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Bath Short Story Award 2017. Now closed.

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The fifth international Bath Short Story Award closed  for entries on Monday May 1st, 2017, midnight BST.  Judging is underway.

Shortlist  judge is Euan Thorneycroft, Senior Literary Agent at A M Heath

Prizes £1400 prize fund:

£1000 first prize, £200 second prize, £100 third prize, £50  for the local prize in vouchers –  donated by Mr B’s Emporium of Books, Bath. £50 for the Acorn Award for an unpublished writer. Results out July 2017.

Winning and shortlisted stories will be published in a print and digital anthology launched in October or November 2017 in Bath..

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Our 2016 anthology containing last years’ winners and shortlisted writers is  now available to buy on this site for £7.99 plus postage and packing for UK buyers or from Amazon if you are buying from other countries. Digital copies available from Amazon for £3.79

 

Thank you for entering BSSA 2017

Thank you to everyone who entered the International Bath Short Story Award this year. We closed 1st May, at the beginning of this week. You kept our administrator very busy on the last day!  Our stats showed that we had 2069 views on the website last Monday.  This year we had entries from 45 different countries.

We’ll reveal  the exact number of entries after the results are out in mid-late July. At the moment, the ten members of our initial reading team are busy enjoying your stories and selecting choices for the long list. It’s a very interesting process and everyone learns a lot from the stories submitted. The BSSA team selects the final long list and Senior Literary Agent from A M Heath, Euan Thorneycroft   will judge the short list of twenty stories and choose the winners and commended stories.

If you want to be first to get notifications of the long list, short list and winners, please subscribe to the  mailing list to receive emails on the side bar.

Good luck to all.

Jude, Jane,  Anna

The Last Minute Club

We’re ready for the big party at the BSSA 2017  Last Minute Club with entries pinging into the entry email inbox every few minutes.  We’re expecting this to continue until the stroke of midnight, Monday May 1st. Then the party will really be in full swing.

If you’re a procrastinator, read this interesting article  Being a  procrastinator myself,  I am rather taken with the idea that delaying until the last minute increases creativity.

So what happens after we receive your last minute entries?  Our band of experienced readers, who are all writers of different genders and ages,  read batches of stories as they come in. All  stories are read blind. Two readers read each one and decide  together whether to submit stories to the long list.

The final long list and the short list is agreed by the  BSSA team.  Literary Agent Euan Thorneycroft is our short list judge. He’ll select the winners. We expect the final results to be out by the end of July. Subscribe on this site  to receive email alerts and be the first to know who’s won.

Good luck!

Jude. April 29th.

Time is running out

We close at midnight Monday 1st  May. Give yourself the chance of hitting the bull’s eye and winning £1000 first prize, second prize of £200, third prize of £100, £50 prize for an unpublished writer or  £50 local prize by checking —

  • The rules — there are  always a number of writers who  submit stories way over the word limit of 2200 words. Or put their names on stories.  Don’t risk getting disqualified for those reasons.
  •  Give our readers a pleasant reading experience by writing in a clear font. Bold fonts are not easy.  Or any fancy italics or Comic Sans. Times New Roman is a safe bet.
  • If you are entering online, please be sure to  send your stories and paypal receipts to the correct email address which is on the entry page.
  • Put the correct postage on your hard copy stories.

Finally give your story a final once over for typos etc. We’re not too strict here, but a beautifully presented story, is a bonus. Zap a few adjectives and adverbs maybe,. Check the beginning paragraph. Does it hook the reader in? Check the final paragraph. Does it feel satisfying, not too cosy, not too obscure? What about the title? Does it add something to the story

Good luck!  Our readers are already on the case and results will be out in mid or late July.

Jude,

BSSA team April 28th.

 

 

 

 

Finding the right title

How do you create a good title? So much has been written about this. Good ones stay with you for ever. I love Raymond Carver’s famous short story title, which is also the title of one of his collections,  “What we talk about when we talk about love.” Gordon Lish, his editor, retitled it  “I Am Going to Sit Down.” but thankfully,  it  was never published in that version.

