Claire Dyer and Hilary Hares – October 2019 – Chapter and Verse

Tuesday, 8th October’s meeting was one filled with warmth and a relaxed, chatty atmosphere throughout. Audience members were able to ask questions of the two friends as they thought of them which ensured that time was made for everyone’s questions, with two openhearted, welcoming speakers in Special guest Hilary Hares and main speaker Claire Dyer.

Special Guest: Hilary Hares – Writer and Poet

Poet Hilary Hares gave a captivating talk about honing your craft. While some poets may jest that you should never trust a poet who can explain what their poem means, Hilary told how it’s important to know the essence of what you’re

Hilary Hares - Oct 2019
Hilary Hares

writing.

“When I’ve written it, I often cut it in half to distill the essence,” Hilary told, elucidating this further with “as much as property purchasing is about location, location, location, poetry creation is about revision, revision, revision.”

Hilary suggested the following edits and checks to strength your work after the first draft:

  • Read aloud to feel the rhythm;
  • Check your verbs – are they powerful enough?
  • Check your nouns – are they all working well?
  • Move things around;
  • Change the point of view;
  • Change the piece from passive to imperative voice. This will reveal which voice is stronger for this piece.

You need to know whether you’re just writing for yourself or for public consumption, because if for public consumption you will need to make decisions on how you want this to happen. A second pair of eyes is a must; Go to open mic open nights. There’s one in Winchester, even if it’s just to listen; You could Attend a tutor group or poetry school – some good ones are Arvon (https://www.arvon.org/writing-courses/courses-retreats/) or Live Cannon (http://www.livecanon.co.uk/courses).

“Most valuable is a trusted poetry friend. Claire Dyer is mine. You become to know each other’s style and likely edits. We know what will be e-mailed to each other now so we make those amends before sending for review.”

“I’ve written about 600 poems, so I use spreadsheets to keep track of where I’ve sent them and where they’ve been used.” You must be disciplined about sending work. Hilary recommends setting aside a day a month specifically to do this, whether sending to competitions, magazines or works being published. Set yourself small goals but be realistic with time lines. Print magazines may take six months to respond but online magazines’ turnaround is closer to three weeks. But also read the print or online publication you’re submitting to first, do your research. You want to be sure of quality.

Hilary told how ‘rejection is your friend.’ She voiced how it can feel personal when you put your heart and soul into a poem but ‘if you look at the poem as an entity in its own right which needs to find its way in the world, like sending your children off to university, it becomes easier.’

Hilary has used this system for 11 years and so far has had 150 poems published either in print or online.

“I take a lot of inspiration from Radio 4. For example, I heard on Radio 4 about a whale who gave birth to a baby girl and a baby boy. The daughter went off to be her own personality but the son stayed with his mother, learning from her. There is inspiration everywhere – Facebook, funnily enough. I don’t engineer inspiration. Things pop up.”

“Some of my favourite poets would be Jo Bell, Kim Moone, Simon Armitage, Alice Oswald. The list goes on. No particular genre. We would be here all night if I listed them all.”

 

Main Speaker: Claire Dyer – Chapter & Verse

Claire is an author of three poetry books and four novels published via two agents and two publishers (with many more written and hidden in the loft); being a writer of both chapter and verse, Claire is often asked which she prefers. But she finds this question very similar to ‘which one of your children is your favourite?’ the answer will always be: ‘I like them the same.’ “There are different challenges with poetry and prose but in both you need to use character, message, atmosphere, voice.”

Claire Dyer2 - Oct 2019
Claire Dyer

It was the 10 years of experience on top of studies that led Claire to discover her voice. Claire joined the Poetry Society (https://poetrysociety.org.uk/), went to festivals, studied for a Masters at Royal Holloway, and 10 years later was when she noticed a change in her writing, “Nothing beats thrashing out ideas with other poets. All life is material. Nothing is ever wasted. Writers’ lives are exciting and frustrating in equal measure.”

Claire has been teaching creative writing for five years. She has seen writers grow in confidence and conviction during this time. She also runs a critique service – Fresh Eyes (www.clairedyer.com/fresh-eyes/) – which she hopes most writers will find less extortionate in price in comparison to the typical fees you expect from paid critique services.

“Writing can be frenetic and other times can be silent. I had to learn to be silent.” Putting a poetry collection together can take years, Claire’s first collection took 10 years, her second took four years and her third took five years to compile.

“And learning to live with rejection is important. Writing is a journey of wonderment. We’ve been to some amazing places, but I also have enough rejections to wallpaper St. Paul’s Cathedral… and I still don’t take them well,” she laughs, self-deprecating.

But Claire’s favourite part of writing is the personal connection: “Living with the work is so wonderful. Living with the writing life is my oxygen, publishers are a secondary consideration. It doesn’t matter whether it’s one page or a 100,000.” Claire loves writing a character that even she doesn’t know what they’re going to do next, until she sits and writes their pages. “Many writers will know exactly how their story is going to end but I like the ending to be a surprise for me and then I know it will be a surprise for the reader.”

