Hunting happiness

Laura butterfly, Bristol ZooIn modern society we’re often encouraged to seek out happiness. We’re taught that it’s our (insert deity of choice)-given right, and that, somehow, not to achieve this mystical state is to fail at life.


Yet, and I know I’m not alone in spouting this, I’m pretty sure that the relentless search for joy sows nothing but spiky seeds of discontent – the very opposite of our aim.

Yet there is a way to court positivity in your life. Here are my personal recommendations.

1. Remember that happiness is often shy. The hunt of it will undoubtedly send it hurtling into the undergrowth, anxiety rolling down its woolly shoulders in waves.

Instead, simply pause for a moment and breathe quietly, close your eyes if you can without risk of being knocked over, and let your thudding heart slow down. Ask yourself, how do I feel? Tentatively examine the emotions rippling through your veins and I suspect that below the everyday stresses and annoyances and fears, a quiet little inner voice is mumbling its own merry mantra about who knows what?

See, the trick is not to hunt, but to pay attention, not to the outside world but to your inner self.

2. If you can, draw it to the surface, and give it a listen. More than likely it’s listing the things that make your heart sing.

And whilst a shopping spree or a Game of Thrones boxset may be in amongst that jumble of words, I’m pretty sure more mundane, affordable items are awaiting your attention. Just for instance, the opening refrain of your favourite song, a particular shade of blue the sky sometimes presents even in January, the smell of gently mulching leaves in a forest setting, the pleasure of swapping day clothes for pjs the moment you step through the door of your home, that first sip of your first coffee of the day which just happens to be the perfect strength and temperature.

Actually, that last one is more elusive than any of the others, but you get my drift.

The fact is that, despite its lumbering densely furred appearance, happiness actually has more in common with twinkling frilly winged creature. You’re better off using a butterfly net than a bear trap. Better still, your own two hands, cupped gently.

Best of all, sit quietly for a few moments, and see what alights.

3. Even then you must remember to allow your bliss to flit onwards once you’ve admired its iridescence, bright against the sky. Your instinct may well be to grasp that sense of joy with all your strength, but just consider Lennie in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and what happened whenever he held on too tight.

By relaxing your grip on happiness, you actually let go of the anxiety and panic that threatens to suffocate it.

What remains will be contentment, and that’s infinitely more satisfying in the long run.

Writing prompt – hinterland

Oldbury Power Station cr Judy DarleyI recently read and loved the atmospheric Country Life by Ken Edwards, a book set in the shadow of an immense power station.

I grew up in a similar setting, with Oldbury Power Station brooding quietly alongside the nearby River Severn, part fairytale castle, part menacing monolith, part wildlife haven to rabbits and migrating geese.

The conflict of this space is curious – is it a place of danger or of refuge? How might the presence of this edifice affect the people and creatures that live here?

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

Writing prompt – winter

The Downs at sunset cr Judy DarleyWith the mayhem of Christmas just around the corner (if it hasn’t yet begun!), now seems the perfect time to contemplate some of the other qualities of this time of year.

I recently had a chat with some creative friends about the importance of having a cabin in the woods, real or hypothetical. A space where you can allow your subconscious creatures to emerge from the walls and find their place in your imagination.

As water turns to ice and the sky fades to gold, consider the quiet of copse and field, and the small, busy noises that rise into the air. Who or what may be roaming this scene? What are they doing? What thoughts or preoccupations fill their mind?

If you write something prompted by this idea, please send an email to Judy(at)socket to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on

The Sculptor – a short story

Unthology 8 coverI’ve been impressed by Unthank Books and their beautifully discerning and disconcerting Unthologies for many years. The tales they select and the books they produce inevitably stop me in my tracks. Right from the start, I yearned to see one of my pieces included among their number, and it’s taken a few attempts, some careful edits and just the right mix of narrative and imagery, but it seems I finally cracked it.

Quite simply, I’m thrilled that my short story The Sculptor is among the offerings of Unthology 8, due out on 28th January 2016. What a great start to the year! The Sculptor tells the tale of an ice sculptor coming to terms with her father’s semantic dementia.

