Coffee Morning

On Tuesday, August 16th in the cafe at the Arc, Winchester (also known as Winchester Library), come along from 10:30am to meet fellow members of the Hampshire Writers Society. Discuss your work-in-progress (or your writers block) and make new writer friends in a relaxed setting, or just enjoy coffee and cake.

Though primarily aimed at members, non-members are welcome to come and find out about the society.

If you’re planning to attend, please email inquiries @ — you don’t have to, but it’s nice to have an idea of numbers. And if you’d love to come, but can’t make it this time, it would also be nice to hear from you, in case we run this again.

Hampshire Writers’ Society 2022-23 Programme

Confirmed speakers – more details on the way

September 13th 2022 – To Be Confirmed

More information soon…

October 11th 2022 – Jenny Saville

More information soon…

November 8th 2022 – Clare Whitfield

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Getting noticed in the Slush Pile

Clare will talk about her journey to getting published. It’s a very difficult industry to break into and she will talk about how she secured a two book deal and agent on submission and the process from contract to publishing a debut novel, and what to expect. 

Clare Whitfield was born in Morden in 1978 (at the bottom of the Northern line) in Greater London. After university she worked at a publishing company before going on to hold various positions in buying and marketing. She now lives in Hampshire with her family. Her debut novel, People of Abandoned Character, won the Goldsboro Glass Bell Award and was also short listed for the HWA Debut Award, and was also published by Head of Zeus. Her second novel, The Gone and the Forgotten, is out June 9th 2022.

Special Guest – Gregory Sayer

December 13th 2022 – Susmita Bhattacharya

Title: My Writing Journey: An unconventional route to publication

Did I dream of becoming a published writer? No, because it did not occur to me that such a thing was possible for an ordinary girl growing up in Mumbai. After graduating with a degree in graphic design, and sailing on oil tankers for three years, I settled down in Cardiff, and the world of writing opened up for me. Let me share with you my early experiences of writing and how I became a published writer and hopefully inspire you in your writing journey.

Susmita Bhattacharya is an Indian-born writer. Her debut novel, The Normal State of Mind (Parthian, 2015) was long-listed at the Mumbai Film Festival, 2018. Her short story collection, Table Manners (Dahlia Publishing, 2018) won the Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection (2019) and was a finalist for the Hall & Woodhouse DLF Prize, 2019 and has been featured on BBC Radio 4. She teaches creative writing at Winchester University and facilitated the ArtfulScribe Mayflower Young Writers programme in Southampton. She was also Writer-in-Residence at the Word Factory, London in 2021. You can find her on Twitter: @Susmitatweets

January 10th 2023 – Nate Crowley

Nate Crowley is an author, interactive fiction consultant, videogames journalist and public speaker.
Nate has worked as a journalist, a publisher, a teacher and an aquarium guy. He has a degree which involved all sorts of stuff but basically ended up being about the history of natural history. He enjoys a good trip to the zoo, creating feasts, and staring into the wasteland behind his house. He loves to talk about beasts and SF and the sea, plus history and films and all kinds of nerd stuff.

February 14th 2023 – Nick Cook & Yarrow Townsend

Nick Cook

After completing a Fine Arts Degree Nick Cook joined the emerging video game industry back in the 80s. It was the start of a long career and he produced graphics for many of the top-selling games on the early home computers, including Aliens and Enduro Racer. He worked on titles such as X-Com, and set up two studios, which produced Warzone 2100 and the Conflict: Desert Storm series. He has around forty published titles to his name.

At the end of 2006 he was finally ready to pursue his other passion as a full-time career: writing. Many years later, he completed his first trilogy, Cloud Riders. Going on to publish over sixteen books.

Yarrow Townsend

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Yarrow Townsend spent her childhood among the moss, oak and heather of the New Forest. After working as a teacher, and then as a stablehand, Yarrow completed an MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University, before returning to the forest to work for the RSPB. Always in search of ways to be closer to the outdoors, Yarrow now lives on a narrowboat, travelling the canals with her garden on the roof. The Map of Leaves is inspired by her life by the woods and the water, and by her own parents’ herb books.

March 14th 2023 – Claire Gradidge

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Claire Gradidge was born and brought up in Romsey. Her career included working as a nurse, a school librarian and an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing. She has had some short fiction and poetry published in South, Orbis and Vortex.

