Remember Me To The Bees – the book launch!

The Birdcage cr Judy DarleyToday is the day of the Remember Me To The Bees book launch – the party I’ve been banging on about for, well, it feels like months!

It’s all taking place at vey cool and quirky venue The Birdcage, one of my absolute favourite spots for drinking coffee, browsing vintage clothes, discovering new acts, and hours of people-watching.

Everything kicks off at 7pm tonight. You’ll have a chance to meet the lovely and very talented Louise Boulter, who created all the artwork for Remember Me To The Bees, including the gorgeous cover.

Louise Boulter, artistThe Birdcage is hosting an exhibition of Louise’s artwork for one night only, so make sure you take a look. Actually, I don’t think you’ll be able to miss it! In case you were wondering, the pic above was taken at the Birdcage…

I’ll be doing a few, very brief readings at around 8pm, and then special guest Rabbit City will be taking to the stage for some tunes.

Rabbit City

Oh, and you’ll be able to buy the book, which I promise I will sign for you. But more importantly, this should be a chance to have a drink, have a chat, enjoy some live music and original art, and have yourself a very splendid time.

The book has already been getting some great reviews – Ali Bacon posted a lovely one here and interviewed me here, and The Bristol Magazine have chosen Remember Me To The Bees as their book of the month for April – amazing! Ooh, and I got interviewed in the Bristol Post’s Weekend magazine, as well as the Wild Culture website, who also published one of the stories from the collection, Stalagmite. Feeling like a bit of a celeb!

Dress code for tonight is whatever you fancy turning up in, but be warned, photographer Pete Gettins will be ready to take photos of anyone who catches his eye…

Hope to see you tonight 🙂

The Birdcage parrot cr Judy Darley

Very special star guest – the Birdcage parrot

Writing to entertain – and inform

Canynge Sq reflections cr AA AbbottBristol writer AA Abbott trained as an accountant, which, she says, teaches you to “get concepts across in very few words – it’s a useful skill.”  Here, she explains how that led to self-publishing two novels, her parents’ memoirs and a selection of short stories.

Soak up sheer entertainment

As a very small child, I loved having stories read to me. I used to make up tales too, for my own amusement and for my younger brothers and sister. I was the eldest of five children born in five years, so my parents appreciated my help in keeping the smaller ones occupied. Learning to read opened even more horizons.

I enjoyed fast-moving stories, with plenty happening. In my twenties, I was hooked on Arthur Hailey’s blockbusters, then moved on to Ruth Rendell and Kate Atkinson: gentler stuff, but still with lots of suspense, death, and surprise twists. Although he was paid by the word and probably used far too many for modern tastes, I’ve always loved Thomas Hardy’s novels. He was the master of suspense, ending each chapter on a cliffhanger so readers would buy the next instalment, and he really got under the skin of his characters. That’s what I aim to create too: an exciting story, with flawed but likable characters, suspense and a happy ending. Continue reading

Remember Me The Bees – Girls in Windows

Girls in Windows cr Louise BoulterHard to believe that the official launch of my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is this coming Monday. Don’t forget, you’re invited to the party!

The eleventh story in the collection is Girls in Windows.

For four unseasonably hot and very happy days in October 2011 my hubla and I visited Amsterdam for a travel piece I was writing for easyJet. We had a wonderful time in this city of extremes, and several of the sights and experiences stamped themselves indelibly on my consciousness, providing the backdrop of this story, which I wrote for and had published in Litro magazine’s Dutch edition. Now all I needed was a plot, which came in the form of a young man apparently stalking the protagonist and knowing her to the core. But how?

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Girls in Windows

In the park we ambled along the paths, pausing to hear the skin-shivering strains of a violin echoing beneath a bridge. You grasped my hand, ejecting me abruptly from my reverie. Forcing me to conceal my annoyance, tell myself you’d meant it to be romantic, had meant well.

