More coronatime reading


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So, corona virus restrictions are being reimposed.  Less socialising, less going out of the house, maybe worse to come.  But the upside of all that is, you can top up your lockdown reading …   Your Books To Be Read pile might have shrunk in the past six months, but why not add to it now?  Why not choose something new, maybe something you wouldn’t normally touch?

Taking some books at, er, random – you can enjoy historical fiction, thrillers, comedy, romance, novels exploring relationships and the human heart; revel in the settings of London (in the 18th century and today), modern Czechia, Sussex, the Lake District, Alaska, South Wales, Devon and the Cotswolds.

Or you can read biography and moving memoir; and if you are a manager and your staff are all working from home, why not take advantage of their absence and bone up on management thinking?  And if you’re a parent or doting grandparent, get a lovely book for the little one.

Last, but not least, there’s poetry.  What better way to cope with today’s vicissitudes than settling down with some great poetry ‘the best words in the best order’, as I think someone said.

Happy reading!




Love is All you Need

In these troubled times, love is surely what we need. For one another, and incorporated into a good, escapist story.

The Romantic Novelists’ Association has launched the RNA Learning Programme as part of its sixtieth diamond anniversary celebrations.

Online workshops will take place this autumn, with monthly web-based workshops covering writing, craft, technical skills for writers and the business of writing and publishing. They will be open to RNA members, but ALSO TO NON-MEMBERS.

In addition, as part of its ongoing commitment to widening opportunities for romantic fiction writers, a number of RNA Diamond Bursaries are available to new and mid-career writers from under-represented backgrounds for membership of the New Writers’ Scheme, which includes a full manuscript assessment.

Their New Writers’ Scheme is something I joined myself this January and I consider it one of the best investments I have made. The manuscript that I submitted to them had a minor character killed off half-way through, only to mysteriously reappear at the end, fit and well. It also included incorrect information about an inheritance, which my mentor – carefully chosen to be knowledgeable about historical novels – tactfully drew to my attention. There was praise for what I had got right, and constructive suggestions about how I could strengthen my plot. That it was a worthwhile investment can be seen from the fact that the manuscript subsequently went on to win the Historical Writers’ Association 2020 Unpublished Novel Award.

The RNA are not only about light-hearted Regency romances. They simply require an element of love incorporated in your plot. Jane Austen did so, as did Charlotte Bronte and many others.

Why not take a look at what they have to offer?


Writing Competitions to Enter in September

Thank goodness the coffee shops are open again. Those of us who write and edit best when removed from the distraction of household chores can finally get back into writing mode. And at Taste Well, in Royal Tunbridge Wells, there’s a free chocolate mint – which can be saved as a reward for completing a fresh page of work.

The Adventures in Fiction New Voices Competition is aimed at writers who have started a novel and completed at least fifty pages of a manuscript, with the prize being a start-up mentoring package, including an appraisal of up to 50 pages (16,000 words), guidelines, a development strategy and a consultation. The package is worth £500. To enter, send a one-page synopsis and the first page of the novel manuscript. To be eligible to enter, you should not have been commercially published, though self-published writers may enter. Entry fee: £10. Closing date: 14 September. Details:

Hammond House 2020 Literary Prize. Short story: 1,000-5,000 words. Poem: max 40 lines. Screenplay: max 10 pages. Theme: ‘Survival’. Entry: £10 per category; £5 for members. Prizes: £500 short story; £100 poem, screenplay. Deadline: 30 September. Details:

Telegraph ‘Just Back’ Weekly Travel Writing Competition for a travel article of maximum 500 words. Prize: £250 plus publication – with the potential to win an annual £1,000 prize. Details:

Poet Aurelien Thomas is inviting poetry and flash fiction with the theme of fatherhood for a new anthology with the object of donating all profits to Families Need Fathers. Submissions are open to UK writers and there is no word count for poetry, but flash fiction should be no longer than 1,000 words. A fifty-word biography should be included. As a charity anthology, there is no payment – but you are contributing to a good cause. Deadline: 30 September. Submissions should be emailed to Aurelien Thomas at

The Manchester Writing Prize – given by the Manchester Writing School at Mancheste Metropolitan University, has £10,000 awards for fiction and poetry. The Manchester Poetry Prize is given for the best portfolio of three to five poems (maximum total length 120 lines)and the prize is £10,000. The entry fee is £18 per portfolio. The Manchester Fiction Prize is for the best short story up to 2,500 words. The prize is £10,000 and the entry fee £18. All entries must be original and unpublished. Closing date: 18 September. Details:

Mslexia Fiction and Memoir Competition. Short Story, up to 3,000 words, with a first prize of £3,000, an optional week at an Arvon writing centre and mentoring by an editor at Virago Press. The winning entry and three finalists will be published in Mslexia magazine. Entry fee: £10. Flash Fiction, up to 300 words, has a first prize of £500. The winner and three finalists will be published in the magazine.Entry fee: £5. Children’s & YA Novel – submit first 5,000 words only – finalists will be invited to a pitching and networking event with agents and editors, and will receive manuscript feedback from TLC. Entry fee: £25. Memoir & Life-Writing is for prose of at least 50,000 words that narrate events in the writer’s life and/or a quest or investigation she undertakes by women who are previously unpublished. Finalists are inviting to a pitching and networking event with agents and editors and will receive manuscript feedback from TLC. Submit first 5,000 words only. Entry fee: £25. Deadline: 21 September. Details:

Caterpillar Story for Children Prize. For stories up to 2,000 written by adults for children aged 7-11.Prizes: 1,000 Euros. Entry fee: 12 Euros. Closing Date: 30 September. Details:

Crowvus Christmas Ghost Story Competition for ‘Spooky stories, up to 4,000 words’. Prizes: £100, £75, £50. Entry fee: £3, £5 for two. Closing date: 30 September. Details:

We live in strange times, which is perhaps why there seem to be less creative writing competitions on offer, so perhaps it is time to work on that long-planned novel, if nothing here appeals.

As always, do please check with the relevant websites before entering, in case entry details have been changed.


Sexual Exploitation in 18th Century London


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If that headline has caught your eye – and you’ve maybe been watching Harlots on the television – you might be interested in Maggie’s blog on this subject on her new website, which was created to coincide with the publication of her debut novel, The Servant, this spring.

It is sad but, sadly no surprise, to learn that from Pepys, to Boswell to Johnson, the leading figures of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries considered female servants existed for their convenience, in more ways than one.

Maggie would have copied her piece here on the ninevoices’ blog, but hasn’t quite mastered the technology involved…

…she would also be more than pleased if you chose to follow her blog. No cost is involved, and any comments on what you’d like her to write about in future would be welcome.

Emily of New Moon – a chaser of rainbows


I have never pretended, nor ever will pretend, that Emily was a proper child. Books are not written about proper children. They would be so dull nobody would read them. (L. M. Montgomery Emily Climbs)

Anne of Green Gables when it was published in 1908 was an instant success and established L M Montgomery’s career as Canada’s leading children’s author. Yet it’s Emily of New Moon, published in 1923, that L M Montgomery described in her journal as  ‘the best book I have ever written … I have had more intense pleasure in writing it than any of the others—not even excepting Green Gables. I have lived it…’

Both Anne and Emily are highly imaginative girls, intensely receptive to the beauty of the natural world, in love with writing poetry and stories; characteristics shared by their creator. But  Anne’s early literary ambitions – which include a comic episode when she wins a short story competition and wishes she hadn’t – are sidelined in the sequels which follow her life at college, working as a teacher and finally as a wife and mother.

Emily is altogether more driven, a fiercer, more complicated character – and possibly to a modern reader more interesting and satisfying. The three books in the series Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest tell Emily’s story from early childhood as she struggles to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. L. M. Montgomery knew about rejection; Anne of Green Gables was rejected many times before being accepted for publication. It’s not surprising that Emily’s courage and self-belief remain an inspiration for girls all over the world.

From early childhood Emily experiences what she calls ‘the flash’ – a moment of visionary awareness when she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside – but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond – only a glimpse – and heard a note of unearthly music.

L.M. Montgomery was only 21 months old when her mother died. Lucy was packed off to live with her Presbyterian grandparents in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, and would later marry a minister. It was a childhood and adulthood she would mine for her novels and short stories.

Even as a small child, Emily has her own ideas about God. When her beloved father dies and as a penniless orphan she is wished onto unknown relatives, she scorns the advice of the housekeeper who has looked after her: ‘There’s one thing I’d advise you to do,’ said Ellen, determined to lose no chance of doing her duty, ‘and that is to kneel down and pray to God to make you a good and respectful and grateful child.’ Emily paused at the foot of the stairs and looked back. ‘Father said I wasn’t to have anything to do with your God,’ she said gravely… ‘I know what your God is like…I saw His picture in that Adam-and-Eve book of yours. He has whiskers and wears a nightgown. I don’t like him. But I like Father’s God.’ …‘Well, you’re bound to have the last word, but the Murrays will teach you what’s what,’ said Ellen, giving up the argument. ‘They’re strict Presbyterians, and won’t hold by any of your father’s awful notions.’

