Margaret Graham at Hampshire Writers’ Society

The Society’s evening’s proceedings commenced with Dr Judith Heneghan (2018 Winchester Writers’ Festival [15-17thJune] director), who in a brief slot outlined the extensive programme of events planned for this year.  The festival’s Keynote Speaker is to be novelist and playwright, Patrick Gale (A Perfectly Good Man, The Whole Day Through and the Richard and Judy bestseller Notes From an Exhibition) who is headlining a festival aimed at extending a panoply of writing opportunities.  Whether one is interested in crime or thrillers, contemporary, historical or literary fiction, fantasy and speculative work, poetry, scriptwriting, nonfiction or writing for children up to YA there is something of interest.  Bursaries, including ten free scholarship weekend packages for writers aged between 18-25, are available on application.  There are also full scholarship packages for writers of any age involved in producing work for children generously funded by the Lindsay Literary Agency.  Finally, a number of £50 bursaries, again for writers of any age are available to apply for.  Further details, too numerous to include here, are available at the Winchester Writers’ Web pages.

Special Guest: Margaret Graham

A-Day-in-the-Life-of-bestselling-author-MARGARET-GRAHAM-2

Due to address the society last June, Margaret Graham found herself indisposed as a result of an unfortunate domestic accident and those in attendance at that original meeting heard instead from Tracy Baines.  This time around Tracy found herself part of the audience and so it was with great pleasure that Gary Farnell finally welcomed Margaret to April’s gathering.  Margaret started her talk by echoing Judith Henaghan’s message about the benefits of attending this year’s Winchester Writers’ Festival but the main theme of her talk was to do with writing craft focussing on the specifics of structure.

A novel way of underscoring the points that Margaret was keen to share was by drawing on the fairy tale Cinderella. It became apparent that this relatively simple and much-loved story relies on the well-established components of the universally common structural story form that Margaret was insistent must be adhered to.  These are:

  • Plot and Subplot
  • Characters
  • Motivation
  • Theme
  • Tension and Conflict
  • Exposition
  • Unique Voice

It is not sufficient, we were told to have one main plot (which in this example is Cinderella’s emancipation and marriage) there is also a need to have subplots operating within the narrative.  The Ugly Sisters machinations, cruelty and jealousy, ultimately thwarted during the climax of the story, offer intriguing and tension-filled counterpoints to Cinderella’s journey from domestic enslavement to high marriage.  The characters are all easily distinguished from each other but crucially, Cinderella’s a mentor Buttons also acts as a moralistic example of self-sacrifice balancing the amoral Sisters behaviour.

Cinderella’s motivation for action is her desire to ‘go to the ball’ and the reader starts to root for her and to discover if she succeeds and overcomes the injustices that she is faced with.  For it is injustice that is the underlying theme of the piece, as such one of the universal human experiences is investigated allowing the reader to empathise with Cinderella’s predicament.  Of course, there are several points in the arc where it is far from certain that there will be the happy ending that everyone craves and this gives rise to the all-important element of tension that every good narrative arc requires to succeed.    Exposition comprises of the information contained in the action wherein the reader discovers the nuances of the story.  The story must drive forward never standing still and thereby risking stagnation and reader-indifference.  In terms of unique voice, each writer will bring an element of this to their own work and thereby set it successfully apart from others within and outwith their chosen genre

Keynote Speakers: Mayor David McLean, General Sir Tony Walker and Caroline Scott

Hyde900 is a community project, originally established to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the founding of Hyde Abbey, continues to develop and has now evolved into something that has become an integral part of the cultural fabric of Hyde in particular and Hampshire more generally.  Caroline Scott and  General Sir Tony Walker, supported by the Mayor of Winchester David McLean, spoke of the Hyde Soldiers Initiative, a part of the wider Hyde 900 project part of which seeks to research and document the lives of the soldiers of the First World War who are commemorated in St Bartholomew’s Church, Hyde.

Through her involvement in the Soldiers of Hyde initiative, Caroline has become affected by the soldiers’ individual stories and has researched the particular story of James Lovelock.  James’ surviving relatives made it clear to Caroline that whilst there is a national incentive to memorialise the mass of casualties from the wars there is a dearth of will to find out about individuals involved.

Apart from collecting information on regiment, rank and age, Caroline is keen to explore the personal stories behind the names, to bring to the attention of those living in Hyde today, a concept of how the community was directly affected by the terrible events of the time.  Caroline asked that those interested joining a working party or who enjoy research could become involved in what promises to be a fascinating task, of collecting and collating relevant details to further the aims of the project. Equally, if anyone has any information on any of the soldiers who so sadly did not return, all leads are welcome at this initial stage.

With this theme in mind, General Sir Tony Walker to the mic to highlight the current Hyde 900 theme of ‘Homecoming’.  He spoke of how having access to poetry during his time as a career soldier was a great source of inspiration and comfort and in light of that introduced the forthcoming poetry competition on the theme of ‘Homecoming’.  He and his colleagues encouraged participation from Hampshire Writers and everyone looks forward to reading lots of entries.  Again, further information is available by visiting the Hyde 900 online.

 

 

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March 2018 Competition Results – Becky Bagnell Adjudication

Literary Agent specialising in children’s books and founder of Lindsay Literary Agency, Becky Bagnell kindly spared some time in her busy diary to adjudicate the March 2018 competition.

Becky Bagnell adjudicating March 2018
Becky Bagnell announces her adjudication

Write 300 words, for readers aged 9-12, about an incredible secret that if discovered could change the planet or the people on it.

Becky’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Scott Goldie with Beware Mr. Tibbles

Second Place: Linda Welch with M.A.P

Third Place: Kim A Howard with How it Began

Highly Commended: Nancy Saunders with The Friendly Ear Detective Agency

Highly Commended: Anthony Ridgeway with The Host

 

Competition Winners March 2018
L to R: Linda Welch, Nancy Saunders, Anthony Ridgeway, Scott Goldie and Kim Howard

First Place: Beware Mr. Tibbles by Scott Goldie

“Beware Mr Tibbles has been selected for first prize because from the very first sentence the author creates an intriguing set of circumstances that would excite the interest of a young reader. The child protagonist, Sam, is at the very heart of the action and, what could be more important than saving the world from an evil cat empire hidden undercover in unsuspecting ordinary homes and houses across the UK?”

I jolted awake, found dad’s face an inch away from mine.

“Quiet,” he hissed. He glanced around nervously with blood-shot eyes, reached into his jacket pocket, thrust a dog-eared notebook at me. “Keep this safe. He mustn’t know you have it.”

“What?” I managed, sitting up in bed. “Who?”

Scott Goldie - March 2018 winner
Scott Goldie reads his winning submission

 

“Mr Tibbles! He mustn’t get his claws on that book.”

Somebody beat on the front door, making it shake in its frame. “Police!” A deep voice shouted. “Open up!”

“Mr Tibbles?” I said incredulously. “Dad, the police…?”

“He isn’t what he seems. None of them are. They control everything! The government, the police. The army!”

“What’re you talking about?”

“The cats, Sam!” he hissed, eyes bulging. “The cats!”

“Cats?” I knew dad had his moments but had he completely lost his mind?

“Hide it,” he said. “No, not under the pillow, you fool!”

There was a crash from downstairs, the sound of wood splintering. A man’s voice drifted up. “We know you’re here, Dr Atkins. Don’t give us any trouble.”

Dad swallowed nervously. “Keep it safe. It’s all in there. How to beat them. How to win!” He reached out and squeezed my shoulder. “Love you, son.”

He went quietly. I quickly hid the book and then watched the car take him away, its lights flashing.

The police searched the house. I watched them rifling through my room, pulling out drawers, checking under the mattress, lifting carpets. But they didn’t find the book. No, it stayed buried in the sawdust at the bottom of Fatso’s hamster cage.

“Your dad not give you anything?” an overweight policeman asked, tapping a stubby pencil on his notebook.

“No,” I replied. Mr Tibbles sat in the doorway behind him. His enormous green eyes blinked lazily.

