Snegurochka to Winchester

Dr Judith Heneghan, Creative Writing Senior Lecturer, Programme Leader for the MA Writing for Children and award-winning children’s writer, has returned to the beginning. Her first contemporary fiction for adults, Snegurochka, has been published.

Snegurochka, an English mother’s experiences in newly independent Kiev, is to be published by Salt with a release date of 15 April. Another first for Judith was seeing it for sale on P&G Wells’ stand in the foyer at April’s Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting:’A very special moment for any writer,’ she says.

It was at the Winchester Writers’ Festival that Judith met her editor and publisher. A writer needs to be part of a community, a convergence of like-minded writers, a portal into the world of publishing. Hampshire Writers’ Society is one such community and The Winchester Writers’ festival provides another.

Recently retired as Director of the Winchester Writers’ Festival, Judith intends to concentrate on the activity of actually doing the writing.

Sara Gangai will very capably follow in her footsteps, but before she commenced her talk to us, Sara paid tribute to Barbara Large, founder of both the festival and the Hampshire Writers’ Society. ‘Barbara’s voice, with its feisty nature and inability to say the word “no”,’ Sara said, ‘is a constant in my head, reminding me to be considerate, kind and inclusive to all writers.’ A memorial service for Barbara will be held in the University chapel on the Sparkford Road Campus on the Saturday of the Festival. ‘Barbara’s spirit will be “chuffed” to be there,’ Sara laughed.

The Festival will be held on the weekend beginning 14th June. Enterprising writers will be given the chance to build up a network of writing friends and contacts; ‘People come from all over the world,’ Sara advised us.

Friday sees two panels running along-side each other on both floors of the Stripe.
Let your hair down afterwards at the open mike in the Terrace Lounge right next to the Terrace bar before the knuckle down of Saturday begins.

The day begins with the plenary speaker, award-winning children’s author, Katherine Rundell. Tickets for this event alone can be purchased. The rest of the day is filled with a variety of workshops, tea, cake and an on-tap agony aunt! Seventy or so industry specialists will be in attendance and the opportunity of a fifteen-minute, one-to-one interview with one or two of them will prove invaluable.

Sunday forms a writing workshop, ‘a chance to put into practise everything that you learned on the Saturday,’ Sara tells us.

Tickets are selling fast. The community created by the Festival will be abuzz with writers. It really is a must just to be around so many friendly faces. Please do come along – it will be wonderful to meet you.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Edward Docx – How to Write a Novel in Forty-Five Minutes

“Remember,” says Edward Docx, journalist, playwright, writer for film, TV and Radio and of course, novelist, in fact, you name it, he’s written it, “you have a duty to the fiction.”

See writing as a spell that you cast on yourself every day, even if it is for a short time, soon it will ensnare little snippets or excerpts of “gritty realism” from the daily life that surrounds you, you can then wantonly incorporate them into your writing.

Edward took off his “Anxiety Rucksack” and “left it by the door” advising us all to do the same. Take all those ridiculous anxieties, the likes of: am I as good as “Tolstoy”? No. Stuff them in the “Anxiety Rucksack”, take it off, leave it by the door and then write. Writing is an anxious business and if we allow ourselves to be corrupted by such uncontrollable anxieties then we will not get that novel written, in 45 minutes or otherwise.

So, over the next 45 minutes we writers had honest conversations with ourselves about:

Point of View. What are the pros and cons to using 1st person, 3rd person (God) or 3rd person close?

“First person can be a prison,” be mindful of your protagonist looking over the other characters’ shoulders, reading their emails or eavesdropping on them. If you choose to play God, you must be aware of your peripheral character’s ability to sustain interest. With third person close; “tone bleed” can break the spell and the reader realises, disconsolately that this is, after all just a story and the author is just telling it.

Plot and character. This brought Edward to the 1st optical stimulus of the evening – a simple graph with character and plot sitting at either end of the axis. “Understand where your novel sits on the graph,” he tells us.

Some novels are narrow on character and wide on plot and others are vice-versa. A writer shouldn’t be afraid to scrimp on one, say character, in order to expand on plot. The wrong mix and you may end up with a lumpy novel. Look for a mix that will reach your reader.

Design your cast. Very important, especially if you’re writing for TV or film, Edward advises us; “Whenever you get stuck, just go back to “Shakespeare” because he knows what he’s doing.”

Here, Edward fell back on “Hamlet” for help. And he produced the second visual stimulus – a spidergram. Hamlet with his many emotional dimensions is the body, the supporting cast, even the grave digger sitting on each leg, pulling each different personality out.

Make your characters sufficiently different such that they pull the protagonist apart, thus creating drama. Without this, the character becomes flat, uninteresting.

Totally inhabit your characters even the uncomfortable ones. The skill is, to write characters that we are not happy with!

