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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 met Julia in person rarely, the meetings were precious to me, I was always excited when I knew was going to see her; her spirit was so warm and big and her mind so precise and original. But I followed her work from afar with enormous admiration.

(I am reviewing The Poetry Cure and Apology for Absence for The Independent; I had hoped this would come out before Julia died, in case it might give her a moment’s pleasure. But other people might be interested to read a few words there about her work.)

I’d like to send not only my own love but also a heartfelt tribute and love from the Poetry Society. We all treasured her work and will be of course be publishing a tribute to her.

Ruth Padel,
Chair, The Poetry Society

I read today that Julia Darling has died. I felt very sad. I loved her book The Taxi Driver’s Daughter which I read an year before. It was inspiring to read such a confident young voice, a novel so well written and touching. I didn’t know Julia was fighting breast cancer so it was quite a shock to learn she died so young. I’m going through the entries of her online blog and feel so sorry that I can no longer contact her directly and write few words which have been on my mind!

I express my heartfelt condolences for her family, relatives and friends, I know it must hurt very much….Goodbye, Julia, and rest in peace!

Milena Zlatarova
“a musician and booklover from Bulgaria”

It was meeting Julia at a radio writing course in Hull that brought me to the north east where I have lived ever since. Her enthusiasm and warmth and friendliness were infectious and she made me feel that whatever you wanted to do, you could and you should just go for it.

I’ve lit a candle for her, as I have been doing on many occasions throughout her illness.

It was great to know her.
God Bless Julia

Fiona Cooper

I remember Julia most vividly through some pioneering literary exchange trips we made to Newcastle’s twin-city of Groningen and Durham’s German twin Tuebingen as well as through a poetry/music collaboration. Those times in the nineties stay clearly in my mind. I am writing lovingly about them now in her honour.

Keith Armstrong

In a parallel Rendezvous Cafe, Julia is right now enjoying a Knickerbocker Glory. She lives on in the hearts and minds of all who were privileged to have known her.

Alison Parks

A poem I wrote when I was in Julia’s creative writing group in Gateshead twelve years ago. Julia taught me a lot back then.

This is hopefully a fitting and humorous tribute to Julia although we only occasionally bumped into each other over recent years.

DANCES WITH WORDS

Julia, why suggest poetic form ?

On Thursday mornings I’m too weary
to explain I also have a theory
about the meaning of words and images
and how they corrupt virgin white pages
playing tricks, just for kicks, like politics,
in a language clear as economics.
I know……. my thoughts are often disrupted
being post modern and de-constructed.
I could discuss de-centring the text
except I would not know what came next.
The thought of poems in a rigid structure
almost gives me a linguistic rupture.
I agree, I should test parameters
as I dread iambic pentameters-
I’m not lazy but I don’t have the time
to count the syllables line by line.
Must I go through hell for a villanelle,
break out in sweats over triolets
or suffer and strain writing a cinquaine ?
One day I might want to write a sonnet
only then I might find out what fun it
is to use words I wouldn’t often choose
and forgive bad rhymes, like choose and excuse.

This rhyme is drawing to a close
I think it’s time I wrote some prose.
Although I hope my message is clear
there are some things I’ve forgotten here
I’ve not mentioned onomatopoeia,
alliteration, assonance and fear
of meter, of William Shakespeare
and of verbal diarrhoea
But there’s one thing that should be understood
the discipline has done me good.

Julia, darling you were absolutely right.

With thanks

Rachel Cunniffe

Julia was creative generosity personified. Whenever I spent even a moment in her company, I came away renewed, bestowed with precious gifts – optimism, energy, humour and encouragement. Julia’s capacity to do this was unstoppable – her memory, her influence spurs me still. To read or hear her work is to have your senses undulled. She could render the grimmest, most unpromising, experience fascinating and so accurately truthful, it could be hilarious. She had, in the words of one her poems, "the kind of light that electrified the ordinary." I shall be forever grateful to her for taking me seriously from the very start as a writer – lending me her writing room in Charlotte Square, in the many workshops she led or participated in, on a trip to a Women’s Playwriting Conference in Galway where we rode hired bikes and drank Guinness with Martin McDonagh. Although increasingly successful, she never lorded it. She always wanted to bring others on. It was encouragement through example – continue with generous awareness, her warmth and humour seemed to say. She not only shared her vulnerability but laughed at it too. As part of the acting company for Live Theatre’s NE1, I never ever tired of hearing Madeline Moffat’s delivery over the dressing room tannoy of Julia’s brilliantly moving and wittily polemical monologue Venetia Love Goes Netting – laughing and crying every time. It was an honour to serve her words in Appointments – who could fail to love the line "St Peter’s Basin’s got no plug." Julia – thank you for your words, your wisdom and your friendship. I dearly wish you could have stayed with us and shall never stop missing you, but as one of the ones you encouraged, I’ll try to do justice to that.

