Under attack – when it hurts



Anyone who has ever given or lent a copy of a much-loved novel to a friend is likely to be familiar with the occasional disappointing response. It might include the suggestive silence, or the apologetic, half-embarrassed ‘sorry, not my kind of thing’ or even (and this is worse!)  ‘I can see why you enjoyed it, but…’

It may still surprise and even disconcert when the people we love don’t ‘get’ an author who means so much to us, but we’ve learnt not to allow this unaccountable gap to mar our friendship. It doesn’t change what we feel about them.

But comedians Kathy Burke and Tom Allen savaging Barbara Pym as ‘twee’ and ‘boring’ in a Radio 4 discussion of the novel Crampton Hodnet provoked bewilderment among Barbara Pym readers. How was it possible that these two critics had entirely missed the point of her novels?

One comment among the extensive online discussion which especially resonated was that criticism of Barbara Pym feels personal to him in a way that it doesn’t with other authors. But why should we mind when Barbara Pym is dismissed or mocked when we can shrug off adverse criticism of other authors we enjoy?  Perhaps it is because Barbara Pym writes so tellingly (and with a sharp wit that is always funny but somehow never cruel) about ordinary people, dealing with the small things of life which are also the big things.  Twee and boring seem to be the wrong words for such richness.

But it’s more than that. When Barbara Pym’s characters make reappearances in her later novels, it’s like being given news of old and dear friends. They have an extraordinary habit of living alongside us; in wilder moments we may even feel we are becoming one of them. No wonder an attack can hurt…




Competitions to Enter in June


First of all, check out my post of May 7, which gives details of the Richard & Judy New Novel Competition. If you want a crack at winning that £30,000 prize, the deadline is June 14. Soon.

In celebration of the centenary of the creation of Czechoslovakia and other Czech and Slovak anniversaries the free-to-enter 2018 BCSA International Writing Competition has a theme of ‘Anniversary’. The winning prize has been increased to £400 and there is a second prize of £150. Both winners will be published in the British Czech and Slovak Review. The British Czech and Slovak Association is a registered charity with the aim of ‘raising awareness of matters relating to the history, arts, literature, politics and economies and science of Britain and the Czech Republics and the societal transitions in those Republics since 1989’. There are no age, nationality or educational restrictions on entering the competition – and although erudite offerings are welcome, one of the past winners was a humorous story. The closing date is June 30 and full details can be found on their website: http://www.bcsa.co.uk

Farnham Flash Festival has launched a new flash fiction competition for stories up to 500 words, with prizes of £100 (adult category), £50 (age 14-18), and £25 (12-14 and 7-11). The entry fee is £5 per story and the closing date June 10. Details at: http://www.farnhamflashfestival.org.uk

The Moth Short Story Prize 2018 has a first prize of £3,000, a second prize of £250 plus a stay at Circle of Misse writing retreat in France, and a third prize of £1,000. Stories on any theme are welcome, as long as they are previously unpublished. Deadline June 30. Full details: http://www.themothmagazine.com

The biannual Dorset Fiction Award invites entries for its summer competition for short fiction up to 1,000 words. There is a first prize of £500, with the winner and nine runners-up published in an anthology. Entry fee is £7 per story, and the closing date June 9. Website: http://www.dorsetfictionaward.co.uk

VS Pritchett Story Prize for short stories of 2,000-4,000 words. Prize: £1,000 plus publication. Entry fee: £7.50. Deadline June 29. Details: https://rsliterature.org/award/v-s-pritchett-memorial-prize

Bath Flash Fiction Award, max. 300 words. Entry fee £9; £15 for two; £18 for three. Prizes: £1,000; £300; £100; 2x£30. Deadline: 15 June. Details: http://www.bathflashfictionaward.com

The Wigton Poetry Competition 2018 has a first prize of £1,500 and a runner-up prize of £400 for poems of up to forty lines. Three highly commended poets will each win £100. The entry fee is £6.50, three for £17, £5 each subsequent. Closing date June 8. Details (including extra prizes for poems written in Gaelic): http://www.wigtownbookfestival.com/poetry-competition

The Brighton Prize is open for stories in two categories: short stories between 1,000 and 2,000 words, with a first prize of £1,000 and two runners-up each getting £100. Entry fee is £8. Their flash fiction category is for fiction up to 350 words, with a first prize of £500, with two runners-up each getting £50. The entry fee is £6. There is a £100 book token for the best entry in either category from a Sussex-based writer. Winning entries will be published in an anthology. Website: http://www.brightonprize.com. Closing date June 30.

