Books for wordsmiths

I’m not especially a fan of ‘how to books’ for writers, which often offer the world but yield up only pages of dry, dense writing in return. Books actually about words, however, now they’re fascinating to me.

There are two I’m particularly enamoured with at the moment, both published by Oxford University Press, and either of which would make great gifts for any word-lover in your life.

Word Origins coverLittle Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins edited by Julia Cresswell

Small enough to carry with you wherever you, this beautiful hardback book offers a wonderland of insights into the words we use everyday with very little thought.

For instance, did you know that the word ‘average’ began life as “a shipping term” and referred to “goods lost or damaged at sea”, or that ‘scarper’ stems from “the Italian scappare ‘to escape’, influenced by the rhyming slang Scapa Flow ‘go’”? Me neither, and how that alters my view of those two simple words!

Rather than running alphabetically like your usual dictionary, instead dividing the entries into several topics, including architecture, behaviour and sensations. How curious just those choices are! The chapter on death includes explanations of the words ‘cemetery’ (“literally a place for sleeping” – how unexpectedly sweet) and ‘extinct’, from extinguish. It’s like holding a map to all the places you hold dear, only to realise as you begin to follow it that along every step of the route there are views you’ve never noticed before.

Words in Time and Place coverWords in Time and Place by David Crystal

Crystal’s taut linguistic collection aims to have your characters chattering happily, and authentically by providing examples of words spoken commonly in a variety of historical periods. Again, chapters are themed, and this time with great purpose. Want to know how your protagonist would refer to the loo? Turn to ‘words for a privy’, need your villains to flatter, insult or talk about the weather? There are chapters for those too, as well words for old folks, money, light meals, and even spacecraft, not to mention a whole chapter dedicated to the nose on your face, and a fine selection of oaths from different eras.

Each word is accompanied with an intriguing snippet of context – for instance, the term ‘on one’s ear’, meaning being drunk, apparently refers to the likelihood of a sozzled person being face down on the floor. Too true.

The introductions to each section are crammed with deeper analysis of the wordy offerings as Crystal points out the distinctions between the definitions of various words for fool, for instance “‘blockhead’ (someone with their sense intact who is acting stupidly) and ‘simpleton’ (someone with a weak intellect).”

It’s these subtle differences that make Words in Time and Place so much more that a historical thesaurus – and equips us to enrich our writing with a myriad of nuances, while stuffing our pockets full of words and their meanings along the way.

To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)

Write a monologue in the voice of a life model

Nude cr Judy Darley

Nude © Judy Darley

In my student days I spent many hours posing as a life model to earn a little extra beer money.

Mslexia‘s latest call for monologues caught my nostalgic eye for this reason. This section of the magazine is aimed particularly towards writers of script, but anyone is welcome to submit.

The biggest challenge is the brief word count, just 200 words. The next issue’s is specifically for a piece in the voice of a life model. It’s a great opportunity to put yourself in the, well, I want to say shoes, but more accurately, under the skin of a life model, whether you’ve experienced this for yourself or not. How do they feel about being naked in a room full of clothed strangers? Are they chilly? Uncomfortable? Or are they to busy thinking about their lives to feel anything beyond the importance of staying still until the art tutor releases them?

The deadline for submissions is 12th January 2015. Send your monologue either to (with ‘monologue’ in the subject line) or by post to Mslexia, PO Box 656, Newcastle upon Tyne NE99 1PZ.

The writer of the published monologue will receive £20.

From writer to publisher and back again

Coffee in the park cr Judy DarleyLast week I quizzed Darren Laws, founder of Caffeine Nights Publishing, about what it takes to set up a successful independent publishing house. This week we discuss how to balance the roles of writer and publisher.  

Identify the various skills required

“The roles needed for writing and publishing are very different, almost polar opposites. Writing is very insular by its nature,” says Darren. “Publishing is all about creating relationships in the real world rather than the virtual world inside the author’s head. Authors give birth to their babies and have to let them go to the publisher to rear and help make successful children and adults.

Darren points out that each independent publishing house requires a different skillset from their publisher, but agrees that “there are specific skills which are required whatever publishing house you worked for. Communication is a great asset. I talk to a wide variety of people in publishing from authors to buyers to journalists and app developers. Likewise, authors also want to communicate, though primarily with readers.”

“The pleasure of reading and supporting a great novel are both primary interests to the author and the publisher,” says Darren. “Our joint goal is to bring the best possible version of a book to market and to work collectively to those ends. Both require discipline, creativity and the ability to work whatever hours are need to get the job done.” Continue reading

Samantha Gilraine land stories

Rusty Trees cr Samatha GilraineWild, windswept landscapes and reaching trees fill the artwork of Samantha Gilraine with a sense of restless movement.

“I have felt compelled to record the world around me and express what I see and feel in various ways,” she says. “I did dream of being an artist but never really realised it was truly possible until a few years ago. It was people’s reactions to my work made me believe that I could do it as a profession, not to mention my passion for the subject.”

