Jean O’Donoghue’s “Big Issue” a Gripping Gothic Tale Of Our Times.

by Jean O’Donoghue

An Epigraph

Dear Reader

I am setting down this tale for you, exactly as it was told to me. My name is Canon Archibald Stanley and I am a retired Rural Dean from Kent. I trust that  this will satisfy you as to my reliability and that you may give full credence to what I will relate.

First-class-carriages-are-008On a chilly evening in November, I was making my way on the four o’clock train from Victoria towards my home in Hove. Whenever I am at Victoria I am in a good mood as I like its ecclesiastical proportions and its enigmatic sense of the unexpected. I settled myself comfortably into an empty First Class carriage. As we pulled out of the station, I turned my attention to Peake’s Commentary on the Bible. It was a handsome leather-bound edition that I had picked up for a song in Cecil Court.

 At Croydon, a young man got onto the train. He appeared flustered and somewhat unkempt. I was surprised when he sat down in the seat opposite to me. I suspected that he did not have a First Class ticket. This young man seemed to be looking at my clerical collar, but then he abruptly closed his eyes and fell fast asleep.

Whilst he slept, I had the opportunity to study him more closely. He was, I estimated, around twenty-two years of age. His face was paper-white and his eyebrows inscribed raven arcs above his closed eyes. The flesh between his eyebrows was puckered as if, even within his sleep, he was troubled. His nose was unremarkable, but his lips were a startling cherry red, such as I  never encounter within my circle of lady churchgoers. The young man had not shaved that day, and not for several days. His clothes were black, and his face was partially cowled by what I believe is termed “a hoodie”. Combined with his pale complexion, my fanciful gaze pictured him as an aesthetic young monk, persecuted by thoughts of an unwarranted nature. His clothes showed signs of wear and dusty marks. His hands lay in his lap and I noted grime beneath his ragged nails. For all that, there arose in me an unbidden and almost physical attraction toward him. I really am not that sort of person.

As the train drew into Croydon it jolted and the man was shaken awake. He looked at me with startled stainless steel eyes, like a wolf or a husky has. He began to speak.

“Are you a minister of religion?” he asked. “Can I talk to you about what troubles me?”

I was a little put out by this rude disturbance of my reading, and I am after all retired. But priesthood is a life-long vocation and I could not ignore my calling. I have often been commended by the Bishop for my inclusive approach to pastoral duties. In addition, I could not deny the strange attraction that I felt towards him. So, closing my book and folding it away under my hands I sat waiting and attentive, ready to offer what help I could. To encourage him, I leaned forward and gently touched his knee to reassure him, while nodding that he should go ahead. His knee felt wraith-like beneath his flimsy trousers. And so he began his extraordinary story.

As soon as I returned home to Mrs Stanley, around 5.30 pm, I put down the whole of this account in writing just as I heard it from him. I wrote in longhand using my Mont Blanc pen which was given to me by grateful parishioners on my retirement. I like to feel that I have a good hand, and I chose a special leather-bound notebook which I had picked up cheaply in a flea market some years before. Mrs Stanley says that I am very old-fashioned.

The Young Man’s Tale.

“ I live in Croydon and work at a big bank in the City. I have been there since leaving school. I am just an admin assistant and it’s not much of a job. I live by myself in a small flat and don’t see many people outside of work. I visit my widowed mother in Crawley at the weekends and usually have Sunday lunch with her. Sometimes I go to the cinema with an old friend from school. I have

tried going to the local camera club a couple of times, but everyone was older than me and my heart was not in it.

