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BSSA 2022 Open Now

The ninth Bath Short Story Award is open for entries now and will close on Monday, April 11th at midnight BST. We welcome stories of up to 2200 words on any subject or theme from anywhere in the world. Before entering, please check the rules for more details.
This year, the competition is judged by novelist, short story writer, playwright and writing teacher, Paul McVeigh who has judged many short story awards. Read our interview with him to find out more about him and what he looks for in a short story.
The longlist and shortlist for the 2022 Award is likely to be announced in July 2022 and the winners by August 2022.

Prizes as follows:
£1200, first prize
£300, second prize
£100, third prize
£100, the Acorn Award for an unpublished writer of fiction.
£50 in book vouchers for the local prize, donated by Mr B’s Emporium of Books, Bath.

Entries: £9.00 each, online only.
Word limit: 2200.

We look forward to reading your stories.
NB. We are not accepting simultaneous submissions this year.Thanks.

If you would like to read the marvellous winning, commended and shortlisted stories from 2021, the 2021 BSSA Anthology is now available from our publisher, Ad Hoc Fiction and from Amazon in paperback. Digital copies coming later.

To Writers on Burns Night: ‘Sláinte Mhath’

Sleekit (also spelt ‘sleeket’) is my word for January 25th, Burns Night. When we asked some of our favourite Scottish writers for tips for Burns Night stories, Ian Rankin  came straight back to us with this:

And what a word it is, redolent with meaning; not just ‘having a glossy skin’ but, in its true Scottish sense, ‘artfully flattering, ingratiating, crafty or deceitful.’ Perhaps that might inspire a politically-themed story? After all, Burns himself was not just an 18th Century romantic poet but a covert radical, an advocate of the freedom of the press and a supporter of the French Revolution.

If you’re not familiar with ‘To a Mouse’, one of his most famous poems, you can read it here  Glasgow writer Karen Jones  tweets this about the ‘wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie’.

So, a story about the impact man has on the animal world, how man and creatures co-exist or not?  John Steinback was clearly influenced by these lines from the poem: ‘The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men /Gang aft agley’ and changed the working title of his 1937 novella about George and Lennie from Something That Happened to the punchier Of Mice and Men.

Karen tweets about the dark comedy in Burns’s poems, especially ‘Tam O’Shanter’. Morag Joss also turns to ‘Tam O’Shanter‘ and selects elements for a story which seems to have real crime potential.

Val Mc Dermid  uses ‘Tam O’ Shanter’ as a starting point for a story about friendship, as the ‘drouthy neebors’ gather:

while Sarah Hilary suggests a twist to the theme of Auld Lang Syne, which is a pledge to enduring friendship. Her tweet says: ‘How about a story of how Auld Lang Syne became a hit in China where it’s called You Yo Di Jiu Tian Chang or Friendship Forever and Ever?’ Karen offers a complete story starter here:

And, for a bit of fun, this from Denise Mina: 

 

 

 

 

So on Burns Night indulge in a dram or two of ‘usquebae’, address your steaming haggis or vegan alternative with ‘Sláinte Mhath’ and read or listen to a recording of Burns’ mesmerising verse. Think about darkness, skulduggery, friendship, love, political intrigue, nature, destruction – or whatever takes your fancy and get writing. Send us your short stories (up to 2,2200 words) by Monday, April 11th 2022. Details here

And good luck!

Jane Riekemann

Interview with K L Jefford, our first prize winning author in 2021

Congratulations again on your wonderful story, In Bed With My Sister, which was awarded a very well deserved first place in our 2021 competition. Could you tell us a little about the story’s journey; how it started out, whether it changed much along the way?

Thank-you. This story is very important to me and I’m overwhelmed that it won first prize in this wonderful competition, and proud to be in such talented company in the anthology.
In Bed With My Sister is a fictional narrative that was seeded in scrawled notes I made at a time when someone close to me was in crisis. I’ve always been curious about the roles we take up in families and other relationships – who looks after who – and the tensions between personal and professional, especially what happens when those in the so-called ‘caring professions’ become patients.
Returning to these notes months later, I began to imagine and sketch out ‘scenes’ which formed the basis of the narrative. I always take drafts of stories to my writing workshops – I’m part of two with writers I met on the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck – and use their feedback to inform the editing process. The story struck a chord in the workshops immediately, described as both ‘painful’ and ‘compelling’. Editing involved much re-shaping and tweaking, improving specificity of detail, pruning back prose to facilitate emotional impact, and paying attention to the balance of humour and darkness. Time management and chronology have always been big challenges for me and much of my editing involves chopping up and moving scenes around.
I worked on the story – alongside other stories-in-progress – for around a year before considering it ready to submit to competitions.

The story uses time jumps and white space to great effect. Are you a writer who likes to experiment with narrative structure? Do you think the story leads you towards a particular form or vice versa?

