Olga Sinclair Launch Gala 2019

On Tuesday 16th of April we officially launched the Olga Sinclair Open Short Story Competition 2019.

Guests were treated to gin tasting courtesy of Patrick and Sandra of Black Shuck Gin.

Then we kicked off the evening with Piers Warren, the main adjudicator for the competition, offering insights on what he’s looking for in a winning entry.

Advice from Piers Warren


Piers is the adjudicator for the main competition. He is the author of Black Shuck: The Devils Dog, but also a conservationist.

When it comes to his adjudication, he warns that all reading is objective. The stories he likes might not be what another judge would like. However, he offered some guidance by sharing the sorts of things he likes:

“Ideas for stories often start by wondering ‘what if…’ I like to be surprised and end up thinking ‘what on earth made them come up with that’.”

He then gave some general guidance on what exactly he is looking for:

  • I like to care about one or more characters in a plot. If everyone is unlikable, bland or has no depth of character, it’s easy to lose the will to read on.
  • I like to read on to know what’s going to happen next, without being tripped up by unnecessarily strange words or phrases, or ones out of context.
  • Make dialogue realistic. People tend not to talk in complete sentences or be very descriptive. Grunts, noises, single words are all fine if appropriate! Stephen King is very good at dialogue and I love his book of advice On Writing.
  • If it’s obvious who has said something you don’t need to pepper dialogue with he said, she said etc. But also, don’t get bogged down trying to find alternatives– ‘she exclaimed’ (and many other similar possibilities) grates after a while!
  • Don’t overdo adverbs. I prefer ‘slamming’ a door than ‘shutting it firmly’.
  • If written in the first person – is your protagonist male or female? Making it clear fairly early on can avoid an incorrect assumption which then throws the reader later on.
  • Set your scenes using details rather than descriptions. For example, rather than describing how the bar looks, give some detail of what the bartender is wearing. Tom Waits is particularly good at this when writing lyrics.

Piers went on to offer some solid advice when it comes to editing:

  • Plan, write the first draft, tweak, leave for a while, edit, get feedback from your first reader, tweak further then abandon! Editing is never truly finished.
  • Drown your babies/kill your darlings (favourite phrases or sections which do not help drive the story). Leaving a gap between drafts (a few weeks ideally) makes it easier to kill darlings/babies which by then feel more like someone else’s!
  • Editing is often better when removing words rather than adding.


Advice from Holly Ainley


Holly Ainley will be the adjudicator for the Members Shield challenge. This challenge is for members only. Members who have submitted to the main competition can choose one of the stories submitted to the main competition so it can be judged by Holly, giving them another chance to win.

Holly is the book buyer for Jarrolds, and so is used to being arms deep, selecting stories.

Holly first commented on the popularity of the ghosts in Norfolk folklore.

Many excellent non-fiction titles have been written on the subject, including Peter Tolhurst’s This Hollow Land. Plus ghost walks are a surprisingly popular form of entertainment in Norwich.

It’s not just non-fiction but fiction too, for example Shadows on the Fens, edited by Wayne Drew, the short stories of MR James (many set in Norfolk and Suffolk), Black Shuck by Piers Warren, Michelle Paver’s Wakenhyrst (Suffolk)

Why is it such a perfect setting? There is a wealth of legends and actual ghosts associated with the area, from that of Robert Kett hanging over Cathedral Close (now memorialised in CJ Sansom’s novel Tombland), to Black Shuck roaming the North Norfolk coast.

Holly suggests it may be because we have an abundance of churches, functioning and ruined, in the county. What comes with Churches? Graveyards. And with graveyards? Ghosts. We are surrounded by perfect spooky locations. She suggests reading Medieval Churches of the City of Norwich by Nicholas Groves and Landscape of Towers by Clive Dunn for inspiration.

Norfolk and Suffolk are also counties of beautiful old stately homes and mansions, with their own legends attached – take the headless spectre of Ann Boleyn riding through Blickling Hall. Big gothic mansions are full of ghosts and when located in remote areas, there is no-one to hear you scream.