I used to sleep very well. I always have the same dream. There is a house, a big old house. I go to the house and it always feels familiar to me. I walk the empty rooms and shout out loud and my voice echoes back to me. The house feels huge with scores of rooms but I never see the whole of the house and I never see it from the outside. There are many dark corridors with closed doors that I have not explored. Sometimes I hear the tapping of a branch against a window, or the hoot of an owl outside. There are tendrils of dark green ivy encroaching through some of the windows, and the dusty curtains billow out from a gentle breeze. I have always woken from this dream feeling peaceful and collected. It is as if the rooms hold a desperately familiar sense of belonging that is as accustomed to me as my own bed. Or that is how it was until a few weeks back, until one morning in late October.

floor-length-mirrors-mirror-floorIn my dream that night I had walked into a ground floor room that I had not seen before. There was nothing in the room save for a very large mirror in a battered gilded frame. This hung haphazardly on the wall opposite the window. The mirror was taller than I am and was as wide as my arm span, with tarnished glass through which you could see the silvered backing peeling off. As I went up to the mirror and smiled at my reflection, I heard the shriek of a vixen outside and in the same moment a torrent of hailstones battered the windows. These noises startled me and I turned to look out of the window. There was nothing to see, the night was clear and calm with a full moon hanging in the sky though it struck me as odd that I could not make out the cheery features of the man in the moon. Then, turning back to the mirror, I caught sight of a shadowy head that had appeared in the glass. Its face was obscured and within a few seconds it had vanished. I was not really sure that I had seen anything. Then I looked for my own image in the murk of the glass but my head was not reflected back to me. Then I woke up, not with the usual sense of peace and harmony but with a chill and a shiver.

When I arrived at work that morning, I had the usual chat with Doreen and Sheila who share my section of the office. Gary from Despatch butted into the conversation, as he always did. We talked about dreams. Sheila said mine was about identity and that I should “get a life”. She told us about a dream she had had involving an encounter with members of the Congolese army. It had not ended well for her. Gary talked about his wet dreams until we shut him up. Doreen sat and listened while she filed her nails and smiled.

The day passed slowly. Oddly, when lunchtime came, the sun was shining and it was hot outside. The four of us ate our sandwiches on the small patch of grass that squeezed into the narrow gap between the office blocks. Through the railings we could see the tube station, the passers by and the stooped back of a Big Issue seller by the steps down to the tube.

“I have never seen him before,” said Sheila, the words muffled because she was eating cake. “I bet he’s not as nice as that young red-haired chap that used to be there. He was fit.”

Doreen said that she would never give money to Big Issue sellers because, “It’s a crap magazine and they are all illegal immigrants from Romania.” She turned back to her Daily Mail.

Gary ventured his opinion, too. “They all have BMWs at home. I saw it on the telly.”

By the end of the day I had forgotten about my dream and felt in a good mood. That was why, when I saw the new Big Issue seller I decided to give him something. I would not buy the paper, which now cost £2.50, since that is a lot of money for a thin magazine and anyway I agree with Doreen about its quality. As I approached him the seller looked up and I was distracted by the intensity of his stare. His black eyes seemed to have no depth to them, and while looking towards me he was not really looking at me. As I moved toward him, I felt in my pocket for change but found that I did not have more than thirty pence.  It would be an insult to give him that so I smiled and said, “I will be back. I‘ll get some change.” He said nothing and seemed to look through me even more. “Sod him,” I thought as I ran down the stairs to use my Oyster card. As I went down the stairs I seemed to hear the shrill squeak of a bat behind me, but when I looked around the Big Issue seller had gone.

On a whim, I decided to get off at Oxford Circus and look around one of the big stores. Perhaps I would have more of a life if I bought some new clothes. As I wound my way through the lavatorial corridors of the tube station I came across a sort of crossroads in the passageways. Seated on the ground was a small woman wearing a bright flowery head scarf. I could not see her face fully as she was bending down over a small accordion on which she played abrasive notes with two fingers. Suddenly it was as if all the other rushing passengers melted away and I was alone with her. She did not look up but stretched out both hands. Her sharp dirty nails nearly touched me. I felt frozen, as if the brief moment were lasting for hours. All of a sudden, her tuneless dirge transformed itself into a gutsy mazurka, even though she was not touching the keys. Puzzled, I shrugged and moved on.

