Anthony Riches – Writing the Novels of Ancient Rome

Report by Lisa Nightingale

No Roman Centurion costume from Author of the Empire series, Anthony Riches sorely disappointing some of us. But, he did let us call him Tony.

Having experienced rejections, Tony put his writing career on hold. But a true writer’s imagination will not be shelved for long. A Riches family ‘summer holiday’ visit to wet, windy, winter in August Housesteads Fort on Hadrian’s Wall enthused the writer in Tony. Such a bleak place on the edge of civilisation was inspiration for the swords, shields and swearing series which is now on book 7 of 25!

Feb 15 Anthony Riches_1685Tony has a lust for life. He enjoys his successful ‘Day Job’ immensely and empathised that it is hard for the writer to take themselves off to that book following a rewarding meal and glass of wine at the end of the working day. Splitting time between this and the Empire is constant tension.

Tony subscribes to the advice; to be a writer one must first be a reader. The ‘Day Job’ brought plenty of down-time, mostly in flight and he devoured Roman historicals – fiction and non alike. Wikipedia, he advises us is a useful tool. It may sometimes be wrong, but it is great place to start your research. And it throws up many villains and murderers extraordinaire.

Wounds of Honour began to take shape. Tony imparts a tip: Come up with your own title. If you don’t, your publisher will. You may not like it!

A successful project manager, Tony also had a completed manuscript sculling around on a memory stick. By chance, during an extensive, dark and rainy wait for a taxi, Tony met a self-publication guru and security guard. He offered to take a look at Wounds of Honour. It must be disconsolate, discomfort that fires Tony on, because he agreed.

Feedback, this time was positive. A succession of submissions and rejections toughened Tony’s resolve and gave us tip no.2: Take the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook with a pinch of salt!

An agent was secured and so is Tip no 3: A writer does not just sell their masterpiece to a commissioning editor. It is to be sold to the entire publishing company.

Tip no 4 speaks for itself: NEVER GIVE UP. Arm yourself with the skin of a rhinoceros and persist! Read and re-read the rejections. There will be something in them that will help you in your future writing and thus avoid further heartache.

Tip 5: Historical fiction writers must be enthused by their chosen time period. The time period chosen must yield more than one book. Publishers are easily spooked. Agents and editors can become ruthless in their quest to get your work commercially viable.

Tip 6: Watch your language! Meticulous in his authenticity, Tony threaded his way through a completed manuscript correcting one word. Had this been wrong though, the reader’s belief in the story may have been lost. And so would the publisher.

Harsh words from his agent taught Tony to trust the publishing company. Every time a book is produced, he hates the cover. But he now recognises that they are the Sales department and as such, they know what they are doing.

Self-publishing no longer holds a stigma. The unfortunate truth is that salacious celebrity autobiographies and cook books are a publisher’s biggest sellers. Many publishers picking up authors who are already published by themselves. So tip 7: do not diss self-publishing.

Characters are tip 8. Historical fiction needs plenty to play with – you may want to kill them off later on!

Tip 9: That time period must be a broad canvas to work on.

Tony’s future? More Empire and possibly a children’s’ (YA) historical fiction novel. Go for it, Tone, you seem to like a challenge! The Hampshire Writers’ Society are all Young Adults at heart – we will look forward to reading it.

Judith Allnatt on ‘The Historical Novel’

Judith Allnatt talks about history as inspiration, challenge and opportunity for the writer.

Report by Natasha Orme.

Historical Fiction is a hard one to get right and it was a joy to hear Judith Allnatt put our worries at ease. She spoke about her emotional engagement with her first novel; The Poet’s Wife and how she really had to feel for the story to come alive, it wasn’t about peopling the story with characters but more about discovering the story they held.

She spoke more about each aspect of writing historical fiction, focusing for a moment on setting and how to immerse oneself in creating it. She highlighted the importance for drawing the reader into the story by making the place real and she felt the only real way to do that was to experience the place first-hand. She ran through the in depth research she did into the home, place of work, as well as associated places.

Nov 14 Barbara & Judith Allnatt_1644Judith gave some good tips on avoiding contradicting facts and conflicting opinions before moving onto how refreshing the style of writing can be when aiming for authenticity. She admitted the difficulties faced when trying to approach a new dialect or even being factually correct with their vocabulary and terminology.