Beyond buildings, there is the extraordinary coastline and rich geological history: it is a perfect setting for archaeological mysteries, for example the salty marshes in the North are the inspiration for Elly Griffiths’ crime fiction – a place that theoretically preserves bodies and bones would serve well for a ghost story.

Although stories do not have to be based in Norwich, or even in Norfolk, but you can find an abundance of inspiration here.

In terms of what she is looking for in a winning entry, Holly highlights the following:

  • I love setting and place and how this influences characters’ behaviour.
  • Short stories are a unique medium, perfectly suited to explore a moment, an episode, plunging the reader into a particular atmosphere.
  • I’m looking for stories that captivate me from the first line, opening a brief window onto a person or a place and their story.
  • Don’t be tempted to overwork your stories – resist the temptation to over-edit and trust when it feels like time to let go.

Advice on how to interpret the theme

Every year, we get entrants asking for guidance on how to interpret the theme – are we looking for it to be interpreted a specific way? The short answer is: no. You can interpret it any way you like.

This, of course, is not always helpful. Some people may be intimidated by the idea of writing to a theme and have no idea where to begin. Our suggestion is to start with the dictionary.

The Oxford dictionary online defines ‘spooks’ as follows:

  • A ghost or a spectre
  • A derogatory term for an African American in America in the 1940’s-50’s
  • A ghost writer

Already you can see the vastly different directions you could take this theme – from a ghost story or a story featuring some kind of supernatural entity, to a spy thriller or mystery, to a story that explores racism, or one that looks at the writing process. You could even write a story that combines several of these definitions.

So even if you’re not a fan of the supernatural, or much of a horror writer, you should still be able to find an angle to approach this theme that suits your style.

Digging deeper, ‘spooks’ can also mean to be haunted, or to be scared (is in, to be ‘spooked’). So you could write a story that explores fear, or being haunted, but again remember that the supernatural is not the only thing that can haunt a person, and people fear more than ghosts and ghouls.

For example, a story about a bride or groom getting cold feet on their wedding day could tie in just as well with the theme as a story about a person being terrorised by a ghost.

There’s no limit to genre either. It has to be fiction, of course, but you can explore the theme of ‘spooks’ through the lens of horror, sci-fi, romance, comedy, historical fiction, steam punk – anything goes.

In the past, entrants have interpreted our themes a number of ways with a wide range of genres. We highly recommend checking out our anthologies to see examples of how winning entries have interpreted past themes to give you an idea of how you might approach this year’s theme.

Finally, we’d like to make it clear that your stories do not have to be set in Norwich, or even Norfolk. You can set them anywhere you like, in any time period. It’s up to you. Nor do you have to write about spooky things in Norfolk. You’re welcome to if you like, but you’re not restricted.

Ultimately, your only limit when it comes to interpreting the theme is your own imagination. We’re excited to see all the different ways entrants will explore this theme.

If you’re still stuck for ideas, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where we’ve been posting at least two writing prompts every week ranging from image prompts, specific scenarios and even real life inspiration. Each of them has been specifically chosen because it can easily lead to a story that explores our theme. We will continue putting them up until a week before the deadline.

Even if you already have an idea or have already written your entry, it’s still worth checking them out because there’s no limit to how many entries you can submit.

We’ll be revealing the cover for this year’s anthology on our social media very soon, so if you want to see the cover of the book your entry may well be published in, it’s worth following us to be updated.

The entry fee is £8 per entry. There is no limit on the number of entries. International entries are welcome. The competition is open to all writers of all ages and skill levels. The deadline is midnight GMT July 31st 2019. There are cash prizes available for the top three winners.