Oxford-Street     I found shopping for clothes in Oxford Street a dispiriting task. Exasperated, and in a frustrated rush, I bought the first thing my hand alighted on in Top Man. This was an expensive orange sweater with an impenetrable logo that did not suit me. Fed up and weary, I picked up my carrier bag and turned towards Marble Arch station in order to make my way to Victoria. At the mainline station I found that I had twenty-four minutes to wait before the next train to Croydon, and I shuffled from foot to foot impatiently as I stared at the departures board as if that would hurry it up. At Victoria, you can never know which platform the trains will go from so I hedged my bets by standing between the two most commonly used ones. I badly wanted to get a seat on the train as I was tired from my shopping, and had had enough of the day.

As I stood there, my head in a sort of irritated reverie, I felt a tap on my back. Turning, I found a woman holding out a bundle that looked like a baby or small child swaddled in a washed-out pink blanket. The woman had long black hair which was held back by a flowery woollen scarf. I noticed that one of her eyes was a startling bright green, the other a nondescript chestnut. She scowled at me, and asked harshly, “Money for my baby? No food.”

I shook my head “No” and edged away along the concourse. She pursued me for a few yards, walking alongside me and repeating the same words over and over. Her clever face grew darker and darker. I outpaced her but she kept up her whining. When I stopped to send her off with a few choice words I found that she had disappeared and I could not see her anywhere as I scanned the concourse from left to right. My train was still fifteen minutes away from departure. I felt that I needed to go to the lavatory before catching the train, and I calculated that I would just have time to get to the gents and back. So I made my way to the dark archway that led onto Victoria Street. As I passed through it, I spotted a dark bundle of clothes on the right of the walkway. On looking more closely, I recognised the woman and her baby. Something made me say, “Hullo, how are you?” This time she smiled ingratiatingly and asked, “Would you like to see my little girl?” I could see long blond curls escaping from the blanket which lay over the baby’s head, and I felt drawn to see what sort of child the woman’s bundle contained. The mother encouraged me, “Look, go on. She is pretty – yes?” And with this, she slowly drew back the blanket.

The curls were pretty enough. But the face I saw had no eyes, no nose, no lips. It was like a puffy oversized thumb with hair on the top. Or like a ghastly huge white featureless potato. This baby had no face at all.

Since that night, I have dreamt the same dream many times. I am in the large dark house again. Each time I look into the gilded mirror and each time there appears the faceless head of the child, in place of my own. I imagine it is looking at me, blaming me. I feel this though there is no expression to read from the absent features. Every night I wake up screaming in the early hours and I spend the remainder of the hours of darkness trying to calm myself by making tea and watching TV.

This week that has just passed, I have found that I cannot even catch a short nap within the warmth of my own bed. I have taken to sleeping in an old armchair in my kitchen where I turn the radio up loud. It does no good. The dream haunts me there as well.

I am very tired and I have become distracted at work. Doreen and Sheila say that I need a tonic and should see my doctor. They say that I am becoming very scruffy and when I ask them to come out for lunch they say yes but then they make excuses and say they are not free. I get the feeling that they no longer like sitting next to me and the other day Doreen would not lend me her calculator. Gary just laughs at me and calls me “Sick Carrot Boy” because of my orange sweater. None of them know how desperate I am feeling. That is why it was good to sit near you, Vicar. I felt I could catch a little sleep sitting here. I thought I might sleep safely because you’re a vicar.”

Canon Stanley

“And what, dear boy, are you going to do?” I asked of the young man when he at last paused. He had recounted all this in a breathless and pressured manner and I had not interrupted him. I considered that as a churchman I was obliged to offer what comfort I could once he had concluded his appalling story. He looked so weary that I felt sorry for him. He then told me what he would do, and the reasoning behind it. I listened intently and leaned forward to hear him as he replied in exhausted yet excited tones.

“I have decided to run away. Even sleeping here, next to you, and lulled to sleep by the movement of the train I have had that dream again. The dream terrifies me more and more each time. I have decided that I must go to Australia. This will put distance between me and the horrors within my head. In Australia, there will be daytime when it is night-time here. The things that persecute me at night are English and so must keep English hours. It is in the southern hemisphere that I will find relief. And I will find a camp of Aborigine people who will help me with their magic should that baby come back.”

