Jenny Overy, Poet Special Guest 9th November HWS

Jenny begins her talk with a poem she has written to introduce herself.  Her tone is warm and witty.

Born in Trinidad, Jenny tells us that she was the middle child of eleven children (her mother was Catholic, she explains, and there were no contraceptives!).  Despite the large family, and the chaos and noise that one would assume goes with that, Jenny tells us that she was a very lonely child. And so, she says, she took to  “… writing and scribbling.”  She would read the “stacks” of books that her father gave her and then she would begin “writing and scribbling everywhere.”

Jenny Overy

Jenny’s grandfather lived on a farm and she tells how the family would go there and run around and climb trees, but she would just “… sit in a corner, and I would just be writing.”  Jenny describes how this behaviour had her known within the family as “the oddball” – her grandmother even suggesting to her mother that perhaps Jenny needed to have therapy as she wasn’t  joining in with the other children.  But Jenny enjoyed and continued writing.  She started with short stories and poems and then “graduated to writing ‘making-up and breaking-up’ letters for her friends!”  Whilst Jenny’s teachers did not like this very much, they suggested that as she enjoyed writing, she should write an end-of-term play.  For this, Jenny wrote a play about a family of squirrels who had a party for lots of other animals, giving the students the “… opportunity to dress-up and be creative.” 

Jenny’s first job was at a supermarket.  At this point in her talk, she reads a poem about a particularly bad day entitled A Most Unwelcome Intruder.  Jenny’s poem describes how she was “… scribbling and scribbling,” not realising that there was a whole queue of people waiting to be served.  Her manager told her that “The services were compromised by her inability to focus adequately.” Jenny goes on to say, “What does that mean to a sixteen-year-old?  Nothing!”  The poem humorously captures the fallout at home following someone’s bad day.

Around this time, Jenny joined a writer’s club and won second prize for poetry writing (Jenny expresses surprise at this!).  On the back of that, she decided to attempt a memoir.  Speaking with her eldest sister, Joy, when Jenny was some way into this, she was firmly told that she could not publish it.  Her sister was not happy about their family stories being made public (“Family is family.”)!  She suggested to Jenny that she re-wrote it as fiction.  Jenny says she has “… always been obedient to her eldest sister,” and so agreed to do this.  She reveals that it took her over three months to complete the re-write, but on completion, called her sister again to ask her opinion. Joy, she tells us, was concerned that she could still recognise herself in the story (largely because Jenny has merely substituted  first names for middle names!), and, shortly afterwards, Jenny’s younger sister contacted her, also unhappy about the memoir (this time quoting the bible at her and accusing her of blasphemy).  Her brother also warned her “… to be very careful”.  This, Jenny informs us, “… put me off a bit.” Therefore, she put the memoir to one side and “… stuck with poetry.”  In terms of reading poetry, she describes herself as “…a Keats lady… and Byron.” 

Jenny was asked where she gets her inspiration from and she tells us that she may just go for a walk “… and when I get back, I just sit down, and a poem just comes to me.” She explains that she writes it down straight away but will edit it later. She tells us that she never sits down with the intention of writing a poem.  A poem could come to her at any point. Through her daily observations, she may simply think  “There’s a poem in that!” claiming “… anything and everything” can inspire her.  She enjoys the spontaneity of it (she keeps a notebook by her bed in case inspiration comes to her in the middle of the night!).

An example of inspiration?  Lockdown.  Jenny watched a lot of television.  This motivated her to write a poem about celebrities and their whiter-than-white teeth – which she reads to us.  Jenny’s poems are comic and observational.  Although she says she never sets out to be funny.  She reads another poem based on the monotony of everyday life (“Up, shower, dress, go to work, come back, cook, shopping etc”).  The final poem Jenny reads to us is about trying to laugh in the midst of climate change, covid, fuel shortages etc, ending with a positive:

“So, that laughing, we know won’t crack the face.  In this world, love and laughter have such a sound place.  You might laugh in the crowd and lots of people embrace, but when you can laugh at yourself, you’ve matured with grace.”

Report written by Sarah Noon

Creativity – who is this elusive creature & where do we meet it?

Yasmin Kane – Kane Literary Agency

Report written by Sarah Noon

Yasmin has been a literary agent for 16 years and is now head of her own agency.

Yasmin’s talk starts with a brief history of creativity.  The word came into use in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  She goes on to explain that creativity’s sibling is inspiration – literally meaning “to breathe”.  This “breath of life,” continues Yasmin,  is the creative force.  However, creativity is a comparatively modern concept.  It was the emergence of psychology in the twentieth century which heralded the arrival of creativity as we conceptualise it today.  “ Creativity,” says Yasmin, “is the ability to transcend our usual manner of thinking and let new and original ideas come to the surface,”  clarifying that this is not limited to writing or the creative arts.

Creativity is subjective – it covers all works of art. Yasmin uses an example of standing in an art gallery with other members of the family, considering how the art would be interpreted differently by each person.  In a similar way we connect with writing in a very personal manner and from our own “subjective reality”.  She believes that creative ideas came from a place she refers to as “the space between.”

Yasmin is a strong advocate of reading and writing groups, where she claims, “subjectivity comes to life.” Yet she is fascinated by the influence that someone else’s viewpoint may have on our own writing.

Yasmin states that there are two types of creativity:

  1. Intense, focused creativity (for example, when one is writing short stories)
  2. Meditative creativity (when one is writing full-length fiction)

Inspiration, says Yasmin, is a combination of inspiration and discipline.  Being in a relaxed state of mind is the key to unlocking the door.  She asserts “be clear about your purpose.  Why are you writing this book?” This is the first question she asks writers.  Is it all about a publishing deal?  Is it about getting one’s work work published?  Is the main objective to become a best seller and earn a living from writing?  Creativity and our beliefs about ourselves and our writing go hand in hand.  “Belief in oneself and one’s writing is crucial,” she says.  It is the engagement of the conscious and the subconscious mind.  “Your belief in both is vital for creativity.”  Yasmin eloquently explains “Creativity comes to the fore when it is ready – like a long-awaited guest.  It has no timetable.”

Yasmin understands that the pressure to produce 5000 words per day can halt creativity.  You have to let the words flow and let the characters’ voices come through.  Creativity is trifold:  inspiration, discipline and self-belief.  If one has a deadline then plan in order to work towards it so that things aren’t left to the last minute, as this may hinder the creativity. If this occurs, step away for a bit and come back to the task.  “Relax into a deadline.”

Creativity is about letting go, walking away from the page and doing something unrelated, allowing the creativity to come forth.  Yasmin links this to the poet Rumi:  “What you seek is seeking you.” “By stilling the mind,” she says, “we seek out that which is already seeking us.”  She continues, explaining that creativity has its own identity, framework and is unpredictable.  We should trust this process with “unflinching self-belief”.  It will come with practice and by honing one’s writing skills.  “You are not editing; you are being creative.”

Yasmin Kane: Literary Agent

Yasmin was originally a lawyer.  She later moved to publishing and did work experience at a literary agency.  She then set up her own agency using her law and business experience.  When talking about the relationship between writer and agent, she explains that it is a partnership based on trust.  It is crucial to find the right agent for you.

