Theatre review – A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing1 Credit Mihaela Bodlovic

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing © Mihaela Bodlovic

Sweeping us from the days before birth deep into a girl’s life, Annie Ryan’s adaptation of Eimear McBride’s award-winning novel for The Corn Exchange Theatre is a formidable journey. The adaptation itself is a work of mastery – at no point do we exit the inner narrative of the half-formed girl, instead experiencing everything that comes her way with visceral intensity.

To accomplish this, Ryan cast just one character, the girl, performed with extraordinary power by Aoife Duffin, who also presents us with every person the girl encounters, from mother, brother and uncle to a breezy roommate, and a succession of men. Her ability to portray different presences is striking – a few alterations to her voice and posture conjure up a host of folks with a variety of intentions towards the girl.

With equal economy, the stage is dressed with no more than a covering that could be carpet, could be mud, and Duffin’s costume comprises what looks like lounge wear – comfortable, unassuming and disarmingly vulnerable. Her feet are bare throughout, allowing Duffin’s talent to shine as she acts from head to toe.

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing cr Mihaela Bodlovic

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing © Mihaela Bodlovic

The story isn’t easy-going. There’s grief, betrayal and an awful lot of sex, most of elicited but less with passion than a desire for self-abasement.

Yet, this is a love story in the purest sense of the word, as the girl aims to protect her older brother and keep him safe from the tumour that afflicted him before her birth. He is the ‘You’ she refers to frequently, and when she talks of their childhood, we’re offered the impression of them hiding together from their irate ma, secure and for the most part happy.

Subtle use of sounds and lighting move us from scene to scene, and mood to mood, but truly this is a play of words; fractured, invented, poetic and bold. Duffin breathes them with every part of her being, so that when she is sore, we are sore, and when she is searching for a sense of herself in all the wrong places, we are searching for her too, so we can bring her safely home.

It’s a performance full of strength, raising questions about culpability and the tendency of victims to punish only themselves. By the end of the 1hr, 25 minute play, Duffin is in emotional tatters, running from the stage after each curtain call with palpable relief. The courage required by this show, and by the girl it focuses on, is evident on her face.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is at Tobacco Factory Theatres until Saturday 30th January. To book tickets visit, call 0117 902 0344 or email

Opportunity for artists of sound

Weather Station projectb-side festival & OSR Projects are looking to commission artists who work with sound to produce a piece in collaboration with the Weather Station project.

South West-based sound artists are invited to put forward proposals to take part in Weather Station (Part 2), an art project culminating in an exhibition at the b-side festival on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, in September 2016

The deadline for submissions is 7th February 2016.

To apply, submit a brief outline (around 250 words) detailing how you would respond to the subject of flooding and extreme weather, and how you might explore the changing relationship we have with landscape and the natural world. The organisers say: “Particularly we ask that your response should engage with the ‘Weather Station’ itself, which is a large transparent inflatable sphere (see all available images HERE). It’s large enough to stand, walk or sit in – if wished – on land or water. It’s waterproof, and also therefore ‘breath-proof’, meaning there’s a limitation on the amount of time you can spend inside it.”

Weather Station project2

You must be available to take part in Weather Station (Part 2) sometime between March and June 2016, with results being exhibited at the b-side festival in September 2016.

To be in with a chance of being part of this, consider the part the sphere itself will play in your performance – “to use, react to, present, record, collaborate on, share, or otherwise engage with” before the Weather Station travels on to the next artist in this cumulative project. In your proposal include the South West setting you would like the Weather Station to come to for your particular piece, whether that’s a street, river, rooftop or field.

Weather Station project

OSR Projects and b-side will jointly select one artist from the proposals. The final exhibition of Weather Station (Part 2) also offers the opportunity for the selected artist to include some existing relevant work. The successful applicant will receive an artist’s fee of £400 to cover any travel and materials.

Find full details at 

For further information on Weather Station visit

Writing prompt – Chagall and Fo

La passeggiata by Marc ChagallIn November last year I attended the Marc Chagall: Russian years 1907-1924 exhibition at the Santa Giulia Museum in Brescia, Italy, where works by Chagall are currently displayed in conjunction to responsive pieces by Dario Fo.

Chagall’s romantic The Promenade inspired Fo’s creation, titled Un colpo di vento e Bella raggiunge il cielo, which translates as A gust of wind and Bella reaches the sky. Bella was Chagall’s beloved wife, and the subject of many of his paintings.

Un colpo di vento e Bella raggiunge il cielo cr Dario Fo

Un colpo di vento e Bella raggiunge il cielo © Dario Fo

While Chagall’s artwork shows the airborne woman anchored by her love for Chagall, in Fo’s interpretation, she seems to be buffeted – helplessly at the mercy of the wind. Her devoted lover races after her, his body language a panicked cry.

