March 2020 Competition Results – Adjudication by Dr. Claire Gradidge

“There were twenty one entries to this competition and I enjoyed reading them all!” adjudicator Dr. Claire Gradidge explained as she prepared to announce the winners of the March competition – write the beginning of a murder mystery set in the past.

Winner of the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller Competition in January 2019 and Associate Lecturer of Creative Writing at Winchester University, Claire summarised her adjudication experience saying:

Claire Gradidge - March 2020
Claire Gradidge announcing her adjudication

“A very many good ideas were aired, and a whole range of time frames – from Cro-Magnum P.I. through to the 1960s. Everyone had worked hard to ensure that the past setting and details worked to give a sense of authenticity to their work. Some were not so much beginnings as a tiny, twisty tale which felt complete in the allotted three hundred words, while others definitely had the feel of a potential longer story – and the hook to engage the reader’s imagination and make them want to read on.”

First place: Graham Steed for Alfred  of Africa

Second place: Angela Chadwick for Death of a Rebel

Third place: Peter Duncan for Betrayal

Highly Commended: Dominique Hackston for Who is Joe King

Highly Commended: Mark Eyles for The Nightingale Heart

March 2020 winners
Competitions winners L to R: Peter Duncan, Dominique Hackston, Mark Eyles and Angela Chadwick

 

First Place: Alfred of Africa by Graham Steed 

“I judged this the overall winner for a number of reasons. First, was the narrative style – the witness statement of Captain Cruso enables the writer to get across a lot of background detail in an interesting way. Second, was the way the Captain’s character and his relationship to the late Alfred is hinted at. There is an intriguing sense that not all the truth – or at least, not all the facts – are included in his statement. Whether Captain Cruso will turn out to be a reliable witness is something that made me want to know more! Thirdly, I thought the ‘hook’ at the end of the piece was well handled – the image of the drowned body of Alfred is deftly evoked and effective in suggesting both the mystery and the horror of his end.”

Statement to the Coroner by Captain J. J Cruso re the inquest at the Crown Hotel on the brutal murder of his faithful servant Alfred of Africa, given this day 26th June 1839.

I am now retired from the sea, but for 40 years I was a Master in the Merchant Service. I live in Island House close to where Ivy Lane meets the Bristol Road, along with my two daughters, Elizabeth and Jane, who moved in after their mother’s death. I can barely speak of it now, but until last week my constant companion and servant, Alfred, lived on the ground floor. The cook, gardener and stable hand live locally.

Last Friday, I sent Alfred to see the SS Great Britain at Bristol. I wanted him to describe that first all-iron vessel which proved Archimedes right – flotation does not depend on the material but only if water supports its hull-shaped weight.

Alfred did not return home. I could think of no reason he might be detained except he be injured, arrested or signed-on as crew to a West African trader.

To the rear of Island House is a small lake. It is my custom to row upon this lake if weather permits. On Tuesday afternoon after three days of rain a hot sun tempted me to my boat. I bailed out rainwater and rowed towards the wood which marks my eastern boundary. Pulling into the welcome shade of those trees, I shipped oars and cast a line with my little bamboo rod.

As my boat drifted in light airs, the rod began straining. I leaned forward to peer over the gunnel and there, as distant below the surface as I was above, I saw with horror not a fish but a face. Alfred’s face. And his eyes were open and his body in the posture of treading water, but he was under water, suspended in a watery vault, his mouth open…

 

Second Place: Death of a Rebel by Angela Chadwick

“Another very atmospheric piece full of well drawn description. As the narrator moves through the wharves of Boston Harbour, Mass. On a foggy evening in 1770, there is a definite sense of growing menace.   I liked the narrative voice – first person, present tense – which gave the piece immediacy and drew the reader into the story from the outset. A good, unexpected and gory ‘hook’ at the end of this extract!”

Boston, Massachusetts 1770

The fog slides in from the sea like some celestial crone drawing her tattered shawl closer, hiding the huddles of cargoes, muffling the incessant creaks and groans of the merchantmen riding at anchor. Long Wharf is deserted, all sensible men having sought shelter, leaving the world to the nefarious actors of the night, footpads and fools. And I’m no simpleton.

I move slowly, carefully avoiding the detritus of the day that litter the wharves, hazardous for the unwary, obscured as it is by the damp, white shroud. A stumble here could leave you dead in an instant, crushed by hulls undulating on the swell or frozen with the cold of the water. I walk faster once I’m on the solid surface of the street, the perils of horseshit and discarded entrails less than that of a knife in the dark. I’m well-armed and confident of my prowess against some half-starved vagabond but I’m already late and I can do without the delay.

The lights of the hostelries of King Street aid my endeavours and I arrive at my destination, The Salty Cod Oyster House, without mishap. The blast of noise and light is disorientating after the silence of the street and I stop in the entrance to get my bearings. Daniel entering the lions’ den.

In a corner, Samuel Adams is holding forth surrounded by his cronies, men of dubious loyalties and even less honour. He is a hideous, loathsome man, totally untrustworthy but an effective rabble-rouser. I skirt his band of miscreants and catch the eye of the barman; a barely imperceptible nod of his head indicating that my companion awaits in the back room.

I pause until Samuel’s loud guffaw draws attention, then I slip inside. I need not have hurried. One glance tells me he is dead, a stiletto still buried to the hilt in his eye.

 

Third Place:  Betrayal by Peter Duncan

“This piece has a really good sense of atmosphere. The opening line is dramatic, calling up the bleakness of the fenland setting. The contrast with the interior scene – the man, and his dogs by the fire – lends a sense of contrast and tension to the piece. My main problem with the piece was the title, which gave away too much, so the end was not the hook it might otherwise have been.” 

The wind, always the wind.

It blasted ceaselessly across the bleak fen from the icy sea five miles distant, a constant torment to the long low stone house that was his refuge. By day, when he was sitting close to the half- dead fire, it plumbed the chimney, ash dancing like snowflakes in the hearth. At night it invaded his dreams, woke and teased him into hours of doubt about what he had done.

His only companion here was the manservant, Tyler: a morose, heavy- faced man who barely spoke a word and had not once questioned his sudden appearance a week ago. And there were the dogs, of course: three pointers who curled up beside him on these endless dark evenings, the house trembling in the gale and Tyler clattering about at the oven in some dim recess off the hall. He looked down now with affection at the sleeping creatures. But these three have even tempers, he mused. They will be of little use when my enemies come searching for me, as they surely will.

The wind had eased a little. Above its low moaning he heard hooves on the courtyard cobbles, the whinny of his own stabled horse. He sat bolt upright. Who in God’s name would be calling at this hour? He reached for his weapon, suddenly realising that he had left it in the bedchamber. Call to Tyler, he thought. But the servant’s clattering had stopped. Where was the wretched man?

The door was pushed open. He sprang to his feet. ‘Good evening, Robert,’ said a familiar voice. Relief coursed through his body. It was only as the visitor approached and he saw the quick flash of steel that he realised, too late, he had been betrayed. The three dogs hardly stirred.

 

Highly Commended: Who is Joe King by Dominique Hackston

“The title really did set the mood – who indeed was Joe King, and what was his role in this tantalising opening? At first, it seems he is a hero, the rescuer of a small child he finds in terrible circumstances, but as the extract closes, the reader is left wondering. Could he be the murderer instead?
Third and second entries were very close indeed – much deliberation and heartsearching before I decided on the order!”

Joe shuffled around in the phone box. He rested the sleeping child against the directory on the metal shelf. He looked at his bloodied index finger as he slotted it into the nine, dialled it twice, then hesitated before dragging it round for the third time. He should have walked away, but he couldn’t have left the child alone with the dead woman.

‘Police please. … ‘I’d like to report a murder, … My name? Joe King … Oh for Christ’s sake … My name is Joseph King … no … Primrose Cottage, ‘bout 2 miles from Bramshaw … Because there’s blood everywhere and I couldn’t feel a pulse. … Don’t hang up.’

Joe impatiently jiggled the button to reconnect. Finally he redialled 999.

‘Police. … Yes, I spoke to you just now. … I was going to say, send a woman officer, please. There was a child in the house. … Of course not. …Here with me.’ He turned and peered into the darkness. ‘I’ll wait on the bench next to the phone box.’ The line went dead.

