Interview with
interview by Mike

Late last year I caught up with the editor of, Judy Darley, and asked her all kinds of questions. Normally she is in the interviewer seat, so it was time to turn the tables ...

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I’m a freelance writer and editor based in Bristol. I divide my time between writing fiction and producing features for magazines and websites. In the past fortnight, commissions have included a feature on Norwegian knitwear and one on pampering at spas, so there’s a lot of variety involved. I specialise in writing about travel, culture and literature, though, and run a website for writers called

What's your ideal night out/in?

The best night out for me is in a restaurant with friends, preferably in a foreign city.

What is your favourite book?

When I was a child, I loved Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time, and then I discovered Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mocking Bird, which was my introduction to ‘grown up’ reading.
I’m currently reading How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall, and am completely captivated. She has a knack of encapsulating her characters’ thought processes in a series of exquisite sentences.

Can you tell us what is all about?

It’s a website for all kinds of writers, from playwrights to satirical columnists: the aim is to make it as inclusive as possible. I accept submissions from a huge range of writers, which keeps the content lively and the voice varied, giving contributors a chance to showcase their writing and readers a chance to be provoked and entertained.
The website also includes masses of information on writing courses, competitions, jobs and so on to equip visitors to pursue every writing avenue possible.
As my background is in travel writing (I was previously Features Editor on Spanish Homes magazine and have written for Portugal, the Italian and Greece Magazine), I’ve recently starting publishing travel features on locations where writers can go and be inspired.

How did Essential start?

One day I was searching for a website that would meet my needs as a working journalist and aspiring author. It turns out that kind of website didn’t exist. The same day I bumped into a former colleague who had gone into business building websites and pairing them up with editors with ideas. He liked my ideas and was born.

What kind of growth has it gone through to get to what it is today?

It’s grown hugely in the past year. The website has only been active since October 2008, and to begin with I was the only person working on it. Now I have writers providing regular reviews and features, but I still do the bulk of the work on it.
I’ve been really charmed by the number of people who have contacted me to let me know how much they enjoy the website and how useful they find it.

Highs and lows during the years?

I’ve found that the recession has made sourcing freelance writing work much more difficult than previously, and then when I do get a commission the challenge becomes fitting in the time to work on the website.
The most exciting moments are when a writer contacts me out of the blue and asks to be involved in some way.

How did you build your reputation?

Through making contacts with likeminded people, being friendly and approachable but very focused. Networking is a big part of it, and, luckily, that’s something I really enjoy.

What's it like working at home? Do you find it distracting or do you feel isolated?

I try to make sure I arrange to go out and meet people most days, so I get at least a couple of hours of human interaction. I find that some days I need more quiet than others, but whenever I get stuck for inspiration or motivation heading out for a short walk or meeting revs me right up again.

Any interesting stories from Essential Writer's dealings with authors or publishers?

Everyone I’ve dealt with has been really lovely, though I did get the feeling that playwright Mark Ravenhill was distracted. I was interviewing him over the phone and I kept hearing sloshing noises throughout our conversation. I think he was either doing the washing up while we were chatting, either that or he was having a bath. I think his mind wandered when the water began to get cold…

Where do you hope to take in the future?

Eventually I would like it to be self-supporting so I can give it my undivided attention rather than trying to squash it in around everything else.

What do you make of the current climate for new writers?

It certainly isn’t an easy time for new writers, or even established writers, but I do believe that if you want it enough and work at it hard enough, you’re in with a chance.

Can you offer any advice to new writers?

Be in it for more than the money. Listen to every piece of advice you’re given and don’t take criticism to heart – it could be the most useful thing you’re ever told.

How would you like to see the publishing industry develop in the future?

I hope there will be more opportunities for new talent.

What is your view on self-publishing?

When I was Features Editor at Spanish Homes Magazine, I reviewed countless self-published books written by lovely people whose friends had told them to give it ago. A lot of the time the stories were great, but needed some drastic editing. It’s a horrible thing to come across a typo in a published book, and I’d like to think that going the traditional route will help prevent that in a way that having your friends and neighbours read it can’t.
That said, I think it depends on what you’ve written and your reasons for writing it. A detailed memoir of your grandfather’s exploits in Burma may not have mass appeal but it would be a priceless legacy to give your children.

You describe yourself as an aspiring author, what are you working on and what have been your experiences in trying to get published?

I’ve been writing novels since I was about 12. Well, I thought they were novels but at that point they were rather convoluted short stories. Over the past few years I’ve completed a novel I really believe in and I’m currently seeking representation.
Late 2008/early 2009 Rogers, Coleridge and White got really interested in the novel and helped me to revise it loads then decided not to take it on after all. I went through a mad maelstrom of emotions, ranging from elation that the book was good enough to be taken seriously and bitter disappointment that I was effectively back at square one, albeit with a drastically improved plot-line.
My main problem, I think, is that the majority of my writing is idea-driven, rather than plot-driven. I need to take control of my characters and make them get involved in what happens rather than letting them drift dreamily from event to event!

Finally you say you like a challenge, what activity would really take you out of your comfort zone?

I love to travel, because it always takes me out of my comfort zone, especially if I’m going somewhere with an unfamiliar language and customs. I always experience a frisson of nerves before I go somewhere new, and I find that really exhilarating. Being a bit scared is a good thing – it stops you getting too complacent!

Thanks Judy good luck with the site.

Thanks, I really enjoyed being at the other end of the questions for once!

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