There’s a fun thing I saw recently somewhere online, which suggested writing  bad versions of famous titles of novels and short stories. For example, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ could be ‘The Fruits of Anger’. Worse, another Steinbeck novel. ‘Of Mice and Men’ could be translated into  ‘Of Rodents and Males.”What about ‘Offspring and Their Romantic Partners’? Or ‘Fondness in the Season of the Plague’. Silly, but useful to study the originals and see how they work. Is it the weight of the words, or what they encompass about the book. Is it the rhythm or the length of the title?

Some of the most used titles for short stories are ‘The Gift’, ‘Dust’, ‘Flight’.”Lost and Found’, ‘Memories’, ‘Skin.’ We have had several entries with these titles at Bath Short Story Award. One year we had two stories on the short list titled ‘Flight’. They were good stories, but different titles could have reflected something else in the piece and may have made them even stronger.

Maybe the words in the picture on this post  could inspire a short story. Or a title?

So before you send in your entry, check your title. Does it enhance your story? Could you extend or contract it? Is it a cliche or overused? Have fun making title revisions. And remember, we close in two weeks on 1st May.

BSSA team member, Jude, April 2017.

 

Dream up a short story

 

Bath Short Story Award 2017 ends on May 1st, but you’ve still time to write and enter your up to 2200 word story.

Unless you are able to practice lucid dreaming, you can’t control your dreams and they’re good story material as a result, often taking unusual angles on well-worn themes or offering you something wonderfully surreal. Steven King apparently dreamed the whole plot of ‘Misery’ – remember the plot about the author captured by a female psychopath?

In dreams, events unfold in ways you might not have imagined.  Interestingly, they often fall into three acts, like a fairy tale.

Have you remembered a dream  recently? If so, write it down and see if it has three scenes, a beginning middle and end. What is the crisis point in this dream? What is the resolution?  If  you can only remember a fragment of a dream, treat it like a prompt. Take a word, a dream character or an atmosphere from your dream memory and get writing.

Want to try out more ways of turning dreams into fiction after this year’s Bath Short Story Award is over on May 1st? Come to the first ever Festival entirely devoted to Flash Fiction in Bath on 24/25th June in Bath. Jude, one of our BSSA team members is the director of the festival.  She’s running an early morning Dream Breakfast on the Sunday morning of the festival. Coffee and croissants provided.  Here, you’ll be able to try out other ways of creating a short-short story from your dream or dream fragment.

All the major players in the Flash Fiction world ,UK will be at the festival running workshops to get you to try out different ways of approaching short short fiction. And we’ve just learned that  a distinguished International Guest – renowned short story, flash fiction writer and teacher, Pamela Painter from the USA is coming to teach and read. There are also, talks, a  book launch an evening of readings, a festival-long contest  and more. Do come! flashfictionfestival.com

 

 

 

Road trips

In most short story contests,  filter judges say they see a lot of stories on similar subjects – relationship break downs feature strongly in their many different forms. Affairs, death of a hated partner by nefarious means, abuse.  I don’t think we’ve seen many road -trip stories at Bath Short Story Award.  These feature strongly in films of course. Thelma and Louise is a famous example. You can’t fit too many road-trip events into a short story of 2200 words or less, but you could include a vehicle as a setting and see where that takes you. Colin Barrett, a short story writer our judge Euan Thorneycroft likes very much, writes a great description of the inside of a car at the beginning of  Calm With Horses, a wonderful story from his prize winning debut collection Young Skins (Vintage Books, 2014). This car doesn’t feature as a major player in the story, but it does show much about some of the characters.