Despite how hard this all seems and how much there is to remember, Judith didn’t fail to remind us all how simple an idea needs to be before it blossoms into a full length novel. She spoke about her latest novel, The Moon Field, and the simplicity of the reader finding a little tin box; something so small, yet so significant and throughout the story, the importance of the items in the tin box become apparent. This allowed her juxtapositioning of a sweetheart romance and what the main character endured through the war.

Judith was able to give all of us plenty of food for thought as we contemplated our own current and future projects, inspiring us that it is within reach and may not be as hard as we first think. She didn’t make it sound easy but she did make it sound rewarding.

November Competition Winners 2014

The Competition for November was to “Write the first page of a historical novel” in 300 words with the entries adjudicated by Becky Bagnell. I’d like to send a very big thank you to Becky, who very kindly stepped in at the last minute as the original adjudicator, Laura Longrigg, was unable to attend.

Becky has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. Before setting up the Lindsay Literary Agency she worked as a commissioning editor at Macmillan where she was fortunate to work alongside a wide range of authors such as BBC journalist John Simpson and adventurer Bear Grylls.

The Lindsay Literary Agency was founded in 2008 and represents an eclectic list of authors whose award-winning books have been translated into multiple languages around the world including Chinese.

Unfortunately Becky was unable to be with us last night, but she was able to e-mail her adjudications for the competitions.

Becky said that the criteria she used to assess the entries was as follows:

“When assessing the first page of a historical novel the criteria I use is relatively simple. Whilst reading through I ask myself the following questions, is a world opening up for me, is it intriguing, is it original and does it feel authentic. If the answer to all of these is yes I then ask, would I like to keep reading.”

Becky’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: Louise Morrish, Masquerade

“This is a strong opening, I loved the Elizabethan setting and it definitely piqued my interest making me keen to read on. The maid’s voice felt original and intriguing and the historical details were intricate and revealing.”

Tis oft said of my Queen she is more than a man, and something less than a woman.

I think on these words this October day, as I dress her in an embroidered chemise of fine Raynes linen, and silk stockings with silver thread that encase her long legs like a second skin. She permits me to conceal her hairless head beneath a cap of gold, and when the sun’s rays reach the chamber window, I paint her cheeks and throat with soft white lead, erasing the rough shadows.

Hiding the truth.

I daub a spot of rouge upon her thin lips, gently smearing the soft crimson, crafting the illusion of tempting plumpness. My Queen’s false hair, golden red, emits the foul odor of a corpse as I place it on her capp’d head, my fingers deft amidst the pearls and jewels that nestle within its curls.

I stand back as she rises. She is taller than me by some, her bearing regal, but I do not cast down my eyes, as the Court demands. I assist her with her privie coat of bones and buckram, lacing it tightly at her back. The whalebone farthingale juts from her narrow hips, the wheel of bone tied close about her slender waist. Over this I drape not one, but three linen petticoats, affording my Queen the necessary fullness of figure she so lacks. Next I fetch her jewel-embroidered gown, so heavy my breath labours to lift it.

Last, I fix the ruff, stiff and white as purity, tight about her neck.

My Queen wears her disguise wondrous well, I do declare, and she is ready now to face the world once more.

Yet I cannot help but wonder how much longer she can persist with this deceit, before the truth will out.

2nd Prize: Jacky Hutchins, In Honourable Company

“This is an intriguing beginning to a novel, it immediately captured my interest, it is well-written and has a strong sense of place. Hearing the description of the running water made me feel thirsty which seems a good sign!”

The sun had gone down but the day had lost none of its heat, and in the stalks of millet grass a man lay quite still. As moonlight touched his face he groaned, and opened his eyes, aware of a raging thirst – and of being tormented by every insect in Christendom. His feeble attempt to disperse the hovering cloud ended in a gasp.

He clutched at his chest, confused, staring at the sword in his hand.

How had he managed to keep hold – ? He half-remembered crawling into some shade; now it was night; he must have lain insensible some while.

He should use the darkness – and yet he had no idea where he was or where he might go, only that he must distance himself from the fort.

He lay a moment, then forced himself up. Hand to his ribs he stumbled away on leaden feet, before blundering at last up against a wall. His mind must be wandering, he thought, wiping his mouth with one filthy hand. There was the delicious sound of water, a gentle splash that was both torture and delight, and so close it seemed to come from the other side of the wall. Was he dreaming? Forcing up his head, he regarded the obstacle. It was too high. He could never manage it. In despair, he cursed the night bird mocking him as it fluttered from a nearby tree whose branches drooped against the wall. Both sides of the wall?