Claire started her writing journey with ‘very bad short stories’. Her first novel at just 20,000 words she was advised to put under the bed. So she did and it’s still there. Claire said how with rejections you only ever remember the negatives, those directions to hide things under beds, you miss the positives comments of what worked well. But there are things that you can do that will help, Claire suggests ‘being in a writers’ group – such as Hampshire Writing Society – is step one; and to read! Read in your chosen and other genres. Look for good dialogue/bad dialogue; ask yourself ‘how is it constructed?’; inspiration is everywhere.

“I’m often inspired by one tiny idea, one tiny thought; for example, with my book Last Day, I wanted a love triangle where everyone got on and wondered how that would play out. Inspiration could be found looking at a photo, looking at a door, books can grow from the smallest idea. I have even spent time with potters, carpenters, firefighters just to learn.”

Last Day, underwent three major rewrites. “It’s no surprise it can take 18 months for a book to reach the shelf when you see the process of publishing a book.”

“Sometimes you’ll have three sets of experiences live in your mind at one time,” Claire explains. “The book that’s on the shelf selling, the book that’s with the publishers going through the process and the book you’re currently writing. I’m a nightmare to live with at this point,” Claire quips.

With 15 books written, Claire is familiar with sometimes falling out of love with a book when you’ve left it a while. And then it can be impacted by timescales, continuous advances in technology, for example, and can make it even harder to go back and change it. Changes in readers’ expectations as time moves on also plays a part. As a comparative in example, modern day readers like to be thrown into a book but Victorian readers enjoyed the slower introduction.

“It’s about the journey, not the destination. So much of what we do is predicated by luck. Our chances are slim but we keep hold of hope. Keep the faith in your work and maintain public contact… And don’t get too drunk at book launches.

“Enjoy the friends you meet, the points of view you get, live the writer’s life. You’ve got to be in it to win at it, after all.”

photos by Alex Carter, LexicaFilms

 

Literary Agent, Lorella Belli Talks E-books, Publishing and Self-Publishing: an agent’s view

In just over two weeks, Literary Agent Laura Williams will be speaking to Hampshire Writers’ Society. Her talk, Myth-busting the Publications Industry will be live at the Stripe. So, I thought it would be good to resurrect the report of a talk from the Literary Agent, Lorella Belli. Especially as Lorella appears in one of this website’s banner photos, plus it’s Halloween time; resurrecting things is topical!
Lorella talks about the role of an agent regardless of whether the author has chosen to self-publish or the more traditional route of ensnaring the interest of a publisher.
Lorella Belli and Barbara Large
What are the pros and cons of getting a traditional deal or choosing the self-publishing route? In this rapidly changing landscape, what is the role of the agent?
It was Lorella Belli’s ambition to set up her own agency. She set out to know the publishing industry inside out. Her brief to discover ‘new blood’ gave her not just invaluable insider experience but introduced her to many unpublished authors.
‘An agent works for their Author.’ Lorella says. As an agent, her primary concern and something which she feels forms a vital part of the agent/author partnership is; ‘What does the author want from their writing?’
She is the first to declare that the agent’s role in the modern author’s career remains unchanged regardless of chosen route of publication – self or traditional. An area of particular interest is the protection and exploitation of the author’s rights and here, Lorella is well versed and diva.
For the most part, a writer wants readers, they want to see their work in a bookshop. Equally, it is important to recognise the financial aspects of a writer’s career. Both the traditional route and the contemporary self-publishing route provides remuneration, but in different ways.
It is her belief that an agent has a responsibility to be aware of the many platforms of publication available to authors both new and experienced, how those platforms work and therefore be able to fit the author to the best publisher.
Lorella’s agency is vocational towards the needs of an author. There is no room for the agent’s preciousness over writing. ‘So, what if the book is ‘trashy’.’ Lorella says, ‘If the writer is happy, then their readers are happy and so is the publisher.’
An author can retain some control over publishing decisions e.g. the cover even through the traditional route. An informed agent will know to insert such clauses into their contract. Similarly, self-publishing has given the publishing houses some much needed competition – authors now have an alternative.
However, authors must be aware that by choosing the self-publishing route, they are choosing to take on their career in its entirety and inevitably this will cut into writing time. A publishing house provides editing, a marketing department, a sales department and publicity.
The traditional route may seem like it is taking its time, whereas self-publishing can be a whirlwind. Of course, this is after the author has learned all the skills needed to be a publisher.
One huge pro for the appointment of an agent – they get the hurtful rejections! However, an agent of Lorella’s talent will believe in the book and wants to see it published. It is that agent’s job to spot the writer’s talent and therefore their target audience.
It is hugely important that authors remain professional. When an agent is passionate about a book and has an author that they can build on, they will stand more chance of promoting it, even if it does not appear to fit, or is the wrong length.
Even to an agent as talented as Lorella, the next big thing is a mystery. There will always be the wild card – who could have predicted 50 Shades of Grey? However, a writer can keep their eye on publicity to hang on e.g. the Olympics.
As a writer grows more successful, their chosen path can become more complex. Lorella suggests building a team – delegate, remember the AAA (Association of Authors’ Agents) and ask an agent for advice. That is the bottom line of their job – to work for the author.
Lorella Belli
An agent’s website will state what they are looking for. There is no divide between male and female, it is all down to what that agent wants to feel when reading a book. For Lorella, it is what makes her laugh and what makes her cry.
The members present were left in no doubt of Lorella’s message – the agent works for the author, no one else, not themselves, not the publishers. Just the author. They thanked her for her candid, refreshing approach and dependably constant open door