Either work on its own is ideal as a writing prompt, but I ask you to consider what happened between The Promenade and Fo’s responsive painting.

What has changed between this couple, and why?

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 SkyLightRain.comFind out more about Brescia at

The Marc Chagall and Dario Fo Exhibition will be at the Santa Giulia Museum in Brescia, Italy until 15th February 2016.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, inspired by the life of Marc Chagall, is on at Bristol Old Vic until 11th June 2016.

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

Book review – Astray by Emma Donoghue

Astray coverIn her short story collection Astray, author Emma Donoghue takes us on a journey that leads us through time and across oceans deep into the lives of people both real and imagined (sometimes a skilful blend of the two). We encounter their hardships, bear witness to their darkest deeds, share in their triumphs, and hope, very much hope, that a happy ending is just over the next horizon.

It’s a reminder that travel was once only for the intrepid, the desperate and those determined to find a better life. As a historian, Donoghue is adept at taking shreds of ephemera and transforming it into something with body and spirit, and with each of these tales, she reveals something of the era, and the people concerned

Following each story is a brief explanation of its origins, including the facts that inspired the fiction. More than once I found myself surprised by which pieces were true, and which made up – evidence, I think, both of Donoghue’s powerful imagination and reality’s tendencies towards peculiarity.

Continue reading

New Artist – a new magazine

newartistI recently got invited to write a feature for a brand new magazine, New Artist. It was a dream commission, involving me visiting galleries, coffee shops and the like and talking to the people about the pros and cons of choosing to exhibit in unconventional spaces. It opened up really interesting discussions, and gave me an opportunity to consider some unexpected sides of the arguments for and against, while enjoying spending time in some of my favourite kinds of places with some truly talented people.

I was thrilled to receive my comp copy of the magazine last week, which comes with a cover gift of a set of sketching pencils (bonus!), and is packed with beautiful practical articles designed to improve artistic skills and inspire ideas for new compositions.


One special detail for me is that among the photos I submitted along with my feature text was a photo I’d taken in the Grant Bradley Gallery, Bristol, which just happened to include a small work of art by my mum. It made it onto the printed page, which means I now have the pleasure of letting my mum know her collage has been featured in a national art magazine. How lovely.

Print editions of the quarterly New Artist magazine are available to buy online from, with digital versions available on iPad, tablets and Zinio. The print version of issue 1 will be on sale until early March 2016, with digi editions available indefinitely. Huzzah!

Writing prompt – glance

Seen through a window cr Judy DarleySometimes a view changes so fast we can’t be quite sure what we’ve seen. Imagine you’re inside relaxing on a sunny day. You glance outside and your attention catches on something, but when you look properly, it’s too late, whatever you saw has gone.

What did you see? Why does it continue to bother you? What action do you take to resolve the situation and appease your inexplicable anxiety about it?

So many possibilities here – think Hitchcock’s Rear Window, written by John Michael Hayes or Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, and play with this concept until something bubbles up that truly chills you.

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

Stories at Strawberry Thief

Strawberry Thief by Judy Darley
This week marks the first Novel Nights of 2016, taking place on Thursday 21st January, from 8pm. Excitingly, the literary night has a brand new venue – The Strawberry Thief, a rather delightful Belgian beer bar on Bristol’s Broad Street.

The night’s co-founder and organiser Grace Palmer has kindly invited me to read at the event, and I’ll be sharing a story inspired by the new venue, or rather, by the William Morris wallpaper that inspired the bar’s name. Got that?

I’m one of four writers filling the first half of the evening with stories, then for the second half author Mimi Thebo will be discussing the importance of voice in fiction.

Do come along if you’re in the area.

Submit speculative fiction to Holdfast

Arnos Vale twisted treeHoldfast are inviting short story submissions and non-fiction articles for their 2015-2016 print anthology. The deadline is 3rd February 2016.

Your fiction or non-fiction can be on any of the following themes:

  • Of Land Sea and Sky (landscape, setting and place in SFF)
  • Gods and Monsters (religion and politics)
  • Looking Forward, Looking Back (time – from alternative history, fantasy set in the middle ages, through to dystopia and space opera, it’s a pretty broad theme)
  • Love, Sex, Romance ( interesting and original fiction and articles examining this theme in speculative fiction)

Note from the editors regarding payment:

“Last year our fundraising goal was £3500, and we raised over £4000. We feel confident we can do it again, particularly now our readership has grown, but this is not guaranteed. When and if we are successful, we will split all profits after printing costs equally between each contribution, including all contributions for issues 5–8. This payment is of course dependent on the crowdfunder being successful.”


Fiction should be 100-5,000 words long, and must be related to speculative fiction (eg magic, SF, fantasy, horror, weird stuff).

Please format in house style, i.e.: 1.5 line spacing, line break paragraphs and single speech marks for dialogue, with double speech marks for quoting within speech.

