The Rejection Diaries



I haven’t penned one of these for a while because I’ve been concentrating on my novel. However, things could be about to change.

As a rubbish swimmer, and someone nervous about heights, I’ve decided I must finally leap off the high diving board and submit to my wish-list of literary agents.

I’ve typed The End on my final page. Proof-read every damn one of them. Deleted as many adverbs and adjectives as I can. And subjected my friends in ninevoices to countless readings of chapters that were giving me difficulty. I could nitpick for ever, but feel like someone with a much-loved blouse: I want to keep washing it, but might that make the colour fade?


So I think I’d better jump.  And hope the agents to whom I submit don’t fall about laughing at my presumption in thinking it can properly be called a final draft.

Watch this space…


“Ponder” photograph of diving board courtesy of Kat @ flickr



Competitions to Enter in September


I’ve always been fascinated by doorways, wondering what or who lies through them. Old ones can really get my imagination seething… So why not hunt one down that fires YOUR imagination? Write a story. Open a door for your reader…

Val Wood Prize for Creative Writing 2018. To celebrate 100 years since women won the right to vote this year’s competition is entitled: Women’s Writes. Open to all genders over 16 years of age, entries should be in the form of a short story, with entrants free to write about whatever they wish, but each story must feature a strong female protaganist. The winner will receive £100 and their entry will be published on their website and shared via various social media outlets. The runner-up will receive £50 and there will be two commendations of £25. Max. word count is 1,500 and the deadline 15 September. Details:




Do you live in London? London Short Story Prize. Win a first prize of £1,000 in the annual competition from London writer development agency Spread the Word, which is designed to publish the best new stories coming from the capital. They are looking for unpublished stories up to 5,000 words and the winner will not only receive £1,000, but also have a meeting with an agent. Two runners-up will each receive £250 and a meeting with an editor. Highly commended entries will be published in the London Short Story Anthology 2018. Entry is £8 per story. Deadline 17 September. Details

Mere Literary Festival Write in the Week timed Flash Fiction Competition. On a theme to be announced in 14 September, deadline 22 September. Prizes: £60, £30, £15. Entry fee £2, with £1 for each subsequent. Details:

Hammond House International Literary Prizes 2018, run by the University Centre, Grimsby, are open for entries on the theme: ‘precious‘. The 2018 Short Story Competition is for fiction between 2,00 and 5,000 words. The first prize is £500 and there are second and third prizes of £100 and £50. The top 25 entries will be published. The entry fee is £10. The 2018 Screenplay Competition is for ten-minute screenplays. The winner will receive £25 and their screenplay will be professionally produced and submitted to the Aesthetica film festival. Entry fee £10. The 2018 Poetry Prize is for a single poem, with prizes of £100, £50 and £25. Entry fee is £10 for each poem. Deadline is: 31 September. Details:

Erewash Writers’ Open Short Story, for short stories up to 2,500 words. Prizes: £100, £70, £30. Entry fee: £3, £5 for two, £2.50 thereafter. Deadline 27 September. Details:

The Imison Award for original radio plays by writers new to radio. Prizes: £2,000. Entry fee: £30. Deadline 29 September. Details:

Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize 2018 for stories up to 6,000 words. Prizes: £1,000, or a year’s editorial support. Entry fee: £10. Deadline 28 September. Details:

Bedford International Writing Competition for stories up to 3,000 words, and poems up to 40 lines, on any theme. Prizes: £300, £150, £100 in each category. Entry fee: £6, £12 for three. Deadline 30 September. Details:

Manchester Fiction Prize for short stories up to 2,500 words. Prizes: £10,000. Entry fee: £17.50 Deadline 14 September. (PLEASE NOTE: ON CHECKING THIS TODAY, I FIND THE DEADLINE HAS BEEN CHANGED FROM 29 SEPTEMBER!)  Details

Caterpillar Story for Children Prize. Short stories up to 2,000 words for children aged 7-11. Prizes: 500 Euros, plus a two-week stay at The Moth retreat; 300 Euros; 200 Euros. Entry fee: 12 Euros. Closing date 30 September. Details:

Chorley & District Writers’ Circle Annual Short Story Competition, for stories on the theme of natural justice. Prizes: £100, £50, £30. Entry fee: £5. Deadline 30 September. Details:

Grindstone Literary Services Novel Prize for an opening chapter, maximum 3,000 words. Entry fee £20. Prizes: £1,000; £100; publication. Discount on Curtis Brown online writing course. Deadline 28 September. Details

The 2019 International Beverly Prize for Literature is for an original, unpublished manuscript of fiction, non-fiction, drama, memoir or criticism. The winner will receive £500 and publication with Eyewear Publishing. The entry fee is £20 and the closing date 15 September. Website:

My apologies for being a bit late with this list – blame editing fever. As always, I rely on you double-checking any competitions you’re interested in, since terms and conditions, or entry dates, can change at the last minute. See my note above, on the Manchester Fiction Prize. 

