HWS December Report – Special Guest Joan McGavin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

smear some life into it.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

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

Hampshire Writers’ Society Published Members’ Book Fair

11th December 2018 from 6pm – 7.30pm

Di Henley
Di Henley

 followed by a talk at 7.30pm from 

historical novelist

Penny Ingram

Researching, Writing and Publishing Historical Fiction

with special guest author,

Rosie Travers

Programme finishes at approximately 9.30pm

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

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

 Rosie Travers

Anthony Ridgway

B.Random

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

 Damon L.Wakes

Eve Phillips

Dai Henley

Averil Branson

Anne Wan

Justin Strain

Karen Hamilton

Martin Kyrle

David Bruce

Joan McGavin

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

Heather Holden Brown of HHB Literary Agency

HWS November 2018 Meeting Report by Lisa Nightingale

Heather Holden Brown of HHB Literary Agency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Thomas and Allison Symes At Hampshire Writers’ Society

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

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

Main Speaker, Ian Thomas

 

 

P1100332
Ian Thomas, partner and founder of Talespinners

 

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

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

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

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

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

Special Guest, Allison Symes

 

P1100232
Allison Symes, flash fiction author.

 

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

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

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

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

Tracey Corderoy and Barry Timms At Hampshire Writers’ Society

An evening spent with Hampshire Writers’ Society is often a serendipitous, informative and enjoyable affair, the curtain-raiser to the 2018/19 season was all three and more besides. From a request for ghostwriters (see below) to a mix of speakers engaged in an eclectic range of topics including a writer’s self-publishing journey and an in-depth explanation of what it takes to produce a child’s picture book from concept to completion, September’s meeting had it all.

If any member would like to be involved in a ghostwriting project and is specifically interested and able to render some forgotten but important aspects of British history (channel your inner Walter Scott) then please do get in touch with the Society via the usual routes.

Main Speakers: Tracey Corderoy and Barry Timms

Tracey-Corderoy-IMG_4249-e1436984118470Barry_pic

Children’s Author, Tracey Corderoy and the editor of Little Tiger Press, Barry Timms shared the platform to offer a detailed and highly informative account of what it takes to get a new children’s picture book on to the shelves in an ever increasingly difficult market.

To give some idea of the scale of Barry’s annual endeavours it’s not uncommon to see him working on 30 separate projects per year whilst simultaneously managing output and direction from multiple authors on behalf of Little Tiger. Given the extent of his involvement with the creative output of diverse writers, it is important for him to gauge author sensitivities and in so doing manage people as individuals in order to support them and help them produce work of the highest standards. With this last in mind, Tracey pointed out that their own author/editor relationship is founded on trust and mutual respect. With a production time of 18 months from a project’s acquirement to the finished book appearing on the shelves, managing relationships must be an important co-skill.

Over time, Tracey has developed a thick author’s skin and has come to see that many of the editorial decisions that might at first seem out of kilter end up being for the best both in terms of artistic quality and commercial success. On average, we were told, a picture book requires 7 re-writes with some requiring many more than that. Manuscript development goes through 3 main phases starting with a structural edit followed by a line edit and finally a copy edit/proofread. Unlike most books aimed at adults, children’s picture books have the all-important aspect of illustrations to consider. The illustrator has a pivotal role in blending the narrative and close cooperation between all the production team is indispensable as the book’s artwork develops. This is a process, Barry explained, that is undertaken in 4 phases with character creation, thumbnail production, working on the text/image interaction and then the final artwork.

Many will have struggled to produce a ‘blurb’ to support their own work let alone a synopsis but these are two elements that are just as important when trying to market children’s books to an interested publisher. The two main children’s Book Fairs are held in Bologna and Frankfurt and Little Toller’s commercial year revolves around these two events. Tracy and Barry finished off their presentation by agreeing that memorable characters often represented by animals involved in twisting plots or favourite themes are perhaps the best places for any would-be children’s author to start from.