As I’ve become more experienced and confident, I’ve begun to experiment more with narrative structure. I think the relationship between form and story is a dynamic that moves both ways. My natural instinct as a writer is to write episodes or scenes that build into an over-arching coherent narrative, with spaces in between.
In In Bed With My Sister the fragmented scenes embody the fractured thought processes in a psychotic state of mind, with the breakdown of boundaries between memory, fantasy and reality, with the white spaces represent movement of time – back or forth – as well as a pause for breath and reflection.
In other stories the space has included a parallel theme that aims to resonate through metaphor and meaning with the main narrative, thereby adding nuance and depth – I hope. For example, I used the etymology of key words in the story as a parallel strand in a narrative about a bereaved teenager unable to find words for his grief. In a story about a mother and son struggling with tragic loss, a interspersed description of how avalanches form tunes into the emotional strand of the narrative.
I try to make space for readers to engage with the material imaginatively, to have their own unique thoughts and associations to the stories, and make up their own minds.

Did you always want to be a writer?

Yes I always wanted to be a writer, but it was more a fantasy of being someone who lived in a world where people actually were or became writers, not the world I lived in. I grew up in a large working class family in Cardiff, a family – incidentally – brimming with born storytellers, but not writers. They weren’t people like us, we thought. If you were considered bright at school you became a teacher, otherwise girls worked in retail or trained as nurses, boys took up apprenticeships or joined the army. My teachers were positive about my ‘compositions’ and poems in English classes, including one who suggested I get a job at the South Wales Echo and train as a reporter, but in the end I went to medical school and eventually trained as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. (Another story!)
I started to take myself as a writer ‘seriously’ ten years ago when I enrolled for an evening short story course at City University, the same place – incidentally – as where I attended a writing course in my 20s in an attempt to write fiction alongside my work as a doctor. The on-call rota soon put an end to that.
There was a lovely moment at a family party a couple of years back when my cousin Julie – who I’d not seen for decades – remembered the novel I was writing at the age of nine, about a boy called Peter living in Scotland.

You’ve had great success with short stories in competitions ( I loved Picasso’s Face, the 2021 V.S. Pritchett first prize winner). Do you write a new story with a competition in mind?

Thanks. I really enjoyed writing Picasso’s Face. No, I rarely write a new story with a specific competition in mind, though I have done sometimes where there has been a particular theme. I wrote one story intended for a competition with a circus theme, but didn’t get it finished in time and it ended up being shortlisted and published in this year’s Fish Anthology. I tend to submit the stories that fit the word-count and often more than one – if I have them. I find competition deadlines useful to assist focus, and to gauge the appeal and quality of the stories, although I’m aware of how highly subjective this is.
Getting long or short listed in competitions can be a real boost to confidence, especially for less experienced writers, and a connection ‘out there’ when so much of writing is solitary. My favourite competitions are organised, reliable, accessible, friendly, and supportive of writers. Bath of course, but also VS Pritchett, Bristol, Brick Lane Bookshop, Fish, Wasafiri, the London Magazine, Cambridge, and the Rhys Davies Short Story Award – relaunched last year and for Welsh writers – are, in my experience, some of the best.
I think it’s really important that many competitions now offer free entries to those otherwise unable to afford the fees, including many working class writers. This is essential to the survival of a truly diverse fiction of many, many voices, and long, long overdue.

Would you like to tell us what you’re working on at the moment? A collection ? A novel? We’re excited to read more words by you!

I’m currently working on my first collection of stories. Winning the VS Pritchett prize gave me the confidence to apply – successfully – for an Arts Council England DYCP (developing your creative practice) grant. I’m using it to support writing the collection, including mentoring through the TLC (the Literary Consultancy) scheme. My writing workshops remain key to my writing process. I have never come away from a workshop without something new to think about to enrich my writing.
The collection will be 13 stories – a significant number for me – and I’m currently finishing initial drafts of the 12th story. The diverse range of characters in the stories are linked by the theme of loss, real or imagined, and how feelings that cannot be faced or put into words are enacted in a range of behaviours – abduction, stalking, addiction etc., The collection is also an exploration of how innovations in structure may add layers and nuance to a story. I’m aiming to have a manuscript ready by summer 2022.
Then I might return to the novel in the drawer…

Finally, any advice for writers thinking of entering the 2022 Bath Short Story Award?!

