March 2020 Competition Results – Adjudication by Dr. Claire Gradidge

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

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

Claire Gradidge - March 2020
Claire Gradidge announcing her adjudication

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

First place: Graham Steed for Alfred  of Africa

Second place: Angela Chadwick for Death of a Rebel

Third place: Peter Duncan for Betrayal

Highly Commended: Dominique Hackston for Who is Joe King

Highly Commended: Mark Eyles for The Nightingale Heart

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

 

First Place: Alfred of Africa by Graham Steed 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Second Place: Death of a Rebel by Angela Chadwick

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

Boston, Massachusetts 1770

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

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

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

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

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

 

Third Place:  Betrayal by Peter Duncan

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

The wind, always the wind.

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

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

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

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

 

Highly Commended: Who is Joe King by Dominique Hackston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly Commended: The Nightingale Heart by Mark Eyles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covid-19

Updated statement… competitions will still go ahead.

In response to current circumstances, a decision at the University of Winchester to move to online delivery has meant that it is no longer possible for the Hampshire Writers’ Society to hold its meetings at the Stripe Theatre.

Sadly, it has been necessary to cancel the Society’s events scheduled for April, May and June. The competitions will still go ahead, but the adjudicators may change.

The current situation is being kept under review, such that the Society will consider ways of adapting to the new landscape in which we find ourselves.

We aim to launch our new season in September 2020 as previously planned, should there be a significant change to prevailing circumstances.

The Hampshire Writers’ Society sends very best wishes to all at this challenging time.

Dr Gary Farnell, Chairman of the Hampshire Writers’ Society

Christine Hammacott: Getting to grips with Genre – why understanding your genre is so important

Genre was something set in motion by the ancient Greek playwrights who, followed by Shakespeare, categorised their works into three batches – history, tragedy and comedy. Satire, they used to provide some light relief in the midst of their tragedies. Google will tell us there are five main genres, each with its own rules, for example, length and character types. So, each genre has boundaries, but these are fluid. A story may be set in a dystopian future but have a strong romance at its core.

So, the rules of genre may not be hard and fast, but writers do need to be aware of them.

‘Think of the labels on tinned food,’ Christine Hammacott, graphic design consultant and self-published author of psychological suspense, told the gathered members and guests of the Hampshire Writers’ Society on Tuesday night, ‘you wouldn’t be impressed if you opened what you were eagerly expecting to be your favourite beans or soup, and you got dog food.’

A life-long book lover, Christine worked for a long time in the publishing industry. Determined to be the master on her own skills, she set up THE ART OF COMMUNICATION. Her first book, THE TASTE OF ASH has been a recommendation of the UK Crime Book Club.

‘A crime story can be written in a very light way.’ she points out, ‘Or it can be written in a very dark way.’

Many authors, when asked what their book is about, will launch into a twenty-minute, blow-by-blow account of their entire story. This is not what the question was.

The many writers who announce: their book is unique, doesn’t fit into any genre, need to do some more research – read lots, join Facebook and Twitter groups, sift through Amazon and Goodreads, resort to the Writers and Artists Yearbook and analyse exactly what it is that you have written. You could always talk to Christine at The Art of Communication!

The first thing an agent thinks: Is this sellable? And a publisher? Where does this fit with my current writers? If you’re self-publishing, what words will potential readers use to search for your book on somewhere like Amazon?

‘As writers, we don’t want to be pigeonholed, but we do want to sell our books.’ she reminds us.

Everybody talks about plot, so what is in the content of your book? Think of the theme; the theme being the overriding issue. If you’re not sure, then talk about your book and the theme will soon materialise.

Imagine that you have stepped into an elevator with the agent of your dreams, so you have only until the doors open to pitch your book to them. This elevator pitch is the one sentence that on-line sellers will use in their description of the book. You don’t need to give away the surprise or even the plot. Your pitch just needs to be punchy and promote the hooks, including where and when story is set.

Wherever you pitch your book, reader expectations are likely to be high. Potential readers want to know what they’re getting. You need to get to know the ‘nub’ of your book, talk about what it is ‘about’.