I’ve already received my contributor copy  – an elegant black-sheathed volume crammed with fiction by Victoria Briggs, Kit Caless, Armel Dagorn, Sarah Dobbs, Clare Fisher, David Frankel, Rodge Glass, FC Malby, Amanda Mason, and other amazing authors.

Unlike many anthols, with Unthanks offerings it really is best to read the stories in the order in which they’re presented as editors Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones take care to curate the selection in a way that builds up and enhances the reading experience in the most exquisite manner. The book is now ready to pre-order from Book Depository, so if you want to treat yourself, just hop over to

If you sign up to the Unthank Mailing List (from Unthank’s website or Facebook page) you can get discounted copies and a discount on all other Unthank titles.

Here’s the write up from the publishers:

Live on a grand scale. Make deathless art. Scream paint. Sculpt ice. Let it melt and become a dynasty. Tarry with prophets and dreamers. Find joy in danger zones. Quit the stage of history. Tread the boards instead. Take a safari. Take a boat ride to the south of France. Work in the music biz, a chicken shack or cliff-top café. Fall in love, then out of love. Complete the jigsaw puzzle in a tiny room. Find yourself in a pris- on cell. Become a machine, loveable and servile. Realise that all the time, wherever you have been, whoever you’ve inhabited, you have been in a relationship with everyone there ever was or is yet to come and you can’t do one damn thing about it. Find fellow travellers here. Make friends with Unthology 8.”

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be a part of this.

Unthology 8, published by Unthank Books, is available from and

Writing prompt – war

Syria by Stu McLellanThis beautiful, heart-rending drawing was created by artist Stu McLellan. He says he created it “after hearing the story of a Syrian girl looking for her parents after her house was bombed. Regardless of who drops the bombs and their motives for doing so, it never brings peace.”

For this week’s writing prompt I invite you to write a piece from the point of view of this little girl, then a piece from the point of view of someone who believes those bombs should be dropped. Try to remain detached and objective as you write each piece, but give your characters all the emotions that seem appropriate.

If you are able, make the two have a conversation, and see what rises to the surface.

Find more of Stu’s artwork at

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

Rooted – a short story

BarefootDiariesissue6I’m very happy to share the news that my short story Rooted appears in The Barefoot Diaries ‘Into Winter’ edition.

This beautiful quarterly journal explores our relationships to nature and the seasons through writing, musings and art, plus tips on foraging and recipes, all compiled by creative duo Verity and Stu McLellan.

Such a lovely, contemplative thing to have my words be a part of.

Get your copy for £7 including postage from

Brescia – 10 Top Experiences

Brescia Capitolium cr Judy DarleyLocated in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, not far from Milan, Brescia is a city favoured by Italian holidaymakers for its ancient streets, inspiring edifices and culture-rich surroundings.

Here are my top ten recommendations for Brescia. It’s not all about the pasta (though some of it inevitably is…)

1 Explore the past

Brescia has some impressive Roman sites, including ruins of several villas discovered beneath the nuns’ garden with the Santa Giulia museum and a rather striking structure called the Capitolium, a religious temple and theatre built in AD 73 by Roman emperor Vespasian. It was rediscovered in 1823 thanks to a single visible tower, the rest being buried far below the city’s present level. Today, you can hire special Smart Glasses that offer glimpses into history for an impression of past and present layered over one another.

Sampling the smart specs cr Edith Koechi

Sampling the smart specs with local guide Cristina Boschetti. Pic by Edith Koechl.

To me it brought to mind Daphne Du Maurier’s beautiful novel The House On The Strand, but others may find themselves channelling a certain time travelling Doctor’s sonic specs…

Santa Maria dei Miricoli mermaid carvings

2 Hunt for mermaids

Brescia has a huge number of churches, (25 in the city centre alone) almost all of which are Catholic. One of my favourites is Santa Maria dei Miracoli, the exterior of which is covered with these extraordinary carvings. It’s worth taking a moment to eye up the mythical beasts – intended as warnings of the dangers that could befall you should you dare to stray from the faith. These mermaids are particularly foreboding, with their tiny wings and clawed feet.

