Tag Archives: Gordon Simms

Judge Harriet on the Segora Case

The Waffly Bit (feel free to skip this part)

Who is guilty?

What will my verdict be?

How come I was chosen to wear the wig?

(Who wants to give me Photoshop lessons?)

Law isn’t a subject that attracts me, so I never thought I would one day be Judge Harriet. The idea of holding someone’s life in my hands and of having to stand up in front of people and talk makes me feel sick.

Oh, wait a minute… something about both those activities sounds familiar (though the lives are fictional).

Anyway, I’m here today to talk to you about the controversial Segora case, which will be judged in June.

When Segora organisers Jocelyn and Gordon Simms invited me to be the judge for the short story section of this case, I hesitated. Should stories compete with each other? Could I make a decision? Would the wig suit me?

Then I came up with a cunning plan: I would enter a story and judge it the winner. I quickly accepted their invitation.

Unfortunately, they somehow predicted my cunning plan and nipped it in the bud.

(Had I used clichés like that in my story, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to pull the wool over their eyes and declare myself the winner).

Seriously, Gordon & Jocelyn probably invited me to judge because they’d run out of options my story Quark Soup was one of the winners in 2016, and Shingle and Sand was Commended in 2015. And I accepted because I love reading and analysing fiction. I’m also a big fan of the Simms, who have brightened English literary life in France with their bilingual literary festivals and workshops.

I feel very honoured to be a judge (wig or no wig), and I already know I’m going to be humbled by the quality of the stories.

Without more ado, here are some insights into what Segora is all about. First, you’ll find the facts about the short story competition – there are also vignette, poetry and one act play sections in the competition. Then there’s a Q&A interview with Jocelyn and Gordon Simms. And finally I’ve added tips from some of the previous short story judges, who kindly agreed to contribute. Thanks very much to Amanda Hodgkinson, Emma Curtis and Clare Le May. You are stars!

The Bare Bare Facts (no photos please)

Salle du Jardin du Cloître (presentation evening)

Length: 1500-3000 words

Closing Date: 15 June 2018

Entry fee: £7 per story

Prizes: 1st £300; 2nd £50; 3rd £30

Presentation evening in France

All proceeds go to the charity Médecins Sans Frontières

Please see the website for full rules and lots more details, including a photo of a fine young man masquerading as Gordon.

 

Q&A interview with organisers Jocelyn & Gordon Simms

How did you discover my cunning plan?

Jocelyn, what inspired you to launch the Segora competitions in 2007?

Well it was around my 60th birthday when I said wouldn’t it be fun to have a website and launch a poetry competition? Gordon was somewhat dubious about my idea (a worrying trait I have noticed over the last 40 years) but I persuaded him that it was a nice thing to do as he had won lots of poetry competitions and it might help other poets to get published. In those days there weren’t so many competitions for writers. We decided to encourage the art of short story writing at the same time.

Why ‘Segora’?

Segora is the Roman name of St Clémentin, the village where we lived. It was rumoured to be a lost Roman city, a crossroad where the routes between Nantes/Poitiers and Angers/Saintes intersected. Indeed, Roman remains have been found there. I liked the sound of it on my tongue and it already presented a mystery (no bad thing for writers).

Can you tell us a little about previous short story winners?

Our first short story judge was Dr Phoebe Lambert, a very close friend and former head of an FE college. I clearly remember reading the winning story in bed one night. It was by Graham Minett. I was so pleased it was chosen. It is still for me one of the most sensitive and memorable stories we have ever received.

Later we asked Graham to judge the competition and he chose Emma Curtis. Both of them are now flourishing authors and it is really a great pleasure to think that winning the Segora competition was instrumental in their decision to become full-time writers. Emma has won the competition twice with beautifully constructed, unusual stories spiced with a touch of menace.

A finalist, Claire Adam, was so delighted with her prize cheque she decided to frame it for the purpose of inspiration. She is soon to be published by Faber. Another Segora entrant, Bruce Harris, has recently had a collection of short stories, Odds Against, published by Earlyworks Press.

And what are your favourite, least favourite and most memorable parts?

One of the nicest aspects of running an International competition is contact with people from different countries. One of the worst aspects is trying to explain the rules. A particularly memorable occasion was one of our presentation days, which we included in the St. Clémentin Litfest, with three judges and half-a-dozen prize-winners in attendance.

