The Judging Panel – Hysteria 2017

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Regular readers of this blog will know I love short story competitions. The demands of sticking to a specific theme or word count, the inclusion of a special word or phrase, or even just having the focus of a deadline can all help with motivation. In fact, sometimes the more restrictions that seem to be imposed, the harder your story-telling brain seems to work to come up with a idea which will fit the bill.

I’ve tried my hand at entering lots of short story competitions in recent years – sometimes I’ve been successful, sometimes less so. But I’ve usually found that the discipline involved in editing a story to suit the demands of a specific competition has helped me to improve on the original idea or draft.

It seemed an obvious next step to try my hand at judging. I’ve previously assisted with short-listing for a competition, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and so when the opportunity came to become part of the short story panel on the Hysteria UK 2017 writing competition, I jumped at the chance. Being one of a panel of five seems less daunting for a first timer too!

Of course, short story judging is subjective, so even though we have a clear set of criteria to use while we’re judging, I’m sure there will be pieces which impress me but do nothing for another member of the panel, and vice versa. Overall though, I’m confident we’ll be able to make a good decision. And during this process, we’ll have had the opportunity to read a huge variety of stories – from which I’m sure we’ll learn a great deal.

If you’re a female writer, writing in the flash fiction, poetry or short story genres, you have until 31st August 2017 to submit your piece – head over to the website for details:

https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/

If you’ve never entered a writing competition before, why not have a go at this one which supports the work of the Hysterectomy Association, helping women worldwide. There are cash prizes, and winners and runners-up will be published in the annual anthology.

And if you aren’t successful, it doesn’t necessarily mean your story wasn’t well-written or enjoyed by the judges. There’s still a story which sticks in my mind from my short-listing experience – the story in question didn’t make the final selection and, as it was judged anonymously, I have no idea who the author was, but years later I can still remember the quirky writing which I enjoyed tremendously. So keep writing, keep sending out your work, because there is an audience out there who will appreciate it.

If you’re interested in entering the competition, and want to find out more about the judges, they will each be interviewed in the coming weeks. You can read my interview on the Hysteria website here:

https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/2017/04/17/meet-jenny-roman-hysteria-2017-short-story-category-judge/

#Hysteria2017 Now Open for Entries

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The Hysteria Writing Competition 2017 is now open for entries.

If you’re a female writer in any of the following genres:

  • short stories (up to 2,000 words)
  • flash fiction (up to 250 words)
  • poetry (up to 20 lines)

then this could be the competition for you.

The competition is run annually by the Hysterectomy Association, which provides information and support to women all over the world. They are looking for entries which appeal to their website visitors who are mostly women between 25-65. Stories should not be about hysterectomy itself, but can be in any genre except erotica or horror.

Entry fees are £3 per flash fiction or poem, and £5 per short story.

An anthology of winners and runners-up is published each year, so if you’re interested in entering, you can see what has been successful in the past.

For more information, visit the website: https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/

One Year On…

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A year ago, I posted here about having lost my beautiful mare, Cracker, how hard I was finding adjusting to life without her – and how difficult it was to focus on anything, even writing.

Since then, a lot has happened (including a house move), and while I’ve been horse-less, I’ve definitely had more time for writing-related activities. On the non-fiction front, I’ve had my first full-length article published in a national magazine (equine-related, of course).  And on the fiction front, most excitingly, I achieved my aim to release an eBook short story collection on Amazon. (Two, in fact!)

I’m quietly proud of “Beyond Words” (the second of the two collections) as it brings together some of my favourite short stories, all of which have achieved competition success.  There’s so much to be gained from entering competitions – the discipline of meeting deadlines, word counts and themes can only help improve your writing, especially when it takes you away from your comfort-zone, and being short-listed, placed or commended can only increase your writing confidence. If you’ve never entered a writing competition before but would be interested in having a go, there’s a reference list at the back of “Beyond Words” which gives each of the competitions in which the stories were entered.

And a year on…  Well, I finally decided it was time to take on a new equine partner. This is Deemon Whirlwind, my new part-Arab gelding:

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After 15 educational years with Cracker, I’m looking forward to an equally long and inspirational partnership with this handsome chap. And of course, I’ll keep you posted!

As seen in Writers’ Forum: Where I Write

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Regular readers of “Writers’ Forum” will know that traditionally the last article in the magazine is “Where I Write”. Each month, Phil Barrington talks to an author about their writing space – be that in their house, a café, or even a camper van. It’s always one of my favourite bits of the magazine – nosey as I am about other people’s houses, lifestyles, and writing preferences.

After last month’s article (Patsy Collins and the aforementioned camper van!), I wrote in about my writing room, and the letter has appeared in Writers’ Circle in the current issue. I’ve always been pretty flexible about where I write (happy to scribble by hand on notebooks in bed, or tap away on the laptop sitting on the sofa or up at the kitchen table), but having a dedicated space was always something of a dream.

