Competitions to Enter in May


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For those of us slaving into the night on our novels (who groan at also having to produce an enticing agent letter, plus possibly an elevator pitch) competitions for debut novels do at least omit these. You usually need the dreaded synopsis, of course, but that can hardly be avoided. Unless you’re Hilary Mantel: no agent would surely have the nerve to demand one from her…

May is the month for the Bridport’s Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award. Required are the opening chapters of the novel – a minimum of 5,000 words and a maximum of 8,000 words, plus a synopsis of 300 words. First prize is £1,000, plus a written report from the judge, while a runner-up will receive £500, plus a full manuscript appraisal from The Literary Consultancy. The entry fee is £20 and the deadline is midnight on May 31st. Full details from:

Next up is the Yeovil Literary Prize.  They’re asking for your opening chapters and a synopsis, up to 15,000 words. Prizes are: £1,000, £250, £100, with a modest entry fee of £12. Closing date is May 31st. Full details:

The Winchester Writers’ Festival 2017 want only the first three pages, plus a 600 word synopsis. Prizes: an editorial meeting with Little Brown, plus £70-worth of books; £30-worth of books. Entry fee is only £6, or £16 with some constructive feedback. This would be perfect for someone embarking on a first or new novel and the feedback offer sounds incredibly good value.  Deadline May 15th. Details:

New Voices First Novel Competition. 50 pages of a novel, ready for submission by a first-time writer. Prize: Start-up mentoring package worth £550. Entry fee: £10. Deadline May 31st.  Details:

And for the short story writers:

Winchester Writers’ Festival 2017 are also looking for a 1,000-word short story with a MURDER theme. Prizes are books to the value of £60, £40, £20. They also want open-themed short stories between 1,500-3,000 words. Prizes: a telephone consultation with Janklow and Nesbit ‘to receive editorial report’; book prizes for second and third places. Winchester also have competitions for a picture book for children, a memoir, a book for children aged 8-12; flash fiction, and a competition for young writers. Each entry is £6, with the same offer of an included critique for £16. Lots of opportunities on their website:

Frome Festival Short Story Festival is seeking stories of 1,000-2,200-words on an open theme. Prizes: £400, £200, £100, with winning entries published on their website – and also possibly sent by them to Women’s Weekly for consideration. Entry fee: £8. Deadline May 31st. Details:

Bath Short Story Competition want up to 2,200 words on an open theme. Prizes: £1,000, £200, £50, plus a £50 prize for the best short story by an unpublished writer. Winning and shortlisted stories will be published in an anthology. Entry fee is £8, and the closing date (SOON) is May 1st. Details:

The Bristol Prize is for a 4,000-word short story. Prizes: £1,000, £799, £400, £100. Fee £8. Deadline (SOON) May 3rd. Details:

Bridport also have a short story prize (5,000 words), plus one for a poem (42 lines maximum) and another for flash fiction (250 words). Fee: £10 story; £9 poem; £8 flash. Prizes: story/poem: £5,000, £1,000, £500, 10x£100; flash: £1,000, £500, £250, 3x£100. Deadline May 31st. Details:

Yeovil are also offering prizes for a short story, up to 2,000-words and a poem, up to 40 lines. Prizes: £500, £200, £100 for stories/poem. They also have a ‘Writing Without Restriction’ competition (see website for further information on this), with prizes of £200, £100 and £50. Entry fees: £7 for short stories and/or one poem, £10 for two, £12 for three. Writing without restriction: £5. Deadline: May 31st. Details:

Storgy Magazine 2017 Short Story Competition. Stories up to 5,000 words. Prizes: £1,000, £500, £250. Entry fee: £10. Deadline: May 31st. Details:

Cinnamon Press Short Story Prize: 2,000 to 5,000 words. Prizes: one year’s free mentoring, place on a Ty Newydd course. Publication. Entry fee: £12. Deadline May 31st. Details:

There are so many opportunities in May that I’m going cross-eyed, so PLEASE check all details carefully. I’ll certainly be entering several of these competitions (ever the optimist), as will other members of ninevoices.

Remember. If you don’t enter, you can’t win.

Reviewing the Situation


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I am a review junkie. Before an anticipated purchase I will be found scouring other people’s opinion. Often the project is then abandoned and money is saved. However, I glean an insight into new characters who produce their praise or venom often sans punctuation, sans capitalisation. I visualise those who say, ‘I loved it so much I bought it in every colour. I haven’t worn it yet,’ with their wardrobes, colour-coordinated, of course, awash with identical outfits.

Then there are book reviews. Reading some, I feel I know the story and so why bother? But recently, for the first time in a long life, I immediately ordered two books, both non-fiction. The Butcher, The Baker, the Candlestick Maker by Roger Hutchinson is an account of the British decennial census since its conception in 1801 by John Rickman. Fascinating for anybody who has dabbled in family history or is interested by the changing demography of society, it is a book of facts and figures amongst which are snippets of interest and amusement.