After telling me this he forthwith rushed to get off the train at Gatwick, our next station stop. I had not time to answer him. At the door he uncouthly pushed past six commuters who were neatly queuing, in their smart city suits, to get off the train. They were all, men and women, outraged and vocal in their protests, but such was his insistent jostling that they had to let him through. The young man had no luggage. His dishevelled appearance, his reckless burst of speed and the continued echoes of outrage from our train caused a brief pause in the sedate commotion of the station as other scurrying passengers stared to look. I watched the young man running at break neck speed along the platform towards the connecting train to Heathrow. The Heathrow train was ready to go and about to move off. As the guard blew on his whistle the young man hauled himself aboard a first class carriage. The guard crossly slammed the door shut behind him.

images blurred train
As the train pulled out, my young man turned to look at me from the corridor window. I waved towards him, half regretful at our parting and half relieved at last to go back to my reading.


The jarring sound of the Heathrow train made me look up again. As I watched, his train inched away from the lights of the station and into the deep twilight of Surrey. My young friend was still looking through the train window.

My heart lurched within me as I saw his face and registered that the raven brows, his lupine eyes and those carmine lips had transformed into a blank and awful facelessness.

The end

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Flocking To A Good Cause – Watch The Birdie Anthology Published — Emma van Woerkom ~ Poet

Watch The Birdie : Poems with something to squawk about.
For The 67 Birds On The R.S.P.B. Red List.

For those of you, like me, who have been gripped by the BBC Wildlife series Dynasties, it’s very difficult to ignore our species’ impact upon the natural world, even here in the UK. Back in […]

via Flocking To A Good Cause – Watch The Birdie Anthology Published — Emma van Woerkom ~ Poet

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Review of Hay Writers’ Circle Fiction Workshop

Review of Hay Writers’ Circle Fiction Workshop, October 2018

Article by Alan Oberman, 18/11/2018

According to its participants, the 2018 Hay Writers’ Fiction Workshop was a huge success. I have taken part in a handful of creative writing workshops all, without exception, enjoyable. They shared a common structure, examining theme, plot, character, style, beginnings, middles, endings.

Salmon_Peter-detailPeter Salmon, leader of the Hay Writers’ workshop, had none of that. He set out to liberate us. His slogan – THERE ARE NO RULES. His message – when we abandon the reins that set our writing along a predetermined path, we will arrive in unfamiliar country of which we had no prior knowledge. Let the mind free and it will roam wherever it will.

He sets us to write with the instruction that at no time is the pen to cease moving across the page. I find this laughable. My writing process involves staring out of the window for an inordinately long time attempting to define what I want to say and then staring at the page struggling to find the most appropriate words to express my thoughts. I commence the task and within seconds find Peter’s eyes upon me admonishing me that my pen is not moving. OK, I thought to myself, if the instruction is to write a flow of drivel, drivel is what he’ll get. And that’s what he got, except…somehow it worked. The story you create takes you to places and situations of which you had no prior thought. Accept no rules, says Peter, that inhibit and confine one’s imagination.

Then, having got us to write on that topic for ten minutes, Peter calls on us to wrench the story into a new direction. Try it for yourself. Take a sentence at random from any book. Here’s an example you could use: “She lifted the back-door latch but something obstructed the door preventing it from opening as freely as it always did.” Using your sentence as opener, write for ten minutes without pause for thought, with the pen flowing continuously. Then (don’t look now!) insert the sentence you’ll find at the end of this review and take ten minutes more to conclude the story.

Through the day, listening to what each participant made of the various tasks was a pleasure and how different were our stories.

the coffee story


Peter Salmon is author of the highly entertaining novel, The Coffee Story, as rich and dark as coffee itself. He left us with one final instruction – spend ten minutes every day, letting the pen take you to worlds you never thought you might imagine. Well done Hay Writers for organising this workshop.

It was at that moment that my grandmother exploded.

