Tag Archives: Competitions

New story news

Happy to announce that I’ve got another story accepted by leading Scottish literary journal Gutter for their next issue, which comes out in time for the Edinburgh Book Festival (around which I am available for readings, events and bar mitzvahs). It’s a story I’m particularly pleased to have published, so please read it when it comes out if you can. Some very distinguished company surrounds it and the full line-up is here: Freight Books.

I wrote a wee story about my childhood gullibility for National Flash Fiction Day, which was Highly Commended in their contest: read Lost For Words and all the winners here: MicroFiction Competition 2013. Thanks to Calum Kerr for these cool postcards showing my story, which you can see here: NFFD

And I also was a contest winner at fairytale magazine Enchanted Conversation, for a short piece that is not so much a story, more a character study or a meditation on Rumplestiltskin, one of my favourite mythological underdogs. Read it, with a lovely illustration, here: You Know My Name.
Thanks to Kate Wolford for my prize and for sterling efforts to publish it in the face of computer trouble. Check out her book of neglected fairytales, Beyond The Glass Slipper, while you’re at the site.

In other news, I’ve just finished four months of working with coach Philippa Johnston under a programme called Coaching For Glasgow Writers, supported by the agency Glasgow Life. This has been one of the best things I’ve ever done to improve my writing life: not my writing as such, but the ways of going about it, of directing and structuring creative ideas and professional development in all areas of my rambling freelance life of writing journalism, fiction and teaching. I’ve never done anything like this before; as a journalist, after my post-grad, you tend not to have the opportunities for continuing training that other professions have (and, these days, we’re just barely clinging on to it as a profession). And while I’ve found writing classes and workshops very helpful in the past, it was really thought-provoking to have these one-to-one sessions, being (gently) encouraged to think through problems and obstacles and to look for solutions rather than just flail around hopelessly, assuming that there was no other way, or that if I just kept trying harder to do things in the same way, magically it would somehow eventually work. I won’t go on too much about the specific things I worked on with Philippa for now – maybe another time – but just want to recommend her coaching, in particular, but probably any similar programme in other areas too, for anyone who shares my problems of procrastination, disorganisation, juggling jobs and trying to make writing a career. A good place to start might be: The Writers Compass. Final thanks to Philippa, for listening so well and keeping me on track.

What a link-tastic post! Oh, one more thing: I am on BBC Scotland’s The Culture Studio on Thursday afternoon, talking about new films including The Internship and Now You See Me (from 2pm, 4th July). I’ll also be back on the Shereen show on 20th July, despite making a TERRIBLE Iain Banks faux pas last time I was on a couple of weeks ago (mixed up the opening lines of The Wasp Factory and The Crow Road! How could I! Love Iain Banks and very sad to hear about his death). No mistakes next time, I promise …

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31 submissions

Well, lately I have just been racking up story rejections. As any fule kno, this is actually good, because it means I am writing and submitting stories, right? Yeah, it doesn’t feel that good though.

So! I have decided to be proactive. I have a bunch of finished stories sitting around which have not been published, some of which I have never even sent out, as well as a bunch which need revision. I write to be read, so I’d really like them to be out there somewhere. And some of these stories mean a lot to me – I’m not saying they’re the greatest stories ever written, but I’m proud of them and I’ve put a lot of work into getting them right. My goal for this month, therefore, is to really try my hardest to find them homes, something about which I tend to be a bit lackadaisical.

Therefore, I am setting myself a totally arbitrary challenge, which I shall dub Andrea Story Submission Month or AnStoSuMo, in a blatant ripoff from NaNoWriMo (which I am not doing, but good luck to all who are). That is, I vow to submit 31 stories to magazines, websites, competitions or anthologies by the end of November.

My rules: I don’t have 31 completed stories, so some will be multiple submissions where allowed. And I’m going to try to make them all worthwhile ones, that is, to places I like, read and actually want to be published by – I’m not that interested in racking up credits for the sake of it, in Random Read By No-one Magazine or ObscureRubbish.com (hey, I could just put them online here if that counted). I’m not saying I expect to be published by the New Yorker or something! Just that I want it to be a place where my stories fit. And most likely, to find 31 places which are currently accepting submissions of a word count or theme which fits a story I’ve written, I’ll have to widen my usual horizons and find some new, interesting publications, so that’ll be all to the good.

I’m also not going to pay competition fees unless it’s a really major competition or in aid of a good charity; I understand why people set these, but I don’t have the cash to do too many and beside, it would go against the spirit of this, which is to fire away so many submissions that I stop worrying about them individually. No watching the email inbox anxiously wondering when someone will reply, no allowing a rejection to cast me down and stop me writing that day, just keep going to meet the target. And surely, if I make 31 submissions by the end of the month, surely I’ll get at least one acceptance? Surely?!?

I’m quite excited about this, let’s see how it goes. Any suggestions of new places to submit are welcome!