Her novel, The Unexpected Return of Josephine Fox, a crime fiction set in Romsey in World War II, was selected as the winner of the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller Competition in January 2019.

Josephine Fox returned in Treachery at Hursley Park House. In January 1943 Josephine goes undercover to investigate information leaks and espionage at Hursley Park House, where Spitfire modifications are being designed.

April 11th 2023 – Cheryl Butler

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Shakespeare, Travelling Players & The Historic Henry

Looking at the events of 1415, which had a big impact on Hampshire, Shakespeare’s interpretation, and looking at his potential knowledge of the area via the travelling players routes.

Cheryl Butler has a twin passion for history and drama which combine together in her work as a playwright, novelist, and inform her lectures and guided tours. As a contributing editor for the Southampton Records Series she continues to work as a serious scholar whilst working as a cultural manager in the arts and supporting several heritage organisations in a voluntary capacity.

May 9th 2023 – Joanna Barnard

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From Rejection to Auction: Failure and Success in the Writer’s Life

Includes top tips on practical things like working practice and seeking representation / publication.

Joanna Barnard is a published author, workshop leader and writing mentor. After winning the Bath Novel Award in 2014, Joanna’s first two books were published by Penguin Random House, and she subsequently also qualified as a hypnotherapist and psychotherapeutic counsellor, nowadays specialising in bereavement care. Joanna’s two main passions, therapy and words, led to her designing and facilitating a series of workshops in Writing for Wellbeing. She also teaches introductory novel writing skills. Joanna continues to write and is working on her next novel.

June 13th 2023 – Della Galton

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Della Galton is a novelist, short story writer and journalist with over 35 years’ experience. Her writing credits include ten novels, several novellas and over 2000 short stories published in the UK and abroad.  

She is the agony aunt for Writers’ Forum magazine and is a qualified Adult Education tutor. 

Her latest novels, The Bluebell Cliff series, are published by Boldwood Books. Her ‘How to Write’ Books are available from Amazon.  For more information about Della see

HWS Book Fair 14th June from 6.30pm -7.30pm

14th June Book Fair 6.30pm-7.30pm 
In the Foyer of the Stripe Theatre Building Foyer

This is an exciting time when published HWS members, mainstream or self published set our their books to sell. For those members who dream of being published this is your opportunity to come along and find out from the authors about their particular journey. It could be you next time!

Meet some of the authors stalls at the Book Fair 

Anthony Ridgway

Anthony is the winner of the Barbara Large Memorial Award 2019  for his wonderful achievement of being a published author of two children’s books. He is currently working on his third book.  Barbara was his creative writing teacher who spotted his talent and encouraged him to keep on writing.
Books are available as audio books read by David Suchet and his wife, Sheila.
To see a short film about Anthony’s book launch with a reading by David Suchet, follow this link.
Wizzy the Animal Whisperer

Anthony’s first book Wizzy the Animal Whisperer is out now as an audio book read by Sheila and David Suchet.

Wizzy and the Seaside Adventure


B Random

B. Random/ Gill Hollands, our special guest speaker, will have her books available for sale

Tamar Hodes, our main speakerwill have some of her books available for sale at the Book Fair.

Di Castle

Grandma’s Poetry Book is her first poetry collection and is a popular gift for new grandparents.

Should I Wear Floral and other poems on Life, Love and Leaving

Both books can be bought via her website and her Facebook page
tweets @dinahcas

Damon L Wakes
Damon L. Wakes holds an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester, and Ten Little Astronauts—the novella he submitted as the final project for that course—has since been published by Unbound.  He writes everything from humour to horror, and produces a brand new work of flash fiction every day during July each year. Damon also writes interactive fiction and games, and provided the story and dialogue for Game of the Year nominated virtual reality title Craft Keep VR.

Rob Stuart

Rob Stuart is a local author who lives in  Chandler’s Ford.

Rob’s books A Place in the CountryAppearance and Illusion;  and Uther Pendragon will be available on his book stall.

Uther Pendragon 410 AD. Rome withdraws the legions from Britain to try and protect the Empire from the inroads of the Barbarians. Uther Pendragon is the last prince of the Belgae, left to defend his lands from the inroads of the invaders. Tutored by Merlin, he is trust into manhood by the tumultuous times into which he is born. Betrayed by his allies he is forced to flee to the Roman province of Brittany where he is recruited by the Roman warlord Aetius. He becomes a player in the drama of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the West; a lover of the Empress Dowager; the father of the Once and Future king Arthur and friend of Attila.

