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Earlyworks Press flash fiction Poetry Short stories Uncategorized

Our Short Story Comp Judge

Journalist and media consultant Lynne Walsh, an arts reviewer at the Morning Star, is judging our Short Story Competition this year.

Here’s Lynne’s story…

Lynne Walsh describes herself as a journalist and campaigner, and says it’s not clear which came first.

The desire to be a reporter came early; she says: “My mother complained that, at about 4, I was always up and down the bus, asking other passengers ‘Where are you going? What will you do when you get there?’ Then I’d give my grandparents the headlines, when we arrived for tea: ‘There was a man on the night shift, a lady drinking tea from a red flask, and a little girl like me – she’d lost a button off her best coat.’ Big news in the South Wales Valleys, I reckoned.”

The campaigning [aka kicking up a fuss] crept up on her, as a teenager: “Volunteering for Oxfam, running fundraising events, making speeches – it’s a good training ground, when you’re trying to hide the fact that you’re very shy!”

The love of short stories started young – “My friend Penny and I, walking round the village, creating tales from what we saw around us. One, a ghost story set in the old mine workings, had us running for home; we’d scared ourselves, with our own fiction.”

Love turned to obsession, with trips to ‘town of books’, Hay-on-Wye. “My boyfriend and I would come home with the boot and back seat of the car full of books. We read voraciously – and we wrote: journals, terrible poetry, stories, plays, all that stuff that stays, forgotten, in attics.”

Journalism was a way of telling stories, even when they came from turgid council meetings or traumatic court cases. “There’s a lot of discipline in reporting, a lot of constraints – but at its heart, there are the complicated lives of real people.”

As well as working for newspapers, magazines and radio, Lynne has helped run major campaigns. “My CV says I worked on HIV & Aids campaigns in the 80s and 90s. The story, though, is that I was quite ashamed of my chosen profession at that stage – tabloids writing about a ‘gay plague’. I wanted to work with scientists giving us facts; the challenge was to turn that into something meaningful for ordinary people.”

The CV also shows a stream of clients, with whom Lynne has developed media strategies, coached spokespeople and created events:  Women’s Resource Centre [WRC], Drinkline, National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, Hestia, British Association for Counselling, BackCare, National Family Mediation, Mental Health Media, National Appropriate Adult Network, Fair Play for Women and Safe Schools Alliance.

There are personal stories within all of them; “At Drinkline, I voiced all the recordings for their helpline. It did worry me that friends who were concerned about their alcohol intake might call, and get my voice. For some, more of a hindrance than a help!”

At the WRC there was the Women Speak Out! Project, helping speakers make short films to promote their expertise on trafficking, poverty, domestic abuse and slavery. “I met Ntombi, who’d been trafficked, held in Yarls Wood and Holloway. She’s a dancer now, part of an African cultural troupe that performs with incredible joy. She brings a new meaning to the term ‘survivor’. Telling her story makes my heart skip a little beat!”

Lynne handled the UK media work for LGSM [Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners] around the launch of the film ‘Pride’ and the 2015 London march. “There are 101 stories from that series of events – one of them involved my colleague Alison and I moving the entire Tredegar Town Band across a packed parade. We shoved aside baffled Met police, insistent corporate sponsors and anyone who got in our way. That’s the power of the hi-vis jacket.”

There are stories of a different kind in Lynne’s community learning classes. She’s taught hundreds of learners to write accounts of the lives of their families, neighbourhoods, and experiences. Students often get creative; stories embellished, with flights of fancy; incidents become more colourful in the retelling. Lynne lectures at conferences which examine the links between storytelling and health, and is occasionally evangelical about the benefits: “Let them confabulate! Encourage them to create different versions of themselves. Help them understand they can ‘write their own endings’. Why not? It’s not newspaper reporting.

“I teach the basics, of planning, gathering material, structuring the story. I’ll even help them get over anxiety about grammar and syntax. I’ll read poetry, or song lyrics, or ask them to bring in a memento, and tell me its story. What I’m always looking for is the heartbeat of a story – it sounds cheesy and I don’t care, because it’s true – the memorable or quirky or emotional thing that makes me want to tell that story to the next person.”   

Competition entry details….

Poetry Competition

Flash Fiction Competition

Short Story Competition

Categories
Book reviews Earlyworks Press Poetry Short stories Uncategorized

Records, rivers, rats and a 100-word challenge

The 2018 poetry and flash fiction anthology was released on 22nd November, and advance copies have been sent to the authors who’ve been patiently waiting since its expected appearance in September. Fear not! There are copies here to order in time for Christmas.