Yasmin fielded many questions from the audience – she was asked where she stood on the debate regarding the self-publishing vs publishing market.  She says that this is all down to the individual person “horses for courses” and that refers back to her earlier point  – what’s your intention?  With this in mind, one can then decide about the best publishing route to embark upon.

She was also asked about what she looks for in a manuscript.  Her reply: “a magic spark of creativity.”  She explains that she wants to feel and know that the writer has moved out of the way.  There’s an authentic voice – something, she says, that publishers a frequently talking about.

Following on from discussing manuscripts, Yasmin went on to explain what she looks for in a good synopsis (she asks for one side of A4).  She explained how a writer should be able to hold the story in the palm of one’s hand.  She gave the example of Star Wars and how you would strip that down “It’s basically good versus evil.” Look at story arc, she says, and pick out the plot elements that sum up your story beautifully.  This will then be in chronological order with brief description of characters.

Yasmin also advised about cover letters.  “Be honest.” She explained how they are the first opportunity for the agent to get to know the writer.  It should include something about the writer’s background and experience, as well as the dreaded elevator pitch – a summary of the manuscript in two to three lines.  A letter with a good elevator pitch from a writer who has done their homework with regards to the agency will have an increased chance of attracting attention.  Check the websites to ascertain exactly what is required – and she also added that there is a difference between the fiction and non-fiction submissions process.

Sarah Noon

Imagine This! – November 2021 Competition Results, Adjudication by Yasmin Kane

Yasmin Kane, founder of Kane Literacy Agency not only came and spoke to the members about creativity and how to find it, but kindly agreed to adjudicate our November 2021 Competition.

Currently representing fiction authors for children, YA and adult genres, Yasmin wanted to set members the challenge of keeping an open brief and simply being free to create whatever they wanted. The brief was set as follows:

Imagine This… 300 words to let your imagination run riot! Think outside the box – it would be great to encompass universal themes and read a profoundly moving piece. I’m looking for something that will make me sit bolt upright!

And the winners are:

First Place – Natalie Morant with Let’s See

Second Place – Damon L. Wakes with The Merchant’s Tale

Third Place – Summer Quigley with Imaginarium

“This was such fun – I loved adjudicating and peering into some wonderful imaginations.”

Yasmin Kane on being a HWS competition judge

First Place: Let’s See by Natalie Morant

Stunning intro, immediately engages the reader. The protagonists have a mythical quality to them. Very thought provoking, unnerving and chilling as it is only a game… Needs to be read a couple of times to let it sink in as one tries to fathom which natural elements are running the show? I loved it.

Floodrush frowned at the card he had drawn, his forehead rippling as the horizontal waves of his expression jarred with the continuous flow of his face. He looked up at the others apologetically. 

“Global warming,” he said.  

“Ha! I knew it,” shrieked Howl. “There was bound to be a disaster card soon. We’ve been getting away with all sorts for the last few rounds.” He resembled nothing more than an Egyptian mummy, though his ragged strips were of many colours, blurring together as they fluttered around him. 

Lavana laughed. “I know why you are so cheerful, Howl. You want this game to end so we can start a new one. What say you, Bonechill? Shall we abandon this game with the humans and deal another set of species?” 

Bonechill considered the question, meeting Lavana’s eyes. She is, in fact, the only player he can comfortably look at. Floodrush and Howl make his head hurt with their constantly moving bodies, and he’s careful to restrict them to his peripheral vision. 

“I think we can still win.” Bonechill always spoke one syllable at a time.  

“So do I.” Lavana smiled and tilted her sinewy frame backwards, re-crossing her legs. Her change of position forced the others to adjust their own accordingly. Lavana’s skin glowed hot and her companions must ebb and flow to avoid being burned. 

“Okay with me,” said Howl, who was always happy to go along with a group decision. 

“You roll for the rate of warming then,” said Floodrush. Howl did. 

“0.2 degrees per decade,” he announced. 

The four of them leaned in towards the slowly spinning sphere, and Lavana touched the atmosphere gently with her fingertip. 

“I bet I was right though,” said Howl, good-naturedly. “I’d try the dinosaurs again.” 

“Well,” said Lavana. “Let’s see how the humans do.”

Second Place: The Merchant’s Tale by Damon L. Wakes

Beautiful allegorical storytelling, instantly visual and told in the simplest of manners. Makes the reader feel completely present in the scene. 

Imbibed with the true craftsmanship of storytelling.  I wanted to read on and on and on…

When the merchant found a holy man—marked as such by the tattoos upon his face—sitting in the dust by the roadside he stopped his cart to offer coin. 

However, the man held up his hands in refusal. “Save your drachmas,” he said. “I am merely a traveller, the same as you. I have renounced my vows. I follow no god—not anymore.” 

“I have a tale that might give you cause to reconsider,” said the merchant, settling down beside him. “Two years ago I was passing through this desert. My cart carried not earthenware or spices, but my own wife and children, for that was the year of the ash-storms in the north and we were seeking refuge from them.” 

“I remember those days,” said the traveller. “Many came to me for blessings before risking such a journey.” 

“And I should have done the same! My camel, it transpired, had been afflicted by the ash and died without warning. We could not complete the journey on foot, and had little water for so many. Soon it ran out, and we knew none of us would last the day.” 
“What did you do?” asked the traveller. 

“I prayed for water, and it rained for five days. Five days’ rain in the desert.” The merchant spread his arms across the dry expanse before them. 

There was a long pause. 

At last the traveller spoke: “Like you, I made that journey when the ash-storms came. Like you, I brought my wife and children.

My camel, like yours, died in the heat and like you I prayed when the water ran out.” 

The merchant’s face fell. “But when you prayed, it did not rain.” 

“No.” The traveller shook his head. “It rained for five days. But it rained five hours too late.” 

Third Place: Imaginarium by Summer Quigley

It leads one’s imagination into darkness or light – depending on what state of mind one is reading it from. This sums up the true craft of imagination – not just to imagine but to give others the gift of imagining.

Menowin metamorphosed – ringmaster, trapeze, magician – creating his own world of wonders. The buzz of the fair, the perfect backdrop for his own sensational show.

This is the moment the clown spotted him, spotted his imagination.

Menowin didn’t notice the clown at first, surprisingly silent in his approach, given his oversized shoes.

“You’re having fun,” came the gruff voice from behind.

Menowin froze for a moment, catching sight of his reflection in the wiggling wall of mirrors opposite, and the giant clown who towered above him.

“Errr.. yes…I was. But now my mum will be wondering where I am.” Menowin backed away.

“Don’t leave on my account. I noticed you playing. Your creativity made me smile. A special thing, a creative spark you know.”

Menowin paused… flattered.

“Where’s your parents?”

“Mum’s home. I should really get back.”

“Well, before you go, fancy a tour of the tent? I saw you looking.”

“No… no money, sorry.”

“That’s okay,” the gruff voice softened. “I’m Kooky. I’ll get you in. Let you in the side. Special VIP treatment.”

Every fibre in Menowin’s body knew he shouldn’t, but every fibre wished more than ever to see first hand, just once, the thrill of the circus.

Kooky continued, “And if we see the ringmasters, I’ll introduce you.”

Menowin looked over his shoulder. The crowds dissipated. If he didn’ t go with the clown now he may never get the chance again.  His mum couldn’t afford to take him. 

