Brexit can win you £300, plus a free dinner


, , , , ,

Brexit – that’s the suggested (but not compulsory) theme in this year’s British Czech & Slovak Association’s writing competition.

Last year’s was the EU, and that resulted in a winning entry describing how a Referendum Night party turns sour for a Czech girl living in England. In 2015 it was migration, and the winning entry put you in the place of the Vietnamese minority in the Czech Republic today.

So let Brexit rip – at least in your imagination, for or against – and go for the £300 prize, the free dinner you get when it’s presented to you at the Association’s annual dinner at a hotel in London’s West End, and the publication of your piece in the December 2017 issue of the British Czech and Slovak Review.

The second prize is £100. Entry is free.

Fact or fiction – both are welcome.  The first second prizes will be awarded to the best 1,500 to 2,000-word pieces of original writing in English on the links between Britain and the Czech/Slovak Republics, or describing society in transition in the Republics since the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

There’s still time – the closing date is 30 June.

For further info go to, or approach the BCSA Prize Comp Administrator at, or at 24 Ferndale, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2 3NS, England.

Dame Hilary Mantel on Writing Historical Fiction

The 2017 Reith Lectures by Dame Hilary Mantel (long sold out) will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 over five weeks from Tuesday 13 June at 9 am. Their subject will be:  ‘whether there is a kind of truth only fiction can tell‘.

I am a huge fan of Wolf Hall (see my earlier post of 21 March 2015 Don’t Get Hung up on Your Beginning) and have already put the details in our family diary.
The Lectures will be available as podcasts and there will be accompanying content on the Radio 4 website.

Would you like to become a literacy volunteer?




There are few moments more rewarding than when a six-year-old looks up at you in boggle-eyed amazement that she’s just managed to read a whole page without a falter.

Or when a smiling teacher tells you that the little girl you’ve been helping to read all year has unexpectedly passed her English SATs.

I’ve had several moments like this – and they are, quite simply, thrilling.  I’ve also had a lot of fun as, twice a week, I go into a primary school to listen to six- and seven-year-olds read, then play literacy games with them.

If you think you might be interested in doing this too, then the charity Beanstalk ( would love to hear from you.  They are always looking for new volunteers. They provide a short training course and lots of books and games.  Most reading helpers go into a school twice a week and work with three children one-on-one for half an hour each. They usually work with the same children for the whole year.

If, like me, you’re writing fiction for children, this has a huge side benefit: you find out what your audience really enjoy reading. But the real value is that a child who might otherwise have very little one-on-one help receives it twice a week from someone who really wants them to succeed.




Competitions to Enter in June


Whether you’re a novice, or more experienced, writing competitions offer a wonderful opportunity to put your work out there. If you can’t win the Bridport, why not try the more modest Henshaw Short Story Competition? This quarterly competition is for stories up to 2,000 words, with an entry fee of £5. Prizes are £100, £50 and £25, with the prospect of publication in one of their anthologies – which raise much-needed cash for Save the Children. The current deadline is 30 June. Details:

This is an achievable goal. I had a stab a couple of years ago and have just taken delivery of the anthology containing my winning story – Till Death Us Do Part – featured at the top this blog under ‘Writings’.

Wells Festival of Literature are seeking stories between 1,000-2,000 words on an open theme. Prizes are: £750, £300, £200, with an entry fee of £6. Closing Date is 30 June. Details can be obtained from  They organisers are also looking for poems of up to 40 lines. Prizes: £750, £300, £200. Entry fee: £6. Details as above.

National Literary Trust. Do you have a new take on a classic fairy tale? If so, yours could be one of the 10 winning stories that will be published in an ebook anthology by Bloomsbury, publishers of titles by J K Rowling, Neil Gaiman and Louis Sachar. There is also a £200 prize for each winning story, plus the right to use  the ‘Short Story Prize 2017 Winner’ logo on your website, social media and publications. Submit your re-imagining in a 2,000-4,000 word story for 8 to 12-year-olds by midnight on 25 June. Entry is £30. Details from:

We mustn’t forget the British Czech & Slovak Association Competition which seeks short stories and non-fiction, up to 2,000 words, exploring the links between Britain and the Czech Republics at any time. The suggested, but optional theme for 2017 is Brexit. Prizes are £300, £100, plus publication in the British Czech & Slovak Review. ENTRY IS FREE. Closing date is 30 June. Details: Before you dismiss this as too obscure, maybe you’ve had an eventful visit to Prague (a stag or hen ‘do’, or student trip?) that might form the launching pad for a story.