Records, Rivers and Rats

This year, one of the questions we asked ourselves was – why do we always have all the poems and then all the flash fiction – a more than obviously striking question because we had what I thought was a piece of flash fiction but its author saw as a poem amongst the poetry comp entries, more or less at the same time as I put a poem in our club workshop on which one of our members commented ‘a flash fiction story has mysteriously developed line-breaks’ – so much for my sense of rhythm.

I decided to mix it up in this year’s collection, and leave the reader to decide what is flash fiction and what is a prose poem. I asked for some works of different lengths from the club, and used them to segue the poetry and flash sets together. Here, so readers will know which were the competition winners, are the full shortlists, and here my congratulations, and thanks to all who took part.

The Poetry

In the poetry competition, the £100 first prize went to Christopher M James, the £25 runner up prize to Nadia Saward, and commendations and £5 each to John Baylis Post, Ion Corcos and Rachael Street. The other shortlisted authors were Matthew Adamo, Nicholas Catlin, Brian Charlton, Andria J Cooke, Ion Corcos, Maureen Cullen, Andy Eycott, Carol Frost, Georgia Gardner, R D Gardner, C Gillett, Elizabeth Heddwen Smith, Jack Howard, Rona Laycock, Bill Lythgoe, Abigail Elizabeth Ottley, Alyson Powell-Rees, Derek Sellen, Jocelyn Simms, Ashley Lloyd Smith, Lizzie Smith, Phil Vernon and Catherine Westwell.

Our thanks to Mandy Pannett, who was our final round reader. Here are her comments. On the winner, Pathetic Fallacy by Christopher M James: this poem quickly reached the top of the pile of entries and stayed there. It is perfectly crafted, rich in quality. I love the syntax, the whole tone of it. Memorable lines are immediate: ‘goodbye slouching friend,/soothe my body to the junkyard gate…’, ‘Bystanders who stopped bystanding/when the world emptied of people’, ‘So, I plead/the ontology of objects in an era/of packaging.’ The last stanza, in particular, is stunning.

On the runner up, Underworld by Nadia Saward: this is a chilling but beautiful journey poem – a journey to oneself or to an afterlife, whatever that may or not be. There are expectations here but one by one they are negated – the waterfall which is seen as a portal becomes a shroud, on the other side there is only ‘the dark and the cave.’ There is no greeting, no welcome, no voices, no company, ‘No moon, no stars. There was no light.’ The narrator is isolated in a realm of silence. Memories offer no consolation. The sun ‘is only a word.’ This is a terrific poem albeit grim and tragic.

On Guillemots by John Baylis Post: there is a broken relationship here, the pain of it staved off by the ‘lingering recall’ of memories and a clever, linguistic game identifying metaphors. Neither work. In the last line the narrator confronts the reality: ‘I miss your voice.’ I love the central metaphor of the guillemots ‘allopreening’ – a loving act now missing in the narrator’s own life.

On A Stone in My Shoe by Ion Corcos: here are connections and repetitions – an orange tree, water, a river, a mountain, earth, stone and the idea of home. In the end the links grow old, creak, turn to scars. This is a subtle hard-hitting poem that ends with an outstanding couplet: ‘an iceberg sinks into the winter sea/only a polar bear afloat in the dark’. On Oedipus by John Baylis Post: The opening of this poem caught my interest at once: ‘Jocasta puked.’ A few lines later ‘palace kittens, necks in gold torques,/lapped at the vomit.’ A strong narrative poem with a great depiction of character, setting and mood.

On Records by Rachael Street: there are many depths, here not only the layers of the artist’s ‘vision’ which merge and blend. I love the language of the whole poem, the way it begins ‘Consider this:’, the descriptions of shifting light, the movement of the pencil ‘almost engrained/In muscle memory.’ Beautiful writing.

The Flash Fiction

The winner of the £100-for-100-words Earlyworks Press Flash Fiction Competition 2018 was Jim Bowen. The shortlisted authors were Paula Balfe, Cecile Bol, Tom Bowen, Lorraine Cooke, John Holland, Barbara Lorna Hudson, Andrew Irvine, Taria Karillion, Gordon Massey, Mandy Pannett, Anoosh Falak Rafat, Kate Twitchin, Alison Woodhouse and Faye Wynter.

The variety in tone and content of the entries was enormous. As ever with the flash comps, we used several judges, who then struggled to work out how you rate the serious against the comic, the gently poetic offering against the raw, stirring shout-out, and how to rate quality of content versus style and craft. What is needed now is emotional agility from the reader, to change gear in time to appreciate the mix.

