October Competition Winners 2014

The Competition for October was to “Write the last page of a thriller” in 300 words in 1st person with the entries adjudicated by Paul Bavister.

Paul is a poet who teaches creative writing for Oxford University and at Birkbeck College, London. His publications include: Miletree, Glass and The Prawn Season and his poetry has recently appeared in South, Shadowtrain and The Rialto.

Unfortunately Paul was unable to be with us last night, but thanks to modern technology he was able to e-mail his adjudications for me to present on his behalf.

In reviewing the entries Paul said that he looked for an original, distinctive voice. The piece needed to be expertly structured, make the most of the form and respond dynamically to the genre.

Paul’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: Emma Rose Hollands, Aftermath

‘“Aftermath” works extremely well, creating a potent scene with concise images while allowing the character to take centre stage. It is a powerful ending, drawing on the past but never allowing analysis to slow the pace. The mobile phone is used effectively to reach out beyond the scene, leading to excellent dialogue.’

Minutes passed. Maybe half an hour. I lingered outside the cemetery gates and stared at the way I had come.

The stone path was muddied with the weight of my footsteps. Silence all around me. The ominous silhouette of the church loomed in the distance, unchanged. I don’t even remember walking away from it. All I recall is sensing a numbness flowing inside me, bleaching my mind. No guilt. No shame. Just the company of the wind caressing my recently shredded trench coat and bloodied hands.

I had done what I had to do. So, why did I feel nothing?

Gradually, I dragged my gaze away from the path and up to the heavens. Overcast, strips of early morning light poking through the clouds. The rain had stopped falling. Somehow the world seemed bleaker in its ignorant regularity. Had it always been this way? From my pocket I took out my phone, the blood rubbing onto the silver casing. My eyes were fixed upwards. I couldn’t look away from those strips of light.

My fingers knew the rhythm. I had no control. 0-7-7-8-9-6-7-5-4-3-2-5. Ring. Ring. Somehow, I felt the chill of my phone resting against my ear. I don’t remember moving it from my side.

Click. Heavy breathing, accompanied by the sound of splashing puddles, filtered through the speaker. “Larry!” cried Jacob, “Larry, thank God. Where are you? Me and the boys are looking for you.”

“I know.”

The splashing on the other end stopped. Breath in, breath out. He was waiting for me. A lump formed in my throat, choking my words. A renewed speck of rain fell from the sky. A better world, I thought. I’ve made a better world. I closed my eyes, took a final breath.

“It’s over, Jacob,” I whispered. “It’s finally over.”

Emma Rose Hollands & Louise Morrish
Emma Rose Hollands & Louise Morrish

2nd Prize: Deanna Scutt, Casting Off

Deanna Scutt
Deanna Scutt

‘The physical and emotional journey away from the island is captured very well in “Casting Off”. The narrator’s thoughts and emotions scream through the mists of a serene scene. The island takes on a life of its own and becomes an extremely effective image to end the piece.’

There is mist on the lake as the boat chugs away from the jetty, and Cassidy huddles back from the spray, wrapped up in a blanket and shock. She has said nothing since we left the cabin, and my own silence remains unbroken. I stay focused on the oil-dark ripples that undulate before us. My hands are locked around the tiller; I have to stop myself before I draw blood from my palms.

A handful of swans make a slow parade past us, and are swallowed by the rolling grey expanse that is spreading across the water.

It is dawn, somehow, but I remain in the darkness. I can still hear footsteps running through the trees, and Amelia’s blood is so obvious on my shirt that I can almost feel her heartbeat, still singing in her chest. The breeze is her voice, chasing me for the last time, and I turn my face towards it, almost smelling the melancholy lilies of her perfume.

Cassidy doesn’t look at me, and I don’t acknowledge her.

There’ll be an inquest when we get to the mainland, so we’ll have to corroborate our story, make the twisted pieces fit, but for now we remain divided. Surviving seems to have pressed us so close together that we are pushing each other away, desperate to be alone, or one of the corpses, still strewn on the island like castaway dolls.

I can’t stop myself. My neck strains, looking back, but our misery is a silhouette, looming above the wet smoke that stretches towards us. I watch the trees’ black shapes fade into silver and ash.

The island and the past are engulfed, both swallowed by the white mist that has descended to clean the world. Even as I try to hold the image, it ghosts away.

3rd Prize: Louise Morrish, A Grain of Truth

‘This successful piece of writing portrays the absolute hopelessness of the main character. The questions asked show a trapped mind reaching out for a way to escape, making the final image particularly striking – dark and engaging piece of writing.’

We are but grains of sand in the vastness of the Universe.

My father’s voice comes to me from nowhere, as I sit and stare at the peeling, diseased walls. The air is stagnant, a fetid stench coming from the filthy bucket in the corner. Beyond the locked and barred door, I can hear muted shouts and thumps and the clash of keys.

I’m on my own now, a single grain of inconsequence in this corrupt country, trapped forever in the shifting sands of its judicial system.

One tiny clue, one miniscule speck of evidence, that’s all it took to bring down everything. The knowledge that I failed makes my bones ache, my head throb. To know that I will end my days here, far from home, in this godforsaken place, makes me long for my gun.

If my father was here with me, then I might just survive this. He was not above bribery or, failing that, brute force. But what’s the point in wishing for the impossible? He is gone, and my last chance with him. All that’s left is the prospect of oblivion.

I close my eyes and picture Dad’s laboratory, the microscopes and petri dishes, his pristine white coat hanging from a hook behind the door. What will happen to all his equipment and specimens now, who will take them away? The police? The government? Will they use or destroy what they find? My stomach gives a sickening lurch, as I realise I will never know.

A faint buzzing sound is coming from somewhere above me, near the one small, high window in this cell. I crane my neck, and see a tiny, frantic bee. Again and again, it collides with the dirty, opaque glass, desperately trying to find a way out.

Give up, I whisper.

 

Highly Commended: Lin Knott, Finale

‘“Finale” is a powerful piece that captures the bitterness and questioning mind of the narrator. Their anger and confusion is portrayed particularly well.’

Highly Commended: Elizabeth Wald, Seeing Red

‘“Seeing Red” is a well-structured ending that effectively outlines the emotional sweep of the character’s situation. The hopeful final lines make a successful contrast to what has gone before.’

 

The prizes were signed copies of Andy McDermott’s books, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication from Paul Bavister.

We would like to give our thanks to Paul for doing such a splendid job of adjudication, especially as there were sixteen entries this time.

