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Angry Ghost Poetry Competition – Results

Thank you so much to everyone who entered.

It was incredibly hard to choose but, after much soul-searching, I came up with this list.

The first three poets have given permission for me to share their poems lower down the page.

The highly commended poets and all other entrants are invited to share their work on Suffolk Writers Group on Facebook, together with a picture of their historical character. I really hope some of you do so. The poems deserve a wider audience. (Please note: if you’re intending to submit your work to a magazine or another competition, you may be disqualified if you share it on social media.)

The Winners

Will Kempe by Fiona Clark – First Place

Raedwald’s Crew by Katie Simpson – Second Place

Charles Darwin by Jon Platten – Third Place

Highly Commended

Robert The Bruce by Sharon Hulm

Salieri by Hemant Doshi

Van Gogh by Carole Ferguson

Rene Descartes by Dayle Olson

Benjamin Franklin by Adrian Frost


For the Winner

The Angry Ghost trophy

A £20 book voucher

A poetry book donated by Stillwater Books and homemade jam from Cuppa.

A signed copy of Thirty Angry Ghosts

The opportunity to share the poem at the Cuppa event

A free event ticket

For Second and Third Placed Poets

A Thirty Angry Ghosts Certificate

A £10 book voucher

Homemade jam from Cuppa

A signed copy of Thirty Angry Ghosts

The opportunity to share the poem at the Cuppa event

A free event ticket

For the Highly Commended Poets

A Thirty Angry Ghosts Certificate

Ghost-themed chocolate

The opportunity to share the poem at the Cuppa event

Available from all major outlets, including Stillwater Books in Felixstowe

To keep up with Angry Ghost events and activities, join Suffolk Writers Group on Facebook and/or follow maiblackwriter on Instagram and Twitter.

The winning poets, and some of the highly commended poets, will share their work at the Cuppa event following performances from Thirty Angry Ghosts.

The Three Winning Poems

Will Kempe

Who summons me from my eternal rest?

Will Kempe’s the name ; my aged bones are cold;

I spent my life in merry jigs and jests,

But customs alter and my jokes grew old.

Why am I here, if you’ve not conjured me?

Suppose YOU didn’t raise me from the dead-

I’ll wager t’was Will Shakespeare’s devilry-

That OTHER Will: though that’s not what he said-

Listen –  he wasn’t always famous. No!

They thronged to theatres chiefly to see ME,

They gaped to watch the great comedian grow

In fame ( and girth! ) and see my Dogberry.

They came to see my Bottom, when all’s done-

My jig with feisty heart and feet like feathers!

The theatre’s all about a bit of fun-

They came for laughter- cheered me in all weathers!

You see, he did me down, that other Will-

I spoke for him, in anger, when they sneered,

Those educated men, who snigger still-

“A country lad, an upstart crow”, they jeered.

But Will got mean – “ No more extempore!

 You’ll play my Falstaff, sticking to the script!”

(Best role I’d ever played, I have to say-

That boist’rous pudding-bellied hypocrite! )

In time, it rankled that I wasn’t free-

“Will, stuff your scripting where the sun don’t shine!”

“I know thee not, old man,” at last, says he.

Turns heel on me and all that once was mine.

So, off I went and danced my nine days jig,

 From London town to Norwich in the East.

For Shakespeare and his works, gave not a fig.

The roaring crowds, they filled my lusty breast.

Kempe’s Nine Days Wonder was so quickly done,

That faithless Shakespeare never thought of me-

 I died at last, from want of food, alone-

In Bread Street. Now THAT was an irony.

By Fiona Clark

William Kempe : potted biography.

Will Kempe (c. 1560 – c.1603).

Will Kempe was an English actor and dancer, well known for playing comic roles in Shakespeare’s plays, such as Peter in “ Romeo and Juliet” , Dogberry in “ Much Ado About Nothing” and Nick Bottom, the Weaver, in “ A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. He may also have played the role of Falstaff. It is notable that Shakespeare wrote no part for Falstaff in his Henry V, after Kempe’s departure from the theatre company.

