Sunday, 15 October 2017

Winning last year's Words And Women’s prose competition

Our annual prose competition is open for entries until the 15th November. Click here for submission details.

There are two major prizes on offer: the East of England Prize and our National Prize for Women Writers over the age of 40.
The national award, generously sponsored by Hosking Houses Trust, offers women over the age of 40 the opportunity to win £1,000 and up to a month-long writing retreat at Church Cottage near Stratford-upon-Avon. The East of England prize offers the winner £600 and a mentoring session with Jill Dawson of Gold Dust. 

Below is a post from Deborah Arnander, the national winner of last year’s competition with her short story The Wife, which opens a window on her time in Church Cottage. If you’d like to read up on what it means to win the regional prize then click on April in our blog archive and winner Melissa Fu will give you the low-down.

A House of One’s Own,Deborah Arnander

(C) Deborah Arnander
 In Church Cottage, the Hosking Houses Trust provides the lucky resident with more than a room: with, in fact, a House of One’s Own, to quote the title of Janet Malcolm’s wonderful essay on Bloomsbury and the ‘spirit of industry’ that still resides in houses like Charleston.  These places speak, Malcolm says, ‘of the values by which Chekov’s good characters are ruled: patient, habitual work and sensible, calm behavior.’  That spirit rules in this place too.  You cannot fail to feel its benevolent influence. 
            The cottage has been appointed with great thoughtfulness.  There is a huge enamel bath, a comfy bed, a proper writing chair.  A well-stocked bookcase includes works by many of the impressive women who have been here before.  The River Stour is at the bottom of the lane, and the resident has use of a reputedly unsinkable white boat.  Clifford Chambers is a pretty village built around a cul-de-sac, with an interesting church, some beautiful old houses, and a Manor that reminded me of Tintin’s Marlinspike Hall.  It is a walkable two miles from Stratford-upon-Avon.  At night, there is total silence.  The church bells ring the hour.
I worried before I came that I might balk at the change to my routines, that I might even miss the perverse satisfaction of stealing time out of the day.  But the cottage works its magic, and in the time I’ve been here, I’ve found myself unwilling even to turn on the radio. I knew it would be an age before I got another chance to be so single-minded about my work.  I let the outside world recede.  I had the whole day to dive down.
(C) Deborah Arnander
            I brought my most recent notebooks with me, and some print-outs of my semi-abandoned novel.  I decided to work on the novel first.  In the absence of other distractions, I managed to rewrite the first four chapters in a way that gives me hope: it’s much closer to the point-of-view character now.  I’ve always known that there are major problems with the plot; I’ve had some ideas about what I need to do to fix that. 
I’ve also been thinking for some time about a book of interconnected short stories.  At the Cottage I started to wonder what that might look like: there would need to be enough variation, for example, in the ages or life stages of the protagonists.  I sketched out half a dozen potential stories centred on a particular theme, and started composing one of them.  I have always found it difficult to see my work as a whole, rather than the few sentences or pages I’m working on.  But now I realize that a less fragmented day, with no other responsibilities, makes that wider view possible. 
There are several books at the cottage by one of the Trust’s patrons, Tracey Emin.  Speaking of the inspiration for her ‘Lonely Chair’ drawings, she told an interviewer: ‘When I’m in my house in France, I’m really, really happy.  I feel at one with something and at peace with something.  I spend a lot of time on my own there and I spend a lot of time sitting in a chair thinking.’  Those words have been echoing inside me all the time that I’ve been here.  Encouraging surroundings, time for uninterrupted thought, and perhaps especially, solitude: these things are essential for a writer.  I am so grateful to the Hosking Houses Trust, and to Words and Women, for running the competition.    

Deborah was born in Northumberland but spent her childhood in Thailand.  She has a PhD in French literature, and works as a translator.  She won an Escalator award in 2010, when she began her first, soon to be completed novel, The Cinderella Watch, which was shortlisted in 2014’s TLC/PEN Factor competition. She has published stories in Unthology One and Words and Women One, Three and Four, all with Unthank Books, and poetry in the webzine Ink, Sweat and Tears.  She is married with two children.