Maggie Farran, Catherine Griffin & Sally Howard
Three writing friends who collaborated on a new project in lockdown, culminating with publication of Winchester Actually. 

Winchester Actually

Join a magical tour of Winchester

Unravel the intrigue of the great train robbery. Witness the thrills and spills of rioting through the streets. Wonder at sacrifices made to save the cathedral and defend the city. Enjoy gentler tales of romance and motherhood set in and around Winchester.

J.M Carr

Janette Carr is a children’s writer from Southampton. Writing older middle-grade stories, she is best known for her novel The Wonder Girls.  Set in London in 1936, the Wonder Girls are a group of girls hiding from the paramilitary Blackshirts.  Her latest book, The Wonder Girls Resist is set in Southampton in 1937 against the backdrop of immigration stemming from the Spanish Civil War. Like its predecessor The Wonder Girls Resist has a political stance, exploring a time when the country was on the brink of war.

Mark Eyles
Hampshire Writers’ Society committee member Mark Eyles has published his first book – Icefall Cities: Deadly First Contact at the Edge of a Galactic Empire.

After working in the games industry, writing for comics (2000AD & Sonic the Comic) and spending time as an academic running videogame courses, Mark finally settled down to writing books at the start of 2019. His writing draws on his love of science fiction, creating a slightly quirky, but grim and gritty story set on a colony world where everything’s gone nightmarishly wrong.

Icefall Cities is available as an ebook, self-published on Amazon. Mark is busily editing the sequel ready for release later this year.

Beth O’Leary: Writing With Heart

Report by Sarah Noon

At the time of speaking, Beth O’Leary’s latest book “The No-Show” is number 5 on the Times Best Seller list.

She admits that her 18-year-old self would not have read any of her books and would definitely have scoffed at the idea of romantic fiction.  However, she says, there is no shame in the genre of Romantic Fiction – something that “people devour and read and enjoy”, and she wishes she’d realised that earlier on in her career. Originally inspired by Sophie Kinsella, she was the writer of the first romance fiction book that Beth read.

She reads us the opening pages of “The No-Show.” It is well received by the listeners, who smile and chuckle as the story unravels.

Beth has always been a writer. She explains that she has been inventing stories since she was a child.  She says she feels “out of sorts” when she’s not writing. She recalls sending her first query letter when she was 17.  She had her first agent by the time she was 25, when she pitched The Flat Share. She points out  that whilst this is quite young, she had been working hard on her writing for 8 years. The Flat Share has been a huge success and is now being made into a TV series.

She remembers the outfit she wore for her first meeting with her agent, and how it felt to hear someone talking about her characters “as if they mattered”. She said that although the continual bombardment of “no’s” can be a bit soul destroying, she reminds us that it only takes one “yes” and then you have an agent and someone “…fighting your corner with you.”

On the subject of agents, Beth advises us to consider what we want from a relationship with an agent. She remembers getting off the phone following that first call from her agent, telling her then boyfriend, and both laying down on the floor and listening to the playlist that she listened to whilst she was writing The Flat Share on the train on her way to work (noise cancelling headphones are the best thing she ever bought).  She tells us that she still writes in short bursts even now. Whilst she was “over the moon,” she was also “afraid and vulnerable” (“…you’re putting your work out there”).

She points out that “…it’s your heart on that page.” The idea that you can’t please everyone is a painful truth for Beth who says she wants to do exactly that, when she is writing something to be enjoyed by everyone.  She goes on to advise us not to read reviews! 

She was plagued by self-doubt when writing her second novel The Switch about “connection & community.” In the novel, a grandmother and granddaughter swap places for a month.  Beth felt the pressure of people who loved The Flat Share.  She was plagued by “… tricky second album” comments and the weight of expectation following the success of her debut.

Beth had struggled to write The Switch and had to make several structural changes during the process.  It was not always a happy experience for her as she wrote it.  However, she tells us about the value of her author friends, which are a great support in what can be “… a lonely job”.  This struggle though, Beth believes, has not impacted on the joy of the book for the reader.  She urges us to remember that readers cannot sense that the writer is unhappy. Over time, Beth has come to love this book as much as her others.