September Competition Winners 2014

‘The First Page of a Novel’

We were very fortunate to have Daniel Clay to adjudicate this month’s competition entries. As well as being nominated one of Amazon’s best eight debut novels for 2008, his novel ‘Broken’ was shortlisted for The Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Novel Award and The Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award. The film of the book, released in 2013, also picked up the best Independent Film Award at the BIFA. Quite an achievement, I think you will agree.

There were an amazing 24 entries for this month’s competition and Daniel said he thought the overall quality of the entries was outstanding and each had something to offer, so the highly commended and winning entries were picked on personal choice with very little between them.

Daniel’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: Linda Welch, The Living and the Dead

‘A deserving first place, with a wonderfully well-placed scene where a counsellor meets her new client for the first time – not to mention a last line to kill for…’

Some say that counsellors get the clients they deserve, others that they get the clients they need. Some say it’s all a coincidence.

I don’t believe in coincidence.

At eight o’clock precisely the bell rang. Not early to appear needy, not late to appear resistant, but bang on time. I unlocked the door and invited my new client in, then locked it behind him again. Him? The person who had called to make the appointment had been a woman. I don’t accept male clients any more, not since last year.

Tyler, she had said. Tyler could be a man, but, coupled with the woman’s voice, I’d assumed it was a woman.

‘Amethyst,’ he said, and my skin prickled. No-one had called me Amethyst since my mother had died.

‘Call me Aimée,’ I replied, ignoring his outstretched hand. No physical contact with clients. It’s sometimes a harsh rule when a client is distressed and sobbing, but a necessary one in these days of litigation. ‘And you are Tyler?’

‘Yes.’

He hesitated too long. I could tell that he hadn’t been expecting me, any more than I had been expecting him. He’d expected someone older, more experienced. It’s true, I’m young for a counsellor, and I have my mother’s genes. She looked only thirty the day she died at the age of fifty-three. I’m thirty. I look about eighteen.

Tyler looked in his late twenties. I sensed he was older, but then my senses had gone into over-drive the moment I’d locked the salon door behind him and looked up into his face. I find tall men intimidating, and Tyler was tall. I’m five foot four in bare feet and I was wearing two-inch heels, but even at an artificial five six, Tyler could easily fit me under his chin with room to spare.

Linda Welch & Sally Russell
Linda Welch & Sally Russell

2nd Prize: Sally Russell, A Way of Life

‘The overall quality of the entries was outstanding and for second place my choice is Sally with a chilling hospital bedside scene.’

I lie prone in my linen sarcophagus. I feel the resonant thump of the machines and the beep of the monitor. They seep into my consciousness like some subterranean rhythm. A distant whimper of a heavy door and a crackle of plastic sheeting as you slither into the room. You scrape the chair as you draw it close. I know it’s you, though you are silent. You don’t hold my hand so I can feel your rough skin, the callous on your finger. I smell your expensive aftershave, the perspiration on your freshly washed skin.

You are breathing more heavily now, labouring with the effort under your mask. You cough. I know you will speak; you always clear your throat.

‘Helen’, you say. Now you take my hand, and I feel your palm under my soft fingertips. You rub the back of my wrist with your thumb. That warm, affectionate gesture I once craved. ‘Helen, it’s me, Alex. I’m here. I’m…so sorry.’ I bet you are. I bet you’re sorry I’m still here, still breathing, still fighting.

I try to open my eyes but fail. I hear you touching the tubes, running your fingers along their length. I feel sickness in my stomach, I feel the old fear. You are still talking. What are you saying? I must have slipped away for a moment. I hear your gown slide over your jeans as you stand. Your crepe soles suck as you move towards the monitor and tap the screen.

The strips of plastic rustle and the nurse’s shoe squeaks as she enters the room. You turn, and take a sharp intake of breath, like a naughty schoolboy caught pinching from his mother’s purse.

‘Mr Palmer? I’m going to have to ask you to leave now.’

3rd Prize: Rebecca Lyon, Untitled

‘My third choice is this entry, which promises a great romance between a market trader and a failed ballet dancer.’

She had never bothered to speak to him before, even though his watch stall was five metres from the entrance of her apartment block. Foreign, mouthy, scruffy; why bother? But that day, after being sacked by the new artistic director of the Paris Opera ballet, she didn’t care. She had been scrapped at the peak of her dancing age and wouldn’t make the rent next month. She wanted answers. From anyone.

‘Are they fake or are they real?’ She said. He looked up from his phone. To her dismay, she saw he was handsome.

‘They are real watches, they work.’ He said with a quiet smile. She tilted her head.

‘I mean, are they copies of real Cartiers or are they just any old watch with Cartier written on the front?’

‘What do you expect a Cartier to look like?’ He looked at her as if he knew her.

‘I don’t know. Like this I guess,’ she said picking up one of the array of watches that nestled in amongst plastic-jewelled card cases, and shiny polyester scarves. ‘But with real gold instead of this plastic rubbish.’

‘Plastic rubbish? Tut, tut. This is genuine nickel with a gold tone plating.

He looked at her then put his arm up and yelled at a guy selling lighters down the road.

‘Eh Michel, keep an eye on my stall for an hour.’ Michel looked at the girl, rolled his eyes and nodded.

He flung a jumper over his shoulder and walked towards the metro, barely 20 metres away. He turned and smiled at her, gesturing her to follow. She frowned. ‘Where are you going?’

‘Avenue des Champs-Élysées’ he announced ‘to look at some Cartiers. Come on, let’s go and find your answer.’

 

Highly Commended: Amicia Bentley, Occitan Jewel

Highly Commended: Scott Goldie, The Creature Retrieval Service

 

The prizes were signed hardback copies of Santa Montefiore’s books, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication from Daniel Clay.

The competition secretary, Jim Livesey thanked Daniel for doing such a splendid 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.

May Competition Winners 2014

‘Write a Letter to a Literary Agent – 300 words’

As well as being the main speaker, James Wills very kindly took on the duties of adjudicator. James is a Literary Agent at Watson Little and has a BA in English and Italian, which he said was very useful as he has just come back from the Turin Book Fair. James said that he was passionate about reading and good writing, and urged members to read, read, read.

James’ Adjudication:

1st Prize: Louise Morrish, All Earthly Things

“An extremely good letter and, in my eyes, the obvious winner. It does everything a good covering letter needs to do and does so with ease. Clear, concise and professional in tone but just enough intrigue to make me want to read more. It’s a good title, a nice set up and a great setting for a story. Most importantly, the letter makes me want to read this book.”

Dear Mr Wills

I am currently seeking an agent for my novel, ‘All Earthly Things’. The novel is set in the First World War and tells the story of a young woman, Mary, who disguises herself as a soldier in order to follow her twin brother who has been conscripted. The novel follows Mary’s experiences in the horror of the trenches, her struggle to survive the Battle of Messines, and her subsequent escape.

