June 2017 Competition Results – Adrienne Dines

It was a pleasure to welcome back Adrienne Dines, author and Creative Writing Tutor as our adjudicator for June. Our last competition in the 2016/17 season was to ‘Write a scene in a rose garden’. As always, Adrienne was willing to share her wisdom as a writer and as a tutor. Her accompanying comments offer HWS members valuable tips.

Adrienne was also kind enough to comment on all of this month’s entries. I will forward these individually via email shortly.

1st Place: Louise Morrish – Sub Rosa

2nd Place: Rosie Travers – A Beheading

3rd Place: John Quinn – Another Day on the Front Line

Highly Commended: Wendy Fitzgerald – The Rose Garden

Highly Commended: Claire Gaudry – Memories of the Roses

Commended: David Lea – The Colour of Blood

1st Place: Sub Rosa by Louise Morrish

Adrienne Dines: Beautifully paced. Good use of Rose names. The hints are carefully laid so there is plenty of space for the reader. Uses the setting skilfully.

‘I never knew this was here,’ Charlotte said, as James led her through a doorway in the stone wall. Winding paths stretched away, meandering between beds of roses and through arbours covered in blossom.

‘The locals call this place Sub Rosa,’ James told her. ‘It means ‘a secret’. From Roman times.’

How apt, Charlotte thought; Ben had no idea she was here.

The garden was only open to the public for a few weeks each summer, James said. They began to walk, and Charlotte breathed in the scented air; a blend of perfumes. They were alone here, no sounds but their crunching footsteps and the hum of bees.

‘Have you heard of the Language of Flowers?’ James asked.

She hadn’t, and told him so.

‘White roses,’ James began, as they ducked beneath an arch of Rambling Rector. ‘They signify innocence, marriage, new beginnings.’

Charlotte thought of Ben; what would her husband do if he knew she was here? The thought caused a flutter in her belly, like a trapped bird.

‘Red roses,’ James said, as they passed a border labelled: Precious Time. ‘They mean unconditional love.’

Reaching a junction, they paused. ‘We could get lost,’ James half joked. ‘There should be a map, or a signpost…’

There was no map for where she was heading, Charlotte thought. James was Terra Incognita.

They passed a shrub bearing the sign: Nostalgia. ‘White and red roses,’ James said. ‘Unity and togetherness.’

At the end of the path was a bench, partly hidden behind a lemon-gold tea bush; Welcome Home. They sat, the bird in Charlotte’s belly thrashing now.

‘Yellow roses,’ James said. Their knees touched. ‘Shall I tell you what they mean?’

‘Perhaps,’ Charlotte smiled, ‘some things are better left a secret?’

He kissed her then, and she felt the bird soar free.

2nd Place: A Beheading by Rosie Travers

Adrienne Dines: Love this! It’s a very sinister voice and there is great use of deep point of view. The writer refers to the mother’s psycho-geriatrician but doesn’t labour it so we almost miss the clues. Clever play on words (particularly like the link with ‘hips’). This writer is in control.

One swift, brutal cut was immensely satisfying. No wonder Henry the Eighth had enjoyed beheadings so much.

‘You have been looking after the roses for me, haven’t you?’ David had asked on the phone from Singapore. Not how are you, or what have you been up to, not even a polite enquiry into the outcome his mother’s appointment with the psycho-geriatrician. Just concern for his roses.

A vigorous shake of a stem and more fragile blooms fluttered to the floor. It was probably best to take off anything that showed the merest sign of weakness whilst she was here, relishing her role of jolly executioner. In fact, even the tightest bud would only blossom to fade and weep within days. She could save it the effort; put it out of its misery right now.

Gauntlets at the ready, Imelda made a grab for a wayward branch. It was very easy to get carried away.

‘Be careful with the Darcey Bussell,’ David had said before he’d left, ‘she’s a prolific bloomer.’

Two weeks later and the Darcey Bussell was a profusion of blood red rosettes.

‘Deadhead regularly,’ he’d instructed, ‘and the flowers will keep on coming. I don’t want to come home to a garden full of hips.’

Felicity Ramsay had hips, and boobs. Imelda could remember meeting her at the Christmas Party. ‘This is Flick, my new assistant,’ David had said, like an indulgent father. Felicity had a laugh reminiscent of a performing sea-lion. Imelda would have recognised it anywhere. Even over a satellite signal from Singapore.

What was she thinking of? She took a step back, put down her secateurs, removed her gardening gloves and headed back to the shed.

A delicate decapitation was too good for the Darcey Bussell. A chain saw would do a much better job.

3rd Place: Another Day on the Front Line by John Quinn

Adrienne Dines: Lovely controlled piece. Love the humour and the extended war metaphor. Poor hapless Brian. I love that the war is not really with the roses! Why such short paragraphs?

The first of the day’s sunrays slant over Lark Hill and illuminate the world’s neatest war zone: 22 Fleming Drive.

Soon, mug of tea in hand, Brian will march from his back door down to his shed, to finesse the day’s battle plans.

Throughout the week his preparation has been meticulous, purchasing chemicals and scrutinising weather forecasts.

Brian takes a final gulp from his ‘World’s Best Gardener’ mug, a Christmas present years ago from wife Linda, smiles at the loitering robin and prepares to ‘go over the top.’

The untrained eye will observe only a middle-aged man pruning, mulching and spraying, surrounded by glorious pink, yellow and red blooms of the Rosa family.

But any historian, philosopher or journalist will immediately see that Brian is at the raging heart of a battle that has been fought since time immemorial: the war to bend nature to their will.

Undeterred by the ultimate futility of his efforts, Brian works throughout the day until Linda yells from the backdoor ‘Dinner in five. Don’t forget to wash your hands!’

Brian drinks in the strong scent of a climber variety named ‘Handel’. Its cream flowers edged with blush remind him, as always, of when he first met Linda, her English rose complexion challenging the pink of her lips.

He takes out his secateurs and, wielding them with a dexterity and passion unseen elsewhere in his life, cuts the long stem leading to the finest rose to give to his wife.

With Lark Hill now long in shadow, Brian heads indoors, takes off his muddy boots and presents Linda with the perfect, perfumed present.

‘Not in the house Brian! You know, my hay fever…’

The hoped for armistice, even a truce, has not arrived and battle will be resumed on all fronts at 22 Fleming Drive.

HIGHLY COMMENDED The Rose Garden by Wendy Fitzgerald

Adrienne Dines: Sad, lovely complete story about old Jewish man visiting a grave. I like the link with dead rose petals and ash. Good use of setting to frame the story.

A thousand white roses, they’d said; intensely perfumed, they’d promised. And it’s no lie. The scent is heavenly; the vista simply heart-breaking. And he’s kneeling awkwardly on the wet grass, holding a bloom between his fingers; inhaling its aroma.

‘Grandpapa! Why did you go off without me?’ Relief makes my tone sharp. He barely looks up.

‘I told you. This is where I wanted to come.’ He lets the rose go, wiping his hand across his cheek. It’s wet.

‘Come on; get up. The damp will get into your knees,’ I tut.

‘Shush, Anna. Let a man be.’ But he takes my arm and pulls himself to his feet.

‘I tended roses in a garden once you know,’ he murmurs. ‘After the war. He made me sweep up the petals after they’d flowered; didn’t want to see them you see. Said it reminded him of the ash.’

My heart breaks. It’s a long speech for him. PTSD they’d probably call it now; he’s had it for years, made worse with age. Perhaps we shouldn’t have come.

‘But this is what I came for.’

I can see a small bronze plaque under the bush. ‘Lilli Haas. Died Treblinka 1944.

Never forgotten.’

‘But … who’s Lilli?’

‘We were to be married, but they came with trucks and rounded them up; took them away one night, I never knew where.’ His voice cracks; his pain heartfelt. ‘Years later I married your grandmother; we were happy enough. But I never forgot my Lilli. An organisation helped track her down. I couldn’t go to Poland, but I could come here.’

The Holocaust Centre rose garden.

‘I needed her to know,’ he whispers, stooping to kiss the rose he let go. His tears are falling fast now; his eyes closed.

And I know he’s finally with her.

HIGHLY COMMENDED Memories of the Roses by Claire Gaudry

Adrienne Dines: Sad, romantic and some lovely lines (The roses help me remember. They hold me as my mind drifts further, as if they knew the needs of my bleeding heart). BTW, he was not ‘sat’ – he sat or was sitting!!    

One hand tightly grasping the wrought iron arm rest and the other gripping my walking stick, I lower myself on my usual garden bench. My old bones crack and complain before giving me a sense of relief. I re-adjust my flat cap to prevent the direct sunlight from hitting my eyes.

I let my gaze roam and the mesmerising effect of the garden traps my mind, I am rapidly immersed in the colours and fragrance of the roses.

The rose bushes are arranged in an intricate circular maze. In a clever use of subtle psychology, the colour schemes guide the eyes effortlessly to solve the maze, flooding the senses in oranges, pinks, reds, purples and whites.

The roses help me remember, they hold me as my mind drifts further, as if they knew the needs of my bleeding heart.

I invariably recall our first walk through this garden. In each other’s blinding presence we were oblivious to the magic of the maze of roses. Yet, we felt their presence and they embraced ours. It was an unspoken agreement of mutual appreciation.

I am sat here, longing for our shared rose garden walks. It had been possible to hold hands here since one of us had dared touch the other as we were choosing our favourite rose from this same bench. Here in our secret sanctuary, we had evolved from a seedling of friendship to a love as deep as the deepest red of the garden roses.

A tender pink rose petal carried softly by the breeze takes me out of my reveries. I watch it fly past. It has come quietly and gone quietly like my darling love.

The roses always bring him back, the one who is no more.

I, the old man with creaky bones visit ‘my’ roses daily to find the strength to breathe through the crippling grief. He, my taboo love, is no more.

