November 2017 Competition results – Mitchell Symons’ adjudication

Adjudicating our November competition was our main speaker for the evening, Mitchell Symons, writer broadcaster and journalist.

Mitchell found the stories interesting and said it was hard to pick just five.

The adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Jordan Dean Ezekude  – The Phoenix And The Butterfly

Second Place: Maggie Farran – Revenge Is Sweet

Third Place: Peter Hitchen – Every Dog Has Its Day

Highly Commended: Colin Johnson – A Stitch In Time

Highly Commended: Damon L. Wakes – Do Unto Others

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Speaker and Adjudicator, Mitchell Symons, with 2nd Place award winner, Maggie Farran

First Place:The Phoenix and the Butterfly, by Jordan Dean Ezekude

“This was the only real story and it really answered the brief. It was so good that I found myself wondering whether it was actually a real fable.”

Long ago, on an ancient island in the far east, there lived two guardians blessed by the sky and sea. The first guardian was the brave Phoenix of the Sun who would shine his light of day for everyone. The second guardian was the gentle Butterfly of the Moon who would help the stars glow and the flowers bloom. They were close friends, watching over the island every day. But they didn’t always get along, so the legends say. The Phoenix was short-tempered especially at the sight of crime while the Butterfly was timid and hated seeing humans fight.

One fateful day, while defending the animals in the woods, the Butterfly was wounded by hunters up to no good. “How dare you hurt my friend!” roared the Phoenix enraged. To punish the hunters, he set their entire village ablaze. But not only were the hunters caught in the flames; so were the innocent children and every husband and dame. “What have I done?” the Phoenix tearfully gasped before burning himself out and becoming a pile of ash. Having lost her best friend, the Butterfly cried a rainfall to put out the village fire once and for all.

The flames were gone and the village was safe once more. The hunters were deeply sorry for all the damage they caused. They swore that they would never hunt animals again. Instead of hunting animals, they would treat them like friends. “I forgive you,” said the kind Butterfly as she smiled. So did the Phoenix who was born again and alive. Thus the humans and animals started working together as friends. And there hasn’t been another village fire since then. Thus the Phoenix and the Butterfly kept this lesson in mind: and eye for an eye makes the world go blind.

Second Place: Revenge is Sweet, by Maggie Farran

“The best written of all the entries.”

She picked up his shirt from the floor where he had dropped it the night before. It reeked of ‘Angel’ perfume. She examined it closely. There was bright red lipstick smudged across the collar. She shook with anger. Who did he think he was to betray her like this and then leave the evidence on their bedroom floor? She had suspected something was going on for a while. Now she had proof.

Angrily she gathered up all his white work shirts and shoved them into the gaping mouth of the washing machine. She rifled through her underwear drawer until she found her red satin bra, the one he had liked so much. It was exquisite, a delicate mixture of red satin and lace. He had bought it for her for Christmas last year from La Perla. It had been wrapped in black tissue paper inside a La Perla gift box. This was the bra that used to turn him on. This was the one he used to so enjoy unfastening.

She pushed the bra into the heart of the shirts until the bright red was hidden. The boiling hot water whirled and teased those pure white shirts until they blushed. The beautiful bra bled painful tears into the white cotton.  When the cycle was finished she opened the porthole. The pale pink shirts gave her an embarrassed stare. The scarlet bra gazed at her without a hint of shame.

Third Place: Every Dog has its Day, by Peter Hitchen

“Also really well written and which, of all the entries, made me want to read more.”

She’d only nipped out for Bill’s lucky dip so hadn’t bothered with make-up, choosing instead to slip on a pair of sunglasses to hide the black eye.  Now, as the car bounced back along the potholed track towards their static caravan, she wondered if she was just imagining that things didn’t seem quite normal.  Kenny was going frantic at the window.  Bill would never have let him bark like that, the dog wasn’t even allowed in the living room.  And Bill hadn’t said he was going out, and he wouldn’t have gone out anyway, he’d already been soaked on his way back from his morning walk.

