12 September 2014

HWS Meeting 9th September 2014

An Evening of Novels, Inspiration and Other Tales
with Santa Montefiore

Barbara Large welcomed everyone to the first talk of the new HWS season and said how pleased she was with the numbers of people who had turned up; and that we had a super night ahead.  Barbara welcomed Joan McGavin, the Hampshire poet, and Santa Montefiore, the novelist. 

Joan spoke about the Winchester Poetry Festival, which is to take place between the 12th and the 14th of September.  Friday begins an exciting and varied programme that will feature Slam Dunk Hants, a student showcase, Hogwords, Hampshire poets now, and the main reading comprising Imtiaz Dharker, Matt Harvey, and Brian Patten.  

Joan McGavin speaking about the Winchester Poetry Festival
 Saturday will feature Young Voices; Zena Edwards and friends, “The Singing of the Scythe”, the best of World Poetry, “So Too Have The Doves Gone”, the poetry of conflict, and “Telling Tales, Patience Agbabi. There will also be “New Voices”, Liz Berry, Olivia McCannon, and Jacqueline Saphra, and “Those Timeless Things”, the poetry of John Arlott.  The main reading comprising David Constantine, Julia Copus, and Michael Longley. 

Sunday will feature a city walking tour with sites of special interest, The Wilfred Owen International Poetry competition, and “Poets from Hampshire”, Edward Thomas.  Also, “Things being Various”, Christopher Reid on the poets craft.  There is a Commemorative Reading in Winchester College War Cloister, and the Main Reading will be Ros Barber and Jackie Kay.  There are also a number of workshops and competitions.

Joan encouraged us all to try writing poetry, and offered a tip: if you are getting “poet’s block”, try writing some prose.  If getting “writer’s block”, try writing some poetry!

David Eadsforth then introduced Santa Montefiore: 

Santa was born in Winchester and grew up in Dummer, Hampshire.  Due to her mother being Anglo-Argentinian, she was able to teach English in Argentina for a year before taking a degree in Spanish and Italian at Exeter University.  She went back to work in Buenos Aires for some years before returning to Britain and marrying historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore.  Her first novels were set in Argentina and Chile, but many other countries have now provided the settings for her books.

Santa Montefiore
Santa started by wishing everyone good evening and saying how delighted she was to see so many people.  She was not going to deliver a lecture about how to write, but would like to recount what had inspired her writing over the years.  Santa said that locations and settings were very important in her books.  She found the greatest inspiration from the places she had visited.  Smells can be very evocative; Buenos Aires has wonderful scents from the flowers, and caramel from the sweet stalls – and diesel fumes from the buses.  Santa has visited everywhere she has written about, apart from Polperro, which was the one bit of Cornwall she couldn’t make, but she was able to construct a satisfactory picture from the internet and other references in the end.  (This was our secret, and we were not to let on…)

Santa started writing at school, where she created stories for her schoolmates.  These were romantic, but were not drawn from life as the only specimens to hand were spotty schoolboys; not a very suitable model.  Later, however, she did manage to include one character from real life from her school, a schoolmaster who was Scottish but who affected an Italian accent.  One day, he invited Santa and a couple of her friends to his home for afternoon tea (unlikely to be allowed these days…), and on a tour of the house threw open the bathroom door to reveal the bidet, where, he announced proudly, he liked to “boil his botty”.  He did become a character in one of her books!  Another teacher, who was a very large lady, actually wanted to become a character in one of her books.  Santa obliged, and then worried about what the teacher’s reaction would be.  The teacher loved her fictional character so much that Santa wondered if she had actually recognised which she was.

Then there was Bernie, the family Saint Bernard, who would be let loose at the end of a garden party to herd the last of the visitors away.  On one occasion, a lady appeared to be indulging Bernie by letting him press his sticky jowls on her suede trousers.  However, when Bernie followed his “new found friend” around a corner he got a kicking for his pains.  A lesson for Santa; people who like animals are generally nicer than people who do not.  That lady turned up in a book as well, as did an early Argentinian boyfriend of Santa’s.  Argentinian men are supposed to be darkly good-looking and courteous, but this one was not.  A very controlling person, he would even check that Santa had used the soap after having visited the bathroom; the “soap-checker” also went into a book.

Santa Montefiore
 The great thing about putting nasty people in books is that they think that they are so perfect that they never recognise themselves.  Santa has noted that people who have been scarred by life’s experiences will quite often have an unattractive persona, and it can take some effort to find a more likeable nature beneath.  Santa also liked older people, and the slightly eccentric views they often hold.  She hoped that such eccentricities were not dying out but might be constantly maintained by people who, as they age, grow less inhibited and less likely to continue to follow convention.  Santa said that her novels do, of course, introduce the views of her characters, which may or may not reflect her own views.  However, many people believe that a view expressed in a novel must reflect the view of the author, so care must be taken.

Writing at the same time as your husband can be problematical if both of you like to write to music.  Santa creates a playlist for each new book as it helps create moods and emotions.   Typically, this would be something wonderfully evocative of the location she is writing about.  At the same, “Ground Control to Major Tom” would be belting out from the next room.  Even though “Major Tom” may now be played through earphones, the problem has not gone away; her husband has started singing along to it – rather badly…

A noisy environment can be dispiriting.  At the time she and her husband lived in a flat, a yuppie couple lived in the one above, and would often put their washing machine on late in the evening.  One night, Santa’s husband decided to tackle them about it, so went out, in pyjamas and dressing gown, only to meet an elderly lady from another flat intent on doing the same.  They knocked on the door together and were confronted by their puzzled neighbour.  They explained that it was really too late to be running a noisy washing machine and Santa’s husband added that the offending machine was “right above their bedroom and they had a baby only one year old”.  Their neighbour’s eyes went from one to the other in growing incredulity...

