To the wilds of Iceland and back again

Mountains, Iceland by Lilly Louise Allen

Mountains, Iceland by Lilly Louise Allen

Falling for picturebooks as a child fuelled Lilly Louise Allen’s determination to become an artist.

“I was absolutely in love with my picture books as a child, the more detailed the better!” she recalls. “I had a great imagination and was always making something from posters to little books.”

At school Lilly continued to learn new skills and express herself through art. “Then I feel there was a lightbulb moment with the ‘new wave’ of Illustration which happened in the early millennium – then there was a resurgence of books on the subject and companies used illustration more frequently. A book which really got me into contemporary Illustration and realising it was a viable occupation was ‘Hand to Eye’ by Lawrence King Publishing, which showed a broad range of Illustrators at work at the time.”

Bembridge Windmill by Lilly Louise Allen

Bembridge Windmill by Lilly Louise Allen

Other influences include the work of Lucinda Rogers, Julie Verhoeven and Tom Gauld. “I’m attracted to the storytelling that can be accomplished with just a single picture, the magic which can be created and the fact that an illustrator can orchestrate the mood of a picture, from humour and charm through to the surreal and thought provoking.”

Inspirations included “people, food, the countryside, the sea, travelling, reading, other artists – all sorts of different subjects! I don’t like to limit my subject matter either; I’m open to trying anything new if it feels good.”

Green House, Iceland, by Lilly Louise Allen

Green House, Iceland, by Lilly Louise Allen

More recent adventures include an artist’s residency in Iceland.

“I had been thinking about doing an artist’s residency but it felt like more of a daydream than something that would come to fruition!” she admits. “I looked at several websites and found the Residency Unlimited website. It was full of amazing places but The Fish Factory Creative Centre in Stöðvarfjörður in the east fjords immediately stood out to me. It looked like looked like an absolutely beautiful place and the ethos behind the centre really resonated with me.”

She quotes from the website: “The Creative Centre is an ongoing collaborative and community project and our actions and aims are based on sustainable principles and alternative methods. We want to regenerate and sustain our small village by making it into a possible and desirable place to settle – a place where you can have engaging jobs, enjoy culture, and the influx of new ideas and creative people.”

No wonder Lilly couldn’t resist. Living as she does on the Isle of Wight, Lilly also felt an affinity with the isolated located.

“I live on an island which is often faced with similar issues, certainly a lack of jobs and opportunities, especially for the younger generations growing up here. With shops and community facilities frequently closing down, it’s often Art in its varying forms and community that can help more than anything else.”

Lilly set off for Iceland with these thoughts firmly in mind. “I wanted to look at the importance of solitude to myself and to people in general,” she says. “To be alone but not lonely is something I find interesting. It’s often in these quiet times that our strongest ideas can appear and we find what we really want from life. I certainly found the time for quiet contemplation and a peacefulness inspiring. It feels completely unique to Iceland and particularly to the remote East Fjords where Stöðvarfjörður is located. There were no planes flying over head, few cars passing you by on the roads, no crowds of people or noises other than the wind, the water coming into the shore and the sound of your own footsteps – heaven.”

Turf House, Iceland by Lilly Louise Allen

Turf House, Iceland by Lilly Louise Allen

The life in the village and what she calls “the human element” also interested Lilly. “Many homes are occupied but there are a lot of holiday homes and some which are empty,” she says. “I took photos of every house in the main part of the village and it really made me look at each of their characteristics, reflecting the people who resided inside currently or in a previous occupancy. I also created large watercolour pictures which I hope reflect all of these thoughts.”

In addition, Lilly took sound recordings at places where she paused during her walks around the area. “It felt good to try things which I don’t normally do – photograph and sound are new elements in my work and were influenced by the other artists I lived with, which was another wonderful part of the Artists’ Residency!”

Lilly came away with a sense of being at the start of something special. “I’m pleased with what I created whilst I was there but I feel it is only just beginning in a way,” she says. “I can now reflect on everything and find a way of consolidating the project in what I hope will be an exhibition.”