October 2019 Competition Results: Claire Dyer – Adjudicator

The October competition was judged by novelist and poet, Claire Dyer.  The brief was to write a memory of being read to as a child.

And the winners were:

First Place:  Special Knight by Lynn Clements    

Second Place: The Final Half Hour by Peter Duncan

Third Place: The Ghosts in the Pages by Esther Fernandez-Florente       

Highly Commended: Read to Me by George Rodger 

Highly Commended: Bedtime by Linda Welch        

October winners
October winners: Esther Fernandez-Florente with Lynn Clements and George Rodger 

   Photo by Alex Carter

First Place: Special Knight by Lynn Clements    

He always came in the night, when he could. I snuggled down under my cherry pink, candlewick bed spread, pretending to be asleep. The door creaked…that’s when I couldn’t contain myself. My eyes would fly open and out of my mouth came, ‘another story pleeeeease.’ (Dad was a sucker for the soft soap). Inevitably there would be, ‘just one more,’ and I had him to myself.

Dad was away a lot during my childhood, so times spent with him were precious. The Gulf War and the Bosnian War interrupted my early years. Mum was often left with just me and my brother for company. She did her best to hold down a full-time job and bring us up proper, as she used to say but there wasn’t much time or energy for reading stories. And when dad was home she had her hands full. She worked extra hard to make him happier.

My dad loved myths and legends from the Egyptians and Greeks. He used to tell me about Amun Ra, king of the Gods and Osiris, who was chopped into pieces by his brother and how Icarus had his wings melted because he flew too close to the sun. He held the books open but didn’t turn many pages, yet the stories poured out. His voice was like drinking hot chocolate and my heart felt full. His eyes twinkled in the dim night light, and it was then he smiled most.

‘Special nights,’ I said at his funeral. He was forty-five. My brother nodded in his front row pew. Mum just bowed her head and shakily held onto her son’s hand. Cal read a poem that dad had taught him, about a knight in search of Eldorado. The gallant knight rode long and hard in his quest but couldn’t find what he was looking for. The poem then tells of a shadow falling over his heart as he realised Eldorado was unobtainable. It was then that we all wept.

Second Place: The Final Half Hour by Peter Duncan

The morning was for arithmetic and spelling (hopeless at one, a bit better at the other). After lunch it was music (no voice, terrible timing) or games (always the last to be picked). But in the final half hour of those long and long- ago days, something magical happened.

Mr Barlow wiped the blackboard, consigning forever a blur of words and numbers to my slowly lengthening past. Sitting on the edge of his desk now, he would pick up a battered paperback book and begin reading to us. Well, he was really reading just to me. Even after all these years I remember his voice: gentle and kind and carrying the promise of the story he was beginning to tell. Mr Barlow was always reading just to me.

I sat cross- legged on the polished wooden floor, barely noticing the others all around. Autumn turned to winter and then to spring and summer: the days outside the classroom windows gradually grew darker, then slowly lighter again. And all the while I listened enthralled to the most wonderful stories ever. I was in a city called Paris outsmarting thieves trying to get their hands on millions of francs. I was gazing into a rubbish- strewn chalk pit when I caught sight of a cave man. I was standing at the gates of the most marvellous chocolate factory the world had ever known.

Mr Barlow read on and I was in one of those wonderful other places. It didn’t matter that I was hopeless at arithmetic and not much better at spelling. It made no difference that I couldn’t sing and was always the last to be picked at games. Now I was somewhere else: Now I was in a story.

Third Place: The Ghosts in the Pages by Esther Fernandez-Florente

I don’t know whether I believe in ghosts but I know that a book can be haunted and, for me, memories of my parents fall out of the pages of certain books like old pressed flowers. What I remember most clearly is the cadence of their voices as they read books with me. The turn of a particular phrase is a twist of recollection, sharp as a paper cut. The one time I really and acutely miss either of them is when I find them between the leaves of a book.