It’s Emily’s ability to withdraw into the world of her imagination that save her in her new life at New Moon – this, and the pride for which all Murrays are renowned. ‘You ought to be thankful to get a home anywhere. Remember you’re not of much importance.’ ‘I am important to myself,’ cried Emily proudly. L. M. Montgomery was writing at a time when children were much more powerless than they are today, and the way Emily gets the better of tyrannical grown-ups with her use of language makes up much of the comedy in Emily of New Moon and Emily Climbs.

Perhaps many older readers like myself will remember a cruel teacher who used sarcasm to destroy our self-confidence and reduce us to misery. The scene in Emily of New Moon where the hateful Miss Brownell mocks Emily’s poetry in front of the class always takes me straight back to when I was caught during prep time at boarding school writing a story when I was meant to be doing maths, but thankfully escaped with only a detention and without the teacher reading it. The unbearable horror of an unsympathetic adult treading on those so sacred words!

But L. M. Montgomery gives us inspirational teachers too in her novels, and the unorthodox Mr Carpenter, though regarded by some as an alcoholic failure, is one of them. He makes Emily promise not to write to please anyone but herself, and his last words to her are ‘Beware of italics’ – today would he say exclamation marks or adverbs?

The delightful Irish Catholic priest Father Cassidy is another of the eccentrics L. M. Montgomery is so gifted at portraying and he too perceives Emily’s gift for words. To the end of her struggle for recognition Emily never forgot Father Cassidy’s ‘Keep On’ and the tone in which he said it. Significantly, when narrow-minded, domineering Aunt Elizabeth dismisses Emily’s ‘writing nonsense’ and even kind Aunt Laura doesn’t understand her compelling need to write, it is so-called simple-minded Cousin Jimmy, the composer of a thousand poems in his head, who is always on her side.

L.M. Montgomery went through periods of depression, made worse by a difficult marriage to a man suffering from some kind of mental illness. She never had the happy life that she gives to Anne in the Anne of Green Gables series. Something of this comes across in the sombre, almost tortured tone in part of Emily’s Quest, where Emily for a time loses her will to write and gives in to the controlling desires of a much older man. It’s hard for readers today to see Dean Priest as anything other than creepy or to forgive him for what he makes Emily do to her first book The Seller of Dreams.

It’s pride that keeps Emily from falling apart during the years of brutal rejection slips and the awfulness of faint praise; it’s also what keeps her estranged from the man she loves. But literary success comes by an unexpected route, and even Aunt Elizabeth (like Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables she mellows in her later years) can remark ‘Well, I never could have believed that a pack of lies could sound as much like the real truth as that book does.’

It’s a judgment any writer might be proud of…


Writing Competitions to Enter in August

High summer, and not one competition entered? Shame upon you. We are told that reading is good for depression and for our mental health – not to mention being hugely enjoyable when you pick up the right book. So isn’t it our duty to keep putting words on paper – and create a bit of drama to share…?

London Independent Story Prize for short stories, maximum 1,500-words; flash, 300-words; screenplays, maximum 30 pages. Prizes: £100 for stories and flash, Final Draft Software for screenplays. Entry fee: £7 for stories, £5 for flash, £10 for screenplays. Closing date 2 August. Details:

Costa Short Story Award for stories up to 4,000-words. Prizes: £3,500, £1,000, £500. FREE ENTRY. Closing date: 28 August. Details:

Cinnamon Pencil Mentoring Competition for 10 poems, two short stories or the first 10,000-words of a novel. Prizes: A place on the Cinnamon Pencil mentoring scheme. Entry fee: £12. Closing date: 31 August. Details:

Exeter Flash Competition for fiction up to 750 words. Prizes: £200, £100, £50. Entry fee: £6. Closing date 31 August. Details:

Exeter Story Prize for stories on any theme up to 10,000 words. Prizes: £500, £150, £100. Entry fee: £12. Closing date: 31 August. Details:

Teens of Tomorrow. Future-focussed diverse teen fiction, 2,000-5,000-words. Prizes: £200, £100, £50, anthology publication by Odd Voice Out. Entry fee: £4. Closing date: 31 August. Details:

Hysteria Writing Competition for stories up to 600 words, poetry up to 12 lines, flash fiction 100 words. Prizes: £25 each category, anthology publication. Entry free. Closing date: 31 August. Details:

Not a vast number of competitions this month, but if you win one of them, that’s more than enough. Do, however, remember to check all the details before committing to enter any of them. Our current situation has made some competitions alter their deadlines, or even pull out altogether.

