Author Archives: Editor

MORE TOP TIPS FROM WRITERS WE LOVE

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.

 

 

TOP TIPS FROM WRITERS WE LOVE

There’s just three days until we close at midnight on Monday, April 20th. Over the past seven years we’ve posted many interviews / Q & A s with inspirational writers on our website and thought you might enjoy a few extracts. Three today, two tomorrow and the last one on Monday.

Tessa Hadley (from an interview by Jude, 2013)

Tessa Hadley, former Professor in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, is one of our most highly-regarded writers of novels and short stories, many of which have won or been long/shortlisted for major national and international prizes. These include the Orange Prize, the BBC National Short Story Award, the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and Windham-Campbell prize for fiction.

Do you have any advice for writers on entering short story competitions?
Keep doing it – once you feel your stories are saying something and have some power and traction. It’s a really useful way to push yourself on, give yourself a deadline. And wonderfully rewarding if you win something too.
Do you think a good title is important for a short story, or doesn’t it matter?
Yes, a title clinches something, it crisps the story up and seals it like a top on a bottle.

Sarah Hilary (from an interview by Jane, 2016)

Photo by Linda Nylind.

Sarah Hilary’s debut novel ‘Someone Else’s Skin’ won the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year Award in 2012 (past winners/shortlistees have included Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Lee Child, Mick Herron and Belinda Bauer) which was the first in the compelling and well-reviewed six book D.I. Marnie Rome series. She’s also won prizes for her short stories and flash fiction. 

What do you think are the essential ingredients of a good short story?
Crystal clear setting and characters. Forward momentum. An ending that resonates. No wasted words.
Beginnings and endings – your thoughts on these? How do you decide when a short story should end?
I like an ending that echoes back to the beginning. My favourite short stories have this circularity. When the reader knows what will happen next—that’s where the story should end. The reader finishes it, in his or her imagination.

Anthony Doerr (from an interview by Jude, 2014)

Anthony Doerr is one of our most acclaimed writers. ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ became an instant New York Times bestseller and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in April, 2015. He has also won two of the world’s most prestigious short story prizes: in the US, The Story Prize for ‘Memory Wall’ and, in the UK, the 2011 Sunday Times Short Story Award for ‘The Deep.’

What editing advice would you give to writers who are considering entering our competition?
Reward the generosity of your reader! Try to examine every single word in your story and ask yourself: Is it a lazy choice? Does this adjective/article/noun/verb absolutely need to be there? If someone is nice enough to spend a half-hour reading something you’ve written, try to make your prose absolutely worthy of his or her time. Make the dream that unfolds inside your sentences so persuasive, seamless and compelling, that your reader won’t put it down.

Ten Tiny Tweaks

With one week to go until the £1750 prize fund 2020 Bath Short Story Award closes at midnight on Monday April 20th, 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).
10.Change the title if it is common place. eg. ‘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.
Thanks.
Jude at BSSA Team

Two Weeks to Go

The 2020 Award with its £1750 prize fund closes in two weeks today, Monday 20th April.
If you want to write a new story at this stage (two weeks to write a story of up to 2200 words is certainly possible) but are stuck for ideas, we’ve seen that several writers are compiling great lists of prompts to help spark creativity. Christopher Fielden, who for years has been offering many resources for writers and runs his own course on writing short stories, has included a list of different inventive prompts from several different writers. American short fiction writers and teachers Nancy Stohlman and Kathy Fish are offering daily prompts for their ‘Unexpected World-Wide Writing Sabbatical’. And we’ve also seen different prompt ‘challenges’ from the online magazine The Cabinet of Heed. which might also help you write a longer piece. It’s always great to see different themes and angles on familiar subjects among the story entries. And if you like, why not try writing a story to the image on this page? Who did paint that yellow number 2 on the road. And why?

We’ve noticed that many of the short listed and winning stories in our BSSA anthologies contain underlying messages of love and hope. So if, in these very difficult times, you can write unusual stories and add these elements, it would be good to read them. We welcome stories on any theme and subject though. It is always interesting to read variety among the entries and thank you to everyone for entering.

The Power of Three

Just three weeks to go until our £1750 prize fund Award closes on April 20th.

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.

Relax, Write, Read and Vote

Just four weeks to go until our 2020 Award closes on Monday, April 20th. Now spring has come and the sun is out, perhaps it is possible to relax a bit in these current very stressful times, and write or edit a story. There’s still time. A way to find out if your own story works is, of course, to read other short stories. One place to begin is with our own anthologies and collections by writers who have won prizes with us.

Chloe Turner won the local BSSA prize in both 2017 and 2018 with her stories, ‘Breaking the Glassblower’s Heart’ and ‘Witches Sail in Eggshells’. Her short story collection also titled Witches Sail in Eggshells was published by Reflex Press in 2019.

