Would Barbara Pym have approved of the local knitted embellishments for our Kentish post boxes? I suspect that she and her characters would have found them ‘not quite the thing’, but in these dark days anything that raises a smile is to be encouraged.
‘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…
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 series. It 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?
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?
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.
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
Why does Elizabeth Gaskell take a back seat among nineteenth-century classic novelists? Is it because we think her too Victorian – over-doing sentiment, religion and morality?
Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels vary considerably. You might try one, not care for it, and dismiss the rest. Or love one, and feel disappointed not to get more of the same.
Blame Cranford here. Elizabeth Gaskell is best known – and loved – for this altogether delightful account of small town life and the splendidly independent and inter-dependent women living almost entirely without the support and companionship of men. It’s a far cry from the uncompromising depiction of the harsh realities of Manchester’s workers and factory conditions in Mary Barton and North and South. Eye-opening reading at the time, and Elizabeth Gaskell is a terrific story-teller. But nobody could call these two novels cosy reads, despite the satisfying romantic love stories woven into the plot.
Even less cosy is Sylvia’s Lovers, set in a coastal town during the Napoleonic wars and described by Elizabeth Gaskell as ‘the saddest story I ever wrote’. Not a good choice when you want a comfort read. You need to be in the mood for Thomas Hardy-style mischance and tragedy.
Elizabeth Gaskell was married to a Unitarian minister based in Manchester where conditions for the working classes at a time of rapid industrialisation were a squalid mix of poverty, disease, and early death. She was deeply concerned with how Christian belief translates into social action, working alongside her husband and for charitable causes to alleviate the misery she saw around her. In Mary Barton, subtitled A Tale of Manchester Life, published in 1848, she was writing about what she witnessed first-hand: those who are ‘doomed to struggle through their lives in strange alternations between work and want’.
In North and South published in 1855 we are shown the violent clash between employers and employees. Elizabeth Gaskell doesn’t take sides. She tells the stories clearly and sympathetically of those individuals caught up in either side of the conflict. She was interested in the need to reconcile different interests and classes, and how society can work together for the good of all.
In these novels dealing with social problems and industrial relations, Elizabeth Gaskell knew what she was talking about. How Lord David Cecil in his Early Victorian Novelists published in 1934 can write that these subjects ‘… entailed an understanding of economics and history wholly outside the range of her Victorian intellect’ is a mystery. He has to be forgiven much, given his later championship of Barbara Pym, but it’s difficult not to feel indignant at his condescending description of Elizabeth Gaskell as a ‘mild feminine Victorian’ who ‘sees nothing but flowers in the garden.’
Religion in novels – as in life – isn’t plain sailing. Jane Austen, although a devout Christian, largely steers clear of the spiritual lives of her characters. It’s understood they are governed – or not governed – by Christian principles, but we are left to imagine them on their knees in prayer. In contrast, Elizabeth Gaskell is unashamedly explicit in how religion shapes their thinking and behaviour.
Characters talk about God and quote the Bible. In North and South Christian faith is what drives the courageous heroine Margaret Hale and comforts the dying mill worker Bessy Higgins. ‘Nay, Bessy – think!’ said Margaret. ‘God does not willingly afflict. Don’t dwell so much on the prophecies, but read the clearer parts of the Bible.’ ‘I dare say it would be wiser; but where would I hear such grand words of promise – hear tell o’ anything so far different fro’ this dreary world, and this town above a’, as in Revelations? …It gives me more comfort than any other book i’ the Bible.’
Elizabeth Gaskell doesn’t go in for theological debate – we are never told the reasons for Mr Hale’s dissent in North and South – that isn’t what interested her. Instead she shows how disparate people can be brought together. Higgins looked at Margaret doubtfully. Her grave sweet eyes met his; there was no compulsion, only deep interest in them. He did not speak, but he kept his place. Margaret the Churchwoman, her father the Dissenter, Higgins the Infidel knelt down together. It did them no harm.
Mary Bennet pronounces in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice ‘that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable; that one false step involves her in endless ruin.’ Mary’s sister Lydia gets away with it, but for Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘fallen women’ it involves a life of atonement. It’s a subject which recurs in her work – Esther in Mary Barton, Ruth, and the short story Lizzie Leigh.
