Tag Archives: competitions

Your BSSA 2018 short story entry — final checks and balances

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.

Toss out a story for Pancake Day

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.

 

Interview with Sarah Mackey, BSSA 2017, third prize winner

Sarah reading at the BSSA 2017 anthology launch in November 2017

 

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. 

Interview

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 didnt fit the word limit for NMD so I put the first draft aside for a couple of months before revising it.

Sarah with her sister and Jude at the BSSA launch at Mr B’s Bookshop, Bath

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.

Interview with Mary Griese, BSSA 2017 2nd Prize Winner

Mary seeing her story in print for the first time at our anthology launch at Mr B’s Bookshop Bath in November, 2017

 

To inspire you to write for the 2018 Bath Short Story Award, with a first prize of £1200 this year, we’ve interviewed some of our winning and short listed writers in the 2017 competition. Here, BSSA team members, Anna and Jude talk to Mary Griese, our 2017 second prize winner, who lives locally to Bath. You can read Mary’s story Perfomance in the Hills, in the  BSSA 2017 Anthology which is available to buy here on the website, in Mr B’s Bookshop Bath and via Amazon

 

Interview

Jude:Euan Thorneycroft our BSSA 2017 judge said ‘Performance in the Hills’, your second prize winning story, was one of the most individual of all he read, with a totally authentic depiction of life in rural Mid Wales. Can you tell us how the story came into being?

Mary reading ‘Performance in the Hills’ at the BSSA 2017 anthology launch

Mary: I often begin stories with an incident from my life, however small and then embellish it. On this occasion, a man at the 2016 Royal Welsh Agricultural Show asked if I remembered him. He was the boy in the story – the ‘misguided’ child who almost killed the baby birds, and in the past I took him to task for such an incident on the farm where I lived. I also incorporated the ‘golden horse’, which belongs to my neighbour into the story. My neighbour is an incredible and courageous horsewoman. Her golden horse was unmanageable and she rescued him from slaughter and re-broke him, Monty Roberts style. We were talking one morning, with him dancing politely around me and she was telling me about his wonderfully kind character/changing coat/golden eyes etc. I had been walking my dog trying to come up with a story-line to go alongside my misguided small boy and the baby birds. And there it was, the spark for the rest of the story – a magical five minutes. Today, I just met my friend in the lane riding that same beautiful horse. He looked absolutely amazing in the morning sunshine. She said he’s the most spiritual creature, born a thousand years ago! I expect there’s another story in there too.

Anna:What was the first short story you wrote?

Mary: I remember the title even now – ‘Fire on the Moor’. I was about 12, on a remote farm in Cornwall. The traditional burning of the gorse got out of control – a little girl saved the day!

Anna: Do you find there are particular themes running through your stories?

Mary: Certainly. Farming/dark country matters/sheep/nuns/eccentrics.

Jude: Does your completed novel, which is with your agent Jane Conway Gordan,who is seeking publication for it, contain these themes? Can you give us a brief synopsis of the plot?

A card of one of Mary’s paintings of sheep.

Mary:Yes, my novel, Man in Sheep’s Clothing, does contains these elements. It’s a darkly themed coming-of-age story set in the 1960s in the Black Mountains in Wales. Bethan, the young protagonist, the only child of a bohemian family who have moved to the area, becomes mesmerised by the dysfunctional Williams family who rent Cwmgwrach (valley of the witches), an isolated sheep farm. Bethan is particularly drawn to Morgan, the wild son who both frightens and fascinates her. She’s a rebel too, and after she is expelled from the local convent school for standing up to the sadistic nuns, her love of animals and farming grows. When the Williams’ lose their tenancy of Cwmgwarch a few years later, Bethan’s father buys the farm and he and Bethan begin sheep farming themselves. Morgan, now a loner, with delusional tendencies, helps when they struggle with lambing, but his intentions are much darker, and eventually Bethan, alone and friendless after her father dies, has to find a way to get rid of him.

