←Back to Memories

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 had the honour, the pleasure and the fun of appearing in Eating The Elephant Julia’s play. I had read this amazing script and wondered what the author was like and then came the day when I walked into rehearsals to find this fab woman talking to our director Rachel. Needless to say that lovely woman was Julia and then began for me a friendship which I have cherished for the last eight years. I loved her dearly and will miss her dreadfully.

Monica Gibb

I was so saddened to hear that Julia had died last week ….. we have lost yet another great voice and immense personality to cancer. I knew Julia in the early 1980s in Newcastle. As an eager young feminist art student, I joined Sugar & Spikes, the women’s cabaret group she founded, and made them, along with Jazawaki women’s band, the subject of my dissertation and a lousy betamax video documentary on women in entertainment. In the past week I have had a few giggles remembering us in our pink boiler suits delivering sketches about caps in mouths to a bemused audience in a working men’s club on Tyneside ~ went down like a lead balloon I seem to remember! Julia was an inspiration ~ 100% committed, warm, funny, generous, talented, courageous …… much missed by so many. Wherever you are now Julia, I am sure you are flying. My thoughts are with Bev, Scarlet, Florrie and all of Julia’s close friends and family.

Sara Furse

I met Julia when I did publicity for Crocodile Soup. From our first telephone conversation I was charmed by her generosity, enthusiasm, patience and understanding. She made the often difficult and nerve-wracking publicity process feel easy and fun. Her launch party in Newcastle was the most exuberant and warm affair that I have ever organised. I loved calling her about reviews and interviews when we would end up chatting about life, shoes, families and children. I was pregnant with my first child then, and Julia always made me feel that she was more keen to hear about my bump then about her publicity tour. I loved her writing too, her humorous and humane voice, her original and lyrical view of ordinary lives. Funny, wise and honest, she was wonderful and exhilarating company. I feel privileged to have known her.

Tasja Dorkofikis
Random House

Julia gave a well attended and well received reading in Cockermouth on 18 December 1998. We laughed with her at the adventures of Gert Hardcastle in ‘Crocodile Soup’. Julia stayed overnight in Loweswater — a delightful guest — and another time stayed nearby one Christmas. The guest book entry I found today and it brought tears since the few words encapsulate her enjoyment and her life-force. "Thanks so much for the beautiful night at your house – the whiskey, the sausages, the books by my bed, and the sight of the lake out of the window". It will be a treasured entry. Thank you,Julia, for your many gifts.

Michael and Hetty Baron

This poem was written by Julia in response to a postal request from me asking her to listen to the song Acrobat by the band Maximo Park and write a response. It was part of a mail art project I was running at Waygood Gallery last summer. I’d asked 10 local bands / musicians to record some of their work onto the blank CD I’d sent which I then posted on to one of 10 writers. I paired Julia with Maximo Park. The band had written a song especially for the project – Acrobat, (which will feature on their first album – out next month). Julia really liked the song and responded almost immediately. I have posted her poem here as many will not have seen it before.

WHAT I AM NOT

I am not a pigeon, carrying this message.
I have no feathers. I live in Heaton.
I am not a parcel, I have no strings,
I am not registered, or overweight.
I am not an email, my words are tethered.
I am not a telephone, or a text.
I am an envelope, coming home to you.
I’m so flat, I can slip between your cracks.
And I will hold you, you will remember me.
Keep me in the quiet box beneath your bed.

Julia Darling

My love goes to everyone close to Julia

Topsy Qur’et

Julia was a student on our first-ever Arvon course and we hit it off straight away. I can fetch up so many memories of larky days at Lumb Bank over the years. Here’s one for her much-loved daughters: early morning in the garden, in maybe 1989, Julia wailing across the valley to the hillside opposite ‘I miss my babies’.

I met her last in 2003 at the launch of her brilliant book of poems Sudden Collapses in Public Places: she was on top form and the audience loved her work and her performance. She told me that she still kept a card I’d sent her over ten years earlier. That was Julia all over – a generous and good friend. Julia my dear, here’s to the next life. Meanwhile, I’ll think of you rolling a fag with the angels.

