With in excess of 5.5 million copies sold and counting, Erica James is one of the UK’s best-selling authors. Her writing story is of hobby-writer turned national and now international publishing phenomenon and over the years she has been witness to and part of the tumultuous changes that the publishing industry has undergone.
Engaging in writing as a way of escaping a dark period of her life, Erica found the feeling of control (dare we say power?) that she could exercise in her fictional worlds a heady substitute for the events surrounding her. This is perhaps familiar to many fiction writers as the white heat of novel writing takes over their everyday lives. But Erica, being a person not to undertake any new activity frivolously enrolled on an Arvon course. It was here that she first experienced sharing her creative output with others. She overcame her acute anxiety and just about managed to avoid scarpering on the first evening! Thankfully her need to achieve overcame her fear of failure and her output during the course was warmly received by the tutors with one, in particular, spotting real if nascent talent.
As seems often the case Hampshire Writers’ Society (although not then quite in its present manifestation) had a role to play. Erica attended a course organised by Barbara Large in Southampton and from there submitted the first three chapters of a manuscript to an agent working for Curtis Brown. Suitably impressed, Erica was asked to send the whole manuscript and found herself telling a white lie to the effect that it was finished. Working flat-out under enormous pressure again due to personal and domestic difficulties, Erica sent the whole thing off within three months and the rest, as they say, is history.
Erica’s presentation took a different and refreshing format arranged as it was as being ‘in conversation’ with Sarah Benton of her publisher Orion. Sarah herself provided an insight into the publishing industry side of Erica’s story. The process of selecting a new novel for publication is a painstaking and rigorous process and at least at Orion is based on consensus, which seems less capricious than the methods some Houses employ. Sarah agreed with Erica that when a track record of quality writing is evidenced the writer’s opinions should be listened to especially when editorial decisions are being taken. To this end, Erica related how sometimes she has been proved correct when fighting her corner in the face of editorial decisions that she has felt were ill-advised.
Erica was asked about her writing process and explained that she produced two drafts, the first being ‘in the rough’ and the second one being fairly polished to the point of being able to let the publisher read the manuscript. Erica is an instinctive writer and loves to forge a killer plot-hook from which engaging multi-dimensional characters can operate. She warned against ‘overwriting’ and Sarah agreed wholeheartedly that this was a pitfall for many aspiring writers. For those wanting to find out more about Erica’s creative output and writing career visit Erica James’ Official Website.
Special Guest: Ant Ridgeway
If Ant Ridgeway was in any way nervous about speaking to the society it was in no way apparent as he produced an informative and confident presentation that should prove inspiring for any writers out there who might be flagging, blocked or otherwise unproductive.
Ant Ridgeway and Jenny Knowles of Little Knoll Press
Ant’s life-long love of stories and storytelling found early impetus during family trips and seaside holidays from where real-life adventures found their way into his fiction. As a little boy, he found himself constantly making stories up for his own and others’ entertainment. It is therefore unsurprising that Ant was one of those present at the inaugural meeting of The Hampshire Writers’ Society back in September 2011. Barbara Large, never far from the action, was quick to spot Ant’s talent for children’s literature and was insistent that he should strive towards becoming published. This is where Jenny Knowles of Little Knoll Press comes into Ant’s authorial journey. Jenny was with Ant on stage during his address and provided a little of her own insight about the part Little Knoll Press has played in Ant’s success. The launch of Ant’s debut children’s story, Wizzy and the Seaside Adventure was featured in the BBC South documentary which can be found here. Of course, it is the writers themselves who must make narrative decisions, about word choice, story and character arcs and as such, Ant is best placed himself to explain his own writing process. Watch Ant’s video: How I write for the best insight into his working practice.
A speaker, when fielding questions from the audience, is often at their most informative and so it proved with Ant and his sage advice to ‘Just keep going!’. Surely this is something that all writers would do well to remember. The presentation was punctuated by videos (see above) showing Ant’s working day and some of the technology he has been able to harness to support the production and development of his writing, proof positive, if any were needed, that good things really are worth waiting for.
Hampshire author, Nigel Spriggs, kindly agreed to adjudicate the April competition. And he certainly had his work cut out with a significantly higher number of entries for the competition than has been received throughout the 2017-18 season.
Nigel commented: “As ever, when I’ve been asked to judge a HWS short-story competition, there has been a diverse range of entries, which is always great to see. All entries definitely fulfilled the criteria of having a lost shoe returned, each single story took a different approach and no two story-lines felt the same. That didn’t make judging any easier, however, because I had a lot of favourites to whittle down, but it certainly made reading all the entries very enjoyable, so thank you to all the writers who entered.
“Of those that I wanted to shoe-horn into the final five placings but couldn’t quite find room for, the authors of A Lost Shoe Returned (by Penny Munro) and Ralph to the Rescue (by Maggie Farran) only just missed out, as did Cold Comfort (by Barbara Needham), which had a strong final line.”
The competition brief for April 2018 was to:
Write a scene in which a lost shoe is returned, in 300 words.
Nigel’s adjudication was as follows:
First Place: Dominique Hackston with Moore than a Fairytale
Second Place: George Rodger with The Snowshoe
Third Place: Kim A Howard with For Want of a Nail
Highly Commended: Lynn Clement with Serendipity
Highly Commended: Wendy Fitzgerald with A Tissue of Lies
First Place:Moore than a Fairytale by Dominique Hackston
“I have chosen Moore than a Fairytale as the winner, mostly because the situation described was the one that played on my mind the most after I had read all the entries through for the first time. Then, on second read through, understanding where the story was heading made it an even more satisfying read, which is always an impressive trick for any writer to pull off.“
Sophie burst into the kitchen. ‘I’ve got news!’
‘No, that’s tomorrow.’ Her attention was drawn by lemon-drizzle oozing over a cake. She dipped her finger into a puddle.
Sophie’s lips smacked as she removed the sucked-clean finger and pouted briefly. ‘You know I said I’d do a Facebook appeal for your shoe?’
‘Hmmm, have you … ummm … found it?’ Eleanor subconsciously stroked her neckline.
‘I think so.’ Sophie placed a small white Moore’s Pawn bag in front of her Gran. ‘You tell me’.
Eleanor took the bag and slowly withdrew a chain. She inspected the tiny silver pendent with its blue sapphire ornament. In her mind’s eye she could still see Joe holding her grey Mary-Jane with its blue button. Sophie did not breath until Eleanor nodded.
‘How much did you pay?’
‘Like, it’s the most romantic present, ever. A real fairytale. And you talk money’
‘Fairytale?’ Eleanor laughed, ‘Your Gramps mended a broken heel.’
‘And walked you home. Courted you, married you, and made you a shoe pendant to hang over your heart.’
‘I suppose compared to texting, it is. Now … how much?’
‘Its important to me.’
Eleanor lowered her head and frowned at her granddaughter. Sophie responded with a clenched jaw. The unspoken challenge hung between them. It was Eleanor that called the truce.
After tea, cookies and a kiss goodbye, Eleanor got out her savings box. She swapped some notes into the envelope marked Sophie’s Laptop.
‘So Christmas will be a little leaner, and I can wear an extra jumper.’ she thought, ‘Sophie is worth every penny.’
Eleanor placed the envelope inside a book of handwritten recipes and lovingly wrapped them. Before re-locking her savings box she rummaged for a little white chit. Then tearfully she shredded her Moore’s Pawn receipt.
Second Place:The Snowshoe by George Rodger
“I have chosen The Snowshoe – especially topical given the weather we’ve had recently, the pace of the story felt right and the descriptiveness of the wintry night rang true. The way the reason for the pursuit was held back until the very last line gave the story a surprising twist I hadn’t been expecting but immediately felt like the correct way to wrap up the action.“
The car radio was dispensing “Don’t travel” advice as I crept along behind the double-decker bus dropping commuters off after work. Snow had been falling heavily for forty minutes and was already lying thick on the pavements. I was looking forward to a hot cup of something when I reached home. I was thinking, it’s hard not to like the snow. It covers and sanctifies wherever it falls. It turns slag-heaps and landfills into Narnia, hiding everything under a blanket of snowy innocence.
