If you are starting to think of books to put on your Christmas wish-list, here is a suggestion from Maggie. We may put up a few more in the weeks that follow.
The Phoenix of Florence is a vivid evocation of a brutal era in Italian history. We are introduced to a senior member of the forces of law and order in Florence: a man of power who also shows surprising sensitivity and compassion for the position of women in his male-dominated society. Someone who, all the while, is guarding an astounding secret of his own.
I relished Philip Kazan’s use of language and marveled at the complexity of his plot as I raced through the pages of the book. It reminded me, in places, of C J Sansom’s Shardlake – until the story takes a shocking twist into the back story of its main character and makes you question everything you have previously learned about Comandante Celavini.
If you enjoy thrillers, mysteries and historical fiction that transports you breathlessly into a different time and place, this book delivers on all three counts.
To mark six months since the publication of her prize-winning historical novel, The Servant, Maggie Richell-Davies is offering free print copies of the thriller to two lucky followers of ninevoices.
Simply subscribe to her new blog: https://www.maggiedaviesiswriting.com (which will cost you nothing), entering the comment that you would like to take part in the free draw. Two winners will be drawn out of a hat at the end of October.
Her offer is sadly only available to those with UK addresses.
What people are saying about The Servant:
“I fell in love with Hannah immediately. Her pain, her humiliation, her desperation reached through the pages of this beautiful book and grabbed my heart.” Jeanie Thornton, The Books Delight
“I am not in the habit of writing to authors, but read The Servant yesterday – all in one go. I couldn’t put it down! It was a joy to read and such a good story.” Thelma H. via email
‘Hannah is an admirable heroine, brave, strong and entirely credible, while the love story is an uplifting thread running through the book. It is also beautifully written, with such elegant language. I found this a compelling read that I continued to think about long after I had finished.” Nicola C., Goodreads.
“The Servantis a cracking good read and a very good historical debut. I look forward to seeing what this talented author comes up with next. More of the same, I hope.” Jaffareadstoo, AmazonReview
“A brilliant mix of intrigue, history and romance.” Connie G, AmazonReview
So, what have you to lose? If historical novels aren’t your thing, you could always gift this thriller about 18th century London to a friend or relative. A more lasting present than a bunch of flowers.
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: http://www.londonindependentstoryprize.co.uk
Costa Short Story Award for stories up to 4,000-words. Prizes: £3,500, £1,000, £500. FREE ENTRY. Closing date: 28 August. Details: costa.co.uk/behind-the-beans/costa-book-award/short-story-award
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: http://www.cinnamonpress.com
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: email@example.com
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: http://www.writers-online.co.uk
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: healthyhappywoman.co.uk/hysteria-writing-competition
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.
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?)
Name that book:
Lawyer advocates protecting avian – and anyone resembling it.
Old butler questions career choice but sticks with it.
Man resents government, then changes mind.
Two friends take long walk to dispose of item of jewellery.
9-35 to Victoria delayed by adverse weather conditions and a police incident.
After lifetime of misery woman marries disabled employer.
Grain merchant reunited with wrong daughter
Dyslexic child hangs siblings and self
Young woman, poor judge of men, inherits farm.
Island guests eliminated one by one.
Fate of sisters in the hands of crotchety aunt.
Draught under door leads, eventually, to capital punishment.
House of seamtress’s employer collapses.
Wild scenery, tame love story
Professional mourner, accused of theft, gets more than he asked for.
Professor with novelty timepiece solves riddles leading to the Louvre.
Man makes long journey, has IT problems.
Sisters move to Devon, marry dull men.
Woman who once swiped left and regretted it, gets second bite.
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.
The words used to fill this mother with dread. The intention was good but when everything was pulled out, long-forgotten treasures would be found and played with. Later the good housekeeping would be forgotten and I would be left with a messy pile on the floor. I’ve just had my own “toy cupboard” experience, but in this instance it was four shelves in a glass-fronted bookcase.
