Remember Me The Bees – On The Ledge

On The Ledge by Louise BoulterThe 13th story in my debut collection Remember Me To the Bees is one of my stranger ones. It’s called On The Ledge.

It began to form in my mind the day I walked down a particularly unpleasant, narrow pavement to the office I then worked at, and passed the body of a pigeon.

I walked past it day after day, and found it really disconcerting. What could have happened to it? And, more bizarre, why was nothing feasting on its remains? An odd preoccupation, for sure, but when I raised it in polite company, someone suggested it must have been poisoned, by rat poison, most likely, and other animals could sense the toxins in its systems.

My imagination took hold.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter.

A short excerpt from On The Ledge

The next morning, I saw something ahead of me on the road that resembled a discarded glove. It was a sunny warm day, so this seemed unlikely, and as I neared the slumped grey shape I realised it was the body of a pigeon. Poor thing seemed asleep, nestled into the narrow shade cast by a lamppost, but its head had fallen back, revealing the vulnerable feathered throat, and I knew it was dead.

The next day it was still there, untouched by the beetles or spiders or flies who skittered along that stretch of road. The whole thing struck me as rather odd and I mentioned it to Old Dave, who nodded wisely.

“That’ll be the rat poison,” he commented. “Oh, well, they’re vermin and all, just with wings, eh? And plenty more where that came from.”

The following day, as I walked towards the train station, the poor creature was still lying there, wings tucked in neatly, chest feathers ruffled fetchingly by the breeze. Glancing around at the empty road, I picked up the corpse with both hands and slipped it into my handbag.

All the way home, I thought about the dead animal I was carrying along with my glasses’ case and mobile phone, and imagined how horrified my fellow commuters would be if they only knew. The thought made me smile to myself and as we passed briefly through the small tunnel that opens out into south Bristol, I saw myself reflected in the window, grinning like crazy person.

Pigeons cr Judy Darley

Midweek writing prompt – overlooked

Pigeon cr Judy DarleyI confess, I have an uncommon fondness for pigeons. Not the glossy, wood pigeons and the like admired by bone fide pigeon-fanciers, but the lame-footed ever-hopeful bedraggle-feathered critters who crowd our city streets, and occasional soar over the rooftops with unexpected grace.

It’s partly what prompted me to write the story On The Ledge.

But this week’s midweek #writingprompt is more general than that, so don’t worry if, like so many others, you detest pigeons and think of them as vermin with wings.

I’m asking you to consider the overlooked, by which I mean any animal, person, or indeed, thing, that most of us stalk past without even noticing, but which you personally have an inexplicable fondness for.

The abandoned house standing at an odd angle on the hillside, the undernourished sapling struggling to thrive in rocky soil, the bus that should have been put out to pasture years ago, the aged newsagent who can barely make out the names on the broadsheets he stacks each day, the arthritic dog watching the frisbee sailing by overhead and wondering whether chasing it is worth the effort…

Any of these could be the beginning of a great story packed with heart-rending decisions, but ultimately hope.

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 – Blood Etc by Gee Williams

Blood etc by Gee WilliamsSet in the strange ‘neither here nor there’ borderland of Flintshire between England and Wales, the stories of Blood Etc examine human relationships, love, lies, regret and hope.

Gee Williams paints rich images of the landscape and lives that her characters inhabit. In Morfa she describes the weather as a living thing that “squatted, huge and immovable, on the too-close horizon.”

Her sentence are often unexpectedly vivid, capturing scenes effortlessly as she describes a character’s eyes “widening in their crepe nests”, while a woman walks inside “off the lawn, the emerald slivers falling from her dagger-heels.”

Then, the moment you relax into a tale, Gee takes your breath away with a simple revelation of human nature, ruthlessly revealing the deep, vast truths the rest of us carry unconsciously within us, never recognising them until she throws them before us, murmuring look at this. Continue reading

Submit your art

GB Gallery exhibition New Visions IIOne of my favourite galleries in Bristol, The Grant Bradley, is inviting you to submit your artwork to New Visions, their annual open submissions exhibition.

This is definitely an opportunity to stand out, as the exhibition aims to showcase a broad, varied look at contemporary artwork, with no limitation on style or medium. My talented mum had her collage work displayed as part of the exhibition two years in a row (different pieces, though, because they sold – yay!).

