April 23rd is the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and possibly of his birth. Others who expired on this day include St George, a Cappadocian Greek soldier in the Roman army (303 AD), William Wordsworth (1850) and Rupert Brooke (1915) and this year it’s the penultimate day of the 2023 Bath Short Story Award.

With about 40 hours to go till we close, what should be your focus?

  • Tweak your title so it’s arresting. Titles of one or two words can work well: last year’s winning story ‘Dead Dog’ attracted the eye of the reader with the title and then continued to intrigue through a brilliant, deadpan opening paragraph which ended with a sufficient twist to make you read on. That said, don’t make your title quirky or too long unless this matches or complements the style of the story and subject matter.
  • Top and tail your stories. You know those small woody parts that stick out on newly picked gooseberries? If you don’t snip them off at the top and at the bottom they can stick in your throat and spoil your pleasure. It’s the same with a story. Consider if the first and last paragraphs (or lines) have the impact you want or add to the story in a meaningful way.
  • Add the senses: Is your story enriched with sensory detail: touch, taste, sounds and smell as well as sight? These enable the reader to stay inside your story world.
  • Typos: We’re not too fussed about minor typos, but a clean copy in a simple font gives the reader confidence as well as pleasure.
  • Word length: If your story is a couple of words over, that’s okay but we’ve had stories hundreds of words longer than the 2200 limit.
  • Comb through for cliches: They sneak in as nods, shrugs, sighs. Get your scalpel out. It’s fun to cut away excess flab ─ those double adjectives and pesky adverbs.
  • Check your computer ‘drawers’ for old stories and cut them down using the above tips. Remember, we do not have a lower word limit so an old story might shine more brightly if it can lose half its words.

And, who knows, there might be a few of you beginning your story journey today.

Good luck!


Under the Bonnet of Your Story

photo by Chris Knight on

One week to go before the deadline of our £1750 prize fund contest on Monday 24th April at midnight, BST.

For those last minute writers thinking of entering our 10th award, I’m going to stretch metaphor to its limits and ask you to get under the bonnet of your story. There were more tips last week, but here’s another angle on putting those final touches to your story. A post Jude created last year, that we are airing again for fun.
So, if your story was a car, you need to undertake some maintenance before it sets off on its extensive journey via our BSSA readers and hopefully to a winning destination. Continue reading

Bank Holiday Writing Gym

Maybe you have the day off work today or are celebrating Easter or other festivals with family or friends. With two weeks to go until the deadline of our 10th yearly award on April 24th, take a look over a short story you might enter and try our short writing work-out to tighten up your writing. You have up to the limit of 2200 words to play with. Continue reading

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