Elizabeth Gaskell was the hands-on, intelligent, and perceptive mother of four daughters. In Sylvia’s Lovers, Cousin Phillis, and Wives and Daughters she shows us how young girls are morally exposed, how vulnerable they are. Plus ça change.
Modern readers may well find the highly-charged emotional religion in Ruth, a story of the repentance and redemption of an orphan seduced and abandoned by an older man all too much. She’s the victim not only of a self-entitled rake but a nasty mix of hypocrisy and judgmental morality. It doesn’t sit well with our twenty-first century thinking. What has she got to atone for?
Contemporaries found Mrs Gaskell too much for different reasons: they were shocked at the bold way she wrote about illegitimacy and prostitution. She was ahead of her time in a careful, thought-out compassion – and unswerving in her wholesale condemnation of seducers like the self-entitled Henry Bellingham in Ruth through the voice of the Good Samaritan character Mr Benson. ‘Men may call such actions as yours youthful follies! There is another name for them with God.’
Religion isn’t always presented in what some may feel to be an over- melodramatic manner. In the novella Cousin Phillis, published in 1864, Mr Holman ends the day’s haymaking with a psalm. Elizabeth Gaskell gives us here perhaps the loveliest religious scene in all her work – a moving image of harmony between nature, work and God.
But for those who wish Jane Austen had written another book, Elizabeth Gaskell’s last and unfinished novel Wives and Daughters is the perfect choice. It’s written on a similarly small canvas: families living around the small country town of Hollingford, based like Cranford on the real life Knutsford, where Elizabeth Gaskell lived as a child.
In this novel Elizabeth Gaskell employs almost the same reticence on religion as Jane Austen. Christian values are mostly unspoken but no less present. Early in the novel, the teenaged heroine Molly struggles to overcome her resentment of the new stepmother when her father returns home from the deathbed of a patient. She is remembering what Roger Hamley advised her: to think of others. ‘Papa, I will call her “mamma”! He took her hand, and grasped it tight; but for an instant or two he did not speak. Then he said, – ‘You won’t be sorry for it, Molly, when you come to lie as poor Craven Smith did tonight.’
Like most Victorians, Elizabeth Gaskell didn’t shy away from talking about death in the way we do today. The deaths in Wives and Daughters are affecting and unforgettable. But this is a novel which faultlessly and satisfyingly combines the the profound with the comic. Here is social-climbing Mrs Gibson, who’s always parading and misquoting her superficial reading, speculating about the advantages of the possible death of the heir to an estate: ‘I should think myself wanting in strength of mind if I could not look forward to the consequences of death. I really think we are commanded to do so somewhere in the Bible or the Prayerbook.’
The very last part of Wives and Daughters was never written – Elizabeth Gaskell died suddenly in November 1865 – but we know what’s going to happen, and it’s the ending we long for.
Elizabeth Gaskell doesn’t necessarily give us the secure, happy endings of Jane Austen, the philosophical worldview of George Eliot, the wild passion of the Brontes. But she gives us something equally remarkable. Despite being written over 150 years ago, her novels speak strongly and clearly, and they say something important in the confusing fragmented world of today.
Ninevoices are delighted to welcome one of our periodic guest contributors, writing here about how she succeeded in having her debut novel published. The Governor’s Man is currently available on Amazon for a modest £6.67 for the paperback edition or £2.99 for the Kindle. As ever, Kindle Unlimited reads are free.
by Jacquie Rogers, author of The Governor’s Man.
Exactly a year ago to the day, I sat writing in my little garden cabin while a scant shower cooled the air outside. My journal records I wrote 1400 words that afternoon of what was then titled The Bronze Owl, getting my main characters moving along a trail of stolen silver to Cheddar (or Iscalis, as it was known in AD224). The world of my story, 3rd century rural Britain, was almost completely imaginary, as were virtually all of my characters. The only real thing was the shining hoard of denarii, beautifully curated and exhibited in the Museum of Somerset, which had started the story up in my mind some years earlier. Suddenly in February 2020, that story started stretching out wings I didn’t know it had.
I’d already been published as a short story writer, but aspiring to write a novel felt ridiculously over the top. Like a passenger in a glider suddenly deciding to fly to Mars. Hadn’t I read that the chances of getting a novel published were 1-2%? And those were the books that got finished and submitted. In an average year. What were the chances of getting a book researched, written, and accepted for publication, in a lockdown year when everyone and his/her dog was writing the Great Lockdown Novel?
