Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop focussing on why stories win or don’t win competitions. Experienced short story writer and author of You Belong Here Laurie Steed was the presenter.
He began with the basic and obvious pointers.
Follow the rules. If they ask for a 2,000-word short story don’t send one word over that limit.
Read all the terms and conditions. It would be awful to be disqualified on a technicality. Some contests are open to anyone, some to residents of certain areas, or age groups. Some stipulate no one who has earned money from their writing is eligible.
What a judge hopes to see.
A strong opening to the story, with an engaging or relatable character, strong stakes, and some sort of closure. Not necessarily a ‘happily ever after’ but an ending that satisfies the reader.
Laurie Steed made that point that people now have so many other choices to entertain themselves, so if they devote their time to reading it had better be good. Everything matters in your story-there is no space for a digression, your reader has chosen to be with you, it’s your job to keep them.
Writing on Topic: If a picture or story prompt is given-try to avoid the obvious approach. Strive for an unusual or unique perspective with good details.
Pacing. Keep an eye on the pacing and sentence length strive for balance neither too slow or too fast. Appropriate to the story that you are telling.
Don’t try telling a story too complex for the word length or with too much back story or irrelevant details.
The next post will summarise further advice relating to creating strong and weak titles, and story topics.
From 500 entries submitted to one contest, he estimated that about 10% were serious contenders. Learn how to make yours one of them.
In spite of July being a busy and challenging month, I did manage to keep up with my reading. For a writer, reading is essential but more than that its a pleasure. I cannot imagine my life without reading.
The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang
A feeling of nostalgia had me reaching for this well-loved childhood classic. Beautifully produced and with the original illustrations, it is a visual delight. Reading now as an adult, I was surprised at how some of the stories defied the happily ever after tradition.
The Olive Sisters by Amanda Hampson
After reading Amanda Hampson’s later book The Yellow Villa I was looking forward to reading this. Initially, I found the dual timeline confusing. As I read on the strands of the story became clearer. The sisters came to Australia with their family from Italy. Their family relationship is complex. Later, one of their descendants inherits the farm. For her, it becomes a refuge and retreat as she uncovers more about her past and long-lost family secrets.
The Upside Of Over by J.D Barrett
When TV newsreader Olivia makes a drunken mistake her whole life implodes. She loses her marriage, her career and her self-esteem. How did it all go so horribly wrong? And what can she do now?
Luckily, a couple of friends are still there for her as she picks up the pieces. Through her own efforts and with their help she discovers that the network was eager to get rid of her due to her age and this was the perfect excuse.
Olivia discovers that there is an upside to over, being your own person and authentically yourself. Funny, sexy and wise, but not necessarily for the prudish.
Disclaimer I won a copy in a contest but was under no obligation to review the book.
Date with Mystery by Julia Chapman
Book Three in The Dales Detective Series.
Although I hadn’t read the two previous books I still enjoyed this book. It’s an amusing mystery full of Yorkshire wit and grit. About three-quarters of the way through the book I had a good idea as to what had happened but no idea of the why-the reason. I am not too sure about the contrivance of having characters called Samson and Delilah. It stretches the bounds of credulity, but it seems to work for TV’s Shakespeare and Hathaway, so that may just be a personal quibble.
The Beach Hut by Veronica Henry
When I picked this book up I hadn’t realised that it was an interconnected series of short stories. All are based around the beach huts on Devon’s Everdene beach. A peek into many lives over the weeks they use the huts. Some stories come full circle while others remain incomplete, left to the readers’ imagination. Initially, I found it rather disconcerting to move from one story to another. I feel the cover gives an impression of a lighter read, while the stories have more depth.
PR Secrets for Savvy Authors By Louisa West
As a writer, you need to get your work noticed and for that, you are going to need PR. (Public Relations) Maybe you are an introvert who doesn’t want to put yourself ‘out there’. Or perhaps you are an extrovert but don’t want to come over as ‘pushy.’ And what is PR anyway?
Help is here, Louisa West is both an author and PR professional. The book is written specifically for authors and addresses their concerns. From learning the difference between PR and marketing, to how to feel ‘legit’ and how to establish your ‘brand’.
