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In Memory of Judy Cumberbatch

March 24, 2022

In her forties, Judy joined a children’s writing course, in a scruffy classroom in the Hornsey Road. There she met some like-minded people, some of whom became forever-friends. With them, she helped found the critique group Islington Writers for Children which is still going strong, 27 years on. For the rest of her life it was her passion to write for kids, and also to give supportive, insightful feedback to other writers.

She published two children’s books. “I can see the sea” is a picture book based on her childhood in Ghana, published by Bloomsbury. And “Sandstorm” published by CUP is a mysterious time-shift story about two girls, set in Egypt. Most recently she worked on a novel set in war-torn Syria, the ending for which she was thinking about just two weeks before she died. Judy’s writing was beautiful and powerful. She had a wonderful talent for conjuring a moment in time and place, transporting you right there with the mention of an exotic smell or a glimpse of someone’s veined hands pouring tea. But it is as a strong, caring presence, always interested in and ready to act on behalf of others that she will be best remembered by her Islington writer-group friends.

Marion Rose

These are beautiful words by Marion about our good friend and fellow-writer Judy. Judy’s book ‘Can you hear the Sea?’ Is a delightful and colourful tale and was a firm favourite of our granddaughter. I was pleased to see it displayed in a Science display in a local primary school.
I remember being able to “see” the colourful inside of a Syrian house simply by listening to Judy’s most recent story set in war-torn Syria.
Like Marion, I also remember Judy for her care for and interest in others.. We shall all miss her.

Odette Elliott

I only knew Judy for a short time before she fell ill but I always admired her writing. It was beautifully written and very powerful. Our group will miss her.

Sunita Nahar

I met Judy around the time my first son was born about thirty years ago. Elizabeth Hawkins was amalgamating her two workshop groups at Montem School and she was in the rival group. In a few short years, a number of us, including Judy, had set up our own group, Islington Writers for Children. Over the years, people came and went but Judy was always a constant, offering helpful feedback and support, and sharing her beautiful writing with us.
In the early days, we would often visit each other for one-to-one critique sessions and later she would regularly host the group meetings. I chatted to her recently on Facebook so it seems all the more unreal that she is no longer with us.
Rest in peace, Judy, you won’t be forgotten.

John O’Leary

I joined the Islington Writers for Children Group in 2007 so I was lucky enough to know Judy for many years and we frequently met in each other’s houses. I admired her talent hugely and her comments on my own work were always spot on. I learnt so much from her, as well as being captivated by her own fictional contributions. I’m devastated that I shall never know how her wonderful Syrian story turned out – and that wasn’t the only story where she left us desperate for more. I shall miss her.

Rachel Summerson (Elizabeth Hawksley)

When critiquing someone else’s writing Judy knew instinctively what to say. She knew that there is a fine line between ‘telling it as it is’ and offering the right words that encourage the writer to keep on writing. When Judy spoke it was heart-felt and honest … but she was always kind. Her words inspired me, and they were much appreciated. She was a lovely lady and she will be sorely missed.

Megg Nicol

I feel so sad that Judy died in March. I am sorry that she will not be finishing the wonderful story of the two boys which she was writing and bringing to the group for feedback when she first became ill. I had hoped that she would eventually be well enough to participate in the group again.

My memories of Judy include how welcoming she was when I first joined the group, her own captivating writing, and her thoughtful feedback for others on their drafts, and general encouragement of our writing.

Clare Tovey

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