Punctuation can cost millions



Are you one of those who sigh when others start arguing about punctuation?  Do you get impatient, and just wish they’d talk about something that actually made a difference?  The Oxford Comma –  No, forget it, please!  Rules of punctuation don’t actually matter, after all, you say to yourself.

It ain’t necessarily so.  Read https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/16/us/oxford-comma-lawsuit.html?smid=nytcore-ipad-share&smprod=nytcore-ipad&_r=0, where we read that a comma, or lack of it, can cost millions of dollars.

So be careful the next time you’re composing that list …..

The Exeter Novel Award


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Many congratulations to Briony Collins who yesterday won the Exeter Novel Award with her wonderful-sounding civil rights novel Raise Them Up.  Here she is sitting next to Sarah (front row, second from right).


Our lovely judge was Broo Doherty of DHH Agency. If you’d like to see her thoughts on the six shortlisted novels, go to: http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk/2016-enp-award-ceremony-and-judges-report.html


Playwriting course led by Philip Ayckbourn starting April 6th

‘I can speak for all 20 or so members of the autumn playwriting course that we found it really quite wonderful and that Philip is such an excellent tutor.  We’ve decided as a group to continue to meet independently and develop our work.’ RM, Course participant

10 Week Playwriting Course with Philip Ayckbourn


Philip is leading a 10-week playwriting course at the Lewes Little Theatre, Lewes, East Sussex, starting 6th April 2017 to 15th June (NB not 18th May).

Each session last 2hrs on Thursday evenings 7pm-9pm. The course includes a written assessment of your play by Philip and entry into the ‘writenight’ showcase (if chosen). The total cost is £130.

Explore the fundamental elements of play construction such as character, motivation, conflict, subtext, theme and plot. This practical course will help you discover the tools needed to craft and shape a play. You will be encouraged to produce a 15/20 min piece by the end of the ten weeks. There will be a ‘writenight’ showcase post course (29th July) where six of the best pieces produced will have a public performed reading at the theatre with local actors. The course is open to writers of all abilities.

To book a place, email Philip at: leweswriters@yahoo.co.uk

Snakes and Ladders

Last week saw me perched near the top of a ladder, when my novel reached the short list for the Spotlight Adventures in Fiction competition, with a prize of a year’s mentoring, website exposure, and possible introduction to their agent connections. Then, on Wednesday, I was swallowed by a snake when I learned that Kate Swindlehurst had won, with her ‘bold, contemporary novel’, The Station Master. I wish her well, despite turning a bilious shade of green.

Trying to get published can be a game of snakes and ladders. The Gingham Square, which started life as a short story, then morphed into a full-blown book, was long listed in the Flash 500 First Chapter competition, but got no further. It subsequently failed to make any impression whatsoever on the Exeter Novel judges. More recently, came that long listing and subsequent short listing by Adventures in Fiction. And although I didn’t win, their organiser, Marion Urch, sent a generous email letting me know that I came third. Encouraging when you’re beginning to fear your work isn’t quite good enough.

I had requested a critique from the Exeter competition people and their main criticism came back that my opening failed to sufficiently suggest the extremely dark deeds to come. I needed a prologue that redressed this without giving away too much. Back to the drawing board, then.

Fortunately I have ninevoices to keep me from slacking. and a recent session saw my friends gleefully dissecting  my prose and squiggling suggestions all over my latest draft. There was even this helpful sketch (stick with the writing, Sarah!)

I wish I’d had time to enter my improved version into the Lucy Cavendish competition (no news on this until April 4th, but I’m not holding my breath), but I consider that Exeter critique money well spent.

There are plenty of other competitions for new novels over the coming months – Bath, Yeovil, the Bridport, Winchester, Mslexia – so I shall be back at my attempts to scale a few rungs.

But the next snake I see gets a punch ion the mouth.


Brexit? Try the 2017 British Czech & Slovak writing competition


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Brexit? Its effects not only in Britain, but in Slovakia or the Czech Republic as well? Its causes (likely, unlikely, or just plain impossible)? Any aspect of Brexit could be the subject of your entry in the British Czech & Slovak Association’s 2017 writing competition. That could win you £300 (and a free meal at our glittering Annual Dinner!).

Fact or fiction – both are welcome. A first prize of £300 and a second prize of £100 will be awarded to the best 1,500 to 2,000-word pieces of original writing in English on the links between Britain and the Czech/Slovak Republics (at any stage in their history), or describing society in transition in the Republics since 1989. Topics can include history, politics, the sciences, economics, the arts or literature. Brexit is this year’s suggested theme, but is not compulsory.

The writer of this year’s winning entry will be presented with the prize at the BCSA’s annual dinner in London in November 2017. The winning entry will be published in the December 2016 issue of the British Czech and Slovak Review and the runner-up in a subsequent issue. Submissions are invited from individuals of any age, nationality or educational background. Entrants do not need to be members of the BCSA. Entry is free. Entries should be received by 30 June 2017. An author may submit any number of entries.

Entries should be submitted by post to the BCSA Prize Administrator, 24 Ferndale, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 3NS, England, or by e-mail to prize@bcsa.co.uk.

All entries must be in English, prose, typed with double-spacing and no more than 2,000 words in length. (The recommended minimum is 1,500 words.) For full Submission Guidelines and the Rules of the competition apply to the Prize Administrator at the addresses given above. Details are also shown at http://www.bcsa.co.uk/the-bcsas-2017-writing-competition/.

The winning entry in the 2016 competition was Ms Bernhardt’s Brexit, by Jennifer Moore, and can be read by following the link at http://www.bcsa.co.uk/competitions/.   The runner-up was The Pig, the Cupboard and the Reichsprotektor, by Jack Mullin. See https://ninevoices.wordpress.com/2016/12/22/brexit-night-and-a-hidden-pig-bring-czech-slovak-writing-prizes/ for more info.