The importance of networking effectively with readers, writers and influencers. It demystified the whole process of how to post in social media and how to make it work for you. Presented in an easy to read style – this book should be an important part of any authors toolbox
I learnt a lot and I think it’s a great read for anyone wanting to know more about PR
Disclaimer I was gifted an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review.
‘The past is a foreign country they do things differently there.’ LP. Hartley ‘The Go-Between’
It’s a question that every writer hears ’where do you get your ideas?’ At times it is tempting to say something flippant like ‘Oh I pop down to the App store and pick a few.’ But it’s not that easy.
So where do writers get ideas? The answer is probably as individual as the writers themselves. Some writers are meticulous planners and know what they will write about. They are known as Plotters and have inciting incidents and compelling storylines at their fingertips. They have detailed plans and character profiles and timelines all prepared. At times I wish I was more like them, but I am not.
My stories begin who knows where? Although the term Pantsers is applied to writers like me, I prefer to think I am an organic writer. One who builds as she goes, capturing a fragment of a sentence, an intriguing snippet or topic, an overheard remark or a sliver of memory.
Recently, I entered a short story contest and the picture prompt didn’t initially inspire me. The trick was to let my imagination roam, to go beyond the obvious. In one story I used three incidents I knew about, things that had happened to me, or to friends. Sibling rivalry, an attempted drowning and person with mental illness. The facts bled into the fiction, hopefully giving it an authenticity.
Writing the second story I began with a fragment of memory of clearing the attic and as I wrote a long-forgotten memory surfaced. I must have been about six and we were at the beach. My father dived in and rescued a woman who was attempting to drown herself. I remember her sobbing, with dad’s jacket placed around her shoulders. And then it’s a blank- what happened next, I have no idea.
I’d forgotten about it until now, so many years later, when I fictionalised it and used it in my story. If memory chooses not to come at my call but returns unprompted it is still a valid memory. The trick is to hold on to that image, that memory, and see if more will follow.
Nowadays, I think of my past as a place to explore. I can get there from here. The route may be unfamiliar, the recall imperfect, but it is uniquely mine. Others may recall the same events, but not in the same specific way. What attracted me, what was important to me, may not have mattered to them. My stories begin here, and I realize that the things that matter to me always have.
June was a good month for reading as I read seven books almost all of them were fiction. I like to try different authors and genres as well as reading nonfiction. Here are this month’s selections.
The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey
I don’t want to give plot details away, so of necessity, this review will be non-specific. I was fortunate enough to win a copy of the book in a giveaway but was under no obligation to review it.
I think the book is well written, but I found it hard to warm to the protagonist Gemma Woodstock. She is obviously a dedicated detective and this time the case is personal. While I found the hint of intrigue about the past worked well initially, I grew impatient with the continual repetition and non-disclosure. The book had an unpredictable ending, overall, I didn’t find it a satisfying read
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
This is fiction based on fact and tells a remarkable story of how an American Socialite and philanthropist Caroline Ferriday made a difference to so many women’s lives. Always a Francophile and a volunteer at the French consulate she was gradually drawn into working far more closely with women who had been incarcerated and brutally mistreated in the notorious Ravensbruek concentration camp.
Initially, I found the triple timeline somewhat confusing as each woman’s point of view was presented. American Caroline, Polish Kasia and German Herta. It was worth persevering because this is a story that needed to be told. Unimaginable horrors and deprivations, cruelty, and kindness death and despair, hatred and forgiveness. This is a memorable story, meticulously researched and beautifully written quite unforgettable. The authors note details the research and the real people whose lives were impacted by these terrible events. Note Caroline Ferriday and Herta Oberhauser were real people Kasia is a composite of many of the Polish women who were held in the
Mail Obsession by Mark Mason
A great book for trivia lovers and those interested in finding out quirky facts about Britain. Not a book to read at one sitting. This is a book to amuse and delight, but one that is probably best read in small doses. There is a temptation to read out many of the amazing facts and bits of information to your long-suffering family.
A few snippets which amused me. In 1879 Belgium trialled using cats to deliver the mail. The thirty-seven cats did not cooperate, ( who would have thought that!)and the trial was abandoned.
The Queen carries several items in her handbag, including a handkerchief, lipstick, spectacles, a folded five-pound note and a handy suction hook to stick under a table to hold the bag itself
My favourite though is that on April Fool’s Day 2010 The company Gamestation inserted a clause in their online contracts which enabled them to claim their customer’s souls.
The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers
An unknown woman arrives in Chartres and stirs up forgotten feelings and prejudices. Each person sees something different in Agnes Morel with her dark skin and topaz eyes. She cleans the famous Chartres cathedral. Does the cathedral influence her as she polishes the labyrinth walk? Can a wrong ever be righted? Can a sinner find redemption? Is holiness more important than kindness? Everyone has an opinion about her. The town gossips Madame Picot and Madame Beck spend their time speculating about her past. Abbe Paul from the cathedral, Professor Jones and Philippe Nevers all have a certain fondness for Agnes. While Robert, the painter uses her as his muse, model and mistress. Dr Denman wonders if he did right by Agnes. Alain the restorer wants to help her to find her own identity. The nuns’ Mother Veronique and Sister Laurence knew Agnes years ago and their intervention in her story is not the happiest of events,
We saw each person’s perception of Agnes but each time there was something of their personality in the observation too. Was Agnes more sinned against than sinning? Judge for yourself.
The Yellow Villa by Amanda Hampson
Despite its charming cover, this story has more involved in it than you might at first imagine. A young Australian couple Mia and Ben, buy a villa in France hoping to make a fresh start. They meet a sophisticated older couple Susannah and Dominic and are initially impressed with the pair of Expat Brits.
Throughout the story, fresh information is revealed and the veneer of each couple’s ‘perfect’ life gradually discloses uncomfortable truths about their relationships and each other. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Water Under The Bridge by Lily Malone
The characters were well drawn, and the story events were intriguing. The relationship between Ella with her son was realistic, a boy out of his depth missing his old life and friends. Ella is challenging herself embarking on a new career, selling real estate and trying to put her past behind her. Handsome Jake is a complication that she doesn’t need, and he’s the owner of the house she has listed to sell. It’s inevitable they will keep meeting.
The story while complicated is certainly feasible and is the beginning of a series by Lily Malone
Do you make many promises? And if so, do you keep them? To me, it is important to keep my promises, so I don’t make many.
I hate being let down and equally, I hate letting people down.
There was one person I routinely let my promises slide for. Can you guess who it was? That person was me.
Maybe you are like that too? Discounting your own needs and wants and importance.
Last week I had a tech crash and was without my computer for the week. Any week it would be annoying, but I had planned to enter a short story contest.And the deadline was Friday 13th – what could be more apt?
I got my computer back on Monday. It was just the basic setup, and a year’s worth of work was gone. I’d promised myself I would enter at least two stories in the contest.
I had two-thirds of one story written and a vague idea for another. The word length for submission was from 1,000 to 4,000 words.
A writer friend cast an eye over the first story. I thought I had completed it and I’d listened to it through the read-aloud function. That read aloud alone picked up fifteen tiny mistakes. My eagle-eyed friend found missing commas, redundant commas, as well as making some pertinent comments. More work! I respect her judgement, so I made the changes. I submitted it with a day to spare. It was about 3,500 words.
What about story two? I had roughed out ideas in a notebook while I was without the computer.
I decided to go for it. I knew my story wouldn’t have the care and attention that the first story had. But my promise to myself was to submit two stories.
I had the germ of an idea and I worked hard on it, and my wonderful friend was even able to have a quick look at it. Again I made changes. Story Two was submitted at 6.30pm on Friday 13th. It was just over 3,00o words.
It’s likely that neither will win a prize, many accomplished writers enter this contest. I felt wiped out, exhausted and yet exhilarated. I’d done it! I hadn’t let myself off the hook. Yes, there were difficulties, but nothing that I couldn’t overcome. It had been hard work, but I felt and feel terrific. Finally, I was giving my writing, my work. the respect that it deserved,
Is this a female thing or a generational thing? Is it the sign of a classic procrastinator?
What about you? Do you find it easy to keep the promises that you make to yourself?