Midweek writing prompt – fearful things

Marionette shop, Prague cr Judy DarleyI think most of us are unnerved by things that don’t bother other people in the slightest. Spiders, for instance, don’t worry me at all, but puppets, now, they’re proper scary.

Writing from the heart ramps up the power of any work of poetry or prose, and considering the things that make your skin crawl, or provoke you to check under the bed, can tap into that quivering darkness deep inside.

So this week, I invite you to face your fears head on, whether they’re something physical, like puppets, or the daunting dread of impending joblessness, loneliness or ill heath. Whatever makes your bones shiver, look it in the eye, put in on the page, and turn it into a piece of creative writing.

Who knows, taking control of your anxiety may even free you from it. See you on the other side!

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

A happy browse at The Little Shop

The Little Shop Bristol muralI’m a fan of shops crammed with unexpected treasures – artworks, handmade oddities and items you never knew you needed until you set eyes (and heart) on them. Recently I discovered the aptly named Little Shop, established on Cheltenham Road in Stoke’s Croft by artists Amber Elise and Alex Lucas.

Small though it is, it’s impossible to miss thanks to the mural of languid bunnies and pineapples.

The Little Shop exterior

In case you don’t know it, I should explain that Stoke’s Croft is one of Bristol’s most intriguing areas, with interesting cafés, quirky shops and masses of world-class street art. Well worth a wander, and a wonder!

“The Little Shop is in a great location!” enthuses Alex. “The mural adds the curiosity of the use of the building (hopefully!) and often people look through the window before entering the shop as they are not quite sure what it is. I like that curiosity and think it adds a little quirkiness to what we do. Of course, it was a different matter altogether when we were painting the mural in the middle of the night – we saw the whole 24hrs of the Stokes Croft life!”

The shop itself came about almost by chance as the two artists, who had already shared a studio space for almost four years, were offered a workspace that was previously a gallery.

“We knew that we could share a studio space, inspire one another and both had an interesting eye for other people’s artwork that is was a prime opportunity not to be missed!” explains Alex. “We have quite different tastes which hopefully appeals to a wide audience base. There’s a large spectrum of work from prints, baby grows, jewellery to woolly knitted cacti. We like the idea of appealing to lots of people’s different tastes – variety is the spice of life and all that…!”

She adds: “I think having such a small space makes you think really hard about how effectively it can be used; we wanted a thoughtful and considered space with a relaxed atmosphere where people feel comfortable browsing and exploring.”

The Little Shop

The customers, and browsers, are a huge part of the pleasure of running The Little Shop.

“It’s really lovely to meet the people that wander into the shop –everyone usually has good interesting things to say and it’s also nice to be surrounded by so many beautiful things and inspired by fellow artists!”

To source the content of the shop, Amber and Alex are happy to be approached by artists with photos or samples of their artwork/product. “As it is a very small space, we do have to be quite choosy as there just isn’t enough room to fit everything in,” says Alex. “We’re now receiving applications from artists further afield, such as Nottingham and Lancashire, and even Barcelona, which is great! If anyone is interested in being part of the Little Shop, email us at thelittleshopinbristol(at)gmail.com and we’ll send you an application form and information with how the shop runs.”

The Little Shop interior

The pair like to keep the shop’s contents fresh and varied, so every eight weeks they have a change-around, ensuring a hugely diverse array of artists can be seen – it’s definitely worth popping in each time you pass!

We wordbombed a flea market

Vintage cravats cr Judy DarleyThere’s a particularly fine flea market that rocks up not far from me each month. By fine I mean eclectic – packed with eccentric folks selling unexpected wares from storefront dummies to diving bells, to extraordinary arrays of colourful hats. It always fills me with the urge to try to capture the scene, give so much ephemera a sense of permanency.

So we decide to wordbomb it – and had a ball.

Doll heads poem cr Judy Darley

How to wordbomb

It’s a perfect simple premise. Just take a few scraps of blank paper and some pens along with you. Browse at your leisure, and when you feel moved to, scribble down a few thoughts inspired by what you see. I’d advise stepping away to do this – the idea is to act as fast as possible so that there’s less chance of you being spotted in the act – hence the ‘bombing’ or ‘storming’ part.

Diving helmet poem cr Judy Darley

Now the tricky part – surreptitiously place your scrawled words with the items that inspired them. If you have the chance, snap a quick photo of it in place, but this is less important than managing to leave your words.

