Julia — you left a wonderful legacy — not only your literary work, which we admired, but the memory of your unfailing warmth and vitality. You will be deeply missed by many.
Margaret and Peter Lewis,
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.
Julia — you left a wonderful legacy — not only your literary work, which we admired, but the memory of your unfailing warmth and vitality. You will be deeply missed by many.
Margaret and Peter Lewis,
Julia Darling’s poetry really normalised serious illness and, in an age where films and TV soap operas portray sickness and death as melancholy- or drama-ridden experiences, she let us know that it is possible to deal with real-life illness with humour. I can’t put into words how much that helped me come to terms with my Mum’s illness and the death of both my grandfathers from cancer.
It will always be one of my treasured memories that Julia Darling selected and read something of mine for the Guardian’s poetry workshop in January. It was the first poem I had the confidence to send off, and that confidence came largely from knowing that the commentary would be constructive and generous, because everything I have ever seen Julia Darling write has been so. She and her writing will continue to be a great inspiration to me, and I am sure, to countless others.
Many, many thanks.
Julia Darling was the warmest most generous of people, traits which she carried through into her writing career. She has left us a treasure trove of writing that will only grow in value as more and more people relate to her terrifyingly beautiful poems that twinkled with humour and defiance. I can’t think of anyone who will not miss her.
Here is a call to arms that only Julia, Brendan Cleary, Linda France and I will understand, ‘Up North Combine!’
Fly girl, fly.
I barely knew you but you were always so warm and friendly that I feel like I did.
The writing world will be slightly darker without you.
Reporter, Shropshire Star
Julia and I first met, I think, about 15 years ago. I can’t remember how long exactly but I know I had bleached hair cut in a lovely tennis ball design and was wearing cerise court shoes. All I can remember of her that day was her lovely smile. She was the first woman I’d met who wasn’t like all the other women in our street. I reckoned she might be a lesbian but I knew she was a writer and back then that was the only thing going on in my own private stratosphere. She was the first person I ever showed my poems to. She was kind, professional, warm and encouraging. Not too pushy either, she made me feel I hadn’t done a mad thing by bringing her poems about electricians, plumb-lines and dove-tail joints. What a blessing for me that she should wander through Kenton that year. What a blessing for us all that she wandered north-wards in the first place. I’m not sure what I’d be doing now if it weren’t for that life defining moment. I haven’t told anyone this, ever, but I remember secretly watching her walking up Hazelwood Avenue after that first meeting and thinking, "I have to change the way I live my life". And that’s her all over.
I’ve loved working with her on proudWORDS, playing mad songs with The Tulips, her vision and support to me, writer-to-writer, all the work she sent my way and all the lovely smiley cups of coffee and chance-meetings in corridors and on stairs. She and Ellen published my first collection and validated years of piled up bits of paper beneath my bed.
There is a big Julia-sized hole in Newcastle now and to say I will miss her friendship terribly is the most stupidly-inaccurate thing I’ve ever written. I wish we’d holidayed together on the Isle of Wight but I’ll think of her now every time I’m on the Downs. In every grain of sand on Alum Bay, in all the stitches in Tennyson cape, in every ice cream and wayward OAP on the pier. I’m sure you’re having a ball and have already got a writing workshop together wherever you are now and if you happen to bump into my granny tell her that I now know that painting your NHS glasses with bright pink nail varnish is an amazing thing to do. I never got the chance. You helped me open my eyes. It’s been a long journey, we’ve lost an awful lot of writers and friends in the last few years and there’s so much still to learn and do, but in a way you’ve helped me be less afraid. I hope there’s wheelie bins in heaven, I’ll be watching for you putting yours out…
I will never forget Julia’s kindness and compassion when I too was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had so many worries of her own but made the time to come and visit me before I went to hospital. She became my Guardian Angel throughout that period and made me laugh about something that was and is so truly terrifying. I will miss her smile, her laughter and her warmth and feel so very privileged to have known her.
Crocodile Soup was such a warm, funny and uplifting book that from the first few pages of the typescript, I had pretty much decided I wanted to publish it. It was I think some time in 1997 and I was publisher of a new literary list, Anchor, and Julia’s writing — slightly left of field, but so fresh, engaging and individual — seemed exactly the right thing for us to be publishing. I can’t remember if there was much of an auction or not, but it took a pretty hefty offer to acquire it.
