Competitions to Enter in October


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The Dorset Fiction Award has a prize of £500, with anthology publication. Entries must be under 1,000 words, on any theme, and the entry fee is £7. You need not be resident in Dorset. Their deadline is 15 October and full details can be found on their website:

The National Poetry Competition has a first prize of £5,000, a second prize of £2,000 and a third prize of £1,000. All this, plus the chance to receive international acclaim for your work. There are also seven commendations which will earn £200 each. Entry is £6.50 for a first poem, with £3.50 per poem thereafter. Deadline 31 October. Details:

Southport Writers’ Circle has launched its Annual Short Story Competition for original, unpublished short fiction on any theme, up to 2,000 words. The first prize is £150, the Second Prize £80 and the Third Prize £30. Winning stories will be published online. Entry is £3 per story, or four for £10. Closing date 31 October. Details

Troubadour Poetry Prize for a poem of 45 lines. Entry: £6 for first poem, then £4. Prizes: £2,000; £1,000; £500. Deadline 16 October. Details:

RW Flash Fiction Prize. Up to 500 words in any genre except children’s. Entry: £10 for one entry; £18 for two; £25 for three. Prizes: £250; £150; £75; £15, plus publication.  Also RW Short Story Prize, for 1500-4000 words. Entry £15 for one entry, £28 for two; £35 for three. Prizes: £350; £200; £100; £20. Deadline 29 October. Details:

NAWG Open Short Story Competition. 500-2000 words. Entry: £5, plus £5 for optional critique. Prizes: £200; £100; £50. Deadline 31 October. Details:

There are also regular quarterly short story competitions by organisations such as Henshaw Press, who look for stories up to 2000 words. The Entry fee is £5, with prizes of £100; £50; £25. Details:

As ever, we recommend that you double-check all details before entering.




Poetry, Please.




How better to celebrate National Poetry Day than to share with you words penned by our resident poet, Jane, on the birth of a grandchild?

Reuben was one of the poems in Jane’s book Fragments of Love, the title poem of which was originally printed in The Times in February 2010 as Love’s Fragments.

Jane generously donated profits from Fragments of Love to the ‘Cinderella’ charity PMRGCAuk, which supports sufferers from the painfully debilitating condition, polymyalgia rheumatica.

Being any kind of writer is hard. Being a poet is almost impossible. Let’s celebrate every last one of them on this, their day.









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For many of us there are new words or new usages that we love to hate – or maybe just hate. Some of us dislike the increasingly widened use of ‘curate’ (as in a museum, not an apprentice vicar!), or of ‘paradigm’ (I’m sure it has a proper meaning, even if what that is escapes me …). For me a recent one has been ‘Congrats!’. For some reason it has grated on me. Irritated me beyond measure.

Sir Cliff didn’t sing ‘Congrats!”. What would have come next – ‘And celebrats!’? I don’t think that’d have come second in Eurovision. Twenty-second, perhaps.

Which words or usages have this effect on you?

When you’re writing, can you bring yourself to put these words into the mouths of your characters? If you just hate the unliteral use of ‘literally’, would you make one of your characters use it as showing rather than telling an aspect of their characters? Or, perhaps, are you so annoyed by it that you wouldn’t want any piece of work with your name on it to contain this solecism? Tricky one, eh?

I’ve changed my mind on ‘Congrats!’, for two reasons. The first was seeing Rafael Nadal use it twice in his victory speech after having just won the American Open: if one of the best tennis players the world has even seen can use it, speaking in a language not his mother tongue, clutching one of the sport’s biggest prizes, then who am I to criticise …

The second reason is more prosaic. I was composing a tweet. I needed to cut some characters to keep within the magic 140. And, yes, it was ‘ulation’ that went. There. I’ve admitted it. I’ve used it myself. It’s not so bad.

Christmas murder stories


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Each year I try to write a Christmas short story, usually with a murder in it. With varying success. I find I have contradictory emotions on just having finished The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by the great PD James. On the one hand I realise that what I produce comes nowhere near the quality of these stories. On the other, I’m spurred to greater effort.