Please check entry details, especially deadlines, really carefully in case of error. And don’t forget Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine also have competitions, some of them available for non-subscribers.

The Rejection Diaries



The Bath Novel judges have started releasing ‘teasers’ for their short list – and many, like myself, will doubtless be desperately persuading ourselves that our plots somehow resemble those described below. Try as I might, however, it can’t be done. Another competition entry bites the dust…

There is, however, much to be learned. My book isn’t actually bad (it’s been long listed in one competition and came third in another), but clearly it isn’t good enough. My opening page in particular lacks the impact to stand out against competition like this: 

  • ‘Stranded time-traveller misfit goes on the run.’
  • ‘Two families bound together in the aftermath of tragedy.’
  • ‘Young care leavers are re-homed in a remote Cornish resort.’
  • ‘Spare and tenderly written story of siblings reunited in rural Ireland.’
  • ‘Tightly written tale of a divided community. Interesting, vivid characters with exceptional sense of place.’
  • ‘A summer fling, an affair and an unexplained death during a family holiday.’

There is a pattern here: strong and well-written characters combined with drama and a vivid sense of place. Something that reaches out from the page and grabs the reader.

I wish the writers of the above books every success and am enjoying a frisson of vicarious pleasure at imaging how they must feel at the moment. Well done to every one of them.

A member of ninevoices recently drew our attention to an excellent post by Fiona Mitchell on what can be learned from rejection. She wrote amusingly of her ‘Folder of Doom‘, containing a sheaf of rejections, but listed five positive things that she’d learned from them. Well worth studying. So I’m not about to make a drama out of not getting on this short list. Nobody died. Nobody took out a big pointy sword and threatened me with it. I simply need to give my opening a bit (maybe even a lot) more welly and keep my sense of humour handy. And there are plenty of other competitions out there.


Check out Fiona Mitchell’s encouraging piece here: https://fionamitchell.org/2018/05/09/5-types-of-rejection-letters-and-what-you-can-learn-from-them/

Richard & Judy New Novel Competition


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I’ve just caught up with the fact that Richard and Judy have launched another competition to find a first-time author with the potential to become a best-selling writer. Previously Tracy Rees, author of Amy Snow, and Caz Frear, author of Sweet Little Lies went on to enjoy fantastic sales after being chosen by them.

Search for a Bestseller‘, supported by W H Smith, is accepting manuscripts from unpublished writers until June 14th. Richard and Judy will then themselves be leading the selection process, helped by editors and agents. The winner will receive a £30,000 publishing deal with Bonnier Saffre, and specialist advice from literary agency Furniss Lawton.

Aspiring authors must submit 10,000 words of original fiction aimed at adults, plus a synopsis of the full novel and a short author biography, via Richard and Judy’s website: http://www.richardandjudy.co.uk/richard-and-Judys-Search-For-A-Bestseller-2018/711

Great novels rarely spring fully formed from their writer’s laptop. I’ve recently finished (and been bowled over by) Elinor Olifant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. As a work-in-progress, this book was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Prize. In 2014, it won the Scottish Book Trust First Chapter Award, allowing Gail to spend valuable time shaping and editing at Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre.  Then, in 2017,  she was the Costa Book Awards winner. Not an overnight success, then. A hard worker rewarded.

Most novels evolve and grow over time. Entering your manuscript into competitions can give you the impetus to finally finish your book. A long-listing, or short-listing might provide the spur to invest in a writing course. Like Gail Honeyman, Margaret Kirk, who won the Good Housekeeping First Novel Competition in 2016 with Shadow Man, credits a crime-writing course at Moniack Mhor with ‘literally changing my life’. Something about that bracing Scottish air perhaps.

Competitions are a tremendous encouragement. Even if you don’t win. Even if you aren’t short-listed, or long-listed. Competitions concentrate the mind. They glue you to that laptop into the small hours and get the book written. Then all that’s needed is editing, persistence and yet more editing.


Competitions to Enter in May


My apologies for being a bit late with this, but you still have time to enter some first-rate competitions.

Enter full length playscripts for the Nick Darke Award, which has a £6,000 prize, funded by Falmouth University. There is no set theme, but your entry should not have had a production, rehearsed reading or won any other competition. Details: http://www.falmouth.ac.uk/nickdarkeaward. Deadline 21 May.

