Burned at the Stake?


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It is tempting to dream of being magically transported into the past. Not, of course, to be Anne Boleyn, kneeling on the scaffold awaiting the sword-swipe of that French headsman, but as an ordinary woman in 16th, 17th or 18th century England. To be able to experience the exotic scents and foul stinks; the sounds and sights; the extravagantly dressed nobility; their elaborate wigs, fine horses and splendid carriages.

Yet might such a dream turn into a nightmare?

I read recently that King James VI of Scotland (who became James I of England in 1603) published a book in 1597 entitled Demonology, setting down how to identify and convict witches. Hundreds of suspected women were subsequently imprisoned and tortured until they confessed. A thumbscrew might be tightened until the pain was sufficient to elicit the required admission of guilt. If this failed to work, trial by water involved being placed on a ducking-stool and lowered below the water line of a pond or river. When completely submerged, if an accused woman sank, she was deemed innocent (too bad if she was by then dead from drowning); if she floated, she was guilty and would be dealt with accordingly. For those found guilty, punishments ranged (if she was lucky) from a severe beating, to time spent in the pillory or the stocks, or up to a year in jail being fed only on bread and water. For cases deemed serious, the penalty was a horrendous death.

The initial identification involved a number of damning pointers: being female, being from the lower echelons of society, being no longer young, or behaving occasionally in an eccentric manner. Having a brown patch somewhere on their skin (tough luck if you had age-spots on your hands), or a superfluous nipple, was deemed highly suspicious. As was being childless. Owning a black cat or a besom broom was considered a significant pointer to being in league with the Devil.

Woe betide you if your neighbour disliked you and their well happened to dry up, their chickens died, or their cow failed to produce milk. Evil arts might be suspected and fingers pointed in your direction.

In England, more than 2,500 women were executed for witchcraft and in 1621 a crowd of up to 30,000 watched Elizabeth Sawyer hang for the presumed crime at Tyburn. North of the border, in 1727, Janet Horne became the last so-called witch burned alive in Scotland.

In the light of all this, as a working-class female past the first flush of youth, with stepchildren but no offspring of her own, I no longer fancy travelling back in time. Especially as I frequently read books aloud to my all-black cat. Mutter to myself while editing on my computer. Sing carols loudly while driving my car. In the summer. And – perhaps most damning – own a rather splendid besom broom.

Comfort of the writing kind – Dorothy Whipple’s Random Commentary


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‘I can’t write. Fiction seems so trivial. Fact is too terrible.’ This is Dorothy Whipple writing in her diary on the invasion of Poland in 1939.

Perhaps some of us feel like this today. Does anyone really need this novel we are struggling to finish?  

Whatever the right answer, we can be glad that Dorothy Whipple didn’t give up writing. She was then a much-loved author of five novels, but writing each one was a struggle and she never stopped being surprised at her success and grateful for it. ‘…I still have no confidence in myself. But I should be happy if it were not for the War. As it is I wake up in the night and lie crushed by the horror of it all. In the day-time I think of the terror and suffering under the perfect summer sky.’

Random Commentary, reissued by Persephone Books in 2020, gives us a heart-warming insight into their best-selling author as a delightfully all-too-human person as well as a writer. It’s a collection of extracts from diaries and notebooks from 1925 to 1945, selected by Dorothy Whipple in 1965. It was published the following year, shortly before she died. For modern writers, unselfconfident or anxious about getting things wrong, Dorothy Whipple comes across as someone with whom we can share a laugh, but also as someone finding their way through the mix of the trivial and deeper things in life, alongside the difficulties of being a writer. She’s companionable. It comes like a healing breath.

It’s a good title: it does read like a random commentary – snippets about writing and publishers, the bitter disappointments of early rejection, the joys of unexpected success, her marriage to her much older husband, the exasperating frustrations and interruptions of domestic life.

Many of the entries are of everyday incidents and encounters with people she met, sprinkled with small, telling details and insights. Some of them are very funny; all of them show how wise and empathetic she was. We can see clearly how this acute sensitivity to the feelings of ordinary people behind their façades finds its way into her books. Plots come second to the way people behave to each other. 

