Writing prompt – trunk

Tree on tree between Dove Holes and Whaley Bridge. Photo by Judy Darley

I love how this tree appears to be sporting the botanic equivalent of a tattoo on its trunk, and that the tattoo it’s chosen is of a tree. Nature often seems to me to be the best artist, and this feels like proof.

But does this tree on tree artwork mean something extra in these climate-crisis times? Is the tree calling for action to save the plant and animal life we depend on?

Could the forest be plotting a coup?

Or do trees simply rise above our petty troubles as we scurry about and continue seeing to the world’s oxygen production and habitat needs?

Can you turn this into a hopeful story, poem or other creative work?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Theatre review – Waldo’s Circus of Magic and Terror

Abbie Purvis as Krista. Photo by PAUL BLAKEMORE

With a cast of phenomenal actors and circus performers, Waldo’s Circus of Magic and Terror is a show that teems with energy, friendship, treachery and wonder. Written by Hattie Naylor and Jamie Beddard, and created by Extraordinary Bodies with Bristol Old Vic and Theatre Royal Plymouth, it tells the tale of a time when being different could cost you your life. Set in 1933, Germany, as the Third Reich are beginning to eradicate anyone they don’t like the look of, Waldo’s travelling circus offers a refuge to outcasts, while the whole ensemble face great dangers themselves.

Garry Robson as Waldo and company. Photo by Paul Blakemore

We open on a scene at the end of a performance, gaining a visual teaser of the talents on stage, from aerialists to jugglers. Hijinks with ladders, bowler hats and trapezes enthral, and audience member and would-be chemist Gerhard (Lawrence Swaddle) has his life changed forever when he braves the tightrope and is invited to join.

Garry Robson as Waldo the Ringmaster is a brilliantly complex character, hard on his performers and even harder on his own son Peter (Tilly Lee-Kronnick), with terrible consequences. Mirabelle Gremaud’s fortune teller/acrobat Queenie can see the darkness that’s coming, while in her other key role as Margot, she’s eager to embrace all that the Nazis stand for.

Despite the circus tricks, this is very much a show for ages 12 and up.

Like all good circus, and theatre, humour runs alongside pathos, Raphaella Julien and Brooklyn Melvin provide poignant and comic edge as signing clowns Mish and Mosh.

The signing is elegantly dance-like, and show interpreter Max Marchewicz is another delight – observing, signing and occasionally interacting with the rest of the cast when we least expect it.

As the star of the circus, Krista (Abbie Purvis) wins our hearts, and Gerhard’s, often delivering hard truths in the form of song. Love stories erupt and falter throughout, as the characters scrutinise their own and each other’s prejudices.


One of the most moving scenes shows an argument between Abbie and Gerhard in which he admits he believes his life may be worth more than that of Dora (JoAnne Haines), following which Dora clowns around gracefully trying to make the despondent, self-doubting Gerhard smile.

Circus skills add to the emotional heft. aerial work by Jonny Leitch (Renee) and Tilly Lee-Kronnick is a particular marvel, defying gravity while subtly demonstrating their characters’ deep affection for one another.

By the end, many of the characters have gained fresh understanding of each other’s perspectives, and we, as an audience have too.

Aside from all that, however, this is very much an homage to the joy and sparkle of performance, and the far-reaching strength of empathy and courage.

Photos by Paul Blakemore.

Waldo’s Circus is on at Bristol Old Vic until 1st April before going on tour.

All performances are Chilled*, Signed, Captioned and Audio Described.

Find details and buy tickets here.

  • 20 – 22 April  The Lowry Salford Quays
  • 26 – 29 April  Theatre Royal Plymouth
  • 4 – 6 May  MAST Mayflower Studios Southampton
  • 20 May  Lighthouse Poole
  • 7 June  Brighton Dome

Have you watched, seen or read anything interesting? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Writing prompt – true

Blue rectangle and reeds_Judy Darley

While walking beside a river on a particularly glorious day, I wanted to photograph the way the sunlight danced over reeds. When I looked at the photo I was disappointed to see a glitch in the form of a blue square marring the bucolic scene.

“I think there’s a glitch with my phone’s camera,” I grumbled, and my Lovely One shook his head.


He pointed across the river to Bristol’s Paintworks, where a bright, uncannily blue square adorned the top of a tower.

