Writing prompt – cupboard

Cupboard_Wake the Tiger_Photo by Judy DarleyI have a passion for imaginative, creative attractions, especially those that blend theatre, art and immersive experiences. Bristol is home to a curious ‘amazement park’, Wake the Tiger, which leads you into another dimension via a glowing tree. Laid out over an old warehouse, the park features an enticing steam-punk aesthetic coupled with an ecological narrative, but beyond that a favourite aspect for me were the countless hidden doorways and passages leading from room to room, or world to world.

Early on in our journey, my husband and I found a door and stepped through it, startling a trio of visitors on the other side. While they gaped, I told them we’d been there for seven weeks, but didn’t realise the weirdness of my claim until they scarpered through the door we’d entered from. It turned out we’d emerged from what looked like a cupboard.

How brilliantly bizarre.

Could you dream up a similar scene built on unexpected entrances and spaces to explore? What goals would you give your visitors and what perils or challenges could you introduce to heighten the stakes?

Discover Wake the Tiger.

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.

Porto in five senses – hearing

Seagulls above Porto Cathedral1 by James Hainsworth

Seagulls above Porto Cathedral by James Hainsworth

This travel article was originally published in April 2020.

Late in February 2020, my hub and I flitted off for a long weekend in Porto. We had no way of guessing that within a couple of weeks we’d be in lockdown, confined to our homes.

Porto’s attractions may be closed for the foreseeable future, but I believe it’s more important now than ever to remember that a whole world exists beyond our immediate surroundings.

Each Tuesday in lockdown I’ve posted a new travel guide to Porto focusing on a different sense, beginning with the most evocative – the sense of smell. This week is all about the sounds that knit this city together.

Porto busker on Rua das Flores by Judy Darley

Busker on Rua das Flores, Porto, by Judy Darley

Hearing – Porto’s street musicians

While Fado, the Portuguese songs of lament, rolls out from a number of bars as well as part of a Cálem port tasting package, you can’t go wrong with a bit of busker-appreciation in Porto. The streets are peppered with musicians and singers; the more tourist-heavy the route, the more performers you’ll encounter. Even on a breezy day in very early March, people paused to listen to this musician on Rua das Flores.

Porto tram by Judy Darley

Porto tram by Judy Darley

There’s also plenty of ambient noise here – the whirr of approaching trams and the cry of seagulls choosing which monument to settle on are two that seem to sum up Porto’s romantic character.

Explore Porto’s other sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – smell
Porto in five senses – taste
Porto in five senses – sight
Porto in five senses – touch

Writing prompt – wire

Plane tree and electric wires2

On a street near where I live, plane trees have had their branches coppiced into fists. This one has threaded its stumped arms through a starburst of electric wires.

Currently wires and tree stretch outwards in seeming harmony, but it may take just one bad storm, or bad mood, for this tree to reach out and pull the whole network down.

It feels almost as if the surrounding houses are dependent on this tree for more than shade, shelter, improved air quality and the rest. Perhaps if trees really did have the power to knock out streaming services on a whim, we might be more careful how we treat them.

Might we really be walking such a narrow line, or wire?

Can you turn this into a short story 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.

Porto in five senses – sight

Torre Clerigos views by James HainsworthThis travel article was originally published in April 2020.

In February 2020, my hub and I flew to Porto for a city-break. It’s difficult to imagine how easily we took that freedom for granted before the coronavirus spread into a global pandemic.

For a long time, I thought I’d wait until life goes ‘back to normal’ to publish my impressions of Porto, but I’ve realised how important it is to remember what an extraordinary world exists beyond the homes we’re now confined to.

Each Tuesday over the coming weeks I’ll post a new travel guide to Porto focusing on a different sense,

Two weeks ago I began our five-part journey with the sense of smell.

Last week we tucked into the sense of taste.

This week we’ll explore the sense of sight.

Torre Clerigos by James Hainsworth

Torre Clerigos by James Hainsworth

Sight – climbing high for panoramic views

You can’t beat a tower for views. Torre Clérigos’ lovely, spindly structure has been standing for more than 250 years, but only opened to the public in 2014 following a full renovation. The baroque tower is more than 75m high, with 225 steep winding steps that open up into narrow viewing platforms offering a 360° panorama of the city.