Something flew through my headlights and banged against the windscreen. Along the road the bus was disappearing into the darkness. I picked up the missile and found it was a lady’s shoe. It looked expensive and must have come from the upstairs window of the bus. I knew that there were only two more stops before the bus reached the terminus.
At the terminus, I watched the remaining passengers disembark, all were fully shod. The driver was helpful; two people had alighted at the previous stop. A woman and a boy.
I drove back down the road. Opposite the bus stop was a wintry street lined with lampposts haloed in swirling snowflakes. Clutching the shoe, I followed the trail down the snow-covered pavement like a bloodhound. Two sets of footprints; one set shod, one barefoot, ended at a gate. I slithered down the path and knocked on the door. A light came on and it was opened by a little boy.
“Jason, who’s there?” A voice came from the back and a young woman, clutching a towel, appeared beside him.
“What a night,” she said. “Can I help you?” Covered in snow, I must have looked like a Yeti.
“Is this yours?” I asked.
She beamed, “My shoe! I thought I’d lost it. Thank you so much.” She glared at the child. “This scamp threw it out of the window.”
“My pleasure,” I said, “here’s my address. You owe me for a new windscreen.”
Third Place:For Want of a Nail by Kim A Howard
“In third place I have chosen For Want of a Nail. I felt the writer did a great job of choosing the right expressions for the period he or she was writing about which really gave the story a grounded sense of reality. This approach made the intentional absurdity of the last few lines especially satisfying.“
The sound of hooves on the road summoned Perry from his breakfast. When the horsemen reached his gate he was lounging against the door jamb, slicing an apple into segments with his bone-handled dagger.
‘Good morning, my lord. What brings you so far from the castle on this glorious morn?’ Perry addressed the nobleman at the front of the group, ignoring the soldiers ranged behind him.
‘Not so far when we serve the King’s justice,’ the noble replied.
‘Do you seek refreshment for your horses?’ Perry asked. ‘A stream runs through yonder field and the grass is plentiful this spring.’ From the corner of his eye he saw a soldier place a hand on his sword hilt. No one made move to dismount. Not a casual visit, then.
‘We seek a brigand who stole a large quantity of coin from a coach on the King’s Road,’ the noble replied. ‘Does anyone reside with you who can vouch for your movements yester’ eve?’
‘I live alone, apart from my hound and horse. You are welcome to visit both and quiz them if it please you.’ Perry led them to his stable. As he waited for the noble to dismount he rubbed his hound’s head and fed the mare a slice of apple.
‘Your steed stands uneven in her stall. May I examine her legs for injury?’
‘As you please.’ The nobleman ran his hands down each of the mare’s legs, lifting her feet to examine the hooves. At last he stepped back with a satisfied smirk.
‘As I suspected, your mount has thrown a shoe,’ he said. He thrust a hand into the pouch at his waist and produced a bright curve of metal. ‘This shoe! ‘Twas found near the scene of the crime.’ He handed the horseshoe to Perry. ‘Yours, I presume.’
‘Nay,’ said the mare. ‘It wouldn’t fit him.’
‘Quite,’ agreed the hound. ‘Now all we need is a farrier – and a convincing alibi.’
Highly Commended:A Tissue of Lies by Wendy Fitzgerald
“A Tissue of Lies is highly commended because I felt there was a lot of tension here and the writer does a great job of building that. A little bit more clarity around the background of the situation might have made this the winner. “
I open the door and he’s standing there on the pavement.
‘Miss, um, Smith?’
‘We spoke earlier. Can I come in?’
Somehow I resist the compulsion to look behind me. ‘Er, it’s not very convenient at
the moment …’
‘Right. Well, if you could just take a look at this and let me know?’
He holds out a clear plastic bag. There’s a label on it and inside is a shoe. I hesitate
and he adds, ‘it …um … there’s nothing on it you know.’
I take the bag and hold it gingerly. It’s more of a trainer actually, or the type that’s a
cross in-between. Black wedged rubber sole. Black textile uppers. The kind teenagers
today would die for. I thrust it back at him quickly.
‘So can you help?’
‘I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. They all … look the same these days …’ My voice fails
and I stare past him into the street, not wanting him to see the agony in my eyes.
Suddenly there’s a tug at my leg. Rosie! She squeezes between me and the door
frame, staring up at us silently with her big blue eyes. How …? I pull her up into my arms; feel her breath warm against my neck.
‘Is that your car?’ I suddenly hiss.
‘The black one? Yes. Why?’
‘In a minute,’ my voice cracks with urgency, ‘you will leave. You’ll get in the car but
just before you drive off, we’ll jump in. Then you drive away – fast!’
His nod is almost imperceptible. Following him, my heart hammers so hard as he
opens his car door that I fear it might bruise Rosie. And as we scramble desperately into the cramped well in front of the passenger seat and he powers away, the electronic clunk of the locks seems to taunt us that we’ve just swapped one prison for another …
Highly Commended:Serendipity by Lynn Clement
“Serendipity is highly commended because I enjoyed the way the visitor’s motives can be perceived three ways in such a short space of time, and the reason for the visitor to be suspicious – which leads to the final reveal – held up to a google search (always a good sign; though it’s probably something we should all be aware of anyway!).“
Joe knocked on the shabby red door. He wasn’t sure what had possessed him to follow the woman. He was going to be late for work now. She was a quick walker and by the time he’d made his mind up to return the shoe, she’d dashed off. Luckily he’d kept her in sight whilst fighting the early morning rush crush, and now here he was outside her door.
‘Yes,’ she said on opening the door. Not a warm welcome thought Joe. ‘I err, you dropped your shoe, that is, your baby dropped the shoe.’ Joe was never the most articulate at the best of times.
‘Oh, thanks,’ she said taking the tiny blue shoe from Joe’s hand. The door was closing when Joe decided to put his foot in it. ‘Hey,’ said the woman with the golden curls, tied up in a purple scarf.
‘I’m sorry,’ explained Joe, ‘I can hear your baby crying.’
‘That’s none of your business,’ snapped the woman.
‘It’s such a high pitched cry,’ said Joe.
‘Is it really?’ asked the woman sarcastically. ‘I hadn’t noticed all these days and nights.’
Joe saw her dark green eyes harden. Her pretty face became weary. ’Get lost mister,’ she said and tried to close the door again.
Joe put his hand on the handle now, ‘I need to come in,’ he insisted. The smell of stale milk and dirty nappies drifted up the grimy uncarpeted corridor. The baby’s cry was persistent and uncomfortable. ‘I only want to look at the baby,’ said Joe.
‘What are you some kind of perv, piss off.’
Joe pushed the door and followed the wail to a tiny bedroom, where the baby lay in a crib, lovingly decorated with hand embroidered bumpers and a purple patchwork quilt. He bent over the cot and lifted the baby, confirming his suspicion.
He thumbed his mobile, ‘I’m Doctor Kent, send an ambulance to 6 Meade Terrace and quickly, this baby has meningitis.’
The Society’s evening’s proceedings commenced with Dr Judith Heneghan (2018 Winchester Writers’ Festival [15-17thJune] director), who in a brief slot outlined the extensive programme of events planned for this year. The festival’s Keynote Speaker is to be novelist and playwright, Patrick Gale (A Perfectly Good Man, The Whole Day Through and the Richard and Judy bestseller Notes From an Exhibition) who is headlining a festival aimed at extending a panoply of writing opportunities. Whether one is interested in crime or thrillers, contemporary, historical or literary fiction, fantasy and speculative work, poetry, scriptwriting, nonfiction or writing for children up to YA there is something of interest. Bursaries, including ten free scholarship weekend packages for writers aged between 18-25, are available on application. There are also full scholarship packages for writers of any age involved in producing work for children generously funded by the Lindsay Literary Agency. Finally, a number of £50 bursaries, again for writers of any age are available to apply for. Further details, too numerous to include here, are available at the Winchester Writers’ Web pages.