COMMENDED The Colour of Blood by David Lea

Adrienne Dines: I love this! The opening paragraph is great (though a few commas wouldn’t go amiss). Don’t indent the first paragraph, by the way. It’s definitely a scene in a rose garden though it might have been any type of garden – it’s the character, rather than the setting that is predominant here.  

As photographer for the Saxonford Chronicle, or ‘Chronic’ as we like to call it, I am often called to social events that induce states of boredom, which would qualify as near-death experiences and they require considerable self discipline and copious amounts of alcohol in order to maintain an equilibrium. However, the accession of Ronnie Hardley-Fulsome, scion of the Fulsome family and heir to the Hardley millions was somewhat different in that the principal actor suffered a full-blown, actual death experience. What’s more, it occurred at the precise moment when I pressed the button of my Nikon D500 SLR digital camera and caught the whole scene for posterity.

The entire Hardley-Fulsome family was on the podium in the rose garden and many had travelled across the globe to be present at the occasion. Nevertheless, they hadn’t necessarily come to wish Ronnie well: they had all known Ronnie as Ronald before he transitioned and became Veronica, but the rules of primogeniture require that everything pass into the hands of the eldest male and the inheritance had been hotly contested.

Lady Laetitia Hardley-Fulsome had periods of comparative lucidity, but this was not one of them. The death of Ronnie’s father, Wolfgang, had set her mind adrift. Someone had handed her a dark red rose, which she presented to Ronnie before curtseying to the crowd and falling off the rostrum on top of the under-gardener.

Ronnie raised the bloom rather theatrically to her nose and inhaled deeply. Incidentally, this was a nose that had been broken many years before in a boxing ring at Radclyffe public school and could be best described as ‘wonky’. Her heavy chin quivered for a moment and then she collapsed, her knee length pencil skirt rising up her substantial thighs and her fascinator waving gently above her tumbling curls.

May 2017 Competition Results – Margaret Graham

Many thanks to Tracy Baines for stepping in to announce the competition winners last evening.

The list seems endless, but briefly our May adjudicator, Margaret Graham, is a bestselling author (including plays and co-researching a television documentary), editor and feature writer for e-Frost magazine, creative writing mentor and tutor, and joint founder of the charity Words for the Wounded. In her spare time Margaret writes as Milly Adams.

The brief was to write ‘A scene involving a disabled character’ in 300 words. It was a delight to discover that Margaret found the three winning entries to our May competition ‘fresh to me, surprising, moving and works of clarity’, with the highly commended running close behind. Margaret mentioned that it was hard to choose the winners but they came through as they shone and resonated for her.

1st Place: Lynn Clements– Not That Colour, Jacko’s Story

2nd Place: Erica Evans – Dinner Date

3rd Place: Rosie Travers – Milestones

Highly Commended: Rosie Sutcliffe – Annie’s Song

Highly Commended: Ant Ridgeway – Reflections

1st Place: Not That Colour, Jacko’s Story by Lynn Clements

Margaret Graham: The writer grabs us by the throat and wham bam, we’re into Jacko’s world. We are in Jacko’s fortress, we witness his disengagement from the tears of his mother, the heart stopping safety he finds in colours, and finally, the security he finds in the colour of the official’s briefcase. It’s grey, so that is all right. He returns to counting the legs of the spider. Yes, he’s safe.

But of course, his autistic life is at a point of change. He isn’t safe – or is he? The official has been called after the incident involving Jacko. In his briefcase are papers that could lead him away from this safe world, into another. Will it be a place of safety, one which understands, which relieves his mother of pain? Or not?

The writer never tells us of Jacko’s actual condition, we find our way through his world using the map the writer has so cleverly devised. It is understated, composed of brevity, clarity, colours, numbers, objectivity and so cleverly emotionless. But though it is without obvious emotion we empathise with him, fear for him and hurt for his mother. Normal world, point of change, full of tension, and increasingly we understand, and want to know: what becomes of him?

Clever and deeply impressive writing. Can it be sustained beyond a short piece, that is the question? Would the writer have to remain in Jacko’s point of view or move to see the situation from those who ultimately take control?

As the pot hit the wall its lid broke. Red paint sploshed over nearby windows and pieces of fruit laid out on a plate. Jacko watched the faces of the adults as they turned towards him. They looked black. He wasn’t sure what they were going to do next, so he just stood and watched.

The next thing he remembered was his mother sitting behind the glass of the fat woman’s room. He wasn’t sure how she’d got in there and he was worried that she wouldn’t get out. He’d tried the door handle before and it didn’t move. He sat on the chair where he was told to sit, which was ok because it was blue. He watched his mother’s mouth open and close and the fat woman’s eyebrows move up and down. His mother stood up quickly and opened the door. Jacko thought she was very clever to know how to do that, when the handle didn’t work.

In the car on the way home the only sound he could hear was crying.

When he got home Jacko took his magnifying glass into the garden. He lay on his front in the long grass of the wild flower patch, which his mother had helped him sow. He looked for arachnids; he wanted to test his theory that he could find three different types of arachnids by the time his mother called him in for food.

He was still searching when a very tall man wearing glasses, with a bushy beard and hair sticking out of his ears came into the garden. His briefcase was grey, so that was ok. He heard the man say he was from The Educational Psychology Department. Jacko rolled onto his back holding a struggling spider. He counted its legs, to be safe.

2nd Place: Dinner Date by Erica Evans

Margaret Graham: A date which very early on raises enough questions for us to understand that there is more to this than meets the eye. It’s as though the camera is on the girl who seems to be the protagonist, and the man sitting opposite. The camera gradually draws away and we see that actually the date is between two others also around the table; two vulnerable people. The protagonist and the man opposite are in fact, carers, or the facilitators of the date. But will this lead to more for the carers?

Delicately written, clever touches – the replacement of the normal knife with one of plastic, the eye contact between the carers. Is it professional or could it be more? Normal world, point of change.

The restaurant has a romantic view, just right for a date. The sparkling nightscape is captivating but inside coy glances are being exchanged instead. Wine arrives. I put a straw into the glass and hold it to lips which fumble for the end, eyes still on their prize. I watch carefully, but discreetly, a skill I am still learning. Be there, but don’t be there. Don’t stare, don’t speak. The lips part, slaked, and smile. Not at me.

I cut the meat. Is it too big, too small? Was I too slow? Darren has already finished cutting his. I surreptitiously replace the silver fork with a plastic one. One that won’t grate on teeth clamped too hard. There is little conversation now, focus and effort mostly placed on eating without choking, without dropping morsels from mouths. A waitress appears and enquires about the food. I look down at the tablecloth, the question is not for me. When I look up Darren winks at me. I don’t respond. I’m here to drive the van, manoeuvre the chair, lift the fork. It’s not my date. It’s not yours either, Darren.

After dessert, Maisie looks at her arm and asks me a question. I can’t understand her and feel shame rise inside. I haven’t worked with her long enough, my ear isn’t yet tuned in to how she speaks. Joe sees my embarrassment and saves me.

‘Maisie said could you put her arm on the table, please.’

His speech is clearer and I comply. Joe reaches across to hold Maisie’s hand. She smiles at him again.

‘Please could you return in half an hour?’ asks Joe.

Darren and I are excused. He goes to smoke, I sip a cola at the bar. It’s not our date. It’s theirs.

3rd Place: Milestones by Rosie Travers

Margaret Graham: I find 2nd person difficult to sustain, and indeed to read for any length of time, but this worked. The piece ached with the loneliness of the mother bringing her small disabled child to a centre for the first time. The disablement is all that she can see. Another mother reaches out a hand, and her words lead to an understanding that of course her daughter is indeed that – a daughter, not just a disabled cypher. One day her daughter will of course care what colour her helmet is. The normal world was at a point of change.

You take a deep breath and push open the door. It is a relief not to have to explain. The receptionist already has Olivia’s paperwork.

‘Come on through,’ she says.

The walls are painted in soft muted colours. You’d imagined something vivid to provide stimulation, bright murals in primary colours. You’d expected to encounter a cacophony of noise but everything here is quiet, subdued.

There are other children in the sensory room. You lay Olivia onto a beanbag beside the bubble tube. Fibre optic patterns spiral across the soft foam floor.

When Olivia was born you counted fingers, toes. Her tiny body was perfect. Her blue eyes flickered open; she saw you, you know she did. She jerked at a sudden sound. She could hear. She mewled like a tiny kitten. She had a voice.

They warned you about the implications. You drew on resources and discovered a gritty determination. Milestones would be reached; it was just a question of adapting the criteria.

‘How old is your little girl?’ one of the other mums asks. Her daughter is wearing a flamingo pink helmet. They’ve already told you Olivia will need one of those when she’s older. The other mum, her name is Kerry, immediately knows what you are thinking. ‘They come in all sorts of colours,’ she says. ‘Just see it as a fashion accessory, like choosing shoes and bags.’

‘Right now, it’s hard to imagine Olivia choosing shoes and bags.’ The words come out all wrong. You don’t mean to sound churlish, ungrateful. Positive thinking is sometimes a lonely journey.

‘Of course she will. She’s a girl, isn’t she?’ Kerry says.

Light reflects like dancing sunbeams from the disco ball on the ceiling. Olivia’s lips curl, revealing one of her gummy smiles. You reach for Kerry’s out-stretched hand.

Highly Commended: Annie’s Song by Rosie Sutcliffe

Margaret Graham: This moved me because of the initial loss of the anticipated life, the unfairness of a bolt from the blue – a stroke, followed by the loss of hope, the disappearance of those who were once friends in the face of such a change, such disability. But then, one of those friends finds the key to bring back hope, and holds out a hand. Music as therapy, but it is friendship that really brings this return of hope, and the remembrance that the stroke patient is actually a person: she is on the point of believing this again. Lovely and warm. Will they win the singing competition? A win that would actually be much more than a mere competition win.

