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Messages

In the weeks following Julia’s death, over 120 emails were sent to her website with memories and tributes. Just as Julia defied classification, so do these messages. We have therefore simply arranged them in the order they arrived.

I first met Julia in 1986 when I was working for Tyne and Wear Theatre in Education as their Education Liaison worker. She had been commissioned to write a community play. Then I joined Gillian Allnut’s "Writing from the Inside Out" in 1997 and Julia was a member, even though she had already had her first novel, Crocodile Soup published. She was thrilled about being published and told us how different publishers were fighting for it, bidding more and more money. I remember she said how great it was to be able to go to buy something at Bainbridges without having to worry! We talked about her cancer. My sister had died of breast cancer aged 34 in 1991 but I can remember her optimism over her own situation and her telling me that being diagnosed with cancer had made her stop doing commissions, things for other people, and start to write what she really wanted to write. And it was wonderful writing! I loved to listen to her read her bits of work completed at the Gillian’s group. Her words soared, flew, and I imagined reading them in her later novels. When I got Breast Cancer in 2001 I rang her and she gave me the name of a really good book to read about it.

One of the best poems I ever wrote was written in her workshop. She was an inspiration.

Mary Pickin

I e-mailed Julia one of my first poems a few months ago, having only been inspired to write earlier this year, after hearing one of her short stories on the radio. When I later realised how well-known she was, and e-mailed say I felt embarrassed to have bothered her, she replied "I am not at all important..and I love receiving poems". Well, it’s obvious that she was important to a great many people, and has made a difference to my life and the lives of countless others. So in memory of my Dad, whose life also came to an end, like Julia’s, peacefully at home and surrounded by those he loved, I’ll end with the words he used every night when he tucked us up in bed

Good night and God bless.

Babs Short

Very sorry to learn of Julia’s death. She gave great encouragement, not merely to North East women writers – but to the North East, to women and to writers. How contemporary she was,and how much more she might have done if given more time.

Sally Evans

I knew Julia slightly, but was always impressed with her generosity and kindness. She was particularly strong throughout her illness. Goodnight and God Bless, you will never be forgotten.

Edith Petrie

We are so very deeply saddened that Julia has died. She was very supportive of many disabled writers, and of Northern Disability Arts Forum, and she means an awful lot to us in all sorts of ways. Her energy will be missed in our cultural landscape but also in many, many more discreet ways in the way she supported, encouraged, developed and inspired so many writers and artists with amazing generosity. And this generosity is reflected in the beautiful, deliberately placed parcels of hope and happiness like First Aid Kits for the Mind with the fantastic rubber stamp saying “I know my body better than you do” referencing and challenging the medicalisation of so many of our experiences – and the thought provoking Manifesto, and so much else still to come. She took on all that surrounds people’s experiences of cancer and illness – doctors, attitudes, the bleakness of the hospital, and effected change which we hope will continue to grow as part of the legacy of Julia’s work. And she tackled fear to take the fear out of cancer and dying, again with an inspiring level of generosity. She left us beautifully crafted handbooks on how to get through it all. Amazing.

Thank you Julia, for your creativity, and the fires of creativity you inspired in others, and for showing us what is possible.

Vici Wreford-Sinnott
Director, Northern Disability Arts Forum

She was so generous! Years ago she read a version of a play Sue Stewart and I had written which was quite dreadful. She managed to read her way through it and comment on it without making us feel bad. I hope she’s somewhere wonderful on her horse now.

Jo Colley

First meeting with Julia in the 80’s at a mother and toddler group, where she introduced herself with the words, "I’m afraid my daughter’s just bitten your daughter." I knew we’d be friends.

So much to say but in the end I can only endorse what everyone else has written here.

Thanks, Julia, for everything, perhaps especially for being so supportive about that cruddy play! (see Jo’s comments).

Sue Stewart

Julia I hope your death was the way you had wanted it to be, given a choice. Thank you for giving words for funny and beautiful and sad and bewildering things, and for celebrating life and making us all brave. Thank you for your precious friendship, and for having Scarlet and Florrie, and for sharing your life with Bev.

Jane Whiteley

I met Julia only twice and was fortunate to have been taught by her on a workshop weekend. She was an unforgettable person, so life loving, generous, funny and selfless.

She always found the time to reply to my e-mails, she was an inspiration to us all and her loving, healing, and powerful words will continue to comfort and inspire others in the future.

