Ducks in a Row


I’m reposting this from last year because I still think this is excellent advice and I needed reminding!

Do you wait for the perfect time, or place, or circumstance, thinking that once all your ducks are in a row, THEN you will write the perfect story? I do, especially when my confidence is low and/or the world is overwhelming (ok, nearly all the time). So, if the neighbour’s dog is driving me crazy (he doesn’t, he’s lovely, but some days I can’t filter out the occasional barking) I blame that for the fact my writing feels rubbish and I didn’t meet my goals or start the story that’s in my head or finish the one I began a few weeks ago. And the more excuses I find, the less inclined I am to sit down and write. I go downhill fast, lose a day, a few days, a week or two. Oh no! I’m a failure, but how can I be expected to be a creative genius in these (insert your own bugbears) conditions? Sound familiar? If not, well done! If yes, read on 🙂 Continue reading

The Leak

Some writing competitions have a theme, a given title, words that must be included etc. or they stipulate that entries should be written in a specified genre, such as fantasy, magical realism or Gothic. The Bath Short Story Award does none of that ─ our rule is that stories should be written in English and not exceed 2200 words ─ as this allows writers complete freedom of choice in subject matter and style. Continue reading

By Hook or By Crook

Pardon the title. I couldn’t resist this phrase, first recorded in Middle English in 1380, the meaning to do anything necessary to achieve a goal. Translating the idea into writing for a short story competition with the hope of a prize, here I concentrate on how you can hook our initial readers (who may have a batch of 50 stories to read in their inbox). Let’s have a look at ‘Dead Dog’ the 2022 Bath Short Story Award first prize winner, by Kate 0’Grady Continue reading


I had a lovely morning today running a short story workshop, getting very excited by craft and also thinking about how stories, even when they seem quiet, slow burners nearly always intersect with the political. Tonight, thinking about this post, I remembered this, written by the inimitable George Saunders in his Story Club email, and I want to share part of it with you. If you’ve already seen it, I apologise, but I think it bears reading again (and again).

“In stories we might catch a glimpse of why people do the things they do, which should prepare us to think about things more incisively and boldly when people do something that is cruel, violent, or inexplicable. Whatever we are brought to feel, through literature, about love and understanding and sympathy must take this into account … Continue reading

Feasting and Fasting

This week is all about feasting and fasting. Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday when traditionally all the butter, milk and eggs in the house had to be used up before the Lenten period began on Ash Wednesday and then it was 40 days of fasting till Easter. In the UK, we might toss out a stack of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday while in New Orleans and other cities Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is the riotous culmination of a festival period starting on January 6th. Germany’s Karneval lasts even longer, beginning in November with the main parades on Rosenmontag, the day before Shrove Tuesday. The carnival floats are spectacular with massive, grotesque figures often lampooning politicians. Even British ones! A hugely controversial float a few years ago depicted Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister at the time, pointing a loaded gun marked Brexit in her mouth.

A time of excess: it’s not just the rich, buttery foods but the wild partying and conflicting passions which make ideal ingredients for a short story. As when preparing pancakes, your first attempt might need to be chucked but pare down the prose of subsequent drafts and you should have a story, any genre but no more than 2200 words, that is clean, lean and perfect for submission by Monday, April 24th.

Need further inspiration? Read ‘Shrove Tuesday’ by Anton Chekhov


Write what you love

Ten weeks to go until our 2023 Award ends on April 24th. We welcome stories of up to 2200 words on all subjects and themes by writers from around the world.

Our Judge, Farhana Shaikh, says this in our interview with her:

“Write what you love, and write with abandon for yourself first. Put it away in a drawer for some time so you can get some distance between you and the words. Then and only once you’ve done this, seek out people who can help you to refine what you’ve written, offer critical feedback so you can polish the work before sending it in. It’s amazing what happens when you re-work a piece with fresh eyes. Good luck!”

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Emmeline Pankhurst being arrestedFebruary 6th is the 125th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act  ─ a piece of UK electoral reform that gave the vote to property-owning women over the age of 30 but it wasn’t until 1928 that all women in the UK, aged 21 and over, enjoyed the same voting rights as men. Less than a hundred years ago. Continue reading

Use Your Fifth Idea

It’s well known that in short story competitions and in writing submissions generally, there are many common themes. The three ‘D’s for example. Death, Divorce and Dementia. Or variations on these. Many great stories are, of course, written on these subjects and frequently find their way into our short lists. But the ones that do have a fresh and interesting angle. Continue reading

Setting Intentions

January is often full of good intentions. I like to write lists, some people use spreadsheets, others dream. There’s no wrong way to nurture your ambitions.

This month I’m deep in marathon training for Brighton on 2nd April. Madness, I know (I blame my daughter ). My brain is not impressed – I’m 59, got a sore knee, it hasn’t stopped raining for weeks, now it’s sub-zero and who in their right mind wants to get up before dawn or spend all Sunday running for hours? But one thing I’ve discovered (and plenty of writers can also testify to this, including Haruiki Murakami, author of What I Talk about when I Talk about Running) is that long distance running and writing are linked. This applies to all writing, not just the mammoth undertaking of a novel, because short stories require rewriting, editing, rereading, refining. We spend literally hours and hours on them. I have a training plan (supplied by my daughter, along with gold stars) and I’m doing it without question, partly because I love awarding myself that sticker at the end of a session. I am a sucker for the carrot! Why don’t I do the same, even figuratively speaking, when I write? Do you? I’m not sure writers in general are very good at recognising quite how much effort they put in. Continue reading