“Jane Austen’s” writing did not only answer the obvious question, but the deeper one – can the protagonist not only choose her own man, but ultimately, her own destiny.

Consider the MDQ. The MDQ? Edward explains: the Major Dramatic Question, at least that is what they call it in Hollywood. There is no right or wrong way to approach the three-act structure of your novel, but one way that that seems to secure success is to insert the mdq early on in the first act. Ed himself, admits to trudging through an “impressive amount of turgic nonsense,” to get to the answer.

“Try to write on the tide of your talent – when its coming out of you, commit to it,” he says. “You can improve on bad writing – you cannot improve on none.”

50 drafts is what Edward docx writes. 50! The first few are big adaptations, then there is the grammar, the repetitions, the walk through with each character, then the ‘word’ draft and so on. So, here he imparts the advice that he was given – “The only draft that matters is the last draft.”

And always be courteous to your reader, your audience. A screenwriter is always asking, where are your audience now? Think of them as guests at a party. Will they want to stay and chat to you? Try not to confuse them.

Yes, Edward plans and plots, but not to such an extent as to curtail the creative process. If a character comes along that he wants to spend more time with, then he will do that. This may get cut in a later draft, but at the time, that hadn’t been planned.

As for technical support, Ed cannot praise Final Draft enough. His sister cannot praise Scrivener enough – he just hasn’t got to grips with it yet!

“Manage your time,” he says, “you must have tense hygiene!”

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Christine Hamill

‘Time’s running out,’ was Christine Hamill’s thought when she was twenty-five, ‘better get that book written.’

In her mid-forties she was diagnosed as having breast cancer. Amid torrents of tears, she thought, ‘time really is running out.’ and “B is for Breast Cancer: From anxiety to recovery and everything in between – a beginner’s guide”, was written during treatment.

Christine wanted to convey the irony of many of the situations that arose from her diagnosis and treatment, filling the book with humour. Her retort to those who, horrified said, you can’t do that was: ‘Well, I’m the one with breast cancer.’ Still, you’d have to be a raving lunatic not to take breast cancer seriously, she says. It is funny though, the way a fully clothed doctor will expect you, while semi-naked and having your breast handled, to hold an intelligent conversation.

“B is for Breast Cancer” is an A-Z of everything you might experience whilst being treated for breast cancer. D being for diagnosis, Christine read us a very comical excerpt. C is for crying, which she admits she did so much that a nurse told her “she was taking the cancer diagnosis badly.” !!  

Book two, “The Best Medicine” is not biographical, although it does mirror the situation that Christine and her ten-year old son found themselves in. From the point of view of the boy at the heart of the story, “The Best Medicine” tells how he feels that Mum is getting too much attention when he is dealing with such ‘big’ school issues as bullying and girlfriends – or lack of them! Christine read an excerpt where, Philip conducts a bare bottom poetry appreciation.

Each book took six months to write, but both took a while to get published. Originally “B is for Breast Cancer” was published on the internet which led to its being voted Ireland’s book of the year. Christine then put it in a drawer.

The Best Medicine went the same way winning awards such as the Lollies and the Haringey Children’s Book Prize. But it was turned down by so many publishers that the agent sent it back. Undeterred, Christine knew it had to be good and took it to a small, independent publisher who took it on. “The Best Medicine” has since been published in more than six countries including the US and Canada, won further awards and rave reviews from best selling authors and comedians.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

March 2019 Competition Results: Judy Waite – Adjudicator

The March competition was judged by children’s author and University of Winchester lecturer, Judy Waite.  The brief was to re-write the opening of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for the social media age.   

And the winners were:

First Place:  P&P 2019 by Angela Chadwick   

Second Place: Gangsta Pride and Prejudice by Margaret Jennings

Third Place: Plenty.com by Annie Gray   

Highly Commended: A Modern Truth by Gill Hollands

Highly Commended: First Impressions by Alex Carter    

 

march winners
Alex Carter (highly commended) with Annie Gray (third place),           Angela Chadwick (first place), Margaret Jennings (second place) and       Gill Hollands (highly commended)

 Photo by Summer Quigley

First Place: P&P 2019 by Angela Chadwick

‘Funny, clever and manages to capture the characters and the dynamic in this re-working.  A real skill here with characterization emerging through such minimal dialogue, yet nothing from the original is lost.  Very entertaining and well-crafted.’  

Mama Bennet @mamabennet
Lonely AND loaded????? Mine, mine, mine! #fivedaughterstogo

Lady Long @gossipqueen
You’ll NEVER guess which eligible bachelor just staked their claim on Netherfield Park! None other than nerdy genius Chaz Bingley. Chaz zipped up the A1 in his new Tesla and was blown away. Rumour has it the archgeek wants to be in by Christmas…

PapaBennet (WhatsApp)

MamaBennet

OMG!

https://t.co/xA1jk3

PapaBennet
Who he?