Jude: That’s a very intriguing summary, with echoes I think of the entanglements in Wuthering Heights – a wild remote setting, a rebellious female protagonist, dangerous obsessions with unstable men, and brooding revenge. A great mix. We wish you all the best for publication and hope to see it in print soon.

Anna: You are a successful artist, writer and farmer – how do these three important parts of your life interact?

Mary:Today I wrote, walked the dog, helped turn the cows out, wrote and began a commission of a painting of a labrador. Farming is very important to me and no doubt inspires my writing. I’ve always thought my painting comes automatically, but as I can’t ‘get into’ my current writing projects while I’m wielding my paintbrush, maybe not!

Anna: Who is your favourite short story writer and why?

It’s difficult to choose just one. Alice Munro and Katherine Mansfield hold my attention with their beautiful, clever subtle prose and (seemingly) little plot. They always provide good examples of ‘show, don’t tell’ and ‘less is more’.

Anna: Have you any tips on entering a competition for prospective writers?

As I said earlier, I recommend beginning with an event however small from your own life and then fictionalising it with more details. Entering writing competitions is exciting and an excellent discipline. Many people work well with a deadline. Keep trying.

December, 2017.

Road trips

In most short story contests,  filter judges say they see a lot of stories on similar subjects – relationship break downs feature strongly in their many different forms. Affairs, death of a hated partner by nefarious means, abuse.  I don’t think we’ve seen many road -trip stories at Bath Short Story Award.  These feature strongly in films of course. Thelma and Louise is a famous example. You can’t fit too many road-trip events into a short story of 2200 words or less, but you could include a vehicle as a setting and see where that takes you. Colin Barrett, a short story writer our judge Euan Thorneycroft likes very much, writes a great description of the inside of a car at the beginning of  Calm With Horses, a wonderful story from his prize winning debut collection Young Skins (Vintage Books, 2014). This car doesn’t feature as a major player in the story, but it does show much about some of the characters.

“The car was orginally Dympna’s Uncle Hector’s, a battered cranberry Corolla Dympna labelled the shit box, its interior upholstered in tan vinyl that stank of motor oil, cigarette ash and dog. Recessed into the dash was a dead radio, its cassette tape slot jammed with calcified gobs of blue-tack, butt-ends and pre-euro-era Irish coins. The dash smelled of fused electricals. Above Arm’s head, a row of memorial cards, their laminate covers wilted by age and light, were tucked into a sun visor and a red-beaded rosary chain was tangled around the inverted T of the rear-view mirror.”

So why not write about a car of your acquaintance past or present. Create a fiction around it.  Remember its smells and its quirks. That car could take your story on a road trip you never expected.

Jude. March, 2017.

Q & A with Euan Thorneycroft, BSSA Judge,2018

Euan Thorneycroft has been at AM Heath since 2005, and is one of the senior agents there. Before that, he was an agent at Curtis Brown. He has always loved finding new authors and working with them. He represents a range of different kinds of fiction, from the very literary to the more commercial. He’s looking for strong prose, unique voices and a compelling narrative. In terms of genre, he’s most interested in crime, thrillers, and historical fiction. He is also open to well-written speculative fiction in the vein of STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel or UNDER THE SKIN by Michel Faber. His non-fiction tastes are for memoir, new nature writing (think Robert Macfarlane), “Smart Thinking” books, and current affairs. He has been a committee member of the Association of Authors’ Agents as well as serving as the external examiner on one of the country’s leading creative writing courses. He has also recently been a judge for the Bridport First Novel Award

  • You represent a wide range of prose writers, including authors who also are well-known for their short stories including Vanessa Gebbie, Ruby Cowling and Fflur Dafydd, who was short listed in our 2016 Award. Do you accept submissions of short story collections? If so, can you say what you would be looking for in such a submission?

I do. But they need to really stand out. I’m looking for collections that have some unifying factor – be that a theme, an idea, a setting, or a collection of characters. This can often help sway a publisher’s decision. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule so if something is simply brilliant, I want to see it!

  • You have recently been a judge for the Bridport First Novel Award. Can you tell us what, for you, makes a stand-out story in both long and shorter fiction?

