Character Agency – October 2020 Competition Results, Adjudication by James Fuller

This month’s competition had our members tackling horror/suspense in recognition of the haunting Halloween season October brings. A fun challenge for those who took part.

James Fuller, author of fantasy, dark fiction, horror, dystopian, paranormal erotica, thrill and drama, was our adjudicator for our October Competition. The brief this month was:

In 300 words: Write a haunted house story, maximising character agency of the house as the protagonist.

And the winners are:

First Place – Jena Brown with Forever Mine

Second Place – Matt Gorgans with Claws in the Roots

Third Place – Natalie Morant with Haunted House

Highly Commended – Graham Steed for Beast

James’ adjudication process

James read all stories a couple of times taking into consideration typical stand out features of a writer employing good use of character agency, such as:

  • The house’s ability to do things such as,
    • make decisions from one conflict to another positive or negative which drive the story onward
    • take action
    • make choices with consequences
  • Ensure readers care about the main character, which in this situation should be the house.

First Place: Forever Mine by Jena Brown

This was what I expected to see more of in this competition, but this was truly the only one of its kind in the entries. It was dark, playful, intriguing, and made you want more, and could easily be turned into a much longer story.

You walk through the rooms, adrift in grief. Whispers haunting us both. They say I’m defective. Decrepit. That there’s something wrong with me. But you don’t listen. 

You never did.

I open the flue, and when the fire catches it flares to life. These winter nights are cold and you’re not eating like you should. The warmth pulls you into the room and you relax.

It’s easier to talk now. Just the two of us.

Your marriage wasn’t bad. I know that. But you were never happy. Not like you should have been. Perhaps it’s arrogant to say that. But it’s true.

You were distracted when we met. Toddlers wrapped around your feet, a wife demanding attention. But there was no mistaking the way your eyes lit up when you saw me. Even now they soften. You’ve always loved me. Your reassuring words kept me alive. Patiently waiting for this moment.

There were others. Before. Families I’ve nurtured. People I’ve loved. I was empty a long time when you came. I’ll be empty longer after you’re gone.

Though she hated me, I was merciful, letting warm water and invisible gas wrap her in an eternal embrace. You let them rip apart my walls, look for faulty pipes. But they didn’t find anything. They never will. It hurt. It hurts now, as you rip through floorboards. But for you, I endure, allowing only the faintest of gasps to escape through the walls. You muffle a scream at the desiccated bones you find. But they were before. And you are now. And now it’s too late.

With a happy sigh, I wrap my arms around you, cocooning you in wood. I repair the damage, silencing your sobs. We’re together now. Forever. The fire dies, and I sleep, waiting to love again.


Second Place: Claws in the Roots by Matt Gorgans

This was close to the direction I thought more would look like. It was creepy, dark, enticing and a twisted read. The premise of this story could easily be made into a full-length novel and, if cast and directed well, an amazing movie.

Ivan stumbled through the forest, each ragged breath like ice piercing his lungs. A strangled cry escaped his throat when he reached a clearing, finding a cottage surrounded by a low white fence.

Ivan dragged himself forward, clasping a bloody hand around a fencepost. He dropped his head to the snowy earth so his breaths could even.

Until he looked up and found his stare returned by the empty sockets of a skull. 

This wasn’t a fence at all. It was a boundary of spines and skulls, slack jaws frozen in agonized cries.

“Almost claimed by the woods, dearie?” An old woman’s voice questioned.

Ivan jumped, screaming in pain when his arm refused to budge from the fence. It was the bones. An energy pulsed from them, holding him in place.

“Best not to fight it,” the woman said, striding into view. She brushed snow from her cloak, meeting Ivan’s gaze with a hungry expression.

A crow crossed the moon, causing the pair to look skyward.

“Ah, right on time,” the woman snarled.

Raising her arms, the woman pulled the crow as if on a string. She reached for the cottage next, curling her gnarled fingers until the wooden boards rattled and broke free, soaring into the air.

The wind howled until Ivan, too, joined the frenzy of wooden boards and feathers whipping around him.

Then came the sound of cracking wood, of cracking bones. A painful merging. A swelling sensation. 

Transformation.

Ivan felt his new claws digging into the earth, rooted to the foundation: the crow, the house, his body—they were one now. He took a breath, causing his floorboards to creak in desperation.

“Why should Baba Yaga guard her house when her house can guard itself?” The woman climbed Ivan’s stairs like a grotesque lolling tongue.

Third Place: Haunted House by Natalie Morant

This was a fun story, building a sense of not a sinister nature from the house, but from the passed owner buried within, tormenting the spirit of the house itself. Flushed out and a little longer and this would have the makings of a solid novella.

The House creaked. After years of neglect, a huge effort was required to attract the attention of the visitors stood on the path.

The House needed them inside. As the clouds parted, it used a cracked window pane to focus rays of sunlight. For many months, tiny fragments of paper and fabric had been corralled by draughts into the hearth. Now, a chance to ignite them.

A glow expanded into a tentative flame and soon, wisps of smoke trailed upwards. 

“It’s haunted, of course.” Laughter.

If only, thought the house, that was something to laugh at. But having endured the screaming and shrieking of the mistress for so long, it was exhausted and desperate.

“I’d need to have a proper look with the builders before making a decision.”

Please! A proper look is exactly what’s needed. The house yearned for feet tramping across its wooden floorboards again. Tramping, pattering, skipping. Anything but the measured tread of the master who’d lived here before. 

“Look – smoke!”

The two men approached, stepping over fallen roof tiles. Early attempts to attract attention, but no one wanted to investigate banging doors or falling masonry or strange shadows.

The House froze in anticipation as the men climbed the steps and unlocked the door. 

