‘Henry Smith – His Life & Legacy’


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Looking for a good Christmas present for someone interested in social history?

How about Henry Smith – His Life & Legacy by Lucy Lethbridge and Tim Wales?


Henry Smith was a London salter who died in 1628. He made his fortune by lending money to the rich and famous, and at his death left a number of charitable bequests. The Charity that bears his name today distributes some £25 million a year, largely funding initiatives and projects that address social inequality and economic disadvantage. What became his principal legacy was one of £2,000, which he instructed his executors to spend on land. They bought a market garden, which today (through the Charity’s astute development) is a large chunk of South Kensington.

The income from that £2,000 (£60 a year at first) was to be used for the relief of his poor kindred and ‘for the use of the poor Captives being slaves under the Turkish pirates’. The latter was a real problem in the early 17th century: British ships were being captured and the crews enslaved by pirates or corsairs operating from North Africa, and people were even being snatched off the beaches of Devon and Cornwall. Between 1600 and 1640 an estimated 800 British ships and 12,000 Britons were captured in this way. Henry’s bequest was for ransoms. In the 18th century, fortunately, no more such grants were needed, and Henry’s Trustees won Parliament’s approval for the use of that part of the bequest for other good causes.

Another bequest provided for the relief of poor clergy of the Church of England (originally ‘for the relief and maintenance of godly preachers’), and grants from that are still available. Another provided for annual grants to go to hundreds of named parishes, and that scheme continues today.   The original recipients were to be the aged and infirm poor, ‘married persons having more children born in lawful wedlock than their labours can maintain’, orphans, and ‘such poor people as keep themselves and families to labour and put forth their children apprentices at the age of fifteen.’ Excluded were any given to ‘excessive drinking, whoremongers, common swearers, pilferers, or otherwise notoriously scandalous’, as well as disobedient servants and vagrants who had not lived in the parish for five years. A splendid benefaction board setting out all these conditions can be seen in Pershore Abbey in Worcestershire.

In 2015 the Charity published their history, which describes in detail Henry Smith’s life and his will, and gives much interesting information about his first trustees, some of whom found themselves on opposite sides in the Civil War. The book then takes the history up to the present day, including how the Charity developed Kensington.

‘Henry Smith His Life and Legacy’ by Lucy Lethbridge (author of Servants, ‘a downstairs view of 20th-centiry Britain) & Tim Wales is available from the Church House Bookshop (online at https://chbookshop.hymnsam.co.uk/books/9780993094507/henry-smith) or ordered from booksellers and other online retailers. RRP £20. ISBN: 978-0-9930945-0-7  A declaration of interest: one of the ninevoices did some of the research for the book.

Competitions to Enter in December

December is a month when writing probably goes on the back-burner, but maybe you have an old story somewhere that can be dusted off and re-submitted? Tanya did just that, back in the summer, and won a competition with it.

The Magic Oxygen Prize is inviting entries of short stories and poems for MOLP3. The theme is open and there are prizes in each category of £1,000, £300, £100, plus two highly-commendeds at £50. Winning and shortlisted entries will be included in an anthology. Stories should be up to 4,000-words, and poems up to fifty lines. Entry is £5 and for each entry a tree will be planted in Bore, Kenya. Details:www.magicoxygen.co.uk

Presence haiku magazine is inviting entries for the Martin Lucas Haiku Award 2016. The competition is for an original, unpublished haiku, with a first prize of £100, a second prize of £50 and two third prizes of £25. The winning and commended haiku will be published in the magazine. The entry fee is £5 for five haiku and the closing date is 31 December. Details: http://haikupresence.org/

Soundwork, which is a not-for-profit online resource for free-to-listen-to short stories, monologues, poems, audio plays and monologues is inviting entries for its Short Story Competition. Sadly, there is no monetary prize, but the winner WILL have their story recorded and posted on the Soundwork site. Entries (which may have been published/broadcast elsewhere) should be up to 2,000-words and entry is FREE. The closing date is 31 December. Details: infor@soundwork.co.uk.

Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Contest is for a novel for children between 7 and 18. They need the full manuscript, synopsis and covering letter. The Fee is £15, but the prize is a contract with Chicken House and a royalty advance of £10,000. Deadline is 18 December (so SOON) and details can be viewed: http://www.chicken-housebooks.com

Mearns Writers’ ‘New Beginnings’ Short Story Competition. 1,000-3,000 words. Deadline 31 December. Fee £7. Prizes: £250; 3x£50. Details: mearnswriters.simdif.com

AND – for the New Year – two further competitions:

The Exeter Novel Prize. 10,000-word opening of a novel, plus a synopsis. Fee: £18. Prizes: £500 and a trophy. Five runners-up will receive £75 and a trophy. Details: http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk Deadline 1 January 2017.

The Mogford Prize for a story of 2,500-words on the theme of ‘Food and Drink’. Fee is £10. Prize £10,000. Details: http://www.oxford-hotels-restaurants.co.uk/the-mogford-literary-prize/2017-mogford-literary-prize-information Deadline is 15 January.

Please double-check details before submitting.My apologies for this being posted later than usual – blame it on seasonal confusion, plus our central heating not working for the past three days!

Self-publishing: mixed emotions





Holding your published novel in your hands for the very first time is supposed to be a thrilling moment for an author. But the thrill is shot through with a brimming dose of alarm.

Some authors may be immune from the quaking fear that their book is, after all, a muddled affair, full of mistakes and should never have got itself printed. Learning that Mary Stewart, that brilliant writer of romantic thrillers, burst into tears when her first novel was published (see September’s post ‘Her publishers refused to pulp it’) is a great comfort. She can’t have worried about mistakes or the quality of her writing – her novels were published by Hodder & Stoughton – but even the validation of a traditional publisher wasn’t enough to overcome her dread of being exposed.

With self-publishing, the unnerving sensation of ‘putting oneself out there’ is inevitably more intense. However much valuable feedback is offered by a helpful and talented writing group, this is not the same as the confidence-giving validation of an agent and traditional publishing house. Thoughts that belong to two o’clock in the morning creep into the mind: might sympathetic, friendly groups become deluded, thinking members’ work is better than it is?

But I am still glad I have taken the plunge to self-publish my second novel Of Human Telling. I hope that it is at least good in parts, like the curate’s egg, and brings pleasure to its readers. It certainly looks and feels as nice as All Desires Known. People might even like to buy it for the cover alone, with its beautiful painting by London artist Anne-Marie Butlin.

A Poem that was Published in The Times


In 2010, Jane – our resident poet – took part in a competition held by The Times to write a love poem for Valentine’s Day. Her entry, Fragments of Love, was among those chosen for publication in the newspaper. Quite an achievement.

In the spring of 2015 ninevoices held its own short story competition to raise funds for Jane’s chosen charity PMRGCAuk, which supports sufferers of linked rheumatic conditions that cause severe pain and can lead to sight loss. Few people have heard of either the condition or the charity, so it is greatly in need of funds and we were delighted to be able to send them a cheque for £500 raised by our efforts.

Ninevoices subsequently published a ‘slender tome’ of ten of Jane’s thought-provoking poems, copies of which were also sold in aid of this ‘Cinderella’ charity.

We are currently offering copies of this attractively illustrated booklet for sale at £5 each, to include postage and packing (UK only, we’re afraid). Payment can be made by PayPal (our preferred option) or by sending a sterling cheque, made out to ninevoices, to: Poetry Book Administrator, 53 The Boundary, Langton Green, Kent, TN3 OYA. We would also need your address details (which we won’t keep) sent either to the address above or to our email address: ninevoices@ymail.com

Most of us have a friend or relative for whom it’s difficult to find a modest Christmas present that’s a bit different. Why not give them Fragments of Love and Other Poems to read while they’re digesting their Christmas pud? You will also be donating in the region of £4 per poetry booklet to an exceedingly worthy cause.

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If you click on this link to Fragments of Love , on YouTube, you will be able to enjoy hearing Jane’s poignant poem, which is sensitively read by Val, another member of ninevoices.

Children’s Christmas Story Competion by Amazon

Amazon has launched the search for a modern day version of Twas The Night Before Christmas, as a gift to families for bedtime reading this Christmas Eve. The winning author will win a prize package including professional illustrations of their story that could be read by millions on Christmas Eve, a £2,000 Amazon gift card and a top of the range Fire tablet.

Details here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/b?node=11875736031&linkId=31308657

Alexandre Dumas – man of action


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He can write a mean story, that Alexandre Dumas.