There are pages that I can’t read without hearing my mother’s laughter bubbling up under particular words and sentences: in Saki’s short stories (especially ‘The Lumber Room’), Just William, “no harm just looking at it”, anything by Nancy Mitford.  She loved a descriptive passage too; we relished T. H. White’s evocation of Merlin’s study in The Sword in the Stone. ‘There was a real corkindrill hanging from the ceiling.’ (I’ve wanted one ever since, even after I knew what it was.)

With my father, it’s the reverence in his tone when he read poetry to me that remains. A dyslexic Fleet-Air-Arm veteran of the Second World War: he might well have been voted ‘man least likely to be found reading romantic poetry’ but that is often how I found him of an evening. He adored Byron.

‘And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,

Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!’

I can hear the awe in his voice: for words rather than God.

I read to my mother when she was dying, my father went too fast. I wanted her to hear my voice in the pages she taught me to love, as I wish my father had. Now the page is where I hear them best.

Highly Commended: Bedtime by Linda Welch

Every morning, Peter Tiggwigg trit-trotted past Mrs Goose’s toyshop on his way to school.  One day she called out to him.  ‘Peter Tiggywigg,’ she said …

How well I remember the opening line of that story, but after Mrs Goose’s call to Peter Tiggwigg my mind is blank.  Nestled in my father’s arms, snug and warm in my red Ladybird fleece dressing-gown, after my evening bath, I was already sleepy by the time he began the bedtime ritual.  His tone was quiet, not so animated that I would perk up at the story, but I remember he had different voices for the characters: Mrs Goose, prim and proper, with a slightly shrill manner – as an adult, I realize he modelled her on Aunty Wendy, still shrill, prim and proper at nearly 90.  Peter Tiggwigg, the schoolboy piglet, sounded cheeky and mischievous, a little like my brother although, over 50 years later, no-one could accuse him of either of those things.

More important than the stories themselves – from Tales of Peter Tiggywigg to Tales of the Riverbank – was the security and warmth of my father’s arms around me as we held the book together, turned the pages together, pointed to pictures and spelled out difficult words, and the utter certainty that reading me a bedtime story was the high point of his day, just as it was mine.

Long before the story was finished I would be asleep, and he would carry me up to bed and tuck the blankets around me.  He would leave the book on my bedside table, knowing that I would wake early and pick up where we had left off, carefully tracing with my fingertips the words we had read together.

I still can’t remember why Mrs Goose needed to speak to Peter Tiggywigg.

Highly Commended: Read to Me by George Rodger

Nobody read to me when I was a child.  No parent or older sibling sent me to sleep with a few pages of Enid Blyton. Even at five years old, I was sceptical that four kids and a parrot could save the world anyway.

So, I read to myself.

I left school at fifteen.  No job.  I had a bike which was stolen for me up in Barnet and I used to run errands for people who sometimes needed to avoid the attentions of the police.

One day I was knocked off my bike. A leg and both wrists broken, I was laid up in the trauma section in Tooting Hospital.

A hospital volunteer came to my bed and asked if I needed anything.  She was called Jacqui. I asked for a book to read.   She pursed her lips, thinking, and walked on. She returned later, laying a couple on the bed.  My arms and leg were in casts so I couldn’t turn the pages.  Jacqui, who looked early twenties, had watched her brother die, in this hospital, after a motorbike accident so she’d started volunteering on the wards. She picked a book up.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” She read.  The story was about the French Revolution. The book was finished by the end of the week. Next, she read a book that started “Call me Ishmael” and was about whaling.  By the time she finished reading it, I could wriggle my fingers under the casts.  Four books later, I was on my way home.

After a few days, Jacqui came to visit me at home where I was recuperating. I could see she liked me but she was six years older than me. Could she be looking for another broken body to grieve over?

“Can I do anything?” She said.

After a pause I asked, “Read to me?”

She smiled and sat down.

Ten years later we’re still together.

An Extra Ingredient!

This week we’re very lucky to have Sue Moorcroft Sunday Times and international bestselling author send us a writing tip. Sue is worth reading, she has reached the coveted #1 spot on Amazon Kindle, won the Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary; and she’s been nominated for several other awards, including a RoNA.

A writer of short stories, serials, columns and writing ‘how to’, Sue’s courses have appeared all over the world!

Her current release is Let it Snow, in which Lily the heroine searches for her half-brothers. Lily’s quest takes her from the frosty cottages of Middledip village to the snowy mountains of Switzerland. The ebook is out now with the paperback and audio available on the 14th November 2019

-  A tip from Sue Moorcroft

You’ve written a story, a good one. You’ve created a high-stakes conflict to hurl at your central character and had her or him solve it via a pivotal moment. Your setting’s vivid; your characters jump from the page; you’ve spoken your dialogue aloud. There’s no overuse of adverbs, repetition, passive or loose sentences. Your metaphors and similes are poetry.

