"A word after a word after a word is power" - Margaret Atwood


A blog for readers and writers

A blog about the stories we tell each other and how we tell them...

Saturday, 29 May 2010

An almost free to enter competition

You have plenty of time to work on this one because the closing date isn't until October 22nd 2010.  This competition is run by Sefton Arts in Merseyside (home to the Aintree race course - but I digress this hasn't nothing to do with horses). They are looking for:
poems up to 40 lines
short stories 
short texts......Nothing over 500 words
This is a FLASH FICTION competition, although they don't call it that.
And unlike most competitions, they welcome fiction and non fiction AND those passages of writing that are beautifully crafted, zing with description and energy, but can't be called a story. (At least that's my definition of a text....or could Sefton Arts be thinking of something else....? Any other suggestions?) 
The theme is IF which is about the most useful word there is for a writer at the ideas stage.
Children (under 14s) can enter for free but they have to include an illustration. Everyone else it's £2. The prizes aren't huge (£250 for the winner) but it would be a massive writing credit. The phrase prize winning writer never looks bad on a CV.
Click on the title of this post to download an entry form.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

364 days to the next TOWEL DAY

Missed it.
I blame the summer cold that is hanging on and only now feels better because the sky matches my mood (sorry-for-yourself-grey)
May 25 was the 10th Towel Day....the day to carry a towel - the only really useful thing in the universe - to honour a great writer. Click on the title of this post and you can go the website (they have a babel fish, honestly, they do) and you can see how Towel Day was celebrated in Budapest and Dublin, in Zagreb and Paris....
Did anything happen in Brighton? And could someone please remind me next year. 
And if you don't have a clue what this is about you are very, very, very lucky. You have a wonderful journey in front of you.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

International Flash Fiction Competition

Just heard that the Dublin Review of Books are running a Once Off Flash Fiction Contest. Entries are invited from around the world. 
First Prize 1,000 Euros . Deadline June 1st 2010. Entry fee 10 euro - for that you can submit up to three stories of no more than 500 words apiece. 
Work must be previously unpublished. Simultaneous submissions are not accepted. Click on the title of this post for more details

Friday, 21 May 2010

ASHAM - things that go bump in the night

The Asham Award is for unpublished women writers and for the first time in its 14 year history, the short story competition has a theme. Entrants are invited to write a ghost story (which can be set in the past or the present) or let their imaginations run really wild, and go Gothic. Judges are Sarah Waters (The Little Stranger), Lennie Goodings (Virago) and Polly Samson. 
Decent prize money - £1000. 
Deadline September 30th (so that's summer sorted...writing, re-writing, sharpening of pencils) 
and maximum 4000 words - an opportunity for ideas to float free and haunt your narrative drives...
Click on the title of this post for all the details

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

BRIGHTON - hip city or what?

I enjoyed Alexis Petridis' article about Brighton in today's Guardian (click on the title of this post to read it). He mentioned a couple of my favourite places
 Muesli Mountain – otherwise known as the hills of Hanover.  Southover Street is so steep they have to have a pub on every corner: base camp one, base camp two...
The Bell Book and Candle in North Laines "which has the local market in rune and casting stones pretty much sewn up".The article didn't mention the Iambic Arts Theatre above the shop which opened this year or the fact that they want to stock A Good Confession (which I have only just remembered...) 
Because we have a Green MP, because we have the largest gay population in Europe and because "The World's Least Convincing Transvestite" lives here, Petridis sees Brighton as England's San Francisco, a city of tolerance...
It's been called lots of other things: London by the Sea, the damp end of Wardour Street, Blow-in Town, the smell of success (Laurence Olivier).
I think of it as Mickey Rooney City. It's the place where you can say:  Hey, let's put on a show...
Have you got a definition for Brighton?

Another free to enter short story competition

Think summer. Think 2000 words.  Think free entry. 
This time it is The Guardian competition and the closing date is June 18.
The prize?  What writers usually get - honour and glory (in the form of publication in The Guardian's  short story special published sometime in August. Everyone else will be a big name writer so your words will be rubbing shoulders with the great and the good).

Send your story by post to Short Stories, Guardian Weekend, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or email short.story@guardian.co.uk. Include a phone number and paste your story into the body of the email - no attachments.
Click on the the title of this post to read full terms and condition (and that's a very good idea. Ignore a rule and you've shot your pen in the nib. The admin team have to create a short list somehow and the first stories to be ditched - usually without being read - are the work of writers who can't be bothered to follow the rules.)

