Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

Of spiders big as saucers in the shower,

And woozy wasps bombarding barbecues.


Skipper, our beta-reader, says that since summer is over it is TIME to send in your entry to our short story competition.

There are only TWO DAYS left in which to sink your teeth into our £250 first prize. Think how many yummy dog biscuits that would buy!

He’s relying on you.


Polishing Your Entry to our Short Story Competition?

One of our beta-readers, Skipper, thinks that sometimes you can over-edit. He suggests you give that entry a final polish and send it in today, before the deadline on the 28th…!

A rainy day is the perfect time for us to get on with reading the entries already received, but we’re greedy for even more. It’s in a good cause. And most of us could find something useful to do with that £250 first prize.




How to Write a Short Story?


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One summer, long ago, while I was devouring a sandwich at my desk, a colleague brandished the local paper at me.

‘Something for you?’ she said.

Write us a short story, the paper challenged. There will be prizes.

At the time I composed occasional pieces for our staff magazine, but was procrastinating about getting down to serious writing. My friend was calling my bluff.

There is nothing like a deadline for concentrating the mind, but there were just a couple of weeks in which to produce an entry that wouldn’t embarrass me if it was ever published.

I scratched a head of hair, the colour of which, in those days, needed no help from Garnier Nutrisse. What the hell to write? Short of inspiration, I resorted to gathering random thoughts in the way one rustles-up a scratch supper from leftovers in the fridge.

The story had to be set in East Sussex or Kent. Should I write something about the famous Pantiles? About our regency past, with Beau Nash and goings-on at the Assembly Rooms? But wouldn’t lots of people do that?

Local but different was surely the answer.

My default position was to use what I knew. My husband rides and at that time often cantered across the glorious commons with which Tunbridge Wells and neighbouring Southborough are blessed. He owned a spirited grey mare, so I decided to put the two of them at the centre of my story. Calypso had a a mind of her own, so she became Madam. She also had an alarming tendency to spook. That morning I’d driven to work through the woods myself, car windows open, shivering in one of those eerie mists you can get at the end of summer.

So it had to be a ghost story, didn’t it? Everyone loves them.

And didn’t people say that a mere arrow’s flight from Southborough Common is the patch of land where Harold’s army camped the night before the battle of Hastings? Isn’t it still called Camp Field, in honour of the tradition?

I decided that mixing past and present was my answer, using that invaluable resource of the writer: What if…?? All I needed was a way to link 1066 with the end of the twentieth century (Yes, it was that long ago). It was then that I noticed a small ad in the paper for a metal detector. If an army in a hurry really did pass that way, wouldn’t they have dropped things? Might something unearthed from long ago conjure up a fleeting glimpse of a ghostly army?

Reader, to my surprise I won the competition. The prize was books from Waterstones, and a calligraphy set, but better than that was the acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe, I could one day become a proper writer.

I dragged up this recollection to encourage those thinking of entering our own current short story competition. Short of inspiration, I used things my husband had said about riding on the Common, the feistiness of his mare – who saw monstrous apparitions behind every bank of fern – and myths I’d heard about Harold’s having passed this way. Then I noticed that advertisement for a metal detector. Threw in my impressions of driving under the trees through wisps of fog. And wrote, and rewrote, until it was done.

So how is your story getting on? We are loving reading those already received, but hungry for more. No ghost stories yet – but we’d love to get some… Or a summer crime or murder, perhaps? Whatever your fertile writers’ minds can come up with, BUT YOU’VE ONLY GOT UNTIL SEPTEMBER 28th.



Oxford delights: Jilly Cooper and Barbara Pym


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What’s the connection between Jilly Cooper and Barbara Pym apart from them being quintessentially English and writing splendidly funny novels?

Jilly Cooper’s introduction to the 2007 Virago edition of Barbara Pym’s Jane and Prudence, first published in 1953, tells the story of how she borrowed the novel quite by chance from a library and fell in love with it. ‘I shamefully lied to the librarians that I had lost it, paying a 3s 6d fine … over the years, as Barbara Pym replaced Nancy Mitford, Georgette Heyer, even Jane Austen, as my most loved author, I devoured all her books, but Jane and Prudence remains my favourite.’