Diving helmet cr Judy Darley

Of course, you ought to ask permission, but then it wouldn’t be wordbombing, it would be, um, word leaving. As in yarnbombing, the illicit element is an intrinsic part of it.

And the aim is to scatter your words so that they can surprise, bemuse and possibly even inspire others.

Alligator poem cr Judy Darley

Note: You will receive varying response to your words and actions – but the man selling the crocodile suitcase smiled as he read my spur-of-the-moment poem, which made it all worthwhile.

Wearing hats cr Judy Darley

Remember Me To The Bees – The Beast

The Beast cr Louise BoulterThe 15th story in my debut short fiction collection Remember Me To The Bees is The Beast. I wrote it in response to a call for submissions from bi-annual journal of new fiction Riptide for their Cornwall-themed issue, and was really chuffed that it was selected for publication in  Riptide Volume 7.

I wanted to write a story blending together urban myths, in this case the Beast of Exmoor, along with the taboos and secrecy thrust upon us by society, as with regards to domestic violence, and then explore these through a child’s eyes who may not fully differentiate between the two.

The artwork at the top of this post is by Louise Boulter. The others are my own.

A short excerpt from The Beast

The school day was long and achy and boring. Especially at break-time when the other kids watched him and whispered together as he shuffled outside to sit while they played footie. He hated the fact that they hadn’t known him before, when he could run and kick as hard as any of them. As far as they were concerned, he’d always been damaged, and always would be. Through their eyes he could only see himself as he was now. The real him was nowhere in sight.

Mrs Braithwaite had got his mind whirring, wondering about the creature that was too terrible for her to risk telling him about. Back in the classroom he toyed with the idea, trying to imagine what it could be.

‘Tyler Clarkson, I’ve been calling your name!’ The teacher’s voice made him jump, but she sounded more worried than cross. ‘What are you thinking about?’

The Beast‘The Beast,’ he said, without meaning to. He hunched down in his chair as the class erupted into giggles.

‘Hush, class,’ the teacher said firmly. ‘Do you mean the Beast of Exmoor, Tyler?’

The note of kindness in her voice made him brave enough to nod. ‘Yes, Miss. What is it?’

She smiled, seeming pleased. ‘Well, class, here we have a newcomer who doesn’t know our local legend. Who can help?’

A dozen hands shot up, some waving furiously. Tyler blinked around at them. It had to be something good to get such a response.
‘A giant cat, Miss.’
‘A puma, Miss!’
‘Loads of hikers have been attacked by it, torn limb from limb.’
‘My great-uncle was a farmer and in the 1980s he lost more than 100 sheep to the Beast!’
‘My granddad once saw its footprints. He said they were bigger than dinner plates!’

The teacher clapped her hands, making them fall silent. ‘Well, most of you are right, in one way or another, but perhaps the most important thing is that it’s a myth, which means what?’

‘That it might not be true, Miss?’

She nodded, pleased again. “It probably isn’t true. If there ever was a Beast, which I doubt, it’s long gone from Exmoor now. So there’s nothing to be afraid of at all.”

The Beast: The moor cr Judy Darley

Midweek writing prompt – wordbomb

Grandfather Clock cr Judy DarleyHave you ever been tempted to try a spot of wordbombing? It’s a bit like Rachael Charwick’s 60 Postcards project, only a whole lot more ramshackle.

Wordbombing is something I got into a few years ago, but it harks back to my childhood, really. I grew up in a house that was a few hundred years old, crammed with curious nooks, as well as the curious old bits of furniture my parents had inherited from their own predecessors. My mum and dad still live in that house now, surrounded by those same inherited treasures. In particular, there’s a rather odd but lovely grandfather clock that for some unknown reason was never finished – the clockface has a few lines missing as though someone got distracted midway through and then forgot.

I loved that  clock so much – its distant bongs would murmur through my dreams. I used to open the door at the front to see the pendulum swing in the shadowy, mysterious space inside. Continue reading

Book review – 60 Postcards by Rachael Chadwick

60 Postcards book coverOverwhelming gusto was not an emotion I expected to encounter in a book that is essentially about bereavement, yet that’s what I found.

The book opens with Rachael Chadwick and her friends heading off to celebrate an important birthday in Paris and enthusing over every little detail, which I admit, I initially found a bit much. I stuck with it though, as I hope you will, and soon understood I was reading a book written straight from the heart.