Summoning every last reserve, he crawled towards the twisted trunk. Forced himself to climb out along the first bough – And looked into a garden so fresh and sweet it seemed like Paradise.

The world suddenly whirled, and he tumbled from the branch, unconscious before he hit the path.

3rd Prize: Elizabeth Wald, The Long Ships

“Erik felt like an original protagonist, the raiding party was well imagined and the attention to detail on the ship was excellent.”

They came out of the morning mist, sliding silently over the glassy water. Ten carved prows open-mouthed in the silver dawn, ten sails shimmering on the masts, ten sets of oars skimming over the waves. Ten harbingers of death for their unsuspecting foes.

Erik stood tall on the prow of his boat at the front of the raiding party. He rocked forwards and backwards as the oars dipped in unison behind him, willing Sea Dragon to be the first to touch the shore. There would be an extra large celebration tonight and a pick of the prizes if they beat the other boats.

It had been a bright winter day when his father chose him as her master. The boats had been beached for cleaning and repair and they had gone to the beach to watch the men scraping the thick green slime from Sea Dragon’s hull and sawing the new wood. He could still remember the stink of the evil-smelling slime mingled with the fragrant resin on the freshly cut planks.

‘This will be your ship next summer,’ his father had said, laughing at his astonishment. ‘It’s time that you were master of your own ship. She will serve you well, if you let her.’

His father was right. She was not a new ship, but Erik was still proud of her. The weathered timbers were sound, the keel was strong and her graceful belly still sliced through the water faster than any other ship he knew.

Sea Dragon shuddered as she gently nudged the shore and slid into the gravel with a barely perceptible crunch. Erik waved his men forward as he leapt into the icy cold water and they spilled into the foam after him. Then master and men faded into the mist like grey ghosts.

Nov 14 Jacky Hutchins, Louise Morrish, Liz Wald_1645

Highly Commended: Gill Hollands, The Knight of the Moon

Highly Commended: Lin Knott, The Wolf at the Door

 

The prizes were signed copies of Judith Allnatt’s books, together with a Certificate of Adjudication from Becky Bagnell.

There were twenty entries for November with many entries from new members and guests. So once again a very big thank you to Becky for doing such a wonderful job of adjudication.

June Competition Winners 2014

‘The First Page of a Historical Novel’

I’d like to start by giving a big thank you to Becky Bagnell for being our adjudicator. Of course Becky is no stranger to the HWS; her first visit was September 2012 when she was the judge for ‘Create an Amateur Detective Character’.

Becky founded the Lindsay Literary Agency in 2008. She has been a commissioning editor for Macmillian and worked alongside authors such as Max Hastings, Robert Service and John Simpson. The Lindsay Literary Agency represents a wide range of authors; Becky said that finding new authors and that all important initial publishing deal is what makes the agency tick.

Becky’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: Louise Taylor, The Gardener’s Boy

“This is a strong and confident piece of writing that engages the reader from the first sentence, offering multiple layers of complexity in the narrative. The touch, feel and taste of monkey nuts seems to pervade the entire page whilst at the same time disguising the sexual tension that lingers just beneath the surface.”

He waited by the side gate, the one that was beneath the head gardener’s dignity. A paper bag holding the remnants of sixpence’s-worth of monkey nuts was scrunched into his pocket and rested warmly against his thigh. Eva liked monkey nuts. She cracked the shells between her teeth and spat the pieces out onto the ground. None of the other young ladies did that.

Here she was. He heard the swish of her skirt and the soft clack as her feet kicked one stone into another. ‘Jack,’ she said, as she rounded the little bend in the path and saw him standing there, scuffing up clods of grass and earth as casually as he could manage. ‘Anyone would think you didn’t have work to do.’

He grinned with a mouth punctuated by as many gaps as teeth. ‘I’m turning over the mulch heaps, dontcha know?’

She winked. ‘Looks like hard labour.’

‘It is. Pa’s conked out in the greenhouse.’ He stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out the paper bag. ‘Here,’ he said, ‘I saved these. Want some?’

He watched as she cracked the nuts between her teeth and used lips and tongue to send the pieces skittering to the ground. She was a good spitter; he’d like to see how far she could get a cherry stone. When she’d finished and had wiped away the tiny fragments of shell that clung to her lips and besprinkled her chin, he said, ‘Off home then?’