He bit his lip, looking down, hoping the grass had the answer. It didn’t.

“How about just a little peek under and then you decide,” and checking  no-one was nearby, Kooky raised the tent curtain with his shovel of a shoe.

A little peek couldn’t hurt. Menowin bent on all fours, tilting his head for a glimpse as something whizzed by in a cloud of colourful smoke. Menowin edged forward for a closer look. He was in… and the curtain dropped down behind him.

Highly Commended: A Good Report by Graham Steed

Tantalisingly puts the reader into the mind of a killer. It results in the reader feeling achingly sad and thinking oh, this is so clever.

Imagine this…a body on the tideline. Right by my deckchair spot. A woman’s body. I’m annoyed. Now I must trudge back up the hill and phone 999. 

‘…Hallo. I’m Norman. I’ve just found a body in Smugglers Cove…’ 

‘…Yes. It’s near the monastery…’ 

‘…No. Not accessible by vehicle…’ 

‘…I live on the hill. On sunny days I bring my deckchair down…’ 

‘…She must have floated in on the tide.’ 

*   *   * 

If you are watching, you will see I have not climbed the hill. I sit in my deckchair and dare to look at the woman.  

Dressed in jeans and a short black top which shows her midriff, her body is pawed by the incoming tide as if to wake it, but I’m in no doubt she is dead, for the dead lie differently from the sleeper: the dead are frozen in attitude, vacant, they lie in bad places – like this one, borne in, as I believe, on rising water during matins when the monks nearby rise and pray in darkness: Venite adoremus.  

*   *   * 

But I hesitate to call 999. 

 I need a good report because I know the inside of a prison cell… 

‘We want to interview you under caution, Norman, at the police station.’  

…so I’ll be cooperative, open, and honest. 

 Except every good point will be offset by a single bad point: me alone on a beach with a body. 

It is not for our sins we are punished, but for our crimes. 

*   *   * 

I swim with the body lying on my back. 

Where are we going?’ 

‘Where you came from.’ 

‘I was trying to escape.’ 

‘Who from?’ 

‘From you.’ 

‘You’ll always be my true love. 

‘And you mine.’ 

I let the body slip away. 

*   *   * 

I’m up early. I run to the hilltop. The beach and sea are clear. I wave to the helicopter flying overhead. 

I think I’ve got away with it. 

Don’t you? 

Highly Commended: The Soul App by Peter Duncan

Thought-provoking and compassionate.

It began with the drownings. Twelve young men in the English Channel, their flimsy inflatable capsized after being turned back from British territorial waters by the Coastguard. A football team plus reserve, Robarge thought, his mind flashing back a week and the return from the family villa in Languedoc. He’d slowed for a roundabout just before the ferry terminal at Caen, noticed some guys playing soccer on a patch of wasteland. Shouting, animated faces, a skilled tackle: for a few moments this long dull journey came alive. Migrants for sure, he’d reflected: their game a brief joyous escape from the deadly task of trying to reach an indifferent country.  

Had it been them? Was it these boys who’d drowned?  

He felt a sharp pain somewhere inside, almost unknown yet strangely familiar. 

Robarge was a successful software developer with many connections. It didn’t take long to gather those he needed for the project: biofeedback experts, anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, psychologists, philosophers, theologians. Religious leaders had been the most difficult to persuade, but eventually they joined too. Months of discussion, months more of development work.  

At last it was ready. To begin with the download rate was slow. Then a young Novice called Giulia from a convent near Rome posted a video on Instagram. It showed an image, at once mysterious and universal, on the screen of her mobile phone. The camera panned to Giulia’s spellbound face. A sharp gasp of amazement as the Novice recognised her own soul, eyes shining now with radiant light. 

The video went viral. Before long, millions were filled with that very same light. Mlllions became billions, and the whole world was suffused with the luminous wonder of souls finding healing and redemption for all the drowned and broken of the planet. 

Richard T Kelly – The lie that tells the truth: Fiction & Non-Fiction

Report of Richard T Kelly’s talk given to the Hampshire Writers’ Society on 12th October written by Sarah Noon

Richard T Kelly is a writer and lecturer at the University of Winchester.  He has also been an editor.  Friends would ask him, he says, how he could spend all day editing and then go home and write his own stuff.  “It seems very simple to me.  I’m just making things out of words and sentences.  If you’re a carpenter, you might make a table in the morning and a cabinet in the evening.  What’s the difference?”  Richard’s talk demonstrates how writing doesn’t need to be defined by the boundaries of its genre.  He expands on his view that fiction and nonfiction is “… playing vaguely in the same sandpit but something else comes out of it.” Adding, “It depends what container you pour it into.”

When Richard began writing, he had a desire to write true stories.  However, he “… wanted to tell them with some finesse,” rather than many history books which are simply “… one damn thing after another,” to coin a famous phrase.  He wanted to create something which was both factual and had some creative spark.  Richard goes on to say that, eventually, he wanted more.  “I wanted to express myself non-fictionally.” However, he says he soon realised he did not have any imagination!  He explains: “I have to believe that something is true or could have happened before I can fictionalise it.”  What Richard realised, however, was that he could use his nonfiction writing skills to create fiction.

So where does the title of Richard’s talk come from?  And how is it relevant to the relationship between fiction and nonfiction?  The lie that tells the truth is a phrase credited to Picasso  – and is often misquoted (Richard reminds us that many great writers such as Mark Twain and George Orwell are always being credited for things they didn’t say!):

“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.  The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.  If he only shows in his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over lies, he would never accomplish anything.”

Richard suggests that Picasso is referring to something known as “poetic truth,” something Richard claims he is “… not qualified to expound upon.”  He tells us that the fabrication or elaboration of an event can sometimes feel stronger than the real thing (“It didn’t quite happen that way, but it should have.”).  He says that there is an artistry required to do this.  Picasso is warning against too much research and too many facts – again “… one damn thing after another.” And he claims “that doesn’t make for art. “

Richard then goes on to quote Jean Cocteau:

“I am a lie who always tells the truth.” (Poem, The Red Package)

He suggests that these two quotes together have morphed into the one that is often used, explaining that he “… pitches his tent between Cocteau and Picasso.”

Richard tells us that nonfiction is commonly referred to as creative nonfiction in universities and publishing houses, which suggests that there is creativity involved within the genre.  He then introduces us to some “legends” of creative non-fiction:

  • Gordon Burns: (Somebody’s Husband Somebody’s Son / Happy like Murderers) grew up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the 1950s &1960s. Burns wanted to move away from what was a bleak area at that time travelling to America to begin working for Rolling Stone magazine.  The writing style popular in America at this time was known as “New Journalism,” an example of this being “Armies of the Night” by Norman Mailer.  Mailer wanted to write about the Vietnam War, so he travelled to Vietnam, with a view of getting himself arrested.  He succeeded with this and proceeded to write about his experience.  Despite being a personal piece of writing, interestingly, Mailer refers to himself in the third person.  Richard describes this as a “remarkable” artistic device to use when writing nonfiction and prompts us to consider rewriting a personal diary or journal in the third person to explore the impact of this. 

