April 2020 Competition Results – Adjudication by Della Galton

It seems strange to have a competition and winners and not to be able to present their awards to, and celebrate with, them. But it didn’t change the enthusiasm of the entrants and participation of our members, which was brilliant to see.

Author of 9 nine published novels, over 1500 published short stories, and a creative writing tutor, Della Galton, was the perfect adjudicator for our April 2020 competition, and kindly stepped in very last minute.

Della’s newest book, Sunshine Over Bluebell Cliff, published by Bolderwood on April 28 2020 has been receiving excellent reviews. One reader wrote: ‘This book got everything absolutely right for me – an excellent light and heartwarming read, recommended to anyone who might enjoy a well-written escape from life’s current realisties.’

This month’s competition was to write a 300-word short story outlining a Medieval farmer’s view of new technology.

Della’s adjudication was as follows:

First place: Lynn Clement for A Woman’s Place

Second place: Mark Eyles for Kindling a Fire

Third place: Damon L. Wakes for Doom and Loom

Highly Commended: Maggie Farran for Tybalt and Carac Meet Alexa

First Place: A Woman’s Place by Lynn Clement 

“Outstanding story. A definite winner. The ending was also brilliant.”

‘Time to borrow the ox,’ said Wyatt to his wife Millicent. ‘I’m going to Audley’s and will fetch it back anon.’

‘Aye,’ said his terse spouse.

‘I’ll want hot flummery when I get back,’ Wyatt barked. ‘And you make sure you pray for good weather whilst I be gone,’ he ordered.

‘Aye,’ was the reply.

For the past three years, Millicent hadn’t prayed for the weather. Yet the crop had yielded well. But that was her secret.

Millicent went to the barn. This was her unrevealed walk every time Wyatt went away. There were no children, so she was completely alone. Well…not quite.

Once, whilst Wyatt was at Audley’s Strip, she’d heard a noise coming from the barn. It was like no other she had ever heard. Heading there she was suddenly bowled over by a blinding flash. She picked herself up from the muck and cagily opened the door. Shielding her eyes from the brightness of what appeared to be a woman’s body ablaze on the wooden wall, Millicent could hardly breathe. She held her chest in pain. The woman on the wall spoke. ’Today in rural Winchester the weather will be cold. Over the next few days there will be sunshine and rain, perfect spring growing weather.’

‘Thank you Lucy,’ said another voice and the picture faded. Millicent, panting, had slumped against the barn wall.

Each time Wyatt went away the shiny-woman would appear. Millicent coyly began, to suggest to Wyatt when to travel and fetch the Ploughing-Ox, so that the crop would grow well in the weather. He was reluctant to accept her advice, she being a woman, but believing Millicent had great powers of prayer he did so.

This time when Millicent entered the glowing barn, the shiny-woman wasn’t there, but a gaggle of women instead. The flaxen-haired one said, ‘So – on Loose Women today, we discuss marital relations and a woman’s place in the home.’ Millicent settled down in the straw to listen.

 

Second Place: Kindling a Fire by Mark Eyles

“Very clever. I liked the slowly emerging story.”

To have my bare back birched before the community. A burning pain in my flesh and soul. I thought of the traveller’s soft hands; her gentle voice. My mouth surprised me by filling with a curse that would forever brand me a witch.

A week ago, after the traveller had left the farm, I had found a hard wooden plate under the apple tree. At the spot the woman had sat through two warm spring days. The plate was finely finished, though square not round. Smooth as my best plates. Black border round a grey centre across which a black pattern scrawled. I think it was writing. Like in the Holy Bible.

The plate was impractical; too small to hold a slice of bread and too flat to hold water, milk or gravy. Too ugly to stand on the kitchen shelf with other plates, so it languished on the floor in the corner with some wooden offcuts. That was where Father Becket found it when he visited the farm to bless the crops on Rogation Sunday.

“What’s this, Rose?” He peered at the plate.

“Don’t know Father. Traveller left it here.”

Father Becket stared at me, tugging his beard with his free hand. Turned back to the plate; held it close to his eyes, then with a cry threw it to the ground, crossing himself.