With no theme each entry is judged for acceptance purely on its own merits.

Past exhibitions have enjoyed an exceptional media response with a popular private view evening that is a great place to meet other artists and discuss the work on show. The gallery receives a footfall of up to 3,000 visitors for the duration of the exhibition, so this is a great chance to get your work noticed.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 16 May at 5pm.

You can submit a maximum of 3 pieces at a cost of £10 per piece of artwork. To submit work please click on the link: Enter work for New Visions IV.

Alternatively you can pick up a submissions pack from the gallery, or download it by clicking on the link below. Fill it out and return it either by hand or post.

Images of artworks submitted will need to be emailed to

Download submissions pack.

If you have any questions regarding New Visions IV then please contact the gallery on 0117 9637 673. Good luck!

How to write picture books

BEST FRIENDS COVERAuthor and commissioning editor Mara Bergman shares her secrets for writing successful picture books.

Although I started writing from a very young age, it was only when my three children were growing up that I thought about writing picture books. I read to the children all the time and knew what worked – for them and for me – and thought it would be fun to have a go at writing one.

It took quite a while to get my first book published though, and there was a gap of a few years between my first book and my second. Even now, after having had quite a few books published, when my editor tells me that one of my stories has made it through an acquisitions meeting and has been accepted, I’m absolutely over the moon with excitement!

oliver small but mighty coverMake your language concise, rhythmical and playful

When writing a picture book you have to remember that the language needs to appeal to young children but also to whoever is reading to them, and it should never talk down to the child or be patronising.

For me language is paramount, something which became evident when I was reading all those picture books aloud to my young children.

If I didn’t enjoy reading a certain text, if the rhythms or words were flat, I would simply reach for another book. I think it’s important for language to be concise, rhythmical and playful.

Keep your form tight and your emotions real

The picture book certainly presents many challenges. First of all, the form is extremely tight and has to encompass so much. I enjoy the economy and the challenges of working in a tight form.

The story should be about 300 words long and have a beginning, middle and end, with a climax falling about two-thirds of the way through.

It’s important to make sure pieces are targeted to the right ages, but I don’t think of a particular age of child when I write, though my work is primarily aimed at three- to six-year-olds. I think it’s important to write what comes naturally to you.

I love the simplicity of picture books, or rather the pared-down-ness of them, and how they can get to the heart of emotions.

Think of your picture books as a puzzle to solve

The picture book is often likened to a piece of theatre, with each spread a stage set and the drama occurring at the turning of the page.

I’ve also heard it compared to a hugely condensed novel! But when I’m working on a story I find it’s more like one of those puzzles made up of little tiles that you have to shift around on a square to create a picture. You often have to move many pieces to get one piece in the right place.

Changing a phrase often means reworking several lines, and when one thing is wrong, the whole story has to be rethought. I love the simplicity of picture books, or rather the pared-down-ness of them, and how they can get to the heart of emotions.

Lively Elizabeth COVERUnless you can draw, leave that side of things to the illustrator

I wish I could write and illustrate, but as I can’t I’m extremely fortunate to work with some wonderful illustrators. My publisher Anne McNeil at Hodder paired my text for Snip Snap! with Nick Maland. Lively Elizabeth, illustrated by Cassia Thomas, is a completely different sort of story and required a completely different style of artwork. Both are extremely gifted artists.

For my newest book, Best Friends, Nicola Slater’s fantastic bright, bold and slightly retro illustrations make me laugh each time I read it.

There are lots of wonderful illustrators out there and therefore publishers’ expectations for the look of a book are extremely high. And they have to be, as it’s the artwork that catches your attention and makes you pick up the book in the first place. No matter how good a text might be, if someone isn’t attracted to the illustrations they are not going to read or buy the book.

Take time to understand the picture book market place

Publishers are leaning towards commissioning series, which tend to be character- based, so this is something you may want to keep in mind. The characters have to appeal to the children being read to, and children must be able to relate to them.

The picture book market isn’t an easy one, and it’s becoming ever more difficult, but no matter what, I sincerely believe that if your work is really good it will eventually find a home.

Know the market – visit bookshops and libraries and read magazines and websites geared to children’s books.

Most importantly keep writing, and keep submitting your work, and don’t be discouraged when your stories are rejected at first: they will be. You have to be serious about your writing and develop a thick skin – and stick with it.

Mara BergmanAbout the author

Mara Bergman is Senior Commissioning Editor at Walker Books, an independent publishing house focusing on children’s books and young adult fiction. In addition, Mara writes picture books and her many books include Snip Snap! and Lively Elizabeth, both published by Hodder Children’s Books. Best Friends will be published by Hodder in July. “It’s the story of three very different dogs who are each chasing their own ball in the park, causing havoc as they run from their young owners. I hope this is a book that will be equally enjoyable for parents and children.”

Remember Me The Bees – Chrysalis

Chrysalis by Louise BoulterThe 12th story in my debut collection Remember Me To the Bees is one of the shortest tales in the collection, Chrysalis.

Just occasionally a story reaches me in the form of an image, which is exactly how this tale arrived. It began with the idea of a child taking the smallest painted doll from a set of matryoshka dolls and placing it in a nutcracker, in the hope of finding something magical hidden inside.

The artwork is by Louise Boulter. I love the way the doll’s eyes look like two little birds with wonderful tails.

A short excerpt from Chrysalis

Ella likes to line the dolls up and place them one after another on her grandma’s kitchen countertop. That way, if she lies her cheek against the cold surface, she can pretend she’s in a forest of painted dolls. They stretch all the way to the horizon, as colourful as tropical flowers or birds, casting shadows taller than giants. The smallest, the un-openable doll, catches the sunlight and blazes like a birthday candle. If Ella tries very hard she can make it lift into the air – fuelled by sunshine and her imagination – and zoom around the ceiling.

Matryoshka dolls, that’s what her grandma told her they were called, and Ella repeats the unfamiliar word to herself like a magic spell: matryoshka, matryoshka. As she says it, she feels like she’s making something happen. Granddad used to get her to repeat strange words like that to help him do his conjuring tricks. “Repeat after me,” he’d say. “Verucca, pertrucca, kertrucca.” And then he’d open his hands and the coin would be gone, or would have appeared, glowing against his greyish wrinkled palm like a solid spot of sun. She had a feeling he made up some of the words, but she didn’t know all the words yet, so she couldn’t be certain.

These days he doesn’t do magic tricks any more. Doesn’t do anything much. He just sits in his chair in the corner of the living room making strange noises now and again that make Ella jump, sort of harrumphing sounds with a wet, sticky finish. Ella cringes when she hears them, but Grandma just murmurs: “Oh dear” and goes over and wipes his chin.

Sometimes, when he opens his pale blue eyes and seems to be watching her, Ella will kneel down beside him and whisper, “matryoshka, matryoshka”, and close his fingers around the smallest doll, just for a moment. Sometimes when she does this, his lips twitch like he’s about to smile.

Matryoshka doll in nutcracker cr Judy Darley

Midweek writing prompt – flotsam

Langkah Syabas Beach Resort flotsam cr Judy DarleyThis week’s #writingprompt is inspired by tides and time and all the things they carry. Imagine this, you’re walking along a beach when you spot something ahead of you on the sand. At first you dismiss it as a piece of rubbish swept in on the current, but as you draw closer you hear a strange sound – there’s something or someone trapped inside…

The rest is up to you.

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

Poetry review – The Shipwrecked House by Claire Trévien

the-shipwrecked-house coverSome poetry collections seem to have a life of their own, and, I swear, The Shipwrecked House rasps and shudders with every thought it contains.

The overarching concept is endlessly alluring, drawing you into a world where air and water merge, and you’re as likely to discover a whale with your socks melting in its “comb-mouth” as you are to find “An anchor on every roundabout/ weighed down by corroding flowers/ to remind us that the sea will rise.”

That seems to be the message throughout, the idea that the waves have only loaned us the shore temporarily – and the poems amble inland and back out to sea, mirroring the pull of the tides.

Trévien’s love of, and adeptness for, language saturates the text throughout. The imagery is arresting, bringing to mind the wildest, wickedest kinds of fairy tales. A voice “falls like a coin to the ocean’s floor”, “breath opens like a stiff drawer”, and even the weather must decide “whether to burst/ or rapture itself away.” Irresistible. Continue reading