January 2019 Competition Results: Della Galton – Adjudicator

The January competition was judged by novelist and short story writer, Della Galton. The brief was to write 10 New Year’s resolutions in the style of a young adult character.

Just a reminder to all entrants – please could you leave your name OFF the actual story submitted, but make sure it is included in your covering email.  Thanks.  

And the winners were:

First Place: No snow yet; my spots are worse by Helen Adlam  

Second Place: Must Happen – New Year’s Resolutions by Gill Hollands

Third Place: Resolute Rick by John Quinn   

Highly Commended: New Year’s Resolutions by Maggie Farran

Highly Commended: New Year’s Eve Resolutions by Mark Eyles   

 

jan comp

Winners: Mark Eyles, John Quinn, Gill Hollands, Maggie Farran and Helen Adlam

Photo by Alex Carter: lexicafilms@gmail.com

First Place: No snow yet; my spots are worse by

Helen Adlam

Nice writing. I liked this one a lot. I felt the voice was authentic and the way the story emerges was subtle but clever.’

New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Never give up hoping for snow.
  2. Stop eating chocolate so my spots get better.

I saw Steve outside the community centre tonight.  I was gonna say Hi, but the floodlight in the carpark  made my spots look mega, so I kinda muttered and backed off before he got a proper look at me.  And it never snowed.

  1. Actually speak to Steve Gray.

Nat and I hung out in the village and got chips.  Steve was there with his mates.  Nat showed off, draping herself all over him, so he starts asking her about college and who she fancies.  I went home early.

  1. Ditch friends who can talk to boys and don’t have spots.

So I was really over Nat, but then she asked me to the mall with her so I thought, sure, why not.  At the mall she had no make-up on, seriously, she is totally covered in spots.  I don’t get it.  How come no one noticed????  How come Steve never said anything??  It’s not fair.  Still no snow.

  1. Stop caring what people think of me.

Yeah.  I can’t do this.  I’m going to rub that one out.  If I don’t care what people think of me, then what’s the point?  I might as well stop watching Zoella and ditch all the makeup.

  1. Build a ****king snowman one day.

OMG!!! It snowed today!!  Nat and I hung out at the Rec and I caught snowflakes on my tongue.  We did snow angels and I couldn’t stop laughing.  When I looked up, Steve was standing over me.  ‘You’re a total nutter,’ he said.  ‘Wanna get a hot chocolate and dry off round mine?’

… I might write the rest of my resolutions later.  Been kinda tied up lately …

 

Second Place: Must Happen: New Year’s Resolutions by Gill Hollands

I like the slowly emerging and quite chilling story. Another authentic voice. Well done.’

  • Run us to school every day I can. We all need to get fitter and faster. Fitspiration!
  • Stop biting my nails or at least ease up. Grow a weapon (useful for school, too.)
  • Arm up and practice. Pepper, knife, acid at least. This one holds grudges.
  • Make a stash of cash. Sell more stuff? Hide it deep.
  • Gear up after school. Hunt out better earners. Good tips in sleazy clubs? Byron’s Bong Deliveries? Can’t be too picky.  Ask Dench Darron, he’ll know, if his squad will let me near. Those lame apprenticeships they’re pushing won’t cut it, not for three of us.
  • Get advice. (Childline?) Talk to someone, anyway, not the school kid-catcher. Can’t swerve it any more. He’s getting worse.
  • Stop him picking on Daisy before he hurts her. There’s ugly in his eyes when he watches her. Can’t just threaten him, can I? Nose still wonky from before. Distraction? Maybe more sleepovers with friends?
  • Stop using the headphones to drown them out. Listen and learn. Man up and call the police next time.
  • Tell the truth. Don’t cover up for him any more. Open her eyes somehow, make her believe me.  Never let her cry alone again.
  • Escape free and clear. Start again with no looking back over our shoulders. It’s not like we haven’t done it before. This better be the last time.

 

Third Place: Resolute Rick by John Quinn    

‘Very entertaining. This made me laugh and I loved the characterisation of Rick. Good title too. ’

So, this is Mum’s idea, but I thought I better keep the peace and go along with it, especially after the Xmas we’ve just had! Sometimes I wonder not only why Mum and Dad stay together, why any of us do. Most of the time I don’t reckon anyone living under our roof really likes anyone else under it!

Still, here goes, my New Year Resolutions…

1, Get laid! That was a pretty easy one. If you believe my schoolmates I’m the only virgin left! Not that I believe them, not all of them anyway. Certainly not Slimy George!

2, I refer the Right Honourable Member to my previous resolution. God, 16 years old and the only time I’ve even touched a bra was in Marks and Spencers.  Or Mum’s, bringing in the washing, and that doesn’t count!

3, Start revising… exams only a few months away and, according to Dad, my whole life hangs in the balance.

4, Develop a photographic memory? Or learn how to cheat; either would help with resolution number 3!

5, Get a part-time job that doesn’t involve getting soaked and frozen every night delivering bloody newspapers!

6, Start having to shave. I know I get the Gillette GII out once a week, but that’s only to get a cut or nick so I can pretend to my mates that I have to shave regularly. By now I should have hair sprouting out of my face like Desperate Dan!

7, Create world peace and end starvation – it’s compulsory to have something like this in your list… or is that beauty parades?

8, Stop being the last one chosen for a football team at Wednesday afternoon sports – it’s SO humiliating!

9, Ask Rob to ask his girlfriend, Shauna, if her friend, Kerry, might want to go to a film with me.

10, GET LAID!!!!

 

Highly Commended: New Year Resolutions – by

Maggie Farran

‘This had an excellent voice. I believed it was a young adult.  Actually it reminded me of my 12 year old! Well done.