I don’t think I’d be bold enough to give ‘advice’ – we’re all so different in terms of what gets us going – but I’ll share some thoughts from what I’ve learned. Read lots of short stories. Read more. Go for a walk. Get on a bus. Carry a note-book everywhere.
Anyone reading the Bath Short Story Award anthologies – and those planning to enter BSSA should – will see that Bath is a competition that really takes short fiction and what can be achieved in 2200 words very seriously, and appreciates a diverse range of styles and genres. Write a story that has to be told and only you can tell it. Think about what fires you up. Think about the depicted events of the story as distinct to what the story is ‘about’ which may reside in subtext. Think about what you want your reader to feel, to understand. Think about balance of what is told and what’s left to your reader to work out. Be specific in detail, original in metaphor and simile. Trust your instincts. Take risks. Take more. Show drafts to writers and readers you trust. Edit, edit, edit. Read, read, read. Keep going. Reward yourself with treats. Good luck.

Unique Angles on The Short Story

Our Award ends on April 11th. In 13 weeks time. Want to write a short story with an unusual angle that stands out from the crowd? Join one of these very affordable short courses at The Crow Collective organised by dynamic writer and story teller, Sage Tyrtle.

Our own BSSA team member, Alison Woodhouse, prize winning writer and tutor for the City Lit, is running one on Structuring Your Short Fiction on January 30th for the Crow Collective. And Sage has has a great line up of tutors for her other workshops in the series.

A new year, a new story?

January is a wonderful month (no it is, really) and one of the best parts is cracking open a brand new notebook and filling it with fresh words. Let’s not call them resolutions (not a fan, they can so quickly turn to disappointments and we use them against ourselves) but rather hopes and dreams; let’s take a gentler approach to writing and ourselves as writers (and humans!).

If you’re struggling to think of a fresh new story, perhaps try this. Choose a story you wrote a while ago, one you’ve abandoned, one you got stuck on, you lost your way, you don’t think it’s any good. Print it out and read it in a comfy chair, with a cup of coffee or tea, and don’t use a pen, just let the words sink in without criticising them. Maybe do that a couple of times. Then put it away, go about your day. When you’re ready, come back to your laptop or notebook and write that story out, without looking at it. See what has stayed with you, what you remember. My hope is, you’ll unearth a ‘new’ story that was there all along. I do this a lot with drafts. I write them in pencil and just let them go where they want. They’re terrible, really rubbish (yes, I know we shouldn’t use those words but they ARE) but when I come back, read them, start again, there’s nearly always something golden I can find. A character, a situation, a voice, an idea, even just a sentence but it’s great, the story is still breathing! And it’s a kind of magic.

Our deadline is April 11th. That’s 14 weeks away. Plenty of time so slow down, don’t rush, swim around a bit, explore your words, weave magic. I truly believe stories are more important than ever. Fill them with your voice, your unique way of seeing the world. Write the story only you can write. We can’t wait to read them!

Eight short story prompts for the winter solstice

21st December. It’s the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere and today there are  just under eight hours of daylight in London
Because most writers love a prompt to get them going here’s a list of prompts, one for each daylight hour. Maybe if you have some time today, see if you can write a rough draft inspired by one of them. Our 2022 Award ends on 11th April, so plenty of time to finish it.

photo by mikka luotio on Unsplash

  • Write a short story which begins at sunrise on the winter solstice and ends at sunset.
  • Write a happy and hopeful short story involving an incident on the shortest day.
  • Write a short story based around Stonehenge with nods to Thomas Hardy.
  • Write a short story involving an illicit solstice party.
  • Write a short story involving a solstice tradition in another country.
  • Write a story about the beginning and the end of a relationship in eight paragraphs with eight snatches of dialogue.
  • Write a wintry short story from the point of view of an eight year old child.
  • Write an historical short story with a title that includes a character’s name and the word ‘light’.
  • Write fast, don’t worry about whether it makes sense, this is just your first draft a chance for you to play.

    Happy Winter Solstice!

    BSSA 2021 Anthology Launch

    What’s not to like about Bath Short Story Award cup cakes?

    A few weeks ago, on December 3rd , we held a party with cakes, wine and guests from all over the world, crammed together in a writerly buzz ─ separate, yet connected, on two full Zoom screens. For the second year running our anthology launch was online but, although nothing beats the quirky conviviality of an evening at Mr B’s (officially one of the world’s best bookshops, according to The Guardian), with Covid still around it wasn’t an option.

    Jude welcomed our authors, guests and Norah Perkins, the 2021 judge. Norah, an agent at Curtis Brown, spoke about the quality of the stories on the shortlist and was full of praise for the authors. 2nd Prize winner Stephanie Carty kicked off the readings with a lively extract from Davey, Plastic Jesus and the Holy Spirit, followed by Seattle-based Kristen Loesch (3rd Prize) who read from Important Letters. Further readings were from Lynda Mason’s Highly Commended The Great Pretender, which also won The Acorn Award for an Unpublished Writer of Fiction, The Pheasant by Ruth Bateson which won the Local Prize (sponsored by Mr B’s) and Rosaleen Lynch’s Hail.