Deeper into the park, we walked through a fragrant avenue of hedges starred with white flowers where bees stumbled in drunken bliss. “What a wonderful smell!” I exclaimed. “It reminds me of something…”

As always, you were ready with an answer, sniffing hard then declaring: “Honey.”

I breathed in, catching a note of something richer, almost buttery. Honey wasn’t right – it was caramel that caught in my throat. Despite everything, I wanted to be kind to you on our anniversary, so I just smiled.

We reached a lake besides which bikes lounged in the grass like heat-hungry metallic lizards. Small birds shot overhead from tree to tree, silhouetted against the brightness, flickers of colour showing through.

“Parrots?” I asked disbelievingly. You thumbed through the guidebook, finding no answer between its pages.

Our meandering took us back to the bridge, but the violinist had gone, replaced by a group of kids in their late teens, early twenties; bearing handwritten signs offering free hugs. The sight intrigued me, drew me to them, but you pulled me closer to yourself, proclaiming: “We have all the free hugs we need!”

I forced a laugh, pulled away, and the boy must have seen his chance. His warmth enveloped me, along with a faint smell of perspiration that wasn’t entirely unpleasant.

Vondel Park cr Judy Darley



Midweek writing prompt – needful things

Love birds by Judy Darley

I received a press release this week about classical dance company MurleyDance (pictured below) exploring “the emotional attachments we form with objects, from technology to trinkets and treasures.”

On the same day I edited a magazine feature about gardeners and the tools they are most fond of, from the ancient trowel inherited from a grandparent to the knife brought back from Istanbul.

It’s something that’s always fascinated me – the way a seemingly worthless piece of costume jewellery or holiday souvenir can come to mean so much. I believe the reason for this value is the stories such items contain – the memories they resonate with (either that or as in Tolkein’s vision, they have a real, deadly power).

So this week, I urge you to pause a moment and consider the items you hold dear. Select the most unlikely of these, an old chipped mug, for example, a tiny pair of cast iron love birds, or a key that fits no lock you know, and make one or two the focus of a short story. Horror elements optional.

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 may publish it on

Simona Marsibilio, Bianca Hopkins and Sarah Kundi cr Drew Forsyth

Simona Marsibilio, Bianca Hopkins and Sarah Kundi © Drew Forsyth

Remember Me The Bees – The Scent of Summer

The Scent of Summer cr Louise BoulterThe tenth story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is The Scent of Summer. This tale began life in a short story workshop, when we were each presented with a postcard and invited to write a story about it.

Mine showed a family of four standing awkwardly in a back garden. They looked so very ill-at-ease it made me wonder whose garden it was, and why they were there. This made me think about how one misfortune can lead to another, and the strains this can put on an family. As the character of the younger daughter, Jo, grew in my mind, I knew I wanted to give her the mission of bringing the family back together.

An earlier version of the story was highly commended by the Frome Festival Short Story Competition committee. The version of the tale in Remember Me To the Bees resulted in me being invited to read it out at the Penzance Literary Festival 2013 – a fabulous experience!

The artwork is by Louise Boulter. If you read to the end of the story, you’ll understand why I chose to post the photo of poppies too.

A short excerpt from The Scent of Summer

Dad had been a postie for as long as I could remember, rising early each weekday to walk to the sorting office and collect his load. I’d go with him sometimes, strolling through the streets of south Bristol and listening to him greeting everyone he saw.

But a week after we moved in with Aunt Maura he got himself fired for stealing letters. It felt like a big mystery, big enough to hold the answers to all our troubles.

Dad’s bosses at the Royal Mail thought he was trying to rob money, taking the fat envelopes that might contain cash, but I couldn’t believe that. I found a few tucked into his jacket pocket, reeking of patchouli oil, and while he and Mum edged around each other in frosty silence I carried one away with me. Later, I slid the sheet of paper out of its envelope, inhaling the exotic fragrance.

“Kath, what does it say?”

“Where did you get this?”

“It was in the bin,” I lied. “Will you read it to me?”