Although uncommon in Britain at the time, Gordon Burns wanted to write in a similar way to Mailer.  It was “… taking real life and writing about it in a poetic way.”  Richard says there was a thrill to having real life written about in a way that involved some art.

  • Hunter S Thompson:  (Hells Angels) Thompson wrote this after becoming involved with the infamous motorcycle gang.  He was commissioned to write a piece about the renowned Kentucky Derby race.  He didn’t watch the race, he just watched the spectators and got himself “a bit tipsy” as Richard delicately describes it.  Alcohol prevented Thompson from completing his piece and so he simply sent his notebooks to his publisher.  The resulting work was a success.  This style and method became known as “Gonzo journalism”.
  • Tom Wolfe: (Radical Chic) This was an article published in New York magazine.  Wolfe was invited to a party hosted by Leonard Bernstein for the Black Panther political movement.  It was also attended by many celebrities.  The result, Richard says was, “gold dust” for Tom Wolfe and his notebook!  This piece demonstrates the rules and conventions that Tom Wolfe felt was indicative of New Journalism.  The aim to be absolutely truthful yet have the quality of fiction.  This was done by using four devices: 1) a dramatic scene-by-scene story, leaving out any back story and exposition etc.  2)  use of real dialogue.  Being a listener (e.g., What words do people use that make them distinctive?)  3) inclusion of status / social class details (articles of clothing, mannerisms etc) . 4) Point of view – seeing the scene through a pair of eyes – not necessarily the writer’s – it could be a bystander.  Richard describes this as “Giving yourself permission to walk a mile in another man or woman’s shoes.”
  • Joan Didion: Richard describes her simply as being “really cool!”  She is quoted as saying:

“Writing fiction is for me a fraught business, an occasion of daily dread for at least the first half of the novel, and sometimes all the way through.  The work process is totally different from writing nonfiction.  You have to sit down every day and make it up.”

Richard explains Didion’s theory that in nonfiction, it’s the notes which create the work. She claims that with regards to research, the writer is “… almost honour-bound to use it,” comparing it to sculpture, rather than simply “One damn thing after another.” It is, says Richard, “An elegant rendition of the truth.”

  • Norman Mailer: (The Executioner’s Song):  Richard defines Mailer as “one of the great makers of non-fictional narrative.” He talks about a reciprocal relationship between fact and fiction, and that often when one has too many facts, they can become warped and inaccurate, perhaps resulting in a “betrayal of reality”.  Richard urges us to “… look for the poetic truth behind the facts.” The Executioner’s Song is a study of murderer Gary Gilmore.  Mailer’s interview material was sometimes “moved around on the page”, to ensure Gilmore sounded the way Mailer felt he should (something that journalists are not allowed to do), demonstrating, Richard says, that this genre allows artistry.

These writers inspired Richard to “steal a few tricks” and he goes on to explain these a little later on in his talk.  

The modern American biography seems to be an updated version of the New Journalist style and Jean Stein and George Plimpton are experts of this.  This updated style is often referred to as Oral History or Oral Biography: Taking a subject and talking to everybody around who knew them, creating a bank of interview transcripts.  The resulting transcripts are edited, interwoven, and arranged on the page to form a sort of conversation between witnesses.  Richard describes this as “a talking head documentary on paper.” The result is often the disappearance of the author from the narrative (Richard suggests American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy by Stein and Plimpton as a great example of this). 

One great benefit about this “Oral Narrative” is that the writer is freed from the shackles of journalism.  With this method, Richard explains, “… you can’t change the meaning of the story, but you can make it more engaging.” It’s a creative way for the author to use interview material – the interviews are much more about the words being spoken.  They are also about the observational opportunity of being with someone close-up for a period of time.  You can have disagreements and arguments on the page and allow the reader to form their own viewpoint.  When the interviews have been collated, Richard says that contextual information will also become apparent, such as the time period and culture of the person giving the interview.  In this style of writing, the author becomes very much part of the background; however, creativity is still important.

Richard has written several books and as stated earlier, has tried to “steal tricks” for his own works.  “It’s great to take true things and then give them some creative polish.”  

  • – Clarke was a “gritty realist” British film director.  Richard’s publisher only wanted a straight Q&A format when Richard expressed a desire to research Alan Clarke.  Richard interviewed some of Clarke’s proteges, but he felt the book “… wasn’t going where I wanted it to go.” He contacted Clarke’s friend Stephen Mears to interview, and he advised Richard to “… talk to some women” – and gave him a woman’s telephone number.  After speaking with her, which in turn led to several more interviews with other women,  “… a different story opened up,” revealing that Clarke was a “Hell raiser.” In the end, Alan Clarke: A Biography became an oral history (“the book deserves to have this kind of treatment”).
  • The Name of this book is Dogme 95 – Film makers in Denmark had gathered to protest against what they thought was the commercialisation of cinema – they felt the art form was no longer truthful.  Richard travelled to Denmark to report on what was happening.  He says that there was an attempt by the movement, to make film “… more real again.” Richard decided to carry out this project in the style of the aforementioned Hunter S Thompson, and “… hang out with them and write notes.”  He then passed the manuscript onto his publishers without editing.  The result was in Richard’s words a “… pretty rough and ready book”, not really fitting neatly into one style or genre, which is why, he says, he has a soft spot for it.
  • The Crusaders – Richard read two articles in his local paper, from the North-East of England.  One was about a man who was to “plant” a new church in a housing estate.  The article grabbed Richard’s interest and he cut the article out and kept it.  In the same paper a few weeks later another headline captured his interest: “The death of a philanthropist” – a report about a nightclub doorman who was shot dead (the man had been at school with Richard’s cousin).  Again, he cut out and kept the story.  These were two stories that told something about where he came from, inspiring The Crusaders – Richard’s first novel.  Richard claims that he never expected to write about Newcastle, but he says it was part of him; “… the pits and the ships” (all the men in his family were coalminers).  Richard travelled back up to his native Northeast to research.  When researching the book with his family, he says he realised that “… stories belong to other people.” The subjects of the original newspaper articles became characters woven into his novel.  The young Labour MP in the story is based on Tony Blair – Richard exemplifies “mixing the real and the unreal.”
  • The Possessions of Doctor Forrest – A modern gothic horror inspired by Richard’s experience of walking around Hollywood and observing the amount of cosmetic surgery women had undergone, and how there seemed to be a general desire amongst women to all look the same (at this particular time, the template seemed to be Nicole Kidman!).  Men too, he says, had gone through surgery and had “eyes like Siamese cats.” He recalls thinking at this point that “vanity is evil!” He interviewed real surgeons as well as people who had gone under the knife.  He also observed a surgeon (one of the most surprising facts he discovered was the need for surgeons to wear extremely comfortable shoes, due to the sheer amount of time they are on their feet!).  Richard recalls an interview with a young plastic surgeon who told him of a time he was driving to the theatre on a night out with his girlfriend, and he took a call from someone he was mentoring.  The mentee was currently in the middle of a procedure and needed some advice.  His girlfriend was shocked by the different, almost aggressive persona the surgeon took on whilst speaking on the phone, and she said, “… I did not like that person”.  He expressed that he sometimes feels a bit like “Jekyll & Hyde.”  – a pivotal moment in Richard’s plan for his book.
  • The Knives – a novel about a fictional home secretary.  Richard furtively visited the Home Office in the name of research – even coming face-to-face with Theresa May – the then Home Secretary!  Richard explains that descriptions of the Home Office in his novel are very similar to the real one but has a different address.  This, he says, gave him licence to say, “… this story is not real.” He quotes PD James who did a similar thing in her books – putting in an obvious lie to make it clear the work is not meant to be true.  PD James would include a note at the start of her books explaining that the settings were based on real locations but were not intended to be accurate.                      

