Short Story Adjudication with Andy Croft

We were delighted to welcome writer, editor and poet Andy Croft to be our adjudicator this time round. Despite admitting that he doesn’t write short stories himself, Andy had obviously read a great many in the past and he treated us to a detailed analysis of the eight entries.

Secretary Peter Page received the trophy for ‘Inciting Incident’, a story of flirtation between a woman who thinks her husband is having an affair and a widower she meets on an Arvon playwriting course at The Hurst in Shropshire. (The title is a playwriting term.). Sheila Whitfield’s ‘Hat Tricks’, a story about a 57 year old loner who surprises himself by coming to the aid of a woman whose carrier bag fails in a supermarket car park, was in second place. The title refers to the fact that the protagonist often feels that he is wearing the wrong hat. Third was ‘Fisherman’s Tale’ by Denis Whitaker. A retired fisherman sitting on the harbour wall tells anyone who will listen about his possible encounters with a mermaid. The end of the story implies that the fisherman went to join the sea people after telling his tales for the last time.

After a break for refreshments, the three winners read their stories. Other entries will be given priority at our next Members’ Manuscripts meeting, which will also feature a book sale.

Poetry Adjudication with Paul Mills

As a prelude to his adjudication, Paul spoke to us about his own wide-ranging writing, which includes two books on creative writing. He then went on to ask if writing poetry was different from other writing forms. Does it use a different part of the brain or is it so focused that it blots out other things? He said that writing poetry involves concentration, imagination and something which acts as a prompt. In addition he stressed the importance of reading other people’s work to sharpen one’s mind. A wide discussion of what makes a piece of writing a poem followed, touching on punctuation amongst other things.

When Paul turned to what he was looking for in a poem he emphasised that there were many different ways of writing one, but that the result should hold the reader’s attention – the reader should not feel that he is wasting his time. There are no hard and fast rules about form or subject or rhyme. However, the poem must mean something to the writer as well as to the reader.

Turning to the individual competition entries it was agreed to follow Paul’s suggestion that the writers should read their work before he gave his comments so that the comments meant something to the others present. The poems read were:
• Susan – ‘Going Downhill on a Bicycle’ – a poem supposed to have been written by a character from her recent novel
• Maggie – ‘The Last Amen’ – a lament for ‘the one who got away’
• Denis – ‘Dusk to Dawn’ – a poem inspired by a blind girl and looking at how senses can become sharpened
• Ros – ‘Living in Denial’ – a very personal poem about climate change
• Sheila – ‘The Enchantment of Birdsong’ – a poem inspired by hearing a song thrush while out walking
• Carol – ‘Not April but February Mr T S Eliot’ – a poem disputing the opening lines of Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland
• Peter – ‘The Naming of Books’ – a parody of ‘The Naming of Cats’ from ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’

The authors of the remaining three entries were not present so their entries were held over.

Paul then proceeded to announce his choice of winners as follows:
• 1st – Susan Perkins with ‘Going Downhill on a Bicycle’
• 2nd – Ros Swaney with ‘Living in Denial’
• 3rd – Lindsay Trenholme with ‘The Power of Words’

Susan was presented with the trophy.

Maggie thanked Paul for his adjudication and invited him to read a selection of his own poems. These included ‘General Swim’ (about Ripon Spa Baths) and ‘Saturday Bells’ (about wedding bells at Ripon Cathedral) from his published collection ‘Voting for Spires’, both of which had also been published in the ‘Ripon Gazette’. He also read poems from his collection ‘Nomad’ and from a smaller collection inspired by a film.

A Blast from the Past 2021

Ros Swaney receives the trophy from Linda Smith.

Maggie invited Linda Smith to present her adjudication of the 2021 Blast from the Past competition for a prose non-fiction piece on an historical subject. Linda began by saying that this was the first time she had been invited to do an adjudication like this. Speaking about her background in archaeology she said that she took part in her first dig in 1977, has a degree in Pre-History Archaeology from Sheffield and six years ago did a Master’s degree in Historical Archaeology at York. She has worked mainly in the north including the North York Moors National Park but has recently retired.