So successful was Kempe, that he became one of the core of actor-shareholders in the Lord Chamberlain’s  Men in December 1598, together with Shakespeare and Richard Burbage. However, there was a falling-out between Kempe and the rest of the group, causing Kempe to leave in early 1599. The most likely cause of the quarrel was Kempe’s love of “ ad-libbing” or speaking “ extempore “, whereas Shakespeare preferred his actors to stick to the script!

We have good evidence for Shakespeare’s views on the topic in “ Hamlet”, Act  3, Scene 2, where Hamlet voices a famous complaint about improvisational acting.

After Kempe left the company, he undertook his “ Nine Days Wonder”- in which he morris danced from London to Norwich ( 110 miles), on nine days spread over several weeks during February to March in 1600. Later that year, he published his own lively account of the feat, to defy false reports from other sources.

Sadly, the evidence suggests that Kempe probably died in poverty, in Southwark in 1603.


The reference in my poem to Shakespeare as an “ upstart crow” echoes Robert Greene( 1558- 1592). In his pamphlet “ A Groatsworth of Wit” ( 1592) , Greene almost certainly intended  these words to refer to Shakespeare, a non- university educated outsider, and to accuse him of plagiarism : “an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers”.  

The phrase “ upstart crow” has been immortalised in the title of Ben Elton’s 2016 TV series, starring David Mitchell as Shakespeare.


RAEDWALD’S CREW                    

Maybe at night,

when the tides are right,

I slip your boat’s lines,

haul those long oars

and steal away.

A soundless boat

and a formless rower

with a warrior’s strength.

Just to feel the pull

of the oars through the water

once more,

to hear the lap of the waves

on the hull

and remember,

the roar

as we hauled together,

the swift slip of the sleekness

of the maiden we gave life,

in the hope and prayer

that she in turn

would keep ours safe.

My roar

rumbles across the river

like thunder,

as my heart rages,

for my crewmates-


But I return your little boat,

before dawn creeps

across the water.

A ship is a ship

and she deserves safe harbour.

So here she lies,

in the shadow of our king’s


By Katie Simpson


Charles Darwin

Disquisition Upon the Survival of the Fittest Natural Scientists, Relative to the General Population, in an Era of Climate Catastrophe (I Will Survive)

At first I was a doctor, so unsatisfied,

Kept thinking I could never learn with patients by my side.

But then I spent so many nights engrossed in entomology                        

And I grew strong

And I proposed a new theory.

Pin your ears back,

O human race –

I’ll just walk in and lecture you through this huge beard upon my face:

You should all change your stupid ways,

You should all help humanity,

If you can learn to work together, you’ll evolve successfully.

Go on now, go, to Ecuador,

Observe the finch now –

It does not prosper anymore.

That climate change has got you fried and your Armageddon’s nigh

Your earth will crumble,

Your race will lay down and die.

But no, not I, I will survive.

Unless you humans can evolve, your species will not thrive.

I’ve had all my life to live,

I’ve still got all my brains to give, so I’ll survive,

I will survive. Hey, hey.

Pre-evolution theories had to fall apart

As I laboured to apply my sage researcher’s art.

And I spent oh-so many nights just reading textbooks from the shelf,

I used to sigh

But now I hold my book up high.

And you see me –

Ex-Beagle crew –

I’m not that trainee little parson still in love with zoos.

Because I want to change the world, I studied entomology

And now I’m saving our fine planet for creatures who follow me.

Go on, now, go, give up on war.

Give peace a chance now

So your species may endure.

That climate change has got you fried, and your Armageddon’s nigh,

Your earth will crumble,

Your race will lay down and die.

But no, not I, I will survive, hey, hey.

By Jon Platten


Thanks again to all the people who entered. I really appreciate the time you dedicated to your entries.

I’m so proud that my book and this competition have sparked so much creativity.