Richard is superstitious about talking about his next book, which is not yet published. We look forward to hearing more about the new book in the future.

  +A fascinating talk which truly demonstrated the symbiotic nature of fiction and nonfiction.

Sarah Noon

Dr Charles M Lansley & Claire Lansley: “Pon my Puff!  A Childhood in 1920s Isle of Wight”

Report of the talk on 12th October at Hampshire Writers’ Society written by Sarah Noon

Dr Charles Lansley talks about his recent publication of a lost book originally began by his father, Peter Stark Lansley, in the 1960s, when he was in his 40s.  Pon My Puff was written about Peter’s childhood home on the Isle of Wight.  Dr Charles and his wife Claire are currently doing a tour in which Dr Charles explains how the book came about, and Claire reads some extracts.  

The book describes Peter’s life as a child in 1920’s Isle of Wight.  The period covered is from around 1924, when Peter was about four years old, up to 1929 when his grandfather died.  There is also a short period written in the 1940s when Peter goes back to revisit his childhood home.  The title, Pon My Puff, is an old Isle of Wight expression meaning “Goodness Me!” (Although Dr Charles tells us that he has since been informed by his cousin, that it is also used in Scotland).  Apparently, Peter’s grandfather frequently used it.  Other old phrases which frequently appear in the book include “Oh my Godfathers” and “That beats cockfighting!” – phrases his grandmother was frequently heard to say.

Dr Charles’s talk begins with him showing a photograph of his father in the 1950s, sitting at his desk (possibly the one where some of the notes were written).  He recalls how as a child his father talked about writing his book and would read extracts to the family.

When Dr Charles’s mother died in 2013, his dad’s notebooks were found in an old trunk in the garage.  Dr Charles recalls that the notebooks “weren’t in any great order and some bits were missing”.  He felt it was his job to put all the work together.  Originally, he was planning on typing up the notes for family members.  However, he then realised that there was a potential broader interest and value to his dad’s work – and it having a “much wider appeal” – especially regarding its historical context.  Dr Charles worked on the manuscripts, made notes and annotated the books, and in April this year, sixty years after it was first written, the resulting book was published.  It is a testament to the accuracy of the notebooks – written in a time before the internet and social media – that Dr Charles was able to corroborate everything his father wrote about, through records and visits to the island.

Peter grew up on the lsle of Wight.  Until the age of four, he lived in East Cowes with his grandparents, in the shop owned by his grandfather.  His formative years were spent in a house called Woodside Villa in Wootton (Dr Charles showed us a picture of the house which still stands proud today).  Here, he was largely brought up by his mother and grandparents as his father was away at sea most of the time  (we later learn that the sea had a huge influence on the Lansley family).  The book largely explores the relationship between him and his grandparents – especially his grandfather (known as “Gramp”).  Peter lived there until he was eighteen when he came to Southampton to study Radiography.  Dr Charles talks about radio being his father’s main interest (he later became a radio operator in the Merchant Navy, and he was also an amateur radio enthusiast).  As a result, Peter’s writing talent was largely undiscovered.

“I was always interested in his family history” says Dr Charles, but he didn’t know much about his family tree.  It was, he explains “… a bit thin.”  He found reading the notes and researching the book very interesting – discovering that the people he had been reading about were real.  He found cousins he never knew existed.  Sadly, he says, there seem to be no childhood photos of his father, and he is not sure what happened to them.

When asked whether he contacted any of the people mentioned in the book and whether he felt the need to ask permission to use their names, Dr Charles replies that by the time he had begun working on the notebooks, the people his father had written about had all passed away.  He checked records as well as speaking to locals and people that remember the family.  With no surviving characters, Dr Charles felt it was safe to progress with publication, but it does beg the question: Could the book have been published at the time?  Dr Charles adds that there is nothing negative written about any of the characters.

One of the most surprising notebooks Dr Charles found, was a selection of letters written by poet Laureate John Masefield, to a Mrs Gwyneth B Edwards at Southampton Writers’ Circle in 1958.  These letters were copies that were handwritten by Peter.  The letters were also included in Masefield’s biography.  Dr Charles says he is currently undertaking further research into the connection with both Masefield and the Southampton Writers’ Circle.  He visited Southampton Writer’s Circle recently and says he was “fascinated” by their scrapbooks and references to Mrs Edwards.

Dr Charles says that a recurring theme throughout these letters was one of “Seeking the Magical.”  He claims, “One must always seek the magical adjective.” This is something Dr Charles feels his father took on board when he began to write his book.

We see an image of Mount Joy, a cemetery in Carisbrooke, which Charles describes as “like heaven”.  Peter’s maternal grandparents are buried there.  At this point, Claire, Charles’ wife, reads us the first of several extracts from the book:

Extract #1: A Little Piece of Heaven.

Gramp tells Peter what it will be like when he dies and goes to Mount Joy.

Extract #2 – What it’s like to be someone else. 

Peter and his cousin Barry discuss what it would be like if they were born again as animals (and indeed, animals being born again as people!).

Extract #3: The Magic of a Family Christmas

Peter is waiting for his family to arrive at Christmas.

Extract #4: The Magical Innocence of Childhood: The Earwig

Peter and his four-year-old friend Victoria, talking as they are helping Gramps sort out his apples for storage.

Dr Charles goes on to talk about the “significant influence” the sea has had on his family, showing us pictures of Peter’s father Percy, his Uncle Will (who was sadly lost as sea in 1917), and Peter himself, who was in the Merchant Navy (his ship was sunk by torpedo in 1940, but he and his crew miraculously survived).  We are shown a picture of an etching made by George Brannon in 1832 of Ashey Down sea mark which was built in 1735 as a landmark for ships.  Gramp took Peter there as a boy.  Brannon, Dr Charles points out that interestingly, lived in the same street as Peter did in Wootton). 

(Extract #5) Peter & Gramps’s walks to the seamark

Grandfather and Grandson talking about men going to sea to fight for their country and the possibility of not returning.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly for a memoir set on a tiny island, Pon My Puff has attracted overseas appeal – even from as far away as Japan.  There are many people who have connections to the island, whose family left for shipbuilding or to join the navy.  Many left to go to Portsmouth to find work.  As a result, people with connections to the Isle of Wight can now be found all over the world – just take a look at the Isle of Wight Facebook group!

Dr Charles Lansley

Discovered Letters of John Masefield

Written by Mike Sedgwick

Dr Charles Lansley, who spoke to the Hampshire Writers about his father, Peter’s book ‘Pon my Puff’ mentioned that he found copies of seven letters to a Mrs Gwyn Edmunds among his father’s papers from John Masefield, who was Poet Laureate from 1930 until he died in 1967. Most people know one or more of his poems; Cargoes and Sea Fever are the best known. He also published long narrative poems, Reynard the Fox is most noted (

The letters are undated but most likely written during Masefield’s later years. Gwyn Edmunds wrote poetry and was a member of Southampton Writers Circle during the 1960 -1980 period. Unfortunately, the letters she wrote are lost, but she sent poems to Masefield for comment.