When she opened the car door the dog yammered even harder. ‘What’s wrong, Kenny?  Bill… Bill.’  The dog heard the oddness in her voice and fell silent tilting his head, the throb of condensation from his snout misting on the window.

Bill’s bottom half was in the living room, his shoulders and head in the kitchen.  He wasn’t exactly blue.  His face, she thought, was closest to the colour of an April storm, like a fresh bruise that had blossomed from the sombre part of a rainbow.  She wondered if the rest of him had gone the same colour too; had his chest’s fat folds altered from their usual mottled ivory?  Would his V-shaped weather bib, as permanent as any tattoo, have changed as well?  She got Kenny’s lead off the hook and the dog bounded down from the windowsill and over the barrel of Bill’s breathless torso in two elastic movements.

Bill always said a walk made things better.

As Kenny strained down the slope towards the river she pushed her free hand into her coat pocket and felt the still sharp edges of Bill’s lottery ticket nestling amongst the empty laburnum pods.

Highly Commended: A Stitch In Time… by Colin Johnson

“This had a great ending.”

Elsie can’t forget that summer.

‘Uncle Jack, why are we doing this?’ she hears Micky ask while they take apart the chair, to glue the joints.

‘It’s got a bit wobbly recently – best to fix it before it breaks.’

You learned that, in the War, and afterwards. You looked after what you had, you made it last. Things were scarce then. Even now, Elsie thinks, why buy something new, if you can mend the old one?

She sees Jack smile when Micky comes, remembering a joke to tell, finding a packet of sweets in his jacket. Then they get started, painting a window-frame or mending the catch on the back door. Micky always brings his transistor with him. He turns up the sound for every Beatles record.

Whenever she asks Jack to do a job, he never says no. Sometimes, she thinks he does too much. He looked so tired when she mentioned fixing that stair carpet, where it’s coming loose. She said it could wait. It can, but not too long – someone might slip on it.

Elsie decides she’ll ask Micky to change that flickering bulb in the front room, after dinner. Jack has taken to having a snooze on Saturday afternoons.

***

At the end of August Jack finally finds time to go to the doctor’s, when he gets too tired to go to work. Then it’s straight into hospital. Operation, the following Monday.

At visiting time, Elsie sees how he’s changed. The angle of his jaw stands out sharply; his neck hangs loose like a turkey’s. His cheekbones are high ridges below dark hollows. His eyes are still bright, but there are no jokes now. Jack reaches for his glass – his pyjama jacket falls open, showing the surgical dressing down the middle of his belly.

At the weekend, Jack dies. Before they’ve even taken out the stitches.

Highly Commended: Do Unto Others, by Damon L. Wakes

“It would have placed if the writer had put Sadist instead of Masochist as the last word.”

Robert stepped into his new workplace to find a generic sea of cubicles and water coolers. It couldn’t have been more of a cliché if it had that “hang in there” cat poster on one of the walls.

In fact, wait…wait…

Yep. There it was.

Suddenly, Robert found an arm around his shoulder.

“We do things a little differently here,” said the guy who Robert was certain was one of those buzzword-spewing middle management people. “We’ve established a dynamic new workplace paradigm that allows us to leverage a great deal more synergy going forward.”

Robert turned and stared in horror.

The man laughed. “Just kidding. We don’t do any of that: there’s just one rule.”

He pointed to a huge banner hanging right along one wall.

Robert read aloud: “Do as you would be done by?”

“That’s the one! Just keep it in mind and you’ll do fine here.” The man shook his hand. “My name’s Craig: the guy from the emails. I’d give you a tour of the office, but I never like being paraded around when I’m new somewhere so instead I’ll just leave you to it.”

And he did.

Robert found his desk, hung his jacket on the back of the accompanying swivel chair, and—figuring he might as well make an effort to adhere to the office’s one simple rule—decided to say hi to his neighbour in the next cubicle.

“Hi,” said Robert.

“Hi,” said the guy in the next cubicle over. And then he reached out and twisted both Robert’s nipples with considerable force.

“Ow!” yelped Robert. “Dude, what gives?”

Craig came running back over. “Yeah,” he said, grimacing. “Kind of an unofficial Rule Number Two around here: stay away from Larry the Masochist.”

