Writing competitions with closing dates in February

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Isn’t it time you entered a competition? (says Snowy)

Nine of this month’s competitions are free to enter (I’ve typed this fact in bold wherever it applies!) so do take a look. I really hope you’ll find one or two (at least) that will inspire you to have a go. Also, I’ve added in a couple of extras whose deadlines fall early in March. As always, please check websites, in case details have changed.

  • Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award for a short story of up to 8,000 words showing the near future (no more than 50–60 years out) of manned space exploration (e.g. about moon bases, Mars colonies, orbital habitats, space elevators, asteroid mining, AI, nano-technology, realistic spacecraft, heroics, sacrifice, adventure). FREE ENTRY. Prizes: publication on Baen Books’ main website at pro rates for first prize, plus prize packages for first, second and third. Closing date: 1st February. Details: https://www.baen.com/contest-jbmssa
  • Papatango New Writing Prize for unperformed full-length playscript. FREE ENTRY. Prizes: £7,000 + winning script produced by Papatango in a full run at Bush Theatre (London). 4 x £500 + option to have play presented as reading. Closing date: 5th February. Details: https://papatango.co.uk/new-writing-prize/
  • Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize for first 40–50 pages of an unpublished novel (plus 3–5-page synopsis of remainder) by a woman. Entry fee: £12. Prize: £1,500. Closing date: 10th February (or 8th February if sponsored as low-income writer). Details: https://www.fictionprize.co.uk/
  • Spotlight First Novel Competition for a one-page synopsis and first page of an unpublished novel. Entry fee: £16. Prize: mentoring package from Adventures in Fiction, a dedicated Spotlight page on their website, and first page + synopsis posted online. Closing date: 14th February. Details: https://adventuresinfiction.co.uk/spotlight-1st-novel
  • National Flash Fiction Day Microfiction Competition for up to 100 words on any theme. Entry fee: £2 for one entry, £3.75 for two, £5.25 for three. Prizes: £150, £100, £50, £20 x 7 + publication in anthology + free print copy of anthology. Closing date: 15th February. Details: https://www.nationalflashfictionday.co.uk/index.php/competition
  • Northern Writers’ Awards for work including poetry, fiction, narrative non-fiction and YA by writers in the north of England; also by those originating from a working-class background, final-year/graduates of Northumbria University, young writers between 11–14 and 15–18, and those with ‘limited opportunities to pursue their talent’. FREE ENTRY. Prizes: different for each award, but including cash prizes and mentoring support. Closing date: 22nd February. Details: https://newwritingnorth.com/northern-writers-awards/awards
  • Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award for a crime novel. Submit the first 3,000 words plus synopsis (up to 1,500 words). Entry fee: £36. Prize: £500; also finalists on shortlist receive brief professional assessment + work will be sent to UK publishers and agents. Closing date: 28th February. Details: https://thecwa.co.uk/awards-and-competitions/the-daggers/debut-dagger-rules
  • Exeter Writers’ Short Story Competition for stories of any genre and theme (but not children’s) up to 3,000 words. Entry fee: £7. Prizes; £700, £350, £200, £100 for a Devon writer. Closing date: 28th February. Details: www.exeterwriters.org.uk
  • Flash 500 Short Story Competition for short stories of any genre (including by and for children) from 1,000 to 3,000 words. Entry fee: £7, £12 for two, £16 for three, £20 for four. Prizes: £500, £200, £100. Closing date: 28th February. Details:  https://flash500.com/short-stories
  • Kelpies Prize is for writers living in Scotland only. Entries must include (i) the first five chapters of a book for children (either fiction or non-fiction) OR a whole picture book story, (ii) synopsis, (iii) a short piece of writing for children (1,000–3,000 words) that begins, ‘It wasn’t my fault!’ [character name] said. ‘Let me tell you what really happened …’, (iv) information about you. FREE ENTRY. Prize: £500 plus nine months’ mentoring and consideration for publishing contract with Floris Books. Closing date: 28th February. Details: https://discoverkelpies.co.uk/kelpies-prize-writing
  • Scottish Arts Club Short Story Competition (open to writers worldwide) for short stories on any topic up to 2,000 words. Entry fee: £10. Prizes: £3,000, £500, £250. Write Mango Award: £300. Isobel Lodge Award open to unpublished writers living in Scotland: £750. Also offer of publication of top 20 stories (or more) in next anthology. Closing date: 28th February. Details: https://www.scottishartstrust.org/short-story
  • UK Film Festival Script Writing Competitions for (i) 3-minute scripts (3–4 pp), (ii) 10-minute screenplay, and (iii) feature film scripts. Entry fee: (i) 3-minute script – £20, (ii) 10-minute screenplay – £35, (iii) feature film script – £60. Prizes: 3-minute script will be produced. 10-minute and feature scripts will be circulated to production companies and financiers. All winning scripts will be supported by UK Film Festival for chance of production and promotion. Winners and runners-up will receive the latest version of Final Draft 12 (value: $250) + free script listing and placement on Inktip. Closing date: 28th February. Details: https://filmfreeway.com/TheUKFilmFestivalScriptCompetitions
  • The Welkin Writing Prize for narrative prose up to 400 words. FREE ENTRY. Prizes: £250 + Writers’ HQ membership, £120 + book voucher, £60 + book. Closing date: 28th February. Details: https://www.mattkendrick.co.uk/welkin-prize
  • The Poetry Business International Book & Pamphlet Competition for a collection of 20 pages of poetry. Entry fee: £29. Prizes: 2 x £700 + publication by Smith|Doorstop Books + in The North magazine + reading at The Wordsworth Trust + a place on a residential course at Moniack Mhor. Six runners-up will receive publication in a feature in The North magazine + online reading + £100 each. Closing date: 1st March. Details: https://poetrybusiness.co.uk/competitions/the-international-book-pamphlet-competition
  • The Poetry Business New Poets Prize for a collection of 12 pages of poems from writers aged 17 to 24. Entry fee: £10. Prizes: Two winners will receive editorial support for publication by Smith|Doorstop + their work will appear in a feature in The North magazine. Two runners-up will receive mentoring + their work will appear in The North magazine. Winners and runners-up will also receive a subscription to The North magazine and be invited to give a reading organised by The Poetry Business. Closing date: 1st March. Details: https://poetrybusiness.co.uk/competitions/new-poets-prize
Just suppose that winning a competition meant getting your novel published. That’s what happened to Maggie when she won the Historical Writers’ 2020 Unpublished Novel Award with The Servant. Could it be your turn next?