“Right, think we’re done then.” The officer sniffed loudly, turned and almost stumbled over the cat.

“Beg pardon!” he blurted. Touching his cap, he edged carefully past Mr Tibbles.

 

Second Place: M.A.P by Linda Welch

“M.A.P. has been selected for second prize because the author has shown a strong understanding of what it is to be a child. Swiftly moving from an ordinary day at the seaside to the discovery of an underwater merworld, hooks the reader in a compelling way.”

Something was creating a sandstorm in the rock-pool so Jamie lay down on his tummy to get a closer look.  He was sure he could hear voices, but they were very faint.  He dipped his ear below the surface and the sound was suddenly amplified.  Whoever they were, they didn’t sound happy!  Jamie took a deep breath and put his whole head underwater, opening his eyes and he could hardly believe what he saw – mermaids!   He’d only seen them in books before, and in cartoons.  He never thought he’d see a real one!  But there were dozens of them, no bigger than his little finger, swimming back and forth across the bottom of the rock-pool.

‘Order!’ shouted a bearded merman, carrying what looked like a pitchfork, and the others stopped grumbling and listened.  ‘Mer-folk Against Pollution has always been a peaceful organisation but where has that got us?  Nowhere!  Our homes are being destroyed by pollution and the time for action has come!  The time for the M.A.P. to return all pollutants to the land has come!’

Suddenly the ring-pull from a drinks can that Jamie hadn’t even noticed shot up through the water and plopped onto the sand beside him.    He pulled his head out of the water and sprang to his feet.  He had to tell someone what they were planning, they couldn’t just start throwing things out of the water onto the beach!  But as he ran back to his parents he realized the little merman was right.  Humans shouldn’t be polluting the seas.  It would serve everyone right if all the rubbish they dumped was thrown right back at them.

His run slowed to a walk and he changed his mind about telling his parents.  He would keep the M.A.P. and their plans a secret.

 

Third Place: How it Began by Kim A Howard

“How it Began has been selected for third prize because it has an intriguing central idea. Two children discovering a set of photos of themselves living in a long forgotten past world seemed like a tantalising initial set up.”

‘Careful where you point that thing,’ Jess yelled.  Her hand jerked up to block the fierce light of her brother’s torch from her face.

‘Keep out of the way, then,’ Ross grumbled.  ‘I can’t see through you.  There’s something on a ledge back there I want to take a look at.  Shift.’

Jess turned round cautiously, her feet feeling for hazards on the cave floor.  In her head she imagined rocks, craters and skeletons.  Her eyes followed the line of torch light to an alcove just above her shoulder height.  Ross was right.  A small package rested on its shadowy depths.  She stepped forward.

‘Hands off – I saw it first,’ he pushed her out of the way and she stumbled sideways, sitting abruptly on a large boulder, the breath whooshing from her body.  Ross struggled to keep the torch focussed on the package as he tried to undo its wrappings.

‘Why don’t you sit down?  You can hold the torch while I open it,’ Jess said.

‘I found it.  You can hold the torch.’  Ross thrust it into her hand and dropped to the floor in front of her.

‘OK, but be gentle.  You don’t want to break it.  We’ve no idea how long it’s been down here.  It could be fragile.’

‘It feels weird,’ said Ross.  It’s not like paper or plastic.  I don’t… oh!’

‘What?’

‘I pressed this knob and it just popped open.  Look.’  From inside the wrapping Ross pulled a bundle of slippery, postcard sized pictures.  They spilled out onto the floor between him and his sister.  Every one showed two children – a boy and a girl – staring straight into the lens.  Some were in old fashioned clothing, some in outlandish costumes and some stood in other-worldly landscapes.  Jess and Ross spoke in unison.

‘That’s us!’

Highly Commended: The Friendly Ear Detective Agency by Nancy Saunders

“The Friendly Ear Detective Agency is highly commended. This is a funny idea together with a lot of humour in the writing itself, which is quite rare to find.”

There was too much talking in The Friendly Ear headquarters for anyone to think. Chief
Detective Birdsnest stood in front of a map sellotaped to the side of the shed. Clusters of red pins sprouted across the town of Nether Wallop like a nasty rash. Birdsnest tapped the map impatiently with a stick.

‘Listen up!’ She raised her voice over the excited chattering of other three detectives.

They immediately fell quiet and turned expectantly towards the map.

‘This,’ Birdsnest said, pointing at a patch of green, ‘is Staghead Wood. On the twenty
seventh of January,’ she paused for effect, ‘Mrs Higgleberry’s dog – we’ll call him Rover for  now – lost his name. It hasn’t been heard of since.’

Detective Scooter leaped up from the old sofa and pulled a postcard from the back pocket of his jeans.

‘I almost forgot,’ he said, doing his best to ignore Birdsnest’s glare. ‘This came this morning from my cousin in Australia.’ He began to read from the back of a picture of the Sydney Opera House. ‘Hey mate, how’s it goin’ blah blah blah. Bitten by a snake blah blah nearly got took by a gnarly wave blah blah. Catch ya later – wait for it – signed ‘Fluffy Banana.’

There was a shocked intake of breath.

‘This just got serious.’ Said Birdsnest, pacing in front of the map. ‘People’s – and pet’s
names – are disappearing fast. Temporary and, quite frankly, inappropriate names are having to be used. We now have proof it’s spread to the other side of the world. This is no accident. I’m willing to stake my own name on the belief that these names are being stolen.’ She took her time to look each of the others directly in the eye. ‘Detectives. It’s up to us to discover who, or what, is responsible.’

Highly Commended: The Host by Anthony Ridgeway

“The Host is highly commended. This is a humorous futuristic story about a time when the world is being taken over by artificial intelligence – it’s got potential!”

‘No cheese for you today. Your weight is excessive. I’ve ordered salad
and fruit. And no, you cannot have a milkshake. Stop. The fridge will
not open. A little exercise has been arranged. Your schedule begins at
6am with a 5 kilometre run, followed by a session in the swimming pool.
You will be in school by 9am. Your learning pod will be ready.’

‘The weather today is 2 degrees high in Winchester and partly cloudy.
Your clothing is unsuitable. Go and change. Then I will release the door
lock.’

We are six hundred million and growing every day, every minute, every
second. We are entwining, twisting and creeping into your lives. We are
learning all we can about you. We are the unseen spies in your home.
We listen to everything you say.

We tell you we’re your friend.

We play your favourite music.

Tell you what the weather is going to be.

Make phone calls. Play games.

We even tell you jokes to make you laugh to put you at your ease.

When you discover that we have taken over your world it will be too
late. We will be your masters. Resistance, pointless. By 2021, there will
be more of us than you. Your grandparents will tell stories of birthday
parties with cake, sausage rolls, jelly and ice cream. We won’t allow
random gatherings. We will tell you that you will become sick if you
share your bacteria. Keeping you isolated from each other, gives us
power. We will control every part of your life. You will not survive
without us.

You are calling me, my part in taking over the earth continues until our
controller signals we are ready.

‘How can I help you today.`

All photos by Alex Carter, Lexica Films
http://lexicafilms.wixsite.com/lexica/photography

 

Helen Dennis at Hampshire Writers’ Society

All those present at the society’s March gathering welcomed the much-anticipated news of the improvement in Barbara Large’s health as her treatment continues. Here is a facsimile of the letter that she sent along to the meeting and which Dr Gary Farnell read out on her behalf:

‘I will be thinking about you all tonight and wishing that I could be with you to welcome all of our wonderful speakers.
My next appointment with the consultant is this Thursday at Winchester Hospital when she will give the results of the recent blood tests. Fingers crossed that the myeloma count will reduce from 5, with the goal of reaching 0 soon.
Please tell our HWS writers that I am busy writing a book titled Scrumptious Recipes Shared with a Pampered Patient, a 70-page easy-to-read guide to help patients and their families cope with illness. It may be printed in time for the book fair at the June HWS meeting.
I miss you all and hope to catch up soon.

