Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells – and a story of splendid ladies


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The expression ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ may have entered the English vocabulary in the 1950s onwards as a byword for middle class conservative moral outrage, but this elegant spa town in the south east of England has a habit of regularly cropping up in literature well before that. We find references in Dickens’ Bleak House, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Fanny Burney’s Camilla, and Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon for a start.

It’s often depicted as the residence of genteel aunts and maiden ladies – a favourite being Charlotte Bartlett in E M Forster’s 1908 novel A Room with a View: ‘I am used to Tunbridge Wells, where we are all hopelessly behind the times’.

But not all of the good ladies of Tunbridge Wells were like Charlotte Bartlett then, any more than they are now. Just published by Matador is Disgusted Ladies by local author Anne Carwardine. It tells the fascinating story of how the town was home to a series of ordinary yet extraordinary VOTES FOR WOMEN campaigners – remarkable and courageous women who were disgusted for all the right reasons.

Tunbridge Wells in 2018, a hundred years after women were given the right to vote: no longer disgusted but still a town with a distinguished literary presence, past and present…





Competitions to Enter in April


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It’s SPRING, guys. Time for new beginnings. New short stories, new novels, new flash fiction, new poetry. You promised yourself you would write more, remember?

Dark Tales Horror & Speculative Fiction Competition for a short story, maximum 5,000 words. Prize: £100, plus publication. Entry fee: £2.50 (subscribers), or £4 (non-subscribers). Deadline 30 April. Details http://www.darktales.co.uk/contest.php

Harper’s Bazaar Short Story Competition 2018 are inviting 2,500 word entries on the subject of ‘The Looking Glass’. The winner will have the opportunity of publication in Harper’s Bazaar and will receive a two-night stay and three-course dinner for two at Amberley Castle Hotel in Suffolk, plus a selection of gifts from Smythson. There is NO entry fee, but entries must be original and unpublished. Deadline is 9 April Details: http://writ.rs/harpersbazaarstorycomp2018

For its 2018 annual creative writing competition, Brentwood Writers’ Circle has taken the theme of Room 101. Entrants are invited to think of something they hate that should be consigned to Room 101 and write about it in exactly 101 words. Prize momey totals £101: £51 for the winner; £30 for second and £20 for third. Entry is £3 and the closing date is 30 April. Details: http://www.brentwoodwriterscircle.org

Binstead Arts Poetry Competition. Poem: 40 lines max. Theme ‘country’. Prizes: £150; £100; £50, plus an invitation to read poems at the Binstead Arts Festival. Entry: £5, first poem, £3.50 thereafter. Deadline 9 April. Details: http://www.binsted.org/poetry-comp-18.

Bath Novel Award for your first 5,000 words and a synopsis. Prizes: £2,500; manuscript feedback and agent literary introductions; Cornerstones Literary Consultancy online editing course. Entry fee: £25. Deadline: 30 April. Details: http://www.bathnovelaward.co.uk

Ver Poets Open Competition for a 30 line poem. Entrants must be over 16. Prizes:£600; £300; £100, plus publication and invitation to read winning poems at poetry afternoon. Entry Fee: £4; £10 for three. Deadline 30 April. Details: https://verpoets.co.uk/poetry-competitions

Bristol Short Story Prize. Story: max. 4,000 words. Prizes: £1,000; £700; £400, plus 17x£100. Entry fee £8. Deadline: 1 May Details: http://www.bristolprize.co.uk

The Pin Drop Short Story Award 2018 is inviting entries of original, unpublished stories up to 4,000 words for its annual award, staged by Pin Drop in association with the Royal Academy of Arts. The winner will receive £500 with the winning story narrated live by an actor at a special event at the Royal Academy. The event will be recorded for Pin Drop’s podcast series.Entry is FREE and the deadline is 15 April. Details from http://www.pindropsudio.com

Please check the websites for full details, and remember that Writing Magazine and Writers’ Forum also have competitions, many of which are open to non-subscribers.

Authors & their detectives


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A chance conversation in Waterstone’s the other day* showed me that my knowledge of Golden Age detectives wasn’t as good as I thought it was. Either that, or time’s wingèd chariot is taking its toll of my little grey cells …

So here’s a quiz so you can reassure yourself that your memory is fine. Just match the detectives with the authors, some from the Golden Age and a few beyond.