In the grand scheme of things this was not how I’d envisaged my retirement. Within a week of finishing work I’d planned long, challenging walks in National Parks, booked a trip to Italy, joined a reading group, enrolled in a photography class and with some trepidation begun singing in my local choir. Within six months of this I’d been smitten down by a stroke, the right side of my body no longer obeyed my brain, a process I’d never given much thought to previously.

Patting at a sliver of drool with my good hand I slowly resumed the laborious process of spooning vegetable soup into my reluctant mouth. The chunks of vegetable frightened me, the whole swallowing process was a dangerous skill that had taken weeks to relearn.

‘Eat up, Annie,’ one of the carers trilled, ‘you’ve got some visitors this afternoon.’

I couldn’t answer her rotund retreating form as the sounds that emanated from my mouth bore no relation to the words in my head. Visitors were a scarce resource, little huddled groups of my friends sitting, awkwardly fidgeting. I had so little to offer a conversation now. I felt burned by their embarrassment.

Visits dwindled. So what did the carer mean? Was this some unpleasant euphemism for an impending medical procedure?

Fears were allayed when Jenny from choir strode into the residents’ lounge, complete with keyboard and a dozen choir members.

‘We’ve missed you, Annie,’ she explained simply.

The room was soon pulsating with peaks and troughs of well known and loved favourites and it wasn’t until I saw Jenny smiling through tears that I realised I was singing too, proper words, in tune. Music, medium to my brain.

Next month we are performing Annie’s Song in a national competition. I think we might just win.

Highly Commended: Reflections by Ant Ridgeway

Margaret Graham: Again, the loss of the anticipated life, and the reflections it brings. An IED causes life changing injuries, and from the depths of self-pity the patient, a soldier, reflects on his trite remarks to those similarly injured. Remarks that were superficial, and without understanding. Now he understands and feels himself sinking as hope leaves. But then, reflections on the life of his disabled son inspires him to re-assess and aspire to the same quiet courage. It brings him to a point of change. Inspiring and worthy.

Bang… I was able bodied until the land mine exploded taking my legs with it.

I’m lying in my hospital bed feeling very sorry for myself.

What will the future hold for me now? One minute fit and healthy. The next, only half of me.

My career in the Army has been distinguished. I have a medal for bravery but nothing prepared me for this.

I thought I was invincible. Had a reputation for dismantling incendiaries without incident. Fearless Phil they called me.

It doesn’t help remembering some of my contemporaries with worse injuries than mine. Those minus arms, legs, blinded and with horrific facial scars. I remember thinking I wouldn’t let it happen to me. I cringe when I think of the way I spoke to them.

‘Never mind, old chap. You’ll pull through.’ The pity I felt.

I have a disabled son. If Mike were here now he would understand perhaps what I am going through. He’s been disabled since birth and most of his life he’s been in his wheelchair. Can’t do much without help.

So what the hell gives me the right to feel so bloody gloomy?

At least I have known what it was like to be able to walk, be independent. He’s never had that experience. You know what though; he’s the most positive, cheerful person you could ever meet. He’s out and about most days. People love him. He has this amazing ability to make people smile, feel good about themselves. Never feels as if life isn’t worth living.

Thinking about him, puts things into perspective. Right. I’m re-evaluating my situation. Starting with my rehabilitation next week, I’ll do everything I’m asked to do and more.

I’m going to make Mike proud. Together, we’ll show the world just who we are.

April 2017 Competition Results – Beverley Birch

Beverley Birch was shortlisted three times for the Branford Boase Award in recognition of the editor’s role in nurturing new talent and, as a prolific author, she was also nominated for the Carnegie medal. Hampshire Writers’ Society is most appreciative to Beverley, who graciously came to our rescue by agreeing to be our April adjudicator as well as our speaker. In return, our members managed to supply entries that made it difficult for her to choose the usual two highly commended places. The competition, ‘Write a children’s story, inspired by a well-known story for children’, meant that after choosing 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, Beverley was unable to decide and ended up choosing four additional pieces to praise.

1st Place: Cass Morgan – Mrs Bilious

2nd Place: Kristin Tridimas – A Koala Named Sydney

3rd Place: Matthew Cross – George and the Dragon

Highly Commended: Annie Vine – The Wild Colt

Highly Commended: Linda Welch – Unexpected Treasure

Highly Commended: Ant Ridgeway – Friends

Highly Commended: Kim Howard – Mirror, Mirror

1st Place: Mrs Bilious – Cass Morgan (Inspired by Roald Dahl’s Matilda, or, more specifically, by Miss Trunchbull and the chapter, ‘Bruce Bogtrotter and the Cake’).

Beverley Birch: This was altogether strong. The punchy opening brings the situation instantly to life, the child point of view keeps us locked in the story through a distinctive sense of voice, good narrative flow and pacing. And a tricky situation for the child characters to escape (always appealing), is enlivened by effective and efficiently used imagery. A definite winner!

Winner First

At 11:57, putting a handful of insects into the lunchbox of Mrs Bilious was funny. At 12:03, the reality was hilarious. At 12.05, it was the worst thing they’d ever, ever done.

Simon shuddered as he looked at Joel. His best friend’s left eye stared in horror. His right winked as something scuttled across his eyelash. Hands clenched to the chair seat, shoulders high to his ears, Joel’s cheeks puffed out wide. Two ants emerged from the corner of his mouth, ran across his face, over his ear and into the safety of his hair.

Hot breath blew onto Simon’s cheek. He turned towards the cherry-cheeked face of Mrs Bilious. She leaned in close. Through cement-coloured teeth came odours of sugared tea and half-digested digestives.

‘Eat up,’ her voice whispered.


‘Sandwich-spoiling brats will be punished. Now, EAT UP!’

Her yellowy eyes sizzled and locked onto his. There was nothing he could do but scoop his hand into the lunchbox. Ants scurried and hurried onto his hand, up his arm and into his sleeve. Others dropped to the table in their bid to escape. The unlucky ones stayed where they were, with no idea what was coming.

Back leaned Mrs Bilious. Every part of her blazed in delight; her mouth tight in a triumphant smile, her eyes agog, her grey curls bounced in anticipation. Even the hairs in her nostrils quivered in glee.

Simon closed his eyes, opened his mouth and threw in the ants.

If they were mad before, now they were livid. Up the insides of his cheeks they darted, over his tongue, through the gaps in his teeth. It was like popping candy gone horribly, horribly wrong.

He wanted to spit out. He had to. But the smell of tea and digestives wafted in his nostrils. There was no going back, and he knew it.

2nd Place: A Koala Named Sydney – Kristin Tridimas

Beverley Birch: A very close second. Koala’s eye-view and voice has great appeal, laced with a wry humour. Excellent command of language, and pacing, and sets the scene, backstory and predicament swiftly without losing momentum.

Winner Second

It was hot and uncomfortable inside the human girl’s bag. He had been bashed and banged and now seemed to be travelling along something which kept changing direction. And to make things worse, he only had one cough sweet left. He’d saved it for emergencies, wrapped up in his bandana.

Great Aunt Victoria had been very clear. ‘Don’t let anyone see you, or they’ll send you back. Even worse, they might put you in a zoo!’

Surely one quick look wouldn’t do any harm?

He hooked his claw round the end of the zip and pulled. Poked out his nose. This place smelt of plastic and metal and tired people. He put his eye to the opening. He was moving slowly past a forest of legs. For a second, he thought back to his gum tree home in the Australian bush. He could smell the eucalyptus. Hear the kookaburras.

His home was gone now. The bush fire had destroyed it.

A pair of familiar pink legs swam into sight.

‘Dad, it’s my bag!’

He shrank back down inside.

He seemed to be flying but then there was a big bump.

‘You wait here while I get the suitcase. I shouldn’t be long.’

Footsteps, going away. People talking. The rattle of wheels.

The screech of a zip.

The zip!

The girl’s face was inches away. Her eyes were open wide.

‘What are you doing here?’

He gave her his friendliest smile. ‘G’day!’

She yelped and jumped back.

A second later, her face came close again. ‘You can speak!’ she whispered. ‘What’s your name?’

He clicked and whistled. ‘That means Climbs to the Edge in koala.’

‘I’m Jenny. You need a real name.’ She looked at something above his head. ‘I’m going to call you Sydney.’

He was safe.

3rd Place: George and the Dragon – Matthew Cross

Beverley Birch: This is a clever, funny take on the traditional tale, bringing both George and the dragon instantly to life, each with a distinctive voice and a convincing relationship that promises fun ahead.

Winner Third

A chilling roar caused him to raise his shield. Instead of fire, the cavern filled with thick white smoke and a fizzing sound. George stepped softly towards the source. It was a young dragon, squeezed into a whalebone girdle, its wings and legs tied with rope. He crept forwards and drew his sword.

“Hello.” It said in a low rumbling voice. George paused, he wondered whether he could kill something that said hello to him. “Look, this is rather embarrassing. If you could be a good fellow and cut me down, you may choose any treasure you desire.” George hesitated, then raised his sword and severed the ropes. The dragon prized itself from the girdle before sitting on its hoard. “All I want is a peaceful place to hibernate, a comfortable hoard, and the occasional sheep for a snack.”

“Oh, the kingdom ran out of sheep.” George sat opposite the dragon, his shield close just in case.

“They sent their own kind instead – who does that? Why not a goat?” The dragon burped another cloud of smoke and fizz.

“Your breath poisoned a nearby village.”

“Eating humans gives me terrible indigestion. I had to take antacids.”

“Why did you keep eating the tributes?”

“Humans are like chocolate, I can never have just one.” George pulled a packet of jelly babies from his backpack and offered one to the dragon. “Yuk, how can you eat those?”

“So how did you get stuck in the…girdle?”

“The princess jumped me when I left the cave. That girl is malicious, no wonder the king left her as a tribute.” The dragon appeared deflated.