Shhh,’ the child whimpered as he pushed backwards against the heavy door. He knew the police would suspect him. ‘What idiot agrees to meet a lady at midnight?

He slipped a folded piece of paper from his inside pocket, eased his jacket off and wrapped it round the child. Then sat next to her.

“Heads, I stay, tails I go.” he whispered as he flipped a ha’penny. The coin glinted in the light of a match. He drew on a cigarette and unfolded the page he had torn from the same phone box less than two hours earlier. He struck another match and held it against the paper and watched as an orange flame devoured the circled ‘King, J.M. Primrose Cottage, Bramshaw 7263.

Highly Commended: The Nightingale Heart by Mark Eyles

“Set in Japan, the details of this story seemed well-researched. The idea of the living bird sewn up inside the corpse of a dead man evoked a real shudder of horror and hinted at a real threat to the young woman narrator and her sometime lover.”

Covered in cherry blossom, the man’s naked body was propped on a bench in the gardens. My lord, Mizuno Katsunari, daimyo of the Fukuyama Clan, was standing alone, looking at the corpse. He beckoned me over and pointed at flaps of skin sewn together under the ribs on the left. I now understood why I had been asked to bring my sewing kit.

That Mizuno-sama would want a woman to wash and prepare a body was no surprise; that he sent for his former concubine to deal with the corpse told me he wanted this kept secret. The body was lean, muscled and crisscrossed with scars. A wandering rōnin looking for work? A bandit?

Taking out scissors, I waited with head bowed. Mizuno-sama stepped back and I noticed the scarring on the stump of his little toe was still an angry red. I had sewn it up after he dropped his ceremonial katana while drinking sake with the shogun’s emissary.
As I bent over the body I let out a sharp cry. The man’s chest had moved, stitches straining. Mizuno-sama pushed me aside and leaned in to touch the cut. The skin moved again and he let out a puzzled grunt.

I cut away the stitches, reached down to put the fingers of both hands in the wound so I could pull it open. Maybe I’d find a magically beating heart? I felt scratching. Claws closed on one finger, piercing skin. I pulled my hand away and a blood soaked bundle of feathers came from a fleshy hollow. Broken wings dripping blood. A bird, barely living, dropped to the petalled grass, feebly shaking its head.

Despite the bedraggled state I knew the bird immediately. I had heard its song in the early mornings when I drew water. Sayonakidori, the nightingale. I looked up at Mizuno-sama and our eyes locked. I had been his Sayonakidori when we sweated together on the tatami.

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

February 2020 Competition Results – Joel McIver Adjudication

Adjudicator for February’s competition was bestselling author of 20 books on rock music, Joel McIver. Our main speaker on the evening, he is also known for contributing to various music and film magazines and regularly appears on radio and TV.

Joel McIver Feb 2020
Joel McIver announces the winners

This month’s competition brief was: 

Everyone hates this song, here’s why I love it, in 300 words.

Joel’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Solveig Godauski with Rick-Rolled

Second Place: Maggie Farran with My Way

Third Place: Damon L. Wakes with Turfin’ Bird

Highly Commended: Barbara Needham with A Discordant Note

Highly Commended: Lynn Clement with Sherrington Woods

 

February 2020 winners
L to R: Joel McIver, Solveig Godauski, Maggie Farran, Barbara Needham and Damon L. Wakes

First Place: Rick-Rolled by Solveig Godauski

“Succinct, well-reasoned and very familiar from my own experience as an Eighties teenager, this piece of text makes it clear both why this song is both loved and hated.

I have always had a better taste in music than you. I’ve been a fan of indie and metal bands which you have never heard of and I have always had my finger on the pulse. I saw the Killers at a small, grubby venue, the Strokes before they’d even released their first album and Coldplay as the first act on stage, supporting three other bands.

I stage dived at a Biohazard concert. I emerged from a Paradise Lost mosh pit covered in bruises. I turned the car stereo up to 11 and let myself be engulfed in the insane racket that is Lightning Bolt’s “Dracula Mountain” – music which you could never endure. I laughed when you said you liked Crowded House.

Looking back, I realise how painfully self-conscious I was in those days. I was desperate to be one of the cool kids, desperate to impress people, worried that I might accidentally like the wrong thing.

These days, you can find me at a local school on a Sunday morning. I’m at the Sunday Assembly: a non-religious community gathering, a non-churchy church – wholesome, uplifting, inclusive, definitely not cool and not trying to be.

There’s a long talk and a short talk, poetry, mindfulness, homemade cake. Instead of hymns we sing pop songs; catchy tunes that everyone knows. I’m in the front row, happy and relaxed, comfortable in my own skin, well rested, sober. A lyrics video, downloaded off YouTube, appears on the screen and the intro of a cheesy 80s song blares from the speakers. I grin, start tapping my foot, sing along to the first verse and then belt out cheerfully and louder than anyone else: “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you!”

 

Second Place: My Way by Maggie Farran

” I do like a revenge story, and how better to frame it than within in the context of the most annoyingly smug songs ever written?

His coffin slides into the cremator to Frank Sinatra belting out ‘My Way’. I smile secretly as I feel the mass hatred for this song from his friends and family. That is why I chose it. It is my parting gift to him, the man who did everything his way and made my life a misery.

‘Regrets I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention’

I don’t think he ever regretted anything. He was convinced that every decision he made was absolutely right. He dragged me away from my hometown to live in the middle of the country. I was lonely and bored, but he didn’t even notice. He was down the pub every night with his so-called mates.

‘Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew’

He always had some new money-making scheme that came to nothing. He was always going to make a fortune, but it never came to anything. I was often hungry and ashamed of my scruffy clothes.

‘To say the things, he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels”

He crushed me with his words. I can’t remember him ever saying anything kind to me. He seemed to enjoy criticising everything I did and reducing me to tears.

‘And now, the end is near
And so, I face the final curtain’

So now my father’s life has ended. I have no regrets. I’ve looked after him through his final illness. I’ve shown him a kindness he never showed to me. However, this song he hated with a passion is how I will always remember him. I squeeze my daughter’s hand. We exchange a knowing look and walk slowly towards the sunshine outside.

‘I took the blows
And did it my way’

 

Third Place: Turfin’ Bird by Damon L. Wakes

“I’ve been in the position of the writer of this piece, struggling to make people leave the pub where I was a student. The chosen song is an inspired choice!

Ted had a few options available when people got a little too comfortable at the bar.
Simply putting chairs on tables usually did the job. Should that prove inadequate, wiping up around a pint was often enough to drive the point home. Only on very rare occasions did he have to resort to actually asking people to leave. And on nights when that failed?…

Despite the group’s assurances that they were just finishing up their drinks, Ted was beginning to get the distinct impression that this dreary Friday was just such a night. He’d already opened up Spotify. His finger hovered over the button. The nuclear option. He looked over at the gang of lads and their still half-full glasses of Foster’s, silently pleading for them to just walk away, but they were oblivious.
As the one known as “Lanky Carl” launched into yet another rendition of Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” Ted decided it was, at last, time for a counter-offensive. He turned the volume all the way up and hit play.

“A-WELL-A EVERYBODY’S HEARD ABOUT THE BIRD!”

The group downed their pints and was out the door even before the first b-b-b-bird.
Ted locked up behind them and got started mopping the floor, letting the song blare on in the background.

The Trashmen were right: everybody knew that the bird was the word.

And if they didn’t?

They’d soon find out.

Highly Commended: A Discordant Note by Barbara Needham

“The best plot-twist I’ve read in quite some time!

‘I can’t stand that song.’

‘It’s an awful racket.’

‘It just goes on and on.’

As soon as the singer starts belting out his signature tune, these are the frequently heard complaints. Inextricably tied up with the song, is the reputation of the musician himself. He stands accused of being a notorious serial cheat. His brief encounters with the opposite sex have produced many offspring, which he succeeds in offloading to others to raise. He has devised strategies to dupe the unwary – and to the chagrin of his detractors, he often gets away with it.