And yet you’re not satisfied.

Where do you look for that extra ingredient to catch the eye of an editor or judge?

How about a specific angle in your structure? An easy example of this is the ‘epistolary form’, which means a story told in the form of correspondence. For years – centuries, I suppose – it often meant letters but now we’re equally likely to see email or other electronic communication. For the purpose of this post I’m going to use the word ‘message’.

Maybe it’s because we’re taught not to read the messages of others that reading one within a story can be so intriguing? You can tell an entire story in the form of messages or just introduce one at the right moment.

We tend to write (text/message/e-mail) in our own voice or some version of it. You can use this fact to create a strong impression of the character responsible. This can be especially useful if you want to bring out the voice of a character who has no viewpoint and little or no dialogue.

A teenager’s text or WhatsApp:

hope u & dad r ok. thx 4 sending my course work can’t believe I forgot it lol.

A solicitor’s letter:

Dear Mrs Bell

I am writing to update you on …

A love letter:

Hey, sexy buns …

A threatening note:

Some people should know when to shut up …

Cyber bullying:

Everyone knows you’re …

Messages can be a brilliant way of getting information over to readers without the dreaded ‘infodump’. If you’re writing about a character with an unusual medical condition, creating a message board for the sufferers in your story provides an accessible way to get background detail across.

Big Bob: What I find the hardest to deal with is the shakes from the meds. Anyone else get this?

Little Ted: It’s a stress when you’re trying to talk to a girl, isn’t it? I spend a lot of time with my hands jammed in my pockets.

This personalises the condition you’re trying to convey and prevents your story plunging into passages that sound like a medical text book.

Here are a few ideas for utilising written communications in fiction. Just add imagination:

o   Letters

o   emails

o   Texts/WhatsApp

o   Social media posts

o   Diary entries

o   Log book entries

o   Reports (medical/school/work/prison)

o   Sticky notes

o   Graffiti

o   Lists

o   Recipes

o   Blogs/blog comments

o   Newspaper/magazine articles

o   Footnotes

o   Excerpts from books

o   Songs or poems

Note: It’s important to be aware that it may not possible to use lyrics from songs or excerpts from books without gaining permission from the rights holder. Check out the relevant copyright law, especially if the author is alive or died less than seventy years ago. Or write your own!

 

Get on the Customer’s Shelf

“Booksellers are Pragmatists,” says Crispin Drummond, proprietor of P&G Wells independent booksellers in Winchester, “not Romanticists.”

The Shop at College Street

P&G Wells have been in the business of selling books for over 200 years. Crispin was sold the shop on College Street after one too many glasses of wine. His only credentials — he liked to read. A year of learning on the job followed. He learned that the horror stories are true; there are too many books, chain-stores are closing and yes, authors are getting a bad deal from publishers.

The bookseller is firmly on the side of the customer and P&G Wells’ first policy is to give thoughtful customers a wide choice. So, when looking at new titles, deciding what to stock, he considers the customer and listens to their wavelength. The bookseller will think on over 50,000 titles, of those they will stock roughly 8,000. For a pragmatist, choosing those titles is blissfully free of the sentimentalities suffered by the romanticist. Of course, he doesn’t do “blissfully”.

“The average British reader only buys 3 books a year.” Crispin reports, “5 at most.”

The bookseller’s customers will not be swayed by the Best Seller label, they can get those anywhere. It is the fresh books that sell. P&G Wells supports a far larger number of authors than any of the chain stores, regardless of who publishes them.

To get your book on the P&G Wells customers’ shelves, it must be well-written, it needs to have something new, bring something special to the shelf. The customers would not forgive the bookseller for offering them something that was run-of-the-mill. They do not buy the same-old, same-old.

“Obviously, the booksellers’ best time of the year is Christmas.” Crispin told the members and guests gathered, “When the ideal customer is the one who wants to buy presents for every member of their family. And P&G Wells has just the book for each of them.”

Crispin is the Hampshire Writers’ Society treasurer. He is the bookseller in the foyer at every Tuesday night meeting.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

September 2019 Competition Results: Ed Davey – Adjudicator

Firstly – congratulations to our winners of 200 year celebration of Keats’ Ode! 

First Place: The Picking Party by Colin Johnson

Second Place: The Coffin Walk by George Rodger

Third Place: An Imagined Letter to John Keats by Mark Eyles

Highly Commended: Autumn Ode by Gill Hollands

Highly Commended: To Swell the Gourd by Viv Smith

 

The September competition was judged by travel writer, journalist and novelist, Ed Davey.   The brief was to write a travel article in 300 words.

And the winners were:

First Place:  The Christmas Hippo by George Rodger    

Second Place: Cool Runnings Catamaran by Lynn Clement

Third Place: An Island of Contradictions by Frank Carver       

Highly Commended: The Bear by Rosie Sutcliffe  

Highly Commended: Viet Mong by David Lea       

George and Ed

Winner, George Rodger, with Tuesday’s speaker, Ed Davey.