“Licentious! Do you know what is written here?” He picked up the plate, holding it gingerly between finger and thumb.

“Is that writing?”

“Is that writing? What do you think, woman? Indeed it is, but a corruption.”

“What does it say?”

“Do not claim ignorance. ‘We slept in what had once been the gymnasium…watching girls…a palimpsest…dancers…old sex…something without a shape or name…yearning hands…that were on us…lifting flesh…we yearned…for insatiability’. What does that tale sound like to you?”

“Scripture?”

“Blasphemer! A maid without a man’s steady hand to rule you, fallen under the devil’s influence.”

 

Third Place:  Doom and Loom by Damon L. Wakes

“A salutary tale of what progress can do. Very topical I thought. 

“Prithee, look at this fine thing the merchant hath brought this morning.” Elspeth gestured to the strange wooden construct that Merek couldn’t possibly have failed to notice standing in the middle of their hovel.

“Hwæt?” was all he could manage.

“It be a loom,” she explained. “With a foot-treadle.”

“Hwæt?” he said again.

“Zounds!” she snapped. “Thou weavest upon it. It be a machine of most ingenious design—and right here, in our humble home!”

Merek put his hands on his hips. “And how much of my gong-farming money hast thou spent on this ingenious machine? Hmmm?”

“Why, none at all!” She gave an exasperated sigh. “The merchant left it here—and the wool besides—and will pay in coin for each bolt of cloth that I canst weave for him. I shall weave while thou workest, and in this way we shall double our pittance!”

Merek was suspicious of this. He could find no fault with the marvellous device, but he did wonder if in lessening the ardour of their honest toil, it might somehow be an affront to God. But times were hard and they could well use the merchant’s coin, and so he said no more about it before departing to complete his own work for the day.

But when he returned that evening, he saw a terrible sight: huge piles of fabric spilled forth from their hovel, threatening to burst its very walls.

“Stop, Elspeth!” he cried. “Stop!”

But: “I can’t!” she wailed. “The loom maketh my work so easy, I know not how!”
Soon the cloth not only filled their hovel, but covered all the land around.
Merek fell to his knees and cried to the heavens: “What hath science done???”

 

Highly Commended: Tybalt and Carac Meet Alexa by Maggie Farran

“A nicely told tale. Simple, but effective.

Tybalt and Carac were identical twins. They were both tall and had long noses with nostrils that flared like a horse. It was Spring in Plucks Gutter when the two men set out to plough their strip of land. They worked quietly and harmoniously taking it in turns to lead the shared ox and plough up and down their field. They were taken by surprise when the ox stopped and flatly refused to move on. Tybalt looked at the ground in front of the ox and saw a huge flint rock sticking out of the ground. Together they heaved and heaved until the rock was pulled free. Looking down into the hole left by the rock they saw a round white object flashing at them.

‘My name is Alexa’ it said. ‘Ask me any question you like and I’ll answer it for you.’

Tybalt, the bolder twin, stepped forward

‘Alexa, will I get married and have children?

‘Yes, you will marry Agathe and have four healthy children’

Carac found his confidence and stepped forward.

‘Alexa will I find a wife too?’

‘No, you will die of the Bubonic Plague next year. Most of your village will be wiped out.’

Carac sat down in great distress.

‘Alexa, how come I will die and my twin brother will live?’

‘Tybalt will live because he is stronger than you and does not catch the infection.’

Carac said nothing but hatched a plan in his mind. He had a few months to build up his strength. That Bubonic Plague will not be able to tell the difference between him and his brother. He would be the strongest brother by then. Tybalt would die and he would be saved.

Carac put his arm round his brother’s shoulders.

‘Come on, Tybalt, we’d better get on with the ploughing and finish it before it gets dark. Lets bury this Alexa thing. I don’t believe a word it says.’

Congratulations Hampshire Winner – part two.

As Promised, part two of Louise Morrish’s competition win story. Last week Louise told us how she’d come up with the idea for the Coffin Club, entered it in the Daily Mail First Novel Competition…and won!