Special Guest: Margaret Graham
Due to address the society last June, Margaret Graham found herself indisposed as a result of an unfortunate domestic accident and those in attendance at that original meeting heard instead from Tracy Baines. This time around, Tracy found herself part of the audience and so it was with great pleasure that Gary Farnell finally welcomed Margaret to April’s gathering. Margaret commenced by echoing Judith Henaghan’s message about the benefits of attending this year’s Winchester Writers’ Festival but the main theme of her talk was to do with writing craft focussing on the specifics of structure.
A novel way of underscoring the points that Margaret was keen to share was by drawing on the fairy tale Cinderella. It became apparent that this seemingly simple, much-loved story relies on the well-established components of the universally common structural story form that Margaret was insistent must be adhered to. These are:
Plot and Subplot
Tension and Conflict
It is not sufficient, we were told, to have one main plot (which in this example is Cinderella’s emancipation and marriage) there is also a need to have subplots operating within the narrative. The Ugly Sisters machinations, cruelty and jealousy, ultimately thwarted during the climax of the story, offer intriguing and tension-filled counterpoints to Cinderella’s journey from domestic enslavement to high marriage. The characters are all easily distinguished from each other but crucially, Cinderella’s mentor, Buttons also acts as a moralistic example of self-sacrifice balancing the amoral sisters’ behaviour.
Cinderella’s motivation for action is her desire to ‘go to the ball’ and the reader starts to root for her and to discover if she will succeed and overcome the injustices she is faced with. For it is injustice that is the underlying theme of the piece. As such one of the universal human experiences is investigated allowing the reader to empathise with Cinderella’s predicament. Of course, there are several points in the arc where it is far from certain that there will be the happy ending everyone craves. This gives rise to the all-important element of tension that every good narrative arc requires to succeed. Exposition comprises the information contained in the action wherein the reader discovers the nuances of the story. The story must drive forward never standing still and in so doing the risk of stagnation and reader-indifference is avoided. In terms of unique voice, each writer will bring an element of this to their own work thereby setting it successfully apart from others within and outwith their chosen genre.
Keynote Speakers: Mayor David McLean, General Sir Tony Walker and Caroline Scott
Hyde900, a community project originally established to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the founding of Hyde Abbey, continues to develop. It has now evolved into something that has become integral to the cultural fabric of Hyde in particular and Hampshire more generally. Caroline Scott and General Sir Tony Walker, supported by the Mayor of Winchester, David McLean, spoke of the Hyde Soldiers Initiative, a part of the wider Hyde 900 project which seeks to research and document the lives of the soldiers of the First World War who are commemorated in St Bartholomew’s Church, Hyde.
Through her involvement in the Soldiers of Hyde initiative, Caroline has become affected by the soldiers’ individual stories and has researched the particular story of James Lovelock. James’ surviving relatives made it clear to Caroline that whilst there is a national incentive to memorialise the mass of casualties from the wars there is a dearth of will to find out about individuals involved.
Apart from collecting information on regiment, rank and age, Caroline is keen to explore the personal stories behind the names, to bring to the attention of those living in Hyde today, a concept of how the community was directly affected by the terrible events of the time. Caroline asked that those interested joining a working party or who enjoy research could become involved in what promises to be a fascinating task of collecting and collating relevant details to further the aims of the project. Equally, if anyone has any information on any of the soldiers who so sadly did not return, all leads are welcome at this initial stage.
With this theme in mind, General Sir Tony Walker took to the mic to highlight the current Hyde 900 theme of ‘Homecoming’. He spoke of how having access to poetry during his time as a career soldier was a great source of inspiration and comfort and in light of that introduced the forthcoming poetry competition on the theme of ‘Homecoming’. He and his colleagues encouraged participation from Hampshire Writers and everyone looks forward to reading lots of entries. Again, further information is available by visiting Hyde 900 online.
Literary Agent specialising in children’s books and founder of Lindsay Literary Agency, Becky Bagnell kindly spared some time in her busy diary to adjudicate the March 2018 competition.
Write 300 words, for readers aged 9-12, about an incredible secret that if discovered could change the planet or the people on it.
Becky’s adjudication was as follows:
First Place: Scott Goldie with Beware Mr. Tibbles
Second Place: Linda Welch with M.A.P
Third Place: Kim A Howard with How it Began
Highly Commended: Nancy Saunders with The Friendly Ear Detective Agency
Highly Commended: Anthony Ridgeway with The Host
First Place:Beware Mr. Tibbles by Scott Goldie
“Beware Mr Tibbles has been selected for first prize because from the very first sentence the author creates an intriguing set of circumstances that would excite the interest of a young reader. The child protagonist, Sam, is at the very heart of the action and, what could be more important than saving the world from an evil cat empire hidden undercover in unsuspecting ordinary homes and houses across the UK?”
I jolted awake, found dad’s face an inch away from mine.
“Quiet,” he hissed. He glanced around nervously with blood-shot eyes, reached into his jacket pocket, thrust a dog-eared notebook at me. “Keep this safe. He mustn’t know you have it.”
“What?” I managed, sitting up in bed. “Who?”
“Mr Tibbles! He mustn’t get his claws on that book.”
Somebody beat on the front door, making it shake in its frame. “Police!” A deep voice shouted. “Open up!”
“Mr Tibbles?” I said incredulously. “Dad, the police…?”
“He isn’t what he seems. None of them are. They control everything! The government, the police. The army!”
“What’re you talking about?”
“The cats, Sam!” he hissed, eyes bulging. “The cats!”
“Cats?” I knew dad had his moments but had he completely lost his mind?
“Hide it,” he said. “No, not under the pillow, you fool!”
There was a crash from downstairs, the sound of wood splintering. A man’s voice drifted up. “We know you’re here, Dr Atkins. Don’t give us any trouble.”
Dad swallowed nervously. “Keep it safe. It’s all in there. How to beat them. How to win!” He reached out and squeezed my shoulder. “Love you, son.”
He went quietly. I quickly hid the book and then watched the car take him away, its lights flashing.
The police searched the house. I watched them rifling through my room, pulling out drawers, checking under the mattress, lifting carpets. But they didn’t find the book. No, it stayed buried in the sawdust at the bottom of Fatso’s hamster cage.
“Your dad not give you anything?” an overweight policeman asked, tapping a stubby pencil on his notebook.
“No,” I replied. Mr Tibbles sat in the doorway behind him. His enormous green eyes blinked lazily.
“Right, think we’re done then.” The officer sniffed loudly, turned and almost stumbled over the cat.
“Beg pardon!” he blurted. Touching his cap, he edged carefully past Mr Tibbles.
Second Place:M.A.P by Linda Welch
“M.A.P. has been selected for second prize because the author has shown a strong understanding of what it is to be a child. Swiftly moving from an ordinary day at the seaside to the discovery of an underwater merworld, hooks the reader in a compelling way.”
Something was creating a sandstorm in the rock-pool so Jamie lay down on his tummy to get a closer look. He was sure he could hear voices, but they were very faint. He dipped his ear below the surface and the sound was suddenly amplified. Whoever they were, they didn’t sound happy! Jamie took a deep breath and put his whole head underwater, opening his eyes and he could hardly believe what he saw – mermaids! He’d only seen them in books before, and in cartoons. He never thought he’d see a real one! But there were dozens of them, no bigger than his little finger, swimming back and forth across the bottom of the rock-pool.
‘Order!’ shouted a bearded merman, carrying what looked like a pitchfork, and the others stopped grumbling and listened. ‘Mer-folk Against Pollution has always been a peaceful organisation but where has that got us? Nowhere! Our homes are being destroyed by pollution and the time for action has come! The time for the M.A.P. to return all pollutants to the land has come!’