They entered the back room and put out the flames. The smell of musty curtains mingled with the smoke. Laboriously, the House contracted its walls. Plaster crumbled from a crack beside the mantlepiece. The shorter man frowned and pushed a finger into the plaster. Then rapped the wall with his knuckles, testing the damage. Suddenly, a clod of plaster sheared off and shattered on the dusty floor. Now there was a substantial hole and the men stepped back, brushing dust from their trousers.

“There’s something in there.”

The shorter man peered in again. Initially, it was too dark to see anything, but abruptly he stepped back again.

“Call the police.”

Highly Commended: Beast by Graham Steed

This was a fun take on the idea and also likely a hidden insight on the author who wrote it – more attuned with solving problems than running from them I would suspect. Though the story didn’t give much in way of the ‘house’ but more to the determination of the new owner in not losing it, it was enjoyable and made longer would be a fun comedy/horror.

The estate agent rang: ‘a characterful Victorian cottage in a highly sought-after village, skilfully modernised by developers’ and sold to them by the family of the previous occupant who’d died of heart failure- a snip, he thought, at 200 grand. So I bought it. No creepy cellar, no creaky staircase, no chard-ridden hearth: bright, clean, and modern throughout – though I couldn’t resist a visit to the local museum. The curator said the village was caught up in the agricultural riots of the 1830s caused by Enclosure. One of those executed for the destruction of threshing machines and cattle-maiming was found by the militia hiding in my cottage… 

* * *

 Two days after I moved in, I noticed a reddish discolouration on the walls. I asked my solicitor to check on the building guarantee. He rang back to say the builders had gone out of business. The discoloration continued to spread. A local surveyor said it was most likely water, but he was puzzled by the plaster’s red ooziness. He scraped off a sample promising to let me know, but never did.

I asked next door. The woman said her dad told her there was once a gibbet on the site, but she laughed it off, as ‘he was fond of his stories.’

I was woken that night by a commotion in the attic: sharp commands, heavy marching steps, yells, screams. I called the police. They said my house had a ‘reputation’…

* * *

I called the estate agent. He thought the red ooziness was sticky, ‘like blood’. In its present state, only a developer might buy the house, and that for a song. So, I’ve gone on the offensive. I painted the walls Post Office Red to match the bloody oozings. I called an exorcist priest to rid the house of demons. I bought a crucifix and earplugs. A doctor has upped my medication. I’m treating my house as a beast, so, first, I must tame it…

Life into Fiction – September 2020 Competition Results, Adjudication by Paul Bryers

Well, what a busy competition, our adjudicator really had his work cut out choosing a top five this month. We congratulate all who took part in this month’s challenge. All our adjudicators always comment on the high standards of our writers. So everyone should be proud of their efforts. Keep writing. And if you didn’t win this time, there’s always next time.

Paul Bryers, British film director, screenwriter and fiction author was our adjudicator for our September Competition. The brief this month was:

In 300 words, write a fictional short story utilising factual events from
a real-life incident/experience.

And the winners are:

First Place – David Fenton with Scorpions

Second Place – Peter Duncan with Next Week

Third Place – John Quinn with Ridiculous

Highly Commended – Guy Caplin for Return to the Beach

Highly Commended – Nick Ryle Wright for Kooks

Paul’s adjudication process

First, I read them. Then I wrote a couple of stories myself to see what it was like to stick to this criteria. Then I read them again and pulled out the five I thought were the best – simply based on which ones I enjoyed most, and thought were best written.
Then I read them again applying the criteria of the brief. Obviously, the length – and whether I could perceive a narrative within those
extremely tight parameters. Was this a good story? Was it worth telling? Was it told well?
When it came to the appropriateness of the balance, I could only guess what was fact and what was fiction. I had no means of telling for sure. I had to believe that the writer mixed up some fiction with a fact-based story. Otherwise, what was the point of doing the exercise?
Believability of the fiction. I had to look at the whole thing as fiction and ask – is this believable? Most of the stories were. The ‘fact’ that I couldn’t tell fact from fiction in many cases showed how believable they were.
Imaginativeness. I interpreted this as the skill that was displayed in leaping
from fact into fiction – i.e. an imaginative fictitious storyline. Again, I had no means of knowing where fact stopped and imagination began. The seamlessness of the transition was part of the skill of the writing. In the case of Ridiculous, for instance, it’s relatively easy to see where the leap happens – and it is a very imaginative leap. In other cases the leap was much more subtle, so subtle in some cases I could not see it at all. In those cases I decided that the ‘imaginativeness’ I had to judge was in the imagination to see that this would make a good story in the first place, and the imagination to write it in a compelling fashion, so that it could be either a factual account of something that really happened, or a short story based on
real life.

First Place: Scorpions by David Fenton

I loved this story.
It is a beautiful, if infinitely sad story, so well told. Very economical, very
sparse, elusive, magical, sad. I didn’t get it at first and had to read it again. I think this is often the case with a really good short story. It is about memories – memories as Scorpions. It evoked a situation we are mostly familiar with – and so has that elusive Alan Bennett quality of reaching out to us, speaking to us about something very personal. – “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
It was very believable, particularly in its dialogue. Actually, this story had
more emphasis on dialogue than any of the others. It felt like a moment plucked from life – but with elements of fiction (at least I think so) that dramatize it, make it more significant than the actual event that inspired the story. I felt satisfied with it as a complete work in itself – and yet I was left wanting more. What happened to this couple? Do they stay together? It had that sense of a moment in a journey – on a holiday – when something fundamental happens and nothing is ever the same again. And yet, maybe it was.

We stopped a mile from the abandoned city, which wasn’t as impressive as the brochure promised. Just a smudge of sandstone wall against the desert.