Originality – this could be a totally original plot or it could be something that on the surface sounds pretty ordinary, but which the writer approaches from a fresh angle.

Authenticity – do I completely believe in the world and characters the author has created?

Confidence – I’m looking for writing that feels so natural that I forget I’m reading a story.

  • Do you think that the popularity of short story is still gaining ascendancy in this country? Short Story writer and novelist, Sarah Hall thought it was back in 2013. Perhaps publishers are more interested?

I do. And technology has played its part. Short Stories are the perfect fit for our hectic modern life and tablets and Smart phones have enabled people to read on the go. There are also more competitions and prizes for short stories, and you can see authors who are often associated with the longer form, turning their hand to them. I’m thinking of Hilary Mantel, Lionel Shriver and Jon McGregor.

  • Which current short story writers do you admire and what do you like about their writing?

Lots but the one that stands out is Colin Barrett and his collection Young Skins. Of course, his language is brilliant – there’s a poetry to it but it is also very exact – and the stories are unexpected in terms of where they start and where they end up. But overall, I think it’s the emotional intelligence that he shows as a writer. His characters seem utterly believable to the reader.

  • Our award is for stories of 2200 words or under. Have you some top tips for writers writing short stories to this length?

Find your voice, make every word count, commit totally to your character, setting and story. The latter is particularly important – if you can do this, you stand a chance of writing something that isn’t merely technically competent, even brilliant, but something that is memorable and long-lasting.

 

Latest Author News

Fourteen weeks to go now until BSSA 2017 ends on May 1st, 2017. To inspire you to enter this year, here are some recent further success stories from our  BSSA 2016 award winners and other authors whose stories you can read in our 2016 short story award anthology

Anne O’Brien reading at the BSSA 2016 anthology launch at Mr B’s Emporium of Books Bath, with our cover designer and BSSA 2014 winner, Elinor Nash, in the background

We were delighted to learn that Anne 0’Brien, our first prize winner, BSSA 2016, has just won second prize in the prestigious The London Magazine’s short story competition and her story, I Have Called You By Your Name will be published alongside the winner, writer Emma Hughes and Dan Powell, our BSSA 2015 second prize winner, who won third prize in the contest with his story The Ideal Husband Exhibition. William Pei Shih, shortlisted for BSSA 2016 with his story Mrs Li was also shortlisted in The London Magazine competition as was one of our BSSA 2016 longlisted writers, Marie Gethins. Congratulations to all!

Ingrid Jendzrejewski ,shortlisted for BSSA 2016 with her story We Were Curious About Boys was successful in many different competitions in 2016 and has started off 2017 in great style by winning the flash fiction competition in the long-established literary journal Tears in the Fence.  Her story, Many a Pearl is Still Hidden in the Oyster will be published in their next issue due out in February.

US writer, Thomas M Atkinson, shortlisted for BSSA 2016  with his story Dancing Turtle, has, among several other 2016 successes, had his story ‘Grimace in the Burnt Black Hills’ selected for New Stories from the Midwest 2016  (New American Press) along with such writing luminaries as Joyce Carol Oates, Charles Baxter, and Laura van den Berg. The publication is due out soon. The guest editor was author and Pulitzer finalist Lee Martin. Grimace in the Burnt Black Hills first appeared in The Sun magazine and received two Pushcart Prize nominations.

Clare Reddaway’s  story Avocet which you can read in the BSSA 2016 anthology is also going to be published in the lovely Project Calm magazine’s third issue out in the late Spring. We’re sure it will be illustrated beautifully there.

We hope we’ve included all recent successes. Do let us know your news, authors!

BSSA 2016 Longlist

Congratulations to everyone who reached the long list of this year’s award and a big thank you to all the  writers who entered from around the globe. We received 1439 entries this year – stories from 45 different countries, covering most of the letters of the alphabet! Continue reading

Our compilation of writing advice

To help you do that final shaping and editing of your short story, we’ve compiled a selection of tips from the  writers we’ve interviewed since our first competition was launched in  2012. Advice on beginnings, endings, themes, creating a stand-out story, titles and that all-important fine-editing.

