The power of reading aloud

Arnos Vale trees cr Judy DarleyThis month I’ll be doing readings at events in Cardiff and Bristol, sharing flash fictions pieces inspired by art, a short story based on the life of a lady aviator, and a tale prompted by superstition and the sea.

I love doing readings – it’s always somewhat terrifying, but at no other time do you receive such an instantaneous reaction to your work. I even enjoy reading out during sessions with the writing groups I attend. Somehow speaking the words I’ve written gives them life beyond the page, which is, in part, what every written word requires in one form or another.

With works in progress, it also helps me to hear where my writing would benefit from being tightened up or amended in some way. I sometimes wonder if the neighbours are ever puzzled to overhear me reading my latest story or chapter aloud, sometimes stopping mid-sentence as some previously unnoticed clunkiness or typos come to my attention.

If a sentence trips you as you speak it, something’s generally amiss. A few tweaks can smooth out the structure and rhythm, enrich each sentence, and get it closer to the flawless piece of prose or poetry you intended to construct in the first place.

If you haven’t tried it before, I definitely recommend giving it a go, even if it’s just you alone in a forest with an audience of trees. Even better, as one of my friends does, dictate your writing pieces into a Dictaphone or similar and play it back to yourself – you may find yourself cringing, but surely that will be worth it for the enhanced end result.

Rolling landscapes with Relton Marine

Starbotton cr Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Starbotton © Christine Relton and Tom Marine

I relish paintings that offer a sense of scale and space, with paths that guide the eye to the horizon and skies that could turn stormy without a moment’s notice. It provides the impression of fresh air, clear-headedness and all the pleasure that comes with being somewhere wild, and it’s all captured in the work of Christine Relton and Tom Marine.

Christine studied at Leeds and Lancaster and Tom at Byam Shaw and Chelsea School of Art. Since graduating, they each continued to paint constantly, and after becoming a couple in 1996, they began painting together, “and that’s when it really took off professionally.”

Compares cr Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Compares © Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Working collaboratively like this is unusual, but Tom and Christine take it in their stride. “These days Tom tends to start the paintings by under painting with intense colour and pattern using stencils made from objects collected on our travels,” says Christine.

Tom explains. “Christine uses this under-painting as a basis for the finished piece by making the composition over the top and letting a lot of the under colour and pattern inform the finished painting.”

They say they developed their particular style through “chance, accident, playing around – talking about what to paint and how to make it better. Colour has always been a starting point.”

Pondicherry cr Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Pondicherry © Christine Relton and Tom Marine

The pair have the advantage of being able to travel a lot, and often use their journeys to springboard concepts for new works. “Imagery that’s unfamiliar always gets us thinking about how to represent it in a painting so we travel a lot. Asia and India are big favourites for ideas.”

Still Life With Almond Blossom cr Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Still Life With Almond Blossom © Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Being based in West Yorkshire, they also draw inspiration from the natural glory of the landscape surrounding them, creating works that appear in collections across the world.

These days they also run their own art gallery, Colourbox, into order to showcase their own and other artists work at art fairs across the UK, as well as join forces with other galleries to participate in art fairs in Hong Kong, New York, Singapore, Seattle, Stockholm, Brussels, Milan, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Toronto.

Above Grassington cr Christine Relton and Tom Marine

Above Grassington © Christine Relton and Tom Marine

The biggest delights of their lives as artists are reflected in their paintings, especially those depicting the sprawl of Yorkshire hillsides and skies.

“We love having the total freedom to do what we want and go where we like and paint when and what we want, knowing that people love our work and want to have it in their homes.”

And what artist could truly want more than that?

Find more of Christine and Tom’s work at

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

Writing prompt – tin can

Sand Point, rusted can cr Judy DarleyA couple are rowing on a pebbled beach, their voices cutting the air. Storm clouds are gathering overhead and the low green waves grow rougher and wilder by the second.

One half of the couple splits off and strides away. The other hesitates before stepping towards the car park,  stopping as something catches their eye.

A crushed tin can, rusting to the colour of old blood, nestled in the grass at the edge of the shore. On some impulse they pick it up, put it in their pocket, then continue on their way.

What happens next?

If you write something prompted by this idea, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to publish it on

Book review: And in Here, the Menagerie by Angela Cleland

There is a delicious sense of solidity to the poetry in  Angela Cleland’s And in Here, the Menagerie. Words slot into their allotted spaces with satisfying clunks that continue to resound long after you put down this debut collection.

Angela has a background in performance poetry, and this experience is evident in her work that just aches to be read aloud, preferably in a seductive Scottish accent. She is adept at conjuring up entire worlds for us to explore, often hurrying us along so we catch glimpses of scenes we crave to see more of. Continue reading

A flurry of short stories


Reading © Carol Peace

October is aglow with literary happenings, and I’m happy to be able to share the news that I’ll be at several literary events in the coming weeks, reading short stories and flash fictions.

