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

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

Write an epistolary rom-com in 300 words

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

Here is what I was looking for?

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

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

And the winners are

First Place: Brenda Sedgwick with Complicated Love by Email

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

Third Place: Sam Christie with The Misunderstanding

Highly Commended: John Quinn with Cue Swooning Music


First Place: Complicated Love by Email – Brenda Sedgwick

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

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

Missing you so much, Harry xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


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

Missing you, Harry xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


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

Missing you Deborah xx


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

Reply asap.

Harry xxxxx


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


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


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

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

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

From: b1gd1ckp1llz@b1gd1ckp1llz.com 

To: shannleo68@gmail.com 

Subject: 🍆🍆🍆3nl4rge you’re p33n!🍆🍆🍆 

Dear recipeint, 

Do you want make p33n b1g for extra special s3xyt1mes with many baeutiful womens? B1gd1ckp1llz.com have potent pr0duct for you at low low pr1ce deliverd discrete! Yuo won’t believe how huge it make it! 🍆🍆🍆🍆😜 

Buy now – satisfcation guaarnteed! 

From: shannleo68@gmail.com 

To: b1gd1ckp1llz@b1gd1ckp1llz.com 

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

Dear sir, 

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

Or, you know, if this is B1gd1ckp1llz.com on the third floor of Unit 3, I’d settle for a box of donuts sent upstairs. 😉 

Shannon
 

From: b1gd1ckp1llz@b1gd1ckp1llz.com 

To: shannleo68@gmail.com 

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

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

Dave 

From: shannleo68@gmail.com 

To: b1gd1ckp1llz@b1gd1ckp1llz.com 

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

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

Shannon
 

From: b1gd1ckp1llz@b1gd1ckp1llz.com 

To: shannleo68@gmail.com 

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

Seems like destiny, doesn’t it? 😉 

Dave 

From: shannleo68@gmail.com 

To: b1gd1ckp1llz@b1gd1ckp1llz.com 

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

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

Shannon 

Third Place: The Misunderstanding by Sam Christie

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

The Misunderstanding  

Dear Miss Harris, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely, 

John 

Highly Commended: Cue Swooning Music by John Quinn

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

Dear Ada, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until last week…  

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

Love 

Stacey & HH 

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

Matthew Harffy

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

Report by Sarah Noon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how did he write that first book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Story over history, authenticity over accuracy.”

Rob Stuart

Rob Stuart – Historical fiction

Report by Sarah Noon

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

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

Rob Stuart’s novels

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

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

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

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

June 14th: Tamar Hodes

Tuesday 14th June, 6.30pm – 9.30pm

Stripe Studio

Book Fair from 6.30 in the foyer.

Speaker: Tamar Hodes, author

Talk:  Life Drawing, Life Writing

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

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

Special Guest: B Random, author

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

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

HWS Members entry: free

Visitors tickets £10; Students £2

May 10th: Beth O’Leary

Writing with Hear

Tuesday 10th May, 7.30pm – 9.30pm

Winton Building Room 5,  University of Winchester

Beth will discuss her writing journey, how and why she writes uplifting fiction, and why she believes reading should never be a guilty pleasure.
Beth O’Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages.
She wrote her debut novel, ‘The Flatshare’, on her train journey to and from her job at a children’s publishing house. The book has been longlisted for the Comedy Women in Print Prize and shortlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award.
Beth now lives in the Hampshire countryside and writes full time.
Beth O’Leary’s latest book, The No-Show  was published by Quercus on 5th April 2022 and on 24th April reached No.5 on the Sunday Times Bestseller List.

Special guest: Louise Morrish
Louise Morrish is a Librarian from Hampshire whose debut novel won the 2019 Penguin Random House First Novel Competition in partnership with the Daily Mail. She finds inspiration for her stories in the real-life adventures of women in the past, whom history has forgotten. Her novel, Operation Moonlight will be published on 21st July 2022.

HWS Members entry: free

Visitors tickets £10; Students £2

Networking from 7pm

Book Stalls : P&G Wells Books and HWS Member Dai Henley

Writing Dramatic, Intriguing Stories – April 2022 Meeting Competition Results, adjudicated by Matthew Harffy

Writer of action-packed historical fiction series, The Bernicia Chronicles, Matthew Harffy, in addition to letting our members in on some writing tips and secrets of series writing, he kindly agreed to adjudicate our competition.

The competition brief was:

An object uncovered in a dark alleyway turns out to be a bloody knife…
Write 300 words filled with drama and intrigue on the grisly discovery and/or aftermath.