Carol McGuigan

I was lucky enough to see Julia performing her Manifesto for Tyneside Upon England – and this month in Hexham the Manifesto for a New City. In her honour and in celebration of her beautiful spirit I intend to observe the Lesbian Happy Hour (an idea greeted with laughter and applause in Newcastle, but which went down like a lead balloon in Hexham).

Frances Gapper

The obituary for this extraordinary person, with the extract from her poem, was in the Guardian today.

I saw the light in her eyes
Shining out of the page

I felt her warmth
And was not afraid

For those left behind
Your lives enriched

By this life and this love
So dear to your hearts.

Thank you.
Polly Skerratt

I met Julia as 17 year old kid who wanted to write and she was someone who told me I could do it, which I emailed her about last year, to let her know I was doing it.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who benefited from her support or from her marvelously touching and funny stories.

She will be missed

Natalie Boxall

There were the meetings at Julia’s in the early 90s when we were trying to promote theatre by and for women in the North East. The Next Stage didn’t last but my memories of the good fun and good food, the laughter and debate and optimism, the warmth, a lot of it coming from Julia, are clear as anything.

At Hallgarth School on Teesside we ran poetry and drama workshops for Year 8 pupils. The work they produced for Julia was sensual and witty, which makes sense, because she was.

Julia gave me a lift to some writing weekend. She was going through a difficult time, was protesting about the load she was carrying, but although she had a right to be angry, she never quite managed it: there was no rancour, no bitterness in her.

Recently, we’ve had less contact, when we met we chatted about the band her daughter and my stepson sang and played in. I found it difficult to read her on-line journal, I’ve lost too many people in the past few years, but Rik did, and was tremendously moved. I have the sense that she was as alive and awake and productive as it is possible to be, seeing and hearing beauty, as her world began to shrink. She leaves us with the powerful notion that we can choose. My heart goes out to Bev and the girls.

Kathleen McCreery

After dark vapours have oppress’d our plains
For a long dreary season, comes a day
Born of the gentle South, and clears away
From the sick heavens all unseemly stains.
The anxious month, relieved of its pains,
Takes as a long-lost right the feel of May;
The eyelids with the passing coolness play
Like rose leaves with the drip of Summer rains.
The calmest thoughts come round us; as of leaves
Budding – fruit ripening in stillness – Autumn suns
Smiling at eve upon the quiet sheaves –
Sweet Sappho’s cheek – a smiling infant’s breath –
The gradual sand that through an hour-glass runs –
A woodland rivulet – a Poet’s death. – –

That’s actually Keats, but it’ll do for me too. I think Julia would have liked it; it carries that same gently elegiac tone that she found in her own later work, and perhaps in her later life also. I was listening to the radio in the bath tonight, thinking about Julia, and heard this; and I’m not sure how many times I e-mailed Julia to say ‘Hey, I was listening to the radio in the bath, and I heard you,’ or some piece of hers, or something that would have interested or amused her. It doesn’t stop, because she goes away; you only lose the chance to tell her so. One last time, then…

Chaz Brenchley

Words are so important …..

…. and they matter so much more when you never met a person. I only knew Julia through her words – she provided the nine things to do on a bench script for our Grainger Town Street Furniture ….. and she captured the spirit of life beyond an inanimate object so well.

Sadly my Mum died of breast cancer too. I always remember how so many people said so many nice things about her. Too many nice words just made me cry. It’s nice and sunny today so, important though they are, instead of more words I am just going to sit on a bench in memory of Julia (and my Mum).