If you are self-publishing, consider your cover. A book’s cover will illustrate the genre to potential sellers and readers. The colour, font, imagery and focal point evoke an emotional response does it make the reader smile or gasp, frown or laugh out loud. For your e-book you can trawl through covers on Amazon, Goodreads, your Facebook and Twitter groups. Browse bookshops, but keep in mind, how your chosen cover will cope as a thumbnail.

Report by L Nightingale.

Glenn Fosbraey

At the last Tuesday night meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society, Glenn Fosbraey, the Head of Department for English, Creative Writing and American Studies at the University of Winchester spoke to us about the importance of lyrics. Glenn’s talk proved popular, and, as we’ve had Glenn to talk to use before, I am sure he will come to talk to us again.

“Lyrics enhance our emotional connection to a piece of music.” Glenn Fosbraey, Head of Department for English, Creative Writing and American Studies at the University of Winchester, told the gathered members and guests of the Hampshire Writers’ Society this Tuesday night.

An instrumental can instigate an emotional experience; Lyrics bring on more complex emotions: humour, irony. Glenn played us Paul McCartney’s Yesterday, which everyone knows was composed by McCartney during a dream. However, the song’s working lyrics were about scrambled eggs with bacon.

No real emotions are raised – “Unless you have a thing about eggs.” says Glenn. Lyrics, particularly at the time, seemed largely to be only for commercial use, the band connecting with the girl on the front row and songs were written to a “faceless you.” Neither were the Beatles in the business of producing instrumentals – Yesterday needed some proper lyrics.

Lyricist, Tim Rice described the song’s biggest success as its relatability. Yet, when you segregate, Yesterday’s lyrics, you find what Glenn calls the “shiver factor.”

“Why she had to go…” McCartney’s mother died suddenly when he was just thirteeen.

And then:

“I said something wrong…” at being given the news of her death, McCartney had blurted, “What will we do without her money?” He had said the “wrong thing” – a thirteen-year old’s way of dealing with grief.

Whether you agree with the way Yesterday was written or, indeed, who it was written for, you cannot deny that when you think of it this way, it gives you a “shiver.” Thus, lyrics also instigate a physical response from the listener. A connection which is impossible without words.

You can find out more about Glenn here.

Report by L Nightingale.

February 2020 Competition Results – Joel McIver Adjudication

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

Joel McIver Feb 2020
Joel McIver announces the winners

This month’s competition brief was: 

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

Joel’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Solveig Godauski with Rick-Rolled

Second Place: Maggie Farran with My Way

Third Place: Damon L. Wakes with Turfin’ Bird

Highly Commended: Barbara Needham with A Discordant Note

Highly Commended: Lynn Clement with Sherrington Woods

 

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

First Place: Rick-Rolled by Solveig Godauski

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Second Place: My Way by Maggie Farran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I took the blows
And did it my way’

 

Third Place: Turfin’ Bird by Damon L. Wakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

And if they didn’t?

They’d soon find out.

Highly Commended: A Discordant Note by Barbara Needham

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

‘I can’t stand that song.’

‘It’s an awful racket.’

‘It just goes on and on.’

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

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

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

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

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

Highly Commended: Sherrington Woods by Lynn Clement

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

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

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

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

‘I’m good,’ I reply.

‘Your painting is taking shape now.’

‘Yes,’ I say.

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

‘Do you have all the colours you need?’

‘Sure,’ I give.

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

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

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

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

‘Yes, thanks.’

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

David’s approaching.

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

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

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

I love that song.

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

 

Joel McIver – The Geek Will Inherit the Earth

“The music industry is a place full of damaged people.’ Joel McIver, Bass Player, Editor and Co-writer of autobiographies with such people as Woody Woodmansey, Glenn Hughes and Cannibal Corpse, told the gathered members and guests of the Hampshire Writers’ Society this Tuesday night, ‘Being a geek is a good thing.’