Special Guest: Brenda Sedgwick

Copy of P1100086

Brenda has been a long-time member of Hampshire Writers’ Society and has taught within the adult education sector with a specific focus on creative writing for many years. Latterly, she has lived and worked in Sri Lanka where she pursues her twin passions of teaching and writing. With an already enviable publishing track record, she wanted to extend her output to include a ‘proper’ novel, a goal that she has now achieved with the appearance of her debut, A Marriage, A Journey and A Dog  http://bhsbooks.com 

It is a work that plots the story of Natalie, an ordinary woman of humble means, who undergoes transformative experiences when she undertakes a journey through Europe.  Brenda writes stories that she herself would want to read with narratives underscored by humour and believable characters (we all know a Natalie) that carry the reader along briskly. With a virtual clean sweep of 5star reviews, we should all look forward to Brenda’s future work.

All images © Lexica Films

 

Lisa Jewell In Conversation With John Miller At Hampshire Writers’ Society Gala Evening

Joy Carter, Vice Chancellor of the University of Winchester and Patron of Hampshire Writers’ Society headed a group of very special guests in attendance at the Gala Evening which brought the curtain down on an incredibly successful 2017-18 season.  Her pleasure at introducing friends and colleagues, including the university’s Chancellor Alan Titchmarsh MBE, DL, HonFSE and Society President, Barbara Large, was palpable.

Members of the Society will know only too well of the troublesome few months that Barbara has faced and everyone’s delight at Barbara’s arrival into the auditorium was manifest by the first of two impromptu and prolonged standing ovations such is the love and esteem in which she is held by one and all.

P1090500 P1090549

Joy Carter and Alan Titchmarsh

Barbara spoke briefly and eloquently about her time in convalescence and (dare it be said?) somewhat predictably, she has busied herself with writing a new book containing recipes for health, recuperation and love.

P1090486

Barbara Large with her soon-to-be-published book

When Barbara’s short address was complete the stage was handed over to Alan Titchmarsh who in his own inimitable way charmed and informed the audience in equal measure.  His knowledge of teaching and learning and of the details and skills of creative writing are clear and extensive.  One might be lulled into imagining that because Alan’s style of communication is so self-effacing this was just some other ‘ordinary Joe’ but by the end of his time on stage, it was obvious to all that here was a man of immense talent and huge experience with a wealth of knowledge to share.  He did so generously and humbly.

Main Speaker: Lisa Jewell with John Miller

Copy of P1090626

Lisa Jewell has written no less than 15 best sellers which isn’t bad for someone whose writing career started in order to try to win a tipsy holiday wager!  As is so often the case creativity finds adversity to be fertile ground.  Lisa, trapped in an untimely, toxic marriage eventually managed to escape and found herself enrolling in an adult education Creative Writing class.

From these difficult beginnings, she was to be found out of necessity writing in coffee shops and cafes and this remains her prefered working environment.  To this day her daily writing routine revolves around forsaking her domestic setting for rather more anonymous surroundings where her next novel can take shape amongst the clink of teacups and pastry crumbs.  Lisa never allows herself to ask for a Wi-Fi code preferring a strict regime so that her creative juices can flow unimpeded.

As her career has developed Lisa has found herself in the position of sometimes almost having to write to order – her publisher asks for creative output and Lisa obliges by producing riveting copy with or without the help of her muse.  Waiting for higher inspiration is a luxury her hectic schedule simply can’t afford and neither is she precious about whether it’s characters or plots that drive her storylines. She’s happy to take whichever approach is working best for her at any given time.  Espousing web connectivity whilst writing, Lisa identified that for her at least, modern technology can often be a double-edged sword.  The research potential of the internet is unprecedented but so too are the distractions that can come with web-browsing.   These distractions can often work to thwart writing progress, however, one traditional activity that all writers should embrace, Lisa advised, is the age-old bedrock of reading as much as possible.

Lisa’s talk was guided by the very capable and incisive John Miller who was able to tease out informative writing habits and revealing aspects of writing professionally throughout Lisa’s talk. One thing which Lisa has still yet to come completely to terms with are the occasional negative reviews which goes to show that even successful and experienced writers, like those just starting on their writing journey, are equally affected by reviews, good or bad.

Lisa’s latest novel hits the shelves on July 12th and for members of the Society, it will be a wonderful read in light of Lisa’s excellent address.

All images © Lexica Films

Q&A with Steve Mchugh, Best Selling Urban Fantasy Writer

Interview by Lisa Nightingale

Next month, Steve McHugh will be talking at the Hampshire Writers’s Society. We wanted to find out a little more about his writing process…

Q. When you first began writing were you aware that you were writing a particular genre and what that genre was?

I’ve always been someone who liked to write stories, and judging from my interests, I knew that I’d be writing in the fantasy or sci-fi genres. When I was 25, when my eldest daughter was born, I decided to get serious about writing and from there I started to work on what turned into an urban fantasy story.