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A Piece for November – ‘Butter’ by Angela Grunsell


‘Butter’ by Angela Grunsell

QBB read the brand on the label, long before people talked about branding, although they did refer to brands in those days: Marmite, Mc Vities, Manbre and Garton. {The last produced sugar crystal lumps for after dinner coffee}. In the 1950s one of the children was given the Harrods list and asked to phone the Harrods night staff on Tuesday evenings, each week, so as to catch the Wednesday delivery.

h1891 showbag - q.b.b. ghee clarified butter (1)

Q.B.B. (est. 1925) advertising bag from the collection of Queensland Museum.

QBB, the butter marketing board, Brisbane, produced this tin. A map of Australia in gold on the side, pinpointed Brisbane on the coast. By the time of the move in the 1980s it had sat on the shelf, together with another one for forty years odd. It was a little dented, perhaps from its original journey, but the shiny gold lettering, on the discreet yellow and dark green tin, was undimmed. Take a quick look and it seemed no older than those alongside it.

QBB, butter concentrate for hot climates, had stood by the family, unassuming modest, heavier in weight than the 12oz net claimed for its contents. Nobody remembered any longer who had sent it or how it had arrived in the worst winter of the war, when food was short; but the consolation of receiving this gift, was the way it spoke of other British people on the far side of the world being in touch, getting through. Its existence on the shelf made ordinary things like breakfast remain in reach: solid, reliable, practical, a dairy product with a long life that could be called upon if needed.

Mother died twenty years after the house move. She died as quietly as she had lived, reserved, undemanding, a reliable backdrop to her childrens lives, always there to call upon, until she wasn’t.

The tin, never opened, is no longer on the food shelf, but it got left behind. Now 70 years after the end of the war, the two tins exist as artefacts, museum pieces. For the children, now old themselves their tin reminds them of the stone stairs, the larder, the old house and mother.


The ‘One’ of the two remaining tins.

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2018 Fiction Competition – Judge Announced – Sue Limb

The Hay Writers’ Circle 2018 Fiction Competition –
Judge Announced

We are delighted to confirm that the author Sue Limb will be our judge for the 2018 Fiction Competition.

Sue Limb.
sue limb photo

Sue Limb’s professional writing career began immediately after escaping from the Ministry of Education, Sue wrote ‘Up the Garden Path’ – the story of a teacher whose private life is an absolute disgrace. It was adapted for radio and became a TV series starring Imelda Staunton. Later Sue wrote a column for The Guardian newspaper called ‘Dulcie Domum’s Bad Housekeeping’ about a writer whose private life was an absolute disgrace. Just to prove she could tackle other kinds of story, she co-authored a biography of the Antarctic hero Captain Oates.

Writing for young people has always been a big part of Sue’s working life, mainly because she still doesn’t feel grown up. In recent years she’s produced the Jess Jordan books and re-visited her early childhood in the Ruby Rogers series. Occasionally Sue draws inspiration from classic literature, producing affectionate parodies of great writers she admires (such as The Wordsmiths at Gorsemere, a radio series celebrating the eccentricity of the Romantic poets).

sue-limb-pack-4-books-79134-p[ekm]300x300[ekm]Sue is also a regular humorous columnist for Good Housekeeping and currently occupies the court jester’s corner in Cotswold Life magazine.

She lives in a wild, rocky and remote part of Gloucestershire, on a farm, and when not writing she likes to be out of doors messing about with plants and animals.

For more information on Sue’s books, please CLICK HERE


Gloomsbury – a literary comedy by Sue Limb parodying the arty and adulterous adventures of the Bloomsbury Group is currently being aired on Radio 4 on Fridays at 11.30am.   CLICK HERE

The Hay Writers 2018 Fiction Competition 

Rules and Entries

The Fiction competition is sponsored by The Hay Writers’ Circle with prizes for first, second and third places.

The closing date for entries is Tuesday 20th November. Results will be announced in late December.

Word count for this competition is 600 words minimum and 1250 words maximum. The theme is entirely open.

Please print your entry in Arial Font 12, double spaced.

Your name must NOT appear on your entry. Please put your name, title and contact details on the booking form only.