Any new projects in view?

Now we live in St André-sur-Sèvre, where we held a Segora presentation day last year – a most enjoyable event which will be repeated in 2018. Our commitment to creativity has not gone unnoticed and this year we are involved in putting on a mini festival alongside a painting exhibition taking place during the weekend 21/22 April in St André. Once again the love of words, language and culture unites people. It is our currency!

 

Jocelyn and Gordon are kind and inspirational as well as being superb writers (they also have good taste in judges). Please support them and Médecins Sans Frontières by entering their poetry, play, vignette or short story competitions.

Facebook page and Website

 

Tips from Past Judges

Clare Le May was runner up in 2012 with Missing Persons, which appears in her collection Twisting Tales, published by Webvivant Press :

“It was a privilege to be a judge, and I enjoyed the exposure to such a huge range of writing styles. What made some stories stand out more than others included an interesting choice of theme, an intriguing twist and evocative writing, sometimes all three. But it was difficult to rank one above another, like asking if an impressionist painting is better than a classical. In the end I chose the stories that seemed to be uncovering a truth, leaving me with something of value, that in some way, however small, had changed the way I thought about the world.”

Emma Curtis is published by Transworld and is the author of two psychological thrillers: One Little Mistake and When I Find You. Twitter: @emmacurtisbooks  Instagram: @emmacurtisauthor :

“It was a huge honour to be asked to judge the Segora Short Story Competition in 2017, and so interesting to be on the other side of the fence.  Judging is an instinctive task, as well as an academic one, but story should always come first.  Having said that, a writer needs skill to chip something beautiful out of a block of words and grammar. Their story must be compelling; it has to shine. Once I had my shortlist, I went back to how each entry made me feel. It was a balance between the tangible: voice, narrative arc, pacing, style, etc. and what the story-teller in me was drawn to.  In the end, as well as First, Second and Third, I awarded two Highly-Commended and two Commended.  I know from experience exactly how much any placing means to an aspiring writer.”

Amanda Hodgkinson is the award-winning internationally bestselling author of 22 Britannia Road and Spilt Milk, and novella Tin Town in the anthology Grand Central. Her novels have been translated into 16 languages and have won and been nominated for literary prizes in Europe and in the UK. Amanda holds an MA and a PhD in Creative Writing and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Suffolk in England:

“It’s a great honour to judge a short story competition and a serious undertaking too. But overall, what an absolute pleasure to be the one who can choose the winner. And how does a judge choose a winner? For me, I look for stories that stay with me. I want to find the story whose characters are still in my head long after I have finished reading. I wager that if asked, all short story judges will tell you this too. It will be the story you want to discuss with other people. You might even feel like you want to press copies of the winning story into the hands of friends and family, saying, ‘You mustread this.’ For me, that desire to share what you have read with others is the mark of a really good piece of writing. Fiction is such a powerful way of communicating between ourselves and connecting in endless ways with the world. Really, I believe that short story competitions are vital to writers and readers. Long may they continue!”

(I was lucky enough to go to one of Amanda’s talks, and you can see my blog post about it here.)

The End (well done, you made it to the bottom of the page)

I will of course be applying all the above advice when June arrives and it’s my turn to judge. In the meantime, happy writing and thank you for reading this long, long post.

And, once again, here are the Segora Facebook page and Website

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Joining the Dots

(A wrap-up of the 2017 Charroux Literary Festival):

Have you ever been to a series of unrelated performances and found that a common theme emerges?

This is exactly what happened at this year’s Charroux Literary Festival, and I wasn’t the only one to notice an intangible thread weaving through the author talks. See if you can spot it from my summary below.

So, for this second edition of the Charroux festival I was a speaking author, which meant I was invited to the pre-festival dinner (ah, the joys of fame!).

I was so excited about meeting everyone that I arrived a few hours early and had plenty of time to walk around the medieval village. This included discovering the fascinating abbey ruins where I dawdled among the spirits of times past.

I also came across the house where French writer Robert Charroux lived, and learnt that he was a pioneer in Ancient Astronaut theories: the pseudoscientific theories that suggest aliens visited Earth in antiquity and prehistoric times.