Peter McGuckin

I feel so lucky to have had Julia in my life for the last dozen years. She had more energy, enthusiasm and beauty in her than almost anyone I have ever known. She was a great writer, with a highly intelligent and contrary view of the world, who had a special talent for visual word magic. She was a wonderful companion, who was interested in everyone, and made all her friends and audiences and readers feel valued and privileged, even when she herself felt weary and frustrated.

Julia was before everything, a very giving person. In 1997, when I spent six months bed bound, she visited me more than any one, knowing what it’s like to be trapped in a failing body: when she asked me to be the first reader of the manuscript of Crocodile Soup, it made me feel special and useful, not forgotten and isolated. Over and over again, she listened to me talking about my writing, and was full of encouragement, and the fact that she had faith in me gave me the best reason to believe in myself. Dozens of others benefited from the same generosity.

So, thank you Julia Darling: for giving us stories, and plays, and especially your marvellous poems. Thank you for letting so many of us become a part of your extended family (and thank you Bev and Scarlet and Florrie for welcoming us too, and for sharing your Julia with so many others so graciously). Thank you, Julia, for showing us how to live better, and for helping us understand how to die well. Thank you for giving us yourself.

Good bye dear Jools.

Tom Shakespeare

A wonderful, extraordinary writer and human being.
The words and spirit live on….for ever.

Colin Sharp

I first became aware of Julia through her novel Crocodile Soup which I read whilst lying on a sunbed on Gran Canaria. The weather was wonderful but the high point of the holiday was Julia’s book. It was so quirky, totally original and I was knocked-out by her use of metaphor. It seemed to me a seminal book for writers.

A few months later, I met Julia herself. She had been asked to judge a short story competition organised by a local writing group and had chosen my story as the winner. Her encouraging comments were the catalyst which led to me leaving the comfort-blanket of the writing group, and beginning to think of myself as a writer, not a hobbyist.

I saw Julia occasionally at writing events after that, and she was unmistakable for her wide smile and sense of fun. I didn’t manage to attend every launch — Julia was so prolific a writer that there seemed so many — but shortly after the launch of Sudden Collapses in Public Places I decided to run the ‘Race for Life’ inspired by Julia’s battle with cancer.

When I e mailed to tell her I’d managed to persuade seven other women to run round Gosforth Racecourse with me, Julia publicised this on the website. We were all stars, she told us, and wished us well. I was touched that she had taken the time to tell us.

I’m planning to run ‘Race for Life’ again this year. Anyone like to join me?

Noreen Rees

When I called to tell her I had been diagnosed, Julia managed to make me laugh and give me hope with just one great line.

"Don’t worry," she said. "The residential homes are full of single-breasted old women."

I wish Julia could have been one of them.

Ann Coburn

I only heard about Julia’s death yesterday – due to the Guardian obituary by Jackie Kay. I am deeply saddened to hear about her death. A few years ago, I went on one of the Arvon Foundation courses on creative writing. I chose the one that Julia was teaching on because her novel Crocodile Soup had made such an impact on me. She was a wonderful tutor: both encouraging and helpfully critical, and a really nice person to spend time with. Her books have inspired me, and she inspired me as a person and a writer. Thank you, and goodbye. xx

Alison Faulkner

Dear Julia

This is for the short period that I came to know you (trip to Mauritius on creative writing workshop Aug 2004).

You brought inspiration and enthusiasm to Mauritian writers

You charmed by your simplicity

You cheered by your hilarious humour

You delighted with your eye for detail

Your poetry has a great impact on me

I feel privileged to have known you

And will remember you for being a great person

Cheers!

Jaysing

I met Julia on an Arvon Foundation writing course last July. Although she sometimes looked tired I didn’t know she was ill till after the course had ended. I was amazed at her generosity, the time she gave to us, her thoughtful and encouraging comments. I felt she really cared about us struggling beginners. Two months after that course I was diagnosed with breast cancer myself. I started reading Julia’s weblog and like so many others, found her writing inspiring, funny, and just so readable!

I wanted to write to her, send her a poem I’d written about radiotherapy, but I never did. I’m so sorry. I feel very sad, and also happy that I met her. A true inspiration, in writing and living.

Sonia Markham

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