As well as writing as an academic, she uses journaling to help sort out ideas. During her working life, she developed a way of expressing in non-specialist terms what needs to happen and how it should be done so that an archaeological site is well managed both during excavation and afterwards. As an example she said that ecologists, farmers, architects are among those who need to understand the demands and constraints of an archaeological site.

Her criteria when adjudicating were:
• the reader should learn something from the piece
• it should hold a reader’s attention
• there should be evidence of relevant research
• there should be a strong sense of audience (who was it written for?)
• the structure should have a beginning, middle and end.

She went on to say that historical sources should be checked and referenced, that illustrations were helpful, and that personal pieces should bring out why they felt like history to the writer. A note of the word count and pagination were helpful to her as an adjudicator.

Before moving to comments on the individual entries, of which there were eight, Linda praised the very interesting spread of ideas.

Linda then announced the results as follows:
• Highly Commended – ‘From the ‘Lion King to Wimoweh’ and Beyond – The Story of a Song’ by Carol Mayer
• Third – ‘Talking the Blues’ by Sheila Whitfield
• Second – ‘The Railway Comes to Town’ by Peter Page
• First – ‘A Blast from the Past’ by Ros Swaney

Maggie invited Linda to present Ros with the trophy, after which a vote of thanks was proposed by Susan and endorsed by members in the usual way.

Newsflash. Better late than never!

At our still socially distanced meeting last night, Competitions Secretary Susan was finally able to present Sheila with the trophy she won last autumn for the Article competition. Well done, Sheila!

Back together again at last!


Not everyone was able to make the first face-t0-face (or rather mask-to-mask) meeting at our new venue, but we managed to do a lot of catching up on everyone’s news and to welcome our newest members, Miranda Hargrave and Solvig Choi. It is Solvig, almost in the photo above, that we have to thank for recording this unique moment in RWG’s long history.

Audrey Blackburn was presented by our Chairman, Maggie Cobbett, with her honorary life membership and a similar certificate is on its way to Kathleen Atkinson who will, we hope, be able to join us at a later date.

Members who won trophies during lockdown were finally presented with them. These were:

Lindsay Trenholme for the President’s Cup – presented by Maggie in the absence of Peter Hicks.

Peter Page for the Short Story competition – presented by our Competitions Secretary Susan Perkins.

Solvig Choi for the Artistic Licence competition, the very first she had entered since joining RWG.


In the time left over, a few members read out pieces they’d written recently and Christine treated us to a performance of her latest song.

Artistic Licence 2021

This competition, one of our rolling programme of six, invites entries on any aspect of the arts and alternates between fiction and non-fiction. This time around it was fiction and our adjudicator was Oz Hardwick.

Once face-to-face meetings resume, we shall present the trophy to Solvig Choi and, with her permission, add a photograph to this post. Maggie Cobbett and Susan Perkins were in second and third place.

In the meantime, Oz’s adjudication can be seen below. He was also kind enough to furnish all the entrants with individual comments on their pieces.

Ripon Writers’ Group Adjudication – Oz Hardwick

Though primarily a poet, back when I left school I initially went straight into Art College. Many years later, I studied English and Art History at university, and have written a book and a fair number of articles on (mainly medieval) art. Apart from every other awful aspect of the past eighteen months, what I have particularly missed is visiting art galleries and museums, so it was an absolute delight to view this diverse and intriguing gallery of the real and imagined through the power of your words.

I’m happy to be able to say with complete honesty that I enjoyed reading all of the submissions and, as there was just a small number, I had leisure to enjoy each one several times. What particularly impressed me was the grasp of structure in each piece. Short forms can be very unforgiving, but something each piece did was lead me from a starting point to somewhere substantially different, via a discernible route. This may sound obvious, but it’s far from always being the case. The other thing that impressed me was the range of voices, from third-person omniscient narration to first-person limited in the voice of the central artwork, one of the figures depicted, or, indeed, an authoritative and lively expert. And each one of these had a distinct authorial style.