Moody Skies cr Samantha Gilraine

Moody Skies © Samantha Gilraine

Samantha treats her artistic endeavours as a journey, “exploring and recording the world around me and then experimenting with different media.” She says the process itself “is a real joy. But the best feeling is when someone connects with a picture that I have made and I get to see the true enjoyment they receive from looking at it. This spurs me on to create more.”

Wish that I'd worn wellies cr Samantha Gilraine

Wish that I’d worn wells © Samantha Gilraine

Continue reading

Midweek creative prompt – image flowers

Corner by Judy Darley

Something a bit different to get your creative juices flowing, or indeed, flowering, this week!

Launched by Cheryl Brooks, Image Flowers is a collaborative art project, with which you’re invited to participate. All you need to do is browse the images hosted on the Image Flowers site and create a visual reply to any that move you. This can be a painting, collage, photograph, or whatever comes to mind. I supplied Corner, the image at the top of this post, in response to Exmouth by Mike Lumley (shown below).

Exmouth by Mike Lumley

The project began when Cheryl, a fine artist, began a series of works exploring visual connections generated from one starting point.  In my recent work “I have been exploring natural geometry especially in relation to flower heads, so this and an exhibition I saw where two photographers had over time created a visual conversation by responding to each others images, is the inspiration behind this project.”


Image Flower 1 by Cheryl Brooks

The image that started it all, by Cheryl Brooks

To take part, simply spend some time at Image Flowers and find a picture that intrigues or moves you. Then email the picture to Cheryl as directed on the site, including the details of the image that spurred you to get creating!

Of course, if you find yourself moved to produce a written piece instead, that’s fine – just send it to me instead of Cheryl.

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

Let them read poetry!

OverTheHillsAndFarAwayBuying gifts for other people’s children is never an easy task. Is that big plastic dinosaur really going to keep them enthralled pass Boxing Day? Why not buy them a poetry collection instead? There are plenty out there especially written for children, fun for adults too, and, brilliantly, they won’t take up space in the toybox!

Here are three that have caught my eye.

My Life As A Goldfish coverMy Life as a Goldfish by Rachel Rooney

This comical cover of this collection belies the thought-provoking poems within.

In Wide Open we’re shown the inside of unbroken eggs, the moon and stars and even told of the wide open eye of the title that “yesterday it spied on your nightmares/and tomorrow it will spy on your dreams.” This poem manages to encompasse all the wonder our universe contains – impressive in only a few lines. Elsewhere in the collection a wolf girl laps hot pea soup from a bowl, a lie slithers into a school bag, and we experience mundanity and drama of the world from a goldfish’s point of view.

One of my favourites is Stone, three elegant couplets that begin: “Stone remembers sea: its salty lap./ Sea remembers river’s winding map.”

There’s plenty of humour too, including Rooney’s witty limericks and riddles, a helpful advice poem (“never ask a hippo/ for a friendly game of squash”) and a lonely hearts advert from a wolf seeking “lady in red/ with plump and soft skin/ to share walks in the forest/ and cosy nights in.”

Werewolf Club RulesWerewolf Club Rules
by Joseph Coelho

At first glance, performance poet Coelho’s verses form a lighter, shallower collection. In fact, as you sink into works like Miss Flotsam you’ll suddenly realise you’re swimming through waters packed with life. Coelho weaves in a view of the world that will help children make sense of atrocities without soaking in their terrors. miss Flotsam is a hero who helps her pupils through some of life’s frightening moments without letting them know quite that’s what she’s doing – and Coelho shares her skill.

There are celebrations of food, of pets (particularly puppies) nature and education (even though in the  An A* From Miss Coo there’s a humorous yet alarming examination of the dangers of being ‘taught’ to write poetry).

Among the wealth of stories, imagery and ideas, there are occasional blips. In Wool the poet suggests sheep are skinned to make jumpers, which seems an odd oversight to publish in a book for children. Other than this, the riches are many, with plenty to make kids laugh aloud (I know my five-year-old nephew will love Animal Boy, and enough depth to enthral older children and adults too.

Over the Hills and Far Away collected by Elizabeth Hammill

This hardback, beautifully illustrated book is a rather different beast. Bringing together nursery rhymes gathered from across the English-speaking world, it’s the kind of tome you give as an heirloom gift, to be treasured by generations of children, parents, grandparents (not to mention uncles and aunts!). The book has been devised and put together by Elizabeth Hammill – co-founder of the marvellous Seven Stories in Newcastle.

As a writer, I was intrigued to read the different versions of familiar rhymes (in Australia, for instance, Little Miss Muffet faces up to a boxing kangaroo and a wombat – perhaps Australasian spiders would give little ones nightmares!), while absorbing poems from as far afield as Ghana and New Zealand and rediscovering some half-forgotten favourites.

Children will enjoy vivid poem tales from Jamaican, Inuit and Maori cultures, while eating up the energy-packed artwork – it’s just a shame it isn’t made clearer which of the 77 artists illustrated each nursery rhyme – this would have added a further dimension of pleasure for me.

To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)

Win your story as a festive podcast

Story horse cr Judy DarleyWhat could be more magical than hearing your own short story aired as a podcast this Christmas Eve?

