Amsterdam: From A to B and beyond

Singel canal with bikes, AmsterdamThe following extract is part of one of my travel features, and can be read in full at easyJet.

Arriving in Amsterdam is a bit like accidentally stepping on an anthill. You emerge from the airport directly into a heaving train station with people rushing around in every direction, all seemingly knowing exactly where to go.

We stayed at The Double Tree by Hilton, a vast green construction with a cool glassy exterior and a modern interior of clean lines and high ceilings.

National Monument, AmsterdamThe hotel is perfectly placed for visiting Amsterdam’s highlights, from the Red Light District to the exceptional galleries and museums that burst from every corner. After dropping off our cases we made our way to Prinsengracht (the Prince’s Canal), admiring the grand, if admittedly rather phallic, National Monument as we crossed Dam Square.

Prinsengracht is the perfect place to while away an afternoon, with easygoing bars frequented by locals, and the restaurant Envy, where we feasted on a multitude of small dishes such as Dutch oysters, North Sea crab salad, fried pork belly and an array of Dutch cheeses. Continue reading

Short short story – Draughts

Carol Peace sculpturesThis piece of flash fiction by Judy Darley was originally published in Connections: An Anthology from Paragram and is posted here with the editor’s permission. The tale was inspired by a trio of sculptures by the artist Carol Peace, who supplied the images that illustrate this post.

Carol Peace sculptureThe hot afternoon sun is making Chloe drowsy. She blinks, focusing her eyes on the path of a bumblebee drifting from one clover bloom to another. Honeysuckle and chlorine mingle in the air. A faint trickle of sweat slowly wriggles its way from her scalp to the space between her shoulder blades. Her book is still lying on the other side of the lawn in the shade her twin cousins dragged her from when they cast her in the role of umpire.

The game of draughts is the third challenge of the day, following a venomous tennis match, won by Amandine, and a swimming race won by Blake. She can see the pool water drying on their bronzed, over-privileged limbs and remembers something her mother once said, about how, the higher up society you go, the thinner the veneer of civilisation. Like oxygen on a mountain peak, stretched brittle and insubstantial over the bloodlust.

“You’re cheating!” Amandine’s voice rings out. “Chloe, he’s cheating! He put it in his mouth!”

Chloe sighs and rouses herself. “Blake, is it true? Open your mouth.”

Obligingly he does so, sticking out his tongue, the disk balanced on it like a rosy indigestion tablet. His eyes are laughing as he plucks the draught piece between finger and thumb, dropping it onto the board like something disdainful – he knows full well that his sister won’t touch it now it’s tainted with his spittle.

“Game to Amandine,” Chloe decides, and the cousins erupt into shrieks of glee and outrage.

Next on the agenda is rhetoric. Chloe feels her skin tighten with dread, imagining the barbed words waiting to be unfurled and flung.

Book review – Green Poems for a Blue Planet by Martin Kiszko

Green poems for a Blue Planet coverMartin Kiszko’s Green Poems for a Blue Planet offer the chance to take an irreverent, sometimes alarming, often hopeful journey through ecology.

With Nick Park’s quirky illustrations and Martin Kiszko’s astute yet comedic words, this poetry book is a rare treat for adults and children alike.

Martin highlights serious issues with such a deft touch that you’ll find yourself smiling even as you take on board his points about recycling and waste.

Despite the humour, the poems are also deeply thought-provoking, with lines in poems such as Street Names: “Places named after the trees that once lived there”, and My Natural History: “I took the path by the highway/Where my heartbeat could not be heard.” Continue reading

Space/invaders

Moth cr Judy DarleyThis poem by Judy Darley was originally published in Connections: An Anthology of poetry and prose from Paragram and is posted here with the editor’s permission.

The winter after your diagnosis, small
creatures Invaded our home:
Golden bodied wolf spiders,
sly slugs that lay in wait
then burst into vivid viscous puddles
on being stepped on.

And moths, endless flickering
moths, threatening as yet undiscovered
holes. I told you about them,
and tried to blot out
the thought of your shrinking
lobe, the image of you
trying to connect the dots, match words
that no longer slotted into obvious spaces.

Fought the dread that eventually
all that would remain
would be the spaces.

How to evoke a sense of place

Monsarez, AlentejoA version of this feature was originally published in the 100th issue of The New Writer magazine.