Rapid Response - BBC writing opportunity

The BBC writersroom want five to ten minute scripts for film, TV, radio or online on Five Days in May and they want it now (or by 10 am on June 1st).
Were you compelled by the five agonising days between polling day and the formation of the new coalition government? Were you inspired? Unsettled? Appalled? Surprised? Is there something you are bursting to say? Did a story form in your mind as events unfolded?
Warning: they are not looking for scripts to make - the three best will be post on the Writersoom Website.
Ok...maybe that's not the most expensive prize in the world but it would be a helluva writing credit to have on your CV 

Email your script with the subject heading "Five Days in May" to: writersroom@bbc.co.uk

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Dutch Inspiration

The history of a woman's life. How she sought the cool depths wherein lies deliverance, and how she found it.
If that quote inspires you then start writing. It is the first line of a Dutch novel by Frederick van Eeden (1860 - 1932) and the publishers want you to write a poem based on your personal experience that takes flight from the idea expressed here.
Deadline June 30
Prize £100 plus publication
The rules are pretty precise -- especially about the way you submit by email so read them all carefully.
Click on the title of this post to go to the website

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The new Irish children's laureate and my own Treasure Island

This week award-winning Irish author and publisher Siobhán Parkinson was named Laureate na nÓg, Ireland's first laureate for children's literature. She is the author of more than 20 books aimed at children and teenagers. She is also publisher of a new children's imprint, Little Island, which I mentioned in this blog back in March because it was actively seeking new (Ireland based) writers.  Siobhan says that one of her main aims as laureate would be to ensure that 
every child in the country has access to a nice, bright, warm, cheerful, comfortable library, where they can go and find the books that will open their minds and bring them into wonderful imaginary places.
Amen to that.
I learned to read in that kind of library. It was a wonderful place called Treasure Island. It was part of  a small block of council flats in Islington, North London around the corner from the present day offices of The Guardian newspaper. I can still remember the chief librarian Miss Jessica Waller with her pearl perm and Miss Marple tweed skirts. She never allowed a child to take out a book that was too easy ..it was always about stretching your abilities, discovering new stories and going on new adventures. I met Mary Poppins there and knights in Ronald Welch's books and turf cutters in Patricia Lynch's...
I got to know the ballerinas in Noel Stratfield's novels and didn't like them much because I had no desire to stand on my toes (she came to Treasure Island once and I never thought it odd that this elderly woman should have a man's name...). 
Every child should have a Treasure Island

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

A Writing Adventure for Londoners

Just heard that Spread the Word - the literature organization serving London writers - is joining forces with Coney (described as an interactive agency of adventure) to run a highly original writing experience on Saturday July 3rd. (Cost £50/35)
It starts with email instructions
Then, in the three weeks leading up to the event you will develop the story in collaboration with us and with the other writers taking part.
On the morning of the 3 July
you will be invited to The Southbank Centre to experience the adventure you have written which will be specially created by Coney.
The afternoon workshop will reveal how it was all done, outlining specific techniques and demonstrating how new technology can be used in writing and in the creation of this kind of work.
And finally, this journey opens up the possibility to taking part as writers in future Spread the Word and Coney collaborations.
Beginners and expereinced writers wlom but places are limited to 15. If you are intrested  email annette@spreadtheword.org.uk with a 500 word response to either one of the following:
"My perfect adventure" or "Is gravity responsible for falling in love?"
But you need to apply no later than noon on Friday 4 June. Good Luck!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Pantoum anyone?

  Birkbeck College is running a poetry competition with a first prize of £100 open to everyone - including children. 
What they want is a PANTOUM. 
 This is based on a Malay verse form. It consists of four line stanzas where the second and fourth line of each stanza is repeated as the first and third line of the next. In the strict form (and that's what Birbeck want) the first and third lines of the opening stanza reappear as the second and fourth lines of the last stanza. Phew! Poets like making it tough...deadline is Friday May 14 and to submitt email your pantoum to poetrycomp@bbk.ac.uk

An Interview with The Literary Project

Gemma Noon writes a blog with a difference. The Literary Project is a collection of interviews with writers, authors and publishing industry insiders. Interviewees include Bernard Cornwall, Cally Taylor and agent Carole Blake. And me....
Here's a taster and if you click on the title of this post you can read the interview in full and wander around the site. A blog definitely worth following.
What type of writer are you (ie, do you write full time or around a job, do you set wordcounts per day, do you plan in advance or fly by the seat of your pants?)