In the 1841 census in Liverpool, four families gave Ireland as their place of birth: their surnames, McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and Starkey.

There are accounts of well-known families, among them Marks, Macmillan, Flora Thompson, and the unknown: the bigamist and those who truthfully gave their occupations as prostitute, brothel keeper, beggar. Later the suffragists would enter “domestic slave” or simply “slave” as a protest at being disenfranchised.

In 1881 when women were recruited as enumerators they were satirised by imaging a conversation between the  female enumerator and the lady of the house. Neither could keep to the point, but discussed the carpet, their clothes and pudding recipes. “I must be getting on. I haven’t done but three families all the forenoon.”

The second book is Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWess who, eagerly, awaiting a dramatisation of Pride and Prejudice, was devastated to find where she had “seen erudition, subtle wit, and quiet country vistas the director had seen flirtation and farce”. This set her on the quest to discover the now, but not in their own time, lesser-known contemporary female writers of Jane, Charlotte and Emily. (Anne, “the forgotten Brontë sister, who refused to wear rose-tinted glasses”, she places in another category.) Invariably the seven authors whose lives and works she describes turned to writing for economic reasons, usually caused by feckless husbands. Denied the cosy corner of a paternal vicarage, they laboured to feed children and to liberate husbands from a debtors’ prison. No longer household names they were once highly-regarded by William Wordsworth, Robert Southey, Dr Samuel Johnson. Now “They are not remembered, they are not canonized….What I came to understand was that, first and foremost, the game of lasting fame is an inherently unfair one.”

Skipper, of the canine literati, unprompted, reviewed a dog-training manual. His opinion was entirely subjective.

Agents Chatting, Over Coffee…

(With apologies to any agents who may be reading this)


Erica:        I hear you’ve got a new author?

Dominic:   Yup. Huge talent.

Erica:        Exciting. What’s the elevator pitch?

Dominic:   Vampire lover of the Machu Picchu Mummies chats up girl on train.

Erica:        Wow.

Dominic:    I know. Passion. Desiccated bodies. A girl and a train. Vampires.

Erica:        You lucky sod.

Dominic:    She’s promotable, too. Young. Photogenic. Married to a neuro-surgeon.

Erica:        And all I’ve got at the moment is a talking caterpillar…

Dominic:    Tough.

Erica:        Though maybe the vampire thing is losing its edge…

Dominic:    My publishers reckon it still has bite. The mummy thread unravels a bit, but that should be fixable.

Erica:        Providing she’s co-operative.

Dominic:    True. When they finally get an agent, writers think them the best thing since sliced chocolate fudge cake. Sadly, it doesn’t last.

Erica:        Tell me about it. The minute you want to edit their manuscript, you become Godzilla.

Dominic:   Yeah. Ask them to cut fifty thousand words, or tone down the sado-masochism and stick in a werewolf or two, and they go all Jane Austen on you.

Erica:        Writers, eh? But I guess we need them.

Dominic:   I know. The dream. Finding another JKR. Earning enough to buy that yacht – and never needing to plough through another mountain of awful submissions again…

Lessons from the life class


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head study



‘I don’t want to see anybody continuing to draw when the model has stopped posing,’ warned the art tutor. ‘Take a break and when you come back you will see your work – and all its mistakes –  with fresh eyes.’

Some anxious members of the class took no notice and went on fiddling, adding little details, trying to ‘finish the picture’, only to become muddled and wish they hadn’t.

‘You don’t need to draw every outline; the eye of the person looking at your drawing will automatically fill in the gap, will see what is suggested for themselves.’

More advice from the art tutor which tallies with writing: we can leave the reader to work something out rather than over-explaining it. What is left unsaid or barely hinted at might be as effective as what is said.

All this is probably part of the show not tell ‘rule’ which creative writing tutors are always going on about – often tediously and over-dogmatically – but it does seem to relate to visual art as well.

The third useful thing I took away from the portrait and life drawing class happened when I had to be the model. Being confronted with how other people see you might be very good for you but it is not always a confidence-boosting experience! Do I really look as grumpy/worried/distracted as that? It reminded me that what we think we are conveying in our writing may not be what other people are hearing. We can be curiously unaware of the mismatch. Have we left too many of those important gaps? This is why we are thankful if we can rely on a far-seeing and fearless critique group to point out the truth, however unpalatable it may be. Unstinting flattery in a portrait or praise for a piece of writing is very nice but it won’t help us in the long run. Look what it did for poor Anne of Cleves.


Clever greengrocer’s


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Today’s ‘Times’ includes a letter from Michael Plumbe, former Chairman of the Queen’s English Society.  He recalls visiting a local greengrocer to complain about his “errant apostrophes”.

“He winked.  He told me passers-by often popped into the shop to complain.  Then, while there, they would buy something.  Crafty.”