The history of the music world is strewn with examples of stars whose private lives were messy. Elvis died obese and alone, truly in ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. Judy Garland’s life was far from the paradise ‘Over the Rainbow’, that she sought. She had five husbands some violent and abusive. Amy Winehouse’s struggles with alcohol are well documented; one of her famous songs is entitled ‘Rehab’.

So who is this individual whose trademark song and questionable lifestyle is so detested by some? He is an international traveller whose brief British tour starts in April. For the next three months, he has a phenomenally punishing schedule. He performs every day. By early summer, when he flies off, even his most ardent fans think his voice is losing its fabled clarity.

It is early morning. We are tired of the cold and wet of winter. Nature is waking up. Trees are putting forth their first leaves. Days are getting longer. Then, across a meadow, if you are lucky, comes that unmistakable first call. Loud and ethereal. You rarely see him, but he is indisputably the herald of Spring.

I love the cuckoo’s song – and am a member of his fan club.

Highly Commended: Sherrington Woods by Lynn Clement

“A palpable sense of menace oozes from the page.”

Terry Jacks, ‘Seasons in the Sun,’ plays in my head. All your friends hate it. They hate me.

We’re in Sherrington Woods, amid the noble colour, in the feeble sun of autumn. Copper and dun, woven together lay a patterned carpet. The early morning. Jack had waved his spiky fingers, crisping the edges of each fallen leaf. White webs were woven, sticky and clinging – makes me shiver now. But it’s the surprise of the hoary headed mushrooms, unexpectedly emerging in the soggy shade of the oak, which reminds me of you. And what was.

‘Hello Jessy, how are you?’ A voice interrupts my thoughts.

‘I’m good,’ I reply.

‘Your painting is taking shape now.’

‘Yes,’ I say.

David means well, but he doesn’t understand. No one will ever understand.

‘Do you have all the colours you need?’

‘Sure,’ I give.

Red is red is red, I think – except when it’s scarlet.

David usually leaves me alone, wafting off to help some other deserving soul. I have to get this bit right. His eyes dart around the room.

Yellow and red, the story of our relationship really. You mellow yellow, me blood red. Then you turned grey. Fungus-like. Sucking the colour out of me. I bought a sweet-cherry hair dye, like in that photo you hid in your drawer. The one with the scarlet, lipstick kiss. ‘It’s not you,’ you said. It’s not her, you meant. So I went back to black, and made vermillion lines on my arms instead.

‘Does the pallet knife help with the texture, Jessy?’ David again, from across the room.

‘Yes, thanks.’

The blade spreads the thick claret colour across the sienna. Just like it did that autumn day. Pooling on the rusty splashed carpet.

David’s approaching.

‘Oh, you’ve spoiled your painting Jessy!’ – Just as I’d anticipated. I raise the knife.

He hits the red button, and they come for me.

I’ll start the painting again…next time I’m allowed out.

I love that song.

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

 

January 2020 Competition Results – Paul Newsome Adjudication

Founder of The Self Publishing Studio, Paul Newsome, kindly agreed to adjudicate the January competition.

Paul explained it was a really tough choice, however the winner was, for him, the stand out piece.

The competition brief for January 2020 was:

‘Why I write and where it can lead’, in 300 words.

Paul’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Gill Hollands with Champagne Brain

Second Place: Jordan Dean Ezekude with Writing is Talking

Third Place: Peter Duncan with What If…?

Highly Commended: Angela Chadwick with Writing for Bucks

Jan 2020 winners
Jordan Dean Ezekude and Gill Hollands hold their certificates and book prizes

First Place: Champagne Brain by Gill Hollands

Nice flowing story, good use of the champagne metaphor, made it quite quirky and stood out.”

I believe everyone is creative. How else could humanity survive? We teach children to problem solve from an early age. We can all do it.

Mum read me bedtime stories as any sensible, loving parent does. She’d point out the cloud creatures in the sky when we walked. I’d daydream what they’d do, those cloud-beasts, where they’d go. As a coddled, ailing child, I spent long winter spells in bed, reading voraciously. It opened my cage, showing me strange people, surprising situations, glorious places. My daydreams grew into fantasies, kaleidoscopes of wonder. I began to write, capturing my dreams, tailoring my tales. I fizzed.

Gill Hollands - Jan 2020
Gill Hollands reads her winning entry

Champagne bubbles rise up from the depths, gathering momentum, ideas growing as they jiggle and soar. They expand, catching shafts of colour and light, patterns shifting on the delicate surface. Each one is a story, an idea, perhaps a subconscious snatch from the news or everyday life, maybe a glimpse across the street or a phrase of bitten off overheard conversation. Each one swells with potential.

It’s up to you whether they tickle your nose as they pop, or you grab them and absorb the priceless treasure inside.

Those bubbles keep me writing. If I don’t write, I dream. I love escaping into that special world. I’ve published three children’s books now with two more underway.

I’m working with local libraries, art centres and schools. I lead creative writing workshops for adults. I love to visit schools and see the children’s faces light up in my imagination workshops. When they come back to tell me how much they love my books, I light up too. That’s the champagne part.

One day, I’d love to see my books as movies. I don’t plan on retiring.
So, read, wonder and explore. Find your champagne.
Cheers!

Second Place: Writing is Talking by Jordan Dean Ezekude

“I felt this had a real personal meaning, with a very charitable theme.

To write is to communicate – that’s how I see it. I’ve always been more of a listener than a speaker. For me, writing is another way of talking. Along with my drawing, painting, designing and music creation, I see writing as a means to share my feelings and ideas with other people, whether it’s adventurous children’s stories or mindful non-fiction. Furthermore, every time I write, I feel like I’m taking one step forward on the journey of my life with multiple paths for me to follow. The best part is that there’s no end to this adventure until I die.

However, I don’t write merely for thrills, chills or paying the bills. I write for the same reason why I paint, design and compose: to make a positive difference. It’s my belief that there’s always something I can do to help people through life. I may still be young but I know how much life can feel overwhelmingly troubled, especially with so many people out there being misled, misjudged and abused as we speak. As a coloured man with learning difficulties and years of mental illness, I strive to do everything in my power to help people like me live their lives as they see fit.

Therefore, I strongly believe that my work can reach out to the hearts of the earnest, faithful and kind-hearted people of the world, encouraging them to keep on living in peace and productivity. Finally, I believe that it’s the least I can do in return for everything that the people I care about have done for me in the past. All in all, my writing is my way of communicating with other people and saying to them ‘thank you’, ‘I believe in you’, ‘don’t give up on life’ and ‘I love you’.

Third Place: What If…? by Peter Duncan

“Quite an intriguing plot in the making. It did capture my imagination, and would make me want read the full story.

A few years ago I went to work in France. If this sounds glamorous, it wasn’t. I was actually living in a grim, dark northern city and working for an organisation that had a terrible air of unhappiness about it. Shortly after arriving, I discovered that tragically there had been a recent employee suicide. Nobody could tell me what had actually happened: it was the kind of place where you didn’t press questions.

As I wandered around the unlovely city or trudged back and forth between work and the bare and soulless apartment that had been arranged for me, I began to notice the knots of dispossessed people hanging around. I thought that some might be illegal immigrants fleeing violence and poverty elsewhere: Africa perhaps. In my workplace I heard that the organisation’s Director was front- runner for a ministerial appointment in the French government.

I mulled over everything I was seeing and hearing and began to think: ‘What If…?’ What if there was a death here that everyone talked of as suicide, but was actually murder? What if the person killed had been about to expose French government wrong- doing in a poor African state? What if the person at the heart of that conspiracy was a ministerial candidate a bit like Monsieur X…?

I came back to England, still thinking these ‘What If?’ ideas. They started to appear as words in a draft of what I cautiously began to call a crime thriller. The thinking in France and the writing in England kept me sane during a difficult part of my life: a lot of the time I felt like a stranger in both countries. Writing is still doing that. As to where it will lead: for me, the possibilities of ‘What If?’ seem endless.

Highly Commended: Writing for Bucks by Angela Chadwick

“Writing for bucks. There was a certain rawness and honesty to this. The Precariat theme is very relevant at the moment.

It all began with Tinder. Girls don’t really go for blokes who put unemployed on their profile, and why would you, when it is so easy to lie?