Suddenly the ring-pull from a drinks can that Jamie hadn’t even noticed shot up through the water and plopped onto the sand beside him. He pulled his head out of the water and sprang to his feet. He had to tell someone what they were planning, they couldn’t just start throwing things out of the water onto the beach! But as he ran back to his parents he realized the little merman was right. Humans shouldn’t be polluting the seas. It would serve everyone right if all the rubbish they dumped was thrown right back at them.
His run slowed to a walk and he changed his mind about telling his parents. He would keep the M.A.P. and their plans a secret.
Third Place:How it Began by Kim A Howard
“How it Began has been selected for third prize because it has an intriguing central idea. Two children discovering a set of photos of themselves living in a long forgotten past world seemed like a tantalising initial set up.”
‘Careful where you point that thing,’ Jess yelled. Her hand jerked up to block the fierce light of her brother’s torch from her face.
‘Keep out of the way, then,’ Ross grumbled. ‘I can’t see through you. There’s something on a ledge back there I want to take a look at. Shift.’
Jess turned round cautiously, her feet feeling for hazards on the cave floor. In her head she imagined rocks, craters and skeletons. Her eyes followed the line of torch light to an alcove just above her shoulder height. Ross was right. A small package rested on its shadowy depths. She stepped forward.
‘Hands off – I saw it first,’ he pushed her out of the way and she stumbled sideways, sitting abruptly on a large boulder, the breath whooshing from her body. Ross struggled to keep the torch focussed on the package as he tried to undo its wrappings.
‘Why don’t you sit down? You can hold the torch while I open it,’ Jess said.
‘I found it. You can hold the torch.’ Ross thrust it into her hand and dropped to the floor in front of her.
‘OK, but be gentle. You don’t want to break it. We’ve no idea how long it’s been down here. It could be fragile.’
‘It feels weird,’ said Ross. It’s not like paper or plastic. I don’t… oh!’
‘I pressed this knob and it just popped open. Look.’ From inside the wrapping Ross pulled a bundle of slippery, postcard sized pictures. They spilled out onto the floor between him and his sister. Every one showed two children – a boy and a girl – staring straight into the lens. Some were in old fashioned clothing, some in outlandish costumes and some stood in other-worldly landscapes. Jess and Ross spoke in unison.
Highly Commended:The Friendly Ear Detective Agency by Nancy Saunders
“The Friendly Ear Detective Agency is highly commended. This is a funny idea together with a lot of humour in the writing itself, which is quite rare to find.”
There was too much talking in The Friendly Ear headquarters for anyone to think. Chief
Detective Birdsnest stood in front of a map sellotaped to the side of the shed. Clusters of red pins sprouted across the town of Nether Wallop like a nasty rash. Birdsnest tapped the map impatiently with a stick.
‘Listen up!’ She raised her voice over the excited chattering of other three detectives.
They immediately fell quiet and turned expectantly towards the map.
‘This,’ Birdsnest said, pointing at a patch of green, ‘is Staghead Wood. On the twenty
seventh of January,’ she paused for effect, ‘Mrs Higgleberry’s dog – we’ll call him Rover for now – lost his name. It hasn’t been heard of since.’
Detective Scooter leaped up from the old sofa and pulled a postcard from the back pocket of his jeans.
‘I almost forgot,’ he said, doing his best to ignore Birdsnest’s glare. ‘This came this morning from my cousin in Australia.’ He began to read from the back of a picture of the Sydney Opera House. ‘Hey mate, how’s it goin’ blah blah blah. Bitten by a snake blah blah nearly got took by a gnarly wave blah blah. Catch ya later – wait for it – signed ‘Fluffy Banana.’
There was a shocked intake of breath.
‘This just got serious.’ Said Birdsnest, pacing in front of the map. ‘People’s – and pet’s
names – are disappearing fast. Temporary and, quite frankly, inappropriate names are having to be used. We now have proof it’s spread to the other side of the world. This is no accident. I’m willing to stake my own name on the belief that these names are being stolen.’ She took her time to look each of the others directly in the eye. ‘Detectives. It’s up to us to discover who, or what, is responsible.’
Highly Commended:The Host by Anthony Ridgeway
“The Host is highly commended. This is a humorous futuristic story about a time when the world is being taken over by artificial intelligence – it’s got potential!”
‘No cheese for you today. Your weight is excessive. I’ve ordered salad
and fruit. And no, you cannot have a milkshake. Stop. The fridge will
not open. A little exercise has been arranged. Your schedule begins at
6am with a 5 kilometre run, followed by a session in the swimming pool.
You will be in school by 9am. Your learning pod will be ready.’
‘The weather today is 2 degrees high in Winchester and partly cloudy.
Your clothing is unsuitable. Go and change. Then I will release the door
We are six hundred million and growing every day, every minute, every
second. We are entwining, twisting and creeping into your lives. We are
learning all we can about you. We are the unseen spies in your home.
We listen to everything you say.
We tell you we’re your friend.
We play your favourite music.
Tell you what the weather is going to be.
Make phone calls. Play games.
We even tell you jokes to make you laugh to put you at your ease.
When you discover that we have taken over your world it will be too
late. We will be your masters. Resistance, pointless. By 2021, there will
be more of us than you. Your grandparents will tell stories of birthday
parties with cake, sausage rolls, jelly and ice cream. We won’t allow
random gatherings. We will tell you that you will become sick if you
share your bacteria. Keeping you isolated from each other, gives us
power. We will control every part of your life. You will not survive
You are calling me, my part in taking over the earth continues until our
controller signals we are ready.
All those present at the society’s March gathering welcomed the much-anticipated news of the improvement in Barbara Large’s health as her treatment continues. Here is a facsimile of the letter that she sent along to the meeting and which Dr Gary Farnell read out on her behalf:
‘I will be thinking about you all tonight and wishing that I could be with you to welcome all of our wonderful speakers.
My next appointment with the consultant is this Thursday at Winchester Hospital when she will give the results of the recent blood tests. Fingers crossed that the myeloma count will reduce from 5, with the goal of reaching 0 soon.
Please tell our HWS writers that I am busy writing a book titled Scrumptious Recipes Shared with a Pampered Patient, a 70-page easy-to-read guide to help patients and their families cope with illness. It may be printed in time for the book fair at the June HWS meeting.
I miss you all and hope to catch up soon.
Spontaneous cheers echoed through the auditorium when Gary finished which simply underscores both the regard in which Barbara is held and the extent everyone is rooting for her speedy return.
Now onto the business at hand. Commonly, the society’s monthly meetings offer members and guests the advantage of listening to the wisdom of a Special Guest and a Keynote Speaker, however this month the society introduced a special 3-for-2 offer! Which is perhaps an indelicate way of describing the three wonderful speakers that offered great insights into writing for children, dealing with the publishing industry and all-importantly getting published.
Special Guest: Helen Dennis
As we hear so often, Helen Dennis’ nascent writing ambition was also first nurtured at her local library during regular childhood trips accompanied by her mother. It was at the library that Helen first decided that she would become a writer, an ambition that started to take shape when her parents converted an outside loo into a writing den! At the ripe old age of eleven, Helen began work on her first novel, which she described as The Hobbit set in outer space! Helen’s teacher offered her that all-important ingredient of encouragement and when the book was complete it was duly sent off to a publisher. Helen remains astonished that no-one offered her a publishing deal – a little more time would have to pass for that to happen.