Once the deal was done I asked her agent, Jane Bradish Ellames, if I could have her phone number as I wanted to make contact with this wonderful new author of mine. ‘She’s in hospital’, Jane said. ‘Anything serious?’ I asked unprepared for the answer. ‘Well yes actually, she has breast cancer and she’s been in having another operation’. I must have sounded shocked and surprised, because I remember Jane telling me not to worry, Julia would be fine, she’d be out over the weekend and I’d be able to talk to her on the Monday. Monday came and indeed I did talk to her, and in fact learned that the further operation had been a second mastectomy to combat her cancer’s return. But despite her very recent release from hospital after such a serious operation and the terrible news she had just given me, I don’t remember experiencing any worry at all about finding the right words to express my sympathy. I simply didn’t get the chance. Even though this was our first encounter, Julia’s extraordinary exuberance and charm engulfed me even over the phone. I remember her joking that she was probably unconscious on the operating table when the final deal was struck. She just had a way of diverting people from the difficult questions and putting them at their ease.
In the background there was clearly a party going on. ‘There’s some friends round and we’re having some champagne to celebrate the deal,’ she explained. Her excitement was so totally infectious that the question of her illness was completely forgotten and we launched off into one of those mutually admiring conversations authors and editors have when they’re starting up a new relationship and everything looks rosy and hopeful. But I knew then what I still know now, that Julia was a very special person – someone rare, life-enhancing and courageous. I saw this again at the launch party for Crocodile Soup which was held in a Newcastle nightclub. It was easily the best party of its kind I have ever attended. There was not a hint of pretension or self-pity in the whole event, just enormous affection and fun radiating from Julia herself and from the large audience of friends, relatives and admirers who had come to wish her well.
Sadly the closure of the Anchor list in 2000 meant a parting of the ways for Julia and I, but her writing and publishing went on successfully with other publishers and I would occasionally log onto her website to find that her courage and spirit in the face of the return of her illness remained undaunted. The last conversation I had with her was a couple of years ago, in which she was characteristically enthusing about the many new authors she had been working with in the writers’ groups she helped organise in the North East. It’s wretched that this cancer she fought so bravely has taken from her family and friends when she was still so young and still had so much to give. But I have no doubt that the legacy she leaves behind with everyone who knew her is an extraordinary one. She was simply unforgettable and inspiring, and I am proud to have published her and feel much the richer for the brief acquaintance that being her publisher allowed me.
Curtis Brown Group Ltd
A small poem for an immensely-hearted person:
for Julia Darling
I said once, you had a one in a million
smile — not an underestimate I’d now make.
That last one you gave me, as your first: no ill
bled through, or masked. Just that look-embracing look.
Dark, light – the shadow stirred. You carried it — her —
as if a wayward child, mile after extra mile.
Those dumb cells. If they had sense, you’d have shouldered
them forever. They blanked instead, bulged with guile —
couldn’t tell own good staring them in the face.
The darker they quenched, the brighter you replaced
with petal-fall words. But shadows are heavy;
gather in black drifts.
Yet Julia, now you start
to smile all over — through a showing that tells me
how this sum we are exceeds its mortal hurt.
With Julia, where do you begin? I worked with her for a while with the RLF, where we ran some workshops for the Advisory Fellows. Meeting her was always something to look forward to. A first-class mind, and a warm and loving woman. And always, always, a laugh or two.
I’m so sad she’s left us. I really did feel that her work had blossomed and burgeoned — I don’t know how she managed to work so hard at such a consistent level. It’s just great that she got those last books out, but you do feel she had much more to give. In the end, Julia is one of those writers you want around in person. She did good. I’ll miss her.
I remember Julia in the early 1980s leading a drama session with an ‘Intermediate Treatment’ group. She was showing six wild Sunderland boys how to be trees . Never had I seen this bunch of 15 year olds so concentrated in their attention, so determined to be the best trees that they could for her.
Julia made us sing and laugh and speak poetry when we never intended to. She made each one of us feel special, but she was the special one.
Love to you as always — I shall think of you sliding on a double rainbow.