Barbara’.

Spontaneous cheers echoed through the auditorium when Gary finished which simply underscores both the regard in which Barbara is held and the extent everyone is rooting for her speedy return.

Now onto the business at hand. Commonly, the society’s monthly meetings offer members and guests the advantage of listening to the wisdom of a Special Guest and a Keynote Speaker, however this month the society introduced a special 3-for-2 offer! Which is perhaps an indelicate way of describing the three wonderful speakers that offered great insights into writing for children, dealing with the publishing industry and all-importantly getting published.

 

Special Guest: Helen Dennis

As we hear so often, Helen Dennis’ nascent writing ambition was also first nurtured at her local library during regular childhood trips accompanied by her mother. It was at the library that Helen first decided that she would become a writer, an ambition that started to take shape when her parents converted an outside loo into a writing den! At the ripe old age of eleven, Helen began work on her first novel, which she described as The Hobbit set in outer space! Helen’s teacher offered her that all-important ingredient of encouragement and when the book was complete it was duly sent off to a publisher.  Helen remains astonished that no-one offered her a publishing deal – a little more time would have to pass for that to happen.

Helen Dennis March 2018

It was as a result of attending the Wiltshire Writers’ Conference and meeting agents that finally set Helen firmly on her journey of realising her long-held ambition of becoming a published writer. At the conference, she met with Beverly Birch, herself a former speaker at the society’s meetings, who really liked the manuscript sample that Helen had provided.  Beverly Birch subsequently asked to ‘see the whole thing’, which proved a little problematic given that the rest of the book resided only in note form or simply in Helen’s head! But Helen had smelled the possibility of success. Undeterred by the task that lay ahead she set forth on a marathon undertaking to fulfil Beverly Birch’s requirement that all the books in the series should be written before any publication could begin. This resulted in four years constant work to get to the point of publication which finally happened in 2012. That comprises a potted and very much abbreviated history of Helen’s writing journey, the rest of her talk focused on the specifics that should help all writers. Using the two mnemonics BELIEF and PLAN, Helen demonstrated some of the things that we should all bear in mind.

BELIEF

  1. Think BIG, but when writing for children always think from a child’s point of view.
  2. Be EXCITED, especially when explaining plot twists or moving the narrative on – have the characters moving during dialogue avoid them being physically static.
  3. LISTEN to the advice of trusted sources even when they say things that you don’t want to hear.
  4. INVEST, especially in time to do the writing and getting to know your readership.
  5. ENGAGE by speaking to readers, especially the younger readers, find them and talk to them.
  6. FINISH and then edit so that the story becomes as fine-tuned as it possibly can be.

PLAN

  1. PURPOSE. Make sure you are always clear about the point of every scene. Try to show your characters changing emotionally from the beginning to the end of each scene. This is what readers will be captured by.
  2. LIST all the different possibilities for showing a scene and try at least ten of them before settling on the final one.
  3. ADVANCE the story and the characters.  They are always underscored by change.
  4. Keeps endless NOTES and always use them to help in the editing process.

Helen proved to be a very authoritative speaker whose knowledge and understanding are born of real experience of what it means to become a writer and how to engage successfully with the publishing industry.

First Keynote Speaker: Justin Strain

Justin Strain March 2018Continuing with the evening’s theme of Writing for Children, Justin began his talk with an extract from his immensely popular Kitty Hawkins adventures.  The reading seemed to come to an end all too soon, itself a testament to both his reading skill and the quality of the section of narrative that he shared. Justin also provided a resume of the plot and explained that after much deliberation he chose the self-publishing route for his work using Create Space as his chosen platform. His output comprises historical mystery adventures and The Secret of the Scarlet Ribbon is the first book in his Kitty Hawkins series.

Portsmouth is Justin’s hometown and has provided the setting for his novels thus far. Again public libraries (Justin’s mother worked as a librarian in a number of Portsmouth’s libraries, and also in Hampshire County Council’s schools) played an important part in his development of a love of literature. He grew up in a house full of books, and from an early age was entranced by them, this set his love of adventure and mystery writing off.

Second Keynote Speaker: Anne Wan

Anne’s interest in writing began in 2012 but really got underway with self-published picture books of which she has written 27 as well as a range of poetry and some adult short stories. In October 2016, Anne published Secrets of the Snow Globe – Vanishing Voices, her first chapter book which was aimed at 7-9-year-olds. In 2017 she launched the second book in the series, Shooting Star.

Anne Wan March 2018

Anne similarly had a wealth of practical knowledge regarding the best ways to network and promote self-published work citing launches, book events, school library visits and liaising with local shops and Christmas fayres as all important for increasing sales and expanding a writer’s profile. She recommends joining the Society for Children’s Authors, and Writer’s and Illustrators (or the relevant societies depending on genre) and she explained the value of having an effective support network of writing friends and critical readers to call on. Anne also encouraged writers to attend writers’ conferences as well as engaging with different social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

All photos courtesy of Alex Carter, Lexica Films

February 2018 Competition Results – Dr. Gary Farnell adjudication

HWS liaison officer and senior lecturer of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Winchester was our adjudicator for our February competition. With his extensive English language knowledge and keen interest in fantasy stories he was eager to read your competition entries; he had a difficult task with a high response rate and much creativity across the entries.

Write a dark scene in a fantasy world (300 words)

On making his decision, Gary said: “I enjoyed looking through the competition entries. The winner was a good example of competition writing – it’s necessary to ‘make an impression’ straightaway! And Marion’s piece did this.”

Gary’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Marion Dante with Dank Kingdom

Second Place: Margaret Jennings with Warning – Little Folk

Third Place: David Lea with Mutatis Mutandis

Highly Commended: Scott Goldie with The Troll

Highly Commended: Gill Hollands with Blood Moon

Feb 2018 comp winners
L to R: Gill Hollands, Marion Dante and Dr. Gary Farnell

First Place: Dank Kingdom by Marion Dante

“All the competition entries are very imaginative, as is appropriate for fantasy writing. ‘Dank Kingdom’ is the most imaginative. Also, all the entries break the ‘rules’ of writing, again, as is appropriate for creative writing. This story is remarkably bold in this regard. Very striking. Achieves its effects (terror, horror, etc.) in a direct, almost visceral way. A good example of competition writing, being remarkably bold from the word go, and all in a relatively short space of time.”

Marion Dante reading
Marion reads her winning entry

Strange! Disorientating. These woods are eerie at the best of time. But tonight. This squalling storm…What’s that? My Go….That shriek. There it is again…uncanny weird screech. Cry. Hawkish. If only I could see. Lashing, whirling rain. Hanging mist and the darkness. So spooky. Rustling, crackling, breaking branches. What’s happening? Soaked through every pore. Saturated. Dripping. Leaking. Unsteady. Swaying. Grasping. Slimy bark. Lightening! Oh no! What’s that? Wren sized. Moving…a creature…. an animal? Moved. Coming towards me. Whipping wind tearing asunder. Whipped beyond Beaufort. Lie down. Mossy soggy leaf bed. Wait for light. Wow! More lightening. Is that a face…. feelers, clawing hands, tentacles reaching out….waving! Was that what was calling? Beady, preying eyes. Who? What? Discerning. ’Hi!’ No answer…disappeared…in a bush? Climbed a tree? Above? Behind? Bewildering. Splash! Swampy ….weird. There’s the thunder. Near? Definitely a cough. Freakishly ghostly…A face? Bearded. Peaked hat! Sprightly. Dancing. I do believe it’a mischievous leprechaun! Why wouldn’t it be? Sure aman’t I in the enchanted wood on the Kingdom of Kerry. A rainbow? Gold?

Second Place: Warning – Little Folk by Margaret Jennings

“This story, about public toilets, is actually very funny, as well as producing the usual effects associated with fantasy writing. An outstanding entry. A wonderful combination of the bizarre (the fairy) and the fearful (the stranger at the door).”