First, on Friday 16th October, I’m excited to be heading over the Severn Bridge to the launch of Skylark Journal, a brand new literary magazine from publisher Little Lantern Press. I’ll be reading my story Breathing Water during the annual Made in Roath Festival in Cardiff on the 16th of October in the Waterloo Gardens Tearoom from 6.30-8.30pm.

Then, with Bristol Festival of Literature kicking off on 15th October, I’ll be preparing for two very different events. The first, led by Mike Manson, is Unreliable Histories on Tuesday 20 October, and takes place down in Redcliffe Caves, so wrap up warm! I’ll be reading a tale based on the life of World War II aviator Elsie Davison, better known among her friend as Joy.

The second is Written from Art, led by me and hosted by sculptor Carol Peace in her beautiful studio at Bristol Paintworks on Wed 21 October. Ten writers will be reading stories and poems inspired by art. It promises to be an uplifting evening. Tickets are free but essential due to the small and atmospheric setting of Carol’s studio. Get yours here.

Books, and more books

Books from Bloom and CurllToday I popped into Bloom and Curll to find out whether any copies of Remember Me To The Bees has sold, and the inevitable happened. While browsing the shelves, I discovered three intriguing-looking books, bought them and brought them home.

Funny how often that kind of thing happens.

I also had the opportunity for a happy chat with reader-in-residence, Jason. Actually, he runs the business, but whenever things are quiet, he slips into a nook and opens a book. How lovely does that sound?

Chaotic rhythms with Nick Tommey

Meditations in Metal XXVI detail cr Nick Tommey

Meditations in Metal XXVI detail © Nick Tommey

Resembling the skeleton of a fallen leaf cast in molten metal, this artwork is just one of an immense body of work by sculptor Nick Tommey. I love the way it shifts from sky blue to burnt orange – offering the sense of rivulets of hot and cold air running together. Nick first began to develop his particular artistic style during a period working as a welder in San Francisco, after becoming intrigued by the visual patterns created by ‘energy exchanges’.

“I’m drawn to natural, chaotic patterns and rhythms – anything that shows evidence of an energy exchange – erosion patterns, growth patterns…” he says. “It’s the evidence of an energy exchange that I’m most interested in. The warping of the metal, the coloured oxidation of the stainless steel, coupled with my own energy input by the manipulation of the material, is at the core of my work.”

India cr Nick Tommey

India © Nick Tommey

Nick initially wanted to become a photographer, “but before you can do a degree in photography, you have to do a one-year foundation course which covers a wide range of disciplines, one of which was sculpture,” he explains of the path that led him here. “It seemed the most natural way of working for me, and I have been working and thinking three-dimensionally ever since.

India detail1 cr Nick Tommey

India detail © Nick Tommey

After finishing his art foundation course in Cheltenham, Nick moved to Sheffield. “I was drawn to the city because of its cheap and plentiful studio space – as the city was in depression and there were a lot of closed down metal workshops,” he comments. “As I was working more and more in metals, it seemed a natural choice.”

Nick lived there for three years before moving to San Francisco, where he found employment as a metal worker, and where, due to high rent prices, “my sculpture had to be put on a back burner. I continued to make work, but very slowly as I could only ‘weld for fun’ during lunch breaks and so on.”

Meditations in Metal XXX cr Nick Tommey

Meditations in Metal XXX © Nick Tommey

Nick worked for various metal shops, “often doing lots and lots of TIG welding. It was my interaction with the materials and observing how they responded to my interaction that provided the starting point of my particular style of work.”

Through his sculptures, he says, Nick is “attempting to set up my own chaotic structures through the almost mindless repetition of the welding. Unintended rhythms appear in my work the same way they do in natural patterns and rhythms like sand dunes, fingerprints, and so on.”

blue tryptic cr Nick Tommey

Blue Tryptic cr Nick Tommey

Nick remained in San Francisco for eleven years before returning to England in 2008. “I am now able to make sculpture the majority of the time.”

Making the work itself is only part of the pleasure for Nick. “One of the things I get the biggest kick out of is thinking about what happens to a piece after it has sold, where will it end up, who will own it, who will it communicate with,” he says. “It’s a way of living beyond yourself. Even after you die, you can still be communicating with people. I’m playing around with some bronze castings at the moment, and it’s great thinking that the bronze pieces that I am making now could last for thousands of years!”