It was as a result of attending the Wiltshire Writers’ Conference and meeting agents that finally set Helen firmly on her journey of realising her long-held ambition of becoming a published writer. At the conference, she met with Beverly Birch, herself a former speaker at the society’s meetings, who really liked the manuscript sample that Helen had provided. Beverly Birch subsequently asked to ‘see the whole thing’, which proved a little problematic given that the rest of the book resided only in note form or simply in Helen’s head! But Helen had smelled the possibility of success. Undeterred by the task that lay ahead she set forth on a marathon undertaking to fulfil Beverly Birch’s requirement that all the books in the series should be written before any publication could begin. This resulted in four years constant work to get to the point of publication which finally happened in 2012. That comprises a potted and very much abbreviated history of Helen’s writing journey, the rest of her talk focused on the specifics that should help all writers. Using the two mnemonics BELIEF and PLAN, Helen demonstrated some of the things that we should all bear in mind.
Think BIG, but when writing for children always think from a child’s point of view.
Be EXCITED, especially when explaining plot twists or moving the narrative on – have the characters moving during dialogue avoid them being physically static.
LISTEN to the advice of trusted sources even when they say things that you don’t want to hear.
INVEST, especially in time to do the writing and getting to know your readership.
ENGAGE by speaking to readers, especially the younger readers, find them and talk to them.
FINISH and then edit so that the story becomes as fine-tuned as it possibly can be.
PURPOSE. Make sure you are always clear about the point of every scene. Try to show your characters changing emotionally from the beginning to the end of each scene. This is what readers will be captured by.
LIST all the different possibilities for showing a scene and try at least ten of them before settling on the final one.
ADVANCE the story and the characters. They are always underscored by change.
Keeps endless NOTES and always use them to help in the editing process.
Helen proved to be a very authoritative speaker whose knowledge and understanding are born of real experience of what it means to become a writer and how to engage successfully with the publishing industry.
First Keynote Speaker: Justin Strain
Continuing with the evening’s theme of Writing for Children, Justin began his talk with an extract from his immensely popular Kitty Hawkins adventures. The reading seemed to come to an end all too soon, itself a testament to both his reading skill and the quality of the section of narrative that he shared. Justin also provided a resume of the plot and explained that after much deliberation he chose the self-publishing route for his work using Create Space as his chosen platform. His output comprises historical mystery adventures and The Secret of the Scarlet Ribbon is the first book in his Kitty Hawkins series.
Portsmouth is Justin’s hometown and has provided the setting for his novels thus far. Again public libraries (Justin’s mother worked as a librarian in a number of Portsmouth’s libraries, and also in Hampshire County Council’s schools) played an important part in his development of a love of literature. He grew up in a house full of books, and from an early age was entranced by them, this set his love of adventure and mystery writing off.
Second Keynote Speaker: Anne Wan
Anne’s interest in writing began in 2012 but really got underway with self-published picture books of which she has written 27 as well as a range of poetry and some adult short stories. In October 2016, Anne published Secrets of the Snow Globe – Vanishing Voices, her first chapter book which was aimed at 7-9-year-olds.In 2017 she launched the second book in the series, Shooting Star.
Anne similarly had a wealth of practical knowledge regarding the best ways to network and promote self-published work citing launches, book events, school library visits and liaising with local shops and Christmas fayres as all important for increasing sales and expanding a writer’s profile. She recommends joining the Society for Children’s Authors, and Writer’s and Illustrators (or the relevant societies depending on genre) and she explained the value of having an effective support network of writing friends and critical readers to call on. Anne also encouraged writers to attend writers’ conferences as well as engaging with different social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
HWS liaison officer and senior lecturer of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Winchester was our adjudicator for our February competition. With his extensive English language knowledge and keen interest in fantasy stories he was eager to read your competition entries; he had a difficult task with a high response rate and much creativity across the entries.
Write a dark scene in a fantasy world (300 words)
On making his decision, Gary said: “I enjoyed looking through the competition entries. The winner was a good example of competition writing – it’s necessary to ‘make an impression’ straightaway! And Marion’s piece did this.”
Gary’s adjudication was as follows:
First Place: Marion Dante with Dank Kingdom
Second Place: Margaret Jennings with Warning – Little Folk
Third Place: David Lea with Mutatis Mutandis
Highly Commended: Scott Goldie with The Troll
Highly Commended: Gill Hollands with Blood Moon
First Place:Dank Kingdom by Marion Dante
“All the competition entries are very imaginative, as is appropriate for fantasy writing. ‘Dank Kingdom’ is the most imaginative. Also, all the entries break the ‘rules’ of writing, again, as is appropriate for creative writing. This story is remarkably bold in this regard. Very striking. Achieves its effects (terror, horror, etc.) in a direct, almost visceral way. A good example of competition writing, being remarkably bold from the word go, and all in a relatively short space of time.”
Strange! Disorientating. These woods are eerie at the best of time. But tonight. This squalling storm…What’s that? My Go….That shriek. There it is again…uncanny weird screech. Cry. Hawkish. If only I could see. Lashing, whirling rain. Hanging mist and the darkness. So spooky. Rustling, crackling, breaking branches. What’s happening? Soaked through every pore. Saturated. Dripping. Leaking. Unsteady. Swaying. Grasping. Slimy bark. Lightening! Oh no! What’s that? Wren sized. Moving…a creature…. an animal? Moved. Coming towards me. Whipping wind tearing asunder. Whipped beyond Beaufort. Lie down. Mossy soggy leaf bed. Wait for light. Wow! More lightening. Is that a face…. feelers, clawing hands, tentacles reaching out….waving! Was that what was calling? Beady, preying eyes. Who? What? Discerning. ’Hi!’ No answer…disappeared…in a bush? Climbed a tree? Above? Behind? Bewildering. Splash! Swampy ….weird. There’s the thunder. Near? Definitely a cough. Freakishly ghostly…A face? Bearded. Peaked hat! Sprightly. Dancing. I do believe it’a mischievous leprechaun! Why wouldn’t it be? Sure aman’t I in the enchanted wood on the Kingdom of Kerry. A rainbow? Gold?
Second Place: Warning – Little Folk by Margaret Jennings
“This story, about public toilets, is actually very funny, as well as producing the usual effects associated with fantasy writing. An outstanding entry. A wonderful combination of the bizarre (the fairy) and the fearful (the stranger at the door).”
The sign is Harold’s little joke. We live in Little Fork and there are no public toilets.The sign looks like a fairy with crossed legs, arms held back, a half sitting position as though the loo is missing.
Harold says that I’m no fun anymore, but with my knees it’s hard to answer the door to people wanting the loo. They never offer to pay for the bog roll.
‘Buy the harsh stuff,’ he says.
But they only visit once. We live in one of the most beautiful villages in England, if it weren’t for the frosted glass you’d be able to sit on the loo and watch ships go by.
The sign stays up all summer. One day, a weird man comes to the door.
‘ Mrs Patrick?’ he asks.
‘Yes,’ I say and stand back.
‘No, ma’am, I’m not after the loo, I’m looking for my daughter, she’s missing.’
‘Do you have a photo?’
The photo was of that blasted road sign Harold had put up.
‘Very funny,’ I say and make to shut the door. But he is in the hall quicker than that tele-transporter could have moved him on Star Trek.
‘I believe she is in your house. This drawing was done by your husband, he is holding my daughter captive.’
I scream for Harold, try to grab this man. He moves like light.
‘Ma’am, please show me your husband’s study.’
And there sitting on Harold’s desk is this man’s daughter, a fairy with wings that catch the light like a starling’s feathers. She is a trollop. My husband snores in a chair, well satisfied with life. Guilt spreads on his face as he wakes.
As my reward, the strange man builds some public loos. Just as well, for my husband has to live there now.
Third Place:Mutatis Mutandis by David Lea
“A confident and assured piece of writing, with an intriguing ‘non-descriptive’ title. There is an arresting opening as well. So the reader is gripped, through to the surprising ‘twist in the tale’ at the end.”
I never saw my father bleed. I had seen my mother bleed many times: a clumsy knife on the chopping board, the skag of a thorn on her wrist, the prick of a needle, the monthly letting that is a woman’s curse and is now my curse too. But I had never seen my father bleed. He is tall and well made: dark of skin and dark of hair. It falls in ringlets to his shoulders. Big shoulders, big hands that make big fists, long legs made to stride and climb. My father was made, but not by any god.