MamaBennet
🙄
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Bingley

PapaBennet
TLDR

MamaBennet
FFS! Single & rich! Somewhere between Jamie Oliver & Spenser off Made in Chelsea.

PapaBennet
Sick?

MamaBennet
Sick! Think of the girls!

PapaBennet
What girls?

MamaBennet
Our girls! He could marry one of them!

PapaBennet
Does he know them? Is that why he’s coming?

MamaBennet
☹! But think about it. It’s so exciting. I’ve never met anyone with their own Wikipedia page before.

PapaBennet
And you still may not LOL! He’s hardly likely to be nipping into the village pub for a pint!

MamaBennet
But we’ll be neighbours. We’ll have to visit him…

PapaBennet
Pop round with a cup of sugar? What if he’s sweet on you instead?

MamaBennet
Meh!

PapaBennet
You’re one fine cougar yourself!

MamaBennet
LMFAO.

PapaBennet
Perhaps Lizzie then?

MamaBennet
Why Lizzie? Jane is more beautiful. Lydia is much more fun.

PapaBennet
Lizzie’s clever. The others are airheads.

 MamaBennet
😠! Your negativity is blocking my chakras.

PapaBennet
Frankly my dear, I have spent a lifetime unblocking your chakras. Parade our bikini-clad girls in front of this man and all his friends and relations if it makes you happy.

 MamaBennet
How can you be so insensitive?  This is the opportunity of a lifetime!

PapaBennet
Knock yourself out. I won’t stop you. But don’t expect me to take part.

MamaBennet
Your so ???? I will never understand you!

PapaBennet
Sadly true.
GTG. Some of us have work to do… 

 

Second Place: Gangsta Price and Prejudice by Margaret Jennings

‘Impressive re-telling – it would be great to hear this performed.  Unless this author really is a gangster, a great deal of work has gone into making the language choices sound authentic and well-matched with the original.  A true representation of these characters in this contemporary scenario.’

It be a truth, universally bigged up, dat a single playa wiv a phat fortune must be up in want of a hoe. She must be big-ass busted, lil’ small-ass waisted n’ come from a phat crew.          Messenger :-

Why, mah dear,  Mrs. Long say dat Netherfield is taken by a lil’ playa of big-ass fortune from tha uptown of England; dat his schmoooove ass came down on Mondizzle up in a cold-ass lil chaise n’ four ta peep tha place, he is ta get it before Michaelmas, n’ a shitload of his servants is ta be up in tha doggy den by tha end of next week.

  Is this Mista Bingley hooked up or single?

Oh! single, mah dear, ta be shizzle biaaatch! A single playa of big-ass fortune; four or five thousand a year. Shiiit, dis aint no joke. What a gangbustin’ fine thang fo’ our girls!

Whatcha mean?

 

Our girls is big-ass busted, lil’ small-ass waisted n’ come from a phat crew.

They is.

They is.

You know what big-ass busted, small-ass waisted mean?

Well no, but they is dope.Yo ass must know dat I be thankin of his crazy-ass marryin one of dem wild-ass muthas.

  But Mista Bingley might like you tha dopest of tha party.

That ain’t the case. You must  go n’ peep Mista Bingley when his schmoooove ass comes into tha neighbourhood.

Why?  They is all wack-ass n’ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has suttin’ mo’ of quicknizz than her sisters

Yo ass have no comboner on mah skanky nerves.

I be mo’ than familiar wi yo’ nerves.  I lived wit dem fo’ twenty years.

Go peep!

I’ll go peep when there be twenty big-ass fortunes to peep.

Third Place: Plenty.com by Annie Gray

‘I really enjoyed this scene of contemporary women and their modern approaches to dating.  Lots of fun being had here.  I particularly liked the cultural references, and the ending was humorous.’

Teppanyaki with new work besties.   

.PP

Good times.

It is a well-known truth that a single woman must be in want of a partner. However little known the feelings of such a woman on her entering a new job or social gathering, this truth is so set in the minds of those around her that she becomes their rightful property for she is a Bridget without veil, an Elizabeth without Darcy.

“Don’t like to jump to conclusions Beth,” Jenna is asking, “Are you WSM or WSW?”

“Huh?”

“Seeking man or woman?”

“Neither right now, thanks,” Beth says, as if turning down dessert.

Age : 43

Status: Divorced (train wreck – distant memory)

Kids: Yes (THREE boys – SOLE carer)

Personality Type:   Homebody ?

Intentions:  Keep enjoying life. To discover …

“Oohh,” shrieks Charli, thrusting her phone in Beth’s face, “Look at this one.   Solid income.   Personality type …professional.    I could read fortunes off his shiny head, but he could rock a beanie !     We’re signing you up!   Strike a pose….”

