If You Read One Book this Year…


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I bought this book for my husband as one of his Christmas presents. He devoured it and suggested I do the same, even though it isn’t my usual choice of reading.

Reader, not only did I do so, but now urge you to do the same because this is an important book, for us, for our children and for our grandchildren.

English Pastoral is a beautifully written story about a family farm, the epic struggle of three generations to nurture their animals and land, and the urgent need for us all to find ways for farmed and wild countryside to coexist.

But James Rebanks is not only a farmer, he is a gifted writer and a visionary. His final two lines made me cry. I suggest you buy his book, and then pass it around your friends and family.

Creative Writing Competitions to Enter in the New Year


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January is the time for New Year Resolutions which, for writers, will surely involve finishing that novel or winning a writing competition or two…or three. To help concentrate your mind, below are some tempting opportunities – but please note that some of the deadlines are right at the beginning of the month, which is why this post is a few days early.

The Exeter Novel Prize requires the first 10,000 words of a novel not under contract, including a 500-word synopsis. Any genre can be entered, with the exception of children’s. Prizes: £500, 5x£100. Entry fee: £18. Closing date: 1 January. Details: http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk

Mogford Prize for Food and Drink Writing for short stories with food and drink themes, up to 2,500 words. Prizes: £10,000m 3x£250. Entry fee: £10. Closing date: 12 January. Details: http://www.mogfordprize.co.uk/

Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize for the first 40-50 pages of a finished but unpublished novel by a woman writer. Prizes: £1,500. Entry fee: 12. Closing Date 17 January. (Now extended to 12 February) Details: http://www.lucy-cav.cam.ac.uk/fictionprize/

Bath Flash Fiction Novella in Flash Award for flash fiction novellas between 56,00 and 18,000 words. Prizes: £300, 2x£100; publicatin. Entry fee: £16. Closing date: 16 January. Details: https://bathflashfictionaward.com/

Discoveries 2022 Award for novels by female unpublished writers. Prizes: First prize is representation by Curtis Brown Literary Agency and a cash prize of £5,000, plus the opportunity to workshop their manuscript with an Audible commissioning editor specifically matched to their writing style and genre; one promising writer from the shortlist of six will be named Discoveries Scholar and win a free scholarship place to attend a three-month Writing Your Novel course with Curtis Brown, worth £1,800; all shortlisted writers will be offered a mentoring session plus free enrollment on a Curtis Brown Creative six-week online course worth £210; all 16 longlisted authors will be invited to join the two-week online Discoveries Writing Development course, plus receive an annual Audible subscription. Send the first 10,000 words, plus a synopsis of between 500-1,000 words. Entry is free. Deadline 17 January. Details: discoveries.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk/

Retreat West First Chapter Competition for the first chapter of a novel, up to 3,500 words. Prizes: critique and review. Entry fee: £10. Closing date: 31 January. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk

UK Film Festival Script Writing Competitions for 3-minute scripts, 10-minute scrips, feature film scripts. Prizes: winning scripts passed to leading directors. Entry fee: varies with category and date: enter early. Closing dte: 28 January. Details: http://www.ukfilmfestival.com

Lancashire Authors’ Association Flash Fiction Competition for a story in exactly 100 words. Prizes: £100. Entry fee: £2, £5 for three. Closing date: 31 January. Details: http://www.lancashireauthorsassociation.co.uk

Fish Short Memoir Contest for personal non-fiction, up to 4,000 words. Prizes: 1,000 Euros, publication in annual Fish Anthology, a week at Casa Ana Writers retreat in Andalucia and 300 Euros expenses; 200 Euros. Entry fee: 18 Euros Closing date: 31 January. Details: http://www.fishpublishing.com

Please check all entry details with special care. Best of luck!

Last Minute Christmas Books

We are not often given to self-aggrandisement, but hope to be forgiven if we remind you of three novels published by members of ninevoices which might solve a last-minute present need or help entertain a self-isolating friend or relative. You may also like to be reminded that you could send one of them (or even all three) as gifts to their kindle/tablet. All you need is to ask them for their kindle address details.

All Desires Known by Tanya van Hasselt. Forbidden desires. A mind in fragments. A shocking act of violence. Written by a novelist whose work has been compared to that of Alan Bennett.

Currently only £0.99 for the kindle copy from Amazon. https://www.amazon.co.uk/All-Desires-Known-Tanya-Hasselt-ebook/dp/B00IDCH6IQ/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=tanya+van+hasselt&qid=1639936849&s=books&sr=1-1

Of Human Telling by Tanya van Hasselt. A sharp-eyed look at the mysteries of love and obsession by the winner of the Barbara Pym Short Story Award.