She’s hard on herself as a writer – telling herself that she must take more risks. ‘I am flat and uninspired; and to tell the truth – lazy.’ ‘I cannot get on with Greenbanks. Shall I ever have done with it? It is about nothing… – a hopeless failure, I feel.’ ‘I waste time. I am a bad workman… I am only enthusiastic when I am sitting in a chair doing nothing or lying in bed in the early morning.’

Nor did it come easily. ‘I am in despair about my novel. I have only to start writing a novel to become flat and stale. A short story invigorates me, a novel depresses me during all the weary months I am writing it. I ought to remember that, so far, it has always been all right in the end. But oh! What has to be gone through before an end can be reached. I must get on and see what this book is like after the first draft. Nothing for it but to get it down.’

It’s clear that she was incapable of promoting herself, and wouldn’t have wanted to anyway. Nor was she any good at being photographed: ‘I simply could not make an un-selfconscious face. I tried prunes and prisms, cheese, everything I could think of – to no avail. I escaped from the studio with as much relief as if it had been the dentist’s…’

Moral values are firmly, though unobtrusively, present throughout Dorothy Whipple’s writing. What did Dorothy Whipple think about God? Some entries tell us something: ‘Life without God is meaningless – for me, at any rate. And no apology for that, either. Assailed by doubts and unanswerable questions, I pray the prayer of the Frenchman: “Mon Dieu, si vous existez, faites que je vous connaisse.” And I hold to Jesus Christ, truly the “Light of the World”, otherwise so dark… When I puzzle about how Jesus could be both God and man, I think Maud Royden’s is the only feasible answer: “God was perfectly received at one point.” Anyway, I will now follow the advice – also from a pulpit: When you start worrying about your soul, go out and do something for somebody.’

‘I feel “accompanied”. I feel I live in communication with some unseen power of good.’  Dorothy Whipple loved the countryside, and knew about those moments of glimpsing something of eternity in the beauty of the natural world: ‘The hawthorn trees were bowed almost to the ground with their burden of rain. I lifted some branches and the thickly-studded flowers and buds, waxen, starry, were a marvel. I heard a creaking sound in the sky, and looked up to see a swan flying over – white in the grey sky, with outstretched neck. A lovely sight. I felt as if something marvellous had happened. As if the whole day was different.’

Getting cross – why is it so cheering when even the good and kind people you admire admit to these feelings! – comes up in several entertaining entries. ‘I am annoyed to get a postcard, through Good Housekeeping, from a niggling Scot in Dundee who objects to my saying in “Mr Knight” in the Good Housekeeping serial that the children “shrieked silently” at the sight of Freda’s perm. “Why spoil a fine story with such stuff?” he asks. I should like to biff him on the head.’

Publicity material that gets everything wrong irritates:  “The pleasantest novel of the year”. It isn’t pleasant and the year is over or not begun. “An ordinary everyday family, the Blakes who found a fairy godfather in the local financier”. Terrible, terrible! Knight is their evil genius, not their fairy god-father.’ A Daily Telegraph review gets stick for calling her book “a gently entrancing comedy”. ‘I see nothing entrancing in going to prison.’

‘I am up in my attic to work at 11.15, after having dusted, swept, cooked and tidied wildly. I am cross not to have time for my writing, and cross because I must take the car to be oiled and greased, cross to have to go to the Nursing Home… to go to the office… cross at the thought of all there is to do tomorrow, and the next day and the next.’

There are visitors who stay too long and constant interruptions ‘…my work is my life, I can’t help it. Other people don’t understand, though. I think they think I am “playing at it”. When they interrupt me, they usually say: “It’s only me.” As if it matters who it is! In my case, persons from Porlock abound, though I am not, I must say, engaged on a work of genius.’ But crossness and exasperation are always fleeting, melting away in a swift change of mood and a recognition of human  contrariness: ‘When I have time to write, I don’t want to. When I haven’t time, I want to.’

She is often funny about men. Especially about her husband Henry, an educational administrator, who at times sounds rather like Robert, the husband in E. M. Delafield’s The Diary of a Provincial Lady. ‘I said to Henry: “D’you know we’ve been married twenty-three years today.” “Oh?” he said turning his newspaper. “Seems longer, doesn’t it?” Strange. I’d rather have that than any compliment.’

