As part of our rolling programme of competitions, members always enjoy digging into the past for inspiration. This time round, the brief was to produce a piece of prose fiction with an historical theme and our adjudicator, Anne Carrick, declared herself quite stunned by the variety of themes. She began by thanking the Group for inviting her to do the job and went on to outline the three key things that she was looking for in the entries. These were a story that made her want to read to the end, believable characters and a clear plot or focus. She had found these in abundance and also enjoyed the humour in many of the stories and the restrained use of devices such as metaphor.
After giving a detailed commentary on each entry, Anne announced the winners:
1st – Susan with ‘The Brightness of the Light’
2nd – Janet with ‘Adelstrop’
3rd – Maggie with ‘A Cautionary Tale’
Anne presented Susan with the Mary Rawnsley Trophy and then the winners read their pieces.
‘The Brightness of the Light’ told the story of an elderly American making a return visit to the Naples/Pompeii/Vesuvius area and trying to put together his memories of the time he had first visited as a merchant navy radio operator after the allied invasion of Italy in 1944.
‘Adelstrop’ was a piece inspired by the poem of the same name. During the First World War a civilian is summoned home by telegram because his mother is dying. He finds himself sharing a railway compartment with an officer in uniform – the poet – although they do not speak, not having been introduced to each other. The train makes an unwonted stop at Adelstrop at what turns out to be just the time the mother dies.
‘A Cautionary Tale’ is a story of a girl unwillingly taking part in a Saturday afternoon school visit to a museum. Asked to try on some of the replica costumes from the museum’s collection the girl detaches herself from the main party but is persuaded to dress up by one of the museum staff. In a moment of magic realism she finds herself as Anne Boleyn walking towards her beheading.
Our guest speaker, Paul Richardson, is a great raconteur and has had a very varied life from which to draw inspiration for his writing. A County Councillor for Masham for 12 years, son of a rural Northumberland vicar and a dealer in maritime art and antiques, he has published poetry and short stories and is working on a series of novels set among Native Americans. Paul has set up his own company, Talulah Publishing, and employs designers and artists to design his books.
He gave the following advice about writing:
• There are no rules
• Write down what you are feeling
• Clarity – don’t be self-indulgent
• Construction – make sure you have beginning/middle/end and keep them balanced
• Rhythm – he compared the chapters of a book to heartbeats
• Keep readers interested by ending chapters with a hook
• Characters must be nuanced
After a break for refreshments, Paul read excerpts from his novel ‘A New Beginning’, answered questions from members and signed copies of his books.
Our very own Cathy Grimmer, who has been on the committee of the prestigious Writers’ Summer School for the past two years, has now stepped up to the position of Chairman. (Seen in the photo above with the outgoing Chairman Michael O’Byrne.)
Regular attenders at the Writers’ Summer School (Swanwick), Cathy Grimmer and Maggie Cobbett aren’t usually ‘daggers drawn’. However, the fancy dress disco saw this encounter between Sarah Connor (Terminator) and Lady Macbeth.
The programme was as varied and enjoyable as ever this year and it would be good to see more RWG members there in 2017. See Cathy or Maggie for details.
After lunch at the George in Wath, we made our way a few hundred yards down the road to Norton Conyers and spent an hour or so taking in the tranquil atmosphere of its glorious walled garden.
Sir James, the 11th baronet, and Lady Graham were waiting in the hall shown above and gave us a very comprehensive account of the repair and restoration programme begun in 2005, even handing round examples of their large collection of death watch beetles. Despite their own hard work and very ‘hands on’ approach, they freely admitted that none of this would have been possible without generous grants. In 2014, Norton Conyers won the Historic Houses Association/Sotheby’s Restoration Award.
This ‘gentleman’s manor-house’, owned by the Graham family for almost four hundred years, is thought to have inspired much of Charlotte Brontë’s description of Thornfield Hall. What is certain is that she visited it before she wrote Jane Eyre and must have heard the 18th century legend of a mad woman confined in one of its attics. Some time later, the staircase was blocked off and only rediscovered in 2004. The floor up there being too fragile for visitors, we had to content ourselves with a glimpse up the stairs from the door on the landing. There was, however, a photograph on display of a sparsely furnished and cheerless garret.
Fortunately, there was plenty more to see, including fine furniture, pictures, porcelain, 16th century painted boards and even a sample of mid 18th century wallpaper, now copied and commercially available as ‘Norton Conyers Diamonds’. Some rooms are light and airy but others, including the landing, decidedly gloomy. One of these is the dark panelled bedroom in which the future James II and his wife Mary of Modena may have slept during their visit to Norton Conyers in November 1679.
Each generation of the Graham family has made changes at Norton Conyers and the current owners are no exception to this. Their website is http://www.nortonconyers.org.uk/
The winner was Phil Cook, seen above with adjudicator Ruth Elwin Harris, who described herself as a ‘lapsed’ writer’. In the past, she had penned Sisters of the Quantocks, a quartet of novels for teenagers, and published Billie:The Nevill Letters 1914-16 from a collection of correspondence she came across in the Imperial War Museum.
Turning to the eleven competition entries Ruth said that she had paid more attention to the subject than to the writing. Inevitably her choices were subjective but she said she had looked at four particular things:
• The piece needs to be well written
• The piece needs to be well constructed with a beginning, a middle and an end
• She liked to be made to think
• She felt that presentation was important
Having expanded on her methods Ruth gave her individual comments on the entries before announcing the winners.
First – Phil Cook with ‘Truth and Memory’, inspired by the WW1 exhibition currently on at York Art Gallery.
Second – Peter Page with ‘Atmosphere and Story’, a plea to artists to transcend mere technique and stir the viewer’s imagination.
Third – Cathy Grimmer with ‘Devaluing Creativity’. In Cathy’s absence her article was held over to be read at a later date.
Jonathan Trenholme and Pam Grimsditch of The Masham Players delighted a packed room with anecdotes about the ups and downs of amateur dramatics. Pam opened proceedings by reciting Joyce Grenfell’s Nursery School monologue and A Wayne in a Manger by Gervais Phinn.
The Masham Players celebrate their 70th anniversary this year and Jonathan, who joined in 1972, is very proud of the fact that his family has been involved since the mid-1950s. The main part of the talk, illustrated with slides, props and costumes, followed the process of a production from choosing the play to performance. It was accompanied by references to the Players’ successes in drama festivals as well as rueful asides about things that had gone wrong on the night.
Jonathan concluded by saying that the Players’ next programme would be two one act plays put on jointly with their sister group from North Stainley, where performances would be on 1st and 2nd July. Performances in Masham would follow on 7th and 8th July.
After a break for refreshments, Jan was recruited to help Jonathan and Pam perform a short piece about an old couple. Jan then handed over a token of RWG’s appreciation for the talk before opening the meeting to questions.
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