Torre Clerigos church by Judy Darley

Your entrance ticket includes a visit to the church, Igreja dos Clérigos, which is circled by walkways that take you up and up, with openings at all sides and levels to offer views of the church and all its treasures from every possible vantage point. There’s also a museum that includes the exhibition Passion, Journey of Shapes and Images of the Christ.

Torre Clerigos Christs exhibit by Judy Darley

A wall of Christ. Photo by Judy Darley

Reaching the top of the tower takes patience and persistence as there’s only room for one way traffic, which means everything comes to a halt whenever a tourist wants to go down. The steps are winding and uneven, so do be careful, and take your time.

Torre Clerigos by Judy Darley5

On the way up the winding stairs, narrow slits offer glimpses of Porto. Photo by Judy Darley

It’s well worth the spiralling pilgrimage, however. From the highest level you can view everything from the bridges and port houses to the nearby Livraria Lello bookshop (Livraria Lello, S.A. Rua das Carmelitas, 144 4050-161 Porto Portugal), credited with inspiring JK Rowling while she was writing Harry Potter. We decided to pop in (which required more patience and persistence than the tower!), after we’d drunk our fill of the sights from Torre Clérigos.

The serpentine queues waiting to enter Livraria Lello are nothing compared to the crush within, where people edge toe to heel with one another through the glorious space where books look on in wonder (I assume). Think the exact opposite of social distancing and you might be able to envision the intensity of the crowds.

Livraria Lello by Judy Darley

Livraria Lello – one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops, even without the Harry Potter fame. Photo by Judy Darley

Explore Porto’s sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – smell
Porto in five senses – taste
Porto in five senses – hearing
Porto in five senses – touch

Hay Festival Thursday 25th May–Sunday 4th June

Hay Festival cr Finn Beales

Hay Festival cr Finn Beales

The wonderful Hay Festival is taking place live in-person from Thursday 25th May to Sunday 4th June in Hay-on-Wye.

From debut novelists to established festival favourites, plus poets, photographers, conservationists, musicians, historians, artists, chefs and more, there will be discussions, debates, lectures, performances and workshops to fire up your imagination. These will include daily morning workshops with experts focused on seeking solutions to acute climate and biodiversity emergencies.

“Anyone can participate in the daily assemblies. The results of each session will be condensed into a daily bulletin, available free online. Over ten days the goal is to create a draft playbook for practical action that everyone from policy makers to activists, corporations to sole traders, will take forward with inspiration and support to achieve meaningful change for all of us.”

Inclusivity is an important part of the festival, and Hay Pride are ensuring you can navigate yourself to the key queer events with Graham Dolan’s guide.

On Wednesday 31 May 2023, 8.30pm, comedian, writer and actor Tom Allen present his show Completely, while on Saturday 3 June 2023, 4pm, Alice Oseman, creator of global coming-of-age romance Heartstopper, now a critically acclaimed major Netflix series, takes part in a special in-conversation event.

As well as paid events there are a number of free events, including lots of BBC radio show and podcast  recordings.

There are also lots of events for kids, including chats with Julia Donaldson, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen.

Find the full programme and register for the events that pique your curiosity here.

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

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Writing prompt – landscape

Karen George acrylic at the Berkeley Square hotel

I recently had the pleasure of visiting an exhibition by artist Karen George. Titled ‘Wild Escapes’, the original acrylics capture a sense of windswept shores and hinterlands where the only sound would be raptors, gulls and the storm wrangling grasses.

Laid out over the restaurant and downstairs bar as well as some relaxation nooks at The Square Club in Bristol until July, the 27 pieces represent four months of intensive painting by Karen, “all inspired by those places I go to unwind – to escape the frantic pace of everyday life. The work is in acrylic or acrylic in combination with acrylic ink using glazing, mark making and scratching back to create depth of interest.”

The one above is titled ‘Heather Beneath My Feet.’

It’s a glorious collection. Even tucked inside the lovely old building, I felt transported to somewhere on the edge of civilisation in the most restorative way.

Have you ever been transported in this way by a work or collection of artworks? Can you use this as inspiration for a tale?

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.

Enter the Bristol Short Story Prize

Bristol hot air balloons cr Judy DarleyGot a story shuffling about inside your head? The Bristol Short Story Prize 2023 is open for entries. The closing date is 26th April 2023. Submissions can be up to a maximum length of 4,000 words.