For details of my weekly Suffolk writing group and other local activities, please check back regularly to suffolkwritersgroup.com where you can also find my email address.

Best wishes,

Mai x

Available from Stillwater Books, Amazon and all other major retail outlets. It will also be available to purchase at the Cuppa event.

Angry Ghost Poetry Competition

(Competition is currently closed for entries)

Can you imagine yourself as the ghost of a famous historical figure? Can you write an angry poem in their voice?

For example, you could write as Oliver Cromwell raging against modern-day Christmas celebrations, Emily Pankhurst railing against women who don’t vote, or Einstein decrying the creation of nuclear weapons.

Here is a list of other historical characters who would leave behind angry ghosts courtesy of the ‘Horrible Histories’ team and here are some other sources of inspiration from me.

Poems should be sent to angryghostscomp@gmail.com by Monday 12th September 2022


A trophy for the winner

£20 book voucher for the winner and £10 for each of the two runners up

The opportunity to read your work at the prize-giving event at Cuppa in Felixstowe. Alternatively, you can ask for it to be read by one of the actors pictured below. (The ticket site will be active soon at http://www.cuppa.wtf/angryghosts)

A poetry book (below) donated by Stillwater Books and homemade jam from Cuppa.

Signed copies of ‘Thirty Angry Ghosts’

Winning poems and poets to be featured in the local press and on local radio.

The winner receives a £20 book voucher, this poetry anthology (donated by Stillwater Books), homemade jam (donated by Cuppa) and a signed copy of Thirty Angry Ghosts.

Terms and Conditions

Entries must be sent to angryghostscomp@gmail.com before Monday 12th September 2022.

The competition is aimed primarily at adults but younger poets are welcome to enter with the permission of a parent or carer.

Entrants must be able to travel to Cuppa (Felixstowe, Suffolk, UK) for the prize-giving on Saturday 8th October 2022. (Click here for Cuppa’s website.)

Poems must not exceed 300 words (no minimum)

Entries should not have been published elsewhere.

The copyright of each entry remains with the author, but by entering you give your consent for me to share winning and highly commended poems on social media and in the local press.

You can enter only one poem.

Entry is free but you may gain an advantage from reading Mai Black’s Thirty Angry Ghosts, which is available to buy at most bookshops and online here.

Poems should not take the voice of somebody already featured in Thirty Angry Ghosts.

Poems may use any style or form.

Poems may be rhymed or unrhymed.

The poem can either be attached as a Word or PDF document or pasted into the main body of the email.

Please include your name and contact details in your email, not on the attachment.

Entries will be judged anonymously by Mai Black with administrative assistance from Simon Black. No correspondence will be entered into except to thank you for your entry, share details of the prize-giving event, and to announce the winners.

Winning and highly commended poems will be announced on or before Friday 30th September 2022.

Good luck!

To keep up with competition news, related workshops and other Angry Ghost events, join ‘Suffolk Writers Group’ on Facebook and/or follow maiblackwriter on Instagram and Twitter.

To donate to the actors at the Cuppa performance on Saturday, October 8th, please use this link. https://paypal.me/MaiBlack

There will also be a monetary collection on the night.

The lineup for October’s Cuppa Performance
(To be followed by readings from the winners and shortlisted poets after the break)

Self-Publishing – Tips for First-Timers

After twenty years of reading and writing poetry, I’ve just released my first self-published poetry book!

‘Thirty Angry Ghosts’ is available at Woodbridge Emporium, Dial Lane Books, and on Amazon. Click here for the link to Woodbridge Emporium. Click here for the Amazon link.

I made the original version using the cheapest, most user-friendly print-on-demand service: Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Here’s the link to their website: KDP.

I then made a version with Ingramspark. It’s a similar service but isn’t nearly so user-friendly and costs £50. The advantage with Ingramspark is that it is easier to get interest from bookshops and your book will also be instantly accessible on Goodreads, Waterstones.com and many other major retailers.Here is a link to their website: ingramspark.com.

The finished book from both companies is almost identical. It definitely feels like a ‘proper’ book and the quality of the formatting and paper is actually much higher than many traditionally published poetry books.

Maybe you’d like to order a copy of Thirty Angry Ghosts to see for yourself. (Last plug, I promise).

If you’d like to self-publish your book, I recommend you start with KDP and then decide if you also want to use Ingramspark.

Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Write something you want to share with the world. Take your time and learn your craft. Make it something you can be really proud of.
  2. Edit, get feedback and edit again. Read your work aloud too and use a computer program to read it for you. I like Natural Reader (There is a free version which is very good). I’d also use a grammar checker. The best free program I used was Prowriting Aid.
  3. Search for and watch lots of YouTube videos about self-publishing your book. You might like to start with this one by ‘Reedsy’.
  4. Watch a few YouTube videos entitled ‘KDP or Ingramspark’. This one by Victoria Griffin is a good place to start. Click here for the link to Victoria’s video.
  5. Ideally, talk to someone who has already self-published a book.
  6. When you feel you have a fairly good understanding, and if you decide to begin with KDP, click on this Kindle Direct Publishing link.
  7. Enter your details and upload your book and cover in PDF format. Here’s a link to the templates you’ll need and a bit of information about them. KDP templates.
  8. Check the layout and order three proof copies.
  9. Give two proof copies to people you trust so they can give you feedback. Check the third one yourself and compare notes with your trusted readers.
  10. Make changes to your original document, save it as a PDF and re-upload it. (A huge benefit of starting with KDP is that amendments to the original text are free. I did about ten versions, making minor changes each time. On Ingramspark, you get charged £25 for each new upload.
  11. Order new proof copies and if you’re definitely satisfied, click ‘publish your paperback book’.
  12. Your book will now be available on Amazon. You can also order ‘author copies’ from KDP which you can sell face-to-face.
  13. Remember, you also have the option of publishing with Ingramspark as well, if you want to approach local bookshops.

Warnings (I wish I’d known about these)

If you click ‘publish your book’, it will be on Amazon forever. You can not remove it although you can change the cover and contents. Therefore, make sure you are completely happy with the proof copies and online viewer before you publish.

Consider using a professional artist/designer for the front cover. Expect to pay about £250. You can find a range of professional services here at ‘Reedsy’. In my case, I found a local artist to do the cover, which worked out very well, so you might like to ask for recommendations from friends or on social media.

Before you use any self-publishing program, make sure you have a good understanding of ISBNs. You might like to use the free KDP one but you might be better off buying your own personal one if you want to get your books stocked by other retailers other than Amazon. You can read all about UK ISBNs and purchase one from here: Nielsen ISBN Store.

This is an ISBN number. You find them on the back of most published books.

I hope you’ve found this guide helpful. I’m still quite new to publishing, so if you have any other tips to share with other readers, please put them in the comments.

Best wishes and good luck

Mai x


Dial Lane Books, Ipswich. A very proud moment!

Inspiration for your own angry ghost poem

This summer I’m running a competition for people to write their own angry ghost poem. Click here for details.

Below are some examples of people I think would make a good angry ghost. You can use any of these or think of your own historical figure.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein, Portrait, Theoretician Physician

Angry that people blame scientists for the atomic bomb.

Emily Pankhurst

Angry that so many modern women choose not to vote.

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Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell. (1599-1658) on engraving from the 1800s. English military and political leader best known for his involvement in making England into a stock photography

Angry about the way people celebrate Christmas.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1.png

Top Tips

  1. Read a range of poetry to inspire you
  2. Research your chosen person (I recommend starting with Wikipedia and YouTube)
  3. Imagine yourself as that person.
  4. Think about why they are angry.
  5. Think about who they might be angry at and direct your poem at them
  6. Write a first draft
  7. Edit and polish

Good Luck

If you’re still feeling stuck, here are some other characters you could write about

Robin Hood

Angry that most of Sherwood Forest has been cut down

Shaka Zulu

Angry that people don’t love their mothers enough

Jane Austen

Angry that she never got properly paid for her novels

Vincent Van Gogh

Angry that people only appreciated his art after he died

Lady Jane Grey

Angry that she was only queen for nine days

the language of poetry

Even though I’ve always enjoyed writing poetry, I’ve never felt very confident about using similes, metaphors and other poetic techniques. When using metaphors and similes in particular, I find it hard to avoid cliché and make them flow naturally with the rest of the poem.

Thankfully at the time of writing Thirty Angry Ghosts, I was reading and discussing at least one poem a week with other members of Suffolk Writers Group. These included some beautiful, inspirational work by Phyllis Wheatley, Elizabeth Barrrett Browning, Louis McNeice and William Wordsworth.

As is the case with someone who learns a foreign language, the more poetry I read, the more the language of poetry got into my blood. After a while, metaphors and similes began to seep out into my own writing fairly naturally. It is only now, looking back, that I can see how many different techniques I used.

Here are some examples

Some of these I used consciously and some just came out naturally. If you are using these resources for educational purposes, you might like to note down which techniques these quotations use and (if you have time) how they bring out the themes and meanings in the poems whilst (hopefully) adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Repetition
  • Rhyme
  • Rhythm
  • Alliteration
  • Consonance (like alliteration but the repeated consonants can appear anywhere in the word, not just at the start).

I have written a completed table below this one. Of course, your answers may differ from mine, especially the ‘Effect’ column. Poetry affects everyone differently after all.

Poem and QuotationPoetry TechniquesEffect
Neanderthal Woman   ‘the flame grew high, pierced the sky, licked its great orange tongue round the moon and spat.’  
Neanderthal Woman   ‘your nights will fill with memories of mechanical monstrosities’  
Neanderthal Woman   ‘She found rhythm in the rocks to match my chattering teeth.’  
Helen of Troy   ‘tangled his heart in the webbing of my silken locks.’      
Helen of Troy   ‘at the knife-edge of night and nightmares’    
Boudicca   ‘I was a drum thudding low and heavy beating out the sound for war.’    
Abu Bakr II ‘we reveled in the salty spray’    
Abu Bakr II   ‘wind lashed the waves’  
Abu Bakr II   ‘the emerald-tipped trees bowed down low’    
La Malinche   ‘For my words had wings and could fly to any man with ears to hear.’    
La Malinche   ‘the men who took me, chained me traded me for trinkets’  
La Malinche   ‘I was the face of the moon in a darkening sky. I was the bright, shining stream running over the rocks.’    
Henry VIII   ‘Fine jewels around the neck of an ugly girl shine like flies crawling upon excrement.’    
Henry VIII   ‘Taken by women stolen by women illegitimate women despised by God.’    
Margaret Catchpole   ‘Songs sung by Ancient Voices that surge silver rivers round the dry red rocks and soothe the scalded forest land.’    
Margaret Catchpole   ‘The Oak and Ash on pipes and fiddles Earl Soham Slog The Old Bass Bottle.’    
Ludwig van Beethoven   ‘Snip! – I heard it, quite clearly’    
Mary Shelley   ‘The earth trembles, turns and tumbles’    
Mary Shelley   ‘and a springtime of knucklebones surges up through the soil.’    
Mary Shelley   ‘And with their bones and blood and flesh the roots of the cypress tree shall be fed.’      

My Version – Don’t worry if yours is completely different. I just thought you might like to compare the two.

Like I said, I wasn’t totally conscious of all these things when I was writing. When I was editing, however, I worked hard to bring the techniques to the fore.

Poem and QuotationPoetic TechniquesEffect
Neanderthal Woman   ‘the flame grew high, pierced the sky, licked its great orange tongue round the moon and spat.’  PersonificationThis makes the flame seem like a conscious being which adds to the sense that it is wicked and dangerous after having taken on a life of its own.
Neanderthal Woman   ‘your nights will fill with memories of mechanical monstrosities’AlliterationI think the ‘m’ sound resembles someone calling for their mother but who is weakened or gagged. It is a mixture of a soothing sound and the sound of someone having restless sleep.
Neanderthal Woman   ‘She found rhythm in the rocks to match my chattering teeth.’Consonance and AlliterationThe ‘r’ and the ‘t’ sounds are intended to echo the sound of the rocks being rubbed against each other as well as hitting each other.
Helen of Troy   ‘tangled his heart in the webbing of my silken locks.’  MetaphorThis is a metaphor for love, taking the familiar, pleasant image of ‘silken locks’ and making her hair seem like a dangerous net or spider’s web.
Helen of Troy   ‘at the knife-edge of night and nightmares’    MetaphorThe use of the knife metaphor adds to the sense of danger and fear.
Boudicca   ‘I was a drum thudding low and heavy beating out the sound for war.’  Metaphor and ConsonantsThe repeated ‘d’ sound and the repeated ‘u’ sound (assonance) echoes the sound of a drum.   This metaphor shows that Boudicca feels powerful, strong and no longer human.    
Abu Bakr II   ‘we reveled in the salty spray’AlliterationThe repeated ‘s’ sound echoes the sound of the waves hitting the deck.
Abu Bakr II   ‘wind lashed the waves’Personification and alliterationThe repeated ‘w’ sound echoes the sound of the wind.
Abu Bakr II   ‘the emerald-tipped trees bowed down low’  PersonificationThe personification of the trees adds to the sense of Abu Bakr’s power in that even nature wants to praise him. This echoes the earlier phrase ‘the sun shone down a celebration’.  
La Malinche   ‘For my words had wings and could fly to any man with ears to hear.’  Metaphor    This emphasises how powerful her words were.
La Malinche   ‘the men who took me, chained me traded me for trinkets’AlliterationThe repeated ‘t’ sounds are reminiscent of someone tutting which emphasises how stupid she thinks the men were.
La Malinche   ‘I was the face of the moon in a darkening sky. I was the bright, shining stream running over the rocks.’  MetaphorThese images show how powerful she was but yet demonstrate how she was a symbol of hope, harmony and natural innocence as opposed to the violent cruelty of the men.
Henry VIII   ‘Fine jewels around the neck of an ugly girl shine like flies crawling upon excrement.’  SimileThis simile emphasises Henry’s distaste for women if they are unable to please him.
Henry VIII   ‘Taken by women stolen by women illegitimate women despised by God.’  Repetition and RhythmThe rhythm and repetition emphasise his outrage.
Margaret Catchpole   ‘Songs sung by Ancient Voices that surge silver rivers round the dry red rocks and soothe the scalded forest land.’  Alliteration, Rhythm and MetaphorThe repeated ‘s’ sounds are supposed to be reminiscent of the sounds of a river. The water metaphor demonstrates the power and soothing quality of the songs whilst the rhythm is meant to echo the music itself.
Margaret Catchpole   ‘The Oak and Ash on pipes and fiddles Earl Soham Slog The Old Bass Bottle.’  Rhyme, Rhythm, AlliterationThese are real, traditional Suffolk folk songs which I researched on the internet. I had a lot to choose from and I was pleased to find the half-rhyme with ‘fiddle’ and ‘bottle’ because, together with the alliteration and rhythm, it makes the stanza sound a bit like a song.
Ludwig van Beethoven   ‘Snip! – I heard it, quite clearly’  OnomatopoeiaThe word ‘snip’ imitates the sound of a pair of scissors.
Mary Shelley   ‘The earth trembles, turns and tumbles’  AlliterationThe repeated ‘t’ is supposed to echo the sound of the earth moving.
Mary Shelley   ‘and a springtime of knucklebones surges up through the soil.’  Metaphor and AlliterationAgain the repetition of ‘s’ is supposed to echo the sound of moving earth. The metaphor of comparing knucklebones to bulbs growing is meant to be nightmarish but yet hint at the environmental theme in that life can come from death and vice versa.
Mary Shelley   ‘And with their bones and blood and flesh the roots of the cypress tree shall be fed.’    Alliteration, Repetition and RhythmThe alliteration, rhythm and repetition of ‘and’ is supposed to be reminiscent of verses from the Old Testament which ties in with the overtones of Judgement Day. It is also supposed to sound a bit like a spell or an incantation. As such, I am trying to make the reader question whether Mary’s actions are just and fair or whether they are cruel and inspired by revenge.

Match the themes to the poems

Major Themes Explored

Revenge, Environmental Issues, Education, Human Potential, Reputation, Beauty, Story-Telling, Wealth, Sexism, Unfairness, Greed, Wisdom, Community, Justice, Love, Human Frailty, War, Mysticism, Archeology, War, Empire

Write the major theme or themes explored next to each poem.

Many of these are open to interpretation and there is always more than one answer.

Name of GhostThemes or Themes
Neanderthal Woman 
Helen of Troy 
Julius Caesar 
Genghis Khan 
Abu Bakhr II 
Joan of Arc 
Wu Zetian 
Mansa Musa 
La Malinche 
Anne Boleyn 
Henry VIII 
William Shakespeare 
Adolf Frederick of Sweden 
Marie Antionette 
Margaret Catchpole 
Mary Shelley 
Maria Quiteria 
Abraham Lincoln 
Queen Victoria 
The Unknown Soldier 
Grigori Rasputin 
Marie Curie 

Here are the major themes I had in mind when I was writing. It may be that you interpret them differently.

Name of GhostThemes
Neanderthal WomanEnvironmental Issues
Helen of TroyBeauty
Julius CaesarReputation, Unfairness
CleopatraWisdom, Beauty
Genghis KhanCommunity, Environmental Issues
Abu Bakhr IIReputation
Joan of ArcRevenge
Wu ZetianReputation
Mansa MusaWealth
La MalincheReputation
Anne BoleynSexism
Henry VIIISexism
William ShakespeareReputation
Adolf Frederick of SwedenGreed
Marie AntionetteJustice
Margaret CatchpoleLove
Ludwig van BeethovenUnfairness
Mary ShelleyEnvironmental Issues
Maria QuiteriaSexism
Abraham LincolnHuman Frailty
Queen VictoriaEmpire
The Unknown SoldierWar, Unfairness,
Grigori RasputinMysticism, Wisdom
Marie CurieHuman Potential, Education

What do people want from a first chapter?

I asked members of the writing group what they want from the first chapter in a novel.

Here is a selection of the answers:-


I need to feel pulled into the story, dropped into the middle of the action and convinced that I don’t want to climb back out again! I like an immediate sense of action and character. I want to be intrigued, surprised even, but not confused. l like prose that is effortless to read but has emotional resonance and rhythm. I want the writer to make me feel – to make me connect – from the very first page.


Intrigue and engagement. If it is a writer I know I am likely to settle in confidently. If it is a new one he or she will need to engage with me by the thoughts and ideas which I am reading. These provide the intrigue for the story development however slow or fast that may be.


The reader’s attention must be arrested by the first sentence. The lead need not necessarily appear, but should certainly in the chapter that follows. There must be movement. Not necessarily physical, for example someone running or swimming, but a sense of movement towards danger, or the unknown. The reader must immediately care about the character in play, enough to wish to know what happens next. Lack of movement, in other words stasis, is death to the opening chapter, and therefore the book.

