Geese among the trees

Lost Garden of Heligan geese cr Judy DarleyChristmas is coming and the geese are getting fat…

But actually this post is about something entirely different. The lovely folks at Liars’ League Hong Kong are hosting a literary night of performances on 29th December, and invited me to submit a tale. Always a pleasure!

Susan Lavender will be reading my short story Geese Among The Trees as part of a special festive showcase. She considered performing Night Flights again, but thought it might be a little dark for the occasion. That’s probably true!

Geese Among The Trees is a bitter sweet tale of hope and possible redemption. Susan Lavender will be performing it as part of the Liars’ Trump night at the Fringe Dairy jazz and cabaret club in Hong Kong on 29th December. The event starts at 8pm. Do go along if you’re in the area – I wish I could be there!

Asmaa Elnawawy’s paper dolls

Decision by Asmaa ElnawawyDelicate paper dolls strung across a scene instantly bring childhood to mind – such a simple act of folding and oh-so carefully cutting to create countless people!

In the hands of artist Asmaa Elnawawy, however, a more sinister impression forms, as she draws on the fragility of paper dolls to explore concepts of feminism. These figures are easily torn, and once they lose their pristine beauty they’ll be cast away.

“For me, the paper dolls in my paintings represent the concept of feminism,” Asmaa says. “They form a connected string of figures, which refers to the continuity of life.”

Asmaa is from Egypt, where the paper doll is used in traditional ceremonies to ward off the evil eye “We puncture the paper doll with a needle to prevent negative forces taking hold.” So an apparent act of violence against these paper women is actually intended to be protective. It’s a disturbing thought, given how much domestic violence is dealt out to ‘helpfully’ curb a woman’s behaviour.

Controlling by Asmaa Elnawawy

Controlling © Asmaa Elnawawy

Throughout her work, Asmaa explores “the stories of women in my society – what they’re suffering and what they hope for. I enjoy the art of Frida Kahlo, Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler, Gustav Klimt and the Pre-Raphaelites.”

Asmaa’s influences are evident in the richness of her works, painted in acrylic and oil on canvasses with intricately rendered backgrounds. In fact, the patterns on these ornate wallpapers each represent something significant for the viewer to puzzle out. Continue reading

Midweek writing prompt – Bathhouse

Bath House drawing cr Linda Samson

Bath House © Linda Samson

The beautiful artwork by Linda Samson that I featured a few weeks ago reminded me what a gorgeous time I had at Budapest’s Gellért Baths. There’s something so public and yet so intimate about bathhouses like these, where you can wallow for hours chatting and daydreaming. It’s the perfect place to plan out adventures, swap scandalous stories and reminisce.

Linda says “Woman Bathing appeared first as an etching, but after seeing Lord Leighton’s house with the central atrium and Turkish tiled pool in Holland Park, I reworked the image as the ceramic ‘Bath House’. There was an echo of the past in the piece as one of my earliest oil paintings was Turkish Women, created in homage to Delacroix, but based on my experience as a student where I stayed in a Turkish village near the Syrian border, helping to build a bathhouse for the villagers.”

This week, why not situate yourself as a fly on a (no doubt condensation-slick) wall of a bathhouse and see what you can observe – what rumours or conspiracies might come to your attention? And of course, some first-hand research might be needed, which offers the perfect excuse for an afternoon relaxing at your nearest spa…

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

Books for wordsmiths

I’m not especially a fan of ‘how to books’ for writers, which often offer the world but yield up only pages of dry, dense writing in return. Books actually about words, however, now they’re fascinating to me.

There are two I’m particularly enamoured with at the moment, both published by Oxford University Press, and either of which would make great gifts for any word-lover in your life.

Word Origins coverLittle Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins edited by Julia Cresswell

Small enough to carry with you wherever you, this beautiful hardback book offers a wonderland of insights into the words we use everyday with very little thought.

For instance, did you know that the word ‘average’ began life as “a shipping term” and referred to “goods lost or damaged at sea”, or that ‘scarper’ stems from “the Italian scappare ‘to escape’, influenced by the rhyming slang Scapa Flow ‘go’”? Me neither, and how that alters my view of those two simple words!

Rather than running alphabetically like your usual dictionary, instead dividing the entries into several topics, including architecture, behaviour and sensations. How curious just those choices are! The chapter on death includes explanations of the words ‘cemetery’ (“literally a place for sleeping” – how unexpectedly sweet) and ‘extinct’, from extinguish. It’s like holding a map to all the places you hold dear, only to realise as you begin to follow it that along every step of the route there are views you’ve never noticed before.

