Clare Hey, Commissioning Editor speaks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society

Report by Peter Hitchen

The logos of Simon and Schuster and Orion Publishing Group shone from the huge screen that formed the backdrop for November’s gathering of the Hampshire Writers’ Society.  The auditorium was packed in anticipation of keynote speaker and Commissioning Editor, Clare Hey, one of publishing’s most experienced professionals.

Stop Press: Publishers are human beings!  But more on that later…

First Speaker:  Joanna Lane

The first of the evening’s speakers was novelist and Hampshire Writers’ Society member, Joanna Lane.  Joanna’s debut non-fiction book, Mother of a Suicide is an incredibly affecting account of trying to understand and come to terms with the terrible tragedy of the suicide of her son, Christopher.

Joanna’s honesty and bravery shone throughout her talk and these two qualities also underpin her incredible book.  It can’t have been easy to stand up and talk to such a large audience about the circumstances that led her to write such a powerful account of such challenging personal circumstances.  Joanna managed with understated dignity and composure and in doing so she was really able to make a connection with her listeners.  She discovered that writing the book was something positive to do as she tried to come to terms with her son’s death and she began to recognise the value of writing as therapy.  It became obvious that Joanna was determined that something positive should come from such awful circumstances.  By raising awareness of the ramifications of serious head trauma during childhood and its potential to cause chronic and debilitating depression in adulthood, Joanna was determined that other parents need not have to go through what she and her family had to face.

Of course, as well as dealing with the acutely personal nature of her task, Joanna also faced the same challenges that all serious novelists face.  She explained in detail how she developed a system of notation and filing in order to keep track of the work’s progress and she had some good advice for those struggling in the midst of their work – taking regular physical exercise and staying active during the writing process helps keep ideas fresh and enhances motivation.

Taking the advice of writing friends, Joanna organised a one-to-one meeting with Bob Cushion of Accent Press at the Winchester Writers’ Festival.  Subsequently she was delighted to be asked to provide a further sample of her work.  There were hiatuses, false starts and the inevitable setbacks and frustrations to negotiate but finally, after super-human determination, Joanna’s book made it into print with an initial run of 3k copies.

Mother of a Suicide: Fighting for the Truth by Joanna Lane.  Accent Press.


Second Speaker: Damon L Wakes

A recent graduate of Winchester University’s MA in Creative Writing, Damon gave us all a fascinating insight into the process of crowd funding and how it is establishing itself as a mainstream route into print.  His book, Ten Little Astronauts (the title a delightful play on Agatha Christie’s [1939] work) is set on a decaying spaceship – an environment in itself guaranteed to enhance the tension of any narrative.  A murder mystery set in outer space but who, if anyone will survive?  Damon’s promo video explained that pledges, starting at an entry level of £5, can be made in the usual way via Unbound’s website.

You can view Damon’s video on this link 

Clare Hey (left) with a HWS member

Keynote Speaker: Clare Hey

Clare started her publishing career 14 years ago with Harper Collins and during that time she has seen many, some might say revolutionary changes.  Digitisation, print on demand, the birth of E-books and self-publishing are just some of the developments that have conspired to change the topography of the publishing world.  Clare, however provided a steadying voice, quick to recognise that one fundamental thing would never change – the need for great writing to be put in the hands of appreciative and discerning readers.  That need she told us, is what a commissioning publisher is there to meet.  Whilst she accepts that subjectivity inevitably plays a part in what any agent will want to read (Clare is not a huge fan of Science Fiction for example) some fundamental elements of pitching are generic across genres and publishing houses.

She advised that authors should write a perfect covering letter.  That means the letter should be concise, it should intrigue and it should make the agent think ‘I simply have no choice but to look at the synopsis and manuscript’.  The letter should achieve the same thing a good back-cover blurb ­– it should make the agent want to read the book.  Clare, similarly to most agents we were told, wants to read a ‘strong story set in a believable world’ therefore the accompanying synopsis should show that the writing has those very qualities.  Finally, if the all-important moment arrives and the agent actually starts to read the manuscript the writing must be flawless, fresh and original.