He wanted to ask to walk with her but he knew that wouldn’t do, even if she might have said yes. If only he hadn’t eaten so many nuts himself, she might have stayed a minute or two longer. But, just as if she’d read his mind, she looked at him with the sort of quizzical look in her eye that a magpie gets when it spots something shiny. She was about to share a confidence. His face flushed with excitement and he felt himself stand taller with the importance of it all. ‘What is it?’ he asked, watching as she picked up the books she’d placed on the edge of the path and hugged them to her with a kind of fierce possession.

‘I’m going to university,’ she said. ‘Cambridge. To Girton.’

Jun 14 Louise Taylor Linda Welch

2nd Prize: Elizabeth Wald, Sultan’s Shadow

“‘Sultan’s Shadow’ stood out from the others because of its exotic setting carefully portrayed through the use of small detail like the, ‘thin porcelain cup in its silver filigree holder’. The narrative is intriguing and full of suspense, I’d like to know what happens next!”

Isfahan, Persia 1888

When the sultan offers you a cup of coffee, etiquette demands you accept; but when you know the cup is poisoned, refusal is impossible.

This was the problem facing Mahmoud as he sat nervously on a pile of cushions amid the opulence of the sultan’s drawing room. It was a fine room but he had little time for it. Besides, he had seen it many times before and was only dimly aware of the lofty room with its creamy white marble and tall columns that soared to the ceiling.

They had eaten a fine supper with pleasant company. The other men had been friendly and the conversation had flowed as freely as the wine. Now then other guests had left and the two men were alone. The sultan called for fresh coffee and the kalyans, the water pipes, so that they could smoke and talk in peace.

But Mahmoud was not at peace. He looked at the thin porcelain cup in its silver filigree holder. The dark liquid within it rippled slightly, catching the light. He could imagine drinking it: thick and gritty with the consistency and flavour of sweetened mud. The poison, if it was present, would be totally undetectable, but he knew what to expect: the pain in the stomach, the vomiting, the distinctive smell of garlic on the breath. ‘Qajar coffee’ they called it, popularised by the royal family, with whom this was a favourite assassination method.

Now the second most powerful member of that family sat in front of him: the Zillu’s-Sultan, the Shah’s Shadow, and governor of southern Persia. And his dark, penetrating eyes were studying Mahmoud.

Mahmoud shifted uncomfortably, fingering the hose on his kalyan. A narrow band of sweat appeared on his upper lip. In a moment of absent-minded weakness, he wiped it away. Then, worried he had betrayed himself, he quickly drew on the pipe. The blue smoke hung in the air like a coiled snake before drifting upwards to the ceiling.

Yet still the sultan stared at him. The sultan’s mouth, fringed by a fashionably dyed blue-black moustache, widened into a slight smile. There was no doubt in Mahmoud’s mind now: the coffee was poisoned.

‘Well, are you going to drink your coffee?’ The sultan’s voice was edged with impatience.

The cup shook as Mahmoud picked it up with his thumb and forefinger and the dark liquid splashed over his hand. When the moment came, he drank quickly so that the tepid liquid slid down his throat without him even tasting it. Then he placed the cup down again, slowly and deliberately.

Now there was nothing left do except wait. Wait and wander if he would still be alive at midnight.

 

3rd Prize: Linda Welch, Hall of Mirrors

“The opening page is immediately redolent of its First World War setting using descriptive clues rather than spelling everything out. Very quickly the narrative opens up lots of questions for the reader making the story more compelling.”

Southampton was not the end of the line, but it was as far as Eleanor Woodford could afford to go. Picking up her basket and pulling her suitcase from the rack above her head, she moved slowly along the crowded carriage, trying to avoid the people who had been forced to stand in the aisles. She turned to apologise to the man whose foot she had trodden on and her heart seemed to stop for an instant when she saw that he was in uniform.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she said.

‘Don’t mention it!’ he laughed. ‘I’m sure I shall suffer more than a bruised foot where I’m going!’

Eleanor wanted to ask him which regiment he was going to join, where he would be stationed, did he know Anthony? but the guard was already slamming the doors shut, so she only had time to wish him luck before alighting. As the train pulled out of the station, she stood on the platform and watched the soldier, laughing with his friends. Give him my love, if you get to Flanders, she thought and, as if he had heard her, the soldier looked out of the window straight at her, smiled, and sketched a salute. As the train picked up speed, Eleanor lost sight of him, but she remained on the platform until it was deserted.

‘What the Dickens shall I do now?’ she wondered aloud.