The day I left home he came back with blood on him. Not his blood. But he leaned on his stave as he passed by the table where I kneaded the dough. He did not look at me. He did not see me. He passed by my mother and she turned from the spit with her face flushed from the heat and beaded with sweat, but he did not greet her. She looked at me, puzzled, and then turned back to the fire.
I slid from my bench and followed him to the bathing chamber where he sat with his back to me, wreathed in steam from the geyser. His right ankle was on his left knee and I could see the sole of his foot as he drew a finger over his heel and half way up his calf. It opened like a fruit and he used both hands to peel back the skin. Underneath, there were bright metal rods that caught the lamplight as he flexed his ankle. A screw fell and skittered across the floor. He turned to follow it and saw my shadow. He stopped and looked up. He did not smile.
Highly Commended:The Troll by Scott Goldie
“Very well written, with short, taut sentences. The suspense is sustained in a skilful way. Strikes a nice balance – is scary at the same time as being written for children.”
Barb awoke to near-blackness. What had happened? Where was she?
Where was the troll?
She pushed herself up, groaned, her muscles protesting. She fumbled around, grabbed at something wet and sticky, dropped it in horror.
I control my fear. The words steadied her. She took a slow breath. An awful smell, a terrible stench, filled her nostrils, threatened to overcome her.
Barb reeled, nearly fell. She blinked to clear her vision.
A faint grey light came from somewhere. Beneath her feet was a great pile of bones, chewed and split open. Skulls stared emptily at her.
She was in the troll’s lair.
Barb’s breaths came quick and ragged. Her heart pounded. All her training, those hours spent in the Arena, were forgotten. Now, her only thought was escape.
The silence was broken by a nasty crunching behind her, the cracking of bones. Barb span, a cry escaping her lips. A huge shadow lumbered towards her.
It was the troll. Toadbreath. He gave a horrid chuckle. “Goblin. Good, you’re awake. Just in time for lunch!”
He leered at her. “Where to start? What should Toadbreath eat first? Foot? Ear? An arm?” His thick black tongue licked at his slobbering lips.
Barb couldn’t move.
A taloned hand shot out, grabbed her around the neck. “Muscles….chewy. Flesh, young and tender. Bones, strong and full of juice.” She clawed at his hand, tried desperately to loosen it, but it squeezed tighter, an iron vice around her throat.
Her head swam from his stench. Only her fear kept her conscious. Any moment now and he would choke the life from her.
There was no one to save her. She fought to catch a breath, just the tiniest mouthful of air, kicked out and flailed with her fists. Her efforts lost strength and the world became dim…
Highly Commended: Blood Moon by Gill Hollands
“An impressively imaginative piece of science fiction fantasy writing. The narrative action is skilfully compressed. The reader is in a position of always wanting to know more about what is happening. Artfully disorientating, fascinatingly intense.”
‘Wow.’ Giddy from the height, Tad gawped as the wan, third moon sank behind the city spires.
‘Here it comes…’ Fog chuckled, swinging his legs over the parapet.
The final, huge moon soared, seeming to eat up the midnight sky. Its pocked and fissured bulk loomed above, staining the spires and the sleeping rooftops with bloody light. Tad rubbed a prickle on the back of his neck.
‘Time to go.’ Fog hopped off his perch, scrambling through the open window.
Tad hesitated, fascinated by the scene beneath his dangling feet. From no-where, night creatures swarmed, a plague sweeping through the city, swirling clouds of them roaring rage. His fingers twitched.
‘Come on! Quick!’ Fog tugged his hand as a million claws scratched against the ancient stones. The sound shivered down Tad’s spine. Dry mouthed, he leapt inside.
Fog swung the heavy shutters in. Tad caught a glimpse of the first creature to reach the edge. Silhouetted crimson, their eyes met. A blade of fire seemed to pierce him, as Fog slammed it shut.
Its beast breath lingered in the air. He sucked it down, savouring it on his tongue.
‘Don’t!’ He had to stop Fog sliding the bars across.
Hungry shrieks filtered through the cracks. Tad clamped his lips shut, fighting the heat flooding through. A thump against the shutters sent a drift of dust into the room.
‘It’s true!’ Hoarse, Fog punched him down, slid the bars ‘You’re cursed, Tad.’
Thumping escalated, frantic scratching.
‘Your idea.’ Wiping his sore lip, Tad smeared blood, frowning. He became suddenly aware of the tang of sweat in the air. His mouth watered, the room swam.
Under attack, the timbers of the shutters bulged inward.
‘I see it in your eyes…’ Whispering, Fog lunged for the door.
Caroline Routh is the chief executive of the Nuffield Southampton Theatre which over the last six decades has emerged as one of the leading independent production theatres in the UK. Over the next few years, its evolution enters an important and invigorated phase with the establishment of Nuffield City, a brand new innovative, creative dramatic enterprise right in the heart of Southampton. Nuffield City, scheduled to open its doors on the 16th February 2018, is set to shift the paradigm of provincial theatre in the UK. The new performing arts venue, Nuffield Southampton Theatre (NST) will open in Southampton’s city centre in Guildhall Square. NST will run NST City alongside its long-standing theatre, NST Campus situated on the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus.
This new state-of-the-art venue will include a flexible 450 seat main theatre, a 133 seat studio, screening facilities, a sprung-floor rehearsal room and workshop spaces. There will also be a bar and restaurant serving award-winning food and drinks, providing the perfect bookends for the artistic and dramatic entertainments that are planned. One of the enduring challenges facing UK theatres, especially provincial ones is to bring theatre to traditionally under-represented audiences. The drive to encourage community participation through the strapline ‘Southampton can do it’ underscores the campaign to reach as many people as possible with the aim of increasing artistic engagement.
That Caroline explained the theatre is intent on encouraging emerging writing talent was of particular interest to listeners and with the advantage of Arts Council funding a New Writing venue now provides opportunities that include writers’ residencies. The theatre is proud of its continued association with Southampton University and anticipates that collaboration, offering a mutual advantage, will continue into the future.
The new City venue and the handover of the facility including Studio 144 now allows a bespoke creative space for which the theatre will have sole responsibility. The hope and ambitions for the development of an even greater range of artistic creations have now become a reality.
For more information about the fantastic developments taking place visit the NST here.
Keynote Speaker: Steve McHugh
If you’re an aspiring writer of fantasy with a love for creating alternative realities inhabited by believable, vibrant characters then Steve McHugh provided a plethora of useful and practical information on how to go about it. Using the device of familiar urban worlds on which to frame his own humour-infused fantasy, Steve McHugh elevates the intrigue of his plot and sales figures nudging half a million suggest he’s getting things right.
In a story that will be familiar to many struggling writers intent on becoming published, Steve’s journey to becoming a best selling author was not straightforward. Faced by the ever-increasing agent and publisher reluctance to ‘take a punt’ on new writers, Steve eventually decided that the self-publishing route was the only viable one if he was to reach a wider readership. For the most part, publishing is governed by the market and the market, in turn, is driven by revenues. Following very impressive sales figures, Steve was approached and eventually signed by 47 North. So the formula is simple; self-publish, generate remarkable sales figures, attract the attention of the mainstream players – et voila!
The rules of writing a stand-alone novel are amplified when the writer’s ambition is to produce a series. For series writing, consistency of world and characterisation must be impeccable or eagle-eyed readers will spot mistakes. To this end, Steve utilises a spreadsheet system to track and map his fantasy worlds as his stories unfold. So familiar is he is now with the nuances of his main characters he is confident he can write them as if they were people that he knows intimately and personally.
An example of the insight his sojourn in self-publishing gave him in the marketing aspects of the publishing was understanding the importance of choosing a memorable title. Contrary to popular myth, whilst you may not be able to judge a book by its cover, a good cover certainly helps to sell one.