“The car was orginally Dympna’s Uncle Hector’s, a battered cranberry Corolla Dympna labelled the shit box, its interior upholstered in tan vinyl that stank of motor oil, cigarette ash and dog. Recessed into the dash was a dead radio, its cassette tape slot jammed with calcified gobs of blue-tack, butt-ends and pre-euro-era Irish coins. The dash smelled of fused electricals. Above Arm’s head, a row of memorial cards, their laminate covers wilted by age and light, were tucked into a sun visor and a red-beaded rosary chain was tangled around the inverted T of the rear-view mirror.”

So why not write about a car of your acquaintance past or present. Create a fiction around it.  Remember its smells and its quirks. That car could take your story on a road trip you never expected.

Jude. March, 2017.

FEBRUARY 14th

 

List of those not buying cards and/or red roses on February 14th:

  • Richard the Second (not the one of car park fame) – too busy being murdered in Pontrefact Castle (1399)
  • Captain James Cook – also too busy being murdered, but by natives in Hawaii (1799)
  • Alexander Fleming – too busy publishing a mouldy old report (1929)
  • Al Capone – too busy arranging the massacre of members of a rival gang (also 1929)
  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn – too busy being charged with treason, being expelled from Russia and revoking his citizenship (1974)
  • Husband Klaus – not too busy, but of the mindset that Valentine’s Day is part of a great Hallmark conspiracy to make him look bad

Those sending cards may well have included the eponymous saint. During his captivity in the 3rd Century A.D., Valentine is alleged to have fallen in love with a young girl to whom, on the night before his execution on February 14th, he sent a card signed, ‘ From your Valentine’. Or Latin words to that effect. Or not?

Legend, the mating habits of birds and Medieval notions of courtly love became so entwined by the 14th Century, that Chaucer in his ‘Parlement of Foules’ wrote

‘For this was on seynt Volantynys day

Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make’

( Translation: ‘ For this was on St Valentine’s Day when every bird comes there choose his mate.’)

and, in doing so, sowed the seeds for cellophane bouquets six hundred years later. The first ‘cards’, a love letter and a poem, were written in the 15th Century – one in English, one in French – and are kept in the British Library archives (though not on view). But they are there. Facts. History.

So whatever your associations with February 14th – whether the folklore, historical or contemporary elements most appeal – could you use them as the starting point for a story? And not necessarily about love. Up to 2,200 words by May 1st – get writing! .

 

Story Inspiration – using travel journals

BSSA team member and intrepid traveller, Anna Schlesinger tells us about using travel journals to inspire her writing.

During over forty years of travelling around the world, my first trips taking place to Russia and East Germany, followed by Poland and Czechslovakia when they were ‘behind the Iron Curtain’, I have always kept a travel journal. More recently I have explored China and Cambodia, Malawi and Mali and the countries of South America including Chile and Easter Island. I’m planning a trip to the Congo next year.

When I’m home I print out selected photographs as I like to have both pictures and journal side by side to recapture ‘moments’, perhaps thrilling and sometimes frightening.

A travel journal is not a diary. I use it like a companion, storing moments worth remembering: road signs that warn of cassowaries ahead, fishermen standing in their boats dragging nets while one foot steers a pole in the water, a shanty clinging to the side of a volcano or the green eyes of a begging child. I am not denigrating the tourist industry that offers traditional dancing and singing, or festivals that bombard the senses with colour and noise to remind us we are far from home – but there is a more personal side that lies in unexpected moments. In shards of patterned pottery along unexcavated parts of the Silk Route, the flash of a Red Bishop in dark canopies at sundown, lianas curling through spiritual ruins like snakes gaining control, or the footprint of a lion beside a tent in the early morning.

A short story is a journey of the imagination and my journal can be its trigger. It can jog my mind into remembering smells and sounds until I am off on a flight of fancy with people I’ve not met before; characters who have escapades and experiences I’ve not been part of – for their journey is my short story.

 

Anna Schlesinger, February 2017.

