Tag Archives: St.Clementin

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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Extraordinary Ellia:

Harriet thought she’d died in the accident. She was standing in a French library full of English books, and French libraries normally have just one English shelf. A heaven full of books seemed fitting to Harriet, though misfortune had placed the library in Angers, a four-hour drive from Harriet’s home.

I pinched myself and realised I hadn’t died. I wasn’t dreaming. This wasn’t heaven – and in any case I hadn’t had an accident (unless you count what happened in Angers’ English sweetshop, but that’s another story).

If you’re confused here, just read the beginning of Tree Magic, which is free to ‘look inside’ on the Amazon ebook page, and everything will become clear. Ish. Well, it may sound vaguely familiar.

Anyway, back to the library: when I met Phoebe at the St.Clémentin literary festival last year and she told me she worked in an English-Language library in Angers, I imagined a cosy little nook squeezed between two houses in a back street.

So when she invited me to talk to the library coffee morning group about my novel Tree Magic, I presumed the audience would be a handful of people huddled between bookcases.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Let me begin by telling you about this amazing library, which is a non-profit organisation called Ellia (an acronym for ‘English Language Library In Angers’, since you were about to ask).

It has 30 000 English books, 4 staff, 1600 members and 100 volunteers – making it the biggest English language library in the west of France. There’s a catalogue on the website so you can check if the book you want is there before you drive to Angers, and you can even borrow ebooks to download onto your e-reader.

But the library is far more than a series of numbers and a list of services. If you’ve read my blog posts about Le Kairn, the brand new bookshop in the Val d’Azun, you’ll know that I talked about how I believed it would soon become a hub for cultural activities.

Well, the 23-year-old Ellia library is exactly that: a community hub. It’s a meeting place for English speakers who love books, of course, but also a base for a diverse range of activities ranging from French conversation groups and English creative writing circles to gardening, knitting and film clubs.

Phoebe

What has made it so popular, in my opinion, is the warmth of the welcome that visitors receive. While I was having coffee with Phoebe (you get a bottomless cup of tea or coffee for a euro), she greeted the people who wandered in and chatted with each of them.

It’s hardly surprising there are so many volunteers – some of whom I met as they sat around a table covering books with plastic. The other staff and interns – including Mandy, Sandrine, Oksana and Dominique – are just as friendly. There’s absolutely no reason to feel lonely if you live in or near Angers and like books.

Half of Ellia’s funding comes from a combination of City Hall, the two Angers universities (students receive free membership) and Maine-et-Loire county council. The rest is made up from membership fees and fundraising events.

An example of an event is the food stand they’ll be manning at the street theatre festival Les Accroche-coeurs on 8-10 September. The festival’s 2017 theme is ‘So British’, which means discussions at Ellia are currently underway to decide on the most suitable British dish to serve.

If you have any ideas (please, no Marmite or jelly), let me know and I’ll pass them on.

Now you know a little about Ellia, you can appreciate how it was that over 30 people came to listen to my Tree Magic talk. (I stopped counting at 30, as they were looking expectantly at me and I thought I’d better begin).

It’s always scary to stand up in front of people and talk, so I was relieved when it was over. My relief, however, was short-lived.

‘Do you mind if Isma interviews you?’ Phoebe asked me.

‘Not at all,’ I said. ‘It won’t be filmed or anything, will it?’

There was a silence.

Silly me… This was the point at which I discovered that the computery stuff on the shelf was actually filming me for the whole talk. Which means that those scandalous secrets I accidentally revealed…

I sat in the armchair beside Isma and did my best to answer questions that were only difficult because I had to answer them on the spot.

It was decidedly worse that the radio interviews I did when Tree Magic was first published.

Am I the only person whose mind goes maddeningly blank when I’m asked questions in front of a recording device?

The best part of doing author talks is that you meet so many interesting people afterwards. I had a great chat with William, one Anne Woodford’s writing group members.

Anne is a talented writer whom I also met at St. Clémentin. Her short story was placed 2nd in the 2016 Segora International Writing Competition, run by the St.Clémentin festival organisers, and you can read it here (you’ll have to scroll down a little).

