Tag Archives: competitions

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, 2017

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.

Interview with novelist and short story writer, Annemarie Neary

Anne marie pic

Annemarie is an Irish-born, London-based novelist and short story writer. Her novel, Siren, forthcoming from Hutchinson (Penguin Random House UK) on 24 March 2016, is one the Independent’s ’10 best book club reads for 2016′. Annemarie’s stories have been published in Ireland, the UK and the US and broadcast on RTE radio.Her short fiction awards include the Bryan MacMahon and Michael McLaverty short story competitions (Ireland), the Columbia Journal fiction prize (US), the Posara prize (Italy) and prizes in the Bridport, Fish, UPP Short FICTION, KWS Hilary Mantel, WOW! and Sean O Faolain awards. A Parachute in the Lime Tree, set in neutral Ireland in 1941, was published by The History Press Ireland in 2012. annemarieneary.com 

@AnnemarieNeary1

 You can read Annemarie’s story, ‘Gon-do-la’, in our 2014 Bath Short Story Award Anthology, still available from Amazon in  the digital edition. We’re really looking forward to reading her novel, ‘Siren’, published later this month.

Interview by Jude, March, 2016.

  • Siren, your forthcoming novel is described by Random House as a “dark and suspenseful
    Siren

    Pre-order Siren from Amazon. Published 24th March

    psychological thriller” Can you tell us more about the novel and what inspired the story?

Róisín Burns has spent the last 20 years becoming someone else. When her new life in New York starts to unravel she learns that Brian Lonergan, the man who blighted her Belfast childhood, has also reinvented himself. He is now a rising politician with a wipe-clean past and a sharp suit. But scandal is brewing in Ireland, and Róisín knows the truth. When she travels back to the remote island where Lonergan has a holiday home, she means to confront him with a demand of her own. But Lonergan is one step ahead. When she arrives on Lamb Island, someone else is waiting for her.

The story was sparked off by a notorious incident that took place in Belfast in the Seventies, and by more recent stories of personal trauma pitted against political reality. I’m interested in outsiders, and both my point of view characters are people who, for very different reasons, have been left behind. As for Lamb Island, it is strongly influenced by various islands in Roaringwater Bay in West Cork, one of my favourite places. Aspects of the geography are taken from Cape Clear, the most beautiful island of them all, but Lamb is a place of its own.

  •  You have another novel coming out next year with Penguin Random House. Is that novel also a psychological thriller?

It is, but with a very different setting and theme. The next novel is set in the present day, in and around a South London common. I’m still working on the first draft, but reluctant motherhood is an important element, as is sibling conflict and self-delusion.

  • You have won or been placed in many prestigious short story awards in recent years. Can you tell us what you enjoy about writing short stories and how you know when one of your stories feels ready to enter a competition?

I love when a story evolves from a fleck of detail into something I wouldn’t otherwise have discovered. That’s the joy of short stories for me. There is no responsibility to rein them in, at least not in that first draft.  As for when they’re ready, that’s one of the hardest things to decide. One thing is for sure, though — it’s never ‘probably fine’. I have quite a few stories that still aren’t ready, and might never be. The experience of writing those ‘failed’ stories is not waste of time, though. The act of expression crystallizes fictional elements and fixes them in the imagination. It’s surprising how often they find their place elsewhere. Having worked exclusively on novels for the past while, I feel a bit out of practice when it comes to short stories. I’m trying to write one at the moment, as it happens, but I have a good deal of chipping away to do yet.

 You’ve also judged several short story competitions, including the inaugural round of Bath Flash Fiction Award last year, and most recently the WOW! award in Ireland. What makes a winning story stand out for you?

In each case, I’ve been beguiled by a voice. That’s not to say that my winner is necessarily the ‘best’ story, whatever that it. There are usually about three or four very good stories. It’s the one that feels the most fresh and surprising and engaging to me. I think longevity is important, too. I read and re-read and leave them aside, though I rarely change my mind. I’ve judged about five competitions now, and I remember each winner vividly.

  •  In another interview on this site, I asked short story writer Danielle McLaughlin  how she thought being a lawyer had influenced her fiction. She said the skill sets of lawyers and writers are similar.  “Both jobs involve working with words very precisely and being tuned in to things like nuance and tone…Both jobs require a lot of creativity and both bring a lot of stories to your desk, a lot of drama...” Would you agree with this from your long career as a lawyer?

I agree with what Danielle says about precision and an awareness of nuance and tone. In fact, those qualities are very evident in her own work, which is sublimely nuanced. As for the drama of life as a lawyer, I think she might have had more thrilling subject matter than I did!  I worked with commercial contracts most of the time and didn’t find the job terribly creative or dramatic. However, I did find the ability to cut to the chase, to get to the nub of the matter, really helpful when I started to write fiction. Ironically, the story I’m trying to write at present is the first one that has any connection at all to my former career. During the first Gulf War, I travelled to Algiers to negotiate a contract and the story deals with the power play of the negotiations, the self-conscious Orientalism of the hotel and an unadvised solo trip to the Casbah. I think there’s a story in there somewhere. I hope so! 

  • Which short story writers would you recommend others to read? And why would you recommend them?

Since you mention Danielle McLaughlin, I’d recommend ‘Dinosaurs on Other Planets’ to any aspiring short story writer. Her work is so subtle and fine-tuned and emotionally precise. As a collection, it’s also a masterclass in the suppression of writerly ego — full of remarkable phrases, but without unnecessary showiness. People talk about how sad the stories are. Well, yes and no. There’s also a wry humour at play in many of them. In terms of the canon, I could read William Trevor forever. He is a master of restraint and empathy, and perhaps that’s the kind of story for which he’s best known. But he also has immense range. There is a jaded worldliness in many of his stories, particularly those set in Italy, that appeals to me.

  •  Finally, can you give us your top tip for anyone planning to enter a short story for our 2016 competition?

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. I think that’s probably two tips, really!  Immediacy and voice.