  1. I will try to have a civilised conversation with my Mum, even when she is being annoying. I will look serious and appear to listen when she is telling me boring stories about her day.
  2. I won’t treat my Dad like a taxi driver all the time, only when I’m really in a hurry or it’s getting dark.
  3. I will only borrow my sister’s clothes when I’ve asked her first, except her new Top Shop skirt. I’ve got to wear it Emily’s party because Joe will be there.
  4. I will try not to tease my brother so much. His nose is extraordinarily big and his feet do smell, but I’ll try not to bring that up in an argument.
  5. I will start to talk to Joe in a normal way. I won’t blush and act like a mute whenever I see him at school.
  6. I will work hard at school and do my homework. I won’t copy it from Kate so much, even though she always gets brilliant grades.
  7. I will try to eat more healthily and not snack on junk food, but I’m never going to eat sprouts, even if they are some kind of super food. They are disgusting and are never going to pass my lips.
  8. I am going to go for a short run before school every day, through the park and along Joe’s road, if I can get out of bed in time. I shall wear my new navy shorts and my sister’s little strappy top.
  9. I will offer to take our dog, Toby, for a short walk every day, on a similar route to the run.
  10. I will smile and look happy most of the time except when my family are being particularly annoying.

 

Highly Commended: New Year’s Eve Resolutions – by

Mark Eyles  

This was amusing throughout, and I believed in the voice of the young adult.  Well done.

  1. Make more friends. Well, at least one more friend. A real friend. Not like last year’s new friend.
  2. Practice my dancing. Following the improvements I made last year I am clearly impressing everyone. Let’s take it to the next level.
  3. Have lots of intimate time. Preferably with other people. Of the opposite sex. In private.
  4. Do not drink until I puke. Drink only until I am mellow.
  5. Be more careful about photos for Instagram/Snapchat. Especially do not post anything on an account the parents can see. Again.
  6. At least one steady girlfriend would be good. A new one, not going out with she who I no longer name, for yet another year, just because it is convenient. Though it is convenient…
  7. Finish college, go to university and get a job. Actually that will probably take longer than a year. Though with my brilliance…
  8. Work on getting some washboard abs. Need to drink more protein shakes to achieve this. Start eating meat.
  9. Take up transdental meditation. Get in touch with my inner awesome.
  10. Be an existentialist.

 

HWS December Report – Special Guest Joan McGavin

Poetry can be found everywhere. Something Joan McGavin made quite clear in her presentation at this month’s Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting.

An assignment for the Creative Writing PHD, centring on the study of Phrenology, had her trawling through a rather large collection of death masks! The masks are the property of the Hampshire Cultural Trust and it is believed were owned by the surgeon at HM Winchester Prison whose father was Giles King Lyford; Jane Austen’s doctor during her final illness.

Pre-dating photography, some of these masks are the only remaining evidence of what the person looked like. They led Joan to question our everyday issues and, when borrowing one, to witness and note the effects it had on passers-by. The death masks often look so strange because the subjects have had their heads shaved so as to show the shape of the skull more clearly.

“With no hair, they tend to look even odder!” Joan says.

Still, when discussing poetry, we like to pigeonhole it.

Two of the masks inspired particular poems – the subjects both executed for murder. The first was used in an exhibition of the subject in Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum. The Second featured on a ‘poster presentation’ at an archaeology and anatomical sciences-run conference at the University of Southampton this year, called “Skeletons, Stories and Social Bodies”.

Enjoy and just before you go; a note from Joan: “Don’t have nightmares!”

Baby Face Death Masks
Even his name’s too cute,
too childish –
John Amy Bird Bell –
to suggest a murderer.
And here’s his death mask:
complete with eyelashes
and almost dimples,
especially on his right cheek;
the skull shaven
for the phrenologist’s hands.
I read somewhere
about “flaxen curls”.
He was fourteen years old.

It’s said he was brass-necked
throughout the trial,
admitted he’d stabbed
the boy a year younger
in woods near Rochester,
for the three half-crowns,
a shilling and sixpence
he was carrying home to his father.
John’s brother was look-out,
got the shilling and sixpence
as his share of the loot.

Even his name’s too
monosyllabic.
Looking hard at this
cherubic face,
the lips not quite beyond
a baby’s pouting,
the eyelids closed as if
in needed sleep,
I’m convinced that all
I would have wanted to do,
were he alive,
is give him a hug,
some bread and scrape
or a toy diabolo.

To see it you must cradle it up
and out of its bubble-wrap swaddling
into the room’s light

where you’ll compare the marks left
by damp or age to plaster become skin
broken out in a rash,
to lichen flowering over rocks

and wonder at the detail in the moulding:
eyelashes, facial hair,  evidence of how death
was met – the rope-mark that collars the neck.

Posed on its smooth, round plinth
where a name once was but now
a lighter-coloured patch marks the place,
the face remains anonymous.

You catch yourself glancing past,
see the person in the background
doing perfectly ordinary things

or you’ll start talking to it,
carry it round in your arms,
gash crimson onto its lips and line with kohl
its closed, blank eyes,

smear some life into it.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

December 2018 Competition Results: Joan McGavin – Adjudicator

The December competition was judged by Joan McGavin – poet, PhD student and former University of Winchester Creative Writing Lecturer.

The brief was to write a 300 word journal entry from an archaeologist who finds an artefact in a field on Christmas Day.

And the winners were:

First Place: Diary Entry for Christmas Day, 2014 by Barbara Needham 

Second Place: Antony and Cleo by John Quinn

Third Place: The Dig Diary of Max Glover by Emma Latham  

Highly Commended: Christmas Diary by Colin Johnson

Highly Commended: 25th December 2017 by Angela Chadwick  

 

December winners

Colin Johnson (left) with speaker, Penny Ingham; first place winner, Barbara Needham; special guest, Joan McGavin and John Quinn.

Photo by David Eadsforth 

First Place: Diary Entry for Christmas Day, 2014 by

Barbara Needham

‘This was a convincing account with a sympathetic archaeologist whose personal circumstances were economically presented.  A very strong response to the challenge set.’  

Strange Christmas. Second one without the children. My Ex’s turn this year. Wonder if she gave them their presents from me this morning? Damn her!