The standard of writing was great in all the entries, making judging very difficult. It made me realise how incredibly hard it is to select winners in what is largely a subjective medium. After all, how one reacts to a piece of writing says as much, or even more, about the reader and their tastes, as about the writer and the quality of their work.

The selection of short pieces covered all kinds of genre, including horror, thriller, fantasy and science fiction. The pieces I have selected are all very different, but have a couple of things in common. Firstly, they all left me wanting to read more, to find out what happened next. The second thing they all have is perhaps the single most difficult achievement in writing: a distinct and assured voice, that puts the reader at ease and almost whispers, “Relax, I’ve got this”.

And the winners are

First Place: Howard Teece with The Sound of Music

Highly Commended:
Peter Duncan with The Sign
Sam Christie with Fever Dreams

First Place: The Sound of Music by Howard Teece

This piece stood out from the others because of its quirky style and its great use of dialogue. It reads almost like a screenplay, but manages to convey a lot of world-building into the wonderfully written conversation. In very few words, it creates a couple of moments of revelation and ends with a funny twist and a cliff-hanger. If this was the opening page of a novel, I’d read the whole thing.

Even in the dark of the tunnel, you could see the knife glinting at his feet. He picked it up. 

‘Is that…?’ I asked. 

‘Blood? There is a high certainty.’ 

‘What else do you know?’ 

‘You mean make of knife? Fingerprints? Type of blood? Whose blood?’ 

‘Yeah, that sort of thing.’ 

‘Do I have a lab jammed up my ass?’ 

‘Well, no, not exactly.’ I scratched the top of my head. ‘But.’ 

He gave me a stare, then turned his attention to the knife. He wiped a finger along it, collecting the blood. Then he held the finger to his nose, sniffed and sucked it clean. 

‘Deer. Fallow. Mature female. Three hours exposed to the air.’ 

‘Fresh?’ 

‘Three hours exposed. But yes, from a living animal, not a bottle.’ 

‘Where the hell do you get one of those? They’ve been extinct for over 100 years.’ 

‘This is not my problem,’ the android CSI said. 

‘No, that one’s on me.’ I walked back to my vehicle, trying to understand where someone could have got hold of an extinct animal, and why they’d have sliced into it. 

At the door to my transport, I turned to watch the mechanised tech examine the scene. The small light at the base of his neck glowed red to show recording was in progress. 

‘Hey, Robbo,’ I called. 

He turned toward me, and the light went out. 

‘I don’t need to see you test poop; we clear?’ 

‘It tastes like- ‘ 

‘Yeah. La la la. La la la.’ 

In the transport, I instructed the pilot to head back to base, then put a call through to my L1. 

‘And?’ 

‘It’s a doe. A deer. A female deer,’ I said, explaining what we’d found, knowing we had a problem.  

Guess who’s back in town. 

Highly Commended: The Sign by Peter Duncan

The sense of place is palpable in this piece. It feels like there is real meat on the bones of the characters and location, which is a feat in so few words. There is a real confidence in the archaic tone of the prose that makes the reader feel as if they are peeking into a moment of a longer story set in a richly-imagined world.

The bloodied knife was found lying in the shadows of God Forsook Alley by Jeremiah Dobson, night soil man. Later, some pondered whether different circumstances might have prevented the events that unfolded thereafter, and which had left the town in such a parlous state. What if the knife had been found by Watkin the beadle, or not discovered in an alley named God Forsook? What if it had actually lain beside a mortally injured body as by rights it should have?  

But fate had decreed that the certifiable fool Dobson should clap eyes on the lone blade, ‘dripping live with blood’ as he later testified, and carry it directly to the house of Reverend Doctor Wilfred Fairfax, who proclaimed to the astonished night soil man that the knife was a sign from our Creator Himself. 

‘Moreover,’ Doctor Fairfax declared to the assembled populace from the town hall steps the following noonday, ‘it is a sign long foreshadowed.’ He produced a leather-bound book and commenced reading. ‘In a Year of Our Lord close at hand,’ he intoned solemnly, ‘a bleeding knife will be found in the place God has foresaken, a portent of calamitous events such as will shake this wretched town to its very foundations.’ 

A clamour arose amongst the assembled. ‘What events? Tell us, Doctor Fairfax. What calamities?’ 

The Doctor descended the steps without another word, making all speed for his residence. In his library he replaced the volume of Dryden on the shelf at exactly the spot from which it had earlier been removed. The knife lay on his desk, blood- perhaps it really was blood- nicely congealed now. He wondered for a few moments how it had actually found its way to God Forsook. Then he turned his full attention to the careful planning of extortion. 