These four stories aren’t festive tales.  And at the same time they are so atmospheric. PD teases us about what we’re reading: in one she says that the butler and his wife, the cook, are “indispensable small-part characters in any country-house murder”; and in another Adam Dalgliesh is flagged down on a country road on Christmas Eve, when “… his first thought was that he had somehow become involved in one of those Christmas short stories written to provide a seasonal frisson for the readers on an upmarket weekly magazine.”

The Mistletoe Murder (1995) is set in wartime, at a Christmas house-party in a practically empty country house. The period is well evoked, as is a pervading sadness. A gruesome killing takes place and there are very few suspects. The clues are there for us, but I didn’t manage to work it out. The ending was beautifully unexpected. A story told with real atmosphere.

A Very Commonplace Murder (1969) is a sordid story set in Camden Town, involving a voyeur who spies on lovers in a house opposite his place of work. The scene of adultery becomes a scene of murder.

The Boxdale Inheritance (1979) is an Adam Dalgliesh story.   He is asked by an elderly Canon (his godfather) to investigate a murder that happened in 1902. An inheritance depends on it. That ancient crime took place in another gloomy large house, with a family assembled for Christmas, a family riven (as is de rigueur in such a setting) by jealousy and greed. Unbreakable alibis abound. The principal clue to the solution is presented to the reader but in such a way that I sailed straight past it.

The Twelve Clues of Christmas (1996) also features Adam Dalgliesh. One Christmas Eve he finds himself at an unwelcoming Harkerville Hall, deep in Suffolk, faced with a bizarre apparent suicide. Again, members of a divided family are in attendance. Our hero solves the mystery by spotting the twelve clues of the title.

He concludes that story by observing, ”My dear Aunt Jane, I don’t think I’ll ever have another case like it. It was pure Agatha Christie.’” You’re too modest, Lady James.

Talking of Agatha Christie – one of the few whodunits I’ve read a second time is Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, which I reread in order to see where the clues to the solution were. And yes, the main clue is there: as clear as day when you know its significance, but when read the first time it’s hidden in plain sight as just a piece of description. Similar to that in The Boxdale Inheritance.

So: if at this early stage you’re looking for a seasonal stocking-filler for a whodunit-lover, The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories would fit the bill. And if you’re yourself a writer of Christmas short stories, here’s a standard to aim for!

The most delightful competition ever



If you are a fan of Barbara Pym and looking for the perfect short story competition to enter, the Barbara Pym Society’s 2018 Ellen J Miller Memorial competition could be made for you.

What could be more blissful than the brief which is that entries must prominently feature one or more characters from Barbara Pym’s published novels, in any setting or situation the author chooses? Readers of Barbara Pym know how her characters continue to live beside them, in moments of recognition, both painful and comic, while offering endlessly comforting human solidarity …

The prize for the winning entry is $250 and the story will be read at the Society’s annual North American Conference held in Boston March 2018. The deadline is 4 December. Details at



Ninevoices Summer Competition – the winner!


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Ninevoices are delighted to announce that the winner of our Summer Competition is ‘The Last Walk’ by Karen Martyn. Congratulations, Karen! The prize of £100 will soon be coming your way.

In our competition entrants had to use one or more words taken from a list of little-known words with meanings related to nature, such as smeuse (Sussex dialect for a hole in a hedge left by the repeated passage of a small animal – see photo) or petrichor (the smell of dry earth and rock that comes before and during rainfall). The required length was 99 to 199 words.

Our decision came after much discussion (really!). Entries came from across the world – from three continents, in fact. We were impressed by the imagination and ingenuity shown in the way our chosen words were deployed.

A close runner-up was ‘Stop the Rain’ by Christina Dalcher.

Special mention should also be given to the following entries:

‘Before and After’

‘The Mangrove Mist’

‘The Scent of Descent’

‘The Gloaming’

Our thanks to all those who sent us entries. Sorry there could be only one winner!