Jilly Cooper was therefore the perfect and altogether delightful guest at a magnificent tea in Oxford, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Barbara Pym Society, as part of the Society’s weekend conference featuring Jane and Prudence.  Some of those attending might never have read a Jilly Cooper novel; others like myself have delicious youthful memories of revelling in her stories serialised in magazines like 19 and Petticoat, some of which were subsequently expanded into short romantic novels named after their heroines.

It’s in Harriet, partly set in Oxford and published in 1976, that we get a rather endearing echo of a scene in Barbara Pym’s Jane and Prudence; in both novels young girls remark to each other that thirty sounds so old but forty must be worse… whereupon they brood silently upon this horror!

Jilly Cooper might be more famous now for her ‘bonkbuster’ novels, starting with Riders in 1985, but perhaps the older among us will always have an affectionate soft spot for the irresistible heroes and scatty/naughty/dreamy/kind-hearted/unselfconfident/innocent heroines of the early romantic novels Bella, Emily, Octavia, Prudence, Harriet, Imogen and her collection of short stories Lisa & Co, first published as Love and Other Heartaches. They offered the escapist, romantic, comfort-with-comedy reading we sometimes needed when growing up.

As Jilly Cooper wrote of her short stories in 1981 ‘I cannot pretend that these stories are literature. They are written purely to entertain… Their mood is rooted firmly in the sixties, where we all lived it up… when the young were still optimistic about marriage, and believed that God was in his Heaven if all was Mr Right with the world.’

Jilly Cooper met Barbara Pym met just once – at the Hatchards Authors of the Year Party in 1979 – a wonderful memory always treasured. I have the same after meeting Jilly Cooper.




Anglican Women Novelists


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There have been more Anglican women novelists than you might think. 13 of them feature in Anglican Women Novelists – from Charlotte Brontë to PD James, edited by Judith Maltby and Alison Shell, and published only this year. Two of the ninevoices were at its launch in the magnificent setting of Lambeth Palace Library in July.

The editors explain that to keep the book of manageable size they restricted it to writers who were British and deceased. But questions of selection are inevitable. Iris Murdoch is here? Yes, because although she lost her faith in Christ’s divinity, and was drawn towards Buddhism, her world was still infused by Anglicanism and she still attended Anglican services. The author of the Iris Murdoch essay (Peter S Hawkins) entitles it “Anglican Atheist”.

And why no Jane Austen, in whose novels the C of E features so much, when Charlotte Brontë gets in? Because between the two lie Catholic Emancipation and the repeals of the Test and Corporation Acts, meaning that other denominations could now take their place freely on the national stage: Anglicanism had lost its ‘default’ position as the nation’s faith and was becoming more of a denomination that you made a positive choice to join.

The essay on Charlotte Brontë (by Sara L Pearson) argues how much her life was rooted in the C of E and how much of her work does too. Shirley, we read, shows her “longing for the Church of England’s preservation and reformation”. In Jane Eyre the male representatives of the Church, Mr Brocklehurst and St John Rivers, are hardly role models, and their failings are compared with (and perhaps compensated for by) the qualities of female characters around them. Also, “the Book of Common Prayer haunts the pages of Jane Eyre … not only for its contents but also as a physical object”: it will have formed such an ever-present part of her childhood.

‘Dorothy L Sayers – God and the Detective’ is the title of Jessica Martin’s piece. She speaks of the role justice and punishment play in her detective novels. She makes the important point that Golden Age detective novels were written in the time when the hangman awaited the unmasked murderer: in that sense the stakes were higher, the ultimate retribution is always in the background.   Sayers had trouble with this, we read: she had “increasing unease with narrative arcs which must privilege orderly acts of justice over the wilder power of mercy”. She sees the limitations of this, and justice must come from elsewhere: “her plots have an invisible protagonist, and his name is Jehovah”. The essay then analyses Murder Must Advertise, The Nine Tailors, Unnatural Death and Gaudy Night in this light.

