve stayed loosely in touch, but I was thrilled when Carol contacted me and asked if I would help her put together a literary event that would bring the mediums of written and visual art together.

It turns out we share a passion for the over-lapping of expressive forms – allowing ourselves to be influenced by all genres and mediums.

Including me, seven writers will share literary works inspired by Carol’s work, and by the themes Travel, Identity and  Home. The writers joining me are Joanna Butler, Paul Deaton, Helen Moore, Maithreyi Nandakumar, Pete Sutton, and John Terry.

It’s going to be a really intimate, special event, with only 30 tickets available. Make sure you get yours before they sell out.

As part of the same open studios event, I’ll be leading a workshop on ‘Writing from Art’ on Wednesday 12th November, 2-5pm. Attendance costs £12. More details on that and tickets available here.

For more information on the literary night and workshop, feel free to contact me by sending an email to judy(at)

Ambiguous imagery with Stephen Mason

Homage to Catalonia © Stephen MasonI’m always in awe of photographers who can capture an image that resembles a work of abstract art, revealing the beauty lurking the landscape around us. Stephen Mason has an eye for angles, lighting and colour that make me want to see my surroundings anew, as he must every day.

His mastery might be better understood when you realise he’s been at this for a little over three decades. “I bought my first camera (a Pentax SLR) in 1982 and learned the basics of how to balance exposure, aperture and depth of focus,” he says. “Initially, I just wanted to record holidays and explore Bristol (his home city) in photographs. However, I soon noticed that straightforward shots didn’t fully satisfy me and I began to explore unusual angles or details in what I saw.”

Light Fantastic © Stephen Mason

The arrival of digital cameras gave Stephen much greater freedom “to explore creatively by taking multiple shots of the same subject and then looking to see which ones worked. Then, using iPhoto software I began my first experiments in ‘developing’ my own photos.”

Eventually Stephen bought a digital SLR, graduated to Apple’s Aperture software and started to take his photography a bit more seriously. “Even so, I use the tools in Aperture very sparingly – mainly to modify contrast and to crop the original image.”

In a world where Instagram seems to taint most photos I see, it’s refreshing to encounter someone who wants only to emphasise the beauty that already exists in the world.

Untitled © Stephen Mason

Stephen seeks to explores a number of themes through his photography, including  form, movement, perspective and ambiguity.

“Many of my photographs explore visual enigmas in our everyday environment,” he says. “They are intentionally ambiguous. In photography, what you see isn’t always what you get. The eye and the camera see differently. I look for a subject that interests me. I then compose the photo according to how I see it but, when I press the shutter, I know that the camera will see it differently. There’s an excitement that arises from the uncertainty about what will result.”

While many artists present 2D images that we must interpret as a 3D vision of reality, Stephen is aiming to do the opposite of this. “By making use of the camera’s limitations I try depict 3D reality as an abstract 2D pattern or at least to leave the image open to either a 3D or a 2D interpretation,” he says.

Frustratingly, for me at least, Stephen’s passion for ambiguity means that “with rare exceptions I deliberately leave my photos untitled so as not to influence how the viewer sees them. Some people want to know ‘what is it?’ Others want not to know. I usually have an info brochure at my exhibitions which gives information about each photo but it has a very clear “spoiler warning” on the cover!”

Stephen often finds himself surprised by the scenes, or corners of scenes, that capture his attention via the camera lens.

“Many times I’ve gone out to photograph this or that, only to find that I’ve just spent half an hour photographing something else. I just try to stay open to getting lost in whatever I find. My own favourite of all my photos is the one I call Long Division (shown below). I love it because it is so simple, so stripped down and bare, so minimal.”

Long Division © Stephen Mason

Reflections in water are another visual prompt Stephen returns to time and again. “It is the frozen moment that looks so different from what I saw ‘in time’. For mud and sand, it is the exploration of form, light and the ambiguity of scale. I have had people look at my mud/sand photos and ask if it’s a mountain range from an airliner.”

