Gala Evening – Lady Antonia Fraser in conversation with John Miller

Report by Lisa Nightingale.

The Hampshire Writers’ Society and friends celebrated summer with strawberries, a Book Fair and conversation with Lady Antonia Fraser.

With VIP guests such as versatile and respected author, John Miller; scriptwriter for TV, film, theatre and children’s drama, Robin Mukherjee and the evening was opened by Joy Carter, Patron of the Society.

The foyer of the Stripe Lecture Theatre at the University of Winchester where the society meets each month, thronged with writers: published and aspiring.

Displaying their books at the Book Fair, were published members, including Claire Fuller, who has been shortlisted for the Desmond Elliot prize and bestselling author, Cathy Woodman. They were accompanied by Celia Leofsy, Richard V Frankland, Sharon Garrett and Dai Henley. Two poets, Sue Spiers and Di Castle joined them along with e-book writers, Damon L Wakes and Natasha Orme.

Lady Antonia Fraser in conversation with John Miller

Lady Antonia Fraser considers herself to have had only two privileges in her life:

  1. Parents who loved each other for life
  2. A mother who was adamant that girls should be educated

Lady Antonia FraserNeither of these privileges are material. ‘People go on too much about class.’ She says and she points out, she had to earn a crust. She worked hard at her job in publishing, but when you are in the midst of your desired surrounding, hard work is not difficult. Her main memory? Publishers are not scary at all, they are just human.

As a child in a house of Classical and political books, she drew on her surroundings, imagining herself to be Queen Matilda, escaping from Oxford Castle across the ice. And in the stubborn way of a child, she decided that writing and history was what she was going to do.

Her first foray into historical novel writing came when she unwittingly volunteered to re-write the classical story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table for Marks & Spencer’s range of children’s books.

Four children later, Lady Antonia Fraser believes that ‘Writers’ block is a luxury for those who have time.’ Her writing day consisted of just three hours a day, her early books were up to five years in the making. She is a meticulous planner, pays attention to detail and has notebooks, index card boxes and green files full of research.

Jun 15 GALA_0061 (2)Coining the phrase – ‘Optical Research’, she explains that the writer’s job is to make it ‘real’ for the reader. By actually visiting the site of her story, e.g. a priest’s hidey hole, she gains a wealth realism. She uncovers little tit-bits guaranteed to invoke the reader’s sense of belonging in her novel’s setting and a relation to its characters.

Identification with her protagonist is key. She needs to feel a sympathy for them. Her memoir states, ‘a writer is like a barrister’. Writers make the case for their characters, much like a barrister does for their client. Research is seen as preparation for this case.

She did give us an exclusive – her next book will explore the emancipation of Catholicism in 19th century Britain.

The Hampshire Writers’ Society Anthology Winner entries from competitions 2011-2014 is now available to purchase for £7.95. Please  contact:  Celia Livesey by email competitions.hws (AT)

Gala Evening Photo Gallery HWS Members’ Book Fair

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.

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