Susan Burns

The very first time I picked up Julia we talked a while. It was raining and it seemed foolish to get out of the car when she was early. It might stop we both said. I talked to her about my football articles for The Mag – a Newcastle United fanzine. She told me about her ongoing work as a writer in residence and about her latest ideas. She used Five Star taxis all the time and I picked her up several times after that. I now knew she had ‘been through the mill’ and you know something – she never moaned. I thought she had won her big battle. However, working mainly on the management side in the office and not on the road, meant I hadn’t seen her for a while. I often wondered which of the lads were now picking her up and giving her some little anecdotes for another Taxi Drivers Daughter. So now, on the very day I had sent my book idea off to a publisher I am confronted by a newspaper article reporting that Julia has been taken from us. Well, the nice idea, rejection email, came the very next day. So quick.

What would Julia do – I thought?

Keep on trying, sounds good to me and for the brief moment our lives crossed, the inspiration and motivation was worth its weight in gold.

Tony Fiddes

A bright light has gone out in all our lives. She will be much missed.

Jennifer Hinves

words, music, laughter,
shared under that bleached red umbrella,
echo still.

Paul G. Whittaker
Wyncote PA, USA

I learned about Julia’s death last Saturday [16 April] while I was in Peru. My partner had e-mailed the news to me, she had cried on learning of Julia’s death, and both I and my travelling companion were deeply saddened. Julia’s life had some how touched our own.

I first encountered Julia and her work in 1989. Although I was introduced to Julia a number of times by friends who had worked with her, I think it is more than fair to say we did not know each other. She may have vaguely recognised me, like one does with strangers one repeatedly encounters. I was more than gratified that Julia did acknowledge some vague recollection of me on a couple of occasions.

I was a bit in awe of Julia. Even on our first meeting, I remember I blustered on about how wonderful her poetry was, and seconds after felt entirely crap about how engraceiating I must have come across as. Subsequent encounters were a lot less profuse, I tried to act kind of cool while my heart was fluttering.

Over the years I have seen Julia read on a number of occasions, I have attended her plays, read her books and listed to her work on the radio. A meagre poem of my own even shared pamphlet space with one of hers back in the late 80’s. For the last 7 years or so I have had one of her poems pinned up at work, The Shipping Forecast. So you could say I am a bit of a fan!

My own work is in the area of mental health, and I have mentioned Julia’s work as an example of the use of poetry as an aid and support for people to promote and direct their own well being. This is one of the powerful legacies which Julia has left.

My sympathy goes out to her family and all who knew her. As we all know she was much loved and she will be greatly missed.

Allison Mosley

I’ve just come back from teaching my first course at Arvon. There was a photo of Julia with Jackie Kay in my room and lots of photos of writers all over the house.

I remember: the time Julia booked me an appointment to have all my hair cut off, and hot raspberries and ice cream.

She lit lots of candles in me, the kind of candles that can’t ever be put out.

P.S. I love the idea of A Waiting Room in August being on the wall for people to read. Would be great if it happened up and down the country.

P.P.S I am going to send a copy of The Poetry Cure to the hospital where I had my hip op and hope that my consultant reads it. Hope everyone will send it to their doctors too!

Louise Tondeur

I have known Julia for many years but only became close in the last four when she invited me to join her in creating work for medical practitioners. I then joined her for creative writing sessions on Friday afternoons and they brightened up my week. She also recommended me for roles in her radio plays and I was lucky enough to play Maureen in Appointments earlier this year. Typical of Julia, she sent me a lovely card thanking me for my contribution but SHE wrote the words, I only read them.

Like most people, I shall miss her smiles and laughter and her generosity of spirit. She would lighten my day when I felt down. I wish Bev, Scarlet and Florrie the strength to carry on without her and I send my best wishes to her parents and family members.

Val McLane

I didn’t know Julia well; but like many another I won’t forget her joy in living, her exuberance, her sheer, wonderful, extravagance of human warmth.

Was it perhaps not accidental that my eye was caught, last week, by a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that I hadn’t seen before? It’s called Odette R …, but I hope my version, below, can have another title:

Julia D …

Tears – the deepest – they rise!

When a life has fully risen
and out of clouds of its own heart-sorrow
falls again – we call this rain death.

But more vivid, to us now deprived
will then be the dark,
more precious, to us now enriched, the curious
kingdom of Earth.

Michael Ayton

LAST PORTRAIT

Slightly to the left, you are sitting
in my best chair, an amazing blaze

of red velvet; its delicious sheen
picking up the crimson on your cheeks,

your laughing lips. You’d thought
long and hard about the hat, settled

in the end on the one from Mongolia
with its silver steeple and stately black.