“It’s a love note,” she said, surprised, then read aloud: “My angel, you keep my world in orbit. Yeurgh! Oh god, this could be one of the letters Dad nicked. Don’t tell Mum – they have enough problems right now.”

I remembered how Dad woke us at sunrise on his and Mum’s anniversary last year and dragged us down to the lawn outside our old house. Dad had rescued Mum’s bridal veil from the attic and she wore it with her nightdress – Kath said she looked like an angel in white glimmering against the shadowy garden.

Poppies cr Judy Darley

Midweek writing prompt – perception

Scottish Storytelling Centre ghost cr Judy DarleyI’ve been thinking a lot recently about the puzzles of perception – about how much of what we see and think we comprehend is influenced by our own state of mind. Not all other worldly apparitions are truly ghosts, after all.

I took this photograph at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh and still don’t understand quite how this image was formed, but I find it rather beautiful, and particularly apt for the setting.

Make the explanation for this the basis of your story.


If you write something prompted by this image and idea, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket You could end up published on!

Remember Me The Bees – Broken Circle

Broken Circle by Louise BoulterThe ninth story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is Broken Circle. The idea for the story began with me thinking about the way our various selves overlap. If you’re not sure what I mean, just think about how it feels when you return to your childhood home or spend time with a sibling – don’t you feel your childhood self bubbling up beneath your adult shell?

I wanted to examine the way all these different, often contradictory, versions of our selves drift in and out of each other, and how these can conflict with the self we’re busily trying to portray to the world. As a diabetic I also wanted to look at how low blood sugar levels plays with perception, so that reality ebbs and flows in much the same way.

Presenting all this within the heady, surreal environment of a fairground visited by the main character Bex and her niece Kayleigh seemed utterly ideal for emphasising the transience of each of the states experienced by Bex, while introducing a note of peril.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Broken Circle

The playing fields throb with screams and laughter, growing louder as we near the blur of the chair-o-planes and glittering waltzers. I gaze at the teenagers kissing, running, cavorting all over the carnival, and feel a faint, deep-buried churn of envy. I used to have that exuberance, didn’t I? Before I got so old. I hear Mum’s tut in my ear: If you’re old what does that make me? But I’m roughly the age now that she was when she died, closer to my forties than my teens.

Kayleigh tugs on my hand, Mum’s old handbag hanging heavy from her shoulder. She looks very small suddenly with her stick-insect limbs and pale cap of blonde hair.

I kneel beside her on the yellowing grass. “If you don’t want to go on the rides we can just watch, Kayls. What do you reckon?”

She shrugs, faking nonchalance, and lets me lead her into the throng, past the swooping turns and spinning lights of the scarier rides to the relative calm of the Big Wheel. “How are you with heights?”

“Not scared if you’re not.” She grins at me and clambers into the seat. The metal bar swings across us, pinning me down but barely touching Kayleigh.

“Hold on tight,” I shriek as we begin to move and I envision Kayleigh sliding out into the popcorn-scented air. I remember being on a similar wheel twenty years or more ago, sitting beside my little sister Melinda and waving at Mum, tiny below us. It seems like yesterday. Part of me wishes I could go back to that time.

As we rise upwards, telltale lights spark at the corners of my eyes and the world turns concave, then convex against the lens of my eye; slippery as oil.

Kayleigh’s chattering about everything she sees, and I try to pay attention, but the air is big and fat around us, and I want to eat it, eat something. I’m eight years old with Melinda beside me, her blonde hair gleaming in the sunlight like spun caramel. That’s what I need – something sugary. My bag is at my feet, emergency jellybabies far out of reach. “Mel…” I say imploringly. “Mel, I need…”

“You called me Mel!” Kayleigh giggles.

“Did I?” I pant, pinching the skin on the back of my hand, trying to regain a sense of myself.

Midweek writing prompt – distillation

Kurdish protest, Trafalgar Square cr Judy DarleyHere’s an idea – use any hectic scene (I took this photo in London when I walked into Trafalgar Square and discovered a protest underway), as your starting point, and distill it down to the length of a haiku.