Whenever I see the sun breaking through rain clouds, blazoning the sky with bright light, I’ll remember Julia’s warm radiant smile. Thank you Julia.
Om Shanti

Maria Nicklin

I am a student living in India. It was very recently that I discovered Julia Darling and read some of her work, actually very little. But that little touched something in me, and I feel sorrow and grief that the world has lost such a great and sensitive person.

Pallavi Narayan

We were incredibly proud when Julia became the second holder of our Northern Rock Foundation Writer’s Award. She was a wonderful writer and a quite extraordinary ambassador for writing. Actually, as it happened, she was an ambassador for life but we didn’t know that then. Reading her weblog over the past weeks has confirmed for me what a generous heart and intellect she had. Not for her the quiet withdrawal into herself in what she knew were her last days and hours. She didn’t seem to want self protection. Even her introspective thoughts always seemed to be wider than herself.

I want to add that my partner and I benefited also from her generosity on a personal level when my partner’s cancer was diagnosed. She said and did really helpful things and after the worst of it was over she said: there’s a lot more to you than just somebody who had cancer. While stupid cancer dominated the management of Julia’s life it never seemed to dominate her spirit, her imagination or her zest for life.

Bye Julia. We’ll think of you often. And our thoughts are with Bev and the girls too.

Fiona Ellis
Northern Rock Foundation

I did not know Julia at all well, but our paths crossed on and off over many years. I mourn her death and feel angry at her suffering. I remember her speaking with great wit, compassion and love at Andrea Badenoch’s memorial event last year. I have a copy of the Rendezvous Café: Whitley Bay poem on a postcard above my desk at work. The humour and poignancy of the lines spoke vividly to Wendy and myself as we have enjoyed the world’s worst coffee at the Rendezvous, but loved the spirit of the place. I shall remember Julia for her courage, humour and ways with words. Her writing blended politics, wit and generosity with acutely perceptive observation. It always acknowledged the complexity of things. She will be much missed.

Simon Murray
Director of Theatre, Dartington College of Arts

It sounds weird but I felt that Julia was ahead of me in so many ways. I’m not sure I would have had the strength to come out if I had not seen Virgin Poets.

She kindly wrote to say she had enjoyed my poems and I wrote every time I read something because I often felt it was partly my story she was writing. In the last year or so I was vaguely in touch by email and she always replied in a real way. I will miss her.

Annie Foster

"Have you met Julia Darling yet. No? Oh, you’ll love her!"

When I first came up to the north east in 1996 to begin work at New Writing North. Everyone I met said that to me. I was fascinated to know who this person was that inspired such devotion and delight. I wasn’t disappointed.

I’ve never me anyone like Julia, she was like an energy generator buzzing with ideas, wit and good humour. I never left a meeting with Julia, even if it was about something a bit dull, without feeling better for having seen and spent time with her. I remember the launch of Crocodile Soup in Newcastle. It’s remains the most amazing book launch I’ve ever been to. I didn’t know many people but said to one of the writers that I had befriended ‘who are all these people?’. The writer laughed and said, ‘well over there are the writers, over there are the lesbians, that group over there have cancer and.. and it just went on and on. Julia had an expansive and impressive constituency and a complete lack of vanity about being such a public and important figure.

I have an enduring memory of sitting in the Rendezvous Cafe in Whitley Bay last year with Julia eating knickerbocker glories. We were waiting to set the scene in the cafe so that we could photo Julia in this place that inspired her. As we waited for Sasa to set up his lights and brief the waitresses she showed me the article that she had written that had just appeared in the Guardian about how poetry can save your life. I remember thinking to myself ‘she really believes it can’ and her wanting this made me want it and believe it too.
Thinking back now, somehow eating knickerbocker glories and talking frankly about death as a fact of life summed up my impressions of Julia.

Since then I was lucky enough to work with Julia on a number of projects and took great delight in seeing her work, her career and her reputation deservedly grow. I love her novels and I hope that the brave and fearless writing that she did on the subject of cancer and healing doesn’t completely over-shadow her other work, both are important. Her views on how the north east is changing are also very important.

A few months ago I offered to pull together a collection of her radio and stage plays for publication. It’s been an epic task (as there are so many of them and they are all so wonderful) and about two weeks ago I collected the final play for inclusion from Julia, around that time she had also decided on a cover image (with Sharon Bailey), so we are now editing what I’m sure will be not only a stunning collection of work but a fitting tribute. I’m really glad she got to pull it together and oversee it.

