Writing prompt – travel

Twin Blue and Green Lakes, Sete Cidades cr Judy DarleyI often find myself moved to write strange and dreamy fictions while travelling. For instance, my story Two Pools of Water, inspired by a trip to the Azores, and published this week by dear damsels.

My story draws on local myths, and the yearning of youth.

My sister Bia leads me to a balcony. The twin lakes show beyond, half-shrouded in cloud. With the sky overcast, the green and blue are harder to see. She tells me the fairytale I’ve heard a thousand times before, of the shepherd and the princess, embracing on the bridge and weeping through their farewells. ‘Her green eyes made the emerald lake, and his blue eyes made the sapphire one,’ she says. ‘He cried more, which is why the blue lake is so much bigger.’

Think of a place you’ve visited far from and as unalike home as possible, and use that as the setting for a story. If you can weave in a bit of local legend, so much the better!

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



Green Island

Logoa do Fogo, Sao Miguel by Judy Darley

Logoa do Fogo, Sao Miguel

My travel feature on the tranquility of Sao Miguel, one of the Azores islands, was recently published by In The Moment magazine. It provided a wonderful chance for me to re-live the beauty of that Portuguese isle.

You can buy back issues of In The Moment here. My feature appeared in issue 10.

This is my third feature published about that trip, the previous ones being published in Wedding ideas magazine and A Year In Portugal journal.

I’ve also had a piece published about a somewhat chillier visit to Iceland in Balance magazine. Love getting out to see the world and sharing my discoveries!

Icelandic Thrills feature by Judy Darley

Book review – Elephant Tales by Mark Shand

Elephant Tales by Mark ShandGiven to me by my sister as part of a boxset of Penguin 60’s miniatures, this small volume has been travelling with me everywhere recently, and aptly so as it’s one of the finest examples of travel writing I’ve encountered.

In Elephant Tales, Shand is learning to drive Tara, a female elephant of great dignity, stubbornness and, intermittent whimsy. Like an eccentric great aunt and errant toddler in one, she ambles her way through the pages and into your heart.

The fondness and respect Shand feels for this pachyderm. Carrying him on her back and occasionally, though more often not, doing his bidding, Tara offers the author, and us, an uncommon view not only of the atmospheric Indian landscape, but also of the people and wildlife that populate it.

Continue reading

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 tina-walsh.com.

There’s more to Barcelona than Gaudi…

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya views cr Beccy DownesA few weeks ago I posted my Barcelona – 10 Ten Experiences piece. I travelled to Barcelona with my friend Beccy Downes, also a writer, and thought it would be interesting to show you how different two pieces written in response to the same trip can be. Here’s her piece on Barcelona.

Anyone visiting Barcelona will have heard of the work of Gaudi, and there is no doubt that the Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell are unique and stunning to visit.  But what else is there?

For a quick break in Barcelona, the ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ Bus Tours are perfect.  Faced with the challenge of seeing as much as we could in three days, I found that the commentary really helped me to focus, not only on what I had intended to see, but on the things I enjoy that hadn’t even occurred to me to seek out.  The tours all start at Plaça de Catalunya.

FC Barcelona cr Beccy Downes As a football and sports fan in general, I relished the chance to see the impact that sporting events have had on the city.  Having regularly seen and heard about the famous FC Barcelona on the TV, Camp Nou was an obvious early stopping point.  I was immersed in the culture of this football club when first stepping through the gates; in awe of the surroundings which encapsulate the 98,787 seater stadium, a village of eateries and merchandise stores line the approach…player and sponsor images adorn the outside of the stadium itself, although there are a few statues and plaques which pay homage to the club’s auspicious history too…

FC Barcelona sculpture cr Beccy Downes A stadium and museum tour is available for fans of both the club, and wider football in general.  It currently costs €23 for adults, €17 for children aged 6-13 (price taken from Club website) and includes the pressroom and commentary box, the trophy room, and even the players tunnel and dressing room. I didn’t have time to try this out, but if the official club shop is anything to go by, it promises to be a Barcelona FC-themed assault on the senses!

Olympic Stadium cr Beccy DownesAnother stop on the bus tour takes you up Montjuic (which has its own story – you’ll hear it on the commentary) and to the site of the great 1992 Olympic Games. Although I was fairly young at the time, I can still remember being stirred by the Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Caballe song which became the theme for the Games, and when I caught sight of the sheer magnificence of the stadium, I felt a slight tingle as I imagined what it might have been like to stand there surrounded by the thronging crowds…

Olympic Stadium horses cr Beccy Downes

The ambience, even on a quiet day, is majestic – from the horses leaping from atop the stadium wall, to the layers of fountains flowing on three levels below the stadium, I spent some time just taking it all in…with the impressive telecoms tower designed by Santiago Calatrava to resemble the Olympic flame looming above.