Convent of San Francesco cr Judy Darley

3 Seek serenity

While fewer than the churches, there are plenty of convents to visit –even the city Santa Giulia museum is a former Benedictine monastery. This particular one is part of the San Francesco d’Assisi religious complex. Peaceful and austere, these sites provide the opportunity to stroll the walkways and courtyard while contemplating life, love and mortality.

Cherubic Brescia fountain cr Judy Darley

4 Count the cherubs

There are many – inside churches (occasionally swinging from chandeliers in a rather decadent fashion perhaps better suited to the Roman days of feasting), guarding the exterior gates of splendid buildings, and spouting with water from the ornate fountains. I’m not sure why they’re quite so numerous, but they’re amusing, in a slightly sinister way, and very photogenic. This fountain sits behind the church and convent of San Francesco in Piazetta dell Immacolata.

5 Play ‘spot the architectural style’

Brescia boasts examples of architecture from every era imaginable, including pre-Roman, renaissance and stunningly modern. One of my favourites, which resembles a ship about to collide with the facing building, can be seen down an alleyway northwest of Piazza Paolo VI.

Brescia astronomical clock cr Judy Darley

6 Watch an astronomical clock strike

In the centre of Brescia’s beautiful old quarter is an elegant square named the Piazza della Loggia and flanked at one end by the Renaissance Palace of the Loggia – now the town hall – and at the other by the astronomical clock. Each hour (or, rather, a little while after – the clock is typically laidback about punctuality), two figures strike the bell atop with hammers to remind you to take your final sip of espresso and get on with your day.

Brescia dogs cr Judy Darley

7 Meet the locals

Many Brescia residents are incomparably chic, occasionally dauntingly so, but the dogs are always friendly. This said, be aware that cooing over and petting an Italian’s beloved canine will be greeted with as much warmth as though you’d ruffled their own painstakingly coiffed hair.

Osteria del Savio casoncelli cr Judy Darley

8 Feast on casoncelli

This typical local dish is like a form of ravioli made with paper-thin pasta, and stuffed with cheese and breadcrumbs, meat or vegetables. The ones shown here, served at former convent hospice Osteria del Savio, cradle pumpkin, saffron cream and are perfumed with orange. Not so much the peasant fare then.

Brescia cathedrals cr Judy Darley

9 Compare the old with the new

Why have one cathedral when you can have two? In Brescia’s Piazza Paolo VI you can’t fail to spot the elegant white structure topped with one of the tallest domes in the Italy. Work on the Duomo Nuovo began in 1604 when it was decided the Duomo Vecchio, or old cathedral, wasn’t fancy enough. And yet, of the two, the old version, also known as the Rotonda due to its circular shape topped by a conical roof, is by far the more atmospheric. Build in the 12th century on the ruins of a former church, it has an entrance at street level with a flight of stairs leading down into the belly of the building, where services are still held today.

Dario Fo exhibition cr Judy Darley

10 Revel in an art duet

Within Brescia’s Santa Giulia museum, you can currently experience a dialogue between two creative greats – Marc Chagall and Dario Fo. The exhibition showcases paintings and sketches from Chagall’s childhood and early adulthood with response pieces created by his devotee Fo. Resembling scenes from colour-drunk dreams, the pairing seems like an artistic match made in heaven. The duel exhibition is on until 15 February 2016.

Where to stay
NH Hotel- Brescia

Where to eat
Trattoria La Buca
Osteria del Savio

Find local guide Cristina Boschetti at

Discover more about Brescia at


Discover Budapest.
Discover Bath.
Discover Barcelona.
Discover Laugharne.


Writing prompt – flotsam

To The Isle cr Claire LuxtonYou may recall that last week I published a piece on the art of Claire Luxton. I held this particular piece, To The Isle 2, back because it somehow cut to the quick of me.

The way the fragile bones of the woman’s spine show through her translucent flesh suggest she is an integral part of this marine landscape, as though she may well breathe saltwater more easily than air.

Is she shipwrecked, washed up, or simply enjoying the thin sunshine on her skin? What will happen if someone finds her here, while she seems so vulnerable? Or does she have a hidden sting or bite that will keep her from harm?