Detectives                                                                    Authors

Roderick Alleyn                                                             Margery Allingham

Tom Barnaby                                                                Raymond Chandler

Father Brown                                                                G K Chesterton

Albert Campion                                                             Agatha Christie

Adam Dalgliesh                                                             Colin Dexter

Alan Grant                                                                    Caroline Graham

Jules Maigret                                                                 Dashiell Hammett

Philip Marlowe                                                               P D James

Miss Marple                                                                   Ngaio Marsh

Inspector Morse                                                             Ellery Queen

Hercule Poirot                                                                Ian Rankin

Ellery Queen                                                                  Ruth Rendell

John Rebus                                                                    Dorothy L Sayers

Sam Spade                                                                    Georges Simenon

Tommy & Tuppence                                                        Josephine Tey

Chief Inspector Wexford

Lord Peter Wimsey

*             *

I’ll post the answers in a day or two.

*I couldn’t remember the name of Margery Allingham’s detective.  The kind man at the till very politely reminded me.  He’s in the list above (the detective, not the kind man in Waterstone’s).

What would you call your own detective?

Writing comp with a Slovak or Czech dimension


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A writing competition with a Central European twist! Exercise your imagination in a Slavic dimension in the British Czech and Slovak Association’s 2018 International Writing Competition, now open. If you win, £400 could be yours, presented at the Association’s annual dinner (so you and a companion would get a free meal as well), and your entry would be published in the British Czech & Slovak Review.

Anniversary – this year is the centenary of the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, but there are many other anniversaries to choose from in the history of the Slovak and Czech peoples: 1618 (the Defenestration of Prague and the outbreak of the Thirty Years War), 1848 (the Year of Revolutions), 1938 (Munich), 1948 (the Communist takeover) and 1968 (the Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact invasion). (1989 was a year out!) You may know of others. So ‘Anniversary’ is the suggested theme in the 2018 BCSA writing competition.

Fiction or fact – either is welcome. The first prize of £400 and the second prize of £150 will be awarded to the best 1,500 to 2,000-word pieces of original writing in English which must be on (1) the links between Britain and the lands now comprising the Slovak and Czech Republics, or (2) describing society in transition in the Republics since 1989. Topics can include, for example, history, politics, the sciences, economics, the arts or literature. ‘Anniversary’ is this year’s suggested theme, but is not compulsory.

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 must be received by 30 June 2018. An author may submit any number of entries. The competition will be judged by a panel of experts.

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.

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/2018-bcsa-international-writing-competition/ .

Administrator’s tip:  If I could pass on one lesson from recent years, it is to read the instructions: in 2016 and 2017 several entries were disallowed (no matter how well written) because they did not deal with the prescribed subjects. Enjoy the writing!

With Criminal Intent?


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Do you yearn to be the next P D James? If so, I understand that The Daily Mail First Novel Competition offers a previously unpublished crime writer a prize of £20,000 plus a publishing deal with Penguin Random House, one of the world’s most respected publishers.

Judges will be top crime writer Simon Kernick, leading literary agent Luigi Bonomi (who will represent the winner), top publisher Selina Walker (who will publish the winner) and Daily Mail literary editor Sandra Parsons (who, presumably, will provide publicity in her paper).

They’re asking for your first 5,000 words, a 600 word synopsis, and a covering letter about yourself. The deadline is May 5 and your entry needs to be POSTED, so give yourself extra time to visit the Post Office. The book, which must be for an adult readership, needs to be completed by November.

If you don’t read The Daily Mail and missed this do check the full terms online at dailymail.co.uk/crimenovel

This contest was launched last year and had more than 5,000 entries. The winner, Amy Lloyd‘s crime thriller Red River, has already been sold to publishers all over the world and film rights are currently being negotiated. It was published in January.

Ninevoices have two members working on crime novels, and a third whose short story about bodies buried on Tunbridge Wells Common was shortlisted in a magazine competition.

Competitions like this don’t come every day, especially ones that are FREE. In 2016 Scottish writer Margaret Kirk won the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition with her book Shadow Man and is now an established writer. The Good Housekeeping competition, incidentally, is open until the end of this month. See details in our post of February 9.

If you feel you’ve set yourself an impossible task with your writing, be encouraged by this, from Simon Kernick:

“It took 30 years, numerous unfinished projects, two unpublished novels and about 300 rejection letters before I finally got a publishing contract. Since then, I’ve written 15 crime thrillers, and I can honestly say I enjoy the process as much now as I did when I first began.”

Only thirty years and three hundred rejections? Why are we dithering?