All that remains is for me to urge you to give something a try. And to remember Samuel Beckett’s famous words:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.



What’s the story?


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What prompts a story in your imagination?

The vogue for fixing padlocks to a bridge as a token of your affection has reached Prague: here are some on a bridge on Kampa Island, a romantic spot favoured by lovers.

On a visit earlier this year we saw this gentleman, in long conference with someone by mobile phone, trying to identify a particular padlock.

What on earth is the story here?  A broken romance, so painful that not even the padlock must remain on the bridge?  A padlock made of gold?  A vital message scratched on one?  And why delegate the finding of this lock to someone else?

Any ideas?



21 August 1968


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Historic events are often tragic but can form the setting for so many stories.

On 21 August 1968 the armies of the Warsaw Pact invaded their partner in the socialist bloc, Czechoslovakia. Thus ended the hopes of the Prague Spring, and then came ‘normalisation’ (Orwell would have been proud of that neologism), which put the Czechs and Slovaks back in their place behind the Iron Curtain for the two decades until 1989.

Two novels published this month focus on these terrible events. There will be several others!

Prague Spring is by Simon Mawer (author of the remarkable novel The Glass Room, reviewed on this blog at Two English students, Ellie and James, are hitch-hiking in Europe and are in Czechoslovakia at the key time, while Sam Wareham, working at the British Embassy in Prague, much in the company of Czech student Lenka Konecková, is discovering the world of Czechoslovak youth. But the Russian tanks are assembling … (Published by Little, Brown; ISBN 9781408711156)

Broken Sea: A story of love and intolerance is by Nigel Peace. It’s a love story set against the background of 1968. 18-year-old Roy has met Czech student in Wales and falls in love, but she feels she must return home. Their love develops, but can it last? Lives are so changed by the events of 1968, and are too many things kept secret? (Published by Local Legend; ISBN 9781910027233)

At this date fifty years ago I was staying with a German family in Bielefeld in West Germany. I recall vividly their alarm at the news of the invasion: would the Russians stop at the Czechoslovak border or carry on into West Germany? Fortunately for my hosts they stopped.

If you’re interested in the politics of it all, there’s a 12-minute piece on Radio Prague about the negotiations between Dubček and Brezhnev in the period leading up to 21 August – go to


Guy and St Thomas

During numerous visits to the London hospitals, I have found the apostrophe comes in many guises: Guys, Guy’s, Guys’  – poor Guy must be turning in his grave.
St Thomas, St Thomas’s, St Thomas.’
St Thomas is interesting. The ‘s’ is present in the name so presumably the apostrophe would go after the ‘s.’ But, and here’s the rub, should an ‘s’ be added, hence St Thomas’s? After all, it is usual to write Margaret Davies’s house.

I believe David Crystal has said that as Jesus is universally and historically known, no extra ‘s’ is required, hence Jesus’ disciples.

Does St Thomas have similar status?

In any case, whoever is sitting in an office at St Thomas’ or Guy’s Hospital, please apply some consistency.

A frustrated patient.


Dust Collectors


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That’s how my great-aunts dismissed books. Like all households they had Bibles, prayer books, a cookery book or two, and “ready reckoners” with curious rod, pole or perch measurements. The prayer books were miniscule with tissue paper pages and tiny print, but the horrors of childbirth could be imagined from The Churching of Women.

I have my grandmother’s Enquire Within upon Everything should I need to address the Younger Son of an Earl, prepare a potion for my children because I have made them sick with Brimstone and Treacle, or dance a Quadrille.

What did they do for stories? Woman’s Weekly perhaps, but I think it was taken for the knitting patterns. My mother had a collection of Home Chat magazines that might have contained stories, but I remember its “make do and mend” fashion pages.

Himself and I have shelves of dust collectors in every room. When it comes to novels he and I rarely read the same authors. A mutual favourite is the Bryant and May detective series by Christopher Fowler. Having finished The Water Room I suggested it could go to a charity shop. ‘No,’ he said, ‘when I’m old(!) I’ll have forgotten the plot and will read it again.’

I am not a re-reader of novels. (I can spend hours dipping into Enquire Within. I think I need paragraph 1530 Rules of Conduct drawn up by the celebrated Quakeress, Mrs Fry.)

Exceptions to my no rereading rule are Jude the Obscure – but not Tess of the D’urbervilles, too many dramatisations perhaps – and The Diary of a Provincial Lady, maybe the latter as I have a curiosity for outdated domestic detail, engendered by pouring over those early self-helps.

