Final Week

We’re in the final week before our 2021 BSSA competition closes at midnight BST on Monday April 19TH! We hope you’ve enjoyed the recent posts full of editing tips and words of encouragement from writers we admire and hope you found some inspiration. As our competition comes to a close, we’d like to share with you Kurt Vonnegut’s eight essential pieces of advice.

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
Start as close to the end as possible.
Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

But for every rule (well, almost every rule) there is an exception. “The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor,” writes Vonnegut. “She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.”

Good luck!

Ten Tiny Tweaks with Two Weeks to Go!

With two weeks to go until the £1750 prize fund 2021 Bath Short Story Award, judged by Norah Perkins, from Curtis Brown, closes at midnight on Monday April 19th, try these ten tiny tweaks to your story before you enter.

1. Find and remove all your favourite ‘tic’ filler words. Could be ‘just’ or ‘really’.
2. Find and remove all your favourite ‘tic’ action verbs, eg do all your characters get the shakes? ‘he trembled’ ‘he shook’, ‘he shivered’.
3. Similar to the above. Stop your characters shrugging or sighing or arching their eyebrows or winking.
4. Scalpel out double adjectives. Or even most adjectives.
5. Scalpel out all unnecessary ‘ly’ adverbs.
6. Get the cliche police out and search for sneaky cliches eg, ‘gnarled fingers’, ‘tears welled’.
7. Chop off your last sentence. Or last paragraph.
8. Begin with your second sentence or paragraph.
9. If your character is going to dispatch their partner/husband/boyfriend by poison or any other murderous means, change the ending and let them live (not such a tiny tweak). Such murderous stories are very common among our entries. A change of heart is umusual.
10. Change the title to something that draws in the reader. Titles such as ‘The Gift’, ‘Flight’, ‘Dust’ are very common. Try making your title long and arresting (as long as that fits with the story).

Good luck everyone!
The reading team is busy at work. And as a final reminder, they read blind, so don’t add any identifying details on your document. And remember the word count is 2200.
Jude at BSSA Team

THE RULE OF THREE – 3 weeks to go!

Just THREE weeks to go until the 2021 Award closes on Monday, April 19th. With a prize fund of £1750 and the chance to be in our next anthology, it’s definitely worth putting hitting the keyboard now. The following has been taken from a previous post – all about the ‘Rule of Three.’

Unsurprisingly, many people say it’s hard to write at the moment. But if you want to give the competition a go, you might try another tip by award-winning writer and writing tutor Mary- Jane Holmes, who we also quoted in another post on this site recently and write in a fairy tale, mythological or surreal style. Sometimes it is easier to write about important themes at a slant. And because you often have the structure of such myths and tales imbedded in your psyche, the words can flow without effort.

Maybe you can begin a first draft with ‘Once Upon A Time…’ and use fairy tale or mythological characters or write a modern version of a classic story. Fairy stories often have three parts to them and three main characters, cf ‘Goldilocks’, ‘The Three Little Pigs’ or the three sisters in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. We’d also be interested to read stories based on fairy tales from other cultures. We suspect such tales follow a similar pattern.

We found the quote below recently and thought it was interesting. You might agree?

The rule of three or power of three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The reader or audience of this form of text is also thereby more likely to remember the information.”

So why not try writing in this form? Our initial readers love a memorable story and you may hit the bull’s eye and win one of our prizes.



Sharon Telfer


In conversation with team member Alison Woodhouse, Sharon reveals how her prize winning story ‘Under a Whalebone Roof’ evolved and has some sage advice about persistence and redrafting. Our 2020 anthology is available from adhocfiction and Amazon in both paperback and digital versions.

Sharon lives in the Yorkshire Wolds, where she works as a non-fiction writer and editor. She started writing fiction in 2015. Her flash fiction has won prizes, including the Bath Flash Fiction Award (twice) and the Reflex Flash Fiction Prize. In 2018 she was awarded the New Writing North/Word Factory Apprenticeship for emerging writers. Her work has been selected for the Test Signal anthology of the best contemporary Northern writing, to be published by Dead Ink Books and Bloomsbury in 2021. She tweets @sharontelfer.