The Case of the Prolific Penman


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Another case of fame in a writer’s lifetime, but absence from the bookshop shelves today, is Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970). I loved his books when a schoolboy. I had quite a collection, now shrunk to the three pictured (following the domestic mishap mentioned in my post about John Creasey at https://ninevoices.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/no-longer-on-the-bookshop-shelves/).

In the 1960s he was in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most prolific author, as I recall. Wikipedia lists over 150 of his novels, plus short stories. American editions of his books alone sold 170 million copies, and he was America’s best-selling novelist for a chunk of the 20th century. He wrote by dictating, and sometimes had more than one book on the go at a time. Given the successful and repeated formulas of his books this might have caused confusion, but if it did I never noticed. According to his obituary in the New York Times he liked being called “the fiction factory” and even “the Henry Ford of detective novelists.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erle_Stanley_Gardner_bibliography)

I can’t find him in first-run bookshops now – though I can still come across Perry Mason films late at night in the upper reaches of my cable channels.

The ever-present characters: Perry Mason, the intrepid and skilful defence lawyer, who always unmasks the real villain in a courtroom climax, to the relief of his unjustly accused client; Della Street, his loyal and efficient secretary; Paul Drake, the private detective who has an apparently inexhaustible number of employees able to drop everything to help Perry, with hardly ever a mention of a bill being presented; and Hamilton Burger, the hapless District Attorney who loses to Perry Mason almost every time. I came to feel sorry for Hamilton Burger. My own image of Perry Mason wasn’t the Raymond Burr of the TV series: my Mason was more, er, youthful, and slimmer. However, I read now that Raymond Burr actually auditioned for the part of Hamilton Burger, but when ESG saw him he said he was just how he imagined Mason.

ESG wrote other characters as well as Perry Mason, including his ‘DA’ series, possibly as a change from the victorious defender Mason, or to show that he could sympathise with the prosecution too?

His titles are great come-ons: to take some at random from the list, The Case of the Daring Divorcee, The Case of the Phantom Fortune, The Case of the Horrified Heirs, The Case of the Troubled Trustee.

And we all love a courtroom drama, don’t we?

ESG never claimed to be a great literary novelist. But he brought pleasure to millions. Thanks, Erle.

Competitions to Enter in March

Poets under the age of thirty on 1 January 2018 who have a Scottish parent, were born, brought up in or have lived in Scotland for the last three years are invited to submit a collection of their poetry for the biennial Edwin Morgan Poetry Award. The winner will receive £20,000 (that isn’t a misprint!), a runner-up £2,500 and other shortlisted poets will receive £1,000. Sadly deadline is TOMORROW, 2 March, but you could just about make it. Please check details with care at: http://www.edwinmorganaward.com/award.html

The Good Housekeeping Novel Competition. Deadline for this (which is free to enter) is 30 March – but it must be sent by POST and you also need their application form, from the February magazine. More details are in my post of the 9th February, or can be found online by googling: How to Get Your Novel Published Good Housekeeping

The London Magazine Novel Writing Competition 2018. This inaugural competition, in collaboration with Author Enterprises, is accepting international entries for literary fiction, between 40,000 and 120,000 words, to be submitted with a 400 word summary. All entries must never have been published, self-published, published on any website, blog or online forum, broadcast, or have won or been placed in any other competition. A caution against putting too much of your precious work online if you hope to subsequently sell it or get agent interest.

First prize is £1,000 and your novel published by Author Enterprises. Second prize: £200; third prize: £100. The entry fee is £20 per manuscript, the opening date 1st March 2018 and closing date 30th April 2018. They require your completed manuscript and you need to study their website thelondonmagazine.org for their rules and submission details.

Fowey Festival Adult Short Story Competition 2018 is in honour of celebrated Fowey author Daphne du Maurier and the title for this year’s entries is “Don’t Look Now“. They ask for up to 1,500 words in any prose style. Prizes are: £100 and £75. Entry fee is £5 and the closing date is 16 March. You may only enter one story. Details: foweyfestival.com

Windsor Fringe Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing is for unpublished and unperformed one-act plays (30 minutes or less, no more than six actors) by amateur playwrights. Prizes: Three winning scripts will be selected for performances during three Drama Nights at the Windsor Fringe Festival in October, with £500 for an overall winner announced on the last night. Entry fee: £10. Closing date 5 March. Details http://www.windsorfringe.co.uk

Evesham Festival of Words 2018 Short Story Competition, with categories for adults (2,500 words) and children (500 words) for stories on any theme. Prizes: £150 adult; £30 children. Entry fee: £5 adult, junior free.  Deadline: 23rd March. Details: eveshamfestivalofwords.org

Henshaw Press Short Story Competition. 2,000 words. Prizes: £100; £50; £25. Entry fee: £5.Deadline 31 March. Details: henshawpress.co.uk

There are also, of course, numerous competitions in Writing Magazine and Writers’ Forum.