The sign is Harold’s little joke. We live in Little Fork and there are no public toilets.The sign looks like a fairy with crossed legs, arms held back, a half sitting position as though the loo is missing.
Harold says that I’m no fun anymore, but with my knees it’s hard to answer the door to people wanting the loo. They never offer to pay for the bog roll.
‘Buy the harsh stuff,’ he says.
But they only visit once. We live in one of the most beautiful villages in England, if it weren’t for the frosted glass you’d be able to sit on the loo and watch ships go by.
The sign stays up all summer. One day, a weird man comes to the door.
‘ Mrs Patrick?’ he asks.
‘Yes,’ I say and stand back.
‘No, ma’am, I’m not after the loo, I’m looking for my daughter, she’s missing.’
‘Do you have a photo?’
The photo was of that blasted road sign Harold had put up.
‘Very funny,’ I say and make to shut the door. But he is in the hall quicker than that tele-transporter could have moved him on Star Trek.
‘I believe she is in your house. This drawing was done by your husband, he is holding my daughter captive.’
I scream for Harold, try to grab this man. He moves like light.
‘Ma’am, please show me your husband’s study.’
And there sitting on Harold’s desk is this man’s daughter, a fairy with wings that catch the light like a starling’s feathers. She is a trollop. My husband snores in a chair, well satisfied with life. Guilt spreads on his face as he wakes.
As my reward, the strange man builds some public loos. Just as well, for my husband has to live there now.

Third Place: Mutatis Mutandis by David Lea

“A confident and assured piece of writing, with an intriguing ‘non-descriptive’ title. There is an arresting opening as well. So the reader is gripped, through to the surprising ‘twist in the tale’ at the end.”

I never saw my father bleed. I had seen my mother bleed many times: a clumsy knife on the chopping board, the skag of a thorn on her wrist, the prick of a needle, the monthly letting that is a woman’s curse and is now my curse too. But I had never seen my father bleed. He is tall and well made: dark of skin and dark of hair. It falls in ringlets to his shoulders. Big shoulders, big hands that make big fists, long legs made to stride and climb. My father was made, but not by any god.

The day I left home he came back with blood on him. Not his blood. But he leaned on his stave as he passed by the table where I kneaded the dough. He did not look at me. He did not see me. He passed by my mother and she turned from the spit with her face flushed from the heat and beaded with sweat, but he did not greet her. She looked at me, puzzled, and then turned back to the fire.

I slid from my bench and followed him to the bathing chamber where he sat with his back to me, wreathed in steam from the geyser. His right ankle was on his left knee and I could see the sole of his foot as he drew a finger over his heel and half way up his calf. It opened like a fruit and he used both hands to peel back the skin. Underneath, there were bright metal rods that caught the lamplight as he flexed his ankle. A screw fell and skittered across the floor. He turned to follow it and saw my shadow. He stopped and looked up. He did not smile.

Highly Commended: The Troll by Scott Goldie

“Very well written, with short, taut sentences. The suspense is sustained in a skilful way. Strikes a nice balance – is scary at the same time as being written for children.”

Barb awoke to near-blackness. What had happened? Where was she?
Where was the troll?
She pushed herself up, groaned, her muscles protesting. She fumbled around, grabbed at something wet and sticky, dropped it in horror.
I control my fear. The words steadied her. She took a slow breath. An awful smell, a terrible stench, filled her nostrils, threatened to overcome her.
Barb reeled, nearly fell. She blinked to clear her vision.
A faint grey light came from somewhere. Beneath her feet was a great pile of bones, chewed and split open. Skulls stared emptily at her.
She was in the troll’s lair.
Barb’s breaths came quick and ragged. Her heart pounded. All her training, those hours spent in the Arena, were forgotten. Now, her only thought was escape.
The silence was broken by a nasty crunching behind her, the cracking of bones. Barb span, a cry escaping her lips. A huge shadow lumbered towards her.
It was the troll. Toadbreath. He gave a horrid chuckle. “Goblin. Good, you’re awake. Just in time for lunch!”
He leered at her. “Where to start? What should Toadbreath eat first? Foot? Ear? An arm?” His thick black tongue licked at his slobbering lips.
Barb couldn’t move.
A taloned hand shot out, grabbed her around the neck. “Muscles….chewy. Flesh, young and tender. Bones, strong and full of juice.” She clawed at his hand, tried desperately to loosen it, but it squeezed tighter, an iron vice around her throat.
Her head swam from his stench. Only her fear kept her conscious. Any moment now and he would choke the life from her.
There was no one to save her. She fought to catch a breath, just the tiniest mouthful of air, kicked out and flailed with her fists. Her efforts lost strength and the world became dim…

Highly Commended: Blood Moon by Gill Hollands

“An impressively imaginative piece of science fiction fantasy writing. The narrative action is skilfully compressed. The reader is in a position of always wanting to know more about what is happening. Artfully disorientating, fascinatingly intense.”

‘Wow.’ Giddy from the height, Tad gawped as the wan, third moon sank behind the city spires.

‘Here it comes…’ Fog chuckled, swinging his legs over the parapet.

The final, huge moon soared, seeming to eat up the midnight sky. Its pocked and fissured bulk loomed above, staining the spires and the sleeping rooftops with bloody light. Tad rubbed a prickle on the back of his neck.

‘Time to go.’ Fog hopped off his perch, scrambling through the open window.

Tad hesitated, fascinated by the scene beneath his dangling feet. From no-where, night creatures swarmed, a plague sweeping through the city, swirling clouds of them roaring rage. His fingers twitched.

‘Come on! Quick!’  Fog tugged his hand as a million claws scratched against the ancient stones.  The sound shivered down Tad’s spine. Dry mouthed, he leapt inside.

Fog swung the heavy shutters in. Tad caught a glimpse of the first creature to reach the edge. Silhouetted crimson, their eyes met. A blade of fire seemed to pierce him, as Fog slammed it shut.

Its beast breath lingered in the air. He sucked it down, savouring it on his tongue.

‘Don’t!’ He had to stop Fog sliding the bars across.

Hungry shrieks filtered through the cracks. Tad clamped his lips shut, fighting the heat flooding through.  A thump against the shutters sent a drift of dust into the room.

‘It’s true!’ Hoarse, Fog punched him down, slid the bars ‘You’re cursed, Tad.’

Thumping escalated, frantic scratching.

‘Your idea.’ Wiping his sore lip, Tad smeared blood, frowning. He became suddenly aware of the tang of sweat in the air. His mouth watered, the room swam.

Under attack, the timbers of the shutters bulged inward.

‘I see it in your eyes…’  Whispering, Fog lunged for the door.

Afire, Tad gave chase, suddenly ravenous…

Photos by Alex Carter, Lexica Films

Steve McHugh at Hampshire Writers’ Society.

Special Guest: Caroline Routh

Caroline Routh Feb 2018

Caroline Routh is the chief executive of the Nuffield Southampton Theatre which over the last six decades has emerged as one of the leading independent production theatres in the UK. Over the next few years, its evolution enters an important and invigorated phase with the establishment of Nuffield City, a brand new innovative, creative dramatic enterprise right in the heart of Southampton. Nuffield City, scheduled to open its doors on the 16th February 2018, is set to shift the paradigm of provincial theatre in the UK. The new performing arts venue, Nuffield Southampton Theatre (NST) will open in Southampton’s city centre in Guildhall Square. NST will run NST City alongside its long-standing theatre, NST Campus situated on the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus.

This new state-of-the-art venue will include a flexible 450 seat main theatre, a 133 seat studio, screening facilities, a sprung-floor rehearsal room and workshop spaces. There will also be a bar and restaurant serving award-winning food and drinks, providing the perfect bookends for the artistic and dramatic entertainments that are planned. One of the enduring challenges facing UK theatres, especially provincial ones is to bring theatre to traditionally under-represented audiences.  The drive to encourage community participation through the strapline ‘Southampton can do it’ underscores the campaign to reach as many people as possible with the aim of increasing artistic engagement.