 

Highly Commended: Fever Dreams by Sam Christie

This piece has a fabulous, conversational style. It is immediate and relatable. While the prose is direct and clean, there are a couple of great metaphors used that elevate the writing.

Jane called them fever dreams. She always implied that I had them because of a guilty conscience. I mean I wouldn’t call myself a bad person, but there aren’t many people that don’t have the odd skeleton in the cupboard; so I suppose that could have been it.  

In truth I dreaded having one. I’d wake up in the morning panting and clawing at the covers, my mind circling like a plane waiting to land. I’d come down eventually after a few seconds, but I was in that holding pattern of horror for long enough to put my day out of whack.  

There was a plus side: I got the flood of relief knowing that I hadn’t hidden a body and that the police weren’t coming to get me. The details in the dream were abstract and surreal of course, but that dread, that sense that if the cops got on my scent then my life was over, drew out a mixture of guilt and a desire to reset back to a trouble free life.  

The nasty part of the dream was that I’d already done the deed. I couldn’t go back. Once you kill a person you can’t undo it and saying sorry is inadequate for obvious reasons. No, you kill a person and you have only one direction of travel. 

I usually had these dreams after a night out, my mind confused by boozing. This dream was no exception. I could remember nothing of the night. While I was brewing coffee and enjoying that solace after the storm there was a knock at the door. Loud. 

“Detective Sergeant Jones. We found a knife nearby in an alleyway. An acquaintance of yours is missing.” I looked to the left of the door and saw my coat covered in blood.    

Veronica Cossanteli

From Water Babies to The Wimpy Kid
The evolution of children’s books and the perils of adaptation: writing with ghosts at your shoulder

Veronica Cossanteli report:  8th March 2022 by Sarah Noon

Veronica is talking to us this evening about the evolution of children’s books and the joy and the pitfalls of adaptations. 

Veronica began writing in her teens “… as a distraction from homesickness.” when she was in boarding school.  She grew up with classics, with lots of Victorian classics on her shelf at home. She was in her forties when she “…finally got her act together,” and enrolled at writing school, joining SCWBI at the same time. SCWBI accepted one of Veronica’s manuscripts for their “Undiscovered Voices” anthology. She later met with Barry Cunningham from Chicken House as part of the Winchester Writers Conference (something she says she was very nervous about).  She presented him with her latest work for feedback, the meeting was successful, and Chicken House published her book!

Veronica Cossanteli

For those of us who are yet to familiarise ourselves with The Marvellous Land of Snergs, it is a children’s book written by E.A. Wyke-Smith in 1927.  The book inspired Tolkien to write The Hobbit (The Snergs were “prototype Hobbits”)and J.K. Rowling famously has a copy of it.

Veronica was approached by Chicken House, asking if she would be prepared to rewrite and adapt it. As exciting as the story is, Veronica says it was very much a book “… of its time.”  When Veronica first read the book, she says, she liked Wyke-Smith’s “… quirky sense of humour,” but there were areas of the book that needed reworking in order to update it for today’s young audiences.   This, however, was harder than she thought!  She sent the first draft to Chicken House who Veronica says sent it back with a resounding “could do better.” She soon realised that very much more than a “tweak” was required – it needed completely deconstructing and rewriting.

Veronica explains that the original book had countless characters, but because they were not hers, it was hard to get inside their heads and understand their motivations and back stories. The two children in the book had quite a bleak backstory (although the other characters did not), but they came across as very unscathed in spite of this – demonstrating, she says, a big difference between “then and now” with children’s literature. Veronica clarifies that in the literature of the time, children were often controlled by the adults (Roald Dahl is the one credited with giving the child protagonist the independence and capability to fight their own adventures).  Children were written in a way described by Veronica as very two-dimensional. She explains that they were either very angelic, or incredibly naughty – often meeting a grisly end (she gives the example of Pinocchio who is hanged at the end of the original story). Modern children like a “protagonist with attitude.” 

Veronica talks about how she needed to update her characters (the original Flora would “bat her eyes at knights”).  A king became an ostrich-riding queen for balance (she says has no idea where ostrich comes from!). The Jester got turned into a frog because it annoyed her so much (she thinks that it was Wyke-Smith’s favourite character)! She considered making the narrative from the point of view of the Snergs, but Chicken House wanted to have the children at the centre of the story.  Chicken House were also set on keeping the title the same.

Many stories have been re-written over the years, so what were the specific challenges with this, relatively unknown story?  Veronica points out that if there are a lot of different versions of a story, then a writer has more freedom to adapt it – such as Grimms Fairy Tales. She talks about how many of these have been heavily sanitised – especially for an American market. This is very different than adapting the work of one author (and his relations!). 

