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.

The Shipwrecked House cr photographer Josh Redman1

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.

To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to Judy(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.”

DC Comics cr Adam Closs

DC Comics © Adam Closs

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.

Adam Closs Magic Eye 6 detail

“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.”

Adam Closs Magic Eye 6

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!

Adam Closs Magic Eye 4 detail

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.

Adam Closs Magic Eye 4

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

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

Mermaid in print

Sea cr Judy DarleyThis week my poem Mermaid was 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 – 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.

Pavement cr Judy Darley1

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.”

MINE Grotto water god

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

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.

Soviet shapes with Leonid Borislov

phaton cr Leonid BorislovSometimes all you need is a few carefully crafted geometric forms and colours to rest your eyes on. Work by the late Leningrad-born artist Leonid Borisov (1943-2013) simultaneously soothes and ruffles the mind in the most delightful way.

Icon cr Leonid Borislov

Borislov’s artistic output spanned five decades through Soviet and post-Soviet eras, drawing inspiration from American abstract art and Moscow’s conceptual art scene alike.

Alexander Borovsky, Head of the Department of Contemporary Art at the State Russian Museum describes Borisov’s artistry: “There is no mathematics behind his geometrical compositions; his three-dimensional objects are not based upon aerodynamic calculations; his sculptures and boxes nailed together lack industrialism, but it is his geometry, his volumes, his roughness, irregularities, naïveté.”

The Ball cr Leonid Borislov

There’s a satisfying cleanness to his creations, as shapes slot together neatly and allow your imagination room to unfurl. Making use of any medium that suited his aims, from painting to sculpture, and photography to collage, and even ceramics, his works are deceptively simple, sitting calmly within their allocated space, but yet, there’s a suggestion of something simmering – a disquiet beneath the surface.

The Wheel cr Leonid Borislov

For the first time ever, Borislov’s artwork is to be showcased in the UK, with an exhibition titled Lessons in Geometry at Gallery Elena Shchukina in London, from 18 September 2014 until 16 January 2015.

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

Recipe – Blackberry brownies

Blackberry brownie cr judy DarleyThese brownies have a lovely lustrous blueblack colour thanks to their healthy autumnal ingredient! I came up with this recipe as a way to use up the berries I adore picking, but aren’t that keen on eating – all those annoying seeds! Hence last year’s blackberry vinegar recipe. For these brownies, the berries are puréed to remove all the unpleasant bits. If you have a bumper crop, the purée can be frozen to ensure a year-round supply – just ensure you defrost it thoroughly before adding it in.

If you like, include 50g chopped walnuts or glacé cherries, but I rather enjoy the unadulterated chocolatey-ness of it all, with just a hint of saintly September berries.


50g cocoa
4 tbl sp water
2 eggs
50g butter
200g blackberries
225g Muscovado sugar or 150g fructose
100g sieved self raising flour
1 pinch salt


  • Heat oven to gas mark 4, 180 c, 350 f.
  • Line an oblong tin (at least a few cm deep) with greased greaseproof paper.
  • Crush the blackberries through a sieve into a bowl using a fork. You should end up with around 100g purée.
  • Crushing the berries cr Judy DarleyMix cocoa with water in a small pan. Add butter and your blackberry purée and place in a small pan over a low heat, stirring till smooth.
  • Whisk the eggs until pale and fluffy. Add the sugar and whisk again. Add the blackberry chocolate mixture and whisk some more.
  • Fold in flour and salt. It should be quite thick and creamy – add more flour or water as needed to get the right consistency.
  • Pour into prepared tin.
  • Pop in oven for 35 minutes, then check. It may need up to 45 min, depending on your oven.
  • When cooked the brownies will have shrunk back from the edges of the tin.
  • Leave to cool then peel off paper and cut into fat wodges ready to serve.

NB: My first batch didn’t have the crust on top that’s usually associated with brownies, so I read up on it and discovered that it’s because I didn’t whisk the mixture enough after adding the eggs. Something to bear in mind for next time!

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)