The point of this anecdote is that just because something looks unreal, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Our job as writers is to give the made up a sense of plausibility, but this can be extra challenging when it comes to writing real life. Reality is often implausible. Writers I’ve edited have sometimes protested, “But it really happened like that!”

Doesn’t matter what the truth is – what matters is what seems true, or stretching the truth. A plot point or character must fit the rules of the world you’ve created on the page or screen, regardless of whether you’re writing sci-fi or memoir.

Can you use this knowledge to strengthen or prompt a piece of your own writing?

#WritingPrompt #AmWriting #WritingCommunity

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

New Light Art Prize calls for entries

New Light Winners montage

Got northern soul? Now’s the perfect time to show it off as the New Light Art Prize is open for entries until 30th April 2023.

To be eligible for the biennial open prize exhibition, you need to be an artist who was born in, lives in or has studied in one of the historic counties of the North of England – Cumbria, Durham, Lancashire, Northumberland, Yorkshire and – for the first time – Cheshire.

If that fits, you can submit your work online via www.newlight-art.org. Entry into the competition costs £20 for the first two pieces of artwork and £10 for any subsequent entries.

Awards up for grabs include:

  • The £10,000 New Light Valeria Sykes Award – open to all artists over 18 with a connection to the North of England, whether through birth, degree level study or residence
  • The £2,500 New Light Patron’s Choice Award – presented on the night of the private view where all exhibited works are considered
  • The New Light Emerging Artists Prize sponsored by The Saul Hay Gallery – offering mentoring, professional advice and exhibition opportunities including a solo show
  • The New Light Printmakers’ Prize sponsored by Zillah Bell Gallery – all forms of original printmaking are eligible; the winner will be offered a solo exhibition at the Zillah Bell gallery in North Yorkshire, host to some of the UK’s very best printmakers’ shows
  • The New Light Visitors’ Choice Award – visitors are asked to vote for their favourite work at each venue
  • New Light Purchase Prize – the winner’s work is purchased by the charity to add to its Collection

Some of the UK’s most renowned art experts will select the shortlisted entries, with judges including Curator of The Whitworth Gallery Olivia Heron, Director of Panter and Hall, London, Matthew Hall, renowned figurative artist Mark Demsteader and Development Director of New Light Art Rebekah Tadd.

Prize winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in September 2023 at The Williamson Art Gallery and Museum in Birkenhead, where the winning artwork will feature in a prestigious launch exhibition before embarking on the Prize’s biggest ever tour to Bankside Gallery, London, Rheged Arts Centre, Penrith, The Biscuit Factory, Newcastle, Northumberland and finishing at The Mercer Gallery in Harrogate on 31st December 2024.

Rebekah Tadd, Development Director at New Light says: “This is a wonderful opportunity for new and established artists to get their work seen by thousands of people in some of the finest galleries in the UK. Those shortlisted will exhibit their work across the UK, from Cheshire to Yorkshire, Northumberland, Cumbria and London.”

She adds: “At this time of financial uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to support artists by providing opportunities to exhibit their work. We are delighted to be working with The Williamson Art Gallery and Museum to create a fabulous launch and awards ceremony and the following tour is our biggest yet, spanning 14 months.”

Past New Light shortlisted artists who’ve had success with exhibitions across the UK and further afield include Norman Ackroyd CBE RA, Anne Desmet RA, Maxwell Doig, Mark Demsteader, Christopher Cook, Mandy Payne, James Naughton and Jo Taylor.

Sheffield-based artist Joanna Whittle, who won the Valeria Sykes Award in 2020 for her oil-on-copper painting ‘Sorrowing Cloth’, says: “It has been fantastic to be involved with the New Light Prize Exhibition and the support has been amazing. Winning the Valeria Sykes Award allowed me time and space to reflect on and develop my practice which has been invaluable and allowed me to take new and enriching steps in my work.”

For more info, visit www.newlight-art.org.uk

Image captions clockwise from left: Across Borge Bay by Ian Brooks (Winner Printmakers’ Prize), Sorrowing Cloth by Joanna Whittle (Winner Valeria Sykes Prize 2020), Forlorn by Vic Harris (Winner Patron’s Choice Award), Seen by Linnet Panashe Rubaya (Winner Emerging Artist Prize), Tree Sparrow by Christian Alexander Baily (Winner New Light Purchase Prize).

