World building with Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma DonoghueYou’ve probably heard of Emma Donoghue’s extraordinarily successful novel Room. You may have seen the excellent screen adaptation, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and featuring Brie Larson as Ma and Jacob Tremblay as Jack.

But until you read the book and, effectively, enter Jack’s mind, you’re missing the opportunity for full immersion in one of the strangest, most complete worlds ever imagined.

It doesn’t sound like much. It isn’t on another planet, populated by peculiar creatures or governed by strange laws, but, and here’s the key, as far as Jack’s concerned it may as well be, except the magic of all these oddities is that they’re the ones he’s grown up with over the five years of his live.

Everything beyond the walls and ceiling of Room is, he believes, outer space.

Jack is an unwavering narrator. His understanding of the small space he and Ma are confined within is absolute. There are a thousand ways to have fun, and enough friends, from Meltedy Spoon to Rug, to keep him from ever being lonely.

Donoghue engages a number of subtle tricks to sweep Jack’s world over and around us. For one thing, apart from dialogue, the whole text is written in Jack’s language. It’s simple enough to understand, but his sentence construction is a little off, and some words are particular to him. Killers, for example, are the painkillers Ma takes for her rotten tooth, the sun is God’s Yellow Face, and sleeping is switching off.

The author builds up the rules slowly, seeding in clues that help us make sense around Jack’s limited understanding.

“Door’s made of shiny magic metal, he goes beep beep after nine when I’m meant to be switched off in Wardrobe,” Jack says, little knowing the horrifying truths he’s letting us in on.

It’s Jack lack of comprehension that keeps the worst elements of his life from being unbearable. To Jack, Room is a safe and magical place, and that makes this book an enjoyable rather than miserable read.

Seen through Jack’s eyes, his world is a place of infinite adventures and possibilities, and Donoghue’s deftness in getting us to swallow this, while allowing us to gradually unravel the darker truths of Jack’s existence, reveals a writer with firm control over her characters and setting. And when it comes to world building, those are the restrictions we need to set our imaginations free to fly.

Room by Emma Donoghue is published by Picador and is available to buy from Amazon.

What are you reading? Impressed by a particular scene or technique? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews and comments on books, art, theatre and film. Please send an email to Judy(at)

Learn travel writing

Manukan beach, BorneoIf, like me, you’re prone to keeping travelogues whenever you skip out of town, why not have a go at turning your holidays into magazine features?

Tina Walsh is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience of writing about travel for publications such as TIME, the Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Express and many more.

She’s leading a five-week online travel course, providing an insight into what travel editors are looking for from freelance journalists and offering tips on how to sell your stories.

What does it cover?

* How to find engaging story ideas
* How to write a pitch
* How to structure your story
* How to get invited on press trips and organise your own trips

The course is suitable for beginners and more experienced travel writers looking to brush up their skills.

Start dates are ongoing, so you can sign up whenever you’re ready and complete the course in your own time.

Taking part costs £250 (inc VAT) for five individual one-hour sessions. It could be the start of a brand new career, or at least add a new string to your writing bow.

Find full details at

Book and Brunch Sundays

Book and Brunch SundaysWith World Book Day approaching on 2nd March 2017, I’m happy to see one hotel fully embracing the theme. Lowndes Bar & Kitchen unveils its new Book and Brunch Sundays on 26th Feb.  Their new brunch menu encompasses a bottomless tea or coffee, fresh juice, delights such as smashed avocados and poached eggs, plus a brand new paperback for a touch of literary bliss, especially selected by nearby Belgravia Books. What a genius idea for hotels to collaborate with bookshops and authors!

The Book and Brunch series begins with Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’ latest novel Belgravia, with literary offerings set to change each month. Upcoming treats including 2016 Costa Novel Award shortlisted The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain, 2016 Man Booker Prize-shortlisted Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien and author Rowena Macdonald’s debut novel The Threat Level Remains Severe.

Sounds divine to me!

For more information or to reserve a table, visit or call 020 7858 7223.