In 2012 I completed the Faber ‘Write A Novel Online’ course, during which I wrote my first novel, ‘Beyond the Pale’, which I am currently self-publishing. I have recently finished another Faber course: ‘Exploring Genre’. A few years ago I wrote a series of non-fiction children’s books in collaboration with another author, which were published by Wayland. I have also twice won first prize in the Alton Wordfest short story competition.

I have attached the first 10,000 words of my novel and a synopsis for your consideration. I am submitting my novel to a number of other selected agents, but I will of course inform you if I receive any interest.

I look forward to hearing from you soon,

Louise Morrish 1st and Louise Taylor 3rd
Louise Morrish & Louise Taylor

2nd Prize: Michael Mortimore, The Troll Patrol

“A lively, fun letter that neatly captures the off-beat nature of the title. It seemed evident to me you enjoyed writing this letter and that made me want to read it too – well done”

Dear James Wills,

You requested an off-beat, quirky, and thrilling character driven story – I am delighted to present you with just that – The Troll Patrol. The book is 37,000 words, aimed at middle readers (8-12 years), and ends in such a way that it could form the basis for a series.

The novel is loosely based on The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen – a story of what it is to be free and to be able to choose how to live … but there are no beautiful mermaids in this modern twist … Becky is a troll. She’s the new girl at school, different, cool – Pete, Harry, and Johnny like her immediately. She gives them a new theme for their secret club. She gives them ‘The Troll Patrol’. This is a story of friendship, but will anyone want to be Becky’s friend when they discover her secret? The slime, the snot, the warts … not to mention all the bogies!

My previous writing experience is The Karma Kid (2nd Prize Writing for Children 2012, Winchester Writers’ Conference) and a YA novel, A.D.A.M. I have worked for a small publisher on another project recently with respect to illustration and also designed the official website – including all the non-fiction material on mythology, original artwork, and the very popular ‘Goblin Maker’ game.

I believe that children’s books should have a moral or defining quality that excites the imagination – even books with lots and lots of snot!

It goes without saying that I would be delighted should you wish to read the full MS and I very much look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

3rd Prize: Louise Taylor, How to Cook on Safari

“A good letter that clearly demonstrated your passion for the book and for East Africa. For future reference, I’d try to keep to your covering letter to one page, but that’s easily fixed – well done.”

Dear James,

I was hoping you would read the first 10,000 words of my novel, HOW TO COOK ON SAFARI.

In colonial Kenya, during the decades spanning its 1920s heyday to the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s, Cecilia, a young British woman, acquires a female friend and lover, a husband and, ultimately, a child. But who are the child’s parents and why does Cecilia reveal their identity only through the pages of a memoir she leaves behind after her death half a century later?

An earlier draft was long-listed in Mslexia’s 2013 competition for novels by unpublished female writers. The book, which I think falls into the historical literary genre, grew out of several visits to east Africa. As well as the game reserves, I spent many fascinating hours visiting Karen Blixen’s house, now a museum; getting sunburnt on a boat on lake Naivasha while trying to spot some of the old colonial houses that can still be seen in the area; and learning about the Mau Mau uprising at the Nairobi national museum.

Although a lawyer by profession, I have an MA in Creative Writing from Winchester University. One of my short stories was short-listed in the 2012 Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook / Arvon short story competition and, in the same year, a travel piece set in Africa was third in BBC Wildlife’s travel writing competition. My poetry has appeared in various publications, most recently in the May 2014 issue of Synaesthesia.

I enclose the first 10,000 words and a single page synopsis as Word attachments to this email.

Thank you for your time.

Highly Commended: Gill Hollands, Slingshot

“A good, clear letter. I like the fact that you acknowledge that this could be a series but do not presume so, and that it works as a standalone book. This is my pick for “highly commended” letter since you sent two letters and it’s always best to pick your strongest work when submitting to an agent.”

The prizes were books supplied by P&G Wells, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication.

The competition secretary, Jim Livesey thanked James for doing such a great job of adjudication, and we know that getting this kind of feedback is something our members very much appreciate. 1st prize winner, Louise Morrish said that this was only her second visit to the HWS, and she was thrilled to have won and thanked the committee for all their hard work.

April Competition Winners 2014

Report by Celia Livesey

‘Write a Maximum of 20 Lines’ – Blank Verse

Brian Evans-Jones works as a full-time lecturer of creative writing, teaching both for Winchester University and the Open University, and has held many writing workshops at the Discovery Centres in Winchester and Gosport.

Brian of course is no stranger to the HWS. He was a guest speaker in April 2012 when he described his work as the Hampshire Poet Laureate for 2012. During his term of office he developed the popular ‘Writing Hampshire’ website, mapping the county through poetry.

Brian’s Adjudication:

Before Brian gave his adjudication, he read aloud Hazel Donnelly’s entry for April as a tribute to a very talented writer who will be greatly missed. Those members and friends who wish to give donations to Asthma UK can find details on this blog page.

The first criterion Brian used to judge the entries was whether they were true blank verse. Blank verse is poetry written in regular metrical but unrhymed lines, almost always iambic pentameters. Unfortunately, most of the entrants didn’t follow the brief. Brian said that he had to put those that did follow the guidelines ahead of the rest.

Clive & Sue
Clive & Sue

1st Prize: Sue Spiers, Wiping the Slate Blank

This poem builds steadily to a really excellent ending – a final stanza that rises and rises in quality to a knock-out image in the last line. The impression left by just that stanza was easily enough to make it a strong contender, but it also does the technical side of blank verse well, and has plenty of memorable lines along the way.

So can you tell me what went through your mind

about the crash that crushed your cranium

at eighty miles per hour into a wall?

What made you risk your life and loss of limb?

A surgeon drilled the holes to make some space

for swollen tissue, limbic gland damage

that makes remembering the time too hard

and leads to rage or disruptive changes.

Medulla responses keep heart and lungs

in rhythm. Motor skills; finger to thumb,

some words to name your wife and basic needs.

The slow recovery of smile and frown

at appropriate times as you discern

correct responses. Wonder how you look

to other patients, do the scars stand out?

The ones you hold inside and can’t recall.

In dreams you grasp what consciousness restrains.

The man who hovers in the corridor;

that want-of-death was stronger than her love,

than frontal lobe perception of her faith.

2nd Prize: Sue Spiers, (pseudonym Lillian White) The Everywhere Woman

Although the iambic metre sometimes wobbles in this poem, the quality of the observation and the images are very good. The experience the woman is sketched out with precision and moving understatement.

