Ghostly getaways

Lumley Castle Hotel, County DurhamI love a spine-chilling, skin-tingling old fashioned ghost story, especially with Halloween almost upon us. If you’re seeking an inspirational spot to retreat to this All Hallows’ Eve, it seems Britain is rife with unsettling options. Just think of the inspiration you could glean for your next eerie tale!

Hoping for a heart-rending haunting? Head to Lumley Castle Hotel in County Durham (pictured above). Legend has it that in the 14th century the lady of the manor, Lily Lumley, was chucked down a well, and continues to trawl the castle grounds and corridors after nightfall.

Abbey Combe Hotel

Abbey Combe Hotel

Over at Coombe Abbey Hotel in Warwickshire, a 12th Century Cistercian Abbey, the tranquility is disrupted by an unearthly Hooded Monk, said to be the ghost of Abbott Geoffrey who was brutally murdered in 1345. His cloaked figure has been seen wandering the formal gardens designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and causing mayhem with poltergeist activity in the kitchens.

Abbey Combe Hotel gardens

Abbey Combe Hotel gardens

If the monk doesn’t make your heart lodge in your throat, look out for a green-eyed girl known as Matilda, rumoured to be the spirit of a stablehand taken advantage of by the master of the house. When he refused to accept responsibility for her pregnancy, Matilda cursed the house, and still storms through the rooms, slamming each door she passes through.

The Langham in London boasts the capital’s most haunted hotel room – room 333. Since it opened in 1865, it’s said to have been as popular with the dead as the living. Look out for a silver haired gentleman wearing a cravat – the ghost of a Victorian who murdered his wife and then killed himself while on their honeymoon at the hotel. Charming.

Then there’s Redworth Hall Hotel, Darlington, a Georgian manor house standing in 150 acres of woodland. If you book a night here, you could encounter the ghost of a jilted lover and hear the sound of ghostly children crying throughout the building.

Just the thing to ensure a night of sweet dreams.

Happy Halloween!

Find full details of all these hotels at

Writing prompt – trapped

Metal handprint cr Judy DarleyWith Halloween just days away, I want you to think of a story to chill your readers to the bone.

This photo was taken at a local farm. The dented metal caught my eye – notice that the pattern almost resembles a handprint as though someone is trapped behind it and desperate to escape.

What happened here? Who was trapped and why? What was the outcome? You decide, just make sure it’s eerie enough to raise goosebumps on your arms as you write, and make you wonder if that creak you just heard needs investigating…

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

Sanctum in the city

Temple Church, Bristol, photo Max McClure2

Temple Church, Bristol, photo © Max McClure

Just off Bristol’s Victoria Street, there’s a church with the sky for its roof. Bombed in World War II, Temple Church is a shell, with only the 11th century walls still intact. For most of the time, it’s closed to the public, but from 29th October for the following 24 days it will become the site of an extraordinary arts venture.

As part of Bristol 2015 European Green Capital, Sanctum will comprise a continuous programme of events, including spoken word, music and theatrical performance, from 6pm on Thursday 29th October until Saturday 21st November.

Temple Church, Bristol, photo Max McClure1

Temple Church, Bristol, photo © Max McClure

Taking place in the church surrounded by materials reclaimed by artist Theaster Gates from “places of labour and religious devotion across Bristol”, the performances will unfurl day and night, with the schedule a secret so you can never know what you’re about to experience.

Characters you could encounter include sonic artist Alice Humansoundscapers Bards of Avalonplaywright and performer Bea Robertsradio presenter and writer Cheryl Morgan, singer songwriter IsoldeSleepdogs, and almost 200 others.

It looks set to be an entrancing installation that will inspire and intrigue.

Find full details at

A handmade menagerie

Needle felted little white mouse by JR Simpson

Needle felted little white mouse by JR Simpson

Jay Simpson describes herself as a peculiar maker and illustrator “who loves wildlife, made-up words, staring into space and sleeping.” It’s an apt description, given that many of her creations seem to have escaped from children’s telly of yesteryear (Button Moon and Finger Mouse inevitably spring to mind).

As it happens, art has been on the agenda since Jay was tiny. “My parents and granny are artists and they always encouraged me to look at the world with curiosity, respond to what I saw creatively,” she says. “I’ve always loved making and drawing but never considered that I could ever be a ‘real artist’. Luckily I’ve now discovered there’s no such thing, so I can just make art without worrying!”

Jay is fascinated by nature, and loves “exploring the weird miniature worlds I find in rockpools and at the bottom of the garden. This interest originally led me towards a career in science, but after illness forced me to quit my degree in biology, I found I preferred studying nature in a sketchbook to in a lab.”

Jay completed a foundation course in art, and recently begun studying for a degree in Illustration at the University of the West of England. “It’s loads of fun so far.”

Her family’s pragmatic approach to making a living through art seems to have rubbed off on Jay. “I sell my work through Etsy and through Blaze, a wonderful co-op of makers and artists in Bristol.”