It was one thing to walk into a public house on Anthony’s arm, quite another to enter one alone. Eleanor walked past the door seven times. Had it not started to snow she would doubtless have walked past it seven times more before the cold forced her inside.

Conversation stopped. Eleanor fought down the tears and walked up to the bar.

‘Yes?’ A woman in her middle years put down the glass she was polishing and looked at her with some disdain. Women alone in a public house invariably spelled trouble.

 

Highly Commended: Anne Eckersley, A Union Man

Highly Commended: Louise Morrish, All Earthly Things

 

The prizes were signed copies of Lady Carnarvon’s books, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication by Becky Bagnell.

Becky said that she had really enjoyed doing the adjudication because all the entries were of such a high standard. Writing the first page of a novel is a very difficult task and many submissions are discarded because the writer doesn’t explain where the action is taking place or even identify the characters clearly, but Becky said that there were no such problems with any of the HWS entries.

The competition secretary, Jim Livesey thanked Becky for doing such a great job of adjudication and announced that the next competition will be at the start of the new season – Tuesday 9 September 2014 – The Stripe, Winchester.

An Evening with Marc Morris – Tuesday 9th October

On a wild and wet October evening, Hampshire Writers’ Society Chairman, Barbara Large introduced special guest Professor Liz Stuart Senior Pro Vice-Chancellor from the University of Winchester who began by welcoming the HWS to the university campus.

She spoke about her role at the university and her work as a writer. Although one of the smallest universities in the country, only 7000 students, it has made the top ten in the Sunday Times’List of best universities and achieved first place in the country for student satisfaction on its creative writing courses.

Prof Liz Stuart (2)As a theologian, Professor Stuart has written ten books, although much of her time now is spent dealing with academic matters within the university, writing policy documents, academic papers and reports. Once regarded as a radical theologian, one of the delights of her life is when she discovers her work has been the subject of a PhD thesis.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of her book which was banned by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Ironically, it turned out to be one of her best sellers!
Marc Morris, historian, author and broadcaster

The Guest Speaker, Marc Morris was interviewed by Graeme Pick, who began by asking why there was such a long gap between Marc Morris’ books.
Report by Hermione LaakeMarc Morris

Marc’s response was that books take a long time. There was a brief discussion about hot housing, doing a book in 2-3 years. Generally Marc described the time taken to write his work as being around four years, with the first being commissioned in 2004 and then going on to be published in 2008 and the second being commissioned in 2008 and published this year.

Graeme asked M. M how he goes about writing his books.

Much of his research on Edward 1st came about through his thesis on the Earls of Norfolk in the 13thCentury BC. “Edward I conquered Wales had illegitimate children, tried to conquer Scotland and had one of the greatest reigns in British history. I thought that he was due a page turning biography. Someone needs to write a book about this — me.”

M.M described the process of writing as reading other people’s books and a synthesis taking place. But because of the sheer volume of writing available trying to make these disparate texts synthesise didn’t work. Prior to The Norman Conquest, there was much documentation. After the revolution in 1200 the King ordered that copies of messages were kept. These have survived,  Consequently, there is more evidence than you could look at. “European historians look at English medieval history and are agog,”
Graeme then asked, “How do you decide what to discard?”

M.M.:“What makes the research process interesting, is when it doesn’t fit.  You get your story straight.  I would imagine this is the same with every story. Every book I read with that date in, I break it down by year: Jan, Feb, March, the date of whatever, then you discover mistakes,”

He described the tag Narrative History as often thought of as a pejorative term. “Alternatively there is thematic history.. Social history gets in the way whereas narrative history gets the story going. There needs to be a balance between moving the story forward and conveying the story.”

Graeme: “Do you end up in a different place to where you expected?”

M.M: “You’ve got to. You might start with one set of preconception and end up somewhere else…..Edward improved somewhere in my estimation as I was writing the book.  You start off with a series of preconceptions you came with, the legend and the bona fide academic material then you end up somewhere questioning those orthodoxies.”

Graeme: “How do you decide which stories are worth telling or retelling?”

M described this as hard sell. It was all about selling the legend, “Have you seen Braveheart—?”

Graeme: “How do you keep the narrative going while having to address the reader?”

M.M: “Where are the breaks and where are the hooks where the chapter ends? Where are the cuts? From an academic point of view that would be cheap tricks. People want to keep reading your book; people want to know what happens next. The academic way is completely different. You assume people know all that already.”