Please submit file as .doc or .rtf. with your name and story title in the file name, and put ‘fiction’, the theme, and the title of your story in the subject line of your email.

Articles should be no more than 2,000 words long. Please send article ideas related to the issue theme with a link to examples of your work/blog (if you have any.

Please put ‘Article’ and the issue theme in the subject line of your email.

Find full submission guidelines and discover more about Holdfast at

Traces of memory with Julie Begen

Artwork by Julie Begen

Artwork by Julie Begen

“I love old objects,” says mixed media artist Julie Begen. “I have collections of all sorts of things but they’re always worn, marked, incomplete. I like to see traces of the past, the patina, hints of past dinners in the crazing on a plate, the shadow of a tea stain on a tray cloth.”

I encountered Julie’s work on Totterdown Front Room Art Trail 2015, and was simultaneously intrigued and unnerved by her displays of doll parts, drawings and sculptures.

Stand at Totterdown Art Trail by Julie Begen

Julie’s stand at Totterdown Front Room Art Trail

“Much of my work is to do with traces of memory,” she explains. “There is often a memorial aspect…and a healing I think. The dolls are all part of this.”

Doll portraits by Julie Begen

Doll portraits by Julie Begen

This particular collection began with a spot of beachcombing. “I like to beach comb for human detritus and have a large collection of china shards,” she says. “I started finding bits of china dolls amongst the pebbles on beaches. Miniature sculptural pieces loved, held, then lost.”

Dolls' legs by Julie Begen

Dolls’ legs by Julie Begen

It’s such an intriguing idea – how did these adored specimens end up at the mercy of the tides, before becoming part of the shores flotsam?

Julie herself was never a particularly ‘dolly’ child, “but I really understand the need for an object of comfort and of attachment to an object or toy. The project really took me back in time. Like most of my work it made me sense memories that I thought I had lost. I know my work can do that for others too.”

Julie explains that she deliberately works with objects “that trigger that sense of knowing but not really remembering. I have referred to this in the past as ‘layers of the familiar’, more felt than recalled. A sense. A scent…  The back of your mum’s dressing table drawer…”

Brooch by Julie Begen photo by Judy Darley

Brooch by Julie Begen


It’s enough to send a shiver up your spine. Other pieces include intricate botanical drawings captured in brooches and rings.

“My artworks prompt individual personal memories and the stories that go with them. Once exhibited this then leads on to the memories and stories that the viewers then share with me.”

Julie regards her works as a collection rather than individual pieces, “although each piece can and does stand alone. An important part of my work are the written supporting texts which explore areas of my past, revisiting, questioning and helping me question my exploration and put it into context.”

Brooch1 by Julie Begen

Brooch by Julie Begen

But what kinds of things prompt these journeys?

“Projects find me – I don’t look for them. I will find myself drawn toward an object or a phrase and over time the meanings come together. It is all in my subconscious and over time I’ve learned to trust and go with it until it comes to the fore. There will be an itch to scratch.”

A single explorative journey can take about a year.

“All projects are connected but I find this works for me, keeps me moving forward and provides me with a new body of work to exhibit each year. I find that a time frame works for me. It keeps me focused.”

She adds, intriguingly: “I can’t imagine not making work. It keeps me complete. There are times when life takes over and there isn’t much time but I’m always wanting to get on. It’s frustrating, like a piece of me missing.”

To ensure she’s always able to keep moving forward with a project, Julie keeps sketchbooks and has “archives of related images so I and always able to get on with something.”

Rings by Julie Begen

Rings by Julie Begen

As well as showing her work at Totterdown Front Room Art Trail and Easton Arts Trail, where she has the same space every year, “thanks to St Marks Baptist Church”, Julie takes part in other West Country trails. “I was also delighted to be asked to take part in Ilfracombe’s first Art Trail.”

Portrait by Julie Begen

Portrait by Julie Begen

For Julie, art has always been part of her means of making sense of the world. “I have always drawn, since I was a child. It has seemed as natural a language to me as learning to speak, a part of my life that I cannot imagine being without. It is who I am. It is how I think. It is just what I do.”

Find Julie at, on Twitter@JulieBegen and on her Artist Facebook page

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

Writing prompt – serene

Iona Abbey carving cr Judy Darley

Yesterday I mentioned that my short story The Merrow Cave has been published in issue 34 of Canadian literary journal Querty Magazine.

The source of the original story began with me glimpsing this beautifully serene carving at the abbey on the Scottish isle of Iona. It’s an incredibly tranquil place, and this face encapsulates a sense of the atmosphere.

For the purpose of my story I relocated the carving from the column of an abbey into a cave on a shore, and made it a symbol of love. I invite you to do something similar. Place the carving, or a similar one, somewhere meaningful and insert it into a tale. Who is this person? What merited them being immortalised in this way? Who might stumble across it and how might they react?

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