A haiku is just three lines long: five syllables, seven syllables then five. It’s a wonderful way of to challenge yourself and ensure your writing gets right to the point. I think you’ll find that it can really enhance the power of your words.

I believe a haiku makes you draw back, then hone in.

If you write something prompted by this image and idea, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket You could end up published on!

Bergamo – a fairytale town

Bergamo in mist cr Judy DarleyBergamo is a town that feels made up – almost too dreamy to be true. Located in the Lombardy region of northern Italy between Milan and Venice, its ancient medieval cobblestone streets wind through lanes that could lead anywhere, to another land even…

We arrive on a late winter’s day when curling mist isolates the town in swathes of white.

“You have to imagine,” our guide keeps saying, “You have to imagine, from here you usually can see the mountains – such extraordinary views.”

Above Città Alta, the upper town, stands a ruined fortress surrounded by exquisite memorial gardens, the Parco Della Rocca, which, we imagine as instructed, will be filled with somnolent Italians in summertime, the scent of the eucalyptus trees hanging heavy in the air.

The ancient streets below host churches built in gratitude for the townspeople’s survival of the 16th-century plague epidemic that ravaged northern Italy, as immortalised in Alessandro Manzoni’s novel The Betrothed.

One of the finest of these buildings is the pink, white and black marble Santa Maria Maggiore basilica, guarded by two stone lions. The interior is an explosion of Baroque ornamentation, interspersed with statues and tapestries telling the story of Our Lady.

Santa Maria Magiore lion cr Judy Darley

“You have to imagine,” our guide tells us, “that most people could not read in the 13th century. So the stories of the bible were told through pictures, in embroideries, tapestries and frescos.”

A grand example of this is the tomb of composer Gaetano Donizetti, with carvings of seven crying children breaking instruments, representing the notes that would no longer wish to sing now that their master was dead.

Every surface of the basilica’s interior is crammed with symbolism, mythology and poetry, a visual testament to the many writers who’ve fallen in love with this small town over the centuries. Visitors have included 14th-century Italian poet Francesco Petrarch, 19th-century French writer Stendhal, Hermann Hesse, winner of the 1946 Nobel Prize in Literature, and, of course, Hemmingway, who seems to have spent time in anywhere worth visiting in Europe.

We eat lunch at Restaurant Giopì e la Margì, where the chef serves up traditional dishes such as minced meats wrapped in cabbage, polenta with anchovy or salami, thin slices of cured veal, oven-baked venison, and, most delicious of all, wild mushrooms layered with fresh cream and translucent leaves of the thinnest pasta.

We spend the night at the Mercure in the Città Basso, the lower town, and in the morning I draw back my curtains to see the pinnacles of towers emerging from the mist-like clouds, ochre-coloured sandstone house stacked against the hills.

Land of the angels

After breakfast we set off for Azienda Agricola Tenuta Degli Angeli, quite literally Land of the Angels. Set on a steep mountainside rising from the Calepio Valley, this vineyard is a family business producing wine, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Azienda Agricola Tenuta degli Angeli olive trees cr Judy Darley

The vineyard was started by Pierangelo Testa in 1984 and has since passed into the care of his daughters Roberta, Laura and Maria. Roberta leads us through the vineyard past the twisting trunks of olive trees and crab apple trees, where vast field mushrooms spring from the thick, green grass hinting at the fertility of the place.

It seems like an idyllic place to spend an afternoon, whether you’re helping to pick fruit or sitting on a bench admiring the views and capturing a few thoughts on paper.

Once we’ve admired the scenery, Roberto takes us into the wine cellar to see the stacks of wine bottles, then into the storage area for balsamic vinegar. A rich aroma like baked raisins fills the air, and here and there the syrup has oozed from the barrels down the stone walls leaving a sticky black residue.

“You can really feel the smell of the vinegar in summer,” Roberta says, showing us the barrels corked when she and each of her siblings were born.

“My father gave me the barrels for my year when I married.”

