12 November 2015

Della Galton speaks to Hampshire Writers' Society

HWS November Meeting Report
by Lisa Nightingale

Special Guest: Mayoress – Angela Clear
Councillor Angela Clear, Mayor of Winchester and District, also known locally as ‘Miss Marple’ with her basket and beady eyes has two literary heroes – Agatha Christie and Jane Austin. A romantic detective – there’s a refreshing change.
Her self-administered reward at the end of a busy run is a little time away following in the footsteps of the great Poirot on Burgh Island, just off the coast of Devon where Agatha Christie wrote many of her novels.  
While at home curled up on the settee on a winter’s evening, she thrives on the heartache of the heroine caught up on the ‘social perception of Jane Austin’s time’ listening to their head and not their heart. For her they are the perfect mix of romance and historical statements before being quite willingly whisked away to Pemberley.
Being Mayor is a busy role with up to four engagements a day, but she loves it and says that perhaps one day will come to Barbara Large for instruction and put pen to paper.

The audience was treated to a performance by Chris Mann, prominent South African poet, playwright and song-writer who demonstated the creative effect of combining songs with guitar accompaniment. Chris Mann is Professor Emeritus of Poetry, Rhodes University in Grahamston and is currently visiting the University of Winchester.

Della Galton - short story writer and novelist

‘Never forget! We are in the entertainment industry.’ Della Galton told us and she doesn’t believe in Writer’s Block either.

Della draws much of her story-writing inspiration from songs or poems. It is emotion that drives her fingers. Writing Groups are invaluable and Della began attending one back in 1987. 1500 short stories later, she still goes to it.

Since she started writing, the magazine short story market has shrunk. Now there are only 7 magazines that can be submitted to, with some on-line.  Successes feel great but they can be sporadic. As can the income.

Barbara Large and Della Galton

1000 word stories are the biggest payers. Your readers must care about your characters. Give them a problem that is not of their own making. Make them solve it in an unusual way, but get the reader to care about them – from the first line.
Cosy crime is a big seller.

And men – do not switch off – men can write stories for the likes of Woman’s Weekly. The editors are looking for diversity, the writer’s own voice and they buy on the strength of the story not that of the writer.

Ask yourself, if you are moved by your story. Then the reader will be moved as well. And try to make the editor laugh. Della admits that this is not always easy in 1000 words. But, don’t be predictable. Or preachy. Although a twist in the tale is still a winner.
Your story needs to provide escapism for the reader.  It must also be believable – draw from your own experiences.

Persistance and patience pay off. Poor Della once had thirteen rejections in the same day! So she cried and carried on. What’s your motivation?
Don’t write what is trending! If a tsunami has recently ravished the coastline then don’t submit stories about it – the editor will receive thousands the same. And here she left us a tip – write a list of your ideas. Then cross out the top ten – everybody thinks the same way.

Della could not stress enough how important it is for a writer to carry out their market research. Magazine submission guidelines will state their taboo subjects, word count can be very strict and check the genres that they prefer to print. Your information must be current.

Della confessed to being a NaNoRebel – she uses the National Novel Writing Month as a challenge to write a collection of short stories. And she highly recommends it. In the race to keep writing, your inner editor is subdued.

For more information about Della Galton visit her website and blog

November Competition Report

November Competition Report 
by Sharon Garrett

Writing competition: Write the introduction for a general women's novel, in 300 words.