KM Elkes won the local BSSA prize in 2015 with his story ‘Three Kings’ and was shortlisted in 2014 with his story ‘Greta Garbo and the Chrysanthenmum Man’, published in the anthology Bath Short Story Award, Vol 3. Ken also writes very short fiction and his acclaimed collection of flash fiction, All That Is Between Us was published by Ad Hoc Fiction in June 2019.

Both these books are great reads as are our BSSA anthologies. You can buy the 2019 and 2018 anthologies from our publisher, Ad Hoc Fiction’s online bookshop and via Amazon in ebook form on Kindle. And you can buy anthologies from previous years from this website at bargain prices.

And if you want to support us, our writers and our publisher, you might like to vote for them in the Saboteur Awards. Public voting for the longlists is open in several different categories until April 6th. Both Ken and Chloe qualify for the best short story collection category, so you will have to choose one of them! The 2019 BSSA anthology qualifies for the best anthology category and our publisher Ad Hoc Fiction qualifies for the most innovative publisher category. Voting closes on April 6th and we’ve linked the voting form here.. We would love your support and so would these writers. We all need a boost at the moment.

Words Count

In these challenging times, for our eighth yearly award ending on April 20th, we welcome stories on all themes and subjects from the personal to the political, historical to contemporary, real or surreal. And we also invite you to send us stories with heart. They might not be light-hearted, but we love to read anything that resonates deeply and moves us. Your words count.

Our limit for the BSSA Award has always been 2200 words. A story this length takes about ten minutes to read out loud. And we think this is probably about the maximum length that people listening in a public arena can manage to concentrate on. Of course, you don’t have to write to the limit. Some of the stories that have been among the winners and short listed over the years have been much shorter than that. There is no lower limit. Although if you want to write a very short piece (300 words or less) it’s best to enter The Bath Flash Fiction Award, run by one of our team members, Jude Higgins.

To think about how to tighten your story in order to bring out its energy and subtle layers in a short space, this list of tips for writing short-short (or flash) fiction,from award winning poet,flash fiction writer, and writing tutor Mary-Jane Holmes, current judge of the Bath Flash Fiction Award, is very useful for all writers of short fiction.

Zoom in on a single event;
Begin in the middle of the action as close to the arc or climax of the story;
Decide where your focus is – event, point-of-view, character?;
Write using active voice and eliminate extraneous description;
Remember that every word counts;
Use a directive last sentence that gives narrative insight or opinion;
Make rereads necessary or at least inviting;
Close with a phrase that sends the reader back into the story;
Know when you’ve made your point.

SIX WEEKS TO GO

ISOLATION

2020 has been a checklist for global disasters: political; environmental, with bush fires and flooding and now a potential pandemic with new cases of Coronavirus or Covid-19 announced daily. Apart from the bizarre stories of stockpiling loo roll, we hear about people self-isolating and, in the case of the state of Lombardy, an entire Italian province under potential lockdown.
What must it be like to be removed or remove oneself from the world?

When I was a teenager, one of my favourite poems was Tennyson’s ‘Lady of Shallot’.  The hypnotic  rhythm of the verses as well  as the choice and placing of words build up to create the horror of her predicament. She must not look out of the window so has to view the outside world through a mirror.

There she weaves by  night and day/ A magic web with colours gay.

She has heard a whisper say/ A curse is on her if she stay

To look down to Camelot.’

She also has no idea what the curse might be ‘And so she weaveth steadily.’  This builds up to delicious, dramatic climax when ‘half-sick of shadows’ she leaves the tower and island where she has been imprisoned by the curse. You might also recognise her from the paintings of John Waterhouse and other pre-Raphaelites (see above).

This photo was taken in Marrakech a few years ago and made me wonder who might have once sat in the gloomy interior looking out onto a sunny tiled courtyard and, directly opposite, another dark room. Perhaps the room was a refuge from the searing sun? Or something else?

If you need inspiration for your story, think about isolation as a theme or use a poem, a painting or one of your own photos as a starting point. Your story (up to 2200 words) can be on any theme or genre but must reach us by midnight on Monday, April 20th. So get writing!

 

 

 

 

Seven Weeks To Go!


How are your stories coming on? Do you need to jump in and start writing or are you on the umpteenth draft? There are seven weeks to go until the deadline of our eighth yearly Award on Monday April 20th. Our judge this year is Kate Johnson from Mackenzie Wolf Literary Agency.

