Sunday, 20 November 2011

Meeting Report: 3rd October 2011

The brief for the final of this year’s five HWG Writer of the Year competitions was to write an autobiographical piece inspired by a photo of own choice, in a maximum of 1500 words. Victoria Seymour, local social history author, had suggested this topic so it was fitting that we should invite her to judge it and come along to our meeting on 3 October 2011 with the results and her comments.

Before giving her judgment Victoria spoke about her own writing and publishing experiences, showed us her books, including the most well-known Letters from Lavender Cottage’ and also emphasised the importance of photographs. She said that she had very much enjoyed the challenge of judging, complimenting members on the overall high standard of writing, which had made it difficult to decide on the order of winners.

The final line-up was: 1st Carol Pullen The Confident Girl; 2nd Mark Towner ‘Scars’; 3rd Roz Balp A Bunch of Dandelions and 4th Jill Fricker Dear Danny Boyle’. Special mentions were also given to Charlie Menzinger’s ‘Breaking the Ice’ and Amanda Giles’ ‘Wow, Amazing! They’ve Still Got It.’

The Group launched its new publication Ghost Writers – which is helping to support local Young Carers – at the recent Books Born in Hastings event at the Town Hall. Chairperson Monica Percy, writing as Monica Tracey, also launched her new book Left of the Moon so it was a double celebration. Sales enquiries can be made to and both books will be available in Waterstones in the near future.

For further information about membership and activities please contact or visit our website

Monday, 26 September 2011

Meeting Report: 19 September 2011

At our manuscript evening on Monday 19th September, four members brought some of their work to the group for constructive criticism. This triggered a very stimulating discussion of key elements of writing, for example characterisation, viewpoint, focus, editing, choice of words. This was useful for all aspiring writers, not just those who were brave enough to put their work forward for comment. First, Alan Crozier read a short but fascinating excerpt from his novel Black Daffodils, set in an alternative universe. Then Jill Fricker shared how she had re-written a short story Blue Genes Day in response to a judge’s comments. Third, Ezzie Gleeson-Ward provided another chapter from her sword and sorcery fantasy novel, Cormorante. Finally, Amanda Giles organised the cast to read out the first scenes of her new radio play Moondance in which the main characters meet. The impressive variety of writing ensured an enjoyable and interesting evening.

We are now taking bookings for our fun Charity Quiz on Friday, 21 October, tickets £6 to include supper, with a chance to win £50 for a charity of your choice. Details from

For enquiries about activities and membership please contact the membership secretary at or visit our website:

Meeting Report: 5 September 2011

On Monday 5th September, members gathered to read out and submit their entries for the fifth and final of our Writer of the Year 2011 competitions. Our challenge was to write an autobiographical piece, based on a photograph of our own choosing. As may be expected, we were all taken on trips down Memory Lane, seeped in bittersweet nostalgia. These provided moving glimpses into childhoods - both idyllic and troubled, family history, traumatic teens, adult heroics and seaside sagas. We look forward to feedback from local social history author, Victoria Seymour, who will deliver her verdict on 3rd October.
Chairperson Monica Percy, writing as Monica Tracey, will be launching her new book ‘Left of the Moon’ at the popular Books Born in Hastings event on 8th October at the Town Hall. At the same time, we will also be launching our latest group publication ‘Ghost Writers – 20 Spooky Tales for Dark Nights’, which will help fundraise for local Young Carers. Additionally, several other members will have their books for sale on our stall. Do come along and have a look!
For enquiries about our activities and membership please contact the membership secretary at or visit our website:

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Meeting Report: 15 August 2011

On 15th August, we were delighted and privileged to welcome Adrian Butcher, BBC radio news journalist, editor and producer, who had kindly spent a good deal of time reading, critiquing and judging the entries in our radio play competition. Adrian began by outlining his work at the BBC and how he was responsible for distilling the raw material of the news into scripts to be passed to the newsreaders.

He then gave general pointers for what makes a good radio play, including a gripping start, a riveting, coherent story, engaging characters, realistic dialogue and a strong ending before announcing the winners. Roz Balp came first with ‘The Blue Painting’ which was praised for its sound plotting, well-painted characters and crisp dialogue. ‘The Abomination’ by Mark Towner was second; the judge was won over by its ingenious story and setting, humour and pace although not a lover of sci-fi. In third place was Amanda Giles’ ‘Moondance’, which engaged the judge from the start with its story-telling, convincing characterisation and dialogue. John Vallender’s ‘When the Cat’s Away’, with its irresistible humour, believable dialogue and storyline, came fourth.

We would like to thank Adrian, who took time out of a very busy schedule to give such painstaking and thorough analysis of each entry. He was generous with his praise and encouragement while being constructive with his suggestions for improvement.

For enquiries about activities and membership please contact the membership secretary at or visit our website:

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Meeting Report: 1st August 2011

The theme of our meeting on 1st August could well have been summarised as ‘Faint Heart Never Won Fair Publishing Deal’ as three authors spoke about their books and very different experiences of the publishing world.

First off the mark was our own Richard Holdsworth who showed admirable fortitude in navigating the shark-infested waters of self-publishing. Despite being bitten several times he has, thankfully, had great success with his two popular autobiographical works, Six Spoons of Sugar and In the HOT Seat – and picked up several awards for life-writing along the way.

Second was another successful member of the group: Kate O’Hearn demonstrated the huge sacrifices and tenacity necessary to realise her dream of being published. However, all this hard work has paid off in Kate’s case, and her two exciting children’s fantasy series, Shadow of the Dragon and Pegasus, have achieved great success with the Pegasus books now being international best-sellers.

Last, but certainly not least, was a visitor to the group, Ian Morson, who generously gave of his time to share his journey from librarian to crime writer. Ian specialises in medieval detective stories and is the creator of William Falconer and Nick Zuliani; he is also one of the Medieval Murderers group of writers. He gave an inspiring account of the perseverance, common sense and ‘pot luck’ necessary to succeed as an author.

Members of the group are very grateful for authors' honesty and generosity in sharing their experiences; we are now more aware of the pitfalls and the rewards of treading the sometimes treacherous path of published writing.

For enquiries about activities and membership please contact the membership secretary at or visit our website:

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Meeting Report: 18th July 2011

Our latest competition challenge was to write a 15 minute radio play, with entries due in at our meeting on 18th July. There was much hilarity as scripts were read, with our multi-talented members becoming the characters as well as providing some of the ‘noises off’. As one member described it, ‘The readers sounded really professional. If I closed my eyes I could actually believe I was listening to the radio.’ It made for an entertaining evening, with as usual a good variation of subject matter and plenty of humour. We look forward to receiving the results on 15th August when judge Adrian Butcher, who works for the BBC, will attend to give his verdict.

There are still places available for our half-day open seminar with authors Leslie Tate and Sue Hampton ‘What goes into a great novel?’ on Saturday 30th July from 10.00-13.00 hours at the Southwater Community Centre (behind Warrior Square station). Places are £7 full or £5 concessions (seniors/students). Enquiries to or just turn up on the day.

For further information about our group or membership please contact

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Meeting Report: 4th July 2011

We were delighted to welcome our patron, novelist Tamara McKinley, to our Manuscript Evening on 4th July. Tamara’s popular books are published around the world in about 15 different languages. Her latest ‘There’ll be Blue Skies’, which she is writing under the name Ellie Dean, is due out on 4th August.

Four members read extracts from works in progress for constructive feedback. Angela Everitt started with chapter 2 of her contemporary novel ‘Friends Like These’ whilst Ezzie Gleeson-Ward gave us a further instalment of her science fiction fantasy ‘Cormorante’. Pauline Piper continued with more from her crime novel ‘Driven’ and Mark Towner finished the readings with a semi-autobiographical piece from ‘Memoirs of Marcus’. These were all discussed by group members, with Tamara giving the benefit of her wide experience by adding further useful comments and suggestions for consideration by the authors.

We are hosting a writing seminar ‘What Goes Into A Great Novel?’ with authors Leslie Tate and Sue Hampton on Saturday 30th July from 10.00-13.00 hours at the Southwater Community Centre (behind Warrior Square station). Open to all, places are £7 full and £5 concessions (students/seniors). Booking enquiries to please.

For enquiries about our group, please contact our Membership Secretary on

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Meeting Report: 20th June 2011

On 20th June we were privileged to welcome award-winning novelist Jill Hucklesby as the judge for our ghost story competition. Although a distinguished and busy author, she had found time to read all seventeen entries several times before settling on a shortlist - and finally the four prize-winners. As well as being generous with time, Jill was also extremely generous with both her praise and constructive criticism. She gave pertinent and detailed feedback to all entrants with invaluable tips on how to achieve clarity, consistent characterisation, pace and atmosphere.

In first place was Roz Balp, who was delighted to receive copies of four of Jill’s novels. Her entry, ‘Faniel’, was described as intriguing, with excellent dialogue, a very strong dénouement, and elegantly written. The judge had no suggestions for any improvement! The lively and humorous ‘In-Comers’ by Amanda Giles came second and was praised for its strong structure and very satisfying grisly twist ending. Jill Fricker’s beautifully written atmospheric tale set in Victorian London, ‘Shadows and Fog’ was third. In fourth place was Ezzie Gleeson-Ward’s ‘Marked’, set in a school and described as a very stylish piece, tightly-written, with strong characterisation and excellent description.

An impromptu question and answer session on writing and being published followed, which everyone found both fascinating and informative. Following Jill's feedback, some of the writers are reworking parts of their stories before they are included in our next group publication 'Ghost Writers' due out in October.

For enquiries about activities and membership please contact the membership secretary at or visit our website:

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Meeting Report: 6th June 2011

On 6th June member Jill Fricker ran a fun workshop entitled: ‘Who do we think we are?’ The aim was to discover a little more about each other whilst carrying out a writing-related exercise.
We were all asked in advance to bring a sheet of paper with a favourite opening line from a novel, the book title and author written at the top. Then we were paired up and asked to swap papers before being given the task of interviewing each other. This produced an immediate buzz of questions and answers and some furious scribblings. Next, we had to (neatly!) write up our notes as a short article, poem or other piece of writing on our partner’s headed sheet. These were then all mixed up and re-distributed at random to be read out and everyone invited to guess who each sheet was about. This caused some hilarity and unknown facts to emerge as we worked out who was who, helped by the book details given. All voted it a highly enjoyable session.
We will be hosting an open seminar ‘What Goes into a Great Novel?’ with authors Leslie Tate and Sue Hampton on Saturday, 30th July, from 10.00-13.00 hours at the Southwater Community Centre (behind Warrior Square station). This session promises to appeal to all writers and readers, not just potential novelists. Places are £7 full or £5 concessions (seniors/students etc). For more information or to book please e-mail
For enquiries about group membership and to arrange a preliminary visit please contact or for more information visit our website

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Meeting Report: 23rd May 2011

Those abroad on the seafront on Monday 23rd May might well have wondered if they were in a time warp and it was really Halloween, as members of Hastings Writers’ Group made our way to the ‘White Rock Hotel’ clad in ghastly garb for the 1000-word ghost story competition.
Hunched and huddled in the gathering gloom, seventeen members took turns to read out their entry by torchlight. As the web of words was woven, we saw swirling mists, smelt rancid water, heard the pitter-patter of tiny, long-dead feet, tasted revenge and felt the chill of loss, despair and terror. While some tales were scary, others were sad and a few just plain funny, but all authors had risen to the challenge of conjuring up a riveting range of souls stranded in that haunting hinterland between life and death – with a myriad of murky motives.
We look forward with a thrill of anticipation to award-winning writer Jill Hucklesby’s feedback and judging on 20th June.

For enquiries about activities and membership please contact the membership secretary at or visit our website:

Roz Balp, Membership Secretary

Monday, 16 May 2011

Meeting Report: 9th May 2011

Members of Hastings Writers’ Group were honoured and delighted to have Richard Evans, award-winning Bexhill poet, as their poetry competition judge on 9th May. Richard provided an engaging start to the evening by reading four of his own poems, three of which were inspired by Hastings Pier.

He then gave deep, detailed feedback on each entry. In first place was Laura O’Brien’s “thought-provoking” ‘Blazon’, which was “played out with irresistible delicacy”. Jill Fricker’s ‘Angel of the North’ took second place: "There is so much which is wonderful about this poem, particularly in terms of technical skill". Mike Walsh was third with his ‘emotionally pure’ ‘Terminus’, which Richard described as “eye-opening in the way poetry should (must) be.” ‘Sea Changes’ by Ezzie Ward came fourth: “the shift in perception from Romantic to cold realist powerfully enacted with the sensually accurate and visually dramatic”.

All winners were extremely well-deserving, and Richard commented on how the group as a whole had evolved as poets, particularly in their use of imagery. He brought the evening to a close with some thought-provoking reflections on this, for example: ‘Poetry deals with the problems of the world with image’ and ‘Imagery is the poet’s secret weapon.’ We are very grateful to him for judging this competition with such expertise and sensitivity.

For enquiries about activities and membership please contact the membership secretary at or visit our website:

Meeting Report: 18th April 2011

The first half of our meeting on 18th April was devoted to memories of David Buchan, former publicity officer and committee member, who sadly died recently. Following Chairperson Monica Percy’s opening reminiscences, John Cole read David’s ‘The Shakespeare of the Speakeasy’ about the writer Damon Runyon. Richard Holdsworth then gave a moving tribute, highlighting David’s Fleet Street career, his writing skills and achievements, interspersed with anecdotes about his wonderful wit and knowledge of football, golf and cricket. Finally, Alan Crozier read one of David’s humorous pieces: ‘Socks’ which appears in our latest ‘Strandline’ anthology. David will be remembered with affection and it was agreed to have a members-only journalistic competition later in the year in his honour.

In the second half, we looked at works in progress and gave constructive feedback. Sally Ricketts read chapter 3 of her children’s science fiction novel ‘Anderson’s Sundial’, which saw characters from three different time zones meeting with the threat of evil hovering in the background. This was followed by a selection of four poems: ‘Tree’, ‘The Wedding Chest’, ‘Young Love’ and ‘Planning for Old Age’ from the versatile Roz Balp, which demonstrated a variety of styles, including a villanelle, and ranged from beautiful to hilarious. Fairly recent new member Stephen Martin read the beginning of his as yet untitled novel, which was his first – and very adept – attempt at writing for adults, and was urged to continue it, as everyone was left wondering what would happen next. Due to the Bank Holiday, our next meeting will not be until 9th May, when we await the results of our Poetry Competition. For further enquiries about membership or activities please contact or visit

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Meeting Report: 4th April 2011

At our meeting on 4th April members enjoyed hearing Mike Walsh’s story 'The Bells of Christmas Morning', which was the runner-up in our Catherine Cookson Cup competition last year.

John Cole put forward the idea of members writing reviews of books they had particularly enjoyed so that these could be shared on the group blog. He started the ball rolling by reading 'Plain Vanilla Closeness' his own review of 'The Corrections' by Jonathan Franzen.

This was followed by reading of extracts from various works in progress for constructive feedback. Pauline Piper read the prologue and beginning of her crime novel ‘Driven’, set in and around Hastings, whilst Amanda Giles had group members getting into character by reading parts from her radio play ‘Jewel’. Alan Crozier ended the evening with a further chapter from his hard-edged science-fiction novel ‘Black Daffodils’. These were all very different and made a stimulating variety for listeners to discuss and offer their comments on.

For information about membership and our group activities, please contact or visit our website Rosemary Bartholomew, Programme Secretary

Monday, 4 April 2011

Plain Vanilla Closeness: A Review of 'The Corrections' by Jonathan Franzen

At the end of the day I like to read soothing balm for the frazzled mind, such as Rebus or Wallander stories. But occasionally I stumble upon what I call a real book. A brilliantly written book that has depth and texture, with layers of meaning that resonate within me. Jonathan Franzen’ s The Corrections is one such book.

Like so many great books, The Corrections is about families in all their loving madness. It is the story of Enid and Alfred Lambert, living in St. Jude, Iowa, and their three grown up children, who are not really so very grown up, living their screwed-up lives scattered across America. Enid is a worrier and frets over just about everything, while Alfred is slowly losing his mind to Parkinson’s disease. The storyline is surprisingly simple: Enid wants to have one last family Christmas together before Alfred sinks totally into the dark recesses of dementia.

What makes The Corrections so powerful is the way Franzen weaves together the lives of all five Lamberts, jumping from one family story to another, overlapping, backtracking and interweaving their lives so that you gradually understand and enter into their lives. Franzen manages to do this amazing juggling act of storylines by writing that is quite simply brilliant: at times Henry James-type sentences that meander over two pages but always come back home; sometimes short, sharp declarative sentences that catch your breath; and always an honesty of observation that certainly resonated with my family life. Infusing all of his writing is a poetry of words, a use of metaphor that makes you think, “How did he do that?!” and a thread of empathetic (and at times dark) humour running throughout the book.

One poignant passage sticks in my mind. Enid decides that she and Alfred should take a cruise. While Enid works hard at socialising, Alfred, slipping further into dementia, falls overboard. “Alfred was remembering the nights he’d sat upstairs with one or both of his boys or with his girl in the crook of his arm, their damp bath-smelling heads hard against his ribs as he read aloud to them. How his voice alone, its palpable resonance, had made them drowsy. These were evenings, and there were hundreds of them, when nothing traumatic enough to leave a scar had befallen the nuclear unit. Evenings of plain vanilla closeness in his black leather chair; sweet evenings of doubt between the nights of bleak certainty. They came to him now, these forgotten counterexamples, because in the end, when you were falling into water, there was no solid thing to reach for but your children.”

“Evenings of plain vanilla closeness…” Wow! Review © John Cole 2011

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Call for Entries: Aesthetica Creative Works Competition

The 2011 Aesthetica Creative Works Competition is now open for entries! Aesthetica Magazine is inviting all artists, photographers, writers and poets to submit their work into the Creative Works Competition, Now in its fourth year, the competition is dedicated to celebrating and championing creative talent across the disciplines and welcomes entries from writers working in short fiction and poetry. The Competition has three categories, Artwork & Photography, Poetry and Fiction. Winners and finalists are published in the Aesthetica Creative Works Annual. Winners of each category receive £500 prize money plus other prizes. Entry to the Creative Works Competition is £10. The entry fee allows the submission of 2 images, 2 poems or 2 short stories. The deadline for submissions is the 31st August 2011. More guidelines on how to submit can be found online at

Monday, 28 March 2011

Meeting Report: 21st March 2011

Entries for our second competition of the year were read out at the meeting held on 21st March. This was for an open-theme poem of up to 40 lines, with own choice of form. The fifteen entries submitted showed once again the versatile talent within the group with a rich variety of strong, imaginative work. Whether lyrical, humorous, thought-provoking, inspiring or poignant, contemporary or more traditional, all the offerings made enjoyable listening. This competition will be judged by Bexhill poet Richard Evans, who will attend on 9th May to give his feedback and the results. For further information about our group please visit our website or contact - we currently have a few places available for new members. Rosemary Bartholomew Programme Secretary

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Meeting Report: 7th March 2011

On 7 March, Hastings Writers’ Group got to howk (dig) deep into their brains and work out the meanings of such neglected lexical gems as ‘carriwitchet’, ‘pilgarlic’ and ‘bullimong’. One of our members, Richard Holdsworth, took time out from his busy schedule promoting his latest book In the Hot Seat to organise a fun and fascinating quiz on the ‘Words of Yesteryear’. This was followed by a related exercise in which members had to incorporate as many of these tricky terms as they could into an impromptu piece of writing. They ranged from a poem, inspired by ‘The Jabberwocky’, to a dark tale of rustic crime. Finally, scores for both the quiz and the story were combined, and Laura O’Brien won a well-deserved bottle of wine.
If you love words and writing, why not come along to one of our meetings and give it a go?
For enquiries about activities and membership please contact the membership secretary at or visit our website:
Roz Balp, Membership Secretary

Friday, 25 February 2011

Meeting Report: 21st February 2011

On Monday 21st February, all HWG members who had entered the first competition of the year waited with bated breath for the judge, Brion Purdey, to give feedback and announce the prize-winners. As he said, judging the entries had been a challenging task as the standard of entry was high. Each entrant had written a piece on a writer who had inspired them, and chosen authors ranging from EB (Enid Blyton) to EB (Emily Bronte). Mr Purdey, former Principal Library Manager for the Hastings area, local historian and member of many, many literary groups, proved to be an entertaining and informative judge. His individual critiques were interspersed with fascinating facts about writers and local history. Finally, he announced the winners, and a well-deserved first prize went to Mark Towner for his sincere and honest account of how Isaac Asimov had switched on his hitherto dormant interest in literature and writing. Second place went to Jill Fricker for a very detailed and powerful description of Don Paterson’s influence on all aspects of her life and poetry. Third prize went to Laura O’Brien for her moving evocation of the comfort and clarity gained from Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’. Roz Balp came fourth with her personal homage to D H Lawrence. Our thanks go to Brion Purdey for executing his judgely duty with such admirable conscientiousness and aplomb.The next meeting will be held on 7th March, when member Richard Holdsworth will be running a workshop 'Words from a Bygone Era'. Visitors may attend this open evening at a fee of £3. Please contact for further group information.
Roz Balp, Membership Secretary

Meeting Report: 7th February 2011

Monday 7th February was this year's first Manuscript Evening at Hastings Writers’ Group. These evenings give members the opportunity to air their work, which might otherwise gather dust in drawers, and read it out so that other members can give constructive criticism. First, Laura O’Brien read out her Catherine Cookson Cup prize-winning story, ‘How Not to Leave’, a tense and harrowing account of a relationship in trauma. Then, we were treated to some superb poetry from Lynn Ward and Jill Fricker. So well-crafted, moving and beautiful were these pieces that some less poetically inclined members were inspired to seek out their own muses. In complete contrast, Mark Towner gave us an excerpt from his autobiographical novel, a tale so fascinating, it demands to be told. This was an auspicious start to a year of mutual support and inspiration; we look forward to more home-grown goodies in 2011.For enquiries about activities and membership please contact the membership secretary at or visit our website:
Roz Balp, Membership Secretary

Friday, 28 January 2011

Meeting Report: 24 January 2011

The first competition of the year kicked off with the brief ‘Write about an author whose work you particularly admire/enjoy and how they may have influenced you’ with a 1500 word limit. There was a wide-ranging choice of authors including: Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton, Isaac Asimov, Dickens, DH Lawrence, Nabokov, Emily Brontë, F Scott Fitzgerald and Virgina Woolf, amongst others. We had a very enjoyable evening listening to just what it was about particular writers and books that appealed so much to individuals and were even in some cases inspired to read-read old favourites or perhaps try something we hadn’t discovered before.
This competition will be judged by former principal librarian Brion Purdey, who will attend a meeting later in February to give his comments and results.
For more information about our group please visit our website or e-mail our membership secretary at
Rosemary Bartholomew, Programme Secretary

Meeting Report: 10 January 2011

Hastings Writers’ Group got off to a thought-provoking start on 10th January with a trio of speakers, who described their joint venture of writing a 3-part, linked memoir. Ken McEwan, John Dowling and Philip Elms have a combined experience in local newspapers of nearly 150 years, so when ‘cut adrift’ from their careers, they decided to tell the stories behind their news headlines in a book, entitled ‘Three Men and a Quote’. Ranging from council subterfuge, through football cheating to tackling various incendiary devices and fires, most accounts are funny, while some are poignant.
At the beginning of the evening, each speaker described his background, and in the second part, they read snippets of their writing. In the final Q and A section, they gave open, honest and full responses, which provoked some lively discussion. The speakers gave a valuable insight into the function of local newspapers in a town community as well as what is involved in bringing such a writing project to fruition.
Roz Balp, Membership Secretary