Charli

Age : 39 (ish)

Status :  Married (again)

Personality:    Hopeless Romantic 

Intentions:    Living the dream.

Beth’s face is caught in a crossfire of iphone flash.   By the time they are done  – smoothing, brightening, widening – her image on screen is symmetrically plasticised.  Jenna smiles at her, “Got anything pierced? Or a tatt ?   It may help.”

Jenna

Age:    26

Personality Type:   Free Thinker

Intentions:   Putting serious effort into finding someone.

“Finally,” Jenna continues, “choose your personality from the drop-down menu.”

“Arsonist….sociopath…?”

“Seriously, hon….You could end up alone and dead,  chewed on by your Alsations !”

Shreking and bristling with excitement, the women return to frenzied scrolling. All teeth  and hair, they are hyenas at a feast.

Eventually, they look up to find Beth’s seat empty.

“Like I said,” says Jenna sadly, “Alsatians.”

Highly Commended: A Modern Truth by Gill Hollands

 A different approach, with the disinterested male playing computer games and the female just another to add to his list … until this girlfriend takes control in a witty and unexpected way’.

It’s a modern truth, that a single man has to have a great online profile before a prospective partner shows any interest in a date.  Of course, many now prefer the freedoms of a single life anyway.

The dating game is global now. A couple may correspond or chat on Messenger for months before meeting at a convenient spot.

Without the slightest personal knowledge of the man, he is judged entirely by his face, followings, and postings. Ben had found feminist support always made a good impression.

‘Ben, have you heard that Netherfield Park has finally been let?’ Messaged his current girlfriend.

‘Nope.’ Ben added a surprised face emoji.

‘Just spotted it on Longy’s Insta. Guess who took it?’ She added a dancing gif.

‘A tech billionaire. I can see from the vid he turned up in his Tesla Z!  Morris, the agent, posted fireworks on Monday. He says staff are moving in soon to set up and he’ll be there by the end of September.’

‘What’s his name?’ Ben added a rolling-eyed emoji.

‘Bingley.’ She added a gif with flying money.

‘Status?’ Ben yawned, flicking on a game.

‘Available, according to his profile. Must tell Lizzy. He’s bi and just broke up. He’s tagged in some angry photos.’ She attached one so he could share.

‘Your daughter? Surely he’d be too old for her?’ In the game he shot three people and stole a car before he flicked back to her screen.

She’d replied with a grumpy meme.

‘You’d be much more his level, I reckon. Class.’ Well, he had to butter her up somehow.

‘That’s not a bad idea.’ She sent him a sultry gif.

Oh no. What had he done?

 

Highly Commended: First Impressions by Alex Carter

‘An interesting angle, telling the piece through Lizzie’s eyes, this entry captures character well and the ending resonates well with the consequences of fingers slipping and wrong buttons being pressed.  Sets up well for the rest of the narrative.’

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single guy with a good Tinder profile must be the first to swipe right on a girl he likes. That’s how Charlie Bing met Lizzy Bennet. But it wasn’t her he was really interested in.

LIZZY

Hey, what’s up?

CHARLIE

Hiya! 🙂 Just moved to Netherfield, thought I recognised you.

LIZZY

Really?

CHARLIE

Yeah, seen you out with your sisters.

LIZZY

So you swiped right on me to get to one of them?

CHARLIE

What? No!

LIZZY

Brb.

 

Lizzy tapped her new Instagram notification:

 

chbing99 liked your photo.

 

“Damn, he’s quick,” she muttered. She checked the thumbnail image – a photo from Jane’s birthday. “Crafty bugger.”

LIZZY

You had to go for the one Bennet sister who’s not on Insta…

CHARLIE

She isn’t?

LIZZY

Mate, you’re desperate.

CHARLIE

Better than hard to get!

LIZZY

Go Insta-stalk someone else’s sister.

Lizzy selected ‘unmatch’ on her message thread with Charlie, then went back to Instagram, ready to block him on there as well. Ready, until she noticed someone else in his profile picture. Reluctant, yet curious, she tapped on Charlie’s profile.

Tall, dark and handsome. Not Charlie; the other guy.

She scrolled down his feed of selfies and latte art, keeping an eye out for the other guy. “Oh God,” she said to herself, “I’m as bad as him, aren’t I?”

Then she found who she was looking for. His piercing stare contrasted completely with Charlie’s wide grin. Lizzy tapped the photo.

cbing99: Gr8 catch-up with @fitzdarcy! #BFFs #GoodCopBadCop

She tapped the username, @fitzdarcy.

Moody, artsy photos with desaturated filters filled the screen. There were few of this Darcy himself, and even they were shadowy, filtered in black-and-white. Lizzy meant to scroll down to see more, but missed, and slipped her thumb over the ‘follow’ button instead.