I’m dreadful. I know I should do so many words a day – that’s what I tell my students because I think it’s good advice but I rarely keep to it myself...

However, I am dedicated when fired with an idea. Then I will get up at 5 am (or stay up till 5 am!) to write, write, write. And I can put in that kind of effort day after week after month.

In terms of your writing career, what is your ultimate goal?

1) Getting on a train one morning and seeing the cover of my latest novel in the hands of dozens of commuters.

2) Libraries forced to use reverse alphabetical indexing because of the demand for Whelan novels…

3) Hollywood. Someone else can write the screenplay and let me carry on writing novels and – touch wood - being published (with less lesson plans and fewer 5am starts). And I’ll have another new kitchen.

If I’m only allowed one…to write more and to be read. And that’s what every writer wants I guess.

Do you have an agent? If so, how did you get one?

I got an agent because I went to a party. This is absolutely essential. There is a writing community out there and emerging writers should become part of it. I’m rubbish at networking, but the friend who held the party is dazzling. When I arrived she shoved me at this man and ordered everyone else to leave the room (he was chatting to someone at the time). The conversation only got interesting when I stopped mumbling about what I was writing and started talking about what I was reading. We had similar tastes so he invited me to submit because maybe, just maybe he would like what I wrote.

I will always be grateful for my agent’s faith, patience and ability to sense when I am losing confidence. That’s when he tells me how brilliant I am. Someone has to do it!

You also work as a creative writing tutor. There is a lot of debate as to whether writing is a natural ability or a skill that you can learn. What’s your opinion on this? Do you think anyone has the potential to be a successful author?

No one thinks it odd that an artist should want to go to Art School. Or questions why a musician thinks lessons would be a good idea…There is a craft to writing that can be taught and natural talent can be nurtured and supported. I don’t believe in the tough love method of teaching. That doesn’t mean I pat everyone on the head and murmur very good, but I do believe in the importance of encouragement.

Not everyone can be a successful writer but nearly everyone can get real pleasure from writing with imagination. In much the same way I love drawing but I will never have an exhibition in Bond Street. I would just like to be good enough to go on a learn-how-to-paint holiday without embarrassment…

And finally, can you sum up a key piece of advice for aspiring writers in one sentence?
Write a lot and read a lot and don’t be defeated when you get it wrong: writing is an art not a science, so accept you’ll never stand back and say hmmm, no one could express that better.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Books to read before voting

How about...
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell because we're facing Hard Times (by Charles Dickens) and we need to be reminded whose fault it isn't...

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


Most well to do families in Renaissance Italy could only afford to marry off one daughter...the others were sent to the convent. That time, that place, that kind of tragedy was recreated in the inspirational surroundings of St Bartholomew's in a musical dramatization of Sacred Hearts, a novel by Sarah Dunant.
Lost love, Gregorian chant and sweeping, soaring music by Palestrina sung by a choir of "nuns" -made for an unforgettable combination...It was twice as long as the Latin Masses of my childhood and I didn't mind a bit.

A Brighton Weekend SUNDAY

Sunday evening was the first night of Bernadette Cremin's one woman show Altered Egos.
Iambic Arts Theatre in the North Laines was packed - they were standing at the back to hear stories of Val, Patsy, Trudy, Joan, Sophia and Tina...Here's how Bernadette describes it.

Listen to six women who have cat-walked and crawled out of my poetry over the last decade! They will invite you to into their own very different worlds... using spoken-word, music and film in a mish-mash of Shameless and Sex in the City.
It was an impressive and moving performance. The hard edged, fragile women that populate Bernadette's tight metaphors deserve this wider stage and she proved that the quality of her acting matches the quality of her poetry.
Last show next Sunday evening May 9 2010
Iambic Arts Theatre, above Bell Book & Candle on Gardner St with the entrance behind the shop on Regent St, signposted with balloons 
** table seating and cash bar
Time: 7:30 for 8pm
Price: £10/8