George eyed an ornate wine bottle among mound of treasure. An idea spread from his mind into a smile on his lips. “I have a cunning plan, put the girdle on again.”

Highly Commended: The Wild Colt – Annie Vine (Inspired by Jill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson)

Beverley Birch: A good, tight narrative style which brings the setting, character, and particularly the colt’s character and terror instantly alive. A good sense of audience here.

‘He’s eight months old. Sire’s a half-thoroughbred and Dam’s a Welsh Mountain,’ said Tom, his cheerful voice unusually tense. ‘First saw a human six days ago. Had a heck of a job getting him into the horsebox.’

A powerful hoof assault made the box quiver. Edie peeked through the eye-slat. The colt’s neck muscles were so taut they made his head twitch upwards. His wide eyes relayed his fear – no pools of melted chocolate – they were steely black with whites that resembled human’s. His muddy, matted coat, now dry and cracked, had turned into dragon scales, sliding smoothly as he moved. Barbs shortened his tail – the web of hairs gripped them like cossetted treasure.

Edie’s fingers itched to caress, to reassure, to calm.

Don’t worry, little colt, you’re mine now. You’re safe.

‘Help me with the door,’ ordered Tom.

With the latches straightened, the door slid open.

The colt leapt from the back of the horsebox into the gaping hole of light.

Tom’s shock was audible. ‘Lucky I backed up and opened the gate.’

Edie’s heart flipped as she watched the rump muscles gather and stretch as the colt bolted away. Despite his nervousness, his poise was faultless. Once he realised he was safe, he would hold his tail confidently, not hanging like the flag of a lost battle.

‘Look at that stride,’ admired Tom. ‘You’ll be winning the gymkhanas with him.’

The colt slowed to a trot. Lean, smooth legs stretched.

‘Or the dressage…’

Galvanised, the colt broke into a canter and raced towards the wooden fence.

Edie gasped. If he rammed it, the wood would slinter into deadly spears.

His timing was perfect, forelegs rose with tucked hooves. He cleared the fence gracefully.

Edie bit her bottom lip. ‘I think my dream of showjumping has just become a reality.’

Now all she had to do was catch him.

Highly Commended: Unexpected Treasure – Linda Welch

Beverley Birch: Lovely flavour and rhythms, enhanced by quirky detail and swiftly conveyed, convincing characterization of a boy and his grandfather with the promise of interesting action to come.

Jamie loved weekends with his Granddad. He picked him up from school on Friday afternoon and they had fish and chips for supper, straight out of the wrapper.   On Saturday morning they got up early and drove to the Municipal Dump.   The sign on the gate said Household Waste Recycling Centre but Granddad said it had been the Municipal Dump ever since he was a little boy himself (about a hundred years ago, Jamie thought). Jamie was supposed to stay in the car because there were cars and lorries manoeuvring about the yard, but he was allowed look around the small shop where they sold some of the things people were throwing away.

‘People buy rubbish?’ he asked incredulously, and Granddad laughed.

‘One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. You never know what you might find.’

Today Jamie bought an old binocular case that was just the right size to hold a bottle of juice and a banana for school. The man only charged him 25p and Jamie hurried back to the car to wait for Granddad.   As he knelt on the seat and looked out of the back window he saw another little boy climbing over the back fence of the tip.   No-one else seemed to notice him slide into one of the skips, but as Jamie watched, he saw him throw a piece of corrugated plastic out of the skip, and climb back out again. Jamie got out of the car and went over to him.

‘You’re not supposed to be wandering around, it’s dangerous. What do you want that for, anyway?’

‘Roof,’ the boy said.

‘Cool! Are you making a den?’ Jamie asked, not waiting for him to answer. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Stig,’ he said, and disappeared back over the fence, dragging the plastic behind him.

Highly Commended: Friends – Ant Ridgeway

Beverley Birch: A very effective voice (a donkey) brings the reader convincingly into his state of mind and character, with some light touches of humour. Tightly written with a good narrative flow.

I’m bored. I’ve been standing alone in my field all day. There’s an itch on my back. I tried rubbing against the fence but I can’t quite reach it. The three ponies in the next field are eating grass. Lovely shiny coats they have. Not like mine, rough like tree bark. I trotted over to say hello.

‘Eeeaw, eeeaw’.

One of them looked up, tossed her mane and carried on munching. The other two took no notice as if I wasn’t there.

It’s cold today. Wind and rain have soaked me to my bones. My shelter blew down. There are trees where the ponies are. Not here. So I’m standing all alone, head down.

Wait. Who’s that climbing over the gate in his yellow coat and hat? It’s the boy. He’s got that little animal in his hand, the one which doesn’t move. Says it’s his bear, whatever that is. Says it has very little brain. That bouncy puppy’s with him too. Wish I could wriggle under the hedge like him. I’m too big. Don’t like his nippy teeth. Seems to think my hooves are for nibbling. Last week, he ate my best thistle. I was saving it for breakfast. He didn’t like it. He started yelping, pawing at his mouth. If he’s not careful, I’ll bite him. Or maybe I’ll kick him.

‘I’ve bought you a birthday present,’ the boy said.

Is it? I thought. Wasn’t that a long time ago? I swished my tail. ‘It’s a pot. It had honey in it. We had to eat it ‘cos it was a long journey.’

He put it on the ground.

‘There’s a balloon too. Sorry it popped on the thorns.’ I glimpsed aflash of red inside the pot.

‘Eeeaw, eeeaw.’

The boy laughed.

Not alone anymore.

Highly Commended: Mirror, Mirror – Kim Howard

Beverley Birch: A clever and successful send-up of several fairy tales, with life seen from the point of view of the mirror fed up with the fairyland beauty leagues. Dry humour and quirky detail – lots of fun in this.

The lack of manners upsets me most. I never get a ‘good morning’ or a ‘how are you?’ It’s always “Mirror, mirror on the wall….”

Of course I’m on the wall. A heavy chain and some hefty nails make sure of that. They aren’t interested in me. No one ever compliments me on the carved wood of my frame or says ‘wow, have you been polished?” They only want to know one thing – where they rank in the fairyland beauty leagues. They have no imagination. They must be able to say something other than “…who is the fairest of them all?”

As if I’m going to tell them what I really think. It can be tough, but I always try to find something positive to say. Not because I care about how the silly self-obsessed things feel. I can’t risk someone getting upset enough to start throwing things. I’m made of glass. I’d never recover if someone smacked me in the face with a hairbrush.

I was chatting with Cinderella’s glass slippers the other day. The one who stayed on her foot is too smug for words, but I really feel for the other one. She was convinced she was going to shatter when those big ugly sisters tried to stuff their fat feet inside her. And she still hasn’t got rid of the bloodstains. Fortunately, since their mother chopped their feet about, it’s harder for them to hobble up to the castle. I dread telling them their league status.

Uh oh. Here comes the little girl with the scarlet cloak. Well, not so little any more. She’s a stroppy teenager now. Since that incident in the woods with her granny and the wolf, she’s started carrying an axe in her basket. Someone should tell her that red isn’t her colour, but it won’t be me.

March 2017 Competition Results – Cathy Woodman

Cathy Woodman, our adjudicator for March, again spoilt us. She has commented on all entries so expect your personal notes via email soon. Alongside her series set in the fictional village of Talyton St George, Cathy is now writing a series under a new name, Evie Grace. The historical sagas are set in rural Kent. The stories are based on those of her own family, who lived there in the nineteenth century. The first, Half a Sixpence, will be available in the summer. The competition was: ‘Describe a meeting where a present-day hero or heroine meets their later love-interest.’

1st Place: Colin Johnson – First Encounter

2nd Place: Andrea Parr – The Blue Doll

3rd Place: John Quinn – OK People

Highly Commended: Sarah Lines – The Vet and David Lea – Later Love-Interest

1st Place: First Encounter – Colin Johnson

Cathy Woodman: This caught my attention from the very first word – Wow! I loved the way the writer set the scene and created that wonderful sense of attraction and lust at first sight. I really wanted to read on to find out what happens to the young man yearning to find out more about his love interest who makes eating chocolate crumbs sexy!

“Wow!” he thought, “what a smile!”

She was older than most students. Maybe 30? Or a bit more? At least 10 years older than him.

She had come over to sit at the next table. She spoke to him, interrupting his re-run through yesterday’s rehearsal. He saw her lips move and took off his headphones. She repeated the question: “Excuse me, is this your bag?”   He pulled his bag off the chair and she sat down, looked at him and smiled. “Thank you,” she said.

That was all. That was all it took. Her voice was like a cello, Jacqueline du Pré making music again. Clear brown eyes, no flicker, no blinks, just still reflections of the world, taking him in and assessing his own face. She had freckles on high cheekbones, and full, gentle lips. Her long chestnut hair was held back, tied behind in some kind of chiffon scarf.

“No trouble,” he said, and looked at his phone again. He could think of nothing to say. How could he ask her name? Find out her email? Anything, so he could see her again?

She drank her coffee and ate her two-finger KitKat. When she licked her finger to pick up the chocolate crumbs, his stomach felt suddenly empty, his sudden intake of breath almost loud enough for her to hear. God, that was sexy!

She left. Without moving, he followed her across the concourse into the revolving doors. Through the glass wall he watched her cross the central courtyard into the Psychology building.

“Who was that?” he said to no-one. Still without moving, he played through the whole encounter again. He hadn’t needed his phone on record, the playback in his head was clear and precise. Her voice was pure Elgar. He had to hear it again.

2nd Place: The Blue Doll – Andrea Parr

Cathy Woodman: A very close second. I loved the imagery of what is a defining incident set in a playground where the protagonist takes a risk for love. The writer took me straight into the hero’s head with choppy dialogue and phrasing, and plenty of action. I really wanted to read on to find out what happens next. Wonderful.