Clare concluded by providing some examples of writers with whom she has worked successfully over the years and she left her audience with the very encouraging belief that that there will always be room on the shelf for books by writers who are prepared to perfect their craft and write convincing, engaging stories set within exciting and believable worlds.  It’s that simple.

So you see… agents are human after all.

November 2016 Competition Results – Becky Bagnell

Becky Bagnell, of the Lindsay Literary Agency, was kind enough to adjudicate our November competition. Numbers were a little lower than expected at only eleven. Becky offers her expert advice on how to ‘Write a covering letter to a literary agent’ by sharing her tips below.


1st Place: Gillian Shilson – Covering Letter to a Literary Agent

2nd Place: Wendy Fitzgerald – Letter to Literary Agent

3rd Place: Peter Hitchen – Covering Letter for Becky Bagnell

Highly Commended: Linda Welch – Riptide and Summer Quigley – Cover Letter

1st Prize

Covering Letter to a Literary Agent – Gillian Shilson

Becky Bagnell: This letter showed great spirit and I particularly liked the fact that the character of the author seemed to shine through. The writer also stuck to the basic guidelines of beginning the letter by telling the agent what they might expect from the submission, in this case romance/psychological thriller cross, women’s commercial fiction. The author then gave a brief summary of the plot, making it intriguing. Then in the final part of the letter the character of the author came across giving the submission a great sense of energy. 

Dear Caroline Powerful,

I am seeking representation for a first novel, The Girl in the House with Green Doors, 114,000 words (romance/psychological thriller cross, women’s commercial fiction) and would be very grateful if you could take a look.

Three Line Synopsis:

Vacationing in a woodland hideaway, romantic, book-loving Ethan squares up against devilish antagonist George to absolve himself of guilt over the death of a child and to win the heart of mystical Abby whom George lusts after and seeks to possess.

This is the story of three people whose lives become entangled following a tragic accident. It is also a love story with some spiritual elements. I think it might appeal to the same readership as The Lovely Bones or The Secret Life of Bees.

I was born in the West Indies and ran barefoot about the tropics until condemned to hard shoes and boarding-school in England at the age of thirteen. I started writing seriously in my twenties and was agented (near misses, but no luck) by Pollingers.

I brought up three boys, divorced, took a degree in fine art and cared for my demented mother until her death, working as a painter but always writing in my spare time.

I have several other novels almost completed. Writing is my absolute passion, the thing that makes it worthwhile getting up (early!) for. I live alone in a cottage by a lake with a study, a desk and a pen. I love walking while thinking about the current novel, constantly rejoicing in my freedom to write again.

I still hate wearing shoes.

I heard you speak at this year’s Winchester Writer’s Conference and would dearly love to be represented by you. I hope very much that you enjoy my chapters, which I attach with a one-page synopsis.

Kind regards,

Gillian Shilson.

1st Prize Winner, Gillian Shilson with Literary Agent, Becky Bagnell


2nd Prize

Letter to Literary Agent – W Fitzgerald

Becky Bagnell: This letter was simple, but it conveyed everything an agent needs to know while at the same time adding a touch of intrigue. It is a romance novel, it has an original football theme with strong female protagonist and the author is passionate supporter of the beautiful game – sounds interesting!Address

Lindsay Literary Agency

East Worldham House

East Worldham


Hampshire, GU34 3AT

October 22, 2016

Dear Ms Bagnell,

Novel: ‘Her Own Goal’: Genre: Y/A (Romance). Length: 50,000 words.

I am seeking representation for my first novel, noting from your website that your special interests include young adult fiction and that you encourage debut authors.