The French do things differently here. Christmas Eve is the great feast. 18 of us round the table last night. No idea how many courses or what I drank. Pierre and Marie-Christine wonderful hosts. For a time I forgot I was an absentee parent.

Work on the farm never stops. Joined Pierre early taking feed to the cattle. Don’t know how I got out of bed after all that wine. A murky morning, on what was the Western Front. Pierre is an expert on WW1 memorabilia. As a child he was fascinated by stuff turned up by the tractor –  shells, bits of machine guns, gas masks, mugs, tin plates etc. I’ll always be grateful for his help on my book.

We walked together from the cattle sheds along a recently ploughed field. That’s when I spotted it. A small round rusty object poking through the soil. A quick wipe and we realised what it was – a German tunic button.

Maybe because it happened exactly 100 years ago today, imagination got in the way of hard evidence. We both knew the stories of that first Christmas truce. At midnight, guns fell silent and some of the Germans started singing Stille nacht, heilige nacht. Tommies replied by singing carols. In certain places both sides moved cautiously into no-man’s-land, shook hands and exchanged gifts – like cigarettes, spoons and tunic buttons!

Young men, far from home, many longing to see their children on Christmas Day.

Plus ça change as the French would say.

Second Place: Antony and Cleo by John Quinn

‘There’s a lot of humour here: in the narrator’s unconsciously revealed self-centeredness [and] in his wife’s irate note.  Well done; you’ve written a funny and very readable piece.’

Diary, 25th December, Dorchester

This is the most remarkable day of my life! My discovery, in the grounds near the Old Roman Town House, confirms my theory and will change forever our understanding of the relationship between the British indigenous tribes and the Romans.

More importantly, it will crown me as the foremost commentator and Roman expert in the country! There is certainly a book, possibly a TV programme. Who knows, a series? I could be the media’s next history expert: a young David Starkey with a dash of Brian Cox. Why not, I’m not even 50 yet.

This is the culmination of a decade’s work and a lifetime’s experience. And everyone will remember I made the discovery on Christmas Day!

I arrived home from the dig to celebrate and tell my wife what her genius of a husband has achieved and what do I find? A glowing log fire, the enticing aroma of mulled wine and roast turkey? The metronomic wagging tail of a delighted Labrador and the gentle hiss of the Christmas pudding being steamed to perfection?

No! I receive the cold greeting of a scrawled note on the kitchen table. ‘Antony, you were born a selfish bastard and you will die one! I’m not, have never been and will never be a size 16! Not that you would ever know; you haven’t looked, let alone admired or caressed anything other than your own ego and old bloody artefacts for the last 15 years!

‘If it was another woman: fine! But I can’t compete with a cold, mud-filled excavation ditch and 2,500 years. Don’t try and contact me!
‘Ever!
‘Cleo.
‘P.S. There’s a sandwich in the fridge.’

On the most wonderful day of my life, this is how she treats me. Some people are so self-centred!

Third Place: The Dig Diary of Max Glover by

Emma Latham  

 ‘I liked the way this entrant had done some research in tackling the challenge and incorporated the results seamlessly into the plot.  Neatly done.’

Pouilly-Le-Fort, 25th December 2018

Just after sunrise: clear winter’s morning.  Le Champ Maudi (The Cursed Field) next door to our gite.  Walked the perimeter: the ditch contained the usual jumble of roofing tiles, a few broken bits of crockery, clay pipe head – Flemish?

Ran my eye slowly over the expanse of corrugated mud, sparkling with frost.  A larger glint of reflected sunlight caught my attention.  As I worked to free the object, I realised I was brushing soil from the brow of a skull, with a blue-green iridescent ‘pebble’ of glass lodged inside the eye socket; it’s rounded and frosted – blinded by the relentless action of time.  As more glass was revealed, I had one of those spine-tingling moments.  I’ve found a tear vial bottle – intact!  I suspect it’s Holy Land, Roman Period, 1st Century AD.  Fantastic – a once in a life time experience!

Sent photo to Dan Bones (osteologist at the museum) with query: Roman?

Punctured my thumb on a shard of bone which bled badly.  I had to keep licking it, so returned to the gite for first aid.

By the time I got here, the kids were awake and Christmas Day was in full swing.  Nancy dressed my thumb and persuaded me to stay put.  I’ll go back to the dig tomorrow.

Dan emailed.  He’s started his research – turns out we’re holidaying in the area where Pasteur performed vaccine experiments (1880s) on cattle infected with anthrax.  Anthrax was so widespread that the abattoir on that field was closed down.

I’m turning in early.  Feel freezing/generally lousy and my thumb is as swollen and red as a Boudin sausage.

*

Trembling, Nancy traced her index finger over her husband’s writing, then closed the tatty notebook, still unable to comprehend that these were his last words.

Highly Commended: Christmas Diary – by

Colin Johnson

‘The way you change the diarist’s attitude […] from the start of the entry to the end is clever.  You use direct speech to good effect.’

25 Christmas Day

9.30.

Blasted Mike called again. Today of all days! Every time he turns up a ring or a sovereign! Why can’t he just sell them to a dealer?

Says he’s found some Saxon coins in a field. Will I go and do a ‘proper’ excavation! If I dip out on Suzie and her kids she’ll be furious. But if Mike’s right…

  1. 1900.

Met Mike about 11. Early frost all gone. Thin sunlight glowed on the stubble as we crossed the field.

Seven shallow pits marked a pie slice on the ploughlines.

Mike raised one eyebrow. I said nothing.

“Look!” he said, his detector near the point of the slice. He showed me signals beneath the turned earth that could have been metal strips.

Deep to them was a solid reflective mass.

I held my breath. We looked at each other.

“What d’yer reckon?” asked Mike.

“Could be,” I breathed.

He held out the coins he’d found on Tuesday. His hand was shaking as I took them up one by one. Three or four mid-Saxon. The others unidentifiable, outside the lab.

He was right.

I could hear my heartbeat. My mouth was dry.