A Brighton Weekend SATURDAY

Saturday Afternoon and my first taste of the Open Houses for this year. You get to see beautiful paintings AND inside people's houses, what's not to like. I was floating in and out of one in Poets' Corner, admiring the felt textiles and artworks and taking a quick look around the kitchen (nice work surfaces) when a girl I did my teacher training came down the stairs. I was in her home without realizing it.
Saturday Evening The first night of Tales from the Coffee House at Cafe Moksha, opposite St Peter's in Central Brighton. While you sip a glass of wine or down an expresso the show happens around you and pretty soon you find you're part of it. I ended up being bridesmaid at a wedding and I am not entirely sure how that happened...with fine acting and witty impro means it is different every night.  Go see it. Go be part of it. I really do recommend it.
More dates to come: 7th, 8th, 14th, 15th, 20th,21st, 22nd May 7.30 pm £6 (£5) Tickets 012730 709709 or just turn up on the night.

A Brighton Weekend FRIDAY NIGHT

I wouldn't be anywhere else but Brighton during May. I love the festival and I had such a great bank holiday weekend it's only now that I've had the energy to blog about it.  
Friday night. Ok this wasn't exactly a festival event. It was a birthday party but it is was held in one of my favourite pubs in one of my favourite parts of Brighton. Hanover is steep hills, narrow streets (fold your wing mirrors in if you're driving), tightly packed, pastel coloured two up and two downs and tiny, friendly pubs on the street corners. Once a very working class area, it is now known as Muesli Hill because of the number of teachers who live there. It has a wonderful, friendly atmosphere like nowhere else. And The Geese is like being in a friend's front room. With music. And a pay bar.  I'd like to live in Hanover but I just haven't got the legs for it.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Free to enter short story competition

In association with Pan Macmillan and the Arvon Foundation, Books Quarterly are running a competition.
Maximun Word length 2,000 words or less.
Deadline: July 1, 2010.
Prize:The winner will see their work published in the October issue of Books Quarterly (readership of more than a quarter of a million) and online at www.macmillannewwriting.com,
www.arvonfoundation.org, Wbqonline.com and Waterstones.com. PLUS the winner will be invited to attend an exclusive publisher's lunch with Will Atkins, Editorial Director at Pan Macmillan, and author James McCreet to gain feedback and ideas on where to take their writing career in the future. PLUS £200-worth of Pan Macmillan books of their choice. PLUS a place on a week-long Arvon Foundation creative writing course of their choice. (The prize includes all tuition, food and accommodation. ) The three best runners-up will receive concise written feedback on their entries, which will be published online, as well as winning £50-worth of Pan Macmillan books.

New words - the ones we need and the ones that happen

Like all writers, I'm interested in words. We want to use language with precision and, at the same time, to have fun with the rich texture of vocabulary but sometimes you just have to make it up...The American comedian Rich Hall has come up with the term sniglet for any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should. Here's a couple of examples:
Caffidget (ka fij' it) - v. To break up a polystyrene cup of coffee into several hundred pieces after draining it.
Genderplex - n. The predicament of a person in a restaurant who is unable to determine his or her designated restroom e.g. turtles and tortoises.  (Had this problem in Seville meat and vegetable market when I mistook the 'S' of signor for a 'G' and couldn't find an appropriate phrase in my guide book.) 

I'm indebted to Michael Quinion and his wonderful website (and email newsletter) - Worldwide Words - for this very recent history about the accidental evolution of a new word. Click on the title of this post to go to his website.

YAKA-WOW  In what seems to have been a mixture of rueful admission of error and pleasure in accidental accomplishment, the Times noted on 23 April that a transcription error in an interview on 15 April with the neuroscientist Baroness Greenfield has gone viral. She was concerned that excessive playing of computer games or using social networks such as Twitter would stop the malleable brains of young people developing as they should: "It's not going to destroy the planet but is it going to be a planet worth living in if you have a load of breezy people who go around saying yaka-wow. Is that the society we want?" Within 24 hours, it is said, Google had 75,000 results for "yaka-wow". It has inspired a Twitter stream, a page on Facebook, mugs and T-shirts; it has become a personal philosophy: "I think, therefore I yaka-wow"; and it has led to the creation of the virtual First Church of the Yaka-Wow. What Baroness Greenfield really said was "yuck and wow", a derogatory comment about the limited emotional range and vocabulary of Twitter users. Considered linguistically and culturally, it's a fascinating example of the way electronic communications can today create and transmit a new word.