 That was when I knew I wanted to work in the genre before moving on to a different one, and I wrote Crimes Against Magic.

Q. Was Hellequinn your first foray into mixing our own up-to-date world with that of fantasy?

Hellequin was the second. The first was never good enough to be published, but it gave me the ideas that would eventually become Hellequin.

Q. Were you then able to find out the ‘dos’ and ‘don’t’ of that genre, for example, a limit on description or a taboo on a setting or type and style of character and what about dialogue, is the genre picky about dialect? For a long time, I was put off high fantasy as I was under the impression that it was way too olde English for a contemporary reader like me.

The good thing about urban fantasy is that it’s such a broad genre, you can really make it your own by adding or removing things you need. The most important restrictions are the ones you set yourself during your world-building. So long as you are consistent with the world you want to create, even if you’re using the real world as a backdrop, there aren’t many dos and don’t.

I’d say don’t let your book go too long, certainly not epic fantasy size, and try to make sure that whatever you do is more character based and not just about the fantastical world around them, but that’s probably the same for all genres.

With the setting, you need to have at least part of the book in the real world, but it doesn’t all need to be here, and I’ve not had any problems with dialect or lengthy descriptions, but then I don’t describe everything in detail anyway, so maybe that’s just me.

Q. Did you find sticking within the genre’s guidelines restrictive at all? Can you give me any tips for appeasing my mind-set to deal with such restrictions?

I find my restrictions quite easy to deal with. You really just need to decide on what you want your story to be. You want an urban fantasy with lots of romance? Go nuts. Or the same, but with a sci-fi edge? That’s okay too. There’s no hard and fast rule. You just need to ensure that whatever you decide is adhered to. You can’t add new fantastical elements that go against what you’ve already stated was part of your world building.

Q. Or, did you do your own thing, in which case, please tell me how you got passed the publisher’s requirement and their somewhat strict gatekeepers.

I self-published my first book, so I didn’t have a lot of gatekeepers to keep happy, but my publisher contacted me after about a year and asked if I’d like to work with them. Since then, I’ve had no issues with making sure I write a book they’re happy with.

 So long as you write the book you want to write, you can always worry about what publishers and agents want after. You’ll need to be mindful of what is and isn’t being published currently, but getting the story down first is more important.

Q. How long, in your eyes (and I suppose the genre’s) does a novel of this genre have to be? Agents ask for the first three chapters or 10 to 50 pages, perhaps we should take this as a clue to the length of a chapter.

My books range from 110k in Crimes, to 146k in Scorched Shadows. Each chapter is between 10-15 pages long, on average. For me, that’s perfect as I think people like to be able to read a chapter or two and not feel like they have to put in a long time to do so.

Anything over probably 160k is too long, and anything under 80k is probably too short. If you aim for that 100k spot, and you go either side by a few, you’ll be fine.

Erwin James at the Hampshire Writers’ Society Tuesday 13th June

Report by Lisa Nightingale

You’d be forgiven for comparing the early life of prize-winning  author and Guardian columnist, Erwin James, to that of Dickens’ Oliver, but there was nothing to sing about. Or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre;  there was definitely no romance. Found guilty of stealing sweets at just ten, he became a victim of a neglectful, remorseless society and was thrown in a children’s home

The reality of the fictional world that we writers choose to live in never ceases to amaze us; the truth behind the life of spies, the ferocity of competition between athletes, the harshness of war and the brutality of children’s homes in 1960’s Yorkshire where Erwin James lived. Despite the inadequacy of the carers, James’ life of petty crime was overturned by small kindnesses..

James had only a basic education. At that time educational investigations had proven that 74 % of adult male prisoners had a reading age of less than that of an eight year old child. For Erwin James, being a writer was far from his own expectations.

Sessions with the Prison Psychiatrist persuaded him to enlist in part time education. He completed a degree in History Degree, along with an interest in writing  Fifteen years into his life sentence, rehabilitation gave him the opportunity to  write for The Guardian..

‘I am a writer.’ he told the Prison Governor,  Monster Mansion, HM  Prison Wakefield.

