Firstwriter International Short Story Contest – up to 3,000 words, any theme. Entry fee £6.50. Prizes: £200, plus 10 special commendation vouchers worth £20. Website: http://www.firstwriter.com/competitions/short_story_contest. Closing date 1 APRIL.
Melita Hume Poetry Prize for poets under 35. Prizes: £1,500. Free entry. Closing date 8 April. Website: http://www.eyewearpublishing.com
Philip Larkin Society & East Riding Poetry Prize for poems up to 45 lines. Prizes: £1,000, £500, £200, 5 x £20 commendations. Entry fee £4. Closing date 10 April. Website: http://www.bridlington-poetry-festival-com
Buxton Poetry Competition for poems up to 40 lines on the theme ‘time’. Website: http://www.derby.ac.uk/events/buxtonpoetrycompetition
Bath Short Story Award for stories up to 2,200 words in any style and on any subject. Prizes: £1,000, £200, £100, £50 book token for best local writer, plus £50 Acorn Award for best unpublished writer. Entry fee £8, closing date 27 April. Website: http://bathshortstoryaward.co.uk
Red Shed Open Poetry, for poems up to 50 lines. Prizes: £100, £50, £25 Wakefield prize. Entry fee £3. Closing date 25 April. Website: http://www.currockpress.com
Southport Writers’ Circle International Poetry, for poems up to 40 lines. Prizes: £150, £75, £25. Entry fee £3. Closing date 30 April. Website: http://www.swconline.co.uk
Bristol Short Story Prize. Short stories on any theme, up to 4,000 words. Prizes: £1,000, £700, £400, 17x£100. Entry fee: £8. Closing date 30 April. Website: http://www.bristolprize.co.uk
Exeter Story Prize for stories on any theme, up to 10,000 words. Prizes: £500, £150, £100. Entry fee £8. Closing date 30 April. Website: http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk
Grey Hen Poetry competition for poems up to 40 lines by women 60+. Prizes: £100, £50 and £25, plus website publication. Entry fee £3. Closing date 30 April. Website: http://www.greyhenpress.com
Walter Swan Playwriting Awards. Original plays between 20 and 30 minutes for a maximum of four actors. Prizes: £250 in two categories, 18 and under, and 19 and over. Winning plays performed at West Yorkshire Playhouse and Ilkley Playhouse. Free entry. Closing date 30 April. Website: http://www.walterswantrust.org.uk
Maggie reminded me today of this excerpt from Black Blooks, where Bernard Black (played by Dylan Moran) replies to a publisher’s rejection.
I’m sure we’ve all wished for the lack of inhibition to write a reply like this, instead of sitting in a Ninevoice’s living room reading out our rejection letter in a brave voice, and describing the changes we’re about to make as a result. But with less smoking and red wine and more crisps…
‘If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use reading it at all’. Oscar Wilde said this, or something very like it. I have to agree with him.
This may be an age thing. As you get older you realise with dismay that there are going to be many excellent books you are never going to read. Time is short. Is it too short to waste it on anything that isn’t worth reading more than once?
It was with these thoughts in mind that I chose how I wanted my self-published novel All Desires Known to look. It’s not a plot-driven page-turner. If readers enjoy it, it will be for its examination of character and its prose style. I hope they will look forward to the next chapter for the pleasure of reading, rather than only caring about what happens next. I hope they will be sorry when they see there’s only one more chapter left.
So I needed All Desires Known to at least look like the kind of book people want to read more than once. It doesn’t matter if airport paperbacks end up dog-eared with broken spines – they’ve served their purpose of instant entertainment. But if a book is going to be sticking around on an owner’s shelf waiting to be pulled out again it should be a work of art in itself, not just a vehicle for words. Quality paper, a graceful, traditional font, a smooth matt laminate cover with flaps. A book which is a joy to look at, to hold and to turn the pages. Something like Persephone books in fact.
In modern publishing, the cover has to advertise the contents and inform the buyer exactly what kind of book it is. A publisher’s design department will know about what colours and graphics to use, what matches the market for your book, what catches the eye on Amazon. All very important, but it’s not your choice. Here’s where self-publishing has its rewards. You can have exactly the cover you want.
The heroine of All Desires Known, Nell Garwood, is an artist whose revealing portrait of an enigmatic public school chaplain misleads Dr Lewis Auerbach, the Jewish child psychiatrist who is caring for her daughter. The role of art in exposing the truth is played out through scenes at Wharton school, the Mall Galleries and finally in the National Portrait Gallery. So the cover of the book had to be a painting.
It is Lewis who spots the uncanny likeness between a portrait he has seen at Tate Britain and Nell Garwood. This is why All Desires Known has on its front cover Gwen John’s painting of The Convalescent, painted in 1918-19. A young woman deep in private thought, torn by the rights and wrongs of life, holding on to her interior life. We don’t know who the model was, only that Gwen John painted her many times while living in Paris where she had a passionate love affair with the sculptor Auguste Rodin. Here is the same intense psychological insight that Nell showed in her work, but so disastrously lacked elsewhere…
All Desires Known is all about moral vacillation and our infinite capacity for self-deception. Gwen John’s beautiful muted painting might not dazzle on the tables at Waterstones, an eye-catching seller for my novel, but it’s a perfect work of art you want to go on looking at and that’s what matters most on the cover of a book.
The Sunday Times’ Culture section today printed several letters from women who have fallen for Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell. (See also our own Crystallised Ginger’s comment on the 26 February) The final word, however, came from a Mr Ian Duckworth:
I feel I am unqualified to comment on the attractiveness of Thomas Cromwell, but he strikes me as a man who could easily lose his head over a woman…
‘The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.’ Joyce Carol Oates
Recently I read Wolf Hall for the second time. I didn’t mean to, not quite so soon after my initial head-long rush through its pages, but I casually opened the book and Hilary Mantel hooked me in yet again. But at least the second time around I was able to look at it with more of a writer’s eye.