Perhaps a favourite entry for me was when Dorothy Whipple learns that her novel They Were Sisters is the Book Society Choice for November 1943. She rushes into the kitchen and, together with Henry and Nelly their beloved cook, ‘celebrated in orangeade, because there was nothing else to celebrate with – but we didn’t need anything else…’

Today a writer would be expected to post these triumphs on social media. Things were different then. How much simpler and nicer it sounds.

Writing Competitions to enter in December


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A great range of competitions to enter this month – and I’ve added in a few extra whose deadlines fall early in the new year. I hope you’ll see at least one that will inspire you. As always, please check websites in case details (like closing dates) have changed.

Don’t let those deadlines whoosh by, says Snowy

vLex International Law and Technology Writing Competition for a 1000-word blog-style article by students over 18 (or recent graduates) on one of three themes: (i) Law, technology and sports, (ii) Law, technology and climate or (iii) Law, technology and crypto. Free entry: Prizes: £1,500, 3 x £250. Closing date: 1st December. Details: www.vlex.com/writing-competition

Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition for unpublished poems of any length on any subject. Entry fee: £10 for up to three poems. Prizes: £2,000, £500, £250 & (for an entry by a previously unpublished poet) £250. Closing date: 5th December. Details: www.mslexia.co.uk

Mslexia Women’s Poetry Pamphlet Competition for collections of up to 20 poems (up to 24 pages). Entry fee: £20. Prize: £250, plus publication by Bloodaxe Books. Closing date: 5th December. Details: www.mslexia.co.uk

(Mslexia’s judge, Imtiaz Dharker, says: ‘My most important advice is, don’t allow yourself to be ruled by rules. You can write about anything in the world. That’s what poetry does. It allows you to write about unspeakable things … I love it when I get a shock of recognition, when I feel, ‘That was exactly what I wanted to say but never found the right words! – and this poet has said it at last.’ I love the sound of Imtiaz!)

Hawkeye Publishing Manuscript Development Prize for 300-word synopsis, first 30 pages and one-page plan (demonstrating understanding of audience and marketing) for a book length manuscript of strong commercial fiction or non-fiction, up to 80,000 words. Entry fee: Aus $45. Prize: $2,500 editing package, author coaching, structural and line edit. Closing date: 16th December. Details: www.hawkeyebooks.com.au

Craft Creative Non-Fiction Award for a longform creative non-fiction piece up to 6,000 words OR up to two flash creative non-fiction pieces of 1,000 words or fewer. Entry fee: $20. Prizes: 3 x $1,000, 2 x $200, + publication. Closing date: 29th December. Details: www.craftliterary.com

Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction for short stories up to 10,000 words. Entry fee: $15. Prizes: $1,000 + publication. Other finalists: $100 + publication. Closing date: 31st December. Details: www.lascauxreview.com/contests

Audio Arcadia Short Story Competition for short stories up to 5,000 words on SF/fantasy/paranormal themes. Entry fee: £6.50. Prizes: Anthology publication + royalties for eight winners. Closing date: 31st December. Details: www.audioarcadia.com/competition

Boulevard Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers for fiction up to 8,000 words by a writer who has not yet published a book of fiction, poetry or creative non-fiction with a nationally distributed press. Entry fee: $16 (includes one-year subscription to Boulevard Magazine). Prize: $1,500 + publication. Closing date: 31st December. Details: www.boulevardmagazine.org/short-fiction-contest

The Moth Poetry Prize for a single unpublished poem. Entry fee: €15. Prizes: €6,000, 3 x €1,000, + publication in The Moth, 8 x €250 commendations. Closing date: 31st December. Details: www.themothmagazine.com

Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction for short stories of 3,000–8,000 words. Entry fee: $20. Prizes: $2,500 + publication, 3 x $100. Closing date: 31st December. Details: www.litmag.com

The Wolves Lit Poetry Fest Competition for a poem of up to 40 lines on any subject. Entry fee: £4. Prizes: £400, £150, 3 x £25, £50 for best poem by someone living in a WV postcode. Closing date: 31st December. Details: www.pandemonialists.co.uk/wolves-lit-fest-poetry-competition-2023

Exeter Novel Prize for first 10,000 words of a novel not under contract, including 500-word synopsis. Entry fee: £20. Prizes: £1,000 + trophy, 5 x £100 + paperweight. Closing date: 1st January. Details: www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk

Kay Murphy Prize for Poetry for up to three poems. Entry fee: $20. Prize: $1,000 + subscription to Bayou Magazine. Closing date: 2nd January. Details: www.bayoumagazine.org

Gemini Magazine Poetry Open Prize for poems of any subject, length and style. Entry fee: $9 for up to three poems. Prizes: $1,000, $100, 4 x $25, + publication. Closing date: 3rd January. Details: www.gemini-magazine.com

Orna Ross Green Stories Novel Prize for three chapters (first, last and one that best showcases how your novel meets their green stories criteria) plus synopsis. They also require you to read one of the books from their Green Stories project and will ask you three questions about it when you submit. Free entry. Prizes: £1,000, £500, plus discounted appraisal from Daniel Goldsmith Associates. Closing date: 3rd January. Details: www.greenstories.org.uk

May 2023 bring you unimaginable writing success!

Sarah trying to imbibe inspiration at Bleak House (Broadstairs)

Writing Competitions to Enter in November


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Don’t take fright, but if the year looks like drawing to a close without any of your writing New Year Resolutions being accomplished, one of the following competitions might save you from agonies of guilt.

Caledonian Novel Award for the first 20 pages plus 200-word synopsis of a novel by an unpublished writer. Prizes: £1,500, trophy. Entry fee: £25. Closing date: 1 November. Details: https://the caledoniannovelaward.com

Scribble Annual Short Story Competition for stories up to 3,000 words on the theme of ‘Neighbours’. Prizes: £100, £50, £25; publication in Scribble. Entry fee: £4. Details: http://www.parkpublications.co.uk

Blue Pencilagency Pitch Prize. First 500 words of an opening chapter and 300-word synopsis. Prizes: one-on-one meeting with agent for up to ten writers. Entry fee: £10. Closing date: 6 November. Details: http://www.bluepencilagency.com

TripFiction Sense of Place Creative Writing Competition. Stories up to 2,500 words, in which the location is as important as the story. Prizes: £1,000, £500, £250. Entry fee: £10. Closing date: 6 November. Details: http://www.tripfiction.com/sense-of-place-creative-writing-competition/ (Please note that we are unsure about this competition, which is detailed in Writing Magazine as being current, but whose website seems to refer to 2020…!)

Retreat West Novelette in Flash Prize. 3,000-8,000 words total, made up of flashes up to 500 words each. Prizes: £150, £100, £50; publication. Entry fee: £14. Closing date: 28 November. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk

Bath Children’s Novel Award. An international prize for unpublished and independently published writers of children’s novels, picture books and chapter books. Send first 5,000 words and synopsis. Prizes: £3,000, manuscript feedback. Cornerstones online course worth £1,800. Entry fee: £29. Closing date: 30 November. Details: bathnovelaward.co.uk

Cinnamon Press Literature Award for 15 poems up to 500 lines each, 2 short stories or up to 10,000 words of a novel. Prizes: publishing contract. Entry fee: £18. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.cinnamonpress.com

Cranked Anvil Flash Fiction Competition for short stories, up to 500 words, quarterly. Prizes: £150, £75, £30. Entry fee: £5, £8 for two, £10 for three. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.crankedanvil.co.uk

Fiction Factory Flash. Short stories up to 1,000 words. Prizes, £200, £50, £25. Entry fee: £5. Closing date: 30 November. Details: hppt://fiction-factory.biz

Fish Short Story Competition for stories up to 5,000 words. Prizes: 3,000Euros for first, a week at Anam Cara Writer’s Retreat in west Cork plus 300 euros expenses for second, 300 euros for third, seven 200 euro honorable mentions. Entry fee: 20 euros for the first 10 euros thereafter. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.fishpublishing.com

Ecologisers EcoSanta Short Story Santa Competition. Stories for children featuring Santa as an eco-champion, under 2,000 words. Prizes: £100. Entry fee: £5. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.ecosanta.co.uk

New Writers Flash Fiction for flash fiction up to 300 words. Prizes: £700, £200, £100. Entry fee: £6. Closing date: 30 November. Details: https://newwriters.org.uk/flash-fiction/

Paul Torday Memorial Prize for a first novel by a writer 60 and over. Prizes: £1,000. FREE ENTRY. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.societyofauthors.org