From those letters, I have distilled some of his literary wisdom.

  • Poetry is a kindling matter and will spread light and gladness.
  • You say this in 50 words. When you say it in 10, it will be a poem.
  • Tell your tales by word of mouth to someone.
  • Set your songs to tunes of your own and sing them to everyone.
  • The immediate judgement of men and women who listen to your work will help you far more than any professional newspaper criticism.
  • Be sure your descriptions describe.
  • Try your plan of a tale almost all dialogue (sic). It will make you concentrate on character and what excites character.
  • You will learn where you succeed or fail, and the fun will make you try again.
  • In a short poem, one should have an end that is not a repetition of your beginning.
  • One must always seek for the magical adjective. Use no adjective except the one that is magical.
  • Consider even a door-mat; how many different adjectives can be applied to it. Which, of all these, best suits your purpose? Why?
  • Get into the way of reading aloud all that you write to people. The writer is always addressing minds and feelings. A writer’s audience gives an instant criticism of a living kind. Reading or speaking aloud will show you what to omit and will teach you (at once) how few adjectives will serve any page of narrative, lyric or drama.
  • Read your poems out loud to people. You will not hold them with adjectives.
  • “Elisha said, if you call me names, I’ll call a bear and he’ll eat you and they did and he did and it did.” No adjectives but real effect.
  • Take our lightest poet, Herrick, and our sternest poet, Milton, and note how they use adjectives, or avoid using them.
  • The three guides to literature are: Bold design. Constant practice and Frequent Mistakes.
  • …it is worth while to strive for a skill in any art. It will bring you joy and give you power, something jolly to share with others.                                

John Masefield berates us about adjectives as Stephen King does about adverbs. Both use these words but choose them ‘magically’ and with care. Masefield’s poem ‘Sea Fever’ ( has three very ordinary adjectives, quiet, sweet and long, in the final line. But that last line quells a stormy voyage into peaceful contentment.

Herrick, (died about 1648) and Milton (died 1674), to whom Masefield refers were near contemporaries. In these two poems the same subject is expressed differently.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…  Robert Herrick.

How soon hath time, the subtle thief of youth…  John Milton.

John Masefield – 1878-1967

1891 – Sent to sea

1897 – Returned to England

1903 – Married Constance de la Cherois Crommelin

1915 – Medical orderly

1917 – Lecture tour USA

1920 – Established poet. Encouraged performance of poetry

1930 – Succeeded Robert Bridges as Poet Laureate. Was active into his last year.

British Poet ”’John Masefield”’ (1878-1967) in 1912, by painter William Strong (1859-1921) 

Mike Sedgwick October 2021

Award winning author, Claire Fuller talks about rewriting, revising and editing her novels

Report by Sarah Noon

Claire Fuller: Rewriting, Revising and Editing HWS 28th September 2021

Claire is a MA graduate of Creative Writing at the University of Winchester and has written 4 novels.  Her most recent novel Unsettled Ground was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Claire’s presentation was about the processes she goes through when writing – particularly with regards to revising, rewriting and editing. Claire began writing Unsettled Ground in June 2018, completing her first draft in May 2019. She is a writer who says she revises her first draft as she writes.

When she originally sent Unsettled Ground to her agent, she was invited to a rather posh lunch in London, where her agent talked about how much she enjoyed it … and then right at the end of the meal suggested that Claire change the setting from the 1950’s to contemporary!

Initially, Claire says she resisted this suggestion but “came around to it in the end.” As a result, she found herself having to re-write the whole thing. This created a challenge for Claire, who says that whilst this did not change the narrative of the story, lots of changes had to be made, such as the description of the hospital – its treatments and equipment, how people deal with death and how we live with and rely on technology in the 21st century.

Claire Fuller at the Hampshire Writers’ Society, University of Winchester

So how did Claire tackle this? Well, she essentially worked on Word, with two screens side-by-side and went through the novel line by line. Fortunately, she says, she “…dislikes writing but likes editing!”

Claire describes herself as a “rolling reviser” explaining that writing the first draft and then revising it, simply does not work for her. She also says she is “not a planner” and when she is writing, she often does not know what is going to happen next. This means, she explains, that she encounters many surprises along the way. Claire revises as she goes along as otherwise there is a danger of her not getting past the first chapter. She talks about the Young Adult author Patricia Wade’s notion of the “Back Brain” – the brain that is running in the background. Claire uses her back brain to change things which need to happen in order for her story to move forward.  She gives the example of her protagonist, Jeanie, being illiterate, but only having this idea partway into the novel.

Claire warns that working as a rolling reviser can slow down the forward progression of a narrative. When Claire began writing, she would set herself a goal of 1000 words per day then going back and “tweaking” them. However, she now has a new goal which is to simply “write some new words.” This may only amount to one sentence, but working in this way enables her to be a rolling reviser, whilst still ensuring that the narrative moves forward. This also means that when Claire has finished, it is already beyond its first draft. She explains that the benefits for her of working this way are:

  • She can get back into the novel’s “time and space”
  • Re-drafting time is reduced at the end
  • She better understands the main characters’ motivations
  • The first draft is not too poor quality (she often thinks to herself “What if I die and someone reads my terrible first draft?”)

Claire gave some very useful tips as to how she edits her work. She describes how she relies heavily on the Word Navigation pane which shows headings, subheadings and word counts for each section. This enables Claire to easily go from one section of her work to another without the necessity for constant scrolling. It also means that she can easily move an entire chapter or section of the work without having to cut and paste. This is an excellent tool when focusing on structure.  She also adds little notes such as “You need to write this bit”.

Claire is also a fan of the square bracket! Inside these go words which need improving or researching but can then be located quickly at the end of her session without disrupting the flow of her writing. She also saves a first draft of her work but says that this rarely changes; it is more of a “security blanket.”

After Claire has finished her first draft, which she says is usually about 50,000 words. She then leaves the work for as long as she can (anytime from one week to a few months) and uses this time to focus on other writing and reading projects. She then returns to her draft and “reads it like a reader.”  Ideally, she will print the manuscript so that she can make notes on it but is then not tempted to fiddle with the work as she would do if it were on a screen. She then makes notes on the following:

  • Character
  • Plot
  • Timeline
  • Opening and end
  • Reveals
  • Subplots
  • Voice
  • Foreshadowing

Claire claims that her biggest issue is “slow beginnings and fast endings” and so she might focus on that, as well as increasing the word count (50,000 words is not enough). Claire adds chapters that help to develop the smaller characters – for example Julian didn’t have his own voice in the first draft and so Claire wrote extra chapters so the reader could get to know him. She ensures that the readers can understand the bad characters better and that minor characters all have some sort of anecdote or subplot. Claire uses the example of Stu, who was horrible to the protagonist but had essentially “walk-on parts” only. During the re-reading process, she wrote a note “We need to talk about Stu.”   She then asks questions about the character (“Stu, why are you so horrible to Jeanie?”).