Velvet again; so much of you smooth
and inviting, reckless and glorious.

We joke everyone will want to stroke you,
steal some of your magic. Meanwhile,

there are feathers – ostrich and peacock –
and you want to know how to sit

like Grace Paley or Mary Seacole,
feet firmly planted, plenty of space

and rich soil. Your eyes are dancing;
two moons dreaming of a bigger world

for our children, more trees hung with shoes.
See, Julia, see how you’ve managed it:

by telling the truth you cast a spell
and all the edges disappeared,

leaving no trace, no trace of a frame.

Linda France

In Nov 2004 I sent an e-mail to Julia and to my delight she responded, with the ease and good cheer that one would expect from a dear friend. She was muse, inspiration, the very heart of courage. Impish and laughing; serious and determined. She had wide arms that embraced all the edge-walkers, eccentrics, and weary people. She gave me a glimpse of the art of living and the arduous task of dying while still filled with life. So much to do. I feel she will not want to "rest in peace" for very long! She will be up and doing, moving us along in our dreams, throwing shoes and gauntlets into our paths, so we stop and question, remember to get on with living, appreciate every breath, every step. To write, write, write and never to give up.

My love to Julia’s beloved; and to all her family and friends.

Suzanne Duce

Julia was uncomfortable with expressions on the lines of "after a long fight against cancer", and certainly to think of Julia is to think of someone working with, rather than against. For all the time we knew her, cancer was part of her life, not as something to be accepted meekly – her lively interest in treatment of all kinds is reflected in her weblog – but as something that she was living with, rather than dying from.

The tributes and memories that have flooded in to this website return again and again to the theme of her generosity. Specifically, she was generous with herself; everyone who knew her even slightly felt that there was a bit of Julia that was theirs – an evening, a poem, a workshop, a conversation – something that made her a special friend. She didn’t raise barriers, she opened herself to others.

This quality shaped her writing: it also fed other writers’ work. Again and again the other night, at the gathering that was to be her last launch and which became her wake, we heard the word "inspiration". At workshops, as a publisher, as a fellow-writer, she brought out the best in others.

The same applies to us, with her website. George Orwell said that "Good prose is like a windowpane"; so is a good website. When we receive compliments about Julia’s site – and, better still, when we don’t, when people comment that it’s very pink, very Julia – I know that we are among the artists and craft workers Julia has inspired to better, simpler, more creative work.

It has been a joy and a privilege to know her.

Jean Rogers and Roger Cornwell

Julia and I did a couple of gigs together at the Cheltenham Lit Fest: several years ago, in her days as a Poetry Virgin, and again more recently, when The Taxi Driver’s Daughter was freshly published.

She always smiled, always gave, always belonged among the brighter shades of rainbows. I shall look for her again when sun and rain kiss the sky.

Marcus Moore

Dear Julia

You were a star right up to the final bell
Still kept writing while trying to stay well
Battling with the beast until it won
You never gave in to a loaded gun
A literary Queen to an audience wide
A light went out on the day you died.
You won our hearts and fed our minds
Your plays, poetry and books touched many kinds
Always giving encouragement to the novice writer
And taking the time to champion a fighter
I’ll never forget the help you gave me
Launching my book to make money for charity

Dear Julia long may you reign in peoples hearts.

A personal tribute from Sylvia Mitchell

I would like to offer my condolences and those of Lapidus. Julia was due to take part in our conference in early April and was sorely missed. Some of our members wanted to dedicate time and space to her and read from her web diary and her poetry.

I met her a couple of years ago at a poetry workshop in Derby and used her book Sudden Collapses in Public Places to great effect while I was Writer in Residence in Nottinghamshire Hospice last year.

We are just putting together our next issue of our magazine and are hoping to include a personal tribute to Julia by one of our members.

Sheelagh Gallagher
Editor, Lapidus

I didn’t know Julia, but was moved to buy her book of poems, Sudden Collapses, when I heard her reading on the radio. She captured brilliantly the pain and humour of the hospital visits I was going through following my own diagnosis with breast cancer. I visited her website regularly to check in and see how she was doing, and always felt cheered by her writing. I am thankful that her voice lives on through her writing.

Claudia McConnell

×