On the subject of Wyke-Smith’s relations, Veronica says she received mostly positive feedback, although a few things she had to change (“beware of surviving relatives!” she says).   Chicken House contacted the family and investigated the legal position, but as the original book was out of copyright, this was a matter of courtesy rather than legality.

When asked if she would do something like this again, she reflects that it was a good creative exercise and has developed her as a writer. She says it has enabled her to identify mistakes she makes as a writer. She often asks herself what Wyke-Smith would have been critical of.  She considers it an honour to have been asked to do it but is aware of the huge responsibility that goes with it.

Veronica hopes that Mr Wyke-Smith and Tolkien would approve! 

Report by Sarah Noon

Amy Sparkes: Stand out from the Slush Pile

Amy Sparkes Report: 8th March 2022 by Sarah Noon

Amy is a novelist and journalist who has written over 20 children’s books, from picture books to middle grade chapter books. She also works closely with publishing companies. She began writing in 2009, with picture books. She went on to writing junior fiction and her most recent books are middle grade. “I am working my way up!” she says. In addition to this, she writes scripts and articles for magazines. She also has 6 children – 5 of whom she home schools! Despite all of this, she still has time to do author visits!  She is fortunate she says, that through her work, she is able to read many manuscripts – hundreds of stories every year.

Amy Sparkes

Amy considers that there are four things that are “… even more important than plot.” These are concept, character, voice and energy.

  1. Concept

Many stories that Amy reads, have ideas that have occurred many times before.  She gives the example of the Tooth Fairy.  Whilst there is no reason why this can’t be incorporated within a story, she feels that writers need to “step outside of the safe idea.”  She gives the analogy of a rainbow, and how a writer will often “go with the violet” – their first idea, when what writers should be doing is focusing on farthest (“red”).  Writers should be challenging themselves to move away from their first idea.  She suggests changing something within the original concept (for example, the setting or time period).  Amy is asked whether she thinks there are certain age groups where certain topics are predictable and whether new writers should we steer away from those. She suggests we consider what can be done to make the topic different. For example, if the story is about a lost dog, could it be on another planet?

2)  Character

Amy explains that she is always looking for characters who stand out because they’re not generic – not safe or predictable.  She gives the example of the “feisty female” or STEM female. She asks writers to consider these things:

  • Why are we going to remember this character?  
  • Why have the characters we read when we were young stayed with  us?
  • What was different or quirky about them?

She goes on to say that we should try to give characters something different or interesting.  This is vital, she says, because when someone has read one hundred stories that day, writers  need to consider what is going to make their character different? Is it the best version of itself it can be? She reminds us that we have to be honest with ourselves as writers and make sure we’ve pushed our ideas and characters as far as we can. Amy gives the example of a child protagonist frequently being twelve.  She suggests giving the character three adjectives and ensuring that at least one of those adjectives is clear in each page.

Amy also talks about distinct character voices.  Eric in The House of Magic for example only speaks two words of one syllable at a time (there is no way that his voice can be confused with any other character!).

3)  Voice

Voice is something that Amy is very passionate about (“It’s what makes you, you as a writer”).  She says the voice is what  “… makes me sit up in my chair.” Amy explains that having confidence in your voice is what “… makes your writing sparkle.”  If you’re writing something that you care about, then the voice will come through. She talks about “head” stories and “heart” stories.  The “heart” ones are the ones that you feel passionate about and have to share. These tend to be the ones when the writer’s voice is often stronger. Here, the writer will be more invested in the story and energised with regards to developing editing their work.

Sibling relationships is something that Amy is very interested in.  As a result, this is often a theme in her books.  The voice comes through clearly because she cares about the theme.  This is what she asks writers to consider when they are developing their ideas.  Amy is a firm believer in “dream time” – time away from paper and pen or computer.  Writers need that processing time and time to consider the point of our writing. What do we want to say? Why do we want to say it?  Amy believes that if we do this, these stories will “… be the ones that will sparkle and shine the most.”

4)  Energy

When sending work to an agent,  Amy admits that receiving the feedback “it’s a little bit quiet” is the things she dreads the most.  It means the work doesn’t have that energy behind it.  She says that one way of acquiring that energy is to go back to thinking about the voice and that connection again.  She explains that energy can be a “quiet” energy – it doesn’t have to be a “loud” energy.  She asks us to consider, what is the tone of the story? What are the key phrases? She gives the example of a bedtime story, which will be gentle, but needs to carry the reader along.  We  need to think about the words that are used and their rhythm etc. If it is a funny story, consider, is there a laugh on every page? Are the laughs getting bigger and louder every time? “You have to get readers feeling the sense of story and sense of progression.” She talks about keeping the pace going in order to build up to the end point or climax.