It takes between six months and one year for Claire to edit her book, with the process focusing in more and more, until Claire is editing at sentence level. At this point, she will use the Search function on Word to follow a character or an object through the story to check for plot holes etc. She then checks each scene or chapter to ensure that they are driving the story forward. She makes a list of words which she feels are overused and again uses the Search facility to find them and change them – being careful, she says, not to create even more over-used words! She then does the same with adverbs, searching for “ly”. Another thing Claire does is she chooses a paragraph and copies and pastes this into a new, blank Word document. She then works on this, considering how she would feel if this was the only piece of the story she could read to others. Would she be happy with it? She explains how the act of removing this section from the rest of the text can help her to look at it with fresh eyes.

Claire talks about the importance of reading her work aloud and to an audience – although the audience may be a cat or dog, or a voice recorder.  She will stand and read it and listen to the rhythm and musicality of her words. She will sometimes remove the speech tags so that she can better hear the conversations between the characters and whether she can tell the characters apart. She describes how by the end of the process, she has read her book about fifty times – mostly out loud.

During the editing process, Claire says she will open a page of her novel at random and see how many words need changing.  If it is frequently two or more then further editing is required. If it is just one word, she feels her work is ready to show to other people (she claims there are never “no words” to change!).

Who does she show? Well, she may send her work to her editor, or to others in her writing group – a group of approximately ten other writers (largely from when she did the MA course). The writing group provides her with deadlines, motivation and the ability to critique the work of others. The importance of the writing group to Claire comes across very clearly; the opportunity to work with others who are known and trusted on her edited work. Claire says that she would not have been able to have four published novels without the writers’ group.

Claire will show some of her work to her family. They are readers and not writers and so are able to offer different perspectives. But, she says, she always holds some scenes back until the work has gone to the agent. 

Claire is already writing her next novel (or should we say re-writing?) and we wish her every success. As a member of our audience said to Claire:
“Thank you. Your writing is lovely.”

Unsettled Ground, by Claire Fuller, shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021. Published by Penguin.

Martin White talks to Hampshire Writers’ Society about his debut novel, ‘Faze’

Report by Sarah Noon

Faze – A City of Addicts: M.J. White

Martin White’s debut novel was published in September and is a book, he says, inspired by personal life events.  What began as a series of short stories inspired by Grimm’s fairy-tales – read to Martin by his mother when he was young has developed into a “… marvellously gory, action packed, dystopian story for lovers of sci-fi horror.”

Initially, Martin began writing adapted fairy-tales, where Little Red Riding Hood was a “crack addict” and Humpty Dumpty “threw Molotov cocktails.” However, perhaps the most inspirational thing about M.J White is how he began writing.

Martin was born and grew up in the Thornhill area of Southampton (an area that has had its share of problems). He left school at 15 with no qualifications. He then worked in catering (a job where he felt he needed no qualifications). He also worked as a gardener and later as a drug counsellor. 

Martin says that he “… always knew (he) wanted to write but didn’t know how to” and so he joined a creative writing class. Here, his tutor said, he liked his work but suggested that he maybe dyslexic – something that had previously been undiagnosed. The creative writing classes taught him about structure, grammar and punctuation; “I now know where to put a comma!” He relies on Word and Grammarly to enable him to write his stories.

He decided to re-enter the learning world and studied at Andover before being accepted at Winchester University as an Undergraduate in Creative Writing.

In 2018, as part of his Creative Writing course, Martin began joining his collection of short stories together. However, he felt that as a whole piece, it “just didn’t work.” At this point, Martin says he went back to his 120,000 words and “hit the delete button.” He then began world building and developing what is referred to in Faze as “The System.”

Martin White at the Hampshire Writers’ Society

Martin talks about how addiction is all around us and can affect anyone, something that his time as a drugs counsellor has taught him but that with the help of people around us, we can all get back from the brink of self-destruction. Addiction is an intrinsic part of “The System”. The people in Faze have all been given a drug to fight ‘flu. This drug is highly addictive with recipients requiring a top-up every 24 hours.

Martin’s Goldilocks short story was the strongest of his original short story collection, providing him with his protagonist, Adria, who is 16 years old and homeless. With setting and protagonist in place, he was now able to link his stories together.

Faze is “not for the faint hearted” Martin says, with his target reader being a horror fan over the age of 18 (“definitely not for children”), adding that any adult can read his book.  His mum, he says, loves it!

When asked about his writing routine and discipline, he reveals his main aim is just to “get it out” (he calls this the “Stephen King method”) explaining he writes better in a crowd rather than on his own – favouring # Coffee 1 as his place to write. When writing Faze, he set himself a target of 2000 words per day – the final word count of Faze is approximately 80,000 words.

Martin hired a private editor before he submitted his work (something he advises all writers to do), editing and re-editing approximately 20 times before sending it to his publisher (by this point he had re-read his work 30-40 times and was getting “too picky” – this is how he knew it was time to submit his work).

He has no agent. Instead, he contacted publishers directly as he initially had dozens of rejections. But Martin’s hard work has paid off.  Faze was published this year and claims sales are doing “pretty well” – both as a paperback and on Amazon. He is now working on the sequel: Faze, Journey to the Core and states that he is finding writing this book much easier.

Martin’s inspirational talk ended with the following words: “If you believe in your work, truly, then someone else will too.”

Faze, The City of Addicts is published by Jillion Realms Publishing. The book was released on 27th August and is available on Amazon in paperback, ebook and kindle. 

10th Anniversary of Hampshire Writers’ Society 2011-2021

A flash back to the inaugural meeting of Hampshire Writers’ Society on 13th September 2011 with Barry Cunningham OBE.

Report of the inaugural meeting written by Barbara Large MBE who was the Founder and Chairman of the Hampshire Writers’ Society.

‘Take Risks with your Writing’ advised Barry Cunningham at the launch of Hampshire Writers’ Society.
Barry Cunningham OBE, famed as the ‘discoverer of JK Rowling’, launched the Hampshire Writers’ Society on Tuesday evening, September 13 at the University of Winchester, with his talk, What Makes a Good Children’s Book.

Barry Cunningham OBE

A packed room of more than 80 aspiring and published writers listened intently as he talked about meeting JK Rowling, who had the necessary passion to write the incredible Harry Potter story even if it were never to be published. He stressed the difference between writing for the excitement of creating a great story and writing only with the goal of publication.’ These are separate ambitions. The former is the goal of the true writer. Being published is a random act’.

He continued, ‘The key to writing a good children’s book is the ability to use your imagination to meet the imagination of the child. Have a good grasp of the characters and their dialogue. A hole in the plot is always fixable. Use humour. This is what made Harry acceptable to so many readers’

He commented that ‘the blend of English humour…laughing at adversity, builds tension, diffuses anxiety and deepens and extends the emotion that we have for the main characters’.

He spoke of the successes of Cornelia Funke and Roald Dahl, who were the secret friends of children, holding their hands through their books yet encouraging readers to stand up for themselves. He encouraged writers to include food in their stories. ‘Children love to know what’s for tea. It anchors the story’. And, he said,’ believe in valour’.

He confessed that he was in awe of people who finished a book. But his offer ‘to help you achieve your goal, won a standing ovation.