Writing prompt – eavesdrop

Small Street Espresso cr Judy Darley#writingprompt

The town I live in is full of fantastic independent coffee shops where you can sit and write, while coyly keeping one ear and one eye tuned to the people mooching in and out.

The one pictured above is Small Street Espresso, a fabulous but tiny establishment in Bristol.

This week I urge you to emerge from your writer’s cave and head out to a more populated place. Take your portable writing device of choice (a notepad and pen should do it), and eavesdrop to your heart’s content. Who knows what might arise?

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

Reading at Novel Nights

Green Glass by Judy DarleyThis Wednesday from 8pm I’ll be reading my short story Green Glass as part of Novel Night’s romance themed evening. My tale is a bit less hearts and flowers than wavering principles and recycled glass, but at the core of it is a protagonist with a desire to be a better person, and that has to count for something.

Along with our gracious Grace-ious host Grace Palmer, I’ll be accompanied by local writers Amy Morse, Chloe Turner and Kate Dunn, with Rosemary Dun, author of The Trouble with Love, headlining. Can’t wait to discover their interpretations of love!

It takes place at The Square Club, 15 Berkeley Square, BS8 1HB Bristol, United Kingdom. You can buy tickets here: Hope to see you there!

Early signs of summer

Signs of Summer by Molly GarnierThe painting shown here is Signs of Summer, and depicts a scene of rural England I’m instantly drawn to, with a familiarity that’s irresistible. I love the sense of energy in it – you can feel the breeze racing the clouds along and casting their shadows fleetingly over the sunlit land.

For Molly Garnier, the artist of this painting, capturing views like this is second-nature. “I loved art from a very young age, especially painting,” she says. “It was my favourite subject at school and I was extremely lucky to have a very good art department and access to all materials at school.”

She vividly recalls going to see some huge Jenny Saville paintings when she was 17. “I remember thinking that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to create paintings that had an impact and struck a chord with people’s emotions and thoughts.”

Molly graduated from Edinburgh College of Art, where her primary subject was painting the female nude.

After The Bath by Molly Garnier

After The Bath by Molly Garnier

“It wasn’t until five years later when I moved back to Norfolk with my husband that I started painting the landscape,” she says. “I remember being totally amazed by the huge skies that Norfolk has and the magical beauty on my doorstep. I love trying to recreate an atmosphere and reflect how it feels to be in that place at that chosen time.”

Long country and coastline walks are an essential part of this process. “I usually take my camera and sketch book,” she says. “I try to add small pockets of detail and sharp focus and play with the ethereal quality of the light.”

Her preferred material is oil colour. “I use some large nylon brushes and then small fine line brushes for detail,” she says. “I always paint on wood that I have primed. I love the very fine grain of the wood and the way you can see brushstrokes and rub back.”

Marsh Light by Molly Garnier

Marsh Light by Molly Garnier

She continues to paint nudes as well. “I did life drawing at Art College and studied the masters such as Caravaggio and Degas,” she says. “I went on to do my degree show about the impression of voyeurism and looking upon an intimate nude scene. I love the skin tones and the way the skin can seem to glow.”

Molly says that unless she picks up a paintbrush during a day, she doesn’t feel quite herself. “Painting makes me feel complete – it’s my therapy,” she explains. “I paint a lot of commissions, mainly of a chosen landscape that’s personal to the client and I really love seeing people’s faces when they receive the painting.”

She adds: “I’ve been extremely lucky to exhibit in over 80 exhibitions and sell a vast number of works that hang in people’s houses. It makes me very happy to know that my work has created an impression on someone.”

Tide Walker by Molly Garnier

Tide Walker by Molly Garnier

Molly exhibits regularly at Lime Tree Galleries in Bristol and Long Melford. She’s represented on the online Affordable Art Fair site, and is  an artist at The Gallery in Norwich and Cromer.