Today, an exploratory dig, confirm the find. Then come back next week with the cameras and the team.

We dug down to the rusted iron strips, like flaking leather straps. Carefully I brushed away the soil between them to expose the edge of a hard grey mass, like squashed-up Plasticene. A groove, maybe from the plough. I dusted off enough earth to confirm two more coins.

That’s when I told him. This will be called the Stockbridge Hoard.

Mike wanted me to be there, to share this with me. He’s a good friend!

Suzie tried to sound pleased when I told her.

Highly Commended: 25th December, 2017 – by

Angela Chadwick  

Deftly told and I very much liked the way you leave us with a mystery’

I woke well past my normal 7am start this morning, courtesy of Midnight Communion at the Cathedral. My dreams had been full of powerful organ music, candles and mystery so I was quite groggy.

Porridge for breakfast but in view of the festive season I added cranberries. Wendy called. She and the boys are well and had had a wonderful day. We said the normal stuff about being together next Christmas but we both know New Zealand is just too far.

Spent the morning preparing lunch. About two, I called Poppy and we headed out. I thought we might meet Doug and I was right. The dogs took off and we continued down the track. It was a good job I was wearing wellies because the ground was sodden. Note: it has poured almost every day for a fortnight.

We got to the little escarpment but it wasn’t there anymore. The ground had slipped. The path was gone, buried under earth.

I heard Doug’s sudden intake of breath. “What’s that?”, he pointed to the far end.

“Oh my God, you’re right” I said. “Come on, it could be a roman hoard!”

I could see coins, tarnished and worn, spilling down the slope and I scrabbled through the mud. I fell once or twice and got quite filthy.

“Yes!” I was jubilant!

I heard Doug panting behind me. “Not them,” he said. “That! I swear it’s an AK47! “

After that it got decidedly less exciting. The police arrived. They kept us there till gone dark. They shouted at us for contaminating their crime scene. The dogs were bored. We were cold. Eventually they let us go.

It was only later this evening, as I sipped my cocoa, that I thought, “Why were the roman coins on top of the gun?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

11th December – Hampshire Writers’ Society Published Members’ Book Fair

Hampshire Writers’ Society Published Members’ Book Fair

11th December 2018 from 6pm – 7.30pm

Di Henley
Di Henley

 followed by a talk at 7.30pm from 

historical novelist

Penny Ingram

Researching, Writing and Publishing Historical Fiction

with special guest author,

Rosie Travers

Programme finishes at approximately 9.30pm

The Stripe Building, University of Winchester, Sparkford Road, Winchester

Come along and meet the  authors who are all members of the Hampshire Writers’ Society. Talk to them about their path to publication. Some will have their books available for sale and signing on the night.

 Rosie Travers

Anthony Ridgway

B.Random

The Chandlers Ford Writers: Maggie Farran, Sally Howard, Karen Stephen and Catherine Griffin

 Damon L.Wakes

Eve Phillips

Dai Henley

Averil Branson

Anne Wan

Justin Strain

Karen Hamilton

Martin Kyrle

David Bruce

Joan McGavin

To find out more about the authors and their books please go to: December Book Fair Authors

Heather Holden Brown of HHB Literary Agency

HWS November 2018 Meeting Report by Lisa Nightingale

Heather Holden Brown of HHB Literary Agency

“It is interesting how very, very hard writers work to get their book written,” Heather Holden Brown told the attendees of the Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting this Tuesday night, “People on the ‘outside’ think it is easy.”

Heather founded HHB Agency in 2005 on the back of over twenty years’ experience in the publishing industry. She went on to say that if ever she meets someone who says, ‘Everyone has a book in them,’ she runs away — very fast. Because, despite that old adage; writing a book is very hard work.

Drawing on the work of some of the many and varied authors that HHB represents, Heather imparted invaluable advice on the ‘writing’ of books, what draws HHB to and keeps them with an author. And, most importantly, how that helps to pin down publishers.

Number one, of course, is the writing – fabulous, evocative, perhaps with well-timed touch of humour.

Series, Heather muses are growing in trend. So, as it seems, are sunny, by-the-sea settings. Cornwall perhaps.

Be warned however – genre is constantly changing. Remember that, what is en-vogue when your agent secures a publisher, may have gone out of fashion by the time publication comes to fruition! The same with a TV series. Or a film. Some agents may be able to ‘see’ such a promise of the manuscript that they are reading. But then a studio must be sourced and a drama producer. So, it is of little possibility that this vision will be a decider for them taking on your book.

Heather makes the point that biographies, especially if the subject that you have chosen is still alive, are tricky – liabilities that may cost the publishers in turn cost the agents. If you have a biography in mind seek advice and keep passionately tenacious about it! Of course, if your story is autobiographical – don’t try to hide it. Staying true to your story, will make it more saleable.

Meticulous planning, particularly with anything historical and with a down-turned mumble, Heather sheepishly admits that she is not at all enamoured with spreadsheets. But, the planning of dates, research and word-count cannot fail to make that book a winner.

Self-marketing – memberships in many notable organisations, twitter accounts and appearances in publishing journals. All this contributes towards the novel’s success. It also assists the agents.

The cover, this is a debate that as agent, HHB will take on for their author. If the cover is not right, the future sales of that author may fall.

Titles (and to a certain extent historical novels) although it seems that these often wind up being changed. What might make perfect sense to us, here in England, may well be all-to-pieces, mumbo jumbo, balderdash hooey in America; for example, the name Clementine Churchill does not have the same familiarity as Mrs Winston Churchill in a country with a totally different political system to ours. Not to worry though – this is a rough-spot that HHB as agent would iron out.

When it comes to submitting your own novel; “Just send it.” is Heather’s advice. Check out the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (the current one), find your most suitable agent and with a short pitch, comparisons of reading preferences for example; “if you like reading Lisa Jewell, you’ll like reading …” and the first three chapters or whatever the agent’s website asks for, just send it.

Don’t muddle up agents and small publishers – the agencies will not like that.