Short fiction is invited for a new RETREAT WEST CHARITY ANTHOLOGY to support the 2018 Hundred Years March. In November, women in East London will be marching to celebrate the centenary and acknowledge that women’s rights still need to be fought for. All profits will be sent to Hestia, a charity supporting adults and children in time of crisis, including domestic abuse and slavery. Entries should be between 300 and 3,000 words and address themes which are detailed on the website: https://retreatwestbooks.com. Closing date 27 May.

The Wundor Short Fiction Contest 2018 is open for entries of up to 45,000 words. Enter novellas, short stories, or even flash fiction (from a single page to 45,00 words) in this competition for unusual fiction. The winner will receive £500 and their book will be published by Wundor Editions. Two runners-up will have extracts of their work published on the website and be considered for publication. The entry fee is £10 and the closing date 31 May. Details: http://www.wondoreditions.com

The 2018 Yeovil Literary Prize offers four categories: Submit a synopsis and the opening chapters (up to 15,000 words) of a NOVEL. Prizes are £1,000, £250 and £100. The entry fee is £12. SHORT STORIES up to 2,000 words. Prizes are £500, £200 and £100, with an entry fee of £7. POETRY, up to 40 lines. Prizes are £500, £200 and £100. Entry fee £7, £10 for two or £12 for three. WRITING WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS. Prizes £200, £100 and £50. Closing date 31 May. Details: http://www.yeovilprize.co.uk

Solution Loans is running a free-entry spring short story competition for stories on the theme of The Wedding Gift. There is a first prize of £200 and online publication, and three runners-up will each win £50. Entries should be between 1,500 and 2,500 words. The closing date id 31 May. Details: http://writ.rs/theweddinggiftcomp

A competition in which fees of £5 per entry will support the animal care Lord Whisky Sanctuary Fund seeks poetry with a maximum of forty lines on the theme of ‘Animals. Prizes will relate to the total number of entry fees received – thirty percent for the first prize, ten percent for the second prize, and two further prizes of five percent. Details: http://www.lordwhisky.co.uk/news-and-events. The closing date is 31 May.

Welsh Poetry Competition for a poem of 50 lines maximum on any theme. Prizes are £500; £250; £100. 17 runners-up will be published on site and in an anthology. Entry fee £5. Details: http://www.welshpoetry.co.uk

John Austin Baker Creative Writing Prize for a poem or flash fiction on the theme: Marine Life. Entry fee £5. Prizes: £500; £250; £100; vouchers for children’s winners. Details: AngSocWelAnimals@aol.com

Peggy Chapman Andrews First Novel Award. 5,000-8,000 words, plus synopsis. Fee: £20. Prizes: £1,000 plus mentoring and possible representation; £500 plus manuscript appraisal. £100, plus partial appraisal. Details: http://www.bridportprize.org.uk/peggy-chapman-andrews-award-first-novel. Deadline: 31 May.

Frome Festival Short Story competition for 1,000-2,200 words, on any theme. Prizes: £400; £200; £100. Winning entrants published on the website and may be sent to Women’s Weekly and/or Frome FM for consideration. Entry fee: £8. Deadline 31 May. Details: fromeshortstorycompetition.co.uk

Please take care to check all details before entry.




Today we have Naming of Characters


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We all have to give names to our characters. I’ve just read Nicole Simms’ latest blog (http://www.nicole-j-simms.co.uk/6-ways-i-find-names-for-my-characters/) which shows how systematically she sets about this task. It’s good of her to share these trade secrets!

Particularly helpful is the suggestion of going to baby name websites for names that were popular in the decade your story is set. And I like too the idea of noting the names of the cashier on receipts you get at the checkout. Thanks, Nicole.

I think the nearest I’ve got to being that systematic is poring over an atlas of Britain looking for suitable place names to use for my characters. Place names and occupation names are good sources: look at the traditional practice of TV soaps of using the latter for working-class characters – think of Butcher or Slater in ‘Eastenders’, or (I’m showing my age here) Elsie Tanner in ‘Coronation Street’.

The British class system can make this a minefield. You’d think that centuries of social movement would have muddled it all up more than it has, but you wouldn’t call your dustman character Piers Devereux or your son of an earl Gary Thackenthwaite.

One option is to go the Dickens route, and make up absurd names that actually are just right: Mr Bumble, Wackford Squeers, Ebenezer Scrooge!