    The 2021 BSSA anthology is the 8th in the series (the first one was an e-book)

    After a fifteen minute ‘break out’ session, Jane introduced the next group of writers with their stories: Catherine Smith Jellyfish; Montreal writer Joshua Levy Pigeons; Samanthi Munasing Two Samosas and a packet of crisps; James Young  At Anderson’s Field;  Elizabeth Cooke L’Chaim  and finally Paul Bassett Davies Your car has broken down.

    The last groups of readings, introduced by Alison, continued with Karen Jones Breathing Patterns; Peter Burns Ghost of your words; Maria Clark Georgie 3; R J Lingard Dead End;   Rupert Tebb The Mountain range behind the clothes rack; Emily Devane On the beauty of sad endings and, on a final note, Kate. L. Jefford who won 1st Prize with In Bed with My Sister. 

    Following a raffle and the launch of the 2022 award, it was all over ─- but what an entertaining evening it was: engrossing readings, catching up with old writing friends and making new ones, as well as the chance to chat with the judge. We took quite a few photos which are posted here. We also took screenshots of the authors reading their stories but the quality was mixed so we probably won’t post those. That said, if you did read and would like to see your screenshot, please email us at bathshortstory(at)gmail (dot)com

    If you joined as a guest and now feel inspired to write a story for the 2022 award, all details are on our website 

    A big thank you to everyone who joined us at the launch.

    Jane, Jude and Alison

     

    Interview with Paul McVeigh, BSSA 2022 Judge

    photo of Paul McVeigh by John Minihan

    What a pleasure and absolute thrill it is to welcome Paul McVeigh as our 2022 judge. Jude and I first met Paul at the London Short Story Festival which he co-founded and ran. For many years he has been a significant presence on the international literary scene, having made his mark as a playwright, blogger, teacher, interviewer, festival director and acclaimed author. His debut novel The Good Son captured the heartbreak of ‘The Troubles’ with dark humour and poignance, as seen through the eyes of young Mickey Donnelly. It was an instant hit. Widely reviewed and translated, it was nominated for many awards and won The Polari First Novel Prize and The McCrea Literary Award. It was also chosen as Brighton’s City Reads 2016 and given out as part of World Book Night 2017. Paul’s short stories have been published in anthologies and literary magazines and broadcast on BBC Radio 3,4 and 5 and televised on Sky Arts.
    He has taught creative writing across the world from Malaysia to Mexico, throughout Europe and in numerous destinations in the UK, including Bath where he ran a highly successful workshop for us a few years ago. Not to be missed is his blog for writers which posts submission opportunities for journals and competition, gets 40,000 hits a month and has had over 2 million visitors. Paul judges international literary prizes and reviews for The Irish Times, where he has also interviewed authors such as George Saunders and Garth Greenwell. The best place to get to know Paul (unless you bump into him in Belfast where he lives now) is via his website You can also find him on Twitter @paul_mc_veigh Continue reading

    BSSA 2021 Anthology launch

    Friday, December 3rd 2021 – 19:30 pm to 21:30 pm GMT

    We’re excited to launch our eighth print anthology, published again by the award-winning indie press,  Ad Hoc Fiction. The 2021 collection from this year’s shortlist is a diverse and eclectic selection of powerful, moving and occasionally humorous stories and you’re invited to join us to hear extracts read by the authors and the BSSA team.  Our 2021 judge Norah Perkins found all the stories ‘spoke eloquently’ and said how difficult it was to choose a winner. She added, ‘The winners of this year’s award all demonstrate radical compassion, diverse perspectives, and truly extraordinary voices – I can’t wait to read what they write next.’ 

    Although nothing beats a cosy evening at the wonderful Mr B’s Emporium of Books in Bath, we’re holding this year’s launch on Zoom again, as there are still Covid concerns. Luckily, it means authors can join us from across the world and different time zones. In addition to the readings, there will be breakout groups to chat to other writers and guests and, at the end, a raffle. We’ll also launch next year’s award and reveal the identity of our 2022 judge (it’s someone many of you will know quite well!). Continue reading

    Judge’s Report, BSSA 2021

    Thanks very much to our 2021 BSSA judge, Norah Perkins from Curtis Brown for her overall comments on the stories she received and on the winners. The BSSA team were also delighted to offer and comment on the Local Prize by a shortlisted author on our list. It’s a big task, as Norah says to choose from such a great selection and we very much appreciate all she has to say about the Award and the entries she read. Read the bios of the winners and highly commended writers here and the bios of the shortlisted writers here.

    Overall

    It was a very great pleasure and an honour to judge the 2021 Bath Short Story Award. I work primarily with writers who are no longer alive but whose work lives on and is treasured by generations of readers. And so for me especially it is always exciting to have the opportunity to read new voices, and to imagine the ways that these writers will continue to interpret their world, and to bring their stories to us lucky readers in the years to come.

    In a year when so many hav Continue reading