Meditations in Metal XXVI_220cm x 60cm x 10cm_Stainless Steel_cr Nick Tommey

Meditations in Metal © Nick Tommey

The majority of Nick’s larger pieces go to Melissa Morgan Fine Art in Palm Dessert, California. Smaller pieces can be seen at Paragon Gallery in Cheltenham. You can view all of Nick’s work on his website

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

Writing prompt – Eros bound

Krakow-Igor Mitoraj-thebighead2 cr Judy DarleyIn the centre of Krakow rests a gigantic head. Created by sculptor Igor Mitoraj, it’s titled Eros Bendato (Eros Bound), and was initially hated by local residents when it was first installed. When the artist died in 2014, opinion swiftly changes, and the big head became a favourite local landmark.

Krakow-Igor Mitoraj-thebighead cr Judy Darley

Apparently it’s common for people to gather here before a night out, and by day hordes of tourists arrive to take pictures and hear how the bronze statue became an iconic part of the scenery.

Step inside, and you’ll discover something unexpected – the impression of a cave with rock pools and glimmering light.

Krakow-Igor Mitoraj-thebighead2 cr Judy Darley

It’s a curious mixture of the unwanted and the beloved, the crowded and the solitary, the human and the heavenly, city-bound and coastal.

For this week’s challenge, write a piece inspired by this sculpture and its contrasting facets.

If you write something prompted by this idea, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to publish it on

Krakow’s best bite

GrubaBula-Krakow-best burger ever cr Judy DarleyIf you’re watching the current series of the Hairy Bikers’ adventures – Northern Exposure, you may already have an idea of what to expect from Poland’s cuisine. As befits a population accustomed to sub-zero winters, not to mention decades of regimes under the Nazis, then the Soviets, it’s easy to understand the hearty, occasionally hefty food. Most options are meat-based and seem designed to pile on pounds to safeguard against the next period of hardship.

Many of these dishes are delicious. Pierogi, Polish dumplings, are a highlight, crammed with ingredients ranging from cream cheese to venison. Bigos is also worth tucking into – this national favourite, also known as hunter’s stew, is packed with different kinds of meat and veg, and will certainly keep the cold at bay!

But for me, the finest meal in Krakow was in fact more familiar fare, and turned out to be the best burger I ever ate, courtesy of Gruba Bula.

We’d just visited the somewhat gruelling museum at Schindler’s Factory and had strolled back across the bridge into the Jewish quarter when a small van caught our eye. Set around it were enormous cable drums and crates being used as tables and chairs, and an enticing smell was rising into the air.

We decided it was worth the risk.

Best decision ever.

GrubaBula-Krakow-eyes off my burger-cr Judy darley

Oi, eyes off my burger!


The burgers were immense, tender, and spilling over with flavour. Each is deftly wrapped in swathes of grease-proof paper and there are reams of napkins to hand, but a hose-down might have been more appropriate. A clear sign of a top-notch burger, in my opinion. It’s a feast in a bun – and I’m not usually even that much of a burger fan.

GrubaBula-Krakow-bestburgerchefever cr Judy Darley

The smiley chef (who speaks Klingon as well as English, don’t you know?) adds to the sheer enjoyment of the experience. We’ll definitely be dropping by next time we have the chance to flit over to Krakow. Find Gruba Bula on Facebook at and give that handsome chef our warmest regards!

London Literature Festival 2015

Terry Gilliam_credit_Jay_Brooks_at_Camera_Press_London

Terry Gilliam © Jay Brooks at Camera Press London

With the tagline Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, this year’s London Literature Festival hosted by the South Bank Centre promises “Talks, readings, comedy, poetry, films, music and free events for the incurably curious this autumn.”

The festival takes place from 28 September until 12 October 2015 and is crammed with enticing options.

For me the highlight looks set to be the “immersive, multimedia journey” with extraordinary filmmaker Terry Gilliam “through the many inspirations he has drawn on – from the Bible and Mad magazine to Grimm’s fairy tales and the films of Powell and Pressburger.”

Taking place at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday 7th October 2015, ‘Inside The Head of Terry Gilliam’ is an uncommon opportunity to venture into the imagination of the most exuberant Python.

If you watched footage of the Monty Pythod reunion tour, you may have been struck, as I was, by the effusive glee with which he tackled every sketch he appeared in, exuding a verve for life that’s been evident in all parts of his creative output – from the beautiful, melancholic Tideland to his recent adventures with English National Opera, directing Faust, then Benuvenuto Cellini.

Other events at the festival include the chance to learn how to perform your stories for a live audience with Nick Field, graphic novelists Isabel Greenberg and Stephen Collins discussing how they create alternate worlds, poems inspired by silent films, Forward Prize-winning poet Kei Miller reading from a new work about his cacophonous Jamaican homeland, and novelist and gaming expert Naomi Alderman and other innovators offering a look at how games creators draw inspiration from literature to create compelling characters.

For the full programme, visit