Writers Bureau Flash Fiction Competition for stories up to 500 words on an open theme. Prizes: £300, £200, £100 plus Writers Bureau course worth over £374. Entry fee: £5, £10 for three. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.wbcompetition.com

No apologies for keeping you awake at night with guilt. Grab that pen, or keyboard, and start writing… But do, please, double check all details before entry in case of last-minute changes or cancellations.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier


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“At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring. Inman’s eyes and the long wound at his neck drew them, and the sound of their wings and the touch of their feet were soon more potent than a yardful of roosters in rousing a man to wake. So he came to get one more day in the hospital ward.

Wounded in the American Civil War, Inman is a Confederate soldier who turns his back on the carnage of the battlefields and begins a treacherous journey back to his homelands in the Northern Carolina mountains and to the woman he loved before the war began.

Charles Frazier’s story also portrays a parallel journey for her – Ada – as she struggles to wrest a living from the neglected land that was her only inheritance on her once-prosperous father’s death. A young woman raised in the niceties of Charleston society, relocated by her pastor father’s ill-health to the backwoods, she might be well-read and able to play the piano, but without servants is reduced to digging undergarments from the bottom of the laundry pile in the hope time has rendered them less stale. She survives on dried-up biscuits and eggs scavenged from hens left to run wild and guarded by a bully of a cockerel who terrifies her.

“The rooster cocked his head at an angle and fixed a shining black eye on her…Ada waved her hands and said, Shoo! When she did, the rooster launched himself at her face, twisting in the air so that he arrived spurs first, wings flogging…Ada hit at it with open-handed blows until it fell away and then she ran to the porch and into the house.”

A sympathetic neighbour sends the intrepid young Ruby to help. A wonderful no-nonsense character, Ruby announces that she will teach Ada how to manage the farm, but has no intention of emptying her chamber pot. She reminds me of the heroine of Della Owens’ book Where the Crawdads Sing, with a mother absent since her earliest years and a wastrel father intermittently abandoning her to her own devices

“The yellow and black rooster walked by the porch and paused to stare at them. I despise that bird, Ada said. He tried to flog me.

“I wouldn’t keep a flogging rooster.

“Then how might we run it off?” Ada said, looking at her with puzzlement.

Ruby rose, stepped off the porch and in one swift motion snatched up the rooster, tucked his body under her left arm, and with her right hand pulled off his head.

“He’ll be stringy, so we’d best stew him awhile,” Ruby said.

Frazier’s writing, to my mind is impressively descriptive, whether showing us the rugged beauty of Inman’s homeland or Ada’s exhaustion at unaccustomed work in the fields:

“Her arms were mackled red like a measles sufferer from being pricked and scraped with the cut grass and she had a blood-filled blister in the web of skin between her thumb and forefinger..near collapse…in a fretful hybrid of sleep and wake…she felt she was pitching hay all through the night.”

I have recommended this book to several friends, none of whom have been disappointed. This is actually my third reading of Cold Mountain. It will not be my last.

(P.S. An excellent film of the book has also been made, starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law)

An Old Book Revisited


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I read The Daughter of Time as a teenager and it fueled a lifelong fascination with history and an interest in Shakespeare’s misshapen king. It also led me to read a number of weighty tomes about Richard III and the House of York and, this August, to visit Leicester to see their new Richard III Visitor Centre. Our trip included attending some lectures about the finding of Richard’s remains and on our return home sent me onto the internet to hunt out a second-hand copy of Josephine Tey’s novel.

Read today, the book’s language, with two stereotypical nurses and descriptions of hospital visitors allowed to smoke beside the beds of patients, sounds dated. Yet the story – of a bored and bed-bound detective conducting a cold case examination into the case against Richard – still grips. I found it as impossible to put down as I did all those years ago. My husband is currently devouring it with equal enthusiasm.