“Oops.”

She went to unfollow, but the damage was done. A new notification popped up:

fitzdarcy started following you.

 

Judy Waite Creative Curiosity

Judy Waite, award-winning writer of over fifty Children’s and Young Adult fiction titles, began her talk to the Hampshire Writers’ Society with a tribute to Barbara Large, who was our friend, founder, inspiration and a great ally within the publishing world.

It was at the Winchester Writers’ Conference that Judy, a novice, found not only access to specialist workshops, but also the confidence to take Barbara’s advice: “Keep writing.”

It was a crazy time, Judy says, as she was working as well as writing. Time, she agrees, is one of the writer’s great enemies. Once published, she enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing. A bit back to front; but she still felt unsure when talking about how to write.

Judy was not just here to talk to the Society though. She treated us, the gathered members and guests, to an interactive exercise, introducing an envelope, sheet of spare paper, pencil and candle for each of us.

“If you’re trying to get a child to write a story,” she told us, “don’t get them to tell you it first – they’ll think, job done!”

Encompassing a wide age range, Judy has written for four-year olds, “Mouse Look Out”, and fourteen-year olds, “Game Girls”. She writes trade fiction, research and rigour books which are usually aimed at older boys. Educational books, like “Jamboree Storytime Level B: I wish I Had a Monster”, are mostly for schools and are commissioned, but still publishers of these are always pleased to hear from authentic authors.

Judy also writes High Low books, like “The Street”, a collection of short books aimed at older children who have difficulty reading – perhaps English is not their first language or they are dogged by dyslexia.

‘Where do you get your ideas from?” is the most common question that Judy is asked. Ideas are all around us, she says, suggesting that we use the pen in front of us – imagine that pen full of optimism, wonder and energy to write ethical, positive works, in the wrong hands. Or the pencil on the desk – what is its one true desire; could it be, to be a crayon?

“So that’s how your mind works,” a student commented. That started Judy thinking that of course, all writers may indulge in creativity, but not in the same way. We write from the heart, she enthuses, not the head. It is neither easy nor natural to write with your head saying, I write like this, because this is what the publishers of my chosen genre require.

Judy’s teaching was a resounding success, but at the time, she felt as though she was “standing on the top of a hill on a windy day, throwing her ideas into the air”. This was when Wordtamer was born. Judy was commissioned to put all her ideas into a book.

Her teaching takes the form of: de familiarisation, character connection, free-writing (the Freudian method of helping shell-shocked soldiers to cope with what is going on in their heads), the silent zone and visualisation. These all were incorporated into the continuing interactive exercise.

The most interesting of Judy’s methods is Active Research – she once had a character who spent some time in prison “…so I decided I’d better get arrested.” she said. This, after having auditioned for a position in a boy band and visiting Cardboard City, London. Judy is not our only author who indulges in active research – remember Karen Hamilton’s Characters on the Couch, Penny Ingham’s archaeology?

“When I’m asked to write a story, my mind goes blank,” one of her reluctant writers said. Five weeks later, that same child wanted to be a writer, because thanks to Judy Waite, he was no longer “blank in the mind.”

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Out of the Vortex – A Special Showcase [Tickets on Sale Now]

The University of Winchester invites you to Out of the Vortex, a special showcase of verse, story, music and song. After more than a decade of publishing the highest quality work from Creative Writing students in the Vortex journal, a selection of the very best is brought to life on stage Monday 8 April 7.30pm.

Filling the theatre with writers, readers and spectators that all share a love of the written word will be a unique opportunity for all, and will allow these talented young writers to share their work with the community. Most of the pieces were originally not intended for stage, but they have been adapted for this specific event. For many of the writers, it will be thefirst time their work is presented in front of a live audience.

The 2019 edition of the journal will be launched at the event. After its humble beginnings in 2005, Vortex has evolved into a respected, high quality publication, and is now edited, designed and marketed by 3rd year Creative and Professional Writing students. It is a great introduction to some of the processes and conventions of the wider world of publishing.

Owing to its success, the journal now also accepts submissions from students at any UK university.

Come support the next generation of writers at Theatre Royal Winchester Monday 8 April 7.30pm.

Tickets can be purchased at https://www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk/out-of-the-vortex/

February 2019 Competition Results: Claire Fuller – Adjudicator

The February competition was judged by our local, Winchester-based novelist, Claire Fuller.  The brief was to write a last letter from a parent to a child and more people than ever took up the challenge!