With older readers, she says, we are thinking about injecting each chapter with energy and to think about what makes our reader want to read on.  She urges us to look at how we start and finish each chapter and to consider a hook, or the middle of a scene.  She suggests “playing” with the reader, remining us that “kids love language.” Humour can encourage a child to read on.

Amy is asked how important it is to cram energy and voice into the synopses of a story.  Her reply is that “You have to feel like the life has been sucked out of the story!”  The first two or three chapters will enable the reader to feel the energy.  The cover letter will allow you to be much more you.

She is also asked to clarify the difference between energy and pace.  She answers that energy is about identifying what moments need more energy in relation to feelings and emotion – what do I want the reader to feel?  “Pace,”  she says “…is what keeps the reader coming along with you.”

Amy concludes her talk explaining that when she is writing, “… draft one is with my heart, draft two is with my head.” She says, the heart is the fun bit, and the head is more analytical – looking at energy and voice etc. She adds that this is where the reader has to be really honest with themselves.  She ends with some very clear advice for us all: “Always start with the heart!”

Report by Sarah Noon

Children’s Writing – March 2022 Meeting Competition Results, adjudicated by Amy Sparkes

Best-selling Children’s Author, and main Speaker for our March meeting, Amy Sparkes, generously gave her time further to our Society and agreed to adjudicate our children’s story writing competition.

The competition was open to entries of picture book, middle grade or young adult stories, so it was an opportunity for a wide range of entrants. The competition brief was to:

Write a children’s story in 500 words.
Theme: Ghosts
Genre: Any

And the winners are:

First Place – Damon L. Wakes with Small Possessions

Second Place – Valerie Powell with Real Ghosts Aren’t Scary

Third Place – Dominique Hackston with Just A Nightmare

Highly Commended – Darren Spink with This Story Consists of… MOSTLY GHOSTS

First Place: Small Possessions by Damon L. Wakes

An engaging read with a brilliant twist right at the end.

There was a presence in the house. When Eleanor left her little wooden rocking horse in the middle of the drawing room, she would find it in the cupboard. When she left her doll on the window seat, she would find it on the floor. Her mother told her that she should take better care of her possessions—if the rocking horse was broken, they could not simply go out and buy another—but it was not Eleanor who moved it, and it was not her mother either. 

In the daytime, she could hear footsteps and laughter; always out of sight. In the nighttime, she heard sobbing, always close by. The rocking horse and doll were moved up to the attic, and Eleanor followed them there. She spent her nights with one ear pressed to the floorboards, listening to the eerie noises below. 

At last, one night, Eleanor, found that simply hiding away and waiting was the scariest thing of all. She crept through the attic door and down the long, long staircase. She tiptoed back to her old room. She found it full of strange creatures with bulbous eyes, and curious figures sculpted of an eerie, flesh-coloured porcelain. But her attention did not dwell on these things, for in the corner of the room—huddled atop an unfamiliar bed—was a small form wreathed in blankets. 

The blankets shifted, and the face of a small girl—not like Eleanor—emerged. The eyes widened. Her skin grew white as she stared at her visitor. 

Eleanor simply stood there. Her skin was white already. 

“Why do you weep?” she asked at last, when it became apparent that the intruder in her house would not speak first. 

“Because I just moved here,” said the girl in the bed, “and now all my friends are a long way away.” 

“All my friends are far away too,” said Eleanor. “I’d like to move, but Daddy says we have unfinished business.” 

There was a long, sad silence. 

“Do you like Barbie?” asked the intruder, holding up a figure of porcelain flesh. 

Second Place: Real Ghosts Aren’t Scary by Valerie Powell

Heartwarming story with a nice twist and heartfelt message

I know all about ghosts. My sister used to tell me ghost stories and try to scare me. But I wasn’t scared. I knew she was making it all up. Because ghosts are nothing like the ones she described. 

The ghosts in Ellie’s stories were really creepy. They sneaked up on you when you least expected, always at night and usually in winter when it was dark and there was a storm raging. They made weird howling noises and could come in through thick walls and skeletal fingers could grab your neck. And they haunted old houses and dark lanes and lonely moors.   

Our gran lived in an old house down a dark lane across the moor and we used to go and stay with her sometimes. But there was nothing scary about Gran’s house. It was warm and cosy and she made scones and gingerbread, like a granny in a kid’s storybook. When we were in bed, my sister would make me listen to the creaks and groans that the house made when the wind was roaring round, and try to convince me it was a ghost. But of course, it wasn’t. 