Olympic Stadium communications tower cr Beccy Downes

Another stop on the bus tour, which I had no idea was even there until sheer awe of the view made me disembark, was the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC). Even if art is not your thing, the two Venetian style towers that flank the approach, the fountains which dance in front of the museum (I didn’t get the chance to see them at night but the night bus tour takes in this experience during summer for an additional cost) and the view of Barcelona from the very top of the hill directly outside (see top of post), makes the climb very much worthwhile. There are escalators to help if you find walking uphill a bit difficult.

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya Beccy Downes

And of course, something that you might forget when visiting Barcelona, believing it to be the ultimate city break, is that it’s actually pretty darn close to an absolutely superb seafront. The hotels and casino which make up the Port Olimpic marina were built in readiness for the Olympic Games (the sailing events took place here and the athletes stayed here during the games), but some of the accommodation has since been sold as high value apartments to residents of the city – a lot of the architecture here, as with many of the buildings around the city, is unusual to say the least, and there’s some outstanding artwork too, including Frank Gehry’s giant goldfish!

Gehry's Fish  cr Beccy Downes

And finally, the nearby Barcelonetta beach is the ideal place to take the weight off your weary feet, feel the warmth of the Spanish sun and enjoy a cocktail or two. ¡Salud!

Barcelonetta beach cr Beccy Downes

Cocktails cr Beccy Downes

Find more Barcelona highlights at barcelonaturisme.com.





Laments in Lisbon

iew of Lisbon from St George's Castle, LisbonA hush falls as an elegantly dressed woman stalks among the crowded tables, coming to a halt into the centre of the room. A guitar is gently strummed, then the laments begin.

I sit in near-darkness in a room crammed with Portuguese Fado aficionados, all listening intently. Not a single fork scrapes against a single plate. I haven’t experienced Fado before. Part of me was expecting something akin to the explosiveness of Spanish Flamenco, but Portugal’s national song is far more contemplative. I don’t understand the words, but the sentiment is clear, and shivers race up and down my spine.

“Fado translates as fate,” Carmo tells me when the performance ends. “Many of the songs are about beloveds who never returned home from sea.”

Tram, Lisbon cr Judy DarleyI’ve only been in Lisbon a matter of days, but the area around Clube de Fado, the Alfama district, is already one of my favourites. When we return in the morning, only a little the worse for wear, Carmo reminds me that it survived the great earthquake of 1755, so retains a sense of the small city as it would have been long before then, with washing hanging haphazardly between wrought iron balconies and steep, narrow streets. “Many homes here still don’t have their own bathrooms,” she comments, an note that could equally be horror or pride in her voice.

The streets are stacked one above the other another, giving the impression they were built in haste, yet it’s hard to imagine anything here ever being done in a hurry – even the trams amble like commuter-crammed caterpillars.

There’s a curious beauty about the Alfama, with some of the houses beautifully tiled. Most feature at least one small painted tile paying homage to a saint, and keeping the homeowners’ family safe from harm. This is a place where fate is taken seriously – anything you can do to safeguard your family is done.

Castelo de Sao Jorge, Lisbon cr Judy Darley

Above all this sits Castelo de São Jorge, where we wander through dappled sunlight and drink in panoramic views that showcase the city like a painted tableau. Despite the tourists, it is peaceful here – people murmur as they pose beside cannons, and cameras whir gently. Terracotta roofs are stacked above creamy buildings, and the strong, rectangular towers of churches rise above all else.

Far to my left I glimpse a crimson bridge that seems oddly familiar. “It was designed by the same company as San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate bridge,” Carmo says.

Ah, that explains it. The river it spans is the Tagus, a thread of water that broadens at times into an estuary lake so wide it resembles a sea, yet it narrows as it nears the sea – seeming reluctant to leave.

It’s an impulse I can relate to. I wonder how Portugal‘s explorers could bring themselves to head out to the unknown, knowing they might never make it safely home.

“This is my favourite place in Lisbon,” Carmo says, eyes half closing in bliss. “You know, don’t you, that the city was founded by Ulysses?”

I ask her to repeat herself. Surely Ulysses, the one I’m thinking of, is a fictional hero.

She shrugs, either uncertain or not caring. “I like to imagine him standing here on this hillside and saying, yes, this is good, this is home.”

Discover Barcelona.

