Theatre review – The Shipwrecked House

The Shipwrecked House cr photographer Josh Redman3How do you turn a poetry collection into a stage show? If you’re Claire Trévien, it seems, with incredible poise and power.

The collection behind Claire’s touring show is The Shipwrecked house (read my review of that here). When I learnt that Claire was taking the poems on the road in dramatic form, I was agog to find out how she would transform it for the stage. And I was far from disappointed with the results.

The Shipwrecked House cr photographer Josh Redman2

The Cube is definitely one of Bristol’s quirkier venues. Entirely volunteer run, it has, in the most charming way, a curious sense of being a bit of flotsam washed up by storms itself. As we entered the building and waited to enter the theatre space, we heard piped recordings of seabirds lilting overhead. An atmospheric start!

Laid out with a set comprising ropes, nets, buckets and buoys, the play opens as Claire stumbles through an old familiar home by torchlight, where memories sit shrouded by tarpaulins and old suitcases contain unexpected treasures (some of which may make you jump). Water drips resonantly, and Claire exhales the words of her poems supplemented by sparing quantities of recordings in English and French, plus the sounds of the elements, as a storm closes in.

The Shipwrecked House cr photographer Josh Redman

There are whispers of a blissful childhood, opening shop on an imagined café where the pudding may have “crawled away, but we have seeds/if you wish”, and heart-aching memories of a grandmother, whose “house is dragged apart by the fractures/of your smiles – the thought of its absence echoes.”

Visually, this is a stunning, atmospheric creation conjuring up hints and imaginings where a suitcase can reveal hoarded shells, or tiny coloured bulbs ablaze. Trévien steps nimbly through it all, spilling into grief, nostalgia, humour and charm with apparent ease. Both poet and performer, she uses every inch of stage and prop with an explorer’s hunger, rediscovering her own stories so we can share in them with her.

Both sound and light are orchestrated by Penned in the Margins publisher and director Tom Chivers, presenting an ocean of a play, with tides and waves, moments of stillness, and beauty by the bucket-load.

And yes, there are whales, “making the hinges rock,/ splitting cups and cheeks./ Stray socks melted in their comb-mouths”, reminding us of the strength of things unseen but suspected.

Find tour details for The Shipwrecked House here.

All images in this post are by photographer Josh Redman.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Pondering paint splatters with Adam Closs

Adam Closs Magic Eye 3 I’ve long been a fan of Adam Closs’ abstract creations, and his latest series offers up riches of colour and texture that only deepen my love of his work.

Titled Magic Eye, “so that people know what to do”, Adam’s large scale paintings invite you to spend time with them, searching out stories in their layers. The scene shown above is just a small section of one canvass. Below you can see the full piece.

Adam Closs Magic Eye 3

The series took root as an concept many years ago when Adam painted a piece, even larger than these, titled DC Comics, that presented the outlines of a storyboard or comic book, each containing a single abstract images connected with those preceding and following, and linked by liberal ‘splatters’ (yes, that’s the technical term). “I liked the idea that we know what to do – we’re programmed to see stories in these spaces and link them together, regardless of what’s actually there.”

The current series take this idea and soars with it, presenting canvas after canvas – eight in all – that play with our perception and preconceptions so that each one presents infinite possibilities, if we engage our minds as we look at them.

“With ambiguous works like these you can make an interpretation of some parts of the image, and if you do that with one detail, your eyes can move over the painting and see others that support that first impression.”

Essentially, you’re seeing what you want to see. It seems like a fanciful thought, but it’s one I find endlessly attractive. No two people will see any of the paintings in exactly the same way – in fact, a single individual will understand it differently each time they gaze at it, as their mood and preoccupations influence what they see. “In psychological terms, it’s about projection,” Adam says.

Think of it as static cloud-watching, or rather, not static – in this context, it’s the movement of your own mind that informs what you see.

Adam Closs Magic Eye 3 detail

If this all seems a bit cerebral for your liking, don’t fret. The busy swirls and splodges of colour are appealing in themselves, created by Adam crouching over each of the canvasses and pouring acrylic paint onto it before getting into it with his fingers. Sounds fun to me!

