Tag Archives: short story competition

Lockdown: Boosting Your Creativity?


If you’ve spent any time on social media lately, it’s likely you’ve found examples of blossoming creativity. The people you know – even those who hitherto seemed not to possess the slightest inclination – are suddenly proudly showing examples of their home baking, DIY, crochet, drawing, painting, etc. etc.

It’s fantastic that one of the (perhaps unexpected) positives to come out of lockdown is our heightened desire to make stuff. Perhaps this is down to people finding they have a little more time on their hands. (There’s only a finite number of hours you can binge-watch Netflix after all.) Perhaps it’s because so many normal pastimes are suddenly out of bounds. Whatever, I am in awe of the creative things people have done, and the diverse ways they’ve managed to achieve something meaningful despite the current restrictions imposed upon us.

But what if you’re normally a creative person and you suddenly find yourself struggling? I’m definitely falling into this category. Yes, I have more time on my hands. Yes, this would be the perfect time to be writing lots! Am I writing lots? Erm….I’m getting loads of gardening done…. but writing? No.

Ok, so I dashed off a few silly rhymes (they are currently housed on the “Virus Verses” page of this blog). And I’m reading quite a bit (which is in itself a joy) but the short story writing is not going well. I’ve tried to just MAKE MYSELF WRITE – and yes, I managed 3,000 words recently. But they are such dull words, even I’m bored writing them – so I definitely couldn’t inflict them on a reader!

Previous experience tells me this won’t last. If you’re stuck, it’s a matter of generating some momentum somehow. Sometimes you need an external goal to aim for. If you write short stories, flash fiction or poetry, the Hysteria Writing Competition 2020 is now open. You have until 31st August to submit your entry – and this year (owing to the Coronavirus) entry is free – so you have nothing to lose! You can find out more about the different categories, prizes, and all the rules here.

If you’d like to find out a bit more about the founder of the competition, Linda Parkinson-Hardman, you can read my interview with her from a couple of years ago here. After taking a turn as one of the short story judges for Hysteria, I wrote Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide to Success which is based on my experiences as both a judge, and as a competition entrant (failed and successful!). If you’re a novice at short story comps, and feel you could do with some guidance, the book is available this week for just 99p.

If you too are struggling with writing during lockdown, please share your experience in the comments below. Conversely, if you’ve been brilliantly productive and would like to share what you’re achieved, please feel free – so that I can be green with envy! And whichever camp you fall into, please stay safe in these troubling times.

The Judging Panel – Hysteria 2017


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:


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:


Erewash Writers Comp – Winning Entries


Last month I discovered I’d managed to place not one but two stories in the 2016 Erewash Writers open short story competition (cue slightly smug grin!). I’ve made it as far as the shortlist in past Erewash competitions, but to find this year that Resolution had been placed 4th, and Never Far From the Tree highly commended, was a real boost.

One of the nice things about Erewash competitions (as well as the fact they post the judge’s comments), is that the winning stories are published on their site: http://erewashwriterscompetition.weebly.com/winners-2016-open-short-story-competition-with-patsy-collins.html

If you enjoy Resolution and would like to read some more of my stories, don’t forget Raspberry Ripple is available free here: https://fictivedream.com/2016/11/27/raspberry-ripple / and if you’d like to read some others I’ve written which have been successful in competitions, you can find my ebook Beyond Words on Amazon, here:



Hopefully the festive break will provide lots of reading (and writing!) time – and perhaps even a blog post or two. Until then, thanks for reading – and Merry Christmas! x

Autumn Short Story News


2016-09-24-07-32-15The leaves are just beginning to turn on the trees, the mornings have a fresh nip in the air, and the evenings are drawing in.  Yes, it’s that time of the year when I look forward to those mythical long winter evenings in front of the fire where I’ll catch up on all that reading and writing – sigh!

Autumn means a new issue out for Scribble magazine – plenty of fireside short story reading there! There’s also still time to enter their annual short story competition, which this year has the theme of “Fear”.  Stories can be up to 3,000 words, and must be submitted by 1st November.  There’s a £4 entry fee (though it’s free if you subscribe to the magazine – one of the great things about Scribble), and the winning story will receive £100 plus publication in the December issue.  Pop along to the website for more details: http://www.parkpublications.co.uk/competitions.html

It’s been a good week for short stories.  With the BBC National Short Story award shortlist having been announced, the five shortlisted stories have been broadcast on Radio 4 over the week, and if you missed them they are also available on iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/10SBcy1Gm63kPYLM5FKrF9n/the-bbc-national-short-story-award-shortlist-2016  Particularly good if (given we’ve not reached those long winter evenings), you can’t yet afford to settle down to read.

I’m off to listen while I catch up with some housework!