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October 2017 Competition Results – Mick Jackson’s adjudication

Mick Jackson, award winning novelist and screenwriter, who spoke on the evening about Finding Inspiration kindly adjudicated the October competition – write a story inspired by an unusual object. 300 words.  He had his work cut out with a 25% more entries than usual.

Mick’s adjudication was as follows:

Joint 1st Place: Peter Hitchen – My Incredible Word Mining Machine

Joint 1st Place: Georgina Lippiett – The Japanese Puzzle Box

3rd Place: Barbara Needham – Measurement Technology

Highly Commended: Margaret Jennings – Clinker

Highly Commended: Maddy Dorobantu -The Carcass

Prizewinners October 2017
L: Margaret Jennings, Highly Commended and R: Peter Hitchen, (joint) first place

Joint 1st Place: Peter Hitchen – My Incredible Word Mining Machine

Mick Jackson: ‘Inventive and arresting – an original idea delivered with great wit.’

I invented a machine that can extract the words that get trapped in walls or under the surfaces of tabletops and windowsills.

You see, when people speak their voices hit things, but instead of rebounding they’re absorbed, trapped forever like layers of sedimental rock.

No amount of drilling  can extract them.

Scraping is useless.

Yet the words prevail with half lives infinitely greater than that of plutonium.

Fossilised sound, irrecoverably locked away

Unless

You’ve got a machine like mine, to reconstitute the trapped sound and turn it back into intelligible words.

I tried it out for the first time this morning while everyone was out.

Hooked it up in the bedroom, put the mic next to the wall and turned the machine on.

It worked perfectly.

Turns out, the walls of my house are storyboards and play scripts for psycho thrillers and porn shoots.

By the afternoon, I’d smashed my word mining machine.

Joint 1st place: Georgina Lippiett – The Japanese Puzzle Box

Mick Jackson: ‘A puzzle in itself, all the better for remaining unsolved at the story’s conclusion.’

Once he’d gone out I would slip in to the hush of his study, drawn to the box as if by a siren. My jittery hands would be calmed by tracing tiny fingers over the patterns, feeling the edges and changes of surface, cool and smooth. Could this really have come from something so enormous, so vital, as a tree?

Like starlight in a jam jar.

I would lie on the floor and place the box next to me in the afternoon puddles of sun. Mesmerised by the fingertip-polished colours of autumn captured in its surface, willing the answer to shine out. I remember thinking I could just stop. Be satisfied with the promise of an answer without pushing for any more, without committing any more, without risking any more.

But inevitably I found myself stroking each of its six sides, searching for breaches in its armour. Despite the slight shift in the surface, the whisper of hope, the spike of excitement, the box always held firm. Clutching at his own words for justification (‘failing to try, is trying to fail’), I would shake the box, pushing its edges, corners, fractures. Heart racing, time running out, my temper snapping with my fingernails . . . stopped only by the sound of the front door, the signal to retreat. Defeated for a few months I would wait, patiently, until the mystery weaved its magic and curiosity claimed me once more.

* I stand in his study for the first time in years. The box is now tiny but its secret still has power. Holding the box to the light, I feel the old pull of longing. The certainty that to understand the puzzle of this box would be to understand him. I shall not fail to try.

3rd Place: Barbara Needham – Measurement Technology

Mick Jackson: ‘chosen for its confident navigation towards the final revelation and the weighty object at its heart.’

In his bedroom Alfred deposits three items on a battered chest of drawers: an official letter, a notebook and a large, retractable tape measure. This last item has a special significance for him. It has a heavy embossed leather casing, worn with use, a brass button to release the tape back into its holder and the initials A.P. engraved on it.

Alfred stows his suitcase neatly under the bed. He is a man who appreciates order.

He eats his evening meal alone as he does not want to socialise at the bar. They might ask him why he has come to Germany and he contemplates their distaste if he tells them. Lying does not come easily to Alfred and he lacks the imagination to develop a convincing cover-story. Still, if they think he is a taciturn Yorkshire man abroad on government business, that is not wide of the mark.

