Steve McHugh at Hampshire Writers’ Society.

Special Guest: Caroline Routh

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

November 2017 Competition results – Mitchell Symons’ adjudication

Adjudicating our November competition was our main speaker for the evening, Mitchell Symons, writer broadcaster and journalist.

Mitchell found the stories interesting and said it was hard to pick just five.

The adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Jordan Dean Ezekude  – The Phoenix And The Butterfly

Second Place: Maggie Farran – Revenge Is Sweet

Third Place: Peter Hitchen – Every Dog Has Its Day

Highly Commended: Colin Johnson – A Stitch In Time

Highly Commended: Damon L. Wakes – Do Unto Others

ipp
Speaker and Adjudicator, Mitchell Symons, with 2nd Place award winner, Maggie Farran

First Place:The Phoenix and the Butterfly, by Jordan Dean Ezekude

“This was the only real story and it really answered the brief. It was so good that I found myself wondering whether it was actually a real fable.”

Long ago, on an ancient island in the far east, there lived two guardians blessed by the sky and sea. The first guardian was the brave Phoenix of the Sun who would shine his light of day for everyone. The second guardian was the gentle Butterfly of the Moon who would help the stars glow and the flowers bloom. They were close friends, watching over the island every day. But they didn’t always get along, so the legends say. The Phoenix was short-tempered especially at the sight of crime while the Butterfly was timid and hated seeing humans fight.

One fateful day, while defending the animals in the woods, the Butterfly was wounded by hunters up to no good. “How dare you hurt my friend!” roared the Phoenix enraged. To punish the hunters, he set their entire village ablaze. But not only were the hunters caught in the flames; so were the innocent children and every husband and dame. “What have I done?” the Phoenix tearfully gasped before burning himself out and becoming a pile of ash. Having lost her best friend, the Butterfly cried a rainfall to put out the village fire once and for all.

The flames were gone and the village was safe once more. The hunters were deeply sorry for all the damage they caused. They swore that they would never hunt animals again. Instead of hunting animals, they would treat them like friends. “I forgive you,” said the kind Butterfly as she smiled. So did the Phoenix who was born again and alive. Thus the humans and animals started working together as friends. And there hasn’t been another village fire since then. Thus the Phoenix and the Butterfly kept this lesson in mind: and eye for an eye makes the world go blind.

Second Place: Revenge is Sweet, by Maggie Farran

“The best written of all the entries.”

She picked up his shirt from the floor where he had dropped it the night before. It reeked of ‘Angel’ perfume. She examined it closely. There was bright red lipstick smudged across the collar. She shook with anger. Who did he think he was to betray her like this and then leave the evidence on their bedroom floor? She had suspected something was going on for a while. Now she had proof.

Angrily she gathered up all his white work shirts and shoved them into the gaping mouth of the washing machine. She rifled through her underwear drawer until she found her red satin bra, the one he had liked so much. It was exquisite, a delicate mixture of red satin and lace. He had bought it for her for Christmas last year from La Perla. It had been wrapped in black tissue paper inside a La Perla gift box. This was the bra that used to turn him on. This was the one he used to so enjoy unfastening.

She pushed the bra into the heart of the shirts until the bright red was hidden. The boiling hot water whirled and teased those pure white shirts until they blushed. The beautiful bra bled painful tears into the white cotton.  When the cycle was finished she opened the porthole. The pale pink shirts gave her an embarrassed stare. The scarlet bra gazed at her without a hint of shame.

Third Place: Every Dog has its Day, by Peter Hitchen

“Also really well written and which, of all the entries, made me want to read more.”

She’d only nipped out for Bill’s lucky dip so hadn’t bothered with make-up, choosing instead to slip on a pair of sunglasses to hide the black eye.  Now, as the car bounced back along the potholed track towards their static caravan, she wondered if she was just imagining that things didn’t seem quite normal.  Kenny was going frantic at the window.  Bill would never have let him bark like that, the dog wasn’t even allowed in the living room.  And Bill hadn’t said he was going out, and he wouldn’t have gone out anyway, he’d already been soaked on his way back from his morning walk.

When she opened the car door the dog yammered even harder. ‘What’s wrong, Kenny?  Bill… Bill.’  The dog heard the oddness in her voice and fell silent tilting his head, the throb of condensation from his snout misting on the window.