I now have the luxury (and it really is a luxury) of my own writing room. It’s not even (as in our last house) really-the-spare-bedroom-but-with-my-desk-in-it. This is actually a proper space for me to write in (though it does have a sofa bed for putting up writer friends!). The best thing about this room is that it’s warm enough to work in for hours (should those hours be available of course) – even in the depths of winter, it stays cosy long after the heating has gone off. I’m sure you’ll agree that comfort is a very important part of writing. (I’ve never understood people like Daphne Du Maurier who could sit in a hut in the garden with her fingerless gloves on, tapping away in the chill – it definitely wouldn’t do for me.)

The other great thing is that because the room doesn’t have a dual purpose, and therefore doesn’t really have to appeal to anyone else, I’ve been able to decorate it in the way I want. I’ve chosen a loosely African theme – using a palette of rich Moroccan style colours, and lots of African and Middle Eastern inspired decoration. Most of the wall-hangings, rugs and pictures come from my own travels, so are full of precious memories in themselves, as well as being (I think) lovely to look at. The brass Indian table came from my Dad’s house, and the chairs originally belonged to my husband’s grandparents.

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The huge bookcase was rescued from an old shed many moons ago, and is big enough to house a good chunk of my book collection (even if there are two rows on each shelf!). The desk was a past eBay purchase, and has done sterling service, being both practical and a thing of beauty.

There is a huge window, but fortunately for me (as I’m easily distracted) it’s quite high up so I can’t look out without standing on the chair or the desk! I’ve had to use two sets of curtains – one gold, one red. The red ones were another eBay purchase – and amusingly turned out to be from a fellow writer, Suzanne Baker (https://suzannebakerauthor.com/ ) – I only realised this when she enclosed a flyer about her books with my purchase! Small world, isn’t it, writing?

 

 

 

Special Offer for Storytelling Week

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Who doesn’t love hearing a story told to them? Whether you’re a child listening with rapt attention to a bedtime story made up for you by your parents, or you’re an adult listening to an audio book in the car on the daily commute, there’s something magical about being told a story. As someone who reads quite quickly, and not always very carefully (in fact, sometimes I skim read – a terrible admission for a writer!), listening to a story sometimes helps me pick up nuances and details I’d otherwise have missed.

Well, this great oral tradition is celebrated during National Storytelling Week which this year runs from 28th January to 4th February. You can find out all about it here:

http://www.sfs.org.uk/national-storytelling-week

I’m afraid I don’t yet have any audio versions of my stories, though there are lots of other out there, such as Patsy Collins’ story “Uncle Mick” available to listen to here:

Not to be outdone though, in honour of all things short-story related, my collection The Camel in the Garden is free to download from Amazon Kindle this weekend.

If you take the opportunity to download it, you could always read it to someone else! And if you like the stories, and had time to leave a brief Amazon review, I’d be ever so grateful.

Thank you – and happy reading!

 

Writing Blue Monday

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While there may not be any real scientific basis behind the Blue Monday phenomenon (I am of course referring to the “most depressing day of the year” rather than the excellent 1980s New Order song), there’s probably more than a grain of truth in Dr Cliff Arnall’s supposed calculations. After all the hype and excitement of Christmas, January always seems a bit flat, and yes, on a drizzly Monday, when your credit card statement has arrived, and you head off to the day job in full-on, term-time traffic, you can be forgiven for feeling just a wee bit low.

It’s an equally gloomy time for writers. You may have promised yourself you’d get loads written in the glorious Christmas holidays (in between festive movies, and eating half your own body weight in Celebrations just because the box is there in front of you) – but you probably didn’t manage quite as much as you’d planned. You may have started a new writing diary, or given yourself some at-the-time motivational goals, which, by week three of January already seem ridiculously onerous. You may have reviewed your previous submissions, and realised you’ve heard nothing about at least half the pieces you’ve sent out – some many, many months ago – and of course, with the Christmas holidays, there’s likely to be a further delay before you hear anything. You may have foolishly declared (during the safety cushion of the festive break) that this will be the year you’ll give up the day job and write full-time…and now the horrible realisation is dawning that you need to tax the car, pay the mortgage, feed the cat – and you won’t be able to do any of these things on your current annual writing proceeds of ninety-five actual English pounds, a magazine subscription, and a gift voucher.

Indeed, when your Amazon sales chart has flatlined, your inbox remains stubbornly devoid of jolly acceptance emails, and all inspiration has deserted you, you may wonder why you bother at all. You may question all those hours spent on promotional activities on social media which appear to have absolutely zero impact on your follower numbers, blog hits, or sales. You may wonder if it’s worth bothering to submit yet another story to yet another competition only to hear nothing. You may not want to “get out there” and network, but simply curl up on the sofa with a blanket over your head, reading other people’s stories instead.

It’s tempting. Just give up. Just go to work and spend the rest of your time like a normal human being doing normal “recreational activities”.

Except you’re not a normal human being, are you? You’re a writer. And, without asking, stories pop into your head and demand to be written. And when you look at all those books on your shelves, you want yours to be there too. And you keep looking at that motivational quote on your noticeboard:

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And you know it’s time to stop griping and get back to work. 😉

PS: If you have any tips for picking yourself up when things aren’t going quite so well, please pop them in the comments box. I’d love to hear them.