At first, I put mechanic or electrician but it’s amazing the number of girls who expect you to fix something before getting down to business. That’s when I hit on the brilliant idea of writer. It explained why I could be available at all times of the day and when I said I was struggling to get published, it also covered why they couldn’t find a book I’d written.

I used to claim some other guy’s book but I’m not a great reader and it turns out that some girls are.

But women are incredibly nosy and they go on and on about wanting to read something you’ve written. I think they think they’re being supportive. In the end I had to write something, so I wrote the story of me and my mates, our aimless existence in a town with no jobs. We’d left our shitty school with barely a GCSE between us. Sometimes we’d get a bit of cash in hand and we’d be flush for a while but mostly we’d just hang. There’s nothing in this town, no tourism, no industry, no hope.

My sister saw it. She’s still at school and right smart. She stayed late, using the school computers she typed it up for me in Google Docs. One day she uploaded it to Kindle. Turns out, we’re a thing. A Precariat. All those loony lefties went mad for my book.
Now I’ve got an agent and an accountant. They tell me I’ve got to get out more, write more. Tell you what though, being a published author is a fucking good way to get laid.

Photos by Alex Carter, Lexica Films

 

Hampshire Writers’ Society AGM 2018-2019

Report from Events Manager, David Eadsforth

The 2018-19 season proved to be as exciting as we hoped. In September, Tracey Corderoy, the amazingly prolific author of sixty children / young adult books, and Barry Timms, author and editorial director of Little Tiger Books, described how they collaborated on picture books. In October, Ian Thomas, writer, programmer, and games developer for Talespinners, described the art of game writing and narrative design to a packed house. November saw deeply experienced literary agent Heather Holden-Brown describe the path to publication, and in December the year was rounded off by Penny Ingham, classical scholar, ex-BBC production assistant turned author, who explained the benefits of working with the small independent publisher to research, write, and publish historical novels.

2020 was opened by Lucy Courtenay, author and editor of children’s books, who described how to get started in writing an illustrated children’s book. In February, Edward Docx, thriller writer, explained the craft of creating the bones of a narrative in a single brainstorming session. And in March, Judy Waite, children’s author of more than fifty books, took an interactive workshop approach to tell us how to fire up our creative curiosity.

In April, Neil Arksey, screenwriter, script editor, producer, lead writer on a number of TV dramas, and now author of young adult novels, described how the challenge of finding an agent can meet with success. In May, Stevyn Colgan, policeman turned author, took us through the illustrious history of British comic writing and, to wrap up the year, Simon Hall, news correspondent for twenty-five years, gave us an insight into the real events that have inspired his crime writing; and how to locate a dead otter when circumstances dictate.

All in all, another great season for the HWS.

 

Report from Liaison Officer, Gary Farnell

2018-19 has been a busy year for the Liaison Officer at the Hampshire Writers’ Society (HWS). Liaison has been mainly at the University of Winchester, but also with other bodies – at both regional and national levels – where there is an interest in the Society’s activities. In addition, there has been further liaison with specific individuals, with a view to putting together the HWS programme for 2019-20.

When vacancies arise on the HWS Organising Committee there is often an element of liaison which comes into play, in order to fill these vacancies. 2018-19 has been no exception in this regard. It is pleasing to report that the HWS Organizing Committee continues to function, in 2019-20, as the hard-working body it has always been.

The Liaison role at HWS also entails acting as moderator at the Society’s monthly meetings, in the post-talk question-and-answer sessions. This is a very stimulating role to perform: it has been a privilege, and a pleasure, to be able to meet with the Society’s speakers and guests in this way.

There will, of course, be further liaison in 2019-20. The Society is already planning its next season: it will be exciting to try to shape a new programme from the activities of the past year.

 

Report from Competitions Manager, Helen Adlam

The 2018/19 season was busy in terms of competitions.  As well as the regular monthly competitions, October 2018 saw the addition of the Hyde 900 poetry competition (organised in conjunction with Edward Fennell), which received 13 entries.  The winning poems were read out by actor Nigel Bradshaw at a specially arranged Hyde 900 commemorative event in Winchester.  In addition, children’s author, Judy Waite, organised a Wordtamer competition, inviting writers of children’s fiction to enter a short story/novel extract.  The prize was a one to one session with Judy to develop the story further, as well as a selection of Wordtamer-related books.  This competition received 10 entries.

In terms of monthly competitions, the average number of entries was around 10.  However, the competition judged by Claire Fuller in February 2019  – Write a last letter from a parent to a child – proved to be particularly popular, generating 23 entries.  Least popular was Write a story outline for a video game, adjudicated by Ian Thomas.  This, disappointingly, only attracted seven entries (last season’s lowest figure for entries was 11).  Competitions which evoke personal memories, or memories from childhood, seem to be the most popular.  It is noted from last year’s report that the most popular competition drew 26 entries, so three less than the 23 generated most recently.

 

Report from Membership Secretary, Karin Groves

During the 2018/2019 season, the Hampshire Writers’ Society grew to 154 members. Amongst the members you will find published and established authors; those seeking literary agents and publication; students studying for undergraduate or postgraduate degrees or attending creative writing classes; and those for whom writing is a passion or an enjoyable interest.

In the past year, there have been two HWS Book Fairs (December and June) for mainstream and self-published members of the society. This gives authors an opportunity to display and sell their books. The occasion was a great networking opportunity for all members. I am currently taking bookings for the next book fair in December 2019.

Subscriptions 2019/2020

Without members paying a subscription fee and visitors paying an entrance fee, the HWS would not have enough income to pay for the speakers, so it is essential to renew the membership, introduce new members and publicise our events to keep the HWS thriving.

The HWS was able to offer a special discount price of £25 until the end of August for 2019/2020 membership. From 1st September 2019, the membership subscription is £30. Students are free on production of a valid student card. Non-members pay £5 per evening. All this is exceptional value for 10 monthly informative and entertaining evenings.

For no extra charge. members have the opportunity to join the HWS Critique Group; enter the monthly writing competitions; and participate in the Members’ Book Fair in December and June.

Due to rising costs for the speakers and falling numbers of people paying a subscription fee, from September 2020, the subscription fee will rise to £35 per year. The cost of a visitor ticket to our Tuesday evening events will rise from £5 to £6. This is the first increase in nine years. Also from September 2020, free membership will only be available to full time students.

It is possible to subscribe or renew your membership at any HWS event by cash, credit card or cheque or email Karin Groves for the HWS bank details to make an online payment.

Planning for 2020/2021 Season

We always have our members in mind when the committee is planning for the next season. After many helpful suggestions and contacts last year, we were able to create a diverse programme of speakers for this coming season. Now we are planning for the next season, so we ask again for your suggestions! Please email your ideas or leave a list at the next meeting.

Volunteering, vacancies and ideas!
The Hampshire Writers’ Society is run by a very small committee of volunteers and we are always looking for people to help in any way they can.

We need:

 

·         A Marketing Manager

·         HWS Newsletter Editor/Compiler

 

Report from the Treasurer,   Crispin Drummond

The financial statement for 2018/19 has been prepared. It shows a reduction of membership income for the year, at a time when the Society engaged with an increased number of speakers coming from the other side of the country. These additional travel and accommodation expenses meant costs rose importantly. In consequence the Society made a deficit for the year amounting to nearly £2000, and our capital funds are much reduced.

In reaction, The Organising Committee has met to view the forecasts of costs and revenues for the coming year, and to confirm the adequacy of our resources for the remainder of the year. At the same time steps are being considered to replenish the Society’s capital, to boost recurrent revenue, and to re-establish the financial strength as we embark on the next season of the Society’s activities.

Claire Dyer and Hilary Hares – October 2019 – Chapter and Verse

Tuesday, 8th October’s meeting was one filled with warmth and a relaxed, chatty atmosphere throughout. Audience members were able to ask questions of the two friends as they thought of them which ensured that time was made for everyone’s questions, with two openhearted, welcoming speakers in Special guest Hilary Hares and main speaker Claire Dyer.

Special Guest: Hilary Hares – Writer and Poet

Poet Hilary Hares gave a captivating talk about honing your craft. While some poets may jest that you should never trust a poet who can explain what their poem means, Hilary told how it’s important to know the essence of what you’re

Hilary Hares - Oct 2019
Hilary Hares

writing.