Preparing to work by Lilly Louise Allen

Preparing to work by Lilly Louise Allen

Lilly relishes her life as an artist. “What I love most is that magical time when I’m painting and am completely unaware of what’s going on around me, when the work is immersive and it feels exciting,” she says. “It’s quite hard to explain but its much like when you’re reading a great book and can’t wait to read the next line, the next chapter and then you wish it wasn’t over when you’re finished. If people can sense that feeling when they look at the work and it makes them feel something too then there’s nothing better.”

You can see more of Lilly’s work at, read her blog at and find her on Twitter as @LillyLAllen and on Instagram as @LillyLouiseAllen. She will be taking part in the Isle of Wight Open Studios from 14-24th July 2017.

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)

Writing prompt – abandoned

Abandoned piano cr Judy DarleyI found this unloved piano in the garden of the care home where my dad is now confined, and couldn’t get over the poignancy.

Looked out for unwanted items left out for the council, or fly-tipped. An old fish tank beside a skip, a rusting bicycle in a river, a computer keyboard at the side of a road…

Who might it once have belonged to? Who might find the item and transform it into something beautiful?

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

Writing prompt – viewpoint

This abandoned hotel overlooks the Twin Lakes, one of the most famous viewpoints on Azorean island of Sao Miguel. Stripped of all its glitz and promise, the building echoes with the laments of regretful ghosts.

Abandoned hotel by James Hainsworth

Why not use it as the setting for an unsettling story?

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

A flash about a dragon

Bamboo forest by Judy DarleyA dragon flies into a bar.


I’m thrilled that my story Flightless has not only been published on the Micro Madness website for National Flash Fiction Day NZ, but has been placed third in the Micro Madness competition!

The competition organisers asked if I mind it being read aloud at the festival events in New Zealand – of course I don’t mind, I only wish I could be there!

You can read it here.

Beneath the surface

Turtle by Cai BurtonArtist Cai Burton has a unique talent for capturing the natural world. Using fineliner pens, he fills pages, and the occasional wall, with swoops, circles and dots that conjure up a creature or scene that bubbles with life.

“I think I’ve always loved making patterns,” he comments. “You look back to my school books and they were covered in them. My friends used to sit and watch me draw in our physics class (Sorry Mr Gregson and Ms Wales!). But since then, that’s carried through and become an intrinsic part of the work I create today.”

The Great Bear by Cai Burton

The Great Bear by Cai Burton

Cai describes the work of creating his artworks as a mindful experience. “I absolutely love the process that goes into it, and I think that’s as important as the finished piece,” he says. “It’s almost as though I’m watching the illustrations come to life as I’m drawing them, which is a cheesy, but exciting, feeling.”

Recently Cai has begun producing mugs and greetings cards emblazoned with his patterns, as well as carrying out mural commissions for clients such as Mercure.

Whale by Cai Burton

His marine series have become an enduringly popular part of his output, but began on a whim. “I just fancied drawing a whale, so I did!” he says. “In all seriousness, though, I’m both in awe and terrified of the ocean, and I was feeling inspired to create something different. I like to think of it as inspiration striking in a flash! Ever since then I’ve enjoyed finding more about the amazing creatures that inhabit our oceans.”

His respect for these animals shows on the page – portrayed usually in black on white, their strength and serenity is vividly portrayed.

Seahorses by Cai Burton

Cai is equally passionate about the work dreamt up by other artists. “Generally, I love finding work from other illustrators and artists! It’s SO inspiring when you find someone who creates beautiful work – I love it.”

He thrives on the energy generated by following his own creative urges.

“I really love being my own boss,” he says. “I love the freedom to be able to do exactly what I want and not to answer to anyone – well, except for clients. It’s amazing to be able to come into my studio and decide to just spend the morning drawing, because I can. It means I can really shape my business into something I love and am proud of.”

Octopus2 by Cai Burton

Octopus2 by Cai Burton

Cai’s work frequently appears at art markets and art trails in the Bristol area. “I’m also exhibiting at Grounded in Horfield, where you can see my animal illustrations as well as a few others,” says Cai. “I’ve just launched a brand-spanking new website which has got all of my illustrations as prints and products as well as a collection of most of my work.”

Find it at

Mercure-Mural-Mark-006Are 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)

Writing prompt – roots

Ficus Macrophyla Australia cr Judy DarleyI met this Australian Banyan tree at the Jardim José do Canto botanical gardens on Sao Miguel, the Azores. Planted on the island in 1845, this particular Ficus Macrophyla Australia is the kind of tree that might well serve as a fairytale citadel. The root system and half-hollow trunk feel ripe with metaphor and possibilities.

