There are just eleven days to go before our £1750 prize fund award closes at midnight BST on Monday 23rd April. If you are thinking of entering your up to 2200 word story, check the following and make your story stand out from the crowd.
Think about your title. In 2015, Clarke’s World, one of the great SF/F literary magazines, reached 50,000 submissions and editor Neil Clarke decided to run an analysis to see what the most common titles were. Here are the fifteen titles which were most frequently submitted to the magazine:
Dust, The Gift, Home, Hunger, Homecoming,The Box, Monsters, Lost and Found, Sacrifice,The Hunt, Flight, Heartless, The End, Alone, Legacy
A post on Electric Literature referring to this article is worth a read.
We’ve also seen many stories with these titles and similar ones in all the six years of the competition. And we’ve read a few very good stories with such titles, which have been long or short-listed– but if you want to draw those first readers in, find a more arresting one that adds a further level to your piece.
You can also look at how your title relates to the first paragraph of your story. The beginning of the 2017 winning story by Kathy Stevens, pictured here, is a good example of this. The first paragraph complements the title and suggests the different personalities in the family and the conflicts between them. This whole first page shows a character with a strong voice who makes funny and astute observations.The voice and the humour were some of the things our short story judge, Euan Thorneycroft, who is judging again this year, particularly liked about the story. Nothing is wasted in this opening. We are straight into the situation at home and want to know what happens next.
Finally, is your story balanced? Does the ending balance the beginning, so that it ties up in a satisfying way. Satisfying does not usually mean a neat ending. In Kathy’s story, we don’t know exactly what will happen to the character after the end line, but the ending provokes further questions which are connected to the family dynamic that is set up at the beginning.
Remember to check the rules for the competition as a last thing. We always receive entries with the author’s name on the piece which means immediate disqualification as stories are judged anonymously. We always receive entries that are hundreds or even thousands of words too long.
We appreciate everyone who enters and supports the Award. Our filter readers are already on the case and are enjoying reading through the first batches. Good luck to all.
BSSA team member, Jude Higgins, April 12th 2018.
Anne O’Brien won first prize in the 2016 Bath Short Story Award judged by Radio 4 Bristol producer, Mair Bosworth. You can read Anne’s winning story, ‘Feather Your Nest’ in our 2016 BSSA anthology available to buy here. We’ve just heard the fantastic news that another of her stories, Taking Flight, has been translated into Vietnamese by award winning writer and translator Nguyen Phan Que Mai and is the title story of this anthology, which in Vietnamese is Bay Len. Other translated writers in the book include Margaret Atwood, Sara Maitland and Junot Diaz and also Helen Rye, whose story ‘One in Twenty-Three’ won the Bath Flash Fiction Award in October, 2016. All proceeds from the book will go to support the education of poor children in Vietnam.
Anne said her 2016 first prize BSSA win was a real turning point for her ” I’ll never forget the phone call and shouting out ‘but I never win!’ Reading in Mr. B’s and seeing my story in such a beautiful book was an endorsement like no other. I had a a lovely evening with the BSSA team and others whose stories appear in the same anthology. It was the first time I felt what it was like to be a writer among writers! I began to believe that perhaps people would want to read my stories. Since then I’ve had a number of long/shortlistings, I also came second in the 2016 London Magazine Short Story Competition and they published my story in June, 2017. I have been chosen as February 2018’s Hennessy New Irish Writer and Who Is The Fairest Of Them All was published in The Irish Times a few weeks ago. I also have some more good news on the way but I’m not allowed say anything about that yet.”
We look forward to hearing about Anne’s next success!
The 2018 BSSA short story award for short stories up to 2200 words closes for entries on 23rd April. The first prize is now £1200. Do enter. Who knows what might happen next?
Have you written a short story draft for our 2018 BSSA Award? It closes on 23rd April so there is still time to stand back and ask yourself some questions about it. We suggest you ponder this quote from an article by short story writer and novelist Tessa Hadley first published last year. Read the whole article and also search on the internet for the many other articles on the short story she has written. Her advice is invaluable.
‘Think about intensity – you only have a small amount of space, so you mustn’t waste it. You need to pick on something really burning. Even if you’re writing a simple story without any big revelations, you have to have a point. It has to mean something. It has to add up to something.
Sometimes I do read apprentice writers and I think it’s all very vivid with lovely sentences, but why are you telling it us, what are we to take away? You should be telling the story for a reason. It should reveal something to the reader, who will think, yes, that’s how things are, and it will feel like a surprise.’
Another tip from the BSSA team — don’t forget that you need a good title to help suggest what your story is about. it doesn’t have to be fancy –‘Rob Roy’ is probably the one simple title in this dated selection that has lasted the course. But your title does need to relate strongly to the story. And if it gains the interest of an initial reader you’ve made the first step towards being a winner.