‘Her Own Goal’ is one of a planned series of young adult romances, featuring normal everyday girls, and men who just happen to be footballers:

Single parent Anna is bringing up her daughter Lily alone, whilst working as a housekeeper and finishing her degree. Theo is a successful footballer: handsome rich and famous. The gulf between them seems enormous when she becomes unexpectedly involved in the dramas of his life.

But when her father falls ill, it is Theo who is there for her: can he really be just a nice, regular kind of guy under all those trappings? What exactly does the formidably beautiful Arianna still mean to him, and what will happen when Lily’s father comes back into her life?

Anna must come to terms with both her pride and her prejudices before she can ever hope to build a future for herself and Lily.

The second book is currently in progress.

I have a degree from London University, and am a member of the Hampshire Writers’ Society, including their critique group. I am also a mad, passionate supporter of the beautiful game!

I enclose the first three chapters and a synopsis, and can be contacted either by email:; phone, 02380 xxxxxx; or at the above address. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

W Fitzgerald.

Becky Bagnell, Literary Agent with 2nd Prize Winner Wendy Fitzgerald


3rd Prize

Covering Letter for Becky Bagnell – Peter Hitchen

Becky Bagnell: This entry achieves everything that I’d expect from a covering letter. PH explains exactly what the book is about, a boy ‘Daniel’, after whom the book is named, is 11 years old and part of child trafficking circle in Northern England. The author also makes clear the book has heart. We also find out a little about the author, an academic and a father. The only thing this covering letter doesn’t do is tell the agent who the book is aimed at? I’m assuming this is a children’s book because of the age of the central protagonist, but because of the content it might be adult?

Dear Becky Bagnell,

I would like you to consider representing my novel, DANIEL, a plot-driven work of literary fiction comprising 103,000 words.

Set in 1970s Northern England against a backdrop of life in institutional care, the book opens at the point when the eponymous 11-year-old character has been trafficked to a meeting with catholic priest and serial child abuser Father Greg. Despite, or perhaps because of his newly altered circumstances, Daniel begins to develop an unusual inner-courage. This fortitude gradually evolves into a transcendent spirituality which changes the lives of all those who meet him in unpredictable and unforgettable ways. The narrative sees the boy struggling to make sense of some fundamental questions; the issues of loyalty, betrayal, love, guilt, forgiveness and self-sacrifice are all set against the activities of Father Greg, and the sadistic head of Daniel’s orphanage, Alex Smart.

However, as affecting as the boy’s circumstances are they are not the heart of the story’s mystery. Several narrative arcs – the foul play leading up to the boy’s estrangement from his single post-partum mother, the matrix of criminality stretching from the church of St Mary into the wider diocese, the corruption and incompetence within local government and the seemingly chance emergence of alcoholic vagrant Sammy Sugden – interweave to culminate in an unstoppable and deadly climax.

I’m a 53-year-old married academic and father to two young children and DANIEL is my first novel. I enclose the opening three chapters of the work along with a synopsis. Should you wish, I can be contacted at the above address or via the email address and telephone number shown below. I very much look forward to hearing from you.


Peter Hitchen.

3rd Prize Winner, Peter Hitchen  with Literary Agent, Becky Bagnell


Highly Commended

Riptide – Linda Welch

Becky Bagnell: This submission could have been in the top three, as it was strong. However, the author suggests that the novel isn’t yet finished and so usually an agent does ask that the author waits until they’ve got a final script before submitting.

My Address

25 October 2016

Becky Bagnell

Lindsay Literary Agency

East Worldham House

East Worldham


Hampshire   GU34 3AT

Dear Ms Bagnell

Please find enclosed the first 3 chapters and synopsis of Riptide, an urban fantasy about a teenage mermaid. The novel is currently at 65,000 words. I anticipate the finished novel to be approximately 75,000 words.

Urban fantasy continues to be popular with teens and mermaid novels are an increasingly widespread genre: Goodreads has a whole section devoted to mermaid novels with at least 100 titles. (Source  retrieved 24/10/16). The majority these titles are based in the US and I feel that UK-based stories would be equally popular in this country, where no-one is more than 70 miles away from the coast.

