Ninevoices Summer Competition



Last month a Times article highlighted the dwindling use of certain words associated with nature. Featured in a sidebar were eleven such words as follows:

Owl-light Twilight
Roarie-bummlers Fast-moving stormclouds
Shivelight Lances of light cast through a woodland canopy
Petrichor Smell of dry earth and rock that comes before and during a rainfall
Glashtroch Incessant rain
Gludder Fleeting sunshine between showers
Neptunes-uouue Sea mist
Smeuse Sussex dialect for a hole in a hedge left by the repeated passage of a small animal
Landskein Weave of horizon lines on a hazy day
Stravaig Scots and Irish for wandering aimlessly
Nurdle East Anglian dialect for wandering aimlessly

Ninevoices challenges our followers to write a story (not a poem or piece of descriptive prose) of between 99 and 199 words using one or more of these words in a manner organic to the story. For stories of equal quality, your chance of winning will rise if you’ve used more than one of these words or introduced another such word (defined in a footnote outside the word count. The title is also excluded from the word-count).

The deadline is 31st August 2017. The entry fee is £5 payable via PayPal. The prize is £100 for the best story. Entries should be sent to

Any profits above the prize amount will go to the charity PMRGCA-UK



Please send each entry separately to

Stories should be sent as Word documents or pdfs.
In the email, tell us:

  • Your name
  • Your phone number (including country code if not in the UK)
  • Your writing name (which is what will be shown if we publish the story)
  • The title of your story


Please pay us £5 per entry.

For multiple entries, please pay as separate transactions.  It would help us if you could mention the title of the story in the notes area.

Pay here:





The joy of words – en français


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Seeing Kenneth Williams’ party piece Ma Crêpe Suzette on TV last week I thought it deserved another outing, for the sheer fun he has in putting the words together.

I’m old enough to remember Petula Clark and Sasha Distel’s greatest hits.

I’d love to hear the French/English version.

Brexit can win you £300, plus a free dinner


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Brexit – that’s the suggested (but not compulsory) theme in this year’s British Czech & Slovak Association’s writing competition.

Last year’s was the EU, and that resulted in a winning entry describing how a Referendum Night party turns sour for a Czech girl living in England. In 2015 it was migration, and the winning entry put you in the place of the Vietnamese minority in the Czech Republic today.

So let Brexit rip – at least in your imagination, for or against – and go for the £300 prize, the free dinner you get when it’s presented to you at the Association’s annual dinner at a hotel in London’s West End, and the publication of your piece in the December 2017 issue of the British Czech and Slovak Review.

The second prize is £100. Entry is free.

Fact or fiction – both are welcome.  The first second prizes will be awarded to the best 1,500 to 2,000-word pieces of original writing in English on the links between Britain and the Czech/Slovak Republics, or describing society in transition in the Republics since the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

There’s still time – the closing date is 30 June.

For further info go to, or approach the BCSA Prize Comp Administrator at, or at 24 Ferndale, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 3NS, England.

Dame Hilary Mantel on Writing Historical Fiction

The 2017 Reith Lectures by Dame Hilary Mantel (long sold out) will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 over five weeks from Tuesday 13 June at 9 am. Their subject will be:  ‘whether there is a kind of truth only fiction can tell‘.

I am a huge fan of Wolf Hall (see my earlier post of 21 March 2015 Don’t Get Hung up on Your Beginning) and have already put the details in our family diary.
The Lectures will be available as podcasts and there will be accompanying content on the Radio 4 website.

Would you like to become a literacy volunteer?




There are few moments more rewarding than when a six-year-old looks up at you in boggle-eyed amazement that she’s just managed to read a whole page without a falter.

Or when a smiling teacher tells you that the little girl you’ve been helping to read all year has unexpectedly passed her English SATs.

I’ve had several moments like this – and they are, quite simply, thrilling.  I’ve also had a lot of fun as, twice a week, I go into a primary school to listen to six- and seven-year-olds read, then play literacy games with them.

If you think you might be interested in doing this too, then the charity Beanstalk ( would love to hear from you.  They are always looking for new volunteers. They provide a short training course and lots of books and games.  Most reading helpers go into a school twice a week and work with three children one-on-one for half an hour each. They usually work with the same children for the whole year.

If, like me, you’re writing fiction for children, this has a huge side benefit: you find out what your audience really enjoy reading. But the real value is that a child who might otherwise have very little one-on-one help receives it twice a week from someone who really wants them to succeed.




Competitions to Enter in June


Whether you’re a novice, or more experienced, writing competitions offer a wonderful opportunity to put your work out there. If you can’t win the Bridport, why not try the more modest Henshaw Short Story Competition? This quarterly competition is for stories up to 2,000 words, with an entry fee of £5. Prizes are £100, £50 and £25, with the prospect of publication in one of their anthologies – which raise much-needed cash for Save the Children. The current deadline is 30 June. Details:

This is an achievable goal. I had a stab a couple of years ago and have just taken delivery of the anthology containing my winning story – Till Death Us Do Part – featured at the top this blog under ‘Writings’.