‘So now get up.’
Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard… One blow, properly placed, could kill him now. …his left eye is blinded, but if he squints sideways with his right eye he can see the stitching of his father’s boot is unravelling. The twine has sprung clear of the leather and a hard knot in it has caught his eyebrow and opened another cut.
What an opening. Our hero is in jeopardy. And from his own father. Hilary Mantel has drawn a picture of that cobbled yard and the battered leather boot. The reader understands how that rough knot would cut into tender flesh.
Three paragraphs later Hilary Mantel continues:
Inch by inch. Inch by inch forward. Never mind if he calls you an eel, or a worm, or a snake. Head down, don’t provoke him.
When reading this the second time around, it dawned on me that not only is the prose powerful, not only does it push the story forward, but that here on the first two pages Hilary Mantel is foretelling Cromwell’s progress at the Court of Henry VIII. The tortuous, careful advance. The need to shrug off hurtful insults. The danger inherent in provoking the man with so much power.
Those first pages were surely the last that she penned – and the lesson must be to soldier on, finish one’s book and then go back to craft that vital opening. So, no more delays trying to find that elusive opening sentence. It’s almost certainly too soon. Finish the book, then perfect the opening. Another Wolf Hall is too much to aim for – but one can dream.
Steer clear of religion, readers don’t like it. This was the advice given to me a dozen years ago by one of those apparently market-savvy literary consultants who advise writers hoping to find a publisher for their novel.
I can see that anything smacking of a bossy moral tale, written in heavy-handed religious language, is to be avoided. None of us like being preached at. But a novel without any moral vacillation in the minds of characters, with no reference to anything beneath the surface of life, sounds very dull indeed.
It’s a good thing American author Elizabeth Strout doesn’t listen to such bad advice. Her novel Abide with Me is all about the inner struggles of a New England pastor, following the death of his young wife. It’s certainly not an instant attention grabber; it’s some pages in that the reader might fall in love with the extraordinary luminous quality of the writing. And it’s sharp stuff, as biting as its setting of long dark winters and brief hot summers; occasionally shocking or grimly humorous. Nothing flowery or sentimental here.
Gradually in a series of vivid scenes the reader is led inside the head of not just the hero but his mute five-year-old daughter, and members of the close-knit congregation dealing with their own griefs and disappointments. The ending is one of redemption and hope – at least for some.
But clearly some readers miss the point – or would agree with that literary consultant, that religion in books is essentially boring. Among the many admiring reviews of Abide with Me, I came across the following: “The narrator’s folksy tone does nothing to enliven this dispiriting story; the overall effect is rather like listening to a slightly cantankerous maiden aunt dispensing local gossip.” It all proves the point that we look for – and find – very different things in the novels we read, and really this can only be a good thing.
Seen today on Twitter, with the hashtag ‘Writing Tip’:
“Planning is vital. Before you even begin writing you should know how many biscuits you have and how many you plan to eat.”
Thanks, Keri. Taken from https://twitter.com/kerihw/status/575978256052006913
Writers and aspirant writers groan at our difficulties. Often we groan at publishers: we lament their inattention or indifference to our rightful needs, or their lack of judgment in seeing the oh so obvious merits of what we produce. But do we ever think of what they go through, what the hard work is involved in bringing a book to a launch?
These thoughts went through my mind on 20 February when I attended the launch of Choral Singing & Healthy Voice Production, published through ninevoices’ own Anita Jane Sinden’s Willow Leaf Publishing. The sheer slog involved in creating this beautifully produced and colourfully illustrated book should not be taken for granted.
If you’re in a choir, or you run a choir, this book might well be for you. It’s by David M Howard, who holds a personal chair in Music Technology at York University, teaching and researching the human singing and speaking voice. It gives much advice on how singing voices work and the exercises and care needed to protect and develop them. It advises directors on how to achieve the best performance from their choirs. As said above, it’s published by Willow Leaf Publishing (see http://willowleafmedia.com). It is also available through York Publishing Services (see http://www.ypdbooks.com/the-arts/1321-choral-singing-and-healthy-voice-production-YPD01527.html) or on Amazon.co.uk. ISBN 978-0-9926216-1-2 RRP £25.
The launch was a happy and interesting event. As well as fine wines and interesting nibbles in a historic church (St Sepulchre’s, near the Old Bailey), we were treated to some beautiful singing from a young people’s choir. The trick was that after they had sung a piece, David Howard would then explain how they could do it better, which they then did. The audience were encouraged to do this too – we were forbidden to pay the choir compliments, just utter criticisms! The choir didn’t seem to mind.
Congratulations, Anita, on Willow Leaf Media’s producing this book and on all the effort that clearly went into it.
When Sheila Rogers – using the pen name Rachel Abbott – wrote ONLY THE INNOCENT in 2011 she was repeatedly rejected by literary agents. However, as a former systems analyst who founded an interactive media company developing software and websites for the education market, she understood the power of the internet. She self-published. She also designed a website.
Her psychological crime thriller and two self-published sequels have now sold a million copies. All three have been No.1 bestsellers on Amazon’s Kindle store and are still in the top 100. She has also been taken on by Lizzy Kremer of David Higham Associates, who says: ‘She is probably the UK’s biggest-selling independently published author.’
Sheila Rogers is a writer, but tellingly she is also a saleswoman who has worked at promoting her product.