Words in Time and Place coverWords in Time and Place by David Crystal

Crystal’s taut linguistic collection aims to have your characters chattering happily, and authentically by providing examples of words spoken commonly in a variety of historical periods. Again, chapters are themed, and this time with great purpose. Want to know how your protagonist would refer to the loo? Turn to ‘words for a privy’, need your villains to flatter, insult or talk about the weather? There are chapters for those too, as well words for old folks, money, light meals, and even spacecraft, not to mention a whole chapter dedicated to the nose on your face, and a fine selection of oaths from different eras.

Each word is accompanied with an intriguing snippet of context – for instance, the term ‘on one’s ear’, meaning being drunk, apparently refers to the likelihood of a sozzled person being face down on the floor. Too true.

The introductions to each section are crammed with deeper analysis of the wordy offerings as Crystal points out the distinctions between the definitions of various words for fool, for instance “‘blockhead’ (someone with their sense intact who is acting stupidly) and ‘simpleton’ (someone with a weak intellect).”

It’s these subtle differences that make Words in Time and Place so much more that a historical thesaurus – and equips us to enrich our writing with a myriad of nuances, while stuffing our pockets full of words and their meanings along the way.

To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)

Write a monologue in the voice of a life model

Nude cr Judy Darley

Nude © Judy Darley

In my student days I spent many hours posing as a life model to earn a little extra beer money.

Mslexia‘s latest call for monologues caught my nostalgic eye for this reason. This section of the magazine is aimed particularly towards writers of script, but anyone is welcome to submit.

The biggest challenge is the brief word count, just 200 words. The next issue’s is specifically for a piece in the voice of a life model. It’s a great opportunity to put yourself in the, well, I want to say shoes, but more accurately, under the skin of a life model, whether you’ve experienced this for yourself or not. How do they feel about being naked in a room full of clothed strangers? Are they chilly? Uncomfortable? Or are they to busy thinking about their lives to feel anything beyond the importance of staying still until the art tutor releases them?

The deadline for submissions is 12th January 2015. Send your monologue either to (with ‘monologue’ in the subject line) or by post to Mslexia, PO Box 656, Newcastle upon Tyne NE99 1PZ.

The writer of the published monologue will receive £20.

Celebrate the Winter Solstice with stories

Midwinter trees cr Judy DarleyJust a reminder that this fabulous winter lit event is only a week and a day away.

As the days shorten and nights lengthen, my mind turns to the winter solstice, which this year lasts from 8.04am on 21st December until just 3.53pm.

To mark this special date, the micro publisher Arachne Press are hosting the Solstice Shorts Festival at the beautiful West Greenwich Library from sunrise until 11.30am,
 then at The Royal Observatory Greenwich, in the Astronomy Centre,  from 11am until sunset.

Quite simply, as Arachne Press proprietor and publisher Cherry Potts says: “it’s a celebration of National Short Story Day, of the Winter Solstice and of folk music, bringing together story and song on the Greenwich Meridian.”

Emphasising the setting in Greenwich, an author or actor will read a brand new short story on the theme of Time every 30 minutes throughout daylight hours.

Continue reading

From writer to publisher and back again

Coffee in the park cr Judy DarleyLast week I quizzed Darren Laws, founder of Caffeine Nights Publishing, about what it takes to set up a successful independent publishing house. This week we discuss how to balance the roles of writer and publisher.  

Identify the various skills required

“The roles needed for writing and publishing are very different, almost polar opposites. Writing is very insular by its nature,” says Darren. “Publishing is all about creating relationships in the real world rather than the virtual world inside the author’s head. Authors give birth to their babies and have to let them go to the publisher to rear and help make successful children and adults.

Darren points out that each independent publishing house requires a different skillset from their publisher, but agrees that “there are specific skills which are required whatever publishing house you worked for. Communication is a great asset. I talk to a wide variety of people in publishing from authors to buyers to journalists and app developers. Likewise, authors also want to communicate, though primarily with readers.”

“The pleasure of reading and supporting a great novel are both primary interests to the author and the publisher,” says Darren. “Our joint goal is to bring the best possible version of a book to market and to work collectively to those ends. Both require discipline, creativity and the ability to work whatever hours are need to get the job done.” Continue reading

Samantha Gilraine land stories

Rusty Trees cr Samatha GilraineWild, windswept landscapes and reaching trees fill the artwork of Samantha Gilraine with a sense of restless movement.

“I have felt compelled to record the world around me and express what I see and feel in various ways,” she says. “I did dream of being an artist but never really realised it was truly possible until a few years ago. It was people’s reactions to my work made me believe that I could do it as a profession, not to mention my passion for the subject.”

Moody Skies cr Samantha Gilraine

Moody Skies © Samantha Gilraine

Samantha treats her artistic endeavours as a journey, “exploring and recording the world around me and then experimenting with different media.” She says the process itself “is a real joy. But the best feeling is when someone connects with a picture that I have made and I get to see the true enjoyment they receive from looking at it. This spurs me on to create more.”