Travel, tales and imaginings

Carbis BayI’ve quite a day, tucked up in my writing room as rain has drizzled down the window. Hard to believe that this time last week I was enjoying Cornish beaches in the sunshine! I’ve been busy writing about that trip for Travelbite, and doing some other bits of travel writing for other titles too – some wonderful escapism.

I’ve also been very restless because A Dark Imagined Bristol – the first anthology from the Bristol Fiction Writers’ Group – went live on Amazon this morning, with two of my tales in it!

My stories are ‘Restoration‘ and ‘Untrue Blue‘. The former is a tale of two sisters wrangling their differences in a cemetery.

On a separate but equally happy note, I’ve spent the latter part of my working day struggling with the back cover copy for my debut short story collection, Remember Me To The Bees, due out later this year from Scopophilia Publishing.

Exciting times!

A wander through The Valley of the Butterflies, Rhodes

Greece, Rhodes, Valley of the Butterflies cr PROTOUR
One of the most beautiful places I’ve visited is the Valley of the Butterflies on the Greek isle of Rhodes. As part of a gap year, I was working as a shepherdess and staying with a farmer and his young family in the village of Theologos. Each day I would spend a few hours watching the sheep, daydreaming and dozing under the olive trees, then head off to the beach for more of the same, minus the sheep and plus a few waves.

I had one day off each week, giving me the chance to head out to Rhodes town to catch a ferry to one of the nearby islands. But I’d heard about the Valley of the Butterflies and was keen to see what it was. I could have caught the bus to Rhodes Town and then another bus out to the valley, but Theologos is set almost halfway between Rhodes Town and my destination, so when my host advised me that it’s an easy stroll, it made sense just to walk it.

Greece, Rhodes, Valley of the Butterflies cr Greek National Tourism OrganisationI set off at 9am, trekking along sun-blasted roads in the rising heat. When I finally reached the natural park, it was like arriving at an oasis. It was only early June, so there weren’t the mass of Jersey tiger moths (Re the misnomer, I guess Valley of the Moths just didn’t sound so appealing!) swarming in the Petaloudes valley that you get later in the summer, but there were still enough to give the gorge an otherworldly feel, and the tourists were also in low numbers, which made it far more atmospheric.

If you want to get the full impact of the invasion, come in July or August when more than a million moths will have arrived to feast on pine resin before copulating and laying their eggs. Quite a sight to behold! On the downside this is also when crowds of the tourists visit, diminishing the tranquility of the place.

Personally, I think May or June are the better times to visit – sure, you’ll miss out on the clouds of copulating moths, but the valley will be far, far greener. You’ll have much of the park to yourself and will be able to wander around the shady forest paths to your heart’s content, enjoying the mist drifting from the many waterfalls and crossing the log bridges at your own pace, not the pace of the people behind you.

Find out more at www.rodosisland.gr.

Many thanks to PROTOUR and the Greek National Tourism Organisation for supplying these images.

Greece, Rhodes, Valley of the Butterflies cr PROTOUR1

Amsterdam: From A to B and beyond

Singel canal with bikes, AmsterdamThe following extract is part of one of my travel features, and can be read in full at easyJet.

Arriving in Amsterdam is a bit like accidentally stepping on an anthill. You emerge from the airport directly into a heaving train station with people rushing around in every direction, all seemingly knowing exactly where to go.

We stayed at The Double Tree by Hilton, a vast green construction with a cool glassy exterior and a modern interior of clean lines and high ceilings.

National Monument, AmsterdamThe hotel is perfectly placed for visiting Amsterdam’s highlights, from the Red Light District to the exceptional galleries and museums that burst from every corner. After dropping off our cases we made our way to Prinsengracht (the Prince’s Canal), admiring the grand, if admittedly rather phallic, National Monument as we crossed Dam Square.

Prinsengracht is the perfect place to while away an afternoon, with easygoing bars frequented by locals, and the restaurant Envy, where we feasted on a multitude of small dishes such as Dutch oysters, North Sea crab salad, fried pork belly and an array of Dutch cheeses. Continue reading

How to evoke a sense of place

Monsarez, AlentejoA version of this feature was originally published in the 100th issue of The New Writer magazine.

Judy Darley offers advice on capturing the essence of a place in journalistic and creative writing.

As a travel and fiction writer I have a strong awareness of the importance of a sense of place in all kinds of writing. Sights, sounds and smells all add up to an evocative image for the reader, and keep them interested in the story, whether it’s a piece of fiction or a feature.

Open any story or feature with a few words of description about where your scene is taking place, and you immediately provide the reader with a tangible image to hold on to as your tale unfurls. A location can set a tone, a mood, and conjure up an atmosphere far more adeptly than a lengthy description of your main actors’ feelings and actions. Continue reading