Wells Festival of Literature are seeking stories between 1,000-2,000 words on an open theme. Prizes are: £750, £300, £200, with an entry fee of £6. Closing Date is 30 June. Details can be obtained from  They organisers are also looking for poems of up to 40 lines. Prizes: £750, £300, £200. Entry fee: £6. Details as above.

National Literary Trust. Do you have a new take on a classic fairy tale? If so, yours could be one of the 10 winning stories that will be published in an ebook anthology by Bloomsbury, publishers of titles by J K Rowling, Neil Gaiman and Louis Sachar. There is also a £200 prize for each winning story, plus the right to use  the ‘Short Story Prize 2017 Winner’ logo on your website, social media and publications. Submit your re-imagining in a 2,000-4,000 word story for 8 to 12-year-olds by midnight on 25 June. Entry is £30. Details from:

We mustn’t forget the British Czech & Slovak Association Competition which seeks short stories and non-fiction, up to 2,000 words, exploring the links between Britain and the Czech Republics at any time. The suggested, but optional theme for 2017 is Brexit. Prizes are £300, £100, plus publication in the British Czech & Slovak Review. ENTRY IS FREE. Closing date is 30 June. Details: Before you dismiss this as too obscure, maybe you’ve had an eventful visit to Prague (a stag or hen ‘do’, or student trip?) that might form the launching pad for a story.

Bath Flash Fiction want 300 words by June 11. They are offering prizes of:  £1,000, £300 and £100, plus two commended at £30. All entries will be considered for publication in and end of year anthology. Details:

WORDS MAGAZINE (sold in aid of the RNLI) are asking for stories of up to 2,000 words on the theme of: Christmas. Prizes: First £50; Second £25, with all entries considered for publication in the magazine. Entry is FREE. Closing date 30 June. Details:

Segora International Writing Competitions 2017. Organised by Jocelyn Simms, 1 rue de la Sevre, 79380 St Andre-sur-Sevre, France. (Proceeds donated to Medecins Sans Frontiers) Short stories from 1,500-2,00 words. Entry fees: £6 for 1, £11 for 2, £15 for 3. Prizes: £300, £50, £30. One-act plays: up to 35 minutes running time. Prize £100. Entry fee: £12. Deadline 15 June. Details:

Impress Prize for New Writers. Full-length debuts from unpublished fiction and non-fiction writers. Submit book proposal and sample chapter totalling no more than 6,000 words. Prize: Publication by Impress Books. Entry fee: £15. Deadline: 30 June. Details:

British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition. For any kind of fantasy: magical realism,horror, SF, etc., up to 5,000 words. Prizes: £100, £50, £20, plus a year’s membership of BFS and web publication. Entry fee £5. Deadline 30 June. Details:

Do remember to check that the details are correct before entering!




How to Edit Your Book


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Tanya and I recently attended a workshop at Bloomsbury Publishing‘s offices in London’s elegant Bedford Square: How to Edit Your Book. Over forty aspiring novelists split into two groups to spend the morning in tightly constructed sessions led by professional editors and writers. In the afternoon, we got to spend fifteen minutes with an editor of our choice discussing a 2,000-word extract of our own writing that had been submitted beforehand.

My group was led by the excellent Francine Toon and Jennifer Kerslake. Francine, who is a published poet, became an editor at Sceptre in 2015 and concentrates on literary and reading group fiction. Jennifer, an editor at Weidenfeld & Nicholson (part of Orion), also specialises in literary and reading group fiction. Exactly the kind of people we were desperate to know how to impress!

Both editors dispensed handouts and practical advice – sadly too much to regurgitate here – that emphasised the need to become a reader of your own work as well its writer. Try printing out your stuff in a crazy font and/or colour; persuade someone to read it out loud to you; get a frank appraisal from someone whose opinion you trust. Francine provided a great analogy: to get that perfectly cut fringe, you need to hand the scissors to someone able to step back and see it in perspective.

They also stressed the importance of limiting description to highlighting  your novel’s theme, or taking its plot forward. Don’t paint a picture of a garden just because you can; see it through the eyes of someone grieving; suffering from heartbreak; fearful; or dizzy with love.

Jennifer then generously shared with us her own line-edit of a manuscript currently on the brink of publication. We were astounded at the degree of input both needed and generously given. If I’d put that much into something, I’d want my name on the front cover.

I was struck by the commitment of the participants. I suppose if you’re prepared to pay £149 and sacrifice half a weekend, you’re going to take it seriously. But these women (I noticed only two men), were bright, focussed, modest, and fun. They were prepared to take criticism of their work, but also surprisingly supportive of one another. Maybe that’s because writers need to be observant, thoughtful and empathetic if they’re going to be any good. Plus, of course, if you love reading you’re going to want to encourage a stream of first rate novels to keep hitting the bookshops.