Find out more at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judy(at)

Love, and all that

Valentine's Day card 2017 cr Judy DarleyLove, I’ve learnt, is a thing entirely separate to the expensive ideals showered upon us by the folks who make money from spinning aspirations. It may involved flowers or chocolates or even diamonds, but more crucial are the quirky day-to-day things that set your relationship on an isle of its own.

Finding love is about being in the right place at the right time and happening to look in the right direction.

Being in tune with a person and having your eccentricity celebrated; sharing a certain silliness you may prefer not to unveil in front of other so-called grown ups; feeling an intense happiness at coming home to a particular other all add up to keeping that love real.

However and whoever you love, give them a squeeze today to remind them.

Writing prompt – heart

Heart by Judy Darley

This week’s writing prompt comes early, in honour of the date.

Imagine a dawn full of frost and fogged breath. Your protagonist has been thwarted in love  and has no interest in Valentine’s Day. On their way to work they spy something that reminds them of the date.

What follows? Is it something that softens their frozen heart, do they feel alienated enough to commit a terrible act, or is it something far subtler?

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

Solar etching with Luella Martin

In The Woods, solar etching by Luella MartinThickets, forests and ocean views appear in Luella Martin’s art, but the true focus is the light. Using it both as the subject and the means, she creates images that appear to exhale the quiet of rural spaces.

It’s a curious contrast to a childhood in central London, but is perhaps explained by an abundance of time spent in galleries, where certain paintings become familiar friends.

“My mother used to take me to lots of art exhibitions when I was a small child,” she says. “I especially loved going to the Tate Gallery (there was only one in those days) and I always had to visit my favourite Mondrian. One day we went to a large Renoir show and I was dazzled by the explosion of light and colour – I decided then that I wanted to be a painter.”

At the time she was about five or six years old. “I remember spending hours in my bedroom drawing vegetables and kitchen utensils!”

November, solar etching by Luella Martin

November, solar etching by Luella Martin

She discovered solar etching during a weekend workshop “with wonderful printmaker Dawn Cole” and was hooked immediately.

“The workshop was arranged by Ian Brown at Volcanic Editions in Brighton,” she says. “It’s a great workshop where I’ve enjoyed exploring different techniques and editioning my prints. I am very lucky to have met some lovely generous people who’ve helped me on my artistic journey.”

Big Sun, solar etching by Luella Martin

Big Sun, solar etching by Luella Martin

Instead of using hazardous chemicals to create an image, solar etching relies on a light sensitive material which is exposed thought sunlight and developed with tap water – both ingredients that most of us have easy access to.

Watch a short film about how Luella makes her solar etchings.

“The thing I like most about solar etching is it’s versatility,” says Luella. “You can adapt the process to suit any style of work. Because it’s a non-toxic process so you can make the plates anywhere – I’ve exposed plates in my back garden!”

Horses By The Foreshore, oil on canvas by Luella Martin

Horses By The Foreshore, oil on canvas by Luella Martin

Beyond her garden, Luella finds inspiration for her etchings and painting in the landscape of the South Downs and coastal areas of Sussex. “I visit the same places very often and always notice something new,” she says. “I try to see it at lots of different times of day – different weather and different light define the atmosphere.”

Life as an artist is a joy, she says. “What could be better than messing about with paint? I feel very fortunate to be able to spend time in my studio making new paintings and prints.”

Luella is showing her recent solar etchings with Cameron Contemporary Art in Hove until 19th February 2017 as part of the show Edition 2017. She will be opening up her studio at Phoenix Brighton over the weekend 12-14th May 2017.

Find out more at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judy(at)

Writing prompt – realm

S. Germany 1 by Abeer ElkhatebThis beautiful painting is by artist Abeer Elkhateb, and is his reimagining of a town in Germany. I think it’s a wonderful reminder of how we can transform every scene we encounter to suit ourselves.

What magic can you see in the streets you encounter every day? Could that office block be reinvented as magical tower, or that poorly lit car park as a shadowy forest full of trolls? Let your imagine paint over the mundane and create something wonderful.

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