Jennifer Moore

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It has been said that the difference between a professional writer and an amateur is that the professional never gives up. This inspirational guest piece by the talented – and persistent – Jennifer Moore is proof of how true this is.

I’ve been following Ninevoices since winning the British Czech & Slovak Writing Competition back in 2016, so it’s lovely to be invited to contribute a guest post. Thank you, Maggie!

I often describe myself as ‘a writer of two halves’, writing psychological thrillers as Jennifer Moore and funny children’s books as Jenny Moore. In truth, it’s not quite such a neat divide as that on a day-to-day basis, with ongoing projects in both camps, and it’s even harder to separate the two when it comes to explaining how my thrillers began life…

2017 started well for me, with not just one but two offers from agents for one of my children’s books. After much careful deliberation, I chose to sign with the agent who also represented adult books and promptly set about writing one – a creepy story about a grieving, pregnant woman who moves into a new house on Crenellation Lane with her husband, hoping that a fresh start will help her get over her twin sister’s death. She’s plunged, instead, into a nightmarish double mystery, with someone targeting the house from the outside and increasingly spooky goings-on within it. The novel was named after the street she lives on, Crenellation Lane, a name that popped into my head seemingly at random and refused to leave.

My agent was encouraging, offering helpful suggestions after reading the first few chapters and synopsis, and I threw myself into the project. It proved to be the perfect distraction from the waiting game while my children’s book was out on submission… a children’s book which didn’t, in the end, find a home, despite some great feedback from publishers.

By the autumn of that year, Crenellation Lane was approaching completion. Winning a Mslexia writing competition, with a first prize of a complete manuscript assessment from Daniel Goldsmith, proved to be the perfect impetus for getting it over the finish line. The prize was only valid for a month, so I pushed onto the end of the book and gave it a quick polish before sending it off. The feedback was really encouraging – the editor described it as a ‘well-structured and gripping mystery underpinned by strong themes of love, loss, life and death’. He wrote, ‘an emotional and action-packed roller-coaster, the novel is highly entertaining, humorous and fast paced,’ pointing out a few final points where the tension could be heightened even more. I thought I was onto a winner…

Fast-forward to early 2018, however, and my agent and I were no longer together. I was gutted. A tough six months or so followed, when nothing seemed to go right on the writing front, before I found my wonderful children’s publisher, Maverick Arts Publishing.
Crenellation Lane was left on the back burner while I concentrated on my middle grade books. But every now and then I’d spot a call for submissions from a publisher in Writing Magazine and dust it off again, not wanting to give up on it entirely. One editor said it was the best submission she’d read that year, but it was, for various reasons, still a no. Months later, however, she got back in touch to say she’d often thought about Crenellation Lane since, and could she read it again? This led to a phone call and some fresh work on the novel before it eventually made it to the acquisitions stage… where it was turned down.

Buy ‘The Woman Before’ on Amazon

In the summer of 2021, after more near-misses and a change of title to The Viewing, I came across HQ Digital, a branch of Harper Collins who accepted non-agented submissions. Off it went again. A few months later I received an email to say the book was currently with an editor who was enjoying it, and could I confirm that it was still available? I duly confirmed, trying not to get my hopes up too much. It was difficult not to though, especially when I received an email from the editor herself, saying that she was taking it to the next acquisitions meeting and could I send ideas for a second book…

Unfortunately, the second book idea didn’t go down as well, but the editor offered to chat through the market and other potential ideas with me on a Zoom call. During the intervening days I came up with the outline of another book entirely, The Retreat, about a writer on a writing retreat who finds herself the target of creepy incidents taken from her own book. The new idea proved much more popular and that was the one that went to acquisitions, along with Crenellation Lane/The Viewing.

After what felt like a very long couple of weeks, the editor (henceforth known as my editor, Becky!) was back in touch to say that everyone loved both books and they’d be thrilled for me to join the HQ Digital family. We had a Zoom meeting to talk through the next stages of the process and then, once the contract was signed, we were off! It’s been an absolute joy working with Becky (and Abi, my current editor while Becky’s on maternity leave) and the HQ team. I’m so pleased my books found their way to them. I even got to go to the big Harper Collins party last summer at the V&A and meet everyone in person.

Book One, now retitled as The Woman Before, came out in eBook and audio in July 2022, and I celebrated at home, with Covid! The paperback version came out in September with a Covid-free launch at my local bookshop. It was spotted in Bella magazine too, which was exciting! Book Two, now called The Wilderness Retreat, is out in eBook and audio on 22nd February and in paperback on 27th April. It’s changed a bit along the way – my main character is now a film composer on a wilderness retreat in Sweden – but the creepy events, the unwanted return of a figure from her past, and the big final twist are all included. There
have been some wonderful early reviews on NetGalley so I’m really excited for its release.