Another member of Julia’s creative writers’ group for ‘tired and busy people,’ I have spent the last few years working on a novel that is about to be published. Julia inspired me to begin; she encouraged me along the way while asking challenging questions about character and plot; she made me feel special for having produced a first draft (‘hardly anyone even gets to this stage!’) and she insisted that all agents are ‘terribly interested’ in unknown first novelists. When my magnum opus was soon rejected by agent after agent, Julia nodded sagely and said ‘oh I know, it’s terribly difficult for unknown first novelists to find an agent and publisher.’ Thank goodness she didn’t tell me that at the beginning – when I would surely have given up! That was Julia to me – so warm and encouraging, and generous with her attention and time.
Sean O’Brien wrote in his obituary that Julia inspired a sense of possibility – in writing and in life – among the many who encountered her. How true that has been in my case. I would only add that the way Julia lived her dying has been an inspiration as well.
Wherever you are Julia, I hope you’re at peace. I can well imagine you organising a writers’ group in Heaven’s waiting room.
The publishers of Sudden Collapses gave me a copy after my own breast cancer surgery. It inspired me so much I e-mailed Julia to thank her. I never expected a reply, yet there it was, within a very short time the same day. She said she hoped we’d meet some day. I know we shall. Then I can thank her for the inspiration and hope and positivity which have helped me and so many others. Goodnight, Julia. I’ll meet you one day.
I represented Julia and her prose writing for the last year of her life. She sent me the typescript of The Cure for Dying, her most recent, unfinished novel, last January. I read it and her previous novel, The Taxi Driver’s Daughter, and, like so many other of her readers, fell in love with Julia’s beguilingly humorous and humane narrative voice. I loved her curious eye for the surprising in the every day and her ability to find lyricism in (supposedly) ordinary events and lives. I also loved her hopefulness, her resilience and her great sense of faith in humanity’s potential for good: these personal qualities infused her writing style and the portrayal of her characters and the atmosphere of her novels. She was as uplifting a writer to read as she was to meet in person; and her writing had a confiding quality that made you feel special – just as when you met her, you felt singled out and charmed by her warmth and sweetness of personality, her intelligence and humour, and her sheer zest for life.
I was so impressed by the incredible range and richness of her creative work — including short stories, novels, poetry, plays, her weblog and her teaching of creative writing. What amazing energy and enthusiasm and generosity of spirit she had. She was a wonderful, inspiring writer and a truly lovely woman. I was very proud to be her agent, albeit sadly for so short a time, and I miss her very much.
Greene & Heaton Ltd
I first met Julia about twenty years ago amongst a whirlwind of women’s education courses, creative writing groups, International Women’s Day events and so on. We would often bump into each other at the metro station on our way to these various events, Julia pushing a pram with her eldest daughter inside.
Since then our lives have occasionally woven together at shared workplaces, social events or creative writing events.
I have fond memories of sitting at her kitchen table eating home made soup discussing the art of writing. She gave me encouragement and support with my own writing which gave me the confidence to continue with a writing project at that time.
I will always remember her warm smiles and that she would always stop to say hello. I will remember Julia as a brave but always warm and friendly woman who has touched the hearts of so many.
My thoughts are also to Bev and Julia’s daughters.
I met Julia when she came to Cockermouth in 2003 to do a reading and workshop for Slate on ‘Sympathy and Empathy’. Within minutes of meeting we were nattering over tea and biscuits in Jonty’s café. Although I spent so little time with Julia, I found her to be one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. She gave so freely of her of herself. Her workshop was a revelation. She had twenty-five people (mostly mutual strangers) focused and enthusiastic, working hard, buzzing with ideas. I have never experienced so much good energy at a writing workshop, so much laughter and openness. Everyone went away touched by her special gentleness and vitality. I liked her enormously and wish I had the chance to get to know her better. Notwithstanding her extraordinary oeuvre as a writer, her courage and integrity, she was, quite simply, a lovely person, and the world is a happier place because of her.
A few years ago Julia helped us develop the Common Knowledge arts in health network for Tyne and Wear Health Action Zone, and she immediately engaged participants in making the subject of art in health enter their personal experience. Her television piece last year for BBC’s Inside Out said more for art in health in 15 minutes than I’ve heard in 15 years.
Julia embodied art in health, always speaking about it from the everyday and the personal, looking into the heart of illness and finding healthy messages therein. Art in health is too often regarded as a treatment rather than as a channel for expression, which is probably why the health and medical sector challenge it to be evaluated as a clinical practice. But Julia’s web log shows it is about testimony and participation, and about celebrating the “difficult patient’s” experience – what better evidence can there be?