Riptide is set in the south of England, and is told from the first-person viewpoint of Lori, a 16-year-old girl whose reality is thrown into question when she discovers that she is a mermaid. As she says herself, ‘When you’re a child you believe every word your parents tell you. Mine told me I was allergic to chlorine, and that a rare skin complaint meant that I could not immerse more than 10% of my body in water at any one time. I never learned to swim, I only took showers, never a bath. I never questioned them or considered for a moment that they might be lying, until one night, when I took my friend’s dinghy out for a moonlight sail …’

This novel addresses themes that will resonate with teens and young adults, such as loss, growing independence and challenges to parental authority.

I would welcome any feedback you have on Riptide and enclose a stamped addressed envelope for its return.

Thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely,

Linda Welch


Cover Letter – Summer Quigley

Becky Bagnell: This letter contains everything you’d expect and was well thought through.

My Address


27th September 2106

Anne Clark

Literary Agent

Anne Clark Literary Agency

Dear Ms Clark,

I am sending the attached picture book manuscript Toilet Seat Thief for your consideration. It is a lighthearted rhyming story which provides a reminder of how even if you want to for kind reasons to another person, you must never take things without asking. Comparable books would be Julia Donaldson’s What the Ladybird Heard or The Detective Dog but I feel my book is differentiated by its kookiness and ‘toilet’ humour which appeals to children.


Raccoon, the detective, wears a distinctive black mask,

He has many others for each undercover task.

A toilet seat was stolen from a museum’s prize display

Will Raccoon catch the thief or will they get away?

Series possibility

I have a few different ideas for running a series of rhyming detective picture books.  Characters include Stickins – the stick insect undercover police officer and Teeny Weeny Spi-Guy – the money spider spy.  Of course, if you felt Racoon would be popular I could work on different cases for him to take on.

A little about me

I am a mother of two and currently work to fit around my children’s school hours; prior to having children I completed a journalism degree, a post-graduate diploma in public relations and worked within the communications industry for 10 years. Last year I completed an online ‘writing storybooks for children’ course and since then have written a few picture books which haven’t yet been submitted to any agents as I want to strengthen them before I do so.

Any questions, please let know,

Yours sincerely,

Summer Quigley.


Anthony Ridgway Book Launch

With great excitement, last week, we saw the launch of the children’s book Wizzy the Animal Whisperer by HWS Member, Anthony Ridgway (author) and Suzan Houching (Illustrator) at the Point in Eastleigh. The launch was attended by the actor David Suchet who read an extract from the book. You can view the BBC South Today news coverage of Anthony’s book launch on this link:

Anthony’s book will be on sale at the HWS meeting on 8th November at The Stripe, University of Winchester from 7pm, when Clare Hey, literary agent will be giving a talk.

ant ridgway 2
Anthony with the illustrator, Suzan Houching


Published by Little Knoll Press Little Knoll Bookshop


How Ten Words Won Author Ally Sherrick a Book Contract

allysherrickTake a place at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference, an entry in the Ten Word Novel Pitching competition and a well-known children’s publisher as the judge. Mix them all together and what have you got? A small but important chance for your story – the one you have slaved at for months in your writer’s garret and in which you believe so passionately – to reach the audience of bright-eyed and enthusiastic young readers you’ve written it for.

black-powder-aw-2-195x3001When I entered my ten word summary of Black Powder in the competition, I had no inkling at all that I might actually win. I had already collected a number of rejections from agents who had told me that unfortunately my story ‘wasn’t for them.’ In fact I was very close to consigning it to the ‘Bottom Drawer of Not-Likely-To-Be-Published Doom’. So I was over the moon when I discovered that Barry Cunningham, Publisher and Managing Director of Chicken House Publishing Ltd, had picked it from the pile of entries.