Needle felted Elwood the Otter by JR Simpson

Needle felted Elwood the Otter by JR Simpson

Popular makes include her menagerie of needle felted creatures, “born out of my desire to share my love of small, common, underappreciated animals. I wanted to show others how cute they are!”

Each of Jay’s animals has a fully developed personality, ready to embody any story their characters encounter.

Jay discovered needle felting a couple of years ago and was immediately impressed by the infinite possibilities and immediacy of it. “It’s like drawing with wool.”

I particularly fond of Jay’s needle felted snails, with real snail shells mostly sourced “from the beach near my parents’ home in Somerset; the sea washes them clean, which saves me a lot of work!”

Needle felted snail parade by JR Simpson

Needle felted snail parade by JR Simpson

Her mice in teacups and other receptacles are also a delight. “I love combining soft sculpture with found material, like the snail shells or charity shop crockery. It provides a lovely contrast in materials, and gives the creatures a new dimension, adding context and history.”

Needle felted snail by JR Simpson

Needle felted snail by JR Simpson

Jay enjoys meeting other artists “and being part of wonderful creative communities like Blaze and the Illustration department at UWE. It’s really energising to be surrounded by so much excitement and enthusiasm. At the moment I’m concentrating on developing my visual language as an illustrator, and eventually I hope to write graphic narratives, so I can share the weird worlds and characters I have in my head!”

You can see more of Jay’s work at her Etsy shop,, on her blog, and at Blaze.

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)

Writing prompt – studio

Carol Peace studio cr Judy DarleyTonight I’ll be reading two short tales inspired by art at the Written from Art event taking place at Carol Peace’s sculpture studio.

Actually, one is inspired by art, the other more by artists, the space they inhabit and the tantalising mess they create. As a child I loved to creep into my mum’s painting studio, inhale the aromas of chalk and dust and ink, and eye-up the glorious miscellany that cluttered that light-filled space.

This week, using the photo above (showing Carol’s studio at Paintworks) as your starting point, write a piece about an artist from the point of view of someone who hasn’t met them but is discovering them through the studio where they spend much of their time.

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

Distant storms

I’ve been subscribing to Mslexia for many years, and have been relishing the little ms newsletter that goes out to subscribers ever since its launch. It’s full of ideas, inspiration and quirky nuggets of information. Each one includes a flash card – an image you’re invited to turn into a 100-word story.


Image © Gabczi and Shutterstock via Mslexia

They’re fantastic writing prompts, and when I saw the one shown to the left, a story crept into my mind. I wrote a version that was twice as long as it needed to be, cut it down, polished the sentences, rearranged a few, replaced some with others and finally had a piece I liked, so sent it in.

When I opened the October little miss, I discovered to my pleasure and surprise that my tale had been chosen to appear! Such a joy.

Here is the first sentence for all those none subscribers (and I urge you to subscribe at once!).

Distant storms

It’s almost a decade since anyone came by our flooded city, so when the smoke went up, a bruised tower against the sky, my heart jumped in my chest…

How blogging can make us more present

Krakow chimneys cr Judy DarleyI began blogging in 2008. I’d already been working as a journalist for several years, and having recently gone freelance, was seeking to fill the slightly alarming time between assignments. After years of following briefs, making my writing meet the expectations magazine readers and editors, writing a blog felt refreshingly free. For the first time since I was a child keeping a journal, I could, to some extent, write whatever popped into my head.

But soon came the disconcerting and simultaneously exhilarating realisation I had an audience. I needed to be aware my eyes were not the only eyes one the screen.

I needed to make sure I had plenty of quality content, so I did what I’d always done. I carried a notebook. I wrote down the things that occurred to me, the sights and snippets of daily life that amused or intrigued me, and some of them formed blog posts for a section I named ‘Foraging.’

More recently, one blog down and three years into blogging at, many of these take the form of ‘Writing Prompts’. It makes me pay attention in a way I might not otherwise, and it’s deeply satisfying.

At the same time, as I seek out creative opportunities for my readers, I grow more aware of the literary and art events taking place, the courses, festivals, calls for submissions and competitions that might benefit my own output.

In a sense, a blog is a magazine, with each post an article or feature. The beauty of the blog is that there are few costs (just the hosting and domain name to shell out for if you want a bespoke name), and therefore no advertisers to appease. You have freedom, but also copy to provide. So you keep your eyes and ears open, pay attention to what’s happening around you, both online and out in the actual world.

I once attended a talk on mindfulness in which we were advised to take note of chimneys. It’s a simple way to ensure you look up, notice the sky, and, besides, many chimneys are beautiful.

Gathering material to blog about works in the same way. I’m a habitual daydreamer – a half hour amble could pass without me seeing anything but the thoughts inside my head. Requiring myself to spot things, and think about them, ensures I’m more aware of my surroundings – not only that, but enjoying them.