I had some lovely feedback about how people felt inspired to go off and write after my talk. Some people even bought a copy of Tree Magic!

If you have a chance to visit the lovely city of Angers, pop into the library. You’ll see exactly what I mean about Ellia being extraordinary.

 

 

 

 

 

Have Bike, Will Travel (to Segora)

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We arrived in the night: a yawning, stretching carload of tired family. Rain-splashed doors slammed. The kids spilled out, shrieking when the soaked grass kissed their bare toes.

The campsite was deserted – or so we thought.

Blackness walled us into a car-lit halo. We were invaders; though exactly what kind of planet we’d arrived on, we couldn’t see. The kids snatched torches and hurtled into the darkness like shooting stars, only to crash back to earth at their Dad’s ‘Come and help.’

Out came the equipment – tent, bicycle, sleeping bag, notebook – and my loved ones took off, destined for another galaxy.

I stood beside my folded home, my world diminished to a pinpoint of torchlight and the shapes of a silent unknown. There were no owls, no animal coughs, no thudding hoofs: just the heaviness of shadows bearing down on me. The silence was acute after the family noise, as if something were listening, sizing me up before making itself known.

I shone my torch towards a nearby tree, searching for a place to pitch my tent. Beside the tree I could see a motionless figure. A human? (mugger, rapist, murderer)

It’s just a tree stump, I reassured myself. I took a step towards it, tripped over a bag that had fallen from the car and fell. My torch rolled away.

It came to a stop at a pair of feet. There stood an American Indian, his arms folded, gazing into the night.

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Hardly the warmest welcome to the Segora Presentation Weekend, but then I was the one who’d chosen to camp after a week of rain on a teepee campsite in the heart of the Deux-Sèvres. At least I wasn’t alone this time, unlike at Charroux – if you can count a full-size Red Indian statue as company.

Gordon and Jocelyn Simms had organised a series of workshops, plays and poetry readings around the writing competition winners’ presentation dinner. Their cheerful welcome the next morning made up for the Indian’s aloof reception.

After we’d explored the vignette writing form with Ed Briggs and Anne Woodford, poet John Hudson made us think about the ownership of our writing. His workshop – which included a knight’s helmet, incense and clothes pegs – had us cutting up and reforming our poetry: for better, for worse and for plenty of laughs.

Then came a rehearsed reading of the wonderful one-act play ‘What’s the Time, Virginia Woolf’, written by Segora winner Peter (Doc) Watson and performed with brio by Jocelyn, Gordon and Sally Pearson.

The Pearson family were represented in force: the guest speaker over dinner at Chez Didier was South Korea Reuters reporter James Pearson. He talked about daily life in North Korea and intrigued us with his insights into the role of the black market in North Koreans’ lives. You can read about his interesting experiences in his book.

The atmosphere Chez Didier was convivial, partly because everyone dabbled in both languages. It was a truly bilingual evening of vignette, poetry and short stories read by English and French actresses and authors. I particularly enjoyed Sally’s winning vignette.

Towards the end I read an extract from my commended story ‘Shingle and Sand’. The people who fell asleep must have been tired after their literary exertions, or perhaps it was the wine…no, seriously, I didn’t notice anyone snoring. It was the first time I’d read out my work (apart from an essay at the Highbridge Festival of the Arts when I was 10). Luckily, the audience was indulgent with my first-time errors. You can read the complete story here.

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The weekend finished in the sun with John Hudson. He took a group of us around the bustling village of St.Clementin. Between the fanfare and the announcements on the loud speaker (it was the annual bric-a-brac), he read out hard-hitting poems from his ‘Shapeshifter’ collection.

His readings were dramatic performances and confirmed my belief that poems should be read out loud. When this happens at the site of inspiration, it makes for even stronger emotions. I can still hear his words about the German occupation and see the slate-roofed manor house the Nazis commandeered.

Perhaps John should check out the Red Indian at my campsite. (mugged, raped, murdered)