Jude, March 2016

On Beginnings,Paul McVeigh says:

  • 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 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.

In 2014, we interviewed Colin Barrett, winner of the Guardian First Book prize 2014  for his brilliant short story collection, Young Skins. He has more to say about beginnings-

  • Try to make something interesting happen as near to the opening as you can. Now this doesn’t have to be some showy eruption of plot or an aphoristic nugget of an opening line, though it may well be; it might just be the deployment of an unobvious adjective or unexpected detail seamed somewhere into your opening paragraphs. A nuanced little observation or moment, carefully placed. If you can get a small moment right near the start it sends a signal to the reader that you can trust me, you can keep reading. There’s nowhere to hide with short stories, if its five or ten pages long it’s got to start well, do well in the middle, and end well. No point saying it gets good half way through.

Short story writer and novelist Annemarie Neary adds this:

  • Delete that first paragraph (probably). In any case, take us right into your world before we have a chance to back out. And voice your story. Breathe it. Make sure you’ve read it aloud before submitting.

On Standing out from the crowd Vanessa Gebbie has this to say:

  • All a writer can really do is learn the craft well, then forget it, and just tell a brilliant story. It does not have to be the ‘bells and whistles’ sort – quiet will do – but write your heart out onto the page, write the story you can’t not write – and keep your fingers crossed. And if, as happened to mine many times, your stories don’t make it – roll with the punches. Writing is not an exact science. Learn to accept the knocks along the way, and never, ever give up.Having given a sermon – for this reader,  a distinctive voice combined with great characterisation makes a piece stand out fast.

Novelist and short story writer, A L Kennedy, who we interviewed in 2013, adds this

  • Just try to say something you really care about as well as possible – as if you were writing for someone you love and respect. That will help.

Novelist, short story writer and poet Gerard Woodward says:

  • Make use of the limitations the form imposes on you. You can’t get everything into a short story, so don’t try to.

Second-prize winner BSSA 2015 Dan Powell has this to say:

  • Read the very best examples of the short story you can get your hands on. Look closely at how good stories work. Then write the story only you can write. Write the story you want to read that no one else is writing. Make it a bold and unique vision which can’t help but stand out when the judges make their selections.

On themes and subject matter:

Short story writer and poet Tania Hershman has this to say:

  • When I’ve judged competitions in the past we’ve seen certain topics that tend to be popular – elderly parents with dementia is one, for example. I’m not saying avoid these, but do think about whether you have something new to say about it, a different take. I think anything can be a great story, it can be a moment in time or a whole life in a few pages. A short story competition can only be won by one person, but if the deadline has inspired you to write something new, then you’re already a winner. Being longlisted and shortlisted are huge achievements, it means your story stood out to the judges and it should give you a real boost.

On endings, acclaimed short story writer Danielle McGaughlin says this:

  • 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.

On editing, Antony Doerr says this:

  • 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.

And our first prize winner BSSA 2015,, Safia Moore adds this:

  • There is no such thing as too much editing – you must be prepared to constantly read your own work, re-read it, make changes every time, cut anything that adds nothing to the storyline or characterisation, tighten up dialogue and enhance your descriptions with details that sound fresh, not clichéd.

Novelist, short story writer and winner of our second prize in 2014, Kit de Waal comments:

  • 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.

On finding the right title

Short story writer and poet, Tania Hershman has this important advice on titles:

You want your work to stand out from the beginning in the huge pile that the judge has in front of him or her, and a good title will do that better than a quirky font or odd layout (avoid those). If a judge has ten stories called “The Visit” or “The Day it All Changed”, he or she might be rather jaded by the time it comes to the 10th. But don’t make your title too interesting or creative if your story can’t live up to it – make sure it does!

And finally, we love this comment by Tessa Hadley who we interviewed in 2013 –

 A title clinches something, it crisps the story up and seals it like a top on a bottle.