Crime writer, Andrew Taylor speaks at the Hampshire Writers’ Society

Report by Carole Hastings 

Barbara Large welcomed members and guests to the start of the new season of exciting HWS talks with acclaimed authors Andrew Taylor as the main speaker and Lindsay Ashford as special guest and adjudicator for the September competition.

Lindsay is an internationally published crime writer whose book The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen will be dramatised on Radio 4 in February 2014.LindsayAshford She shared her top tip for writer’s block. When she is developing her characters for a novel, she studies photos from papers and a plethora of magazines for people who have features that match those of her characters. She sticks these images on index cards creating a box of faces for each novel. When she’s stuck, she stares at a card and lets the face take on a life of its own. She lets any idea come into her head to unlock her creativity. The Gothic face of the antagonist in her book Where Death Lies came for a teen music magazine. The book is available from September on Kindle for 98p for a limited period only.

Andrew Taylor, author of 40 crime novels, won the Creasey Dagger Award in 1982 with his first book Caroline Miniscule written whilst he worked in a library. It was the first in his eight book Dougal series and he hasn’t looked back.   He has won a number of awards including the prestigious Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2009 for his outstanding contribution to the genre. Most recently in 2013 he won the CWA Ellis Peter Historical Dagger for the third time, this time for The Scent of Death, which was set in Manhattan during the American War of Independence and explored the relativity of loyalty.

Andrew TaylorAndrew writes organically with no defined plot or structure, just some fragments that he wants to feature. He likened it to having a packet of seeds but no idea of how the plant will look when it’s fully grown. He said when faced with writer’s block he forces himself to write, even if he’s not sure where it will go. He stressed the importance of creating a hook at the end of each chapter to keep attention high. His first novel developed into a crime novel but the intention at the outset was purely to write a page turning story that was authentic. His publishers made the point that crime is always popular so this would secure a place on the booksellers’ shelves which is more difficult for mainstream novels. However they asked him to edit it by a third, an act that he said felt like sawing off the legs of his first born, but one that he eventually saw made the book a success. He made the point that professional writers take advice that amateurs won’t…

Crime fiction has had a renaissance over the past thirty years and the market has gone from simple “who dunnit’s” to complex psychological thrillers set in any time. Barbara Vine’s novels that explored moral dilemmas in the 90’s marked a turning point for the genre. The importance of a corpse and a real story that entertains the reader are of paramount importance to Andrew, as is thorough research rather than relying on memory for period fiction. He watches film, listens to music, reads the papers, checks social history records of any era he writes about. His Lydmouth series about a policeman and female journalist in the 1950’s was his first testament to that. There is a final book in the series waiting in the wings. Most of his work includes issues relevant to the day e.g. worries about the Cold War, social mores, class and sexism.

As well as generating his work from scratch, he novelised the TV drama Bergerac on the invitation of Penguin and created four novels in eight months. Some years later The Roth Trilogy, three psychological thrillers inspired by Fred West, were televised as Fallen Angel and starred Charles Dance and Emilia Fox.

Andrew advised everyone to keep their writing simple, not to over-complicate the plot and to avoid too many characters in too many settings.

For more information on Andrew and his books see:

Gala Evening at Chawton with Julian Unthank

Chawton HouseThere can be no better location for the finale of the HWS season than Chawton House and Library.  Stephen Lawrence, Chawton’s Chief Executive and author Lindsay Ashford, his partner, made us feel at home as we toured the house, ventured into the garden when the rain stopped and ate strawberries and cream in the courtyard and kitchen.

June 2013 123 HWS Chairman, Barbara Large introduced the special guest, Professor Joy Carter, Vice Chancellor of the University of Winchester who praised Barbara for making the HWS and The Winchester Writers’ Conference the respected and successful organisations they are today.  She described her own role at the university as falling into three parts: a business woman, a diplomat and a politician.


Barbara reminded the audience that the HWS was borne out of a £2000 grant two years ago and then gave a creative synopsis of events that the HWS had enjoyed this second season.  The speakers that have given us pleasure and inspiration across the past ten months were:  PD James, Mark Morris, Nicolette Jones, Steve Tasane, Rosalinda Hardiman, Graham Hurley, James McConnachie, Jane Wenham-Jones, Christopher Reid, Julian Stannard and Madeleine Milburn.  She encouraged people to join the society before the end of June for £25 – this is less than £1 per hour for time spent listening and learning!