My day job, of course, is as an English Professor, so I am obliged to note that one can never over-proofread one’s work, and that very little can bring more joy to the heart of an editor/judge/pedant than properly laid-out paragraphs. However, moving on …

If it wasn’t for my strict remit, I would probably leave it at that, and adopt Carroll’s Dodo’s “Everybody has won and all must have prizes” approach. However, needs must and I am tasked with selecting a winner and two joint runners-up. So, unfortunately, there are no laurels for The Picture’s mysterious inheritance (of which I would like to read a longer version), Molly’s decades-spanning tale of innocence and experience (which again could be longer), or the absolutely fascinating Talking the Blues (which has been banished to the naughty step now for not being fiction, but which I’d love to listen to as an illustrated talk).

Drum roll here …

In third place, Petrified mixes history and myth to tell a story of the fragments of a marble statue from the Acropolis. What I like particularly about this is that, while it is packed with reference to events and stories, a framing narrative in which the reader is addressed provides a reason for this, in consequence keeping it convincing as a story being told, rather than – as can all too frequently happen with less well-handled research – a bit of showing off by the author. It’s an imaginative story, well told within the word count.

In second place is another voice from the past: this time that of VictorineMeurent, who is best known – if at all – these days as Manet’s most frequently-used model, most famously his scandalous Le déjeuner sur l’herbe and Olympia. Apart from being a celebrated model, she was also an artist in her own right, and this story, while focusing on Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, reasserts this status while nicely applying the connoisseur’s eye to some of the odder aspects of the famous painting.

Which leaves, in first place, The Thinker, a slightly satirical slice of absurdism in the tastelessly extravagant world of big business. What really enlivened this was dialogue. There are a lot of characters for a short story, but their convincing exchanges, interspersed with third-person narration to vary the pace, gives a sense of every one of them. The story itself is slight but full of incident, and left me with a sense of narrative satisfaction, but also the feeling that I would like to follow these characters into further bizarre situations, getting to know them better. Well done.

Indeed, thank you to all of you for inviting me to read your work. I’m so sorry that I can’t come and say hello in person (and of course try to flog you my dodgy books).



Mini-Saga Competition 2021

Adjudication by Jill Freeman 

Jill’s adjudication, submitted perforce in writing, was both thoughtful and thorough. Thank you, Jill! As ever, tales with a discernable beginning, middle and end had to be spun in exactly 50 words and there was a wide variety of themes.

  • 1st Place – Janet Barclay with ‘Space Quest’, a story of aliens sending Covid to Earth to wipe out the human race prior to a possible invasion
  • 2nd Place – Maggie Cobbett with ‘Living for the Moment’, a story about cattle being let out to enjoy sunshine and fresh grass after a long winter
  • 3rd Place – Carol Mayer with ‘The Treachery of Images’ concerning Rene Magritte’s painting ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’
  • Highly Commended – Susan Perkins with ‘Invasion’, a story of Martians responding to an explorer lander from Earth by sending ‘Marsovirus’
  • Commended –Peter Hicks with ‘A Cautionary Tale’ (an entry in verse about not sawing the branch one is sitting on when lopping branches off a tree), Ella Benigno with ‘My Sister’s Granddaughter Homesick and Stuck in Hong Kong’ (about a family wedding severely affected by the Covid pandemic) and Peter Page with ‘The Story of Ancient History’ (about the way stories of events in ancient history have been passed down leading to modern disputes about what really happened).

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Our friendly group meets once a fortnight in an upstairs room at the So! Bar and is always open to new members from the Ripon area and beyond. Whether your interest is in poetry or prose, novels, short stories, plays, wacky humour, a more analytical style of writing, or just listening for the time being, you're very welcome.

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