Head against the iron bedstead, Alfred contemplates the coming day. He picks up the letter and reads it over again with quiet satisfaction. He has been specially chosen and he is confident that he will discharge his duties with total efficiency.

Alfred was appalled at the incompetence of his predecessor. The man was a complete bungler who could not have applied any scientific principles to the job. Nuremberg was a shambles.

Alfred appraises the tape measure and cradles it in his stubby hands. He caresses the leather. It is an old friend, a tool of his trade. Height, weight, physical condition, that’s what you must assess, then the length of the rope, the type of trapdoor and the drop.

Satisfied, Alfred Pierrepoint, hangman of England and instrument of retribution, settles down and sleeps soundly.

Josef Kramer, The Beast of Belsen spends his last night on earth.

Highly Commended: Margaret Jennings – Clinker

Mick Jackson: ‘Chosen for its drama. Displayed great potential – and made me want to see what the writers would do next.’

His breath smells like the wine Grandpa used to drink.

The smell transports her to a swing in a garden on a sunny day; mushrooms growing in the grass, the smell of cooking wafting, the happy banter of the grown-ups coming like music from the house. The sky is a blue cocoon and she is a tiny chrysalis safe in its care.

The man shouts, pushes her shoulder. She holds the clinker tighter. The pain of it digs into her hand, distracts her from the fear.

What is going to happen? So many things have happened. Now she is centre stage.

Grandma said she was an actress. I do not need to have the flounce and flare of an actress now, he likes wine I have no wine I should sing I am shaking too badly, I, I, I, smaller and smaller and smaller her soul quavers and searches and cannot find and the sky is glowering the world shrinking filled with shouting and where is Grandma snap where is Grandpa and where is Mummy snap and where is Daddy snap and when I am going to be away from this man and will the dreadful things…

The child clutches the clinker fiercely. Blood.

The gun has clicked bulletless three times. The man throws the gun, laughs, marches off.

A hand drags her away.

‘You are bleeding child, what have you done to yourself?’ The woman opens her hand, reveals the clinker.

‘See, what did I tell you, that clinker from the chimneys is your grandma and your grandpa come to make you safe, you are safe now, breathe child.’

Later another woman asks, ‘Why do you lie to her?’

‘Because when truth shall not keep her safe, we shall give her lies. It is all we can do.’

Highly Commended: Maddy Dorobantu -The Carcass

Mick Jackson: ‘Chosen for the raw energy. Displayed great potential – and made me want to see what the writer would do next.’

The flames burn reds and oranges and blue. The air fills with the heavy smoke, coming from the burned tyre. Generations of motorcycles before it sense the intense heat. The smoke sits on the tip of the tongues of the passerby, in the eyes of the rushed firefighters , on the drew of the early morning grass. Blacked grass, just a puddle left to see, and the empty skeleton of a yesterday bike, the noise of the revved engine still lingering in the air. You see heat , you smell the orange of the fire, lying on its side in the grass like a fallen empire.

The boy looks vaguely at the empty carcass, yet to be collected in a van by the council. The park is dark, only the light of a full moon hanging overhead. He hears the sudden rush of a lonely cricket through the darken grass. The wind blows through the hollowness of carcass, the emptiness of his heart and his breath catches the silent smell of the man in the leather jacket. The man is close now and looks rapidly around him, taking in the panoramic view of the park, judging the exits and measuring every step.

The saviour is close, his steps clear in the stillness of the park. The boy trembles and his hand reaches the man’s just in time.

A firm handshake, a stern look. The man lights a cigarette.

‘You did well, mate! You can now be part of the GANG! ‘

The man hands him the package and disappears in the shadow of the trees.

The lonely, burnt bike tells the tale of his initiation. He is now a man, a brother. As the wind staggers through the empty shell, he dreams of becoming the man in the leather jacket one day.

2017/18 season opened with a perfect ensemble – musician, reader and writer

Report by Lisa Nightingale and Summer Quigley

The 2017-18 season was opened by wonderful violinist Adrian Adlam who provided his own hugely enjoyable musical adaptation of Munro Leaf’s story of Ferdinand the Bull. Adrian interacted with the audience as he played the violin and narrated the story, with a Spanish accent for added effect.