Bath Flash Fiction want 300 words by June 11. They are offering prizes of:  £1,000, £300 and £100, plus two commended at £30. All entries will be considered for publication in and end of year anthology. Details:

WORDS MAGAZINE (sold in aid of the RNLI) are asking for stories of up to 2,000 words on the theme of: Christmas. Prizes: First £50; Second £25, with all entries considered for publication in the magazine. Entry is FREE. Closing date 30 June. Details:

Segora International Writing Competitions 2017. Organised by Jocelyn Simms, 1 rue de la Sevre, 79380 St Andre-sur-Sevre, France. (Proceeds donated to Medecins Sans Frontiers) Short stories from 1,500-2,00 words. Entry fees: £6 for 1, £11 for 2, £15 for 3. Prizes: £300, £50, £30. One-act plays: up to 35 minutes running time. Prize £100. Entry fee: £12. Deadline 15 June. Details:

Impress Prize for New Writers. Full-length debuts from unpublished fiction and non-fiction writers. Submit book proposal and sample chapter totalling no more than 6,000 words. Prize: Publication by Impress Books. Entry fee: £15. Deadline: 30 June. Details:

British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition. For any kind of fantasy: magical realism,horror, SF, etc., up to 5,000 words. Prizes: £100, £50, £20, plus a year’s membership of BFS and web publication. Entry fee £5. Deadline 30 June. Details:

Do remember to check that the details are correct before entering!




How to Edit Your Book


, , , , , , ,

Tanya and I recently attended a workshop at Bloomsbury Publishing‘s offices in London’s elegant Bedford Square: How to Edit Your Book. Over forty aspiring novelists split into two groups to spend the morning in tightly constructed sessions led by professional editors and writers. In the afternoon, we got to spend fifteen minutes with an editor of our choice discussing a 2,000-word extract of our own writing that had been submitted beforehand.

My group was led by the excellent Francine Toon and Jennifer Kerslake. Francine, who is a published poet, became an editor at Sceptre in 2015 and concentrates on literary and reading group fiction. Jennifer, an editor at Weidenfeld & Nicholson (part of Orion), also specialises in literary and reading group fiction. Exactly the kind of people we were desperate to know how to impress!

Both editors dispensed handouts and practical advice – sadly too much to regurgitate here – that emphasised the need to become a reader of your own work as well its writer. Try printing out your stuff in a crazy font and/or colour; persuade someone to read it out loud to you; get a frank appraisal from someone whose opinion you trust. Francine provided a great analogy: to get that perfectly cut fringe, you need to hand the scissors to someone able to step back and see it in perspective.

They also stressed the importance of limiting description to highlighting  your novel’s theme, or taking its plot forward. Don’t paint a picture of a garden just because you can; see it through the eyes of someone grieving; suffering from heartbreak; fearful; or dizzy with love.

Jennifer then generously shared with us her own line-edit of a manuscript currently on the brink of publication. We were astounded at the degree of input both needed and generously given. If I’d put that much into something, I’d want my name on the front cover.

I was struck by the commitment of the participants. I suppose if you’re prepared to pay £149 and sacrifice half a weekend, you’re going to take it seriously. But these women (I noticed only two men), were bright, focussed, modest, and fun. They were prepared to take criticism of their work, but also surprisingly supportive of one another. Maybe that’s because writers need to be observant, thoughtful and empathetic if they’re going to be any good. Plus, of course, if you love reading you’re going to want to encourage a stream of first rate novels to keep hitting the bookshops.

Buffet lunch provided the opportunity for the two groups to come together for networking. Our mentors didn’t disappear into some private lair, but sat down with us, chatted and answered our sometimes impertinent questions.

Then came our one-to-one sessions. Mine was with Kylie Fitzpatrick, a historical novelist and creative writing tutor who has worked as a freelance manuscript editor for ten years and is also a lecturer at Bath Spa University’s Creative Writing degree. We went through my own offering, on which Kylie had pencilled notes (including the crossing-through of two embarrassing adverbs), discussed whether or not I should keep my prologue (not a deal breaker, she assured me) and talked about how I could get across that my protagonist – an eighteenth century servant girl – was not typical of her class. Her suggestions have already been put into practice.

I could go on – I have pages of scribbled notes – but how long do we have?

Was it worth it? It was the third such workshop I’ve attended (see my post of 7 July 2016 : Writing Historical Fiction) and I considered it excellent value for money for those without the resources or time for an MA in Creative Writing or one of those on-line novel writing courses. have a line-up of similar events. Do check them out.



