Competition 2019 – judging begins

Many thanks to everyone who entered our 2019 competition.  We will now roll up our sleeves, fasten our reading glasses on firmly, and start deliberations.  The differences in our opinions is always a reminder that competitions are sometimes about ‘hitting the spot’ with a majority of judges.  There will be hot discussion!

We plan to release our shortlist in mid-November.


National Bookshop Day


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Let’s all raise a glass in praise of our wonderful bookshops. Along with libraries, they are the best friends of all readers and writers.

My other half and I spent time (and a modest amount of money) in Daunt’s Bookshop in London yesterday. A magical place in Marylebone.20191005_150451-1.

It is tempting to save a pound or two by buying books from Amazon – though by the time you’ve added postage, the difference may not be great – but let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot by making book selling on the high street uneconomic. We don’t want to deny ourselves the thrill of one day seeing our own efforts on public display, do we?


National Poetry Day


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With National Poetry Day in mind, we thought you might enjoy a poem from The Faber Book of Parodies, edited by Simon Brett, and written in tribute to our famous Bard.


Richard Jago
To print, or not to print—that is the question.
Whether ‘tis better in a trunk to bury
The quirks and crotchets of outrageous fancy,
Or send a well-wrote copy to the press,
And by disclosing, end them? To print, to doubt
No more; and by one act to say we end
The head-ach, and a thousand natural shocks
Of scribbling frenzy—’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To print—to beam
From the same shelf with Pope, in calf well bound!
To sleep, perchance, with Quarles—Ay there’s the rub –
For to what class a writer may be doom’d,
When he hath shuffled off some paltry stuff,
Must give us pause.—There’s the respect that makes
Th’ unwilling poet keep his piece nine years.
For who would bear th’ impatient thirst of fame,
The pride of conscious merit, and ‘bove all,
The tedious importunity of friends,
When as himself might his quietus make
With a bare inkhorn? Who would fardles bear?
To groan and sweat under a load of wit?
But that the tread of steep Parnassus’ hill,
That undiscover’d country, with whose bays
Few travellers return, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear to live unknown,
Than run the hazard to be known, and damn’d.
Thus critics do make cowards of us all.
And thus the healthful face of many a poem
Is sickly’d o’er with a pale manuscript;
And enterprisers of great fire, and spirit,
With this regard from Dodsley turn away,
And lose the name of authors.


Writing Competitions to Enter in October


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Light in Our Darkness is the theme for The Word Poetry Competition, which is part of the first Lichfield Cathedral Poetry Festival, inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings. The first prize is £100, second prize of £50 and third of £25 in the age categories of 17-25 and 26 and over. The winners will also be displayed in Lichfield Cathedral. Poems should be original, unpublished poems that use ideas around creation, cosmology, space travel and astronomical discovery and reflect the origins of the universe and space, light and time. All poems must have a title. Entry is free. The deadline is 3 October and details can be found at:

The Dalkey Creates Writing Festival international contest is for short stories up to 2,000 words and poems up to 30 lines, with winners in each category receiving 1,000 Euros. The entry fee is 15 Euros and the closing date 6 October. Details:

Virginia Prize for Fiction, for unpublished novels, at least 45,000 words, by women. Prizes: Development and publication of the winning novel. Entry fee: £25. Closing date: 1 October. TODAY! Details: https://aurorametro-com/virginia-prize-for-fiction/

Imison Award for original radio plays by writers new to radio. Prizes: £3,000. Closing date: 6 October. FREE ENTRY. Details:

London Short Story Prize for stories up to 5,000 words by writers with London postcodes. Prizes: £1,000, 2x£250. Entry fee: £10. Closing date: 7 October. Details:

Bath Flash Fiction Award for up to 300 words. Prizes: £1,000, £300, £100, 2x£30. Entry fee: £7.50, £12 for 2, £18 for 3. Closing date: 13 October. Details:

Retreat West fiction for up to 500 words; short stories 1,500-5,000 words. Prizes: flash: £350, £200, £100, £15 for each shortlisted; short stories: £400, £250, £150, £20 each shortlisted. Entry fee: £8 flash; £10 short story. Closing date: 27 October. Details:

Cinnamon Pencil Mentoring Competition. 10 poems, two short stories, or the first 10,000 words of a novel. Prize: a place on the Cinnamon Pencil mentoring scheme. Entry fee: £12. Closing date: 30 October. Details:

The 2020 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award has a first prize of £10,000 for an unpublished book by a first time writer. Runners up will receive £1,000. This bi-annual competition, in memory of the agent who founded the agency that became Rogers Coleridge White, wants the first 20,000-25,000 words of a work in progress, plus a synopsis and a biographical note. There is no entry fee, but writers must reside in the United Kingdom or the British Commonwealth. They can submit one work only and must not have published a full-length work or be under contract to a publisher. The deadline is 31 October and details can be found at

Bedford International Writing Competition for short stories up to 3,000 words, poems up to 40 lines. Prizes: each category £300, £150, £100. Entry fee: £6, £12 for three. Closing date: 31 October. Details:

McKitterick Prize for the best first novel, published or unpublished, by an author over the age of 40 on 31 December. Prizes: £4,000. FREE ENTRY. Deadline: 31 October. Details:

Southport Writers’ Circle is inviting entries for their SWC International Short Story Competition for stories up to 2,000 words on any theme. As well as the first prize of £150, there are second and third prizes of £80 and £30. Entry is £3 per story, or four for £10. Closing date is 31 October. Details:

Tom Gallon Trust Awards for short stories up to 5,000 words by authors who have had at least one story accepted for publication. Prizes: £1,000, £500 runner-up. FREE ENTRY. Details:

Carmarthen Book Fair Short Story Competition. Short stories for adults, 1,200-1,500 words. Prizes: £100, £50. Entry fee: £3, £5 for two. Closing date: 31 October. Details: 2016/

Please, as ever, check that I have all the entry details correct. Entering competitions is a good thing – even if you don’t win, you hone your craft and, hopefully, have fun.

With regard to our own competition, we are busily reading entries and will soon be able to give a date when we will announce the result of our deliberations. With Skipper insisting we be dogged in our efforts. Many thanks to those who entered. 




Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

Of spiders big as saucers in the shower,

And woozy wasps bombarding barbecues.


Skipper, our beta-reader, says that since summer is over it is TIME to send in your entry to our short story competition.

There are only TWO DAYS left in which to sink your teeth into our £250 first prize. Think how many yummy dog biscuits that would buy!

He’s relying on you.


Polishing Your Entry to our Short Story Competition?

One of our beta-readers, Skipper, thinks that sometimes you can over-edit. He suggests you give that entry a final polish and send it in today, before the deadline on the 28th…!

A rainy day is the perfect time for us to get on with reading the entries already received, but we’re greedy for even more. It’s in a good cause. And most of us could find something useful to do with that £250 first prize.




How to Write a Short Story?


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One summer, long ago, while I was devouring a sandwich at my desk, a colleague brandished the local paper at me.

‘Something for you?’ she said.

Write us a short story, the paper challenged. There will be prizes.

At the time I composed occasional pieces for our staff magazine, but was procrastinating about getting down to serious writing. My friend was calling my bluff.

There is nothing like a deadline for concentrating the mind, but there were just a couple of weeks in which to produce an entry that wouldn’t embarrass me if it was ever published.

I scratched a head of hair, the colour of which, in those days, needed no help from Garnier Nutrisse. What the hell to write? Short of inspiration, I resorted to gathering random thoughts in the way one rustles-up a scratch supper from leftovers in the fridge.

The story had to be set in East Sussex or Kent. Should I write something about the famous Pantiles? About our regency past, with Beau Nash and goings-on at the Assembly Rooms? But wouldn’t lots of people do that?

Local but different was surely the answer.

My default position was to use what I knew. My husband rides and at that time often cantered across the glorious commons with which Tunbridge Wells and neighbouring Southborough are blessed. He owned a spirited grey mare, so I decided to put the two of them at the centre of my story. Calypso had a a mind of her own, so she became Madam. She also had an alarming tendency to spook. That morning I’d driven to work through the woods myself, car windows open, shivering in one of those eerie mists you can get at the end of summer.

So it had to be a ghost story, didn’t it? Everyone loves them.

And didn’t people say that a mere arrow’s flight from Southborough Common is the patch of land where Harold’s army camped the night before the battle of Hastings? Isn’t it still called Camp Field, in honour of the tradition?

I decided that mixing past and present was my answer, using that invaluable resource of the writer: What if…?? All I needed was a way to link 1066 with the end of the twentieth century (Yes, it was that long ago). It was then that I noticed a small ad in the paper for a metal detector. If an army in a hurry really did pass that way, wouldn’t they have dropped things? Might something unearthed from long ago conjure up a fleeting glimpse of a ghostly army?

Reader, to my surprise I won the competition. The prize was books from Waterstones, and a calligraphy set, but better than that was the acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe, I could one day become a proper writer.

I dragged up this recollection to encourage those thinking of entering our own current short story competition. Short of inspiration, I used things my husband had said about riding on the Common, the feistiness of his mare – who saw monstrous apparitions behind every bank of fern – and myths I’d heard about Harold’s having passed this way. Then I noticed that advertisement for a metal detector. Threw in my impressions of driving under the trees through wisps of fog. And wrote, and rewrote, until it was done.

So how is your story getting on? We are loving reading those already received, but hungry for more. No ghost stories yet – but we’d love to get some… Or a summer crime or murder, perhaps? Whatever your fertile writers’ minds can come up with, BUT YOU’VE ONLY GOT UNTIL SEPTEMBER 28th.



Oxford delights: Jilly Cooper and Barbara Pym


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What’s the connection between Jilly Cooper and Barbara Pym apart from them being quintessentially English and writing splendidly funny novels?

Jilly Cooper’s introduction to the 2007 Virago edition of Barbara Pym’s Jane and Prudence, first published in 1953, tells the story of how she borrowed the novel quite by chance from a library and fell in love with it. ‘I shamefully lied to the librarians that I had lost it, paying a 3s 6d fine … over the years, as Barbara Pym replaced Nancy Mitford, Georgette Heyer, even Jane Austen, as my most loved author, I devoured all her books, but Jane and Prudence remains my favourite.’