The prize was a review by Barry of 2,000 words of my story – an historical middle grade adventure about a boy who gets mixed up in the Gunpowder Plot. I was delighted that I was going to receive comments and perhaps some advice back from him; but I was thrilled when he contacted me after reading it and said he’d like to read the whole thing.

chickenhouselogoAfter some last minute further polishing, I sent my manuscript off to Barry in late November 2014 and spent a nail-biting few weeks waiting to hear. Imagine my delight when he contacted me to say he had really enjoyed reading it and that he’d like to take it to the next Chicken House acquisitions meeting. He warned me that they may yet decide not to take it on, but that, at any event, they would like me to come down to meet them at the Chicken House coop in Frome, Somerset. A date was duly fixed for a meeting in early March – although I was still none the wiser as to where things might be going!

But all that changed when, after an initial chat round a ginormous old table in a room which looked suspiciously like Dumbledore’s study, Barry told me they’d like to publish my story. If I’d been over the moon before, I was now heading on warp drive into another galaxy entirely – especially when the offer came through from Barry the next day for a two book deal!

18 months later and though my book is now published and sitting proudly on the bookshelves of bookshops up and down the land, I still haven’t quite beamed back down to earth.

But, two things from my travels through space I do know to be true:

  1. We writers must always keep the faith. If you love your story, never give up on it, no matter what.

And …

  1. Seize every opportunity that comes your way. Entering that SCBWI competition nearly two years ago gave me the chance to realize my dream of becoming a published author and of sharing my stories with a whole world of readers.

And the lucky ten words? ‘Boy must join Gunpowder Plot to save father from hanging.’

Black Powder is available from Waterstones, Foyle’s, WH Smith and all good bookshops, and online from Amazon.

For more information about Ally visit her website: or follow her on Twitter: @ally_sherrick

Poets and their Poetry – Hugh Greasley

Report by Lisa Nightingale


Hugh Greasley is a visual artist – a painter – as well as a poet.hughgreasley

He often collaborates with other artists, enjoying the intersection between poetry and arts. In 2015, he worked with a performance artist to develop a poetry/performance piece about a moonlight walk along the Itchen River, from Winchester to the sea over the course of a night. Hugh has recently collaborated with a ceramicist, hand writing poetry around pots and bottles, mixing writing with three dimensional form.

His poems are inspired by places such as St Ives and nature. He often begins with quite an ordinary subject and allows the poem to twist itself into something more interesting.stives

Hugh’s research tip is to use Etymology which is the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed. Etymology can often lead you to interesting related concepts. He agrees with the advice to read widely the works of other poets.

Poets and their Poetry – Maura Dooley

Report by Lisa Nightingale

mauradooleyMaura’s poetry is inspired by her feelings for places, or people or situations. For example her wonderful poem inspired by her becoming star struck at meeting her idol, Leonard Cohen in a lift. In her travels she will often take a wander around the new place, looking in estate windows and imagining living in those houses, putting herself in the shoes of those that live there and she read us her poems about the Ace Sisters of Mumbles in Wales and Streatham Hill.

Her work sounds as though it has been well researched and she says that research is not the inspiration, but often she will be looking into something which interests her and a poem begins to form from it. On The Moor with Keeper was inspired by the Yorkshire Moors and Keeper was the name of Emily Bronte’s dog. And another on her arrival in London during the Thatcher years.oldauthenticinstruments

Maura also reads widely the work of other poets and writers. Another of her poems, Bellowhead was inspired by the bands ability to take ancient ballads and make them contemporary using old and authentic instruments and here she read us her own reworking of an old ballad.

Maura was honoured to spend time as Chawton Houses Poet in Residence. She used the comings and goings of those visiting to imagine what it was like in Jane Austen’s time. And looking at the grave Jane and her mother turned the stereotypical graveside feelings on their head to produce a positive poem which reduced the grave to what it is – a square of earth; Jane and Cassandra’s spirits are in the house.austengrave

Ideas often ramble around for a long time in Maura’s head until she finds a way to write it down. Her first poem was about a ghost. She called the ghost a ‘blip’ of light. Her teacher returned the work with ‘blip’ crossed through in red and the word ‘blot’ written in instead. Maura knew then that she wanted to be a poet.