The Simple Things and Story Horse are collaborating to make this happen for one lucky reader. To enter their competition, all you need to do is email your most heart-warming, original and beautifully written tale, of 700 words or fewer, to

The closing date is 14 December 2014, so get your skates on!

The winning entry, as judged by Story Horse and The Simple Things’ editor and books editor, will be narrated as a podcast, to be released on Christmas Eve. The winner will also receive £150 to spend at Story Horse, where you’ll find covetable woolens, wellies, jewellery and more.

And in case you were wondering, the phrase Story Horse is a friendly Irish greeting, used particularly in the north of Dublin, where a cry of “What’s the story, horse?” basically means: “how are you doing?”

Find more details about the competition and the brand here.

How to launch a publishing house

Coffee in the park cr Judy DarleyWhen I met Darren Laws in 2008, he was working in PR but already had high hopes for a literary career. In the first instalment in a two-part series, I pick Darren’s brain about what it takes to get a new, independent publishing house off the ground. 

Value your writing skills

“It was actually my writing skills which enabled me to get into public relations in the first instance,” Darren says. “I am pretty much an autodidact by nature. Never academic but always fascinated by learning about the various industry roles I have worked in over the years. I’m always wondering what I’m going to do when I grow up – I’ll probably never know the answer to that but writing and creativity has been at the core of everything I’ve done. I had long embarked on a writing career when I moved into public relations, so it was natural to continue writing through that period. PR itself offered some great writing challenges which I loved.”

In the early years Darren ran Caffeine Nights in the evenings and at night (hence the company’s name) while spending his days working full time as a public relations manager. “The job was excellent, offering the chance to work on many great and diverse campaigns in the UK and abroad, but the agency like many others really suffered during the last recession following the banking crisis,” he says. “The downturn lead to a dramatic reduction in staff at the agency I worked in and while I escaped the first round of cuts I wasn’t so lucky second time around.” Continue reading

Harry Bunce’s opinionated animals

The Gift by Harry Bunce

The Gift © Harry Bunce

Not all animals are dumb, in either sense of the word. Harry Bunce’s canny critters are lively, often stylish and almost always opinionated.

But what starts an artist down such a curiously anthropomorphic route?

“I was born in 1967 and grew up in a small Hampshire village in a rural working class family,” Harry says. “I was a blissfully happy child but frequently fell ill, and had fevers and saw nightmarish visions. The first ‘art’ I can recall was by Margaret Tempest, Beatrix Potter and Richard Scarry. At school I was known ‘the one who was good at art’, so I think I just thought I would be an artist when I grew up, simple. I had no plan and no one to discuss the idea with, I imagined I would be ‘discovered’ at some point.”

Around about 1973 Harry’s cousin Gary gave him some Marvel comics, fuelling his interest in art further. “I was lost to them, I pawed over every inch. Mum and Dad kindly arranged to have a weekly comic delivered, and Thursday was the best day of the week because it was Mighty World of Marvel day. The artists (Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko etc) were Gods to me. I dreamt of Stan Lee taking me to New York.”

In 1976, aged nine, Harry was just developing a fledgling love of pop music and the associated imagery when he saw the Sex Pistols on the front of a newspaper. “The images drove me mad – they seemed impossible, shocking, harsh, ugly, beautiful. I had no way to hear the music, but it didn’t matter, I just imagined it! The seed of a plan was really sown then, all that stuff, the idea that you could just do it yourself.”

And yet the experience of creating art itself culminates in a sheer, sublime sort of peace at odds with the angst of what he describes as the ‘punk ethic.’ “The real moment of joy is when I finish a piece, nothing is making it feel wrong anymore, that’s it, the fight’s over.”

Another Grey Day by Harry Bunce

Another Grey Day © Harry Bunce

Continue reading

Midweek writing prompt – flock

Soul of Sir Hitchcock cr Maciey MakowskiIt’s always interesting to see one piece of creative work inspired another, in this case a photograph inspired by a vintage film.

This glorious image is by Maciey Makowski and is one of the monthly winning shots chosen by The World Photography Organisation (WPO) and luxury cruise line Celebrity Cruises in their monthly ‘Global Encounters’ competition.

Maciey took the photo on the outskirts of Pink City, Jaipur, India. I love the power and energy in the image, and the sense of transience.

“I was just hanging around, walking out of beaten touristic paths, and reward came,” says Maciey. “While I was walking through one of the gates of the city, I noticed big clouds of birds. I just released the camera shutter instinctively and three seconds later the magic of this moment just gone. I named it Soul of Sir Hitchcock after one of my favourites movies.”

And yes, those birds, looking stunning as they do, are humble pigeons!

You can take this prompt in any direction you like – imagine the story behind this particular scene, draw inspiration from a well-known film and apply it to what you see in your own neighbourhood, or seek out the magic in the most unassuming of creatures.

There’s still time to enter the photo competition too, which encourages photographers to capture and share their shots from across the globe. The monthly competition is open until 31 January 2015. Find full details here.

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