Justice for All: The Truth About Metallica

After acquiring a degree in German, for no other reason than he was good at it, Joel began his career as a journalist on the magazine: The Record Collector. At the time, the publishers wanted a German speaking journalist! The Record Collector gave Joel a platform from which he could pitch book ideas whilst being taken seriously by the publisher. In 2004 his book, Justice for All: The Truth About Metallica, found a niche selling close to 50,000 copies and translating into nine languages. Joel left his job and became a full-time writer.

“It sounds weird,” he confesses, “when, at your writers’ circle, you say you’re writing an autobiography.” But the fact is, Joel’s subjects simply do not have the time to sit and write an 80,000-word memoir.

Co-writing differs from ghost writing in that, the writing and research is all the author’s work. This Joel does, using around 50-60 hours of interview, subsequently crafting it together, with a start and a finish. A ghost writer will receive no credit on the book’s cover.

“To sit in front of a blank screen and fill it with…anything…that’s where the burden comes in.” Joel declares. He has tried writing fiction: “It is bad sixth form!” he admits.

Entirely from the subject’s point of view, an autobiography must, in the same way a fictional character speaks with their own articulation, portray that subject’s voice. Joel conducts his interviews in an informal atmosphere, perhaps in a cottage deep in in the forest, sitting in front of a roaring fire with a bottle of whisky. Thus, the vibe of the interview is one of conversation, which when transcribed, comes through in the writing. Joel recollects writing an autobiography with a Brazilian rock star for whom English was not his first language: with no polishing, the subject’s strong accent was evident in the finished product; his voice was in the writing.

“It is an honour,” Joel announces, “to sit down with these people and talk about their lives.” These are the people whose faces were in the posters on his walls.

Cannibal Corpse – Bible of Butchery: the Official Autobiography

The autobiography writer must exercise judgement, steer the book. When tackling a project, Joel asks not only himself, but the subject as well; “Who wins from telling this story?” To get back at someone or for the money are not good reasons for writing the book.

He also makes a point of avoiding details, too depressing or disgusting; addictions can affect anybody and although this evasive action does not include the ‘sad’, most readers will have experienced bereavement. Not everybody wants to read about misery or debauchery, even for those that do, it will become monotonous, they will tire of it after a few chapters.

Joel went on to explain how he and Woody Woodmansey felt that whilst they were “committing history to paper”, they did so with the intention of surpassing the account that general media will circulate. “It may sound pretentious,” Joel said, appeasing us with: “But you guys will know what I mean…”

With a background in journalism, which is to entertain, Joel sets out to do just this with his writing. When writing an autobiography, you are trying to capture the person’s personality for prosperity.

Joel is currently working on an autobiography of whom he wouldn’t be persuaded to tell; suffice to say that “they” were a phenomenon in the Eighties…and have some juicy stories to tell. “Be patient,” he says, “it takes about a year to produce these books.”

Report by L Nightingale.

 

This is Glenn’s Song – and this is why he loves it.

Our special guest at the next meeting of the Hampshire Writer’s Society will be Head of Department for English, Creative Writing and American Studies at the University of Winchester, Glenn Fosbraey. You may remember that Glenn spoke to us back in 2016 when he waxed lyrical about his latest addition to the University – the degree on Popular Music. A month or so later, Glenn very kindly sent us his top five favourite song lyrics, explaining, in his very poetical way, why he liked and valued them so much. Still a huge fan of The Smiths, this is his favourite song of all and he tells us why.

‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’ – The Smiths

It was on a gloomy winter’s afternoon at the age of fifteen, teenage angst and unrequited love in full-force, that I had my best Smiths experience. I had been infatuated with the band for a month or so by this point, started via a random purchase of Greatest Hits album Best 1 from the bargain bin at Woolworths, and I was ready to graduate to their masterpiece The Queen Is Dead. As I start the long walk back from HMV in town, I read the lyrics from the CD brochure and savour the anticipation of those words being set to music; hearing those first sounds coming out of the speakers; feeling the irresistible mixture of nerves and excitement as I get ever-closer to my house and CD player. At home, I close the bedroom door behind me and turn the lights off, cutting myself off from the bustle of family and TV downstairs, creating perfect Smiths-listening conditions. About half an hour in, I arrive at the penultimate track. ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’. I fall in love. The mixture of the everyday (‘driving in your car…’) with the philosophical (‘…a heavenly way to die’); the way Morrissey is able, in a couple of lines, to demonstrate the shyness, frustration, and confusion many teens encounter when faced with the objects of their desire (‘…and then a strange fear gripped me and I just couldn’t ask’); the mixture of the ugly (‘and if a ten tonne truck kills the both of us…’) and the beautiful (‘…to die by your side, well the pleasure, the privilege is mine’); it’s the slight pauses before the choruses kick in; the swirl of the strings in the choruses themselves; it’s Morrissey not quite being able to reach the highest note but not re-recording it, making the listener feel at one with him, as if it could be them in that vocal booth instead of him, missing perfection but making it somehow more perfect because of this; it’s the repetition of the title again and again in the outro. Love and loss, hope and despair, alienation and belonging, all crammed into four life-changing and life-affirming minutes. There is, indeed, a Light That Never Goes Out, and for me, it will always be this song, in that moment, on that CD player.

January 2020 Competition Results – Paul Newsome Adjudication

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

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

The competition brief for January 2020 was:

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

Paul’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Gill Hollands with Champagne Brain

Second Place: Jordan Dean Ezekude with Writing is Talking

Third Place: Peter Duncan with What If…?

Highly Commended: Angela Chadwick with Writing for Bucks

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

First Place: Champagne Brain by Gill Hollands

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

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

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

Gill Hollands - Jan 2020
Gill Hollands reads her winning entry

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

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

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

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

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

Second Place: Writing is Talking by Jordan Dean Ezekude

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

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

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

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

Third Place: What If…? by Peter Duncan

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

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

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

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

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

Highly Commended: Writing for Bucks by Angela Chadwick

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Alex Carter, Lexica Films

 

Beyond the Creativity Bit

Paul Newsome

“What do The Martian by Andy Weir, 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James and Eragon by Christopher Paolini have in common?” Paul Newsome, writer and founder of The Self Publishing Studio asked the gathered members and guests of the Hampshire Writers’ Society this Tuesday night.

The answer is that they were all self published.

Paul’s story begins the same way as that of many writers. He’d written a book and he had a dream of becoming a published author. Naturally excited, he embarked on the next step — find an agent. He set about writing the perfect enquiry letter along with the perfect synopsis. Those were sent off and Paul waited for the replies. He waited…and he waited. Every now and then he received a rejection email, two or three lines long saying nothing more than thanks, but no thanks. Often, he heard nothing at all.

The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook! The almanack recommended by the agents themselves, the enchanted book of publishing spells. Now he was really excited – “What could possibly go wrong?”

Indeed, the Writers’ and Artists’ yearbook is crammed full of contact details, advice and useful articles.

Paul looked into using ‘Other Publishers’. “Confusion!” he recollects, “If you get an agent, they do it all for you. But some ‘Other Publishers’ do nothing.”

By now, Paul knew enough about” the publishing industry to smell a rat with the publisher who wrote to him, loving his work, promising bountiful opportunities and in the small print asking for a mammoth fee.

There are some genuinely helpful independent publishers. The list of things that they couldn’t do however, was too large.

Using the DIY approach, Paul published his book, Hamish. Followed by Hamish and the Vegetarian Crow. “Definitely,” he says, “publishing is 1% Inspiration and 99% Perspiration.”

Amazon is a minefield. There are many opt-outs within its obstructive contracts, an author just needs to find them.

Paul’s gap in the market gaped – the writer’s dream on one side and the reality on the other.

He set up the Self Publishing Studio offering the author all the publishing processes without the stress over the perfect enquiry letter. Paul knows his authors have passion, they must have, to have got this far.

“Think about your goals,” he tells us, “keep it simple, keep realistic and have clarity.”

It is up to the writer to cherry pick their requirements. The Self Publishing Studio will work to the author’s budget.

An editor can be found, one who will read your story and comment on flow, plausibility. They expect the author to return their comments, and they understand that they will have to explain themselves.

Assistance with marketing will be given too, advising the writer to find something different e.g. Andy Weir published The Martian chapter by chapter on a blog until he had such a large following who were all telling him to publish professionally.