About much reality in that ambition as there was in my imagined Roman world of AD 224.
On the plus side, as a clinically-vulnerable shielder I had precious little else to do. And I had a short story already written, screaming to be extended. Actually The Bath Curse was pleading to be turned from a YA 2200-word snapshot, into a full-blown crime novel. With two much older, world-weary adults — a military investigator and a British healer — replacing the original teenagers. And a stroppy Londoner sidekick who insisted on muscling his way into the plot. And then there was the antagonist. Take your pick from a lengthy line-up of ne’er-do-wells crawling out of the woodwork.
So okay — new form, new MCs, new villains, additional subplots. And a lot of unnatural deaths. Eight in total. Not including the major battle scene, which wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye last year. But with the aforementioned time on my hands, it was surprising how many words got written. By November the first full draft went off to beta readers, and simultaneously to my independent editor. One thing short-story publishing had taught me — yes, you always need an editor.Expensive, but vital.
Back came the MS, with a lot of re-writing to do. Fortunately my readers and my editor were largely in agreement. After several more drafts, I started sending my baby out into the world in February 2021, to publishers who were accepting direct submissions in the genre of historical mystery, and to agents who liked that genre too and were actively seeking new clients. No-one else, no matter how enticing they sounded. Waste of time, that, I already knew. Many, many hours spent painstakingly fulfilling the requirements of carefully-researched agents and publishers, thirty-something of them. Then I waited, while beginning the sequel to The Governor’s Man.
One agent like the MS, but was retiring the next day. Would I send it to his colleagues? Who never responded. Two other agents rejected, politely. Three publishers said it wasn’t their thing. Then a month of silence.
Then I remembered I had been given a name at an Arvon course. Endeavour Books, who specialised in historical and crime. My book was both. Jackpot! Only Endeavour Books no longer existed, it seemed. I returned to seeking more agents/publishers. Heart sinking a little, but buoyed by reading that the best way to sell books is to write them. I also began seriously researching self-publishing at this point.
Then I saw a tweet from Sharpe Books, saying they were open to submissions. Checked them out. Oh, here is Endeavour Books, resurrected! Still liking exactly my genre. And the publisher writes Roman adventure books himself. I sat up straight, gave the opening chapters and my synopsis a last polish, and pressed Send. Within 24 hours they wrote to ask for the full MS, to distribute to their reading panel. Within another two days I got the phone call I’d been dreaming about. Would I like a contract for three books?
Well, what would you say?
In a whirlwind came the contract, then editorial feedback — not much to change, but must lose 10k words. By Friday. It felt quite a draconian diet. The slimmed-down final went back, and I was published on 19 May, 2021. Paperback two weeks later.
And then my real full-time job began. No, not writing the second book of the trilogy. That’s still waiting. For three months I have been a full-time publicist. Emails to everyone I know (Do you still read books? Guess what? I have a book – would you like to read it?); guest blog posts; begging letters asking book bloggers to review; re-designed and renamed blogsite; even a change of book title, pen-name and email address; interview with BBC Radio Somerset; my own YouTube channel, and recording a road trip round the West Country to please readers begging to know more about Roman Britain. See, I didn’t make it all up — that lumpy field has a large villa under it; and over there is a redundant Roman mine. And that river has changed its course, used to have a Roman port, no you can’t see it now. It was more fun than it sounds.
And endless, eternal social media. I now tweet in my sleep, and my best friend after Instagram is Tweetdeck. Still, there’s the local village arts festival coming up. I’m the resident writer. I might buy a painting from a fellow stallholder, if I ever get any royalties.
You may not be able to sit at the same bureau as Jane Austen – seen here at the Chawton Cottage – but don’t let that stop you entering one of the August competitions which are detailed below.