If you write something prompted by this idea, please send an email to Judy(at)socket to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on

Theatre review – Bristol Old Vic Christmas plays

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter cr Jack Offord2

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter photo by Jack Offord

Fairies, woodland creatures and wise women rampage through Bristol old Vic’s Christmas plays this year, shedding irreverent joy as they go.

I attended the press launch last week, and it was pure pleasure – what better way to spend a drizzly December day than in a theatre crammed with light, cascading streamers and baubles (kudos to the decorator), a gigantic fragrant Christmas tree and even a small bed to take selfies on?

The first treat of the afternoon was The Night That Autumn Turned to Christmas, a visual and musical feast. While aimed primarily at tiny tots, like all the best children’s fiction, it included plenty of humour for grown folks too, thanks to the talents of the three multi-tasking performers, Clare Beresford, on the double base Miriam Gould on the violin, and Dominic Conway playing guitar, banjo and ukulele.

The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter photo by Jack Offord

Miriam Gould and Clare Beresford as opera-singing rabbits photo by Jack Offord

The show is a collaboration between the celebrated Little Bulb Theatre, Farnham Maltings and Bristol Old Vic, and is crammed with moments to treasure, regardless of age.  Want opera-singing rabbits? They’ve got those. A moral conundrum between a fly, a frog and a spider? It’s in there. A Scottish owl quoting poetry by Robert Burns? Absolutely (and this one was a particular pleasure). There’s also a smattering of audience participation as we aid the woodland wardens (who happen to be fairies, though not of your usual fey and Disney-fied variety) in helping the animals prepare for the long winter ahead, but just enough to keep the smaller audience members entranced.

As clever lighting shifts the timescale from day to night, one final treat may be in store – a glimpse of the winter unicorn. Give yourself up to the magic of the spectacle and you’ll feel a shiver run down your spine as it finally trots into view…

Sleeping Beauty - Bristol Old Vic - David Emmings as Prince Percy Photo by Steve Tanner

David Emmings as Prince Percy Photo by Steve Tanner

And then onto Sleeping Beauty, a slightly weightier affair suitable for ages seven and up, directed by the much-lauded Sally Cookson. The scene opens on Prince Percy weeping bucket-loads of tears, and ended, as all the best tales too, with the beginning of a new adventure.

In this version, more than gender is changed. The fairy godmothers, or good fairies, have morphed into wise women – often caught chatting via the clunky telephones they keep in their equally enormous handbags.

The prince’s first birthday is approaching, and a party is planned, the invitations dispersed. Naturally, the invite to wise-women-gone-bad Sylvia (Stu Goodwin on dazzling form) goes unwritten and unsent, with familiar results. The prince is doomed to prick his finger before his 16th birthday.

Sleeping Beauty - Bristol Old Vic - Stu Goodwin as Sylvia, Joe Hall as King Derek and Lucy Tuck as Queen Vanessa - Photo by Steve Tanner

Stu Goodwin as Sylvia, Joe Hall as King Derek and Lucy Tuck as Queen Vanessa – Photo by Steve Tanner

In fact, the prince’s sleep lasts only to the interval thanks to passerby Deilen, with the whole second half drawing inspiration from a Welsh folktale and taken up with Deilen’s quest to find ‘the leaves that hang but do not grow’. Before she can achieve her aim, wicked Sylvia saunters back into the mix, resulting in the floods of tears we witnessed at the beginning and giving Deilen one more task to perform.

Kezrena James as Deilen is an independent, strong-minded, believable heroine who serves as a strong antidote to the usual female fare of fairytales and pantomimes alike, while David Emmings’ Prince Percy is kind-hearted and just gutsy enough not to be irredeemably annoying.

But, (along with the musicians Brian Hargreaves, Ruth Hammond and Pat Moran who deserve a special mention for sweeping the action along) it’s the wise women who steal the show – hats, handbags, oversized feet, wings and all. They’re a delight joy to watch – old biddies doing their best for the young prince they’re determined to see find a happy ending.

Sleeping Beauty is at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until the 17 January 2016.
The Night That Autumn Turned to Winter is on until 10 January 2016.
Find out more at