You’ve got to put in the hours


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In her gripping psychological thriller Trick of the Dark Val McDermid puts the following into the mouth of one of the main characters, a most successful businesswoman:

“It always amazes me that so many people think it’s just enough to have an idea, without doing any work to underpin it. …  It’s the difference between being a good pub raconteur and a bestselling novelist. That difference is hard work.”

So says Val McDermid, author of over 30 books which have sold over 10 million copies (see  She should know!

‘The President’s Hat’


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An ingenious way of combining short stories together to make a novel: I’ve much enjoyed The President’s Hat, by Antoine Laurain (first published in France in 2012, and in translation in England in 2013).

The book tells the stories of the various unrelated people who one way or another come into possession of a hat: in each case, after they do their lives change. Spoiler alert: what follows does reveal some of the action.

Disgruntled accountant Daniel Mercier is treating himself to a seafood platter in a crowded Paris brasserie, when he is asked whether he would mind three newcomers taking the spare places at his table. He agrees and then, to his amazement, President François Mitterand (no less) and two companions sit down, eat and talk amongst themselves. Daniel subsequently finds that whenever he eats an oyster he hears the words “As I was saying to Helmut Kohl last week …” When they leave, Daniel finds that the President has left his hat behind. He takes it. His life changes for the better.

Short story writer (hurrah!) Fanny Marquant is the next owner, after Daniel accidentally leaves the hat on a train. A problem in her love life is resolved, and she is inspired to write a prizewinning story (hurrah again!).

Perfumier Pierre Aslan [sic] is the next wearer of the hat. This brings us extraordinary descriptions of scents of all descriptions, and of the perfume-making process. How the hat affects Pierre, or how it itself gives rise to a new scent, I’ll leave you to find out.

Upper-class Bernard Lavallière is next, and here we move between his conservative, rich milieu and Paris’s trendier, lefty artistic community. In the course of his story we attend a ghastly dinner party in the first world and an equally awful reception in the second.

The stories are sewn together by Daniel Mercier’s efforts to locate and retrieve the hat. And just when we think it’s all over, we get a bizarre twist in the epilogue.

I found this book great fun. And very French: I can’t recall any novel in English revelling to anything like this extent, over and again, in the sheer pleasure of eating good food. And the settings and the sense of Parisian life seem so true.

The translator is named just as ‘Gallic Books’. Well, my congratulations to the she, he or they whose identity/ies lie behind that. And my thanks to my sister who gave me this book as she liked it a lot and thought I would too.

So if you have some short stories that might add up to a novel, see whether you can come up with an ingenious linking-up idea like this.

Gallic Books, RRP £8-99, ISBN 978-1-908313-47-8


Competitions to Enter in April

I think we can safely say that ninevoices have proved that entering competitions is worth doing. So here are suggestions for next month:

Bath Novel Award. First 5,000 words and synopsis. Fee: £25. Prizes: £2,000 plus Minerva trophy; £500 voucher from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. Deadline 24 April. Details:

Exeter Story Prize. 10,000 words. Fee: £10. Prizes: £500, plus trophy; £150; £100; £200 Trisha Ashley Award for humorous story. Deadline: 30 April. Details:

Ver Poets Open Competition. 30 Line poem. Fee: £4. Prizes: £600; £300; £100. Deadline: 30 April.Details:

Grey Hen Poetry Competition, postal entries only, for women poets over 60. Up to 40 lines. Fee £3 per poem, or £4 for 10.  Prizes: £100; £50; £25. Deadline 30 April. Details:

Historical Novel Society New Novel Award. Prize: £3,000. Entry: $35 (yes, that is in dollars!). Deadline; 1 April. Details: http//

The RA & Pin Drop Short Story Award 2017. Short stories up to 4,000 words. Prize: A reading by a special guest at an evening at the Royal Academy of Arts. Entry: FREE. Closing date: 23 April. Details:

RW First Chapter Competition. Submission package: three chapters, synopsis, leter. Prize: Submission review by literary agent Laura Williams. Entry fee: £15. Closing Date: 30 April. Details:

Harpers Bazaar Short Story Competition. Up to 3,000 words on the theme of ‘the anniversary’. FREE ENTRY. Prize:publication and a weekend break. Details:

As ever, we advise checking all details before entering. Good luck!





Punctuation can cost millions



Are you one of those who sigh when others start arguing about punctuation?  Do you get impatient, and just wish they’d talk about something that actually made a difference?  The Oxford Comma –  No, forget it, please!  Rules of punctuation don’t actually matter, after all, you say to yourself.

It ain’t necessarily so.  Read, where we read that a comma, or lack of it, can cost millions of dollars.

So be careful the next time you’re composing that list …..

The Exeter Novel Award


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Many congratulations to Briony Collins who yesterday won the Exeter Novel Award with her wonderful-sounding civil rights novel Raise Them Up.  Here she is sitting next to Sarah (front row, second from right).


Our lovely judge was Broo Doherty of DHH Agency. If you’d like to see her thoughts on the six shortlisted novels, go to: