*New* Historical Fiction Workshop plus a Prize Short Story from Naomi Parsons.

We are delighted to reveal details of an up and coming workshop on Writing Historical Fiction with Dr Alan Bilton. This workshop is open to everyone who has an interest in writing.

Date : Thursday 20th April.
Time : 11.30am – 4pm (bring own packed lunch)
Location : Threshing Barn, Llwyn Celyn, NP7 7ND (Landmark Trust property)
Booking : Tickets available via Eventbrite – CLICK HERE
Cost : £10
Workshop Leader : Alan Bilton.

The past is another country – but what does it mean to visit it? This hands-on, interactive workshop explores different kinds of historical fiction – from the most scrupulously authentic to the playful and parodic – exploring research, worldbuilding, language, voice and character. How do we build a fictional time-machine? How strange or familiar should the past seem? And what is the nature of historical ‘truth’?

As to location, we are again thrilled that the Landmark Trust, Llwyn Celyn property will be our venue again. Set in wondrous countryside, we will spend our time comfortably housed in the converted Threshing Barn. A light, bright and hopefully inspirational place to get the creative juices flowing.

Dr Alan Bilton teaches Creative Writing, Literature and Film at Swansea University. He is the author of three novels, The Sleepwalkers’ Ball (2009), The Known and Unknown Sea (2014) and The End of The Yellow House (2020), as well as a collection of short stories, Anywhere Out of the World (2016), and books on silent film, American fiction, and the 1920s. He was a jury member for the Dylan Thomas International Prize in 2022, and has appeared at the Hay, Edinburgh and Cheltenham Literary Festivals. 

Frances Copping Memorial Prize for Fiction -3rd Prize Winner
Naomi Parsons.

Naomi is a member of Hay Writers’ Circle and writing a collection of short stories exploring the moments that beauty, shame and magic intersect. She started writing non fiction, but eventually shifted to writing short stories and loves compelling stories that leave a reader with a shift in perception. Naomi is always on the look out for a great short story.

Neighbourhood Watch by Naomi Parsons

After Janice told us what she saw, we knew we had to watch Emmeline. We’re not gossips or anything like that, but you need to know what is going on to keep the town safe. We work in the charity shop and it’s a good way of finding out what people are really like. You wouldn’t believe what some of those snooty country women drop off. Scruffy tweed jackets we look up online and find out cost two hundred pounds. Janice said she was going to put a sign up in the window – we’ll take your Jaeger, but we don’t want your dirty knickers thanks. Yes, you can tell a lot about the people who come into the shop. But women like Emmeline are hard to place. No husband, no children. They shuffle in smelling of beige and fishermen’s friends. A woman like Emmeline goes to the corner shop for a tin of peaches. Or to the post office for their pension. But she knows no one and no one knows her. She is invisible. And if you are nobody’s grandmother or nobody’s wife, it is like you never existed. That’s just the way of it. But Emmeline was different to the usual invisible women. She made us gasp with the things she bought. Canary yellow belts. Chartreuse silk dresses. Once a pink velvet basque for goodness’ sake! Naturally we wondered what was going on. Began to worry about her really.

On Tuesday Janice ran into the shop. She is always on the go, but we could sense she had something to tell us, so we put the ‘back in five minutes’ sign up. Janice is a night owl. She likes chatting on the phone. Sometimes she sits up until midnight knitting.  Yesterday evening, she said she was looking out of the window. Her flat is high up for this town on the fourth floor by the clock tower. There was no wind that night, just the soft rustle of a pigeon in the eaves. As the last chime sounded, she saw something. She said it looked like a tatty jackdaw with a broken wing. Then, as it stepped into the streetlight glow Janice told us the creature exploded with colour. It began to move, slowly at first then twirling like a dervish – green chiffon twisted with cerise silk. A cobalt cloak around its shoulders as it spun out its unearthly dance.  It remained at each streetlamp and danced before sashaying away to the next. 

Janice sipped her tea and looked at us each in turn “Everything the creature wore was from the charity shop.” She paused. “And the creature wearing everything was Emmeline.”

We had wondered what on earth this tiny old lady was doing with the clothes and now we knew. We decided to take turns to watch Emmeline. It’s not right we would say. It’s not safe. Emmeline began to appear every night at midnight. In the morning we would exchange stories of what we had seen. Sometimes she looked like an exotic bird in garish crepe. Or an alien jellyfish in pink mousseline. We began to dream about her and we felt unsettled. We agreed that something really must be done but looked forward to the colder months when surely Emmeline’s night time wandering would end.

Winter came late that year, but when it did it was hard. It was a Thursday when the snow fell. By three o clock we decided to shut the shop. No one had been in for hours. We didn’t think even Emmeline was likely be out in this weather and we were right. Janice said she looked out of the window at midnight but there was no one there. Only a slow, noisy plough drove past, shedding huge heaps of snow onto already high drifts. So, she shut out the cold and went to bed.

The next morning, we woke to gleaming snow that smelt of possibility. We were by the bakery, wondering whether to buy some sponge for elevenses when we saw a group of people stood around a heap of snow. But the snow wasn’t doing what it was meant to do. The snow was moving. Deepest marine blue was rippling around the drift, like a network of rivers. The rivers burst and covered the heap like a Miami pool. Then tangerine capillaries began to appear and just where they met one another, dots of cerise sparkled and burst away. The colours did not mix and murk the way you might have expected them to, they just appeared, one shade after the other. The town people oohed and ahhed for all the world like they were at a bonfire night display. As the sun rose over the mountains that flank our town, the clouds glowed Fragonard pink. Until finally, the colours faded away and we were left once more with a mound of virginal white snow.

We nodded to one another that we had done the right thing. People are easily fooled by fancy.

It was Mike who broke the spell. He crunched over the road returning with an old Canadian rabbiting spade. A delicate tool for teasing rabbits out of burrows. Mike has always been tactful. After some time digging, he put down the spade. Using his hands, he began to stroke the snow away instead. An arm appeared. Alabaster white and smooth as marble. It looked like the frozen flesh of a young girl. We saw faces fall as they imagined who this could be. Mothers’ eyes darted as they tried to remember if they had seen daughters that morning. They inhaled as one as Mike tenderly brushed the snow away from the face. But there, of course, beneath the shimmering flakes we saw Emmeline’s frozen eyes, As shining in death as they had been dull in life, staring back at us.

To say the crowd were disappointed was an understatement. They had just experienced heights of beauty. Some of them felt transported. That all this majesty, this transcendence, could have stemmed from Emmeline of all people seemed all wrong. She was just one of them, an invisible woman. Magic and beauty belong to the young or otherworldly, not an invisible old lady with a fondness for wine gums and Take a Break magazine.

We saw Emmeline’s clothes on the tarmac. The drenched marine silk, pink velvet and tangerine corduroy that had run so gloriously into the snow had pooled to a reddish mud that slopped down the drain. Not so pretty now. A paramedic arrived and took out a stretcher. People drifted away back to their ordinary lives. Police took notes. We stood closely together and told them what we knew. About Emmeline at midnight, a batty old woman who had started to wander. About the snow plough heaping snow to the pavement. A terrible accident we said, but of course the driver wasn’t to know. Just doing their job. Keeping the town safe. We didn’t tell them about the clothes.

Later, those who had glimpsed her face, beginning to thaw as she moved through the town for the last time, said it had been contorted in horror. A grimace. Terrible, they said, shaking their heads.  But we were not so sure. We thought she was smiling.

Keeping the town tidy isn’t always a pleasant job, but sometimes people are happier away from it. It’s not that we didn’t like Emmeline. In fact, she has brought us closer together somehow. Emmeline would have liked this, we say, as we fold a crocheted waistcoat or a crushed velvet skirt.  We smile as we think about her. And, as we tidy the cupboard, entrusted to us to hold all of the town’s keys, we say a quick prayer for her and lightly touch the snow plough key.

And Finally …

Don’t forget our Poetry Competition is now open for submissions – 1st Prize is £100!
Go to our Competitions page for full details and an entry form.


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About thehaywriters

The Hay Writers : a highly active & forward thinking writing group based in Hay-on-Wye, the world famous 'Town of Books'. ✍️ In 2019 we celebrated our 40th anniversary.
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