Buy / pre-order ‘The Wilderness Retreat’ on Amazon.

Jennifer has apologised for writing ‘such a long post’, explaining that the above is very much a pared down version of events. But readers of this blog appreciate how tortuous the route to publication can be and will find her experience both fascinating and encouraging.

We wish her well with the launch of The Wilderness Retreat, which is currently available to pre-order on Amazon. I shall certainly be buying a copy!

Niche writing competitions

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Maggie Davies and Sarah Dawson do such sterling work for us each month listing writing competitions for us to enter.  Some of them are quite niche – some nicher than others.   

You may wonder how these comps actually work out.  Well, here’s the inside story of one of them last year. It certainly categorises as niche – perhaps it’s the nichest – and it’s the one I’m most involved with, the annual comp of the British Czech & Slovak Association.  The subject matter for entries can be either (1) links between Britain and the Czech and/or Slovak Republics, at any time in their history or (2) society in those Republics since the Velvet Revolution of 1989.  Each year there’s a suggested (but not compulsory) theme.

Freedom was the suggested theme in this year’s BCSA writing competition – freedom in any of its forms.   The entrants showed their usual ingenuity in interpreting that. We took to the skies with a Czechoslovak pilot fighting for freedom in the Battle of Britain.  In another entry we mused on the excitement and the hopes in Czechoslovakia when freedom was restored in 1989, and on the reality and disappointments since that great time (but ending, I’m glad to say, on an optimistic note).  In a third entry we saw how the son of a well-off family in pre-war Czechoslovakia found his freedom working in a squalid farmhouse in southern Bohemia and then in a quarry in Derbyshire.  In a fourth we joined an alcoholic gambler pondering the meaning of freedom in a Czech bar.

Non-freedom entries included our very first venture into the world of speedway, and a comic playlet showing a Czechoslovak Jewish refugee talking her way into a job at Roedean School in 1939.

Deciding on the winners is always difficult.   But the judges managed it.  Thank you, judges!

Second prize, winning £150, went to Liz Kohn, with a piece called Two Worlds.  Liz has been researching her family history and in particular that of her father and his first wife, Alice Glasnerová.  Her current research is into Alice’s trial and its relationship to the Slánský show trials of 1952 in Communist Czechoslovakia.  Liz’s entry tells some of this story.  

This year’s winner – taking home £400 – was Tereza Pultarová. Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, originally from Prague.   She has degrees from Charles University and a Master’s in Science from the International Space University in Strasbourg. Her winning entry was The Final Incarnation – Chapter 1.  It is the first chapter of a novel Tereza has written, whichdeals with growing up in 1990s post-communist Czechoslovakia, and explores how traumas from the Communist years live on through family dysfunction and alcoholism.

It was so good to be back in a proper setting for the presentation of the prize this year.  In 2020 we presented the prize via Zoom, during one of the BCSA’s other events.  Last year we had to do it by post.  This year I had the privilege of marking Tereza’s success at our resumed Annual Dinner at the May Fair Hotel in London on November 23, as in the first photo above.  (Thanks to Erik Weisenpacher for the photos.)

The winning entries (and a selection of the others) are published in the Assocation’s magazine, the British Czech & Slovak Review.

We’ll run the competition again in 2023.  Watch our website, social media and the Review for details. 

Writing competitions to enter in January

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Start the new year the way you mean to go on – by entering a competition (or two). There are so many exciting ones to choose from this month and I’ve added in a couple of extras whose deadlines fall early in February. I hope you’ll find lots to inspire you here. As always, please check websites, in case details have changed.

Exeter Novel Prize for first 10,000 words of a novel not under contract, including 500-word synopsis. Entry fee: £20. Prizes: £1,000 + trophy, 5 x £100 + paperweight. Closing date: 1st January. Details: www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk

The Charles Causley International Poetry Competition for a poem on any subject up to 40 lines. Entry fee: £7.50 for one poem, £5.50 for subsequent poems. Prizes: £2,000 + one-week writing residency at Cyprus Well, Causley’s former home in Launceston; £250; £100. Closing date: 1st January. Details: www.causleytrust.org/competition-2022

The European Writing Prize 2023 for unpublished short fiction between 1,500 to 3,500 words, incorporating the notion of anxiety (however you see fit). Entry fee: Free. Prizes: €50 + lifetime membership of the European Society of Literature + publication in its quarterly journal. Closing date: 1st January. Details: www.litsoceu.com/writing-prize

Kay Murphy Prize for Poetry for up to three poems. Entry fee: $20. Prize: $1,000 + subscription to Bayou Magazine. Closing date: 2nd January. Details: www.bayoumagazine.org

Gemini Magazine Poetry Open Prize for poems of any subject, length and style. Entry fee: $9 for up to three poems. Prizes: $1,000, $100, 4 x $25, + publication. Closing date: 3rd January. Details: www.gemini-magazine.com

Orna Ross Green Stories Novel Prize for three chapters (first, last and one that best showcases how your novel meets their green stories criteria) plus synopsis. They also require you to read one of the books from their Green Stories project and will ask you three questions about it when you submit. Free entry. Prizes: £1,000, £500, plus discounted appraisal from Daniel Goldsmith Associates. Closing date: 3rd January. Details: www.greenstories.org.uk