Short Story Competitions: 5 Tips for Success



Whether you’re a seasoned short story writer, or trying your hand at short fiction for the first time, sooner or later you may consider entering a few competitions. You might be hoping for a foot on the ladder to fame and fortune, or you might just want to test your skill and possibly earn some feedback on your work. Winning or simply being short-listed in a competition can do wonders for your writing confidence, and may even lead to new writing opportunities. Whatever your motivation, you’ll want to maximise your chances. Over the past few years, having entered numerous competitions (sometimes successfully, sometimes less so!), I have the following five tips:

1) Find the right competition for you. Don’t just go for the most well-known or prestigious ones – they will have big prizes but a correspondingly high level of competition. Conversely, don’t just enter the freebies where there are likely to be more contestants simply because there’s no fee involved. Keep up to date with competition news – there are monthly magazines (e.g. Writers’ Forum, and Writing) which contain competition listings. Writers’ groups in your area may run competitions – check for promotions in your local library. Search for competitions online or get yourself onto Twitter, start following lots of writing-related accounts and you’ll be inundated with information about competitions and prizes. Once you’ve found a competition you’re interested in, find out as much as you can about it. If it’s an annual event, if possible read the winning entries from previous years. The idea is not to copy a specific style, but to build up a feel for the kind of work which has been successful in the past. Are these past winners character driven, do they have a particularly strong narrative voice, or are they action packed with an engaging plot? How does this fit with your own story-telling strengths? Find out about the judges too. Often there will be a single overall judge, though the initial short-listing may have been carried out by a panel of other readers. Read up on the judge’s own writing background and try to think if there’s an aspect of your writing style which most closely dovetails with the work the judge appears to enjoy.

2) Read the rules very carefully. Sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to miss something important. These days, writing competitions are extremely popular, and judges faced with the task of whittling down submissions will be quick to throw out any story not adhering to the rules. Don’t allow a story that would otherwise be a contender to be tossed aside simply because it doesn’t follow the brief. Start by checking the deadline, and the word count. There is usually a maximum number of words allowed, but some competitions will specify a minimum too. Check if the word count includes the title, and with flash fiction especially, check if you need to bring the story in on an exact total (e.g. 100 words). Adhering to a specific word count is an art form in itself, but you may find the restriction is beneficial, forcing you to re-write and remove weak verbs or muddy adjectives. If applicable, check if it is permissible for the work to have been previously published (and if so, if there are any restrictions connected with this – e.g. it may be that a story is eligible for submission if it has been published online on a personal blog, but not if it has appeared in print). Some competitions require you to include a specific opening or closing sentence, or to start from the basis of a specific scenario. If you choose to deviate from this instruction, the judges won’t admire your creativity – they will simply place your entry on the ‘reject’ pile. Finally, check the submission method: can you email your entry, is it hard-copy only, or do you have to enter online through “Submittable” or a similar site?

3) If you’re given a theme or scenario, spend some time considering possible interpretations. Chances are, if you’ve had an idea within the first few minutes of reading the competition requirements, everyone else will have thought of something similar. Judges will quickly get bored of the most obvious plots, styles or genres. Try to think laterally. One of my own first competition successes came about because the competition I’d entered had given quite a constricting scenario which suggested a fantasy style of interpretation. I’m not a strong fantasy writer, but I could see a way to interpret the scenario in a domestic setting, which is more my forte. I can only assume that by the time the judges came to my story, they had seen countless fantasy pieces – so by standing out in a crowd, my story was a success. If you’re stuck for ideas, discuss it with someone else – get another perspective. Spend some time on the internet (again, don’t be content with the first – or even second or third – idea you come across online – everyone else who is stuck will be doing exactly the same as you!). Look out for ideas from newspapers, magazines, the TV, or things you see or hear while you’re out and about. The subconscious is an amazing thing – it will be busy looking for links even without you necessarily being aware. You do need to give it a helping hand though. If inspiration doesn’t strike, just start writing something – anything. Eventually, another idea will spark and you’ll be able to make a link. From a tenuous link, you may then be able to pull out an amazing new plot.

4) Be professional in every aspect of your submission. Give yourself plenty of time to draft and re-draft. Once you believe you’ve finished your story, put it away for a while. Read it again with fresh eyes – you’ll probably spot a few errors you’d missed before. Read it to yourself out loud. The rhythm of the sentence structure is likely to sound different from the way it did in your head, and if you stumble over a sentence, this might indicate a re-write is necessary. Check the rules for presentation. Double lined spacing is usual, but some competitions stipulate a font size (and sometimes even font style). If you’re not sure on the correct way to typeset your story, take down a novel from your bookshelves and look at the way the professional publishers do it (especially things like speech, and paragraph indents). Don’t be afraid of white space – wide margins and plenty of space above the title looks better than having the text crammed in. Make sure you adhere to any regulations about page numbering and headers/footers carrying the title. Most competitions will not want you to put your name on any page other than the front sheet, as the work should be judged anonymously. Lastly, don’t leave it until the last minute to send it in – this will be the time there is a postal delay, or the internet crashes.