It may seem like an unromantic wedding gift, but when she lets us taste a teaspoonful of the first balsamic vinegar her father made, all of 36 years ago, it makes perfect sense. Layers of flavour spreads over my tongue, sweet and savoury at the same time, rich and thick like the finest honey with a hint of fruitcake, astonishing in its complexity and nothing like the vinegar we use as salad dressing in the UK.

At lunchtime we eat a simple yet divine meal of fresh bread, grana cheese, olives, nutty green olive oil, chestnut honey, and jams made from grapes and citronella. It’s clear with each mouthful that quality takes precedence over quantity here.

“We prefer to stay small,” Roberto says. “Our main income is from making cement manufacturing, so we can concentrate on excellence with the vinegar.”

It’s an interesting thought – this family have found a way to balance their lives by nurturing vines on one side and manufacturing cement on the other, just as so many of us exist sandwiched somewhere between creativity and pragmatism, as though one cannot survive without the other.

Azienda Agricola Tenuta degli Angeli dog

But this is too heavy a contemplation for such a delicious meal – beyond which church towers and donkeys, a giant bear-like dog and countless twisted olive trees loom out of the dispersing mist, and the sky is just beginning to turn a celestial blue.

Azienda Agricola Tenuta degli Angeli vineyard views cr Judy Darley

Remember Me The Bees – Stalagmite

Stalagmite cr Louise BoulterThe eighth story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To the Bees is Stalagmite. This atmospheric artwork by Louise Boulter is one of my favourites in the collection.

The initial prompt for this tale was reading some myths connected with the Scottish island of Jura, where it was once an honour for young girls to have their hair selected to be used as ropes for the fishing boats. Mixing that in with a hint of sacrifice, I thought about how a modern day family might be damaged if the father became so obsessed by the myths that he grew to believe them. Oh, and I added a dragon for good measure.

At the heart of my story, however, is the idea of reconcilliation – how might it feel to reconnect with your father after twenty years apart?

A short excerpt from Stalagmite

“What would you like to do first?” Dad asks as he takes me to a battered Morris Minor and swings my case into a trunk strewn with shells, rocks and battered tin cans. “Are you hungry? Tired?”

“Neither,” I say. “Can we dump my stuff at the house then go for a hike into the hills? The old trail?” I’m desperate to see the island – I have an uneasy feeling I’ve romanticised it beyond all recognition.

“The Wolf Walk,” he says softly, eyes flashing with surprise. “You remember that? All right, let’s do it. But first you should know that after you and your mother… I rather downsized.” Downsized turns out to mean a small rusting caravan that lists slightly to one side on a strip of balding, cow-trampled ground.

“It’s not much, but it’s home.” He leads me inside, swinging my bag onto a narrow kitchen table. A sleepy bumblebee fusses in the thin curtains – out from hibernation a touch too early. Dad unlatches a window, ushers it outside, watches it disappear into the sky.

“Is there a bedroom?” I wonder what I’ll do if he says no. Insist on staying at the island’s one hotel? Mum had wanted me to do that anyway, her doe-eyes dilated with concern as she watched me pack.

“Of course there is, silly!” Suddenly he resembles the dad I’d known, laughter rushing out of his mouth in a howl. I grin, simultaneously unnerved and reassured. “You can have it. I’ll sleep in here.”

“On the table?”

“It turns into a bed. Have you never stayed in a caravan before?”

I try to think back, but our family holidays are snarled up amongst his retellings of the island myths. Did we stay in a cave at some point? It seems unlikely, but not impossible. “If we take the long route into the hills we won’t be back by nightfall anyway,” he says. “How do you feel about camping out? I have a couple of sleeping bags.”

A couple? I look at him and he shrugs. “I always hoped, you know, that you…”

He opens a cupboard, drags out two neatly parcelled Four Season bags. I inhale their faint mustiness but stop myself commenting on it. He’s been waiting for this far longer than I’d realised.

Trees and fog cr Judy Darley