Twenty shortlisted stories will be selected for publications in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Volume 16.

The writing competition prizes

  • First prize is £1,000
  • Second prize is £500
  • Third prize is £250.
  • Each of the 17 remaining shortlisted writers will receive £100.

An additional prize of £100, The Sansom Award, in recognition of the contribution to Bristol publishing of John and Angela Sansom, will be presented to the highest placed story by a Bristol writer.

Entry costs £9 for each submission, but there are 250 free online entries available to those for whom the entry fee is a barrier to submitting.

The 2023 Judging Panel comprises Abi Fellows, a literary agent at TGLA working across both fiction and non-fiction for children and adults, Heather Marks, a creative producer, editor, and writer and part of the immersive change agency Words of Colour, and Daniel Ross, the co-owner and co-founder of independent bookshop Storysmith.

The 2022 Bristol Short Story Prize was won by Diana Powell for her story A Cure For All Our Ills. Sufiyaan Salam won second prize and Johanna Spiers won third prize.

An interview with Diana, where she talks in-depth about her triumph and her writing, is available here.

The 2021 Bristol Short Story Prize was won by Isidora Cortes-Monroy for her story Cake for the Disappeared. Amanda Ong won second prize and Sarah Tinsley was awarded third prize.

The 2020 Bristol Short Story Prize was won by Florida-based writer Stephen Narain.

The 2019 Bristol Short Story Prize was won by Sydney-based writer Cameron Stewart for his story Black Snow.

The 2018 Bristol Short Story Prize was won by Dizz Tate  for her story, Cowboy Boot. 2nd prize went to Chloe Wilson. You can read an interview with Dizz about her win, here. Chloe Wilson has been signed by literary agent Kate Johnson of the New York-based MacKenzie Wolf Literary Agency.

For full details or to enter, go to www.bristolprize.co.uk.

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

Porto in five senses – taste

Porto Calem tasting by James Hainsworth

Fortify yourself with a sip of the elixir named after this fair city. Photo by James Hainsworth

This travel article was originally published in April 2020.

Little over a month ago, my hub and I travelled to Porto for a long weekend away. We had no idea how extreme the global coronavirus pandemic was about to become, or that by this time we’d be growing accustomed to life in lockdown.

I considered waiting until this is over to publish my experiences of Porto, but believe a little armchair travel is more important now than ever.

Each Tuesday over the coming weeks I’ll post a new travel guide to Portugal’s second city, one of my favourite places in the world, focusing on a different sense. Last week I guided you through Porto via the sense of smell.

This week I’ll show you around via the sense of taste.

Dom Luis I Bridge by james Hainsworth

The Eiffel-inspired Dom Luis I Bridge. By James Hainsworth

Taste – the port houses

Porto is famed for its port houses, and the rich, sweet fortified wine you might pull out on winter evenings is actually named after the city. To reach it, you can amble down the alleyways from Porto Cathedral to the Ribeira district. The river is crossed by six bridges, the most famous and photographed of which is Dom Luis I Bridge, built in 1886 and designed (you might have guessed this from its familiar structure) by a student of Gustave Eiffel.

The lower level of this one (the road-traffic and pedestrian level) is the one you want, Stroll across to Vila Nova de Gaia, pausing to admire views over the water and the cable cars swooping over Vila Nova de Gaia.

Founded António Alves Cálem in 1859, Porto Cálem (Avenida de Diogo Leite, 344, Vila Nova de Gaia) exported across the Atlantic to Brazil rather than the UK like everyone else. It clearly paid off – within a few years, the business had its own fleet of ships. Today Cálem,along with Kopke, Burmester and Barros, is part of the Sogevinus group, and boasts an interactive museum and atmospheric tours culminating at the tasting room.

Porto Calem museum by James Hainsworth

The museum is a fun starting point, with information on the Douro region where wines are produced before being brought to Gaia to further deepen their flavours with time and patience. My favourite part of the exhibition was a table of smells, where you could take a sniff, try to identify the smell, and then reveal your accuracy by pulling out a drawer. Hazelnut, it appears, has a more recognisable and pleasing aroma than chocolate, which is unexpectedly bitter in scent.

There’s also a chance to watch a curiously relaxing film of skilled artisans crafting a gigantic oak and stainless steel port barrel.