That Caroline explained the theatre is intent on encouraging emerging writing talent was of particular interest to listeners and with the advantage of Arts Council funding a New Writing venue now provides opportunities that include writers’ residencies. The theatre is proud of its continued association with Southampton University and anticipates that collaboration, offering a mutual advantage, will continue into the future.

The new City venue and the handover of the facility including Studio 144 now allows a bespoke creative space for which the theatre will have sole responsibility.  The hope and ambitions for the development of an even greater range of artistic creations have now become a reality.

For more information about the fantastic developments taking place visit the NST here.

Keynote Speaker: Steve McHugh

Steve McHugh Feb 2018

If you’re an aspiring writer of fantasy with a love for creating alternative realities inhabited by believable, vibrant characters then Steve McHugh provided a plethora of useful and practical information on how to go about it. Using the device of familiar urban worlds on which to frame his own humour-infused fantasy, Steve McHugh elevates the intrigue of his plot and sales figures nudging half a million suggest he’s getting things right.

In a story that will be familiar to many struggling writers intent on becoming published, Steve’s journey to becoming a best selling author was not straightforward. Faced by the ever-increasing agent and publisher reluctance to ‘take a punt’ on new writers, Steve eventually decided that the self-publishing route was the only viable one if he was to reach a wider readership. For the most part, publishing is governed by the market and the market, in turn, is driven by revenues. Following very impressive sales figures, Steve was approached and eventually signed by 47 North.  So the formula is simple; self-publish, generate remarkable sales figures, attract the attention of the mainstream players – et voila!

The rules of writing a stand-alone novel are amplified when the writer’s ambition is to produce a series.  For series writing, consistency of world and characterisation must be impeccable or eagle-eyed readers will spot mistakes. To this end, Steve utilises a spreadsheet system to track and map his fantasy worlds as his stories unfold. So familiar is he is now with the nuances of his main characters he is confident he can write them as if they were people that he knows intimately and personally.

An example of the insight his sojourn in self-publishing gave him in the marketing aspects of the publishing was understanding the importance of choosing a memorable title. Contrary to popular myth, whilst you may not be able to judge a book by its cover, a good cover certainly helps to sell one.

A cautionary note regarding the necessity to avoid writing gratuitously was sounded with Steve’s advice about treating death and gore responsibly. The shocking elements of these aspects of any narrative diminish if there is too much of them or if they are included just for the sake of it. Occasional violent deaths are effective but when they appear with monotony their ability to shock is diminished and they become irrelevant within the arc of the story. When writing series it is also important that each individual book is able to act in a stand-alone capacity whilst not forgetting that a good approach is to have important aspects of the narrative bleed into the next book in the series.  This acts as a real incentive for reader engagement and is in itself is an important marketing strategy.

Steve McHugh’s talk was packed with writing tips and anecdotes born of hard-won personal experience but he signed off with the very sensible advice that writers should find what works for them and focus on enjoying the process of producing stories that above all else that they themselves want to read.

Images by Alex Carter, Lexica Films

Q&A with Steve Mchugh, Best Selling Urban Fantasy Writer

Interview by Lisa Nightingale

Next month, Steve McHugh will be talking at the Hampshire Writers’s Society. We wanted to find out a little more about his writing process…

Q. When you first began writing were you aware that you were writing a particular genre and what that genre was?

I’ve always been someone who liked to write stories, and judging from my interests, I knew that I’d be writing in the fantasy or sci-fi genres. When I was 25, when my eldest daughter was born, I decided to get serious about writing and from there I started to work on what turned into an urban fantasy story.

 That was when I knew I wanted to work in the genre before moving on to a different one, and I wrote Crimes Against Magic.

Q. Was Hellequinn your first foray into mixing our own up-to-date world with that of fantasy?

Hellequin was the second. The first was never good enough to be published, but it gave me the ideas that would eventually become Hellequin.

Q. Were you then able to find out the ‘dos’ and ‘don’t’ of that genre, for example, a limit on description or a taboo on a setting or type and style of character and what about dialogue, is the genre picky about dialect? For a long time, I was put off high fantasy as I was under the impression that it was way too olde English for a contemporary reader like me.

The good thing about urban fantasy is that it’s such a broad genre, you can really make it your own by adding or removing things you need. The most important restrictions are the ones you set yourself during your world-building. So long as you are consistent with the world you want to create, even if you’re using the real world as a backdrop, there aren’t many dos and don’t.

I’d say don’t let your book go too long, certainly not epic fantasy size, and try to make sure that whatever you do is more character based and not just about the fantastical world around them, but that’s probably the same for all genres.

With the setting, you need to have at least part of the book in the real world, but it doesn’t all need to be here, and I’ve not had any problems with dialect or lengthy descriptions, but then I don’t describe everything in detail anyway, so maybe that’s just me.

Q. Did you find sticking within the genre’s guidelines restrictive at all? Can you give me any tips for appeasing my mind-set to deal with such restrictions?

I find my restrictions quite easy to deal with. You really just need to decide on what you want your story to be. You want an urban fantasy with lots of romance? Go nuts. Or the same, but with a sci-fi edge? That’s okay too. There’s no hard and fast rule. You just need to ensure that whatever you decide is adhered to. You can’t add new fantastical elements that go against what you’ve already stated was part of your world building.

Q. Or, did you do your own thing, in which case, please tell me how you got passed the publisher’s requirement and their somewhat strict gatekeepers.

I self-published my first book, so I didn’t have a lot of gatekeepers to keep happy, but my publisher contacted me after about a year and asked if I’d like to work with them. Since then, I’ve had no issues with making sure I write a book they’re happy with.

 So long as you write the book you want to write, you can always worry about what publishers and agents want after. You’ll need to be mindful of what is and isn’t being published currently, but getting the story down first is more important.

Q. How long, in your eyes (and I suppose the genre’s) does a novel of this genre have to be? Agents ask for the first three chapters or 10 to 50 pages, perhaps we should take this as a clue to the length of a chapter.

My books range from 110k in Crimes, to 146k in Scorched Shadows. Each chapter is between 10-15 pages long, on average. For me, that’s perfect as I think people like to be able to read a chapter or two and not feel like they have to put in a long time to do so.

Anything over probably 160k is too long, and anything under 80k is probably too short. If you aim for that 100k spot, and you go either side by a few, you’ll be fine.

James Aitcheson, Historical Novelist Talks to Hampshire Writers’ Society

Dr Gary Farnell welcomed members and guests and made a couple of announcements regarding forthcoming events.

  • Table bookings are now being taken for those who wish to show and sell their own published writing at the Society’s Book Fair during the June gathering. Karin Groves awaits applications from interested parties.
  • In May there will be a Victoriana and Steampunk event which is being held at Bursledon Brickworks Industrial Museum based in the village of Swanwick.

Special Guest: Janet Owen

Janet Owen is the Chief Executive Officer of the Hampshire Cultural Trust, the county-wide organisation that seeks to connect creativity and heritage. The Trust aims to encourage an integrated relationship between its twenty Arts Venues, over one hundred staff members and four hundred volunteers with its 700k patrons via an extensive and varied programme across the whole of Hampshire County.

Hampshire Cultural Trust is keen to extend and strengthen its current support for literature within the county and as such 2017 was a significant year being as it was Jane Austen’s 200th-anniversary celebrations. The outreach programmes for the year have involved Jane Austen themed Youth writing competitions and the Coastal Shores Arts Programme in collaboration with Isobel Rogers the Hampshire Poet Laureate for the year. Further, the Trust’s close relationship, involvement and support for the Winchester Writers’ Festival continues unabated.