The last time I saw Julia we talked about her book of plays but also spent a good amount of time talking about how to knit dog coats. I had found a pattern for a very stylish coat but Julia and Bev had a book which went one step further and detailed how you could comb your dog, weave fur into wool and knit clothing from this, it had pictures of hats for humans in it and advice on which kinds of dogs were best for wool production.

Your mind was always expanded with Julia, sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

At the launch of the wonderful First Aid kit last night I reflected on Julia’s organisational panache. Even when she wasn’t there herself she managed to bring a large group of people together. The First Aid kit is so wonderful, so clever, yet so simple and so wise.

We are all so much poorer now that she has left us. I hope she went somewhere fantastic. I envy the new ‘community’ that’s sure to welcome her spirit with open arms.

Claire Malcolm

I went to the launch of First Aid Kit For The Mind last night and bought the very first box to be sold! ( I chose one with a coffee colour lid.) Emma Holliday signed it for me! This morning I showed some of the little surprises in my box to a group of children. Emily said that, with the brush, she would paint a gold gorilla. Rukhsar wondered if the fabric was magic and Meghan said that her baby brother is too clever for his bouncer and can get one leg out! I just thought that Julia would have loved Meghan’s throw-away line! Thank you Julia for your encouragement and for the absolute thrill you gave me when you told me you loved my poem. I treasure that email.

Catherine Graham

I had the great pleasure of working with Julia for a few months in 1990. I was completely in awe of her warmth, sense of humour and zest for life. She truly was one of the nicest, most genuine people I have ever met. Good night and god bless Julia. xx

Andrea Leitch

I met Julia in spring 2000 when she tutored a small group of us. Every six weeks we’d meet up at the railway station hotel in York for afternoon tea. We lounged on the big hotel sofas, ate scones with jam and cream and she came up with funny, innovative ways for us to approach our work. She had panache and style and a great grin. She always had something personal to say to us. ‘What we want’ she told me ‘is for you to make your living at writing’. She was so delighted that she could. She made me remember that writing is an honourable craft, and that it’s possible to make a living and keep integrity.

My sister phoned me at midnight to tell me Julia had died. She lives in Newcastle, and used to exchange greeting with Julia on the bus, after they had met years ago in anti-apartheid meetings. We talked for a while, agreed that Julia had really lived.

‘She was a bloody good writer,’ I said. ‘I liked Julia’, said my sister. So did I.

Thanks for Julia’s life, and peace to her and her family.

Kath McKay

I returned from Poland yesterday with a jar of raspberry confiture. I was going to call round with it. In amongst other things, Julia asked for home-grown raspberries in the Manifesto. She also asked for imaginary travel, and I hoped this was going to be an imaginary postcard in a jar.

I also met Julia through a story first – a story called Bloodlines which I found in a small publisher’s collection many years ago. All I remembered about it was its beauty, a nameless city with the metro and references to Spain. Then in 2002 a friend of mine urged me to catch Personal Belongings at that year’s Fringe. When I moved to Newcastle the following month, one of the first people I met was Julia Darling. And when you met Julia it was impossible not to become an instant friend. She was also one of my first visitors in my new home, one Sunday afternoon when she was on a research trip to that part of town. In retrospect I realised that visit was my small casual initiation ritual. Julia had also been a newcomer once and she loved making people feel welcome in this place that she made her home.

Everything about Julia always seemed so effortless – her boundless generosity of spirit, her radiant smile, her literature. She always responded to every call, to every cause, to every occasion – she loved people and she loved writing and those two loves always went hand in hand. And those two loves never asked for anything in return.

I think it was at the time when we were rehearsing Valentine Verses that I learnt about Julia’s illness. We were in the lift in the School of English and just before she got out on the second floor she joked about how her cancer was part of her literary reputation. I stayed behind shell-shocked. I could never have imagined that cancer could co-exist with so much beauty and love, and I tried to reassure myself that the latter would surely triumph.

On occasions like this, when recollection is a means of coping, every memory inevitably seems magnified. In this particular place, where Julia revealed her innermost feelings and thoughts, it is impossible to ignore the cancer. Yet on a daily basis, the strength of Julia’s personality was such that it always overshadowed her actual state of health. Yes, she would casually mention the nurses, her acupuncture sessions and her afternoon naps on her new sofa, but always with her beaming smile.