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:  The Year of Our Lord, 1832 by Barbara Needham   

Second Place: Follow Your Dreams Sally by Lynn Clement

Third Place: Dearest Lizzie by Margaret Jenness   

Highly Commended: A Good Man by George Rodger

Highly Commended: Pastiche, The Big Top, Southampton by Gill Hollands    

feb-winners.jpg

Highly commended, Gill Hollands, with first prize winner, Barbara Needham and highly commended, George Rodgers

 Photo by Alex Carter: lexicafilms@gmail.com

First Place: The Year of Our Lord, 1832  by

Barbara Needham

‘This letter had a wonderful narrative and a really strong voice.  The parent shows us so much about the recipient and what’s happening, without it feeling like we’re being told information.  There’s even a little mystery – the recipient has done something bad but we don’t find out what.’

My Dear Child,

You know I am unlettered, so this is in the hand of Mr Loveless, the Methodist preacher. I pray it reaches you in time.

After the terrible events of yesterday, I went with your sisters to your father’s grave. We wept for him, so lately gone, and we wept bitter tears for you. You tried so hard to replace him as man of the house. You should never have done what you did, but God knows, you did it to help us.

Smudge is pining for you too. He sits by your empty chair whimpering. The girls pat and fuss, but he will not be consoled.

When the jury pronounced you guilty, I feared the judge would put on the black cap and send you to the executioner. I could tell from Squire Frampton’s crooked smile he was hoping for it. He has given us notice of eviction, nailed to the cottage door. We have to be out by Lady Day.

But I do not want to burden you with our troubles. You have enough of your own. Transportation to Australia. Many weeks on a ship – you who have always lived in this little Dorset village and have never even seen the sea. My heart is breaking.

You must know this secret before you go. Your sweetheart, Violet, is with child. Her parents are kindly and will not throw her out. I pray it is a boy, as she says she will call him Reuben, after you.

Be of good courage, my darling son. As long as I live, every day as the sun sets here, I will think of it rising over you, on the other side of the world.

Your loving mother.

Second Place: Follow Your Dreams Sally by Lynn Clement

‘This letter was very clever.  Only when I got to the end did I realise what was happening and so, of curse, I had to go and read it all again.’ 

Dearest Sally,

By the time you read this I will have gone. Well, I might still be there but you won’t see me again. I’ve asked Mummy Jane to open this letter if I’m not heard from by Christmas, when you are nine.

As I’m writing this you have just celebrated your sixth birthday. It was a lovely day. Remember; red balloons and a bouncy castle. Mummy Jane and I were so proud of you. You looked lovely in your silver party pants. You said you felt like an astronaut.  Ask Mummy Jane to show you the photograph of the three of us – big smiles. I took a copy of that photo with me.

I am sorry that I missed your seventh, eighth and ninth birthdays but I am glad you are proud of me. (Mummy Jane said.)

I am sure you are doing well at school and enjoying all they teach you. Do remember that not everything they say can be proven – yet. Have your own mind and question things. Art is just as important as science; ask Mummy Jane she’ll tell you it’s so. She loves her re-cycling sculptures. I hope you’ve made one.

Be happy my darling girl, as I have been happy with you in my life. Follow your dreams wherever they lead you, no matter how far you have to go to achieve them. The world is out there waiting for you to explore it, but sometimes even the world is not enough and you’ll have to look further.

My dearest Sally, always have love in your heart, let bad feelings go and embrace everyone, no matter where they come from.

They might not have found me but I am sure I will find something out there – something that will make a difference to us all. There has to be life on Mars.

I love you forever Sally,

Mummy Caroline.

XXX

Third Place: Dearest Lizzie by Margaret Jenness    

‘This letter was really moving and nuanced.  I liked how we learn the writer’s backstory, and I felt the author had really got inside the head of the parent to understand what he might be feeling: scared, worried, and even practical.’

Field Hospital 10

Helmand

Dearest Lizzie,

I know that I am dying.  I am reconciled but heartbroken that I will never see you again, walk you down the aisle, hold your children or take them to football.

After mum died, you begged me not to do this last tour of duty abroad but to take a post in the United Kingdom.   “I’ve lost mum.” you said.  “I don’t want to lose you too.”   Perhaps you had a premonition!  I still miss your mum too, darling.

I’ll never forget the tears in your eyes when you, nana and grumps saw me off at the station. Look after them.  They are so proud of you, their granddaughter, the doctor.

I don’t know if I ever told you how much I like David despite his preference for rugby!  I’m sure when you do get married, you’ll be very happy.  I could see how much he loves you when we last went out for a meal together in Salisbury.  Treasure those photos and remember me as I looked then.  You would not want to see me now.

In the top righthand desk drawer, you’ll find the paper work you will need for all the legal stuff.  The army will do some but the bulk of it will fall to you, my darling.  I’m sorry.  Accept offers of help.  It’s hell to do!

There’s also a list of people to contact.  When they ask you how I died, tell them courtesy of a landmine!  Family flowers only. Ask for donations to the charity Bobby Moore founded to help landmine victims.