Please put your title at the beginning of the entry. Please number your pages and secure them together firmly.

Each applicant may submit a maximum of two entries.

The results are final and correspondence will not be entered into over the results. All applicants shall be informed of the results.

The winning pieces shall be published on our website with the author’s permission. Publication may prevent eligibility for future competitions. All rights remain with the author.

£5.00 per entry. If paying by BACS payment please make sure your payment is received, with your name on the reference, before the 20th November. Cheques will be accepted on the 20th November but must clear to validate the entry.

To download the entry form please use this link  Fiction Competition booking form

pens image


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Autumn and Creative Countryside — Emma van Woerkom ~ Poet

Autumn Bears Fruit. Well, we’ve hit that perfect time of year when Autumn looks more burnished and bright than ever. Today the sun is suddenly clear and warm, the wind has slightly eased, and all those abundant turning leaves shimmer and wave from their tree-top homes. By next week the weather and wind will have changed, […]

via Autumn and Creative Countryside — Emma van Woerkom ~ Poet

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Catching the Tale – WRITING WORKSHOP

Catching the Tale – 2018 Fiction Workshop

Hay Writers’ Circle are delighted to present a fiction workshop on Saturday 27th October, with writer and workshop leader Peter Salmon.

 Catching the Tale Fiction Workshop A4 poster-page-001

Peter Salmon’s first novel, The Coffee Story (Sceptre, 2011), was a New Statesman Book of the Year, and his second, Blue Roses, will be published in September 2018. He is currently working on a book about Jacques Derrida for Verso Press, entitled An Event Perhaps, which is due out in 2019. He has written frequently for Australian TV and radio and for broadsheets including the Guardian, the New Humanist, the Tablet and the Sydney Review of Books. He has received Writer’s Awards from the Arts Council of England and the Arts Council of Victoria, Australia.  Formerly Centre Director of the John Osborne/The Hurst Arvon Centre (2006-2012), he also teaches creative writing, most recently at Pembroke College Cambridge, the University of Tallinn and Liverpool John Moores University.

There are few pleasures greater than writing – inventing characters, stories and scenarios and watching them grow into something that you didn’t expect. Whether it is a short story, prose poem or novel, the thrill of getting it right is unique and can be breath-taking.

In this fun and intensive course, I will help you move from the ideas in your head to getting them on the page, and from getting them on the page to making them sing.

Salmon_Peter-detailWith exercises covering plot, character development, the art of description and dialogue, I will work with the skills you already have, and let you find new ways of going on. With a strong emphasis on learning by doing, I will get you putting pen to page in a convivial and supportive environment.

Whether you have an idea burning inside you to get out, or you are waiting for the right one to come along, this course will set you on the path to achieving your goals as a writer, whatever they may be.

Oh, but do make sure you bring your pens and paper, or your laptop. You have writing to do.

The workshop is suitable for all levels of writers who want to explore their fiction ideas.

This workshop will be presented in the modern and comfortable facility of Cusop Hall, situated just on the outskirts of Hay on Wye. Suitable for disabled users, within walking distance from Hay and with excellent on-site parking. Please arrive from 9.45am as the day will begin promptly at 10am with an introduction to Peter Salmon and move swiftly into productive writing. We will break for morning refreshments and lunch. At 4pm we shall finish for afternoon coffee and cake. Included in the cost for the workshop is the chance to enter your work in our annual Fiction competition. Our competitions are judged by external, highly acclaimed writers and offer the chance for valuable feedback. This year’s competition deadline is the 20th November, with a word count of 1,250 words, and an open theme.

To best accommodate individual dietary requirements we ask that you bring your own lunch. The venue has kitchen facilities including a microwave, but not an oven, if you need to use them. Hot and cold drinks will be available throughout the day. Biscuits and afternoon cake are provided so please inform us when booking if you have any allergies.

Saturday 27th October 2018

10am until 4pm

At Cusop Hall, Hay on Wye, HR3 5RW

£35 per person

Numbers are limited and booking is ESSENTIAL.