“Not all writers want to be the next JK Rowling, it is perfectly fine to want nothing more than to see your manuscript, turned into book form, adorning your coffee table.”

 

Report by L Nightingale

A Bite of Success

First of all; we wish you the best of luck with all your new year endeavours.

My book

Our speaker on Tuesday 14 January is Paul Newsome, founder of the Self Publishing Studio. So I thought I’d share my experience of self-publishing with you.

Publication date is so exciting, regardless of how you got there. Using a self-publishing agency an author could find themselves holding a

beautiful hard copy of their book; one that sports the cover that they have designed. Most agencies also offer a slot on Amazon, an e-book and an ISBN. That author, especially if they are a member of the Hampshire Writers’ Society,

could be attending book fairs where they’re the one standing behind the banner, signing and selling copies.

Anne Wan

Perhaps this isn’t what you want from your work. Some authors simply want to hold their book and smile and say, “I’ve written it.” without a big, intimidating publishing house in sight! Or is there? If you self-publish then that big intimidating publishing house is you! You, in your three-bed semi. You in your mid-terrace two-up, two-down, or you in your studio, mansion or back seat of your car. Whatever your abode, you are the publisher.

Or perhaps you want to hand over your life’s work; well however long it took you to write, edit, redraft and edit again, to an agent, ergo a publisher, financiers, salespeople, marketeers and target-setters? You’ve worked hard on your novel, you’ve juggled your life and your treasured characters; found your voice, lost your voice, dragged your family around your research and then (leaving them out) wrestled it into you story. It is your novel and you, quite rightly, believe it is the best novel ever written. The answer’s in the question – “How should you publish your book?”

Catherine Griffin, Sally Howard, Maggie Farran, Karen Stephen

No, you don’t have to be a technological whizz. Keep an eye on your finances; you know your budget and use a self-publishing agency. The agency should offer you proof-reading services, along with some editing and the final answer of what exactly goes between the covers is all down to you. As long as you are keeping your eye on your finances, it shouldn’t matter how many times your manuscript goes back and forth to the editor. If you’re not happy with it; send it back again. You’ll get there eventually!

You do not have to be a photographer with the eye of David Bailey or the creativeness of Linda McCartney. Neither do you have to have the genius of Leonardo de Vinci or the resources of Banksy! When it comes to your cover, your agency will be able to advise you and, using examples of covers that you like, help you put it together. Then you can start the tooing and froing again. You’ll soon be on first-name basis, although I can’t guarantee you’ll make the Christmas Card list.

Type face is the same – pick one you like and leave it up to your agency. It is surprising and reassuring, how many times your agency will be in contact, chasing you for a yay or nay. You could opt for hiding behind the settee or under the duvet, but this is where that down-payment comes in handy. You both know you’ve paid for the agency’s services and you both know the agency will not want to let you down. So unfortunately, the settee or duvet will only obscure you, the agency will still be there when you come out for a comfort break.

So, you can’t add! Not all of us can be good with money. You are a writer and you move in the world of words. What you do know, is how much you are happy to pay for a book. Carry out your own research, find out how much books, the size and type of yours are selling for. Arm yourself with answers ready for the discussion with your agency when they want to know how much to tell Amazon to sell your book for.

It’s all a discussion and you can choose how far you are happy to be ruled by your agency. Be bold; you don’t have to agree. Okay so perhaps you aren’t a bold type. Remember though, they have done it all before to varying degrees of success, so they should know a thing or two about what they are doing, enough also to advise you who might be doing it for the first time.

Lisa Nightingale

And then, it’s all yours. So is the marketing and selling. You will probably find your agency has a handle on that too – if you let them. If not, there are many, many helpful hands out there willing for you to grab on. Not least of those is us, the Hampshire writers society. Check out our blog posts, previous and future. Deciding to self-publish, puts you in the driver’s seat. Our programme of meetings where you can meet and pick the brains of industry professionals is on the website and, of course, people like me with no other qualifications than, I’ve done it before.

REPORT BY L NIGHTINGALE