With both the book and our August trip fresh in our minds, we recently went to see the film – The Last King – about the amateur historian Philipa Langley’s struggle to persuade archaeologists to dig up a Leicester Social Services Car Park. There were things in the film that jarred and I questioned the indulgence of having the shade of Richard III appearing at Ms Langley’s shoulder – a fanciful invention of the makers of the film. It was also somewhat harsh to the professionals involved in the exercise. Yet one cannot deny that the finding of Richard’s skeleton was due to the dogged persistence of an amateur about whom the professionals were at times dismissive. The archaeologist in charge of the dig, Dr Richard Buckley, when the project was finally agreed and funded, said he expected no more than to establish the location of the Greyfriars church. Were they to find any trace of Richard, he pronounced, he “would eat his hat”. (My earlier post on this subject, on September 3rd, The King in the Car Park, mentions his subsequent consumption of a hat-shaped cake)

I heartily recommend The Daughter of Time to anyone who enjoys a good detective story. The book might even give you a different perspective on Shakespeare’s portrait of the King whom Philippa Langley feels was maligned. Josephine Tey’s novel also raises fascinating questions about what happened after Bosworth. Why, for example, did Henry VII deprive the strong-willed Queen Dowager, Elizabeth Woodville, of an honoured place at his Court? Instead, eighteen months after his accession, he stripped his mother-in-law of everything she owned and ordered her into a Bermondsey nunnery for the rest of her life. Could there have been a need to keep her quiet? And why did it take him so long to question Sir James Tyrrel about the alleged murder of his wife’s young brothers? Why not publish his damning confession when Tyrrel was beheaded, without trial, some twenty years later? A confession which has never subsequently seen the light of day?

We will probably never know the truth of what happened, unless perhaps another Philippa Langley happens along. But both book and film remind us that fact can sometimes be stranger than fiction.

If members of Ninevoices ask me nicely, I will certainly lend them my copy of The Daughter of Time...

Writing Competitions to Enter in October


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The late lamented Hilary Mantel was not an overnight success, so let her inspire you to persevere with your own creative writing, perhaps by entering one of the competitions below, which have an October deadline. Who knows, a win might lead to you having a book published and being stocked in London’s famous Hatchard’s bookshop.

Grindstone Novel Prize. Submit the first 5,000 words of an unpublished manuscript over 50,000 words. Prizes: £1,000, £500, 4x£125. Entry fee: £8. Closing date: 1 October. Details: http://www.grindstoneliterary.com

The Perito Prize for short stories between 1,000-2,000 words on the specific themes of inclusion, access, diversoity, inclusive design and inclusive environments. Prizes £500 and publication. FREE entry. Deadline: 23:00 GMT 1 October. Details: http://www.weareperito.com/perito-prize

Imison Award for original radio plays by writers new to radio. Prizes: £3,000. FREE entry. Closing date: 2 October. Details: http://www.societyofauthors.org/imison-award

Bath Flash Fiction Award. Thrice-yearly award for flash fiction up to 300 words. Prizes: £1,000, £300, £100, 2x£30. Entry fee: £9. Closing date: 9 October. Details: http://bathflashfictionaward.com

Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize for stories up to 6,000 words. Prizes: £2,000, £200 for shortlisted, £50 book vouchers for longlisted, plus Galley Beggar Press subscription. Entry fee: £10. Closing date: 9 October. Details: http://galleybeggar.co.uk

Comedy Women in Print Prize for stories up to 5,000 words and comedy novels by women in two categories: published writers and unpublished writers. Prizes: £2,000 for published writers and £1,000 plus a free place on the University of Hertfordshire’s MA in Creative Writing for unpublished writers. Wntry fee: Free for published writers, £10 for unpublished writers. Closing date: 14 October. Details: http://www.comedywomeninprint.co.uk

Creative Mind Horwich. Short stories up to 1,500 words or poems up to 40 lines on the theme: ‘travel’. Prizes: £50, £30 and £20 in each category. Entry fee: £3; £5 for three. Closing date: 24 October. Details: http://www.creative-mind.co.uk

NAWG 250 Competition for Flash Fiction up to 250 Words. Prizes: £100. Entry fee: £2.50. Closing date: 25 October. Details: http://www.nawg.co.uk/competition

Bedford Competition for short stories up to 3,000 words, poems up to 40 lines, on any theme. Prizes: in each category: £1,000, £200, £100. Entry fee: £7.50 or 3 for £10. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://www.bedfordwritingcompetition.co.uk

Cranked Anvil Short Story Competition for stories up to 1,500 words. Prizes: £150, £75, £30. Entry fee: £5, £3 for second, £2 for third. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://www.crankedanvil.co.uk

