Sheila introduced adjudicator Janet Gleeson, explaining that Janet had had a career in journalism, working mainly as a news journalist in the North East and Yorkshire.
Janet began by saying that, having read the entries, she was pleased to have accepted the invitation to adjudicate this competition. She then confirmed some details of her adult life as a news journalist. Turning to the competition entries she said that she had been looking for something that was an interesting read, that kept the interest going throughout and which held her attention from start to finish. She said that she liked to find passion in the writing. In her own writing she liked to include quotations and suggested that this was something that all writers should consider.
Following her general introduction Janet gave her comments on each of the individual entries.
Summing up she said that, in addition to the use of quotations, the following points were likely to help in making a good article:
• Using personal experiences
• Using research
• Getting all the material down quickly before thinking about polishing it.
Sheila then invited Janet to announce her choice of winners. These were:
• 3rd place – Phil Cook with ‘Lucerne’s Lonely Lion’, a piece about the statue of a lion in Lucerne which commemorates the involvement (with heavy loss of life) of a Swiss contingent in the fighting that accompanied the French Revolution
• 2nd place – Caroline Slator with ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’, a piece about Grayson Perry and his work
• 1st place – Maggie Cobbett with ‘In Praise of Notebooks’ – a piece about her personal passion for notebooks, now and in her schooldays. This came with a side order of reflection on how the attitude of coffee shop management towards writers who commandeer their tables has changed since her youth
There was time before the break for Janet to talk about the way the newspaper industry had changed during her lifetime. She compared her own good fortune – being offered four jobs on completion of her journalism course at Darlington College – with the pressures that face newcomers today.
Better late than never! Lindsay received her trophy (see below) from Sheila.
Unfortunately, Lindsay Trenholme wasn’t present this evening to receive the trophy for her winning story, Openings. Adjudicator Gary Booth is pictured here with Susan Perkins, who came second. Also in the photograph and in joint third place are Janet Barclay with Sunday Treat and Joe Peters with Into A New World.
In welcoming Gary, Sheila recalled the helpful and encouraging comments he had made the last time he adjudicated for us, particularly about the importance for a writer immediately to capture the interest of the reader.
On this occasion, Gary began by saying that currently his main private reading was of non-fiction, but in the past he had enjoyed many short stories and was glad to immerse himself in them again, even though nowadays they had become the Cinderella of fiction. He had had to ask himself: What is a short story? What makes a good one? Besides the more mechanical elements of punctuation and the structure of sentences and paragraphs, important features usually involved the inclusion of only a small number of characters; some dialogue; the setting; and the knowledge that something will happen, so that the story builds up to its ending. A “moment of change” was often regarded as vital.
However, it was perfectly possible for good stories to lack some of those features, provided the writer found the right mix for the particular subject matter and achieved the right tone for the story overall and made the reader want to read it. Success could be achieved by exploring and revealing human nature or illuminating something ordinary in a different way.
Gary then handed out a brief summary sheet of the 15 competition entries and went on to comment on each, having attached his personal observations to each individual story. He said that he had enjoyed all of the stories and found them to be of a uniformly high standard. Adjudication had thus been a difficult matter, but after several readings he found that the winning entry and the runner-up were clearly in his mind. He had more difficulty in choosing between two stories for third place, so declared them jointly successful.
Susan then read her story in which various sources allow the reader to piece together the poignant history of an elderly man as he settles into a care home.
Sheila expressed the Group’s warm thanks to Gary for an enjoyable and instructive adjudication.
Andy began by saying that in general he despised poetry competitions because he felt that they are the antithesis of what poetry is all about. However he said that the entries in this competition felt as though they had come from a group that worked together. Particular features of the collection of entries that he liked were:
• The high craft level
• The plain language
• The use in many entries of binary organisation
• The use of alliteration
• The use of half rhymes and exact metre
Andy then went on to give his extensive comments on the thirteen individual entries before announcing the winners in reverse order as follows:
• 3rd – Susan Perkins – ‘Photophobia’ – a poem leading to the conclusion that nature as we see it is not nature
• 2nd – Phil Cook – ‘Where the North Wind Blows’ – a poem paralleling the effects of the Mistral and the effects of a new love
• 1st – David McAndrew – ‘Fixing a Memory’ – a reflection on the process of fixing a memory
Andy presented David with the trophy.
After the tea break the winners read their poems. There was then time for the following further entries to be read:
• Peter H – ‘Fiery Fantasies’ – memories of the days of coal fires and reflections on benign fires in earlier times
• Anna – ‘The Meadow’ – a poem written for friend who wanted to make a film about his meadow – describing the cycle of the meadow’s day
• Malcolm – ‘Jim’ – a fact based poem (almost a eulogy) dealing with memories of a deceased racing friend (read by Phil)
• Elizabeth S – ‘Legacy’ – a poem about the hidden legacy of a tree whose heartwood becomes the raw material for a violin maker
Sheila then invited Andy to read from his own work. He chose to read an extract from ‘Letter IV’ the latest instalment of a series of verse letters to the deceased poet Randall Swingler using a verse form derived from ‘Don Juan’. This letter updated Swingler on what is happening in the world, in particular the rising hatred of those outside the tribe (Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, etc.).
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.
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.
Exceptionally, this meeting was held in the St Wilfrid’s Community Centre. With adjudicator Ann Powell unable to join us, Jan passed on her general comments and invited entrants in no particular order to read out their own mini-sagas. The results were as follows:
• 3rd – Maggie with ‘Pique’ – how a rejected marriage proposal might have sealed the fate of Dresden during WW2
• 2nd – Cathy with ‘The Death of Earth’ – an evacuee from our dying planet thinks of those left behind
• 1st – Phil with ‘Oops!’ – a very literary response to a loving email message sent to the wrong Jason
Jan presented Phil with the trophy.
The other entries were:
• Peter H – ‘Kick Back’ – a couple split up
• Peter P – ‘The Witch’ – a community finds a novel way to solve the problem of a bored witch causing havoc
• Sheila – ‘Death, Where is Thy Sting’ – don’t use a frying pan to kill a wasp if it is on your partner’s head
• Kate (read by Cathy) – ‘Adrift’ – a hospital visit
• Joe – ‘A Family’s Secret’ – memories of visits to the writer’s family in Lincolnshire
• Janet – ‘The Stuff of Fairy Tales’ – the true feelings of a couple at an engagement announcement press call
• Claire – ‘The Catastrophic Collapse of Colchester in 1648’ – factual – the origins of the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ story in the fall of Royalist Colchester to the
Roundheads in 1648
• Carol – ‘Innocence and Experience’ – a reflection on the lure of the apple
• Julie – ‘Journey’s End, New Beginning’ – a woman finally admits that she is in labour at the end of pregnancy
• Caroline – ‘Today’ – ‘Will he come? Yes, the wheelie bin will get emptied this week.’
• Anna – ‘One Lie or Two, Darling?’ – a tale of double duplicity
• Susan – ‘How Being Full of Your Own Self-importance Can Make You Overlook the Obvious and be Unaware of What’s Under Your Nose’ – a neighbour saga
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