I heard a groan then! Mentioning my football hero even at the end!

Goodbye, my darling.  Lead a good life!  Never forget how much mum and I love you.

With all my love.

Dad.

 

Highly Commended: A Good Man by George Rodger

‘A clever twist in this letter with a very sharp and polished writing style.

The letter, hand-delivered, was waiting on his doormat when he returned from the hospital.  Michael shook the drops from his raincoat and sat down at the table.  He’d left the hospice just before his father had received Father Kelly’s thumb on his yellowed brow, slipping from life at St Mary’s an hour ago.  He wasn’t old, just weakened by the cancer that had hollowed out his body over recent months.  He’d boxed professionally until he was thirty-five before starting work as a driver, twenty years ago, for Mancini Brothers, local businessmen.

‘Mikey,’ the letter began, ‘I’ve written this in haste, as I expect to be dead any minute from now.’

Michael smiled.  His dad; always the joker.

‘You’ll be hearing I’m a good man when I’m no longer here to deny it.  But in my life, I’ve done bad things.  I didn’t want this life for you.  That’s why whatever I earned went into your education.  A driver’s salary could never pay for your lawyer’s degree so I did special work – violent work.  I’ve threatened, crippled and even killed people for John Mancini.  It’s all written down, sealed in an envelope with Father Kelly.  Everything’s there; the policemen and the politicians we paid off, the wives we turned into widows.  Pick up the envelope tomorrow and take it to Police Chief Farrell.  Tell him it’s my dying declaration.  He never liked me but that’s probably a point in his favour.  It’s a pity I’m dead now.  This is just about the only decent thing I’ve done in my life and I’m not going to be around to see the results.  Mikey, now you’re a lawyer; do some good.’

Michael stared at the letter for a while before picking up the phone.

‘Yes?’ the silken voice of John Mancini oozed out of the earpiece.

Michael whispered, ‘Father Kelly’s got a letter.  I’ll bring it to you tomorrow.’

‘Thank you,’ said Mancini.  ‘Oh, and my condolences.  Your father was a good man.’

 

Highly Commended: Pastiche, The Big Top, Southampton by  Gill Hollands  

‘A bitter sweet and very original story with a strong voice.

Son,

First, you should know, you’re not an only child. It drove your mother crazy, like the others’ mothers. They all fell for the laughs at first. I guess comedy palls for some.  Besides, I can’t stay in one place too long. I’m a free spirit. You are my seventh son. That’s special. None of them have the gift, except you.

The day you were born, with my shock of orange frizz, I knew you were a chip off the old block. Caught perching a tiny tomato on your nose, the nurse threw me out before I could dust the talcum on your face. Next visit, I brought you baggies, long shoes, a sparkly waistcoat. Your mother threw me out. So continued my parenting, as you know.

You mastered that first bike with its square wheels. Guess where it came from. Growing, you learned to tumble and fall like a pro. I yearned to join in when you juggled or spun plates. Your yodelling was inspired. I howled at her screams the days you nailed her shoes to the floor. One day I stopped you getting run over, your head buried in a joke book. Just a shove. Yes, I was watching, so proud.

Even your first car fit the bill perfectly, when the panels kept falling off. It all comes naturally to you. You’ve filled my shoes. Keep an eye on the athlete’s foot.

I should have locked up the cannon explosives, never considered blowing up your mother. Don’t doubt, I deserve to be here. I’ve had a blast on death row; great food, endless material. Don’t feel bad.

I trust only you to write me a fitting epitaph. Wear a big bow tie. Put on a show.

Remember me and laugh.

Bozo.

 

Lucy Courternay and Damon L. Wakes at Hampshire Writers’ Society January 2019

Special Guest: Damon L. Wakes

A change in the programme saw a switch-up of January and February special guests. So we welcomed fellow HWS member Damon L. Wakes as our special guest for January, opening the evening with an introduction to his new release, Ten Little Astronauts – An Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery novella set on board an interstellar spacecraft.

10littleastronauts damon wakes - jan 2019

Damon explained some of the complexities with the book, the challenges he faced during both writing and publishing process and the result… so far.

One such complexity was the story being a murder mystery needed to be solvable but the nature of it being set in interstellar space impacted this. Key world-building rules needed to be considered, such as the Compton-Getting effect and applied by Damon, even if not necessarily needing to be understood by the reader.

Another undeniable challenge was the issue that most publishers don’t like novellas and they don’t like books that don’t fit into one genre.  Ten Little Astronauts being both, this was a tough sell, but Unbound, a crowdfunding publisher known for being selective, saw past these stereotypical limitations.

Damon received great support from Unbound, receiving funding for a promotional video, filmed aboard a Portsmouth submarine to create an effective setting, close to that of spaceship.  This launched his crowdfunding campaign, through which Damon was able to reach a much wider audience, with cast members of the sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf tweeting about the book.