‘Now you get off and walk,’ the guide said. 

Our camels were already kneeling. 

‘Why have we got to walk?’

It was 41 degrees and I was knackered. Judy’s face, swaddled in a hijab, was grey with dust and fatigue. 

He spat and pointed to the walls.

‘Brahmin city, no camels! You walk.’

It was no big thing, but it made me cross, all the same, talking to me like that. On the way there Judy kept looking back at him. 

‘What if he leaves us here?’

‘Why would he do that?’

‘I don’t know; because he hates us?’

‘You think he wants to kill paying customers?’

She didn’t answer.

The homes were surprisingly well kept, for a place that everyone had left a hundred years ago – walking out into the desert in the middle of the night for no known reason, never to return. 

We found plates in a kitchen, and a copper bowl filled with dust.

‘Don’t touch that,’ I said. ‘Scorpions.’  

But she picked it up, anyway, and tipped it out as if to prove a point.

‘Why do you always do that?’

‘What?’

‘The opposite to what I say?’

She just stood there, rubbing it with her fingertips, over and over again.

Later, when we had explored on our own, I found her at a hearth, hugging her knees. There were blown handprints on the wall; mother, father and a child… no, a baby. 

She was staring at them. I thought at first that she had been crying, but when she turned the look on her face startled me. 

‘Judy, what’s wrong?’

‘Scorpions,’ she said, and got up to go.


Second Place: Next Week by Peter Duncan

This was so well-written. The prose style was sparse, strong and compelling. The structure/framework of the story was satisfactorily neat. It was well wrapped up. You don’t need to know any more and yet it has that tantalising glimpse into so much more…
As storytelling goes it has that very satisfying cyclical shape – the first act is in a rattling underground train in a deserted night-time city, and the third act nears its conclusion with that reference to the narrator intending to write a poem about ‘catching a rattling underground train into a deserted night-time city’ – but, then that infinitely sad, ‘All the poems I haven’t written… And never will.’ And I love the final exchange… Next week, I say, next week.
I don’t think it needed another line after that. We all know what he means.
This is the ultimate writer’s story. All that is locked in, all that will never be let out. I found this very moving. Very sad. But very encouraging at the same time. Very close call with the winner – almost a photo finish.

Liverpool in the Swinging Sixties. A dimly- lit rattling underground train smelling thickly of cigarette smoke pitches me up in a city centre that’s mostly dark and deserted. My footsteps echo around the empty street. The noise of drunken laughter behind a dilapidated boozer’s frosted windows. Ahead, the bombed-out church standing black against the fuzzy night sky. I turn a corner and see the familiar illuminated sign above the heavy door. 

The tables in the shadowy basement are all taken, guys and girls in unisex beatnik dress: black roll-neck sweaters, striped tops, berets, some even wearing sunglasses (how can they see in all this gloom?). I thread my way to where he’s sitting, alone, hunched over a pint, wearing his shabby greatcoat as usual.

I still can’t believe we’re friends. A proper poet! Edits a poetry magazine: Allen Ginsberg sends him poems (Allen Ginsberg!). He reads his own stuff in this place, sometimes with Adrian Henri and Roger McGough. (That’s why I’m here tonight.) Lives in an attic (like poets are supposed to) in Canning Street.

And me? A sixth former at grammar school on the wrong side of the Mersey.

He looks up and smiles. I slide into a seat. ‘I’m on in a minute,’ he says. ‘Where’s the poem?’

He means the one I’m supposed to be writing. The one about someone like me catching a rattling underground train into a deserted night-time city. Or maybe the one about glimpsing a beautiful girl on the ferry as dawn breaks over the Liver Building. Or maybe… All the poems I haven’t written. And never will.

‘Next week,’ I say. ‘Next week.’

‘Okay, next week.’ Brian Patten nods, wise enough even now to know that I’ll spend a lifetime not writing all the poems buried inside me. 

Third Place: Ridiculous by John Quinn

I liked this because it was a perfect ‘real life’ incident, commonplace even – a woman searching for something in the attic and turning up all kinds of memories.
We’ve all been there. Again, it evoked the quote in the History Boys (above) and then it made that sudden turn into fiction – even fantasy. It hints at far more than it contains – How did she get here? What was her illness? What is her life like? What is the relationship with her husband? It’s economical and well written and it has that elusive quality of making you want more.

It looked plain ridiculous, the gap where the hay wain’s wheel should have been. Celia had spent the whole morning, ‘The whole bloody morning,’ looking for the wheel. First it was a casual search, then a more methodical hunt and now she’d just completed an investigation whose thoroughness was based on watching a myriad of CSI programmes – she’d even considered wearing her Marigolds.

The search was a failure and Celia, alone in the loft, sat on a box of discarded vinyl: old albums and some singles unplayed for decades but with too much invested emotion to consign to the dump. Surrounded by piles of outgrown Babygro’s and the Scalextric set that had never really worked, she cried quietly and with restraint. ‘Why?’ she asked herself, ‘why bother? I don’t even like bloody jigsaws!’ It had been another of Martin’s ideas to ‘aid your recuperation, darling.’ He could be a patronising bastard.

‘Well,’ she dabbed at her eyes and tried to make her thoughts sound bright, ‘my fingertip trawl wasn’t a total waste of time. I found the missing keys, (under the mattress and now useless after the insurance paid for all the locks to be changed) and Martin’s ticket to last year’s FA Cup Final (at the bottom of the ornamental firewood basket, how did that happen?).’

The twinkle of the abandoned fairy wings reminded her of happier days, when Mollie refused to leave the house for playschool unless they were clipped onto her back. Now, fairy wings or no, Mollie wouldn’t be seen dead with her mother when home from Swansea Uni.