The doll set Jimmy off. Knew it would the minute I saw it. She was clutching something she loved, and Jimmy never could resist a thing like that. His mean streak was about a mile wide.

No time to warn her. He pounced like a cat catching a bird. Held the doll above her head and laughed.

“Give it back,” she said. “Please.”

Not an order, but definitely not a beg.

He wouldn’t, though. Dangled it just out of reach, trying to make her jump for it. Got bored when she wouldn’t. He could’ve given it back, but, like I said, Jimmy was a vicious sod.

“Don’t you want it?” he said and threw it, hard as he could, so it wedged in the tree at the edge of the playground. A big old pine with needles like razors and no footholds. It hung there, that doll, like a little blue rag.

“Come on,” said Jimmy, so we left. I couldn’t resist looking back, though. She was standing there, staring up and the butterflies took off, wings beating inside my stomach.

Later, when I turned up at her house, she was sitting outside, legs pulled up, skinny arms resting on her knees. Streaks down her face like she’d been crying. Didn’t move, even when I skidded my bike so close it kicked small stones up onto her.

“Here,” I said, pulling the doll from my pocket. “Got this for you.”

For a minute, she stared, then grabbed it and held it to her face. No thank you. No nothing.

It seemed stupid all of a sudden. Scratches all over my arms and a hiding coming for taking my old man’s ladder without asking. And for what?

Then she lifted her head, and looked at me. And she smiled.

3rd Place: OK People – John Quinn

Cathy Woodman: The first line grabbed my attention and set the scene for a humorous piece of fiction. Sound characterization, introducing a clumsy actor and a flirtatious leading lady. I found myself wanting to read on to find out what happens to them. A little more attention to detail on the proofreading side would perfect your presentation.

‘Watch out!’ The boom mike swung through the air at a speed it was not designed for.

Patrick heard the warning, tried to duck and succeeded in falling inelegantly over, losing his dignity and the opportunity of being decapitated in one, unsmooth motion.

‘You bloody idiot’ Steven, the director, screamed at the boom operator, who continued to smirk inside his headphones.

Patrick picked himself up and tried to dust off his formerly immaculate white shirt ‘No great harm done,’ he smiled.

Steven was not convinced and snarled towards the boom operator ‘You could have put our star in hospital on the first day of filming… one more cock-up like that and you’re off the set.’

‘Should I go and change this shirt,’ Patrick asked.

‘Don’t bother, it’s only set up shots this morning’ Ella said before anyone else could respond ‘and I don’t mind my men being a little dirty.’

Steven knew he would have to cool his famous star’s ardour at some point and here was a golden opportunity. ”Look Ella, if you could leave the flirting until at least day two, I, for one would be most grateful. And so would our young star, wouldn’t you Patrick?’

In truth Patrick was in awe of the two times golden globe winner and three times divorced leading lady but was keen not to show it; he was, after all, an actor.

‘Ok, I’ll stick with my dirty shirt’ he said.

‘What, no reposte, no stunning one-liner, no request for me to unbutton you and rub your hairy chest better? Ella’s voice dropped an octave ‘ I’m dissappointed in you Pat. I was hoping for more…’

Patrick knew he was being paid well for this, his first starring role, but he wondered if it was going to be enough…

Steven re-exerted control ‘Ok people, positions… and action!’

Highly Commended: The Vet – Sarah Lines

Cathy Woodman: The writer created a sense of place from the very first paragraph, showing how you can find love anywhere. I enjoyed the gradual reveal of the hero’s situation, and the way his love interest is completely oblivious of her effect on men in general. Great imagery too – the daredevils crashing and burning.

Paul was tired of staring at his blank computer screen, waiting for inspiration. “Dazzle me”, his boss had said. What could anyone find remotely dazzling about selling diapers? The advertising industry was already like an overcrowded train, full of people shouting, pushing and shoving, eager to be on time for the ball game.

All he could think about was Emma. Now she was dazzling – no, even better, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She possessed a natural beauty; luminous skin, dark glossy hair and the most entrancing violet, blue eyes. What made her even more attractive was the fact that she seemed completely oblivious to her effect on men.

Emma had only started last week but Paul had already witnessed a constant stream of male attendees at her desk. They would dream up the most pitiful excuses to go over and talk to her, ask her out for coffee, to drinks or dinner and Paul listened with some trepidation as each of these heroic daredevils crashed and burned on their first mission.

The light was beginning to fade as the working week ended. Paul tidied up his workstation, straightened his Marine Corps tie pin and slipped on his jacket. Most of his colleagues had stampeded to the elevators that would doubtless transport them to their expensive cars, gorgeous wives, laughing children and unnecessarily opulent mansions.

Paul sighed. As the elevator was about to close, Emma hurried over. Paul, unable to believe his luck, held the doors open with the edge of his wheelchair.

“Which floor?”

She smiled shyly. Her eyes sparkled.

“I was hoping you’d ask me out for a drink.”

Her English accent was so incredibly sexy.

“Would you like to…”

“Yes please”, she said.

As they made their descent, his heart soared.

Highly Commended: Later Love-Interest – David Lea

Cathy Woodman: Lovely thoughtful writing. Compelling to read. I was caught up from the first sentence. I enjoyed the way the writer gradually revealed the identity of the hero and that of his love interest. The piece gave a real feeling of how love can take you by surprise.

I never thought to fall in love again at my age, but I have all the symptoms. He is uniquely engaging and I delight in almost everything he does and says. It is obvious to me that he is more than usually physically attractive and I see that others are also drawn to his beauty. I watch for his effect on people when we are out together. Eyes are drawn to him, particularly women’s eyes. And people comment. Do I compare him with the other boys? How could I not?

I was not prepared for this at my time of life: I thought the time for giddy joy was over and had reconciled myself to the comfortable companionship of a marriage that would run its course until the death of one or both parties.

I had to try and manage the coming, inevitable decline with honour and grace. I did not expect to be taken out of myself again, to be transported.

I am more settled now: less at the mercy of his unintended or intended slights, less eager for his attention and sometimes glad to get away from him and his demands. Apart from anything else, this love is physically very demanding and I do get tired now.

My first sight of him was of a vague and blurry shape in a photograph. When his arrival was announced, I was less than enthusiastic. And when he finally arrived, he was nothing out of the ordinary: much the same as all the others. But now; now he is irreplaceable.

I am saddened that I shall not see him in his pomp, for he will surely make his mark when he is grown. He is now four and I hope he will remember this foolish, fond old man, his mother’s father.

February 2017 Competition Results – Carolin Esser-Miles

Yet again, Carolin Esser-Miles, Medievalist and Senior Lecturer, University of Winchester, went above and beyond with her adjudication. The competition title was ‘Create a detective with unusual or quirky habits’ in 300 words. Carolin was generous enough to write a few words for all entries, not only the placed five, very kind as feedback is always appreciated (I have emailed the comments to individual entrants). The winners are below, followed by the winning pieces with Carolin’s comments.

1st place: Nan Keightley – Mrs B and the Hoodie

2nd place: Wendy Fitzgerald – A New Pin

3rd place: John Quinn – Demi John

Commended: David Lea – Josna Pandi and Gill Hollands – Detective Farr, Homicide

1st Place

Mrs B and the Hoodie – Nan Keightley

Carolin Esser-Miles: Here we have the first encounter of a potentially great pair. The two strikingly different characters are both given enough space to come alive independently. Both have interestingly odd back stories that are promising in their own right. Within our 300 words, we see a dynamic developing between the two that promises sparring partners connected by mutual respect and a lot of scope for interaction. I would love to find out what happens next.

‘’Oo did you say you were, again?’ Mrs B defended her doorstep from the hoodie in front of her. She pulled a tattered arran cardi close across her stubby figure, and tutted. A warrant card was shoved towards her.

She handed it back, held between finger and thumb, as if contaminated. The cop’s overlarge parka, she noticed, was not quite hiding a gossamer-thin frame.

‘Well, DS Ellie Wilson, what do you want, besides a few good meals?’

‘Am I in the right place? I’m looking for Marina Beecham? The woman who shot Harry Winfield?’

‘Yes, kiddo. That’s me.’

Ellie gawped, speechless.

‘What?’ said Mrs B. ‘You don’t believe an all-action forensic psychologist could be old as Noah, and wear slippers? Or live in a suburban bungalow full of kitten ornaments and chintz?’

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘Didn’t need to. I read your mind.’

Mrs B shuffled into the kitchen. She pushed a plate of homemade gingerbread at Ellie, who hovered by the door.

‘Come on. I’m not going to eat you.’

‘The boss said you could help us find Angelika Harrison’s killer,’ mumbled Ellie, through a mouthful of crumbs.

Mrs B replaced the empty plate with a pile of potatoes and a peeler.

‘Where did that lot go?’ she asked. ‘Have you got hollow legs or something?’

‘The boss thinks I must have worms, ‘cos I can eat for England and never put on a pound.’

‘Hmmm. If you want my help then you can peel these spuds. Fish and chips do for you?’

‘You don’t have to feed me. I only need advice.’

‘Your boss didn’t tell you anything about me, did he? I cook. A lot. It helps me think. Nobody escapes this house unfed. Now, peel, and talk!’

2nd place

A New Pin – Wendy Fitzgerald

Carolin Esser-Miles: We spend these 300 words following our detective through a surprising amount of well-placed garden paths and detours. Expectations are built up to deceive, and we are prone to fall into the trap just as the characters in the story are supposed to judge falsely. Upon rereading, we are presented with a cleaning detective, formerly from the Met, now working class Miss Marple. While the cover that cleaning provides will be quickly blown at the police station, the provision of holiday lets gives ample opportunity for undercover work.