She’s seen and unseen, an old crumble-sac

who everyone thinks they know but never

saw before. Her face is familiar

and easily forgotten. The white hair –

a trademark nobody recognises.

More passive to bland into the background

behind the loud and strident women who

demand attention, she sits in her skin,

occasionally smiling and nodding,

listening intently to the voices

rising above her own mouse-beige whisper.

She remains mute for her own amusement,

content not to contend ‘don’t I know you?’

One minute here then gone like a shadow

at midday whose shape you’re sure you recall

but can’t bring to mind, an outline that’s made

of mist. She will never be missed or mourned

for long but thought of as a dear old kind

you often met but can’t remember when;

the everywhere woman without a name.

3rd Prize: Clive Johnson, The Dancing Floor

This was the best entry in terms of getting the blank verse technically right. It presents a nightmare dance with images that are fun to decode.

Before a conflict that would scar me and

Destroy so many lives, I dreamed each year

I entered different rooms until I reached

The last, a fearful place of sacrifice

As yet unknown to me, inside a hall,

A dancing floor where flappers and their beaux,

The damaged of the first war and their friends

Unheedful of the next, tripped to a beat

That might have been a devil’s dance, the make-

Up on the women’s faces devils’ masks

That stirred in some a superstitious awe.

The partnering – a frantic sport to vie

For men among the suitors that were left –

Might be a satyr’s ritual to them.

It would enrage their forebears and provoke

A band of witchfinders to prick our skins.

Instead, a new and heartless creed beset

Us with its notions of normality.

We caught a fever in that long weekend

That spread from age to age to addle us.

Highly Commended: Jenny McRobert, Quill

This poem is a sensitive interpretation of Jane Austen’s craft. Its best images, such as the ‘corseted words’, are surprising at first but then come to feel ‘right’.

Highly Commended: Rebecca Lyon, Fossils

I like the understatement and restraint in this poem. It gives the feeling that beneath the apparently simple statements of each line, something of much greater significance in hidden, like the fossils themselves.

 

The prizes were copies of Fleur Adcock’s poetry, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication.

In Conclusion: The competition secretary, Jim Livesey thanked Brian for the splendid job he did in adjudicating the April entries and presented him with a small token of our thanks.

March Competition Winners 2014

‘Write a Scene Between a Mother and Daughter’ – 300 words.

Barbara Large introduced Catherine King – our adjudicator for March. Catherine said she very much enjoyed reading the entries which were of a very high standard.

It is very encouraging that we had 20 entries for this competition, many from ‘new’ members.

Catherine is a full time author, currently working on her 14th novel and 9th historical saga. Her second saga, Silk and Steel, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year in 2008. Her latest title is ‘The Secret Daughter’, published in November 2012 and is tonight’s prize for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd competition winners.

I asked Catherine to say a few words on the criteria that she used to assess the entries.

Catherine’s Adjudication:

‘The standard of entries was high and I was impressed by the variety of themes that members used for this piece. However, several needed more than 300 words to do justice to their selected ideas. I believe it is more difficult to write a well-rounded piece in 300 words than it is to write a novel! The novel, of course, takes much longer.

To decide on the winners I looked for a rounded piece of writing with a beginning, middle and satisfying end. In one or two, the ending was rushed or contrived, indicating that the idea was more suitable for a longer piece. The writing, also, had to communicate something to the reader in the form of a premise or message. Many did this very well but, again, needed more words to round off in a satisfactory way. Finally, I wanted to see a clear

 

1st Prize: Rosie Travers, The Gremlin

A sharp observation of the barriers between a mother and her anorexic daughter. This was an original interpretation of the difficulties of communication; well rounded, beautifully written, and delivered within the requisite limitations.

Half a Weetabix has gone from the packet. It’s a token effort, meant to appease me.

She is watching Breakfast TV, wrapped in a baggy sweatshirt. The Gremlin sits benignly on her shoulder. He nestles there, quite comfortably.

‘We need to talk,’ I say.

I have tried broaching this subject before. Now I recognise the softly, softly approach will not work with the Gremlin.

‘I have to go to school,’ my daughter says. She flicks off the TV. ‘Can’t it wait?’

‘No. I’ve had enough of hoping this is just a passing fad. I think you need to seek professional help.’

A scared, haunted look fleetingly appears on Becki’s face and I feel of glimmer of hope. This is the Becki I want to reach; rational, sensible Becki, who knows her behaviour is spiralling out of control.

In an instant the Gremlin responds to the threat. He hunches his back and bares his ugly, jagged teeth. He is greedy, grasping, grotesque and very clever.

Together he and Becki have calculated the minimum amount of calories she needs to get through the day. Half a Weetabix is a token gesture because the Gremlin knows I’m on his case. This evening he will sit at the table, egging Becki on to another Oscar worthy performance of pretending to eat, while chopping, slicing and manoeuvring her dinner around on her plate without actually consuming anything.

I want to reach out and reassure my daughter that we can, we will, work this out. Instead the shutters come down.

‘I’m fine, mum,’ Becki says. Her face is set in a stubborn glare. ‘Don’t fuss.’

She tugs at the hem of her sweatshirt and pulls it down to conceal her ever-decreasing frame.

The Gremlin settles back down upon her shoulder, grinning at me triumphantly.

 

2nd Prize: Hazel Donnelly, A Chink of Light

An exploration of a mother/daughter relationship focusing on the contrariness of a teenager. This was a light-hearted bitter sweet piece that raised a smile and was delivered almost wholly in dialogue.

“That green eyeliner is lovely, darling.”

She heaves a sigh, pushing the untouched toast around her plate, “It’s turquoise.”

I had hoped today would be a better day.

“Well, then your turquoise eyeliner is lovely. It matches your sage shirt.” I’m trying too hard.

“It’s grunge green.”

“It suits you.”

“What? You mean grungy colours suit me?” Her dark eyes flash.

“I mean, that sage suits your colouring.” Feel fraught, sound calm. I have learned to perfect the art.

We sit in silence. It chokes me. When did we lose that easy chatter?

“Are you doing anything after college, today?”

“Why?”

“Just making conversation.”

“So, you’re not really interested.” Flat. A statement. Not a question.

“Of course I’m interested.”

“You said, you were just making conversation. You don’t need to.” She turns the radio up.

We resume our silence.

“If you might possibly be interested, I have a netball match.” She has actually volunteered the information.

“I didn’t know you were in the team.”

“Why would you?”

“I would if you told me.”

She shuns the temptation of an acid retort. I can see a chink of light.

“Can I have some money? The match fee is three pounds.”

I open my purse.

“I’ll have the brown note.”