5) Don’t be put off if you enter a competition and hear nothing. You may enter many competitions without winning or even being short-listed. Don’t despair. Judging is subjective – for whatever reason, the judge simply felt more strongly about another story. It might have been a close call. You’ll probably never know. In the end, the judge’s decision is final, and the best thing you can do is read the winning entry (and any runners-up which are also published) and learn from them. Some competitions will provide a critique service for an additional fee. These can be quite useful in highlighting an area for future improvement. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally – it’s one writing professional commenting on the work of another. Even if you personally don’t agree with the criticism, you should keep in mind any advice or suggestions when submitting future entries. Keep a log of all submissions, and the date the results will be announced. This ensures that you don’t send the same story to two competitions at the same time (or to the same competition two years in a row as I once did!), and means you’ll be able to see as soon as a story is available to send to another competition. Over time, a log will allow you to analyse your success rate, and whether you have any particular strengths or weaknesses – thus allowing you to target appropriately in the future.

If you follow the guidance above, there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed, but you’ll be giving yourself a good chance. As with everything in writing though, the main thing is not to give up. You won’t win anything if you keep your manuscripts in a drawer. Keep writing, and keep submitting!

If you’d like to read some of the stories I’ve had success with in competitions, they are published in my collection Beyond Words available for Kindle on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Words-short-stories-deception-ebook/dp/B01JWLPKW0

Issue #70 of Scribble – Out Now


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The latest issue of Scribble was waiting for me when I got in this evening – and it feels like quite a bumper issue, with seventeen short stories, and two articles.  (And a very attractive cover design.)

One of the best aspects of this magazine is the feedback from readers – and in this issue, editor David Howarth, mentions that he’s had to allocate an extra page to accommodate all the reader comments submitted.

I’m a big fan of Scribble – not only because it’s a great platform for short story writers (both those new to writing, and the more experienced), but because David takes the time to give feedback on unsuccessful submissions.  It’s also very good value at £15 for an annual subscription (which includes free story submissions and competition entries).

You can find out more about Scribble and subscribe here. The annual short story competition is this year on the theme of “fear”.  Max 3,000 words.  Closing date 1st November 2016 – so plenty of time to plan your entry! ;0)






Soundwork Short Story Competition Results


The final results in the Soundwork Short Story Competition were release today – congratulations to Patsy Collins and Jenny Lewis on their wins.  Their stories will be recorded and available on the Soundwork website .

I was astounded to have one story short-listed and another highly commended – the first time I’ve had so much success in one competition!  And I’m very much looking forward to hearing the final stories – great to see a site producing fiction in a different medium.



Win Publication of Your Short Story Collection


Alfie Dog Fiction, which publishes my children’s story Losing Lucy, has just launched its first international short story competition.  The winner will receive £200, plus the opportunity to have their own short story collection published by Alfie Dog Fiction.  Entry is open to anyone over 18, writing in the English language.  The closing date is 30th September, and all the details can be found on the website at http://alfiedog.com/competitions/

Is there an entry fee?  Well, yes, but ingeniously the fee is the cost of downloading five short stories from the site.  The five stories must be from different authors, and fees start at 39p, so it’s hardly steep.  Even if you don’t win the competition, you’ll still have had the opportunity to read five new short stories, plus you’ll have a warm glow inside from the knowledge you’ve helped to boost the sales of a few struggling writers!

Of course, as one of those struggling writers myself, I’d be delighted if you entered the competition and in doing so, picked Losing Lucy as one of your five downloads!  😉


Abandoned Deadline!


Just a quick post to alert you to the relatively new Abandoned Press, “a small, truly independent publishing company with big ideas and a vivid imagination” who are “afraid of nothing but mediocrity”!  Their website itself is an amusing read, so I have no doubt they’ll produce some quirky and excellent work (unless they scare off all would-be contributors).

Their opening short story competition has the theme “Genesis”.  There’s a stated 3,500 word limit, subject to what I suspect may become a trademark inexactitude: “with a little give-and-take”.  The original deadline has shifted too – from 10th April to 31st August – so if, like me, you have yet to come up with any ideas on the theme of “Genesis” (yes, I see the irony of my writer’s block!), you now have plenty of time to work on it.

For more information, and the submission guidelines, visit: http://www.abandonedpress.co.uk/competitions/




Always interesting to see story competitions in surprising and unlikely places – so I invite you to take a look at: http://playingbingo.co.uk/competitions-prizes/short-story/index.php where you can read all the entry details for their 1st ever short story competition.  Entries (unsurprisingly) have to have a “bingo” theme, but otherwise the parameters are fairly wide – any genre, between 1500-3000 words.  All short listed stories will be posted on the Playing Bingo website, and there’s some decent prize money up for grabs.

The closing date is 28th Feb (Thursday) but stories should be emailed (no postal delivery times to take into account) – so if you have something suitable, or feel inspired on a possibly unusual fiction subject, then it looks like a bit of fun.  And it’s FREE! 😉