So Louise, you went to Penguin HQ in London and met up with Luigi Bonomi, your new agent and had lunch with Selina Walker your editor. How did it go?

It was the most incredible day of my life.

Some kind soul had chalked my name and THE COFFIN CLUB on the blackboard at Penguin Random House used to celebrate author’s book launches etc. I met with Selina first. Selina could not have been sweeter, she completely put me at ease. Then Luigi Bonomi arrived. I’d taken jars of honey from my beehives to give to them; they seemed quite surprised but pleased as well.

Selina introduced me to the rest of the Penguin team who had all amassed in the main office area, thirty or so young and trendy Londoners. The Prosecco was flowing and a glass was thrust into my hand. Selina gave a short speech about how they had found the winner of the Daily Mail First Novel competition, and here I was, and the Coffin Club was going to be a big success, and, and, and. And I just stood there beaming and thinking, pinch me someone, because this has to be a dream.

It sounds truly unbelievable! Then Selina turned to me and asked If I had anything to say to the team. Speaking to strangers like this is not something I’m comfortable with despite my day-to-day job involving standing up in front of classes of recalcitrant, heckling teenagers, talking to them about books and reading. But because the day felt so surreal, being guest of honour at Penguin HQ, I was absolutely fine and managed to stammer something about aspiring writers like me being so thankful for opportunities like this, and I thanked Penguin for producing such amazing books.

And lunch? Yes, it was then that the editorial changes were discussed. My plot of an old lady murderer wasn’t what had won me the competition. Selina wanted historical fiction, not crime fiction.

That’s what you would normally write, isn’t it?  Yes I write historical fiction based on real women who have achieved extraordinary things. My first novel was based on Dorothy Lawrence, a young woman who disguised herself as a soldier and fought in the trenches for ten days in World War One. My second novel is a fictional account of the life of the first woman to circumnavigate the globe in the 1760s, again disguised as a man. But those manuscripts are still on my hard drive!

So, what of The Coffin Club?  Selina and I agreed that the majority of the novel would concentrate on supercentenarian, Betty Shepherd’s life in 1943 and her time in the Special Operations Executive.

What then?  I left London with a full heart, a massive smile on my face. And a new challenge – to rewrite my synopsis.

And that’s what you’ve done?  Yes, Selina and Luigi both agreed the changes. I have until the end of the year to produce a complete re-draft. Then Selina will edit it. After that, the complicated process of re-drafts, and all other things that need to happen for a book to be published will begin.

Here’s to the future?  Deadlines and word counts have become a part of my life. It doesn’t seem too overwhelming, at the moment and I’m sleeping ok.

Would you do it this way again?  My advice would be to enter as many writing competitions as you can because even if you never think in a million years that you’ll win, miracles can happen. This experience has taught me that you never know what is around the corner.

For the first time ever, when I tell my family I’m going to write, and please can they not disturb me for a few hours, unless of course the house is burning down, for the most part they leave me in peace.

And I no longer feel guilty.

Thank you, Louise for sharing your dream come true with us. I think your story has made us all smile.
Report by L Nightingale.

Congratulations Hampshire Winner

Have you noticed that there has been no rain or hideous weather on a Tuesday night since the Hampshire Writers’ Society monthly meetings have been cancelled? You’ll also be pleased to know that the Society will be running its monthly competitions as normal – ish! The details for all the competitions are contained on our website. To get you in the mood here’s the first instalment of Louise Morrish’s story. Louise has long been a member of the Hampshire Writers’ Society; in fact you may well have heard her writing as, on many an occasion, she’s been a monthly competition winner too.

Louise Morrish, member and winner of the Daily Mail first Novel Competition.

What was the competition?  The Daily Mail’s First Novel competition to find an unpublished, unrepresented, debut author. A friend told me about it back in January 2019.

And the prize?   A Penguin Random House publishing contract with a £20K advance, and representation by literary agency, LBA Books. All you had to do to enter was submit your first chapter, a 400 word synopsis and a short covering letter.