Rachael is disarmingly honest throughout, taking us through the distress and grief of losing her mum to a shockingly aggressive cancer, and all the way to Paris and back, on a mission of remembrance that was to have an extraordinarily far reaching and life affirming impact. Continue reading

Home from home – Quintinha de São João

Quintinha de Sao Joao cr Judy DarleyEntering Estalagem Quintinha de São João feels more like coming home than checking into a hotel. Located on a discreet side street close to the center of Madeira’s capital city, Funchal, the hotel has the air of the home of friends with impeccable taste, a sense that’s enhanced by the warm welcome from the reception staff. The fact that there are only 43 rooms adds to this further, so that by the time you walk into yours, you’ll feel like part of the family.

This is the perfect place to relax between bouts of sightseeing, with spacious balconies overlooking the rooftop pool, gardens and surrounding hillsides. The pool opens early, so an early swim is a great wake up, followed by the sumptuous breakfast served in the A Morgadinha restaurant.

Quintinha de Sao Joao pool cr Judy Darley


If you prefer more privacy, arrange to have croissants, cereals, fruit and coffee brought to your room, and sprawl on the sofa while you wait for the caffeine to kick in. Each room has a spacious living area, while suites have separate living and bedrooms with a balcony opening out from each so you can choose where to relax. You can have a masseuse come to your room, or visit the hotel’s spa with three treatment rooms plus jacuzzis, a sauna and hamman steam bath.

If you don’t make it out of the hotel, there are plenty of shady corners in the garden, as well as comfortable nooks with fat armchairs, tables and sofas where you can read, plug in your laptop and catch up with a spot of writing, or scribble long overdue postcards.

In the evening, sample cocktails in the Vasco da Gama bar, or ask General Manager André Barreto to have a romantic meal served to you in the gardens beneath an arbor of sweetly scented jasmine blooms. By the time the stars come out, you may have decided never to leave.

Quintinha de Sao Joao jasmine cr Judy Darley

A cuppa with novelist Ali Bacon

NovelistAliBaconBristol has a brilliant network of writers, and last autumn I had the pleasure of meeting novelist Ali Bacon at an event for the city’s lit fest. We’ve stayed in touch and this week I took the opportunity to ask her those thorny writing questions that have been making the rounds.

Kettle’s on. What do you fancy, Ali?

I’ve never been a tea-drinker, so mine’s a good strong coffee, Cafe Direct Machu Picchu blend please. Throw in a chunk of cake or shortbread biccie and I’m yours forever!

Coffee cr Ali BaconWhat are you working on at the moment?

I’m writing a novel set in Victorian Edinburgh, a milieu that probably conjures up murder and mystery but the theme I’ve chosen is the development of photography and the partnership of Robert Adamson, a talented scientist and David Octavius Hill, a landscape artist.

The focus of the novel is D. O. Hill and the women who surrounded him as well as the part that photography played in his life.

For anyone who is interested, many of the 3000 ‘calotype’ photographs Hill and Adamson took between 1843 and 1847 can now be viewed on the Scottish National Galleries Flickr stream.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Well this is my first stab at a historical novel and I’m only on the first draft, so I’d like to nail the genre before I start subverting it!

My own taste in historical novels is towards Tracey Chevalier (I love how she captures a time and place without resorting to masses of period detail) and Rose Tremain (Robert Merivel has the most distinctive and captivating voice) rather than historical romance.

I’ve also looked at lots of novels about real historical characters  to try and work out what works and what doesn’t. I have to say that for me quite a lot of them don’t work particularly well, so I think I have quite a challenge on my hands.

Why do you write what you do?

Well, so far I have written three novels – one literary romance (described as ‘classy hen-lit’) one coming of age novel, and now I have gone ‘all historical’, so right now I am a branding nightmare! But for me relationships are always key, and sex usually plays a part (although that’s not proving to be the case in my current WIP – a bit of a worry!)

Basically I think something in the character’s predicament has to appeal to me, encapsulating something in my own life or experience, although the connection isn’t always obvious. When I begin a book I usually know how the story will end, but I never know how it is going to get there – that’s the writing adventure, so something has to call me in and invite me to commit my time and energy to teasing out the truths that are in there somewhere.

How does your writing process work?