The third novel, The Road Trip, was easier for Beth,  as by this point, she “… felt like a writer.”  She’d had the idea for the novel for years, and she says, it was “brewing” for a long time. She was inspired by a stay in Provence – the setting for her story and explores the ideas of a separated couple having to be in a confined space for a considerable time.

Now that her writing career had taken off, she remembers how at one point in April 2020, she was working on 4 books at the same time – promoting, editing, writing etc. This led her to looking at how she approached the planning for her novels.

This was especially the case for book number 4, The No-Show.  As this is an ensemble book, Beth has had to be very organised. She talks about her world of many spreadsheets and how they can be the antithesis of creativity.  However, through the development of The No-Show, she felt the book was not working despite being 70000 words into it.  She then had an idea that “… hit her like a bolt of electricity…”  (she won’t tell us what this is for the benefit of those of us who are yet to read it.) She then changed the spreadsheet – making it prettier! Beth says that one can’t underestimate the impact of a new colour and font!

Beth talks about her novel openings and how they are often the weakest part of her stories when she begins the process, choosing instead to spend time setting up the characters etc.  She reminds us how important it is to begin a story at the point of something exciting or important happening.  This, Beth says, is how she likes to introduce the characters.

Finally, Beth explains that the genre she writes in gives her that fizz and she asks us to consider what gives us that “fizzy feeling”. There is no doubt that anyone who picks up one of Beth’s books will indeed feel the fizz…

Louise Morrish – Special Guest 10th May 2022

Report by Sarah Noon

Louise Morrish Writes about forgotten women in history, using them as inspiration for her stories.

Her writing journey began when she entered her unpublished novel “Operation Moonlight” for a Penguin competition in 2018 (before the world had heard of COVID).  “The Coffin Club”, as it was titled at the time, was inspired by her late gran.  Louise had also read about an elderly lady who wanted to be the oldest lady in the country and had the idea of killing anyone who was older than her in order for this to happen.  Louise says she didn’t tell anyone she’d entered the competition as she did not want anyone to know she’d “failed yet again.”  However, in 2018, she received a phone call from Penguin, telling her she’d won.  It was then that she felt able to tell her family.

It was winning this competition that spring-boarded her writing career.  Louise explains to us that her first page was drafted and re-drafted several times.  She says that it was the potential of the book, rather than a liking of the whole book which “… piqued their interest,”. However, as a result of winning the award, Louise secured an agent.  She admits this was “terrifying,” having her work placed under such scrutiny (her editor worked with authors such as Lisa Jewell and Anthony Horowitz).

Through working with Penguin, the title of the book changed to “Operation Moonlight” and, at their advice, the focus became more about the protagonist’s covert work in the Second World War as an SOE (Special Operations Executive) agent, rather than her mission to kill people so she could become the oldest person in Britain. When the book was picked up, Louise explains, many older people were dying of COVID, so it was “not the right time.”  Also, by Betty (the protagonist) murdering others, it would be hard to make her likeable.

Louise then shows us a short film entitled “School for Danger” (Imperial War Museum)

 School For Danger (1943) – YouTube

As part of her research, Louise “endured” her own parachute jump in order to “feel what it was like.” She says, “It was awful…” but needed to understand how it felt to jump out of a plane.  The only way she could do this was to experience it herself.  She remains adamant that she will never do this again!

Louise explains that before she won the competition, she had no idea how many people were involved in the publishing of a book.  She mentions the editors, agents, marketing executives, legal people, proofreaders … the list goes on.

She finishes her talk with a comparison between writers and SOE’s agent and the skills that they need (“courage, tenacity, focus …).

Louise has previously written two novels which have “… yet to see the light of day,” but there is hope for the future.  She is working on a novel which is set in the First World War.  She’s also hoping to sign a second contract soon with Penguin but declines to talk about this as she “… doesn’t want to jinx it.”  However, we wish Louise much luck with this.

Operation Moonlight will be published on 21st July 2022 and is Louise Morrish’s debut novel which won the 2019 Penguin Random House First Novel Competition in partnership with the Daily Mail.

Epistolary Rom-Coms – May 2022 Meeting Competition Results, adjudicated by Della Galton

Creative Writing Tutor and Author of over 2,000 short stories and 15 novels, Della Galton donated her time to us this month to adjudicate our May competition with the competition brief of:

Write an epistolary rom-com in 300 words

I loved judging this competition. There was a fine selection of entries, several of which made me laugh. This made it tricky to narrow it down to just three.