The final essay is ‘PD James – “Lighten our Darkness”’ by Alison Shell.   She compares PD James to other Golden Age detective writers, principally Agatha Christie, concluding, “For all her own homage to Christie, her novels are far more violent and desolate than her predecessor’s; if Christie is the quintessential Golden Age detective novelist, James’ fallen world locates her within an Iron Age of crime fiction.” Evil is a reality: and the essay speculates on the degree to which PD James saw evil as a force in its own right. Her novels are steeped in the Anglican Church and its tradition. Churches (in a bleak East Anglia) provide the settings for many key events. PD James herself was a lover of the beauty of its traditional language and was a great supporter of the Prayer Book Society, set up to keep alive the glorious heritage of the Book of Common Prayer. Quotations from it recur in her work.

The other authors covered in the book are Charlotte Maria Tucker, Margaret Oliphant, Charlotte M Yonge, Evelyn Underhill, Rose Macaulay, Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Goudge, Noel Streatfeild and Monica Furlong.

Published by t&tclark, ISBN 978-0-567-68676-3 RRP £27-99




Writing Competitions to Enter in September


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September, of course, is your final chance to enter our own competition for a story on the theme of ‘summer‘ – and don’t forget, you only have until the 28th, not the end of the month. The first prize is £250, with £50 going to one runner-up. Entry is £5 and all profits will be going to the cinderella arthritis charity, PMRGCAuk.

We have chosen to limit entry to those who didn’t earn more than £300 from their writing in the past year. So you won’t have to compete with people like Ian Rankin, Hilary Mantel or Stephen King (all of whom are, no doubt, gnashing their teeth with frustration).

Mslexia Competitions. Details from Deadline for all three competitions: 30 September.

Mslexia Novel Competition. For novels of at least 50,000 words in any genre for adult and/or young adult readers by currently unpublished women writers. The winner gets £5,000, together with the option of representation by agent Charlotte Robertson. In addition, finalists are invited to a pitching and networking event with agents and editors, and will receive manuscript feedback from TLC. Submit the first 5,000 words (great news – they don’t appear to require a synopsis!). Entry fee: £25.

Mslexia Flash Fiction Competition for up to 300 words. The winning entry will get £500 and they, together with three finalists will be published in Mslexia magazine. Entry fee: £5.

Mslexia Short Story Competition for up to 3,000 words. The first prize is £3,000, plus an optional Moniack Mhor writing retreat and mentoring by an editor at Virago Press. Their story, together with those of three finalists, will also be published in Mslexia magazine. Entry fee: £10

Retreat West Novel Prize for unpublished novels. Prize: Retreat West publishing contract and £500 advance. Manuscript critique and editorial report. Entry fee: £15. Deadline 1 September. Details:

The London Short Story Prize, for writers with a London postcode. Up to 5,000 words. Prizes: £1,000. Entry fee: £6. Deadline 17 September. Details:

The Manchester Prize for short stories up to 2,500 words, or portfolio of 3-5 poems, max 120 lines each. Prizes: £10,000 in each category. Entry fee: £17.50. Closing date: 20 September. Details:

Imison Award for original radio plays by writers new to radio. Prizes: £2,000. Entry fee: £30. Closing date: 30 September. Details:

The Caterpillar Story for Children Prize. Short stories of up to 2,000 words for children aged 7-11. Entrants must be over 16. Prizes: 1,000 Euros. Entry fee: 12 Euros. Closing date: 30 September. Details:

Grindstone Literary Services Novel Prize. Opening chapter of 3,000-words, plus synopsis. Entry: £22. Prizes: £1,000; £100; publication; course coupon. Deadline: 28 September.

Bedford International Writing Competition for short stories of up to 3,000 words, poems up to 40 lines, on any theme. Prizes: £300, £150, £100 in each category. Entry fee: £6, £12 for three. Closing date: 30 September. Details:

Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize for stories up to 6,000 words. Prizes: £1,000 or a year’s editorial support, £150 for shortlisted authors, £50 bookshop vouchers and four GBP titles for those longlisted. Entry fee: £10. Closing date: 30 September. Details:

Romance is in the air, for the Val Wood Prize for a love letter. Each entry can contain several letters (to the same person, or several), but must be no more than 1,500 words. First prize is £100 and publication on their website. The runner-up will receive £50, and two other commendations of £25. Entry appears to be free, and that prize would enable you to treat your own dearly beloved to a meal, or a slap-up cream tea. The deadline is September 21st., But please read all the conditions of entry carefully on the website:

HWA & Sharpe Books Unpublished Novel Award is for an unpublished novel set at least 35 years in the past. Imogen Robertson, Chair of the Historical Writers Association, is one of the judges. They require a completed manuscript between 40,000-words and 100,000-words, together with a synopsis of between 500-1,000-words. The prize is a publishing contract with Sharpe Books and £500. There are two further cash prizes of £100. Important note: all entrants will be offered a consultation with Richard Foreman, Managing Director of Sharpe Books, by phone or email on how to find an agent and routes into mainstream publishing or, if they wish, advice on how to self-publish their work and the companies which can support self-published authors. This is helpful advice, bearing in mind some rather doubtful companies advertising for unwary writers. The entry fee is £20, and the deadline 30 September. Details:

Please always double-check all details in case of error on my part. It is, after all, rather hot for crouching over a keyboard.

Final thought. If you feel spoilt for choice, enter several…

Good luck!



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We asked our friend, writer Louise Mangos, to share her top tips for using social media to get our work noticed.

It doesn’t matter where you are in your writing career, whether you’re a best-selling novelist or a budding poet, a great way to get your work, ideas or publications noticed (apart from a multi-million PR budget through your publisher – dream on!) is through social media networks.

The obligation of maintaining a social media presence is often included in the clauses of today’s publishing contracts. It’s the task many authors often dread. We spend our days isolated in our writing caves, creating fictional worlds, and suddenly our publishers say they want us to increase our social media presence. The task seems daunting, and it can certainly be time-consuming.

So here are some tips to help minimise the hassle, while aiming to increase your fan-base, expand your network, and hopefully bring in some sales.


Facebook is the most intimate platform of the three mentioned in this article. Most users have Facebook accounts to share their personal experiences with family and close friends. But creating a separate Author Page allows you as a writer to keep your personal and professional life separate. Instead of “friending” contacts, people will “follow” you as an author and “like” your page. Facebook has a random timeline. Posts with “like”s might appear days after they’ve been uploaded, and will consequently reappear when a comment is added. So you don’t really need to post more than once a day. If you’re promoting, it’s important to vary each of your posts. Readers and fans love to learn about the personal life of a writer. They still want to see pictures of your dogs or cats, even if your principal intention is to draw attention to your writing, but not too often. The most innovative posts might include a combination of the two – have your dog display your novel between its paws – and you might make a reader out of a pet-lover. It’s best to use single images in each post, and don’t forget an all-important URL link to your work.


If you’re new to Twitter, create an account with a name that’s easily identifiable to other followers – your author name is the best option if it isn’t already taken. You can add “author,” “writer,” or “books” to your name if someone has already claimed your Twitter handle (for example @LouiseMangosAuthor). Follow friends or colleagues who already have accounts, then follow as many writers as possible whose books and news you’re interested in. You can also check to see who these people follow, and follow people from their lists too. People to follow might include agents, publishers, book reviewers, journalists and bloggers. You’ll eventually get people following you back.

Until recently Twitter was an instant platform. Once posts were seen in the moment, they would disappear into the ether, unless someone later commented on the thread. Now followers who check in to their accounts at any time of day get “in case you missed it” posts. If your fans have “liked” your posts in the past, they may see your threads long after you have posted them. This gets your posts seen more frequently. But it also means you need to be more innovative about what you post. If users only see the same links to your books and the cover of your book, they will quickly become bored with your content, and may end up unfollowing you or muting your account. If you have a book to sell, find an image from its setting. If you’re travelling, take a photo of the book on your journey. Readers love to identify with you as an author as well as your work. There is no harm in posting interesting photos from your everyday non-writing life. You can also link these images somehow to your writing life.

Don’t forget to share other authors’ work or news, especially if their writing is the same genre as your own. Other users are more likely to share your posts if you have done the same for them. From time to time check your own timeline to make sure you’ve been posting a variety of images with tweets.