Bill’s bottom half was in the living room, his shoulders and head in the kitchen.  He wasn’t exactly blue.  His face, she thought, was closest to the colour of an April storm, like a fresh bruise that had blossomed from the sombre part of a rainbow.  She wondered if the rest of him had gone the same colour too; had his chest’s fat folds altered from their usual mottled ivory?  Would his V-shaped weather bib, as permanent as any tattoo, have changed as well?  She got Kenny’s lead off the hook and the dog bounded down from the windowsill and over the barrel of Bill’s breathless torso in two elastic movements.

Bill always said a walk made things better.

As Kenny strained down the slope towards the river she pushed her free hand into her coat pocket and felt the still sharp edges of Bill’s lottery ticket nestling amongst the empty laburnum pods.

Highly Commended: A Stitch In Time… by Colin Johnson

“This had a great ending.”

Elsie can’t forget that summer.

‘Uncle Jack, why are we doing this?’ she hears Micky ask while they take apart the chair, to glue the joints.

‘It’s got a bit wobbly recently – best to fix it before it breaks.’

You learned that, in the War, and afterwards. You looked after what you had, you made it last. Things were scarce then. Even now, Elsie thinks, why buy something new, if you can mend the old one?

She sees Jack smile when Micky comes, remembering a joke to tell, finding a packet of sweets in his jacket. Then they get started, painting a window-frame or mending the catch on the back door. Micky always brings his transistor with him. He turns up the sound for every Beatles record.

Whenever she asks Jack to do a job, he never says no. Sometimes, she thinks he does too much. He looked so tired when she mentioned fixing that stair carpet, where it’s coming loose. She said it could wait. It can, but not too long – someone might slip on it.

Elsie decides she’ll ask Micky to change that flickering bulb in the front room, after dinner. Jack has taken to having a snooze on Saturday afternoons.

***

At the end of August Jack finally finds time to go to the doctor’s, when he gets too tired to go to work. Then it’s straight into hospital. Operation, the following Monday.

At visiting time, Elsie sees how he’s changed. The angle of his jaw stands out sharply; his neck hangs loose like a turkey’s. His cheekbones are high ridges below dark hollows. His eyes are still bright, but there are no jokes now. Jack reaches for his glass – his pyjama jacket falls open, showing the surgical dressing down the middle of his belly.

At the weekend, Jack dies. Before they’ve even taken out the stitches.

Highly Commended: Do Unto Others, by Damon L. Wakes

“It would have placed if the writer had put Sadist instead of Masochist as the last word.”

Robert stepped into his new workplace to find a generic sea of cubicles and water coolers. It couldn’t have been more of a cliché if it had that “hang in there” cat poster on one of the walls.

In fact, wait…wait…

Yep. There it was.

Suddenly, Robert found an arm around his shoulder.

“We do things a little differently here,” said the guy who Robert was certain was one of those buzzword-spewing middle management people. “We’ve established a dynamic new workplace paradigm that allows us to leverage a great deal more synergy going forward.”

Robert turned and stared in horror.

The man laughed. “Just kidding. We don’t do any of that: there’s just one rule.”

He pointed to a huge banner hanging right along one wall.

Robert read aloud: “Do as you would be done by?”

“That’s the one! Just keep it in mind and you’ll do fine here.” The man shook his hand. “My name’s Craig: the guy from the emails. I’d give you a tour of the office, but I never like being paraded around when I’m new somewhere so instead I’ll just leave you to it.”

And he did.

Robert found his desk, hung his jacket on the back of the accompanying swivel chair, and—figuring he might as well make an effort to adhere to the office’s one simple rule—decided to say hi to his neighbour in the next cubicle.

“Hi,” said Robert.

“Hi,” said the guy in the next cubicle over. And then he reached out and twisted both Robert’s nipples with considerable force.

“Ow!” yelped Robert. “Dude, what gives?”

Craig came running back over. “Yeah,” he said, grimacing. “Kind of an unofficial Rule Number Two around here: stay away from Larry the Masochist.”

Mitchell​ Symons at Hampshire Writers’ Society

Dr Gary Farnell welcomed members and guests on what was a suitably dark and chilly evening the mood of which wasn’t lightened when he read a letter from society chairman, Barbara Large.