Adjudicator: Literary agent, Judith Murdoch
Our adjudicator for the November competition was Judith Murdoch from The Judith Murdoch Literary Agency. The number of entries was an outstanding 31.
Her general comments were that she found them all very readable, though too many seemed rather too domestic in tone, so did not stand out as being anything new. A number of entries felt as if they might work better as short stories.
She generously took the time to advise; several entries used far too many adjectives, others over-used names of characters, which distances the reader - they don’t need reminding what the heroine is called six times on one page!
Two authors stood out for strong dialogue: ALL THE FUN OF THE FAIR by Linda Welch, and I WANT TO BREAK FREE by Freddie Mercury. Judith mentions that they might consider writing for radio.
FIRST MEETING by David Lea - Judith thought was amusing but she would have cut the first two lines. MAIA BAY by Benita she found very atmospheric and her assistant particularly liked the mule.
Judith said that the three finalists all immediately focused on the main character, placing them in an intriguing situation, which had possibilities for a full-length story.
She said that characterisation is the most important element in a novel; introducing a sympathetic character on page one who makes the reader feel they want to follow them for another 200-300 pages is what won through. 
Judith selected: 
First place NO MAN’S LAND by Louise Morrish– a powerful situation and an emotional hook, which immediately establishes the heroine as a strong character on a mission. It promises to deliver action, adventure and romance and sets out the date and premise on the first page, which is a great asset when Kindle encourages readers to sample the first page.
Second place BEDINGFORD OPERA Sam Collins – although a domestic situation it has a slightly quirky, nostalgic feel that made us want to read on - the characters made the ordinary seem a little poignant and more interesting, but the title needs to be more catchy.
Third place THE LONG REACH TO THE PAST by Margaret Jenness – strong writing with an emotional and intriguing opening, though a little downbeat in tone and I would have preferred it in the present rather than past tense.
Read the winning entries below.
First place NO MAN’S LAND by Louise Morrish.
Mary waits in line, tense and sweating in Edward’s woollen jacket and breeches, as the man ahead of her stumbles his way through the oath.
            ‘I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King George the Fifth…’
             Next it will be Mary’s turn to accept the King’s Shilling. A knife twists in her gut at the thought.
            She licks her dry lips, tasting coppery salt. Her scalp itches beneath Edward’s cap and she longs to take it off, but to expose her scandalously short hair is too risky. If the recruitment officer should see through her disguise, he could have her arrested for fraud, or worse yet, treason.
            For surely it’s a crime against the King for a woman to enlist as a soldier?
            She takes a steadying breath, reminding herself why she’s doing this: to find Edward. The telegram from the War Office had reported him missing. He could be a prisoner of war, or lost and wandering the battlefields. Or maybe he’s lying injured in some Belgian military hospital unable to make himself understood. Wherever he is Mary will do her damnedest to track him down. And when she does Mr Walsh will be so grateful to her for finding his precious son and heir, he’ll surely give Mary a job as a journalist on his newspaper.
             So far no one has guessed her deceit; in this place of stale sweat and brittle bravado she is just another young man, keen to do his bit for crown and country.
            If she can hold her nerve and assume the guise of a soldier, she will soon be on her way to the Front.
            The first woman ever to witness the trenches.               
            Won’t that be a story for Mr Walsh’s paper?  
© Louise Morrish 2015      

Second place - BEDINGFORD OPERA Sam Collins.

Shelley Harper looked at her mother warily, as she usually did, in her preposterous flowing gown, held closed only by the most gregarious six-inch brooch.  A peacock, like its owner, its glory displayed.  But it was the beak that Shelley focused on, as if despite its flamboyance, it would tear you to shreds any moment now.
'Not now Sheldon dear, whatever it is, you can see that I am rather busy.'  Indeed she could.  Every kitchen cupboard open wide, the contents spilling onto every available surface.  The rattle and hum of utensils being thrown drowned only by the industrial volume Verdi coming from the ghetto blaster on the windowsill, the sound of which had assailed her from the corner of Parkside Drive. 
'You can make this suet pudding with absolutely anything to hand in the pantry,’ Mrs Harper continued, as if reading from some ancient Victorian cookbook.  ‘This one’s rhubarb compote…’
 It had been with a very heavy heart that Shelley had made this journey this morning.  Back to her roots, back to the village, back to the… motherland.  Oh God.  She had even allowed herself a tear or two on the train from Waterloo.  And if she had allowed any more, she felt sure that they would have drowned her face in waves of panic and regret.  She could see it in the murky train window; as if the mildly moist green eyes and undrenched olive-skinned face were not her own.  Instead she saw something paler, shadowed; the eyes half-closed and brimming, the face awash, dissolving before her with the torrent.  And the only sound in her ears… Verdi.
© Sam Collins 2015

Third place THE LONG REACH TO THE PAST by Margaret Jenness.

Thursday 1st April excerpt from Alice Carmichael’s diary 
“Tell Olivia I’m sorry”, your dying words, your breathing laboured, your hands clasped mine.  I wanted to hear you ask if the children were coming, to hear you say how much you loved us all. Instead I heard an instruction to tell an unknown woman that you were sorry.
The nurse was very kind.  She told me to stay as long as I wanted.  She brought me tea and Garibaldi biscuits.  Suffocated by the daffodil yellow painted walls, I took deep breaths before taking a welcome sip.  
I had been upset our children hadn’t arrived in time.   They thought you had rallied.  Craving the relief of normality when death surrounds, they had returned to their daily lives.  After all the doctors had promised,   “He’s mentally strong, a fighter”.  Perhaps you were fighting to see this person one last time. 
“Our family are coming.  Please stay until they get here”, I had begged. How relieved I am now they were too late.    How could they have borne your last words not being for us? 
Who was this woman with such a hold on you that your last words were for her?  In just five words you had destroyed my sense of who I am. Yet, despite myself I traced your features with my fingers one last time.  I kissed you. I hugged you.   I told you how much I loved you.  I said I was sorry if I hadn’t made you happy, if I had hurt you in any way.
I heard voices in the corridor. The door opened.  Our son and daughter rushed in.  We hugged.  “I’ll leave you to say goodbye”. 
I slipped out. Weeping, I stumbled along the corridor to the nearest bathroom and was violently sick.
© Margaret Jenness 2015

Don’t forget the December competition:
Write the opening of a young adult story, beginning with the moment when the main character discovers a secret.  
300 words. Deadline: noon 1st December.

