Book review – How The Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman

How The Marquis Got His Coat BackI found this small, self-contained, beautifully presented little book in one of the immense and rambling biblio-temples of Hay and Wye. I read the first page, then put it back, whereupon it leapt from the shelf and prostrated itself at my feet.

Quite frankly, who was I to refuse? It was the perfect experience to start my journey into the world of Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

As the story begins, the Marquis is chained to a pole in a room that is slowly filling with water. He is also still recovering from a slit throat, and death, as well as the loss of his beloved coat “the colour of a wet street at night.”

Gaiman’s power lies in his ability to thrust you so deeply and so fast into a tale that its landscape becomes your own. In this case, we’re in a London as seen through a twisted, tarnished mirror, where Mushroom People are less feared than the Shepherds of Shepherds Bush, and there’s an actual Elephant at the Castle. A Floating Market drifts from notable location to notable location – we first encounter it in the halls of the Tate Gallery, with the food court in the Pre-Raphaelite Room.

Entranced yet?

It’s a dizzying ride of a tale, full of treachery, desire, and flocks of folks whose greatest yearning is not to be alone.

There’s something truly special about a short story bound in book form – a complete reading experience in only a few thousand words. This treatment puts immense pressure on the tale itself. It needs to be strong enough to stand solo, to earn that slim, stand-alone space on a shelf (even if it does have a tendency to throw itself at your feet). There needs to be enough energy writhing on the pages to consume, be it only for a brief time. The reader must emerge reeling slightly, satisfied by an excellent tale impeccably told. In short (pun intended), they should feel they’ve read an entire novel, simply in a very condensed and efficient form.

In How The Marquis Got His Coat Back, Gaiman achieves all of that and more. I propose a new genre, of which this mini masterpiece can be counted as one of the first – flash novels. What do you think?

Silvering – a short story

Leaves on lawn by Judy DarleyI’m thrilled that my short story Silvering has been published in volume one, issue four of Wolves Magazine. Bobby, the lovely editor, said some awfully nice things about it. Thanks Bobby! The story follows a man on an emotional journey as his view of the world is utterly changed.

You can read the story here:!silvering/t4t5c.

It’s a really beautiful and entertaining issue. Do drop by for a read if you have a moment free. And submit your tales and poems for future issues too – Wolves is one of the few literary publications to actually pay!

A watery big adventure with Bristol Biennial

Bristol waterways cr Judy DarleyBristol Biennial begins today, with a programme of peculiar, beautiful, imaginative and immersive events taking place across the city.

I’m really happy to have been chosen as one of 12 artists taking part in The Floating, a collaborative writing project taking place on the Bristol’s waterways, and set to culminate in a series of works inspired by the boat journey. Excitingly, these will then be published “in an experimental way” along the harbourside where you’ll be able to see them throughout the week of Bristol Biennial.

The project is being masterminded by graphic designers Conway and Young and writer Amy Spencer. It’s the first time I’ve been involved in anything quite like this, and I’m buzzing with anticipation!

The Floating is just one of an array of fabulously inventive happenings, many of which are free to experience. Find out more about Bristol Biennial and The Floating.


The fizz and sparkle of Alce Harfield’s art

Colour Calypso by Alce Harfield

Colour Calypso by Alce Harfield

From her trademark busy blooms to vivid cityscapes to roiling seas and skies, Alce Harfield’s paintings fizz with energy, and offer a gloriously colour-saturated view of the world.

She says she had little choice about becoming an artist. “It was in my genes with my mum being Head of Art and my dad being a professional photographer!” she exclaims.

Peony Passions by Alce Harfield

Peony Passions by Alce Harfield

Following guidance from her parents, Alce completed a degree in Commercial Interior Design at Leicester poly “in order to get a ‘proper ‘job.’” However, during her finals, Alce started painting professionally, and that changed everything.

“I realised that was what I’d always wanted to do, then after two years working as an Interior Designer in Bristol, I took the plunge following redundancy and opened my first shop.”

Blooming by Alce Harfield

Blooming by Alce Harfield

Two years after launching The Silly Fish Shop in Bristol. Alce opened a second shop in Bath and went from strength to strength “selling my paintings and three dimensional plaster wall hangings.”

It seems that even, or perhaps especially, on the greyest British days, we’re drawn to seek out colour and light, and Alce’s creations meet that need perfectly.

Togetherness by Alce Harfield

Togetherness by Alce Harfield

The vibrancy of Alce’s artwork comes naturally. “I’m a happy person, so colour was always going to be my thing,” she says. “It gives me massive pleasure to use colour so I thought my customers might feel the same way too!”

It’s clear that they do as a whole page of Alce’s website is dedicated to ‘satisfied customers’, proving that happiness can be contagious!

It’s also evident simply through gazing at Alce’s paintings that they’re immensely cheerful things to be around, with splashes of scarlet, green and blue offering plenty of levity.

“I keep a scrapbook of photos and cuttings, plus sketches of everything that inspires me, from a beautiful landscapes to a colour combination,” Alce says of her working methods. “That is my inspirational bible – crucial if I’m having a blank moment!”

Her early training, as well as the examples set by her parents, taught Alce the importance of a good work method too. “I’ve always been hard working,” she comments. “My dad was self employed all his life and I’ve learnt his values of hard work equalling success. Plus, who wouldn’t want to splash paint on a canvas all day? It’s the best job in the world!”

Alce’s verve for life is enviable, and shines through in each canvas she covers. How could you not want a piece of that in your home?

There’s plenty to enjoy about being an artist, she says. “I set my own rules (it helps that I’m a control freak and incredibly driven). I can take time off for my kids when I need to and I can also work late as my studio is in the garden. I’m in complete control of my life and if I fail it’s my fault, but if I succeed it’s also down to me! That’s very empowering.”

Last One to the Pub by Alce Harfield

Last One to the Pub by Alce Harfield

Alce’s overflowing energy serves her in more practical ways too, as she travels the UK from Edinburgh to Windsor, and Manchester to Dartmouth, selling her work at art fairs and other shows, “including 25 years of trading at Glastonbury Festival!” She also has a stall at The Tobacco Factory market in Bristol during the winter months “when there aren’t so many shows.”

For further information and to see more of Alce’s paintings, visit

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