The most delightful competition ever



If you are a fan of Barbara Pym and looking for the perfect short story competition to enter, the Barbara Pym Society’s 2018 Ellen J Miller Memorial competition could be made for you.

What could be more blissful than the brief which is that entries must prominently feature one or more characters from Barbara Pym’s published novels, in any setting or situation the author chooses? Readers of Barbara Pym know how her characters continue to live beside them, in moments of recognition, both painful and comic, while offering endlessly comforting human solidarity …

The prize for the winning entry is $250 and the story will be read at the Society’s annual North American Conference held in Boston March 2018. The deadline is 4 December. Details at




Ninevoices Summer Competition – the winner!


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Ninevoices are delighted to announce that the winner of our Summer Competition is ‘The Last Walk’ by Karen Martyn. Congratulations, Karen! The prize of £100 will soon be coming your way.

In our competition entrants had to use one or more words taken from a list of little-known words with meanings related to nature, such as smeuse (Sussex dialect for a hole in a hedge left by the repeated passage of a small animal – see photo) or petrichor (the smell of dry earth and rock that comes before and during rainfall). The required length was 99 to 199 words.

Our decision came after much discussion (really!). Entries came from across the world – from three continents, in fact. We were impressed by the imagination and ingenuity shown in the way our chosen words were deployed.

A close runner-up was ‘Stop the Rain’ by Christina Dalcher.

Special mention should also be given to the following entries:

‘Before and After’

‘The Mangrove Mist’

‘The Scent of Descent’

‘The Gloaming’

Our thanks to all those who sent us entries. Sorry there could be only one winner!

Synopsis? What Synopsis?



I’m almost purring with pleasure as I put the final tweaks in place for my entry to Mslexia’s Women’s Novel Competition 2017. Why? Not because I expect to win – though squeezing onto any long list would be awesome – but because THEY DON’T REQUIRE A SYNOPSIS. Thank you, Mslexia! I always knew you were great people.

This is almost unheard of, and most welcome. Writing a synopsis is worse than cleaning the oven after a blackberry and apple crumble has erupted and left a pumice-hard lava flow.

If you don’t have your own entry poised to go, you still have until 18 September. Plenty of time, especially as there’s no synopsis to agonise over.

Must go and wash my whiskers now, before having another tweak.

(The picture above, incidentally, is of Gizzie, our newish rescue cat – who spent most of her second day with us up a chimney. With a tail like that, maybe we should start a chimney sweep business…)


‘Catching the Wind’


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I’m impressed by the structure of the novel I’ve just read, Catching the Wind by Melanie Dobson.  It’s in split time – in the 1940s and in the present day, and I found myself really wanting to know what would happen next in both stories.  Much careful planning must have gone into the plotting – it doesn’t read at all like ‘seat of the pants’ composition.

In World War Two 13-year-old Dieter and 10-year-old Brigitte run from their homes in Germany to escape the Gestapo.   After a terrible journey they manage to get to England, but are soon separated.  Dieter promises Brigitte he will come back and find her.  However, he is interned and can’t do so.  Brigitte finds herself in a most dangerous situation, exploited on a rich man’s estate and at risk from people who may be Nazi sympathisers.

Today, now aged 90, Dieter has become Daniel Knight, a successful businessman in America.  He has tried without success to keep his promise and find Brigitte.  He recruits Quenby Vaughn, a young American journalist living in London, to try once more.  She is working on another assignment, investigating possible espionage and subversion for the Germans in Britain in WW2: a possible link with Brigitte leads her to agree, despite her having to work with Daniel Knight’s arrogant lawyer Lucas Hough.

We follow Brigitte’s story in WW2 and, in parallel, Quenby’s search for her in 2017.  Quenby is strengthened in her search by her Christian faith: however, in her past she suffered a dreadful wrong, and she has to wrestle with issues of forgiveness.  And there’s a twist in the tail that quite caught me by surprise.

The novel is set largely in Kent and Sussex, as well as in London and North America. It’s interesting to see ourselves with an outsider’s eye.  The author is American, and I met her last year when she was in this part of Kent researching for this novel.  She describes the nearby town of Tonbridge thus:  “The town centre was a paradox … , modern storefronts mixed with the medieval past.  A river ran through town and lapped against the foundations of old shops now housing establishments like Subway and Starbucks.  And an abandoned old castle perched on a grassy hill, overlooking the town.”

I found it salutary to learn of the activities of British pro-German saboteurs and spies in WW2.  The Author’s Note makes clear that what we read in Catching the Wind is based on what she found in the National Archives at Kew.   So our idea of the nation all pulling together, backs against the wall, united against the common foe, is not entirely true.  Fortunately for us the traitors’ efforts were insufficient …

Thanks, Melanie.  I enjoyed it.