Incidentally, Heather did mention the dreaded ‘slush pile’ – she hates the term, it makes her grimace!

November 2018 Competition Results: Gary Farnell – Adjudicator

The November competition was judged by Creative Writing Lecturer and acting HWS Chairman, Gary Farnell.

The brief was to write a 300 word account of an air crash survivor’s last few minutes in the air.

And the winners were:

First Place: Love Thy Neighbour by Gill Hollands

Second Place: Toxic by Barbara Needham

Third Place: Get a Grip by Helen Adlam  

Highly Commended: Going Down (in History) by Damon Wakes

Highly Commended: Now Concentrate … Think! by John Quinn 

 

November winners

Helen Adlam (left) with Barbara Needham, Gill Hollands,  John Quinn and Damon Wakes Photo by Summer Quigley

First Place: Love Thy Neighbour by Gill Hollands

This piece offers a highly dramatic situation in highly dramatic writing. It breaks the rules of writing [and] the heightened realism makes it outstanding – a worthy winner!’ 

‘Passengers please adopt the brace position.’ 

It drowns out my iPod. I forget my aching back. Stunned silence hangs. Time stops.

Dancing oxygen masks fall.  I jump.

A child wails. Shrieks explode.

The aisle is a ramp. Bottles roll.  Newspapers slide.  Shoes flip.  Light strips flick on.

Vibration. Clacking teeth. Jelly bellies.

White knuckles on the armrests. The plane howls.

Cursing, the mask defies my fingers.

Screaming.

‘What’s happening?’ A man shouts. A chorus. Unanswered.

Finally, I fit the mask.  Sweet air rushes. I pant it in.

‘Help!’ My neighbour’s hand fumbles. I snap elastic on grey curls.

‘All window blinds up, please!’ Yells a voice from below.

I reach across, yank up the blind. Gasp.

Flames, streaming. Black clouds billowing. Can’t swallow.

‘Ahhh!’ Wails my neighbour, arms up.

Muffled screams. Shouts. Prayers. Sobs. Flailing limbs.

Past the flames, I see blurring fields, buildings.

‘Brace! Brace!’ The captain yells. The siren blares.

I slap my hands over my head. Smash my face into the seat in front. Wait.

Grinding. Roaring loud. Louder. Engines scream. Cover ears. Wait.

Bang! Flying out my seat. Seatbelt tight. Slapping down.

Screeching. Hurtling, out of control.

Blue lights flashing past.

Slower. Leaning. Hanging on the belt. I see only asphalt.

Smoke. The strip lights flash.

‘Evacuate. Evacuate.’   Quick.

I unclip the belt. Unclip hers, coughing.  Climb into a crush. Drag her up. Fight them off. Shove her ahead.

Canted aisle underfoot. Hauling on seats.

Barged.  Can’t see. Shoved. Can’t breathe.

Arrows.

Magnet sunlight.  Eyes smarting, running.

She’s gone. Wait.

A hand pushes me down.  Hacking, I sit, slide.

Blinding day. Champagne air. Solid ground.

I heave deep breaths.  Stinking fuel.

Services converge. Foam billows.

Stumble to the bus.  A zombie shamble.

Safety.

A grey head lands on my shoulder.

We cry together.

Second Place: Toxic by Barbara Needham

‘Perhaps the most imaginative entry in this month’s competition [with] close attention to detail and careful plotting within the space of 300 words.’

‘Orbit and descend to landing site.’

Those were our orders.

We carried them out faultlessly.

‘Fire the retro-rockets,’ Ched commanded, his voice calm and authoritative. Immediately, the craft swayed and began decelerating. We were on the final approach.

There was an undercurrent of excitement among the crew, as red craters and sulphurous pools loomed around us. After years in space, we were about to land. We had rehearsed this manoeuvre hundreds of times.

But there was a problem.

‘Re-program system. Re-program system.’ The monotonous voice of the on-board computer interrupted our preparations. The warning lights flashed. ‘High definition analysis of destination area shows rocky outcrops. Re-program system.’

Chief engineer, Kai, looked aghast. ‘Bloody hell!’ he shouted, swinging into action, his robotic hand changing controls to manual, imputing coordinates of the new landing site. We all knew that last minute alteration in direction was fraught with danger.

While he was distracted, I covertly removed a small unit from the cryogenic store.

‘Solar energy reserves are low.’ Ched stared at banks of monitors.

‘And wind speeds high. More than 100 kilometres per hour.’ I voiced concern.

‘We are being swept off course. Brace yourselves. Brace!’ yelled Kai.

The spacecraft lurched uncontrollably, hurtling towards a jagged surface. A mighty explosion ripped the fuselage in pieces, scattering twisted metal and plastic.

In the eerie silence, I stumbled out of the carnage, clutching the frozen package, turning its dial to thaw mode. I smiled as I passed the mangled body of Ched. Now he was out of the way, I was free to assume the mantle of leader.

Even as I put the little box down, a jostling sound came from within. Eggs from planet Zog, soon to grow into the obedient slaves of this new toxic world. And I was their master.

Third Place: Get a Grip by Helen Adlam 

‘The story is clever at being funny and frightening both at the same time.’ 

You’re hurting my arm.

I am?

Yes you are.

Right.   But … WE’RE GOING DOWN!!  You heard the brace announcement, right? 

Yes, I did.

WHOA!!  DID YOU FEEL THAT?

My arm -?

Oh, right …  Hold on …  Ok, so my fingers are kind of locked on.  It happens when I’m scared.  I mean, when I’m, like, totally freaked out.  It’s very debilitating.

Isn’t it.

You seem pretty calm.  You know, considering. 

I just wanted to finish reading this chapter.  If I can.  So, if you don’t mind …

Ok.  Wow!  Like, really, WOW.  Because I was thinking that if I get out of this alive … I’m doing BIG things.  I’m going to totally turn my life around …   

Good for you.