Is this your first novel?  I write historical fiction and have had a some very limited interest in the drafts of two novels, but nothing more and those drafts now languish on my hard drive. THE COFFIN CLUB was a new idea.

Where did you get such an intriguing idea?  Two ideas came to me at the same time but from different sources. I combined them to produce my story. The first came from my mum, who told me about a club in New Zealand that she’d read about called, The Coffin Club.

What is a Coffin Club?  Coffin clubs bring people together to discuss and prepare for death. Using photographs and artwork representing their lives and loves, members build and decorate their own coffins. One woman, for instance, has pasted a full-size photograph of Elvis Presley to the underside of her coffin lid – she’ll be able to lie for eternity beneath her heartthrob.

And the second idea? A friend told me how she’d recently met the fourth oldest person in Britain. Apparently, this 110 year old woman was not impressed; “she would prefer to be the oldest.” I mean, who wants to be the fourth?

What about your characters?  I created Betty Shepherd, a 110 year old supercentenarian, the fifth oldest person in Britain and also a member of Guildford’s exclusive Coffin Club. I gave her a live-in carer, Tali a young gay woman from Mauritius with complex issues of her own, and a nasty son, Leo who wants to put Betty in a care home.

But I felt that something was missing, I didn’t have that unique angle; that crucial spark of originality.

So, what happened?  I was out running one day, pondering the book and it came to me – Betty has a secret past. During research for my previous novels, I had come across references to war-time women being recruited into a clandestine organisation called The Special Operations Executive. What if Betty had been an SOE agent? She’d have been taught the art of silent killing. And then…what if she put those skills to use, bumping off her rivals at The Coffin Club? A killer plot!

So that’s what you sent to the Daily Mail’s First Novel Competition?  Yes, and then I forgot about it, for months.

Business as usual then?  I enrolled on a Master’s degree in Creative Writing, at the University of Winchester, hoping to finish The Coffin Club as part of my dissertation. In the meantime, I plodded along writing bits here and there, in between work and family commitments whilst running ultra-marathons in my spare time. No panic or pressure, because I really had no hope of ever seeing any of my scribblings in print.

How long until you heard from the competition? It was October last year.

How did you find out? It was one evening after work; Luigi Bonomi, the Managing Director of LBA Books rang to tell me that I had been shortlisted.

How exciting must that have been? At that news, I had to sit down! Luigi then asked me some questions:

‘Was I represented by any agents?’

‘No.’

‘Had I published a novel before?’

‘No.’

‘Would I take editorial direction?’

‘Yes.’

‘That’s what all authors say. Will you REALLY take suggestions?’

‘YES.’

And he said he’d be in touch again in 2 or 3 days with the result. Good luck.

So, you were left hanging? That must’ve been excruciating.  Two weeks passed. They were the slowest, most miserable two weeks of my life. I stopped sleeping properly and I kept my phone on me constantly; even at work. I work in a school – it’s actually a disciplinary issue to have your phone on you.

Did people keep bugging you for any update?  I had only told my mum, my husband, my three kids and one special writing buddy. All of them, I’d sworn to secrecy.

I really didn’t think that I’d win at all. But I did think that Luigi could at least tell me I had NOT won. I was actually very upset that no one had bothered to ring me back and so after 2 weeks of hearing nothing, I stopped carrying my phone on me at work.

Poor you! My Master’s had begun, so I concentrated on that.

And there was no sign of the competition at all? I was in the Martial Rose Library, on campus, searching for a text to use in my first assignment, when I spotted the book, BODY LANGUAGE by DESMOND MORRIS. I don’t usually believe in signs, but when I pulled it off the shelf, it fell open at a full page photograph of the oldest supercentenarian in the world – a 121 year old French woman.

The next day, I got the phone call telling me that The Coffin Club had won.

Luigi Bonomi, the Managing Director of LBA Books was now your agent. What’s he like? Luigi could not have been lovelier. He told me that of all the entries they had read, mine had been voted winner unanimously.

