Our eleventh international award is open today, Thursday 14th December. We welcome short stories by writers from around the world on all subjects and themes. Closing date, Monday 15th April 2024, midnight BST. Continue reading
I was going to call this Pic Fic but, on checking, found that’s already a registered title for an X -Files archive and this blog is definitely not that. I’m not sure if there’s an actual genre for stories inspired by paintings but certainly the visual arts have rippled across literary sands, occasionally making big waves as the works of a particular artist or school have popped up over the years.
Vermeer and Dutch paintings of the 17th Century became a focus in the 90s through the novels of Tracy Chevalier and Deborah Moggach. Girl with a Pearl Earring (the title of Chevalier’s book as well as Vermeer’s painting) mixes a smidgen of fact with a rich imagining of the identity of the enigmatic subject and her relationship with her master Vermeer. It was a commercial success globally and predictably a film followed. In Moggach’s Tulip Fever the characters are fictional but the subject is real: tulip mania, which saw the price of tulip bulbs soar until the speculative bubble market crashed. This is the backdrop to the story but Moggach’s inspiration for her tale of love, beauty and the payback for greed was a painting by a very minor 17th Century Dutch artist that she bought at auction and, in the narratives of both Chevalier and Moggach, the world of dark Dutch interiors is illuminated on so many levels.
In A.S.Byatt’s The Matisse Stories, paintings by the great French Post-Impressionist provide inspiration for three brilliantly crafted and entertaining stories that show what it is to be human. More recently, the paintings of Edward Hopper have inspired In Sunlight or in Shadow an anthology of stories by well-known writers including Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates.
In the winter when it’s drizzly and damp, art galleries are wonderful places to escape to. Next time you visit, take a note book and start imagining. Who knows what narratives will emerge from the canvas of a Gainsborough, Rothko, Hockney, Van Gogh or whoever inspires you. The artwork at the top is a silk screen print of Northolme, a stunning location in the Seychelles. It’s now a Hilton resort but in 1958 Ian Fleming retreated there to cure his writer’s block. While he was there, he began a collection of short stories called For Your Eyes Only – so, clearly, immersing himself in a luscious landscape worked.
We welcome all short stories, up to 2200 words, on any theme or genre to be entered by April 15th.
I walked for several hours today, in the surprisingly warm sunshine, because I couldn’t settle and I’d spent hours doing admin jobs and rearranging my notes. It’s been a worryingly recurrent feature of the last few months, and I’ve tried to confront it with my usual tricks (star charts, targets, treats, journaling, reading, essay writing, editing etc) but to no avail. Creatively I feel paralysed, the world overwhelming, my expectations of myself and what I should/could/ought to be writing derailing me before I begin.
I set off on my usual route but when I came to the first fork in the path, this way or that, I stopped and thought about what would make me feel better, rather than just move forward on auto pilot or along a predetermined route. None of these paths are new (sorry Robert Frost!), but today I looked for where there was more sunlight, more snowdrops. I chose woodland tracks over tarmac because I wanted to be amongst trees. I walked up a hill to get the view. As I walked I let each previous choice inform the next one and the next until, almost by accident, I left my gloom behind and felt invigorated.
Writing can be like this, I think, when we get out of our own way and let it. Sylvia Plath, in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams: Short Stories, Prose and Diary , wrote “so many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.” I brought curiosity to my walk today, I took time to feel. I walked forward not knowing which route I’d take home. It’s worth remembering that we don’t always need to know everything before we start writing, we could just begin and see what happens, follow where our character goes, observing her quietly and compassionately. I guarantee she’ll surprise you.
Last week, Jude recommended Tracy Fell’s wonderful ‘The Naming of Moths‘, her collection of short stories published by Fly on The Wall Press. Do read it if you haven’t already! This week I’d like to suggest you order from your library or put on your wish list Reverse Engineering Vol 1 & 11, published by Scratch Books (https://www.scratch-books.co.uk/product-page/reverse-engineering). ‘An innovative anthology revealing the inspiration, the ideals and the work involved in a great short story … brings together contemporary classic stories with their authors’ discussions of how they were written.
