Train delays can have their compensations


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My train journey home on Tuesday evening was muchly delayed – long enough to qualify for a refund!  “Signalling problems in the Chislehurst area …”  But no worry: I had a seat, and some good reading material.  Two good reading materials in fact.  I settled down to a happy session.

I remember the green gaze is the latest poetry collection by Matt Chamberlain (for previous ones see the posts and on this blog).    In his Foreword Matt Chamberlain talks about seeing things in colours.  He writes, “The preceding year has been difficult, with bereavements and faltering friendships …  But green says ‘calm tolerant, easy’, and when buffeted between red heat and deep blue cold, I sought its neutrality.   I longed for the return of nature.  I remembered the green gaze.”

‘A Father’s Day’ will echo with anyone who’s lost a loved one, thinking of the everyday actions that won’t be done again.  ‘Commuters’ suggests ways of passing a train journey, eg “Rain makes patterns and I imagine introducing people to their own reflections, me their gentle intermediary.”  ‘Counting’ describes the sheer abundance of nature: “Frank swept away twelve tons of leaves last night but morning said ‘I’ll raise you’; now the scarlet carpet is measured in fathoms.” ‘An Old Soldier’ recalls one’s youth in a way that will resonate; we won’t have in our own memory bank an Action Man stuck for years on a telephone line, but we’ll have the equivalent.

And many more, as they used to say on the sleeves of compilation LPs.  (Talk about going down Memory Lane!)

The other was Mythos, Stephen Fry’s retelling of many of the Greek myths.  As you would expect from him, it’s so readable, a fresh take on familiar stories.  And many of them that weren’t familiar to me.  Told with affection and a modern feel.  In the very first chapter, for example, describing Chaos and the creation of the universe, he explains how your trousers began as chaotic atoms, became your trousers, will become landfill, and in time will return to cold Chaos once the Sun expands and destroys the earth.   When telling the story of how Europa, changed by Zeus into a cow, swims across the Bosphorus, he delights in pointing out that ‘Bosphorus’ and ‘Oxford’ mean exactly the same thing.  Time and again we see the Greek origin of our words or our ideas.

His imagined conversations on Olympus entertain, as does his recognition that he is repeatedly introducing us to perfectly beautiful young people, who may well (but not always) come to sticky ends once their beauty attracts an Olympian.   Adonis, Ganymede, Narcissus, Echo, Psyche, Semele – they’re all here.

Sometimes he gives us interesting variants on what we’re used to.  Athena, for example, changes Arachne into a spider not because she presumptuously took her on in a spinning competition, but as a reward for being a great artist, the poor girl having just hanged herself in mortification a few moments before.

Eventually the signalling difficulties in the Chislehurst area were resolved.  But I hadn’t minded.



The thrill of being shortlisted 2


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Shortlists follow shortlists ….   I too am now enjoying this thrill (see Sarah’s previous post) having just heard that I was shortlisted in the 25th birthday writing competition run by the excellent Link Age Southwark. The competition’s theme was friendship and/or generations, and I sent in “She’s Leaving Home”, a story of parents packing their daughter’s belongings into the family car. This was the fruit of some ninevoices’ set homework. So it can pay to do that homework!

I look forward to reading the stores that won the prizes in the Link Age Southwark comp.  Well done those guys!

The thrill of being shortlisted


I’m always heartened by writers’ honesty about disappointment – and, TBH, I have a lot more time for posts with titles like ‘The Rejection Diaries’ than for ones like mine above.  But … yesterday Maggie posted her excellent monthly round-up of forthcoming competitions and as, minutes later, I found I’d been shortlisted for the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award, I thought I’d just say how jolly grateful I am to her for her monthly reminders.

Do have a go at one of the October competitions she lists.  You might get placed – and it’s such a boost!


Competitions to Enter in October


You’re a writer, so you naturally keep a notebook. Don’t you? This is my current personal collection. They live in my handbag, in the bedside drawer, the car, on the shelf under the coffee table, in my walking jacket, in the kitchen…just about everywhere!  And now I’m giving serious thought to short stories and flash fiction, I’m hoping to mine the odd nugget of gold from within their tattered pages.