Discoveries Programme (a writers’ development programme run in partnership with the Women’s Prize Trust, Audible and Curtis Brown) invites women resident in the UK or the Republic of Ireland to submit opening (including any prologue) of a fiction novel for adults (not children or YA) of up to 10,000 words and a synopsis of no more than 1,000 words. Free entry. Prizes: (i) winner – offer of representation by Curtis Brown, £5,000, gratis place on Discoveries course, studio session with Audible; (ii) scholar – gratis place on Curtis Brown 3-month novel course, mentoring session, gratis place on Discoveries course, studio session with Audible; (iii) Four shortlisted entrants – gratis place on Curtis Brown 6-week course, mentoring session, gratis place on Discoveries course, studio session with Audible; (iv) ten longlisted entrants – £50 discount on a Curtis Brown 6-week course, gratis place on Discoveries course. All sixteen of the above will also receive an annual Audible subscription and invitation to the Women’s Prize Trust’s summer 2023 party. Closing date: 15th January. Details: https://www.womensprizeforfiction.co.uk/discoveries

Bath Flash Fiction Novella in Flash Award for flash fiction novellas between 6,000 and 18,000 words. Entry fee: £16. Prizes: £300, 2 x £100, publication. Closing date: 15th January. Details:  www.bathflashfictionaward.com/novella-entry

Retreat West First Chapter Competition for first chapter of a novel on any theme up to 3,000 words. Entry fee: £10. Prizes: feedback and review. Closing date: 29th January. Details: www.retreatwest.co.uk

Magma Poetry Competition for poems on any subject in two categories: (i) 11–50 lines, (ii) up to 10 lines. Entry fee: £5, £4 for second poem, £3.50 for third and each subsequent. Prizes: (i) £1,000, £300, £150, + publication. Ditto for (ii). Plus 5 special mentions for each. Closing date: 31st January. Details: www.magmapoetry.com/magma-2022-23-poetry-competition

British Haiku Society Awards for three categories: (i) Haiku, (ii) Tanka, (iii) Haibun. Entry fee for up to 3 Haiku OR 3 Tanka OR 3 Haibun: £5.50. Prizes: Haiku – £125 x 2, £50 x 2. Tanka – £125 x 2, £50 x 2. Haibun – £125, £50. All award-winners will be published in the May 2023 issue of BHS journal Blithe Spirit. Closing date: 31st January. Details: http://britishhaikusociety.org.uk/2022/09/call-for-entries-bhs-awards-2022/

WriteMentor Novel and Picture Book Awards for (i) children’s novel (chapter book, middle grade, young adult) – first 3,000 words and 1-page synopsis; and/or (ii) children’s picture book – whole, completed manuscript. Entry fee: £12. Prizes 6 months’ access to Spark, WM’s 121 mentoring service with published children’s authors + 1-year membership to the Hub, WM’s online community platform. Runner-up prize: 1-year membership to the Hub. Closing date: 31st January. Details: https://write-mentor.com/awards/writementor-novel-picture-book-awards-2023/

The Cheshire Prize for Literature by writers born, living, studying or working in Cheshire (past or present) for a short story (up to 1,500 words) OR poem (maximum 100 lines) OR children’s story or poem (same lengths) OR script (max 15-minute). Also entries of poetry/short stories are invited from children aged either 4–11 or 11–17. Entry: free. Prizes: cash for each over-18 category. Book tokens for children aged 4–17. Closing date: 31st January. Details: https://www1.chester.ac.uk/press-office/cheshire-prize-literature

Kent & Sussex Poetry Society Open Poetry Competition for poems up to 40 lines. Entry fee: £5 per poem or, for three or more, £4 each. Prizes: £1,000, £300, £100, 4 x £50. Closing date: 31st January. Details: https://kentandsussexpoetry.com/kent-sussex-poetry-society-open-poetry-competition-2023/

Lancashire Authors’ Association Flash Fiction Competition for a story of exactly 100 words. Entry fee: £2, or £5 for a maximum of three. Prize: £100. Closing date: 31st January. Details: http://www.lancashireauthorsassociation.co.uk/Open_Comp.html

Martin Lucas Haiku Award for original unpublished haiku. Entry fee: £5 for up to 5 haiku, £1 each additional haiku. Prizes: £100, £50, 2 x £25, + publication in Presence Magazine. Closing date: 31st January. Details: https://haikupresence.org/award

Teignmouth Poetry Festival Competition for poems up to 40 lines. Entry fee: Online – £4.50 (£3.50 each additional entry). By post – £4 (£3 each additional entry). Prizes: £600, £300, £200. Closing date: 31st January. Details: https://www.poetryteignmouth.com/competition-2023.html

Virginia Prize for Fiction for unpublished novels, at least 45,000 words, by women. Entry fee: £25. Prize: Development and publication of winning novel. Closing date: 31st January. Details: https://www.aurorametro.com/virginia-prize-for-fiction

Fish Publishing Short Memoir Prize for a memoir of up to 4,000 words of your life. Entry fee: €18 (€11 subsequent entries). Prizes: €1,000; 2 x €300 + online writing course. The best 10 memoirs will also be published in the Fish Anthology 2023. Closing date: 31st January. Details: https://www.fishpublishing.com/competition/short-memoir-contest

Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award for a short story of up to 8,000 words showing the near future (no more than 50–60 years out) of manned space exploration (e.g. about moon bases, Mars colonies, orbital habitats, space elevators, asteroid mining, AI, nano-technology, realistic spacecraft, heroics, sacrifice, adventure). Entry: free. Prizes: publication on Baen Books’ main website at pro rates for first prize, plus prize packages for first, second and third. Closing date: 1st February. Details: https://www.baen.com/contest-jbmssa

Papatango New Writing Prize for unperformed full-length playscript. Free Entry. Prizes: £7,000 + winning script produced by Papatango in a full run at Bush Theatre (London). 4 x £500 + option to have play presented as reading. Closing date: 5th February. Details: www.papatango.co.uk

A nudge from Snowy to get writing!

Burned at the Stake?

