Amid trees with Daniel Ablitt

Drifting cr Daniel Ablitt

I have a recurring dream, or daydream perhaps, of wading into the cool, clear waters of a lake or river, surrounded by trees. It’s a moment of calm that I can draw in supermarket queues, crowded commuter trains, and while waiting to speak on stage about my writing.

I have no idea where this tranquil scene comes from – perhaps its an amalgamation of places visited and glimpsed – who knows? But then one day at the Affordable Art Fair in Bristol, I discovered Daniel Ablitt’s paintings and realised his artwork reflects the mood in that dream with uncanny familiarity.

Waiting At The Jetty cr Daniel Ablitt

Waiting At The Jetty © Daniel Ablitt

His pieces often show a single figure, or a pair, allowing you to imagine yourself stepping directly into the setting, meandering amid the trees or slipping into the water. There’s a sense of contentment, and self-containment, exuded by his work that I find wonderfully enticing.

Somehow I find it unsurprising that he comes from a family of artists.

“Both my parents are potters so art and creativity has been a constant through my life. As a consequence it seemed perfectly natural for me to follow an artistic path,” he says.

Warm Winter Light © Daniel Ablitt

Warm Winter Light © Daniel Ablitt

Daniel studied for a degree in fine art at Cheltenham and Edinburgh, but feels his education “really started as a child with family travels through Europe in a camper van, stopping at any church with a fresco and museum or gallery on the way.”

Sounds heavenly to me.

“I think the first piece of art I was proud of creating was a drawing of a deer that I did when I was about 10,” Daniel says. “It was the first drawing that wasn’t of superheroes! It is also my first piece of work that was framed. I think as an artist you create pieces throughout your working life that for some reason are seminal to you, that mark a turning point or break through of some kind.”

Daniel says he draws inspiration from “places that I find hold a sense of peace and contemplation. These can be places I have recently visited or part remembered places from my childhood.”

That makes perfect sense to me, given my personal response to Daniel’s artwork. More recently Daniel travelled to Patagonia and has embarked on a series of paintings inspired by his time there. “The landscapes I encountered there were truly breathtaking.”

Shadow of the Mountain © Daniel Ablitt

Shadow of the Mountain cr Daniel Ablitt

I asked Daniel what influences his work, and while he listed Peter Doig, Toulouse-Lautrec, and landscape painter Casper David Friedrich, he was keen to point out that he sources inspiration from many different sources “not only other painters. It can come from music, film, literature or something as simple as a quality of light at different times of the day.”

He adds: “I honestly try and empty my hard at the beginning of a piece. Being surrounded by trees or moorland or mountains, gives me a greater sense of self. In these places I feel more physically, mentally and emotionally aware.”

Secret Place cr Daniel Ablitt

Secret Place © Daniel Ablitt

You can see Daniel’s work at various art fairs in September and Octobe, and at the following galleries on an ongoing basis.

John Martin Gallery, 80 Fulham Rd, Chelsea, London, SW3 6HR.
Wills Art Warehouse, 180 lower richmond road, putney, sw15 1ly.

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

Midweek writing prompt – write a letter to an unknown solider

Unknown Soldier_2As part of this year’s World War I events, Kate Pullinger and Neil Bartlett invite you to write a letter to an unknown solider.

In an effort to engage as many people as possible, this thought-provoking and moving venture encourages you to dig deep and think about what you would say to the people who lost their lives fighting to defend us in the years 1914-1918, as well as every war since.

The letters submitted will be gathered to form, as the tagline states, ‘a new kind of war memorial made by thousands of people’. And you can be part  of it.

“On the hundredth anniversary of the declaration of war – in this year crowded with official remembrance and ceremony – we’re inviting everyone in the country to pause, take a moment or two, and write that letter.”

The idea was prompted by the statue on Platform One of London’s Paddington Station, which shows an unknown soldier reading a letter.

Use this as your writing prompt this week, and write a letter of hope, of gratitude, of understanding, or whatever else you would like to share in memory of the sacrifice of countless thousands of people. The deadline for submissions is 4th August 2014.

And if you need a nudge to get started, got to the 1418now website and read the letters already submitted, written by everyone from Stephen Fry and Andrew Motion to ex-soldiers and school children. It’s powerful stuff.

Review – Triple Bill at the Tobacco Factory Theatre

Polly Crockett-Robertson cr Films.Gb

Polly Crockett-Robertson © Films.Gb

The latest show from Third Stage Dance Company at The Tobacco Factory offers up three delightfully different acts making use of dance to tell stories that stir, intrigue and engage.