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Granta & Hay

Photo by Martinliano

Here is a link to my Commonwealth prize-winning story on Granta. I absolutely love the picture they’ve chosen, the white jasmine emerging from the black background, beautiful, mysterious and a bit sinister – it’s perfect (thanks to Ted Hodgkinson at Granta, who edited the piece). The story was written a while ago now and since I’ve been working on the book version, and doing research, I SO wanted to change so much of it – for instance, Lucy is now from Scotland, which makes much more sense, the father’s history is quite different, the details are much more accurate – but it had to remain more or less as I’d entered it. And it was odd answering those interview questions … particularly as the emphasis (understandably) was on nationality and the idea of Commonwealth. It made me realise that it’s not something I’ve ever thought about much before, in itself, despite considering myself fairly well-informed and opinionated about matters of politics and colonialism. The answers from the other regional winners are very interesting too – as are the stories, which are also up on Granta. I’m really happy to be in their company!

At the weekend I went down to Hay-on-Wye for the book festival, to meet up with the Commonwealth Writers staff who were involved in various events there. Met lovely people, including the thoughtful Emma Martin from New Zealand, who won the Pacific region and the overall prize – her story Two Girls In A Boat is absolutely beautiful – and the charismatic Shehan Karunatilaka, from Sri Lanka, whose book Chinaman: The Legend Of Pradeep Mathew won the Commonwealth Book Prize (and sounds brilliant, despite being about cricket, will read it soon). Thanks to all the Commonwealth people and particularly to those of the judges who were there, Bernadine Evaristo, Margaret Busby and Nicholas Laughlin, for being lovely and encouraging. There was a reception and couple of other talks.

with Bernadine Evaristo and Margaret Busby


Other interesting encounters: the impossibly glamorous Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who arrived in a gorgeous, totally impractical vivid green frock and stilettos, and was so sweet that when she drew a little picture of me in a book (like a child would draw), me and the two adoring blokes with her melted into cooing praise like fools.

With Chimamanda at Hay


A very posh lady, whose identity I never quite got but who had lots of intense anecdotes and seemed to know everyone, who told me a story about hearing ghostly footsteps “when my husband at the time and I were living at Longleat for a while with Alexander” (ie the Marquess of Bath – pronounced AlexAUNNNder). Two very nice writers from north Wales, Mary and Debz, who took pity on me when I was hanging around on my own and were good company. Debz runs Bridge House Publishing and Paws’n’Claws; among other things they publish children’s books in aid of the Born Free Foundation. AND, though it shouldn’t really count as I didn’t actually speak to him, Salman Rushdie who ate his dinner just two tables away from me (I was tempted to do a Bridget and ask him where the toilets were).

Hay Festival Commonwealth Writers

Having booked at the last minute, I was staying in a weird dorm room with 16 small bunk-beds crammed in. Thankfully only two others were occupied, but the 1970s decor and low heights made it feel like a claustrophobic Girl Guides’ trip. I can’t complain about the price though: £22 a night including a great breakfast! The only other thing available was a luxury yurt at £200. And the hotel it was in, while also untouched by the fashions of the last few decades, was the original Baskerville Hall, where Conan Doyle stayed and took the name (relocating the place to Dartmoor). It was a bit out of the way though, down a dark country lane, and it took two buses to get to the festival site. And unfortunately the weather at Hay was bloody awful. The tented village may have kept the rain out but not the cold and wind, so being around there all day was a damp and depressing experience. I’m sure the festival is really good usually (though I don’t get the sense they have as big and varied a programme as the Edinburgh book festival), but I only saw it at its grimmest. And the journey was quite complicated with a succession of dull bus and train journeys – and stop-offs of several hours in Hereford (quite pretty, nice cathedral) and Crewe (incredibly boring and ugly town centre). I came back home exhausted and immediately succumbed to quite a rotten cold. I’ve spent the last few days snuffling and moaning and cuddling the dog. You know, just in case literary success went to my head or anything.

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I won!

To my genuine amazement, my story The Ghost Marriage has been named the winner (Europe & Canada region) of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize!

I am delighted, of course, thrilled that the story is going to be published in Granta online, hopeful that this will lead to ‘Things’ but mostly … relieved. I’ve been calling myself a writer, carving out time to write, sending off stories, going to events, doing readings, boring people by telling them about my novel and generally trying hard to shut down that bit of brain that scoffs: yeah, right. You’ll never do it. And why would anyone care if you did? Winning a prize doesn’t kill off that voice, but it does gag it for a bit. And it’s wonderful to be able to tell friends, be congratulated and feel how pleased they are for me. I am basking, just for a bit, and it feels like those days when you’ve just finished a big piece of work or just sat a test or completed a contract and you’re free, free …

(Yes, I know I still have a lot to write. And I will. It’s a tremendous motivation to revise what I’ve already done and move on)

The list of regional winners – I love how varied we are, from an accountant in Lagos to a Jamaican environmental activist!

Interesting discussion of the prize on Radio 4’s Open Book with the fab Mariella Frostrup.

Official announcement of winners on the World Service’s programme The Strand

More details in Granta. Excuse the dodgy old picture with fringe.

Whee!!!!!

