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

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.

“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)

Submit crime fiction to a Flash Bang contest

Pink water pistol cr Judy DarleyDid you know the phrase ‘flash in the pan’ originated with the priming of guns? I didn’t either before discovering the Flash Bang contest.

They’re seeking 150-word submissions of short crime fiction that packs a helluva punch, and emphasises the skill of flash fiction in utilising the skill of surprise and illumination in an artfully condensed package – one you may not wish to open without guidance from a bomb disposal squad.

Deadline for entries is midnight BST on 3rd March 2017.

Prizes of this writing contest

  • 1st prize is two weekend passes to CrimeFest 2018 (access to all interviews, panels and receptions, exc. accommodation, dinner, travel)
  • 2nd prize is one weekend pass to CrimeFest 2018
  • 3rd prize is a special CrimeFest delegate bag with books and other goodies

In addition to the above, all those on the shortlist will be invited to attend the Crime Writing Day on Friday 19 May 2017, when the winners will be announced.

Rules of this writing contest

Max 150 words. No minimum. Title not included in word count. One entry per person. £2 entry fee to cover admin, to be paid via PayPal. No entries from established crime authors, please. No other restrictions apply, but you’ll want to be able to attend CrimeFest in Bristol, UK, in May 2018 if you win.

Find full details of how to enter at

The longlist will be published 7 April 2015. Shortlist will be published here 21 April. Winners will be announced at CrimeFest15, 14-17 May 2015. Good luck!

Re-envisioning the world

Rose Temple by Abeer ElkhatebThrough the eyes of artist Abeer Elkhateb, the world assumes a majestic splendour. With Fantastical turreted cities beneath fabulous skies, the scenes look like glimpses from exotic fairytales, a dramatic contrast to his ultra-realistic bronzes of entwined figures.

This contrast of styles takes me by surprise, but talking to Abeer Elkhateb makes it clear that there’s always been a touch of the rebellious about his art.

“As far as I remember I was about 10 years old. For no reason at school, I was just painting and painting and painting,” he says. “It got me into a lot of trouble at that time and it sent me to jail at a later age.”

When he was 16, Abeer’s uncle Abdallah Alkhateb (a PhD Historian and artist) took me under his wing in a way and opened his massive library to my eyes, which allowed me to be introduced academically to the art and art history.”

Following that, Abeer says, art became a way of life,  “or I can say it is my life.”

Abeer has developed a very particular way of working. “Every five years I take a new path and start building everything around it,” he says. “The last project I worked on was based on reverse-ism. I took some well known physical laws like gravity, perspective, fundamental construction and turned them upside-downs, inside-out.”

Observation and imagination both play vital roles in this process.

I love Albert Einstein’s statement that logic takes you from A to Z, but imagination takes you anywhere,” he says. “In many case I’ve wondered about the borders between reality and imagination, wondering if my imagination created the world I’m in or if the observed world by me created my imagination. Do thoughts really become reality?”

Abeer mentions painting places he’d thought were dreamt up in his imagination, but then later coming across those locations in the real world.  “I also have ongoing dreams – when they come they just continue where they stopped the previous time, as if a different dimension of me lives in a different world. I use those dreams as one of the sources of my artwork.”

As a result, many of his enchanting scenes are re-envisions of real places, such as St Michael’s Mount in France, Port Isaac in Cornwall and various parts of Germany.

Transforming a nebulous idea into a work of art is part of the excitement.

“I love it when a new idea is about to come up,” he says. “First thing is drawing or outlining the idea and if I need to perform and film the performed concept, I do.”

Once this is done, he can concentrate on painting or sculpting, according to the form of expression that feels right. “Basically I let the idea grows organically. Many of my recent works are in 2D and 3D alike.”

Lovers No.4 by Abeer Elkhateb

Lovers No.4 by Abeer Elkhateb

Abeer has  been experimenting with materials since the seventies, “from scrap material  found in the streets, metal, wood, clay, wax, plaster and bronze on the sculpted production and oil colour, watercolour, ceramics, textile, etchings and mosaics. I think what I want to say is material and skills are always working side by side and when they don’t, I feel that I’m being challenged and that is exciting because it pushes me into the unknown territory. At that stage I feel there is something to explore. So, I don’t really prefer particular materials – it’s the concept that informs me.”

Abeer can’t imagine his life without art. “I came to England from the war zone in Baghdad,” he says of his struggles to survive as a man and an artist. “I’ve failed in so many things in my life as well as succeeding in many others; I’ve had my ups and downs, been crushed and stood up again,” he says. “But even at the craziest times, paper and pen were always somewhere beside me, either in my pockets or in my bag. Paper and pen act as a reminder to myself that I am an artist. Recording experiences helps me see how every day, every experience, every breath is important. That is love itself.”

Lovers and Child by Abeer Elkhateb

Lovers and Child by Abeer Elkhateb

Abeer Elkhateb’s Imagined Worlds is on at Skylark Galleries 2, Unit 1.09, First Floor Riverside, Oxo Tower Wharf, London until 19th February 2017. Find out more here and

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)