I walk to work in the early light: it’s fresh, calm and serene. Little waves wash up on the shore; seagulls swoop and bicker. The sun rose ten minutes ago into the pearly dawn, a glowing, optimistic beacon. Peaceful, life-affirming. A far cry from my days at the Met, where dark, dingy streets festered every deadly sin; long nights in gloomy offices, desk lamps and single malts burning. Remembering, anxiety rises within me. I stare out to sea to cleanse my mind again. The lightest of breezes, deep breaths and the wide blue expanse expunge, as they always do.

I enter the police station and its main office. It’s tiny. What you’d expect in a remote backwater like this. A rare violent murder is reflected on the whiteboard: an attractive fifty-four year old woman, single, bludgeoned to death with her own rolling pin. No signs of burglary. She’d been baking, for the charity cake stall. As they do in these parts. I pick up the files but there’s nothing new since yesterday. She lived alone; in a cottage set back along a lane. Semi-detatched, but to a holiday let. No-one saw a thing.

My senses prickle. Worryingly, she looked not unlike me.

That will be my next job. The files in the holiday let company. It’s mid-summer: a popular spot. Then I’ll check the charity. Something tells me this is not a random killing: there was real hatred behind that pin.

I open the cupboard and remove the vacuum cleaner. Strangely, there’s cake crumbs on the floor. I clean three offices, three mornings a week. This one, the estate agent-come-letting company and the solicitors. You’ve no idea how useful that can be. Well, no-one ever notices the cleaner, do they?

3rd place

Demi John – John Quinn

Carolin Esser-Miles: One of the two character studies among the submissions, Demi John has a rather complex life. He is a single father with Olympic potential in clay shooting that is thwarted by his son’s football needs, this character needs space to be fully introduced. But given that, there is a lot of potential, especially with additional public settings such as the family café as an opportunity to blend family trouble with a potential case.

Demetrius Jones is a North London detective who’s second generation Greek-Cypriot, born in Palmers Green after his parents fled the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

To his colleagues he’s too Greek, to his parents and the Greek-Cypriot community he’s too British and he is never fully happy in either world.

Tall and swarthy, with black hair that is longer than normal and a full moustache, he’s handsome and he’s often told he looks like Tom Conti playing Costas Dimitriades in the film Shirley Valentine.

Demi-John, as he’s known by colleagues ‘because he’s big, never full and you can see straight through him,’ is running to seed, weighing some 100 kilos. He says ‘it’s a Greek thing’ and is trying to quit smoking and diet but cannot resist döner kebabs or his Mum’s mezes.

He looks younger than his 40 years ‘ever seen a crease on a balloon?’ is one of his ever-ready quips. He uses his natural warmth, humour and the ability to invent ‘an old Greek saying’ to win trust.

A North-London Turkish family killed Demi’s wife after he put away the patriarch and two eldest sons for a series of armed robberies.

Arsenal supporting Demi brings up his son, James, 12, with the help of his parents, who should be retired but still run the family café in ‘Palmers Greek.’

Taught to shoot by his father, Demi has a chance of representing Greece, Cyprus or the UK at the next Olympics at sporting clays but refereeing James’ football matches and work interferes with practice.

Demi listens to George Michael songs whilst driving his mustard 1974 Rover 3500 his Dad bought on arrival in the UK, spending the family’s savings: ‘You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.’ It does break down!


Josna Pandi – David Lea

Carolin Esser-Miles: Josna Pandi will most likely not have many friends. She is too perfect in most ways. But other great detectives have demonstrated that success through unflattering habits is possible. One might think of the Mentalist, Sherlock Holmes, or Stella Gibson from ‘The Fall’.

Josna Pandi is thirty years old. She is a Detective Constable with the Hampshire Constabulary and is on the “Police High Potential Development Scheme”.

Her father, Sanjit Pandi, manufactures textiles in India and imports them into Britain and Europe. He is a rich man and Josna does not have to work. Her mother died in childbirth and Josna has no siblings. She has lived in Britain all her life and went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College where she was captain of the lacrosse team. She is an accomplished horsewoman and dinghy sailor. She has also represented her country as a fencer. She lifts weights and is highly proficient in Hatha Yoga. She keeps dumbbells in her locker at Basingstoke nick.

She gained a first in Law at Edinburgh and then joined Goldman Sachs. She was doing extremely well until asked to take part in a deal that she believed to be unethical. She then joined Mckinsey Global Management Consulting, but resigned after her paper on plans to rationalise the delivery of policing concluded that more police were needed on the beat.

Her “quirks” are attributes or character flaws, depending on who is at the receiving end. She has a fierce intelligence, combined with a frighteningly accurate moral compass. She is unafraid to “speak truth to power” and is disconcertingly honest in both personal and professional interactions. She believes in the rule of law and in the need to uphold the law, even when the law is an ass. She has an upper middle class accent and speaks and writes English with great precision. She is unusually tall, has very dark skin and long, jet-black hair. She has a habit of adopting extreme yoga positions when she needs to solve a problem. She is very beautiful, but has difficulties maintaining romantic relationships.


Detective Farr, Homicide – Gill Hollands

Carolin Esser-Miles: Here we are dealing with a true quirk, both the ferret as partner and the sensory abilities of the detective themselves. There is potential here, for a ‘just right’ over the top storyline á la Monk, which needs to play out as realistically as possible and as relevant for the cases.

‘This way, Detective Farr.’ The dubious constable pushes open a battered door. Sunlight floods into the dingy corridor. I look down, blinking.

Merit pokes his nose out of my yellow waterproof pocket for another snack. I fish a pellet from inside my hat; avoid sharp little teeth as he snatches.

‘What the ‘ell’s that?’ The constable steps back, eyes round.

‘It’s just my sniffer ferret.’ I hook Merit out, dangle his snaky body. ‘See?’ I set him down to start work.

‘Ha! Never ‘erd of one o’ them!’ He backs away, shaking his head. The usual reaction.

‘He’s very helpful to me, officer.’

Watching Merit, I sniff too as he scuttles under a chair. The scent of despair assails me. I wince, catching my haggard reflection in a spotted mirror: Must try to sleep soon.

I take in the crime scene; a tragic apartment; peeling grey walls, rank, mould-coated ceiling. My fingers scrape neglected wood; I taste betrayal. Dust is often my friend. Merit brings me a wrap of paper, darts away, sneezing.

A coffee table lies on its side in a splash of magazines. Yellowed, photos curl on the wall around one threadbare, fireside chair in the corner.

Ragged curtains shiver by the smashed window. I step nearer, my feet sticking to the mat. Broken glass lies, sparkling like a snowflake, on the mossy balcony.

I tug open the balcony door, admitting more freezing wind.

‘You kin see that from inside!’ Yells the officer, gasping behind me.

‘I think better outside.’ I step out, shut his whining off with the door. Now I can think. I fondle the wrap, the scuffed moss, feel where he was thrown…

‘Outside eh! So that’s why the yeller coat!’ He flings the door open, breaks the spell.

Watson, he is not…

January 2017 Competition Results – David Prest

January 2017 Competition Results

David Prest, founder and MD of Whistledown Productions, set a precedent at January’s meeting. The competition was to ‘Write a proposal for a radio production involving a local building, landmark, personality or area of interest.’ Having chosen five entrants, David changed our normal format and invited them to present their work live on Tuesday evening. All five took to the stage to read out their 200-word entry. He followed their reading with a quick question and answer session before asking the audience to vote on the entry that they thought was most saleable. The results and proposals are below:

1st Place: Lynda Lawrence – Jane Austen’s Bicentenary

2nd Place: John Quinn – Never Break the Chain

3rd Place: Wendy Fitzgerald – Beauty’s Rose

Highly Commended: Rosie Sutcliffe and David Lea 


1st – Jane Austen’s Bicentenary by Lynda Lawrence

2017 will be the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death.

A few days after Jane died, her sister Cassandra wrote to their cousin:

“She was the sun of my life, the guilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”

This letter could form the basis of a radio production that explores the more intimate relationships that Jane Austen had with her sister, family and also with the place where she lived – her beloved Chawton, where she wrote the majority of her novels.

The production could explore:

– Jane’s day-to-day life, her visits to her brother at Chawton House and how she connected to the broader community.

– The impact of her death on Cassandra and those close to her, how they mourned and the probable causes of her death.

– Interviews with Jane Austen experts, well known writers and actors who have played her characters.

– Jane’s connection with Winchester and her burial in Winchester cathedral.

– The impact of her writing on successive generations and as an important part of literary education.

– Events to mark the bicentenary.

2nd – Never Break the Chain by John Quinn

This proposal is to tell the story of the Isle of Wight’s fascinating and anachronistic floating-bridge, as it bangs close its metal safety gates and clanks its underwater chains for the last time after 168 years of service to Prince and pauper.

Both the nation’s sailing capital and the door to the Isle of Wight, Cowes grew along the banks of the River Medina, but has never boasted a bridge.

Instead it has relied upon the chain ferry, as much part of the island’s DNA as the Needles, to join its two halves and keep the island’s economy alive.

A sleek, modern, diesel-powered ferry replaces it in 2017 and will ensure commuters are dry and warm, delivery vans have a speedy connection and holiday makers no longer endure the infamous ferry queues. It will be nothing like its wind-blown, noisy, dirty and charming predecessors.

With a linking narrator and wealth of archive audio, new atmospheric sounds from the busy, working river and interviews with past and present ferry captains, commuters, holiday makers and business owners we can bring its history, and future, alive in a charming but insightful and compelling feature.

3rd – Beauty’s Rose by Wendy Fitzgerald

An hour long programme exploring the highly contradictory and controversial life of Henry Wriothesley: 3rd Earl of Southampton – Tudor/Stuart man of mystery, intrigue and action.

In the style of a Journalist report on ‘the life of’ … with experts and interviews.

“See his monument in Titchfield Church; his home, the romantic Titchfield Abbey. Walk his canal to the Haven. Look for the ‘Iron Mill’ names, after his works.