So, who were the other judges? The judges included FERN BRITTEN and PETER JAMES, as well as imprint of Penguin, Cornerstones’ editor, SELINA WALKER. I googled her; I couldn’t help it. Selina Walker edits such people as ANTHONY HOROWITZ, LISA JEWELL, HARLAN COBAN…and now she would be editing me.

Was The Coffin Club finished?  I’d only written five chapters. It was after the Daily Mail called me and conducted a half hour phone interview, a two hour photo shoot with photographer and make-up artist at my house the day after that – the article appeared in print and on their website the next day, the local press, and the Bookseller also ran articles; and then Twitter went a bit mad and everyone in my entire world knew. Suddenly, it struck me; this was real. I would actually have to write a whole book good enough for Penguin to publish. I stopped sleeping again. Then Selina Walker from penguin emailed to say hello and congratulate me…and she asked to see the rest of the novel!

Frantically, I checked the competition terms and conditions, it specifically said that the novel didn’t have to be complete. Fully expecting an email back saying: ‘Thanks, your first chapter was really good, but these are rubbish. We have changed our minds. You haven’t won after all.’ I sent off the five chapters, I wasn’t happy with them but then I never am.

So, what did Selina say? Several days passed before her email came. It said: ‘These are terrific. We have some suggestions. Please come to Penguin HQ in London on 4th November, we’ll celebrate your win, talk about any changes to the plot, and take you out to lunch at the Tate Britain.’

Part two of Louise’s story next week.

Report by L Nightingale.

March 2020 Competition Results – Adjudication by Dr. Claire Gradidge

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

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

Claire Gradidge - March 2020
Claire Gradidge announcing her adjudication

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

First place: Graham Steed for Alfred  of Africa

Second place: Angela Chadwick for Death of a Rebel

Third place: Peter Duncan for Betrayal

Highly Commended: Dominique Hackston for Who is Joe King

Highly Commended: Mark Eyles for The Nightingale Heart

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

 

First Place: Alfred of Africa by Graham Steed 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Second Place: Death of a Rebel by Angela Chadwick

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

Boston, Massachusetts 1770

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

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

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

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

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

 

Third Place:  Betrayal by Peter Duncan

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

The wind, always the wind.

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

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

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

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

 

Highly Commended: Who is Joe King by Dominique Hackston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly Commended: The Nightingale Heart by Mark Eyles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covid-19

Updated statement… competitions will still go ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Gary Farnell, Chairman of the Hampshire Writers’ Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Report by L Nightingale.

Glenn Fosbraey

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then:

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

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

You can find out more about Glenn here.

Report by L Nightingale.

February 2020 Competition Results – Joel McIver Adjudication

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

Joel McIver Feb 2020
Joel McIver announces the winners

This month’s competition brief was: 

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

Joel’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Solveig Godauski with Rick-Rolled

Second Place: Maggie Farran with My Way

Third Place: Damon L. Wakes with Turfin’ Bird

Highly Commended: Barbara Needham with A Discordant Note

Highly Commended: Lynn Clement with Sherrington Woods

 

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

First Place: Rick-Rolled by Solveig Godauski

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Second Place: My Way by Maggie Farran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I took the blows
And did it my way’

 

Third Place: Turfin’ Bird by Damon L. Wakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

And if they didn’t?

They’d soon find out.

Highly Commended: A Discordant Note by Barbara Needham

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

‘I can’t stand that song.’

‘It’s an awful racket.’

‘It just goes on and on.’

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

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

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

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

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

Highly Commended: Sherrington Woods by Lynn Clement

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

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

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

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

‘I’m good,’ I reply.

‘Your painting is taking shape now.’

‘Yes,’ I say.

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

‘Do you have all the colours you need?’

‘Sure,’ I give.

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

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

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

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

‘Yes, thanks.’

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

David’s approaching.

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

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

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

I love that song.

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

 

Joel McIver – The Geek Will Inherit the Earth

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

Justice for All: The Truth About Metallica

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cannibal Corpse – Bible of Butchery: the Official Autobiography

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

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

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

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

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

Report by L Nightingale.

 

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

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

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

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