An essential book for everyone interested in how fiction works…’ That’s all of us isn’t it?
Our competition closes in nine weeks! Good luck and I hope you find time and space to wander/wonder as you write your stories.
Tracy Fells was the 2017 Regional Winner (Europe and Canada) for the Commondwealth Short Story Prize. Her short fiction has been widely published in print journals and online, including Granta and Brittle Star. Her debut novella-in-flash ‘Hairy on the Inside” published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2021, was shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards in 2022 and the International Rubery Book Awards.
Tracy Fells has been a first reader for the Bath Short Story Award for many years, frequently selecting stories from the entries that go to to be shortlisted or to win a prize. It’s a pleasure now to write a short review of her new short story collection, The Naming of Moths. which was published by Fly on the Wall Press late last year and is available from them or from Amazon.
In their guidelines for submission Fly on the Wall Press state:
“We prefer writing with a sprinkle of social consciousness and political engagement. This encompasses terms such as social commentary or observation, as well as more overtly political storylines. We believe, sometimes, our very existence in a certain setting is political and a story can be political simply in viewpoint.”
Tracy Fells,is a writer who, I believe, exactly fits Fly on the Wall Press’s brief. Her stories are rich with social commentary and observations on how people navigate life in (usually) the present day UK, whether they were born in this country or have travelled from elsewhere. . Continue reading
In the eleven years we’ve been running the Bath Short Story Award, we’ve been treated to over 12,000 stories on a wide range of themes and genres, presented in a variety of styles. Our anthologies have showcased some 210 of those wonderful stories, many of which have induced tears of sadness, recognition and laughter. But in all the years I’ve been part of the BSSA reading team I can’t remember coming across an overtly political story, say, one just about Brexit, party political shenanigans, or the reality of a protest march.
Of course, stories that deal with topics such as war, refugees, pandemics, homelessness, crime and the climate, for example, will naturally be political in the broad sense and will probably be richer and more textured for it, but one specifically pinning its colours to a ‘party political’ or an issue-specific mast?
Perhaps, there’s a dearth of such stories? And then you come across ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th, 1983’ by the late Hilary Mantel. It was the title story in Mantel’s second collection, published in 2014; she has been more highly acclaimed for her long historical narratives but the collection, as a whole, bears her trademark style of framing moments in disquieting prose. In 2015 it was selected for the BBC National Short Story Award and generated a huge amount of publicity, with the Daily Mail calling it ‘warped’ and ‘a distasteful fantasy.’ The subject matter was certainly shocking as the highly divisive former Prime Minister had only been dead for a year when the story was first published. Continue reading
Q. We were delighted when Farhana Shaikh chose The Language of Remembering, as our first prize winner. It’s a beautiful, haunting story about, amongst other things, memory, language and grief. Could you tell us a little about the process of writing this story. It’s genesis and iterations? The use of second person is so powerful here, I wondered if you landed on that straight away for the story or found your way there? Continue reading
Sophie Haydock is a journalist (Sunday Times, Financial Times, Guardian), editor and author, based in Folkestone, Kent. Her debut novel, The Flames, was longlisted for the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown Award and won the Impress Prize for New Writers. The Flames has been translated into seven languages and named by The Times as one of the Best Historical Fiction Books of 2022.
Sophie has interviewed leading authors, including Hilary Mantel, Maggie O’Farrell, Bernardine Evaristo, Sally Rooney and Amy Tan. Passionate about short stories, Sophie worked for the Sunday Times Short Story Award and is associate director of the Word Factory. She is a judge for short story awards and her own story, Mudlarks, is available to listen to on BBC Radio 4.
Sophie’s second novel, Madame Matisse, about the women who were integral to the life of the French artist Henri Matisse, will be published by Doubleday in 2025.