Please check all details before entering any of these competitions in case the rules have altered or my fingers have slipped into error.


Twenty-Six Little Bones



My entry to the Hysteria 2017 Short Story Competition, which was shortlisted and subsequently included in their anthology, Hysteria 6, can now be read under ‘Writings‘ at the head of this page.

As I’m about to compile our Competitions to enter in March piece I think I may be forgiven for mentioning that this competition was included in this feature, last summer – so your own story could well have been printed alongside mine…

When only a Georgette Heyer will do


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‘I ought to be shot for writing such nonsense’ wrote Georgette Heyer, ‘but I think I should rather like it if I were sitting in an air-raid shelter or recovering from the flu.’

Nonsense Georgette Heyer’s regency romances may be, but there are times when they are just what the doctor ordered. From the first page we are taken into another world, knowing we are on safe ground where love and happiness will win through, in much the same way as Golden Age or cosy crime fiction leaves us with the reassurance that the baddies will get their come-uppance, good will triumph and order will be restored. Confidence and happiness is catching. Escapist literature gives us more than just a respite from our increasingly unpredictable and confusing world. It makes us feel better.

But why am I sounding so defensive? Perhaps because Georgette Heyer is sometimes viewed with disdainful superiority as being a literary stablemate of Barbara Cartland. Which is a mistake. This is not to criticise Barbara Cartland; I read one of her books when I was young and rather enjoyed it. But anyone who has read more than a page of the regency novels of these two authors knows how entirely different they are.

It’s not surprising that Jane Austen devotees are often voracious readers of Georgette Heyer; it’s not only the regency setting and happy endings the novels have in common but the perfect grasp of comedy. We never tire of the humorous aspects of Mr Bennet, Mrs Elton and Mr Collins and so it is with the unforgettable comic characters who pepper Georgette Heyer’s books. Ask Georgette Heyer fans about which novel or secondary character is the funniest and a clamour of opinions starts up, with Ferdy Fakenham in Friday’s Child a hot favourite.

Nor is it surprising that feminists often approve of Georgette Heyer because rather than creating soppy, milky heroines subservient to men, she shows us strong-minded, spirited young women who think and act for themselves: capable and feisty like Deborah in Faro’s Daughter and Sophy in The Grand Sophy who give as good as they get to any man who tries to rule them, intelligent and sensible like Drusilla in The Quiet Gentleman and Elinor in The Reluctant Widow.

Love doesn’t come one-size-fits-all either. We are shown mature love developing out of friendship in Sprig Muslin, the growth of self-knowledge and confidence in The Foundling, and a perceptive examination of the difference between infatuation and commitment in A Civil Contract.

‘A crash course in romantic novels – Georgette Heyer say – and men might learn what’s expected of them’ I made a disappointed character say with joking irony in my novel Of Human Telling. For Georgette Heyer offers us heroes to meet every changing taste as we grow older: boyishly charming Lord Sheringham in Friday’s Child, autocratic Lord Worth in Regency Buck, reformed rake Damerel in Venetia, philanthropic Waldo Hawkridge in The Nonesuch, wild Lord Vidal in Devil’s Cub, unassuming, kind-hearted Freddy in Cotillion. They may be very different but they have one thing in common: we can feel quite certain that they will always be faithful to the women they come to love and marry.

Georgette Heyer fans endlessly re-read her novels, catch themselves using the regency slang used by her characters, and hoard their tattered paperbacks so that unlike popular thrillers or issue novels you rarely find secondhand copies in charity shops. As the entirely wonderful Freddy Standen in Cotillion would say, stands to reason!

A woman ‘must improve her mind by extensive reading’ pronounces Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, and nobody can argue with the principle in spite of the haughty manner in which it is delivered here. But most of us need a varied diet – light-hearted, sun-filled novels as well as more serious, thought-provoking, questioning ones.

There are many other delightful authors whom we may turn to for sheer undemanding enjoyment or when we are feeling ill or in need of comfort. I only know that Georgette Heyer will always, like Sir Tristram Shield in The Talisman Ring, ride ventre à terre to my side.