Currently only £0.99 from Amazon for the kindle copy. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Human-Telling-Tanya-van-Hasselt-ebook/dp/B01N9BJPNQ/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=tanya+van+hasselt&qid=1639936802&s=books&sr=1-2

The Servant by Maggie Richell-Davies. Inspired by a visit to London’s Foundling Museum, this dark story of the exploitation of vulnerable young women in eighteenth century London won the Historical Writers’ Association Unpublished Novel Award in 2020.

Currently £1.99 for the kindle/tablet copy, or £7.99 for the paperback. Both on https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B087N8H9PB

Happy Christmas reading!

Barbara Pym: when knitting is needed


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‘I wonder if women brought their knitting when Oscar Wilde talked,’ said Piers.

‘I daresay not,’ said Sybil calmly, ‘but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have liked to.’

(At a dinner party in Barbara Pym’s novel A Glass of Blessings)

Sybil, the tolerant, perceptive mother-in-law of the heroine Wilmet in A Glass of Blessings, can be relied on. Knitting, embroidery, tapestry, sewing:  these could come to the rescue of women – and men too – on all sorts of occasions. It’s enough to make you envy those Jane Austen heroines who could bend their faces over their work to hide their emotions of irritation or boredom with whatever is going on around them.

Certainly the Lenten service Wilmet attends with its almost never-ending sermon would have been much more bearable if she’d had something to occupy her hands and despairing mind: We had been subjected – that seemed to be the only way to describe it – to an address of great dullness… Sentence after sentence seemed as if it must be the last but still it went on. I felt as if I had been wrapped round and round in a cocoon of wordiness, like a great suffocating eiderdown.

Being a committed Christian and regular churchgoer, Barbara Pym heard a lot of sermons and you can’t help thinking some of them must have found their way into her novels. Did Archdeacon Hoccleve’s Judgment Day sermon in Some Tame Gazelle with its over-flowing stream of literary quotations beginning at the seventeenth century happen in real life? The congregation shifted awkwardly in their seats. It was uncomfortable to be reminded that the Judgment Day might be tomorrow.’ Another occasion for the soothing effect of needlework.

Embroidery can provide the motif for those preachers of sermons, as in Barbara Pym’s early novel Civil to Strangers: ‘Some people don’t put in enough stitches,’ repeated the rector, in a slow emphatic voice. ‘Isn’t that true of many of us? He leaned forward. ‘Aren’t our lives pieces of embroidery that we have to fill in ourselves? Can we truthfully say that we always put in enough stitches?’ Cassandra, the twenty-eight-year-old heroine, wakes up from daydreaming to realize that she is the ‘old lady’ whose embroidered firescreen has inspired the rector’s sermon; Janie, the rector’s good and dutiful daughter, is whiling away the time eyeing up the curate as a possible husband. Barbara Pym knew that even Excellent Women find it impossible to stop their thoughts wandering, and this must be a comfort to all of us.

It’s more than forty years since I started an embroidered cushion cover in a fit of over-enthusiasm and lack of self-knowledge. Somehow it got put away and forgotten, but it’s come out again now. Just the thing for keeping calm when politicians are fighting: I might even finish it. The wife of the President of the Learned Society in Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women knew what she was about, during those endless anthropology lectures, sitting there with her knitting until she nods off to sleep…

Christmas book presents


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How do you make sure you get the books you want for Christmas?  Asking for a friend.

The friend in question has a birthday in December, so this is something that looms large for him at this time of year.  He is known to like detective novels, especially from the Golden Age, so if things are just left to chance there is the risk that he will get any number of the excellent British Library Crime Classics series that he already has.  How many copies of Death in Fancy Dress and The Sussex Downs Murder can his bookshelf stock, when what he’d actually like is The Division Bell Mystery or The 12.30 from Croydon?

One answer is to drop hints.  But not everyone has a good ear for hints, or takes the further hint to pass these hints on to other potential donors.  This form of chain letter can easily get broken, or turn into a game of Chinese Whispers, in which what started life as William Hague’s biography of Pitt the Younger materialises under the Christmas tree as the National Coal Board’s Yearbook for 1975.

So my friend has adopted the practice of making no bones about it but distributing to his nearest and dearest a list of the presents he would like to see in December.  This list is mostly books, but the words ‘good whisky’ do appear there, as does a box set of the Rumpole of the Bailey TV seriesIt is then left to the nearest and dearest to liaise, so that the aforesaid NCB Yearbook doesn’t jostle under the tree on Christmas morning with three copies of How Novels Work by John Mullan.