Jilly Cooper was therefore the perfect and altogether delightful guest at a magnificent tea in Oxford, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Barbara Pym Society, as part of the Society’s weekend conference featuring Jane and Prudence.  Some of those attending might never have read a Jilly Cooper novel; others like myself have delicious youthful memories of revelling in her stories serialised in magazines like 19 and Petticoat, some of which were subsequently expanded into short romantic novels named after their heroines.

It’s in Harriet, partly set in Oxford and published in 1976, that we get a rather endearing echo of a scene in Barbara Pym’s Jane and Prudence; in both novels young girls remark to each other that thirty sounds so old but forty must be worse… whereupon they brood silently upon this horror!

Jilly Cooper might be more famous now for her ‘bonkbuster’ novels, starting with Riders in 1985, but perhaps the older among us will always have an affectionate soft spot for the irresistible heroes and scatty/naughty/dreamy/kind-hearted/unselfconfident/innocent heroines of the early romantic novels Bella, Emily, Octavia, Prudence, Harriet, Imogen and her collection of short stories Lisa & Co, first published as Love and Other Heartaches. They offered the escapist, romantic, comfort-with-comedy reading we sometimes needed when growing up.

As Jilly Cooper wrote of her short stories in 1981 ‘I cannot pretend that these stories are literature. They are written purely to entertain… Their mood is rooted firmly in the sixties, where we all lived it up… when the young were still optimistic about marriage, and believed that God was in his Heaven if all was Mr Right with the world.’

Jilly Cooper and Barbara Pym met just once –  at the Hatchards Authors of the Year Party in 1979. A wonderful memory to treasure. I have the same after meeting Jilly Cooper.




Anglican Women Novelists


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There have been more Anglican women novelists than you might think. 13 of them feature in Anglican Women Novelists – from Charlotte Brontë to PD James, edited by Judith Maltby and Alison Shell, and published only this year. Two of the ninevoices were at its launch in the magnificent setting of Lambeth Palace Library in July.

The editors explain that to keep the book of manageable size they restricted it to writers who were British and deceased. But questions of selection are inevitable. Iris Murdoch is here? Yes, because although she lost her faith in Christ’s divinity, and was drawn towards Buddhism, her world was still infused by Anglicanism and she still attended Anglican services. The author of the Iris Murdoch essay (Peter S Hawkins) entitles it “Anglican Atheist”.

And why no Jane Austen, in whose novels the C of E features so much, when Charlotte Brontë gets in? Because between the two lie Catholic Emancipation and the repeals of the Test and Corporation Acts, meaning that other denominations could now take their place freely on the national stage: Anglicanism had lost its ‘default’ position as the nation’s faith and was becoming more of a denomination that you made a positive choice to join.

The essay on Charlotte Brontë (by Sara L Pearson) argues how much her life was rooted in the C of E and how much of her work does too. Shirley, we read, shows her “longing for the Church of England’s preservation and reformation”. In Jane Eyre the male representatives of the Church, Mr Brocklehurst and St John Rivers, are hardly role models, and their failings are compared with (and perhaps compensated for by) the qualities of female characters around them. Also, “the Book of Common Prayer haunts the pages of Jane Eyre … not only for its contents but also as a physical object”: it will have formed such an ever-present part of her childhood.

‘Dorothy L Sayers – God and the Detective’ is the title of Jessica Martin’s piece. She speaks of the role justice and punishment play in her detective novels. She makes the important point that Golden Age detective novels were written in the time when the hangman awaited the unmasked murderer: in that sense the stakes were higher, the ultimate retribution is always in the background.   Sayers had trouble with this, we read: she had “increasing unease with narrative arcs which must privilege orderly acts of justice over the wilder power of mercy”. She sees the limitations of this, and justice must come from elsewhere: “her plots have an invisible protagonist, and his name is Jehovah”. The essay then analyses Murder Must Advertise, The Nine Tailors, Unnatural Death and Gaudy Night in this light.

The final essay is ‘PD James – “Lighten our Darkness”’ by Alison Shell.   She compares PD James to other Golden Age detective writers, principally Agatha Christie, concluding, “For all her own homage to Christie, her novels are far more violent and desolate than her predecessor’s; if Christie is the quintessential Golden Age detective novelist, James’ fallen world locates her within an Iron Age of crime fiction.” Evil is a reality: and the essay speculates on the degree to which PD James saw evil as a force in its own right. Her novels are steeped in the Anglican Church and its tradition. Churches (in a bleak East Anglia) provide the settings for many key events. PD James herself was a lover of the beauty of its traditional language and was a great supporter of the Prayer Book Society, set up to keep alive the glorious heritage of the Book of Common Prayer. Quotations from it recur in her work.

The other authors covered in the book are Charlotte Maria Tucker, Margaret Oliphant, Charlotte M Yonge, Evelyn Underhill, Rose Macaulay, Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Goudge, Noel Streatfeild and Monica Furlong.

Published by t&tclark, ISBN 978-0-567-68676-3 RRP £27-99