“When I’ve written it, I often cut it in half to distill the essence,” Hilary told, elucidating this further with “as much as property purchasing is about location, location, location, poetry creation is about revision, revision, revision.”

Hilary suggested the following edits and checks to strength your work after the first draft:

  • Read aloud to feel the rhythm;
  • Check your verbs – are they powerful enough?
  • Check your nouns – are they all working well?
  • Move things around;
  • Change the point of view;
  • Change the piece from passive to imperative voice. This will reveal which voice is stronger for this piece.

You need to know whether you’re just writing for yourself or for public consumption, because if for public consumption you will need to make decisions on how you want this to happen. A second pair of eyes is a must; Go to open mic open nights. There’s one in Winchester, even if it’s just to listen; You could Attend a tutor group or poetry school – some good ones are Arvon (https://www.arvon.org/writing-courses/courses-retreats/) or Live Cannon (http://www.livecanon.co.uk/courses).

“Most valuable is a trusted poetry friend. Claire Dyer is mine. You become to know each other’s style and likely edits. We know what will be e-mailed to each other now so we make those amends before sending for review.”

“I’ve written about 600 poems, so I use spreadsheets to keep track of where I’ve sent them and where they’ve been used.” You must be disciplined about sending work. Hilary recommends setting aside a day a month specifically to do this, whether sending to competitions, magazines or works being published. Set yourself small goals but be realistic with time lines. Print magazines may take six months to respond but online magazines’ turnaround is closer to three weeks. But also read the print or online publication you’re submitting to first, do your research. You want to be sure of quality.

Hilary told how ‘rejection is your friend.’ She voiced how it can feel personal when you put your heart and soul into a poem but ‘if you look at the poem as an entity in its own right which needs to find its way in the world, like sending your children off to university, it becomes easier.’

Hilary has used this system for 11 years and so far has had 150 poems published either in print or online.

“I take a lot of inspiration from Radio 4. For example, I heard on Radio 4 about a whale who gave birth to a baby girl and a baby boy. The daughter went off to be her own personality but the son stayed with his mother, learning from her. There is inspiration everywhere – Facebook, funnily enough. I don’t engineer inspiration. Things pop up.”

“Some of my favourite poets would be Jo Bell, Kim Moone, Simon Armitage, Alice Oswald. The list goes on. No particular genre. We would be here all night if I listed them all.”

 

Main Speaker: Claire Dyer – Chapter & Verse

Claire is an author of three poetry books and four novels published via two agents and two publishers (with many more written and hidden in the loft); being a writer of both chapter and verse, Claire is often asked which she prefers. But she finds this question very similar to ‘which one of your children is your favourite?’ the answer will always be: ‘I like them the same.’ “There are different challenges with poetry and prose but in both you need to use character, message, atmosphere, voice.”

Claire Dyer2 - Oct 2019
Claire Dyer

It was the 10 years of experience on top of studies that led Claire to discover her voice. Claire joined the Poetry Society (https://poetrysociety.org.uk/), went to festivals, studied for a Masters at Royal Holloway, and 10 years later was when she noticed a change in her writing, “Nothing beats thrashing out ideas with other poets. All life is material. Nothing is ever wasted. Writers’ lives are exciting and frustrating in equal measure.”

Claire has been teaching creative writing for five years. She has seen writers grow in confidence and conviction during this time. She also runs a critique service – Fresh Eyes (www.clairedyer.com/fresh-eyes/) – which she hopes most writers will find less extortionate in price in comparison to the typical fees you expect from paid critique services.

“Writing can be frenetic and other times can be silent. I had to learn to be silent.” Putting a poetry collection together can take years, Claire’s first collection took 10 years, her second took four years and her third took five years to compile.

“And learning to live with rejection is important. Writing is a journey of wonderment. We’ve been to some amazing places, but I also have enough rejections to wallpaper St. Paul’s Cathedral… and I still don’t take them well,” she laughs, self-deprecating.

But Claire’s favourite part of writing is the personal connection: “Living with the work is so wonderful. Living with the writing life is my oxygen, publishers are a secondary consideration. It doesn’t matter whether it’s one page or a 100,000.” Claire loves writing a character that even she doesn’t know what they’re going to do next, until she sits and writes their pages. “Many writers will know exactly how their story is going to end but I like the ending to be a surprise for me and then I know it will be a surprise for the reader.”

Claire started her writing journey with ‘very bad short stories’. Her first novel at just 20,000 words she was advised to put under the bed. So she did and it’s still there. Claire said how with rejections you only ever remember the negatives, those directions to hide things under beds, you miss the positives comments of what worked well. But there are things that you can do that will help, Claire suggests ‘being in a writers’ group – such as Hampshire Writing Society – is step one; and to read! Read in your chosen and other genres. Look for good dialogue/bad dialogue; ask yourself ‘how is it constructed?’; inspiration is everywhere.

“I’m often inspired by one tiny idea, one tiny thought; for example, with my book Last Day, I wanted a love triangle where everyone got on and wondered how that would play out. Inspiration could be found looking at a photo, looking at a door, books can grow from the smallest idea. I have even spent time with potters, carpenters, firefighters just to learn.”

Last Day, underwent three major rewrites. “It’s no surprise it can take 18 months for a book to reach the shelf when you see the process of publishing a book.”

“Sometimes you’ll have three sets of experiences live in your mind at one time,” Claire explains. “The book that’s on the shelf selling, the book that’s with the publishers going through the process and the book you’re currently writing. I’m a nightmare to live with at this point,” Claire quips.

With 15 books written, Claire is familiar with sometimes falling out of love with a book when you’ve left it a while. And then it can be impacted by timescales, continuous advances in technology, for example, and can make it even harder to go back and change it. Changes in readers’ expectations as time moves on also plays a part. As a comparative in example, modern day readers like to be thrown into a book but Victorian readers enjoyed the slower introduction.

“It’s about the journey, not the destination. So much of what we do is predicated by luck. Our chances are slim but we keep hold of hope. Keep the faith in your work and maintain public contact… And don’t get too drunk at book launches.

“Enjoy the friends you meet, the points of view you get, live the writer’s life. You’ve got to be in it to win at it, after all.”

photos by Alex Carter, LexicaFilms

 

Stevyn Colgan and Claire Gradidge at Hampshire Writers’ Society May 2019

Special Guest: Claire Gradidge

The evening opened with special guest and fellow HWS member, Claire Gradidge, revealing her ‘surprising journey’ to becoming winner of Richard & Judy’s ‘Search for a Bestseller’ competition, supported by WHSmith. Open only to first-time unpublished writers, the competition was adjudicated by Richard & Judy alongside employees of Bonnier Publishing and agents at Furniss Lawton. The prize being a £30,000 world rights publishing deal from Bonnier Zaffre and specialist advice from literary agency Furniss Lawton.

Claire Gradidge

“I’ve spent 30 years trying with more rejections that I care to count, entered numerous competitions and the only one I won was a ‘write a postcard’ competition when I won £8, which I had to spend on a celebratory round with my friends.”

Claire spoke with joviality, her excitement and astonishment at her win shining throughout. Retired from nursing she studied for an undergraduate and PHD in creative writing, by the end of which she had written an historical crime novel she was proud of.
Entry to the competition was free so with nothing to lose Claire sent off her 10,000 words and synopsis and forgot about it. “I felt utter shock when I made the 2018 shortlist of five authors. I thought, I better make the most of the good news while it lasts. So I was dumbfounded in January when they announced I’d won.”

“I remember being astounded I’d won for the longest time. I would travel to London to meet my agent and publisher and would just get the giggles.”

The journey had just begun when Claire’s editor suggested changing the title from Home to Roost to The Unexpected Return of Josephine Fox, “I happily agreed- they know what’s going to make the book sell.”

The novel was line edited and I learned so many new things about my writing and how to improve it, for example how often I use the word ‘just’.

Claire occasionally struggled with removing lines they felt didn’t work, but complied with the changes. “Interestingly, they were asking me to shorten it by applying more telling” which seemed extraordinary to Claire, given as writers we’re always told to show not tell.

The novel has now been sent off to famous authors to read in the hope they will endorse Claire’s novel.

