Thursday, 10 December 2015

Presentation Evening - 4th December, 2015

On 4th December, we had our annual Presentation Evening. Sarah O'Halloran, talent scout from the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency gave a very entertaining talk and useful Q and A session on how to prepare work for a literary agent or publisher, clarifying the differences between a synopsis, a pitch and a blurb. She advocated approaching it like a job application by making sure it was complete and polished to give the work its best possible chance. She then gave brief feedback on all the entries in our annual 3000-word short story competition before announcing the winner of the coveted Catherine Cookson Cup. Marcia Woolf was first with her beautifully executed dark comedy, 'All Saints'; Anne Hooker's 'Moving On' was second; Elizabeth Allen was third with 'Dereliction of Duty', and Roz Balp's 'Ducking and Diving' was fourth. Then, Vice-Chair, Kate O'Hearn presented the certificates to the winners of the five varied competitions of 2015 before handing the Writer of the Year Award to deserving winner, Sally-Ann Clark. The rest of the evening was spent eating, drinking and socialising. We look forward to embarking on another year of writing on 4th January 2016.

Manuscript Evening - 16th November, 2015

At our last Manuscript Evening of the year, on 16th November, two brave souls provided extracts from their work to be critiqued by other members of the group. Bill Petsing read a section from his memoirs, entitled 'Dad in the 1930s', which painted a vivid portrait of family life in London between the wars. As a first-hand account, it provided a valuable record and a fascinating slice of social history. New member, Anne Hansen, then read her short story, 'The Lost Weekend', an experimental piece, based on a personal ad. It told the story of elderly love in a clear and charming voice. It had a beautiful flow and some intriguing sexual tension. In the second half, members divided into small groups to discuss various writing issues, including how to portray an angel and how to find imagery to convey emotion between two people.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Catherine Cookson Cup Entries - 2nd November, 2015

On 2nd November, we read out our entries for the annual Catherine Cookson Cup. This year, our judge is Sarah O'Halloran, talent scout with the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency, and everyone had really pulled out the stops. There was a dazzling array of genres, styles and characters. There was a granny who had left the narrator a mysterious heirloom, an old dear who'd decided gambling might be a solution to her money problems, an Italian contessa, whose survival depended on the efforts of a faithful retainer and another woman who had discovered a talent for teleporting. There was an 8-year-old boy street whose family lived in a factory doorway and an 18-year-old with a secret. There was a tunnel under an apocalyptic world, another in which a husband was busy burrowing under his own street and strange goings on in a hollowed out yew tree. There was a 19th century priest awaiting execution, a young woman who'd escaped her past and a wife who'd got away with murder.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Romantic Fiction Results - 19th October, 2015

On 19th October, we met for to hear the results of our final competition of the year: Romantic Fiction. Judge, Hilary Mackelden, first gave an account of her long and varied career as a writer of stories, novels and plays before going on to define what she expected from a short story in this particular genre, which remains her 'first love' in her own writing.  Her regency romance,'The Bankrupt Viscount',  written under the name of Caitlyn Callery, was shortlisted for the 2015 Joan Hessayon Award. Unfortunately, many of our own entries were discounted on the grounds of not really fitting within the genre because they didn't focus on a developing relationship between the hero and heroine, which – according to Hilary – is a necessary component of romantic fiction. However, in general, she had praise for our efforts, especially some of some of the more likeable characters, the realistic dialogue and the interesting plots. The winner, which was refreshing, original and a feast of the senses, was Amanda Giles' 'Hector's Tale'. Maddie Blake was second with 'Top Secret', which had all the elements of a love story and a sympathetic heroine. Third was 'Out with the Geek' by Emma Boyde, praised for its economy, detail and strong voice. Fourth was Marcus Towner's 'Indian Summer, Later Spring' in which the feelings were beautifully conveyed. Hilary also gave 'honourable mentions' to Sam Davey's 'Stupid QPID' and Godfrey Forder's 'Lost and Found'.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Preparing Your Manuscript for Publication Workshop - 5th October, 2015