Barbara shared the upsetting news that following a consultation with her physician and subsequent hospital examinations she has been placed under long-term medical care and is being treated for a serious condition. However, she and her medical team are optimistic and everyone anticipates that Barbara will be back ‘shiny and new’ in time for March’s meeting and the onset of lighter evenings. Typical of her selfless attitude, Barbara apologised for her absence and I’m sure that when Dr Farnell asked that everyone join him in wishing Barbara a speedy recovery there was unanimous agreement.  Everyone is channelling best wishes Barbara’s way!

Special Guest: Steve Marper

The Hyde900 Project was established in 2010 to mark the 900th anniversary of the founding of Hyde Abbey, the burial place of King Alfred the Great.  The initial aim was to provide a platform to celebrate Hyde’s history and environment and to promote the wealth of talent to be found amongst its local people.  The project proved so popular it was decided to continue it beyond its initial planned period and it has gone on to become a vehicle to support other events in Hyde and the wider Hampshire area.

More recently it has broadened into a serendipitous approach to community-based initiatives with such things as public health and fitness, music, visual arts and written and spoken word being included.

Cycling, with the annual Wantage to Winchester cycle ride and numerous guided history-based walks, have proved to be enormously popular activities.  The Hyde900 archaeology programme, via the Community Dig, continues to investigate the early history of Hyde Abbey and choral music development is promoted through the Hyde900 Choir.  Written and spoken word, also an important aspect of the programme, is promoted through the Hyde Poetry initiative which is now well established and the Hyde900 Writers strand was recently revived.

Following a successful bid for Heritage Lottery funding an extended programme of lectures, guided walks, information pamphlets, music concerts and the provision of space for the visual arts alongside some bursary availability have all been made possible.  For further information visit Hyde99

Main Speaker: Mitchell Symons

Mitchell Symons was born in London and educated at Mill Hill School from where he went on to study jurisprudence at the LSE.  However, this chosen degree pathway did not enthuse him in the way that he might have hoped and he started to work for the BBC as a researcher and subsequently a director.  He also worked as a broadcaster and journalist and currently writes an award-winning column for the Sunday Express.  He was the principal writer for early editions of the once iconic board game, Trivial Pursuits.  Following his involvement in concept development, Mitchell went on to devise many television game show formats based on general knowledge.

Mitchell’s presentation was preceded by the cautionary note that his talk might become a little ‘potty-mouthed’ and that ‘Chatham House rules apply’ – which this report must ignore! Mitchell Symons proved to be a fast-paced, eclectic and tangential speaker who shared a seemingly endless supply of anecdotes without pause.  The warning of ripe language was issued with good reason but Mitchell explained that writers are notorious for their invective and over his years of moving in publishing circles he has become somewhat inured to imprecation.  By his own volition, he has been ‘helping the nation to poo since 1974’ and this, not for the last time, drew laughter from listeners.

Mitchell Symons is a prolific writer of primarily non-fiction material that includes quiz-question setting, oddly interesting facts and ‘how-to’ rules.  For example, he wrote the trivia for the pilot series of the TV programme Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? but turned down an invitation to become involved with the televised show.  He has also published a book of pithy poems, a couple of which he recited to draw his talk to a close.

Mitchell was intrigued by his audience, claiming he did ‘not understand the purpose of writing societies’ and explained that the idea of writing for no monetary gain appalled him.  After a long and financially prosperous career providing his reading public with titles such as Why Eating Bogeys Is Good For You and Why Do Farts Smell Like Rotten Eggs? Mitchell’s nemesis came in the form of free-to-view internet sites like Wikipedia where content that would have been grist to his creative mill became readily available and free of charge.

October 2017 Competition Results – Mick Jackson’s adjudication

Mick Jackson, award winning novelist and screenwriter, who spoke on the evening about Finding Inspiration kindly adjudicated the October competition – write a story inspired by an unusual object. 300 words.  He had his work cut out with a 25% more entries than usual.

Mick’s adjudication was as follows:

Joint 1st Place: Peter Hitchen – My Incredible Word Mining Machine

Joint 1st Place: Georgina Lippiett – The Japanese Puzzle Box

3rd Place: Barbara Needham – Measurement Technology

Highly Commended: Margaret Jennings – Clinker

Highly Commended: Maddy Dorobantu -The Carcass

Prizewinners October 2017
L: Margaret Jennings, Highly Commended and R: Peter Hitchen, (joint) first place

Joint 1st Place: Peter Hitchen – My Incredible Word Mining Machine

Mick Jackson: ‘Inventive and arresting – an original idea delivered with great wit.’