Interview with Anne O’Brien – winner, BSSA 2016

Anne O’Brien left her job in the European Commission in Brussels to pursue her passion for creative writing. Since then, she has gained a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Lancaster university and is currently working towards her PhD. In 2016, she won the Bath Short Story Award and came second in the London Magazine Short Story Competition. Her short stories have also been shortlisted/placed in many competitions including the Sunday Business Post/Penguin Ireland Short Story competition, the Bridport Prize, BBC’s Opening Lines and the Fish Short Story Prize. Anne’s work has appeared in several anthologies and magazines and has been translated and published in Vietnamese

  • Can you tell us how your wonderful BSSA 2016 first prize winning story, Feather Your Nest came into being

It all started with a chance remark from my daughter bemoaning the fact that women had to go through so much in life: ‘Why can’t we just lay eggs like hens?’ A wonderful image came to mind and I knew I had the germ of a story. I got the main story line down pretty quickly but then the re-writing and the editing started. At each round, I tried to go deeper into the heart of the story and, at the same time, pare back any non-essential words. I worked at it until I got the story as taut as I could.

  • You recently won second prize in the prestigious London Magazine short story contest, a marvellous start to the New Year. Are you mainly writing short fiction at the moment?

I write short stories and the odd journalistic piece. I have a ‘morning pages’ habit and try to start each day (as near as possible to the time I wake up) by covering three pages with handwriting. I’m experimenting with form – inspired by writers like Claire Louise Bennet. My London Magazine story ‘ I Have Called You By Your Name is very different to the BSSA story and is more closely associated with my free writing.

  • Do you have a collection in mind? Will your PhD study result in a book we can look forward to?

Yes, my aim is to bring my stories together in a collection. I’ve been working hard and have a good range, many of which have been successful in prestigious competitions.

It’s only when you look back over what you’ve written that you see common themes emerging. Many of my stories are about longing, belonging or indeed not belonging. As an Irish emigrant, longing for home is something I know about. The surreal  – when the familiar or the homely becomes strange – is a reoccurring theme for me and I’m exploring this in my PhD. I think I manage to deal with tough subjects with a light touch.

  • Some of your stories are translated into Vietnamese and we’re thrilled that Feather Your Nest is going to be translated later this year. Can you tell us more about this?

One of the reasons I decided to study creative writing was to be part of a community of writers with whom I could exchange work and discuss writing. Through my study at Lancaster University I met Nguyen Phan Que Mai. She is a prolific and well-known author in Vietnam and is now writing in English. She also translates English language fiction and poetry into Vietnamese. I was thrilled when she asked if she could translate my first published story, Taking Flight. It subsequently appeared in the 2015 New Year’s edition of Vietnam’s Tuoi Tre Weekend Magazine. This story has also been selected as the title story for the forthcoming publication: Taking Flight, a Collection of International Short Stories, edited by Nguyen Phan Que Mai. The collection will also include stories by Amy Tan and Junot Diaz.

  • Which current short story writers do you admire? And why?

At the moment, I’m rediscovering Alice Munro’s stories – sheer wonderful storytelling. Though I am excited about how the short story form is evolving, you can’t beat a good story with a great beginning, middle and end and Alice Munro delivers every time. There are so many writers I could mention. I know that the second I send this off I’ll think, ‘Oh why didn’t I say…?’

Though sadly no longer with us, there are two writers whose stories always get me going again when my writing falters. The first is William Trevor. There is not a single story of his that disappointed me and I’ve read them all. The second is Roald Dahl – I’ve always loved stories that hover on the edge of the surreal and sometimes tip over. He was the master spinner of such tales.

  • Was there a particular writer who inspired you to begin writing fiction?

No – not really. As the second child of a large family, books were my escape, a refuge in an overcrowded house. I read my way through the children’s section of all the libraries within cycling distance. It makes me both sad and mad when I hear of libraries closing. I was also lucky that my dad understood what books were to me and often slipped me a new paperback.