  • Congratulations again on your beautiful story, ‘Under a Whalebone Roof’, which was awarded a very well deserved second place in our 2020 competition. Could you tell us a little about the story’s journey; how it started out, whether it changed much along the way?

I was so intrigued to see that Marissa’s first prize winner started life in a Tom Vowler online course, because mine did too! But that class, back in November 2017, had to be cut short. A few weeks later my father died, and I shelved my writing. In February, I realised the deadline for the Word Factory/New Writing North Apprenticeship was approaching fast. I’d promised myself I’d apply. I remembered my draft and finished it over an intense week. I’d completed a story and entered for the award. That felt enough.

Much to my amazement, I was awarded the Apprenticeship. It’s a fantastic scheme (apply if you can!), but the story’s only part of the application and there’s no publication element. So I had a story to place. Out it went. I sent it to a magazine that felt a good fit, but heard nothing back, not even a rejection. After waiting an age, I sent it to another. Again, long wait, no reply. I spotted a competition whose judges I thought might like it. It didn’t even make the very long longlist of 100 titles. I sent it to the Costa and Commonwealth prizes not expecting it to get anywhere. It didn’t. I sent it to a dream magazine. This one did get back to me. They liked it, but had published a lot recently on a similar theme. I wasn’t sure my story would ever be published.

With each rejection, I reread and revised the story. What might be losing an early reader? Was the context clear? Was there a strong emotional connection? Was I giving readers enough information – without it being a lecture? The core story, main characters and style didn’t change, but I kept looking at the order of different sections, tightening the pacing, creating more depth, and streamlining the action. The titles switched. The wordcount expanded. I added more seals. Then I entered it into Bath. Maybe it was the seals that made the difference.

I suppose the moral of this, taken with Marissa’s interview, is: don’t give up on a story if it’s one you feel deeply. But don’t stubbornly whizz out the exact same draft. Always take the time to reassess your story. Use that distance since you last submitted it. Could it be sharper, clearer, more engaging? Try to read it again with a stranger’s eye. You’ve already imagined some characters. Imagine one who’s reading this story for the first time.

  • Place is a very important part of your work and you use very sensory, visual details. Are you a writer who starts with setting or maybe an image, rather than a plot idea or theme?

Often a place or a setting is the first seed of a story for me, usually as a specific scene or location. It could be somewhere I’ve visited, somewhere I’ve heard or read about, somewhere that just comes into mind, triggered by something I can’t necessarily pinpoint. I wonder about what might happen there, who might be in that landscape and why, what kind of experience they might have. The story grows in that thinking time, often before I write anything down, when I’m out walking or doing chores. I’m drawn to the short form, because it very much focuses on experience. I find plot very difficult!

This story is, and isn’t, set around the prehistoric village of Skara Brae in the Orkneys. We holidayed there around 20 years ago, and the haunting landscape has stayed with me since. I did a lot of research when writing this story. That provided valuable details to deepen and anchor the storytelling. But often I find research is a form of sifting possibilities, a time for the story to settle and decide what it wants to be. In the end, the island is an imagined place. It only exists in this way in this story.

  • You have a collection coming out with Reflex Press later this year. Can you tell us anything about it?

It’s a flash fiction collection called The Map Waits, coming out in the summer. It’s a mix of published and unpublished pieces, from when I started writing in 2015 up to last year. There are contemporary stories, historical(ish) ones, speculative, magic realism, narrative, prose poetry, segmented stories. Bringing the collection together was fascinating, recognising what themes thread through different types of stories written at different times. I took the title from my flash, Terra Incognita, which won the Bath Flash Fiction Award in June 2016. It felt fitting as many of the characters are poised at a moment of reflection or some kind of turning point. Some take a new direction, some don’t. What will happen next is uncharted.

  • Finally, any advice for writers thinking of entering the 2021 Bath Short Story Award?!