Who really was the Earl of Southampton?

The Fair Youth of Shakespeare’s Sonnets? What exactly was his relationship to the Bard? Jailed in the Fleet for eloping with Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting; co-conspirator of the Essex Rebellion – who persuaded the Queen to spare him, whilst Essex and the other rebels were executed? Why did King James free him from the Tower on his accession? Why was he re-arrested in 1604?

Colonialist, industrialist, canal-builder: he tried to enrich Titchfield – but they burnt his effigy at their carnivals. Handsome, favoured courtier – but hated by many, including the King’s favourite, Buckingham. Patron and lover of literature, poetry and plays – yet hardened soldier, serving in Ireland and Holland, dying there with his son.

Enter his rich exciting world – and decide for yourself!”

Highly Commended

A Head Of Plaited Hair by Rosie Sutcliffe

I would like to offer a fifteen minute, local interest radio play inspired by the fascinating and unusual artefact on display at Romsey Abbey.

This is a head of plaited hair, long, lustrous, beautiful auburn hair, discovered in a lead coffin in 1839, having survived the skeleton and any other remains of the lady that it once adorned, believed to have lived in mid to late Saxon period.

Through a one act, four scene play I will attempt to bring to life this woman, using historical evidence with some speculation to shed light upon this amazing local mystery.

Scene one introduces two local teenagers entering the abbey reluctantly to embark upon a history project they are drawn to the macabre yet beautiful hair and quiz the local churchwarden.

Scene two involves the three key characters involved in the discovery of the lead coffin and its bizarre contents, the moment of discovery.

Scene three is a speculative reconstruction of how the Saxon lady may have lived, who she was and how she died.

Scene four brings us back to present day, highlighting how the history around us still impacts and touches us today.

A Hampshire Retreat by David Lea

There is a meadow near Twyford that slopes down to a valley and which contains the remains of an iron-age settlement. At the top of the meadow is a Victorian reservoir comprised of huge cisterns that are mostly underground: cavernous, domes of brick swirling in precise arcs from floor to ceiling and back to floor again.

In the 1980s the reservoir was converted into a bunker for the great and good of Hampshire in the event of a nuclear war. It is made of reinforced concrete and has blast-proof doors, air locks, showers and decontamination rooms.

A company that analysed virus threats to nationwide computer systems used the building after it was decommissioned in 1997, but it is now home to The Natural Death Centre, which specialises in non-religious funerals. Permission has recently been given to develop the site as a dwelling.

The programme would tell the story of the building and its immediate environment, of the people who built it, of those who have used it in the past and of those will take it into the future. It would use scripted speech, interview and soundscape. The ¼ hour after World at One on Radio 4 would be ideal.




December 2016 Competition Results – Catherine Wild

December 2016 Competition Results

December’s adjudicator was Catherine Wild, Lecturer in Creative Writing, University of Winchester. Catherine is a PhD candidate on Comics Writing, with particular reference to Pat Mills, so is perfectly placed to adjudicate a competition titled ‘Introduce a new comics character’ with one picture if desired. Entries were plentiful and Catherine took time to enjoy them before writing her comments, which are below.

1st Place: Honey Stavonhagen – Piccolo Pine

2nd Place: Scott Goldie – Barb

3rd Place: Damon L Wakes – Captain Redundanc

Highly Commended: Wendy Fitzgerald – I am Freyja and Rosie Sutcliffe – Verda Beech


1 st  – Piccolo Pine by Honey Stavonhagen


Catherine Wild: Chosen for its full and clear character description, excellent layout and originality. It is believable and quite charming.

Name: Piccolo Pine

Power: She can control music and sounds. Manipulates musical staves to solve problems (a bit like Spiderman’s web-shooters).

Physical appearance: Six-year-old girl, curly afro pigtails, freckles, 1.15m tall. Horizontal black and white striped t-shirt (staves).

Origin Story: Piccolo’s mother, Octavia (piccolo player) wore a magical chime pendant around her bump during pregnancy. Her mother died in childbirth, but her father, Quentin (a composer) placed Octavia’s piccolo in the baby’s cot to soothe her hoping some of the mother’s breath would still be inside the instrument. The first time Piccolo blew into it, a string of notes flew across the room, picked up a toy duck and brought it back to her.

Superhero Personality: Gregarious, loyal and a good listener. Has perfect pitch and names the tones and keys of everyday sounds: car horns, doorbells, sirens. She loves a ‘drop of silence’ when she’s tired.

Trademark: Her pigtails make the shape of treble clefs when she is playing the piccolo.

Alter-Ego Personality: Bubbly and full of questions, she has a tantrum if she’s ever told she can’t do something because she’s too young.

Sidekick: Wild blackbird called Maestro who lives in her garden. He is the sage, teaching her useful/powerful tunes to help sad or lonely children/adults.

Tragic Flaw: She often forgets the tunes, or which magic melody does what. She loves to play for pleasure but her improvised compositions sometimes get her into trouble.

Community Relationship: Only Maestro knows of her abilities. He is training her up to be a maestro (magical, musical do-gooder) like him.

Colour palette: Grayscale colourway on plain white background, yellow boots and beak. Newspaper print for buildings/trees.

Main Enemies: People who hate music or tell her to be quiet. The noise polluters: diggers, motorways, loud noises that drown out all others. ­­­­


2nd – Barb by Scott Goldie


Catherine Wild: Chosen for its attention to detail, character history and believable protagonist. I particularly liked the collaborative aspect between SG and IG, as illustrator.

Barb, a feisty goblin warrior, doesn’t cut an imposing figure. Young, small, slight of build, she hardly looks formidable. But Barb is lightning fast, her fierce determination making up for her lack of stature.

And Barb has landed her dream job: chasing magical beasts for the Creature Retrieval Service. Craving adventure, Barb wants to fight trolls and discover the best way to capture giants.

So far, all she’s learnt is that catching gnomes is very, very boring.

Brought up in Mildew by her blacksmith mother, Barb’s favourite toy as a goblet* was her wooden sword. Much of her young life was spent at the Arena, watching the warriors face the hazards of The Gauntlet. Her admiration of these tall, swaggering figures made her believe that a true warrior doesn’t need friends, shouldn’t feel fear and should never, ever put aside their weapons.

Barb has green, almond shaped eyes and sharp features. A warrior’s topknot ties up her long, black hair and a small pale scar runs through her left eyebrow. Barb’s mace and her notched short sword hang at her belt, her buckler shield from a strap on her back. She wears battered leather armour, the hide skirt cracked and split with age. At least second-hand, Barb reckons it’s older than she is. She thinks her nose too long.

Quick tempered, Barb can be impetuous and reckless. This hotheadedness leads her into an unwise wager with handsome, ruthless Quarrel, the leader of a rival squad.

Barb dreams of completing The Gauntlet and owning a suit of beautiful yale-horn scale armour. Her favourite smell is leather polish. She loves crumpets, properly toasted of course, and pickled snake’s eggs.

Barb must learn to trust her squad and desperately needs a friend.

Her greatest fears are looking foolish. And bats. She hates bats.


3rd –  Captain Redundancy by Damon L Wakes


Catherine Wild: It has not gone unnoticed that this submission seeks to parody the comic hero concept and indeed this competition itself, which I found to be quite refreshing. That said, the character is effective, as is his side kick Tautology Boy. The submission itself is very dry and errs on the side of metafiction.

Mild mannered jobseeker John Johnson by day, by night Capt. Captain “Redundancy” Redundancy is a superhero whose superpower is redundancy! Wherever there is crime and somebody is already dealing with it, Captain Redundancy will be there, his sidekick Tautology Boy by his side.

A dark and brooding figurehead of justice, Captain Redundancy spends his nights staring out over the city he is sworn to stare out over. As a symbol of his calling as a hero, he wears a pair of underpants over his tights in addition to the usual pair worn underneath. The outer pair are redunderpants. They are red. Captain Redundancy wears red redunderpants.

John Johnson gained his powers after a bite from a radioactive mosquito caused him to stumble into the path of a chemical truck full of vacuum cleaner cleaner. Following this workplace accident—which granted him the incredible powers of redundancy—he was made redundant. Having accepted Tautology Boy as his sidekick, Captain Redundancy’s sidekick became Tautology Boy. Tautology Boy’s powers of tautology are a natural and direct consequence of being Tautology Boy, whose power is tautology.

Villains across the city fear Captain Redundancy, for by the time they see him it is already too late: the arrival of his dreaded carmobile guarantees that some other superhero has doubtless foiled their plans already. Captain Redundancy will never respond to a crime unless his presence is completely redundant, and thus—in doing pretty much nothing of any consequence himself—he is a beacon of hope in dark times: not the hero the city needs, but the hero it doesn’t.

Also Tautology Boy is there too.


Highly Commended – I am Freyja by Wendy Fitzgerald

Catherine Wild: For its ability to characterise through prose and attention to plot set-up.

After the Apocalypse of 2120, those who lived became Undergrounders.

Named from the underground railways where we first survived, we burrowed vast networks of foodfarms, living off fungi-base and lampcrops whilst the earth above us died.

Now 2270, food is short; conflicts erupt, led by Frage, a malcontent. We have learnt nothing.

Of late, the Overland recovers: rich jungle now covers barren wasteland. My people fear the Outside; shun its promise. But I love its wild beauty.

Lost there one day, Gaya rescues me. She is beautiful, youthful, but her tree marks show she is old compared to Undergrounders. She shows me her food growing in earth; tells of her people hiding from Undergrounders who kill them. Returns me to my homegate safely. Gaya is kind.

I stop trusting Undergrounder teachings; only Gaya’s. I sneak away often to find her.

We grow plants in her earth; craft from wood; are at one with the Outside.

But one day, too late, I find her wounded; she dies in my arms. Grief overcomes me: I hold her body until it is cold, but her warmth still courses through my veins.