Centre for Arts and Humanities in Health and Medicine.
Yesterday I read these many tributes and thought I had nothing to add, but something came to me last night. I met Julia on many occasions over the years, at readings, workshops, just around, in lots of guises we shared – editor, promoter, writer, teacher. For a couple of years we helped pick the winners of the Northern Arts Writers Awards, before I worked here, and that was great fun – serious work she met with humour and concern for her fellow writers. And since working for Northern Arts and the Arts Council I’ve realised from a different position how important and unusual she was.
What came to me last night was the tone, the timbre, of Julia’s voice – I suddenly felt it again in my memory. For me her voice, which those who saw her perform, or who met her will recall now, captured all the generosity of spirit, all the humour, warmth and compassion Julia so naturally shared with many, many people. She always left me – and others, as is clear from these memories – feeling she had been pleased to see me – when the privilege was really all mine. My sympathies to her family.
Director, Arts & Development
Arts Council England, North East
I discovered Julia’s writing three years ago on the suggestion of numerous friends. I don’t know how it took me so long – take up Creative Writing in the North East at any time in the last decade and Julia’s work was beautifully unavoidable.
To me Julia was like a glow worm. She could light a room simply with her impish grin, and on speaking, sent out sparks of enthusiasm that continued to grow inside people long after.
I found her weblog extraordinarily moving – in her circumstances she should have been the one who was doing the taking, not the giving, yet there was often some nugget of existential wisdom that was truly magical and inspiring for all sorts of other scenarios.
Julia, may you party long with the other departed souls, that inhabit the shoes, that hang from trees in the Vale. I was just one face in the audiences at your readings who never got to say ‘hello’, but was touched hugely by your work and your life.
From across almost thirty years I have memories of an ever cheery Julia at Falmouth art school — warm, generous and completely lacking in connivance, yet still with a keen sense of social justice.
.. wish I’d kept in touch..
Thursday 8th April 2005
It seems cliché to write,
To send contemplative ‘Goodbye’s’
Inundated with heartfelt sympathy
Dressed in a sugary guise.
It feels wrong and raw
To defy my truest heart
For as long as i have known you
This disease has been a part.
Snapping at the heels of life
Prowling, ready to pounce.
Throwing body and mind into turmoil,
Made manifest ounce by ounce.
The waiting, makes an end surreal.
Numbs and undermines,
Obscure but familiar death,
Dampens the fear we feel.
Choking down the Solid Air
And never losing the will,
May You Never fear what is unknown
Retrospectively but happy you’ll wander Over the Hill.
So in the musical arms of John Martyn
Will you meet a peaceful end.
Know there are many you’ve touched deeply,
Used words as a comforting friend.
To the one I once knew
As my mummy in reserve
See this poem not written in vain
But as a creative dedication, to your inspirational verve.
Every time I came on this site i would find myself sitting down to write a poem, song or just a ramble about the world. As Julia’s health worsened, my thoughts were often with her. I logged on and read How to Behave With The Ill and in true form, sat down and wrote this poem for her. Regrettably, I didn’t mange to get it to her and so …. this poem inspired by and written for you, Julia, is available on-line…. I hope you’re still logging on and relishing in everybody’s loving and admiring words.
Thank you for inspiring me in what I love doing most.
Holly Reed Macrae
Dear site, dear readers,
My sincerest condolences first of all.
As in Keith Armstrong’s case, my fond memories concern mostly the international exchanges she was involved in. She performed, together with the Poetry Virgins, at a poetry festival I organised in Groningen, the Netherlands, in 1996. As I said, fond memories, because she was so good at conveying to young students – like myself at the time – the pleasures of poetry, both reading and performance-wise. I can safely say that their performance then inspired quite a few aspiring young poets to actively participate in creative writing/performances classes.
Poets from Groningen also went to Newcastle frequently, and she was sometimes willing to put some of us up for a night or two. I’ll never forget the advice she gave me when things started to happen for me literary-wise and I called her from Holland to ask her how she coped with success: eat lots of ice-cream! So I did and it helped. Thanks Julia.
To Bev, Scarlet and Florrie: she will be sorely missed and I sincerely hope all the memories on this site will help you get through this.