“Nice try. You’ll have the green one.” I hand her a blue five pound note. It’s not lost on her and I cherish the hint of a smile.

“It should be a good match. They’re a tough opposition.”

“Worth watching?” I hold my breath.

“Well the sun’s out. Spectators won’t get cold.” She doesn’t look up. She is cautious. Uncertain.

“I’ll be there.”

She stands up and hefts her sports bag over her shoulder. “It’s gonna be a lovely day mum,” she grins, “the sky is a beautiful bright green.”

 

3rd Prize: Linda Welch, Mother of the Bride

A ghost story that takes place as a bride is about to leave for the ceremony. This was a well-crafted emotional short story that tugged at the heartstrings. It was a clever idea that was delivered skilfully within the word limit.

This was a day I never thought I would see: my daughter Nicola’s wedding day. I stood in the doorway to her bedroom and watched as she sat at her dressing table, surrounded by her bridesmaids, sipping champagne. She looked radiant, although she had lost weight in the past few weeks, and her dress had been taken in twice. There were shadows under her eyes. She had hidden them well with make-up, but I knew they were there.

‘The cars will be here in a minute,’ my husband said from the doorway. ‘Ladies, can you give me a few moments with the bride, please?’

He sat on the edge of the bed and watched as Nicola opened the jewellery box he and I had given her one Christmas and took out my gold charm bracelet. She counted each charm as if counting rosary beads and my lips moved in time with hers.

“Tiny pram, tiny me inside, for the day I was born; little dog, for the puppy you gave Mum for the first Christmas you were married; Cornish pixie, because that’s where you went on your honeymoon; gold abacus with amethyst beads, that you gave Mum to congratulate her for passing her accountancy exams …”

I listened to her recital of each charm, each milestone in my life, some entwined with her own, some just for me. Her father fastened the bracelet around her wrist and kissed her cheek.

“I wish your Mum could have been here to see this day,” he said, and there was a quiver in his voice. Nicola held his hand and gave it a squeeze. She glanced towards the door and for a moment her eyes met mine.

“She is here, Dad,” she whispered and she smiled, right at me. “She is.”

 

Highly Commended: Dorothy Collard (pseudonym E C Grace), Nolene

A role reversal short story comprising dialogue between a school age girl and her mother, one of whom is possibly pregnant. This was fun to read but I found the clarity was reduced because the voices were occasionally too similar.

Highly Commended: Tristan Warner-Smith, Untitled

A role reversal piece where an elderly mother becomes the child. This writing had a refreshingly light touch which I enjoyed. The story was delivered in an imaginative yet concise way.

 

The prizes were Catherine King’s The Secret Daughter, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication.

In Conclusion: Catherine King said she thoroughly enjoyed doing the adjudication and the events of the evening.

February Competition Winners 2014

‘Write the first four pages of the opening of a stage play – any period. ’

Cecily O’Neill Artistic Director of the Chesil Theatre was the adjudicator for the February competition. This served as a preliminary to the one that the Chesil Theatre is launching with a deadline of April 30. (Chesil 10 x10 Drama Festival).

A renowned authority in Drama in Education, Cecily works with students, teachers, directors, and actors throughout the world; leading drama workshops, speaking at conferences, and carrying out research.

Cecily’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: Anne Eckersley, A Family Affair

Anne Eckersley skillfully sets up the opening of a very funny piece of theatre. Within the first four lines of dialogue she establishes the situation, clearly indicates the tone and the relationships of the characters and makes a joke. She rapidly sketches in an increasingly bizarre past and has the audience anticipating equally intriguing future events. I look forward to reading the rest of the play.

A one act play in three scenes. Setting is Gran’s house: Small sitting room, still decorated in 1960s style. There are flying geese on the wall. Old fashioned large television occupies corner of the room. Net curtains at the windows. Furniture is dark and heavy, with white anti-macassars on all chairs. There is a large knitting bag by the fireplace and the floor is covered with a heavily patterned rug or carpet. In the centre of the room is a table covered with plates of sandwiches and cake.

Scene One

A telephone can be heard ringing in another room which is answered and on the television is a news bulletin that sets the scene as very much in present day.

Father enters, looks at the television, turns it off, then wipes his hands on his trousers and helps himself to sandwiches, picks up one in each hand.

Mother comes in carrying another plate of food, looks for somewhere to put it down, tutts, tries to pass it to him to hold. He thinks she is offering him more food, stuffs the

rest of a sandwich into his mouth and reaches out for another sandwich.

Mother Just take the bloody thing.

(Pause. Father holds tray while mother makes space for it on the table.)

Mother And where have you been all morning?

Father Garden with George from next door. He’s quite upset.

Mother {Taking the tray} Don’t sound so surprised.

Father He said he’ll miss her and I don’t think he was joking. Wanted to know whether we were having her buried or cremated. I said we weren’t taking any chances, we were doing both. {He picks up a piece of cake)

Mother You don’t think she’ll mind being cremated?

Father When it comes to your mother, I stopped thinking a long time ago.

Mother I did ask her once what she wanted us to do.

Father What did she say?

Mother I don’t know dear. Why don’t you surprise me?

 

2nd Prize: Mike Rawlins, Happy Families

Effective and witty dialogue in this piece by Mike Rawlins presents the family conflict very subtly and economically. The characterization is clear and having raised our expectations he subverts them in the final lines.

Cast:

Anne – 33, wife of Colin

Belinda – 58, mother of Colin

Colin – 35, himself

A KITCHEN. A TABLE IS CS AT WHICH ANNE IS SEATED FACING DS. SHE IS READING A NEWSPAPER. BELINDA ENTERS SR. SHE IS CARRYING FRESHLY CUT FLOWERS IN A BASKET. SHE PLACES THE FLOWERS ON THE TABLE, RETRIEVES A VASE FROM A CUPBOARD AND SEATS HERSELF TO ANNE’S LEFT.

Belinda: (She begins to arrange the flowers in the vase) Are you fond of Peonies, Anne?

Anne: Between you and me, I think they’re pretentious; a bit overdone and blousy. They try too hard.

Belinda: Colin has always liked them (beat) ever since he was a boy. He used to call them Mummy’s Flowers.

Anne: Such insight in one so young.

Belinda: Indeed. Where has it gone, I wonder?

THERE IS A SHORT SILENCE

Belinda: Did you not enjoy the salmon? I couldn’t help but notice that you’d hardly touched your lunch.

Anne: The salmon was fine, really.

Belinda: Are you sure. It can be a bit rich for some tastes. Perhaps I should have laid on something a little less (beat) refined.

Anne: Thanks for your concern but it’s ok; I’m just not eating much lately.