Action scenes – they can be difficult to write, for some of us. How to construct them, how to keep them going? Raymond Chandler said that if you don’t know what should happen next in your story, have a man come into the room with a gun. Advice from the master.

Dumas père was another master. And could use his own version of Chandler’s Law to great effect! I’ve just read Dumas’ Marguerite de Valois (La Reine Margot in the original French). A gripping 460 pages of adventure, fighting, skulduggery, plotting, deception, murder, amours and heroism. When one dastardly plot has been foiled, that’s no problem, Dumas just starts another. One action scene follows another.


It’s set in the 16th century Wars of Religion in France. It starts with the Massacre of St Bartholomew in August 1572, graphically related. Thousands of Protestants have come to Paris for the wedding of the Catholic King Charles IX’s sister Marguerite (she of the book’s title) to Henry, King of Navarre, the leader of the French Protestants. The wedding will, they think, start a period of religious peace. The wedding does indeed take place, but is immediately followed by a massacre of Protestants, instigated by the weirdo King Charles and the villainous Queen Mother Catherine de Médicis: the lowest estimate of those killed was 5,000.

The novel then shows us Henry of Navarre a virtual prisoner in the royal palace of the Louvre and relates his efforts to survive and escape numerous plots against his life. In this he is aided, remarkably, by his Queen Marguerite, despite his open passion for another woman (with whom he spends his wedding night). In the foreground of all this Dumas creates two heroes, young noble gentlemen (La Mole and Coconnas) who during the Massacre do their best to kill each other but who become the firmest of friends, friendship which proves itself in the most desperate of situations.


Other notable characters include King Charles’ jealous and unscrupulous younger brothers, a perfumer-cum-poisoner, an accomplished assassin, and the public executioner whom Coconnas befriends (most usefully, as it turns out). The novel has a splendid selection of the apparatus of adventure stories, such as secret passages, people hiding behind curtains in bedchambers, ingenious methods of poisoning people, a skeleton key, an oubliette, a dangerous boar-hunt, a torture-chamber, lovers climbing in through windows, etc, etc. Wonderful stuff.

One device I see in an exciting thriller I’m reading at the moment (The Night of Wenceslas, by Lionel Davidson, published in 1970) is to have the hero escape from one danger but then almost immediately to find that in fact he hasn’t escaped it … More danger looms: the sigh of relief is short-lived and is replaced by renewed alarm.

So careful plotting is called for. Or, if you haven’t done that, have a man come in with a gun.

Free Novel Writing Workshops

Sarah’s excellent post of November 2, A Helpful Rejection, made me take a close look at the Myslexia website – where I discovered that the magazine ‘s site generously offers free Novel Writing Workshops.

Workshop Three, currently available at the flick of a finger, suggests how to help your reader focus on your leading character in the opening pages. If he’s a baker, for example, might there be a puff on flour on his clothes when he gets undressed?

Why not check out myslexia.co.uk – under the heading Workshops? And although the magazine has its focus on women writers, there’s plenty of relevant stuff for you guys out there as well.

It might also be worth re-reading A Helpful Rejection. I’ve run a copy off to keep in the front of my reference notes folder.

We Have a Winner!


Congratulations to Nicole J. Simms, who is the winner of our 50-word Halloween story competition. Her entry, inspired by Elizabeth’s spooky photograph of the gravestones at Whitby Abbey, is reproduced at the close of this post. Her magnificent cheque will be in the post to her shortly.

Choosing this story was a lesson in how subjective such exercises are and we eventually had to resort to creating a spreadsheet, with scores, to select Meeting the Parents from a strong field. We loved so many of the other entries that we felt we must also mention six commended writers, in alphabetical order: Patsy Collins, Em, Alva Holland, Kathy Schilback, Mandy Shearing and Katherine Slater.

Meeting the Parents by Nicole J. Simms

‘Is this a joke?’ Sarah studied the gravestones before her.

‘No, we’re here.’ Tom grinned. ‘My folks will love you.’

‘Where are they?’

‘Behind you.’

Slowly, Sarah turned. She shrieked and jumped back.

‘Mum…Dad, this is Sarah.’ Tom’s parents stumbled towards them, arms outstretched. ‘Please don’t eat this one.’


We especially liked the macabre humour, though we’ll not be walking alone through a graveyard any time soon.

Our thanks to all who took part. Hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. We were tempted to make the commended list twice as long. What imaginations some of you have! Don’t have nightmares, guys…