Wish that I'd worn wellies cr Samantha Gilraine

Wish that I’d worn wells © Samantha Gilraine

Continue reading

Midweek creative prompt – image flowers

Corner by Judy Darley

Something a bit different to get your creative juices flowing, or indeed, flowering, this week!

Launched by Cheryl Brooks, Image Flowers is a collaborative art project, with which you’re invited to participate. All you need to do is browse the images hosted on the Image Flowers site and create a visual reply to any that move you. This can be a painting, collage, photograph, or whatever comes to mind. I supplied Corner, the image at the top of this post, in response to Exmouth by Mike Lumley (shown below).

Exmouth by Mike Lumley

The project began when Cheryl, a fine artist, began a series of works exploring visual connections generated from one starting point.  In my recent work “I have been exploring natural geometry especially in relation to flower heads, so this and an exhibition I saw where two photographers had over time created a visual conversation by responding to each others images, is the inspiration behind this project.”


Image Flower 1 by Cheryl Brooks

The image that started it all, by Cheryl Brooks

To take part, simply spend some time at Image Flowers and find a picture that intrigues or moves you. Then email the picture to Cheryl as directed on the site, including the details of the image that spurred you to get creating!

Of course, if you find yourself moved to produce a written piece instead, that’s fine – just send it to me instead of Cheryl.

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

Let them read poetry!

OverTheHillsAndFarAwayBuying gifts for other people’s children is never an easy task. Is that big plastic dinosaur really going to keep them enthralled pass Boxing Day? Why not buy them a poetry collection instead? There are plenty out there especially written for children, fun for adults too, and, brilliantly, they won’t take up space in the toybox!

Here are three that have caught my eye.

My Life As A Goldfish coverMy Life as a Goldfish by Rachel Rooney

This comical cover of this collection belies the thought-provoking poems within.

In Wide Open we’re shown the inside of unbroken eggs, the moon and stars and even told of the wide open eye of the title that “yesterday it spied on your nightmares/and tomorrow it will spy on your dreams.” This poem manages to encompasse all the wonder our universe contains – impressive in only a few lines. Elsewhere in the collection a wolf girl laps hot pea soup from a bowl, a lie slithers into a school bag, and we experience mundanity and drama of the world from a goldfish’s point of view.

One of my favourites is Stone, three elegant couplets that begin: “Stone remembers sea: its salty lap./ Sea remembers river’s winding map.”

There’s plenty of humour too, including Rooney’s witty limericks and riddles, a helpful advice poem (“never ask a hippo/ for a friendly game of squash”) and a lonely hearts advert from a wolf seeking “lady in red/ with plump and soft skin/ to share walks in the forest/ and cosy nights in.”

Werewolf Club RulesWerewolf Club Rules
by Joseph Coelho

At first glance, performance poet Coelho’s verses form a lighter, shallower collection. In fact, as you sink into works like Miss Flotsam you’ll suddenly realise you’re swimming through waters packed with life. Coelho weaves in a view of the world that will help children make sense of atrocities without soaking in their terrors. miss Flotsam is a hero who helps her pupils through some of life’s frightening moments without letting them know quite that’s what she’s doing – and Coelho shares her skill.

There are celebrations of food, of pets (particularly puppies) nature and education (even though in the  An A* From Miss Coo there’s a humorous yet alarming examination of the dangers of being ‘taught’ to write poetry).

Among the wealth of stories, imagery and ideas, there are occasional blips. In Wool the poet suggests sheep are skinned to make jumpers, which seems an odd oversight to publish in a book for children. Other than this, the riches are many, with plenty to make kids laugh aloud (I know my five-year-old nephew will love Animal Boy, and enough depth to enthral older children and adults too.

Over the Hills and Far Away collected by Elizabeth Hammill

This hardback, beautifully illustrated book is a rather different beast. Bringing together nursery rhymes gathered from across the English-speaking world, it’s the kind of tome you give as an heirloom gift, to be treasured by generations of children, parents, grandparents (not to mention uncles and aunts!). The book has been devised and put together by Elizabeth Hammill – co-founder of the marvellous Seven Stories in Newcastle.

As a writer, I was intrigued to read the different versions of familiar rhymes (in Australia, for instance, Little Miss Muffet faces up to a boxing kangaroo and a wombat – perhaps Australasian spiders would give little ones nightmares!), while absorbing poems from as far afield as Ghana and New Zealand and rediscovering some half-forgotten favourites.

Children will enjoy vivid poem tales from Jamaican, Inuit and Maori cultures, while eating up the energy-packed artwork – it’s just a shame it isn’t made clearer which of the 77 artists illustrated each nursery rhyme – this would have added a further dimension of pleasure for me.

To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)