   Photo by Alex Carter

First Place: The Christmas Hippo by George Rodger   

Hippo

The Christmas Hippo – a week spent at Royal Zambezi Lodge, Zambia

Groucho Marx said, “I woke up one morning in Africa, walked out of my tent and shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got into them, I’ll never know”.

Here I was, in my pyjamas, outside a tent in Africa trying to shoot a hippo. With a camera. Despite being such massive, lens-filling icons, hippos are very shy creatures and when approached, tantalisingly show their heads and twitching semaphore ears before sinking from view. At night they come ashore to graze. I gave up and returned to bed. It was before dawn and we were spending Christmas in a tented unit in Royal Zambezi Lodge in Zambia.

The lodge’s slogan is “Where Luxury meets the Wild”. Leave the bar after dark and an armed guard escorts you to your tent. You never know what’s walking around the camp at night! Each riverfront unit is on stilts to cope with the rise and fall of the Zambezi. Raise your head from your cotton pillow in the morning and you look straight across the river to Zimbabwe, two kilometres away.

There are game drives in four-wheel drive vehicles daily although many people come to Royal Zambezi for the fishing. The King of the River is the Tigerfish. It rises out of the water like a Marlin, dancing on its tail as he tries to throw the hook. The Tiger is pure muscular aggression, from its broad tail to its terrifying mouth with teeth that are a Jurassic nightmare. It can remove an unwary angler’s finger and are fast enough to have caught low-flying birds.

By Christmas Day, I still hadn’t got near enough to a hippo to capture a really memorable photograph. We were drifting downstream on the boat when suddenly our guide whispered, “Hippos, right behind us” as a pod emerged out of the water into the fiery path of the sunset reflected on the river. I trained my camera and finally got one, mouth open, laughing.

And not a Marx Brother in sight.

Second Place:  Cool Runnings Catamaran by Lynn Clement   Cool runnings jpegThird Place: An Island of Contradictions by Frank Carver  

Weather information is online these days, so I am prepared for the 38-degree heat. The surprise is the altitude. I do not consider its elevation until we step from the plane in Salt Lake City. A lake as high as the top of Ben Nevis.

We drive for an hour through the city to the ragged edge of the street grid and finally the long curve of a causeway. Ahead a white and silver blur, salt flats blending into the lake edge. Beyond that, the hazy bulk of Antelope Island State Park. Gulls wheel above the salt water, seven hundred miles from the ocean.

A park ranger explains about geography, history and wildlife. “With the shrinking lake and the new causeway, it’s not really an island anymore.” The ranger taps the flint spearhead shape of the park on a scale model. “and the ‘antelopes’ are not antelopes, but closer to giraffes.”

From the beachside car park, the lake looks much further away. The path submerges in a low dune, but we carry on, each pace cracking a crisp layer of salt beneath our feet, crème brûlée in silver-grey.

Everything appears fuzzy near the waterline. Our movements disturb millions of tiny flies which swirl and disperse, never rising more than a few centimetres. They don’t bite but their patterns are mesmerising, shifting with every step.

We abandon shoes and socks without fear of rising tides, wade into the warm shallow water and pause, calf deep, enchanted by underwater clouds of pale brine shrimp which dance around our legs. Too salty for predatory fish, there’s nothing to keep the shrimps from multiplying. In front of us the Great Salt Lake shimmers into the distance. Behind, the parched brown spine of the island rises another thousand feet.

Highly Commended: The Bear by Rosie Sutclfife

The path wound between magnificent conifers, skirting the shoreline of the brackish lake, towards the large wooden shed. I hesitated at the entrance aware that this was the beginning of a twelve-hour vigil and like a diver about to plunge into deep water, I took a great gasp of fresh, pine scented air before lunging into the warm, musty darkness of the hide.

Finland was all about long forest treks, bracingly cold spring water, the thrill of venturing onto the no mans land fringe of the Russian border. The afternoon had passed with a ponderous circumnavigation of the lake by canoe, followed by a tentative five minutes in the sauna and even more tentative toe dipping in the lake. Now was to come the highlight of the trip, a night of midnight sun, or at least a dusk, followed rapidly by a dawn and with luck a sighting at some point of a European Brown Bear.

I sat motionless, eyes straining to catch that elusive glimpse of the great boreal ursus. Hooded crows, hardly seeming related to their malachite British cousins descended in flurries of frenetic activity as the hours passed. I grew stiff from staying motionless, like a Buddhist monk practising tranquillity ,  I reached a state of quiet stillness.

Suddenly, silently, a subtle parting of the bushes as a great bear emerged and padded towards the hide, strings of drool hanging from its expectant maw as nostrils flexing it sought the nuts and berries hidden to lure it to us.