And sometimes we would walk back to our house in the dark. It wasn’t far – just a few hundred metres – and we had our torches, but Ellie used to pretend every shadow was a ghost and every sound a weird banshee, coming to get us. I went along with it to please Ellie and those walks were fun. 

Gran went to chapel a lot and sometimes she took us with her. I didn’t really like chapel and I especially didn’t like the minister. He was scarier than any of Ellie’s ghosts, telling us we were all sinners and heading for eternal fire.  

I knew I did bad things sometimes – like hiding Ellie’s X-box when she refused to play with me, or interrupting her when she was texting her friends. But I didn’t think those things were real sinning, not like the sort the minister went on about. 

After Gran died, I was very sad. I missed her hugs – I liked Gran’s hugs long after I went off hugs from anyone else. Her house was empty for a bit and I used to go there to talk to her. Then it got knocked it down a big house was built instead. I felt really sad, worrying where Gran would go. 

Ellis stopped telling ghost stories after Gran died. Her stories had all been about bad ghosts, so I knew they weren’t real. Not like my ghost. My ghost is good, not scary at all. In fact, when I’m feeling scared – like when that bully from school tries to frighten me, my ghost makes me feel all strong and I tell him to back off – and it works! My ghost puts an arm round me when I’m feeling sad and tells me that everything’s okay. My ghost says it doesn’t matter about her house because she doesn’t need it anymore.  

 

Third Place: Just A Nightmare by Dominique Hackston

A gripping story in a gripping setting. It really drew you in.

 

Midnight finds Macy under the duvet with a torch and her favourite Famous Five book. Her cold feet inch up the bed until they steal the warmth from her thighs. Shivering, she switches off the torch, listens to make sure Rhea, the prefect, is asleep and pokes her head out. She gasps as frigid air hits her face.  

Stretching, she tucks up the corner of the curtain, then wrestles her dressing-gown from its hook and spreads it over her bed. She snuggles back under the covers, her slothful eyes staring at tiny crystals as they form around the corner of the pane. Funny, she thinks, as she drifts off, it shouldn’t freeze in May.  

Timmy, George, and Anne fill Macy’s dreams. They are huddled together while a storm whips around their tent. The howling wind morphs into Anne screaming. 

Suddenly Macy is awake. A skull-piercing shriek ricochets around the dormitory. She peers into the dark then grabs her torch. 

The beam passes from one girl to the next. A wave of dread prickles up Macy’s nape. Breath vapour hangs eerily over each pale face until the tiny spotlight hits Tash, who is sitting bolt upright; her two French plaits hanging down her back. 

In Macy’s shaking hand, the beam stutters onwards to Rhea’s bed. Matron’s there, she thinks, sighing with relief. Macy leans forward, her jaw drops, her eyebrows knit together. 

Tash turns, her now silent scream caught by her gaping mouth. She slithers out of bed, then charges up the dormitory. The torch goes flying as Tash dives headlong at Macy. 

‘Did you see?’ Tash whispers. 

Macy cannot answer. An image is searing itself into her every brain cell. 

Matron was not matron, but an old-fashioned nurse, who stood with Rhea floating at chest height. Rhea’s arms were stretched over her head as the nurse shackled her wrists to a gleaming ring that protruded from the wall. The same black wrought iron ring that Rhea hangs her dressing gown from.  

Macy hushes the sobbing Tash and takes a slow shuddering breath. Reaching up, she fumbles for the curtain and yanks it open. Moonlight floods in, shining its way down the length of the dormitory. Macy’s eyes follow the glow.  

She slumps with relief. ‘Just a nightmare,’ she says. ‘Just a nightmare.’ She cuddles and rocks the younger girl until they fall asleep. They wake to Rhea prodding them. 

‘Get dressed and stand facing the wall!’  Rhea shouts. ‘Inspection in five.’  

Within five minutes both girls are in their uniforms and standing at the end of the line. Despite her nose pointing to the wall; Macy watches Rhea out of the corner of her eye. Her skin tingles as her hairs stand on end. Rhea massages her wrists.  

Macy turns to check on Tash. She is white and wide-eyed, staring at the angry red welts that Rhea is trying to hide.  

Highly Commended: This Story Consists of… MOSTLY GHOSTS by Darren Spink

Brilliant scansion, tightly plotted and good fun.