Use it as the starting point of a fantastical tale.

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

A wordathon for refugees

Arnolfini cr Judy Darley

This Saturday I’m taking part in Satellite of Love’s Wordathon in aid of Borderlands. This Bristol-based charity offers support to refugees and asylum seekers.

Between 1.30 and 6pm on Saturday 10th June 2017, writers will be taking over The Dark Studio at The Arnolfini on Bristol’s Narrow Quay, sharing stories and poems to inspire, move and enthuse anyone who drops by.

Organised by Helen Sheppard, Stella Quinlivan and Pauline Seawards, the afternoon will offer a zesty sprinkling of five-minute flash fictions and poems, including some prompted by the refugee crisis.

At 2.30pm I’ll be reading a brief series of vignettes that are somewhere between flash fictions and poems, and are inspired by how we can become refugees in our own lives when we’re old.

Do come along if you can, and donate a few coins or notes to support Borderlands at

Satellite of love - Spoken Word Event - 10 June

Writing prompt – restless

Terra Nostra tree by Judy DarleyI just got back from visiting São Miguel island, part of the Azores archipelago. The volcanic landscape there is like the Jurassic Park movies crossed with Labyrinth, with touches apparently dreamt up by Terry Pratchett.

So when we saw this tree at the Terra Nostra botanical gardens, we were almost certain it was just taking a rest before setting off to get on with its day. Any moment now, we thought, it will give itself a small shake and poddle away.

I particularly like the fact it’s crossed a few toes contemplatively.

What do you think? Turn it into a story.

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

Seeding unease into your writing

Birdcage Walk by Helen DunmoreHelen Dunmore will be sorely missed by her readers, and by the writing community. She was an expert in writing richly layered narratives in which the past gains a pulse and history breathes.

In Birdcage Walk she explores a particular period of unrest, the time of the French Revolution, and the uneasiness this upheaval nurtures in England. More than that though, she narrows the focus to a particular couple in Bristol, property developer Diner and his young wife, Lizzie.

In a beautifully written scene full of enticing textures, we go with Lizzie to meet a seamstress who has made a dress for Diner’s former wife, a French woman named Lucie. Through this encounter, sliver of ice is inserted into Lizzie’s understanding of her husband, through the dress his first wife never had the chance to wear.

“The dress was as tall as I was and the silk rippled as it might ripple when its wearer walked in it. The grey was very light, almost silvery in colour.”

The seamstress tries to persuade Lizzie to have the dress altered to fit her, but Lizzie is unnerved by the idea: this is a dress that had been fitted to Lucie, a woman she knows almost nothing about, other than that her husband adored her, and that she is dead.

“‘A tuck here and there. Your arms are longer than hers. I can let it out, or inset a lace cuff…’ Her fingers were coming after me, prodding me as she measured me by touch. I pulled myself free.”

The intrusiveness of the woman’s actions, coupled with the subtle evocation of Lucie’s presence in that very room three years before is almost suffocating. More unsettling than that is the realisation that Lucie had this special dress made for a particular occasion, yet had never collected it, despite having paid.

“‘The dress was ready for her by the Wednesday. I would have sent it round but I had no direction for her. I expected her all that day and the next but she never came.’”

Diner has told Lizzie that Lucie died while visiting family in France, but Lizzie can’t shake the feeling that to have left so abruptly, forgetting her dress and missing the engagement she’d had it made for, the pair must have quarrelled.

For who could possibly abandon such a dress otherwise?

The sensuality of that gown and its silk imbues the page as Lizzie reaches out to stroke it. “It sent a shiver through my flesh. How soft it was. The sheen was like the bloom on grapes, which might be rubbed away with careless handling.” These carefully chosen words seem to me to carry the faintest suggestion of a threat. “Lucie had touched it too, like this. She had thought of how she would wear it and be beautiful in it. We were not alike, because I would never wear such a dress. For the first time I felt no jealousy towards her. She had died instead and been put away six feet deep in the French soil.”

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore is published by Hutchinson, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and is available to buy from Amazon.

What are you reading? Impressed by a particular scene? 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)