I’m thinking a kind of AA 8 step plan thing.  Or is it 12 steps?  12 sounds a lot.  Anyway, I’m going to make amends to everyone and HEAL myself.    Starting with my mother.   Ooh, so …  Where to begin?   I mean, my mother could be a total pain in the arse.  Very manipulative.  Right from when I was around five.  Or six?  No five.  Six – yeah.  I was small for my age.  Look, I’m sorry but …                                          

What?

Could you, you know, put the book down?  You probably don’t realise, but you’re giving off a very negative energy.  I’m finding it pretty stressful, to be honest.

Fuck’s sake

Sorry?

Putting the book down now.

Ok – thanks.  Gently would be good.  No … okay.  Your call.

* * *

Anyhoo …  after my mother and my father, there was granny.  Now granny ………  JESUS!! YOU MUST HAVE FELT THAT!  I CAN SEE CARS ON THE GROUND!!   I CAN SEE …  actually … you’re sort of hurting me.  Your hands round my neck are, like, totally cutting off my ….  

 

Highly Commended: Going Down (in History) by Damon Wakes 

‘This has the most sophisticated vocabulary of all the entries [and] is bold in its intellectual conceits.’ 

It’s strange, the kind of thing that pops into your head when you’re about to slam face-first into Greenland at six times the speed of sound. For me it was: “Oh no, not again.”

I’ve tried to explain that a sleigh is a ground vehicle – suited for a very specific type of terrain – and that it lacks the control surfaces required to manoeuvre with sufficient precision to navigate to the house of every child in the world while also maintaining the speed necessary to do so in just one night. I’ve also made the case that although it is – contrary to all common sense – possible for the collective wishes of mankind to get the sleigh airborne, the 1.9 billion stockings’ worth of toys and bonbons still have negative buoyancy and will tend to make for a rather top-heavy ride.

Frankly, as I barrel towards the ground at eighty miles a second, I’m forced to wonder why an individual elf with the industrial output of a large Chinese province would opt to move cargo by sled in the first place. You’d have to imagine he’s got the wherewithal to build a sizeable aeroplane. A blimp. Even an ekranoplan.

I am not being politely self-deprecating when I say than an uncommonly shiny reindeer nose is no substitute for the anti-collision lights mandated by law.

For me personally, I suppose Father Christmas’ slapdash approach to aviation isn’t too much of a bother. If you’re magic enough to withstand the aerodynamic heating you encounter on this kind of journey, you’re magic enough to have it end in a faceplant and still walk away.

It’s the children I feel sorry for.

And the parents, who’ll have to buy the toys themselves for the 2,019th time in a row.

Highly Commended: Now Concentrate … Think! by John Quinn 

‘The prose is very lively, with an effervescent quality. It is very effective at capturing the equivalent of an adrenalin rush in the speaker’s mind.’

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Minutes to live… should I record a farewell to the kids on my phone?

Ridiculous, it won’t survive the crash! I could scroll something on the back of the menu with lots of kisses? Stupid: it will burn in the fire.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Shouldn’t my past life be flashing before me? No, that’s when you drown, idiot! How about regretting things I’ve done? Wouldn’t it be better to regret the things I haven’t done, like climbing Everest or becoming vegetarian? No, soya’s rubbish!

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Bloody English passengers, all calm and considerate. The bloke across the aisle is offering to share his tiny bottle of Prosecco with the old lady next to him. Why can’t this plane be full of Italians: all shouts, panic and gesticulations? At least it would be entertaining, rather than polite.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

What about sex? When the lads are having a beer we’ve talked about ‘what we would do if we knew we had minutes to live.’ And it’s always included sex. My last act on earth, or at least above it, could be to join the mile-high club. I should grab one of the cabin-crew, throw her over my shoulder, drag her into the toilet and have my wicked way. Maybe not with my shoulder…

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Well, they do work – the oxygen masks actually do magically appear, hitting you on the head. Those yellow mouth covers look like they are dancing on the end of their clear tubes. Now concentrate… think! Say a prayer or find religion. No, I gave all that bollocks up at the age of eleven.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Why have I pulled this seatbelt so tight, it’s cutting the blood supply? Still, that’s the least of my worries.

Fuck …

 

 

 

 

 

Vortex Magazine Market Research

Vortex magazine was first published in 2005 by the University of Winchester staff to showcase the work of their student writers.

After over a decade of success, the publication has been handed over to third year Creative Writing students to revitalise it for a new and extended readership.

In this endeavour, Vortex are seeking the opinions of the readers we would like to reach in order to create the most exciting edition yet.

As local writers, many of you students yourselves, we hope that as many of you as possible can spare a moment to give us feedback about what you would like to read from the other creative voices in your area.

Although originally only accepting submissions from University of Winchester students, Vortex opened the door to poetry and prose from students of all institutions as of last year.

It is not too late to submit and the details of our submissions team can be found here, on our market research survey: https://goo.gl/forms/ywYgBoS9LQ1ZIEyj2

We would be very grateful if you could take the time to help us and we look forward showing you a new and improved Vortex in 2019.

Hyde 900 Poetry Competition – Winners Announced!

Thank you to everyone who took part in the Hyde 900 First World War Poetry Competition.  The winners, judged by Edward Fennell and his panel, were announced on Saturday 27th October at Hyde Parish Hall, and beautifully read by local actor, Nigel Bradshaw.

The shortlisted poems were:

‘Theatre of War’ by Patsy Rath

‘The Potato Field’ by Kevin Barrett

‘Home’ by Jenny McRobert

‘Woman in War’ by Sue Wrinch

‘Missing Soldiers’ by Sue Wrinch

‘Hero’ by Jacqueline Norris

‘To our Unshared Childhood’ by Hilary Hares

… and the winners were …

 

First Place:

‘The Potato Field’ by Kevin Barrett

Winter is about to drop
From a dark cloud,
And the smell
Of old potato mould

Clings to the last haulm,
The crunch of hobnails on gravel
Breaks the silence,
And in the flames

I see vacant eyes
Staring across a wind stroked field
Where the spade
Unsure in gun calloused hands,

Scattered the first tubers
Onto the free black soil,
Such are the things I contemplate,
When I stand alone

In a field stroked by the wind,
When winter is about to drop.