Course reference: Fiction 003

Contact : Marianne Rosen to book your place:


Phone or text: 07967 454322

Or complete the booking form attached, with the reference: Fiction 003


To find out more about our workshop leader please visit his website:

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Reading at the Launch of Rhiannon Hooson’s “Full Moon on Fish Street”. — Emma van Woerkom ~ Poet

I’ve had a bit of a busy year dotting from Cornwall, to Orkney, then on to Shetland, back to Hay-on-Wye, now in North Somerset and I’m ashamed to say my website slipped from my mind, so I’m going to make amends. Last weekend, under a steely-grey, rain-filled sky Rhiannon Hoosen launched her incredible new pamphlet, Full […]

via Reading at the Launch of Rhiannon Hooson’s “Full Moon on Fish Street”. — Emma van Woerkom ~ Poet

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Women in Farming

billie poster

Photo Exhibition by Billie Charity

Recently, photographer Billie Charity launched a new exhibition highlighting the rarely acknowledged world of women farmers. Her hard working subjects, like Billie herself, are based around Hay-on-Wye and range in age from 18 to 93 years old.

Billie’s incredible exhibition is being held at Shepherds Parlour (Hay-on-Wye) running throughout the summer and is FREE for everyone.

For more images from this collection click here

Excitingly, one of these inspirational female farmers is our very own Hay Writer, Peggy Ann Stevenson. Here’s what she has to say.

billie charity peggy ann

Copyright Billie Charity

“Farming is in my blood, one branch of my family, the Godsalls having been farmers in Herefordshire for over 600 years.

The picture taken by our local photographer, Billie Charity, shows me, now in my late eighties, feeding some of my Hereford cattle at Windle Park near Hay-on-Wye.

I have lived here for the past twenty years, having moved from Goodrich where I had spent most of my life.  There I bred riding ponies well as keeping a few Hereford cattle.

As a young person waiting to go to Pitmans college in London, I worked on a local farm, where knowing my interest in horses they made me Under Waggoner.  I had to have help putting the collars on, before taking them out to work the chain harrows or harnessing one to the hay rake with warnings not to let the horse back up, as one might end up under the hay rake.

While living in Goodrich I was master of the Ross harriers and President of Harewood End Agricultural Society. For the past five years I have been a member of Hay Writers. Writing and Watercolour painting have been among my interests for most of my life.”

Outside of farming Peggy Ann’s writing goes from strength to strength with Hay Writers’ Circle and her non fiction writing draws heavily from her daily observations of the natural world.

THE EDGE OF NIGHT by Peggy Stevenson

AS I stepped out of the old stone porch, the soft evening air of evening was pleasant after the stuffy air of the house. I crossed the drive and turned left up a narrow path, through a rockery to the iron wicket gate and into the field. Ahead of me ran the little white terrier, stopping now and then to see that I was following. We walked up the gentle slope of the field and climbed through the iron railings at the top.  A stubble field stretched up to the crest of the hill over which the moon was just showing its yellow disk among the grey streaks of the clouds. I turned and looked westward to where the last rays of the sun still lit the sky, orange along the summit of the wooded hill, becoming paler, until overhead the clouds straggling across the sky in mares’ tails, were a pearly grey. Walking along the hedgeway a little way I climbed the stile, the terrier running hither and thither on the scent of imaginary rabbits. On down the grassy bank past the old hollow elm, pausing a moment to gaze on the floodwater at the bottom of the field where the last rays of the setting sun were still reflected, a touch of pink in the faint bluey green with the tops of the rushes sticking up like spears. We walked on down past the floodwater and jumped over the ditch that had been deepened to allow the water to run back into the brook. The ground was still very squelchy and stepping from one clump of reeds to another we reached the stream and walked along the bank, as the terrier ran on sniffing here and there among the brambles and driftwood, the occasional plop of a water rat or the flutter and splash of a startled moorhen broke the stillness of the twilight. We came to an old wooden footbridge where part of the bank had been washed away by the floods. One of the bridge supports had slipped and the bridge now sloped at a dangerous angle. I walked cautiously over and onto the ploughed ground. In the distance I could hear the pealing of the church bells up the valley and then from down by the river another peal joined in.