All my books, poetry and classics, and so himself would have no say in the operation. Then he decided that he was going to read Pathfinder by Fenimore Cooper. He won’t – he’s already declared that it’s old-fashioned. He has also picked out My Lady of the Chimney Corner, solely because it is dedicated to “Lady Gregory and the Players of the Abbey Theatre Dublin.”(He has since declared that it’s awful with stage Irish dialogue.) “There’s a gey good smell from yer pot, Anna, what haave ye in it th’day? Oh, jist a few sheep’s trotters and a when of nettles. Who gathered th’nettles? Did th’ sting bad, me baughal? Dis no, not aany. I put m’ Dah’s socks on m’ hans.”
However, the toy cupboard revealed its treasures, some long forgotten.
In Sheridan’s plays I learn that The Rivals was first performed at Covent Garden Theatre in 1775 and the performance lasted five hours. Presumably there were no long queues for the loos in those days as there were no loos. I also see that I have the best binding, leather, round corners and gilt top, that the publishers of Everyman’s Library, J M Dent, offer.
My all-time favourite has to be The thousand best poems in the world. True there are contributions from Browning, Tennyson, Southey, etc, but the rest? Many angel babies and weeping mothers. Over the hill to the poor house tells of the old woman (she’s seventy) unwanted by the children she’d reared with such devotion. There is a sequel Over the hill from the poor house in which the black-sheep son, having made his fortune, rescues his mother. In There’s but one pair of stockings to mend tonight the stockings belong to the husband, but his wife remembers with sadness when the work basket was full with the children’s hosiery, all gone, some as angels. I see these poems were appreciated by a previous owner who has listed them in the back.
In the Classical Dictionary, my grandfather’s I see, I learn that Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons, was slain my Achilles. I doubt she’ll come up in a Zoom quiz.
The volume of G K Chesterton’s poems falls open at Outline of History: “I have seen a statue in a London square/ One whose long-winded lies are long forgot.” No comment.
Then there are the slips of paper that fall out of the books: a postcard from Guernsey posted in 1979; a list of books on reincarnation; a card made for a sick mother from, as if she didn’t know, her son.
So, yes, I ended up with a messy pile on the floor. Again there was no one to help put my treasures back. The glass doors are closed. The good news: there’s not one pair of stockings to mend tonight for my lady of chimney corner.
The Historical Writers’ Association Dorothy Dunnett Short Story Competition is looking for entries – with a deadline of July 31st.
This is for original, unpublished historical fiction in any genre, up to 3,500-words. All stories must be set at least 35 years in the past.
The winner will receive £500 plus mentoring sessions from an author and agent. The winning story will also be published in Whispering Gallery and on Historia.com.
Winning and shortlisted writers will be published in an ebook by the HWAand Dorothy Dunnett Society, with each shortlisted author receiving £25 plus two copies.
Winners and those shortlisted will be invited to an awards ceremony in London in November – though, because of present circumstances, the organisers will be guided by what it sensible and practical nearer the time. Entry is £5 and details can be found on their website: https://historicalwriters.org/
The brief gives you free rein, from World War II espionage to armoured knights battling to the death. All it needs is a flight of the imagination. And, not wishing to labour the point, do bear in mind that this member of ninevoices managed to win a similar cheque, plus a publishing deal, from the lovely HWA people back in the spring. So – it can be done!