Eliza, Betty, Bess and Lizzie



Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth and another. What’s with all these Elizabeths? Did godparents also promise that infant boys would always choose a bride called Elizabeth?

There was great, great grandfather John who managed to marry two Elizabeths.
Were the parents of Suffolk limited in their knowledge of other Christian names? Did they secretly yearn to call their daughters Karen, Kim or Kylie, but the parish clerk could only muster the noble Elizabeth in the register.

What did they call themselves? There must have been some variation with all these Elizabeths living in such a small village as Assington.
Then when the wives bore girls what did the Williams and Johns name them? If your mother is Elizabeth why not your daughter?

Just a smidgeen of information of these 18th and 19th century ancestors sends the mind into imagining Eliza, Betty, Bess and Lizzie sweeping their cottages, hanging out the washing, gossiping in the street, hastening on Sundays to St Edmund’s church. And perhaps dreaming of a wild card name for their next daughter.

Death of the Imagination?


Apparently Anthony Horowitz, author of Foyles War and the popular Alex Ryder series of teenage spy novels, is bemused at being told by a US editor that ‘it’s inappropriate to draw from experiences other than his own’. In other words, he must write only about Jewish gentlemen currently in their sixties.


It is true that Jane Austen’s brilliant works were based on acute observation of her milieu, that Dickens had first-hand experience of the darker side of Victorian London, and that Tolstoy’s own father, as a veteran of The Patriotic War of 1812, would have shared his experiences with his son.

But what is this blinkered editor thinking:

  • That J K Rowling is a secret wizard?
  • Surely Hilary Mantel lives in contemporary England, not Tudor London?
  • Neither Pat Barker, nor Sebastian Faulks were born during World War I, so how did they re-create its tragedies so vividly in Ghost Road and Birdsong?
  • Likewise, Helen Dunmore wasn’t in Leningrad in 1941, yet somehow managed to write The Seige with power and sensitivity.
  • Jacqueline Wilson transported herself successfully into London’s eighteenth century Foundling Hospital with Hetty Feather
  • Jessie Burton succeeds in ‘impressively evoking the oppressive society of the Dutch Golden Age’ in The Miniaturist.
  • Sarah Perry uncovers a fantastical tale set in 1893 in The Essex Serpent.
  • Francis Spufford magicked eighteenth century New York into rivetting re-existence with Golden Hill.
  • David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas surely tops them all, with a narrative ‘circling the globe and reaches from the nineteenth century to a post-apocalyptic future’.

I am as bemused as the talented Mr Horowitz. Maybe these writers are simply all wizards.

Anglican Women Novelists: a treat in store


, , ,

The bodies were discovered at eight forty-five on the morning of Wednesday 18th September by Miss Emily Wharton, a 65-year-old spinster of the parish of St Matthews in Paddington, London, and Darren Wilkes, aged 10, of no particular parish as far as he knew or cared.

This, the irresistible opening sentence of A Taste for Death by P. D. James, was among the excerpts in the handout at a scintillating lecture given by Professor Alison Shell entitled ‘Anglicanism and Women Novelists: A Special Relationship’ at the Barbara Pym Society meeting in London on 7th May.

Crime and humour: these seem to be the predominant threads in Anglican fiction. Spinsters loom large … we were treated to excerpts from Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and of course Barbara Pym.

Professor Alison Shell  is currently co-editing with Judith Maltby Anglican Women Novelists which includes essays on P. D. James, Rose Macauley, Barbara Pym and others from Charlotte Bronte onwards. The good news is that it’s being published by Bloomsbury early next year, so there’s not long to wait for what sounds like a fascinating study.

Nothing to Declare … or is there?

The Director’s Cut Company under Heather Ward has called for writer’s submissions of 5 to 7-minute monologues/duologues for the Director’s Club Showcase at Southwark Playhouse, London. The deadline is in pdf format by 6pm on Friday 19th May to:

From the website but please read the brief carefully. There is much more to it than this short teaser …


Or is there?…

She is a free spirit.  Constantly moving, from one European country to the next.  Embracing culture and people from all walks of life.  She likes change, adventure, risk and discoveries…and she chooses when and what she gives away.  Once you encounter her your life will never be the same again.  Are you ready?

A moment with her is all you have.  And then, she is gone.


This is a unique and exciting concept, we are looking for stand out pieces that respond to the below brief.