 

Second Place:

‘Home’ by Jenny McRobert

You come home to me
with peonie arms, their petals
quiet-fall covering my face.
Your feet tread over new day poppies
that open to receive your touch.
Your face fades
like warm summer wind
as you move towards me.
Behind your eyes I see the mud flood
and slip through.

Pale in false lightening, strung together
like rows of newly ripe fruit
hanging on a fragile bough,
they turn their driftwood eyes
to those that wait, who fix the horizon.
Limp fingers fumble
the tattered fabric of their lives,
as point on point they stitch
through time’s treacle-tread.

Your gentle hand
whispers my moistened cheek.
Folding my sadness into your palm,
you pick up your knapsack
and turn to resume your journey.
Like foot-padded night,
you carry the swag
of my sweet sleep
tossed
carelessly
over
your shoulder.

 

Third Place:

‘To our Unshared Childhood’ by Hilary Hares

He’s the boy who stands and grins
behind the cricket stumps

and, in another shot, Goliath, braced
behind the plywood shield my father made.

If I’m bored, I’ll make him into a game
of knights and dragons on the kitchen floor.

When I play up he’s the sword
the Red Queen raises – I pretend

we share the step where I’m sent to sit.
Today he’s the man who carries

wartime back from the camp
in a bag of kit;

the man I’ve never met,
the soldier, who, my mother says,

will live with us and call me
sister.

Ian Thomas and Allison Symes At Hampshire Writers’ Society

The evening’s proceedings began with the formalities of the Society’s Annual General Meeting to attend to. Due to the intense interest and anticipation brought about by the evening’s speakers, it came as a pleasant surprise when the AGM proved to a brief affair comprising mainly of the presentation of the Society’s financial position to date.

Treasurer of this past 7 years, Crispin Drummond, used the image of a steady ship to describe the financial position to date. Year on year the organisation operates at either a small profit (as in this year gone) or a small debt, no upheavals or dramatic fluctuations have occurred or are anticipated. The report was proposed as an accurate reflection of the Society’s current status by Peter Hitchen and this was seconded by Angela Chadwick. Gary Farnell made copies of the Annual Report available to interested parties whilst simultaneously asking if the were any questions, or if any clarifications were needed.  There were neither and the AGM concluded in a timely fashion.

Main Speaker, Ian Thomas

 

 

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Ian Thomas, partner and founder of Talespinners

 

Ian is a partner and founder of the games writing company, Talespinners and it quickly became apparent that if there was any aspect of writing for games of which he was unaware it probably wasn’t worth knowing. Such was the depth and detail of Ian’s presentation that he could easily have taken the whole of the evening and more besides to offer his insider’s view of the industry (worth an estimated £2.4b pounds to the UK’s economy alone).

The pace and detail of Ian’s presentation was such that it would take a far better reporter (and note -taker!) than I to do his slot justice. With that in mind, for those who want to get a more comprehensive insight into games writing and Ian’s professional creativity please visit the following links here and here.  However, needs must, so what follows really is a broad brush rendering of Ian’s presentation.

We began on generally familiar territory when Ian explained that narratives are just as crucial to success in computer games as they are in general fiction. It seemed that the audience was made up of what can be described as natives (those born and brought up with computers/games) and immigrants (those arriving in the tech-world after computers and gaming was already well established). That gaming is particularly popular amongst certain demographics may have accounted for the unusually large number of very welcome younger listeners in the audience.

A recurring theme in Ian’s presentation was the importance of the concept that games players must believe that they possess a locus of control over what they are doing.  Of course, given the nature of predetermination, that’s inbuilt into computer games, the possession of locus of control is always an illusion but an illusion that, in the most successful game’s platforms, remains undiscerned by the players. This illusion of control can be bolstered in several ways and one of the ways is to enhance the players’ perception that the game’s characters actually care for them.  The idea of ‘call-back’ helps in this regard.  When used intelligently a simple thing like a programme remembering a player’s breakfast choice and then much later in the game recalling that choice (‘would you like your favourite breakfast cereal – Frosties wasn’t it?’) can really convince a player that the game ‘understands’ their wants and needs and in so doing enhance the perception of the locus of control.

The level of collaboration needed for success within a games writing company and the level of outreach into the wider profession is really staggering. Writers, animators, actors CGI experts, voice actors, artists, coders, editors to mention just a few all come together in order to produce a game product. Luckily, for those starting out in games writing access to the ‘tools’ needed is very cheap (and nowadays often free) compared to even a short time ago. There are careers to be forged and fortunes to be made by people who have the willingness to learn and the talent to put that knowledge into original and creative use.

Special Guest, Allison Symes

 

P1100232
Allison Symes, flash fiction author.

 

Allison writes novels, short stories and scripts and describes her writing as ‘fairytales with bite’. Amongst her favourite authors are Austen, P.G. Wodehouse and Terry Pratchett and her work can be found online at Alfie Dog Fiction, Cafe Lit and Shortbread Short Stories.

Allison Symes is a flash fiction author par excellence and throughout her presentation offered valuable advice and insight honed from long personal experience about how to write successfully in this genre. Commonly flash fiction is a story that is told in 1k words or fewer. Allison has found herself writing drabbles (stories of 100 words exactly) and she explained that notwithstanding this level of brevity the story must still comprise a beginning a middle and an end and that flash fiction, in general, must be character-led and be short sharp and shocking.

The fast turnaround afforded to those who submit to flash fiction outlets allow writers to generate a portfolio of publications. This can be undertaken alongside that grand opus that seems to be taking forever to complete. Simultaneously the discipline needed to write flash fiction enhances a writer’s editorial skills and this then feeds into all aspects of a writer’s output. In short (!) write flash fiction to exercise your writing muscles, a little bit every day is better than a big splurge once a month.