I invented a machine that can extract the words that get trapped in walls or under the surfaces of tabletops and windowsills.

You see, when people speak their voices hit things, but instead of rebounding they’re absorbed, trapped forever like layers of sedimental rock.

No amount of drilling  can extract them.

Scraping is useless.

Yet the words prevail with half lives infinitely greater than that of plutonium.

Fossilised sound, irrecoverably locked away

Unless

You’ve got a machine like mine, to reconstitute the trapped sound and turn it back into intelligible words.

I tried it out for the first time this morning while everyone was out.

Hooked it up in the bedroom, put the mic next to the wall and turned the machine on.

It worked perfectly.

Turns out, the walls of my house are storyboards and play scripts for psycho thrillers and porn shoots.

By the afternoon, I’d smashed my word mining machine.

Joint 1st place: Georgina Lippiett – The Japanese Puzzle Box

Mick Jackson: ‘A puzzle in itself, all the better for remaining unsolved at the story’s conclusion.’

Once he’d gone out I would slip in to the hush of his study, drawn to the box as if by a siren. My jittery hands would be calmed by tracing tiny fingers over the patterns, feeling the edges and changes of surface, cool and smooth. Could this really have come from something so enormous, so vital, as a tree?

Like starlight in a jam jar.

I would lie on the floor and place the box next to me in the afternoon puddles of sun. Mesmerised by the fingertip-polished colours of autumn captured in its surface, willing the answer to shine out. I remember thinking I could just stop. Be satisfied with the promise of an answer without pushing for any more, without committing any more, without risking any more.

But inevitably I found myself stroking each of its six sides, searching for breaches in its armour. Despite the slight shift in the surface, the whisper of hope, the spike of excitement, the box always held firm. Clutching at his own words for justification (‘failing to try, is trying to fail’), I would shake the box, pushing its edges, corners, fractures. Heart racing, time running out, my temper snapping with my fingernails . . . stopped only by the sound of the front door, the signal to retreat. Defeated for a few months I would wait, patiently, until the mystery weaved its magic and curiosity claimed me once more.

* I stand in his study for the first time in years. The box is now tiny but its secret still has power. Holding the box to the light, I feel the old pull of longing. The certainty that to understand the puzzle of this box would be to understand him. I shall not fail to try.

3rd Place: Barbara Needham – Measurement Technology

Mick Jackson: ‘chosen for its confident navigation towards the final revelation and the weighty object at its heart.’

In his bedroom Alfred deposits three items on a battered chest of drawers: an official letter, a notebook and a large, retractable tape measure. This last item has a special significance for him. It has a heavy embossed leather casing, worn with use, a brass button to release the tape back into its holder and the initials A.P. engraved on it.

Alfred stows his suitcase neatly under the bed. He is a man who appreciates order.

He eats his evening meal alone as he does not want to socialise at the bar. They might ask him why he has come to Germany and he contemplates their distaste if he tells them. Lying does not come easily to Alfred and he lacks the imagination to develop a convincing cover-story. Still, if they think he is a taciturn Yorkshire man abroad on government business, that is not wide of the mark.

Head against the iron bedstead, Alfred contemplates the coming day. He picks up the letter and reads it over again with quiet satisfaction. He has been specially chosen and he is confident that he will discharge his duties with total efficiency.

Alfred was appalled at the incompetence of his predecessor. The man was a complete bungler who could not have applied any scientific principles to the job. Nuremberg was a shambles.

Alfred appraises the tape measure and cradles it in his stubby hands. He caresses the leather. It is an old friend, a tool of his trade. Height, weight, physical condition, that’s what you must assess, then the length of the rope, the type of trapdoor and the drop.

Satisfied, Alfred Pierrepoint, hangman of England and instrument of retribution, settles down and sleeps soundly.

Josef Kramer, The Beast of Belsen spends his last night on earth.

Highly Commended: Margaret Jennings – Clinker

Mick Jackson: ‘Chosen for its drama. Displayed great potential – and made me want to see what the writers would do next.’