The wings were smaller than she remembered; more gossamer like and, well, radiant in the loft’s dusty light. Quickly and fractionally, like an eye blinks, the wings moved or beat or whatever wings do. ‘Ridiculous,’ Celia thought, until they beat again and flew up towards her. The fairy handed Celia the missing jigsaw piece. And was gone.

Highly Commended

Choosing two to commend was more difficult. After trying this for myself, I felt like commending them all – none of them are badly written, some are written very well indeed, and they all have some poignancy that makes you feel it was well worth doing. But these two I felt, just had the edge, on some of the others.

Return to the Beach by Guy Caplin

I chose this for the the leap of imagination from the memory of a beach to the D-Day landings.

Through the early morning haze, he could just make out the narrow white strip with the dunes behind.  Somehow the beach looked different as he approached from the sea. Now as an adult, he was returning to the scene of his childhood delights, but it seemed distinctly odd. He felt slightly sick and it wasn’t just the buffeting of the waves; he was apprehensive about returning to this special place. The sight of it brought back those childhood memories; the carefree days with his brother and sister, exploring the dunes, splashing in the shallows and playing with the local kids. Every year, their entire six weeks’ school holidays had been spent at their grandparents’ cottage within earshot of the waves breaking on the sand. But like all good things it had come to an end. 

It must have been five or six years ago that dad had persuaded his parents that living so far away was not a good idea, particularly at their age. Reluctantly they moved back to the village. Of course, he still visited the old folks frequently, but it wasn’t the same. Neither grandad nor grandma seemed as happy as they were at the beach. Given what had happened in the past few years, being close at hand was probably for the best. 

He stopped reminiscing and listened. The noise which had started half an hour ago was now deafening. The haze seen from a distance had been an illusion: thick acrid smoke hung above the beach. With a jolt, the boat ground to a stop and the ramp dropped into the shallows. Saying a silent prayer, he gripped his rifle and jumped into the water, already stained with the blood of his colleagues. The D Day landings had begun.


Kooks by Nick Ryle Wright

This one I chose because it uses a real-life incident – the death of David Bowie – to explore what I imagine is a fictitious relationship. It evokes that sense of a shared past – but no future.

You were about to leave forever when your phone alerted you to news of his death. How? you screamed, collapsing into my arms as the taxi idled just yards away. What could I say? That Ziggy Stardust had been human after all was as impossible for me to comprehend as it was for you.

Your departure now out of the question, we regathered your overladen bags and returned to the flat where I sat you down on the sofa as though you were merely a guest and placed Hunky Dory – your favourite – on the turntable.

This is crazy, you said. I should go.

Laying a blanket across your legs, I urged you to stay, plied you with hot chocolate and marshmallows.

We can’t do this, you insisted, your restlessness unabated.

Seeking to hook you with raw emotion, I reminded you how, on our first date, your eyes lit up when you discovered that I too had journeyed to Somerset in 2000 to watch the great man perform. You smiled, said it was funny how our memories of that performance had become so hopelessly intertwined that it was impossible to say where yours began and mine ended.

Later, in the dark of the bedroom, I asked you where we’d gone wrong. We were both different now, you said. No longer the carefree kooks we’d once been. How cruel of life, I replied, to straighten us out and make us normal when we were having so much fun.

Time passed. I woke with a start, reached out for you. But it was too late.

By then the room was ablaze with crimson light, the birds’ grave and incessant melodies speaking only of your leaving, of how this time you wouldn’t be back.  

June 2020 Competition Results – Adjudication by Tamar Hodes

What a shame we all could not meet for our usually June Gala meeting, but many have still enjoyed taking part in the competitions which has been great to see.

Our June competition was judged by Hampshire writer, Tamar Hodes. Her latest novel is The Water and the Wine (Hookline Books, 2018). Set on the Greek island of Hydra in the sixties, where Tamar herself lived as a child. The novel explores the lives of the artists and writers there, including Tamar’s own parents. The main focus is on Leonard Cohen and his muse and lover, Marianne. The San Francisco Review of Books called the novel ‘a very fine treasure’ and Nick Broomfield, film-maker of Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love described it as ‘beautifully written. Highly recommended.’
Please follow the link below for a Zoom interview with Tamar at the Cape Town Literary Festival in March:  Watch Tamar interview here

The June competition brief was one to lift our hearts and minds and take us to our most joyous places:

Write a short story where fact and fiction meet (300 words).

Adjudicator Tamar, who is a novelist, English Tutor and Translator, kindly noted some top tips for competition entrants to consider:

“I thought the standard was really high. Judging competitions is subjective. Personally I am not a great fan of dystopian stories and find reading about the Coronavirus hard – it’s bad enough having to deal with the reality of it!

Pointers to remember:

  • Use visual detail
  • Don’t tell the reader what to think – lead him/her to it
  • Make your tone strong and authoritative
  • Credible characters are vital
  • Make the setting realistic and convincing.”

The winners are:

First Place – Maggie Farran with Mermaid Rescue

Second Place – Damon L. Wakes with The Footprint in the Sand

Third Place – Graham Steed with Anna

Highly Commended – Margaret Jennings for The Visitor

 

First Place: Mermaid Rescue by Maggie Farran

“I loved this story with its magical realism and fantasy merging with the every day. It starts off quite normally, walking the dog on the beach and then the mermaid becomes part of that day. As the detail was so visual and clear, we were convinced of the ‘truth’ of this mermaid and it reminded me that ordinary days can often become magical. I liked the way that the writer didn’t tell us that but she led us to that realisation. The ending was clever. When she returns home, she finds the coral necklace and the pearls on the dog’s collar, again blending reality and fantasy. It was a hopeful story: on an ordinary day, nature or chance happenings can change our lives.”