Finally, on a more personal note, I’d like to finish by expressing my thanks to Barbara Large, Dr Gary Farnell, Hampshire Writers’ Society committee and its members at large for the opportunity to contribute these monthly reports which I hope have been informative and sometimes even a little entertaining. Alas, I must now put the top back on my reporter’s pen and stick my notebook back in its drawer but happy in the knowledge that my successor will do an even better job than I.

October 2018 Competition Results: Adjudicated by Ian Thomas

The October competition was judged by this month’s speaker, Ian Thomas, who runs Talespinners, a story-for-games company.

The brief was: Write a 300 word pitch/story outline for a computer game.  

And the winners were:

First Place: Abyss Diver by Jordan Ezekude

Second Place: The Mortician’s Cruise by Alex Carter

Third Place: Draw Nine by Damon Wakes  

As there were slightly fewer entries this month, no ‘highly commended’ prizes were awarded.  

October winners
This month’s winners: Damon Wakes (left) with Ian Thomas, Jordan Ezekude and Alex Carter.
Photo by David Eadsforth

 

First Place: Abyss Diver by Jordan Ezekude  

 ‘This is a pitch which could easily exist as a current game.  It shows a good understanding of game mechanics, player choice, setting and advertising copy.’

Intense side-scrolling demon-slaying adventure awaits in Abyss Diver, a new roguelike dungeon-crawling platformer starring the angel of vengeance Kushiel! Scorned by Heaven, feared by Hell and stalked by Death, guide the relentless angel through the nine circles of the abyss and save the Earth or die trying! In Abyss Diver, you control Kushiel, a rebel from Heaven on a personal mission to free the Earth from the Seven Sins by diving into the abyss and slaying its infernal masters, from the lazy Belphegor to the boastful Lucifer. Whether he succeeds or fails depends entirely on how you play! When the world enters a dark age in which its people are overwhelmed by violence, selfishness, hatred, fear and despair, the Heavens begin to lose the faith which they earned over the centuries. Bound by divine law, the angels above are forbidden to directly intervene with the crumbling human world. Unwilling to sit back and watch as human society loses control and falls apart, the short-tempered but caring Kushiel runs away from the Kingdom of God and prepares to infiltrate the Nine Circles of Hell and destroy their evil influences on the world as we know it. Kushiel’s dive into the abyss will be faced with tremendous peril and hostility, crawling with hordes of blood-thirsty demons and wretched traps. Armed with only his blade, bow, arrows and wits, he will need every treasure and weapon he can get his hands on, each with their own unique traits. He will also encounter the souls of mortal prisoners, each with their own blessings and curses, which Kushiel may either redeem or punish. Remember this: who you redeem and who you punish will determine how the story ends.  Now brace yourself for a holy dive to remember in Abyss Diver!

 

Second Place: The Mortician’s Cruise by Alex Carter   

 An intriguing outline which makes you want to play the game to soak up the style and setting, as well as find out what happens next.  This wouldn’t be out of place as a pitch for a successful indie game.’

The year is 1933. You are the servant to a wealthy British family, travelling on an ocean liner to their new home in New York. Also on the liner is a mummy’s sarcophagus and specimens of dead animals, bound for the Museum of Natural History. But they won’t stay dead for long…

Lost on an errand, you stumble upon the ship’s morgue, home to three corpses. The Mortician is up to something, some kind of voodoo-inspired ritual. Of course, your employers don’t believe you, but soon strange things start happening. Those once dead are re-animated. Amid the chaos spread by the newly undead, you ally with a Professor who’d been travelling with the museum artefacts, before they came back to life. He thinks there’s a way out of this. When he’s set upon by the re-animated mummy from his own collection, the Professor reaches to hand you his folder of papers, but they get caught in the wind, scattering throughout the ship.

The crew are soon overpowered and the ship stops moving, so your best hope is to evade the undead: only fighting, with makeshift tools, when there’s no other way. There’s no escape by lifeboat: the waters surrounding the ship teem with undead sea creatures brought back by the Mortician’s curse. Exploring the ship, you discover a sleepwalker in the ballroom, accompanied by a Frankensteinian hoax mermaid that’s part-monkey, part-fish, and has returned to life. The sleepwalker is a sideshow Somnambulist and fortune-teller, who the undead won’t touch. Together you commandeer a cabin, where it’s safe to store things you find around the ship, although the undead still come knocking.

Each night, you dream of your childhood, a life of crime and poverty in Edwardian London. You’ve already survived that – can you survive this, too? It’s up to you, and the Somnambulist, to find the clues in the Professor’s scattered papers, discover keys to restricted areas of the ship, and put a stop to the vampiric Mortician’s voodoo enchantment.

 

Third Place: Draw Nine by Damon Wakes

‘This pitch explains in detail how the game is played and has a framework the player can easily grasp.  It would very much suit a mobile game.’

 Draw Nine sees the player take on the role of a student of magic facing their final test. Leaving the isolated tower that has so far been their home, they must set off on a journey with nothing but nine magic cards in three suits: the Steed, which is helpful; the Serpent, which is destructive; and the Spider, which may be either helpful or destructive (its effects are lesser, but random). The initial selection is random, but will always include at least one of each.

At regular intervals along the journey, the player is offered a choice of two places to go. Whichever they choose, they will encounter a situation which demands they use a card, destroying it in the process. The card chosen dictates whether the outcome of the event is good or bad: Steed cards can be used to help those in need, Serpent cards can be used to destroy enemies, and Spider cards offer an opportunity to hedge one’s bets when it’s unclear which is which. To do the greatest possible good (or evil), the player must try to choose locations suited to the cards they hold.

At the final location, with only one card remaining, the player comes to the end of their test: they are greeted by the previous student to leave the tower, who has been watching their progress through a crystal ball. This previous student has not used any of their cards, instead choosing to hoard them. After a brief conversation, during which the effects of the player’s decisions are appraised, the player is offered one final choice: to use their last remaining card on the previous student or to walk away.