Flash 500 Novel Opening Chapter & Synopsis Competition, for an opening chapter no longer than 3,000 words, plus synopsis. Prizes: £500, £200. Entry fee: £10, £18 for two, £26 for three. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://www.flash500.com

McKitterick Prize for the best first novel, published or unpublished, by an author over the age of 40 on 31 October. Prizes: £4,000. FREE entry. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://www.societyofauthors.org

National Flash Fiction Day Novella in a Flash Competition. 6,000-12,000 words in individual flash blocks, maximum 1,000 words each. Prizes: £300, £100, £50. Entry fee: £14. Closing date: 31 October. Details: https://nationalflashfictionday.co.uk/index.php/competition/

Beverley Prize for Literature for book-length manuscripts of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, memoir, or criticism. Prizes: £1,000 and publication.Entry fee: £25. Closing date: 14 October. Details: https://store.eyewearpublishing.com

Retreat West Prize for short stories, 1,500-2,500 words, flash fiction, 150-500 words, and micro flash, up to 150 words. Prizes: £400, £250, £20 each shortlisted short stories; £350, £200, £100 and £15 for flash; £200, £100, £50 and £10 for micro. Entry fee: £10 for short stories, £8 for flash, £5 for micro. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk

Southport Writers’ Circle International Short Story Competition for stories up to 2,000 words. Prizes: £150, £80, £30. Entry fee: £3 or £10 for four. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://www.swconline.co.uk

Fiction Factory Short Story, up to 3,000 words. Prizes: £300, £100, £50. Entry fee: £6. CFlosing date: 31 October. Details: http://fiction-factory.biz

Tom Gallon Trust Awards for short stories up to 5,000 words by authors who have had at least one story accepted for publication. Prizes: £1,000. FREE entry. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://www.societyofauthors.org

Earlyworks Press Short story. Short stories in two categories: up to 4,000 words, and up to 8,000 words. Prizes: £200, cash and books. Entry fee: £5 for up to 4,000 words; £10 for 4,000-8,000 words. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://www.earlyworkspress.co.uk

A fair amount of choice for you here, so do try at least one of them – remembering always to double-check the details before entering. Good luck!

Creative Writing Competitions to Enter in September


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Love dogs? Why not write a story about one? Chances are, the judge might have a soft spot for them, too.

Cinnamon Pencil Mentoring Competition for 10 poems, two short stories or the first 10,000 words of a novel. Prizes: a place on Cinnamon Pencil mentoring scheme. Entry fee: £12. Closing date: 13 September. Details: http://www.cinnamonpress.com

This year’s Hammond House 2022 Literary Prize – sponsored by University Centre Grimsby – is on the theme of ‘Changes’ and has five categories. Poetry: up to 40 lines. The prizes are £500, £50 and £20. Short Story: between 1,000 and 5,000 words. The prizes are £1,000, £100 and £50. Comedy: sketches (max four sides of A4) or stand-up scripts (max. two sides of A4). Winning scripts will be performed at the 2022 Literary Festival. This category is new for 2022. Scriptwriting: Scripts for film, TV, radio or short film, up to 10 pages. The prize is £250. Songwriting: lyrics or performed song. The prizes are £100. All entries must be original and unpublished and on the ‘Changes’ theme. Entry is £10 for one entry in a single category. Closing date: 30 September. Details: http://www.hammondhousepublishing.com/competitions

V S Pritchett Memorial Prize for unpublished stories between 2,000-4,000 words. Prizes: £1,000 plus publiction in RSL Review and Prospect online. Entry fee: £7.50. Deadline: 16 September. Details: http://www.rslit.org

Moth Nature Writing Prize for poetry, fiction or non-fiction exploring the writer’s relationship with the natural world. Prizes: 1,000 Euros and a week at The Moth Retreat in rural Ireland. Entry fee: 15 Euros. Closing date: 15 September. Details: http://www.themothmagazine.com

Page 100 Competition from independent publisher Louise Walters Books invites entries of 100 pages of a novel or novella manuscript. The competition is for an unpublished novel/novella of a minimum 20,000 words. Shortlisted writers will be asked to send their full manuscripts. The winner will receive mentoring for six months. The winner and two runners up will each receive a box of Louise Walters Books titles. Entry fee: £6.50. Closing date: 30 September. Details: http://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk

Norwich Writers’ Circle Olga Sinclair Open Short Story Competition. Stories up to 2,000 words on an open theme. Prizes: £500, £250 and £100. Entry fee: £9, £7 each subsequent. Closing date: 30 September. Details: http://norwichwriters.wordpress.com

Crowvus Christmas Ghost Story Competition for stories up to 4,000 words. Each author may enter up to two stories. Prizes: £100, £75 and £50. Entry fee: £3 per story. Deadline: 30 September. Details: http://www.crowvus.com/competition

Ovacome Writing Competition for short stories up to 1,500 words on the theme ‘perspective’. Prizes: £250, plus £50 Waterstones voucher. Entry fee: £5. Closing date: 30 September. Details: http://www.ovacome.org.uk

Good luck – and Snowy says please remember to double check your entry details.

The King in the Carpark


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The Richard III Society commissioned Caroline Wilkinson, Professor of Craniofacial Identification at the University of Dundee, to reconstruct the King’s features. The result was this face, looking younger and less careworn than the traditional portraits. Someone who looks calm, determined and thoughtful. But was he also a murderer?

Towards the end of August, my husband and I finally took a trip originally booked just before the Covid crisis. This was an organised three-day tour centered around the discovery of Richard III’s remains in a Leicester car park and included one lecture by medieval historian Julian Humphrys, on The Wars of the Roses, plus another by the archaeologist heading the dig, Dr Richard Buckley, entitled: ‘The King Under the Carpark – Greyfrirs, Leicester and the Search for Richard III. It also included guided visits to the impressive Richard III Visitor Centre in Leicester, to the Bosworth battlefield, and to the site of Fotheringhay, where Richard was born. It was a fascinating experience.

Richard is one of England’s most notorious kings and his death at Bosworth in 1485 – the last English king to die in battle – heralded not only the start of the Tudor dynasty but a still-continuing dispute about whether he had murdered the two young princes in the Tower.

Hundreds of words have been written on the subject, from those of Sir Thomas More, to Horace Walpole’s Historic Doubts on the life and Reign of Richard III, to Josephine Tey’s novel, The Daughter of Time, where a modern police officer undertakes a ‘cold case’ investigation into Richard’s alleged crimes. As someone interested in character and motivation I, too, have struggled to understand how a deeply pious man – apparently devoted to his older brother, Edward, and entrusted by him with the safeguarding of his sons after his death, could change in the space of months into a child murderer.

Despite having what we now know to be scoliosis, that Richard was both a brave man and a skilled fighter is never questioned. From his teens onward, he was in the forefront of three significant battles and at Bosworth charged Henry Tudor’s position, brought down his standard bearer and killed the six-foot-eight John Cheyne standing between him and the man taking arms against him. Had his horse not been brought down, he might have triumphed.

Richard was respected in the North and forward-thinking in laws he introduced. He refused monetary gifts when making his royal progress, saying he would prefer to have the people’s love. Although he had two acknowledged illegitimate children, he was not a womaniser like his brother Edward, to whom he had shown nothing but loyalty and devotion throughout his life. So why did things change after Edward’s death?

Some questions, like the whereabouts of Richard’s grave, have at least been answered. Others, like the fate of the two princes, remain a mystery. There is evidence that Richard was far from the villain painted by Shakespeare and that ‘facts’ to his detriment provided by Sir Thomas More are questionable. Yet it is also true that Richard seized the throne for himself shortly after his brother’s death and that his two nephews went missing while under his protection. But were they murdered? And, if so, by whom? One imagines that Henry VII would have made strenuous efforts to find out what happened to those boys (his wife’s brothers, after all) and would have relished the opportunity to provide proof not only of Richard’s guilt, but of his unfitness to be England’s king. Perhaps none could be found. Had the boys still lived, of course, they would have been an embarrassment to Henry and provided Yorkist sympathisers with a rallying point. Perhaps at least one of them survived, but needed to lead a discreet existence out of the public eye..

I would like to think the truth will one day come out. Until then, like Jane Austen and Winston Churchill, we must all agree to disagree.

Please note that I am a writer, rather than a historian, and the above ramblings are largely my own…