A great wave of emotion pulsed through me, a kind of wild excitement rarely felt in adulthood, mixed with a powerful awe for this majestic creature. Breaking the stillness I reached for my camera to capture the moment. Too late. The bushes closed over his departing form. The memory embedded in my mind must suffice.

 

Highly Commended: Viet Mong by David Lea

We arrived at the entrance to Angkor Wat early one morning towards the end of our sixteen-day “Asian Adventures Guided Tour to Vietnam and Cambodia”. There were twenty-four of us, mostly late-middle-aged, mostly retired and mostly biddable and uncontentious. Over the previous two weeks we had shared tuk-tuks through the Hanoi traffic, visited Uncle Ho’s mausoleum and gone down the Viet Cong tunnels; we had shared imodium tablets, exchanged confidences and swapped biographies: we had bonded.

Affinities and preferences had been established and, each morning, there were unspoken manoeuvres as we made for the seats on the coach near our own special friends. Nobody wanted to sit next to John: six feet three or four and in his late sixties, he wore synthetic red shorts, luminous trainers and a Hanoi T-shirt.

That morning at Angkor, our guide, Saroath, was introducing us to the site when he was interrupted by John: ‘What’s a mong?’ he snorted, casting about for someone he could share the joke with.

‘Saroath was talking about monks, John. Over there by the steps.’ John’s wife pointed to the young monks in their robes.

‘I was raised by monks,’ said Saroath, although, again, what we actually heard was, ‘I was raised by mongs’.

A stifled giggle from John and an awkward silence.

Then someone asked, ‘Why were you brought up by monks?’

‘My parents died when I was three: the Khmer Rouge murdered them. It is not unusual.’

The next day, John decided against the optional tour to the floating village. His wife came with us, but John spent the day floating on his back in the hotel swimming pool. At the buffet breakfast the following morning, he glowed.

He shone. He radiated heat.

He was a bright and painful, sunburnt pink.

And the group bond was decidedly stronger.

 

 

E.M. Davey: Fiction as a Window on Our World

E. M Davey

“A thriller writer needs to gain the trust of his reader.” E.M. Davey informs the gathered guests and members of the Hampshire Writers’ Society. With this in mind, he seeks out genuine ancient text, quotes and voices from those who were there, actually on site at the time to use in his conspiracy thrillers.

No stranger to the media, Ed decided on the use of the pseudonym E.M Davey, after being confused one too many times with Ed Davey MP. His day-job is in investigative journalism, harbouring a stint in undercover filming with a passion for travel and he uses it all to influence his thrillers. He grins when he points out that his job is exciting and a lot of fun. If the anecdotes he regaled us all with are anything to go by, his novels will be full of fascinating characters, beautiful settings and bustling cities.

“There’s something about that world that attracts absolute nutters!” he assures us.

It was the British Museum that captured his interest in history and he went on to study it at University. That was 15 years ago and he confesses to still uncovering ancient unknown civilisations. Clearly, he remains fascinated.

After pin-pointing the idea that will spark a novel, Ed totally immerses himself in his subject. He reads up extensively on it, attends exhibitions about it, watches documentaries on it and visits the setting. Seeing himself as a magpie, collecting snippets of information that will interest people, he’s never without his diary and now has a shelf of colourful, one-off, first account records for the 60 or so settings that he has visited.

“Find your Investigator’s Friend.” he advises.

Ed’s was invaluable when after researching in China he arrived home to find he’d been so blown away by the setting, he hadn’t taken any notes and for a writer so bullet pointed as E.M. Davey that wasn’t good.

“Its like being a bad, tabloid journalist, taking a quote and blowing it out of context.” he says.

A knowledge of the law is handy, although a writer, no matter how absorbed in their subject should have a care for the humanity in people. Those who have only recently passed-away may have family trusts set up.

There’s no right way to writing a novel, he tells us. In fact, Ed’s wife writes in the exact opposite way to his organised, chronological plotting, arcing, drafting and editing.

Ed’s system is to equip himself with a large Black and Red book which he then divides into colour coded sections in which to file his research. When the book is full, he creates a word document for each part and transfers all the information.

He then makes around 50 bullet points and begins dropping bits and pieces of story, character, setting in between these until an unashamedly large first draft is formed. A hard edit is then embarked upon, followed by 2 or 3 more until the final edit is down to roughly 80,000 words.

Here, Ed imparts a piece of advice that he was given when concerned that his books were boring. “Remember, none of your readers have read any of your book before. So, it is bound to seem boring to you; especially after 2 or 3 hundred reads.”

Report by Lisa Nightingale

September is a New Year

September! For Hampshire Writers’ Society, September is the start of a whole new year. The programme for our forthcoming season is now shining brighter than a diamond on the website.