It’s messy! I think you can see from the last answer that I am most definitely a ‘pantser’. I usually have the crux of the story in my head at the start, but I know I will need to add more characters and subplots as I go along. Of course these can then affect the original concept so that I tend to write and rewrite several times until I can see the real shape of the story. Messy and sometimes painful, but as I said, always an adventure. If I plan too much I lose interest.

With a short story I might start with only a prompt, a single incident or just a title but the process is surprisingly similar (see above – writing and rewriting!). I’ve also come to realise that I write incrementally (if that’s the word.) I think I know the scene I’m about to write but when I set it down I realise it’s probably going to take two or three scenes to show rather than tell what’s happening. Eventually I’ll take out the cutting knife, but to begin with I have to build up rather than chop down.

I also usually write the book in sequence (that includes my first unpublished novel which had two timelines going on) but right now I’m thinking of abandoning that, jumping ahead and working the structure out afterwards. For me, that’s quite scary!

About my interviewee

A Kettle of Fish coverAli Bacon has been writing seriously for around ten years. She has won a number of writing prizes and her first novel A Kettle of Fish was published in 2012. She’s also a member of Bristol Women Writers whose Unchained anthology was published last year to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Bristol public libraries. BWW will be performing in Word of Mouth at the Thunderbolt on May 7th – do come along!

You can find out more about Ali at www.alibacon.com and follow her at @AliBacon.


Remember Me To The Bees – Otters

Otters by Louise Boulter

The 14th story in my debut short story collection Remember Me To The Bees is Otters. It came to me in a flash one day as I considered that disconcerting moment when you realise your parents actually aren’t immortal after all, and find yourself worrying more about them than they do about you.

It’s a curious time of transition, and one I wanted to explore through two characters, a grown woman and her ageing father, who, despite his advancing years, still has a thing or two to teach her.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from Otters

At the reptile house he seemed to find an affinity with the giant tortoise, one wrinkled face gazing at another. “Says here he’s over 80 years old!” he said, peering at the notice.

“Wonder what keeps him going in there. Reckon he’s got an Enrichment Programme of sorts?”

They moved quickly through the insect house, passing the cockroaches and ants with barely a glance before coming to a halt in front of a beehive, where you could see the worker bees returning with their loads of pollen. “Never get to grow up, these ones,” he told her. “Never get to reproduce, poor things.” He touched her shoulder when he said that and she had the feeling he meant it as a compliment, a way of saying he was glad he’d produced her.

He led the way outside, pausing at one of the benches adorned with a plaque commemorating someone who’d apparently loved the zoo till the end of their days. Perhaps she could get one for him when he died, Rachel thought, then felt sick that it had crossed her mind so easily.

“Lunch,” he said, opening his backpack and bringing out a bottle of juice and two fat packets of greaseproof paper. “Tuna sandwiches!”

“Shall we save one for the seals?” she suggested, regretting her comment the moment she saw him seriously considering it.

Rachel was keen to see the seals being fed, to recapture another childhood memory, this one of sitting on his shoulders for a better view in a similar zoo thirty years before. She led him through the crowd, hoping the other visitors might notice his now narrow and sloping shoulders, his shrunken frame, and make space for them. At last the glinting water was right there before her, the stench of fish strong in the air, but when she turned he was gone.


The keeper began the show, and she had to force her way back through the wall of people to the entrance. “Dad!” She scanned the hordes, hoping desperately, and spotted the flock of yellow-hatted youngsters.

“Have you seen an old man? He was with me earlier. Wearing a red jacket and a grey backpack.”

They shook their heads and she moved on, retracing her steps, past the insect house, the ancient tortoise, the ape enclosure. Panicking she ran to the map on the wall of the gift shop and tried to guess what could have caught his attention. Perhaps he was hungry again, had gone to the café. Then she saw it, between the signs for the marmosets and the meerkats: Otters.

Bristol Zoo giant tortoise cr Judy Darley


Midweek writing prompt – flavour

Cafe Majestic tart cr Judy DarleyIt’s not news that some tastes or smells can shoot you back to certain moments in life, conjuring up all the emotion that went with them. Author Marcel Proust utilised this wonderfully with a mouthful of tea into which a madeleine had been dipped, aptly demonstrating the powers of involuntary recollection.

In your own writing, I invite you to evoke this strange alchemy – give your character a bite of some food or a mouthful of some drink, and use it to evoke a memory that tells you something significant about them.

Now go and get yourself a slice of something delicious. It’s all research, you know.

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