Thursday 27 October 2011

My Kind of Surprise

The week didn't get off to the greatest of starts. The longlist for the latest Flash500 competition was posted online, and in no way features the story I'd sent in as part of my self-imposed effort to get myself submitting more fiction, the Ten-Four Challenge. That was disappointing. But, I still believe in the story and should be able to find somewhere else to try its luck.

I keep track of all my submissions, successes and 'near-misses' in an Excel spreadsheet, and when I went into it to update the Flash500 result, I noticed I hadn't scored out the story I tried in the Wells Festival of Literature Short Story Competition. I knew I hadn't won anything because the awards ceremony had come and gone a week or two previously, but out of curiosity I dialled up the site anyway. Much to my surprise, I found I'd come third!

At least, it seemed like I had. When I first looked, the results page had my story title, but the author was listed as "unknown". As you can see, the title isn't exactly commonplace, so I sent a cautious enquiry to the organisers. They got back to me incredibly quickly, confirming that all was well, I had won a prize and the cheque was already in the post. So that put a smile on my face.

And then the surprises kept coming... I picked up a copy of November's Writers' Forum yesterday. Iain Banks features on the cover, and yours truly makes an appearance, too. I posted some comments on Sally Quilford's competition blog, and several of them have been incorporated into her column. So there I am, suddenly sounding like an authority on competitions with restrictions on who can enter, e.g. women-only competitions, those limited to a certain geographical locations, etc. Are they necessary? Patronising? Discriminatory? What do you think?

Incidentally, the Ten-Four Challenge is up to four stories out, as I sent a flash piece sent to Every Day Fiction, with two months left of the year. I should hit five tomorrow, as I'm hoping to submit a story to the NAWG competition. It's a bit last-minute (the deadline's Monday), but it's worth a try. Just needs a final proofread...

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Notes From A (Very) Small Island

A couple of interesting things came out of being invited to the Guernsey Literary Festival earlier this year. The first was that it prompted me to self-publish an anthology of short stories. This is something I'd never even considered doing before, and I have to say it turned out far better than I expected. In some ways the book is a CV - it's a record of (most of) my published work, things that have been placed in competitions, and a couple of pieces I felt 'fitted' nicely into the collection. Fitted is possibly the wrong word, as the stories were written for various different markets, in various different styles, so there's no overriding theme or other unifying structure to the book. Everybody who's been kind enough to comment so far has said they enjoyed this variety, but it does make it hard to answer the question, "So, what's it about?"

The second thing was that I actually had to knuckle down and come up with a workshop. I'm not a naturally outgoing person, and my assessment of my own abilities tends toward a sort of painful modesty, so the prospect of standing in front of a room full of strangers and telling them how to 'do' fiction wasn't exactly one that filled me with anything other than trepidation. However, I prepared as best I could, faced The Fear, and got the job done. People said nice things about what I did, and some, such as Martine and Ric, went as far as writing them down.

Eventually, I got invited back, and that's where I've been for the last few days. I did two smaller workshops this time, the first with Guernsey Writers' Circle and the second with a group of students at the College of Performing Arts. The former, on Thursday night, was a lively affair, with an enthusiastic group who were kind enough to listen to me prattling on about editing for an hour. I worked through an example of extreme editing, where I'd taken an 800-word flash and boiled it down to a 250-word piece of microfiction. It was an interesting exercise to go through and it generated a lot of debate about which was the "better" of the two stories, and whether the elements lost from the original to reduce the word count were compensated for by the more direct impact of the shortened version. It was great to chat to the group (three of whom I'd met at the Flash Fiction workshop), and get a sense for the enthusiasm they have for writing and the various projects the island has on at the moment.

The following day, I found myself feeling very envious of the students, nearly all of whom hadn't really done any creative writing other than assignments for school. I took a long break from writing when I was younger, and as I talked to the students about character, plot, and description, I couldn't help thinking that if I'd picked it up when I was their age I'd be a whole decade ahead of where I am now. [Oh, the possibilities!] They were a brilliant group, champing at the bit to get started on their stories and full of ideas for quirky characters and interesting situations to put them in. They were definitely making a great start and I'm sure their finished stories will be well worth reading.

Both sessions were very rewarding and filled me with enthusiasm for my own writing. I even managed to get a little bit done on a new story while I was over there, although whether it'll amount to anything, only time will tell.

Sunday 2 October 2011


I think this is going to be a bit of a grab-bag of news and general updates, as there are a few things I wanted to cover and they don't really fit to a particular theme. Apologies in advance for the lack of structure.

Firstly, the Ten-Four Challenge continues. I sent an entry in to The Spilling Ink Fiction Prize, which I first heard about after my friend Karen had a story published in the Spilling Ink Review. It looks like a good site, and the competition prizes are impressive, with the added incentive of print publication for the winners and shortlisted stories.

It wasn't the story I'd intended to submit. The one I'd planned to send is a humorous piece that had already gone to the Sean O'Faolain competition without catching the judge's eye, and I thought I could just do a quick edit to knock it into shape. This proved not to be the case, though. I know what's wrong - the beginning needs to be shorter and snappier, the middle needs tightening to bring out the humour, and the end is okay but would benefit from a sharper final paragraph. But I couldn't seem to correct any of these problems in time for the closing date. I made the beginning better, but even longer. I thought up some new jokes to put in, but they meant I needed to change parts of the plot. Before long the whole thing seemed to be coming apart at the seams. I started thinking the story just wasn't 'ready', and that's something I hope to come back to in a separate blog post.

I also submitted a flash piece to This was accepted, which I'm very pleased about. I wouldn't consider myself as a horror writer or reader, although I enjoy the tension the genre requires, and the clarity of the imagery the words on the page/screen must create is another reason for a writer of any discipline to dip into it occasionally, at least. There's a contest on the website at the moment, ending (appropriately enough) on Halloween, with the theme of "Water". So, get your fright on, folks!

I'm not fully sure my MicroHorror début counts towards the Ten-Four Challenge, as it isn't a paying market and the story in question, "Anatomy of a Crime", was one of the 'previously unpublished' stories I included in my anthology, Somewhere to Start From. But for the moment I'm going to class it as half a point towards my total - as 2.5 stories submitted at the end of September is quarter of the way to the target, a quarter of the way towards the deadline.

In other good news, I'm off to Guernsey again towards the end of next week. I'll be talking to the Guernsey Writers' Group about editing and giving a more general writing workshop to Performing Arts students. The rest of the weekend will be spent catching up with my mum and stepdad, walking on beaches and coastal paths, and gorging on the delights of the wonderful Tennerfest. I'm keeping my fingers crossed this sunny weather hangs around a little longer.