I knew I wouldn’t have a spare minute for contemplation once the festival began – and I was right. Even without the festival, Charroux is a superb destination for a day’s exploration (and I’m not just referring to the pub that has Guinness on tap).

During the 3 days, I went to 4 talks involving historical authors Barbara Erskine, Tracey Warr, Alison Morton (Roma Nova) and James Vance (World War II). I’ve never been tempted to write historical fiction because I know nothing about history and would be afraid of getting everything wrong. But the discussions I heard helped me understand why writing historical fiction can be so alluring.

For Tracey and Barbara, who write about the medieval period, there is very little documentation. We know what the historical figures did but we don’t know why they did it and how they felt about it.

This means that joining the dots to create a picture of events leaves plenty of room for imagination – which is exactly what novelists like to explore: in other words, the ‘unknowability’ of the past, as Tracey quoted.

Even the facts themselves can be dubious: there isn’t just one story about what happened, there are many stories – and bards and pilgrims played a role in this as they passed on news orally. The difference between Welsh and English records for the same events are a good example of this.

All four authors talked about being conscious of the past when they visit historical places, as well as the importance of imagining their characters going about their daily life in those places. Barbara added that it’s as if the past is trying to get through to the present, an idea she explores fully in the ghostly elements of her fiction.

Nick Inman, author of Mystical France, talked about the idea of science being able to explain how mystical symbols and sculptures were created, but not being able to explain why it was done. He suggested using your intuition when you visit ancient places to try to find your own answers.

He has done this over the last five years, and he captivated his audience with the slideshow of mystical symbols and sculptures he has collected during his travels around France. No wonder so many people surged forward to buy his book after his talk.

Not quite so many people rushed to buy Tree Magic after my session about the road to publication, even though a major theme is how science can’t explain certain spiritual aspects of life. I guess I have some lessons to learn from Nick Inman there. But I did sign plenty of copies and get some great feedback – and nobody actually fell asleep.

The talk that created the most discussion was Mike Welham’s presentation about mixing fact and fiction. His novels are based on events that have never been satisfactorily explained; for his chosen themes, he has researched and summed up all the mysterious inconsistencies to suggest huge cover-up operations, which he has published as fiction.

He presented his conspiracy theories about frogman Buster Crabb, The World Trade Center Building 7 and David Kelly’s death. We were lucky to have Andrew Lownie, an author who has spent decades researching Guy Burgess, in the audience, as well as TV and Foreign Office specialist Jane Lythell. Their points of view as experienced researchers added to the charged atmosphere during the session.

The common thread (have you spotted it yet?) didn’t reach all the creaky-floored rooms of the Maison Charlois during the festival, as the sessions on the craft of writing had nothing mystical about them (although you could argue that the whole writing process is rather mysterious).

photo by Jacqui from French Village Diaries

This category of talks included a useful analysis of humour with Chuck Grieve; a detailed session on playwriting with Gordon & Jocelyn Simms; an exploration of character and an insight into psychological thrillers with Jane Lythell (what a lovely lady); and workshops with Vanessa Couchman.

I talked about writing for Young Adults and persuaded my audience to wield their pens – which produced some promising beginnings.

There was also a New Writers Workshop, chaired by Susie Kelly and including Jane Lythell, myself, Alison Morton and Blackbird publisher and author Stephanie Zia. This was an interactive event in which we all gave our advice for new writers and then circulated among groups to answer questions.

The author talks are, of course, central to the festival and I wish I’d been able to find a Harry Potter time turner so I could attend them all – both French and English. But they were far from being the only element to the three magical days in Charroux. The other elements came from the festival supporters.

There’s nothing like having a drink or a meal with other festival-goers; or having a laugh with the lovely ladies of the Hope Association tea tent, who delivered a constant supply of drinks, English food and good humour. Cheerful volunteers were everywhere, from the helpful people at the reception desk, in the bookshop and at the Enfants de la Rue charity stand, to the behind-the-scenes drivers and hosts. It was great to see so many familiar faces and make new friends.

But my biggest thanks have to go to Kate and Chris, the festival organisers, who made this all possible. Did they create the mystical thread on purpose, or is it just in my head?

photo by Tracey Warr

Charroux 2019 seems a long way away. Luckily, we have the 2017 edition of another intimate literary festival full of interesting people in October: Parisot. Perhaps I’ll see you there?