A Writer’s Friend


I hope you will forgive me if I share this photo of my greatest aid to writing, enjoying an afternoon treat of a banana. (Yes, he does have strange tastes, I had a struggle to stop him snatching the banana skin from my hand!)

Tomorrow morning, Co-Co will occupy my husband happily for hours, while I continue to work on my book.

More Good News to Share

At the beginning of the month we shared the wonderful news that Sarah had been shortlisted in the Exeter Novel Competition. A tremendous achievement, and well-deserved, since Sarah is not only talented, but spends long hours making sure her work is always spot-on.

Some of our followers may have picked up that I, too, entered that competition, though I failed to make even the long list. I am proud of the fact that, rather than retreating to my lair with some long dressmakers’ pins and an effigy of Sarah, I ran around my house (almost) whooping with joy. An achievement for one of ninevoices is always an achievement for us all.

Today I have learned that my novel The Gingham Square has been shortlisted in the Spotlight Adventures in Fiction Competition. Great news.

Both of these competitions were featured in our monthly Competitions to Enter posts – so do look out for future opportunities. We have proved that they CAN be grasped.

Reading aloud – pain and pleasure


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Reading our own work aloud to ourselves is one of the pieces of advice handed out by creative writing tutors. At the proof-reading stage it’s an efficient way of picking up errors because it slows us down and reveals the camouflaged nasties that get missed by the skimming eye. It’s also effective for spotting all those other faults to which we can remain curiously blind – an awkwardly constructed sentence, ungraceful rhythm, accidental rhymes.

But when we read our novel aloud to other people, say in a writing group, we will inevitably include our own choice of intonation and expression to convey what we intend future readers to experience for themselves, what we as authors hear clearly in our own head. But future readers won’t have this add-on. Our written words must do all the work. Which is why it might be a very good idea to get another member to read for us. For only then will we be made aware of possible ambiguities of meaning, unconvincing dialogue, slips in point of view, confusion over who is speaking …

More work, there always is, but it could be sustained by a pleasant daydream about who we might choose should our novel ever be turned into an audiobook …  Unsurprisingly my own wishlist would include Juliet Stevenson and Eileen Atkins (marvellous at Barbara Pym novels and everything else too) and Prunella Scales (I can’t imagine another voice who so perfectly captures the wit and spirit of favourites like Jane Austen’s Emma and Elizabeth Gaskell’s  Wives and Daughters.

And then recent listening reminds me of Ian Holm’s wonderful reading of The Woman in White and for ultimate comfort when feeling tired or ill, John Westbrook provides the perfect restorative with Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy …

Listening to a good novel read aloud by someone in perfect sympathy with the text: one of life’s greatest delights. Does anybody have any recommendations?



Away With Words


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img_02081966 and England won the World Cup. Football, that is. Now there are world cups for all sorts of activities – ludo and macramé, probably.

2016 and many of those six years of the Common Era (AD in old money) have become zero anniversaries. The Battle of Hastings, the death of Shakespeare, the Easter Rising, the Battle of the Somme, the birth of Princess Ellizabeth and Sir David Attenborough. An assortment of celebrations.
Old money? You wouldn’t say that in 1966.
Lots of things you wouldn’t have said in 1966. Internet, Instagram, Google. Girls from Essex were no different from girls from Devon or Middlesex. We did have dolly birds.

Paramount was a Hollywood film studio, not a politician’s go-to word.
Yes, Middlesex.
Brexit, newly minted.
Go-to. Must-have. You must have your own words to go-to.

Now we have our own zero year, five zero.
‘How do you want to celebrate?’ he said.
‘With a new bathroom,’ I said, ‘Yourself?’ (I’d have said ‘You’ in 1966.)
‘Not with a new bathroom,’ he replied.

Brexit means –

‘I’d like to see tigers in India,’ I said. ‘There’s a tour in this brochure.’
‘Yes, but I’ll search around, go online.’
OMG, I thought, delaying tactics.
I didn’t really think OMG. It was probably WTF.
Not in common use in 1966, despite Philip Larkin. We didn’t fuck in 1966, golly gosh no. Now it’s obligatory, ubiquitous.

Anyway 2016 was a year of celebrations for us whenever we took time out from the gloom of the year, the Referendum, the US Presidential Election, Syria, and personally the passing of dear friends.
Easter saw us in Ireland, visiting the relations, joining in the Dublin celebrations, forever grateful to Robert Gogan for empowering us to an understanding of Ulysses with his dramatisation and punctuation of the book.
We toured the battlefields of WW1 and witnessed the nightly Menin Gate ceremony. Later we went to Scotland, first time in 35 years, and saw the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, one for the bucket list.
Bucket list? Probably not in 1966.
Several visits to Spain.

Our eldest grandchild became an adult, the rest will follow soon. Now she can vote. She couldn’t do that in 1966. Our children are middle-aged, unless they live to 120.
We won’t, of course.
But if we run out of words – and there’s no silver bullet – then:

😀 😃 😄 😁 😆 😅 😂 ☺ 😊 😇 🙂 😉 😌 😍 😘 😗 😙 😚 😋 😜 😝 😛 😎 😏 😒 😞 😔 😟 😕 🙁 😣 😖 😫 😩 😤 😠 😡 😶 😐 😑 😯 😦 😧 😮 😲 😵 😳 😱 😨 😰 😢 😥 😭 😓 😪 😴 😬 😷

They think it’s all over.

We are going to see the tigers.
And the plumber’s been to measure the bathroom.

Not quite.