Beatrice finished the crossword and looked out of the window of her seaside cot-tage. The tide was going out. It was time to take Horace for his morning walk.

She strode onto the beach. Beatrice pulled her yellow knitted hat down over her ears. Horace started to bark and attempted to rush ahead to a bright red boat that was stranded by the water’s edge. There was a misty green haze surrounding the boat.

Beatrice peered over the side. She blinked through the strange light and saw someone fast asleep in the bottom of the boat. She rubbed her eyes and stared again. Yes, there was no doubt the slumbering girl had a shiny tail with glittering scales which glowed.
Beatrice gently shook the mermaid awake. She looked confused and started to cry.

Horace went over and started to lick her fingers gently. Her face was beautiful and surrounded by long pink hair which curled over her shoulders. Her tail was the most amazing thing. It was the shape of a fish’s tail. Each scale was made up of shades of purple, pink and green that glowed brightly lighting up the grey, gloomy morning. The mermaid was trying hard to breathe. Each breath was a tremendous effort. Now she was gasping for breath. Her deep purple eyes were pleading for help.

Acting fast, Beatrice lifted her up and placed her in the shallows. A golden light flooded the whole beach and a chariot pulled by two giant seahorses swooped out from the deep blue sea. Beatrice placed the mermaid into the chariot. It disappeared into the ocean. The golden light vanished as quickly as it had come.

On returning to her cottage, Beatrice found a coral necklace and a dog collar decorated with tiny pearls had appeared on her emerald green velvet cushion.

 

Second Place: The Footprint in the Sand by Damon L. Wakes

“This story answered the challenge well as it mixed fact and fiction. I liked the idea of Robinson Crusoe and Alexander Selkirk meeting and their dialogue was funny but also interesting. Again, it didn’t hit the message hard that truth is stranger than fiction but led the reader to that conclusion. It raised interesting issues about characters in fiction, their inspiration and true life stories. “

One day, about noon, going towards his boat, Alexander Selkirk was exceedingly surprised with the print of a man’s naked foot on the shore, which was very plain to be seen on the sand. He stood like one thunderstruck, or as if he had seen an apparition.
Then, “Hello,” said the figure in goat skins standing right beside him.

“Aaah!” yelped Selkirk. Then, after a pause, he added: “Who the bloody hell are you?”
“I’m you!” replied the figure. “Or at least, I’m based on you. Robinson Crusoe, at your service.” He held out his hand.

Selkirk eyed him suspiciously. There was certainly something familiar about him—particularly the goat skins—but there was also something unidentifiably amiss.

“It’s true!” insisted Crusoe. “I set off in search of adventure, and then after many voyages I was shipwrecked on this island, which I’ve made my home.”

“Well first of all,” said Selkirk, “I wasn’t shipwrecked: I was marooned. Cinque Ports was taking on water, and I said to the captain ‘I’d rather stay on this island than set sail in that ship again!’ and, well…” He gestured about at the situation in general. It was pretty self-explanatory. “In hindsight perhaps I shouldn’t have been so fussy.”

“Okay, fair enough,” said Crusoe. “But besides that both our stories are exactly alike!”
“Really?” Selkirk stared at Crusoe. There was indeed something familiar about him: perhaps here was a kindred spirit after all. “You were driven off the beach by randy sea lions? You had to tame feral cats to avoid being eaten alive by vermin? You plummeted from a cliff, surviving only because you landed on a goat?”

“Ah,” said Crusoe. “Perhaps it’s more of a ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ sort of deal…”

Third prize: Anna by Graham Steed

“This was a clever story as we, like the writer, initially believed Anna’s terrible story about escaping from the Warsaw ghetto. However, the story then became implausible as Anna seemed unreliable. It raised issues about whom we believe and the way that we are more convinced by stories which are detailed, credible and heart-rending but that does not make them true. “

Let her name be Anna, which it is not, but let this story be true, which it is. Anna said she was fourteen in 1942 when she was in the Warsaw Ghetto. In 2001, she came to speak to my Access class, a group of adult women preparing for university education.

A short dumpy woman, she spoke in an engaging matter-of-fact voice about her night escape from the Ghetto. She spoke without malice. She said word had got round of the ‘Resettlement in the East’ programme due to start soon, but when SS guards surrounded the Ghetto walls it was clear that Resettlement meant nothing but a train ride to death. The only hope for escape was through Warsaw’s municipal sewers.

She said her brother had got her onto the escape list. Children fared better on the Aryan, the non-Jewish, side of Warsaw, especially if they didn’t look Jewish, and girls too, as there were so few uncircumcised boys. Determined to live, she waded waist high through stinking sewage following scouts – one of them a boy not yet 16: no talking, no crying, no stumbling – those were the rules. She made me see dark cobblestones and sewer covers. I heard the sharp stamp of jackboots and sneering laughter. I felt the menace above ground, and the defiance of Yahweh’s people below.

Then her story became vague. She said she was given a Catholic name. She said she worked on farms. A month later, the coordinator of Holocaust speakers told me Anna’s account did not add up. She was hiding something, namely, what else she did to survive outside the Ghetto – in part, therefore, Anna’s story was a fiction.

It makes no sense that Holocaust survivors should judge each other’s story. What more can fiction add to an established truth, except perhaps to support it? In my view, and with Anna’s story in mind, truth and fiction meet when one cannot outdo the other.

Highly Commended: The Visitor by Margaret Jennings

“This story was written from a child’s point of view and she did not understand what was going on between her mother and that man. The first person narration and simple language made her seem vulnerable and innocent. It was upsetting to be reminded that children do not always know what is going on but they can feel terrible unease. Again, truth and perception merged.”