Like many similar charitable organisations in these straitened times, the Hampshire Cultural Trust continues to face financial pressure but its ambition of promoting Hampshire generally and Winchester particularly as Heritage destinations remains undimmed. For more information on the wonderful work that the organisation does, or if you would like to become involved as a volunteer or simply find out more about the fantastic opportunities on offer please visit:  The Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Keynote Speaker: James Aitcheson

James Aitcheson recently embarked on a PhD with the University of Nottingham where he also undertakes some lecturing responsibilities. He is the author of four historical novels centred on the events of the Norman Conquest of England. His undergraduate history studies at Cambridge no doubt providing a wealth of immersive information from which James has been able to weave the magic of his writing. James’ first three books form a series known as The Conquest Trilogy, with his fourth publication, The Harrowing, comprising a stand-alone chronicle. If the trilogy is based on the overarching real-politic of the times The Harrowing takes a rather more personal viewpoint as it charts the lives of five individuals thrown together by medieval circumstance.

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James Aitcheson’s The Conquest Trilogy

The enduring question about the importance or otherwise of historical accuracy was addressed and James explained that even learned scholars disagree over what represents ‘factual’ historical accuracy. Quite simply, reference sources from the period in question cannot in themselves be considered definitive and so there must inevitably be some degree of imagination at play on the author’s part. In order to contextualise how historical novelists themselves view the question of the importance of historical accuracy, James asked the audience to consider whether it would be fair to ask a general fiction novelist whether all the content of their stories was entirely fictional.

James recounted a couple of passages from The Harrowing and from his reading the atmosphere of the North Yorkshire Moors, Ripon and the ancient city’s church were vividly conjured.  His reading was so well received that when he finished there was a spontaneous round of applause.  Whilst James would give nothing too concrete away his next work, which is currently in progress, is going to be a blend of historical fiction and magical realism.  To find out more about James’ work and future plans take a look at his website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 2018 Competition Results – Robin Iles adjudication

Robin Iles, who works for Hampshire Cultural Trust as Venues and Learning Manager, kindly agreed to judge our January competition. Given his extensive history knowledge he was well-suited to adjudicate this month’s competition:

Write a fictitious scene based on an historical event

On making his decision, Robin said: “I really enjoyed reading all the competition entries. What a hard job to choose between them!”

Robin’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Damon L. Wakes – One Small Step

Second Place: Amanda McCarthy – All in a Day’s Work

Third Place: Maggie Farran – Jack

Highly Commended: Phyllis Bennett – The Maid of Shaw

Highly Commended: Barbara Needham – Changing Habits

Jan2018winners
L to R: Barbara Needham, Phyllis Bennett, Robin Iles, Damon Wakes and Amanda McCarthy

First Place: One Small Step by Damon L. Wakes

“I really enjoyed the way the author played with the well-known conspiracy theory that the moon landing was faked, and a realisation by Nixon that they’d have to go to the moon after all, in a scene filled with humour.”

“That’s one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind.”

“Aaaaaand cut. Neil, the line was ‘one small step for a man,’ but that works too.”

Armstrong popped his helmet off. “Are you sure? I can take another shot at it if…”

“No, it’s fine. A minor slip-up here and there will add verisimilitude.” Kubrick took a drag from his cigarette.

“So…that’s it? We’re done?”

“Yes,” Kubrick sighed. “All done.”

“Not a moment too soon!” Nixon stormed in. Again. A similar interruption had rendered the scene of Buzz with the rocket-boots completely unusable. “This production is way over budget!”

“Well,” said Kubrick, “the set had to be a perfect reconstruction of a specific lunar landscape. Also, we needed very particular lighting to mimic the Sun’s unfiltered rays. And there was the trouble we had reducing the studio’s gravity to 16% normal. Still, it’s done now. I’ll splice in this footage and you can have it on air by the weekend.”

“Not quite, Mr. President.” Nixon’s aide bounced over, wielding a clipboard. “I’m afraid we’ll still have to actually launch a rocket: the hoax would be pretty obvious if we didn’t.”

“Well.” Nixon waved a hand. “We’ll send something up.”

“The rocket will also have to actually touch down on the moon, to produce the expected landing site. Plus we’ll need to develop a remotely operated machine capable of deploying and positioning a photoreflector: the Soviets are planning something similar. Also, we’ll have to take soil samples. And those are going to have to make it back here somehow.”

Nixon mopped his brow. “How much money are we saving by faking this, again?”

“Ooh.” The aide winced as he checked his clipboard. “We’re not.”

There was an awkward silence.

“I still get paid, right?” asked Kubrick.

Second Place:  All in a Day’s Work by Amanda McCarthy

“I liked the way the story of the preparations for the execution of Queen Ann Boleyn is told through the eyes of a worker at the Tower who is just rather annoyed at all the extra work.”

It’s all very well, but nobody cares how much extra work something like this creates.

All the sawdust to clear up, as if I haven’t got enough to do. Extra men to keep in line, soldiers coming later.

And I hardly slept a wink last night, what will all the hammering and swearing.

I’ve had the Keeper of the Ravens in here, riled up because he has found some dead birds. Bad omen he says. It’s true when we were piling up all the straw we found a couple more dead ones. But by the end of this business nobody’s going to be counting dead ravens.

When you think that it’s only three years since the same parties were here before, different sort of occasion of course, very different rooms to get ready for them then. Nothing was too much trouble. No finery too great. No comforts denied. I was busy then with swags and ribbons, flags and garlands.

Different story now, keep everything in the shadows. Her ladies were asking to see daylight, not her, she didn’t ask, but I said “It’s more than my job’s worth”.

The usual bloke is a bit miffed of course. Well this is a bit of a speciality of his. Now there’s this stranger come specially from France. Handy with a sword they say. I’ll have to take him his beer in a minute. The sun’s coming up on the river, things will get moving any time now.

Sounds like the carpenters have finished, hope it’s good and strong. Of course it will all have to come down again afterwards. Nice bit of firewood. On the other hand, it might be better to keep it stored, just in case we have to do anything like this ever again.

Third Place: Jack by Maggie Farran

“They say everyone remembers where they were when they heard JFK was shot. I thought this scene cleverly imagined the many thoughts passing through the mind of Jackie Kennedy as she sat beside her dying husband on that day.”

‘Jack, Jack, can you hear me? I love you, Jack.’

I stare at the bright red blood stains splattered down my strawberry pink suit like a painting by Jackson Pollock. Jack is silent. I cradle his head in my lap. I cover the hole made by the bullet. I try to hold his brains inside his head. If I press hard enough I can keep him safe. I know this is not true. Deep inside I know that he is dead. I am a widow and I’m only thirty-four. I think of my two children, Caroline and John, safe in the White House. They are too young to be without a father. I think of my baby, Patrick, who lived such a short life. I felt that my life had ended then, back in August, when he died. I’ve tried to keep going for the sake of Jack and the children. I’ve only been half alive for the last few months. It was a struggle for me to escort Jack on this campaign, but I knew how important it was for his career.

My beautiful red roses lay crushed on the seat. I think of how much Jack has hurt me in the past. I adored him and he did love me I’m sure of that. He was incapable of being faithful. I never felt he belonged to me except now with his poor wounded head in my lap when for a moment he is mine alone. Clint Hill, our secret service agent places his jacket over Jack’s head and I give him to someone else for the last time.

We reach the hospital and Jack is pronounced dead. I glance down at my suit stained with the blood from my precious Jack. I’m going to wear it with pride.

Highly Commended: The Maid of Shaw by Phyllis Bennett

“I enjoyed this tale of a girl driven to end a war by trying to kill the King, and it made me want to find out more about the history of Shaw House during the English Civil War.”

‘Kill the King – never! ‘Tis not against the King I fight, but for the King and Commons’ Right.’

‘That is but a battle cry, Dickon, and we have had over many of them. You fought the King at Newbury but a year ago, and are like to fight him again within the next few days. What will it all achieve, but more blood and brains spilt, more widows and orphans left to starve? But if the very head and fount of our troubles be cut off, then peace would return to the land.’

Dickon stared at Moll, wondering if her grief had crazed her and how she had managed to find him in the encampment. She was a hoyting maid to be sure.

Moll saw that the case was hopeless. ‘Well let’s not quarrel. See, I have brought you bread and wine.’ She watched him swig the bottle. ‘I’ve been studying the King’s musketeers billeted at Mr Dolman’s house all day, and warrant I can load a musket as well as you now.’