Dr Joy Carter, Vice Chancellor of the University of Winchester, commented ‘Hampshire is a county with huge resources of creativity and the launch of the Hampshire Writers’ Society will allow much of that creativity to flourish in a new and expressive way’.

The Hampshire Writers’ Society, a fledgling of the Winchester Writers’ Conference, which is held annually at the University of Winchester, has launched a hugely successful season of talks by professional authors, poets, playwrights, literary agents and commissioning editors. These include Jack Sheffield, author of seven books in the Teacher, Teacher series, published by Transworld; poets, Tom Master, Mark Rutter and Peter Dixon; crime fiction author, Lindsay Ashford; Beverley Birch, Senior Commissioning Editor, Hodder Children’s Books; Rebecca Shaw, author of the Turnham Malpas/Barleybridge Village series; Sophie King, both fiction and non-fiction author; Ali Sparkes, author; Professor Patricia Duncker, on the subject of Choosing English; and concluding next June with an Evening Party and tour of the Chawton House Study Centre followed by a talk on crime fiction.

Dynamic’, ‘welcoming’, ‘a definite asset to struggling writers’, ‘eager for the next meeting’, re-doubling my writing effort’ were the conclusions of attendees.

Barbara Large

PS. Follow the link to read HWS member, KM Lockwood’s recent post, ‘I’m just wild about Barry…’ on her website.

Taking Revenge – April 2021 Competition Results, Adjudication by Louisa De Lange

Louisa De Lange, freelance copywriter and editor, and author of three thriller novels generously gave her time to adjudicate our April 2021 Competition.

For the thriller, crime, mystery and suspense authors and fans, Louisa suggested a revenge focused competition. The brief this month was:

In 300 words: Describe a situation where someone has taken revenge. What was it for? How do they believe they were wronged?

And the winners are:

First Place – Joanne Dennison with Blood Moon

Second Place – John K Miles with Mistress of the Sea

Third Place – Moira Beckett with A Knock on the Door

Louisa said she enjoyed adjudicating and we hope you all enjoy the winning stories below.

First Place: Blood Moon by Joanne Dennison

I loved this story for its distinctive style and originality: it was clear from the beginning who the characters were, what they believed, and where their loyalties lay, but it wasn’t obvious about it. It made these distinctions subtly, without a wasted word. And at the end, I especially liked the way the tables are turned, that it’s the humans with the taste of blood in their mouth, howling at the moon.

‘You come home without the dog,’ you always joked, ‘then don’t bother to come home at all.’ And I’d laugh, reaching out to muss your hair in the way I knew made you crazy. ‘Get.’ you’d tell me, swiping my hand away, and Jack and I would get. We’d get ourselves to the park, or the match, or for a pint down the pub, where our gentle giant always got himself an ear scratch or a slurp of someone’s beer. 

Until the day the odds in the bookies’ window drew me in, just for a moment, and you’d beaten your fists into my chest and told me, ‘Get out’, an emptiness to your voice. And I’d got. I’d plastered the neighbourhood with pictures of Jack, the one you took of him the day we’d pulled him from the shelter.  I’d hounded the police and got a caution for telling the desk Sargent he was a complete arsehole and punching a hole in the wall by his head. 

I started hanging out in the seedier parts of town asking about dog fights and getting into plenty of my own; leads taking me to abandoned warehouses full of screaming men, watching dog after dog get torn apart. It made me sick to my stomach, but none of them were ever Jack. 

One night, coming in from taking a piss on some wanker’s Jag, a mean looking Rottweiler called Tiger stood in the ring surrounded by the baying crowd. A beat up, red bullmastiff was dragged in on a choke chain to face him. 

When I was pulled off the mountain of a man who’d held the chain around Jack’s neck, the guy was missing an ear and I had the taste of blood in my mouth. I grabbed Jack as the sound of police sirens sent everyone scattering, and we ran. We ran until we could run no more, howling at the moon as we made our way home to you. 

Second Place: Mistress of the Sea by John K Miles

A really well written story. Some wonderful imagery. As I was reading it I could clearly see the storm and the beach, almost feel the salt in the air. And I liked the double revenge aspect – after one act is carried out another retaliatory revenge occurs.

The forked lightning strobed across the rocky beach, exposing a snapshot of natural violence. A brutal storm under a purple sky, generating twenty foot waves that were ripping huge chunks of sedimentary rock away from the cliff.  

Seth made his way to the shrine, sideways rain washing away fresh tears, as he cursed the gods for the hand he’d been dealt. Deep set anger and grief spurred him on. He broke into a sprint, pushing through the wind, towards the tidal cave that housed the totem. 

‘Curse you!’ he said, as he reached the entrance, his hot temper directed at the manifest image of the goddess. The wooden statue stared back at him nonchalantly. 

‘You’ve taken everything from me! She was my life!’ 

Another streak of lightning ripped across the beach, lighting up the quartz gems which decorated the face of the ancient water deity. She was mocking him. Gloating. Impulsively, he unbuckled his axe and flew at the idol, desecrating it with short, powerful, relentless strokes. It took several minutes, but soon all that was left was the decapitated head of the goddess, lying face up in the wet sand. The remainder of the totem, had been smashed into hundreds of tiny fragments. For one brief moment Seth felt at peace. Revenge had been served. The goddess had drowned his love and now the price had been paid.  

His tears flowed freely. 

‘Why did you take her from me so soon?’ 

The mistress of the sea looked back at him with uncaring eyes, as a powerful wave crashed into the cave, lifting him off his feet. He was trapped. No escape. And as the full force of the ocean broke him against the cave wall, the head of the goddess was pulled back through the entrance into the deep. 

Third Place: A Knock on the Door by Moira Beckett

This was a beautifully clear, concise story. I liked the precise ending: we’re in no doubt about what’s going to happen and why.

The clock ticked. Sally’s thoughts tunnelled inward. 

The death of her beloved mother had meant abrupt removal  

to a children’s home, near the beautiful Manor where she had just started work.  

As she had blossomed into a pretty teenager, she became desperate to leave the home,   

dreading the heavy footsteps at night that stopped at her door. 

No-one would believe the word of a young girl, that’s what  

Mr G said, so she counted the months till she could leave. 

Training to be a nurse had offered a fresh start and she particularly enjoyed her work with  

the elderly, her surrogate family. 

The delicious aroma of coffee pulled Sally out of her reverie. She reviewed the night nurse’s  


Mr Green had been restless again; luckily his sudden decline was giving no cause for  


Just then, Vicky on reception rang.  “Mr Green’s nephew is here.” 

Minutes later, Sally was discussing her patient with Joe, who seemed to think his Uncle had  

been a paragon of virtue. 

 “All those years he looked after those homeless children. It’s good to know he’s being  

well looked after now. “ 

Sally nodded stiffly as though in agreement, but her face remained resolutely frozen, her  

mouth a tight line.  

 Just then, Mr Green’s bell rang, the red light blinking balefully at  


Taking the cold steel tray, laden with tablets and liquids, she walked down  

the hushed, carpeted hall. Sally knocked at his door. Of course, he was unable to 

speak, but it was still the polite thing to do.  

Entering the dimly lit room, an involuntary smile broke across her still attractive, lined face  

as she looked down at her patient, recognising the look of fear in his eyes. 

 “Time for your medicine now, Mr Green.”