The results are here!

I recently wrote a post bemoaning the writer’s long wait for responses. I’m happy to announce that this month I’ve had a few of those responses, and it’s been good news.

Firstly, the new Fiction Desk anthology, Separations, is out on the 19th September. It contains my story Poor Billy, which came an honourable third in TFD’s 2015 Ghost Story Competition. If you haven’t come across The Fiction Desk before then I urge you to get hold of an anthology; if you’re a writer looking for somewhere to submit your work then I urge you to send it to them. TFD has been unfailingly friendly and encouraging to deal with, and I recommend them unreservedly. They are particularly keen on showcasing new writing, and were my first publisher. They are also one of the very, very few places which publishes well-written, intelligent and chilling ghost stories. Go get one!

Secondly, I applied for the Writers’ HQ competition (prize: free access to a year of online writing courses) and was very happy to make the shortlist. I’d have been happier to win it, of course, but you literally can’t win ’em all. Writers’ HQ is a fabulous organisation, from its sweary strapline (‘Stop fucking about and start writing’) to its mission to provide teaching and mentorship to writers low on time and money. I’ve been on one of their retreats and it was great. Another recommendation.

Thirdly, I found out on Friday that I’ve won the Gloucestershire Writers’ Network 2016 prose competition. This means I’ll be reading my story Shoals at (squeee!) the Cheltenham Literature Festival, on Sunday 16th October.

And finally, I’m very excited to say that I have organised an open mic night of new flash fiction, to take place at Smokey Joe’s Café in Cheltenham on the 10th November. More details, plus links and promo and all that stuff, to come very soon . . . .

 

 

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Going pro

It’s finally here: the week that I sit down at my dining table a desk and Start Writing.

I’ve spent the last year as a full-time mother, but next week my daughter will be going to her grandmother’s for one day a week, and shortly after that she’ll be starting nursery. I’ll have a luxurious two-day window in which to write. This is a wonderful thing: I’ve got a notebook stuffed with ideas I’ve had no time to process, and I’ll have time alone, in the quiet, to work on them. On the other hand, I’ve never had dedicated Writing Time before.

In my procrastination moments I’ve looked up a lot of Advice to Writers stuff on the internet, and one of the rules that constantly crops up is that you should sit down at a desk for a set number of hours a day and make yourself write. This does not work for me. It works if I have revisions to make, or a roughed-out piece to check over, or a story to get into submission format; but not for the actual process of creation. Maybe it’s different if you’re writing a novel, but for short stories most of my work is done by what Stephen King calls ‘the boys in the back room’*: a part of my mind below consciousness that’s constantly processing faces, and phrases, and symbols, and will eventually spit them back up into my everyday brain in the form of an embryonic story.

There’s no forcing this process. Trying harder will not make it happen quicker, or better, or bigger. Once the resource is tapped out, that’s it. Sometimes the idea’s out there and it’s lost its way a bit in being laid down on the page, but the best way for me to deal with this is to do something else. Gardening or walking will usually sort it. The boys get back to work, and a solution pops up. But charge into the back room straight away, bothering them, shouting about deadlines, and they’ll go on strike.

So set ‘creation time’ doesn’t work for me. This is not to say it doesn’t work for anyone; it obviously does, and this is one of the reasons I’m a bit suspicious of those Twenty Rules Of Good Writing articles. They pull me in every time (tell me the secret!) but I know they’ll just leave me confused (I can’t stand that author that A. Famous-Novelist says is essential! Shit, I’ll never make it).

Set writing time will work for me, though, once I have critical mass. Once there are enough roughed-out stories, I’ll have something to do even when the fresh writing has to be left alone for a while. And the enforced downtime of motherhood will mean that the back room gets plenty of productive time (in your face, Cyril Connolly).

For the moment there’s so much time to make up: the months that it takes competitions and publishers to respond to manuscripts will leave me with a half-year delay at least between the start of work and any action related to it. But this is a lifelong pursuit, and not something I could stop doing even if I knew none of it would ever see the light of day.

So here goes: my first new flash fiction piece has been submitted to the Gloucestershire Writer’s Network short story competition, verdict in October. In the meantime there’s that notebook with its pages of barely legible biro scrawl, written with my left hand whilst cooking dinner, or holding a baby, or drinking wine, or all three at once. Let’s give it til Christmas.

 

 

 

*I can’t actually find this quote online so it probably wasn’t Mr King who said it. There are 184 quotes on Goodreads by him about writing, but if I have to read one more of them then my eyes will fall out**, so if I’m wrong just correct me in the comments section.

**Which he would probably enjoy.

2016 Cheltenham Literary Festival short story competitions

This year there are two short story competitions associated with the Cheltenham Literary Festival: the Gloucestershire Writers’ Network competition and the new Cheltenham Literary Prize.

The GWN competition has been around for a while, and this year interprets the theme of the Festival (‘America’) to offer the competition theme ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’. I’ve found it tricky to get the competition details online, so here they are in full for anyone who’s interested in entering:

The Literature Festival has America as a country theme this year so this competition is looking for poetry and prose that responds to the theme in the broadest possible ways.
 
Entries are invited from writers who live or work in Gloucestershire. There will be two prizes of £100, one for poetry and one for prose.
All the winners and runners-up will be invited to read their work in October at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
  • Please give your entry a title that is different from the competition theme. Entries must be identified only by title, do not put your name on the entry.
  • Your name, address, telephone number and email address should be on a separate sheet of paper.
  • Poems should be no more than 50 lines.
  • Prose items should use double spacing and not exceed 750 words.
  • Entries must be typed on A4 paper. Handwritten copies will not be accepted. 
  • GWN prefers each winning writer to read his or her own work.  If you are selected but subsequently cannot read your work at the Festival, your work will be withdrawn unless you can provide a substitute reader.
  • To enter costs £2 per item. Please send a cheque or postal order to the address below, payable to Gloucestershire Writers’ Network.  If you wish to know the results of the competition, include your email address or a stamped, addressed envelope.
  • Entries may be made by post to GWN, c/o 33 Sandford Leaze, Avening, Glos. GL8 8PB, or by email to:  ronagwn@yahoo.co.uk.  If posting, please send two copies.    If you email your entry, you will still need to send your cheque by post clearly identifying the entry for which you are paying. Emailed items should be attached as a Word document or sent within the text of the message
  • Please ensure that you put the right value of stamps according to the size of envelope as GWN cannot pay for excess postage.
  •  Closing date: 30th July 2016
 
 The Cheltenham Literary Prize is an all-new competition organised by the Cheltenham Writers’ Circle. It’s national, with a smaller prize allotted to the best entry from a GL postcode. Entries should be 2000 words or fewer, and it’s open now until June 4th. Full details here.