Untitled (No1) © Stephen Mason Remarkably, Stephen is entirely self-taught. “I’ve never had any formal training or even been on a photography course,” Stephen says. “I’ve always wanted to learn things in my own way. I want to explore my way of seeing and I don’t want to be influenced by an establishment’s idea of how a photo ‘should’ be composed or balanced. I discovered my way of seeing through doing it.”

Stephen has been exhibiting his photos for the past four years, and will be showing his work in his own home as part of Art on the Hill – The Windmill Hill and Victoria Park Arts Trail on Saturday and Sunday 4th/5th October 2014 from 12-6pm. Altogether around 90 artists will be exhibiting in 50 venues, with an extensive performance programme in marquees and gazebos across the area.

Find more of Stephen’s work here

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

Midweek writing prompt – juxtaposition

nibble fishI love a good juxtaposition in my creative fodder. This week’s #writingprompt draws inspiration from the idea of people doing things you might not expect, from the nuns jumping on a trampoline, to the child physicist to the hairy tattooed man being pampered in a beauty salon.

Who comes to mind? What are they up to? How do they confound stereotypes? And how might that feed into a fantastic short story?

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to share it on

Book review – Re:Imagined

Re Imagined coverIt probably isn’t news that I particularly enjoy work that brings images and text together. In the case of Re: Imagined, co-curated by Robert John and Clodagh O’Brian, images and creative writings have equal footing in an anthology that seems designed as much to be an exhibition as a book.

As one of the curators puts it (I’m guessing Robert, though the introduction isn’t attributed), the book is driven by “the desire to see the world in the unique way we used to when we were kids.”

The collection, we’re told in the intro, came to life via Robert’s marvellous website, “a social art/design project is to re-engage us with the things we see everyday.” Continue reading

Blenheim’s Boutique Lit Festival

Blenheim PalaceI’m always on the look out for quirky festivals to tell you about and this one caught my eye for two reasons – a) the extraordinary opulent surroundings and b) a grand mash-up of talents and trends.

Taking place in the grand surroundings of Blenheim Palace (so perhaps less ‘boutique’ than ‘Baroque’) and nearby Woodstock, Oxfordshire, from Thursday 25 to Sunday 28 September, the Blenheim Palace Literary Festival will feature a really curious mix of writers and notable folks from “the fields of music, history, food and drink, politics and literature.”

Thanks to a new partnership with ITV, you’ll have a chance to drink cocktails and discuss writing for television with the writer and executive producer of period drama Mr Selfridge, Kate Brooke, plus a scattering of stars from the show, on Sunday. And Julian Fellowes (him what created Downton Abbey) will be talking about sharing details of his upcoming ITV film Great War House on Friday.

Alice Roberts

To stretch your brain a little and learn how we develop from eggs to people, and investigate the echoes of our evolutionary past found in our embryos, attend Alice Roberts’ talk The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being at midday on Thursday.

Jessye Norman © Carol Friedman

Jessye Norman © Carol Friedman

There’ll also be several ‘words meet music’ and ‘music meets words’ events. On Thursday, opera singer Jessye Norman will chat to Alan Yentob about her new Stand Up Straight and Sing, being an American icon and a singing talent that has so far won her five Grammy awards.

On Saturday, Steve Hogarth of Marillion (the band’s name itself inspired by literary tome Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien) will be dropping by to talk about his life and share a few songs, and his newly released memoir The Invisible Man Diaries 1991-1997.

Also on Saturday, scientist Richard Dawkins will waffle on about the early influences on his life and work while the Orchestra of St John perform some of his favourite pieces of music live. On Sunday, Blues in The Park will present a programme of poetry, music and humour, as Jazz Poet Jeremy Robson introducing his new collection of poetry with readings by actress Maureen Lipman, who will share some of her own “witty monologues and humour” interspersed with performances from jazz singer and Butterfly Wing group.

And those are just a few of the options on offer. It may only be four days, but they’re set to be jam-packed with inspiration, writing tips and all kinds of entertainment.

Visit for full details.

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