He has a mouth that is loose and wider than it should be. When he smiles it takes over the whole of his face and his eyes become like two glinting swords. He is handsome, as grown-ups go. He smells of aftershave. I should not be afraid.

I am on the floor colouring. I have been here so long the pattern of the mat will be imprinted on my legs when I get up. But I can’t move. I have to stay here and listen.

My mum has a funny voice on. She is laughing even though he hasn’t said anything funny. I don’t understand. I keep my head down and colour Noddy’s car black. I have to stay here and listen.

I hear the click of his briefcase and the rustle of papers. I don’t want to look at him again. I stare at Noddy and Big Ears. The sun should be yellow, but yellow is out of reach. I can’t move. I colour the sun purple. I have to stay here and listen. Dad will be back soon.

Mum says she needs to pop upstairs. She has left me with that man. I hear the briefcase click shut. I hear Mum creak the stairs at the top. Another creak that tells me she has gone into her bedroom.

The man coughs. The sound makes me jump. I squash my face against my arm. I must not move. I have to say here and listen.

The man says he is going to the loo. He doesn’t take his shoes off. I track his movement up the stairs with my ears. He is going into Mum’s room.

I have to stay here. Dad will be home soon. Everything will be alright then.

 

May 2020 Competition Results – Adjudication by Claire Dyer

The May competition brief was one to lift our hearts and minds and take us to our most joyous places:

Happiness – What is it and how do you find it? (300 words of prose or up to 40 lines of poetry).

Our kind adjudicator donating their time this month was poet and novelist, Claire Dyer. Speaking on getting involved, Claire said:

“Thank you for asking me to judge your competition. I greatly enjoyed spending time with the entries and think the topic is particularly well-chosen for these trying times.

“I was impressed by the range of writing styles, the forms chosen and the variety of lenses through which the subject of Happiness were viewed.”

The winners are:

First Place – Peter Duncan with The Happiness Indiana Principle

Second Place – John Quinn with Finding Happiness in the Park

Third Place – Damon L. Wakes with Happiness is a Warm Pig

Highly Commended – Gill Hollands for Lockdown Happiness

Highly Commended – Lynn Clement for Happiness is as Happiness Does

 

First Place: The Happiness Indiana Principle by Peter Duncan

“I liked this for the consistency and authenticity of voice, its solid beginning-middle-end structure and its originality.”

The small town of Happiness Indiana lies about three hours by automobile from Indianapolis. Leaving the Interstate, you head down long empty roads flanked by miles of level farmland and punctuated with lonely junctions. Some of these are unsigned, often making it difficult for the stranger to find Happiness.

Eventually the town rises up from the flat land. Driving slowly down Main Street, you spot a drugstore, a barber’s shop, a hotel. A modest white clapboard church stands here, too: practically unchanged since it was built by the town’s Danish Lutheran founders in 1821. During Fall (the best time to visit), sidewalks take on the appearance of golden carpets as the plane trees lining the streets shed their leaves.

The townspeople are stolid and uncomplaining, mostly working on the land and in businesses connected to agriculture. Life carries on here without incident. Some would even say they are happy. Happy in Happiness, they laugh.

Yet a few years ago, something curious happened. The Happiness High School basketball team, led by a new and enthusiastic coach, reached the quarter finals of the State Championships. For a whole week, the town was euphoric. Then glumness and despondency set in. People began to ask: What if we actually win? We’ll be on the map. This place will never be the same again.

Next Saturday, the team lost to a much larger school thirty miles distant. Relief swept through Happiness. The coach, who also happened to be a CUNY psychology grad, was intrigued by what had happened. After extensive interviews with local people, he published a paper in a well- known psychology journal. The paper concluded that there is no necessary relationship between success and happiness. And so the Happiness Indiana Principle, now widely known and used, was born.

Second Place: Finding Happiness in the Park.

“I liked the voice here, the apparent simplicity of the story that’s actually a multi-layered one about loss, life and love.”

It’s not every day you can say, confidently and irrefutably, that you have found Happiness.

God knows, as a hard working, just financially solvent and not totally visually repellent bloke in his late 20’s, I’d been looking for it long enough.

OK, I was contented enough. At work there was the promise of a big promotion and, one day, the possibility of making the board. I kept fit; this Saturday morning’s parkrun was part of my training for the London Marathon later in the year – I was running for Cancer Research. For Granddad.

Friends, or at least their girlfriends, tried to fix me up – blind dates bowling followed by a curry or a group wine tasting where everyone brings an unmarked bottle. I’d enjoyed those evenings and met some nice women. But there was no spark, no magic, no our eyes met across a crowded room.

Well, if it’s not instant then it’s not to be, that’s what Mum always told me. She met Dad when she took her Ford Escort in for its MOT ­– she said not many women had their own cars in those days – and that was that. They are the happiest couple I know, partners and lovers, still, after 30 years. Why would I settle for less?

The halfway mark of the run; I looked at my watch: 10 minutes, 20 seconds. My best time yet, leading the second group by some distance – the first group were way ahead, all running supermen who lived for Saturday mornings.

That’s when the brown labradoodle came bounding up, almost tripping me with its trailing lead, followed by the sound of a female’s voice shouting. ‘Happiness, hear boy, good dog.’

I grabbed the animal’s lead and together we jogged around the corner, towards the direction of the shouting. A tall woman, about my age, broke into a huge smile at the sight of her dog and me.

‘Bloody Hell,’ I thought, she’s gorgeous.

Third prize: Happiness is a Warm Pig by Damon L. Wakes

“For its brevity, humour and inventiveness.”