Here is what I was looking for?

Does it work as a story and fit the criteria?
Does it make me laugh – as this was a romcom.
Did it have a great ending? Stories this short need to have a great ending in my opinion. Some of the ones that didn’t make it into the top three, fell down on the ending.
Was it well-structured and well written?
Stories this short also benefit from a great structure.
Does it fit the length, plot wise or is it too complicated and/or has too many characters? Stories this short can’t be too complicated.
And of course, does it have the X factor?

I think the top 3 definitely had the X Factor. But congratulations to everyone on a great bunch of stories.

And the winners are

First Place: Brenda Sedgwick with Complicated Love by Email

Second Place: Damon L. Wakes with An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Third Place: Sam Christie with The Misunderstanding

Highly Commended: John Quinn with Cue Swooning Music

First Place: Complicated Love by Email – Brenda Sedgwick

I did enjoy this. A well plotted story, written with a beautifully light touch. The last line made me laugh out loud. Thank you and congratulations.

Dear Paula, So sorry I didn’t make it for your birthday. Please forgive me. You know I love you and would have done anything to have been there. Don’t be mad at me, I am so busy at work. Let’s meet at your place next week. I’ll bring a special bottle. I’d come tomorrow, if I could. I’d do anything to be with you. Please reply asap.

Missing you so much, Harry xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Dear Elizabeth, Are you free tonight. I’ve had a meeting cancelled. I’m so looking forward to our second date and wonder if we have the beginning of something very special? We met only yesterday but I can’t stop thinking about you. Please tell me we can meet. Your place perhaps? I’ll bring a special bottle. Do reply asap.

Missing you, Harry xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Harry, Where were you Saturday night, I waited and waited for you and I haven’t heard from you since. My friends said I looked hot and you would have been totally captivated, just like you said you would be. Please tell me you didn’t forget?

Missing you Deborah xx

Dear Deborah, I would have called you. I’ve been sick and I left my phone at a friend’s house. I would have rung you if I could. I can’t stop thinking about you. I am so happy you want to meet up again. When I’ve caught up with my work load I want to see you. How about next week at your place? I’ll bring a special bottle.

Reply asap.

Harry xxxxx

Harry, I am not Elizabeth. I will not forgive you this time. Paula

Harry, Who the hell is Deborah. You love cheat. Elizabeth

Harry, Get the hell out of my life and take Paula and Elizabeth with you. Deborah

Second Place: An Offer You Can’t Refuse by Damon L. Wakes

This one really needs to be read on the page. I’m not sure it will translate as well when read aloud. But I thought it was very clever, very topical and very amusing.



Subject: 🍆🍆🍆3nl4rge you’re p33n!🍆🍆🍆 

Dear recipeint, 

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Buy now – satisfcation guaarnteed! 



Subject: RE: 🍆🍆🍆3nl4rge you’re p33n!🍆🍆🍆 

Dear sir, 

Alas, I am a widow, and thus I have no p33n to 3nl4rge. All my husband left me is an inheritance, and though that is already huge I am beset with troubles: at present I have no money to cover the wealth transfer tax. If you could be my Saint and cover that, I can redeem the funds and would be grateful to place the sum of $150,000,000,000USD into your account as thanks. All you need do is wire $400USD by Western Union. 

Or, you know, if this is on the third floor of Unit 3, I’d settle for a box of donuts sent upstairs. 😉 




Subject: RE: RE: 🍆🍆🍆3nl4rge you’re p33n!🍆🍆🍆 

Wait, same building? No way! What are the odds? 




Subject: RE: RE: RE: 🍆🍆🍆3nl4rge you’re p33n!🍆🍆🍆 

Sending a bajillion of these things a day? Eventually, I figure 100%. 




Subject: RE: RE: 🍆🍆🍆3nl4rge you’re p33n!🍆🍆🍆 

Seems like destiny, doesn’t it? 😉 




Subject: RE: RE: RE: 🍆🍆🍆3nl4rge you’re p33n!🍆🍆🍆 

Well I’m not sure about extra special s3xyt1mes, but why don’t we grab a coffee and see where it goes? 


