We’re delighted to announce the winners and commended writers for Bath Short Story Award, 2018. Congratulations to all seven writers and many thanks to our shortlist judge, Euan Thorneycroft, Senior Literary Agent from A M Heath literary agency, for selecting the winning stories and for his comments. You can also read his general comments on the short list here. All the winning and the shortlisted stories will be published in our sixth BSSA anthology which will be available for sale on this website and elsewhere in the Autumn. Continue reading
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.
Anna, Jane and Jude, the BSSA team, launched the 2017 BSSA anthology at Mr B’s Emporium of Books, Bath yesterday, 28th November. Around 50 guests came to the event and eleven of our eighteen anthology authors attended — a couple of them travelled from France and others from all over the UK. Here they all are at the end of the evening.
All our authors read short extracts from their stories, stopping at tantalising places. Here’s Kathy Stevens, who won our first prize and £1000, reading from her brilliant and moving story, ‘This is All Almost True’. Judge Euan Thorneycroft said he loved it from the beginning.
And here’s a picture of Kathy later on enjoying a glass of wine next to our book display. You can buy the books at Mr B’s. Or from our website here. And via Amazon
Mary Griese our second prize winner read an extract from her atmospheric story ‘Perfomance in the Hills’, set in a welsh farming community, which Euan Thorneycroft admired for its unique theme.
Our third prize winner Sarah MacKey read from her story ‘Forget Me Not’ which Euan Thorneycroft described as a ‘beautiful sad story of a family buckiing under the weight of memory loss.’
Chloe Tuner, our local prize winner read an extract from her story ‘Breaking the Glassblower’s Heart,’ a great title for a story which Euan Thorneycroft said was very well written and full of fantastic descriptive detail.
Sandra Marslund won the Acorn Award for an unpublished writer for her story ‘Everything Must Go’. The BSSA team thought it was a story with great suspense and structure.
We also heard extracts of their stories from Emily Devane, Joe Eurell, Catherine Finch, Judith Wilson, Alexander Knights and Harriet Springbett. It was a great evening. We thank everyone who came and all the authors in the anthology. Some of the others who couldn’t come live in Australia, Brazil, Ireland and Belgium. A truly international crowd. Do buy the book and read all their wonderful stories.
Thank you very much to writer, Crysse Morrison who took most of the individual pictures of the authors here.
Our sixth international short story award is now closed for entries. Thank you very much to everyone who entered the Award this year.
The longlist for BSSA 2018 will be announced in early July, the shortlist a couple of weeks later and the winners and commended in mid August.
For the 2018 Award, we have increased the prizes to:
£1200 first prize
£300 second prize
£100 third prize
£100 for the Acorn Award (for an unpublished writer)
and as usual, £50 in vouchers for the local prize generously donated by Mr B’s Emporium of Books, Bath.
Anthologies from previous years, available to buy here.
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
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: 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?
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.
Congratulations again to all authors shortlisted for the Bath Short Story Award 2017. The titles of their wonderful stories, together with their pictures and biographies are listed here in alphabetical surname order. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Local Prize, Acorn Award and commended writers, chosen by our shortlist judge, senior literary agent Euan Thorneycroft, are listed separately on the winners’ post. We look forward to seeing all the stories in print in our forthcoming 2017 anthology, which will be launched in Bath this autumn. Euan’s comments on the shortlist are below:
“What a challenge? But an exciting one. The standard of the shortlist was very high and I would like to congratulate all the authors who made that list. Short stories are strange beasts – one day, a particular story might get under your skin. But on rereading, leave you a little cold. A detail that you passed over on a first read might make itself apparent to you on a second. I could only choose five winners but rest assured, they all left a mark.”
‘Speak no Evil’ by David Butler. David is a multi-award winning novelist, poet, short-story writer and playwright. The most recent of his three published novels, City of Dis (New Island) was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, 2015. His second poetry collection, All the Barbaric Glass, was published in March 2017 from Doire Press. Literary prizes include the Maria Edgeworth (twice) and Fish International Award for the short story, the Scottish Community Drama, Cork Arts Theatre and British Theatre Challenge awards for drama, and the Féile Filíochta, Ted McNulty, Brendan Kennelly and Poetry Ireland / Trocaire awards for poetry
‘Hollow’ by Bridgitte Cummings. Bridgitte was born in the UK but is now resident in Australia. She has had short stories published in both the UK and Australia, including publication in the Australian Big Issue Fiction Edition 2016. She is currently working on her first novel.
‘Paid in Full’ by Catherine Finch During her 30 years in teaching, Catherine wrote lovely stories, plays and musicals for children and tedious documents for school inspectors. Although reluctant to leave the village school where she was head teacher, she is delighted to have found space in her life for some real writing. She has been shortlisted and placed in a number of competitions, including Flash 500 and TSS, and has completed two novels. Catherine is married with two grown-up children. She divides her time between Lancashire and South West France, and is indebted to the Parisot Writing Group for their enthusiasm and encouragement.
‘Laughing and Turning Away’ by Patrick Holloway. Patrick is an Irish writer who currently teaches and writes in Brazil. His stories and poetry have been published by Overland, Bath Flash Fiction, Poetry Ireland Review, among others. His bilingual book of poetry was published in 2016. He’s been shortlisted for many awards including the Manchester Fiction Prize. He would like to dedicate more time to reading and writing but enjoys the better things in life, which require a little bit of money, therefore he divides his time between teaching, writing and travelling. He misses Ireland, a lot. Not so much the weather.
‘Nico and Moliere’ by Alexander Knights. Alexander spent 10 years as a travel guide editor and loves writing stories inspired by places. His London tales come out of a fascination with the city he has lived in for most of his adult life and he also blogs about this great labyrinth at www.londonimagined.com He has an MA in creative writing from Birkbeck and has published short stories in Litro Magazine, Riptide Journal and The Mechanics’ Institute Review
‘Into the Looking Glass’ by Shannon Savvas A New Zealand writer living in Cyprus, Shannon has had one story called The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Woman, published in Headland’s inaugural issue January 2015, was short-listed in the Page & Blackmore short story competition 2017 and long-listed in the Bath Flash Fiction competition 2017. Has failed miserably at writing her novel, re-writes in double figures, but lives with hope.
‘Big Bones‘ by Harriet Springbett. Harriet lives in rural France with her French partner and teenage daughters. Her debut novel, Tree Magic, was published by Impress Books in March 2017 and she is now seeking representation for her second novel. Harriet grew up in West Dorset and qualified as a manufacturing engineer before fleeing to France in 1995 to escape machines and numbers. She studied French at Pau university but only became bilingual when she met her partner, who taught her slang and rude words.
‘Seen/Unseen’ by Colin Walsh. Colin was born and raised in Ireland. He has lived in Scotland, France and Quebec and currently lives in Belgium, where he started writing fiction in 2016. ‘Seen/Unseen’ will be his first published story.
‘Hunger in the Air’ by Judith Wilson. Judith is a writer and journalist. She has won the Retreat West Short Story Contest, 2016 and 2nd prize for the inaugural Colm Toibin International Short Story Award 2016; her stories have been longlisted for the Ink Tears Short Story Contest, 2016 and commended for the Cinnamon Press Annual Short Story Prize, 2016. Judith is also the author of 14 non-fiction books on interiors. She’s a Faber Academy Alumna and is putting the finishing touches to her first novel. When not in London, she’ll usually be found in Cornwall, close to the sea. www.judithwilsonwrites.com
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.