Amazingly, two of our BSSA 2017 Award short-listed writers, Bridgitte Cummings who wrote ‘Hollow’ and Mara Blazic who wrote ‘Bionic girl’, live in Adelaide, Australia. While we struggled at the end of winter in the UK with a plunge in temperatures and the biggest snow fall for years, the temperature in Adelaide soared to over 45 degrees in January, the end of their summer. As soon as it was slightly cooler Mara and Bridgitte met up, took some photographs with the anthology and compared notes. Mara summarises their meeting —
“Adelaide is the driest city in the driest state in the driest continent on earth. So where else to meet but the beach! We had coffee where Geoffrey Rush filmed one of his scenes for the Oscar-winning ‘Shine’. We caught up on a) our writing projects: Bridgitte’s written her first novel, Mara hasn’t b) Adelaide: Bridgitte’s been living in Adelaide for a few years, Mara’s been living here too long and c) hair: Bridgitte’s been to the stylist for this photo-shoot and Mara’s wishing she had too”
To read Mara and Bridgitte’s short stories you can buy our 2017 anthology here. There’s six weeks left to complete a story of up to 2200 for the 2018 Award which closes at midnight on 23rd April. Enter here.
Stories from writers from around the globe in all genres and on all subjects and themes are welcome — climate change could be one of them
Its Shrove Tuesday, today, 13th February, 2018. The day is also known in many countries as Pancake Tuesday, or Pancake Day and is the day in February or March immediately preceeding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent). It’s celebrated in some countries by eating pancakes and is a carnival day — Mardi Gras — in other countries. You could use any of these facts as prompts for a short story. People feasting, people partying, people preparing for a long fast. Conflict, gluttony, celebration can all play their part. Anton Chekhov wrote a story called Shrove Tuesday, so you would be following the example of a master of the short story form.
This year’s Bath Short Story Award with its £1200 first prize ends 23rd April. So plenty of time to cook up your up to 2200 word short story, and toss it around a bit before its ready.
February 6th 1918 is the centenary of the first votes for women in the UK, though only women over the age of 30 who owned property were entitled to vote. It wasn’t until 1928 that the voting rights men enjoyed were extended to all women over 21. Even so, stories of the suffragettes who had been campaigning for almost 50 years (the first campaigns were in 1866) have become legendary and their names resonate today. Unsurprisingly, it was the Daily Mail (no doubt in derisory tones) who first called them suffragettes. The most well-known include the Emmeline Pankhurst, and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, who formed the Workers Social and Political Union and Emily Davison who died for the cause by throwing herself under the king’s horse at the Derby.
Today, Helen Pankhurst, Emmeline’s great-granddaughter is still campaigning for women’s rights. Lots of buzz on Twitter today so follow #Votes100 and be inspired to fight – and write. We’d love some stories on a political theme? Historical or contemporary setting, the choice is yours? Up to 2200 words by April 23rd
January 25th is the perfect excuse to ditch Dry January and raise a toast to Robert Burns, Scotland’s most celebrated poet. Born in 1759, the poet’s short life, till his death at 37, is immortalised in his verse: the robust, heartfelt rhythms in his local language and dialect that inspired the great Romantic poets Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth. Not just a poet, he was a covert radical and thought to be a supporter of the French Revolution. He clearly advocated freedom of the press when, in 1792, he challenged a royal proclamation banning seditious literature:
‘Here’s freedom to him that wad read
Here’s freedom to him that wad write!
There’s nane ever feared that the Truth should be heard
But they who the Truth wad indite.’ (From ‘Here’s a Health to Them That’s Awa”)
So, on Burns’ Night, do indulge in a dram or two of usquebae, tuck into a steaming haggis or the vegan alternative, but also read or, better still, listen to a recording of his mesmerising verse and be inspired to write.
We asked some of our favourite authors to tweet either a writing tip or a starting point for a story on a Burns’ Night theme and received responses from the celebrated Scottish writers Val McDermid
and, from this side of Hadrian’s wall, Sarah Hilary
Dark skulduggery, demonic ritual, mystery, pure romance or political intrigue? Lots of ideas to get you going, so a huge thank you to our inspirational authors, some of whom have new books out (please check out their websites). We’re looking for stories on any theme or genre, up to 2,200 words, by April 23rd. Just brilliant writing please. By the way, we’d be interested to know if you use our starters – though, please make sure you don’t identify the title of your story with your name.
We’ve more inspiration for would-be entrants to BSSA 2018 in Jude’s interview here with our first prize winner from the 2017 Award, Kathy Stevens, who was also commended in BSSA 2016 with her story, ‘A Marriage of Convenience’. Kathy is currently writing a series of linked short-stories and we hope the recent announcement from The Bookseller, that there is a boom in short-story collection sales, will mean that we get to read a published collection of her work soon. Judge Euan Thorneycroft from A M Heath. who is also this year’s judge, said of Kathy’s story:
“I loved this story from the word go. Both funny and heart-breaking. We are immediately grabbed by the unique voice of Elsie, a teenager with unspecified personal problems (although this point is never laboured), and who reveals her acerbic family dynamics through frank observations.”