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It is tempting to dream of being magically transported into the past. Not, of course, to be Anne Boleyn, kneeling on the scaffold awaiting the sword-swipe of that French headsman, but as an ordinary woman in 16th, 17th or 18th century England. To be able to experience the exotic scents and foul stinks; the sounds and sights; the extravagantly dressed nobility; their elaborate wigs, fine horses and splendid carriages.

Yet might such a dream turn into a nightmare?

I read recently that King James VI of Scotland (who became James I of England in 1603) published a book in 1597 entitled Demonology, setting down how to identify and convict witches. Hundreds of suspected women were subsequently imprisoned and tortured until they confessed. A thumbscrew might be tightened until the pain was sufficient to elicit the required admission of guilt. If this failed to work, trial by water involved being placed on a ducking-stool and lowered below the water line of a pond or river. When completely submerged, if an accused woman sank, she was deemed innocent (too bad if she was by then dead from drowning); if she floated, she was guilty and would be dealt with accordingly. For those found guilty, punishments ranged (if she was lucky) from a severe beating, to time spent in the pillory or the stocks, or up to a year in jail being fed only on bread and water. For cases deemed serious, the penalty was a horrendous death.

The initial identification involved a number of damning pointers: being female, being from the lower echelons of society, being no longer young, or behaving occasionally in an eccentric manner. Having a brown patch somewhere on their skin (tough luck if you had age-spots on your hands), or a superfluous nipple, was deemed highly suspicious. As was being childless. Owning a black cat or a besom broom was considered a significant pointer to being in league with the Devil.

Woe betide you if your neighbour disliked you and their well happened to dry up, their chickens died, or their cow failed to produce milk. Evil arts might be suspected and fingers pointed in your direction.

In England, more than 2,500 women were executed for witchcraft and in 1621 a crowd of up to 30,000 watched Elizabeth Sawyer hang for the presumed crime at Tyburn. North of the border, in 1727, Janet Horne became the last so-called witch burned alive in Scotland.

In the light of all this, as a working-class female past the first flush of youth, with stepchildren but no offspring of her own, I no longer fancy travelling back in time. Especially as I frequently read books aloud to my all-black cat. Mutter to myself while editing on my computer. Sing carols loudly while driving my car. In the summer. And – perhaps most damning – own a rather splendid besom broom.

Comfort of the writing kind – Dorothy Whipple’s Random Commentary

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‘I can’t write. Fiction seems so trivial. Fact is too terrible.’ This is Dorothy Whipple writing in her diary on the invasion of Poland in 1939.

Perhaps some of us feel like this today. Does anyone really need this novel we are struggling to finish?  

Whatever the right answer, we can be glad that Dorothy Whipple didn’t give up writing. She was then a much-loved author of five novels, but writing each one was a struggle and she never stopped being surprised at her success and grateful for it. ‘…I still have no confidence in myself. But I should be happy if it were not for the War. As it is I wake up in the night and lie crushed by the horror of it all. In the day-time I think of the terror and suffering under the perfect summer sky.’

Random Commentary, reissued by Persephone Books in 2020, gives us a heart-warming insight into their best-selling author as a delightfully all-too-human person as well as a writer. It’s a collection of extracts from diaries and notebooks from 1925 to 1945, selected by Dorothy Whipple in 1965. It was published the following year, shortly before she died. For modern writers, unselfconfident or anxious about getting things wrong, Dorothy Whipple comes across as someone with whom we can share a laugh, but also as someone finding their way through the mix of the trivial and deeper things in life, alongside the difficulties of being a writer. She’s companionable. It comes like a healing breath.

It’s a good title: it does read like a random commentary – snippets about writing and publishers, the bitter disappointments of early rejection, the joys of unexpected success, her marriage to her much older husband, the exasperating frustrations and interruptions of domestic life.

Many of the entries are of everyday incidents and encounters with people she met, sprinkled with small, telling details and insights. Some of them are very funny; all of them show how wise and empathetic she was. We can see clearly how this acute sensitivity to the feelings of ordinary people behind their façades finds its way into her books. Plots come second to the way people behave to each other. 

She’s hard on herself as a writer – telling herself that she must take more risks. ‘I am flat and uninspired; and to tell the truth – lazy.’ ‘I cannot get on with Greenbanks. Shall I ever have done with it? It is about nothing… – a hopeless failure, I feel.’ ‘I waste time. I am a bad workman… I am only enthusiastic when I am sitting in a chair doing nothing or lying in bed in the early morning.’

Nor did it come easily. ‘I am in despair about my novel. I have only to start writing a novel to become flat and stale. A short story invigorates me, a novel depresses me during all the weary months I am writing it. I ought to remember that, so far, it has always been all right in the end. But oh! What has to be gone through before an end can be reached. I must get on and see what this book is like after the first draft. Nothing for it but to get it down.’

It’s clear that she was incapable of promoting herself, and wouldn’t have wanted to anyway. Nor was she any good at being photographed: ‘I simply could not make an un-selfconscious face. I tried prunes and prisms, cheese, everything I could think of – to no avail. I escaped from the studio with as much relief as if it had been the dentist’s…’

Moral values are firmly, though unobtrusively, present throughout Dorothy Whipple’s writing. What did Dorothy Whipple think about God? Some entries tell us something: ‘Life without God is meaningless – for me, at any rate. And no apology for that, either. Assailed by doubts and unanswerable questions, I pray the prayer of the Frenchman: “Mon Dieu, si vous existez, faites que je vous connaisse.” And I hold to Jesus Christ, truly the “Light of the World”, otherwise so dark… When I puzzle about how Jesus could be both God and man, I think Maud Royden’s is the only feasible answer: “God was perfectly received at one point.” Anyway, I will now follow the advice – also from a pulpit: When you start worrying about your soul, go out and do something for somebody.’

