We’re on the home stretch – into the final 24 hours so take a break from editing, fine-tuning (or possibly writing) your story to read the thoughts of more of our favourite writers on getting your story ready to enter a competition. All the tips come from interviews we’ve done over the past seven years. Closing date: Monday, April 20that midnight. 1st Prize £1200 out of a total prize fund of £1750. Max. wc. 2200. Judge: Kate Johnson of Mackenzie Wolf Literary Agency.
Kit de Waal (from an interview by Jude, 2015)
Kit De Waal ‘s debut novel ‘My Name is Leon’ was shortlisted for the Costa First Book Award and the Desmond Elliott Prize, among others, and went on to win the Kerry Group Irish Novel. Her short stories have been shortlisted by several awards including Bridport, Bristol and Bath. ’The Beautiful Thing’ won 2nd Prize in the 2015 BSSA and was later recorded for BBC Radio Drama. She has also set up a scholarship scheme for disadvantaged writers.
Do you have some tips on honing a short story ready for a competition?
If you’re entering something for a competition, work it and then pull back. By that I mean, work over every line, work the tale, work the character, work the paragraph, work the ending and beginning, work the jokes and then look at what you can edit to leave only the essence. I suppose it would be like Coco Chanel says about getting dressed. She said that you should get all dressed up and then just before you leave the house take one thing off. Less is more.
Paul Mc Veigh (from an interview by Jane, 2016)
Paul McVeigh is a writer, playwright, teacher of masterclasses and festival director, with a powerful presence on the literary scene. His short stories have been published in many journals and recorded for BBC Radio 4. His debut novel ‘The Good Son’ won a slew of prizes including the Polari First Novel and the McCrea Literary Award. It’s been translated into many languages and was chosen as Brighton’s City Reads in 2016 and given out on World Book Night.
Beginnings and endings – how important are they to a short story? Does the title really matter?
Beginnings are very important. Talking specifically from the point of view of judging competitions and reading stories in an endless feast with a view of festivals etc., I find beginnings are crucial to keep me reading. For these platforms (which I don’t think have to apply to stories in a collection), one way to get my attention is to see the first page as pulling the ring from the grenade. I will read to see if it goes off – I will assume it will and cause the maximum amount of damage possible. If that grenade doesn’t go off and you’ve written an end I believe in and welcome, then I will tip my hat to you. I will also be a bit jealous.
Danielle McClaughlin (from an interview by Jude, 2016)
Danielle McClaughlin is a prolific writer of short stories and has been published in a range of and anthologies journals including The New Yorker. She has won or been listed for many prizes including the William Trevor/Elizabeth
Bowen International Short Story Award and her debut collection of short stories ‘Dinosaurs on Other Planets’ won the Windham -Campbell prize for fiction.
In what ways have writing competitions helped you as a writer? Can you give a few tips for writers entering The Bath Short Story Award?
I used to enter a lot of competitions and they were a great encouragement, not just the competitions where I was fortunate to be one of the winners, but also the ones where I made longlists or shortlists. Most of us seem to spend a lot of time combating enormous levels of self-doubt, so it’s good to get these boosts now and again. And I’ve also made new writing friends through competitions, because if there’s an event, you get to meet the organisers and the other writers. In terms of writing tips, I’m going to say firstly, read, read, read, read. I’m with Stephen King when he says that ‘if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.’ I tend to read more short stories than novels and I dip in and out of different collections, a story here, a story there.
As for endings: stop in the right place. Easier said than done, I know, but a short story can be ruined if the writer insists on carrying on past the ending. ‘ … already in that space the light begins to fade into the calm gray even light of the novelist.’ That quote is from a paragraph in The Lonely Voice where Frank O’ Connor is discussing an aspect of the work of Mary Lavin, and whether or not you agree with his assessment of Lavin’s work, I think the analogy of the fading of light is a good way of explaining the loss of intensity, the loss of explosiveness, that can occur when a short story continues on further than it should.