Following this literary musical ensemble the audience heard from Chairman Alan Stephens or Read Easy, Winchester – a non-profit organisation that recruits, trains and supports volunteers to give one-to-one tuition to adults who struggle with reading.
The audience heard how the difference Read Easy makes is genuinely ‘life-changing’; it’s a phrase that their new readers use over and over again. One such new reader was Steve who bravely stood before the audience and explained his experience, bringing many close to tears.

‘Six months ago I would never have done the things I’ve do now, like joining the library, reading newspapers, going on public transport and going to coffee shops and the supermarket. They seem such simple things but I stayed home before. I would start reading but I’d get to the end of the page and didn’t understand so I put it down.

He continued, ‘I used to stutter but now I can pronounce even pronounce long words clearly. I’ve slowed myself down, just like when I’m reading I’ve slowed myself down. I’m thinking about what I want to say.’

If you think you would be interested in volunteering as a reading coach or know someone who may benefit from the Read Easy programme, please visit the Read Easy website

This month’s main speaker presentation was delivered in an informal interview style with biographer John Miller. Opening the conversation, a bemused John Miller advised the September meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society that Slaughterford, the setting of The Hiding Places, Katherine Webb’s newest novel, is an actual place,. It is an idyllic village in Wiltshire where the Sunday Times bestselling author now lives.

The story of The Hiding Places unfolds just after the First World War and as Katherine points out, all her books take place at a time shortly following a cataclysmic historic event; the fall-out provides much useful material. She recognises though, the period that she has chosen is not so far back and survivors still live but far enough to be out of her own time-line. It is the richness of the research, that ensures authenticity. None is more plentiful than the first world war. Still, there are areas such as Post Traumatic Syndrome where an historic lack of knowledge is evident. ‘It is amazing that any soldiers came back of sound body and mind.’ She says.

The other strikingly different area was that of class distinction. In the 1920s, the gaps were major, something that Katherine was keen to explore.ipp

‘What is your typical writing day like?’ John Miller asks.
‘Disciplined,’ she replies. Katherine sits down to write at 9:00 a.m. and will not get up again until she has written 2,000 words. ‘This,’ she says, ‘could take a couple of hours; it could take until 5:00 p.m.’ A novel a year seems to have become her comfortable rate of productivity, lucky as this is what is required contractually from her publisher. She doesn’t re-write her manuscript many times as ‘there will always be notes,’ from her editor. Before she starts writing she will have indulged in a long period of research and thought processes, although she doesn’t meticulously plan her novel.

Katherine confesses to having spent a long time writing submissions to agents ‘…because that’s the way it’s done,’ she says. She followed guidelines and did things ‘by-the-book’ in order to get her first novel published and she collected lots of rejection letters. But it was through the website YouWriteOn.com that Orion found her. From there it was the agents who were contacting her, rather than the other way around. But, as she has no head for business, an agent is an invaluable help.

In response to a question from an audience member who is having difficulty perfecting the dialogue, Katherine responds: ‘Dialogue must always move the plot along. Read it aloud, if it sounds like it’s been written, then it’s probably not right. take another look at it.’ Another piece of advice is to par-it-down.

For a decade, she wrote in isolation; only after that did she join a writers’ group and this is something of a regret, saying that she should have joined the group a long time ago.
Her advice to new writers is to ‘Give yourself permission to write a terrible first draft. Just write it. ‘You won’t know what the novel will look like until you’ve written it.’

New Course: On-Air Drama – Writing for Radio

Hugh Costello, best known for writing the ten-time Emmy nominated teleplay Bernanrd and Doris, is running a Writing for Radio one-day course next month.

Tickets for the course have just gone on sale but it hasn’t been officially publicised yet so now’s the time to get in early.

About the course

Radio and other audio platforms offer a huge opportunity for new drama writers to pursue unusual and ambitious projects with a realistic prospect that they will be produced. This one-day course focuses on the special demands of writing for radio, exploring the best ways to turn those voices in your head into intriguing and suspenseful dramas.