The list has to be specific.  For example, my friend has recently been introduced to Barbara Pym by a ninevoice, so the list reads, “Any novel by Barbara Pym except A Glass of Blessings or Excellent Women. This gets rather strange-looking (and off-putting to anyone getting the list who isn’t in the ‘nearest and dearest’ category) when we get to the aforesaid British Library books: “Any in the series of The British Library Crime Classics: I already have Mystery in White, Calamity in Kent, Death Makes a Prophet … [etc etc]”.

You may say, this prescriptive approach eliminates surprise, and the chance of being given something quite new.  In fact it doesn’t quite work like that.  Present-givers still do make their own decisions, which can prompt the “Why did they think I’d like this?” question.  And this way my friend’s library can get unexpected additions, like a biography of our present Prime Minister last year …

There is a related problem.  Asking for books mean that you get, well, more books.  You may run out of bookshelf space.  I find My friend finds that books he has recently been given have to share floor space with box files, unhung pictures, shoeboxes of what were once thought to be essential photos, and the like.  This can lead to friction in the marital home. 

How do you do it?  What advice should I, er, pass on to my friend?

Creative Writing Competitions to Enter this December


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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Why not aim high, and end the year with a flurry of entries to competitions looking for short stories or recently completed novels in December? Over the years members of ninevoices have not only entered, but won or been short-listed for some of the competitions given on this site. It can be done…

The list for December entries is being posted earlier than usual, to give anyone interested in the Barbara Pym Competition the chance to enter. The deadline for that is Midnight on December lst. The Virginia Prize for Fiction also has a December lst closing date.

The 2022 Ellen J Miller Memorial Short Story Competition. If you are a fast writer, or a long-established fan of the work of Barbara Pym, you may just have time to enter this competition for a short story which prominently features one or more characters from her published novels. Entries must be between 2000-2200 words and must not be under consideration elsewhere, or have been submitted before. Prizes are: $250, $100 and $50, plus complimentary registration and meals at the Barbara Pym Society North American Conference in Boston. The winning entries will be read at the conference and will also be published on the Society’s website. and in their newsletter. Entry is free. Details: http://barbara-pym.org

The Globe Soup Flash Fiction 2021 Competition wants stories about a secret location that will be revealed when writers enter the contest. One winner will receive £1,000. Enter unpublished flash fiction up to 899 words in any genre or style for adult or young adult readers, with at least part set in the location. Closing date: 31 December. Entry appears to be free. Website: http://www.globesoup.net/writing-competitions

Green Stories Writing Competitions: Novels. For the first three chapters of a full length novel touching on ideas of sustainable societies. Prizes: A discounted appraisal from Daniel Goldsmith Associates. Free entry. Deadline 1 December. Details: http://www.greenstories.org.uk

HE Bates Short Story Competition for stories up to 2,000 words. Prizes: £500, £200, £100. Entry: £6, £10 for two. Closing date: 9 December. Details: ww.hebatescompetition.org.uk (Please make your own checks on this closing date, taken from Writing Magazine’s Competition Guide, since I haven’t been able to verify it it on-line)

Virginia Prize for Fiction for unpublished novels of at least 45,000 words by women. Prizes: development and publication of the winning novel. Entry fee: £25. Closing date: 1 December. Details: https://aurorametro.com/

Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award for stories up to 6,000 words, by authors with a record of publication. Prizes: £30,000, 5x£1,000. Free entry. Deadline: December 4. Details: http://www.shortstoryaward.co.uk

Chorley & District Writers Circle Annual Short Story Competition for stories up to 2,500 words on a theme to be confirmed. Prizes: £100, £50, 3x£20. Entry fee: £6, or £10 for two. Closing date: 15 December. Details: http://www.chorleywriters.org.uk

London Independent Story Prize for short stories up to 3,000 words, or flash up to 300 words. Prizes: £100 for both categories. Entry fee: £4. Closing date: 15 December. Details: http://www.londonindependentstoryprize.co.uk

Ruth Rendell Short Story Competition for stories up to 1,000 words. Prizes: £1,000 and commission to write four further storiesfor InterAct Reading Service over the course of one year. Entry fee: £15. Closing date: 21 December. Details: http://www.interactstrokesupport.org

Henshaw Short Story Competition for stories up to 2,000 words on any theme. Prizes: £200, £100, £50. Entry fee: £6. Quarterly closing date: 31 December. Details: http://www.henshawpress.co.uk

Write Time Competitions for stories up to 1,500 words by writers over 60. Prizes£50; £25×2; publication. Entry fee: £3, £5 for two. Quarterly closing date: 31 December. Details: https://writetime.org/

Retreat West Themed Flash Fiction Prize for up to 500 words on the theme of “after”. Prizes: £200; 2x£100, Entry fee: £8. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk

Moth Poetry Prize for a single unpublished poem. Prizes: 6,000 Euros; 3×1,000 Euros, plus publication; 8×250 Euros. Entry fee: 15 Euros. Closing date: 31 December. Details: http://www.themothmagazine.com

So, please don’t leave your writing resolutions until the New Year and please, as ever, double-check all details before entry.