Belinda: You’re not unwell are you?

Anne: No. I’m fine, (pause) thanks.

THERE IS THE SOUND OF A DOOR SLAMMING AND COLIN IS HEARD OFFSTAGE

Colin: For goodness sake, Ziggy! Will you please sit … good boy. Now, stay. Ziggy, stay.

COLIN ENTERS SL. HE IS REMOVING HIS COAT AND APPEARS HOT AND FLUSTERED.

 

3rd Prize: Niki Wakefield, PTA

This play begins very promisingly, and the characters of the likeable but disorganized Hailey and the kind but rather pompous head teacher are effectively established. I enjoyed the amusing dialogue, but the lack of any real forward momentum makes me wonder if this is meant to be a one-act play.

Act One, Scene One

Lights up. The stage is set up as a headteacher’s office, with a desk and three chairs.

There’s a small bin and various items on the desk, including a phone and an ugly trophy.

Mr. Sharpe, a Headteacher in his mid-fifties, writes at his desk. There’s a knock at the door.

Mr. Sharpe: Come in.

Enter Hailey Reeves, early thirties, wearing a coat, loud pyjamas and novelty animal slippers. She looks nervous, like a naughty school girl.

Hailey: Good morning, Mr. Sharpe.

Mr. Sharpe: Bad morning, Mrs. Reeves?

Hailey: Huh?

He points at her pyjamas. She looks down. Horror! She quickly covers them up with her coat and sits down.

Hailey: Headmaster, if it’s about the pet Ed brought in for animal week… we didn’t know it was an alligator.

Mr. Sharpe: Seven children and a teacher had to see the school nurse, don’t you know?

Hailey: I’m really sorry. The guy at the car boot said it was a newt.

Mr. Sharpe: Don’t you know the difference? An alligator’s a brutal animal, part of the reptile family, native to China and the U.S. The Newt’s a member of the salamandridae family. We have several endangered natives here in the UK.

Hailey: So the difference is one’s a protected species and the other you need protecting from?

Mr. Sharpe: Well, yes… I suppose you could say that.

Hailey: We thought something was up when it ate all the goldfish.

Mr. Sharpe: Alligators are fascinating creatures. Fascinating. Their ancestry dates all the way back to the dinosaurs. They’ve been found in fossils, don’t you know? But they don’t belong in an infant school. (Pause) Anyway, I didn’t ask you here about that. I asked you here because… well…

He picks up the phone.

Mr. Sharpe (cont.): You can let them in now. I’m sorry about what’s going to happen next.

Feb 14 Nikki Wakefield Mike Rawlins Anne Eckersley
The Winners

Highly Commended: Karin Groves (pseudonym Georgie Jensen), Trench Truce

Georgie Jensen has set her play in the trenches of WW1 where two wounded soldiers from opposing sides encounter each other. Our sympathies are engaged by these likeable characters, although Heine’s perfect English is not explained. The challenge for the playwright will be to keep these two characters connected in spite of wounds and wartime.

Highly Commended: Sally Russell, (pseudonym Erin Clay), The Visitors

There is some lively dialogue in Erin Clay’s play and a growing sense of menace as one couple plan to take over the home and lives of the other older pair. Although the exposition could be clearer, this is an ambitious attempt to handle quite a complicated plot.

 

The prizes were journals, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication by Cecily O’Neill. The opening page of the first, second, and third competition winners is shown as follows:

In Conclusion:

Cecily O’Neill said that she very much enjoyed reading the entries, and that the standard of work was so high, she wished she could have given everyone an award.

December Competition Winners 2013

report by Celia Livesey

‘Write a new beginning for Pride and Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged… 200 words.

We were very pleased to welcome Sandra Cain as our adjudicator. Sandra is a Senior Lecturer in creative and media writing, communications and public relations at Southampton Solent University, and has published eleven books, the latest being Media Writing, A Practical Introduction (with Dr Craig Batty) and Key Concepts in Public Relations, both published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Sandra’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: Sally Russell, New Boy in Town

A satirical, contemporary take on the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice with a bold and exciting use of the vernacular … resulting in a written piece bubbling with enthusiastic glee.

This tells the tale of a mother looking for a suitable match for her daughters, in a veritable honey-pot hot spot favoured by ex-pats of dubious character.

***

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a mother wants the best possible match for her daughters.

“’Ere, Jase,” said Candice, “told ya someone’d bought the Chateau. Saw a Maserati drivin’ up the hill.”

“..an’ a Corsa, Ma,” added Tyler, scratching a pimple. “’ad a bangin’ spoiler.”

“Guess who it is,” urged Candice.

Jason dangled his arm over the side of the sun lounger and grabbed a beer from the ice bucket, the water droplets sizzling in the heat as they hit the patio. He took a slurp then swiveled his cap round so the peek pointed forwards, and lay back, his head resting on the air pillow.

“Tell me if you must,” he mumbled, beer leaking from the side of his mouth. He stroked the long dark hairs on his fat belly and belched.

“Barnaby Smith,” she announced excitedly.

“Geezer who did Lloyd’s in Chelmsford?”

“That’s the one,” said Candice, and squeezed her hands together in anticipation. “He’s loaded.”

“So? Didn’t do so bad ourselves.”

“No, but Ellie-Mae or Chantelle’d be made up if they got wiv ‘im.”

Jason sighed.

And that’s how Barnaby “Smiffy” Smith, the blond, bronzed, medallion-wearing new boy in town, became a person of interest.

Sue and Sally
Sue and Sally

2nd Prize: Gill Hollands, (untitled)

A fun and flighty piece of writing with a quip on the name of Bingley. True to the original but with a modern twist to a classic story.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a Porsche must have the time of his life. However little we know about him, the car clearly shows his status and intentions. This truth is so well fixed in modern minds that girls will be drawn to him as a bee to honey, despite the frantic attempts at restraint by their families.

‘Ben,’ said his wife as she twitched down the curtain one day,’ the perv with the Porsche is back.’

‘Is he a perv?’

‘Lily told me all about him.’

Ben went back to his copy of The Sun.

‘Don’t you want to know who he is?’ Cried his wife, impatient.

‘You want to tell me. So, get on with it.’ Sighing, he laid down his paper.

`Well Lily says that he’s the son of an antique dealer from the north of England; that he comes down on Mondays to chase the girls. She heard that the car’s on HP. Mr. Morris at the Bradford& Bingley is to take possession before Christmas, unless he coughs up by the end of next week.’

`Hmm. If he keeps the Porsche, I’ll have to watch he doesn’t take a fancy to you then…’

3rd Prize: Sue Spiers, (untitled)

An accomplished piece of writing written in the style of nineteenth century prose, sustained with wit, charm and elegance.