Greenie the ghost has been learning to scare 

But scaring is harder when no-one is there 

So, Greenie creeps into a yard overgrown 

And finds little Ava, all tired and alone 

The window is open as Greenie comes creeping 

And tired little Ava has just started sleeping 

So, Greenie jumps in with a cry and a BOO 

But Ava sits calmly and says “Who are you?!” 

“I’m Greenie the ghost and I’ve come here to scare you!” 

“But Greenie” said Ava “I’m sleeping, how dare you! 

You’re not very spooky or scary or creepy, 

So, leave me alone as I’m grumpy and sleepy” 

But Greenie is cunning and jumps from the bed 

Then waits in the cupboard and calls his friend Red 

They jump out together and cry a loud BOO 

But ONE was not scary and neither was TWO! 

So, Greenie calls Pinky and Blackie and White 

As FIVE spooky ghosts give a scarier fright 

But Ava yawned “Greenie, you’ll have to give in.. 

I’ll never be scared and you’ll just never win” 

Greenie says “Right, I need TEN on my side.. 

We’ll each find a different location to hide… 

We’ll scream all together, the spookiest BOO 

And scared little Ava won’t know what to do!” 

But Ava once more wasn’t frightened or scared 

She stood on her bed and then promptly declared 

“Not even TWENTY would give me a fright 

So, take all your friends and get out of my sight!” 

And finally, Ava had quiet in bed 

But quiet can sometimes be scary instead 

The house became spooky, the yard overgrown 

And suddenly Ava was…. 

SCARED ON HER OWN! 

She covered her eyes and hid under the sheet 

With only the sound of her little heart beat 

And then with a whimper, she wearily cried 

“I wish I had someone to lay by my side” 

But what happened next was to Ava’s surprise 

As Greenie came back after hearing her cries 

“Maybe” thought Greenie “I won’t cry out BOO, 

To be a good friend is now what I should do” 

They lifted the covers and snuggled up tight 

And Greenie helped Ava sleep all through the night. 

Well, not every ghost can be scary and creepy 

A ghost can be friendly and help when you’re sleepy 

So, just when the quiet can scare you the most 

Imagine a snuggle with Greenie the ghost. 

James Chew – Senior Writer at Fairbetter Games

Report by Sarah Noon

James Chew: Talk:  A Brief Introduction to Writing Interactive Fiction

James works for Fairbetter Games, a small company which was based in London pre-pandemic.  The company specialises in games set in a “shared universe” of an alternative gothic London Victorian underworld. Their first game was Fallen London – a game based on texts and static image, where the player navigates around the landscape.  The company has since branched out with several other games based on text-based stories, where the player makes choices in order to make their way around the world in which the game is set. Fairbetter Games also creates visual novels which James describes as “… quite text heavy and quite dialogue based.”

James Chew

So, what does James do? Well, surprisingly, very little coding is involved, despite what we may assume – although there is a requirement to know some coding and programming that the company uses, enabling the writer to keep track of all the narrative elements in the game, such as quests and dialogue. Descriptions of props etc are often written by hand, and require “… evocative, punchy prose to make those items seem attractive.”

One of the main roles in games writing, is the narrative designer.  This involves the writing of large cinematic scenes (James gives the example of Call of Duty) as well as considering what order a player may find clues in mystery games, and what the effects of this order might be. One of the most important things when writing for gaming is to remember that the writer is writing for the player and to consider “What is the writer experiencing at any given moment?”

James goes on to explain some terms which are specific to games writing (verbs, gameplay, variables etc) as well as what a game actually is – genres include RPG, simulation, strategy, indie, platformer and shooter games.  There is a massive arc of commercialism within the game industry, from what are known as the AAA games (Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed etc – large commercial games) to the other end of the spectrum, which feature indie games such as the ones that James works on. However, they all have things in common, such as entertainment as their primary goal.  But the games are also aiming to get an emotional response from the player in order to keep them immersed and engaged. James explains that “…all games are designed with the player in mind from the outset.”  It’s all about offering an experience outside of normal life.

There are different types of protagonists in games: a defined protagonist, invisible protagonist, co-authored protagonist, player-defined protagonist. The type of protagonist has a direct effect on the game in terms of how they react and the roles the player is assigned.

The art of writing a good game, James explains, relies on the consideration of what the writer wants to make, who the player is and what that player can do.  A game will be tested many times in order to ensure that a one-hour gaming session, for example, provides the player with many options in order to remain engaged.