‘I feel “accompanied”. I feel I live in communication with some unseen power of good.’  Dorothy Whipple loved the countryside, and knew about those moments of glimpsing something of eternity in the beauty of the natural world: ‘The hawthorn trees were bowed almost to the ground with their burden of rain. I lifted some branches and the thickly-studded flowers and buds, waxen, starry, were a marvel. I heard a creaking sound in the sky, and looked up to see a swan flying over – white in the grey sky, with outstretched neck. A lovely sight. I felt as if something marvellous had happened. As if the whole day was different.’

Getting cross – why is it so cheering when even the good and kind people you admire admit to these feelings! – comes up in several entertaining entries. ‘I am annoyed to get a postcard, through Good Housekeeping, from a niggling Scot in Dundee who objects to my saying in “Mr Knight” in the Good Housekeeping serial that the children “shrieked silently” at the sight of Freda’s perm. “Why spoil a fine story with such stuff?” he asks. I should like to biff him on the head.’

Publicity material that gets everything wrong irritates:  “The pleasantest novel of the year”. It isn’t pleasant and the year is over or not begun. “An ordinary everyday family, the Blakes who found a fairy godfather in the local financier”. Terrible, terrible! Knight is their evil genius, not their fairy god-father.’ A Daily Telegraph review gets stick for calling her book “a gently entrancing comedy”. ‘I see nothing entrancing in going to prison.’

‘I am up in my attic to work at 11.15, after having dusted, swept, cooked and tidied wildly. I am cross not to have time for my writing, and cross because I must take the car to be oiled and greased, cross to have to go to the Nursing Home… to go to the office… cross at the thought of all there is to do tomorrow, and the next day and the next.’

There are visitors who stay too long and constant interruptions ‘…my work is my life, I can’t help it. Other people don’t understand, though. I think they think I am “playing at it”. When they interrupt me, they usually say: “It’s only me.” As if it matters who it is! In my case, persons from Porlock abound, though I am not, I must say, engaged on a work of genius.’ But crossness and exasperation are always fleeting, melting away in a swift change of mood and a recognition of human  contrariness: ‘When I have time to write, I don’t want to. When I haven’t time, I want to.’

She is often funny about men. Especially about her husband Henry, an educational administrator, who at times sounds rather like Robert, the husband in E. M. Delafield’s The Diary of a Provincial Lady. ‘I said to Henry: “D’you know we’ve been married twenty-three years today.” “Oh?” he said turning his newspaper. “Seems longer, doesn’t it?” Strange. I’d rather have that than any compliment.’

Perhaps a favourite entry for me was when Dorothy Whipple learns that her novel They Were Sisters is the Book Society Choice for November 1943. She rushes into the kitchen and, together with Henry and Nelly their beloved cook, ‘celebrated in orangeade, because there was nothing else to celebrate with – but we didn’t need anything else…’

Today a writer would be expected to post these triumphs on social media. Things were different then. How much simpler and nicer it sounds.

Writing Competitions to enter in December

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A great range of competitions to enter this month – and I’ve added in a few extra whose deadlines fall early in the new year. I hope you’ll see at least one that will inspire you. As always, please check websites in case details (like closing dates) have changed.

Don’t let those deadlines whoosh by, says Snowy

vLex International Law and Technology Writing Competition for a 1000-word blog-style article by students over 18 (or recent graduates) on one of three themes: (i) Law, technology and sports, (ii) Law, technology and climate or (iii) Law, technology and crypto. Free entry: Prizes: £1,500, 3 x £250. Closing date: 1st December. Details: www.vlex.com/writing-competition

Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition for unpublished poems of any length on any subject. Entry fee: £10 for up to three poems. Prizes: £2,000, £500, £250 & (for an entry by a previously unpublished poet) £250. Closing date: 5th December. Details: www.mslexia.co.uk

Mslexia Women’s Poetry Pamphlet Competition for collections of up to 20 poems (up to 24 pages). Entry fee: £20. Prize: £250, plus publication by Bloodaxe Books. Closing date: 5th December. Details: www.mslexia.co.uk

(Mslexia’s judge, Imtiaz Dharker, says: ‘My most important advice is, don’t allow yourself to be ruled by rules. You can write about anything in the world. That’s what poetry does. It allows you to write about unspeakable things … I love it when I get a shock of recognition, when I feel, ‘That was exactly what I wanted to say but never found the right words! – and this poet has said it at last.’ I love the sound of Imtiaz!)

Hawkeye Publishing Manuscript Development Prize for 300-word synopsis, first 30 pages and one-page plan (demonstrating understanding of audience and marketing) for a book length manuscript of strong commercial fiction or non-fiction, up to 80,000 words. Entry fee: Aus $45. Prize: $2,500 editing package, author coaching, structural and line edit. Closing date: 16th December. Details: www.hawkeyebooks.com.au

Craft Creative Non-Fiction Award for a longform creative non-fiction piece up to 6,000 words OR up to two flash creative non-fiction pieces of 1,000 words or fewer. Entry fee: $20. Prizes: 3 x $1,000, 2 x $200, + publication. Closing date: 29th December. Details: www.craftliterary.com

Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction for short stories up to 10,000 words. Entry fee: $15. Prizes: $1,000 + publication. Other finalists: $100 + publication. Closing date: 31st December. Details: www.lascauxreview.com/contests

Audio Arcadia Short Story Competition for short stories up to 5,000 words on SF/fantasy/paranormal themes. Entry fee: £6.50. Prizes: Anthology publication + royalties for eight winners. Closing date: 31st December. Details: www.audioarcadia.com/competition