Please also take note of Kathy’s writing tip about biting the bullet and submitting your work. It certainly worked for her.
Jude: Can you tell us how your wonderful first prize winning Story ‘This is All Mostly True’ came into being?
Kathy: One of my tutors at UEA had spoken about how giving young characters a ‘fixation’ – music, sport, anything — can help to bring them to life. I’ve never been very good at plots. I prefer to let character control story, which works well in the shorter fiction forms but explains why I’ve never finished a novel. I started with the zombie film idea, and Elsie grew from that. It seemed natural for Elsie to have inherited the zombie film interest from someone else, and it made sense to use the movies to bridge the gap between her and her father. Elsie’s mother has her own ways to relax; she has friends and a social life and enjoys alcohol. Of course, none of this really involves her daughter.
People’s fixations can often be a way to anchor themselves. Obsessing about something apparently trivial can help to quieten a world which doesn’t make sense
Jude: You have recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at the prestigious University of East Anglia, as the inaugural recipient of a Kowitz scholarship. Can you tell us what is was like studying creative writing there?
Kathy: It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’d strongly recommend studying Creative Writing, and UEA. The course was only a few months long, but I’ve met some friends for life there, and become a far better writer than I was when I started.
It’s quite bizarre, going from a soul-destroying minimum-wage job, to a classroom full of adults who write their own fiction and take yours seriously. The tutors were all brilliant and all very different. The students came from every continent, age group, and possible walk of life. I’m certainly less ignorant for having attended UEA, and abolishing your ignorance is an important part of becoming a better writer.
To be awarded a full scholarship was life-altering. I’m extremely grateful to Sarah and David Kowitz for selecting my application.
Jude:.In your bio on our winners’ post you said you are currently working on a literary novel about a dysfunctional family. We’d love to hear more about it and if it’s nearing completion.
Kathy: Nearing completion? I wish! I’m horrendous at finishing anything longer than 5,000 words. The ‘novel’ has been shelved for now. I’m trying to get a linked collection together at the moment. Working in retail over Christmas hasn’t left much time for writing, but I’m scribbling away a couple of days a week. I hope to make serious headway with the collection in the new year.
Jude: Your beautifully written and memorable story ‘A Marriage of Convenience’ was commended in our 2016 Award and is published in our 2016 anthology. Are you putting a collection of short stories together?
I’ve heard that collections are far more appealing to agents and publishers when they’re linked. I’m not putting any of my old material into the collection. I’m starting again from scratch
Jude: We also know from your bio that you are a keen guitarist. Do you write songs as well?
Kathy: I don’t write songs, no. I wasn’t blessed with that skill. I played classical guitar from the age of six. These days I’ll pick up somebody’s guitar at a party and play half of ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’, before I forget the words and give it to somebody more talented.
Jude: Who are your favourite short story writers and why do you like them?
Kathy: Roald Dahl’s adult writing is wonderful. He gets straight to the point and doesn’t waste any words on long-winded description. The profundity of his work can be found in what he leaves out. I also like Hemingway, for similar reasons. I recently read Annie Proulx’s ‘Brokeback Mountain’ on a friend’s suggestion, having never seen the film, and was profoundly moved.
I read a lot of collections, The Best British Short Stories series is a favourite, which comes out every year and is edited by Nicholas Royle, creative writing professor at Manchester and judge of the Manchester Short Story Prize. I also really enjoy Philip Langeskov’s short fiction. Joe Dunthorne’s novel Submarine was one of the most entertaining books I’ve read for years. My coursemates were a very talented bunch. I expect great things (short story wise) from John Steciuk, Cara Marks, Senica Maltese and Tithi Mukherjee in particular. Kelleigh Greenberg–Jephcott’s first novel, Swan Song, is coming out later this year, and it’s going to be brilliant.
Jude:Finally, your top tip for anyone wanting to enter our short story competition?
Get a calendar, fill it with deadlines, keep to it. Write, write, write. Read a lot. Enjoy it, but be focused. You’ll be rejected and for a while, and you’ll feel you’re getting nowhere. But if you stick to it and keep becoming a better writer, there’s no reason at all why you can’t get there. I wrote and sent work out for almost 2 years before anything was published at all. After than, it became a steady trickle of acceptance. There’s a lot of talent in the Bath Short Story Award anthology, and all the writers have something in common – they bit the bullet, they finished the work and they sent it out into the world. Good luck
For those of you who have made New Year’s resolutions to write short stories for competitions or for other reasons, we decided it was fitting to start the New Year with this interview with our third prize winner from BSSA 2017, Sarah Mackey, who began her story, Forget Me Not, which judge Euan Thorneycroft described as ‘A beautiful, sad study of a family buckling under the weight of memory loss,’ a year ago, in January 2017. It’s inspiring to know what can be achieved in just a few months. You can read it in in our 2017 anthology, available on this website and from Amazon.
