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A glass of fizz and a book prize

Even though I did not win the Hall & Woodhouse DLF (DorchesterLitFest) Writing Award, it was still worth the effort of travelling down to Dorset for the ceremony. The beautiful light and airy function room on the first floor of the Duchess of Cornwall Inn in Poundbury was full of supporters, judges and guests, eager to hear more about the writers and their books, and find out who had won the prize.

A glass of fizz, meeting new people, lively chatter   – not all book-related, filled the room and kept my mind off the next part of the evening. It was a strange feeling, being the centre of attention. I’m used to public speaking and not usually shy talking about my writing but I’ve never been to an event where I am being/have already been judged on my performance. Whatever I did now, would make no difference as the judges’ choice of first place was already in a sealed envelope.

Keep calm and carry your book, cover facing outwards. That’ll stop people from coming up and asking me who I am and why I have come to this event. They can wait ten minutes or so, can’t they, to hear Minette and I talk about The Road to Civitella 1944. 

(left to right) Emma Timpany (winner ‘Travelling in the Dark‘), Susmita Bhattacharya, Dee La Vardera, Maria Donovan (runner-up ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’), with Minette Walters, guest host, Janet Gleeson & Paul Atterbury (DLF) and sponsor Anthony Woodhouse

Minette Walters, who was guest host, talked informally to each of us before chairing the event.  She was genuinely interested  in us, asking us how/why we had chosen our subjects. She had read all four books and told us we were all winners to have got this far.

What followed were the big leather armchairs and handmics: the Q&A. After our questions, we each read an extract from our shortlisted book. Not easy, in my case, finding a passage which stood alone, made sense and gave a flavour of the book but did not contain any graphic content connected to the massacre and other wartime tragedies.

Minette Walters questions Dee about ‘The Road to Civitella 1944’


The three fiction finalists ranged widely in style and subject; my non-fiction book felt a bit of an intruder. It was obvioulsly chosen on merit, but it’s a tough call for judges to compare one genre against another and choose the best. There were many compliments about The Road to Civitella 1944 and the subject seemed to resonate with a number of people. Two told me about their fathers’ experiences in WW2 – one as a POW in North Africa;  the other, serving frontline in Italy.

There are always plenty of stories to tell. Find the right one which inspires you, and you can bear to live with for the next few years, and your mind will be enriched and your heart will burst at the power of your words – even if the final book does not win an award.

The Road to civitella 1944: The Captain, the Chaplain and the Massacre. (Dee La Vardera)



‘Excellent and a very powerful book’  Award-winning crime writer Minette Walters,

The Road to Civitella 1944: the Captain, the Chaplain and the Massacre