His breath smells like the wine Grandpa used to drink.

The smell transports her to a swing in a garden on a sunny day; mushrooms growing in the grass, the smell of cooking wafting, the happy banter of the grown-ups coming like music from the house. The sky is a blue cocoon and she is a tiny chrysalis safe in its care.

The man shouts, pushes her shoulder. She holds the clinker tighter. The pain of it digs into her hand, distracts her from the fear.

What is going to happen? So many things have happened. Now she is centre stage.

Grandma said she was an actress. I do not need to have the flounce and flare of an actress now, he likes wine I have no wine I should sing I am shaking too badly, I, I, I, smaller and smaller and smaller her soul quavers and searches and cannot find and the sky is glowering the world shrinking filled with shouting and where is Grandma snap where is Grandpa and where is Mummy snap and where is Daddy snap and when I am going to be away from this man and will the dreadful things…

The child clutches the clinker fiercely. Blood.

The gun has clicked bulletless three times. The man throws the gun, laughs, marches off.

A hand drags her away.

‘You are bleeding child, what have you done to yourself?’ The woman opens her hand, reveals the clinker.

‘See, what did I tell you, that clinker from the chimneys is your grandma and your grandpa come to make you safe, you are safe now, breathe child.’

Later another woman asks, ‘Why do you lie to her?’

‘Because when truth shall not keep her safe, we shall give her lies. It is all we can do.’

Highly Commended: Maddy Dorobantu -The Carcass

Mick Jackson: ‘Chosen for the raw energy. Displayed great potential – and made me want to see what the writer would do next.’

The flames burn reds and oranges and blue. The air fills with the heavy smoke, coming from the burned tyre. Generations of motorcycles before it sense the intense heat. The smoke sits on the tip of the tongues of the passerby, in the eyes of the rushed firefighters , on the drew of the early morning grass. Blacked grass, just a puddle left to see, and the empty skeleton of a yesterday bike, the noise of the revved engine still lingering in the air. You see heat , you smell the orange of the fire, lying on its side in the grass like a fallen empire.

The boy looks vaguely at the empty carcass, yet to be collected in a van by the council. The park is dark, only the light of a full moon hanging overhead. He hears the sudden rush of a lonely cricket through the darken grass. The wind blows through the hollowness of carcass, the emptiness of his heart and his breath catches the silent smell of the man in the leather jacket. The man is close now and looks rapidly around him, taking in the panoramic view of the park, judging the exits and measuring every step.

The saviour is close, his steps clear in the stillness of the park. The boy trembles and his hand reaches the man’s just in time.

A firm handshake, a stern look. The man lights a cigarette.

‘You did well, mate! You can now be part of the GANG! ‘

The man hands him the package and disappears in the shadow of the trees.

The lonely, burnt bike tells the tale of his initiation. He is now a man, a brother. As the wind staggers through the empty shell, he dreams of becoming the man in the leather jacket one day.

Mick Jackson at Hampshire Writers’ Society, Tuesday 10th October

 

With Barbara Long temporarily indisposed, Adrienne Dines kindly welcomed members and guests alike before hosting The Society’s Annual General Meeting. Adrienne presented for consideration the General and Financial Reports for the period 2016/17. A brief synopsis of the proceedings can be found at the end of this article.

 

Special Guest: Jon Walcott

Established in 2008, Little Toller Press is a small, independent publisher based in Dorset whose industry footprint has steadily grown despite its non-London centric ethos. Perceiving a market gap is often the catalyst for fledgling business ventures and it was the dearth of a specialist Nature Writing publisher that formed the germ of Little Toller’s creative profile, a profile that has become to be admired both within and beyond the publishing industry.

The success of any business start-up is rarely a foregone conclusion and this is even less so for those embarking on enterprises reliant on creative industry. This last, allied to the fact that the publishing world in 2008 faced what amounted to ‘the perfect storm’, should have ensured that Little Toller’s existence was short lived. Happily, this was not to be the case. A carefully constructed and meticulously produced early list, that saw lost nature classics re-born, safeguarded the company’s early life. ‘Classic texts of rural writing and illustration brought back into beautiful existence’ (Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian) is but one example of the early impression the press created. This, coupled with a resurgent interest in nature writing and a reading publics’ appetite ever more whetted for well-written words on the culture of ecology, began to establish Little Toller as a niche but significant player.

