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Obituary in The Crack magazine May 2005

Julia Darling (1956 -2005)

Everyone connected with The Crack magazine was deeply saddened to learn of the recent death of Julia Darling, the Newcastle based writer. Robert Meddes reflects on her life and work.

“We had a great night at the Cumberland Arms on Tuesday….. a night when I loved Newcastle, and the community of people who live here…all the makers and thinkers, and smilers, and people that join in, and have opinions, and know how to enjoy themselves.”

The words of Julia Darling, taken from her weblog, May 28th, 2004.

Julia was born in Winchester in 1956 – strangely enough for a future writer, at the house in which Jane Austen died – but moved up to the north-east in 1980. Those words above – detailing her pride in where she worked and lived – were just one example of her evident love for the region. And if she did manage to take something out of living here, then she paid us back immeasurably through her work in community arts and the various local writing groups she helped set up and organize such as the Women’s Intellectual Group, The Poetry Virgins and proudWORDS. She had a real and very evident belief in the power of the written word, something which she discussed in the foreword to The Poetry Cure, an anthology which has just been published by Bloodaxe Books which she edited along with Cynthia Fuller. In it she talked about how poetry was: “essential, not a frill or a nicety. It comes to all of us when we most need it. As soon as we are in any kind of crisis, or anguish, that is when we reach out for poetry, or find ourselves writing a poem for the first time.”

Julia was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995 for which she was successfully treated, but it later recurred. Through her poetry however she was able to share with readers the strange peculiarities of that illness; its random devastation and how the world’s axis can suddenly shift. She met her condition with a furious response in regards to written output. Her first novel, Crocodile Soup, was published in 1998 and gained her national recognition and a place on the Orange longlist whilst The Taxi Driver’s Daughter (2003) was also well received and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Two poetry collections, Sudden Collapses in Public Places and Apology for Absence were also published in 2003 and 2004 respectively. These works served to highlight her truly idiosyncratic voice, and the way in which she could make us see the ‘ordinary’ with fresh eyes, something which also came through with absolute clarity on her weblog which was followed by hundreds. Now, her website has become a place for her fans and friends to cluster, and leave massages in her remembrance.

I smiled whilst browsing around the site and noticed that she had christened the link to her home page: ‘at home’. Not ‘home’ – like most other websites – but ‘at home’; just that little touch of the everyday which so informed her work. She will be sadly missed by the countless people she touched here in the north-east, her home for the last 25 years.

Our thoughts are with her family and friends.