Boulevard Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers for fiction up to 8,000 words by a writer who has not yet published a book of fiction, poetry or creative non-fiction with a nationally distributed press. Entry fee: $16 (includes one-year subscription to Boulevard Magazine). Prize: $1,500 + publication. Closing date: 31st December. Details: www.boulevardmagazine.org/short-fiction-contest

The Moth Poetry Prize for a single unpublished poem. Entry fee: €15. Prizes: €6,000, 3 x €1,000, + publication in The Moth, 8 x €250 commendations. Closing date: 31st December. Details: www.themothmagazine.com

Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction for short stories of 3,000–8,000 words. Entry fee: $20. Prizes: $2,500 + publication, 3 x $100. Closing date: 31st December. Details: www.litmag.com

The Wolves Lit Poetry Fest Competition for a poem of up to 40 lines on any subject. Entry fee: £4. Prizes: £400, £150, 3 x £25, £50 for best poem by someone living in a WV postcode. Closing date: 31st December. Details: www.pandemonialists.co.uk/wolves-lit-fest-poetry-competition-2023

Exeter Novel Prize for first 10,000 words of a novel not under contract, including 500-word synopsis. Entry fee: £20. Prizes: £1,000 + trophy, 5 x £100 + paperweight. Closing date: 1st January. Details: www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk

Kay Murphy Prize for Poetry for up to three poems. Entry fee: $20. Prize: $1,000 + subscription to Bayou Magazine. Closing date: 2nd January. Details: www.bayoumagazine.org

Gemini Magazine Poetry Open Prize for poems of any subject, length and style. Entry fee: $9 for up to three poems. Prizes: $1,000, $100, 4 x $25, + publication. Closing date: 3rd January. Details: www.gemini-magazine.com

Orna Ross Green Stories Novel Prize for three chapters (first, last and one that best showcases how your novel meets their green stories criteria) plus synopsis. They also require you to read one of the books from their Green Stories project and will ask you three questions about it when you submit. Free entry. Prizes: £1,000, £500, plus discounted appraisal from Daniel Goldsmith Associates. Closing date: 3rd January. Details: www.greenstories.org.uk

May 2023 bring you unimaginable writing success!

Sarah trying to imbibe inspiration at Bleak House (Broadstairs)

Writing Competitions to Enter in November

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Don’t take fright, but if the year looks like drawing to a close without any of your writing New Year Resolutions being accomplished, one of the following competitions might save you from agonies of guilt.

Caledonian Novel Award for the first 20 pages plus 200-word synopsis of a novel by an unpublished writer. Prizes: £1,500, trophy. Entry fee: £25. Closing date: 1 November. Details: https://the caledoniannovelaward.com

Scribble Annual Short Story Competition for stories up to 3,000 words on the theme of ‘Neighbours’. Prizes: £100, £50, £25; publication in Scribble. Entry fee: £4. Details: http://www.parkpublications.co.uk

Blue Pencilagency Pitch Prize. First 500 words of an opening chapter and 300-word synopsis. Prizes: one-on-one meeting with agent for up to ten writers. Entry fee: £10. Closing date: 6 November. Details: http://www.bluepencilagency.com

TripFiction Sense of Place Creative Writing Competition. Stories up to 2,500 words, in which the location is as important as the story. Prizes: £1,000, £500, £250. Entry fee: £10. Closing date: 6 November. Details: http://www.tripfiction.com/sense-of-place-creative-writing-competition/ (Please note that we are unsure about this competition, which is detailed in Writing Magazine as being current, but whose website seems to refer to 2020…!)

Retreat West Novelette in Flash Prize. 3,000-8,000 words total, made up of flashes up to 500 words each. Prizes: £150, £100, £50; publication. Entry fee: £14. Closing date: 28 November. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk

Bath Children’s Novel Award. An international prize for unpublished and independently published writers of children’s novels, picture books and chapter books. Send first 5,000 words and synopsis. Prizes: £3,000, manuscript feedback. Cornerstones online course worth £1,800. Entry fee: £29. Closing date: 30 November. Details: bathnovelaward.co.uk

Cinnamon Press Literature Award for 15 poems up to 500 lines each, 2 short stories or up to 10,000 words of a novel. Prizes: publishing contract. Entry fee: £18. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.cinnamonpress.com

Cranked Anvil Flash Fiction Competition for short stories, up to 500 words, quarterly. Prizes: £150, £75, £30. Entry fee: £5, £8 for two, £10 for three. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.crankedanvil.co.uk

Fiction Factory Flash. Short stories up to 1,000 words. Prizes, £200, £50, £25. Entry fee: £5. Closing date: 30 November. Details: hppt://fiction-factory.biz

Fish Short Story Competition for stories up to 5,000 words. Prizes: 3,000Euros for first, a week at Anam Cara Writer’s Retreat in west Cork plus 300 euros expenses for second, 300 euros for third, seven 200 euro honorable mentions. Entry fee: 20 euros for the first 10 euros thereafter. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.fishpublishing.com

Ecologisers EcoSanta Short Story Santa Competition. Stories for children featuring Santa as an eco-champion, under 2,000 words. Prizes: £100. Entry fee: £5. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.ecosanta.co.uk

New Writers Flash Fiction for flash fiction up to 300 words. Prizes: £700, £200, £100. Entry fee: £6. Closing date: 30 November. Details: https://newwriters.org.uk/flash-fiction/

Paul Torday Memorial Prize for a first novel by a writer 60 and over. Prizes: £1,000. FREE ENTRY. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.societyofauthors.org

Writers Bureau Flash Fiction Competition for stories up to 500 words on an open theme. Prizes: £300, £200, £100 plus Writers Bureau course worth over £374. Entry fee: £5, £10 for three. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.wbcompetition.com

No apologies for keeping you awake at night with guilt. Grab that pen, or keyboard, and start writing… But do, please, double check all details before entry in case of last-minute changes or cancellations.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

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“At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring. Inman’s eyes and the long wound at his neck drew them, and the sound of their wings and the touch of their feet were soon more potent than a yardful of roosters in rousing a man to wake. So he came to get one more day in the hospital ward.