The first, justWORDS, begins with a dark stage with fleeting moments of light, illuminating a lone woman dressed in black while words, spoken in German, murmur overhead. As a writer, I’ll admit I wished the words were in English, as the only one I grasped fully was ‘liebe’ – ‘love’. Perhaps that was all that was needed, though…

The stage illuminated fully, and I felt we’d entered the woman’s dream. Dancers took turns on centre stage, before a familiar trio, Polly Crockett-Robertson, Sara Mather and Luke Antysz, began to spell out tales of tenderness, betrayal and reconciliation while other dancers flooded in and off stage. Recurring motifs, some of which were achingly sensual, contributed to the dream-like feel.

Triple Bill1 cr Films.Gb

© Films.Gb

The second act, Invitation Only, presented work by guest choreographers and dancers, including the impressive RISE Youth Dance Company who exhaled energy and emotion – particularly in the breathtakingly angst-filled last set. Stunning.

In the final act, Never Brought To Mind, the dancers, dressed in pastel-pop shades of lemon, peach, aqua and palest green, waited at a railway station for a delayed train.

Live music from the Ryan O’Reilly Band provided a folksy soundtrack for a series of dances that showed off the talent of this innovative company. It was a cheery, visually compelling note to end on, with some standout performances (Gudrun Derrick dancing to the song ‘Elizabeth’ was simply gorgeous), and made me wish delays were always so entertaining.

I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out to see what Third Stage gets up to in future.

Triple Bill cr Films.Gb

© Films.Gb


Promote ecology through art

Potting shed cr Judy DarleyInspired by the earth and all that grows in it? Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World (CCANW) is inviting applications for the second round of its Soil Culture artist residencies.

The aim of Soil Culture is to encourage a deeper understanding of the value of soil – it’s not just what we stand and build on, but what we live on.

They say: “Healthy soils are essential for the production of the food required to feed a growing population.  They also play an important role in our global eco-system, acting as a carbon sink to reduce the impact of climate change. Today, soils are threatened by several forms of degradation including loss of natural nutrients and bio-diversity caused by contamination, compaction, erosion, flooding and salinisation.”

Got that, and got something to express about it? Taking place across the South West of the UK the residencies will allow you to experiment with your ideas and develop new work to help the public engage with these message. To enable you further, you’ll have unparalleled access to facilities, expertise and working contexts.

Currently there are two projects you can apply for. The deadline for submissions is 30 July 2014.

The Eden Project mid-November 2014 to April 2015

“This residency invites an artist to work with the Eden Project team to re-engage visitors with the brown gold beneath our feet, revealing the secrets of the life within and the life-giving force of the soil, helping to communicate how Eden turned a recipe that usually takes 200 years to cook into an 18-month process and to provoke curiosity and ultimately create a love affair between man and soil.”

Interview date: 20 August 2014

Schumacher College, Dartington January / February 2015

“This residency invites an artist to explore soil from a holistic and ecological perspective, creating a deep engagement with the earth. The work needs to have a strong connection to nature, with at least an element of exploring soil in an outdoor, living context.”

Interview date: 26 August 2014.

Wellies cr Judy DarleyThese paid, part-time positions offer a fantastic opportunity to explore your understanding of and promote ecologically far-reaching ideals.

CCANW will also be inviting applications for the third round of residencies in the autumn 2014.

For full details and an application form, visit or contact Sally Lai on

From Cabot Tower to the towers of Hong Kong

orange stained sky, Hong Kong cr Susan LavenderThis week I received the exciting news that one of my stories has been selected to be performed at a Liars’ League literary night in Hong Kong! How’s that for international?

Liars’ League are a series of events across the globe, with the strap line: Writers Write. Actors Read. Audience Listens. Everybody Wins.

Can’t argue with that!

My story Night Flights, which explores the somewhat dark and twisted relationship between a brother and sister, takes place entirely on Brandon Hill and up Cabot Tower in Bristol. The idea of it being shared with story-lovers in Hong Kong is somewhat mind-blowing!

As part of the ‘Night & Day’ themed event hosted by Liars’ League Hong Kong, Night Flights will be read aloud by Susan Lavender. Susan is a writer, performer and lawyer, and also took the glorious photo at the top of this post.

The Night & Day event is at the Fringe Club Dairy on 28th July 2014 from 8pm sharp, so if you happen to be in that part of the world that evening, do go along!

Nature and fantasy in Jessica Stride’s art

Flying on a Bird cr Jessica StrideIn art, and in my day-to-day life, I’m always drawn to vivid colours, nature and a touch of fairytale fantasy. So when I discovered Jessica Stride’s saturated paintings and multimedia creations I was instantly entranced.

