Category Archives: Short Stories

Short Story Competitions: Making Your Entry Stand Out

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wowThe winners have just been announced for the latest “1000 Word Challenge” competition. If you’re not familiar with the site, it runs a different contest every three months, with a new word, theme or starting phrase. You have to come up with a 1000 word story which reflects this theme, but which is original enough to catch the eye of the judges. The entry fee is £5, and the winners are published on the site.

The theme for the last contest was “Kiss”, and was won by Anna Haldane with her story “The Tiller’s Daughter” – a fantastic version of a fairy story.  Anna’s unusual vocabulary immediately makes her prose stand out, but it’s not a gimmick – the story is artful and very clever. A worthy winner indeed. There are two published runners-up this time, and several others get mentioned in despatches, including mine. I’m telling you this last bit not because I’m blowing my own trumpet (well, maybe a tad – but you know, if you don’t, no-one else will!) but because my story is described as “surprising”, and I think that’s important for a competition entry.

I’m currently about three quarters of the way through reading all the entries in the short story category of this year’s Hysteria Writing Competition. There are lots of good, well-written submissions, but probably four or five have really stood out for me so far. These are stories which have a particularly entertaining scenario, an unusually compelling narrative voice, or an ending which has left me momentarily stunned and thinking, “Gosh, that’s clever.”  And this is what we, as story writers, should be aiming for – something which lingers in the mind of the reader long after they’ve finished reading. This is the unique power of the short story.

 

 

 

 

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Time Travel for Writers

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Readers know all about time travel – you sit down with a good book, and before you know it, a whole afternoon has passed in the blink of an eye! And through the medium of fiction, you are magically transported to another time, another place, perhaps another world. (Who needs a TARDIS?)

It’s the same for writers, of course. “I’ll just spend a few minutes editing this paragraph,” you say to yourself, and when you next look up, you realise you’ve missed a meal/an important appointment/a whole day. We all know there’s nothing quite like the feeling, when the writing is going really well, of leaving the everyday behind and being totally immersed in your fictional world. [NB: Social media is also an extremely effective way for writers to hurtle through a few hours at great speed!]

There is a flip side for writers: whilst time flies when there’s an approaching deadline, it positively crawls when you’re awaiting a response to a submission, or the outcome of a story competition, or – joy of joys! – publication day. [NB: Or indeed payment…but I hesitate to add that, for fear of sounding mercenary, and not having the right attitude to the true rewards of the creative process!]  Writers also experience a distortion in time as often the fruits of their labours are not evident until long after the labour itself. (Sometimes long, long, long after the labour itself.) Recently I’ve had two short stories appear in print, and had another placed in a competition – so to the outside world, all seems busy, busy, busy in my writing world. But in each case, the writing process itself took place many moons ago. Writing is created from not just inspiration but anticipation – thinking ahead to future competitions, and planning in advance for seasonal submissions.

Yesterday was National Writing Day – I’m ashamed to say I didn’t honour the day with any writing-related activities of my own.  I…erm….didn’t have the time. Presumably in some parallel universe, it’s National Writing Day right now.  Hmmm, if I could just find my TARDIS…

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3 Writing Competitions for Your Diary

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For those of you who might benefit from a writing goal to help with motivation, or new writers who are thinking about sending some work out into the big wide world, here are three writing competitions which might appeal:

  • The Fiction Desk – Newcomer Prize 2017 for short stories (1,000 – 7,000 words) – deadline 31st May, £500 to the winner (entry fee £8)

http://www.thefictiondesk.com/submissions/newcomer-short-story-prize.php

  • Reflex Fiction: flash fiction (180-360 words) – deadline 31st May, £1,000 to the winner (entry fee £7)

http://www.reflexfiction.com/flash-fiction-submissions-entry-form/

  • Hysteria Writing Competition – deadline 31st August – 3 categories:
    • Poetry – max 20 lines, £75 to the winner (entry fee £3)
    • Short Story – max 2,000 words, £150 to the winner (entry fee £5)
    • Flash fiction – max 250 words, £75 to the winner (entry fee £3)

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

And if you’re thinking of entering any of these, and are looking for some tips, I’ve blogged about my experience previously here:

https://jennyroman.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/short-story-competitions-5-tips-for-success/

Best of luck!

 

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!

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!

 

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…