I bury Gaya in her earth. Line up twigs to mark her grave. They burst into leaf.

Shocked, I move away, line up more twigs. They too leaf. I scatter seed: it crops in hours.

It seems she has given me … a gift.

So this is my quest: I must find out what this portends. Find Gaya’s people, see who they are; learn how to use this gift for good, not evil.

With it, Undergrounders could move Overland. Without it, we fight and die.

But Undergrounders hunt Overlanders down. There will be hatred, violence and more war.

Do I share this gift – or die with it…?


Highly Commended – Verda Beech by Rosie Sutcliffe

Catherine Wild: For its adherence to the brief and effective message.

Verda Beech is a young biology teacher, working in her local secondary comprehensive school, well liked by her students, she is fun, creative and her lessons are lively, unusual, often packing a strong environmental punch, wherever possible. During the working day, Verda inspires her students to think ethically and care about other living beings. She is a strong, statuesque woman in her late twenties, with long light brown hair and striking green eyes.

Weekends and holidays see Verda travelling to destinations where animal species are under threat or danger where she tackles both individuals and huge multi national companies in her valiant attempts to save these creatures.

When on her rescue missions Verda has a costume comprising a green shirt, with lace up front, brown trousers and brown boots, which could be from any era throughout history, this costume, however, has the ability to change, chameleon-like to match its surroundings, giving it a near invisible quality.

It is also adaptable to any environment, cool in steamy jungles, warm in the freezing artic, dry after swimming.

Verda’s powers include a telepathic ability to understand and communicate on a basic level with animals, resulting in great empathy which drives her to fight for them. She has some healing abilities, is highly intelligent, perceptive and can detect weaknesses in an enemy and use it against them. Verda is proficient in self defence, though prefers to use her wit rather than her considerable strength to defeat her adversaries.

Enemies include hunters, whalers, logging companies, huge building corporations, battery farmers, bear bile farmers and similar.

Verda had a relatively ordinary childhood, although from an early age she recognised a close connection with animals. Her main flaw is that she can be too trusting.

Her aim – to banish animal cruelty worldwide.

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: WF@xxxx.com; 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 goodreads.com/genres/most_read/mermaids  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.


October 2016 Competition Results – Isabel Rogers

October 2016 Competition Results

Isabel Rogers, Hampshire Poet 2016, commented that she was looking forward to reading all of the entries when she adjudicated the competition for October 2016. ‘Inspired By Hampshire’ inspired our members to write a poem within the 300-word limit. Isabel has chosen the winners and shares her thoughts about them below.

1st Place: Scratch (Peter Hitchen) – New Forest UXB: ‘Historical’

2nd Place:  Hilary Hares – Hampshire

3rd Place: Sally Russell – The Bull of Bull Drove 

Highly Commended: Sue Spiers – The Alcorns and Avril Stephenson – Hampshire Haven 

1st Prize:

New Forest UXB: ‘Historical’ by Scratch (Peter Hitchen)

Isabel Rogers: This poem sustained a metaphor brilliantly throughout, as well as rooting the subject deeply in Hampshire locations. I loved the playful approach to language, teasing with multiple meanings of words, which brought out the deeper theme of the work. It conveyed a complex situation with huge economy and skill.

Jonny lit a blaze
in his father’s inclosure
then dashed to the front line
of his anguish and lobbed an F-bomb
that didn’t go off

he forsook his skateboard
for an unbridled pony
tacked his own pilgrimage out west
and made a small contribution
to the pink pound while he waited for
his pollarded psyche
to show signs of regrowth

regardless of grooming
sparse coppice was
the best it could manage
it aped charred furze
until he espaliered it onto
a stockade against pannage

it became a life’s work

sometimes he fantasised
about going back
maybe on a sunny
All Saints Day afternoon

they’d meet in the demilitarised zone of
a Burley tea shoppe

but he’d have dredged the F-bomb up
and have it with him
just in case he needed to
explode it at the precise moment
to cause maximum damage

2nd Prize

Hampshire by Hilary Hares

Isabel Rogers: I enjoyed this poem’s use of repetition and carefully controlled lines and stanzas, and the deliberate relaxing of line length – just once – to bring out some dark humour. It was an almost cinematic tour of the many aspects of our county, creating many images I loved.

That spits its history into its ports
like an indentured midshipman,
that hides its secrets under a hill
where a tunnel carries them to London.

That challenges France from
the quenelles of its downs,
that grew rich on milk and wheat,
that fattens its ponies on gorse.

That abolished its trams,
that closed its dockyard
where a siren released a flock
of black bikes every weekday at four.

Hampshire, where Gormley stands
in the crypt of the cathedral,
that boasts two kings, that despairs
of its trains.

That excels at sea, whose knights
are legend, that bred Brunel,
that guards its coast
with abandoned forts.

In a Hampshire keep a damsel
lets loose the tresses of a fable.
She writes behind a door
that once she painted green.

3rd Prize

The Bull of Bull Drove by Sally Russell

Isabel Rogers: This poem described a rich snapshot of the old Bull Drove open air swimming area, with a lot of vivid glimpses of character drawn with economy. The ending, encapsulated in the final two stanzas, is as disturbing as I’m sure it is intended to be.

She teeters on the Bull Drove river bank
like a riparian wood nymph.
Messy dark blonde bob, thick cut fringe,
hand-me-down seersucker costume

the colour of waving weeds.
Frayed straps cut her pubescent shoulders raw.
Her naked heels are rooted in mud,
a shaggy grass rag rug tufting between her toes.

She hugs herself with pipe cleaner arms,
pale and goosebumped, fingertips blue.
A cacophony of children bob up and down
like jumping fish, splashing, dive bombing,

shooting dank-smelling froth over her skin.
Her eyes dart about, searching for
the bulls of Bull Drove. Languorous swells drift past;
pondweed tendrils flutter like watery windsocks.

A submerged shoal of teenagers ripples past,
picking freckled, age-worn pebbles
from the river bed, while shafts of sunlight
pierce the cloudy depths.

A bull-shaped head breaks the surface.
He rolls his neck, shakes a Catherine wheel
of water from his shaven scalp.
He smiles and grasps her hand.

Her mouth opens in a silent scream
as she leans away. He tugs. She slides
down into hostile waters.
It is her turn to learn to swim.

Highly Commended

The Alcorns by Sue Spiers:

Isabel Rogers: A beautifully drawn portrait of grandparents, with tender descriptions shining through what must have been a hard life for Lily. The final stanza is heartbreaking, with its mention of money almost as an afterthought but providing the emotional after-kick of this poem.

Gentleman Jack they called him in The Crown,
always wore a jacket and bow tie in the pub.
On Sundays my cousins and I sat outside
with a bag of crisps and a lemonade each,
giggling at nan’s ‘fag-ash Lil’ nick-name,
a cigarette bobbing on her lip, scattering ash.

I never knew she was disabled, she had thin legs
and one Frankenstein shoe with a platform.
She got her shoes on the NHS, custom made.
A work pair in black and a best pair in fawn.
Sometimes she’d let me fix in the rod
and lace up the strap under her swollen knee.

Grandad showed me his Readers Digest books
pointed out countries in the World Atlas,
talked with me about the photos in the zoo book
colour photos of leopards, dolphins, anemones,
given to me when he died because my cousins
showed no interest in that kind of stuff.

Their son died in infancy, around the time
granddad was living with another woman.
Lily took him back against her brothers’ advice.
Their third girl was born a year later.
I calculated their first was born six months
before the date on their wedding certificate.

Lily wouldn’t let doctors tell him he had cancer,
convinced them to diagnose tuberculosis.
The sitting room became his sick room for a year.
She got it nine years later, gave up within a month
owing £40 to the co-op. £400 to bury them together,
to get her name added to his headstone.

Highly Commended:

Hampshire Haven by Avril Stephenson

Isabel Rogers: This was a delightful sense-fest, with rhythm and internal rhyme combining to create a cascade of a prose-poem. We are shown a beautiful day at the beach and its surroundings. I could almost taste the salt spray.

Sunbeams stridently escape the clouds, glinting, hinting at long summer hours, easy days, lazy crowds, loud laughter, raft of strong shadows
Glimmering horizon shimmers through the heat haze, terns swoop down, skimming the waves, follow shoals swimming, dip for a tit-bit, gone in a flash, dash away, specks in the sky

Skin blushed by the kiss of sun, massaged with balmy lotion, notional protection from fearsome rays, motion of the ocean, soothing the soul, whispering lullaby held in a spell
Cool off in the water, gently enter in, deliciously fresh, coldly shocking, sparkling wavelets rapid racing, bracing, slowly succumb, enticing arms enfolding, holding, beckoning “come in!”

Close to nature, buoyed up by the water, darting like a fish, relaxing with the waves, vista of hills rising steeper in the distance, broad shoulders standing importantly in line
Pebbles worn smoother than a ping-pong ball, crunchy sand crystals nestle between toes, seaweed blisters hold bladders of water, optimistic sand hoppers bounce amongst driftwood, leaping along with unharnessed glee

Tang of dried flotsam, fish and driftwood, taste of salt carried on the breeze, jellyfish remains, transparent, rubbery, tentacles menacing with suckers underneath

Cliffs wear drifts of purple heather, rusty bracken slackens, bows to the ground, feather ends brush on dry sedge grasses, worms slither sinuously along the sandy soil
Excited children’s voices waft across beaches, chirping like birdsong, mixing in a melody with whispers on the wind

Broody chalk-white needles rise majestic from the sea, aloof from the island, distant, mysterious, boldly guarding the twinkling bay

Motorboats and ski-jets rudely intrude, disturbing the calm like hornets at a picnic, fumes race away in the breezy summer air

Kite-surfers skilfully use nature’s forces, powerful as horses, gliding, turning, racing, embracing silently the power of the wind.