On 5th October, our Vice-Chair, the best-selling children's author, Kate O'Hearn, took time out of her extremely busy writing schedule to help members to prepare their manuscripts for a literary agent. This was particularly useful and timely as this year our 3000-word stories for the annual Catherine Cookson Cup Competition will be judged by talent scout, Sarah O'Halloran, from the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency. Kate gave us tips on selling our work by capturing an agent's attention in one minute, writing clear outlines and tantalising synopses and scouring the 'Artists' and Writers' Yearbook' to find the right agent. She also gave a fascinating and entertaining account of her own experiences with publishers and editors as well as useful, practical answers to our questions. We ended the evening on a creative note as we attempted to write a first paragraph that would ensure our manuscripts didn't end up on a bored editor's spike. Kate was positive and encouraging throughout, so we all left inspired to write and have our work published.

Again, we congratulate Marcia Woolf on having another of her stories shortlisted and were pleased to hear that Rachel Marsh has another article on the 'Daily News Service'.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Romantic Fiction Entries - 21st September, 2015

On 21st September, we met for an evening of romantic fiction, at which eleven members read their entries for the last competition of the year. There was a surprising range of approaches, some of which might have surprised readers of Women’s Weekly. We had loss, longing and lust, love objects from the G.P. to the geek, heroines who were poets and painters, QPID (say it aloud) in Regent’s Park and inter-racial love in India. Stories were touching or wry, played with the conventions of the genre or used them creatively. Unfortunately there was not time to read a further four submissions on the night, but they promise to broaden the range even further. We look forward to our judge, Hilary Mackelden's, feedback on 19th October.

       We were pleased to hear that Marcia Woolf’s short story, Impatience, has been shortlisted for the Wells Literature Festival prize. Congratulations also to Rachel Marsh, who has been given and internship with 'Daily News Service', so please read her article here:

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Planning Meeting - 7th September, 2015

On 7th September, the group met to tackle the thorny issue of planning the 2016 programme. First we discussed the overall balance of meeting types before voting on members' suggestions for competitions. We then moved on to discussing our biennial themed charity anthology, which next year, will be coordinated by a team of three. Our Chair, Eileen Masters, presented various options regarding printing and distribution as well as themes previously suggested by group members. Jane Hempson-Jones from the coordination team had researched local charities who might be interested in promoting the project and receiving the profits; she presented a very clear picture of the type of work performed by each in the community, so members could make a more informed decision. We then discussed what themes might be linked to those charities before voting. We're hoping for as much group involvement as possible and a successful launch of the final volume.

Romantic Fiction Workshop - 24th August, 2015

On 24th August, Elizabeth Allen led a workshop on Romantic Fiction in preparation for the final competition of the year. Having contrasted the genre to its more elevated cousin, romance, she asked everyone to note down what they considered the key elements of the genre to be. We went on to look at two broad categories, contrasting the generally exotic and glitzy Mills & Boon approach with the more everyday Women's Weekly style. Although we acknowledged Mills & Boon novels now range from the traditional heart-warming weddings of doctors and nurses etc. to more 'hot and spicy' encounters, one avid romantic fiction reader among us pointed out the sexual politics haven't moved on that much! We discussed the elements of the romantic novel: characters, setting, plot and prose style, with credit being given to Sophie King's How to Write a Romantic Novel. The group's choices of a suitable location for a novel ranged from libraries through the Scottish Highlands to the gondolas of Venice, and characters' names spanned the mundane to the highly exotic. We wait for the entries to be read out on 21st September.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Monologue Results - 10th August, 2015

On 10 August, local writer, director and script editor, Christine Harmar-Brown came to deliver her verdict on the 19 entries in our Dramatic Monologue competition. She spoke about the challenges of writing monologues, such as the setting the context, including setting and who the person is talking to – and the role of the audience, establishing a strong character and how to sustain interest and move the story along with only one actor. In her feedback on each piece, Christine focused on authenticity of voice, immediacy, keeping audiences guessing by having twists or something unexpected and dramatic irony. An important message for all of us was that a monologue is not a first person narrative because it has to be rooted in a real person. In first place was Vicky Armstrong with her 19th century diary, 'Six Months in the Life of Miss Hill', praised for its subtle revelation of character. Second was the original and thought-provoking 'Grammabot' by Caroline Wardle. Sally-Ann Clark's authentically voiced 'Getting a Word in Edgeways' came third. Fourth was 'Wife in the Gulf' by Roz Balp.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Manuscript Evening - 27th July, 2015