Catching the Wind, by Melanie Dobson, was published earlier this year by Tyndale House Publishers, ISBN 978-1-4964-1728-2  You can order it through Waterstone’s, for the equivalent of $14-99, with no postage and packing: it might take 2 weeks or so to come to Britain from America.  It’s also available online from Amazon, or from the publishers at  The author’s own website is

Margaret Atwood Interview

Nearly missed the great Alan Yentob interview with Margaret Atwood on BBC1 at 10.30 pm on Monday. If you didn’t catch it, it’s well worth catching up with via BBC-IPlayer.

I especially enjoyed her reminiscence about being annoyed when an earlier interviewer suggested that her work must be largely autobiographical: Did Agatha Christie really commit all those murders…?

September Competitions – Your Chance to Get Noticed


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September 18 is the deadline for entries to Msexlia’s Women’s Novel Competition 2017. With a first prize of £5,000, the entry fee is £25 and they are asking for 5,000 word extracts of completed, unpublished novels of at least 50,000 words in length for adult or young adult readers. However, you need to be an unpublished female writer. Finalists receive manuscript feedback. Check entry rules at Judges are: Philippa Gregory (novelist), Sarah Such (literary agent), Alex Clark (journalist).

NO APOLOGIES for this reminder about our own Flash Fiction Competition (pinned at the head of our blog), with a prize of £100 and a deadline of midnight TOMORROW. We have been fascinated by your entries so far, but would like lots more… 

Erewash Writers’ Group invites entries for its Open Short Story Competition, with prizes of £100, £60, £25 and £15. They are seeking unpublished stories of up to 2,500 words on any theme. Entry fee is £3 for one, £5 for two and £2 per entry thereafter. Details from:

Writers & Artists has joined forces with Retreat West for a FREE short story competition. Deadline September 17. They are asking for 1,000 words, which must have a beach as the setting, and the winner will receive a place on Retreat West’s Plotting Retreat from 17-21 November. Please check the details at:

Bedford International Writing Competition want short stories of up to 3,000 words, or poems up to 40 lines, on any theme. Prizes: £3000, £150, £100. Entry fee: £6, £12 for three. Deadline September 30. Details:

Manchester Writing Competition. Poem: three to five poems, max 120 lines total. Story 2,500 words. Fee: £17.50. Prize £10,000. Details:

Books and the City Heatseeker Competition. 2,500 words. Entry FREE. Prize: mentoring session with Paige Toon and ebook publication of story by Simon & Schuster, with royalties. Details:

The Henshaw Competition for a 2,000 word short story. Prizes: £100; £50; £25. Entry fee: £5, with critiques an additional £10. Details: This latter competition is do-able. I have in my bookcase their anthology including my own winning story – and much enjoyed spending my £100 prize!

Do remember to check the details on the competition website – just in case.


Brian Aldiss


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RIP Brian Aldiss, who has died aged 92, the prolific author of over 40 novels, plus poetry, short stories, autobiographies and criticism, in different genres. He also edited anthologies of science fiction.   His Times obituary (published on 22 August) described him as an “ebullient and highly sexed author and poet who persuaded the literary establishment to take science fiction seriously.” His ability in different genres can be compared to his admired H G Wells or Arthur Conan Doyle. In his obituary in the Guardian on 21 August it was stated that “one of the most exhilarating aspects of reading Aldiss is the diversity of his imagination.”

He would recount that he learned how to tell a good story at his prep school, when in the dormitory at night he would tell ghost stories, standing on his bed. The penalty for disappointment was having shoes thrown at him: he was never hit, and he said “I never feared criticism since.”

His early life and wartime experiences in the Far East led to his Horatio Stubbs sex comedies (starting with The Hand-Reared Boy). His first published novel, The Brightmount Diaries, is an account of the life of an assistant in a bookshop, and its success meant that he could leave his job as an assistant in a bookshop! His science fiction included Greybeard, Non-Stop, Frankenstein Unbound and the Helliconia series (about a planet where the seasons last, literally, for ages, and the inhabitants have to adjust accordingly). This SF writing and his work as editor of numerous SF anthologies did much to establish SF as a genre worthy of respect.

Aspiring writers can look to the sheer quantity of his output, to his not being afraid to write in different genres or to write in unfashionable genres. Thanks, Brian.

Richard Gordon


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Today’s obituary in the Times of Richard Gordon, the author of the comic Doctor novels, records his writing routine thus: in the morning he would write; a tin of soup would be his lunch; in the afternoon he’d walk the dog, dictating as he went any ideas that came to him; he’d then put in another couple of hours writing (except during the cricket season).

He’d given up his job as an anaesthetist (which he said he chose as he didn’t like patients, so here was a medical job where they were all asleep) when his writing started to progress. His wife (also an anaesthetist) supported him until the Doctor books became so successful. I hadn’t realised how much else he wrote, novels and non-fiction.

He said, “I have had a jolly easy life doing nothing, because writing is nothing, really, it’s dead easy.” Well, he was a writer of fiction …

He made a lot of people laugh.  RIP.