Friday 31 December 2010

Looking backwards, looking forwards, trying not to get dizzy...

So that, pretty much, was 2010. A mixed bag, as with every other year I've experienced.

Hmm... I'm not sure I can sustain that level of insight. Okay, let's think in terms of landmarks. It's been a good year in many ways. Near the beginning, I won a big prize with a short story that I think is one of the best things I've ever written. I got another story into a national writing magazine. Other stories picked up shortlistings and second and third placings in various competitions. I made a reasonable amount of progress on my novel. This blog has been quite successful, in terms of the modest aims I had regarding it, and I've enjoyed writing it.

On the downside, I still haven't received all the cash from that big competition. Many stories in which I had a lot of faith sank without trace in competitions, or got knocked back from magazines that I dared to think were dead certs. Some of my successes have cast doubt on exactly what type of writer I am - for instance, I still haven't had a single science fiction story accepted, despite starting the year pretty much thinking of myself as a SF writer.

On the whole, though, the positives outweigh the negatives, which is good. Next year is already looking promising - I have a couple of stories coming out in printed magazines/anthologies, I'm running a short-story workshop as part of the first-ever Guernsey Literature Festival (I was planning to do a full post on this news, but I didn't get the opportunity), and there are a few interesting-looking competitions on their way. For me, the 2011 Bridport Prize is unmissable, as A L Kennedy is judging it and she's one of my favourite writers. Plus the Bristol Prize seems to be going from strength to strength - the prize money is doubled compared to last year, and from the sounds of things it's a very slick operation that deserves to do well. So, yes, onwards and upwards. Hopefully.

Considering the general competition-y focus of this blog, I'd like to announce the inaugural Lies, Ink Awards. This is a way for me to publicly applaud and recommend competitions of which I have personal experience and that have proved to be well run. I make no excuse for the fact that these are biased - after all, I'm not qualified to advise on how prizes are handled in competitions where I haven't actually won anything.

Gold Awards go to TxtLit and Catherine Howard. Linda Lewis (the writer behind the Catherine Howard competitions) gets the winners' cheques in the post within a couple of days and when I asked her to revise the synopsis of my ghost story that came third in her recent competition, she took care of it straight away. TxtLit cheques turn up within a month of the story going live on their website and when I queried a problem with the submission process the admin people there couldn't have been more helpful. Keep up the good work, folks!

Silver Awards go to Writers' Forum and The H.E. Bates competition. Writers' Forum is a great place to get published and the prize money is very good, but they just miss out on top honours because once I found out my story was shortlisted it fell into an odd two-month vacuum during which I had no idea whether or not it was likely to go any further. I didn't know which issue it was being considered for, or when they were going to make the decision. Although I didn't win anything in the H.E. Bates competition, the people running it were very helpful and I like the fact that despite it being a fairly 'small' competition they still have an awards ceremony.

Sadly, there's a Wooden Spoon to hand out as well. But I'll leave that for another time.

In the meantime, Happy New Year, everyone. See you in 2011!

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Mulled whine...

December's been an awkward month for writing. I haven't had anywhere near as much time to write as I'd hoped, and when I have actually managed to sit down at the computer with something close enough to enthusiasm to be confident of producing something, I've then found myself incapable of deciding exactly what it is I should be aiming my efforts towards.

Still, I've worked on a couple of new stories, one of which is pretty much finished and an edit or two away from being sent somewhere. I thought I'd missed the Sentinel deadline but looking at the website just now I see they've extended it and I've got until the 7th January (my birthday!) to enter. It's a sign! Hopefully a more accurate one than the previous 'sign'...

I was very pleased to find I've come joint third in the second Catherine Howard competition. My story 'Evergreen', was - surprisingly, I thought, given the time of year - the only Christmas-themed story entered. Having chalked up second place in her previous competition with 'Featherweight', and getting a second win at TxtLit recently, I suppose I am officially becoming one of those annoying people who keeps cropping up on the shortlist of the same competitions. It's a trend I'm happy to allow to develop, I must say.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Trying to Avoid Blogging About Not Blogging

I've been spending a disproportionate amount of time thinking about what my next blog post should be. I was treading dangerously close to the dreaded scenario of writing about how difficult it is to come up with something to put in your blog. But I'm resisting that, so far.

There are a few developments going on, kind of behind the scenes at the moment. I'm working on a couple of stories. One of them turned out quite well - it was one that I workshopped at the writing weekend I mentioned a while back. Just waiting to gather up some feedback, hopefully in time to send it off somewhere. Maybe here.

The other story is causing me concerns. I've worked out what happens, who the characters are, the main plot arc, a sort of subplot to fling in there as well. The problem is I can't 'get' the structure. I think it's going to work best if it's just linear, nothing fancy or complicated - and yet I still can't work through it in my head. This isn't something I've run into before, and it's proving very difficult to put it to one side and just get on with writing the damn thing, work out the details at the editing stage. It probably doesn't help that at the moment I'm only getting to write in short bursts, which isn't my preferred approach.

Ah, well. There are positive things on the horizon - I found out recently that the story that was accepted by The Battered Suitcase will appear in the Spring edition of the magazine. So, I'm guessing it'll be out around March/April. Also, the story that got shortlisted for the H.E. Bates is going to be in an anthology published by the Northampton Writers Group. It's reassuring to be heading into the new year (Yikes - that suddenly seems very close...) with a couple of pieces on their way to being in print already.

So, good news, mostly. I'm sure the story that's giving me grief will straighten itself out before long and I can build up enough momentum to get to the end of it. Then I can get on with the job of working out whether it's actually any good or not.