It is a truth universally acknowledged…that a beautiful woman is more acceptable as a wealthy man’s wife than a woman who has wit as her first accomplishment. A beautiful woman will grace the home of a duke as easily as a man of her father’s rank. A witty woman requires a husband of equal intellect lest she be thought a shrew by his relatives. A woman of wit may choose not to marry if her choices are limited to dullards but this has its own difficulties if her father is unable to support a spinster. A beautiful woman may have no need of needlecraft or musicianship because her admirable figure and amiable company will be enough to keep a line of suitors at her door. Wit rarely allows a plain woman to ascend the steps of enviable matches unless she is wise enough to make the best of her meagre attractions. It is a rare man who favours book learning over charming coiffeurs and a rarer woman who prefers to see her sisters married before she has received any man into her affections.

Highly Commended: Sally Russell, Day of the Peahen
A quirky re-telling with a clucking mother hen desperate to secure a good catch for her chicks. Plenty of shrieking, ducking and scurrying to set the scene.

Highly Commended: David Eadsforth, (untitled), pseudonym Geoff Stuart

A fast-paced piece written a la Austen but from the more masculine point of view of Mr Bennett. The well-placed military references to strategy and skirmishes foreground the romantic battles to come.

 

The prizes were a selection of signed paperbacks by John Mullan and a Certificate of Adjudication signed by Sandra Cain.
In Conclusion:
Only ten entries were received for the December competitions, and it is possible that the subject did put some people off. However, Sandra said she had enormous fun pondering the competition entries, and also enjoys helping writers to get their work noticed, talked about and sold.

November Competition Winners 2013

‘Write a Soliloquy for a Dramatic Character in Blank Verse – up to 20 lines’

We were pleased to welcome our adjudicator Dr Mark Rutter, a lecturer at the University of Winchester. Mark is no stranger to the HWS: founder members might remember him as one of the ‘Three Poets at Work’ at the December 2011 meeting. As well as being a poet he is active as a visual artist and fiction writer, and also a member of the British Haiku Society and the Haiku Society of America.

Mark’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: Celia Livesey (Pseudonym Joanne Ward) Soliloquy of One of the Trolls from The Hobbit

‘I enjoyed the use of an unconventional, “unpoetic” voice in this poem. A lively and original poem.’

I could’ve been anyfink – yes I could,

There’s loads of jobs an’ fings at wot I’m good.

I could’ve been a chef; it’s not my fault

They don’t like stew with slugs and lots of salt.

I could’ve been Pri-minister, but then

I’d ’ave to learn to write and spell – an’ it’s

All very well, but with snot on my chin

My image was wrong – I’m not even thin!

It’s tasty though, snot is, so I don’t care,

But I’ve got a feelin’ that life ain’t fair.

I tried to be an astro-nut, they sent

Me into space, but the helmet gave me

Allergies – an’ bumps all over me face.

I could make it big on telly, but I’ve

Always bin too smelly – but trolls can dream.

Now rooted to the spot, and turned to stone,

Far from the Misty Mountains, far from home,

I curse that Bilbo Baggins, he really

Is to blame, for since the sunshine hit me

I’ve never been the same. An’ that’s a fact!

2nd Prize: Robert Brydges Lines from 1594

‘I liked the way the poem managed to pack in a great deal of literary history and speculation about authorship without sounding like an essay. The rhythm never becomes bogged down and sounds convincingly like a voice.’

Wm. Sh: Blank verse, you say? I’ve had a go. My lines

Plod carthorse-like uphill: ka-PLONK-ka-PLONK.

But Marlowe’s soared! We heard his Tamburlaine,

In High Astounding Terms, defy the gods!

(He went to Cambridge, Kit did – not like me).

He’d had a string of hits, then – odd, this was –

He asked to ghost some Histories in my name.

Of course I see it now: he’d always planned

To ‘die’ and go abroad! Well, can’t complain;

I take the credit, so I keep the cash.

His Muse was killed in Deptford though, and now

He’s mostly doing chick-lit – that and farce.

He’s gone from writing Faustus and The Jew

To The Comedy of Errors and The Shrew!

Love’s Labours Lost! I ask you! Poppycock.

The man has lost his mojo. So perhaps

The brand of ‘Shakespeare’ needs another ghost?

Like Thomas Kyd? Or better still – George Peele!

A butcher’s feast of vengeance, rape and blood;

Say –Titus, for a title? That’ll do.

3rd Prize: Gwen Hobbis Dionysus Ponders the Cuts

‘This just struck me as an original take on the subject of the cuts, both amusing and to the point.’

I would never have believed it. The government’s last decree

on austerity. It applies to us deities too. Cuts all round.

I, Dionysus, God of wine, how can I make cuts? See,

junkets, festivals, civilization, happy eternal youth,

perpetual raving and more. It’s here in my job description.

I scarcely can make merry on vin ordinaire or breakfast tea.

And then there’s Zeus with his mighty thunderous boilings,

and Poseidon too. Must he also curb his awesome rages?

Are their displays to be confined to blustery showers

and volcanoes which erupt in well controlled displays?

Ares, God of manly courage, war and bloodlust,

Will his tumult shrink to mere argument and fracas?

As for Apollo, God of archery and music, I trust he won’t be asked

to cope with only peashooter and maracas.

Pluto, God of this world’s hidden wealth, he should be aware

the underworld of darkness is at risk.

And Hera, Queen of marriage, women, childbirth, must reject

pressure to downsize to hasty assignations or one night stands.

And so Zeus, King of Gods, I hope he’ll tell them ‘Nuts, it’s mere mortals,

the little folk, they are the ones who always get the cuts.’

 

Highly Commended: Sally Russell Tom’s Turmoil

Highly Commended: Sally Russell Demise of a Family Man

 

The prizes were signed copies by Ros Barber of The Marlowe Papers, and a Certificate of Adjudication signed by Mark Rutter.

 

In Conclusion: Our thanks to Mark for his adjudication – very much appreciated by the winners, and to all our contestants, 19 competition entries received in all – a tremendous response.

October Competition Winners 2013

by Celia Livesey

‘Write a Pitch on any Subject for a Radio Programme – 200 words’

Our Special Guest and Competition Adjudicator for the evening was Sasha Twining. Sasha’s career started in local radio, and currently she regularly presents a Saturday Breakfast show on BBC Radio Solent. She has also worked on television as a news anchor and correspondent on international and national news channels for the last six years as well as being an announcer on the BBC for a number of years before moving on to ITV. Sasha has also presented a number of high profile daytime shows, including Sunrise with Eamonn Holmes and Sky News Today with Dermot Murnaghan.