Her Instagram account @egonschieleswomen has a community of over 110,000 followers. For more information, visit: sophie-haydock.com Continue reading
“The Harrison has become a mecca for visting artists, musicians and writers to stay while in Belfast. When Paul McVeigh enjoyed a stay here at the beginning of lockdown he spoke with our owner Melanie Harrison about doing something literary here and the seeds of the residency were planted. Once a residency was settled upon, Paul made a list of everything he thought would help an emerging writers go to the next level and went about getting it for the lucky writer. He thought about writers who couldn’t physically travel or take the time off work or family or carer commitments and came up with the idea for another winner who would receive an at-home residency with as many of the same benefits as possible. The Paul McVeigh Residency at The Harrison was born”
And this is what Paul had to say about the winning submissions:
“I was astonished at the standard of the entries, some of which I read over and over again unable to find any flaws. In the end, the work that Hilary and Patrick sent in kept rising to the top. I predict these two authors will have major work published in the not-too-distant future and we hope to help make that happen.”
We’re looking forward to reading Patrick’s first prize short story win, ‘The Language of Remembering’ in our 2023 anthology published before the end of the year and wish him all the best for the novel he is writing, which we believe came out of this winning story.
Many thanks to Farhana Shaikh for her close reading of all the twenty stories on the BSSA 2023 shortlist and for her thoughtful comments on all the winning pieces.
As writers, we know what a short story is made up of: character, plot, dialogue, setting, tone, voice and so forth. But for readers, it is always something more than these component parts. It is an escape. It is a pause. It is an experience. A chance to learn. Laugh. Explore.
The writers shortlisted in this year’s Bath Short Story Award have understood this: that each component part must work in harmony, be in service to a story that must entertain.
This didn’t help me when presented with the challenge of picking a winner from 20 outstanding stories because each of them is successful in achieving what it sets out to and therefore worthy of the top prize.
So I approached this task as a reader, not a judge. I took these 20 short works with me on holiday where I read under the scorching sun in thirty five degrees heat. I read and re-read, mulled and meditated, napped and settled on 5 stories. I came home and revisited the list. Here, in the broody will-it-or-won’t-it-rain summer I read all the stories again with a closer eye which only made the task more difficult than it was.
In my selection I have chosen the stories that resonated with me, the ones that having read them for a third or fourth time still surprise me in some way; where I found something beautiful, quiet, raw, that let me forget just for a moment that it was forecast to rain for the whole of next week. So, these are the stories that stuck with me, and didn’t quite let go. When you read them in the 2023 Bath Short Story Anthology, I hope you find as much joy in them as I do. Find out more about the winners on our winners’ post here Continue reading
Huge congratulations to all the winning writers in our 2023 Award, which received c.1000 entries from around the world. You can read our judge Farhana Shaikh’s comments in general and on their brilliant short stories in her report and the stories will be published in our 2023 anthology in November this year. The BSSA team has also selected and commented on the winner of the Acorn Award for an unpublished writer.First Prize, ‘The Language of Remembering´ by Patrick Holloway. Patrick is a prizewinning writer of stories and poems. His work has appeared in The Stinging Fly, The London Magazine, Carve, Southword, The Moth, among many others. He is an editor of the literary journal, The Four Faced Liar. He has just finished a novel that originated from the short story in this anthology and is busy tidying it up before sending it back to his agent. Second Prize, ‘Manifesto’ by Nathan Bailey. Nathan is a musician, barman, and student. He is currently studying for an MFA in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. He began writing short stories in 2021. This is his first work in print. He lives in Burnage, Greater Manchester.
Third Prize, ‘He’ll Take Good Care of Her’ by Sudha Balagopal.
Sudha’s fiction straddles continents and cultures to explore the human condition. Herhighly commended novella in flash, Things I Can Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2021. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn, and two short story collections. Her short pieces have appeared in literary journals worldwide. Recently, her short fiction won the CRAFT Amelia Gray 2K contest and her work was selected for Best Small Fictions 2023. When she’snot writing, she teaches yoga. Continue reading