Beyond the ploughed field where the sunset was still reflected on the freshly turns furrows, a hazy mist was rising and a warm breeze lightly rustled the trees along the stream.

The moon had risen quickly and now shone through the trees on the rippling water where the stream rounded a bend. Hearing a gentle splash as a moorhen dived into the water, I crept quietly to the bank of the stream where she was hiding among some tree roots. Suddenly she saw me and with a startled squawk splashed and few away upstream, alarming several others on her way. Walking along the stream an owl flew silently out of the trees, sweeping low over the plough in search of an unwary field vole.

Having reached the end of the field, I climbed over the wooden stile into the lane, the terrier wiggling his way underneath. We crossed the ancient pack saddle bridge and walked on up the lane. On the hillside to the left, the lights from a farmhouse glowed warmly in the dusk. Further up the lane the old elm trees were silhouetted like black lace against the bright full moon, which was now hanging in the sky, like a ripe yellow cheese. Overhead a few stars were beginning to show in the pale blue sky. Wehh turned off the lane into an old sward meadow and could still hear the moorhens calling rck rck rck along the stream. In the mists over the plough the owls were hooting and cheeping as they awoke sleepily from their perches in the hollow of old trees and flitted like spirits of the night in search of their prey.

The moon cast long shadows as we turned and walked back up the grassy bank, over the iron hurdle into the stubble field. Here the distant whine and rumble of traffic could be heard as it crawled slowly up the hill from beside the river.

Stopping at the iron gate at the top of the field and gazing towards Symonds Yat where the mist hung over the valley and the lights on the hill looked like distant shore lights seen from a boat at sea.  I whistled for the terrier and walked down the field back to the house as the shadows veiled the edge of night.



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Richard Booth Prize for Non-Fiction 2018 – Winner Announced

Richard Booth Prize for Non-Fiction

Article by C. Harris

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Richard Booth MBE

We had a very good response this year with a wide variety of interesting submissions, and our judge, the award winning writer Oliver Bullough, commented that the entries were of a high standard.  We are also eternally grateful to Richard Booth, (known to many as the King of Hay) who generously sponsors this competition and Richard was recently on hand to present the prizes to our winners at the annual Hay Writers’ Summer Lunch.

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    Oliver Bullough, courtesy of Curtis Brown

Oliver was kind enough to provide a commentary on all the pieces and made encouraging comments on all of them.  He also suggested possible improvements, which was very helpful, as one of the major benefits of holding competitions is the opportunity to have constructive criticism from independent, skilled and recognized writers.

First place was awarded to Marianne Rosen for “Unspeakable”.   This is a poignant piece, originally written as a “homework” exercise.  Marianne was characteristically modest about it when she presented it to the group but was encouraged by us to enter it in a competition.  Oliver described it as “beautiful and very moving”.  He commented on the effectiveness of the “curious grammar” and the ambiguities that make the piece read “like someone who’s sleepwalking through life”.  It is a piece with many emotional layers which “slowly unfolds its secret”; “a very profound bit of writing”.

Joint second place went to Jean O’Donahue for “Seurat and Monet”. This piece was “a great story about seemingly small items with deep significance”.  Oliver commented on her gift for describing things from her own perspective and on her confidence as a writer, bringing in “massive things as if they are tiny” and “small things as if they are massive”.

The other joint second place went to Jo Hill for “Sandy – a case study”.   A “powerful piece” about an emotionally disturbed child, it impressed Oliver with the “bravery of writing”.  He commented on the effective narrative devices and the portrayal of the child.  His final comment was particularly encouraging – “I think it could even be a pitch for a book. I’d read it.”

The pieces entered for this competition demonstrate the talents of our writers, highlighting the quality and variety of the writing currently being produced.

Many congratulations to everyone who entered, especially to the prize-winners.

Our sincere thanks are due to Richard Booth, for his continued support of our group and also to Oliver Bullough, who has been a fantastic judge; generous with his time and his expertise. Thank you.


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