Why not join me in entering at least one of the following:

The National Memory Day Poetry Competition wants up to 40 lines on the theme of ‘memory‘. First prize is £700, second £200 and a third of £100. The entry fee is £3 for a single submission and £2 for each additional submission. Deadline: 5 October. Details:

Bath Flash Fiction Award for up to 300 words. Deadline 14 October. Details: (Please note that this website appears down today, so I couldn’t check the prize details and only had these squiggled notes in one of the above notebooks. However, anything Bath does is usually first-rate, so take a look at their site when it comes back on line)

RW Flash Fiction Prize for 500-word flash fiction. Prizes: £350, £200, £100, £15. Entry fee: £8. Deadline 28 October. Details:

Flash 500 Novel Opening, Plus Synopsis, Competition has prizes of £500 for the winner and £200 for the runner-up. Deadline 31 October. Details:

RW Short Story Prize, for stories between 1,500 and 4,000 words. Prizes: £400, £250, £150, £20. Entry fee: £10. Deadline 28 October. Details:

NAWG Novella Competition for first 5,000 words plus a one-page synopsis. Prizes: books to the value of £300, 2x£200. Entry fee: £10. Deadline 31 October. Details

NAWG Open Short Story Competition. 500-2,000 words. Prizes: £200, £100, £50, publication. Entry fee: £5. Deadline 31 October. Details:

Southport Writers’ Circle International Short Story Competition 2018. Stories up to 2,000 words. Prizes: £150, £80, £25; humour £30. Entry fee: £3, or £10 for four. Deadline 31 October. Details:

Tom Gallon Trust Awards. Short stories, up to 5,000 words, by authors who have had at least one story accepted for publication. Prizes: £1,000. Entry: FREE. Deadline 31 October. Details:

London Magazine Short Story Competition 2018 for short stories up to 4,000 words. Prizes: £500; £300; £200. Entry fee: £10. Deadline 31 October. Details:

London Short Story Prize 2018. is for short stories up to 5,000 by writers with London postcodes. Prizes: £1,000. Entry fee: £6 Closing date: 9 October. Details:

A Story for Daniel, flash fiction competition is in memory of Daniel Farbrace and aims to raise awareness of blood stem cell donation. They are looking for up to 500 words ‘with a joyous or hopeful theme‘. The winner will receive £100 and their story will be published on-line. The runner-up will receive a bundle of goodies, including a Retreat West bronze membership and a writing critique. Entry is free, but there are suggested good causes if writers would like to make a donation in young Daniel’s memory. Deadline 31 October. Details

As always, please double-check all particulars – especially the deadline date. Some sources suggest 28 October, others 31 October. That way madness lies…

The Rejection Diaries



I haven’t penned one of these for a while because I’ve been concentrating on my novel. However, things could be about to change.

As a rubbish swimmer, and someone nervous about heights, I’ve decided I must finally leap off the high diving board and submit to my wish-list of literary agents.

I’ve typed The End on my final page. Proof-read every damn one of them. Deleted as many adverbs and adjectives as I can. And subjected my friends in ninevoices to countless readings of chapters that were giving me difficulty. I could nitpick for ever, but feel like someone with a much-loved blouse: I want to keep washing it, but might that make the colour fade?


So I think I’d better jump.  And hope the agents to whom I submit don’t fall about laughing at my presumption in thinking it can properly be called a final draft.

Watch this space…


“Ponder” photograph of diving board courtesy of Kat @ flickr


Competitions to Enter in September


I’ve always been fascinated by doorways, wondering what or who lies through them. Old ones can really get my imagination seething… So why not hunt one down that fires YOUR imagination? Write a story. Open a door for your reader…

Val Wood Prize for Creative Writing 2018. To celebrate 100 years since women won the right to vote this year’s competition is entitled: Women’s Writes. Open to all genders over 16 years of age, entries should be in the form of a short story, with entrants free to write about whatever they wish, but each story must feature a strong female protaganist. The winner will receive £100 and their entry will be published on their website and shared via various social media outlets. The runner-up will receive £50 and there will be two commendations of £25. Max. word count is 1,500 and the deadline 15 September. Details:




Do you live in London? London Short Story Prize. Win a first prize of £1,000 in the annual competition from London writer development agency Spread the Word, which is designed to publish the best new stories coming from the capital. They are looking for unpublished stories up to 5,000 words and the winner will not only receive £1,000, but also have a meeting with an agent. Two runners-up will each receive £250 and a meeting with an editor. Highly commended entries will be published in the London Short Story Anthology 2018. Entry is £8 per story. Deadline 17 September. Details

Mere Literary Festival Write in the Week timed Flash Fiction Competition. On a theme to be announced in 14 September, deadline 22 September. Prizes: £60, £30, £15. Entry fee £2, with £1 for each subsequent. Details:

Hammond House International Literary Prizes 2018, run by the University Centre, Grimsby, are open for entries on the theme: ‘precious‘. The 2018 Short Story Competition is for fiction between 2,00 and 5,000 words. The first prize is £500 and there are second and third prizes of £100 and £50. The top 25 entries will be published. The entry fee is £10. The 2018 Screenplay Competition is for ten-minute screenplays. The winner will receive £25 and their screenplay will be professionally produced and submitted to the Aesthetica film festival. Entry fee £10. The 2018 Poetry Prize is for a single poem, with prizes of £100, £50 and £25. Entry fee is £10 for each poem. Deadline is: 31 September. Details:

Erewash Writers’ Open Short Story, for short stories up to 2,500 words. Prizes: £100, £70, £30. Entry fee: £3, £5 for two, £2.50 thereafter. Deadline 27 September. Details:

The Imison Award for original radio plays by writers new to radio. Prizes: £2,000. Entry fee: £30. Deadline 29 September. Details:

Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize 2018 for stories up to 6,000 words. Prizes: £1,000, or a year’s editorial support. Entry fee: £10. Deadline 28 September. Details:

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

Manchester Fiction Prize for short stories up to 2,500 words. Prizes: £10,000. Entry fee: £17.50 Deadline 14 September. (PLEASE NOTE: ON CHECKING THIS TODAY, I FIND THE DEADLINE HAS BEEN CHANGED FROM 29 SEPTEMBER!)  Details

Caterpillar Story for Children Prize. Short stories up to 2,000 words for children aged 7-11. Prizes: 500 Euros, plus a two-week stay at The Moth retreat; 300 Euros; 200 Euros. Entry fee: 12 Euros. Closing date 30 September. Details:

Chorley & District Writers’ Circle Annual Short Story Competition, for stories on the theme of natural justice. Prizes: £100, £50, £30. Entry fee: £5. Deadline 30 September. Details:

Grindstone Literary Services Novel Prize for an opening chapter, maximum 3,000 words. Entry fee £20. Prizes: £1,000; £100; publication. Discount on Curtis Brown online writing course. Deadline 28 September. Details

The 2019 International Beverly Prize for Literature is for an original, unpublished manuscript of fiction, non-fiction, drama, memoir or criticism. The winner will receive £500 and publication with Eyewear Publishing. The entry fee is £20 and the closing date 15 September. Website:

My apologies for being a bit late with this list – blame editing fever. As always, I rely on you double-checking any competitions you’re interested in, since terms and conditions, or entry dates, can change at the last minute. See my note above, on the Manchester Fiction Prize. 

All that remains is for me to urge you to give something a try. And to remember Samuel Beckett’s famous words:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.



What’s the story?


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What prompts a story in your imagination?

The vogue for fixing padlocks to a bridge as a token of your affection has reached Prague: here are some on a bridge on Kampa Island, a romantic spot favoured by lovers.

On a visit earlier this year we saw this gentleman, in long conference with someone by mobile phone, trying to identify a particular padlock.

What on earth is the story here?  A broken romance, so painful that not even the padlock must remain on the bridge?  A padlock made of gold?  A vital message scratched on one?  And why delegate the finding of this lock to someone else?

Any ideas?



21 August 1968


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Historic events are often tragic but can form the setting for so many stories.

On 21 August 1968 the armies of the Warsaw Pact invaded their partner in the socialist bloc, Czechoslovakia. Thus ended the hopes of the Prague Spring, and then came ‘normalisation’ (Orwell would have been proud of that neologism), which put the Czechs and Slovaks back in their place behind the Iron Curtain for the two decades until 1989.

Two novels published this month focus on these terrible events. There will be several others!

Prague Spring is by Simon Mawer (author of the remarkable novel The Glass Room, reviewed on this blog at Two English students, Ellie and James, are hitch-hiking in Europe and are in Czechoslovakia at the key time, while Sam Wareham, working at the British Embassy in Prague, much in the company of Czech student Lenka Konecková, is discovering the world of Czechoslovak youth. But the Russian tanks are assembling … (Published by Little, Brown; ISBN 9781408711156)

Broken Sea: A story of love and intolerance is by Nigel Peace. It’s a love story set against the background of 1968. 18-year-old Roy has met Czech student in Wales and falls in love, but she feels she must return home. Their love develops, but can it last? Lives are so changed by the events of 1968, and are too many things kept secret? (Published by Local Legend; ISBN 9781910027233)

At this date fifty years ago I was staying with a German family in Bielefeld in West Germany. I recall vividly their alarm at the news of the invasion: would the Russians stop at the Czechoslovak border or carry on into West Germany? Fortunately for my hosts they stopped.

If you’re interested in the politics of it all, there’s a 12-minute piece on Radio Prague about the negotiations between Dubček and Brezhnev in the period leading up to 21 August – go to


Guy and St Thomas

During numerous visits to the London hospitals, I have found the apostrophe comes in many guises: Guys, Guy’s, Guys’  – poor Guy must be turning in his grave.
St Thomas, St Thomas’s, St Thomas.’
St Thomas is interesting. The ‘s’ is present in the name so presumably the apostrophe would go after the ‘s.’ But, and here’s the rub, should an ‘s’ be added, hence St Thomas’s? After all, it is usual to write Margaret Davies’s house.

I believe David Crystal has said that as Jesus is universally and historically known, no extra ‘s’ is required, hence Jesus’ disciples.

Does St Thomas have similar status?

In any case, whoever is sitting in an office at St Thomas’ or Guy’s Hospital, please apply some consistency.

A frustrated patient.