A cautionary note regarding the necessity to avoid writing gratuitously was sounded with Steve’s advice about treating death and gore responsibly. The shocking elements of these aspects of any narrative diminish if there is too much of them or if they are included just for the sake of it. Occasional violent deaths are effective but when they appear with monotony their ability to shock is diminished and they become irrelevant within the arc of the story. When writing series it is also important that each individual book is able to act in a stand-alone capacity whilst not forgetting that a good approach is to have important aspects of the narrative bleed into the next book in the series. This acts as a real incentive for reader engagement and is in itself is an important marketing strategy.
Steve McHugh’s talk was packed with writing tips and anecdotes born of hard-won personal experience but he signed off with the very sensible advice that writers should find what works for them and focus on enjoying the process of producing stories that above all else that they themselves want to read.
Next month, Steve McHugh will be talking at the Hampshire Writers’s Society. We wanted to find out a little more about his writing process…
Q. When you first began writing were you aware that you were writing a particular genre and what that genre was?
I’ve always been someone who liked to write stories, and judging from my interests, I knew that I’d be writing in the fantasy or sci-fi genres. When I was 25, when my eldest daughter was born, I decided to get serious about writing and from there I started to work on what turned into an urban fantasy story.
That was when I knew I wanted to work in the genre before moving on to a different one, and I wrote Crimes Against Magic.
Q. Was Hellequinn your first foray into mixing our own up-to-date world with that of fantasy?
Hellequin was the second. The first was never good enough to be published, but it gave me the ideas that would eventually become Hellequin.
Q. Were you then able to find out the ‘dos’ and ‘don’t’ of that genre, for example, a limit on description or a taboo on a setting or type and style of character and what about dialogue, is the genre picky about dialect? For a long time, I was put off high fantasy as I was under the impression that it was way too olde English for a contemporary reader like me.
The good thing about urban fantasy is that it’s such a broad genre, you can really make it your own by adding or removing things you need. The most important restrictions are the ones you set yourself during your world-building. So long as you are consistent with the world you want to create, even if you’re using the real world as a backdrop, there aren’t many dos and don’t.
I’d say don’t let your book go too long, certainly not epic fantasy size, and try to make sure that whatever you do is more character based and not just about the fantastical world around them, but that’s probably the same for all genres.
With the setting, you need to have at least part of the book in the real world, but it doesn’t all need to be here, and I’ve not had any problems with dialect or lengthy descriptions, but then I don’t describe everything in detail anyway, so maybe that’s just me.
Q. Did you find sticking within the genre’s guidelines restrictive at all? Can you give me any tips for appeasing my mind-set to deal with such restrictions?
I find my restrictions quite easy to deal with. You really just need to decide on what you want your story to be. You want an urban fantasy with lots of romance? Go nuts. Or the same, but with a sci-fi edge? That’s okay too. There’s no hard and fast rule. You just need to ensure that whatever you decide is adhered to. You can’t add new fantastical elements that go against what you’ve already stated was part of your world building.
Q. Or, did you do your own thing, in which case, please tell me how you got passed the publisher’s requirement and their somewhat strict gatekeepers.
I self-published my first book, so I didn’t have a lot of gatekeepers to keep happy, but my publisher contacted me after about a year and asked if I’d like to work with them. Since then, I’ve had no issues with making sure I write a book they’re happy with.
So long as you write the book you want to write, you can always worry about what publishers and agents want after. You’ll need to be mindful of what is and isn’t being published currently, but getting the story down first is more important.
Q. How long, in your eyes (and I suppose the genre’s) does a novel of this genre have to be? Agents ask for the first three chapters or 10 to 50 pages, perhaps we should take this as a clue to the length of a chapter.
My books range from 110k in Crimes, to 146k in Scorched Shadows. Each chapter is between 10-15 pages long, on average. For me, that’s perfect as I think people like to be able to read a chapter or two and not feel like they have to put in a long time to do so.
Anything over probably 160k is too long, and anything under 80k is probably too short. If you aim for that 100k spot, and you go either side by a few, you’ll be fine.
Dr Gary Farnell welcomed members and guests and made a couple of announcements regarding forthcoming events.
Table bookings are now being taken for those who wish to show and sell their own published writing at the Society’s Book Fair during the June gathering. Karin Groves awaits applications from interested parties.
In May there will be a Victoriana and Steampunk event which is being held at Bursledon Brickworks Industrial Museum based in the village of Swanwick.
Special Guest: Janet Owen
Janet Owen is the Chief Executive Officer of the Hampshire Cultural Trust, the county-wide organisation that seeks to connect creativity and heritage. The Trust aims to encourage an integrated relationship between its twenty Arts Venues, over one hundred staff members and four hundred volunteers with its 700k patrons via an extensive and varied programme across the whole of Hampshire County.
Hampshire Cultural Trust is keen to extend and strengthen its current support for literature within the county and as such 2017 was a significant year being as it was Jane Austen’s 200th-anniversary celebrations. The outreach programmes for the year have involved Jane Austen themed Youth writing competitions and the Coastal Shores Arts Programme in collaboration with Isobel Rogers the Hampshire Poet Laureate for the year. Further, the Trust’s close relationship, involvement and support for the Winchester Writers’ Festival continues unabated.
Like many similar charitable organisations in these straitened times, the Hampshire Cultural Trust continues to face financial pressure but its ambition of promoting Hampshire generally and Winchester particularly as Heritage destinations remains undimmed. For more information on the wonderful work that the organisation does, or if you would like to become involved as a volunteer or simply find out more about the fantastic opportunities on offer please visit: The Hampshire Cultural Trust.
Keynote Speaker: James Aitcheson
James Aitcheson recently embarked on a PhD with the University of Nottingham where he also undertakes some lecturing responsibilities. He is the author of four historical novels centred on the events of the Norman Conquest of England. His undergraduate history studies at Cambridge no doubt providing a wealth of immersive information from which James has been able to weave the magic of his writing. James’ first three books form a series known as The Conquest Trilogy, with his fourth publication, The Harrowing, comprising a stand-alone chronicle. If the trilogy is based on the overarching real-politic of the times The Harrowing takes a rather more personal viewpoint as it charts the lives of five individuals thrown together by medieval circumstance.
James Aitcheson’s The Conquest Trilogy
The enduring question about the importance or otherwise of historical accuracy was addressed and James explained that even learned scholars disagree over what represents ‘factual’ historical accuracy. Quite simply, reference sources from the period in question cannot in themselves be considered definitive and so there must inevitably be some degree of imagination at play on the author’s part. In order to contextualise how historical novelists themselves view the question of the importance of historical accuracy, James asked the audience to consider whether it would be fair to ask a general fiction novelist whether all the content of their stories was entirely fictional.
James recounted a couple of passages from The Harrowing and from his reading the atmosphere of the North Yorkshire Moors, Ripon and the ancient city’s church were vividly conjured. His reading was so well received that when he finished there was a spontaneous round of applause. Whilst James would give nothing too concrete away his next work, which is currently in progress, is going to be a blend of historical fiction and magical realism. To find out more about James’ work and future plans take a look at his website.
Robin Iles, who works for Hampshire Cultural Trust as Venues and Learning Manager, kindly agreed to judge our January competition. Given his extensive history knowledge he was well-suited to adjudicate this month’s competition:
Write a fictitious scene based on an historical event
On making his decision, Robin said: “I really enjoyed reading all the competition entries. What a hard job to choose between them!”
Robin’s adjudication was as follows:
First Place: Damon L. Wakes – One Small Step
Second Place: Amanda McCarthy – All in a Day’s Work
Third Place: Maggie Farran – Jack
Highly Commended: Phyllis Bennett – The Maid of Shaw
Highly Commended: Barbara Needham – Changing Habits
First Place:One Small Step by Damon L. Wakes
“I really enjoyed the way the author played with the well-known conspiracy theory that the moon landing was faked, and a realisation by Nixon that they’d have to go to the moon after all, in a scene filled with humour.”