Have you ever seen a guinea pig?  They’re like little furry beans. Their eyes point in different directions and they look faintly puzzled all the time. This is why guinea pigs are the official animal of happiness™, and why happiness itself is measured in gigapigs. These are facts. If you don’t believe them, give me fifteen minutes then check Wikipedia.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

“I have awarded two Highly Commended prizes: Lockdown Happiness, and Happiness is as Happiness Does. Both poems use rhymes well, are packed with interesting and specific details and have a nice narrative symmetry to them.”

Highly Commended: Lockdown Happiness by Gill Hollands

I thought shopping made me happy, card in hand I would feel a glow.

Fitting rooms were one comfort zone, Apple’s store kept me in the know.

I thought restaurants made me happy, dining on food someone else cooked.

Washing up was no chore for me, I always had a table booked.

I thought clubbing made me happy, bouncing among a mind-blown crowd.

Returning home late, ears buzzing, the music was always too loud.

I thought movies made me happy, it always made a special night.

With comfy seats, popcorn and treats,I thought I’d got everything right.

I’m changing my view of ‘happy’, now the world’s in a different place.

Fun palaces are all closed now. Different things bring smiles to my face.

All I’m buying is the food shop, there’s no-where else much I can go.

Friends keep me happy online now, glad Apple put me in the know.

I’ve found happiness in cooking, baking up a storm (or a stink).

Feasting on my new creations, we talk deep on stints at the sink.

We’re all making do with TV, get comfy and share out the treats.

Expanding because of the snacks, we’re happy exploring new streets.

Outside, the fresh air tastes cleaner, no drone of traffic blocking routes.

People smile, eager for long chats, happy with new friendships’ first shoots.

The garden’s a most happy place, delight in Spring’s emerging bloom.

Birds sing a chorus all morning, lyrics lifting away the gloom.

The lockdown should soon be over, old loves will come back to the fore.

This new life seems simpler, grounded, ‘happy’ not the same as before.

‘Happy’ can be fickle these days, hard to measure in every way.

Find your ‘happy’ where your love lies, seek little things that make it stay.

 

Highly Commended: Happiness is as Happiness Does by Lynn Clement

Daffodil heads nodding in the breeze

Tiny green buds unfurling new leaves

Five am singing signaling dawn

Walking the hills and lambs being born

Crashing waves on a red Devon cliff

That photo of dad, with his bad quiff.

 

Shimmering sun in a fresh blue sky

Smelling the scent of fish as they fry

Grandchildren’s smiles when you say ice-cream

Spotting a trout in a cold clear stream

Licking the salt off a sundrenched lip

Silvery sand and sneaking a kip.

 

Crisp orange leaves that come twisting down

Green forest carpet turning to brown

Johnny May speeding on left the wing

The Twickenham chorus when they sing

Hallowe’en costumes at the front door

Hunkering down with red wine to pour.

 

Designer snowflakes land on my nose

Pink fluffy socks that cuddle my toes

Hot-smoked Salmon in toasted bagels

Sunday lunch round the kitchen table

A bobbing bird with a bright red chest

The restful spa when I’m feeling stressed.

 

Happiness is as Happiness does

Out and about and hearing bees buzz

The wonders of nature in your sight

Family to hold close and kiss good-night

The smell of good food that brings them there

Limitless travel relished with care.

 

Glad thoughts of loved ones when looking back

The pleasure of sport, being a pack

A comforting home at the year’s end

Hope that we know is round the next bend

Happiness is as Happiness does –

And always done with ladles of love.

April 2020 Competition Results – Adjudication by Della Galton

It seems strange to have a competition and winners and not to be able to present their awards to, and celebrate with, them. But it didn’t change the enthusiasm of the entrants and participation of our members, which was brilliant to see.

Author of 9 nine published novels, over 1500 published short stories, and a creative writing tutor, Della Galton, was the perfect adjudicator for our April 2020 competition, and kindly stepped in very last minute.

Della’s newest book, Sunshine Over Bluebell Cliff, published by Bolderwood on April 28 2020 has been receiving excellent reviews. One reader wrote: ‘This book got everything absolutely right for me – an excellent light and heartwarming read, recommended to anyone who might enjoy a well-written escape from life’s current realisties.’

This month’s competition was to write a 300-word short story outlining a Medieval farmer’s view of new technology.

Della’s adjudication was as follows:

First place: Lynn Clement for A Woman’s Place

Second place: Mark Eyles for Kindling a Fire

Third place: Damon L. Wakes for Doom and Loom

Highly Commended: Maggie Farran for Tybalt and Carac Meet Alexa

First Place: A Woman’s Place by Lynn Clement 

“Outstanding story. A definite winner. The ending was also brilliant.”

‘Time to borrow the ox,’ said Wyatt to his wife Millicent. ‘I’m going to Audley’s and will fetch it back anon.’

‘Aye,’ said his terse spouse.

‘I’ll want hot flummery when I get back,’ Wyatt barked. ‘And you make sure you pray for good weather whilst I be gone,’ he ordered.

‘Aye,’ was the reply.

For the past three years, Millicent hadn’t prayed for the weather. Yet the crop had yielded well. But that was her secret.

Millicent went to the barn. This was her unrevealed walk every time Wyatt went away. There were no children, so she was completely alone. Well…not quite.

Once, whilst Wyatt was at Audley’s Strip, she’d heard a noise coming from the barn. It was like no other she had ever heard. Heading there she was suddenly bowled over by a blinding flash. She picked herself up from the muck and cagily opened the door. Shielding her eyes from the brightness of what appeared to be a woman’s body ablaze on the wooden wall, Millicent could hardly breathe. She held her chest in pain. The woman on the wall spoke. ’Today in rural Winchester the weather will be cold. Over the next few days there will be sunshine and rain, perfect spring growing weather.’