Write with a spirit of discovery. You’re going to spend a lot of time with your story. It has to absorb you, reveal something to you as you go, although you might not realise straightaway what that is. Under A Whalebone Roof is about what people do and don’t leave behind them after they’ve gone, and of course that’s all tied up with grieving for my dad as I wrote it. But I never thought, oh I’m going to write a story about grief. I started writing about a place that had lodged in my memory and the story came and found me there.

Taking a Tom Vowler course seems like a good idea too!

A Compilation of Writing Advice

Photo by Ryan Jones at Unsplash

It’s five weeks today until our 2021 Award closes on Monday April 19th, 2021.

To help you edit and shape your short story before submitting it, we’ve compiled a selection of tips from some writers we’ve interviewed over the years. We first posted this advice back in 2016 and there’s some really useful comments on beginnings, endings, themes, creating a stand-out story, titles and that all-important fine-editing. Continue reading

International Women’s Day, March 8th

International Women’s Day (IWD)  celebrates the political, social, economic and cultural achievements of women and is 110 years old on March 8th. It began in the USA in 1909 as National Women’s Day, in response to a campaign for better pay, shorter hours and voting rights. At an international conference for working women in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin, a political activist, suggested making it international and from that time it was marked in different countries around the world (mainly in Europe). It wasn’t until 1975 that the United Nations made it official and for each year there’s a different theme. In 2021 the theme is #ChooseToChallenge : to call out gender bias and inequality.

There are so many inspirational women who have made history and continue to do so and this young writer with Bath connections is nothing short of remarkable. Continue reading

New Critique Service

BSSA team member Alison Woodhouse offers mentoring and critique services via her website and is giving a 20% discount for 2021 Bath Short Story Entries.

    Alison is an experienced teacher and tutor, as well as a writer, and her flash fiction and short stories have won prizes in many competitions. She has an MA in Creative Writing (Distinction), has taught writing workshops, reviewed fiction, been a reader for several competitions and this year is one of the judges of the NFFD micro competition.
    The critiques will be sent out AFTER the shortlist is announced. If you are shortlisted in the award and published in our yearly anthology, your fee will be refunded.

Interview with BSSA 2020 first prize winner, Marissa Hoffmann

Marissa Hoffmann

Find out in this interview with Marissa Hoffmann, how her prize winning story ‘The Pencil Drawn Girl’ came into being, learn what she likes about writing short fiction and who her favourite short story writers are and get some great advice for writing a short story for a competition. Her winning story is the first one in our 2020 anthology, available from adhocfiction and Amazon in both paperback and digital versions.

Marissa Hoffmann’s fiction won the Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2019 and her stories have been variously podium-placed or listed in international competitions such as Mslexia, FlashBack Fiction, Fish, Flash Frontier’s Micro Madness and Reflex. Her flash stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, BIFFY 50 and Best Micro Fiction and one of her stories appears on the US Wigleaf Top 50 2020 long list. Read more about Marissa on She is currently working on her first novel. You can follow Marissa @Hoffmannwriter.
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Launch of the 2020 BSSA Anthology, December 11th, 2020

Well, that was different! Last night’s launch for the 2020 BSSA anthology ended with a ‘Goodbye from Newfoundland’, New Zealand, Ottawa, Iowa, Switzerland, Italy and various regions of the UK from Harrogate to Stroud. Such is Zoom. This made for a truly international and inclusive event – but we did miss the atmosphere of Mr B’s, where we’ve held our past six anthology launches. It’s such a cosy, enticing bookshop – the perfect place to share wine and nibbles while listening to the readings. Continue reading

Judge 2021

We’re delighted that Norah Perkins from Curtis Brown has agreed to be our 2021 judge. She will select the winning entries from our 20 shortlisted stories.Norah’s interviewed below by BSSA team member, Alison Woodhouse and tells us more about her wide experience in publishing, judging awards and developing opportunities for writers. She likes simplicity in stories and also offers a very useful quote from writer George Saunders which indicates what she is looking for in winning entries: “A work of fiction can be understood as a three-beat movement: a juggler gathers bowling pins; throws them in the air; catches them.”
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