Ninevoices wish you all the happiest of Christmases and lots of good things for the New Year. Including some well-deserved writing successes. Just remember, somebody has to win these things… why shouldn’t it be you?

We will close with a favourite quote from the excellent Sylvia Plath:

“I love my rejections. They prove that I’m trying.”

Books for Christmas


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There are books you want to read a second time and Wild Swans is one of them. I read the story soon after its publication, back in 1991, but gave it to someone on loan and never saw it again. I tell myself the recipient couldn’t bear to part with it. However, I recently treated myself to this replacement and am so glad I did.

Still banned in China because of criticism of Mao Zedong, the true story of Jung Chan’s mother and maternal grandmother plunges the reader into the pain and horror of China’s troubled history during the twentieth century. A sobering read, its importance cannot be exaggerated in helping us understand a land which increasingly reaches into every aspect of our own lives.

At over 500 pages, it is a serious history that manages to read like a historical thriller. If I share with you its opening lines, you will see what I mean:

“At the age of fifteen my grandmother became the concubine of a warlord general, the police chief of a tenuous national government of China. The year was 1924 and China was in chaos.”

You might like to add it to that Christmas wish-list for Santa. Or simply treat yourself.

Writing Competitions to Enter in November


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Some autumn colour (from my bedroom window in Kent) to inspire you to enter one (maybe all) of the following November writing competitions. Please note that some of them are tomorrow.

HOWEVER – this is me, looking hang-dog about my deficiencies with technology. The post that follows was meant to go on-line on the 31st October. In fact, I was convinced that it had gone on-line then. But apparently I somehow boobed… My apologies for those who have now missed out on great opportunities like The Caledonia Novel Award, the Scribble Annual Short Story Competition and the Cinnamon Press Literature Award… I promise to try harder for the December post.

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

Scribble Annual Short Story Competition for stories up to 3,000 words on the theme of ‘A Historical Story’. Prizes are: £100, £50, £25, plus publication in Scribble. Shortlisted entries may also be published at a later date. Deadline 1 November. Details: http://www.parkpublications.co.uk

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

The Bluepencil Agency Pitch Prize requires the first 500 words of an opening chapter and a 300-word synopsis. The prize is a one-to-one meeting with an agent to discuss how best you might proceed – an opportunity most writers would kill for. You are expected to have completed at least 10,000 words of the novel. Entry fee: £10. Deadline: 14 November. Details: http://www.bluepencilagency.com

Bath Children’s Novel Award for unpublished and independently published writers of children’s novels. Send first 5,000 words and synopsis. Prizes: £3,000 plus feedback; Cornerstones online course. Entry fee: £28. Deadline: 30 November. Details: http://www.bathnovelaward.co.uk

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. Deadline: 28 November, Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk

Queen’s Knickers Award for an illustrated book for children aged 0-7. Prizes: £5,000; £1,000. FREE ENTRY. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.societyofauthors.org

Ecologisers’ EcoSanta-themed Short Story Competition for stories for children featuring Santa as an eco-champion, under 1,000 words. Prizes: £100. FREE ENTRY. Deadline: 30 November. Details: http://www.ecosanta.co.uk

Fish Short Story Competition for stories up to 5,000 words. Prizes: 3,000 Euros for first, a week’s writer’s retreat plus 300 Euros expenses for second; 300 Euros for third. 7×200 Euros. Entry fee: 20Euros for the first, 10 Euros thereafter. Closing date: 30 November. Details: http://www.fishpublishing.com

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

As ever, we urge you to check details before entry, since deadlines and other requirements may alter.

The best of luck – somebody has to win these competition, why Shouldn’t it be you?

Writing Competitions to Enter in October


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Autumn is a time for reading books by the fire, or on the banks of a lake in a National Trust garden. It is also a time for writers to spend more time writing their own books, poems or short stories.

To whet your appetites, here are a few competitions to enter in October. The list is a little earlier than usual because of several early October deadlines.