Third Place: The Misunderstanding by Sam Christie

This tongue in cheek story was very amusing. A series of misunderstandings. Great imagery made me laugh out loud. Thank you.

The Misunderstanding  

Dear Miss Harris, 

I am, of course, writing to apologise for what can at best be described as an error of judgement, but at worst a catastrophic and shameful incident. 

You see, I am indeed a heating engineer and plumber, however, I am also the man that fixes the boiler. I lead a complex life negotiating euphemisms and nuanced turns of phrase that on occasion can rather tie me in knots. Largely I navigate this well, but on this occasion my compass was awry (which I suppose could equally be read euphemistically).  

I beg you to give thought to my quandary and the reason this terrible event transpired. Your voice, you see, with its forty a day husk, coupled with that half-amused delivery, meant that I misunderstood the context behind your saying, “make your way to the rear entrance and put some heat back into my life”.   

You may be able to see that the way you put this instruction was somewhat unconventional and could hardly be considered particularly technical or even professional; so as a result I became confused. What, I thought feverishly, is my purpose here? 

And I do understand how distressing it must have been to be confronted by a man in your kitchen wearing PVC overalls, especially given their see through design; but the trouble is that many of my customers like this outfit and have come to expect it. 

Anyway, now we have got the apology out of the way, I wondered if it would be at all possible to call round to pick up my tool bag that I dropped shortly before jumping out of the back window to avoid your rather excitable dog? I will be wearing standard plumbing attire this time around.  

Yours sincerely, 


Highly Commended: Cue Swooning Music by John Quinn

A great idea to base a romcom on the original romcom, Bridget Jones. Yet you’ve also got an original slant. I loved the Helen Fielding references. ‘Tara and Mr Salata’ was funny. I also thought the PS was brilliant. Fab story. Well done.

Dear Ada, 

How’s the lotus-eating life in the South of France? Do I envy you the gorgeous weather, wonderful wine and outdoor pool? Of course, I bloody do! But you must be missing all the juicy gossip, so here goes. 

Well, OMG (if that’s still written), the last few months could have fizzed directly from the pages of a Helen Fielding novel! 

You recall Tara, that lovely teacher at the boys’ nursery? You must remember; dark hair, always too nice to keep a man for long… And Yiannis, the Greek geologist who gave up his career to nurse his wife before she died of breast cancer, what, four years ago?  

So, my always helpful hubby drags Yiannis along to the nursery’s fund-raising fete, where Tara is running the ‘hire a metal detector and find buried treasure’ stall and helpfully let slip where she’s hidden the coppers. Yiannis has a go and finds some coins. But not the staff-hidden variety, no! Bloody real bronze Roman coins that have sat undisturbed in the ground since, well, Nero was fiddling. 

Not only are the coins worth a small fortune but Tara and Yiannis instantly get along like gin and Fever-Tree – or, as helpful hubby said, ‘Tara and Mr Salata’. But he’s always been an idiot. 

Anyway, a court rules that the coins aren’t treasure trove: Tara insists the nursery should benefit but Yiannis demands the coins go to Breast Cancer Now. The pair have a shocking row and that’s the end of their burgeoning relationship. 

Until last week…  

Helpful hubby remembers an old school chum who’s made it BIG in Silicon Valley and whose kids actually went to the nursery. Mr BIG pays twice the coins’ value, so both school and charity will enjoy massive paydays! Unsurprisingly, the couple reunite; cue swooning music, energetic romantic clinch, weddings bells and thrown bouquet… 


Stacey & HH 

P.S. Might just send a copy of this to Ms Fielding for her next plot! 

Matthew Harffy

What are the secrets to writing a successful historical fiction series?

Report by Sarah Noon

Matthew Harffy is best known for his historical series The Bernicia Chronicles which are set in the 7th century. There are currently 8 of these and the 9th is due out in December.  This evening he takes us through the whole process of researching and writing historical fiction.

Matthew begins by talking us through the books he has written:  as well as The Bernicia Chronicles, he has written the Wolf of Wessex (set in the Viking period) and another series – A Time For Swords and A Night of Flames.