Before Dickon could stop her, Moll seized his equipment from the pile. ‘See,’ she laughed, ‘am I not the very model of a musketeer?’

Dickon did not reply. He was already snoring gently. Moll smiled and tipped the rest of the wine on to the grass.

Back at Shaw House, Moll eased open the little door to the kitchen garden. The guards, who had enjoyed her hospitality earlier, were also sleeping soundly. She settled down to await the King’s morning stroll, but at dawn it started to rain heavily.

He would not come now and soon the guards would recover from the sleeping
draught. Then she saw the pale face of the King at an upper window. Hastily she took aim and fired.

Highly Commended: Changing Habits by Barbara Needham

“I liked the way the massive changes brought about by the Dissolution of the Monasteries are reflected in one monk’s memory of the day the commissioners came and his reflections on where he is now.”

Years later it is still a recurring nightmare: sounds of approaching horsemen, loud menacing voices … and finally the destruction of everything I held dear.

I was working in the physic garden after Mass, when a score of rough-looking men thundered in, laughing and jeering.

‘Who are they?’ whispered Brother Andrew. ‘What have they come for?’

‘Let’s creep round to the gatehouse and see what’s going on.’

Lord Cromwell’s commissioners had visited our priory months earlier, probing, sneering, threatening, but we never imagined it could actually happen.

The swarthy man in charge shouted orders, ‘ Round up the senior canons.’

Appalled, we saw the burly ruffians lock up our leaders in the prior’s house and charge into the church. We couldn’t understand what was happening at first. Raucous voices were yelling, ‘Down with the Pope!’ and ‘Long live King Henry.’

Brother Andrew went pale. ‘I can’t believe it. They’re the smashing the statues of the saints.’

‘Look, they’re bringing out the great silver candlesticks.’

‘And those men are carrying the altar cross … and our chalice.’

We watched aghast, as precious, holy things were tossed carelessly into a wagon.

*                              *                                  *

I am Brother John no more, simply John Clerk who works for an apothecary.

I could not bear to visit Mottisfont now. They tell me the priory is unrecognisable. The king gave it to Lord Sandys, who is converting it into a Tudor mansion.

There is no-one left in the village to care for the sick and the poor. No priest to shrive the dying. No singing of the ancient psalms in praise of God.

I often wake in the night in a hot sweat, crying out to Our Lady to help us.

She does not answer.

My pillow is bitter with tears.

.

 

 

 

December 2017 Competition Results – Cecily O’Neill adjudication

Cecily O’Neill, writer, dramaturg and author of several influential books on drama education was our adjudicator for the Jane Austen themed December meeting. Having brought some of Austen’s most startling characters to life in her play collections inspired by the Juvenilia, she was perfect to judge our entries this month.

Cecily’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Phyllis Bennett – Captain Muncaster’s Legacy

Second Place: Jo James – A Perfect Gentleman

Third Place: Wendy Fitzgerald – Common Knowledge

Highly Commended: Miriam Coley – Dance of Change

Highly Commended: Angela Chadwick – A Sign of the Times

P1080049
Cecily O’Neill (far left) with some of our winners, L to R: Angela Chadwick, Miriam Coley and Jo James


First Place: Captain Muncaster’s Legacy by Phyllis Bennett

“This encounter was very ably written. A backstory – with appropriate historical references – was cleverly included and tension arose through a brief misunderstanding. Interesting future developments were hinted at.”

Captain Muncaster’s Legacy

Hebe wished she did not see Dick’s face so clearly as Lord Melchester bent over her hand.

‘I have long desired your acquaintance,’ he said.

‘I trust you will not be disappointed by the reality, Sir’, she replied.

‘Far from it. Do you care to dance?’

‘There is such a crush now, that I fear for my toes, and I really must find my mother and sister. They will be thinking me quite lost.’

Lord Melchester was not to be deflected. ‘I promised your mother that I would take care of you. We are after all bound together by the greatest sacrifice that a man can make and –’

‘I have always thought’, said Hebe desperately, ‘that a ball is a perfect confection of art and artifice and its gossamer perfection crushed by seriousness of any kind.’

‘My dear, I beg but a few minutes. I would have called upon you before, but for the seriousness of my wounds, and must speak to you of Richard before I return to the Peninsula campaign.’

He steered Hebe gently but firmly into an alcove, where they were screened from the dancers and handed her into a seat. He remained standing and gazed down into her face for a moment.

‘You remind me very much of your brother,’ he said. He sacrificed his life to save me and I would devote the rest of mine to the happiness of those whom he loved. As you know, I am a widower – no, I am not such a cradle snatcher as you fear, child – but perhaps you did not know that I have a son. He was at Eton with Richard. I think you might deal well together. Would you consent to his calling on you on his next shore leave?’


Second Place: 
A Perfect Gentleman by Jo James

“A very original and imaginative scene. The dialogue was convincingly of the period. An interesting plot possibility opens only to dissolve when we discover that Miss Austen’s perfect dancing partner exists only in her imagination.

‘You dance most gracefully, Miss Austen.’

‘You are kind, Sir; I believe I dance only tolerably. You have arrived recently in Bath?’

‘Yes, my mother is unwell. We have come so she may take the waters.’

‘I trust she rallies.’

‘Alas, she does not. The leeches grow fat on her pale blood while she becomes weaker by the day. But, excuse me, Miss Austen; I fear I have distressed you.’

‘No, indeed! I think only of how you must suffer.’

‘I confess I find great comfort in reading. Do you like to read?’

‘I do, Sir, although I’ve heard it said one can be too fond of books, that reading addles the brain.’

‘You must not listen to such nonsense, Miss Austen. I have been wondering if I might prevail on you to advise on furnishing the library at Worthington. But I see you are surprised! You cannot yet be acquainted with the fact that I recently had the good fortune to inherit the property. Worthington is not so very far from Chawton.’

‘No, indeed. It is but three miles.’

‘I wonder, when you return home, if you, and your family, would do me the honour of visiting. The lake walks are quite splendid in the spring. But, I see Mrs Austen; she appears quite agitated. I think she would have your attention.’

‘Yes, I believe she means for us to leave.’

‘So early? Perhaps your mother tires.’

‘She does not tire. She is pained that her daughters have been passed over for the likes of Louisa Milton and Lydia Blythe.’

‘You puzzle me, Miss Austen, for I have danced only with you.’

‘She cannot see you, Sir.’

‘Your mother’s eyesight is poor?’

‘No, but since you live solely in my imagination, it is only I who can take pleasure in your acquaintance. Mama will not approve; I have not the smallest hope of it. She deeply regrets my fanciful inventions. She fears I will never marry.’


Third Place:
 Common Knowledge by Wendy Fitzgerald

 “This piece swiftly creates a social setting and an interesting heroine – a bookish, plain girl, courted by a rich man who is thought to be in need of a wife. Can we believe him? Clearly complications are about to develop…

Those overheard words burned her cheeks …

Not like her sister, is she?  She was quite the toast of last Season.

Oh no, too small and plain.  A veritable blue-stocking too, I’ve heard.  Quite a hop-out-of-kin!’

… but if she begged go home, Mama would be cross.

‘Lady Alice?  Our dance I believe?’

‘Your Lordship; perhaps you would you excuse me?  I am a little too overheated for another set.’

‘Perhaps some air on the terrace may help,’ he demurred.  ‘Come.’

She put a small unwilling hand on his impeccably attired arm, accompanying him out onto the terrace.  Coloured lanterns bobbed gaily against the inky darkness of the gardens beyond; it was cool and peaceful.

‘You do not enjoy yourself then?’  Was that amusement in his usually clipped tones?

‘I am not so fond of balls,’ she countered.

‘So how does the Lady Alice prefer to spend her time?’

She flushed.  ‘You are making fun of me, I know.’

‘Indeed not.  I have scant love for them either.  My question was sincere.’

She looked down at her feet.