Twitter has a more conversational thread than Facebook, but it’s important to note there are certain times of the day when it is best to post. To avoid getting sucked into the habit of forever checking your social media accounts, you should schedule a short time twice a day to go online. The best time of day in the UK is tea time – between 3 and 4pm. This is also a great time if you’re hoping to hit the US as users will be on their way to work or just waking up, and will be checking their devices. In this respect, between 7:30 and 9:00am in the UK is also popular. If you’re without inspiration and have a moment before bed, you could retweet something you’ve posted earlier in the day to catch the US market. You can only retweet your posts once. Hash-tags are useful tools. They are less influential than on Instagram, but are still useful to attract new followers to your account. I would limit your hash-tags to two or three in your Twitter posts. A list of writer-driven hash-tags appears at the end of the Instagram section.


Instagram is image based, and completely instant, as it suggests. Posts don’t reappear. But it is less interesting in terms of generating sales because you cannot post URL links on your timeline. If you’re a published author, however, you should open a business account, where you can show a URL link in your personal profile. This link should either be your personal website or your Author Page on Amazon. Instagram followers love to see photos in the manner of those mentioned in the Twitter section above, but it is also a platform highly driven by hash-tags. A popular time for users seems to be evenings. Hash tags (examples listed at the end of this section) are a way to get more followers. Instagram users often look for posts with particular hashtags. There is no limit to the amount of hash-tags you use in your posts, but be aware that on mobile devices, if you have a long list, some may not appear due to limited screen space.

Some useful hashtags for writers:

#WritingCommunity #WritersLife #Fiction #Novels #Writing #amwriting #amreading #BookRecommendation #BookShelf #BookWorm #Bookaholic #BookCommunity #BooksToRead #Bookstagram

Hashtags with your genre: #CrimeFiction #PsychologicalThrillers #Romance #Suspense #HistoricalFiction etc.

Last tips:

If you are an author, a useful tool is to create a universal link to your novels. When you post on social media with a link, for example, to Amazon, a universal link will connect to the Amazon account in the global region where the user lives. There are several platforms who do this. Type “Universal book links” in your search engine to create one for your novels.

#Competitions and #Giveaways also create a great deal of traffic and followers on all social media platforms. If you organise one for your novels, for example, it’s easier to manage on a single platform, and then link to the details on the other platforms to guide fans to your post.


Louise Mangos writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, placed on shortlists, and have been read out on BBC radio. Her suspense novels Strangers on a Bridge and The Art of Deception are published with HQDigital (Harper Collins). You can connect with Louise on Facebook, Twitter @LouiseMangos, and Instagram as louisemangos, or visit her website where there are links to some of her short fiction. Louise lives in Switzerland with her Kiwi husband and two sons.

Link to Louise’s Amazon Author Page in the UK:

Writing Competitions to Enter in August


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                                       (All pictures courtesy of Elizabeth and Maggie)

I spent time recently in Southwark, Shakespeare’s old stamping grounds, and took time to visit Southwark Cathedral, with its memorial to the man himself and also its beautiful Harvard Chapel, the favoured napping spot of the wonderfully-named resident feline, Doorkins Magnificat.

August, of course, is the middle of the SUMMER. A perfect time to pen a short story for our own ninevoices competition, which closes on 28 September. We know you’re busy, but please take time to compose something. You might win £250. Not quite enough for a new laptop, but well worth having…

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In the meantime, however:-

The Curtis Brown First Novel Prize has a deadline of August 1st, so is imminent. Entry is FREE, but you are only allowed the one entry, which is for up to 10,000 words of an unpublished novel (which doesn’t need to be finished), plus a synopsis of up to 400 words. First prize is agency representation and £3,000. The runner-up will be offered a place on their three-month online novel writing course and a mentoring session with a Curtis Brown agent. Four shortlisted authors will be offered a six-week online course, and an agent mentoring session. Details:

Ilkley Literature Festival Short Story Competition, maximum 3,000 words. Entry fee: £5. Prize: £200. Deadline August 1st. Full details:

The Costa Short Story Award is for stories up to 4,000-words, with generous prizes of £3,500; £1,000 and £500. The deadline is August 1st and entry is free. Details:  Please study the entry requirements, which are rather complex. You need, for example, to have been resident in the UK for a stipulated period of time.