Claire left the audience with two simple words of advice: “Enter competitions.”
Set to be published on 8th August 2019, The Unexpected Return of Josephine Fox is about a woman’s return to her home town of Romsey for the first time in 26 years where she discovers a family secret.

Claire will also be speaking at the Winchester Discovery Centre on 5 July and the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival between 18 and 21 July 2019.
.

Main Speaker: Stevyn Colgan – An Englishman’s Home is his Cackle

“It’s a brilliant felling when you get that first book deal. My first deal was in 2007 with Pan Macmillan with my book Joined-Up Thinking.”

Previous to this, Stevyn was a police officer which led him to write his book One Step Ahead, as well as other police-focused titles.

Stevyn has been writing books for ten years now, with 13 on his computer at home awaiting the perfecting process. Additionally, Stevyn spent over a decade as one of the elves who research and write script for the multi-award winning BBC TV series QI: “There would be two hours of filming so that when all the swearing, long pauses, people just sitting thinking, comments inviting legal action were removed, what remained was a 30 minutes comedy panel show.”

“I’ve always been fascinated by comedy. I love writing jokes and comic novels, and have always been a huge fan of classic murder mystery.”

During his policing days, Stevyn was involved in many homicide scenes, “But unlike in books and on TV, it’s actually very businesslike and dull. There’s processes and paperwork to complete.”

Stevyn Colgan

Years ago, working at ‘Murder HQ’, more officially known as the Major Crime Team, “There was no emotional involvement. It was just a day job.”

Stevyn told a story of how the seed for his book Murder to Die For was planted. On his way to a comic convention he saw two different groups of Batman super fans dressed up. One group had chosen the Tim Burton Batman(all black) and the other, the Adam West Batman(grey with blue pants, cape and mask). Stevyn chuckled to himself while the two groups stole glances at each other and criticised the other group’s costume choice. Stevyn then questioned what would happen if the worlds of classic detective fiction – which he loved – and real-life homicide investigation – which he knew well – came crashing together. And if he used the Batman superfans as detective superfans, there could be hilarious happenings and, occasionally, messy results.

In the first two decades of the 21st century, comic writers started dying out. Between the time of getting his book deal and the time of getting the book published, the whole industry changed. His agent loved the book, but no publisher wanted it. Great comments were received, but no contracts were given because publishers didn’t know, and still don’t know, where to place comedy in the market. The market had gone off comedy.
So where’s all the comedy gone? People say it’s down to mobile phones but people read on their phones and kindles. But technology has made a difference.

The early 2000s saw new levels of competition from the supermarkets and online retailers impacting all specialist booksellers and in particular those with insufficient scale to compete on equal terms. Ottakar’s book store was bought out by Waterstones in 2006; Borders and Books Etc. went into administration in 2009. Books were moving to MP3 format. Publishers were only taking on ‘dead certs’.

“I was pushed aside with many others, and celebrities were brought forward; In 2011 Pippa Middleton was offered £400,000 to write a party planning book; In 2012 the Britain’s Got Talent dog Pudsey and owner Ashleigh were offered £350,000 for his autobiography.”

These changes put a halt on the ordinary Joe getting their books published.
Amazon then came and said ‘publish with us’. And while it’s easy to get published with Amazon, it’s difficult to get noticed. Digital publishing is publishing democratised, but there’s no advances and no quality control.

So Stevyn took his book to Unbound, a subscription publisher with a selection process – best of both worlds – online and traditional. Stevyn now has a few books published through Unbound, including, but not limited to: A Murder to Die For and The Diabolical Club.

“We have to get more comedy out there. Comedy is such a broad canvas. One hundred people can read the same thing and only three people will like it. Publishers are happy to advertise a book as funny to sell more copies, yet publishers don’t want funny books. Romantic comedies still do well, but other comedy takes a while to bed in.”

“Keep submitting comedy. Even if you don’t get published, you must continue to write because that’s your passion. If it fills you with joy and excitement, that’s what it’s all about. And that’s what will win through!”

Event images by Alex Carter, Lexica Films

Lucy Courternay and Damon L. Wakes at Hampshire Writers’ Society January 2019

Special Guest: Damon L. Wakes

A change in the programme saw a switch-up of January and February special guests. So we welcomed fellow HWS member Damon L. Wakes as our special guest for January, opening the evening with an introduction to his new release, Ten Little Astronauts – An Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery novella set on board an interstellar spacecraft.

10littleastronauts damon wakes - jan 2019

Damon explained some of the complexities with the book, the challenges he faced during both writing and publishing process and the result… so far.

One such complexity was the story being a murder mystery needed to be solvable but the nature of it being set in interstellar space impacted this. Key world-building rules needed to be considered, such as the Compton-Getting effect and applied by Damon, even if not necessarily needing to be understood by the reader.

Another undeniable challenge was the issue that most publishers don’t like novellas and they don’t like books that don’t fit into one genre.  Ten Little Astronauts being both, this was a tough sell, but Unbound, a crowdfunding publisher known for being selective, saw past these stereotypical limitations.

Damon received great support from Unbound, receiving funding for a promotional video, filmed aboard a Portsmouth submarine to create an effective setting, close to that of spaceship.  This launched his crowdfunding campaign, through which Damon was able to reach a much wider audience, with cast members of the sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf tweeting about the book.

Having overcome many challenges – including those small but impactful tasks such as continually finding new ways to promote the book throughout the year-long campaign, juggling crowdfunding with other projects and simply keeping track of who’d been contacted and supported the book – Damon had a great result; 134% funded by 260 patrons, a cover designed by MECOB who also designed Barack Obama’s UK paperback memoir and the book being sold through Waterstones and other high street shops.

Keep your eyes peeled for his upcoming launch event. All HWS members invited.

Main Speaker: Lucy Courtenay

lucy courtenay - jan 2019Like most writers, Lucy has always written but it did take a long time.  On completing her first book age 16, she eagerly sent out the 6,000 word manuscript expecting it to be snapped up. But it was 20 years later when her first book was published. But Lucy emphasised she knows that this was not wasted time: ‘Life feeds the imagination and everything was leading me to this point.’

After obtaining a degree in history and being a teacher of English, Lucy joined the publishing world, working her way up from top tea maker to senior commissioning editor. It was only then that Lucy created the story The Sleepover Club Eggstravaganza. Thanks to her work with a packager*, Lucy has had over 110 books published, under 14 different pseudonyms, including Enid Blyton. ‘Throughout my experience I learnt the importance of finishing a project. Always finish.‘

*Packagers are companies which prepare the whole book package, often series fiction. A team of editors generate ideas, develops characters, settings and plots and then collaborates with talented writers to transform their concepts into fully formed proposals for book series which are then presented to publishers. Successful examples of this which Lucy has worked on include Beast Quest, Animal Ark and Rainbow Magic. For those interested in working with packagers, visit Working Partners website for more information.

Keeping the session interactive Lucy asked people to call out the last children’s book they’d read. ‘If you want to write children’s books you must read children’s books.’ But Lucy’s tips didn’t stop there. She advised writers to tap into those feelings of childhood: lucy courtenay2 - jan 2019‘Remind yourself what it really felt like to be child. How did it feel when somebody stole that last Strawberry Starburst? Harness that feeling.’ The current Children’s Laureate Lauren Child did exactly that with her Charlie and Lola series. She didn’t have children at the time of becoming a success, but she remembered how it felt to be a child and used it.

Don’ts

  • Don’t write because you know someone who will illustrate your book. If you’re not an illustrator yourself, the publisher will know the best illustrator to pair you with.  Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler didn’t meet until the launch party of their first book together;
  • Don’t write because there’s an opportunity for merchandise. Beginners don’t get stationery;
  • Don’t write for a gap in the market. The market doesn’t know what it wants until it sees it and the process can take two years. Your gap may have missed its moment by the time your book comes out;
  • Don’t write to be the next J.K Rowling, to be rich and famous. J.K Rowling happened and caught an updraft.
  • Don’t write children’s books for training to be an author of adult books. Writing children’s books is harder than it looks and are completely different to adult reads.