He  described this as a balance of keeping the tricks to himself but often not revealing them to the reader, although on some occasions, he said he kept them in.

Graeme: “You seem to be interested in how big characters drive the story. Without these big characters show do you drive the story?”

M.M “Harold dies and with him one of the most important people in history. You’ve lost your antagonist you’ve lost your protagonist.”

He managed to “skip along from 1072 to 1085/6. I brought in a character connected with The Bayeux Tapestry.. I am interested in why these stories matter. How did this affect England, Englishness, how did this affect the language? How did this affect the culture?”

G: “Are you trying to teach people things?”

M.M: “It tells you something about the past society.—Who are the bad guys in the Norman conquest? I was surprised to discover that the Anglo Saxons did slavery in a big way, and the Normans didn’t do that. Harold was a great slave trader. A major cultural shift was brought about by the Normans; Chivalry (not killing your opponent) was a new thing. The Vikings didn’t do this. The English didn’t do it. These are big changes. These affect the way the English view their Celtic neighbours: These people are barbarians we need to conquer and civilise them

“You work as a writer. What other work are you doing to make sure your work gets out there?”

M.M: “I do articles for history magazines, tour for literary festival, I’ve just written an article on slavery.”
G: “Is the Norman conquest a good thing?”

M.M: “No I don’t think it was a good thing….You are considering a balancing testimony, not taking sides. Your main duty as an historian is to get it right. The historian is not a judge. You make the best case and say make up your own mind. This [discussion] was called putting a pulse into the past. That’s not what I do. [I’m asking]… how can I make these bones live? I’m trying to take the pulse of the past.”

Marc Morris’s articles are being collected and published as an E-book next week.

For further information on this Marc’s website 

June Competition Winners 2012

Lindsay Ashford presented the prizes to the competition winners. The first prize, a signed copy of The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen.

1st prize – Gill Hollands for Murder at the Palace.

2nd prize – Honey Stavonhagen.

Joint 3rd prize – Liz Wald and Paul Alexander Ayres.

 

Gill Hollands – Murder at the Palace  1st prize

Sitting back in the flickering firelight, James Cooper unclipped the chinstrap. He removed the heavy helmet, wishing he had never heard the word ‘Peeler’. The sight of all that blood had left his stomach churning, a sour taste in his mouth. Warming darned feet by the fire, he sucked a nip of scotch from the bottle, hoping for oblivion.
The scene replayed in his mind, the scattered limbs, the gibbering woman who had found them, the gruesome crimson sprays up the curtains. Something niggled. Why had the servants not heard a sound? How could everyone at Jezebel’s Palace have amotive?

© Gill Hollands 2012

 

Honey Stavonhagen – 2nd prize

Elsie screamed as she came stumbling into the parlour. I thought she was asleep. Last year she began walking at night; mumbling garbled sentences as she wandered aimlessly through the narrow attic corridors. This however, was different; it was early morning, the sun was streaming through the windows and landing in little puddles by her feet, Elsie was awake. Her usually calm pretty face was now contorted, pained even and I could sense fear, true terror. Her eyes bulging with tears, she pointed at the middle of the empty flagstone
floor. “He’s dead – look, there on the floor – he’s dead!”

© Honey Stavonhagen 2012

 

Liz Wald – joint 3rd prize

No one knew why Guy de Lucy left the warmth of his hall and wandered out into the icy night, but everyone knew he was dead the next morning.
The new spread quickly. Even men who had scorned his company in life were drawn by a morbid fascination to see him in death. Mauled by wolves, the gossips said.
Strange, then, that no one stopped to ask why his disfigured body was still intact – as if even the hungry beasts knew to avoid the tyrant’s company. Strange too that why, of all his body, only his ear was missing.

© Liz Wald 2012

 

Paul Alexander Ayres – joint 3rd prize

Isaac belted his oilskin and watched the villagers going downhill along the drove-way. ‘So, it’s over,’ he muttered, then continued to climb, kicking through the gorse, and cursing the thorns that drew blood below his cuffs. The horizon crept towards him. And there, on top of the downs, a silhouette appeared, as if some giant esoteric symbol had been sketched upon the skyline. As he approached it, Isaac saw the gentle sway of the body, and heard the soft creaking of the rope that was tied around his brother’s neck. He grinned lasciviously, and looked out over the valley. ‘Joshua,’ he murmured, ‘I can see your wife from here.’

© Paul Alexander Ayres 2012