8 October 2018 For any writer it is an honour and privilege to read her or his own creation in the prestigious programme of Cheltenham Literature Festival. That opportunity is provided for a group of outstanding local writers through an annual event by the talented volunteers of Gloucestershire Writers’ Network.
For me, the 2018 event on 7 October provided an excellent and high quality evening’s event. I was proud spouse of one of the seven writers who earned a chance to read after success in a competition which attracted more than 160 entries. I admit a hint of envy, too, as an also-wrote who was honouring the high standard of writing by all the readers on stage.
Sunday’s event started with presentations of prizes to the winner and three runners up of each of two contests – one for short stories, and one for poetry. Then came the readings, extremely varied interpretations of the Literature Festival theme of East meets West.
First up was the winning poet, David Hale from Horsley. His Cranes Flying is an interesting and thoughtful physical discovery of far-eastern culture by a presumably western archaeologist.
The winning prose writer was Emma Kernahan from Stroud. Her story The Locals hilariously contrasts fantasy-driven emails of a woman’s former London commuting with her new, mundane west-country life.
Derek Healy from Lower Swell was first runner-up to read. His poem Love’s Convergence with skilful geographical imagery, shows lovers ‘paralleled two poles . . . apart’ finally embracing each other’s mind.
The Shawl a story by Lynda Fowke from Gloucester, imaginatively features a garment as a refugee. It makes a land and sea journey as a woman’s baggage, a man’s bandage, and finally clothes for toys.
From Tewkesbury, Catherine Baker wrote Waiting for the Boat a poem on old refugee women. ‘Like pinks they can nod’ typifies the imaginative, engaging imagery and music Catherine produces with simple words.
Call me Shadi, Muna, Nasima . . . is an intriguing story by Iris Anne Lewis from Kempsford. After using false names as armour, a young refugee woman finally reveals her real name to a therapist.
Marilyn Timms from Cheltenham was runner-up in both poetry and prose. Her poem Public School – Private Hell starts a train journey in school day dreams, and ends it building the Burma railway as a prisoner of war. With another good final surprise, the story Bride Price shows a Japanese businessman. A widower, he buys a new, western wife, then loses her as ransom for his teenage daughter.
Finally, the two competition judges read some of their own work. Award-winning novelist Dr. Kim Fleet, the judge for stories, read two engaging and suspenseful excerpts from her novels. Then poetry judge Anna Saunders, founder and CEO of Cheltenham Poetry Festival, read thought-provoking and contrasting poems from her latest book Ghosting for Beginners.
After 40 years of earning a reasonable living from writing and editing non-fiction, I admire and respect all of the above writers. The art of creative writing requires more hard work, determination, and talent than reportage or factual reference. I think all of us competitors, and the winners and runners up, owe a great debt of gratitude to the successful creative writers who also find the time and energy to organize GWN.