‘Better get another hobby!’ was the reply.

So, where do you go from there? Returning to his cell after that short but damning conversation, he stared despondently at the wall.

‘Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent …..’ Part of a speech made my Calvin Coolidge, the thirty- third President of the United States. James had copied these lines  though  ‘I had to look up “omnipotent” though,’ he admits.

He escalated his cause, petitioned the Home Secretary and eventually was allowed to accept the offer from The Guardian. His deadlines, perhaps didn’t pose the same restraints that they do for many columnists, nor the motivation or  inspiration. ‘ Life is what happens on the outside; surely?’

‘…we just aren’t sure how rehabilitated the prison service wants the prisoners to be…’ the Governor commented.

For four years, James wrote and submitted his weekly column.

‘You know you’re a writer when you want your readers to see and feel what it is that you see, ’he said.

Instrumental in the setting up of reading/writing groups within the prison, James made the decision to be what he is, a writer. His psychiatrist believed that he could be a writer.

‘I never expected to ‘live’ again.’ he said, ‘Thank you for this opportunity.’

Claire Fuller at the Hampshire Writers’ Society

Report by Lisa Nightingale

‘You don’t need to know someone in the industry, in order to get published,’ award- winning author, Claire Fuller is keen to tell writers.

Claire is not at all bashful about having begun her writing career, aged 40, or how her first book, Our Endless Numbered Days was chosen from the ‘slush pile’ or that she was 48 before she was published.

She recalls that she was sitting in the back seat of a small car surrounded by cheese and bulging bin bags of wedding feast dregs, when she took the call from her agent with the news that Penguin had won the publishers’ auction for Our Endless Numbered Days . This debut novel was published in the UK and was sold to a further twelve countries. It was awarded the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction 2015 and long-listed for the Dublin Literary Award.

Claire directed a marketing company for a number of years though she had gained a degree in sculpture from the Winchester School of Art. While she was developing a succession of projects, she realised that she needed to extend her knowledge. She chose creative writing.

Although she had not written fiction since leaving school, aged 16, she submitted  a short story into the Hampshire Cultural Trust  Short Story Slam. Eighteen months later her submission won a competition and she was rewarded with the princely sum of £9.50! ‘Entering competitions is an excellent way to become recognised as an emerging writer’.

Fascinated by the story of Robin Van Helsum, a Dutch boy, who claimed to have lived in a German forest for five years, she wrote scenes of a young girl living in a forest, which she incorporated into her dissertation for her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester.

Claire readily admits to being someone who needs guidance and discipline. During the academic year’s summer break, she feared that her motivation would lapse. She loves the freedom writing brings to indulge in description and launched into a self- imposed project, turning the forest scenes into a book. She took part in live research and ‘watched an awful lot of Ray Mears programmes.’

She submitted a synopsis of 140 characters to #PitMad. The ‘likes’ that she received from agents motivated her further and she finished and revised the book. To find an agent, she submitted to a variety of agents and received the usual rejection letters.

However she did receive an invitation to tea in London from an agent.

‘We sat outdoors at a long table. She bought me the smallest cake in London,’ Claire recalls. But she was so friendly, supportive and genuinely interested in my novel. ‘I knew that she was the agent for me.’

A certain amount of luck is involved in finding the right agent. It is important to work with them, Claire advised. Although it is part of the publisher’s contractual agreement to market writers’ books, they like it when you support them.

Claire observed that when you live with your story for so long, you often don’t recognise overlong narrative scenes. Her editor has asked her to alter the placement of her scenes to improve the pace or to change of words, but they have never asked her to change her story line or her ideas.

Claire enjoys the editing process even more than the writing of the first draft. She is a member of a critiquing group, which she has found invaluable.

Because her publisher has only offered her a one book deal, she has prepared the  first draft of her next book while she was waiting for her first book to be printed, in her case, a period of eighteen months.

Swimming Lessons, her second book, was published by Fig Tree/Penguin in hardback and ebook in January 2017, published by Tin House, US, in February 2017, by House of Anansi, Canada and Piper in Germany in March 2017.

Swimming Lessons has received many favourable reviews including The Guardian, who reported that ‘ Swimming Lessons reveals a writer that has all the observational touches that show Fuller to be a serious novelist with an acute awareness of the nuances and patterns of human speech and behaviour.’