Having overcome many challenges – including those small but impactful tasks such as continually finding new ways to promote the book throughout the year-long campaign, juggling crowdfunding with other projects and simply keeping track of who’d been contacted and supported the book – Damon had a great result; 134% funded by 260 patrons, a cover designed by MECOB who also designed Barack Obama’s UK paperback memoir and the book being sold through Waterstones and other high street shops.

Keep your eyes peeled for his upcoming launch event. All HWS members invited.

Main Speaker: Lucy Courtenay

lucy courtenay - jan 2019Like most writers, Lucy has always written but it did take a long time.  On completing her first book age 16, she eagerly sent out the 6,000 word manuscript expecting it to be snapped up. But it was 20 years later when her first book was published. But Lucy emphasised she knows that this was not wasted time: ‘Life feeds the imagination and everything was leading me to this point.’

After obtaining a degree in history and being a teacher of English, Lucy joined the publishing world, working her way up from top tea maker to senior commissioning editor. It was only then that Lucy created the story The Sleepover Club Eggstravaganza. Thanks to her work with a packager*, Lucy has had over 110 books published, under 14 different pseudonyms, including Enid Blyton. ‘Throughout my experience I learnt the importance of finishing a project. Always finish.‘

*Packagers are companies which prepare the whole book package, often series fiction. A team of editors generate ideas, develops characters, settings and plots and then collaborates with talented writers to transform their concepts into fully formed proposals for book series which are then presented to publishers. Successful examples of this which Lucy has worked on include Beast Quest, Animal Ark and Rainbow Magic. For those interested in working with packagers, visit Working Partners website for more information.

Keeping the session interactive Lucy asked people to call out the last children’s book they’d read. ‘If you want to write children’s books you must read children’s books.’ But Lucy’s tips didn’t stop there. She advised writers to tap into those feelings of childhood: lucy courtenay2 - jan 2019‘Remind yourself what it really felt like to be child. How did it feel when somebody stole that last Strawberry Starburst? Harness that feeling.’ The current Children’s Laureate Lauren Child did exactly that with her Charlie and Lola series. She didn’t have children at the time of becoming a success, but she remembered how it felt to be a child and used it.

Don’ts

  • Don’t write because you know someone who will illustrate your book. If you’re not an illustrator yourself, the publisher will know the best illustrator to pair you with.  Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler didn’t meet until the launch party of their first book together;
  • Don’t write because there’s an opportunity for merchandise. Beginners don’t get stationery;
  • Don’t write for a gap in the market. The market doesn’t know what it wants until it sees it and the process can take two years. Your gap may have missed its moment by the time your book comes out;
  • Don’t write to be the next J.K Rowling, to be rich and famous. J.K Rowling happened and caught an updraft.
  • Don’t write children’s books for training to be an author of adult books. Writing children’s books is harder than it looks and are completely different to adult reads.

Proceed with Caution

  • Don’t write to be published because your children and friends like your stories. They’re biased. But of course create stories if your children and friends’ enjoy them.
  • Don’t write because you want to teach your knowledge. But if you write stories with lesson’s in them be subtle, be pleasant, like the sun in Aesop’s Fable The North Wind and The Sun.

Do

  • Write a great idea;
  • Write if you can’t stop thinking about an idea. The constant thinking ultimately informs the story and helps it to develop.
  • Be prepared for a lot of rejection
  • Write for enjoyment if you’re not worried about getting published.

‘You must work hard. Writing is graft. Learn the craft. It’s there for you to build your own experience.’

It seems fitting to end on the quote which Lucy ended with – A Darren Shan, children’s horror author, quote: “A book is a dance. Without the reader the writer is just a lunatic twirling round things.”

Lucy’s Quiz

  1. Who is the current Children’s Laureate?
  2. What is David Walliams’ most recent release?
  3. What are the names of Harry Potter’s parents?
  4. Which illustrator was paired with Roald Dahl?
  5. There is a series of books written by Kes Gray, illustrated by Jim Field. Name as many as you can in the series Oi____________
  6. Who are the three characters Mouse bumps into in The Gruffalo?
  7. Who is the artist for Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates books?
  8. What is the name of the famous series of books by Cressida Cowell?
  9. Identity the logo (bear holding a candle)
  10. Where do authors get their ideas from?
Answers: 1.Lauren Child; 2. The Ice Monster; 3. Lily and James;  4.Quentin Blake;  5. Frog, Dog, Cat, Goat, Duck Billed Platypus; 6. Fox, Snake and Owl; 7. Liz Pichon herself;  8. How to Train Your Dragon; 9. Walker Books; 10. Everywhere! No wrong answer here because the best question is where do you get your ideas from.

 

Event images by Alex Carter, Lexica Films

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