Each of the eight paintings develops his ideas a little further, a lot of it derived simply from gut instinct, as he’s painted subtle frames to confine and enhance the intensity of the pieces, and varied the size of the markings, including some larger patches to give your eyes somewhere to rest. He’s thoughtful like that.

By including three-dimensional paint blobs of different sizes, the paintings gain alternating surfaces of shadow and light that shift according to the time of day, so that there’s always something new to see. They’re definitely something I could gaze ad infinitum – and I’ve currently got one on the wall of my writing room, so I know what I’m talking about.

Discover more of Adam’s art and ideas at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Midweek writing prompt – routine disruption

Pavement cr Judy DarleyA familiar walk – to and from work, for instance, or to visit a well loved friend – offers all kinds of possibilities for writers. All you need is for one detail to change, or be noticed, and your character’s whole world can shift.

This week I invite you to accompany your character on a stroll they know well, then point out something unexpected, something familiar and long forgotten, or expose them to an incident that challenges everything they thought they knew about their world.

Then stand back and see what happens next.

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to share it on

Theatre review – MINE

MINE grotto skylightBeneath the serene elegance of Goldney Hall’s gardens, a savage catacomb awaits – a mine filled with gods, lions and bleeding crystals, where seeping damp reminds imprisoned shells of what they’ve lost.

This is the place Holly Corfield Carr leads her audience into, with a powerful piece of immersive theatre riddled through with poetry.

MINE Lions

Written to fit and reflect its setting, the piece begins in warm September sunlight as Holly talks of time and hands each of us a pebble that represents it. We’ve given small glowing lanterns to carry, and follow her across the emerald lawns into the shadowy shell grotto.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to glimpse a place seldom seen, with Holly’s visually evocative poetry adding resonance to the enchantments of the crystal-crowded caves, a thundering unexpected waterfall – a “strange heavenly halfway.”

With only six audience-members, or rather, guests, at each performance, the feel is distinctly intimate, and Holly addresses us each in turn as she tells tales that bring in myth, history, botany, and the wonderings of the human heart. She invites us to choose cards and read fragments of verse aloud, entrenching us deep in the language of the grotto.

MINE poetry cards“molars,
of when we
were young,
his smell
the moss,”

There are so many words, pouring from Holly’s mouth, and from our own, whilst surrounded by the glimmering roars of coral, water and sculpture, that it’s impossible to take in every scrap. Thankfully Holly has produced a beautiful pamphlet, published by Spike Island, to take away from the performance, and savour in your own time.

Fortunate, really, as Holly makes us relinquish the pebbles she’s given us:

“Because, even now, time is up.
The stone you hold is moving, is sand at your hand.”

This is a performance about the past, both human and geological, and how it hides, hushed, in the ground beneath our feet.

MINE is part of Bristol Biennial, a festival of art.

Holly Corfield Carr

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

The Puppeteer published by Toasted Cheese

My short story The Puppeteer has made it onto the pages of the tastily named Toasted Cheese lit mag’s September issue.

Shirley Sharp picI am very excited about this! The Puppeteer is a rather sad but ultimately hopeful story that was initially prompted by this amazing painting by artist Shirley Sharp. (published here with her permission).

The characters populating Shirley’s canvasses often have a somewhat melancholy air, which gave me the first seeds of my protagonist’s personality. Then I needed to make sense of the two creatures apparently sitting on his hands, and suddenly the idea came to mind of a puppeteer who’d lost his family through his obsession for his craft. Thanks for the inspiration, Shirley!

Here is a paragraph from the tale:

He tried not to feel their bewilderment, not to hear their shrieks of fear, as the flames sent acrid, choking smoke into the night sky and made a dark scorched circle on the grass. Tears streamed down his sooty face, and he told himself he was committing some kind of sacred act; a magician’s trick to bring his wife and Pippa home to him, prove how little hold the puppets had over him, compared to his love for the two of them.

Read the full story here.

I’ll be teaching a workshop on writing from art at the Bristol studio of sculptor Carol Peace on Wednesday 12 November from 2-5pm. Find out more here.

Later this month, my poem Mermaid will be published by Streetcake magazine issue 37.

The poem explores ideas of old age, and begins with the lines

I used to hold it on my tongue, my lips, like salt from the sea,
his land language ready to be spoken at will.