And then there’s the whole world of names of overseas origin to choose from. Patel and Singh have been common English names for at least two generations. Poniatowski, Novotny, Fontanelli, van Dijk, Schmidt, Papadopoulos, Gomez, Le Blanc – take your pick when thinking about arrivals from the EU.

In my last story I came up with Freckleton Jessop as the name of a firm of solicitors: Freckleton from the Lancashire home village of a college friend and Jessop from the high street store (other camera shops are available).

I enjoy the search for a good name. It can take time, but it’s worth it if you get it right.

How do you set about it?

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells – and a story of splendid ladies


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The expression ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ may have entered the English vocabulary in the 1950s onwards as a byword for middle class conservative moral outrage, but this elegant spa town in the south east of England has a habit of regularly cropping up in literature well before that. We find references in Dickens’ Bleak House, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Fanny Burney’s Camilla, and Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon for a start.

It’s often depicted as the residence of genteel aunts and maiden ladies – a favourite being Charlotte Bartlett in E M Forster’s 1908 novel A Room with a View: ‘I am used to Tunbridge Wells, where we are all hopelessly behind the times’.

But not all of the good ladies of Tunbridge Wells were like Charlotte Bartlett then, any more than they are now. Just published by Matador is Disgusted Ladies by local author Anne Carwardine. It tells the fascinating story of how the town was home to a series of ordinary yet extraordinary VOTES FOR WOMEN campaigners – remarkable and courageous women who were disgusted for all the right reasons.

Tunbridge Wells in 2018, a hundred years after women were given the right to vote: no longer disgusted but still a town with a distinguished literary presence, past and present…




Competitions to Enter in April


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It’s SPRING, guys. Time for new beginnings. New short stories, new novels, new flash fiction, new poetry. You promised yourself you would write more, remember?

Dark Tales Horror & Speculative Fiction Competition for a short story, maximum 5,000 words. Prize: £100, plus publication. Entry fee: £2.50 (subscribers), or £4 (non-subscribers). Deadline 30 April. Details http://www.darktales.co.uk/contest.php

Harper’s Bazaar Short Story Competition 2018 are inviting 2,500 word entries on the subject of ‘The Looking Glass’. The winner will have the opportunity of publication in Harper’s Bazaar and will receive a two-night stay and three-course dinner for two at Amberley Castle Hotel in Suffolk, plus a selection of gifts from Smythson. There is NO entry fee, but entries must be original and unpublished. Deadline is 9 April Details: http://writ.rs/harpersbazaarstorycomp2018

For its 2018 annual creative writing competition, Brentwood Writers’ Circle has taken the theme of Room 101. Entrants are invited to think of something they hate that should be consigned to Room 101 and write about it in exactly 101 words. Prize momey totals £101: £51 for the winner; £30 for second and £20 for third. Entry is £3 and the closing date is 30 April. Details: http://www.brentwoodwriterscircle.org

Binstead Arts Poetry Competition. Poem: 40 lines max. Theme ‘country’. Prizes: £150; £100; £50, plus an invitation to read poems at the Binstead Arts Festival. Entry: £5, first poem, £3.50 thereafter. Deadline 9 April. Details: http://www.binsted.org/poetry-comp-18.

Bath Novel Award for your first 5,000 words and a synopsis. Prizes: £2,500; manuscript feedback and agent literary introductions; Cornerstones Literary Consultancy online editing course. Entry fee: £25. Deadline: 30 April. Details: http://www.bathnovelaward.co.uk

Ver Poets Open Competition for a 30 line poem. Entrants must be over 16. Prizes:£600; £300; £100, plus publication and invitation to read winning poems at poetry afternoon. Entry Fee: £4; £10 for three. Deadline 30 April. Details: https://verpoets.co.uk/poetry-competitions

Bristol Short Story Prize. Story: max. 4,000 words. Prizes: £1,000; £700; £400, plus 17x£100. Entry fee £8. Deadline: 1 May Details: http://www.bristolprize.co.uk

The Pin Drop Short Story Award 2018 is inviting entries of original, unpublished stories up to 4,000 words for its annual award, staged by Pin Drop in association with the Royal Academy of Arts. The winner will receive £500 with the winning story narrated live by an actor at a special event at the Royal Academy. The event will be recorded for Pin Drop’s podcast series.Entry is FREE and the deadline is 15 April. Details from http://www.pindropsudio.com

Please check the websites for full details, and remember that Writing Magazine and Writers’ Forum also have competitions, many of which are open to non-subscribers.