E. M Davey

We’re starting the year off with Thriller writer E. M Davey. Ed spent eight years with the BBC, going undercover for Panorama, presenting the BBC World Service, and working on investigations for Newsnight, File on 4, and News at Six. He has visited more than sixty countries and next Tuesday Winchester where he will recount to HWS how adventure, travel, history, and investigative journalism have inspired his thrillers.
PG Wells Proprietor and HWS Treasurer, Crispin Drummond is our special guest. Crispin will spill the beans on how book shops choose the books that they stock and sell and where those books come from. His talk will be a must for writers planning on self-publishing.

Claire Dyer

In October, our speaker is Claire Dyer. Claire is a novelist and poet who likes love stories and cheese! However, she is “allergic to mussels, oysters and the like.” Still, Claire is proud to announce that she has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London which, when added to her BA in English & History from the University of Birmingham, and her MA in Victorian Literature & Culture from the University of Reading she has “three degrees so all she needs is to be able to sing in tune and wear sequins without looking foolish!” You must join us for Claire’s talk; it promises to be a giggle. Writer and poet Hilary Hares joins Claire as special guest.

Laura Williams

Literary Agent, Laura Williams in November is going to bring us all back down to earth with some myth-busting about the publications industry. November special guest is to be novelist of history and the supernatural, Emma Nichol-Lewis.

Caroline Wintersgill

Editor, Caroline Wintersgill in December is going to let us in on a secret – What Editors Want. Our own wonderful historical novelist, David Eadsforth is our Christmassy special guest.
Before you get excited about Christmas, HWS has four excellent speakers worth a listen even if their writing isn’t your thing. All genres, types, makes or brands of writing go into making a novelist and our speakers are eager to pass on that tip-bit that will click all your everythings together.

Check the programme on the website for monthly competitions and the remainder of the 2019-2020 programme.

Post by Lisa Nightingale

A Bond of Brothers (and sisters)


HWS blog is going Guildford this time to meet the Hogs Back Writers. Fellow writer and Winchester Writers’ Fest goer, Richard Fuller is our inspiration, here he tells us what Hogs Back Writers get up to at their meetings:

Hogs Back Writers’ Village Hall

We walk up the unlit, unmade, muddy lane, past mouldering gravestones and uncut grass, a bitter winter wind at our backs, before climbing the steep uneven steps at journeys end.

No, not the beginning of a novel, but the path from the car park to Hogs Back Writers regular meetings in a small village hall, between Farnham and Guildford. Why so remote? The answer is long gone. I’ve been a member for nigh on ten years, and the group was old then. I can give the reason for us staying, the hall is cheap and convenient(ish), though on a January night…

So why belong to a writer’s group, and why Hog’s Back?

I’ll answer those questions in reverse order to explain the benefits of our great little group of seventeen members, which include two published, and another two agented authors. Nearly everyone is writing novels, with a couple of exceptions in non-fiction. There is no poetry and only the occasional short story. Nearly everyone has managed to complete a first draft, we are all in the same metaphoric boat.

Writing, we know, is a solitary business, hours locked away with just a keyboard and spell check for company, but it needn’t be. I look forward to seeing my fellow writers. We share our problems, discuss sticky plot points, get considered feedback on our hard penned words. Not the ‘Lovely, dear,’ from friends and relatives, who think you need to be humoured.

Why Hogs Back? We meet most Mondays for critique of manuscripts. Bring along up to 2500 troublesome words, hand out half a dozen printed copies and read out your worries. The printouts are marked up with whatever anyone feels appropriate, and a ten minute discussion (not hard and fast) follows, in which members describe what they liked and where things might be improved. Of course it doesn’t always work, one person may say they thought the “voice” was perfect for the character, and the next may well suggest the opposite. But at least it gives you, the author, something to think about.

Our biggest benefits though, are not just in the critique. Every third Monday we lock away the manuscripts and meet in a pub, aptly named The Good Intent, to have a themed chat about writerly things, such as character, viewpoint, plotting, book blurbs, or anything else bothering us. These nights are some of the most useful things we do.

Then there are the Jellies.  We hold them a couple of times a year in a local hall. A writing day with quiet distraction-free time and a social buffet lunch. More recently we’ve taken to holding Trifles as well. Oh come on, a trifle is like a Jelly but more complicated- it’s a writing weekend. We have used the same large house in Margate several times, lots of bedrooms and writing spaces, sea views, and the companionship of fellow writers, oh yes and wine, lots of wine.

We also offer each other much needed support with such painful topics as synopses, and agent letters. We celebrate member’s successes and awards. We occasionally have guest speakers and of course there is the annual Christmas party with it’s hard fought flash fiction competition, mince pies, and, dare I say, lots of wine.

So that is Hogs Back, a very sociable addition to the solitude of writing. But please don’t rush to contact us, we are not looking for new members right now…

Post by Richard Fuller