It was prompted in part by my husband’s Dutch grandmother, who slowly lost her English as dementia took hold, and by my own father’s encroaching semantic dementia. In a way it seems to me that the world becomes an unfamiliar and less welcoming place as we age. This poem was my way of examining these thoughts and making them more manageable.

I’ve been following the work of Streetcake duo Nikki and Trini for many years, and am always impressed by the words they serve up in their “online magazine for innovative, experimental and visual writing”. They’re always on the lookout for intriguing, original work, so why not submit?

Midweek writing prompt – eye of the beholder

Mother of Pearl © Stephen MasonLast week I showcased some of Stephen Mason’s extraordinary photography. The images in this post are also by Stephen. His interest in the differences between our own perception and that of the camera’s lens really caught my imagination.

Stephen explains that when watching a moving subject, the eyes and the brain “combine, through time, to make sense of the movement. They ‘see through’ the motion to perceive what’s actually there. The camera is much more literal. It ‘sees’ only what the film or digital sensor is exposed to in a certain; very short, period of time.”

In a longer exposure, this blurs the image, but in a shorter exposure, Stephen says, it records a single moment in time that the eye has missed. “The result can be quite surprising, even startling.”

For this week’s #writingprompt I suggest that you take your camera for a wander round your neighbourhood. Keep your eyes and mind open, and take shots of anything that catches your attention. When you get home, sort through the images and find one that nudges at you, gets you wondering. Then let the words begin to flow…

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to share it on

Persistance of Time © Stephen Mason

Persistance of Time © Stephen Mason

Travel, Identity & Home – a Literary Night Inspired by Art

Sadly, due to a family emergency, Carol has needed to cancel this event. All tickets are being refunded.

I’m pleased to share the news that this November I’ll be co-curating an event celebrating art, poetry and prose at the studio of sculptor Carol Peace. The event is on Friday 7 November, from 6-7.30pm.

Sailing boat cr Carol PeaceI discovered Carol’s work many years ago, when my dad took me to her open studios event. I was completely entranced by the sculptures, in particular three life-sized pieces that resulted in the flash fiction tale Draughts.

Since then we’ve stayed loosely in touch, but I was thrilled when Carol contacted me and asked if I would help her put together a literary event that would bring the mediums of written and visual art together.

It turns out we share a passion for the over-lapping of expressive forms – allowing ourselves to be influenced by all genres and mediums.

Including me, seven writers will share literary works inspired by Carol’s work, and by the themes Travel, Identity and  Home. The writers joining me are Joanna Butler, Paul Deaton, Helen Moore, Kevlin Henney, Pete Sutton, and John Terry.

It’s going to be a really intimate, special event, with only 30 tickets available. Make sure you get yours before they sell out.

As part of the same open studios event, I’ll be leading a workshop on ‘Writing from Art’ on Wednesday 12th November, 2-5pm. Attendance costs £12. More details on that and tickets available here.

For more information on the literary night and workshop, feel free to contact me by sending an email to judy(at)

Ambiguous imagery with Stephen Mason

Homage to Catalonia © Stephen MasonI’m always in awe of photographers who can capture an image that resembles a work of abstract art, revealing the beauty lurking the landscape around us. Stephen Mason has an eye for angles, lighting and colour that make me want to see my surroundings anew, as he must every day.

His mastery might be better understood when you realise he’s been at this for a little over three decades. “I bought my first camera (a Pentax SLR) in 1982 and learned the basics of how to balance exposure, aperture and depth of focus,” he says. “Initially, I just wanted to record holidays and explore Bristol (his home city) in photographs. However, I soon noticed that straightforward shots didn’t fully satisfy me and I began to explore unusual angles or details in what I saw.”

The arrival of digital cameras gave Stephen much greater freedom “to explore creatively by taking multiple shots of the same subject and then looking to see which ones worked. Then, using iPhoto software I began my first experiments in ‘developing’ my own photos.”

Light Fantastic © Stephen Mason

Light Fantastic © Stephen Mason

Eventually Stephen bought a digital SLR, graduated to Apple’s Aperture software and started to take his photography a bit more seriously. “Even so, I use the tools in Aperture very sparingly – mainly to modify contrast and to crop the original image.”

In a world where Instagram seems to taint most photos I see, it’s refreshing to encounter someone who wants only to emphasise the beauty that already exists in the world.

Stephen seeks to explores a number of themes through his photography, including  form, movement, perspective and ambiguity.

“Many of my photographs explore visual enigmas in our everyday environment,” he says. “They are intentionally ambiguous. In photography, what you see isn’t always what you get. The eye and the camera see differently. I look for a subject that interests me. I then compose the photo according to how I see it but, when I press the shutter, I know that the camera will see it differently. There’s an excitement that arises from the uncertainty about what will result.”

Untitled © Stephen MasonWhile many artists present 2D images that we must interpret as a 3D vision of reality, Stephen is aiming to do the opposite of this. “By making use of the camera’s limitations I try depict 3D reality as an abstract 2D pattern or at least to leave the image open to either a 3D or a 2D interpretation,” he says.

Frustratingly, for me at least, Stephen’s passion for ambiguity means that “with rare exceptions I deliberately leave my photos untitled so as not to influence how the viewer sees them. Some people want to know ‘what is it?’ Others want not to know. I usually have an info brochure at my exhibitions which gives information about each photo but it has a very clear “spoiler warning” on the cover!”

Stephen often finds himself surprised by the scenes, or corners of scenes, that capture his attention via the camera lens.

“Many times I’ve gone out to photograph this or that, only to find that I’ve just spent half an hour photographing something else. I just try to stay open to getting lost in whatever I find. My own favourite of all my photos is the one I call Long Division (shown below). I love it because it is so simple, so stripped down and bare, so minimal.”

Reflections in water are another visual prompt Stephen returns to time and again. “It is the frozen moment that looks so different from what I saw ‘in time’. For mud and sand, it is the exploration of form, light and the ambiguity of scale. I have had people look at my mud/sand photos and ask if it’s a mountain range from an airliner.”

Remarkably, Stephen is entirely self-taught. “I’ve never had any formal training or even been on a photography course,” Stephen says. “I’ve always wanted to learn things in my own way. I want to explore my way of seeing and I don’t want to be influenced by an establishment’s idea of how a photo ‘should’ be composed or balanced. I discovered my way of seeing through doing it.”

Stephen has been exhibiting his photos for the past four years, and will be showing his work in his own home as part of Art on the Hill – The Windmill Hill and Victoria Park Arts Trail on Saturday and Sunday 4th/5th October 2014 from 12-6pm. Altogether around 90 artists will be exhibiting in 50 venues, with an extensive performance programme in marquees and gazebos across the area.

Find more of Stephen’s work here

Find a midweek #writingprompt inspired by Stephen’s photography here.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Midweek writing prompt – juxtaposition

nibble fishI love a good juxtaposition in my creative fodder. This week’s #writingprompt draws inspiration from the idea of people doing things you might not expect, from the nuns jumping on a trampoline, to the child physicist to the hairy tattooed man being pampered in a beauty salon.

Who comes to mind? What are they up to? How do they confound stereotypes? And how might that feed into a fantastic short story?

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to share it on

How to create outstanding characters

Park on Park Street cr Judy DarleyWith her debut novel Someone Else’s Skin, Sarah Hilary has revealed a skill for creating characters you can really believe in. Here she shares her tip for the craft of inventing people.

Source the initial glimmers

I wait for the voice to come first. I’m with Val McDermid on this: we don’t choose our characters, they choose us. Very occasionally I’ll glimpse something in a character in a TV show, or (more rarely) in real life, which will give me the beginnings of an idea, but more usually it starts with a line of dialogue, or inner monologue.

With Marnie Rome, I wrote her first, then retro-fitted the research and fine-tuning. It was more important that she felt real to the reader than real as a police detective. But I did read a lot of first person CSI-type pieces to get a feel for how she might approach her work.

Someone Else's Skin by Sarah HilaryListen to your character

I don’t consciously devise patterns of speech. It’s character driven, always. Marnie tends to speak quite abruptly and plainly, because she doesn’t have a lot of time or patience for double-speak. But, at the same time, she can be very empathetic, especially to victims. I love writing dialogue, but I tend to do it instinctively; it’s the one part of my craft I’ve never really had to work at.