The Aesthetica Creative Writing Award, deadline 31 August, has prizes of £1,000 for each category winner for poetry and short fiction, with publication in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Anthology, a one year print subscription to Granta, a selection of books courtesy of Bloodaxe & Vintage, full membership of The Poetry Society (for poetry) and consultation with Redhammer (for short fiction). Entry appears to be free, but check details from:

Retreat West Novel Prize is for the first 7,500 words of an unpublished novel, plus synopsis of 500 words. Entry fee: £15. Prizes: publication plus £500 advance; critique and editorial support; one year’s gold author membership to Retreat West. Must be unagented. Details: Deadline 18 August.

Exeter Story Prize and Trisha Ashley Award for a story of 10,000 words maximum. Entry fee £12, with optional critique at £20. Prizes: £500, plus trophy; £150; £100. Trisha Ashley Award of £200, plus trophy. Details from:

Exeter Flash Fiction Competition. Maximum 750 words. Entry fee: £6. Prizes: £200 plus trophy: £100; £50. Details:

For something a little different, Prima monthly magazine has a regular short story competition, with a £100 prize, for a maximum 800-word story. Email to:  Worth perhaps buying a copy of the magazine to get a feel for what they might like.

Please, as always, check all details before entering any competition.

Finally – with no apologies for being a bore – do consider starting that summer-themed story for us. Summer doesn’t necessarily mean extreme heat, or a beach. It may remind you of a wet tent in the middle of a bog. Of romantic or disastrous wedding ceremonies. Of music festivals, or a juvenile fumble in the long grass…








Of local days out…


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…or expeditions to Peru…







Of lazy days…

…fantastical ones,

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…or spooky ones that make the flesh creep.





We really don’t mind.


Our Second Guest Contributor : Writer Sara Kellow


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With our second short story competition up and running, we thought we’d invite the winner of our first one to offer some encouraging words to those considering entering.


In a recent interview in The Guardian, bestselling author Kate Atkinson describes winning a writing competition as the moment that launched her as a published author. She doesn’t say, but I’d be willing to bet that wasn’t the first competition she ever entered.

Whether you win or not, writing for competitions is the best way to fast-track an improvement to your writing. I discovered this for myself several years ago when I stumbled across Helen Yendall’s Blog About Writing which happened to be running a 100-word story competition with a category for new writers. I’d never shown anything I’d written to anyone before and the idea of offering up my words to be judged made me feel ill. Cringing with embarrassment, I confronted my fear and entered, only to feel worse a week later when I was shortlisted. My story was on the blog for ANYONE to read. The horror! I couldn’t help noticing, though, that the sky didn’t fall in. Nobody pointed and laughed at me in the street; in fact everything was just the same, except that next time it was much easier.

Even though that early shortlisting turned out to be beginner’s luck, I’d gained something valuable. If you are shy about sharing your work, you should definitely enter competitions. A story that disappears without trace, no one needs to know about, but a shortlisting – that’s a tremendous confidence boost. Writing to a set word-count helps you focus. You have to reread your work and, by cutting out anything unnecessary, hone it to a new level of precision. I once misread the rules to a competition and wrote a 500-word story, which I was quite pleased with, only to find when I entered that it should have been 250. I cut out half the words and the resulting story has been shortlisted twice. One more edit and who knows? That’s the great thing about competitions. It can feel like rejection when you don’t get anywhere, but you can learn from the experience. Always read the winners and figure out why the judges chose them. Then go back to your own work with fresh ideas and try again.

Thank you, Sara. Your story, Laptops and Coffin Lids, was a worthy winner against strong competition. That intriguing title didn’t do it any harm, either.

It’s comforting to discover that so many writers seem to suffer from shrinking-violet syndrome, and important to remember that a professional writer is a writer who refuses to give up…


Our Sarah wins Colm Tóibín award


One of our nine voices is frustratingly modest, but the other eight are BURSTING WITH PRIDE.

Our much-loved and madly talented Sarah has just won…..the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award!

She won with her warm-hearted and poignant story, ‘Dinosaurs Rule’.  The Wexford Literary Festival judges clearly saw what we see – the lucidity, insightfulness and generosity of her writing.

Oh, we are so proud and so happy for her!  It will be extra crisps and chocolate cake at our next get-together…

Here she is: Sarah Dawson