The Competition for November was to “Write the first page of a historical novel” in 300 words with the entries adjudicated by Becky Bagnell. I’d like to send a very big thank you to Becky, who very kindly stepped in at the last minute as the original adjudicator, Laura Longrigg, was unable to attend.
Becky has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. Before setting up the Lindsay Literary Agency she worked as a commissioning editor at Macmillan where she was fortunate to work alongside a wide range of authors such as BBC journalist John Simpson and adventurer Bear Grylls.
The Lindsay Literary Agency was founded in 2008 and represents an eclectic list of authors whose award-winning books have been translated into multiple languages around the world including Chinese.
Unfortunately Becky was unable to be with us last night, but she was able to e-mail her adjudications for the competitions.
Becky said that the criteria she used to assess the entries was as follows:
“When assessing the first page of a historical novel the criteria I use is relatively simple. Whilst reading through I ask myself the following questions, is a world opening up for me, is it intriguing, is it original and does it feel authentic. If the answer to all of these is yes I then ask, would I like to keep reading.”
1st Prize: Louise Morrish, Masquerade
“This is a strong opening, I loved the Elizabethan setting and it definitely piqued my interest making me keen to read on. The maid’s voice felt original and intriguing and the historical details were intricate and revealing.”
Tis oft said of my Queen she is more than a man, and something less than a woman.
I think on these words this October day, as I dress her in an embroidered chemise of fine Raynes linen, and silk stockings with silver thread that encase her long legs like a second skin. She permits me to conceal her hairless head beneath a cap of gold, and when the sun’s rays reach the chamber window, I paint her cheeks and throat with soft white lead, erasing the rough shadows.
Hiding the truth.
I daub a spot of rouge upon her thin lips, gently smearing the soft crimson, crafting the illusion of tempting plumpness. My Queen’s false hair, golden red, emits the foul odor of a corpse as I place it on her capp’d head, my fingers deft amidst the pearls and jewels that nestle within its curls.
I stand back as she rises. She is taller than me by some, her bearing regal, but I do not cast down my eyes, as the Court demands. I assist her with her privie coat of bones and buckram, lacing it tightly at her back. The whalebone farthingale juts from her narrow hips, the wheel of bone tied close about her slender waist. Over this I drape not one, but three linen petticoats, affording my Queen the necessary fullness of figure she so lacks. Next I fetch her jewel-embroidered gown, so heavy my breath labours to lift it.
Last, I fix the ruff, stiff and white as purity, tight about her neck.
My Queen wears her disguise wondrous well, I do declare, and she is ready now to face the world once more.
Yet I cannot help but wonder how much longer she can persist with this deceit, before the truth will out.
2nd Prize: Jacky Hutchins, In Honourable Company
“This is an intriguing beginning to a novel, it immediately captured my interest, it is well-written and has a strong sense of place. Hearing the description of the running water made me feel thirsty which seems a good sign!”
The sun had gone down but the day had lost none of its heat, and in the stalks of millet grass a man lay quite still. As moonlight touched his face he groaned, and opened his eyes, aware of a raging thirst – and of being tormented by every insect in Christendom. His feeble attempt to disperse the hovering cloud ended in a gasp.
He clutched at his chest, confused, staring at the sword in his hand.
How had he managed to keep hold – ? He half-remembered crawling into some shade; now it was night; he must have lain insensible some while.
He should use the darkness – and yet he had no idea where he was or where he might go, only that he must distance himself from the fort.
He lay a moment, then forced himself up. Hand to his ribs he stumbled away on leaden feet, before blundering at last up against a wall. His mind must be wandering, he thought, wiping his mouth with one filthy hand. There was the delicious sound of water, a gentle splash that was both torture and delight, and so close it seemed to come from the other side of the wall. Was he dreaming? Forcing up his head, he regarded the obstacle. It was too high. He could never manage it. In despair, he cursed the night bird mocking him as it fluttered from a nearby tree whose branches drooped against the wall. Both sides of the wall?
Summoning every last reserve, he crawled towards the twisted trunk. Forced himself to climb out along the first bough – And looked into a garden so fresh and sweet it seemed like Paradise.
The world suddenly whirled, and he tumbled from the branch, unconscious before he hit the path.
3rd Prize: Elizabeth Wald, The Long Ships
“Erik felt like an original protagonist, the raiding party was well imagined and the attention to detail on the ship was excellent.”
They came out of the morning mist, sliding silently over the glassy water. Ten carved prows open-mouthed in the silver dawn, ten sails shimmering on the masts, ten sets of oars skimming over the waves. Ten harbingers of death for their unsuspecting foes.
Erik stood tall on the prow of his boat at the front of the raiding party. He rocked forwards and backwards as the oars dipped in unison behind him, willing Sea Dragon to be the first to touch the shore. There would be an extra large celebration tonight and a pick of the prizes if they beat the other boats.
It had been a bright winter day when his father chose him as her master. The boats had been beached for cleaning and repair and they had gone to the beach to watch the men scraping the thick green slime from Sea Dragon’s hull and sawing the new wood. He could still remember the stink of the evil-smelling slime mingled with the fragrant resin on the freshly cut planks.
‘This will be your ship next summer,’ his father had said, laughing at his astonishment. ‘It’s time that you were master of your own ship. She will serve you well, if you let her.’
His father was right. She was not a new ship, but Erik was still proud of her. The weathered timbers were sound, the keel was strong and her graceful belly still sliced through the water faster than any other ship he knew.
Sea Dragon shuddered as she gently nudged the shore and slid into the gravel with a barely perceptible crunch. Erik waved his men forward as he leapt into the icy cold water and they spilled into the foam after him. Then master and men faded into the mist like grey ghosts.
Highly Commended: Gill Hollands, The Knight of the Moon
Highly Commended: Lin Knott, The Wolf at the Door
The prizes were signed copies of Judith Allnatt’s books, together with a Certificate of Adjudication from Becky Bagnell.
There were twenty entries for November with many entries from new members and guests. So once again a very big thank you to Becky for doing such a wonderful job of adjudication.