The Costa Short Story Award is for stories up to 4,000 words by writers resident in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Prizes are: £3,5000 £1,000, £500, with FREE entry. Closing date is 5pm on Monday 2nd August. Details: http://www.costabookawards.co
The Retreat West Novel Prize for unpublished novels. Prizes: Retreat West publishing contract and £500 advance. MS critique and editorial report. Entry fee: £15. Closing date 10 August. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk
Earlyworks Press Flash Fiction, for flash fiction up to 100 words. Prizes: £100; cash and books. Entry fee: £5, £20 for up to 6. Deadline: 30 August. Details: http://www.earlyworkspress.co.uk
Aesthetica Creative Writing for short stories up to 2,000 w
ords, poetry up to 40 lines. Any theme, form or style. Prizes: £2,500 in each category, publication, books, plus editorial consultation for fiction winner and membership of The Poetry Society for the poetry winner. Entry fee: £12 poetry; £18 short fiction. Deadline 31 August. Details: http://www.aestheticamagazine.com/creative-writing-award
Cinnamon Pencil Monitoring Competition for 10 poems, 2 short stories or the first 10,000 words of a novel. Prizes: Cinnamon mentoring. Entry fee: £12. Closing date: 31 August. Details: http://www.cinnamonpress.com
Edinburgh International Flash Fiction Competition. Stories up to 250 words. Prizes: £1,000, £300, £150; £300 for a Scottish writer. Entry fee: £7. Closing date: 31 August. Details: http://www.storyawards.org
Exeter Flash Competition for fiction up to 750 words. Prizes: £200, £100, £50. Entry fee: £6. Closing date: 31 August. Details: http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk (Please double check as, although the flash fiction appears to have been cancelled, they are still asking for stories of “up to 750 words”, in addition to the Exeter Story Prize, detailed below)
Hysteria Writing Competition for short stories up to 600 words, poetry up to 12 lines, flash fiction of 100 words. Prizes: £25 in each category, publication. Entry fee: £1 per entry (That is NOT a typo). Details: http://www.indaph.me
NAWG Open Competitions. Poems up to 40 lines; stories 500-2,000 words. Prizes: £25o, £150, £50, publication. Entry fee: £5 each (£10 for three poems). Closing date: 31 August. Details: http://www.nawg.co.uk
Impress Prize for New Writers, for full-length debuts from unpublished fiction and non-fiction writers. Submit book proposal and sample chapter which totals no more than 6,000 words. Prizes: £500, publication by Impress Books. Entry fee: £25. Closing date: 31 August. Details: http://www.impress-books.co.uk
We live in changing times, so please take care to double-check all details before entering a competition, to avoid possible disappointment. Things can be changed or cancelled at short notice.
Good luck, and may the spirit of Miss Austen be with you…
When I was little, watching The Lone Ranger, Champion the Wonder Horse, Wagon Train and the like, it was the convention that when a baddie pulled a kerchief over the lower half of his face he became unrecognisable. Sheriffs, neighbours, even relatives would have no idea that it was he who was holding up the stagecoach or stealing the miners’ payroll or threatening the tellers in the bank.
Dutifully wearing my anti-covid mask I was therefore surprised on entering my local Waterstone’s the other day to be greeted with “Hello Mr Peacock”.
So either bookshop staff are unusually prescient, or the scriptwriters on those 1950s westerns were taking a short cut …
When a corpse is found in the freezer of an unoccupied mansion, DS Alexandra Cupidi is handed a case made even colder by nobody seeming to know – or care – who the dead man is.
Her investigation is complicated by suggestions of a political cover-up linked to a greenfield site designated for a high-profile housing project, plus the discovery of a young boy’s skeleton dating from decades earlier. A find her instincts tell her is somehow linked.
Cupidi is also still coming to terms with being a parochial cop after an ill-advised liaison with a fellow officer in the Met resulted in her relocation to the flat-lands of her Kent.
The book deals intelligently with the conflicting interests of progress and traditional country values, while Shaw makes superb use of the landscape of Dungeness as a dramatic backdrop to murder, corruption and the struggling local wildlife.
To my surprise, I was totally hooked by the brief, inspired chapters by the old badger.
I will resist giving further spoilers about the plot, but must mention the author’s mastery of character, especially that between women: Cupidi’s difficult relationship with her spiky teenage daughter, Zoe; her distance from her own eccentric mother; her evolving partnership with young, man-magnet colleague, Jill Ferriter.
I was delighted to be introduced to this writer by a fellow member of ninevoices and to discover that this police procedural is one of a series featuring the complex but likeable Alexandra Cupidi. I have invested in another. But you should be warned that I am reading them out of order, and you may wish to begin at the beginning, with The Birdwatcher.
And don’t worry about that badger. He isn’t in the least twee and has important things to teach the reader.