Almost a year to the date after our theatrical celebration of poetry and love, we were planning another staged poetry event. This time the idea was to link the event with Northern Stage’s co-production of Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. We would send Julia, Bill Herbert, Linda France and Colin Teevan on Easyjet flights to Barcelona and get them to write their own homages to Catalonia. Julia returned from Barcelona with a Manifesto for a New City. In it she famously called for the artists and makers to take over the city and for the property developers to cut up their suits and make them again. Soon after her return, Julia found that her cancer had started spreading…

As a result of the success of Flying Homages – the evening of poetry and music performed by the writers together with Northern Stage’s actors – Julia was commissioned to write a full scale musical for the company. We started working on it intensively last autumn and Julia seemed to be bursting with ideas. Occasionally she’d say: “I have to go and have my blood changed, but maybe you could come with me and we can work in the hospital”. Such was her attitude to her work in relation to the demands of her body.

The second floor at the School of English has always been a lively place – a home to writers and creative individuals who would call in on each other with ideas or just wave joyously across the corridor filled with the smell of incense coming from Julia’s office. I loved going into her office for meetings. Not only did it smell nice, but it was a real writer’s den furnished with simple luxuries – beautiful lighting, intriguing pictures and carefully chosen words and notes to herself. And of course – there was the sofa. When Jim Kitson came in on the Manifesto meetings, the second floor was also filled with catchy tunes and beautiful music.

Manifesto the musical had several incarnations. At first it was a proper play with songs and jokes and a character called Maureen who would bring Maureenism into the City. Around Christmas-time, however, the director Alan Lyddiard became really keen on the idea of Julia being in the show herself. For a moment it seemed like Julia was also up for it, but then she confessed that she could not be relied on and just continued writing furiously, bringing up new possible versions of the musical.

I don’t know where she found the time, but she was also keeping at least another fifteen projects on the go – poetry readings, master classes, radio plays, interviews – and she was also travelling or planning travels. In January we staged another reading as part of the Holocaust Memorial Day exploring the theme of survival. At this point Julia was very much into knitting and we built this newly-discovered means of survival into the show. I later thought – what a wonderful metaphor for poetry! I often think of playwriting as weaving anyway – maybe the entire literary activity can be reclaimed by women on the grounds of their inherent handcrafting inclinations.

I would have liked to have shared this thought with Julia. In the last two weeks, stuck at a symposium in Poland, I kept thinking of all the things I would have liked to have shared with Julia but never got the chance to. Then I realised that we shared wonderful moments working together, and work was exactly what kept Julia going. There was never any time for sentiments – only pure feelings, pure enthusiasm and a sense of purpose.

The last time I saw Julia at the dress rehearsal of the Manifesto, we parted with the words “See you!” The last time I spoke to her a week ago, we almost made an appointment. I came back with a jar of raspberry confiture hoping to call round with it as a token of imaginary travel. And it is this set of circumstances which made it impossible for me to see Julia once again that brings out the sentiments in me, and the memories: the times she smiled, the time when I realised I had met her first all those years ago through her story, the time when she came into my office with a radio and two cappuccinos and we listened to the Appointments while watching the snow through the window, the way in which I was swept off the beach while reading The Taxi Driver’s Daughter in Nice and then continued turning the soaked pages till the end.

In a way, knowing Julia was like experiencing that wave in Nice and I am deeply honoured to have had the opportunity.

Duska Radosavljevic
Dramaturg, Northern Stage

We first published Julia in 1993: her short story, The Sack Depot, appeared in the anthology Arc Northern Stories Vol 4 – it was her first short story in print. Exactly ten years later, Jo Shapcott, Arc’s UK editor, brought us her first full-length collection of poems, Sudden Collapses in Public Places and from then onwards, we were privileged to became one of the conduits through which Julia touched so many people’s lives We are so incredibly proud to be her publisher, and so fortunate to have had the opportunity of knowing her – and having our lives changed by her “indelible, miraculous” existence.

Tony Ward, Angela Jarman, Rosemary Jones, Charlie Johnston
Arc Publications

Julia came to Ilkley Literature Festival in October 2003. On a wet, dark night I was supposed to be welcoming her, but Julia instantly made me feel we were already old friends. Her enthusiasm and warmth touched everyone in the audience the evening. She was a beacon for writing in the North and I count myself lucky to have spent even a short time in her company. Her generosity to the world of writing was unique.

Rachel Feldberg
Director, Ilkley Literature Festival

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