Full details of our competition can be found here: https://norwichwriters.wordpress.com/olga-sinclair-open-short-story-2019/

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch norwichwriters@hotmail.co.uk

Here are more pictures of our wonderful evening:

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Join us at the gala

This Tuesday 16th April is the official launch gala for the Olga Sinclair Open Short Story Competition 2019. Both our adjudicators Piers Warren and Holly Ainley will be there to talk about what they’re looking for in a winning entry. But that’s not all.

There will be free gin tasting courtesy of Black Shuck Gin, one of our supporters.

black shuck head & claws LOGO

The door fee will be £5 for non-members and £3 for members. This helps us pay for the room hire, but it gets you:

  • Free gin tasting.
  • Light buffet of finger food with both vegan and non-vegan options.
  • Drinks such as wine, as well as soft drinks, and tea and coffee.
  • The chance to chat to us and the adjudicators.

If you want to keep up to date with the latest news on the gala, go to the official event page. Also, remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for news, tips, and advice on the competition, as well as regular writing prompts to help get those creative juices flowing.

If you have have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: norwichwriters@hotmail.co.uk

Member Successes, Uncategorized

Glowing Reviews for Gill Blanchard

Member Gill Blanchard has received amazing reviews for her book ‘Tracing Your House History’, which was published  19th July 2017. Well done Gill!



‘This book has been thoroughly researched and presented; and I believe it should be considered the book for those researching houses or a One-Place Study. It was a true delight to read and review.’



‘Among the most comprehensive books on tracing house history, packing a great deal of information into just over 200 pages. A complete guide to house history.’

– Your Family Tree


‘I was particularly impressed by the great detail the author goes into with each source and how she explains some of the mystifying terms used in old documents. Highlighting the relevant websites as you progress through each chapter is another useful tool, and the ‘Finding…’ part at the end of each section is a great idea, as it can help you hunt down sources with ease. Gill’s text is not only easy to follow for beginners, but also contains up-to-date information for more experienced researchers. It may inspire those who think they have exhausted all records on a particular house to pick up their notes and try again.’

– WDYTYA Magazine




Member Successes, Uncategorized

Terrifying Tales

Congratulations to our Vice-chair Kathy Joy for having her short horror story picked up for professional narration:


The original story can be read here: https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/ayhco3/my_perfect_little_boy/

Well done Kathy for an engaging and terrifying story. Perhaps it will inspire those looking to enter the Olga Sinclair Competition this year themed to ‘spooks’.





Funny Bones at the Ready

Photo courtesy of Cameron McDonald of McDonald Images

Last evening we welcomed Lynne Mortimer, much-loved columnist with various newspapers in the Archant family.  For those of you who were unable to attend, you missed an amusing and inspirational talk from Lynne about her 25 years as a journalist.  Lynne gave us a comprehensive ‘heads-up’ for how to tackle the next competition for the much-coveted Colin Sutton Cup for Humour.  In view of the number of absentees I hope you will find this information useful and I encourage you to enter even if you were not there last evening.

Her first job was as a mature mum of 35, writing for the Evening Star in Ipswich.  During her children’s teenage years she wrote under a pseudonym to save their blushes!  Lynne spoke about the panic of working to strict deadlines and of having to come up with 1,000 words every week on a different topic.  She explained how her inspiration comes from her own life, the importance of writing the truth at the core of every column and how she scours newspapers for ideas when she is stuck!

Photo courtesy of Cameron McDonald of McDonald Images

In the past her stories have covered Waspi Women, weight-loss, public toilets, the Menopause (both female and male), the abuse of Parent & Child parking spaces, grammatical errors, energy saving light bulbs, her husband, grandchildren and her mother-in-law!  But never Brexit, religion, death, disability or mental illness. She certainly has her own “red lines” and always tries to keep her columns light-hearted and entertaining.

The Competition:

“Take one small frustrating life incident and expand it into a humorous article of 1,000-2,000 words.  It can draw upon similar frustrations or veer off somewhere else, but at the end of the piece it should return to the original incident, featuring a final pithy sentence or two.”