Zones of Avoidance POSTPONED


The performance of Zones of Avoidance planned for Saturday, 29 October, 2016 7:30 pm in the Performing Arts Studio, University of Winchester has been postponed to a future date to be announced later. We will refund your tickets or you may chose to save them to use at the new date to be announced soon.

We apologise for any inconvenience that this postponement has caused.

Barbara Large MBE

Chairman Hampshire Writers’ Society   

Poets and their Poetry; Maggie Sawkins

Report by Lisa Nightingale


Maggie’s writing took off after attending a workshop on the theme of sound with the Poet John Burnside in Portsmouth. Originally she was at a loss. Knowing that she wanted to write something, she asked herself a challenging question (where does sound go to when it’s not there) which helped her to look at the subject from a new angle.

Maggie quoted the poet Charles Simic: ‘Poems are the translation of silence’. It was this that inspired her to write the poem that won the Winchester Writers’ Poetry Competition in 1998. It reminded her of returning home from school to find that whatever had been causing her parents constant rowing had been overcome – they’d made up and what ensued was silence. Maggie chose to interpret that silence in the prize winning poem, ‘The Birds’.

Maggie quotes and reads the work of other poets taking inspiration from them and asking questions of her own understanding of them and reworking them from challenging angles.

zonesofavoidanceThe arena of addiction provides a wide range of material for a writer. But it is the drama triangle that interests Maggie. She knew that she wanted to write a long poem sequence and became interested in the ‘walls’ that we and our society use as coping mechanisms. During her research she found that the biggest wall of all is in the Milky Way near the Zone of Avoidance.

The Zone Of Avoidance
The Zone Of Avoidance

Maggie takes pride in writing all types of poetry. She wrote ‘Hooked’ in the form of a pantoum in which the lines are repeated. Her starting point was the emotion of grief personified as an animal – in this case, a dog. ‘You curl up with me when I lie down/I vow each time not to feed/I should lock you out/but you’re too far in.’

She spends much time crafting her work and making every word count and advises that using a working title is a good idea as the overall title is so important.

Experience, publication and attendance at workshops have all attributed to her work evolving. ‘Maybe you grow into your voice,’ she muses. ‘Looking back, the preoccupations stay the same but the voice has changed.’

Poets and their Poetry – Isabel Rogers Hampshire Poet 2016

Report by Lisa Nightingale

‘When I feel an itch at the back of my skull, I think; there’s a poem coming!’ Isabel Rogers Hampshire Poet 2016 told the Society at October’s meeting.

isabelrogers-jpegIsabel is now three quarters of her way through a hectic but fantastic year as Hampshire Poet. The post has enabled her to take her poetry onto the radio and into many of the county’s schools running workshops and getting the children excited about poetry.

Isabel is also an enthusiastic advocate of the Winchester Poetry Festival and in partnership with Hampshire Cultural Trust her latest commission has been produced for National Poetry Day. It is a poem in Book Morse on a book mark – you have to look at it as a column!

Isabel admitted to often working on a poem with no title adding it at the end and as for research – ‘I usually make it all up!’ she says. But on a serious note, Isabel fessed up to researching her subject to within an inch of his legend when once writing a poem about John Harrison.

John Harrison's Chronometer
John Harrison’s Chronometer

The poem was titled ‘John’s Curious Machines and it won the 2014 Cardiff International Poetry Competition. Still a man in her audience told her that one of her points was wrong!

Read other poets widely was her message – ‘It is essential. It is how we learn’.

Poetry Magazine, a publication based in Chicago (distributed internationally) has this month printed two of Isabel’s poems and she read Watching the Perseids to the Society.

Have a look at Isabel’s website –