The next major step for the house came with a decision to look beyond established classics and divine new writing talent but again, the aim was to stay few in number and high in quality. Excellence, in terms of content and product, remains Little Toller’s prerequisite. Following on from John Burnside’s Havergey, Marcus Sedgwick’s Snow and Fiona Sampson’s Limestone Country comes the soon-to-be-released and much anticipated Beyond the Fell Wall by Richard Skelton. The growth of the new writers list has seen the house liaise with trusted literary agents cognisant of Little Toller’s culture with the aim to further augment a nascent stable of contemporary writing talent.

Jon’s commitment to providing readers with exquisite volumes that are a delight to own still underpins the aim of the press. Little Toller is one of the few publishing houses offering discerning readers the chance to acquire books to be treasured and passed on. If second-hand bookshops still exist in 100 years time, a browser finding a Little Toller First Edition, will no doubt consider themselves very lucky indeed.

 

Main Speaker: Mick Jackson

The theme of Mick Jackson’s key-note talk was ‘Finding Inspiration’. Members were treated to a thorough and detailed insight into how Mick finds inspiration for his writing from what, on first appearances, might be considered obscure and unpromising items. One of Mick’s slides showed the interior of his office, a space crammed with stacks of books, magazines, posters and personally precious things of curious interest. By his own admission, Mick is a hoarder, collecting the ephemera of his daily life in the hope that one day some of these things might provide the inspiration for his next piece of work.

Mick, working in light of Adrian Mitchell’s declaration, ‘I like stuff’ takes this modus a long way and we were treated to a glimpse of Mick’s scrapbook, a leather-bound ledger of Dickensian proportion, crammed full of things that have appealed to his sense of humour and curiosity. Working on Tom Waites’ premise of ‘putting interesting things in the same room and waiting until they have children’ is a writing philosophy that has worked well for Mick who believes that ideas beget ideas. Having a sense of physical place to establish a story’s concept goes hand in hand with a love of physical objects and this was perhaps best highlighted while Mick was a member of the UEA’s creative writing graduate programme. He accepted an invitation to explore the grounds of the English aristocrat, the Duke of Portland’s country house. It was a fascination with the labyrinth of tunnels that the eccentric Duke had excavated and how this endeavour connected to the Duke’s need to withdraw from sight, that inspired Mick’s triumphant debut novel The Underground Man, Faber and Faber, 2007.

An example of Mick’s prescience for the direction that some aspects of contemporary writing were to take was his recognition that ‘everything already exists’; that it is the writers who have the ability to find the interesting angle or the new approach who will produce new and original content. It’s all about ‘finding what’s already there and showing it to people anew’. Mick drew on the Michelangelo analogy that suggests the Boy David already resided in the block of marble.

Mick seeks to ask ‘what if?’ as a way of subverting preconceptions.  In doing so he hopes to find a way to show the world differently, in much the same way as the great American post-Beat Generation writer, Richard Brautigan sought to make the ordinary extraordinary.

This was perhaps one of those keynotes that might have been best enjoyed first-hand, packed as it was with pithy advice and practical suggestions for writers seeking to find their next idea.   If you weren’t there, Mick concluded his talk with the caution that inspiration won’t come to find the writer, it has to happen the other way round.

 

The Annual General Meeting

Adrienne Dines conducted the AGM’s (20016-17) proceedings, with written reports being made available for scrutiny. Presenting a thorough resume of The Society’s position, the report showed progress to be developing in accordance with the committee’s expectations. Membership numbers continue to increase year on year which in turn promotes The Society’s positive financial position. Whilst the need to recruit more members was acknowledged, the current status ensured that all financial commitments for the period of the report had been met with no existing debt burden cited. Appropriate steerage is being informed by the analysis of the results of the recent survey which also evidenced members’ satisfaction that the society has hosted a pleasantly wide variety of events and guest speakers. The proportionate distribution between expertise from both the creative and the business sides of the publishing industry was shown as being appropriate.

The Annual Report, proposed as an accurate reflection of The Society’s position by Sally Russell and seconded by Joan McGavin was accepted. The Annual Financial Report, proposed as an accurate reflection of the Society’s position by Peter Hitchen and seconded by Damon Wakes was accepted.