Meanwhile Claire she is working on Book 3. Then her submission process begins anew.

Tracy Baines at Hampshire Writers’ Society

Wholly unforeseen events indisposed scheduled guest, Margaret Graham which forced a last minute alteration to the evening’s programme. Stepping in to save the day, The Society welcomed short story writer extraordinaire, Tracy Baines to share her wisdom on how to write short stories and how to get them published.

Sitting alongside Tracy was Ian Thornton of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment, whose story of bravery and fortitude, allied to an unswerving desire to promote the charitable legacy of his late brother, was a privilege to listen to.

Special Guest: Ian Thornton

Captain Ian Thornton, a commissioned infantry officer with the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment and patron of the charity Words for Wounded is passionately committed to helping his fellow servicemen wounded in the line of duty to live as full and active lives as possible.

Captain Thornton understands all too well the personal cost of military service, having tragically lost his younger brother, John on active service with the Royal Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. After this terrible event, it fell to Ian to organise some of John’s repatriated belongings. Amongst those precious personal items was John’s diary and Ian quickly realised what an important and unique record it comprised. Ian explained that John had already shared some of the diary’s contents and so knew John would not feel that he was being intruded upon. What Ian read seemed at once funny, poignant and superbly well-written. Indeed, it is a testimony to the quality of the writing that John’s diary now resides in the Imperial War Museum but crucially, before it found its way into public display, it provided an inspirational template for the publication of Helmand: Diaries of a Frontline Soldier. Endorsed by ex-Royal Marine and politician, Lord Paddy Ashdown and with a foreword from Simon Weston, the book comprises the diary entries of Ian and John Thornton alongside those of other serving and ex-military personnel. It provides a glimpse into the frontline experiences of those serving in Afghanistan.

The proceeds from the book support both the John Thornton Young Achievers Foundation and the Royal Marines Foundation and to date have enabled youngsters to become involved in a wide variety of activities that they would otherwise not have had the opportunity to experience.

Main Speaker: Tracy Baines

Growing up in North East Lincolnshire, in the estuarine town of Cleethorpes and with the river Humber an ever-present backdrop, a young Tracy Baines sat fascinated at her grandmother’s side listening to recollections of her family’s history. Not least amongst these were the tales of hardship, bravery and adventure of her grandfather’s time serving as a member of the now legendary wartime Baltic Fleet. Tracy promised that her grandmother’s wistful desire that ‘somebody should write these stories down’ held true.

It was this seed, dormant for years, that eventually began to germinate when Tracy visited her public library and found information on a local writers’ group and decided to become a member. Here she was finally able to find the courage to write of her great uncle’s maritime death. Tracy’s mother word processed the handwritten manuscript and duly sent it off to the Grimsby Evening Telegraph. To Tracy’s astonishment and delight, the story was accepted. Tracy wasn’t to know it but this was to be the first of very many publications.

Buoyed by her initial success Tracy wrote a second story and pitched it to Woman’s Weekly but as is often the case, writing success doesn’t follow a linear pattern. Tracy’s new story was rejected but the letter included an invitation to submit further work. Being inexperienced she didn’t interpret this to be the very near miss that it was and fell into the common but mistaken assumption that her story was without merit.

Tracy talked a little about what it means to be successful. For her, that means defeating personal demons in the shape of self-doubt and freeing herself to be the best writer she can possibly become. Here, Tracy was keen to point out that we all must learn as she did – that a story’s rejection is not proof that it is no good – but rather it is probably just not a good fit for its chosen recipient. Tracy stressed the importance of judging the market and submitting work accordingly.

Tracy uses realistic goal-setting as a method for maintaining her writing focus. So take down that scrawled note from behind your fridge magnet that reads ‘To Do: Write a 100k word novel. Win the Man Booker Prize’ and swap it for one that is in Tracy’s words ‘an attainable stretch’. For example, her goals might be that she writes a story every week and pitches to 10 magazines; implicit in this is the need to be realistically ambitious. Only after Tracy, with her husband acting as benign task-master, decided that she would cast aside self-limiting doubts was she artistically free to forge her career as a serious short story writer. From then on she finally understood that life as a writer was not just the preserve of a higher species of human but one that was possible for her, too.

Tracy’s inspirational message was that a writer’s life could be had by those prepared to work at their craft, banish self-doubt and persevere when others might give up.