‘Thank you Lucy,’ said another voice and the picture faded. Millicent, panting, had slumped against the barn wall.

Each time Wyatt went away the shiny-woman would appear. Millicent coyly began, to suggest to Wyatt when to travel and fetch the Ploughing-Ox, so that the crop would grow well in the weather. He was reluctant to accept her advice, she being a woman, but believing Millicent had great powers of prayer he did so.

This time when Millicent entered the glowing barn, the shiny-woman wasn’t there, but a gaggle of women instead. The flaxen-haired one said, ‘So – on Loose Women today, we discuss marital relations and a woman’s place in the home.’ Millicent settled down in the straw to listen.

 

Second Place: Kindling a Fire by Mark Eyles

“Very clever. I liked the slowly emerging story.”

To have my bare back birched before the community. A burning pain in my flesh and soul. I thought of the traveller’s soft hands; her gentle voice. My mouth surprised me by filling with a curse that would forever brand me a witch.

A week ago, after the traveller had left the farm, I had found a hard wooden plate under the apple tree. At the spot the woman had sat through two warm spring days. The plate was finely finished, though square not round. Smooth as my best plates. Black border round a grey centre across which a black pattern scrawled. I think it was writing. Like in the Holy Bible.

The plate was impractical; too small to hold a slice of bread and too flat to hold water, milk or gravy. Too ugly to stand on the kitchen shelf with other plates, so it languished on the floor in the corner with some wooden offcuts. That was where Father Becket found it when he visited the farm to bless the crops on Rogation Sunday.

“What’s this, Rose?” He peered at the plate.

“Don’t know Father. Traveller left it here.”

Father Becket stared at me, tugging his beard with his free hand. Turned back to the plate; held it close to his eyes, then with a cry threw it to the ground, crossing himself.

“Licentious! Do you know what is written here?” He picked up the plate, holding it gingerly between finger and thumb.

“Is that writing?”

“Is that writing? What do you think, woman? Indeed it is, but a corruption.”

“What does it say?”

“Do not claim ignorance. ‘We slept in what had once been the gymnasium…watching girls…a palimpsest…dancers…old sex…something without a shape or name…yearning hands…that were on us…lifting flesh…we yearned…for insatiability’. What does that tale sound like to you?”

“Scripture?”

“Blasphemer! A maid without a man’s steady hand to rule you, fallen under the devil’s influence.”

 

Third Place:  Doom and Loom by Damon L. Wakes

“A salutary tale of what progress can do. Very topical I thought. 

“Prithee, look at this fine thing the merchant hath brought this morning.” Elspeth gestured to the strange wooden construct that Merek couldn’t possibly have failed to notice standing in the middle of their hovel.

“Hwæt?” was all he could manage.

“It be a loom,” she explained. “With a foot-treadle.”

“Hwæt?” he said again.

“Zounds!” she snapped. “Thou weavest upon it. It be a machine of most ingenious design—and right here, in our humble home!”

Merek put his hands on his hips. “And how much of my gong-farming money hast thou spent on this ingenious machine? Hmmm?”

“Why, none at all!” She gave an exasperated sigh. “The merchant left it here—and the wool besides—and will pay in coin for each bolt of cloth that I canst weave for him. I shall weave while thou workest, and in this way we shall double our pittance!”

Merek was suspicious of this. He could find no fault with the marvellous device, but he did wonder if in lessening the ardour of their honest toil, it might somehow be an affront to God. But times were hard and they could well use the merchant’s coin, and so he said no more about it before departing to complete his own work for the day.

But when he returned that evening, he saw a terrible sight: huge piles of fabric spilled forth from their hovel, threatening to burst its very walls.

“Stop, Elspeth!” he cried. “Stop!”

But: “I can’t!” she wailed. “The loom maketh my work so easy, I know not how!”
Soon the cloth not only filled their hovel, but covered all the land around.
Merek fell to his knees and cried to the heavens: “What hath science done???”

 

Highly Commended: Tybalt and Carac Meet Alexa by Maggie Farran

“A nicely told tale. Simple, but effective.

Tybalt and Carac were identical twins. They were both tall and had long noses with nostrils that flared like a horse. It was Spring in Plucks Gutter when the two men set out to plough their strip of land. They worked quietly and harmoniously taking it in turns to lead the shared ox and plough up and down their field. They were taken by surprise when the ox stopped and flatly refused to move on. Tybalt looked at the ground in front of the ox and saw a huge flint rock sticking out of the ground. Together they heaved and heaved until the rock was pulled free. Looking down into the hole left by the rock they saw a round white object flashing at them.

‘My name is Alexa’ it said. ‘Ask me any question you like and I’ll answer it for you.’

Tybalt, the bolder twin, stepped forward

‘Alexa, will I get married and have children?

‘Yes, you will marry Agathe and have four healthy children’

Carac found his confidence and stepped forward.

‘Alexa will I find a wife too?’

‘No, you will die of the Bubonic Plague next year. Most of your village will be wiped out.’

Carac sat down in great distress.

‘Alexa, how come I will die and my twin brother will live?’

‘Tybalt will live because he is stronger than you and does not catch the infection.’

Carac said nothing but hatched a plan in his mind. He had a few months to build up his strength. That Bubonic Plague will not be able to tell the difference between him and his brother. He would be the strongest brother by then. Tybalt would die and he would be saved.

Carac put his arm round his brother’s shoulders.

‘Come on, Tybalt, we’d better get on with the ploughing and finish it before it gets dark. Lets bury this Alexa thing. I don’t believe a word it says.’

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