Synopsis? What Synopsis?



I’m almost purring with pleasure as I put the final tweaks in place for my entry to Mslexia’s Women’s Novel Competition 2017. Why? Not because I expect to win – though squeezing onto any long list would be awesome – but because THEY DON’T REQUIRE A SYNOPSIS. Thank you, Mslexia! I always knew you were great people.

This is almost unheard of, and most welcome. Writing a synopsis is worse than cleaning the oven after a blackberry and apple crumble has erupted and left a pumice-hard lava flow.

If you don’t have your own entry poised to go, you still have until 18 September. Plenty of time, especially as there’s no synopsis to agonise over.

Must go and wash my whiskers now, before having another tweak.

(The picture above, incidentally, is of Gizzie, our newish rescue cat – who spent most of her second day with us up a chimney. With a tail like that, maybe we should start a chimney sweep business…)


‘Catching the Wind’


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I’m impressed by the structure of the novel I’ve just read, Catching the Wind by Melanie Dobson.  It’s in split time – in the 1940s and in the present day, and I found myself really wanting to know what would happen next in both stories.  Much careful planning must have gone into the plotting – it doesn’t read at all like ‘seat of the pants’ composition.

In World War Two 13-year-old Dieter and 10-year-old Brigitte run from their homes in Germany to escape the Gestapo.   After a terrible journey they manage to get to England, but are soon separated.  Dieter promises Brigitte he will come back and find her.  However, he is interned and can’t do so.  Brigitte finds herself in a most dangerous situation, exploited on a rich man’s estate and at risk from people who may be Nazi sympathisers.

Today, now aged 90, Dieter has become Daniel Knight, a successful businessman in America.  He has tried without success to keep his promise and find Brigitte.  He recruits Quenby Vaughn, a young American journalist living in London, to try once more.  She is working on another assignment, investigating possible espionage and subversion for the Germans in Britain in WW2: a possible link with Brigitte leads her to agree, despite her having to work with Daniel Knight’s arrogant lawyer Lucas Hough.

We follow Brigitte’s story in WW2 and, in parallel, Quenby’s search for her in 2017.  Quenby is strengthened in her search by her Christian faith: however, in her past she suffered a dreadful wrong, and she has to wrestle with issues of forgiveness.  And there’s a twist in the tail that quite caught me by surprise.

The novel is set largely in Kent and Sussex, as well as in London and North America. It’s interesting to see ourselves with an outsider’s eye.  The author is American, and I met her last year when she was in this part of Kent researching for this novel.  She describes the nearby town of Tonbridge thus:  “The town centre was a paradox … , modern storefronts mixed with the medieval past.  A river ran through town and lapped against the foundations of old shops now housing establishments like Subway and Starbucks.  And an abandoned old castle perched on a grassy hill, overlooking the town.”

I found it salutary to learn of the activities of British pro-German saboteurs and spies in WW2.  The Author’s Note makes clear that what we read in Catching the Wind is based on what she found in the National Archives at Kew.   So our idea of the nation all pulling together, backs against the wall, united against the common foe, is not entirely true.  Fortunately for us the traitors’ efforts were insufficient …

Thanks, Melanie.  I enjoyed it.

Catching the Wind, by Melanie Dobson, was published earlier this year by Tyndale House Publishers, ISBN 978-1-4964-1728-2  You can order it through Waterstone’s, for the equivalent of $14-99, with no postage and packing: it might take 2 weeks or so to come to Britain from America.  It’s also available online from Amazon, or from the publishers at  The author’s own website is

Margaret Atwood Interview

Nearly missed the great Alan Yentob interview with Margaret Atwood on BBC1 at 10.30 pm on Monday. If you didn’t catch it, it’s well worth catching up with via BBC-IPlayer.

I especially enjoyed her reminiscence about being annoyed when an earlier interviewer suggested that her work must be largely autobiographical: Did Agatha Christie really commit all those murders…?