Enjoy your summer, and stay safe!

Name that book

There’s been a bit of a Twitter craze recently to come up with really boring descriptions of famous books. The ninevoices decided to have a go. How many can you guess? Do you have some gems to challenge us with?

(Well, come on, what else is there to do besides shop for a Darth Vader facemask?)

If you want it, it’s here:

Name that book:

  1. Lawyer advocates protecting avian – and anyone resembling it.
  2. Old butler questions career choice but sticks with it.
  3. Man resents government, then changes mind. 
  4. Two friends take long walk to dispose of item of jewellery.
  5. 9-35 to Victoria delayed by adverse weather conditions and a police incident.
  6. After lifetime of misery woman marries disabled employer.
  7. Grain merchant reunited with wrong daughter
  8. Dyslexic child hangs siblings and self
  9. Young woman, poor judge of men, inherits farm.
  10. Island guests eliminated one by one.
  11. Fate of sisters in the hands of crotchety aunt.
  12. Draught under door leads, eventually, to capital punishment.
  13. House of seamtress’s employer collapses.
  14. Wild scenery, tame love story
  15. Professional mourner, accused of theft, gets more than he asked for.
  16. Professor with novelty timepiece solves riddles leading to the Louvre.
  17. Man makes long journey, has IT problems. 
  18. Sisters move to Devon, marry dull men.
  19. Woman who once swiped left and regretted it, gets second bite.

An abominable sight of monks


Why are collective nouns standby questions in a Zoom quiz? And why do they never stick in the memory even if the same question came up two weeks ago? And we’re not thinking of a gaggle of geese (or women) or a pride of lions. No, we’re talking of the esoteric. Does anyone in everyday speech talk of a busyness of ferrets or a tabernacle of bakers?
I thought they might have been something to torment children in an age when they had no electronic devices to entertain them.

However, having Backrubbed – that’s the old name for Google (quiz question) – collective nouns, I learnt that the ones we use today date from the late Middle Ages. Monks were looked on as abominable because they had an easier life than the peasants, who would have preferred their old religions.

Nor were “terms of venery” – that’s the old name for collective nouns (putting that in the next time I am quizmaster) – something for children to learn by rote. They were hunting terms “intended as a mark of erudition of the gentleman able to use them correctly”. Hence a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens and a richesse of martens – the pine marten having the most highly-prized pelt. The Book of Saint Albans (1486) was a collection of advice and information on hawking, hunting, and heraldry. Dame Juliana Berners, the prioress of an abbey near St Albans was a contributor. She allocated “nouns of assembly” according to the rank of the owner. Hence a cast of hawks denoted nobility, but a flight of goshawks indicated that they were owned by a yeoman.

A superfluity of nuns? The nunneries were overcrowded with unsupported females, widows and unmarriageable daughters.

Later came modern expressions, light-hearted and humorous, for occupations. A misbelief of painters, a shuffle of bureaucrats, a shush of librarians.

There are several choices for a group of writers. Perhaps we would favour an excellence of authors but more accurate is likely to be a procrastination of authors.

An ingratitude of children was probably coined by Adam.

My Apologies…

My apologies for straining people’s eyesight. Here is that wonderful GoodReads review for my historical novel, The Servant, by Maggie Richell-Davies:

This book is a very powerful read. It vividly depicts the Georgian era in all its visceral rawness, the harshness of life for a young servant girl who has very little security in either her life or her work. It doesn’t in any way sugar coat the horrific experience of poverty and exploitation and at times is a difficult read because it is so unflinchingly honest and deals with some emotive subjects. It is also beautifully written with such elegant language. Hannah is an admirable heroine, brave, strong and entirely credible, whilst the love story is an uplifting thread running through the book. I found this a compelling read that I continued to think about long after I had finished the book.

Nicola Cornick

This kind of review is every writer’s dream. I neither know the lady nor have bribed her, but she has made my day, my week, my year with those generous words.




Why You Should Write Reviews


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Reviews are hard to write. You need to convey the sense of a book without spoiling the author’s hard-crafted surprises. To whet appetites, without sating them. And you don’t want to sound too much like a pretentious prat.

Some of ninevoices are gifted at this – writing reviews, not sounding like pretentious prats – and hopefully will compose many more in the days to come. As authors, we are conscious of their importance to writers and how they help boost book recognition and those all-important Amazon-ratings. However, and perhaps more importantly, they remind us that we write to connect with our readers.

You will, I hope, forgive me for sharing my delight at one which appeared on GoodReads yesterday. It still has me purring twenty-four hours later.