Get to know all the sides of your character

In my first drafts, Marnie tends to be angrier and tougher. She’s often on the defensive, physically and emotionally. I find I need to dig beneath that angry surface to find the layers of response needed for the reader sees her vulnerability as well as her strength, her compassion as well her determination.

Her traumatic backstory is an important part of who she is, as it drives the narrative arc of the series. Not just what she went through, but how she has coped with it in the past (by burying herself in work) and how she will cope with it in the future (by confronting what happened and what it did to her). It’s a classic rites of passage, in some ways, but it’s complicated because it’s not just Marnie’s journey. It’s Stephen’s, her foster brother’s, too. He’s both the cause of the trauma, and its potential resolution. One way or another, he’s going to lead the pair of them into new territory.

Seek out telling details (such as Marnie’s tattoos)

The tattoos are indelible proof of Marnie’s teenage rebellion, a thing that haunts her throughout the series. Few people have seen the tattoos, which is one of the reasons she acquired them (casual sex is not an option when you have writing all over intimate parts of your body). Stephen has seen the tattoos. Marnie is still learning exactly what that means.

Choose your supporting characters with care

Characters such as Noah, Ed and Stephen each bring out a different side to Marnie. Ed is the one with the hardest task, I think, as he’s trying to help her recover at the same time as respecting her privacy at the same time as being in love with her and wanting to make her happy. That’s a tough, tough gig. Noah is a little in awe of Marnie as his boss, and as an ace DI, but he’s earning her trust, which is good for both of them. Her relationship with Stephen is the most complex one, and it’s the one which will change the most over the course of the series.

In some ways, she’s at her most vulnerable when she’s with Stephen, because he has the power to keep hurting her, by reminding her of what he did and withholding the reason why he did it. Marnie knows she will be hurt, every time she goes to see him. His punishment (long-term incarceration) is her punishment, in that sense.

Likewise, for your periphery characters

For Marnie Rome, these are the women from the refuge, especially Ayana, Hope and Simone. Ed tells Marnie that these women are ‘not her kind of victim’. They ran, and hid. They had to. But Marnie comes to see the strength in the women, different in each one, and I think that helps her to put her own strength (and weakness) into perspective.

Use your settings to explore aspects of your character

In Someone Else’s Skin, the prison and the refuge are both essential for that: enclosed spaces where it’s hard to breathe, and harder to feel safe. It was interesting, also, to put Marnie into Hope’s ‘perfect home’ with its showroom furniture and its shiny surfaces, and to watch her reactions. And Ed’s flat, with its jumble of stuff and its comfy mess. Setting is great. London is an amazing backdrop to the series, and I’m looking forward to taking Marnie into Battersea Power Station in book three.

Relish the luxury of a recurring character

I found that with Marnie Rome, it gave me the great luxury of being able to uncover her secrets slowly. She’s still surprising me, which is great, as it means she’s surprising readers too.

Create compelling, believable characters

Set goals for your characters, and then put obstacles in the way of those goals. See how your characters react, physically and emotionally. Give them at least five senses, and show them experiencing the world through those senses (i.e. not just rely on dialogue and inner monologue; tell us how the world looks, sounds, smells, feels to them). Get right inside their head, and under their skin, so the reader is right there, too. Even the nasty characters. Never show your hand as the author; instead, wrap your readers up in the story and the cast, as if it’s happening to them and/or to people they know and care about. Make them wonder what happens to the characters even after they’ve stopped reading. That’s the holy grail.

Sarah Hilary1About the author

Sarah Hilary lives in Bath with her husband and daughter, where she writes quirky copy for a well-loved travel publisher. She’s also worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. An award-winning short story writer, Sarah won the Cheshire Prize for Literature in 2012. SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN is her first novel, published by Headline in the UK, Penguin in the US, and in six other countries worldwide. A second book in the series will be published in 2015. Set in London, the books feature Detective Inspector Marnie Rome, a woman with a tragic past and a unique insight into domestic violence.
NO OTHER DARKNESS, the second Marnie Rome book, will be published in spring 2015. Sarah is currently working on the third and fourth books in the series. Follow Sarah on Twitter at @Sarah_Hilary