Summer is upon us and, with it, some new competitions to enter. If George Gissing could write 23 weighty novels and 111 publishable short stories in under thirteen years (see Valerie’s recent post about him on this blog) four weeks should be ample time to come up with a thousand words or so…
The Aurora Prize 2020 from Writing East Midlands is a national creative writing contest in two categories: poetry and short fiction. In each category there are first prizes of £500 and a session with Society of Authors staff. There are second prizes of £150 and third prizes of a one-day writing course of the winner’s choice from Writing East Midlands. Enter original, unpublished stories up to 2,000-words and poems up to 60 lines. The entry fee for the first entry is £9 and £7 for any further entries. Closing date is 8 July. Details from: https://writ.rs/auroraprize2020
Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition for stories up to 1,200-words on an open theme. Prizes: £200; £100; £50. Winning entries may be published in an anthology. Entry fee: £5. Closing date: 15 July. Details: http://www.wrekinwriters.co.uk
Ilkley Literature Festival ShortStory and Walter Swan Poetry Competitions for stories 1,000-2,000-words; poems up to 30 lines. Prizes: £200 for short stories, £200, £100, £75 for adult poems, £100, £75, £50 and 18-25 year olds’ poems. Entry fee: £5. Deadline: 31 July. Details: ilkeleyliteraturefestival.org./uk
HISSAC Annual Open Short Story Competition for stories up to 2,000-words; flash fiction up to 500-words. No connection to Scotland needed, either by theme or entrant. Prizes: £200, £75 and £50 in both categories. Entry fee: £5; £12 for three; £18 for five. Deadline: 31 July. Details: http://www.hissac.co.uk
The Fiction Factory Flash Fiction Competition is looking for a maximum of 1,000-words on any subject, though they are not excepting children’s stories or YA. Prizes are: £150, £50 and £25. Entry is £5 for a single entry, £8 for two, £12 for three. Deadline is 31 July. Details from their website http://www.fiction-factory.biz
Norwich Writers Circle invite entries for the sixth Olga Sinclair Prize, its annual open fiction short story competition, inspired this year by the word ‘News‘ and celebrates the Norwich Post, which in 1705 became the first provincial newspaper to be published outside London. The first prize is £500, with two runners up prizes of £250 and £100. The top ten shortlisted stories will be later published in a 2020 Anthology and a gala prize-giving evening held in Norwich, circumstances permitting, on 3 November. The entry fee is £9 for the first story and £7 each for two or more stories. The deadline is 31st July. Details: https://norwichwriters.wordpress.com A member of ninevoices was shortlisted for this a few years back and although she didn’t win, did go on to revise the story and have it published in an anthology.
Do you live in Surrey? The free Surrey Life magazine and Guildford Book Festival invite original, unpublished short stories up to 1,000-words by unpublished Surrey residents. Shortlisted writers will be invited to the October festival launch, when the winner will be announced. Entry is free and the deadline 31 July. There is no mention of a monetary prize, but there is always La gloire and an opportunity to see your work in print. Details: https://writ/rs/surreylifecomp.
Because of our current situation, the British Czech & Slovac AssociationCompetition for short stories and non-fiction, up to 2,000, exploring the links between Britain and the Czech/Slovak Republics at any time, has extended its deadline from the end of June to 31 July. Prizes: £400, £150, together with publication in the British Czech & Slovac Review and an invitation to a dinner – moreover, ENTRY IS FREE. The suggested, but optional, theme for 2020 is sporting. Surely some of you have humorous memories of sporting events that you have attended, or viewed on television. A batchelor party in Prague? Or maybe romantic lingerings on the wonderful Charles Bridge in your youth? Do get writing. Details: http://www.bcsa.co.uk
Finally, the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition is looking for stories up to 3,000-words on an open theme. Prizes: 2,000 Euros, week-long retreat at Aman Cara Writers’ and Artists’ Retreat; Euros 500, Euros 250×4. Entry fee: Euros 18. Closing date: 31 July. Details: http://www.munsterlit.ie
Please take special care at this unsettled time to check entry details, since some events may have been cancelled or had their entry dates altered.
Remember that reading is good for depression and uplifting for those in isolation. So it is up to writers like ourselves to grab those notebooks, cudgel our brains and keep providing fresh material.
And you don’t often get one in the novels of George Gissing.
“Writers’ lives are rarely as interesting as their books. The life of George Gissing (1857-1903) is an exception,” begins the introduction to Born in Exile, a book that was on my bookshelf and until recently unread. I had read New Grub Street, surely required reading for any writer, many years ago and then a few other Gissing novels. They had made such an impression on me that I had also bought a biography Gissing, a life in books, by John Halperin, and so I knew a little of the author’s life. A life so frequently played out in his writing.
Gissing was born in Wakefield. A brilliant scholar he was expelled from college at the age of eighteen for stealing money from his fellow students to support his mistress, Nell, an alcoholic prostitute. He wanted to buy her a sewing machine to give her a respectable occupation. After the disgrace he went to America where he was kept from starvation by selling stories to Chicago newspapers. He returned to England but, no longer welcome at home, he left Wakefield for London. There he began writing while tutoring as a means of support and, disastrously, he met up with Nell again. They moved from lodging house to lodging house as Nell fell out with the landladies.