How did we finally choose the winner? Once we had a set of twenty or so pieces that held the judges’ interest in one way or another and a few firm favourites picked out, we asked the famous last-ditch question. Which image, idea or feeling is going to stick in your mind the longest? The answer was – the guilty fever that rises, as you grip the wheel with one hand and grope around desperately for…

…anyway, no spoilers. There are some excellent narrative poems in the poetry shortlist and some pieces packed with rhythm and philosophy in the flash fiction shortlist. In both sets, some were satisfyingly short and to the point, others a happy meander, some as serious as serious can get, others decidedly tongue-in-cheek – so – you decide which is which. Congratulations all, and thanks for taking part. I hope you enjoy the collection.

Start work now on next year’s entries…

There will be new competitions on the website soon, and we’ll be choosing the works featured in next year’s anthologies from there so if you haven’t done so already, please start planning your entries!

In the meantime, please sign up for our newsletter if you’d like to have timely updates of goings on at Earlyworks Press and if you’re anywhere near Hastings, why not sign up to do a reading in our 100-word challenge night at Printed Matter, Queens Road, Hastings. Click here for event details.

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Book reviews Earlyworks Press Poetry Short stories

Bruce Harris’s Odds Against

One of the things that’s really absorbing about running writing competitions is that you meet and judge works before you know who’s written them, so when I first read a Bruce Harris story during the 2015 competition judging, I didn’t know that was what it was. The story was called ‘Home Movies’, and it’s a brilliantly presented monologue by a teenager who has escaped from A level revision hell and is amusing himself by annoying various friends and relatives by filming them on his phone. We, the readers, get to follow both his inner commentary, and the reactions of those who find themselves being filmed. It’s intricate and utterly absorbing.

And one of the things I particularly enjoy is when two quite different works get put forward to the shortlist and turn out to be by the same author, so it was a real surprise when ‘Roxanne Riding Hood’, a detective-suspense-thriller that creeps up on you via a drag queen going about his/her late night club act business, turned out to be yet another Bruce Harris creation.

journeys_cover

Both stories appear in the resulting Earlyworks Press prizewinners’ anthology, Journeys Beyond. It was some time later that Bruce approached me again to say that he had a big enough collection of prize-winning works to put together a collection of his own – and a very sobering reason for wanting to do so. Let’s leave aside the joy of his range of extremely human, often funny, always well-crafted stories, to consider a very common problem of our day and age – all those long-term, sometimes fatal, debilitating illnesses that don’t quite require permanent hospital care and don’t quite get the kind of home-care that makes life easily manageable for friends and relatives of their victims. When Bruce found himself in the situation of carer for a loved one, he set about looking for ways to improve that situation and his new poetry book Kaleidoscope and the story collection Odds Against which we published as an Earlyworks Press title, are part of that project. In both cases, all Bruce’s earnings from the book are going to the Huntingdon’s Disease Association.

But you don’t have to be in a charitable mood to buy them. Bruce’s poetry and stories Bruce blog revieware, as Booker shortlisted author Wendy Perriman put it, both amusing and uplifting. ‘Odds Against’ offers 15 stories about people doing what they can, in serious and humorous ways, with difficult and sometimes insoluble situations. You will find a young woman, a victim of refugee trafficking, rescuing herself in midnight London, wartime spies trying to adjust to post-war living, restauranteurs trying to survive the horrors of customers, wedding guests exhibiting contrasting takes on a universal situation, ex-lovers manouvering their way to (perhaps) reconciliation a series of consequences of a falling bucket on a building site, and more… all full of the pathos, belly-laughs and heart-wrenching that human life entails.

Bruce_Harris_Odds_Against_coverBuy Kaleidoscope   https://www.artificium.co.uk/buy/Kaleidoscope-p86230028 (Proceeds to the HDA)

Buy Odds Against     http://www.circaidygregory.co.uk/shortstories.htm (Proceeds to the HDA)

Buy Journeys Beyond     http://www.earlyworkspress.co.uk/fiction_index.htm  (Journeys Beyond is an anthology by Earlyworks Press competition winners, including Bruce Harris, but is NOT part of the HDA fund-raiser)

 

One of the many reasons I’d like to recommend Odds Against is that the much-loved Hastings artist Katherine Reekie offered Bruce the choice of images of her works for the cover. He settled on the haunting ‘Icelantic Field’, with its mix of the bleak, the absurd and the beautiful, as the image to speak for Huntingdon’s Disease sufferers and their carers. You can learn more about the Disease, and the HDA association on their website here, see more of Katherine Reekie’s work on her website, here and find out more about Bruce’s work at Harris Central.