You still have time to write a new story or polish up an existing one and enter.
This picture of turtles taken in the Yves St. Laurent garden in Marrakech might prompt a new story. Perhaps a different angle on mothers and babies, perhaps a story in an interesting location. Perhaps a story actually involving turtles.
We’re looking forward to reading all your entries, almost as much as we’re hoping that we’ve seen the last of the recent spate of storms. But stormy stories are welcome, as well as quiet ones.

Q & A with Caroline Ward Vine, 1st prize winner, BSSA 2019

Caroline Ward-Vine

It’s just under three months until the Bath Short Story Award, 2020 closes on April 20th, 2020. To give you the impetus to finish that story or write a new one for our eighth yearly Award, here’s an interview with last year’s winner, Caroline Ward Vine. It was wonderful that Caroline was able to come and read at our 2019 Book launch last November at Mr B’s Emporium of Books in Bath. You can buy the anthology there and it is also available in a paperback from Ad Hoc Fiction, our publisher’s online bookshop in several different currencies and as an ebook from Amazon on Kindle.

Last year’s judge, Samuel Hodder said this about Caroline’s winning story ‘A Gap Shaped Like the Missing’:
A wonderfully vivid and arresting story of community, trauma and healing that seizes the reader’s attention from its opening lines and doesn’t let go. Lucy Mae’s voice is brilliantly achieved – lyrical but direct, wry but warm, full of life as well as loss – and the story builds a powerful sense of both character and place. The writing is gorgeous, rich with allusion, full of striking imagery and metaphor, with beautiful turns of phrase on every page. It reminded me of the very best of dystopian fiction but is all the more affecting since it is about our own time.

In our interview Caroline tells us how the story came into being and more about her other successes and writing process.

  • Can you tell us how your marvellous winning story ‘A Gap Shaped Like The Missing’ came into being? And how did you arrive at the title?
    It began as a fragment of description, written a few months after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. At the time, I sang with a community gospel choir; everyone had their place to stand, according to the part they sang. I was thinking about music in the aftermath of disaster and had the idea of a choir, gaps yawning in the rows where people had been lost. The image haunted me, but it took ten years to discover the story it was meant to be. Bizarrely, I struggled to find the right title; I tried several. It was only as I was giving the story a last read-through before submitting that the words jumped out at me from the text. I had described ‘gaps, shaped like the missing’ in the fragment I had first written. I now can’t imagine the story being called anything else.

    Caroline receiving her Costa Award

  • In 2018, you also won the Costa Short Story prize and were shortlisted for other major prizes. What is it that you most enjoy about writing short stores?
    I love the precision of the short story: its clean lines. The way in which a single phrase or image can capture a whole world. I have a natural tendency to waffle and always have to edit massively, so when I manage to chip away all that’s unnecessary and reveal that gem of simplicity, it gives me real joy. Short stories are also a wonderful way for a writer to try walking in the shoes of others; to inhabit worlds, points of view that might be difficult to sustain across a novel
  • Our judge Samuel Hodder said your character, ‘Lucy Mae’s voice is brilliantly achieved – lyrical but direct, wry but warm, full of life as well as loss – and the story builds a powerful sense of both character and place.’ Do you think creating a strong voice and sense of place is a characteristic of your writing style?
    I think perhaps it is. Voice, certainly. Until that’s right, for me the story isn’t, and it’s often a strong voice that inspires the story itself. The point about place is interesting. I rarely describe characters in great detail, or even have more than a vague sense myself of what they look like, which probably flies in the face of most ‘how to write character’ tutorials. But I know exactly what space they occupy; what they see, even if the location is anonymous and less intrinsic to the story than in A Gap Shaped Like the Missing. So that may be right!
  • I know you are also writing a novel. Can you tell us how that is progressing and what it is about? (If that’s not under wraps).
    I’ve just finished the first draft. True to form, I’ve written long and now have tens of thousands of words to cut, but there I’m back in familiar territory. I’d rather not say too much about it at this early stage, but it has dual narratives, one in contemporary London, the other set in the Second World War, in the Far East.
  • Any other writing projects on the go this year?
    I’m planning a novel woven from interlinked short stories, set in a seaside town. There will no doubt be other short stories, as and when inspiration hits.
  • There are still three months before the 2020 BSSA Award closes in mid April. What advice would you give a prospective entrant at this stage?
    First of all, start soon if you can. In my experience, the more time you can give a new story to settle, the better. As you live with it, what is important and what less so becomes clear. You can play with the dials: turn up the volume here, tone down the jarring, cut the superfluous. If, like me, you naturally write longer than the 2200 limit, why not try a ruthless edit of that 3-4000 word story? You may just find the lean, pared-down core is a thing of beauty.

Above all, be brave, go for it, and good luck!

Q & A with BSSA team member, Jude, January, 2020.