The deadline for entries is Tuesday 7th May, which is our next Manuscript/Critique evening.  If you are unable to attend please be sure to mail or email your entry to our Competitions Secretary Marian Pearson.  Details can be found at this link.


Good luck everyone!

On a different topic, your committee will be meeting next Tuesday to agree the arrangements and menu for the Olga Sinclair Open Short Story Competition Launch Night on Tuesday 16th April, when we will be offered gin tasters courtesy of sponsor Black Shuck Ltd of Fakenham, and meet our adjudicator Piers Warren, author of Black Shuck: The Devil’s Dog.  Do bring your partners and friends to our party. £7 door fee for non-members includes light buffet with wine, teas and coffees.


A Talk to Go Down in History

On Tuesday 19th March we welcomed the award winning historical fiction writer Rory Clements to talk to use about his books, his writing process, and what led him to write historical fiction.


When asked whether he considers himself to be a historian or a novelist first, Rory commented:

“I’m definitely a novelist first. I’m no a historian. I didn’t go to university, I didn’t study history. But I’m very widely read – I read huge amounts of history and when I fix on a subject – say like the Babington plot, I’m probably one of the worlds experts for a few months on that subject and then I forget it all … But I do a lot of research, I do take it very seriously trying to get the historical background as close as I can to what I think it is.”

Clements explained that he had been inspired to write by his uncle, who ran away at a young age to become a sailor. He wrote many books about his adventures, which made Clements want to be an author.

He started out as a journalist, but soon moved on. During this time he read extensively, which helped him become the writer he is today.

Clements went on to talk more about historical fiction:

“Historical fiction vs history … I went to Oxford University to argue with a lot of historians who were sort of knocking down historical fiction. I think it has a real place in out life. I think we fill in the skeleton. History is a skeleton. There’s a lot missing from it … the fiction writer can fill that in and hopefully bring history to a lot more people in that way.”

After answering a variety of questions form the group, Clements has some excellent advice to offer anyone thinking of writing historical fiction:

What you’re trying to find first and foremost if you’re writing about a time long ago is you’ve got to find a voice …  you can’t write in  Elizabethan English you can’t write in Shakespearean English, because nobody would read it. They simply wouldn’t. Nor can you write in twentieth century English slang. You have to find something in the in-between… you don’t want it jarring to the reader.

The NWC would like to thank Rory Clements for his frank and open advice and intriguing stories. We’d also like to thank everyone who attended and had plenty of questions to ask.







Kick off time!

On Tuesday 5th March, we welcome award winning children’s author Mitch Johnson.


After overcoming a few technical problems, Mitch detailed his inspiration for Kick, and the process writing it. Kick went through many iterations and versions.



Mitch then discussed his experience working with his agent, and then the publisher, and regaled us with information on his upcoming projects, as well as projects he hoped to work on in the future.

We’d like to thank Mitch for giving such an engaging and informative talk. We’d also like to thank our members and guests for giving Mitch such a warm welcome.

Our next meeting is Tues 19th of March where we welcome Sunday Times Best Selling author RORY CLEMENTS, creator of eight John Shakespeare thrillers set in Tudor England and two novels set in WWII featuring Professor Tom Wilde.

Entry fee is £7 for guests and £3 for members.

We hope to see you there!


Results of the Past Search Prize for Non-Fiction competition

Members and guests of Norwich Writers’ Circle were delighted to welcome back Gareth Davies, proprietor of Poppyland Publishing, to adjudicate the entries for the Past Search Prize for Non-Fiction.

Gareth said that he was fascinated by all three entries, proposals or early drafts for a 5,000 word pamphlet exploring a historical event in East Anglia.  The entries were:

  • The Great Flood of August 1912 by Paul Taylor
  • The Yellow Caravan by Juliet Webster
  • The Martyrdom of Thomas Bilney by Iain Andrews
  • The Sawmill in the Park by Barré Funnell
  • Of Those in Peril on the Seas – the story of inventor Captain Manby

Gareth expressed his views on each of the entries before announcing the winners. Joint second were Paul Taylor and Iain Andrews.