Jude: Can you tell us how your third prize-winning story, Forget Me Not came into being?
Sarah:I started writing Forget Me Not in January 2017 as a piece for National Memory Day. Initially I had just wanted a prompt and a deadline to get me writing after a prolonged Christmas break but I was instantly drawn to Virginia and her garden and what began as an exercise soon became a ‘proper’ story. It didn’t fit the word limit for NMD so I put the first draft aside for a couple of months before revising it.
We’ve all known people who can get confused or unfocused on day-to-day matters but who are razor sharp when talking about their passions and areas of expertise – the things that underpin their identity. Forget Me Not picks up Virginia’s story at the point where age and illness first start to attack that core part of her life. I wanted to show the impact that this had on Virginia and the people around her and how both fear and love drive us to try and mend things that are ultimately outside our control.
I stole slivers of story from various sources – the plants from my mother’s garden, the names of friends – but the majority of it just came from the characters of Henry and Virginia. Someone has since told me that some undertakers send Myosotis seeds to bereaved partners after a funeral, which seems very fitting.
Jude:In your bio, you said that this is the first story you have had published and I think you have recently given up another job to concentrate on your writing. Can you tell us more about your writing life at the moment and any writing projects you currently have on the go?
Sarah: I decided to take a year off work to allow myself to reconnect with all the things that I never seemed to have enough time for: writing, taking classes, culture, visiting new places, seeing more of family and friends and getting involved in local initiatives. Several people told me that I was ‘very brave’, which I think was shorthand for ‘crazy’. It’s been enormously rewarding and I’m so pleased I did it. My working life has always involved writing for business and I wanted to concentrate on purely creative projects for a change.
The Bath Short Story Award was my first placement in a competition. I have since won the Ilkley Festival Short Story prize and a couple of my shorter pieces were selected for City Lit’s 2017 anthology, Between the Lines. I love writing short stories and have got several on the go in various stages of development. There’s also a character currently occupying many pages of notebooks who may have a longer story to tell…
I’ve gone way over my allotted time off now so my objective for 2018 is to find a job that pays the mortgage and allows me the time and mental space to continue writing. I can’t imagine stopping now.
Jude: When did you first become interested in writing?
Sarah:I’ve always been interested in writing. I wrote a couple of (unpublished) novels for older children in the distant past but for many years my main outlet has been writing for business. It can be a good discipline – writing for different audiences, finding hooks to engage the reader, using narrative arcs – but unfortunately you have to stick to the truth, which can be very limiting.
Jude: You studied at the City Lit in London recently. How has that helped your writing?
Sarah:At the start it was just helpful to have assignments and deadlines, and to give some routine to my life when I stepped out of the work environment. Also to build up a number of short pieces that might get ultimately be developed into longer stories. Later it occurred to me that I ought to learn something of the theory behind writing short stories, so that I would at least know the rules before I broke them. However, that’s all stuff I could have achieved on my own. The big value came from exposure to other people, other writing, other ideas. It was a great forum to test out work and to meet fellow writers. I am now in two writing groups with people I met in City Lit classes. I don’t act on every piece of feedback I receive, but I do make sure I think it through. Generally when I take a draft to a writing class or group I then put it aside for a while before revising. Then I can come back to both the piece and the feedback with more objectivity.
Jude:Who are the short story writers you admire, and what do you like about their writing?
So many! I came to short stories via contemporary writers — Alice Munro, Tessa Hadley, Stella Duffy, George Saunders. One of my recent reads is Mark Haddon’s ‘The Pier Falls’. I loved the whole collection but that title story in particular. It is almost journalistic in style, telling a shocking story in a very matter of fact way.
I’m currently reading Claire Keegan’s ‘Walk the Blue Fields’ collection, which is beautiful and sad. Her insight into human nature is incredible and she has the ability to switch the tone of a story when you are least expecting it. All using very simple prose.
The writer I have been reading for the longest period of time is Helen Simpson. I’ve read each of her collections since the 1990s, during which time her subject matter has progressed from dating to marriage to motherhood to ageing. I feel I’ve grown older with her work so each collection has struck a chord.
Jude: Can you give us a tip for those who might want to write a story for our next Award, ending in April, 2018?
Sarah:The time spent not writing your story is an important part of the writing process. Get at least one round of feedback on your story but don’t act on it immediately. Never submit anything that you have only just finished. Always leave time to come back at it afresh. Even if it’s only a few days.