Judy Darley offers advice on capturing the essence of a place in journalistic and creative writing.

As a travel and fiction writer I have a strong awareness of the importance of a sense of place in all kinds of writing. Sights, sounds and smells all add up to an evocative image for the reader, and keep them interested in the story, whether it’s a piece of fiction or a feature.

Open any story or feature with a few words of description about where your scene is taking place, and you immediately provide the reader with a tangible image to hold on to as your tale unfurls. A location can set a tone, a mood, and conjure up an atmosphere far more adeptly than a lengthy description of your main actors’ feelings and actions. Continue reading

Successful short stories

Inkspill Magazine bannerI’m so excited to learn that Inkspill Magazine are planning to publish my short story ‘Buttonmaker’ in their next issue. which is due out later this month. Yay!

Another of my stories, ‘On The Ledge’ will be published by Fiction 365 in a couple of months’ time, following in the footsteps of my tale ‘Rock Thoughts‘. I’ll keep you posted!

Imperceptible beasts

Borneo green viperWe meet outside the hotel after lunch, fortified and ready for our jungle walk. Marion, the Swiss girl, has only flipflops on her feet. Her ballet pumps had been so covered with bat and swiftlet guano at the Gomantong Caves that she’d had to throw them away.

Joseph, our diminutive guide, arrives wearing rubber boots.

“Will these be all right?” asks Marion, pointing to her feet.

He smiles, nods. “Yes, ok.”

Joseph leads the way across a field, up a steep track. The air is heavy, sweating with heat. Plants curl and twist all around, threatening to trip us.

Myne Resort jungle hikeFollowing Joseph, resting our faith on his knowledge of this corner of Borneo, we cross an insubstantial rope-and-plank bridge over ravine that may once have held a stream. We clamber up the uneven hillside as fast as we can, trying to match Joseph’s pace.

At last the lookout point comes into view and he gestures for us to climb the steps. In that moment we know it’s been worth it. Before us is spread the Kinabatangan River – a slick brown horseshoe surrounded by dense greenery where proboscis monkeys, stork-billed kingfishers, pygmy elephants live out their days. Here and there scarring can be seen in the landscape – signs of the encroaching palm oil industry’s approach.

The journey back down the hill is somehow more challenging than the ascent, as we struggle through ruts of mud, never daring to look out for wildlife in case we stumble, fell.

We reach the shores of the Kinabatangan, where Joseph suddenly halts, points. A vast lizard, a water monitor, slides into the river and disappears. He points again.

“What can you see?” whispers Brian, from Australia.

Joesph nods, smiles: “Yes, ok,” then grasps Brian’s hand sharply as he reaches forward, trying to figure out what Joseph’s spotted. Our eyes suddenly focus, revealing the vivid green viper wrapped around a branch. Invisible as all Borneo’s creatures seem to be, until, perhaps, you’re ready to see them.

A few favourite things

BooksI know it’s now more than a week since Christmas, but I’m still revelling in my gifts! This year I had an impressive haul of books, including the exquisite The Persephone Book of Short Stories, which I’m already thigh-deep in, and Jackie Kay’s Wish I Was Here, which I can’t wait to wade into.

I’ve been dipping into Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries II with huge pleasure – it feels to me like another short story collection, with the possibility of something good to eat at the end of each tale. My one concern is how to make full use of the book without marking the beautiful pages – I may actually end up writing out each recipe as I choose to use it!

Elsie Belle bee jewelleryOther delights under the Christmas tree was this gorgeous set of bee jewellery by Elsie Belle, cast in bronze from Victorian charms.

They’re so delicate I’m afraid I might break their wings off, but I’m going to try my hardest not to. Aren’t they gorgeous?

 

DragonThis wee dragon also tops my list. As my friend Joanna, who bestowed him on me, says, “We could all do with a small, portable dragon to protect us.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Book review – Connections: An Anthology

Connections book coverBefore I begin this review, I have a small confession to make – I have two pieces included in this anthology of poetry and prose from Paragram, and there are few things more exciting to receive through the post than a neatly packaged volume that features your own published words.

That said, I actually found myself getting so absorbed in this collection that when I did encounter my own pieces it was something of a surprise! From the melancholy to the wry, the poems and prose pieces draw you in with unexpected strength given their brevity.

Messages of love, murmurs of regret and realisation, promises and unspoken hopes thread the whole together. Continue reading