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been highly aware of colour and it’s important for me to have it in my life,” she comments. “I’ve always knitted, crocheted, sewn and it’s always the colour that drives me.”

Jessica graduated from The University of the West of England with a Fine Art in Context Degree in 2000. “During my degree I’d worked on various public sculpture projects in the city but my real love was for colour and although discouraged from painting while I was at uni, I knew that’s what I really wanted to do,” she says. “I started to paint only after I’d finished my degree and felt like a complete beginner so decided to attend adult education classes in painting once a week. I loved experimenting with combinations of colours on the canvas and my early paintings were abstract. It wasn’t long before I began to have regular exhibitions in Bristol.”

Today Jessica continues to draw inspiration from colour, as well as wildlife in the West Country and beyond. “I love nature and quite often my paintings include the sea, birds and plants.”

Book Lover cr Jessica Stride

Book Lover cr Jessica Stride

A lot of her works also feature books, as the one above does. The presence of the books enhance the wistfulness of the pieces, and the sense that the figure shown is deep in a daydream (though possibly about to have her brains pecked out!).

Abundance cr Jessica Stride

Abundance cr Jessica Stride

Jessica says she finds it difficult to describe her style to other people. “I work intuitively and I think that the best pieces evolve without me thinking about them,” she comments, then adds intriguingly: “Many people say it makes them feel happy when they look at my work which often surprises me because some of my paintings have a darker side which maybe isn’t obvious because of the bright colour!”

And of course I can’t help loving this new, bee-infused painting, ‘Beatrice and Her Bees’, now available from Jessica’s Etsy shop.

Beatrice and Her Bees cr Jessica Stride

You can see more of Jessica’s work at, and discover her process at Much of her work is available to buy here:

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

Midweek writing prompt – child and beach

Small children, beach cr Judy DarleyGive a child a beach, a bucket and plenty of salt water, and generally they’ll be in heaven. While adults lounge, sun-doused into somnolence, kids become industrious little marine bees, building, sculpting, digging…

But just occasionally so much joy can turn sour – transform them into mini savages. You only need to turn to Lord of the Flies to know how tenuous our so-called civility can be.

I don’t want you to plagiarise William Golding’s novel – but simply use it as a vivid reminder of the knife-edge all children seem to amble between angel and devil. Send them to the seaside, turn on the heat and see what bubbles up…

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 publish it on

Poetry review – On Becoming A Fish by Emily Hinshelwood

On Becoming A Fish by Emily HinshelwoodIn this collection of finely drawn poems, Emily Hinshelwood invites us to accompany her on a series of meandering strolls through the coastal landscapes of west Wales, and presents a series of impressions it may take eons to erode.

Footprints in the sand “collide, converge/in silent riot of unmet strangers”, “sounds of birds/run like wet paint/across the sky”, a journey to a lighthouse ends with a walk home “followed by that empty sweeping beam”, a duck “dives down past walls of limpets, ‘dead man’s fingers, spider crabs/anemones,” the ocean reeks of “the breath of saints,” and “the face of Saddam Hussein flaps in a hedge.”

There’s a delicious intimacy to Hinshelwood’s words, enhanced by her humour and evident fondness for the places included in this tour of Pembrokeshire. With the poet as our guide, we embrace enticing rock formations at Saundersfoot, watch gleeful ghosts run “long-knickered into the sea” at Tenby, observe swans “floating/like love letters, open only to each other” under the Cleddau Bridge, sneak a peek at a girl’s prayer for her goldfish at Caldey Island, greet a snake at Shrinkle Haven, bear witness to the disintegration of a wreck at Mill Bay: “Salt cuts lacework as/the stiff body is eroded rib/by rib.” We even join the poet and her daughter in counting dead birds at Skomer Island: “use the binoculars/to see their twisted spinal columns in grotesque detail…” Continue reading

London invites you to take a literary load off this summer

The Librarian, Discworld, by artist Paul Digby

The Librarian, Discworld, by artist Paul Digby

What a wonderful idea! London streets are being peppered with books this summer – or rather, benches designed in homage of some of the world’s best-loved literature.

From Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels to Lewis Carol’s The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, the National Literacy Trust’s Books About Town campaign celebrates reading in the most vivid of ways – with seats resembling open books.

Dr Seuss by artist Jane Headford

Dr Seuss by artist Jane Headford

Many, such as the Dr Seuss bench, with the author’s deliciously weird characters recreated by Jane Headford, are instantly recognisable. Others, including the ‘Always try to be a little kinder than is necessary’ bench inspired by J.M. Barrie’s novel The Little White Bird, are likely to have people guessing, but still stand out as glorious works of art that will have visitors to London’s streets pondering literature in new ways.