Porto Calem tour by James Hainsworth

The informative tour includes in eerie insight into flooding in the Gaia district, with water heights on marked on a gigantic barrel.

But the highlight, of course, is the tasting, where you can sip the silken white, tawny, ruby and even rosé port, with flavours encompassing plums, sultanas and hints of honey.

Time your visit with care, and you might emerge into the riverside’s glimmering dusk with the sweetness of port still on your tongue.

Rio Douro after nightfall by Judy Darley

Explore Porto’s sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – smell
Porto in five senses – sight
Porto in five senses – hearing
Porto in five senses – touch

Writing prompt – bee

Bumblebee-on-purple-flowers by Judy Darley

The idea of No-Mow May has made a huge difference to our much-needed and much-threatened insect and invertebrate life.

By giving humans an excuse not to undergo the arduous task of cutting grass (‘I’m not being lazy – it’s for the bees!’), they’ve reminded us of something important – beautiful doesn’t naturally equate to neat. In fact, a bit of rough and ready makes a lot more sense when it comes to gardens, parks and forests!

What other ideas could tap into human indolence or competitive spirit and at the same time help to protect our wild world? Can you turn this into a hopeful tale?

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.

Porto in five senses – smell

Claus Porto exterior by James Hainsworth

Claus Porto, Rua das Flores. By James Hainsworth

This travel article was originally published in April 2020.

On the last day of February 2020, my hub and I flitted off for a long weekend in Porto. It was in the week that separates our birthdays, and 29th February is a rare date that in itself made us want to make it memorable.

We had no idea how extreme the global coronavirus pandemic was about to become, or that just weeks later we’d be in lockdown, confined for the most part to our own homes for our safety and the safety of others.

For a long time, I thought I’d wait until this is over to publish my travel piece about Porto, and that there was no point in sharing it until people can roam again. Then I realised how important it is to remember what a beautiful, wide and varied world exists beyond the views we see from our windows. I originally published this piece on 31st March 2020. As we embrace travel with open arms once more I want to share it again, and dream of journeys to come.

Portugal’s second city is a vivid tangle of streets bisected by the River Douro, with the banks linked by gorgeous bridges and flanked by steep streets lined with colourful buildings housing residents, bars and museums aplenty. It’s the perfect place for a 48-hour escape, with uncommon attractions to feed each of your five senses.

Each Tuesday over the coming weeks I’ll post a new travel guide to Porto focusing on a different sense, beginning with the most evocative – the sense of smell.

Smell – Claus Porto’s fragrance emporium

Claus Porto staircase by Judy Darley

Claus Porto’s M.C. Escher-esque staircase. By Judy Darley

Claus Porto (Rua das Flores, 22 Porto 4050-262) is a fantastic soap and perfume company founded by German businessmen Ferdinand Claus and Georges Schweder in 1887 in the Portuguese city they loved. Using ingredients sourced from the Portuguese countryside and eventually opening its own lithography company to produce the art gallery-quality packaging, Claus Porto has survived two World Wars, plus dictatorships and revolutions.

Claus Porto soaps by Judy Darley

Claus Porto soaps, not artisan bakery macaroons… By Judy Darley

The flagship store occupies a typical 19th-century Porto townhouse that used to be a marionette museum and now sports an eye-boggling tiled floor and an exhibition space on the first floor showing off their packaging and historical titbits, including a gold medal awarded at the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis, USA.

Their packaging is so exquisite that you can now buy matching notebooks – ideal for those moments of bathroom inspiration!

Claus Porto soap wall by James Hainsworth

Claus Porto shows off its lithography from floor to ceiling. By James Hainsworth

Don’t miss the ‘soap wall’ exhibit mid-way up the staircase.

The ground floor includes an artful array of luxurious soaps, lotions and other products we could only afford to sniff, plus a barber’s station. Natural ingredients range from wild pansy to parma violets to figs to cedar to tobacco blossom. During our brief visit, we grew rather fond of the barber’s dog.

Claus Porto barber's dog by Judy Darley

Meet the barber’s dog. By Judy Darley

Next week, I’ll introduce you to Porto’s tastiest attraction – port!

Explore Porto’s sensory offerings

Porto in five senses – taste
Porto in five senses – sight
Porto in five senses – hearing 
Porto in five senses – touch