In 1879 Gissing’s first novel Workers in the Dawn was completed and, despite the misgivings he must have felt, he married Marianne Helen Harrison and contracted an exogamous marriage (yes, I had to look it up) that was to be a theme in so many of his novels. The well-educated, but poor, man marries a woman of low birth in the vain hope of elevating her to his standing. To a woman equal to him in intellect and rank he would be “unlovable”.
The marriage lasted until Nell’s death of drink and syphilis, cold and hunger in a miserable rented room in Lambeth in 1888. Gissing had not lived with his wife for several years but had provided her with an allowance. In the room he found many pawn tickets, the money she raised spent on drink. He redeemed her wedding ring. Less than three weeks later Gissing threw himself into writing The Nether World and finished it in July. Reading the biography I am struck by the speed with which he completed his books, although corrections would come later at the proof stage. Between 1880 and 1903 he wrote 23 novels and 111 short stories, as well as non-fiction.
“Gissing’s subjects are sex, money, and class, and the three dovetail in most of his novels and stories into the single subject of marriage,” says Professor Halperin. To a friend Gissing wrote, ‘It is strange how many letters I get from women asking for sympathy and advice. I really can’t understand what it is in my work that attracts the female mind.”
Mr Gissing, you are not a light-hearted read. You eschew one word where six may be employed, and your novels are the three-volume tomes of the Victorian fashion. You are preoccupied with women’s lack of education that renders them unsuitable companions for their husbands. To your sister you wrote, “If you could know how much of the wretchedness of humanity is occasioned by the folly, pigheadedness, ignorance and incapacity of women you would rejoice to think of all these new opportunities for mental and moral training.” Yet women liked you and you liked them.
In September 1890 when he was bemoaning his lonely life, “starved emotions made me a madman”, George Gissing met Edith Underwood, a respectable working class girl. Within a week of meeting her he began writing New Grub Street and finished it ten weeks later. Halperin comments that 1890 produced “both one of the greatest novels in the English language and one of the unhappiest marriages in English history.” Gissing thought he could educate Edith to be a congenial spouse and a competent homemaker. He was sadly mistaken. She was incapable of ordering servants, quarrelling with them and smashing crockery. The domestic harmony Gissing hoped for was a dream, a nightmare when a crying baby was added to the scene. The son, Walter, Gissing often had to care for himself as Edith had little maternal feelings and nursemaids came and went. In 1896 second son, Alfred, was born. “Endless misery in the house,” Gissing reported in his diary.
The following year while the family was on holiday in Wensleydale midst more domestic strife, Gissing determined to leave his wife. Walter was to be sent to Wakefield under the care of his father’s sisters. Edith and Alfred were to go to lodgings and George was to go to Italy, where he wrote Charles Dickens: a Critical Study.
On his return to England in 1898 he was desperate that Edith should not find him. He took a house in Dorking. In June that year he received a letter from a Frenchwoman asking if she could have the rights to a French translation of New Grub Street. On 6 July Gabrielle Fleury, the respectable woman Gissing supposed he would never find, tracked him down at the home of his friend H G Wells.
Edith was continuing to cause trouble. In August she assaulted her landlady and had to be restrained by a policeman. Gissing longed to get Alfred from her, but Edith would only agree to a legal separation that provided her with a house and custody of both boys. There would be no divorce.
Gissing didn’t hide his marital status from Gabrielle. After a romance conducted mainly by letters to France, and for the sake of respectability, on 7 May 1899 George Gissing and Gabrielle Fleury were married in Rouen Cathedral. The “marriage” was not without its own ups and downs, hampered by Gissing’s failing health and the disagreement of Gabrielle and H G Wells over the best treatments.
George Gissing died on 28 December 1903 and was buried in the English cemetery at St. Jean de Luz.
There it is: a thumbnail sketch of the life of a Victorian novelist. I have not covered his struggle for funds – his first publishers treated him shabbily – his admiration for Charlotte Brontë also badly served by the same firm, his friends including the English writers of his time: George Meredith, Thomas Hardy, H G Wells among them.
I doubt there is much here to entice you to turn to George Gissing. The only person I have ever debated his work with is my daughter. It must be in the genes.
I’m off to read The Odd Women, borrowed from the said daughter. I think it might have a rare happy ending.