Unfortunately the BBC changed her work schedule at short notice and so she was unable to be with us last night. Copies of the competition entries were, however, forwarded to her last Wednesday, so she was able to judge these and send in her adjudication.

Sasha’s Adjudication:

Thank you very much for all your entries, they were all really interesting, and I especially liked that everyone had written about something that meant something special to them. Radio is a very, very personal medium. It relies on emotion and connection, and any radio show HAS to have both to stand any chance of gaining an audience in today’s market. I judged the entries on the following criteria.

  • Could I imagine listening to this programme.
  • Could I place the programme in a particular time of day/type of radio station/audience.
  • Was there enough information in the proposal to interest a prospective programme maker.
  • Did the entry include any information about HOW the programme would be made (length, time of day, cost implications, legal considerations, audience profile etc.)

While most people touched on the first three criteria, I’m afraid hardly any mentioned the logistics of a programme. Most programme producers want to be given a rough idea of HOW a strand will be made in a programme pitch.

Having said that, I enjoyed reading the pitches – and there are a couple that I could easily imagine being slightly re-worked to become useable on radio.

1st Prize: Alternative Realities – Olivia Stephenson

I like this idea, and could imagine it working in the 6.30pm comedy slot on Radio 4. In essence it is a slightly changed version of Room 101 (the television show) but nicely re-worked for radio. I thought Olivia had picked a great example of a starting topic, which would easily spark the interest of a producer. However, like many of the entries it lacked the logistical information. Time, audience profile, length of show, suggested panellists etc. Having said that, I feel this entry overall had the best idea for a prospective show.

Congratulations!

The main premise for the radio programme is the idea of removing something seemingly insignificant from our world, thus creating an alternative reality where the object, creature, mineral, etc. does not exist. Each half hour programme would be hosted by the same presenter, joined by a panel of three guests, each with a varying degree of knowledge concerning the removed item. For example, the host could introduce the alternative reality of life without cherry pie. This would lead to a discussion of how the world would differ if cherry pie did not exist, with varying opinions from the seemingly futile consideration of what it could mean for the popular nineties TV series, Twin Peaks, to how radically different our reality could be, and even to a voice which argues that we could do without it. The programme would then conclude with the host asking each guest whether they would choose to live in the alternative reality or to remain as we are. The purpose of the programme, besides the light-hearted notion we all often play, that of “what if such and such didn’t exist?”, would be to challenge the way we experience the world whilst gaining a deeper understanding of the hypothetically removed object through the program’s guests.

02_ Oct 2nd Prize Gill Hollands2nd Prize: Endless Story – Gill Hollands

I picked this idea as I could imagine it being used as part of a BBC local radio late show. I particularly liked that Gill had included the website in her pitch. Radio these days has to be multi-platform, and involve other types of communication, particularly the web. I liked the idea of a strand that would run over a week – and could imagine this building a real following. I personally would open it out to anyone sitting at home (not just writers’ groups) as the BBC Local Radio late night audience would love to listen and get involved.

Congratulations!

This is a programme for writers and listeners, a two-way entertainment. Each week we join a different writing group who start the story. For example:

‘In the chill silence, all she could hear was dripping. The smell of mould had invaded her sinus. Her numb hands dangled from the rusted shackles. She licked long-dried tears off her cracked lips, taking a deep breath. Agony seared her shoulders as she yanked the anchors from the rotting wood. Her arms wrenched forward, dragging her down. The damp flags were hard to her stiff knees. Her dry sobs echoed off the dim walls…’

The public then ring in with the next sentence and the writing group would then follow in turn with the next, which gradually builds into a whole new story. Prompts can be sound effects which are used in the background.

The aim would be to recap at the beginning of each day, offering pointers along the way, with a view to finishing it on the Friday. The finished story could then be published to the radio website for everyone to enjoy. The aim would be to give exposure to creative writing and local writers’ groups.

03_ Oct 3rd Prize Sara Sims3rd Prize: Talking to Myself – Sarah Sims

I have given this entry third place because I think there’s a real gem of an idea in there. I feel with a bit of work, this could be a nice idea for a ten minute ‘pause for thought’ type piece. I imagine it more along the lines of writing letters, and each participant starts the segment with a brief explanation of who they have written to (that they no longer speak to) and then reads a letter that they have written to the person. I could imagine this as a short feature series in Woman’s Hour in Radio 4. What we call a ‘stand alone’ feature. Well done – I liked it, and I think with a good producer, and some excellent choices of participant, this could make an excellent piece of radio.

This documentary is about talking to someone who isn’t there. All of us have people in our lives to whom we can no longer talk, in the real, face-to-face sense. Someone we love dies, or moves away, and the thread of conversation that interwove our daily existence is snapped.

That is painful enough. What’s equally – some would argue, even more painful – are those people we cannot talk to because they will not talk to us. Perhaps there’s been a sudden rift, following a blazing row. Or perhaps the rift was more gradual, a slow attrition, the relationship worn away by accreted misunderstandings. Either way, these people may be physically gone, but very often, we still talk to them. We might fantasize about winning that last argument. Or, in our more gentle moments, we may appeal to them for clues about what went wrong. We may even discuss everyday things with them, so that, without their volition, they remain enmeshed in the fabric of our lives. Six people let us into these one-sided conversations, revealing enduring sadness, anger, and hope.

 

Highly Commended: Pardon Them for Living – Andrea Stone

I’m giving this a Highly Commended because the subject choice is superb. BBC radio stations are increasingly aware of the need to produce programmes to challenge preconceptions about the elderly, and indeed about their care. However, I didn’t award this entry a place in the competition because I felt it was not sufficiently well-formed to be a proposal. It lacked all logistical information, and didn’t explain what sort of programme the idea would form. Having said that, Andrea used some wonderful phrases, and it was very evocative.

Highly Commended: Sound Bite – Celia Livesey (pseudonym Susan Shaw)

I awarded this a Highly Commended because this entry came the closest to looking like a proper proposal. It explained the format of the panel quiz, and gave a few examples. I could imagine this idea forming part of a Radio 4 comedy quiz show. It narrowly missed out on being placed – so many congratulations.

 

In Conclusion:

On behalf of the HWS I’d like to give our thanks to Sasha for such a wonderful job of adjudication, which was very much appreciated by the winners. Many of our contestants said they found writing a pitch for a radio programme quite challenging, but 16 entries were still received, so it was a tremendous response.

Finally, Sasha has agreed to come back as a main speaker and bring her recording team for a workshop – definitely an evening not to be missed.