Buffet lunch provided the opportunity for the two groups to come together for networking. Our mentors didn’t disappear into some private lair, but sat down with us, chatted and answered our sometimes impertinent questions.

Then came our one-to-one sessions. Mine was with Kylie Fitzpatrick, a historical novelist and creative writing tutor who has worked as a freelance manuscript editor for ten years and is also a lecturer at Bath Spa University’s Creative Writing degree. We went through my own offering, on which Kylie had pencilled notes (including the crossing-through of two embarrassing adverbs), discussed whether or not I should keep my prologue (not a deal breaker, she assured me) and talked about how I could get across that my protagonist – an eighteenth century servant girl – was not typical of her class. Her suggestions have already been put into practice.

I could go on – I have pages of scribbled notes – but how long do we have?

Was it worth it? It was the third such workshop I’ve attended (see my post of 7 July 2016 : Writing Historical Fiction) and I considered it excellent value for money for those without the resources or time for an MA in Creative Writing or one of those on-line novel writing courses. have a line-up of similar events. Do check them out.



Eliza, Betty, Bess and Lizzie



Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth and another. What’s with all these Elizabeths? Did godparents also promise that infant boys would always choose a bride called Elizabeth?

There was great, great grandfather John who managed to marry two Elizabeths.
Were the parents of Suffolk limited in their knowledge of other Christian names? Did they secretly yearn to call their daughters Karen, Kim or Kylie, but the parish clerk could only muster the noble Elizabeth in the register.

What did they call themselves? There must have been some variation with all these Elizabeths living in such a small village as Assington.
Then when the wives bore girls what did the Williams and Johns name them? If your mother is Elizabeth why not your daughter?

Just a smidgeen of information of these 18th and 19th century ancestors sends the mind into imagining Eliza, Betty, Bess and Lizzie sweeping their cottages, hanging out the washing, gossiping in the street, hastening on Sundays to St Edmund’s church. And perhaps dreaming of a wild card name for their next daughter.

Death of the Imagination?


Apparently Anthony Horowitz, author of Foyles War and the popular Alex Ryder series of teenage spy novels, is bemused at being told by a US editor that ‘it’s inappropriate to draw from experiences other than his own’. In other words, he must write only about Jewish gentlemen currently in their sixties.


It is true that Jane Austen’s brilliant works were based on acute observation of her milieu, that Dickens had first-hand experience of the darker side of Victorian London, and that Tolstoy’s own father, as a veteran of The Patriotic War of 1812, would have shared his experiences with his son.

But what is this blinkered editor thinking:

  • That J K Rowling is a secret wizard?
  • Surely Hilary Mantel lives in contemporary England, not Tudor London?
  • Neither Pat Barker, nor Sebastian Faulks were born during World War I, so how did they re-create its tragedies so vividly in Ghost Road and Birdsong?
  • Likewise, Helen Dunmore wasn’t in Leningrad in 1941, yet somehow managed to write The Seige with power and sensitivity.
  • Jacqueline Wilson transported herself successfully into London’s eighteenth century Foundling Hospital with Hetty Feather
  • Jessie Burton succeeds in ‘impressively evoking the oppressive society of the Dutch Golden Age’ in The Miniaturist.
  • Sarah Perry uncovers a fantastical tale set in 1893 in The Essex Serpent.
  • Francis Spufford magicked eighteenth century New York into rivetting re-existence with Golden Hill.
  • David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas surely tops them all, with a narrative ‘circling the globe and reaches from the nineteenth century to a post-apocalyptic future’.

I am as bemused as the talented Mr Horowitz. Maybe these writers are simply all wizards.

Anglican Women Novelists: a treat in store


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The bodies were discovered at eight forty-five on the morning of Wednesday 18th September by Miss Emily Wharton, a 65-year-old spinster of the parish of St Matthews in Paddington, London, and Darren Wilkes, aged 10, of no particular parish as far as he knew or cared.

This, the irresistible opening sentence of A Taste for Death by P. D. James, was among the excerpts in the handout at a scintillating lecture given by Professor Alison Shell entitled ‘Anglicanism and Women Novelists: A Special Relationship’ at the Barbara Pym Society meeting in London on 7th May.

Crime and humour: these seem to be the predominant threads in Anglican fiction. Spinsters loom large … we were treated to excerpts from Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and of course Barbara Pym.

Professor Alison Shell  is currently co-editing with Judith Maltby Anglican Women Novelists which includes essays on P. D. James, Rose Macauley, Barbara Pym and others from Charlotte Bronte onwards. The good news is that it’s being published by Bloomsbury early next year, so there’s not long to wait for what sounds like a fascinating study.