First prize went to Juliet Webster with her story of three North Norfolk sisters in 1912, who set off on an adventure to tour the county in a horse drawn caravan.  Drawing on original family source material, Juliet has spun a charming tale of endeavour and innocence, only two years before the world will be shattered by war.  Juliet will now work closely with Gareth to produce a Poppyland pamphlet.

Competitions Secretary Marian Pearson thanked Gareth for this hard work in judging the entries and the evening finished with light refreshments.


Self-editing Workshop

On Tuesday 5th February Kathy, owner of Fine Tune Your Fiction, a professional critique service, ran a workshop on self-editing.

The workshop focused on editing content rather than spelling and grammar. The areas we focused on were:

  • Show vs Tell
  • Tightening Point of View
  • Tightening the Narrative

Kathy went through each area:

‘Show’ vs ‘Tell’

‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass’

– Chekov

What is the difference between showing and telling?

Telling does what it says on the tin – it tells the reader something, usually in a purely descriptive manner with no emotional attachment. Showing, on the other hand, is a more immersive experience for the reader, allowing them to feel and sense what is going on.

It might help to think of showing as firsthand experience, and telling as second hand experience, at least as far as your reader is concerned.

When should you ‘show’ and when should you ‘tell’?

Telling engages the readers intellect. It is useful when you want the reader to take in information to carry with them through the story.

Conversely, ‘showing’ engages a readers imagination and emotion. It helps them feel what is happening first hand. Any time you want the reader to have an emotional connection to what is happening, you need to show.

‘By this I don’t just mean making the reader feel happy and sad at the appropriate time. Of course you do, but there are other ways this applies.’

– Kathy

Kathy went on to discuss effective characterisation:

‘Your reader has to get to know your characters. The only way to do this is to show them. It’s not enough to tell them “John was shy”. Show them what shyness looks like for John, allow them to experience him. This is something that will take time to build and you can only achieve it through consistent showing.’

Then we moved onto showing atmosphere.

‘It’s not enough to write something like “She ran into the creepy house and was scared”. It doesn’t give the reader anything to go off of. You need to show what it is that makes this house so creepy, and also how this character reacts when scared’

– Kathy

Kathy then explained ways to identify ‘telling’ sentences:

  1. Look out for adjectives. Adjectives are nearly always telling.
  2. Looking out for emotional qualifiers i.e. ‘She said angrily’. If you’ve shown your scene well enough, you won’t need it.
  3. Describing sensory experiences i.e. ‘John smelled freshly baked bread’. This is not a first hand experience for the reader – instead let the reader smell the bread too.

Then it was time for the first exercise or the workshop. Attendees were tasked with going through their extracts and underlining any instances of ‘telling’. Then they were challenged to re-write them to show everything they ‘told’ instead.

Tightening Point of View

‘Whenever you write a story, you are telling it from somebody’s perspective … How we perceive things is very personal. We all see, experience, and describe things very differently. You have to take this into account when you are writing.’

– Kathy

Kathy then explained three things that affect how writers describe a scene:

  1. Is this how the perspective character would describe them? What is their frame of reference?
  2. Is this what the perspective character would focus on?
  3. How does their mood affect how they describe things?

‘These things overlap. You need to scrutinise every word you use and everything you choose to describe. Ask yourself – is this what the perspective character would focus on? Is this how they would describe it? Does it match their frame of reference? A sixteen year old girl and a ninety year old man are unlikely to focus on and describe things the same way. On top of all that you have to consider their mood. We describe things differently and focus on different things when we’re angry, or sad, or happy.’

– Kathy

Participants were then given their second exercise: go through the ‘showing’ passages again and scrutinise every word, asking those three questions.

Tightening the Narrative

This is sometimes referred to as ‘proportioning’.