Proceed with Caution

  • Don’t write to be published because your children and friends like your stories. They’re biased. But of course create stories if your children and friends’ enjoy them.
  • Don’t write because you want to teach your knowledge. But if you write stories with lesson’s in them be subtle, be pleasant, like the sun in Aesop’s Fable The North Wind and The Sun.

Do

  • Write a great idea;
  • Write if you can’t stop thinking about an idea. The constant thinking ultimately informs the story and helps it to develop.
  • Be prepared for a lot of rejection
  • Write for enjoyment if you’re not worried about getting published.

‘You must work hard. Writing is graft. Learn the craft. It’s there for you to build your own experience.’

It seems fitting to end on the quote which Lucy ended with – A Darren Shan, children’s horror author, quote: “A book is a dance. Without the reader the writer is just a lunatic twirling round things.”

Lucy’s Quiz

  1. Who is the current Children’s Laureate?
  2. What is David Walliams’ most recent release?
  3. What are the names of Harry Potter’s parents?
  4. Which illustrator was paired with Roald Dahl?
  5. There is a series of books written by Kes Gray, illustrated by Jim Field. Name as many as you can in the series Oi____________
  6. Who are the three characters Mouse bumps into in The Gruffalo?
  7. Who is the artist for Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates books?
  8. What is the name of the famous series of books by Cressida Cowell?
  9. Identity the logo (bear holding a candle)
  10. Where do authors get their ideas from?
Answers: 1.Lauren Child; 2. The Ice Monster; 3. Lily and James;  4.Quentin Blake;  5. Frog, Dog, Cat, Goat, Duck Billed Platypus; 6. Fox, Snake and Owl; 7. Liz Pichon herself;  8. How to Train Your Dragon; 9. Walker Books; 10. Everywhere! No wrong answer here because the best question is where do you get your ideas from.

 

Event images by Alex Carter, Lexica Films

HWS Society Chair, Barbara Large, launches new book

Having battled with the myeloma (cancer of the blood) for a year, Barbara was keen for her experience to benefit others. Barbara has written about the ups and downs of life with cancer and has collated these anecdotes together with recipes shared with her by neighbours and friends who sought to support her during this time, to form a book. What began as a germ of an idea at her kitchen table is now Scrumptious Recipes Shared with a Pampered Patient: Supporting a family member, friend or neighbour as they cope with illness

In this unique recipe book, Barbara Large shares an honest and witty account of the highs and lows after being diagnosed with Myeloma in October 2017. Inspired by meals which friends prepared to support Barbara as she battled with this illness, the book offers a guide to appetising lunches, suppers and tasty desserts that will delight a neighbour, friend or family member who is unable to shop or cook for themselves.

Discover how the simple act of sharing a meal can brighten someone’s day!

The book is a testament to friendship and community support as neighbours, students, friends, and colleagues rallied round Barbara when she became ill by providing meals daily and offering much-needed company.

Excerpt:
‘Barbara Large is not your ordinary senior citizen. Long recognised as an extraordinary superwoman, she also had the good luck to live in one of the most supportive villages in Hampshire. Phone calls and group emails asking for help flew around, resulting in a core contingent of 29 friends who were duly christened “Barbara’s Group”. The Rota was born.’
Published by North Oak Press, the book will be released on 15th October, 2018 and stocked at P&G Wells bookshop, 11 College Street, Winchester. SO23 9LZ but is available to pre-order now.  Please visit http://anne-wan.com/shop/ 
Selling for £6.99, all proceeds will be donated to the Nick Jonas cancer treatment ward at Royal Hampshire County Hospital, Winchester.
BarbaraLargerecipecover
Excerpt:
‘My name is Barbara and yes… I am a very pampered patient, loved, cherished, sustained and supported by a magnificent group of friends, neighbours, teaching colleagues and students who came together as a team, some meeting each other online for the first time as they offered help. I couldn’t believe it.
But it did occur to me that this magnificent generosity of spirit could be an encouragement to others if, on good days, I could gradually collate episodes from my experience, along with some helpful information and the scrumptious recipes that were shared with me.’

Just twenty days for script submissions

SuperNova8-image

There is now less than one month left for script submissions for ‘Supernova’, Bench Theatre’s regular festival of brand-new one act plays.

Supernova 8 will take place during February 2019 at the Spring Arts and Heritage Centre in Havant, but entries must be submitted by August 17th, 2018.

The competition is open to all writers from or living in the UK and welcomes entries in all styles and genres. The winning selection will be directed and performed by Bench’s multi-award-winning membership.

The ambitious Supernova venture has gone from strength to strength since being launched by the Havant-based company in 2000. It provides opportunities not only for writers to have their work tested on stage but for audiences to feast on a wide range of new material during one or more evenings – and potentially identify major writing talents of the future.

There is no entry fee for the festival; Bench ask only that scripts should be unpublished and unperformed, with no performing rights attached, and that they meet the company’s competition rules and staging criteria.

More information and the full entry rules can be found on the company’s website at https://www.benchtheatre.org.uk/supernova.php Queries about the festival should be emailed to supernova@benchtheatre.org.uk

April 2018 Competition Results – Nigel Spriggs Adjudication

Hampshire author, Nigel Spriggs, kindly agreed to adjudicate the April competition.  And he certainly had his work cut out with a significantly higher number of entries for the competition than has been received throughout the 2017-18 season.

Nigel commented: “As ever, when I’ve been asked to judge a HWS short-story competition, there has been a diverse range of entries, which is always great to see. All entries definitely fulfilled the criteria of having a lost shoe returned, each single story took a different approach and no two story-lines felt the same.  That didn’t make judging any easier, however, because I had a lot of favourites to whittle down, but it certainly made reading all the entries very enjoyable, so thank you to all the writers who entered.

 “Of those that I wanted to shoe-horn into the final five placings but couldn’t quite find room for, the authors of A Lost Shoe Returned (by Penny Munro) and Ralph to the Rescue (by Maggie Farran) only just missed out, as did Cold Comfort (by Barbara Needham), which had a strong final line.”

The competition brief for April 2018 was to:

Write a scene in which a lost shoe is returned, in 300 words.

Nigel’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Dominique Hackston with Moore than a Fairytale

Second Place: George Rodger with The Snowshoe

Third Place: Kim A Howard with For Want of a Nail

Highly Commended: Lynn Clement with Serendipity

Highly Commended: Wendy Fitzgerald with A Tissue of Lies

April 2018 winners
L to R: Lynn Clement, Dominique Hackston, George Rodger, Margaret Graham and Kim Howard

First Place: Moore than a Fairytale by Dominique Hackston

I have chosen Moore than a Fairytale as the winner, mostly because the situation described was the one that played on my mind the most after I had read all the entries through for the first time.  Then, on second read through, understanding where the story was heading made it an even more satisfying read, which is always an impressive trick for any writer to pull off.

‘Gran?’

‘In here,’

Sophie burst into the kitchen. ‘I’ve got news!’

‘Your results?’

‘No, that’s tomorrow.’ Her attention was drawn by lemon-drizzle oozing over a cake. She dipped her finger into a puddle.

‘So’s that.”

Sophie’s lips smacked as she removed the sucked-clean finger and pouted briefly. ‘You know I said I’d do a Facebook appeal for your shoe?’

‘Hmmm, have you … ummm … found it?’ Eleanor subconsciously stroked her neckline.

‘I think so.’ Sophie placed a small white Moore’s Pawn bag in front of her Gran. ‘You tell me’.

Eleanor took the bag and slowly withdrew a chain. She inspected the tiny silver pendent with its blue sapphire ornament. In her mind’s eye she could still see Joe holding her grey Mary-Jane with its blue button. Sophie did not breath until Eleanor nodded.

‘How much did you pay?’

‘Like, it’s the most romantic present, ever. A real fairytale. And you talk money’

‘Fairytale?’ Eleanor laughed, ‘Your Gramps mended a broken heel.’

‘And walked you home. Courted you, married you, and made you a shoe pendant to hang over your heart.’

‘I suppose compared to texting, it is. Now … how much?’

‘S’not important.’

‘Its important to me.’

Eleanor lowered her head and frowned at her granddaughter. Sophie responded with a clenched jaw. The unspoken challenge hung between them. It was Eleanor that called the truce.

‘Tea?’