Always Try To Be A Little Kinder by artist Sian Storey

Always Try To Be A Little Kinder by artist Sian Storey

There are 50 unique BookBench sculptures in all, created in collaboration in with Wild in Art, and devised mainly by local artists.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe 1

“Our events are designed to bring the enjoyment of public art to thousands of people while offering new ways to explore a host city or town,” says Sally-Ann Wilkinson, Director of Wild in Art. “We are delighted to be working with the National Literacy Trust on this project bringing many of our favourite books to life through the visual arts.”

I’d love to see the venture spread across the UK, awarding every city, town and village with a bench revealing a local literary connection.

Best of all, the benches are actually there to be sat on, so you can take a load off, pull a favourite book from your bag and enjoy a few moments’ escapism. And before you walk a way, take a look at the back of your bench, which in most cases will be as gorgeous as the front.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe 2

To find the full list of books featured, pay a visit to where you’ll be able to download maps of the four BookBench trails.

The BookBenches will remain scattered across London until 15 September, before being auctioned off at the Southbank Centre on 7 October 2014, so you’ll have the chance to bid on your favourites. All funds raised will go towards enabling the National Literacy Trust to tackle illiteracy in deprived communities across the UK.

Happily, new research from the charity reveals that 53.3% of 8 to 16 year olds now say they enjoy reading, compared to 51.4% in 2005. So it’s definitely going in the right direction. Here’s hoping a summer of spotting beautiful book-inspired benches will boost this literary love even higher!

Through The Looking Glass by artist Ralph Steadman

Through The Looking Glass by artist Ralph Steadman

Laments in Lisbon

iew of Lisbon from St George's Castle, LisbonA hush falls as an elegantly dressed woman stalks among the crowded tables, coming to a halt into the centre of the room. A guitar is gently strummed, then the laments begin.

I sit in near-darkness in a room crammed with Portuguese Fado aficionados, all listening intently. Not a single fork scrapes against a single plate. I haven’t experienced Fado before. Part of me was expecting something akin to the explosiveness of Spanish Flamenco, but Portugal’s national song is far more contemplative. I don’t understand the words, but the sentiment is clear, and shivers race up and down my spine.

“Fado translates as fate,” Carmo tells me when the performance ends. “Many of the songs are about beloveds who never returned home from sea.”

Tram, Lisbon cr Judy DarleyI’ve only been in Lisbon a matter of days, but the area around Clube de Fado, the Alfama district, is already one of my favourites. When we return in the morning, only a little the worse for wear, Carmo reminds me that it survived the great earthquake of 1755, so retains a sense of the small city as it would have been long before then, with washing hanging haphazardly between wrought iron balconies and steep, narrow streets. “Many homes here still don’t have their own bathrooms,” she comments, an note that could equally be horror or pride in her voice.

The streets are stacked one above the other another, giving the impression they were built in haste, yet it’s hard to imagine anything here ever being done in a hurry – even the trams amble like commuter-crammed caterpillars.

There’s a curious beauty about the Alfama, with some of the houses beautifully tiled. Most feature at least one small painted tile paying homage to a saint, and keeping the homeowners’ family safe from harm. This is a place where fate is taken seriously – anything you can do to safeguard your family is done.

Castelo de Sao Jorge, Lisbon cr Judy Darley

Above all this sits Castelo de São Jorge, where we wander through dappled sunlight and drink in panoramic views that showcase the city like a painted tableau. Despite the tourists, it is peaceful here – people murmur as they pose beside cannons, and cameras whir gently. Terracotta roofs are stacked above creamy buildings, and the strong, rectangular towers of churches rise above all else.

Far to my left I glimpse a crimson bridge that seems oddly familiar. “It was designed by the same company as San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate bridge,” Carmo says.

Ah, that explains it. The river it spans is the Tagus, a thread of water that broadens at times into an estuary lake so wide it resembles a sea, yet it narrows as it nears the sea – seeming reluctant to leave.

It’s an impulse I can relate to. I wonder how Portugal‘s explorers could bring themselves to head out to the unknown, knowing they might never make it safely home.

“This is my favourite place in Lisbon,” Carmo says, eyes half closing in bliss. “You know, don’t you, that the city was founded by Ulysses?”

I ask her to repeat herself. Surely Ulysses, the one I’m thinking of, is a fictional hero.

She shrugs, either uncertain or not caring. “I like to imagine him standing here on this hillside and saying, yes, this is good, this is home.”

Castelo de Sao Jorge cr Judy Darley