‘It’s all about removing the extraneous details … sometimes you show things you don’t need to, or repeat yourself’

– Kathy

Are you showing in detail how a character opens a door? Readers know how doors work – you can simply write ‘He walked through the door’ or ‘He left the room’ and the reader can fill in the step in between.

‘I once read work where the writer described their character getting dressed – how they put on their socks and then underwear, then their jeans and shirt and so on. This was completely unnecessary. When a reader gets to descriptions of clothes, they’re probably going to figure they’re wearing underwear, assuming they care at all. Most likely, they don’t.’

– Kathy

Kathy also explained that it applies to other areas such as:

  • Using dialogue tags that are obvious i.e. “Where are we going?” she asked. We know from context that this is a question, so you do not need to tell the reader again.
  • Repeating yourself when creating similes and metaphors. Example: ‘It was as dark as the deepest ocean, a darkness so thick it enveloped everything.’ The second line is basically exactly the same as the first, just with different words. They’re describing that deep, dark ocean again. If you want to build on your simile/metaphor to create a more vivid mental image, try focusing on a different aspect such as ‘It was as dark as the deepest ocean, and silent as a tomb’.

The final exercise of the evening was to read through the showing lines a third time and check for redundancies and repetition.

Kathy finished by offering some general tips for catching mistakes:

  • Read your work aloud. Sentences that are hard to say are often hard to read.
  • Try reading aloud passages how you want the reader to process them – if you have fast paced passages, try reading them quickly. The same goes for slower ones, or passages that fluctuate between the two. If you can’t do it, chances are your reader can’t either and you may need to edit some sentences further.
  • Try reading lines of dialogue how your characters are saying them – if they’re shouting, or laughing etc. If you can’t, then your character can’t either. 
  • Use text-to-voice software. Even when you read out loud, you still risk missing mistakes because you know what the words should be. Text-to-voice software will read everything exactly as you wrote it. You can therefore listen out for incorrect words that both you and your spellcheck missed. Frees ones include:

If you own a Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/gp/sendtokindle 

Online: https://www.naturalreaders.com/online/

  • If you’re struggling with a ‘showing’ scene, try listening to appropriate music while you write. For example, if you’re working on a sad scene, listen to sad music, if you’re writing a battle scene, try fast paced or ‘angry’ music (such as death metal, or Ride of the Valkyries). It will help put you in the tight mindset to think of appropriate language. If you’re easily distracted, try music without lyrics. You can listen to these for free on services like YouTube or Spotify.
  • Do you often forget to consistently take into account the setting/environment of your scene? Try playing some appropriate ambient sound effect tracks to help you immerse yourself . You can access anything from forest sounds, to ocean waves, rain on a car roof, to city sounds, and even space ship noises – all for free on YouTube. Play them as you write the scene. A channel which provides a lot of different ones is called ‘Relaxing White Noise‘. You can also find plenty more simply by searching for the sounds you want such as ‘haunted house sounds‘ or ‘crickets‘.

Word clouds can also be useful to check the overall balance of characters and themes. There are plenty of free generators too. They work by scattering words into an image/shape, with the most commonly used word at the centre in the biggest font. With this in mind, you want major characters, themes, and possibly settings to be the largest text. If they aren’t, you may need to look at the manuscript again.

‘It’s not totally foolproof … but it can be useful to see at a glance what words crop up the most. It is especially useful if you are juggling a multitude of characters. You want the biggest name to be your protagonist, but if a secondary or background character is the most prominent, you may need to cut back some of their scenes, or show more major characters more prominently. The same can go for important themes or settings.’

– Kathy

The NWC would like to thank Kathy for guiding us through the editing process. Everyone seems to have benefited from it.

If anyone is interested in hiring Kathy to critique their work, you can visit her website: www.finetuneyourfiction.com or email her on kathy@finetuneyourfiction.com. Kathy has offered to give NWC members a 15% discount.

Lastly, we’d like to thank our members and guests for coming and actively participating in the workshop. It went far better than we ever could have imagined. We hope you enjoyed it, and look forward to seeing you at out next meeting.