After tea, cookies and a kiss goodbye, Eleanor got out her savings box. She swapped some notes into the envelope marked Sophie’s Laptop.

‘So Christmas will be a little leaner, and I can wear an extra jumper.’ she thought, ‘Sophie is worth every penny.’

Eleanor placed the envelope inside a book of handwritten recipes and lovingly wrapped them. Before re-locking her savings box she rummaged for a little white chit. Then tearfully she shredded her Moore’s Pawn receipt.

 

Second Place: The Snowshoe by George Rodger

I have chosen The Snowshoe – especially topical given the weather we’ve had recently, the pace of the story felt right and the descriptiveness of the wintry night rang true.  The way the reason for the pursuit was held back until the very last line gave the story a surprising twist I hadn’t been expecting but immediately felt like the correct way to wrap up the action.

The car radio was dispensing “Don’t travel” advice as I crept along behind the double-decker bus dropping commuters off after work. Snow had been falling heavily for forty minutes and was already lying thick on the pavements. I was looking forward to a hot cup of something when I reached home. I was thinking, it’s hard not to like the snow. It covers and sanctifies wherever it falls. It turns slag-heaps and landfills into Narnia, hiding everything under a blanket of snowy innocence.

Something flew through my headlights and banged against the windscreen. Along the road the bus was disappearing into the darkness. I picked up the missile and found it was a lady’s shoe. It looked expensive and must have come from the upstairs window of the bus. I knew that there were only two more stops before the bus reached the terminus.

At the terminus, I watched the remaining passengers disembark, all were fully shod. The driver was helpful; two people had alighted at the previous stop. A woman and a boy.

I drove back down the road. Opposite the bus stop was a wintry street lined with lampposts haloed in swirling snowflakes. Clutching the shoe, I followed the trail down the snow-covered pavement like a bloodhound. Two sets of footprints; one set shod, one barefoot, ended at a gate. I slithered down the path and knocked on the door. A light came on and it was opened by a little boy.

“Jason, who’s there?” A voice came from the back and a young woman, clutching a towel, appeared beside him.

“What a night,” she said. “Can I help you?” Covered in snow, I must have looked like a Yeti.

“Is this yours?” I asked.

She beamed, “My shoe! I thought I’d lost it. Thank you so much.” She glared at the child. “This scamp threw it out of the window.”

“My pleasure,” I said, “here’s my address. You owe me for a new windscreen.”

Third Place: For Want of a Nail by Kim A Howard

“In third place I have chosen For Want of a Nail.  I felt the writer did a great job of choosing the right expressions for the period he or she was writing about which really gave the story a grounded sense of reality.  This approach made the intentional absurdity of the last few lines especially satisfying.

The sound of hooves on the road summoned Perry from his breakfast. When the horsemen reached his gate he was lounging against the door jamb, slicing an apple into segments with his bone-handled dagger.

‘Good morning, my lord. What brings you so far from the castle on this glorious morn?’ Perry addressed the nobleman at the front of the group, ignoring the soldiers ranged behind him.

‘Not so far when we serve the King’s justice,’ the noble replied.

‘Do you seek refreshment for your horses?’ Perry asked. ‘A stream runs through yonder field and the grass is plentiful this spring.’ From the corner of his eye he saw a soldier place a hand on his sword hilt. No one made move to dismount. Not a casual visit, then.
‘We seek a brigand who stole a large quantity of coin from a coach on the King’s Road,’ the noble replied. ‘Does anyone reside with you who can vouch for your movements yester’ eve?’

‘I live alone, apart from my hound and horse. You are welcome to visit both and quiz them if it please you.’ Perry led them to his stable. As he waited for the noble to dismount he rubbed his hound’s head and fed the mare a slice of apple.

‘Your steed stands uneven in her stall. May I examine her legs for injury?’

‘As you please.’ The nobleman ran his hands down each of the mare’s legs, lifting her feet to examine the hooves. At last he stepped back with a satisfied smirk.

‘As I suspected, your mount has thrown a shoe,’ he said. He thrust a hand into the pouch at his waist and produced a bright curve of metal. ‘This shoe! ‘Twas found near the scene of the crime.’ He handed the horseshoe to Perry. ‘Yours, I presume.’

‘Nay,’ said the mare. ‘It wouldn’t fit him.’

‘Quite,’ agreed the hound. ‘Now all we need is a farrier – and a convincing alibi.’

Highly Commended: A Tissue of Lies by Wendy Fitzgerald

A Tissue of Lies is highly commended because I felt there was a lot of tension here and the writer does a great job of building that.  A little bit more clarity around the background of the situation might have made this the winner. 

I open the door and he’s standing there on the pavement.

‘Miss, um, Smith?’

‘Yes?’

‘We spoke earlier. Can I come in?’

Somehow I resist the compulsion to look behind me. ‘Er, it’s not very convenient at
the moment …’

‘Right. Well, if you could just take a look at this and let me know?’
He holds out a clear plastic bag. There’s a label on it and inside is a shoe. I hesitate
and he adds, ‘it …um … there’s nothing on it you know.’

I take the bag and hold it gingerly. It’s more of a trainer actually, or the type that’s a
cross in-between. Black wedged rubber sole. Black textile uppers. The kind teenagers
today would die for. I thrust it back at him quickly.

‘So can you help?’

‘I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. They all … look the same these days …’ My voice fails
and I stare past him into the street, not wanting him to see the agony in my eyes.
Suddenly there’s a tug at my leg. Rosie! She squeezes between me and the door
frame, staring up at us silently with her big blue eyes. How …? I pull her up into my arms; feel her breath warm against my neck.

‘Is that your car?’ I suddenly hiss.

‘The black one? Yes. Why?’

‘In a minute,’ my voice cracks with urgency, ‘you will leave. You’ll get in the car but
just before you drive off, we’ll jump in. Then you drive away – fast!’

His nod is almost imperceptible. Following him, my heart hammers so hard as he
opens his car door that I fear it might bruise Rosie. And as we scramble desperately into the cramped well in front of the passenger seat and he powers away, the electronic clunk of the locks seems to taunt us that we’ve just swapped one prison for another …

Highly Commended: Serendipity by Lynn Clement

“Serendipity is highly commended because I enjoyed the way the visitor’s motives can be perceived three ways in such a short space of time, and the reason for the visitor to be suspicious – which leads to the final reveal – held up to a google search (always a good sign; though it’s probably something we should all be aware of anyway!).

Joe knocked on the shabby red door. He wasn’t sure what had possessed him to follow the woman. He was going to be late for work now. She was a quick walker and by the time he’d made his mind up to return the shoe, she’d dashed off. Luckily he’d kept her in sight whilst fighting the early morning rush crush, and now here he was outside her door.

‘Yes,’ she said on opening the door. Not a warm welcome thought Joe. ‘I err, you dropped your shoe, that is, your baby dropped the shoe.’ Joe was never the most articulate at the best of times.

‘Oh, thanks,’ she said taking the tiny blue shoe from Joe’s hand. The door was closing when Joe decided to put his foot in it. ‘Hey,’ said the woman with the golden curls, tied up in a purple scarf.

‘I’m sorry,’ explained Joe, ‘I can hear your baby crying.’

‘That’s none of your business,’ snapped the woman.

‘It’s such a high pitched cry,’ said Joe.

‘Is it really?’ asked the woman sarcastically. ‘I hadn’t noticed all these days and nights.’

Joe saw her dark green eyes harden. Her pretty face became weary. ’Get lost mister,’ she said and tried to close the door again.

Joe put his hand on the handle now, ‘I need to come in,’ he insisted. The smell of stale milk and dirty nappies drifted up the grimy uncarpeted corridor. The baby’s cry was persistent and uncomfortable. ‘I only want to look at the baby,’ said Joe.

‘What are you some kind of perv, piss off.’

Joe pushed the door and followed the wail to a tiny bedroom, where the baby lay in a crib, lovingly decorated with hand embroidered bumpers and a purple patchwork quilt. He bent over the cot and lifted the baby, confirming his suspicion.

He thumbed his mobile, ‘I’m Doctor Kent, send an ambulance to 6 Meade Terrace and quickly, this baby has meningitis.’

photo by David Eadsforth