17 October 2015

James Barclay, High Fantasy Author

Report for HWS 13th October 2015  

by Lisa Nightingale

Michael Byrne, debut author of the Lottery Boy

Don’t give up writing. Do whatever helps keep you going!
After painstakingly picking over the first paragraph of multi-selling Lottery Boy which took him 3 hours plus, Michael Byrne got brazen. He threw it away with his doubts and questions. Then ‘just wrote it’.
But caution snuck back in. Rejections wrecked the flow of his energy. Lottery Boy got thrown in a drawer.

Ironically, he won a Tesco competition that he wasn’t even unaware he had entered. This persuaded him to try Lottery Boy in the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction competition. He didn’t win. ‘If Barry Cunningham didn’t want me,’ he says, ‘all was lost’.
Perhaps his apathy had turned super productive though. An agent seized Lottery Boy.
‘Increasingly,’ he says, ‘agents will work as editors with their authors. They are like terriers.’ His agent would not let it go.

Publishers’ showed interest in Lottery Boy, and where Michael might have (in typical, dreamy, star-struck writer style) accepted their offer, his agent remained dispassionate and hung on for a better deal sticking with the book and Michael.

Michael continually pointed out that ‘an agent is invaluable.’
It was Walker Books who bought him and Lottery Boy. ‘Who?’ said Michael. Again his agent was strong and when Lottery Boy sold internationally, he finally called himself a writer.
‘It’s the voice.’ He says. Agents look for a ‘spark. And that is your voice’.

James Barclay, High Fantasy Author

The high fantasy genre certainly is another world. Be realistic seems to be James Barclay’s mantra. Really?
Author of twelve high fantasy novels to date (the thirteenth comes out next March) James was first published in 1999. He hordes all his research and all his notes. And it shows.
When building a world, James uses our world as a yardstick. ‘Think of what war or religion has done to us.’
  •  Know your geography: you need to know how tectonic plates work.
  •  Where would your population live: People will live where they will survive. Our earth is a good fact-file – ports will always be well populated due to the abundance of trade to be done.
  •  Your economy must work. Create a balance. Or your world will collapse. Remember our world – finance is a reliable source of disagreements.
  • What is your ruling system? A monarchy’s rule is different to that of an elected government. Look at our own world – monarchies can produce tyrants.
  •  Religion – ‘nuff said!

Harness all of the above and then ‘Stick it on the wall in your shed’. Use it only for reference.

Your world must ‘hang’ together. Readers know how our world works, but they don’t know yours.

No battle plan has no contact with the enemy.’ Help!

Fight scenes, if you are going to use them, must have a purpose within your plot.

Know who is going into the fight. Know who is going to come out. Know their weapons – how big are they, how are they designed to damage?

Fights are noisy, smelly, uncomfortable and gory and fighters are disciplined. ‘Either I kill you or you kill me.’

With big battle scenes, James brakes the rules. Use a second point-of-view. One from high above the battle field that can give you an overview, the second from the middle of the mayhem. Short sentences shift between them or use paragraph breaks.

Try not to make your fight scene too ‘Errol Flynn’. If it does end up that way – use something genuine – a weapon failure or a stumble over a dead body to retain reality. Stay in your characters point-of-view and let them guide you.

Keep it credible – a peasant is most unlikely to defeat an experienced fighter.

Keep the magic credible too. Credible magic?

It is possible to have fantasy stories without magic. Lewis Carrol does it well. But James likes playing with magic.

If your magic system is all-powerful, then the magicians will be in charge. How does this fit with the economy of your lovingly built world? Give your system a flaw

‘No one person should say more than a short paragraph’ James says.

Imagine that you are overhearing the conversation.

And don’t be in a rush to get all your information over in one go. You don’t need to write in all the characters’ umms and errs. We all do it. Give the reader some credit – they can imagine it for themselves.

But dialogue can be a tool. It can give your reader snippets about the characters’ world; the landscape, the geography. It can inform the reader of characters’ traits, flaws or emotional state.

