She died at the height of her writing career, with a new book,The Poetry Cure, about to be published, a collection of her plays for radio and television underway, a play, Manifesto for a New City, touring the North East and with a visual art/poetry project,First Aid Kit for the Mind, a collaboration with the artist Emma Holliday, in production.
Recently, Julia had been using her personal experience of cancer as her creative subject, especially in her poetry. She produced two life-enhancing collections of poems, Sudden Collapses in Public Places and Apology for Absence, in which she creatively responded to her life with cancer and suggested how poetry and humour could be used to combat both pain and suffering. She was also a fellow in writing and health at Newcastle University's School of English, where she used her gifts to pioneer creative writing teaching within medical training and set up projects with hospitals and doctors.
"Working with Julia as a winner of the Writer's Award was an honour and delight. Her uplifting and inspiring work has already touched many lives and will continue to do so for years to come. We're proud that our award played a part in supporting the work of such a creative and generous writer. Our thoughts are now with her partner Bev and with her daughters, Scarlet and Florrie."
Fiona Ellis, Director of Northern Rock Foundation
"The North has lost a seminal writer. A writer who, through her work, helped to both define and challenge the region she called home. Julia was a leading light of the literary scene in the North East, a writer who befriended many, who generously shared her work, her ideas and her experiences, not only with the literary crowd but also with the wider community. She had both a high literary sensibility and the ability to touch a broad range of people with her work. The region is a poorer place without her. She will be deeply missed."
Claire Malcolm, Director of New Writing North
Julia chronicled her life and her creative endeavours on her website at www.juliadarling.co.uk. The very personal and witty blog that she kept continues to be an inspiration for many people. The website is now also a home to tributes to her and to her work.
Julia leaves behind partner Bev and daughters Scarlet and Florrie.
Imagine yourself in a space suit, floating through dust,
and that you are the only life on a spinning planet,
because whatever the news, you are still alive,
and you can still tell jokes. Tell the doctor a joke.
Or turn back time, and live in a pressure pot of memory.
You can do that. You can ignore calendars and clocks.
Denial is useful. So is a kind of grinning madness.
You are very lucky to live in a warm house, and think
Of your vast bath, and the way that you lie in it, gazing
at the clouds shifting, the pigeons flying home. No one
can take that away from you. And your mother.
Not many women have a mother like yours, brave,
original, who tends your universe, and the future.
Sometimes I think there is no such thing as terrible,
only blocked things, lost words, souls that missed the train.
From Apology for Absence, Arc Publications
The Poetry Cure (edited with Cynthia Fuller)
Publisher: Bloodaxe Books, 2005
Apology for Absence
Publisher: Arc Publications, 2004
The Taxi Driver's Daughter
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd, 2004
Sudden Collapses in Public Places
Publisher: Arc Publications, 2003
Live Theatre: Six Plays from the North East
Publisher: Methuen Publishing Ltd, 2003
Tangles and Starbursts: Living with Dementia (created with photographer Sharon Bailey)
Publisher: Alzheimer's Disease Society, 2001
Snap Shots: Ten Years of the Ian St. James Award
Publisher: Angela Royal Publishing, 1999
Publisher: Arrow, 1998 and Penguin Books Ltd (paperback), 2004
Publisher: Panurge Publishing, 1995
Julia Darling was born in Winchester in 1956 and grew up in the house that Jane Austen died in.
After attending, and being expelled from, a number of different schools, she went to arts college in Cornwall and then moved to the North East, where she became a founding member of the Poetry Virgins, who performed poetry in unexpected places to bring it to a wider audience.
Julia developed a successful career as a writer in many forms, from poetry and novels to plays for the stage and for radio. She published one book of short stories, Bloodlines, and two novels: Crocodile Soup (Arrow) and The Taxi Driver's Daughter (Viking).
Her first poetry collection, Sudden Collapses in Public Places (Arc), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation in 2003. The book is dedicated to the staff of the Northern Centre for Cancer Treatment in Newcastle.
"Anyone who has ever spent any time in a hospital or in a hospital waiting room will love these poems, anyone who has ever been to the doctor or felt ill or had to fill in a form will love these poems. That covers everyone. Here are poems about a difficult, scary subject, cancer, that circle around it lightly, on light dancing feet, and every so often whack you on the head."
"Narrating her experience and survival of one of the hardest-to-master kinds of loss, cancer, Julia Darling writes it not so it looks 'like disaster', but an adventure that carries us beyond distress and disturbance into comedy and delightful surprise."
In 2001, Julia Darling was writer in residence at Live Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne. Her plays for Live includeAttachments (recently developed as a sitcom pilot, Cold Calling, by Tyne Tees and Northern Film and Media) andThe Last Post (a play about the importance of writing letters, inspired by conversations with retired post office staff).
When she died, Julia was working on a new novel that had involved a recent research trip to Brazil to observe the work of the healer John of God, who performs miracle operations in the jungle.