Wounded in the American Civil War, Inman is a Confederate soldier who turns his back on the carnage of the battlefields and begins a treacherous journey back to his homelands in the Northern Carolina mountains and to the woman he loved before the war began.

Charles Frazier’s story also portrays a parallel journey for her – Ada – as she struggles to wrest a living from the neglected land that was her only inheritance on her once-prosperous father’s death. A young woman raised in the niceties of Charleston society, relocated by her pastor father’s ill-health to the backwoods, she might be well-read and able to play the piano, but without servants is reduced to digging undergarments from the bottom of the laundry pile in the hope time has rendered them less stale. She survives on dried-up biscuits and eggs scavenged from hens left to run wild and guarded by a bully of a cockerel who terrifies her.

“The rooster cocked his head at an angle and fixed a shining black eye on her…Ada waved her hands and said, Shoo! When she did, the rooster launched himself at her face, twisting in the air so that he arrived spurs first, wings flogging…Ada hit at it with open-handed blows until it fell away and then she ran to the porch and into the house.”

A sympathetic neighbour sends the intrepid young Ruby to help. A wonderful no-nonsense character, Ruby announces that she will teach Ada how to manage the farm, but has no intention of emptying her chamber pot. She reminds me of the heroine of Della Owens’ book Where the Crawdads Sing, with a mother absent since her earliest years and a wastrel father intermittently abandoning her to her own devices

“The yellow and black rooster walked by the porch and paused to stare at them. I despise that bird, Ada said. He tried to flog me.

“I wouldn’t keep a flogging rooster.

“Then how might we run it off?” Ada said, looking at her with puzzlement.

Ruby rose, stepped off the porch and in one swift motion snatched up the rooster, tucked his body under her left arm, and with her right hand pulled off his head.

“He’ll be stringy, so we’d best stew him awhile,” Ruby said.

Frazier’s writing, to my mind is impressively descriptive, whether showing us the rugged beauty of Inman’s homeland or Ada’s exhaustion at unaccustomed work in the fields:

“Her arms were mackled red like a measles sufferer from being pricked and scraped with the cut grass and she had a blood-filled blister in the web of skin between her thumb and forefinger..near collapse…in a fretful hybrid of sleep and wake…she felt she was pitching hay all through the night.”

I have recommended this book to several friends, none of whom have been disappointed. This is actually my third reading of Cold Mountain. It will not be my last.

(P.S. An excellent film of the book has also been made, starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law)

An Old Book Revisited

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I read The Daughter of Time as a teenager and it fueled a lifelong fascination with history and an interest in Shakespeare’s misshapen king. It also led me to read a number of weighty tomes about Richard III and the House of York and, this August, to visit Leicester to see their new Richard III Visitor Centre. Our trip included attending some lectures about the finding of Richard’s remains and on our return home sent me onto the internet to hunt out a second-hand copy of Josephine Tey’s novel.

Read today, the book’s language, with two stereotypical nurses and descriptions of hospital visitors allowed to smoke beside the beds of patients, sounds dated. Yet the story – of a bored and bed-bound detective conducting a cold case examination into the case against Richard – still grips. I found it as impossible to put down as I did all those years ago. My husband is currently devouring it with equal enthusiasm.

With both the book and our August trip fresh in our minds, we recently went to see the film – The Last King – about the amateur historian Philipa Langley’s struggle to persuade archaeologists to dig up a Leicester Social Services Car Park. There were things in the film that jarred and I questioned the indulgence of having the shade of Richard III appearing at Ms Langley’s shoulder – a fanciful invention of the makers of the film. It was also somewhat harsh to the professionals involved in the exercise. Yet one cannot deny that the finding of Richard’s skeleton was due to the dogged persistence of an amateur about whom the professionals were at times dismissive. The archaeologist in charge of the dig, Dr Richard Buckley, when the project was finally agreed and funded, said he expected no more than to establish the location of the Greyfriars church. Were they to find any trace of Richard, he pronounced, he “would eat his hat”. (My earlier post on this subject, on September 3rd, The King in the Car Park, mentions his subsequent consumption of a hat-shaped cake)

I heartily recommend The Daughter of Time to anyone who enjoys a good detective story. The book might even give you a different perspective on Shakespeare’s portrait of the King whom Philippa Langley feels was maligned. Josephine Tey’s novel also raises fascinating questions about what happened after Bosworth. Why, for example, did Henry VII deprive the strong-willed Queen Dowager, Elizabeth Woodville, of an honoured place at his Court? Instead, eighteen months after his accession, he stripped his mother-in-law of everything she owned and ordered her into a Bermondsey nunnery for the rest of her life. Could there have been a need to keep her quiet? And why did it take him so long to question Sir James Tyrrel about the alleged murder of his wife’s young brothers? Why not publish his damning confession when Tyrrel was beheaded, without trial, some twenty years later? A confession which has never subsequently seen the light of day?

We will probably never know the truth of what happened, unless perhaps another Philippa Langley happens along. But both book and film remind us that fact can sometimes be stranger than fiction.

If members of Ninevoices ask me nicely, I will certainly lend them my copy of The Daughter of Time...