He then goes on to explain how he got into publishing; asking us to bear in mind that the industry has changed significantly over the last 10 years. For Matthew, it all started in 2001, when he was watching a documentary about Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. The story behind the castle inspired him to write his first book, The Servant’s Sword. The development of the book required much research. Over a period of three years, Matthew studied the history and background, maps and documents and, he says, realised that his idea was more of a series than a stand-alone novel. He then speaks about having “the wind taken out of [his] sails,” when soon after, Bernard Cornwall brought out The Last Kingdom – a book very similar to The Servant’s Sword.  As a result, he stopped writing. Over the next few years, he “lived his life” and talks about his family, holidays, going to the Olympics, playing in a band… but, he says, “I wasn’t writing.” He says that although he would think about the book and his writing from time to time, he wasn’t really doing anything about it.

His writing journey then continued in 2012.  Matthew recalls that he was travelling to a campsite in his car and listening to a radio documentary about E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, and how this was selling incredibly well via eBooks on Amazon.  Matthew says that due to his job, he had the skills to do this with The Servant’s Sword and that “…maybe I should consider that as an option.”  He describes sitting on his own outside his tent that evening, listening to the sounds of the wind, and the fire etc. thinking about his book.  He realised that he was hearing the same sounds as his characters in his book would have heard over 6000 years ago.  “The people are the same, the world is the same. I need to write this book.” He says that he considered that many books have similar themes and settings so shouldn’t be put off by the fact that Bernard Cornwall had already written something similar. 

Following this moment of realisation, Matthew went home and wrote the book.  It took him seven months and was about 100,000 words.  He found an agent by going through the channels that many of us are familiar with (one-to-ones at writers’ festivals, email pitches etc).  He eventually found an agent who took on his manuscript.  However, despite working hard on Matthew’s behalf, “…every publisher in Britain rejected [it],”  which, says Matthew, leaves you feeling “ … pretty much like you’re rubbish.”

However, Matthew explains that whilst all this was going on, he had caught “the writing bug” and had written a sequel … leaving him with two unpublished books. Feeling that he perhaps wasn’t going to get any further along the traditional publishing route, Matthew reveals that this was when he began to consider self-publishing (something, he informs us, that agents don’t like as they don’t get any money!).

With the practical skills that Matthew has already spoken of, he tells us that he edited his work, got others to read it, designed a cover on some free software, contacted other writers who read his manuscript and allowed him to use their quotes on the covers – and he self-published. Matthew explains that once he had his book on Amazon and had sold several thousand copies and had lots of reviews “…then the publishers are a bit more interested.”

This lead to him being taken on by Head of Zeus publishing.  Their way of working meant that they published the e-book first, then print-on-demand, then getting the book into shops as the final stage. He explains how difficult this decision was to make, as Head of Zeus was not offering any advance and Matthew had already self-published, but signed up with the hope that it would bring him other benefits such as foreign language rights etc.  Whilst Matthew is now very happy with the way things have gone, he says that after taking a significant pay cut, there was a moment when he was “… bricking it.”

So, how did he write that first book?

Matthew urges us to consider the difference between an amateur and professional writer. Is it simply a writer who makes some money out of their work? He quotes Richard Back “A professional is an amateur who didn’t quit.” and reminds us that he did, in fact, quit for a time.  He also quotes Jodi Picoult who says “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”  Matthew reminds us that if you don’t write, you’ve got nothing to make better. He says the most important thing is to “… finish your manuscript.” Whether one chooses to self-publish or publish traditionally, it needs to be finished first.

Matthew sets targets.  He tells us that “Microsoft Word is horrible” when writing a long manuscript.  He discovered Scrivener. This writing programme allows him to set targets. Whilst working full-time, he set himself the target of 3000 words per week. Much of this time was whilst waiting to pick his children up (he says that when you’re a parent of young children, much of your time is “…just waiting for your kids to do stuff,”). So, Matthew used that time productively by writing.

He then went down to part-time. He set himself the target of 5000 words per week.  Now that Matthew is full-time, he writes 2000 words a day between Monday and Friday.  He advises us “Don’t get bogged down in research,” when writing.  He explains that if he needs to research something specific, he will highlight the section and then go back and research once he has completed his first draft.

Matthew talks through the process of his structural edits, line-by-line edits, copy edits, proofreading etc, all leading to a published book. But how does he start?  After writing twelve books, he is well placed to tell us…

For Matthew, “…every story starts with the history.” He makes clear that although his stories are fictional, he starts with a dramatic real event. He may also add a “…what if?” After he has the ideas for his story, he says that he then spends a few weeks researching the history and location, considering how the story will work.

So what, asks Matthew, keeps people coming back? He explains that it’s not the plot, it’s not the history, it is, he says, the characters. “Characters sell books.”  He goes on to tell us that the character needs flaws. Another tip he gives us is that we should “…leave every chapter with an unanswered question,” thus ensuring your novel is a page-turner.   Returning to the fundamental issue of characters, Matthew discusses how in order to make the ones in his 7th Century stories accessible to his readers, he tries to make them “… a little less 7th century,” making him more relatable and emotional to a modern-day readership.

Having been very generous with his time and advice, Matthew ends his fascinating and in-depth talk with his mantra:

“Story over history, authenticity over accuracy.”

Rob Stuart

Rob Stuart – Historical fiction

Report by Sarah Noon

Best known for his novel “A Place in the County,” a book which features incest, sexual jealousy, exploitation, feudalism (mostly taking place in Hampshire!), Rob has produced 3 works of fiction.  He has had an academic career and now divides his time between travelling and writing.  He specifically explores the idea of the significance of historical facts in relation to particular places.

He introduces the talk by telling us that it will be interactive and that  “… we are going to be doing most  of the work,” and asks us to consider “inspiration:” what is it and where does it come from? He invites us to move the furniture around and discuss with each other where we get our ideas from.  Several lively discussions follow.  Ideas include “life experiences,” something that Rob tells us is “very valid.”  He reminds us of the adage “Write about what you know.”

Rob Stuart’s novels

However, he then goes on to point out that people who have written crime novels, are not necessarily writing what they know “… unless” he says, “you’re Fred West.”  (Rob proceeds to put a grisly quote from a murder novel on the screen).  Several people in the room have written crime stories, but as he points out, no one in the room has actually murdered anyone (as far as we know).

Rob then goes on to talk about where his own inspiration comes from.  He tells us that he was an academic English teacher at the School for Oriental and African Studies. His boss presented him with the opportunity to travel to Libya to tutor Colonel Gadhafi’s son (at this point, a member of the audiences tell him that “…we weren’t expecting that!”). He explains that although this did not actually come to fruition due to delays in visas and other administrative issues, his second book, Appearance and Illusion, is all about a female academic who travels to tutor the son of a dictator in Asia – Rob’s missed opportunity becoming the inspiration for the story.

The inspiration for his second book comes from Rob and his wife driving around Hampshire and Wiltshire with some Dutch friends.  They started to play a game called “If this village name was a person, what kind of person would it be?”  He presents us with some local on the board placenames (e.g., Sherborne St John) and invites us to play along. Rob demonstrates how place names have inspired him in his work, with names such as Farleigh Wallop (a military man) and Stratfield Turgis (a publican).

Rob’s talk was lively and humorous and gave us all something to think about in terms of using what is around us as inspiration for our writing.

June 14th: Tamar Hodes

Tuesday 14th June, 6.30pm – 9.30pm

Stripe Studio

Book Fair from 6.30 in the foyer.

Speaker: Tamar Hodes, author

Talk:  Life Drawing, Life Writing

In life drawing classes there is a model, but when we write we have no such model, so where do our ideas come from? And how can experiences be turned into fiction? Using her story ‘The Pigeon’, broadcast on BBC Radio 4, writer Tamar Hodes will show us how she used a real incident as a basis for her work, combining fact with imagination and technique. She will also read from her latest novel Mixed.

Tamar’s books – Raffy’s ShapesThe Watercress Wife and Other StoriesThe Water and the Wine, and Mixed will be on sale and she will happily sign copies.

Special Guest: B Random, author

A passion for sci-fi/ fantasy  as a teenager led to her writing a first book aged fourteen. After a family and a career in law and medicine came a chance to return to her first love for writing. Her inspirations come from science, wildlife and nature, especially the sea. She has been a member of the Hampshire Writers’ Society since its inception.

The appeal of living in another world, escaping from the mundane, endures.  Delighting in the weird and wonderful, sharing glorious flights of imagination, she draws you into fantasy lands and darkest emotion. The style will take your breath away and make you smile. Expect a vivid roller-coaster of action, emotion and the unexpected. For her, the writer’s reward is to take other people into that brand new world and show them its magic.

HWS Members entry: free

Visitors tickets £10; Students £2