  • What kinds of stories work best for the ear?
  • How does a writer grab the audience’s attention from the very beginning of a story?
  • What are the best ways to to create distinctive characters and sustain suspense?

You will learn how to structure and present radio drama scripts, and how to go about pitching stories to commissioners and producers, both in the indie sector and at the BBC and Audible.

The course will be led by writer Hugh Costello, and will include a session with Boz Temple-Morris of Holy Mountain Productions.  Hugh is an Emmy-nominated screenwriter who has written more than two dozen audio dramas, and has worked with indies such as Big Fish and Whistledown Productions.  Boz is a leading audio producer/director and recent winner of Best Drama Producer at the Audio Production Awards .

When: Friday 24 February 2017
Where: Central London venue, TBC
Time: 9.30am-5pm
Cost: £130 + Vat – book your place at v1.bookwhen.com/rigtrain

 

Your Idea Transferred to Radio

Report by Andy Machin

At their first meeting of 2017 Hampshire Writers’ Society members were treated to the humour and wisdom of two renowned exponents of the art of non-fiction writing and radio documentary production respectively.

Special guest: John Andrews, foreign correspondent and local author The World in Conflict john-andrews-foreign-correspondent

First to the University of Winchester Stripe Theatre stage was John Andrews. John began his career in the 1970s teaching in Libya and the Lebanon but on the advice of ABC News anchor and friend Peter Jennings, he migrated to journalism to follow and report on Middle Eastern and North African politics, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and the strategies of OPEC.

‘Being a foreign correspondent is more fun than being an editor,’ he confesses, ‘because you get to see history being made right in front of you.’

Like many an efficacious person, John attributes a good degree of his success to being in the right place at the right time whilst admitting, ‘I gained access [to news] not only via people I knew but also through the people I worked for.’

As a foreign correspondent John has worked for some of the most widely-respected television and print news organisations in the world including ABC, NBC, the Guardian and the Economist.

John is now using his transferrable journalistic skills to explain events to another audience through his latest book The World in Conflict: Understanding the world’s troublespots, candidly advising non-fiction authors to ‘know your audience and the possible repercussions of [the content of] your writing.’

Main speaker: David Prest, founder and MD of Whistledown Productions

From page to ear

david-prest-md-of-whistledown-productions‘Radio is a fantastic medium to bring new work into nuance post-Brexit,’ pronounces David Prest with a cheeky grin.

David entered mainstream radio broadcasting on joining the BBC staff in the 1980s. He worked on productions for Radio 4 and the World Service and stayed with the corporation until 1997.

In 1998 David founded radio production company Whistledown successfully combining ‘journalistic principles with creative flair,’ and producing documentary/non-fiction content which is ‘exciting and fun,’ and ‘differentiates from the mainstream.’ We assume his mainstream reference is to Auntie Beeb although David freely admits his main market is the corporation placing Whistledown currently as the largest independent speech provider to the BBC, an achievement of which he is rightly proud.

In an illuminating behind-the-scenes resumé of the submission process, David advises jobbing writers that for their non-fiction content to translate readily to radio documentary it should contain the ‘juicy bits only,’ and provide the ‘essential narrative trail.’ The writer should use language which is ‘visceral and grabby.’ David also reminds us that radio lacks the benefit of visuals found in TV production and therefore encourages us to ‘write for the ear,’ to tease and to provide ‘audio pageturners.’

Prior to submission, David advises writers to ask themselves questions such as is the idea new? Is it exciting/interesting/relevant enough? Is it sustainable, perhaps beyond a one-off and into a series? Is it covered elsewhere, perhaps within the series format of another programme? And not least, to decide how best to pitch the idea?

On finding a producer David suggests that the candidate should be ‘genuinely engaged [with the content],’ and ‘respectful of [the writer’s] input.’

Likewise, David advises writers to ask themselves what role they want in the production and what it is they wish to get from the process. Options in this respect may range from the writer being either the presenter, a contributor, a consultant or having a ‘by line’ or a simple credit. The writer may also wish to use the programme to further promote themselves and their work or to go on to co-own the format with the production company.