 

 

 

 

 

Should there always be a happy ending?

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Voting has now closed for this year’s Costa Short Story awards, and the winner will be announced at the end of the month. The three finalists are:

  • Dirty Little Fishes
  • The Boatman
  • The Persistence of Memory.

Though voting is over, you can download them, either to listen to or to read here:

http://www.costa.co.uk/costa-book-awards/costa-short-story-award/

I’d be interested to hear what you think. They are all good, well-written stories, with good characters. But the subject matter in all three, it has to be said, is pretty gloomy. I find this quite striking as writers for the UK magazine market are actively discouraged from taking on gloomy themes. The women’s magazines look for something upbeat (or at least an upbeat ending, even if the themes tackled are sad), and entrants for the Writers’ Forum magazine monthly competition are advised in capital letters that stories “MUST BE ENTERTAINING/RIVETING NOT UNREMITTINGLY BLEAK” and should not rely on themes of death, abuse, etc.

A couple of years ago there was a reader’s letter in Writers Forum about the fact that stories printed in the magazine seemed to focus on the gloomier side of life, and Carl, the Editor, responded by “cracking down on stories that dwell on harsh realities” and so this accounts for the policy and the above instruction. His view was that “We point out time and time again that you have to think of the target market before you start writing, and so it is wrong of us to encourage writing for which there is no other outlet.” This is fair enough, as Writers Forum tends to be aimed at those writing for the domestic magazine market. But often when you read stories which are considered “literary fiction”, the themes are pretty bleak and if there is a move towards a more uplifting ending, it’s very subtle!

So, if we consider our target market, do we conclude that it is considered perfectly acceptable to focus on dark themes when writing “literary” fiction, but if you’re writing for the domestic market, you need to think positive?

 

Flash Fiction – One in a Million!

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If you’re a writer of short stories or flash fiction, you may be interested in the “One Million Stories Creative Writing Project” at:

http://www.millionstories.net/index.html

As their homepage states, “It is our mission to discover, select and showcase some of the very best new short fiction being written today, and then publish it right here for you to enjoy…”

They have a specific page dedicated to flash fiction, called The Sharp End and they have just published my 100 word piece, “Sunburn”:

http://www.millionstories.net/TheSharpEnd.html

The One Million Stories Project is open for submissions now. They are looking for anything between 50-5,000 words.  Check out their guidelines here:

http://www.millionstories.net/contactus.html

And of course, if you like my flash piece, you might want to read my short story collection Beyond Words available here:

 

 

Writing Ambitions for the New Year

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We’re five days into the New Year, so plenty of time to have broken a few resolutions if you made any! I tried not to, instead I’ve bought myself a pin board and have pinned up all my “To Do” lists and “Aims & Ambitions” so I can see them every time I sit at my desk. I’m hoping this will keep me focused. (I’ll let you know how that goes…)

That’s the other thing – I’m making an effort to sit at the desk every day and achieve something. (I’ve been doing this since before New Year, so I don’t think it counts as a resolution.) A competition entry, a sub to a magazine, an idea for a future piece, an edit of something previously abandoned. I’m aiming to find a home for as many stories as possible (and by now, there seem to be hundreds stored in my Dropbox files!). I also found out about the Pomodoro Technique last night on Twitter’s #writingchat – it’s a very simple approach to time management  which breaks down tasks into 25 minute chunks with an enforced break. I think this might work for me (as someone who is very easily distracted!). Find out more about it here:

http://cirillocompany.de/pages/pomodoro-technique

I have, though, achieved one of my writing ambitions this week: I’ve had a mention on Shirley’s blog (Fiction Editor at The People’s Friend). My story “A Promise to the Past” appears in the first issue of 2017, and is the first story Shirley mentions in her “sneak peak” summary – you can read Shirley’s blog post here:

https://www.thepeoplesfriend.co.uk/2017/01/03/fiction-sneak-peek-jan-7-2017-issue/

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As you can see, the story is (as always) beautifully illustrated (by Jim Dewar), and my heroine is rather glamorous (I’m always a little startled by this!). Hoping this will be the first publication of many during 2017 – but it’s definitely a good start.

Anyway, my 25 minutes is up, so I’ve got to go! Happy writing…

 

 

The Modern Writer’s New Year’s Eve

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So here you are again –
Another cycle is complete
Just time to log on and look back
Before the “Happy New Year!” tweets

Your blog is looking healthy
Lots of followers and views
And you’ve followed lots of others
To keep up with all their news

You’ve been busy on your Facebook page
Uploading posts and gaining “likes”
You keep active in your interest groups
Hearing other’s joys and gripes

You’ve done your Twitter research
Checked the graphs on “Analytics”
Charted profile visits, top mentions
Who knew? An interest in statistics!

You check your KDP reports
For each and every sale,
Your current review rating,
And your ranking, without fail

You’re proud of all your efforts
And the benefits they’ll bring
It’s just with all these tasks to do,
You’ve had no time to write a thing!

 

Thanks for reading & following me this year – wishing you all the very best for a successful, inspirational, and fun-filled 2017! x