Santa believes that the writing room should be a beautiful place to work; it should invite and inspire you, and for her this means flowers and candles etc.   Her advice is:  Make your office your sanctuary – a room you long to get to every day”.  This will help you get on with the writing process.  Following the advice of her husband: “don’t get it right, get it written”, her method of working is to write the book from start to finish before revising; if you go back over what you have written and revise as you go, you will make appallingly slow progress.

Santa happened to meet Joanna Trollope about the time she had finished her first manuscript, at the age of twenty-five, and asked Joanna for advice.  “Put it in a drawer until you have had more experience of life.” was the reply; wise, undoubtedly, but not terribly welcome!  But Santa has indeed found that the older you get, the better you write.

After Santa had been published, a US book tour did not work out quite as planned.  On one occasion, Santa found herself in a bookstore in Chicago, ready to address an audience.  She was quite fired up by the news that Isabelle Allende had pulled a crowd of three hundred there a short while before, but when Santa entered the room there was only one man in a baseball cap, sitting at the back reading a book: and not one of hers.  But with her belief in the “stiff upper lip” she approached the man, quite prepared to devote the session to him.  Unfortunately, he was only there waiting for his family to return from shopping.  However, Santa did manage to have a chat with him long enough to sell him a signed copy of her book.  Lesson: Americans are only interested in big names.  However, this story says a lot about the kind of fortitude everyone needs to become a successful author!

Her book tour experiences are quite different in the Netherlands, where she is very well-liked and draws large audiences, and can almost feel like JK Rowling (if one ignores the difference in royalties…).

Santa then took a few questions.

  1. Does Santa relate to her own characters?
Yes, indeed, but she also writes about characters who she knows she won’t relate to. This is very difficult, but often quite necessary; and a particularly challenging part of writing fiction.

  1. What is her production target?
 Santa is happy with writing one book per year.  She has to maintain this schedule to satisfy the publisher, and on completion of a book often wonders if she can write another – but she has always managed to do this so far!  If she ever found that she could not keep up with the demands of writing, then she would probably give up.

When in the early stages, daily progress will be 1-2,000 words.  In the later stages, she will be writing up to 5,000 words per day; once the narrative has begun to progress, the writing comes easier.  Santa has a disciplined writing year.  She only writes in term-time, and hands her completed manuscript to her publisher in July, just as last year’s book is being published in hardback.  She takes the summer off then, in September, she goes through her editor’s notes for her finished book, and makes the necessary changes.  During this time she will begin planning for her next book, which she starts writing in January, the manuscript being ready for the July deadline.

  1. What would Santa liked to have been if she hadn’t become a writer?
 A singer: recalling her time in Argentina, she projected herself as singing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from the balcony of the Shakespeare Room where we were all sitting.  And ultimately . . . a teacher – which was the right thing to say as the questioner was herself a teacher!  Both Santa and her questioner were keen to emphasize how much there is a ‘performance’ element to teaching, and to writing and public speaking as well.

  1. Any advice on how to end a book?
 Santa acknowledged that endings are often very difficult.  But, as a rule of thumb, if you find you’re getting bored with the story or book you’re writing it’s best to end things quickly (or even move on to another project).  This discussion of book endings was a natural place at which to bring the Q&A part of the evening to a close. Santa rounded everything off by telling one last story – a rather explicit, but highly amusing, story – about the difficulty of getting some anatomical details right when writing about the opposite sex . . .

To conclude the evening, Barbara thanked everyone for coming and invited them to “keep writing” and to “bring a fellow writer” next time.  In October, we would have Andy McDermott, the thriller writer, so it would be worth coming back.

Report by David Eadsforth. 

10 September 2014

Competition Report 9 September 2014

                            Competition Report 9 September 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… ‘

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.’

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.’

Highly Commended: Amicia Bentley, Occitan Jewel

Highly Commended: Scott Goldie, The Creature Retrieval Service

1st prize winner Linda Welch and 2nd prize winner Sally Russell

 Prizes, Awards and Readings:
The prizes were signed hardback copies of Santa Montefiore’s books, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication from Daniel Clay. The winning entries are shown below:

1st Prize: The Living and the Dead - Copyright © Linda Welch, 2014
 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?’
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.

2nd Prize: A Way of LifeCopyright © Sally Russell, 2014
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: Untitled – Copyright © Rebecca Lyon, 2014

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.’

In Conclusion:
The competition secretary, Jim Livesey thanked Daniel for doing such a splendid job of adjudication and announced that the competition for October is:

“Write the last page of a thriller” in 300 words, 1st person double spaced.

As usual the deadline for entries, by email please, is 1st October.

Remember that this meeting will be held in the Stripe, and will be preceded by a short AGM covering the 2013/14 events. The meeting will therefore start at the earlier time of 7:15pm.

The main speaker for the evening will be thriller writer Andy McDermott.

 Please email to the Competitions Secretary, Jim Livesey competitions.hwsAThotmail.com
by noon (BST)1st October 2014. (please replace AT with @)

Please read HWS Competition rules