I always hoped that one day that I’d write stories. As a teenager, I even had a title for my first novel – it was going to be called ‘A Nun In My Bed.’ I had to give up my bed when my aunt, a missionary nun, came to stay. I reckoned with a title like that I’d sell a few books! I do wish I’d come to writing fiction earlier. I spent too many years writing everything but stories.

  • What top tips would you give anyone who is planning to enter BSSA 2017

Don’t hesitate. Pick your best story. Read it aloud. Pare away every single word that is not needed, no matter how beautiful. Then submit.

Shortlisting or being placed in the BSSA really means something. You know your work has been carefully read and considered by a team of great readers and impressive judges. A listing, long or short or a placing is valuable feedback that you are on the right track. Finally, the annual BSSA Anthology is such a lovely book and provides a fantastic opportunity to have your work published.

You can buy our anthology containing Feather Your Nest by Anne O’Brien and nineteen other marvellous short stories on this site. Also available from Amazon and locally at Mr B’s Bookshop, Bath and Visit Bath, the tourist information centre.

Q & A with Euan Thorneycroft, BSSA Judge, 2017

Euan Thorneycroft has been at AM Heath since 2005, and is one of the senior agents there. Before that, he was an agent at Curtis Brown. He has always loved finding new authors and working with them. He represents a range of different kinds of fiction, from the very literary to the more commercial. He’s looking for strong prose, unique voices and a compelling narrative. In terms of genre, he’s most interested in crime, thrillers, and historical fiction. He is also open to well-written speculative fiction in the vein of STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel or UNDER THE SKIN by Michel Faber. His non-fiction tastes are for memoir, new nature writing (think Robert Macfarlane), “Smart Thinking” books, and current affairs. He has been a committee member of the Association of Authors’ Agents as well as serving as the external examiner on one of the country’s leading creative writing courses. He has also recently been a judge for the Bridport First Novel Award

  • You represent a wide range of prose writers, including authors who also are well-known for their short stories including Vanessa Gebbie, Ruby Cowling and Fflur Dafydd, who was short listed in our 2016 Award. Do you accept submissions of short story collections? If so, can you say what you would be looking for in such a submission?

I do. But they need to really stand out. I’m looking for collections that have some unifying factor – be that a theme, an idea, a setting, or a collection of characters. This can often help sway a publisher’s decision. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule so if something is simply brilliant, I want to see it!

  • You have recently been a judge for the Bridport First Novel Award. Can you tell us what, for you, makes a stand-out story in both long and shorter fiction?

Originality – this could be a totally original plot or it could be something that on the surface sounds pretty ordinary, but which the writer approaches from a fresh angle.

Authenticity – do I completely believe in the world and characters the author has created?

Confidence – I’m looking for writing that feels so natural that I forget I’m reading a story.

  • Do you think that the popularity of short story is still gaining ascendancy in this country? Short Story writer and novelist, Sarah Hall thought it was back in 2013. Perhaps publishers are more interested?

I do. And technology has played its part. Short Stories are the perfect fit for our hectic modern life and tablets and Smart phones have enabled people to read on the go. There are also more competitions and prizes for short stories, and you can see authors who are often associated with the longer form, turning their hand to them. I’m thinking of Hilary Mantel, Lionel Shriver and Jon McGregor.

  • Which current short story writers do you admire and what do you like about their writing?

Lots but the one that stands out is Colin Barrett and his collection Young Skins. Of course, his language is brilliant – there’s a poetry to it but it is also very exact – and the stories are unexpected in terms of where they start and where they end up. But overall, I think it’s the emotional intelligence that he shows as a writer. His characters seem utterly believable to the reader.

  • Our award is for stories of 2200 words or under. Have you some top tips for writers writing short stories to this length?

Find your voice, make every word count, commit totally to your character, setting and story. The latter is particularly important – if you can do this, you stand a chance of writing something that isn’t merely technically competent, even brilliant, but something that is memorable and long-lasting.