We envisage Nothing to Declare to be a play about humanity, culture, connection, encounters, self-discovery, anonymity, love and freedom.  This woman, whose name or nationality is never mentioned, and who you only hear about from the people who have met her, moves freely and spontaneously, whenever she chooses, from one European country to the next, picking up different jobs, sharing in random and meaningful, sometimes life changing encounters, meeting people from all walks of life, remaining interested and curious, impacting those she meets, and unraveling their story…as well as her own.

Please read the brief carefully before applying.

We are looking for:

  • Monologues and duologues 5-7 minutes in length …

For more details go to



Competitions to Enter in May


, , , , , , ,

For those of us slaving into the night on our novels (who groan at also having to produce an enticing agent letter, plus possibly an elevator pitch) competitions for debut novels do at least omit these. You usually need the dreaded synopsis, of course, but that can hardly be avoided. Unless you’re Hilary Mantel: no agent would surely have the nerve to demand one from her…

May is the month for the Bridport’s Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award. Required are the opening chapters of the novel – a minimum of 5,000 words and a maximum of 8,000 words, plus a synopsis of 300 words. First prize is £1,000, plus a written report from the judge, while a runner-up will receive £500, plus a full manuscript appraisal from The Literary Consultancy. The entry fee is £20 and the deadline is midnight on May 31st. Full details from:

Next up is the Yeovil Literary Prize.  They’re asking for your opening chapters and a synopsis, up to 15,000 words. Prizes are: £1,000, £250, £100, with a modest entry fee of £12. Closing date is May 31st. Full details:

The Winchester Writers’ Festival 2017 want only the first three pages, plus a 600 word synopsis. Prizes: an editorial meeting with Little Brown, plus £70-worth of books; £30-worth of books. Entry fee is only £6, or £16 with some constructive feedback. This would be perfect for someone embarking on a first or new novel and the feedback offer sounds incredibly good value.  Deadline May 15th. Details:

New Voices First Novel Competition. 50 pages of a novel, ready for submission by a first-time writer. Prize: Start-up mentoring package worth £550. Entry fee: £10. Deadline May 31st.  Details:

And for the short story writers:

Winchester Writers’ Festival 2017 are also looking for a 1,000-word short story with a MURDER theme. Prizes are books to the value of £60, £40, £20. They also want open-themed short stories between 1,500-3,000 words. Prizes: a telephone consultation with Janklow and Nesbit ‘to receive editorial report’; book prizes for second and third places. Winchester also have competitions for a picture book for children, a memoir, a book for children aged 8-12; flash fiction, and a competition for young writers. Each entry is £6, with the same offer of an included critique for £16. Lots of opportunities on their website:

Frome Festival Short Story Festival is seeking stories of 1,000-2,200-words on an open theme. Prizes: £400, £200, £100, with winning entries published on their website – and also possibly sent by them to Women’s Weekly for consideration. Entry fee: £8. Deadline May 31st. Details:

Bath Short Story Competition want up to 2,200 words on an open theme. Prizes: £1,000, £200, £50, plus a £50 prize for the best short story by an unpublished writer. Winning and shortlisted stories will be published in an anthology. Entry fee is £8, and the closing date (SOON) is May 1st. Details:

The Bristol Prize is for a 4,000-word short story. Prizes: £1,000, £799, £400, £100. Fee £8. Deadline (SOON) May 3rd. Details:

Bridport also have a short story prize (5,000 words), plus one for a poem (42 lines maximum) and another for flash fiction (250 words). Fee: £10 story; £9 poem; £8 flash. Prizes: story/poem: £5,000, £1,000, £500, 10x£100; flash: £1,000, £500, £250, 3x£100. Deadline May 31st. Details:

Yeovil are also offering prizes for a short story, up to 2,000-words and a poem, up to 40 lines. Prizes: £500, £200, £100 for stories/poem. They also have a ‘Writing Without Restriction’ competition (see website for further information on this), with prizes of £200, £100 and £50. Entry fees: £7 for short stories and/or one poem, £10 for two, £12 for three. Writing without restriction: £5. Deadline: May 31st. Details:

Storgy Magazine 2017 Short Story Competition. Stories up to 5,000 words. Prizes: £1,000, £500, £250. Entry fee: £10. Deadline: May 31st. Details:

Cinnamon Press Short Story Prize: 2,000 to 5,000 words. Prizes: one year’s free mentoring, place on a Ty Newydd course. Publication. Entry fee: £12. Deadline May 31st. Details:

There are so many opportunities in May that I’m going cross-eyed, so PLEASE check all details carefully. I’ll certainly be entering several of these competitions (ever the optimist), as will other members of ninevoices.

Remember. If you don’t enter, you can’t win.