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Commonwealth Short Story Prize

I’m delighted (and shocked) to have been shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize!
It’s for a version of The Ghost Marriage, which I’ve been trying to turn into a longer book over the last year, so this is a massive encouragement that I’m working on something which is worth pursuing. I’m so relieved I can’t even tell you.
Since writing this version, I’ve done a lot more historical research and made many changes to develop and expand the book. But it retains the essence of the initial story which I enjoyed writing so much that I didn’t want to leave these characters and that setting.
The prize is open to stories from 54 countries which is amazing: I imagine the entries were incredibly varied so it’s a real honour to be shortlisted. I have to admit, the Commonwealth as an entity is not something I’d previously thought about very much, but looking at the Foundation’s website, they seem to do some great work (there’s also a useful site for writers). They say: “We exist to empower charities, non-governmental organisations, professional associations, trade unions, faith groups and cultural practitioners; the lifeblood of any healthy society. We equip these groups with the tools required to contribute to national and international goals of democracy, good governance, sustainable development and cultural diversity.”
All good things, but the latter I think is something which is particularly in need of celebration at the moment, when “multiculturalism” has become a dirty word in some places and people are either deliberately or thoughtlessly denying the historical circumstances which have made the world the way it is.
My story is all about making connections (Scottish, Chinese, Japanese; men and women; the literal and the metaphorical; the physical and the poetic; commerce, war and Empire; the 19th Century and the 21st) so maybe that’s what made it a good fit for this competition. Or maybe not, I dunno!
I’m looking forward to finding out more about the other shortlisted stories. There’s also a prize for best (published) first novel – anyone read any of them?

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Anne And The Skye Bun Prize

The Skye Literary Salon – which is a lovely sounding thing – runs a contest called The Baker Prize 2011. Now, I’m not one of those who enters every competition going but as soon as I heard about this one, I was thrilled. Because the Baker Prize is sponsored by the Isle of Skye Baking Company – and kindred spirits will surely understand that instantly brought to mind Anne Shirley and Rollings Reliable Baking Powder.

In Anne Of The Island, part of the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery, the teenaged Anne writes her first ‘serious’ story, the hilariously bad Averil’s Atonement, agonising and delighting over every tragic nuance. She is crushed when it is rejected by several literary magazines and vows never to write again. Then she unexpectedly receives a letter announcing her story has won first prize in a contest run by the Rollings Reliable Baking Powder Company of Montreal – a contest she never entered. Turns out that her best friend Diana has ‘kindly’ entered it for her, in secret.

‘Why Anne, you don’t seem a bit pleased!’ she exclaimed. Anne instantly manufactured a smile and put it on.
‘Of course I couldn’t be anything but pleased over your unselfish wish to give me pleasure,’ she said slowly. ‘But you know – I’m so amazed – I can’t realise it – and I don’t understand. There wasn’t a word in my story about – about’ – Anne choked a little over the word – baking powder.’
‘Oh, I put that in,’ said Diana, reassured. ‘It was as easy as wink … You know the scene where Averil makes the cake? Well, I just stated that she used the Rollings Reliable in it and that was why it turned out so well; and then, in the last paragraph, where Perceval clasps Averil in his arms and says, “Sweetheart, the beautiful coming years will bring us the fulfilment of our home of dreams,” I added, “in which we will never use any baking powder except Rollings Reliable.”‘

Poor Anne! She is mortified at the commercialisation of her beloved story and takes no joy in her prize of $25. Thankfully the Isle of Skye Baking Company did not similarly insist on entries referring to their wonderful artisan breads, oatcakes and 12 flavours of shortbread!

Still, some writers have agreed to insert brands into their work for money – Faye Weldon, for instance, took money from a jewellery company to feature them in a novel, while some authors auction off a cameo appearance in their books for charity. Anne is eventually soothed when Gilbert Blythe points out that people will understand that being “not overburdened with worldly weath, [you] had taken this way of earning an honest penny … One would rather write masterpieces of literature, no doubt, but meanwhile board and tuition fees have to be paid.” How true, Gilbert, how true … and that is why competitions and grants and promotion have to be a part of writing life and why I’ve written advertising supplement copy and features I didn’t have much interest in.

But the case of LM Montgomery herself is a useful corollary. The first couple of Anne books are delightful: an adorable main character, amusing scenes of life in a small Canadian community in the early 20th Century, an irresistible romance with the boy next door and wonderful depictions of landscape and the effect it can have on a sensitive, imaginative nature. But people kept demanding more: novel after barrel-scraping novel followed, some filling in unneeded gaps, others chronicling Anne’s numerous children, along with short stories which shoehorned the character into repetitive situations. Montgomery’s diaries, recently published, reveal that churning out work to order exacerbated her chronic depression.

Later on in Anne Of The Island, by the way, a more experienced Anne realises that most of what she’s written before is silly – but she digs out one simple sketch, reworks it and sends it to a magazine. They accept it, pay $10 and ask to see more of her work. She’s more thrilled than she ever was with the $25 from Rollings Reliable, because she feels like she truly earned it for something worthwhile.

You have to write for money, you have to promote yourself; but you also have to draw the line somewhere, whether it’s inserting unexpected references to delicious baked goods, available at surprisingly reasonable prices, or killing off a popular series. I’m working out where my line is.

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