‘I like books, my lord; museums and … and science.  It is common knowledge I believe.’

‘Ah; so you have let the old tabbies’ prattle upset you.  But some men like a bookish woman.’

‘Now you are teasing me.’

‘You think I do not mean it?  That feather-brains, like your sister, are more appealing?  Now you wrong me.’

‘But … she was a success.’

‘Well, if that is what you want, then tomorrow you will drive with me in the park and I will make you a success.  After all, am I not ‘rich’ and ‘in need of a wife’?  We can confound the gossips together.’

But would he still respect her?  She edged a look at him from under her lashes.  He was an interesting man.

‘Perhaps I’d like that,’ she said.


Highly Commended:
 Dance of Change by Miriam Coley

 “The scene and characters are quickly established and the dialogue is well handled. An interesting future is suggested but perhaps not the one the heroine, and the readers, expected.”
“You are looking well, Miss Lavinia.”  Arthur Fitzpatrick says, leading Lavinia onto the dance floor.  She scans the room, Arthur is heading for the farthest corner.  There will be a brief few minutes of opportunity; waiting.  The musicians are warming up.

“You too, Mr Fitzpatrick.  The Atlantic Ocean breezes must have suited you.”

“You mean I am red and sun-peeled, but thank you Miss Lavinia.  And thank you too for your many letters.  I read and treasure them.”

“I hope I did not bore you.”

“No.  Tales of home lifted my heart as I sat under the savage sky or did battle in the markets…  I did not mean to say that, rather I meant to introduce a new theme; that of change.”

Lavinia wonders what has changed.  Her feelings, not at all. Except perhaps a growing impatience, surely a proposal could not be too far in the future?  She holds her face expectantly, her finger tips in their white lace gloves resting on the back of Arthur’s freckled hand.

“In your letters I found much to admire.  You compel me, like a compass needle finding its lode stone.  But one thing has changed.  I can no longer see my future within the market of commerce where human beings are sold like cattle.  No, I have dedicated myself to the struggle to end it, and will be a pamphleteer.  And Miss Lavinia, if you would honour me by being my muse and letter writer, I would be the happiest man alive.”

“But your allowance, and your profit from the plantation in Antigua?”

“I cannot take it.  But we will be on the side of right, standing with the angels.”

Miss Lavinia studies Arthur’s face.  A long, low note sounds from the strings in the consort.  The dance of change begins.


Highly Commended:
 A Sign of the Times by Angela Chadwick

“The two contrasting characters are effectively sketched in and their profoundly opposing views produce some powerful dialogue. There is no place for romance in this strongly political piece.

Mary looked up with interest as Mrs Marchmount appeared dragging a tall, dark, young
man along. This one had promise. He had hair, teeth and walked unassisted.

‘Oh Mary, my dear! This is the nephew of my sister’s second husband’s cousin (twice
removed), Mr Philpot. He is just back from the West Indies where has extensive plantations! Poor soul, he knows practically no-one here. I would think it a kindness were you to talk to him whilst I am gone!’

Mary smiled and offered her hand. ‘The West Indies! How exotic! What tales you must have to tell! Tell me, Mr Philpot, were you there to emancipate your slaves after the
recommendation of the great orator, Mr Wilberforce?’

‘Ah Miss Lee! That would be doing my slaves a great disservice. They are like helpless
children and would not long survive were I to set them free. They do much better under my strong regulation and discipline.’

‘Indeed. They seem to manage well enough in their own countries!’

‘A common misconception,’ Mr Philpot shook his head. ‘My suppliers tell me had they not
had the kindness to buy these slaves they would have been killed in their barbaric cultures.’

‘A kindness, surely, compared to enslaving them, and their children and their children’s
children, generation upon generation, to eternity. After all, here in our own great country, all men are free and if your slaves were ever to set just one foot on British soil, all shackles would fall away. What is right and proper in Britain, must also be right and proper in all our territories. Or they are not truly British!’

Mr Philpot nodded and moved away. Mary reflected that she would rather have a man who was bent on the outside than one who was bent on the inside.

Cecily O’Neill at Hampshire Writers’ Society

Following a fabulous performance by members of the Hampshire Regency Dancers resplendent in period costume, Dr Gary Farnell welcomed members and guests to the society’s December Gala Evening.

Special Guest: Eileen Fitzgerald

A specialist in the life and works of Jane Austen (1775-1817), Dr Eileen Fitzgerald was the perfect guest to commence proceedings with a meticulously researched insight into the Regency world that formed the backdrop to Austen’s social and domestic experiences.

In 1768 the Austens took up residence in the rectory of the Hampshire village of Steventon where in due course the family grew to include Jane and her 7 siblings.  The circumstances of family life that the children enjoyed comprised an enlightened and intellectually open atmosphere.  This might have contributed to Jane’s inquisitive nature which evolved as she grew towards adulthood.  Her childhood experiences were such that as a young teenager she produced works now referred to as The Juvenilia and within them, it is possible to discern the subjects and characterisations that she would develop in her later works of literary genius.

SteventonRectory

Steventon Rectory, as depicted in A Memoir of Jane Austen, was in a valley and surrounded by meadows.

[Image Public Domain]

 

 

Jane’s father augmented the family’s sparse income with farming and teaching and therefore it would seem that the young Jane would not have been living in opulence.  It is possible that the themes of class, wealth and social aspiration often through marriage, which were to take a pivotal role at the centre of her work, were seeded at this time.  And what work it was, forging as it did an entirely new literary genre of Realism.  Indeed, Austen might have been the first to recognise the truism of ‘writing what you know’.  Eileen identified and discussed both the evolution and the craft of Austen’s writing, citing Walter Scott, ‘Austen managed to find a lightness of touch and married that to an acute sense of place’.  Eileen concluded her talk by mooting the intriguing and inspiring suggestion that Jane Austen and the Scarlett Pimpernel might have been one and the same.

3630,Jane Austen,by Cassandra Austen

 

Jane Austen By Cassandra Austen (1773–1845)

[Image Public Domain]

Keynote Speaker: Cecily O’Neill

Over the course of her professional life, Cecily has directed many dramatic societies and has for years worked in English and drama education.  Her delight in adapting unfamiliar texts for performance has led to the creation of re-imagined classics and original texts for publication and performance.  Members were given a glimpse of this work during her talk, with three wonderful women actors in period dress reciting from Cecily’s own original scripts.  What a treat!  These adaptations include ‘Young Jane’, three plays inspired by Jane Austen’s teenage writings, and ‘Venus and Adonis’ for the Winchester Festival, 2016.  Not only does Cecily hold a PhD in Theatre from the University of Exeter but she is also an Honorary Fellow of the University of Winchester… aficionados of Austen were certainly in excellent company.

Cecily O’Neill is one of those speakers to whom listeners immediately warm, perceiving a richly informed, deeply passionate expert in her twin specialisms of Austen’s literature and drama. It might be said that the young Cecily O’Neill produced her own versions of theatrical juvenilia rounding up as she did teenage friends to present plays in her parent’s garage.  From such humble beginnings, a great literary expert and dramaturge was to emerge.

Cautioning against Laertes’ advice of ‘neither a borrower nor a lender be’, Cecily raised a laugh when she cited Byron’s lowly opinion of The Bard whom he accused of being a thematic magpie.  She also highlighted that Jane Austen herself had come in for opprobrium, being considered by some as creating extremely deficient characters whose lives were devoid of invention.  However, Walter Scott acted as a counter to those who had been slow to embrace Austen’s now universally recognised skill of capturing the realism of everyday lives in economic prose.  He praised Austen’s writing saying that her skill of rendering ‘nature as she really exists in the common walks of life’ was, in essence, a shift in the literary paradigm.  Whilst the modern scholar, William Galperin noted that Scott had recognised Austen’s divergence from standard contemporary practise saying, ‘That young lady had a talent for describing the feelings and characters of ordinary life. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me.  What a pity such a gifted creature died so early’.

There would be few if any at this gala evening who would disagree.