June 2013 122Treasurer, Crispin Drummond assured the audience that the finances are in good shape and that a constitution will be circulated to members for comment and approval preceding an AGM in October

Events Secretary, David Eadsforth introduced the superb guest speaker, screenwriter Julian Unthank who grabs our attention in Doc Martin, New Tricks, The Bill and various other TV dramas.  Julian started as an animal trainer for films, then went to film school with the intention of becoming a producer but then decided he’d prefer to write the scripts himself.  His first film was a short, Potemkin: The Runner’s Cut and had Charles Dance as the main character.

Julian UnthankJulian also won numerous awards, including Raindance Film Festival, for his short film, Love at First Sight starring John Hurt and Phyllida Law.  He has used this film as his calling card in the increasingly competitive film world. Many experienced and good writers are finding it tough to get work as so much drama has been cut.  He cited the old TV soaps as the breeding ground for talent but these don’t exist today so even getting into the business is more difficult than it has ever been.

Julian’s illuminating and energetic presentation, Hidden in Plain Sight – the Secret Structure of the Screen Story, made sure that we will never look at films or TV in the same way again…

Using four distinctly different creative genres:  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Love at First Sight, The Apprentice and a 40 second Dulux commercial, Julian outlined his 17 beat structure that makes for a successful dramatic outcome.

Act One [1/4 of the total length of feature]

1          Opening image [generally an opposite image from the final one]

2          Set up [approx 10 pages – can take up 50% of writing time]

3          Controlling idea [character might state the theme e.g. Do you believe in love at first sight?]

4          Inciting Incident [spurs movie on]

5          Debate [moment of self doubt?]

6          Turning Point

Act Two [1/2 of the total length of feature]

7          B story [contains controlling idea]

8          Promise of Premise [trailer material – easiest to write]

9          Mid point [the mood hangs on this]

10        Things go wrong

11        False defeat or victory

12        Moment of Truth

13        Turning Point 2 [creating more build up]

Act Three [1/14 of total length feature]

14        Finale

15        Climax

16        Resolution [often the main character usually has the last word]

17        Final Shot [defines how the story has moved from the opening shot]

Julian hung all four “dramas” onto this structure and we were amazed how accurately it worked.  He uses Final Draft software for script writing and encouraged everyone to write as visually as possible as so much film has less dialogue than it used to have.  He cited that in the UK drama tends to have 65% dialogue against 35% in the US. Shane Black is his favourite writer of action genre [Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3, the Last Boy Scout]  and his recommended books are:

How to Write a Movie in 21 days – Viki King

The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler

Screenplay: the Foundations of Screenwriting – Syd Field

Save the Cat – Blake Snyder

Story – Robert McKee

Teach Yourself Screenwriting – Ray Frensham

The Screenwriter’s Bible – David Trotter

Dr Gary Farnell led a resounding applause from the audience who had been privileged to hear the equivalent of a full day’s workshop condensed into an evening.

Barbara wrapped up the evening by extending her thanks to everyone who had made the evening such a success.  She gave bouquets to Lindsay Ashford and Laura Hubner and was presented with one herself by Crispin Drummond for her constant and indefatigable efforts on the Society’s behalf.
Report by Carole Hastings

What our members say:

“Dear Barbara, Thanks very much to you and your lovely team for another wonderful finale to Hampshire Writer’s Society’s second season. It is especially magical being in Chawton House with all its literary associations.

We had a fun evening, melting in the atmosphere and enjoying a picnic and the tour.

Obviously the highlight of the evening was Julian Unthank who was so enthusiastic and open about how to write a screenplay! Fantastic stuff! It almost makes one want to have a go!

Many thanks again!”

Joan Robinson-Harris


“What a fabulous evening! And a cracking end to our second season. Julian’s talk/workshop/insight into being a scriptwriter was electrifying, and I shall certainly be reviewing everything I’ve written.

Karin and Gary stole the show though, when they nearly brought the house down with Karin’s comedy sketch.

Thoroughly enjoyable, all the best, Celia. “


“…It was a memorably great evening and we all enjoyed it very much. One of my students, Jan won a prize for ‘Toggles’ which made the evening even more special. Thank you and all the committee for organising such a special evening and all for £2.50 or £5. Amazing!…”


Gala Evening at Chawton House 12th June 2012

Report by Celia Livesey

More than 70 members and guests attended the final meeting of the inaugural year of the Hampshire Writers’ Society and the Annual General Meeting at Chawton House Study Centre. The reception, which started with a picnic in the Old Kitchen at 6 pm, was followed by complimentary strawberries and cream. A fantastic turnout!