Here’s a list of things other people said they are looking for in a first chapter:-

  • Being immediately immersed in a scene
  • Beautiful language
  • A character in conflict
  • An original voice
  • An engaging, welcoming voice
  • A likeable character
  • A feeling of forward momentum
  • Empathy and/or sympathy
  • Believability
  • Questions that need answering

Here are some of the things that would put us off a novel

  • Being confused
  • Incorrect grammar/spelling
  • Small, dense text in an unattractive font
  • A lack of originality
  • A setting we can’t identify with
  • Too much backstory
  • Cliché

What about you? What are you looking for in a first chapter?

Join the Suffolk Writers Group Facebook Page to take part in this and similar discussions.

First Chapter Creative Writing Course

Live on Zoom, ten sessions, small group, one-to-one feedback by email

In Summer 2021 I’ll be running a course to support people with writing and editing their first chapter. Email me if you want to go on the mailing list for that or any of the poetry or short story writing courses.


Members of Suffolk Writing Group 2020

Good Openers for Novels

Head lamp
Head lamp

I just had to publish these story openers from Dan, Gem and Kelly. Fantastic work, you three!

A Little Known Story of Graeme Le Saux

Graeme Le Saux liked to pretend he was a lampshade. After all, he had to find something to fill the time after he couldn’t make football punditry work. He felt much more suited to this. And every Sunday in the quiet of his Surrey home, he’d put a lampshade on his head and sit perfectly still for a few hours or so.

He’d really come along since he’d first started. Having fashioned a proper shade out of one of his wife’s old dresses, and running electrical wires to his head to actually make light. “I’m going to be the best lampshade ever,” he thought to himself.

He remembered back when he’d first started and his old Southampton teammate James Beattie had called him a homo and a complete tit when he told him of his new hobby but he didn’t care, he was beautiful. And that’s all he really wanted to be. He’d tried to show it in his marauding runs and kicking David Batty whenever he played him in his football career. Only now did he really feel he had brought light into the world in a way he never had before.

He was running from room to room one day. Trying different places and generally giggling like a crushing schoolgirl, when there were his friends. Gathered round with sombre looks on their faces. Graeme would never forget this day as the day that he ran and never looked back. Some say that if you look in the mirror and say his name three times he appears, and that he still lights the darkest places. The truth is, no one really knows.

By Dan


Busy Hands

Truly Furlow’s hook wove the wool deftly. She’d first learned to crochet as a young child at her grandmother’s insistence – “The Devil finds work for idle hands” she always said. Trudy, being only small at the time, thought that as her grandmother always found work for her hands, the old woman must be the Devil. Her wide blue eyes would squint away in fear as the hook and wool were handed to her. Being only small, she dare not disobey.
Twenty years of daily crochet had turned her into a pro; she could whip up a wooden extravaganza wherever she was. But her favourite place was here – the graveyard of St Mary’s on the Quay. It was a graveyard love had long since left. The only flowers were thistles and the stones were crumbling like hobnobs dunked in tea for too long. A soupy mist would often sneak in from the nearby river and tug at her ankles as she sat on the bench. It was an atmosphere most would find creepy but Trudy felt safe here. Safe from the Devil.
Purple strands stirred through the black as the hooded cloak she was crocheting grew. Soon she would start on an edging of silver thread – but not yet. She needed to do it under the light of the full moon so it would soak up the moons protection and cast it over her when she wore it. But the moon had not yet risen and she needed that protection. Today was her 27th birthday. Her grandmother would be coming for her.”

By Gem


Claire Morris liked watching black and white movies. At 42 she was past caring about having company. She preferred to go on her own, submersing herself in worlds of handsome heroes. She would imagine herself to be the beauty they fought over, instead of the short, mousy haired woman she really was.

It was Sunday afternoon and she was at the Playhouse Cinema, row ‘h’, centre seat. It was her place of worship. As the glow of the screen shrouded her, she felt truly happy. Far removed from the realities of life, from the disappointment it contained. Occasionally the outside world would try and worm it’s way into her consciousness. Why couldn’t her husband be as chivalrous as Cary Grant? She would feel the familiar knot of anxiety stir in her chest, but she pushed it back down. She refused to think about him. Not here.

By Kelly