Grindstone International Novel Prize for finished and part-finished novels aimed at YA and adult audiences, of any genre. Authors must be unrepresented and not previously traditionally published. Entry fee: £20, with an optional £8 feedback supplement if you wish to receive feedback. Prizes: first, £1,000; runner-up £500; shortlist, 4 x £100. Closing date: 1 October. Details: https://grindstoneliterary.com/novel-prize

The Perito Prize for short stories between 1,000-2,000 words, on the specific themes of inclusion, access, diversity, inclusive design and inclusive environments. Prizes: £500 and publication. Free entry. Deadline 1 October. Details: http://www.weareperito.com/perito-prize.

The Imison Award for original radio plays by writers new to radio. Prizes: £3,000. Free entry. Closing date: 3 October. Details: http://www.societyofauthors.org/imisonaward

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

Retreat West Micro Fiction Competition for fiction of 100 words exactly, to a prompt posted on the website at the start of each month. Prizes: 50% of total entry fees. Entry fee: £4. Closing date: 8 October. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk

Retreat West Prize: for short stories between 1,500-2,500 words, flash fiction, 150-500 words, and micro flash, up to 150 words. Prizes: £400, £250, £150, £20 each shortlisted for short stories; £350, £200, £100, £15 for flash; £200 #£100, £50, £10 for micro. Entry fee: £10 for short stories, £8 for flash, £5 for micro. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk

The Bath Flash Fiction competition has a first prize of £1,000 for a piece of short fiction no longer than 300 words. There are second and third prizes of £300 and £100. Two commendations will each receive £30, and up to 50 longlisted authors are offered publication in the annual anthology. One entry costs £7.50; two costs £12, and three, £18. The deadline is 10 October. Details: https://bathflashfictionaward.com/

Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize 2021/2022 is inviting entries, with a £2,000 first prize. The winner receives £2,000 and each shortlisted author gets £200. Longlisted authors receive £50 of bookshop vouchers and a four-book subscription to Galley Beggar Press. Short fiction of any style can be entered, up to 6,000 words. Entry costs £10 per story. Closing date: 10 October. Details: http://www.galleybeggar.co.uk/prize

The Totally Free Best of the Bottom Drawer Global Writing Prize 2021 for “anything at all”, 40-1,000 manuscript pages. Prizes: advance and publication. Free entry. Closing date: 16 October. Details: https://store.eyewearpublishing.com

The current annual Dinesh Allirajah Prize for Short Fiction has the theme ‘Crime stories’. The competition from Comma Press and The University of Central Lancashire is in honour of writer, lecturer and Comma Press founding board member, Dinesh Allirajah, who died in 2014. The winner will receive £500 and all ten shortlisted stories will be published in a Comma Press anthology. The winning entry will also be published online by Northern Soul. Each writer may enter one story of between 2,000 and 6,000 words. Deadline: 29 October. Details: https://commapress.co.uk/resources/prizes/

The next quarterly Cranked Anvil Short Story Competition is inviting entries, with prizes of £150, £75 and £30, and anthology publication. Stories can be on any theme, up to 1,500 words. Entry is £5 for one and £8 for two. Closing date: 31 October. Details: https://crankedanvil.co.uk/shortstory/

Bedford Competition for short stories up to 3,000 words, poems up to 40 lines, on any theme. Prizes in each category: £1,000, £200, £100. Entry fee: £7.50 or 3 for £15. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://www.bedfordwritingcompetition.co.uk

Earlyworks Press Short Story, in two categories – up to 4,000 and up to 8,000 words. Prizes: £200; cash and books. Entry fee: £5 for up to 4,000 words; £10 for 4,000 to 8,000 words. Closing date 31 October. Details: http://www.earlyworkspress.co.uk

Fiction Factory Short Story for stories up to 3,000 words. Prizes: £300, £100, and £50. Entry fee: £6. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://fiction-factory.biz

Flash 500 Novel Opening Chapter & Synopsis Competition. For an opening chapter no longer than 3,000 words, plus synopsis. Prizes: £500, £200. Entry fee: £10, £18 for two, £26 for 3. Closing date: 31 October. Details: http://www.flash500.com

National Flash Fiction Day Novella in Flash Competition. Novellas, 6,000-12,000 words, in individual flash blocks, maximum 1,000 words each. Prizes: £300, £100, £50. Entry fee: £14. Closing date: 31 October. Details: https://nationalflashfictionday.co.uk/index.php/competition/

There should be something for everyone there, so why not try your hand? Please remember to check all details before entry, in case of last-minute changes or cancellations.

(The autumnal photograph was taken last autumn at Sheffield Park, in Sussex)