At our manuscript evening on 27 July, four members read out their work and received feedback from the group. First, was Elizabeth Allen with the beginning of the third section of her novel, ‘Laying Ghosts’. She asked members to focus on the voice of the narrator and protagonist. Members were impressed by the style and economy of the writing, which cleverly conveyed setting, period and character and suggested dialogue as a means to make the central character more vivid and to move the plot forward. Second was new member, Chris Curran, with the beginning of her psychological suspense novel, ‘The Stooge’. Everyone found the piece beautifully paced and structured with very convincing but subtle evocation of a 50s seaside pier theatre show and its performers. Marcia Woolf was our third reader with a chapter from her darkly comic novel, ‘Roadkill’. Everyone found the piece entertaining and intriguing and there was a lively discussion on how to convey character through dialogue, particularly when contrasting English with American speech. Last was Bill Petsing with a short story, which focused on romantic and sexual encounters in Second World War London; people enjoyed the authentic voice and the economy of style and discussed the need to keep tenses consistent to avoid confusion. It was an enjoyable evening, and we all benefited from considering the issues raised.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Monologue Entries - 13th July, 2015

On 13 July, members read out their monologues, to be judged by local writer, director and script editor, Christine Harmar-Brown. There were 19 entries in our fourth competition of the year, which ranged from the dark and gritty the to the light and fluffy and which explored a variety of themes, including domestic abuse, heroin addiction and taxidermy. We heard the voices of characters as diverse as an ageing dominatrix called Madame Solitaire and the Madonna. We visited a truck in Calais, the 'Titanic', the pages of Wikipedia and a diary, a villa in the Gulf and contemplated a range of activities, such as school cap wearing, visiting hospital patients, attacks in dark alleys and preparing for Armageddon. It was a dizzying and diverse display of creativity, and we look forward to the judge's feedback on 10 August.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Journalism Results - 29th June, 2015

We were extremely lucky to have the experienced journalist and author, Kathryn Flett, as the judge for our third competition of the year. She gave insightful and useful feedback to everyone, which included such points as: structure, research, opening sentences, writing style and tone, pace, clarity of purpose and target audience, working to tight word counts and deadlines, In addition, she generously gave an honest and revealing account of both her own career and the world of journalism in general. Kathryn then announced the winners: first was Elizabeth Allen's 'A Whole Planet of Possibilities', which was both current and thought-provoking, closely followed by John Taylor's warm-hearted piece with its excellent opening line, 'Claim to Fame'. Third was the well-researched and informative 'On the Trail of Grey Owl' by Diana Lock. Rachel Marsh was fourth with the fresh and well-structured 'Turning a Blind Eye'. In response to questions from the floor, Kathryn gave two invaluable pieces of advice on how to improve as a writer: to be edited by someone who knows what they're doing and to keep exercising your 'writing muscle'. Her new novel, 'Outstanding', published by Quercus, is out this Autumn.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Quiz Night - 15th June, 2015

At our Quiz Night on 15th June, four teams spent a sunny summer's evening pitting their wits against fiendish questions set by Dr Eizabeth Allen and Not-Dr Roz Balp. The nine devilishly difficult rounds included Classic and Contemporary Literature and Crime Writing as well as the cryptically titled 'Rainbow Round, 'Plant Life' and 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' After a bitter battle, Team Writers' Block triumphed, so congratulations to Vicky Armstrong, Sam Davey, Kate Giles and Anne Spiring, who showed themselves to be the best-read members in the group. No prizes were necessary as the glory was more than enough.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Journalism Entries - 1st June, 2015

On 1st June members met to read out their entries for our third competition of the year: journalistic writing. Seventeen aspiring reporters had risen to the challenge of writing an article or opinion piece, including current affairs or topics of ongoing interest, as well as items that might appear in the middle of a newspaper. Everyone marvelled at the astonishing range of styles and subject matter. We found out about youth schemes, the transgender issue and how to prepare a teenager for A levels. We heard heartfelt rants about parking, racism and inequality for the poor and disabled. We travelled along Grey Owl's trail, explored the secret prehistory of the Bexhill bypass and rattled around in an ossuary. We listened to reviews of a festival, a book and a restaurant and found out about people's claims to fame. All in all, it was a fascinating and informative evening, and we look forward to our judge, Kathryn Flett's, feedback.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Manuscript Evening - 11th May, 2015

At our second Manuscript Evening of the year, four brave souls brought their work for other members to critique. First up was Jill Fricker with a piece about a poor family struggling to survive in 1830s London. She wanted to know if she'd captured the historical context, if the characters were believable and if the dialogue was authentic. This led to a lively discussion – with much disagreement – before everyone finally concluded that historical fiction needs a good deal of research and hard work. Second was Lucas Howard's start of his 65,000-word novel, a dark comedy called 'The Zed List'. He asked for feedback about voice, tone and flow, and everyone had much to say about the alien world he'd created for the target market of the young gaming community. Musetta Ripamonte was third with a dark, fantasy, written for children, which she'd illustrated herself. Members puzzled over the conundrum of people going into a magical world and then back to the real world and the need to pinpoint an age group for such a genre. Finally was Vicky Armstrong with the beginning of her first novel, the story of a young woman travelling to West Africa after to the war to meet her new husband. Her question was, 'Should I continue?' and the answer was a resounding 'yes' from all of us: everyone was impressed by the writing, which was well-paced and convincing and the subtle build-up of intrigue.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Poetry Results - 27th April, 2015

On 27th April, Antony Mair, poet and leader of the local Stanza group, came to deliver his verdict on our second competition of the year. He spoke eloquently and informatively about poetry: rhyme, rhythm, shape, length of line and intensity of emotion. He said that two disadvantages of starting from a form are that it is difficult to maintain energy if the form becomes a straitjacket and the writer is always in the shadow of the greats. Instead, he recommended starting with a thought and letting the words come naturally before 'versifying' them. He also stressed the need to check every line by asking 'Is it accurate?' 'Is the syntax right?' and 'Does it work?'

In first place was Elizbeth Allen's 'The New Wife', praised for its quiet power and ability to convey so much in a short space. Second was Sally-Ann Clark's intriguing 'Cairn'; third was Liz Caluori's humorous 'A Little Less Conversatio, and in fourth place was John Taylor's atmospheric 'Dungeness'.

We are very grateful to Antony for the depth and detail of both his individual and group feedback, which we all found extremely helpful.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

An Evening With Our Patron - 14th April,2015

On Monday 14th April, the group's patron, best-selling author, Tamara McKinley gave generously of her time, advice and experience in a talk entitled 'From Idea to Novel in 4 Months'. With wit, warmth and honesty she talked of the writing process in general with realistic reference to the world of publishing in particular. She showed us the cover of her own recently completed novel, 'Echoes From Afar', to inspire us. She then led us through her own process, starting with the fleshing out of characters, how to research setting and time, emphasising the need for real passion about the story to be told. She talked about her own joy in playing the 'What If' game, i.e. putting her characters in certain situations and seeing how they act, which for her is all-consuming. She then focused on structure, saying that every conversation and scene has to move the plot forward, with the conflict being established in the first line and hooks being distributed throughout to keep the reader engrossed. Tamara then suggested how to organise both the novel's chapters and our writing time and how to produce both a short and long synopsis. Finally, she gave us practical tips on editing and on how to present our work to publishers and agents. However, it has to be remembered that Tamara is herself 'a lot to live up to' as she is extremely prolific and also writes under the name of Ellie Dean and sometimes has more than one book and one writing persona on the go at the same time! We were all extremely grateful to her for taking time out of her incredibly busy writing schedule to come and spur us on.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Poetry Entries - 30th March, 2015

Our poetry evening started with Jill Fricker reading her poem, 'The Cordwainer's Son', which came second in the 2015 Four Counties Poetry Competition. Members then read out their own entries for our second HWG competition of the year - as well as those submitted by members who were not able to attend. There were nineteen poems in all, their subject matter ranging from family relationships -  passionate, tender or angry - through landscape and seascape to the secret life of an X-ray particle. Some were light and witty, some tender, some following tight structures, others more loosely organised. In the second half, Eileen set us a writing exercise: we were encouraged to use a verse form, but she kindly allowed those of us who found this rather too challenging to relapse into prose. So, required to imagine ourselves in Sainsbury’s, having just suffered or welcomed some life-changing event, we broke down, shop-lifted and wreaked havoc - sometimes in rhyming couplets.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Flash Fiction Results - 16th March, 2015

On 16th March, our judge, Alexandra Benedict, who writes under the name of A K Benedict, gave her feedback and verdict on our Flash Fiction entries. A possible record of 24 entries of exactly 250 words had been submitted, and Alexandra commented on the quality and interesting range of approaches taken: the humorous, the scary, the touching and the lyrical. Her one piece of advice was that in every story, she felt at least one sentence digressed and distracted the reader from the main thrust of the narrative, and that we should trust our instincts to go with the flow of the story. In first place was Sally-Ann Clark's 'In Perspective', which was praised for its structure and lyricism. Diana Locke came second with 'Missing Baggage', Marcia Woolf third with 'Devotion' and Roz Balp fourth with 'The Green Door'.

In the question and answer session which followed, Alexandra talked of the value of what she had learned from the creative writing courses she had attended at the University of Sussex, of finding an agent and the auction for her first novel. She told us an intriguing tale of the inspiration for this novel, The Beauty of Murder, with its time-travelling serial murderer, in a strange experience while an undergraduate at Cambridge.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Journalism Workshop - 2nd March, 2015

A lively and informative workshop, led by experienced journalist Emma Boyde, offered a strong foundation for entries for our journalism competition. She explained the different structures required by a both news story and of a feature. A news story is often drawn as an inverted pyramid, which has the meat (who, what, when) in the opening paragraph with following paragraphs having progressively less crucial information, so that sub-editors under pressure can cut from the bottom without loss of meaning. In a feature, the introduction often takes an individual instance, then moves onto the core arguments, ending either with reference to ‘expert opinion’ on the subject or a return to the individual.

Emma then provided us with examples of a range of journalistic models: a piece of news analysis, a theatre review, a blog which went viral – and a piece by our judge for this competition, Kathryn Flett. She encouraged us to examine these in terms of structure and the use, or otherwise, of the first person. Feedback from this exercise involved some lively discussion of the merits and demerits of journalism and its function in the age of social media. Emma suggested that there remains a vital role for traditional journalism which uses proper fact checking as against the unknown reliability of social media. She talked about so-called ‘balance’ in a story as a misguided ideal because bias is inevitable, and a ‘balanced’ story would be, at best, 80:20. Our practical exercise was then to interview a partner, to write up the interview, incorporating a quotation, and for the interviewee to assess accuracy.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Manuscript Evening - 16th February, 2015

Elizabeth Allen offered a brief introduction to the challenges and value of effective critique. She gave general guidelines, such as being specific, addressing the text, rather than the writer, and establishing trust by pointing out positives. She also  emphasised the value of the writer deciding on the focus of the discussion and what type of comments would be most helpful.

Four members then presented their work in progress, all of which offered a great variety of approach and provoked a lively discussion on topics and technique. Bill's first short story as a member of HWG was inspired by our first writing exercise of the year in which Eileen gave us a prompt for a story opening, featuring a clock, a hat and a body in a church porch. The story drew on his wartime experiences, and people commented positively on its lucid, pared-back style.  Marcus gave us the opening of a charming novella in an undefined past, featuring a boy who appears seeking sanctuary in a remote, 'ill-fated village'. Members remarked that the opening had the feel of a fairy tale and was far removed from Marcus's usual violent robots! Glyn's chapter was not the opening of his novel but chosen because he was keen for feedback on whether he had been heavy-handed with the symbolism used to construct his creepy, controlling male character: an advocate of Nietzsche, an owner of Doberman Pinschers and a man who keeps finches in cages. The story was set in the 1970s, and there ensued an interesting general discussion on the difficulties of using time-appropriate terms and convincing your readers that these were indeed used in the given period. Members remarked on quality of the writing, and we now have the added intrigue that Glyn's chosen writer's name is a woman's... Our fnal manuscript was from Kate O'Hearn; like her published work to date, it was aimed at a Young Adult readership but went down well with our rather older group of adults. Her concern was with voice: she is not a lover of first person, but, knowing that all the super-successful YA fiction uses that technique, she had reluctantly adopted it for this novel. We all agreed that it was handled very effectively, and we are now much more informed on the nature of incubi and succubi. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Flash Fiction Entries - 2nd February, 2015

2nd February was the deadline for our first competition of the year: Flash Fiction in exactly 250 words. The tight word count didn't inhibit the variety of approach, and there was a startling range of genres: comedy, drama, tragedy, love, murder, genocide with a variety of protagonists, including Nigerian warlords, holocaust survivors and a coin of the realm. In all, there were 27 entries with 23 being read out on the night.
       In the second half, members were given a scenario: 'A group of writers are in a hotel room reading their work when suddenly the lights go out and they are plunged into darkness. What happens next?' We worked alone or in small groups, and the results revealed some members had been murdered while others had encountered a range of ingeniously construed situations. Most – but not all – had happy endings.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Flash Fiction Workshop - 19th January, 2015

On Monday 19th January, Dr Elizabeth Allen, our resident English Literature lecturer, led a workshop on Flash Fiction. First, we discussed four very short stories of different lengths and genres, saying what we thought was successful and what wasn't. The key questions explored were: whether to have a resolved ending or not, the optimum number of characters and how to make such a short piece resonate
In the second half, Roz Balp shared a practical editing exercise from the OU free online Creative Writing course. The main focus was on what should be slashed and what needs to be kept. We decided this depended on what the author wanted to place in the foreground and which words or phrases couldn't be sacrificed for the sake of atmosphere.
There was a buzz of friendly disagreement throughout the evening with a wide range of opinions and ideas being expressed.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

First Meeting of 2015 on 5th January

The first part of the meeting was devoted to discussing and resolving various group business issues:
1. The accounts for the period ended 31st December 2014 (14 months due to a change in the date of the end of the financial year) were presented by the Treasurer and approved by members
2. The budget estimate for the year 2015 was presented by the Treasurer and approved by members.
The meeting thanked Samantha Davey for her work as Treasurer
3. Resolved: to move the AGM to January each year in line with both the subscription and financial years now ending on 31st December.
4. Resolved: to create a committee post of Fundraising Secretary to initiate and organise fundraising activities. Some members are experienced in fundraising and are willing to assist the Fundraising Secretary as needed.  If you would like to volunteer for this role, please contact . If there is more than one volunteer, the membership will vote. All are welcome to put themselves forward and we particularly encourage new members to volunteer.
5.Resolved: Amanda Giles will take the lead in organising HWG’s judging of the anthologies entered for the National Association of Writers’ Groups competition. HWG has been given this responsibility because we won last year’s Volunteers to participate in judging please contact Amanda on  All are welcome to assist and we particularly encourage new members to participate.
6. At present, members have to be up to date with their subscriptions in order to continue their membership. It was suggested that there should also be a minimum requirement for attendance. It was agreed, without a vote, that more information is needed and the matter was adjourned to a later meeting. Meanwhile, the committee will decide on a sympathetic case by case basis.
7. Resolved: Former members who wish to return will not automatically be put on the waiting list. Instead, the committee will decide, on a case by case basis, taking into account the contribution that former members made to the group and their particular circumstances.
Then Elizabeth Allen read her winning Catherine Cookson Cup story. The judge, Catherine Smith, had this to say about it: 'Nothing is wasted. Every paragraph, sentence, comma and word is deftly deployed in the service of the story.'
Finally, we tried to get the creative juices flowing by exploring genre in an exercise given to us by our Chair, Eileen Masters. We worked in groups  to discuss, categorise and extrapolate a story from a given paragraph. Most of us found this pretty challenging; hopefully, we'll improve along with the weather!