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at JudyDarley (@) iCloud (dot) com.

Green Stories seeks superhero tales with a climate twist

Northern Slopes stream and woodland by Judy DarleyThe Green Stories’ team invites you to create an eco-Superhero for their latest creative competition.

They say: “‘Saving the world’ is the basic job description of most superheroes, but who on Earth is going to help ‘save the planet’? Maybe that’s where you come in! As part of the Green Stories Competition, this contest challenges you to create an uplifting short story of superheroes that respond to climate change.”

Your target audience should be teens and young adults who enjoy watching superhero films.

The winner will receive a £500 prize, plus a scene from their winning story will be turned into a one-page comic strip, created by a professional artist.

The competition is free to enter.

The deadline is 15th April 2023. Entries should be no longer than 2,000 words, excluding title.

Imaginative prompts

  • What kind of superpowers would your heroes have?
  • What are your own experiences of climate change (and extreme heat) in the countries you’ve lived in? 
  • Are there any personal/ emotional barriers to your own efforts to address climate change in real life? Would your own heroes face similar challenges? 
  • What are the personalities of your heroes? What are their virtues and limitations? What about their backstory and occupation? 
  • How will they attempt to reduce, or adapt to, climate change (and extreme heat)? Will your audience be able to do similar in their own lives?
  • Which solutions will you include in the story? If possible, draw on the information provided below *. Will technology help or hinder their goals?
  • Will the character(s) take political action? If so, how effective would their campaigns/ activism be in addressing their fears for the future?
  • Is your story entertaining enough for the target audience?
  • If you have not lived in a country that’s particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis, are you able to listen to the experiences of people that have? 

You can download a free anthology of climate solution stories to inspire you here. You may also find the associated webpages a useful resource: https://www.greenstories.org.uk/anthology-for-cop27/solutions/.

The Green Stories website is packed with information on the topics they’d like you to consider, ranging from practices such as the sharing economy to advances such as nanotechnologies and green transport.

For full details of prizes and how to enter from 1st April, visit www.greenstories.org.uk/upcoming-competitions/superhero-competition/ 

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send me an email at JudyDarley (@) iCloud (dot) com.

Writing prompt – tides

Ammonite on Sidmouth Beach_Photo by Judy DarleyWater is a crucial ingredient for life. It makes up a large part of our bodies and keeps us well. It carries us from place to place and shows us where to put down roots. Equally, it has a wild side that can rob us of our homes, our possessions, our crops and even our breath.

Tides bring us ashore and sweep us away.

Can you use this to prompt a poem or tale?

If you’re intrigued by how water can enhance your creative writing, you may be interested in the on-ship writing workshop Writing on Water I’m leading with poet Helen Sheppard aboard Bristol’s John Sebastian Lightship on Saturday 18th March. Whether you write about a raindrop or an ocean, you can harness water as a powerful writing muse. Find full details here.

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Writing prompt – wisdom

Sidmouth Beach, Devon by Judy Darley

My sister and I recently arranged a coastal weekend of celebrations marking a significant birthday for our mum. Living in a society when older people are often disregarded, and older women even more so, this week’s prompt urges you to think of the wise women in your life and the things they have taught you, from strength and self-belief, to never accepting less than the life you crave.

My mum is a quiet person, but steadfast. When my dad proposed, many decades ago, she agreed to married him on the proviso they live abroad before having children, and this is what they did. Her hunger for adventure prompted many of their travels, while my parents’ equal status in all things taught me and my sister to fall in love with people who treat us with the utmost respect. I can’t thank her enough for her many unspoken lessons.

This International Women’s Day, can you write a tale about a woman who is central to her family or community in this way?

#WritingPrompt #AmWriting #WritingCommunity

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Writing prompt – space

Building site hole_Photo by Judy Darley

As someone who grew up with C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles and, later, a variety of fantasy sci-fi telly, the idea of stepping between worlds has always enticed me.

A city-centre building has been shrouded in a cartoonish costume of itself for as long as I can remember, but recently a hole appeared, big enough for a person to fit through.

What could be on the other side? What might sneak through to our side? What kind of adventures could follow?

And how could you write this in an original way that hasn’t been done a thousand times before? #AmWriting #WritingCommunity

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.