One example of a narrative-rich genre is role-play. This genre gives the player an opportunity to create a character. Some games allow more choice than others. There is an element of choice and consequence in these types of games. This should lead to the gamer replaying the game numerous times, as they discover things led by the choices they make.  Another example of narrative-rich gaming is immersive fiction – having its origins in Dungeons and Dragons, and books where the reader skips to different pages according to the reader’s preferred options. These types of games mean that James’ job gives him a lot of narrative freedom and his work involves a lot of “pure writing” as opposed to programming.

Like many other writers, James says that he feels it is important to be able to draw upon one’s own experiences, and for those interested in game writing, he believes that it is important to have experience outside of gaming in order to achieve that (James’ background is Medieval studies – and a knowledge of history has certainly helped with world-building).

James ends his talk with a couple of points to remember:

  • Your player is your audience
  • Consequences are friends

James’ talk provided a fascinating insight into the world of game writing and its connections and similarities with more traditional forms of writing and I for one, will certainly be looking at games with a deeper appreciation of the storytellers behind them.

Report by Sarah Noon

Denise Baden – Special Guest

Denise is Professor of Sustainable Practice at the University of Southampton. By her own admission she “… uses the university as a platform to be a bit of an activist on climate change.”  She is a researcher, a writer of musical theatre, screenplays and a novel as well as academic writings.

Denise Baden

She begins by talking about how people understandably shy away from the topics of climate change and other green issues, due to their depressing and bleak message.  In literature, she feels as if these subjects are often “dystopian and doom-laden.”  She also adds that characters in films and literature that represent green causes are often “…really annoying.” With this in mind, in 2018 Denise set up a series of writing competitions “Green Stories,” the aim of which is to promote green solutions.  Since then, it has snowballed.  People have offered their services to judge and get involved in other ways. There have now been 13 competitions, including plays, flash fiction and short stories. These have included a variety of topics challenging the idea of consumption and fast fashion etc. She talks about the idea of including positive role models in stories;  the teenage girl who goes to a fashion-swap rather than clothes-shopping, characters who eat in green restaurants etc.

Denise discusses how many young people have high anxiety about climate change but often feel powerless to do anything. However, she says, we all need to take responsibility.  Characters need to reflect that – as opposed to characters in things such as Sex and the City and Emily in Paris, where eco-issues are simply not part of their world.  Her novel, Habitat Man, which Denise describes as her “lockdown project” was written with the aim of offering solutions and exploring what we can all do on a day-to-day basis, rather than a large-scale adventure to a rainforest or Antarctica. She says, “If you can’t find the book you want you have to write it yourself.”

Her starting point was to write four short stories with a green theme.  Two had a catastrophic ending and two were solution focused. These stories were circulated to a couple of hundred people for feedback.  She found that the solution-focused stories were more inspiring for the readers, encouraging them to be more positive and proactive.  The dystopian-type stories tended to be met with feelings of disempowerment and hopelessness. She explains that whilst people who like a dystopian story may enjoy the more bleak and hopeless narratives, these are unlikely to appeal to the masses – and Denise’s aim was to reach as many people as possible.

Denise’s role as a lecturer of Business Ethics as well as her other academic positions means that she is well equipped to write about green issues in a variety of forms. Writing for a cause is a very specific skill, about which Denise has frequently delivered presentations.  She explains that readers do not want to be preached at or told what to do.  It requires, she says, “a certain level of skill.” And of course, it is imperative that the writer knows what they are talking about. She gives the example of a character in her book using organic cotton, but researching and discovering that organic cotton  uses twice as much water as cotton (several swimming-pools-worth of water in fact, for a pair of jeans and a t-shirt).  “Double check your facts!” she says.

Habitat Man, as a novel, was conceived when Denise was contacted by a green garden agency, Southampton Transition Network, offering their services advising people on how to make their gardens more environmentally friendly.   A gardener came to visit Denise and during their discussion, admitted that whilst he felt driven to fight climate change, he felt limited as to what he could do as he was just one man.  Initially, Denise felt there was a great tv series in this – one man visiting people’s gardens in order to tackle climate change, but she thought she would write a book first, believing that she was unlikely to get a tv deal!

What was initially going to be a book of short stories developed with the introduction of a dead body which needed burying using green methods.  Denise says, “Before I knew it, I had a proper story arc.”  She describes her book as giving her “… an opportunity to smuggle in lots of green ideas.”

At this point, Denise plays us an extract from the book…

Denise ends her fascinating talk with some final advice for effectively writing for a cause:

  • Show, not tell (make sure the story is not too preachy)
  • Use humour
  • Less is more
  • A court case is a good way of showing both sides (and is also very dramatic!)

Denise’s final comment is to remind us that the reader wants fiction and a good story above all else – something that we all need reminding of from time to time!

Report by Sarah Noon