You don’t need to tag every speech either.

But, James avoids giving characters accents. If you are clever, it can work, but it can also be tiring for the reader.

Although the writer can give their characters new traits, – original fairy elves did not have pointy ears; Tolkien gave them to them. Be wary not to regenerate them completely and confuse the reader.

James is not above ripping it all up and starting again. His characters lead him and unlikely heroes begin to emerge. ‘You can’t afford to be proud.’ he says, ‘your first draft will be flabby and too much detail can be dull. Take out anything that states the obvious, unless of course it is integral to the plot’.

Read extensively. He says, ‘It goes in.’

Report by Lisa Nightingale

14 October 2015

Competition Report October 2015

Competition Report 13h October 2015

Write a Ghost Story – 300 words

We were very lucky to have as our adjudicator last night Carolin Esser-Miles, Medievalist, and Senior Lecturer, English Language at the University of Winchester.

Carolin was the perfect choice for adjudicator as her interests are fantasy, horror and the supernatural. She said she was looking for certain factors in the stories – one of these was to be frightened, but she was surprised by the number of entries where love was used as the main element for the ghost story. Carolin said she enjoyed reading the entries very much, and invited all those who had entered to talk to her about their work at the end of the meeting.

Carolin’s Adjudication:

1st Place: Louise Morrish, Lest We Forget
“Lest we forget follows a slow pace, but one which is fitting for the dreary inevitability that imprisons both the narrator and his ghost. Both are beyond terror, and suspense is not what drives this story for the readers either. What makes this story special is that in all its horror and pain it is a story about forgiveness, and about letting go of the ghosts we can, by owning up, by giving up our defences and asking for help. Again, this is no story of bravery, but of nothing left to fight. And that makes it so human, so real. And in the middle of all that we find a miracle: forgiveness. But the story remains true. Some ghosts continue to haunt us no matter what we do.
The story’s message is as profound as it is simple. Telling it in 300 words takes skill.”

2nd Place: Paul Beattie, Ghost Train
“One of the most suspenseful stories in the competition, Ghost Train plays with conventions in humorous way. The short sentence structures and frequent and quick shifts in perspective and train of thought of our preoccupied narrator prevent the reader from analysing too closely until the conceit is complete. What is particularly interesting is that the conceit, in fact, is again the classic stereotype which we all looked out for in the beginning and from which we got side tracked. A brief survey of readers highlights the effectiveness of the ending: a tongue in cheek acknowledgement – ‘Of course not’ – of what we should have known all along. He is the Kennington Ghost, and there he stays.”

3rd Place: Wendy Fitzgerald, It Comes to Us All (pseudonym Jane Adams)
“A lot of us tend to be rather melodramatic when it comes to death and ghosts. ‘It comes to us All’ acknowledges that – through capitalisation of the Big Words, through hints at a possible violent death. Its focus, however, stays firmly on the ordinary. Our waiting ghosts are not impatient ghosts. The emotions that prevail are acceptance and even a sense of peace, though maybe more that of a shared moment of respite between two attacks. The story is skilfully written and flows calmly and naturally. It is complete as it is, as a vignette, but it can equally lead into a short story or even a novel. Amongst all the clichés, this is a story of love, and it teaches us a valuable lesson, not through regret, but through example: How to live one’s life in the moment.”

Highly Commended: Louise Morrish, Abominable
“The story plays with the literary register of seafaring novels in the frame of Melville or Conrad well. A leisurely pace comes to a more intensified delivery just in time for a sudden realisation of an inescapable fate that grips the reader with cold, clammy hands around their throat.”

Highly Commended: Gill Hollands, Devotion (pseudonym Lily Collins)
Devotion packs a very important message into 300 short words. It is a story about love, and about the right person being there to help and care.  It works because of exact timings, sketched hints and fitting clues. With just a little more space to help the reader follow through the various cognitive jumps this will be a very powerful story.”

Prizes and Awards:

The prizes were signed books by James Barclay as well as certificates of adjudication by Carolin Esser-Miles.

1st Place: Lest We Forget - Copyright © Louise Morrish, 2015

  Last night the soldier came to me again, a vision in mud. I could hear his slow, rasping breaths, the sound louder than the gale outside rattling the window panes, and it was this that woke me. There he stood, in the shadows at the foot of my bed, dark and unmoving. The reek of the trenches came off him, a poisonous mix of rancid mud, rotting flesh, and the burnt tang of cordite. The smell caught at the back of my throat, familiar and dreadful, taking me straight back to that hell.

      He didn’t speak, but he had no need to; we both knew the reason he came, every year, without fail. The events of that fateful day are seared on my brain, the sights we both witnessed burnt into my memory for ever more.

      There was no need for words at all, German or English.

      The match flame shook as I lit a candle. I knew I wouldn’t sleep again, and self-pity brought hot tears to my eyes. I was tired to my bones already, without this.
      I think it must have been exhaustion that made me do what I did next. Now, in the pale light of a new morning, I truly can’t believe I had the nerve.
      ‘I’m sorry,’ I said, my voice all but drowned by the soldier’s laboured breaths. ‘Forgive me, please.’

      A silence fell; even the glass in the window ceased its rattle.
      It was as though I had spoken a charm. His presence, that had filled my thoughts and dreams for so long, began to ebb away. Gradually, his form dissolved into the shadows, and the room threw off its strange chill.

      Until all that remained was the sickly sour reek of the trenches.

      But that, I fear, will never leave me.

2nd Place: Ghost Train - Copyright © Paul Beattie, 2015

The red light stares stubbornly from the darkness, the glimmer picking out a few frames of the tunnel’s structure. Held in the Loop. You can be stuck here for hours waiting for a signal to release you. Well, it seems like it, buried somewhere deep on the Northern Line between Kennington and the Oval. Soon be heading back to Charing Cross and the shift’s end, nothing to do but wait. The old lags tease the youngsters about the Kennington ghosts; bodies unearthed when building the line, lost trackmen in the tunnels. All nonsense of course.

My shoulders stiffen; it’s just the muffled drumming of a train somewhere in the dark. The signal will change soon, it must. My palm, glued to the control leaver, is getting sweaty. It’s always warm down in the deep. No. It’s cold. I can see my breath in front of me. The heater must have packed up. Come on, come on. What’s taking so long? Damn the bloody signals!

What was that? A connecting door just slammed. Must have left it open when I checked my carriages were empty, the vibrations of that train must have made it shut. Hah! Kennington Ghost you old fool! Hang on, that was another door, closer. Surely I can’t have missed a passenger. Bloody hell it’s getting cold in here. Come on, change damn you!

That was the door to the last carriage, it had to be. Did I lock the driver’s door? There’s footsteps. Please change, please. Green! Oh thank you God! The brake won’t release, it’s jammed! I can’t move it, my hand keeps slipping off.

My door slams open…It’s Harry.

      “Bloody hell Harry! I thought you were the Kennington Ghost!”

He doesn’t see me. Of course not, I’m the Kennington Ghost, and here I stay.

3rd Place: It Comes to Us All - Copyright © Wendy Fitzgerald, 2015

You’d think they’d hear us, as they pass through the graveyard; laying their flowers, indulging in their tears – oh, I suppose we’ve got rather blasé about it, but we’ve seen it so often, believe me!   But yes, it’s been a while since I stopped off here, pausing on my Way.  We sit around, often on that very bench that you rest on, gossiping and bickering loudly about the injustices of Life.

That’s why I am still here.  A spirit, a ghost – whatever you might like to call me - I still have burning issues.  But today, Mrs Thomas and I are simply watching the grave-digger as he works.   Mrs Thomas is expecting her husband to join her soon, and then she can Pass properly.  She simply could not bear to Leave without him.  It never fails to astound me the deep and profound love that one human being can have for another – sometimes I feel it almost outweighs the hatred and evil that I so often saw in Life.

Mrs Thomas watches the earthly man at work, with some satisfaction.  His burly arms wielding the spade; the sweat on his brow.   It won’t be long now.  She tells me an anecdote about her wedding day, and I smile with her.  I wish that mine had been so joyous – but I was Taken way before my time and won’t Rest until I see my worldly remains discovered - or at least see my fiancées lovely face again.  Whatever you may have heard, we cannot avenge - but we can simply wait for our loved ones to catch us up.

The earthly man has finished his task; Mrs Thomas sits back, contented.
And now Mr Thomas stores his spade, washes his hands, and leaves unsuspectingly for home.  

In Conclusion:

The competition secretary, Sharon Garrett, thanked the adjudicator for doing a splendid job, and asked her to come back soon. Carolin said she would be delighted. Sharon thanked everyone who had entered, and noted that once again, with 19 entries, the ‘Ghost Story’ competition had proved very popular with our members.

The competition for November is to write the first 300 words of a general women’s novel. The adjudicator will be Judith Murdoch, of Judith Murdoch Literary Agency.

Please email your entries to the Competition Secretary, Sharon Garrett competitions.hwsAThotmail.com by noon (GMT) 1st November 2015. (Please replace AT with @)

Please read HWS Competition rules