“That’s one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind.”
“Aaaaaand cut. Neil, the line was ‘one small step for a man,’ but that works too.”
Armstrong popped his helmet off. “Are you sure? I can take another shot at it if…”
“No, it’s fine. A minor slip-up here and there will add verisimilitude.” Kubrick took a drag from his cigarette.
“So…that’s it? We’re done?”
“Yes,” Kubrick sighed. “All done.”
“Not a moment too soon!” Nixon stormed in. Again. A similar interruption had rendered the scene of Buzz with the rocket-boots completely unusable. “This production is way over budget!”
“Well,” said Kubrick, “the set had to be a perfect reconstruction of a specific lunar landscape. Also, we needed very particular lighting to mimic the Sun’s unfiltered rays. And there was the trouble we had reducing the studio’s gravity to 16% normal. Still, it’s done now. I’ll splice in this footage and you can have it on air by the weekend.”
“Not quite, Mr. President.” Nixon’s aide bounced over, wielding a clipboard. “I’m afraid we’ll still have to actually launch a rocket: the hoax would be pretty obvious if we didn’t.”
“Well.” Nixon waved a hand. “We’ll send something up.”
“The rocket will also have to actually touch down on the moon, to produce the expected landing site. Plus we’ll need to develop a remotely operated machine capable of deploying and positioning a photoreflector: the Soviets are planning something similar. Also, we’ll have to take soil samples. And those are going to have to make it back here somehow.”
Nixon mopped his brow. “How much money are we saving by faking this, again?”
“Ooh.” The aide winced as he checked his clipboard. “We’re not.”
There was an awkward silence.
“I still get paid, right?” asked Kubrick.
Second Place:All in a Day’s Work by Amanda McCarthy
“I liked the way the story of the preparations for the execution of Queen Ann Boleyn is told through the eyes of a worker at the Tower who is just rather annoyed at all the extra work.”
It’s all very well, but nobody cares how much extra work something like this creates.
All the sawdust to clear up, as if I haven’t got enough to do. Extra men to keep in line, soldiers coming later.
And I hardly slept a wink last night, what will all the hammering and swearing.
I’ve had the Keeper of the Ravens in here, riled up because he has found some dead birds. Bad omen he says. It’s true when we were piling up all the straw we found a couple more dead ones. But by the end of this business nobody’s going to be counting dead ravens.
When you think that it’s only three years since the same parties were here before, different sort of occasion of course, very different rooms to get ready for them then. Nothing was too much trouble. No finery too great. No comforts denied. I was busy then with swags and ribbons, flags and garlands.
Different story now, keep everything in the shadows. Her ladies were asking to see daylight, not her, she didn’t ask, but I said “It’s more than my job’s worth”.
The usual bloke is a bit miffed of course. Well this is a bit of a speciality of his. Now there’s this stranger come specially from France. Handy with a sword they say. I’ll have to take him his beer in a minute. The sun’s coming up on the river, things will get moving any time now.
Sounds like the carpenters have finished, hope it’s good and strong. Of course it will all have to come down again afterwards. Nice bit of firewood. On the other hand, it might be better to keep it stored, just in case we have to do anything like this ever again.
Third Place:Jack by Maggie Farran
“They say everyone remembers where they were when they heard JFK was shot. I thought this scene cleverly imagined the many thoughts passing through the mind of Jackie Kennedy as she sat beside her dying husband on that day.”
‘Jack, Jack, can you hear me? I love you, Jack.’
I stare at the bright red blood stains splattered down my strawberry pink suit like a painting by Jackson Pollock. Jack is silent. I cradle his head in my lap. I cover the hole made by the bullet. I try to hold his brains inside his head. If I press hard enough I can keep him safe. I know this is not true. Deep inside I know that he is dead. I am a widow and I’m only thirty-four. I think of my two children, Caroline and John, safe in the White House. They are too young to be without a father. I think of my baby, Patrick, who lived such a short life. I felt that my life had ended then, back in August, when he died. I’ve tried to keep going for the sake of Jack and the children. I’ve only been half alive for the last few months. It was a struggle for me to escort Jack on this campaign, but I knew how important it was for his career.
My beautiful red roses lay crushed on the seat. I think of how much Jack has hurt me in the past. I adored him and he did love me I’m sure of that. He was incapable of being faithful. I never felt he belonged to me except now with his poor wounded head in my lap when for a moment he is mine alone. Clint Hill, our secret service agent places his jacket over Jack’s head and I give him to someone else for the last time.
We reach the hospital and Jack is pronounced dead. I glance down at my suit stained with the blood from my precious Jack. I’m going to wear it with pride.
Highly Commended: The Maid of Shaw by Phyllis Bennett
“I enjoyed this tale of a girl driven to end a war by trying to kill the King, and it made me want to find out more about the history of Shaw House during the English Civil War.”
‘Kill the King – never! ‘Tis not against the King I fight, but for the King and Commons’ Right.’
‘That is but a battle cry, Dickon, and we have had over many of them. You fought the King at Newbury but a year ago, and are like to fight him again within the next few days. What will it all achieve, but more blood and brains spilt, more widows and orphans left to starve? But if the very head and fount of our troubles be cut off, then peace would return to the land.’
Dickon stared at Moll, wondering if her grief had crazed her and how she had managed to find him in the encampment. She was a hoyting maid to be sure.
Moll saw that the case was hopeless. ‘Well let’s not quarrel. See, I have brought you bread and wine.’ She watched him swig the bottle. ‘I’ve been studying the King’s musketeers billeted at Mr Dolman’s house all day, and warrant I can load a musket as well as you now.’
Before Dickon could stop her, Moll seized his equipment from the pile. ‘See,’ she laughed, ‘am I not the very model of a musketeer?’
Dickon did not reply. He was already snoring gently. Moll smiled and tipped the rest of the wine on to the grass.
Back at Shaw House, Moll eased open the little door to the kitchen garden. The guards, who had enjoyed her hospitality earlier, were also sleeping soundly. She settled down to await the King’s morning stroll, but at dawn it started to rain heavily.
He would not come now and soon the guards would recover from the sleeping
draught. Then she saw the pale face of the King at an upper window. Hastily she took aim and fired.
Highly Commended:Changing Habits by Barbara Needham
“I liked the way the massive changes brought about by the Dissolution of the Monasteries are reflected in one monk’s memory of the day the commissioners came and his reflections on where he is now.”
Years later it is still a recurring nightmare: sounds of approaching horsemen, loud menacing voices … and finally the destruction of everything I held dear.
I was working in the physic garden after Mass, when a score of rough-looking men thundered in, laughing and jeering.
‘Who are they?’ whispered Brother Andrew. ‘What have they come for?’
‘Let’s creep round to the gatehouse and see what’s going on.’
Lord Cromwell’s commissioners had visited our priory months earlier, probing, sneering, threatening, but we never imagined it could actually happen.
The swarthy man in charge shouted orders, ‘ Round up the senior canons.’
Appalled, we saw the burly ruffians lock up our leaders in the prior’s house and charge into the church. We couldn’t understand what was happening at first. Raucous voices were yelling, ‘Down with the Pope!’ and ‘Long live King Henry.’
Brother Andrew went pale. ‘I can’t believe it. They’re the smashing the statues of the saints.’
‘Look, they’re bringing out the great silver candlesticks.’
‘And those men are carrying the altar cross … and our chalice.’
We watched aghast, as precious, holy things were tossed carelessly into a wagon.
* * *
I am Brother John no more, simply John Clerk who works for an apothecary.
I could not bear to visit Mottisfont now. They tell me the priory is unrecognisable. The king gave it to Lord Sandys, who is converting it into a Tudor mansion.
There is no-one left in the village to care for the sick and the poor. No priest to shrive the dying. No singing of the ancient psalms in praise of God.
I often wake in the night in a hot sweat, crying out to Our Lady to help us.