I think I may be alone among my fellow ninevoices. Tanya has declared that she will not read a novel unless she considers it will be worthy of rereading. This is evident from her character analyses of the works of Austen, Eliot, Trolloppe and many more. Often, too, she is reminded of passages from her favourite novels. However, she has inspired me to buy and rediscover Barbara Pym. I probably read library editions before: one way of limiting the dust collectors.

To read and reread, or enjoy the memory of the first experience? which may, of course, be faulty.

Competitions to Enter in August


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When is a short story competition not a short story competition? I’ve been entering these things for years, only ever winning two and being short-and-long-listed on a handful of other occasions. HOWEVER, winning isn’t all that’s on offer.

Competitions can be incredibly successful for curing writers’ block. If you’re stuck with your novel, turning your back on it and creating something new, perhaps in a different genre, can help you return to your manuscript with fresh perception.

Writing a short story might also develop a character or set of characters who will take hold of your imagination and inspire something much more significant. Tanya’s two published novels — Of Human Telling and All Desires Known — had their genesis in a short story about people living in the shadow of an English public school. My own novel, currently being edited prior to submission, began life as a short story, but elicited the comment from a judge that she felt the subject matter: ‘really called for a book’.

Competition entries can also help develop the persistence that writers desperately need. A story that failed in the Olga Sinclair Award several years ago served its time in my rejects drawer, was then re-written and re-named, and went on to success in the Hysteria Short Story Competition. It can be seen under Writings on our masthead, together with Tanya’s Across the River, a winner in Writer’s Forum, and Marshmallow Truth, a winner in Writing Magazine. Both stories were entered in a number of competitions over the years without any real success. Persistence pays off.

So what’s stopping you?

Costa Short Story Award. Short stories up to 4,000 words on any theme. Prizes: £3,500; £1,000; £500. FREE ENTRY.  DEADLINE 3 AUGUST. Entry details from:

Ilkley Literature Festival Short Story and Poetry Competition for short stories and poetry. DEADLINE 1ST AUGUST. Short story, maximum 3,000 words. Entry fee £5. Prize: £200. Poetry, maximum 30 lines. Entry fee £5. Prizes: £200; £100; £75. Details:

Exeter Story Prize and Flash Competition. Story: max 10,000 words. Flash: max 1,000 words. Fee: £12. Prizes: £500 plus trophy; £150; £100. Tricia Ashley Award for best humorous entry: trophy plus £200. Deadline 31 August. Details:

1000-Word Challenge. Flash: max 1000 words. Entry fee: £5. Prizes: ££100; £50; £25. Details:

Bench Theatre’s Supernova 8 Festival of new one act plays will take place at the Spring Arts and Heritage Centre, Havant, Hampshire in February 2019 and if you are resident in the UK, or a British citizen, you have until 17 August to submit a play for consideration for the festival. There is no entry fee and although no payment is made, if your play is performed you will gain all-important performance credit. Submit original plays of a maximum of 45 minutes and no more than six actors. Shortlisted plays will be given feedback. Full details:

The HWA Dorothy Dunnett Short Story Award is inviting entries of unpublished historical short fiction, set at least 35 years in the past, of up to 3,500 words. The winning story will receive £500, publication in The Whispering Gallery and on, mentoring sessions and tickets to the HWA Crowns ceremony in November, when the award will be presented. Runners-up will receive mentoring and invitations to the awards ceremony. The entry fee is £5 per story and the closing date is 31 August. Details:

Aesthetica Creative Writing Award.  For unpublished poems of up to 40 lines and short stories of up to 2,000 words. Entry fee for poems: £12; short stories: £18. Details:

The Prague City of Literature Project is inviting applications for 2019 writer-in-residency stays. Six are available, each for a two-month period and writers-in-residence are reimbursed for a return ticket and provided with accommodation and a monthly stipend of 600 Euros. Applicants should have a cultural interest in Prague, at least one published literary work, a willingness to take part in the local literary life and a project they will be working on during their stay. At the end of their stay they must undertake to provide the Municipal Library in Prague with a text inspired by the residency to be used by the Prague City of Literature Project. Closing date to apply is 31 August. Details:

The C21 Drama Series Script Competition invites entries for a pilot script for an international TV drama series. Six finalists will present their script to a panel of commissioners and broadcasters, including representatives from Amazon, Netflix and the BBC. The winner will receive a $10,000 option from WritersRoom to develop the project. There is no entry fee. Deadline is 31 August and details can be found via:

The John O’Connor Short Story Competition 2018 offers a bursary to attend the John O’Connor Writing School and Literary Arts Festival in Armagh between 1 and 4 November, plus £250. The prize includes accommodation, but not travel expenses. The competition is for short stories between 1,800 and 2,000 words. There is an entry fee of £10. Deadline 28 August. Details

As ever, please let me urge you to double check all competition details on the relevant website before entering.