Arnos Vale trees cr Judy Darley

As my mind hops from idea to idea, my eyes can dart around and draw my attention to the way sunlight flickers between branches, the discarded toy on a wall, the faint absurdity of a lone shoe nestled in the shade of a bus stop. And then my mind stops wandering and wonders – whose toy is that? Why just the one shoe? Is someone right now limping home?

The world is full of intrigue.

As a blogger you’re a modern day hunter-gatherer. The snippets you overhear, the conversations you have, the twitter feeds and other blogs you read, all contribute to making your blog, and your life, more interesting. And, I would say, all that can add up to making you a more engaged, happier person.

What’s not to like?

Capturing moods with Rod Craig

Here Comes The Sun cr Rod Craig

Here Comes The Sun © Rod Craig

Rod Craig’s landscapes are imbued with atmosphere so that even the most tranquil scene has a sense of brooding energy about it. Dawn light slants through winter trees, clouds and rain streak the sky, figures stride, intent on their destination. Rod’s artwork offers an examination both of the world and our place in it, and I find it really beautiful.

The End of Love cr Rod Craig

The End of Love © Rod Craig

Rod can’t recall a time when art wasn’t his main preoccupation. “I was always drawing as a child, right through my school days until I attended Bristol College of Art and Design. From that point on art and design has been my life and at no stage have I considered any alternative career!”

Following more than 30 years running a successful graphic design company, Rod has been painting full time for the last five year.

Connemara Bucks cr Rod Craig

Connemara Bucks © Rod Craig

“Most of my work is landscape based and produced from memories,” he says. “Some places I’ve visited have left me with such strong visual images in my head that I will revisit the subject many times. This was the case with the many paintings I’ve done inspired by a visit to Connemara on the west coast of Ireland, and the urban landscapes produced after an extended stay in New York.”

Madrid Blue cr Rod Craig

Madrid Blue © Rod Craig

Rod occasionally use a photographic reference as the starting point for the painting “but the final image will usually change dramatically as it develops.”

Rod explains that rather than aiming to produce a ‘likeness’, he’s interested in “capturing the emotions triggered by a place. I love the drama of a storm or the suggestion of birds across the night sky. Watercolour is a fantastic medium for this style of painting with its fluidity and spontaneity. It’s a very exciting way of exploring visual techniques and feelings.”

Rod recognises how lucky he is to be able to spend his days doing what he loves. “It’s a real privilege. I believe that if I paint what moves me, I will produce better, more honest work. I can’t imagine a more fulfilling way of spending my time than travelling to beautiful places, allowing them to fire my imagination and exhibiting the finished results!”

You can see more of Rod’s work at The Paragon Gallery in Cheltenham, and at two group exhibitions coming up in November 2015: ‘A Celebration of Trees’ at Real Wood Gallery, Woodstock, and ‘Winter Landcapes’ at O3 Gallery, Oxford.

Visit Rod’s website at and follow him on Twitter @rodcraigartist.

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)

Writing prompt – cavern

MINE grotto skylightIn less than a week’s time I’m be sharing one of my stories in Redcliffe Caves as part of Bristol Festival of Literature. It’s an exciting thought, not least because of the beautiful and unusual venue.

It made me think about how you can alter or enhance the mood of a tale, simply by setting it underground. Think about your cave – is it thick with darkness or does sunlight eke in? Is it dry or riddled with dripping water? What embeds the walls and what lurks in the shadows? What are the smells, the sounds, the atmosphere? Use these details to imbue your story with menace, mystery or magic.

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

All At Sea

Mary Lang on one the last merchant sailing ships cr Anne Spencer and Sue Vader

Mary Lang on one the last merchant sailing ships © Anne Spencer and Sue Vader

I’ve recently been researching women aviators from the past century, so an exhibition currently on at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall caught my eye.

Mermaids: Women at Sea is all about female mariners who challenged the preconceptions of a male-dominated world by taking to the high seas.

Through first-hand accounts, film, photography and artefacts, you can gain an insight into the achievements of extraordinary individuals including Mary Lang (pictured left – what a stunning image!), who joined a crew on the last of the merchant sailing ships to journey from South Australia to Cornwall in the 1930s, and sailing legend Dame Ellen MacArthur who became the fastest woman ever to circumnavigate the globe in 2005.

Mermaids represents a key moment for the Maritime Museum as it develops its interpretation and presentation of maritime heritage in non-traditional areas of the field by publicly addressing the hidden histories of women sailors, not because they are women but because their stories are just as fascinating and stimulating as those of men and therefore worthy of preserving and presenting to our visitors,” says Tehmina Goskar, Senior Curator at the Maritime Museum.

Glad to hear it!

Intriguingly, the exhibition includes an examination of the superstitions about women and the sea, from the myths of mermaids luring sailors to watery graves to the idea that a woman aboard a ship was meant to bring ill fortune to the voyage and crew.

The exhibition is supported by the Hypatia Trust, a Penzance-based charity that celebrates and promotes the study and achievements of women.

Mermaids: Women at Sea runs until 21st February 2016 at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth.