Winchester Writers’ Festival 2014



Winchester Writers' Festival 2014

Winchester Writers’ Festival 2014


I was pleased and surprised to receive feedback by e mail from the literary agent I didn’t stay to see at the Winchester Writers’ Festival. It was good feedback, most useful and insightful of all, I wish I had been well enough to meet her. But on the plus side, I do have all feedback in e mail, better than my half-remembered scribbled notes.

 And yes! she wants to read the whole thing – after some of the character and back- story details are brought to the beginning. My novel, ‘ASH WEDNESDAY’, a working title,  was begun in 2008, during OU study within guidelines which appealed to maximum marks for the final assignment. It achieved ‘distinction.’ ‘Begin in media res’, had been the current advice. I took another year to complete the novel and I have since written another. No longer obliged to conform to certain O.U. guidelines, and with much more writing experience, I have become a better writer.

Angel (2)

It will be a challenge to apply my writing experience to a protagonist who may well have become very different from 6 years ago. I shall be able to concentrate solely on the art of writing since my initial draft is heavily illustrated.

 Now to reacquaint myself . . .angela12 022

PS – the Forensic Medicine book as recommended by . . . her name escapes me, at the Festival and which I bought for a few pounds from Blackwells, I had to leave open on a cookery book stand in the conservatory because the previous owner had been a heavy smoker. I glimpsed an image, had nightmares and threw the book in the dustbin first thing the next morning. Memoirs of a forensic psychologist was interesting but I did have to miss out the paragraphs which described violence in detail. That was a library book.




The Day After the Day Before

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The day after the day after Winchester Writers’ Festival I spent the first hour walking along the shore. I didn’t think about dead bodies, or forensics. The second hour I sat in the dappled garden with tea and crumpet. I read, ‘The Uninvited’, by Liz Jensen. Just half way through and it is finally getting my attention.


I carried my camera to the shore and into the garden, and took 109 photos. I also slipped it into my bag before the festival and took not one single snap. I was unable to gather any interest at all despite giving myself a pep talk, ‘you’ll like it once you get there,’ ‘a free lunch’ . . . it didn’t work . . . ‘feedback on your novel,’ aroused some interest.


A place at the festival was my first prize for the best murder short-story last summer and I had been looking forward to going. I had just finished a 75,000 word detective story and was happy!!  Ahh, there’s the rub.blog7

blog5I had been cluttered with all four one-to-one sessions in one day, not my choice. With ME I knew I would be shattered . . . was shattered by 10.30am. Shattered after I parked the car in ‘disabled,’ a seriously angled narrow bay between two brick walls, a car-length wide.

All three agents gave completely and utterly diverse feedback: ‘excellent pitch’, ‘not long enough’; ‘Great opening’; ‘lose the opening’; ‘really connected to character’; ‘character betrays responsibility to reader’ . . . I could go on. What did I expect?

The peach; ‘An accountant, an organised person, and a good one, does not aspire to murder.’ This comment threw me. Nowhere does this character aspire to, or commit murder.Where’s the sense in that remark?


Then, I understood, either he hadn’t bothered to read the synopsis properly, or I hadn’t written it well enough . . . I doubt he had read the requested 10,000 words. Then came the ‘how to’ tip – ‘Have a picture of your protagonist’ . . . A’HEM . . . The lecture continued and I switched off, glad when it was over. For this level of feedback, I could have borrowed a book from the library. Soooo glad it was free!


Apart from that, the novel is; ‘publishable’, has ‘definite commercial viability’, all agreed it was, ‘well written’.

I was too flat and tired to hang about for the final 1-2-1 but left my e mail in order for her to contact me with feedback. Wonder if she’ll bother?

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At lunch I met and had an agreeable conversation with a young man who had completed his first novel, gained a professional critique and was a member of a supportive writing group. After the festival he planned to ‘send off’, to lots of publishers, if the book wasn’t taken up, he would publish digitally. Well planned.

I am sorry to have lost his blog address, (I lose things frequently) and if he reads this, please send it to me via my other blog; – thank you.

I have ordered a second hand forensics manual from Blackwells, a tip for all sleuth-writers from the hour of master class; ‘Bring out your Dark Side’ that I did manage to get to.

1-2-1 Feedback was personal with an eye on business. I sat next to a young woman while waiting, her novel is about a town of angels on earth taking care of us humans. I metaphorically cast my eyes heavenwards thinking ‘derivative’, while smiling; ‘lovely.’I spoke to her afterwards, the agent will read it when it’s finished. There we go.

I have seen my angel. It appeared between me and a dying woman in case death mistook me for her. The angel was much bigger than the hospital ward and gold flakes, like fish scales caught the light before it went. The woman in the bed opposite died while the angel was there. I’d like to say, ‘while the angel spread its wings,’ but I didn’t see wings.

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Top 30 Opening Words

Some opening words of the latest FASTBACKS from Southampton Library Service top 30 books. What makes you read on?

Top 30 Authors

51g5C9Eo-OL__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-66,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_Kate Atkinson • ‘Life After Life’  – A FUG OF tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the café.

Linwood Barclay51mKhYBGWCL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_


Sophie Kinsella – ‘Wedding Night’Prologue – Young people!’

Mark Billingham • The Dying Hours’Prologue – ‘How much blood?’

Rosamund Lupton – ‘Forgive Me’ – ‘Prologue – Flora kicked off her shoes, pulled her dress over her head and tossed it on the bed’.

Maeve Binchy 

510RdMOZELL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_Ian McEwan – ‘Sweet Tooth’ – ‘My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British Secret Service.’

Dan Brown

51iwRssMi5L__SL150_Stephen King

Jo Nesbo – ‘The Bat’ – ‘Something was wrong.’

Lee Child – ‘Never Go Back’ – ‘Eventually they put Reacher in a car and drove him to a motel a mile away,where the night clerk gave him a room, which had all the features Reacher expected, because he had seen such rooms a thousand times before.’

James Patterson
• Harlan Coben • Lesley Pearse
• Martina Cole • Jodi Picoult
51CDfE2J1FL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_ Michael Connolly ‘The Gods of Guilt’ – ‘I approach the witness stand with a warm and welcoming smile.‘                                                     

• Ian Rankin • Ken Follett • Kathy Reichs                                             

Tess Gerritsen ‘Last to Die’ – ‘On the night that thirteen-year-old Claire Ward should have died, she stood on the window ledge of her third floor Ithica bedroom, trying to decide whether to jump.’

Ruth Rendell
• Philippa Gregory • Peter Robinson
• John Grisham •

Karin Slaughter – Unseen’ – ‘Detective Lena Adams winced as she took of her t shirt.’
P D James •

51dPiN0GpoL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_Wilbur Smith

Peter James



51XYpK+ffdL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_S J Watson




             Take a look at my other blog –

Bumpy Ride

Look-back at 2013.

I am very happy to have won the short murder story competition at the Winchester Writers Conference. And pleased that it takes pride of place in the 2013 anthology. Best-Of-2013-Cover

I shall take my prize, a place at the conference, next summer and look forward to it.
     Am I happy with my detective novel? No, I’ve not written enough. The detective agency is, at this moment, poised for the delicious ‘clashing together’ and final eruption.
     I blipped with marketeering.
    There was a bumpy end to my brief market career. Silverfinger publications are VERY particular about their venue and didn’t like being ignored or riffled through and abandoned. They learned to take with a pinch of salt, ‘positive venue thinking’, sooner than I did.

Netley Grange was my last actual market attendence. A supportive Writing Buddy took my stuff to both the Marlands and Mayfield Christmas markets, when I was unable to attend but had committed to, and did her best for me. Thank you!

The wet Winchester Sunday with a totally inadequate stall and poor position was the worse. I understand from other stall-holders that Winchester Guildhall was to be avoided at all costs.

Market Oct (9)

     blog5I created the Silverfinger Press as a result of marketeering, which is good and shows promise for the future. I published five Silverfinger books, four of them fully illustrated and twelfve sets of Christmas cards.
The ‘Didi’ books are a success with small children, mums and grandmothers. Positive feedback. The little book of Nursery Rhymes is also popular. 

And, I did quite enjoy ‘being out there’ for a while. It was an experience, observing people not interested in books, or riffling through the pages, even reading a whole book of poems, commenting, ‘so true’, about ‘Poems for a State of Grace’, before dropping the carefully made Silverfinger publication and walking off. 
     I was so surprised at my first sale of Christmas cards that I mislaid the money, or perhaps even gave it back.
I have painted, mostly blue and gold, sea, sky. silver 004.
And I have made a friend and lost one, finally drew the line at posting my neighbour a Christmas card and tore up the one from a distant relative I have nothing to do with. I enjoyed both acts.

I also drove through a storm, visited London and cooked a Christmas meal.



Splicing and Slicing


I am half way through Karin Slaughter’s latest book, ‘Criminal’. Well written? Yes. Plot, Fairisle knitting, in fact, I decided after a row of exhilarating chapters which threw me forward then back 30 years, I would separate the splices.

I am well aware of the method/tool/ devise of splicing and it can be exciting, BUT Slaughter has made it, for me, irritating.

I devour 1970 then hurtle to ‘present day’, wow, I have indigestion, not good at bed time. I will experiment by reading all 1970, then the rest of ‘present day’. She’s too clever by half.
     I ventured into a detailed and visceral description of a tortured, woman. Slaughter’s mind had been there, looking, recording. Too much for me. I stepped out.
    When the plot drags because author research takes centre stage, I read the first line of every paragraph until she’s finished. This has happened two days in a row.
     Yesterday I thought the book too long, I needed closure. And too plot-driven, even though the characters are strong. A successful writer well into her craft, can loose sight. Patricia Cornwell, a very successful crime writer, did. After ten cracking good stories with Kay Scarpetta, lots of character involvement for the reader, she became boring, tried to get herself out of the hole she knew she was in, but didn’t succeed.
     There is a big difference between ‘flashback’ and ‘splicing’. Lackberg makes enormous use of flashback bordering on splicing. ‘Criminal’ makes use of both. It is indeed a mouthful.
     But, like chocolate, it’s moreish, and gobble-inducing writing causes reader indigestion.
     I did a rough word count; 144.000.
     Shall I jump to the last chapter? Here goes. I shall find out whodunit and whether the three protagonists end up fitting together or not.



I was interested to read the top 30 favourite authors of Southampton library borrowers. I am currently reading Karin Slaughter, a first. The librarian, a fan of crime fiction, offered to reserve Slaughter’s new book for me, hence my knowledge of ‘fastbacks’. The majority of favourite fiction is murder and mayhem.


Top 30 Authors

• Kate Atkinson- Literary thriller, Harlan Coben likes her
• Linwood Barclay – Hitchcockinan thrillers
Mark Billingham – Crime, Tom Thorne, detective
Maeve Binchy – Storyteller
Dan Brown – Thriller fiction
one-shot2Lee Child – Thriller – Jack Reacher
Harlan Coben – Thriller mystery, Mickey, Myron Bolitar
• Martina Cole – Crime
Michael Connolly – Crime, Hieronymus Bosch & Mikey Haller
• Ken Follett – Thrillers and historical novels
• Tess Gerritsen – Romantic suspense, medical thrillers
• Philippa Gregory – Historical novels
John Grisham – Legal thrillers
P D James – Crime, detectives Cordelia Gray, Adam Dalgliesh200px-Deathinholyorders
• Peter James – Murder, mystery
Stephen King – Horror, fantasy
• Sophie Kinsella – Chick lit
• Rosamund Lupton – Crime, women sleuths
Ian McEwan – Literary novelist
Jo Nesbo – Crime, Inspector Harry Hole
James Patterson – Crime thriller, psychologist, Alex Cross
• Lesley Pearse – Contemporary fiction
• Jodi Picoult – Fiction, wide-ranging
Ian Rankin – Crime, Inspector Rebus
Kathy Reichs – Crime, Forensic anthropologist
Ruth Rendell – Psychological thriller, murder mystery, Inspector Wexford
Peter Robinson – Crime, Inspector Alan Banks
Karin Slaughter – Crime
Wilbur Smith – Historical novels
51XYpK+ffdL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_• S J Watson – Thriller

Fairly current books – bold – have read – italicised

Surveillance and Transformation of Garden

meta 5It’s a good day for my planned surveillance. I’m prepared and it’s sunny. My expectation is that she will leave her house some time this morning. Her daughter takes her out every Saturday. They are creatures of habit.

This is valuable experience, I’m writing a detective novel and want to feel every nuance. 

I am determined to wait it out. Surely it won’t be long, it’s almost lunch time.

There were three steps which preceded this unprecedented surveillance.

Step One – I discovered that my neighbour spies on me with binoculars through her back bedroom window. How do I know . . . read on.

But now, a whole load of her family arrive. Is she feeding them? Will she not be going out? I lose confidence. No, detectives stick it out.

To resume Step One – boys rapped on my front door demanding their ball back which was, they said in my back garden. ‘No, it’s not,’ I said. Later a note, ‘Dear kind lady . . . next door said you have it.’ Oh, did they!!

I called upon my neighbour, the one who is now under surveillance.
‘Yes, we saw the ball, it’s in your garden.’
Me, joking, ‘you have binoculars?’
‘Yes, the ball’s . . .’

Shock. Horrible.

Despite living here for 14 years I didn’t realise the full extent of my neighbour’s nature. Idiot, trusting me!

The Forsythia in my garden was cut to the ground while I was in hospital. I still didn’t twig. I put it down to my being dreadfully ill with no energy to realise or to carry an umbrage.

Step Two – I found out she’d been lying to me consistently. The lies were marked by ‘my sister said,’ and ‘my daughter said.’ Always to do with my garden.

I found this out after I had trimmed a flowering shrub in my small front garden.

‘You cut a hole so you can spy on me, my sister said the same.’ The following conversation was something of a farce and not worth repeating. When I saw her sister she said . . .
‘She’s been naughty again, I told her you can grow your garden whatever way you like.’

Am I wasting my day waiting for her to leave so that I feel comfortable doing what I want to do? Is veracity in a detective story worth it?

Step Three – The last straw broke when she was rude to my gutterer. It was then I decided to privatise my garden.

But they’re still indoors, she must be feeding them. I’m hungry and must feed myself.

                                                * * *
I decided to cook lunch and ate it sitting where I could see out front. I’m fortunate, the detectives in my novel will stand in the rain or sit in their car, cold and longing for the loo.

I waffled, shall I do something worthwhile instead? But at that moment of weakness, the family left. Daughter, with neighbour in red coat left shortly afterwards.

Joy, everything was ready and the job was soon done, nails went in like a knife in butter, a few diagonals fixed it securely. I fanned out the new Clematis Montana Floribuna and tied it to my new trellis now nailed to the pergola, thus securing privacy for my cups of tea and good reads in the garden.
‘Grow fast,’ I said.
With six foot bamboo and a long stick, I made a tepee in the gap beside the pergola and the fence. A gap through which I could see her small bedroom window and one through which she could peer down at me.


I wove honeysuckle and told it to thicken up and multiply. If it doesn’t, I’m sure the clematis will.

All tension relieved, surveillance and resulting action over. Review . . . add the unexpected for tension, like this morning when the family arrived.

I tidied the garden, mowed the lawn and sat on the bench beside the conservatory and drank tea to admire my altered garden. I watched the blue tits in the apple tree and listened to the blackbird.

To complete the garden’s metamorphosis, I trained the chain-sawed (by alien builder working interminably on extending a hideous retirement home below my garden) rambler – single pink roses, big thorns, huge as a house, to dive smartly and impenetrably south along the trellis at the bottom of my garden where it will meet Montana Mayleen growing north. Combined, they will block my view across a row of back gardens, two old-folks-homes, and, the result of fashionable installation of decking, trampolines and people’s heads.


Murder Revisited


I am thoroughly engaged in planning and executing mouth watering comeuppances via my literary detective agency. I am not deterred that the first assignment went awry, was a disaster in fact but the Boss is determined not to loose heart, she will stick to her original plans and try again.
      The six women sleuth books I took from the library, to see if one matched mine in pace, tension or touches of humour and to which I may refer in my letter to an agent – don’t. I shall have to look further. (Does that mean I’m a one-off?)
      P.D.James, erratic pace, sometimes dead boring, writes of wisteria in a hot summer sun, (wisteria blossoms in spring), BUT I do connect to the protagonist and wonder if mine is also accessible? Time to call upon my ‘reader’.
      D.L.Sayers – NO, Susan Hill – no – M.C.Beaton, can’t face it.

However, two unexpected bonuses –

Antonello_St_Jerome_in_his_Study_14601. P.D.James describes a painting by Antonello, to which I was attracted. I found the painting on the internet, ‘St Jerome in his Study’, 1480.


The author has changed St Jerome to a ‘young, tonsured monk’, and there are no frivolities or oxen seen in the tiny but delightful landscape through the window, but P.D.James captures the feeling, perfectly.

The feeling of the painting, one of a man ‘in the spirit’, alone, in a mood of contemplation, connects me with my own, unfinished ‘murder’ painting of an author whose imaginative images come to life in her sitting room.

about 1475    

2. Susan Hill’s ‘Shadow in the Street’, names a book, ‘Learning to Dance’, by Michael Mayne. For some reason, I liked the title and looked it up on Amazon. Michael Mayne was Dean of Westminster Abbey and head of BBC radio religious programmes.
      On browsing further, I discovered that Michael Mayne suffered with ME. A condition which I live with. I have ordered the book in which he describes himself and ME, ‘A Year Lost and Found’.
      I also like the painting on the book’s cover which uses complementary colours – ie mauve/yellow – turquoise/gold, colours which make each other sing out loud.
      The post-script to Michael Mayne’s last book, ‘The Enduring Melody’, written when he had terminal cancer, seems to me to be important –

‘However mixed our motives in writing (or reading) books, in the end they are about the desire to share (or learn more) what it means to be human and what matters to us most, to speak what we feel not what we ought to say. For those who write such books and launch them into a critical world, they aim to be, in short, a small – and sometimes quite risky – act of love.’                                                      Michael Mayne, ‘The Enduring Melody’.

And this quote, used by Michael Mayne, expands and speaks to thoughts contained in my post ‘Positive Thinking’, January 2013, though spoken in a quite different way –

‘All is well. Not by facile optimism, not in blinkered evasions, but in the richest and most active dimensions of our humanity. It is the illumination we must and ever seek on the other side of the dark.’ Dennis Potter.


Author Plans Murder:

author plans murderA character in my first novel – ‘Falling’, suggested that I write a book centred around her passion for comeuppances – so I have. Knowing her temperament has enabled me to weave a plot. I consider this to be an advantage – I have previously failed to have any idea what my characters might do do until they actually do it. Result!

Here follows a list of books taken from Southampton library this morning so that I may research which authors to refer to in the pitch letter to agents. I am told this is useful to enable ‘agent-orientation’ . TIP – from David Headley, should you find it useful, Francis Fyfield, always successfully follows the same ‘plot structure’. 

Dorothy L. Sayers – Hangman’s Holiday

Alexander McCall Smith – The Charming Quirks of Others

M. C. Beaton – Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye

Susan Hill – The Shadows in the Street

Ann Cleeves – Telling Tales

P.D. James -Death Comes to Pemberley

Elly griffiths – A Room Full of Bones

Hilary mantell owes me £50

After completing an Open University BA Hons, I booked myself into Arvon in Devon. Why? Because Hilary mantell was booked for that week and I had read several of her books (note how I omit the adjective ‘excellent’ books, a word I may have used yesterday). No, I’m not impartial. Ms mantell owes me £50 because she withdrew from Arvon due to the pressures of being nominated for the Booker Prize. Her replacement was a cheap novelist who had moved to Devon and had some limited literary success by taking the mickey out of the natives. Not up to scratch as an author for me. I withdrew from the course but had to forfeit £50 of the fee.
  This, however, was a slight knockback and did not put me off reading Ms mantell. As a matter of fact I am reading ‘A Place of Greater Safety’, at the moment. I have to vehemently bend back the book’s spine and secure the opened pages with a plastic peg. The size and shape of the book is brick-like and awkward. Not sure if I will continue reading.

Hilary Mantel and the Duchess of Cambridge

Now, to reach my point. Ms mantell’s recent speech ‘Royal Bodies’, at the British Museum and her mean spirited use of Kate Wales to enhance pointed-teeth praise of her own sensibilities. Ms mantell has lost sight of the surely beating heart and lost herself in demonstrating her own daring observations. (gasp with admiration) Ms mantell’s speech reflect the condition of her soul.

I may describe the novelist as a balloon, but won’t because it’s hurtful.

The following quote from the ‘Royal Bodies’ speech, reveals how Ms mantell has become a quill.

‘And then the queen passed close to me and I stared at her. I am ashamed now to say it but I passed my eyes over her as a cannibal views his dinner, my gaze sharp enough to pick the meat off her bones.’

The novelist actually believes that her stare caused the Queen to turn –

‘and such was the hard power of my stare that Her Majesty turned and looked back at me, as if she had been jabbed in the shoulder; and for a split second her face expressed not anger but hurt bewilderment. She looked young: for a moment she had turned back from a figurehead into the young woman she was, before monarchy froze her and made her a thing, a thing which only had meaning when it was exposed, a thing that existed only to be looked at.’

Ms mantell has mislaid humanity in writing of the dead. She observed the Queen as a carcass on display. A great crack has formed and now Ms Mantell walks with bone-crushing tread on the living. Her own restraint is lost in an inflated idea of herself. I believe one’s corporeal body reflects one’s soul.

Deary me, Ms mantell.

Does the Duchess of Cambridge really deserve the double whammy of Ms mantell AND the dreadful darkness of Paul Elmsley’s one-haired-brush copied photograph dead-as-a-doornail excuse of a portrait?