Members then enjoyed a tour of the House, hosted by Director, Stephen Lawrence, and Lindsay Ashford, author and Deputy Head of PR. Mr Lawrence began his tour in the Library and explained some of the history. An Elizabethan manor house, Chawton was once home of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight. Now it is a library with a unique collection of books focusing on women’s writing in English from 1600 to 1830. Some of the older books are stored in an air-conditioned basement. Other highlights included the Dining room, Tapestry Gallery Staircase and the Great Hall. An interesting human touch that intrigued me, were the ‘witch marks’ scratched on the Tudor panelling by the fireplace to ward off evil spirits that might fly down the chimney. I’m glad I didn’t live back then!

There was a buzz of excitement as everyone packed into The Great Hall for the AGM. The Director, Barbara Large, welcomed everyone and outlined all the successes of this inaugural year of the HWS. Special guests of the HWS throughout the year were mentioned, Professor Joy Carter, Vice Chancellor of the University of Winchester, Mark Courtice, Director, The Theatre Royal, Winchester, Stephen Boyce, Advisor on the Arts to Winchester City Council and the recent Mayor of Winchester, Councillor Lipscomb. The Treasurer was then called upon to give his report, followed by other members of the committee. Ant Ridgway called for a vote of thanks for Barbara Large for all her hard work. The meeting closed at 20:15.

Book Cover - Mysterious Death of Miss Austen Lindsay AshfordLindsay began by telling the group how she got started as a writer. Her first novels,Frozen, The Killer Inside, Strange Blood, and Death Studies were based on real life experiences. Lindsay had the group literally gasping with horror and sympathy as she recounted true stories gleaned by going out with the local vice squad. One woman, an addict, filthy, drunken and tragic, had been brought to that terrible state because her child had been beaten to death by her pimp.Barbara Large then invited Lindsay Ashford to reveal how living at Chawton House has influenced her to switch from contemporary crime fiction to historical fiction involving real figures from the past in her book The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen.

There was silence as Lindsay read an extract from her book. It conjured a lurid picture in the mind – a prostitute coerced into giving freebees to a policeman in his car. The bad breath in her face, the mess! It was squalid, gritty – too real to be comfortable. Yet, initially Lindsay got lots of rejections. She went on an Arvon Foundation Course for Crime Writing, and two years later she moved to Wales. There she met Janet Thomas, Hunno Press, who was looking for short stories. Lindsay ended up writing a novel in six weeks for Ottakers, which was subsumed byWaterstones.

In 2008 she moved to the Chawton Estate, and became absorbed by the place. Going through Jane Austen’s manuscripts, Lindsay found a letter Jane had written to her friend, Fanny Knight. Alarm bells rang as details in the letter suggested arsenic poisoning. A lock of Jane’s hair, donated to the Trust, proved to contain traces of arsenic. This prompted the germ of an idea for Lindsay’s novel, The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen.

Lindsay realised that to write this story her novel had to become more character-driven.Previous books had been plot-driven. The character of Fanny Knight, a governess, needed to be explored. She was neither part of the aristocracy nor part of those people who worked below-stairs. What would friendship and love cause one woman to do for another? What was it like to be that alone as a governess, and to find that your only friend, Jane, had died? Lindsay wondered how she would find her Historical Voice!

In conclusion, Lindsay said ‘Whatever problems you encounter, believe in yourself and never give up. Accept constructive criticism and persevere’.

Gary Farnell thanked Lindsay for her talk and took questions from the floor.

Q ‘What should you do if an editor asks you to rewrite?’

A ‘Editors do know the pitfalls; don’t question instead: rewrite. Sometimes you must distance yourself from your work.’

Q ‘What do you mean by character-driven?’

A ‘A strong character. I had to learn because I was plot-driven. Know the background of your characters. Character is everything.’

Q ‘Is writing in the 1st person restricting?’

A ‘Yes. There’s more freedom using the 3rd person.’

Q ‘Were you intimidated by Jane Austen’s language?’

A ‘I didn’t try to write in Jane Austen’s style. I used my own voice.’

Q ‘Did you alter your view of men after you had spoken with the prostitutes?’

A ‘I thought it was only a certain sort of man who wanted dangerous sex. And I was surprised that many men would pay more, despite the risk they were taking.’

Q ‘Arsenic was used in face powder. Could Jane Austen have poisoned herself?’

A ‘That is a possibility. Jane had rheumatism and may have used Fowler’s Solution, which contained arsenic. Arsenic was also in wallpaper and sweets.’

Q ‘Where does your future lie, now, Crime or historical novels?’

A ‘I would like to do both. But publishers like to ‘brand’ you. Some authors use a different name. But it becomes difficult if you have to deliver one novel a year.’