Friday, 28 November 2008

Writing Up A Storm!

I've been totally focused on my writing this week. I'm determined to build up a catalogue of work to submit. I'm aiming at the women's magazines again, mainly Fiction Feast and Woman's Weekly and want to submit at least two stories per week to that market.

However, this week I've been focusing on competition stories, as there are several competitions closing on the 30th November. I invested in Carole Baldock's bi-monthly mag, Kudos, which helpfully lists a whole host of writing competitions. I've entered three competitions this week so far and hope to enter a fourth today, but I'm not sure whether I'll get my story polished enough in time. I've written a completely new story, which I'm really pleased with (one of those which seemed to write itself) and reworked four others so far. I've really pulled some older stories to pieces and rewritten large chunks. I'm still not convinced they work, however. We'll see.

My main gripe about short story competitions is the word length. Now, as a competition organiser myself, I realise that it's a huge task reading through 100+ entries and if the word length is over 2,000 words, then the task is even more difficult. However, as a writer I don't like the 2,000 word limit. My stories are usually well over 2,000 words, and won't be shoe-horned into fewer words. I was particularly disappointed to discover the Mslexia competition is only open to stories of less than 2,200 words. The story I had in mind for that is 2,500 words. I hate cutting when I feel the story works well at its current wordage. Does anyone else have this problem? If you look at competition listings, most state that stories must be under 2,000 words.

I guess the answer is to practise writing shorter stories! I'm off to do just that!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Yellow Room Competition Shortlist

I've finally drawn up the shortlist for the first Yellow Room Competition which closed on 30th September.

Here are the shortlisted entries in alphabetical order of entrant:

Emerald Cufflinks by Polly Card

Return Ticket by Michele Darnell-Roberts

The Rain In Spain by Oliver Eade

Let's Change Loving by Amanda Field

Hunting by Rona Frith

A Present for Mummy by Judy Hodson

The Day Kennedy Died by Sue Johnson

The Beads of Change by Julie Ann Lee

Colouring In by Suzie Lockhart-Smith

Changing by Jenny Morris

Such Terrible Devotion by Dorothy Schwarz

Monopoly by Lucy Smith

Where I'd Rather Be by Sarah Steele

At the Laundrette by Sarah Steele

Sunflowers in the Ukraine by Lynne Voyce

Nina and the Fish by Jo Waterworth

Being Human by Jo Waterworth

The Hardest Stone by Elizabeth Wells

I hope to announce the winners in the next week. Watch this space! Good luck to all.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Illness and The Beloved Short Story!

I liken myself to these fuchsias. Bright, cheerful and optimistic a week or so ago, then dead as a dodo this week. Obviously I'm not dead (the fuchsias are, sadly), but I was struck down by the most horrendous tummy bug. Nige thought it was the infamous 'winter vomiting bug' everyone's talking about, although I didn't actually vomit, but plenty of action the other end (sorry to be so graphic!). The griping abdominal pains were excruciating and were coming every two or three minutes in the middle of the night like contractions. In fact, it reminded me very much of being in labour, but without the delightful result!
Enough of that. On the plus side, I have spent the week immersed in women's magazines and daytime TV. I've now convinced myself that I can write fiction for the womags, if only I just sit down and write! I have lots of ideas (I have written those down) and feel I have finally found the right voice. Before I got too poorly I did manage to revamp a couple of stories I'd written for this market back in the late nineties! Yes, it was that long ago when I had a couple of stories published in the womags!
Prompted by one of Sally Zigmond's wonderful blogs, I came up with an idea for The Yellow Room and for this blog. Sally and I both feel that many people who write short stories for competitions and magazines don't actually read good published short stories. How many people educated in the UK study the short story form either in school or university? Very few, because the genre is sidelined in favour of the novel and poetry. So, why not feature a well known and beautifully crafted short story each issue and talk about it? Tickle readers' tastebuds, as it were. Good idea? Perhaps invite readers to talk about their own favourite short story and why they like it so much. What have they learned about the craft of short story writing by reading this particular story?
How about it? Is there a short story which really struck a chord with you and taught you a little more about the genre? Do you read short stories on a regular basis? Do you own collections of short stories? I'd be very interested in hearing from you!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Snowdonia and writing competitions

Our week away in Snowdonia seems months ago. And yes, there was snow on the mountains. It felt like Christmas, not the October half term holiday, especially as there were lots of presents around. Megan turned seven while we were there.

The weather was cold and mostly wet. However, we found plenty of things to do, mainly revolving around Megan's interests. She was in her element as we visited a petting zoo and she go to hold not only a large rabbit and a guinea pig, but two snakes, one of which was rather a large python! She's a braver soul than me!

I love this photo of the Menai Bridge joining Anglesey to the mainland. This is the view from a little pub called The Antelope, which does very cheap and tasty bar meals. The Pinot Grigio wasn't bad either!

On the last night of our holiday there was a spectacular firework display over the lake at Brynteg, the site where our holiday lodge was situated. They also built a huge bonfire, which added to the general autumnal atmosphere. It was Halloween and I found a tacky pair of flashing devil's horns for Megan to wear. Highly appropriate! It also made it very easy to spot her in the crowd.

Since I've been home I've been reading the 115 entries in the first Yellow Room Short Story Competition. I have to say I find the standard pitifully low (apologies to any entrants). Even the entries I've shortlisted don't blow me away. Maybe I'm expecting too much?
The main problem with most of the stories is that they 'tell' rather than 'show'. It's amazing how many short story writers, especially beginners, just can't seem to grasp what is meant by 'show, don't tell'. I think the only answer is to read as many good published short stories as possible. Go to the library and take out collections by Alice Munro, Helen Simpson, Kate Atkinson, Katherine Mansfield or buy competition anthologies from The Bridport and the like. Subscribe to magazines like The Yellow Room!
Other problems are titles. I don't think I've ever come across such a selection of dreary titles, including 'The Message', 'Cat', 'A Spooky Assignment', 'The Library', 'Gifts'. Opening paragraphs don't grab the reader's attention. There isn't any narrative tension; no hook; nothing to make the reader want to continue. Boring, boring, boring. No inventive use of language. Just a straight narrative: So and so did such and such, then this happened. It's like reading a collection of stories written in exercise books by ten-year-olds.
I'm sorry to be so harsh and there are exceptions, but it makes me wonder about the people who enter these competitions. Do they have any idea of what a short story should be? Do they study their craft? Do they read? And why don't people who are submitting to the magazine, those who can clearly write well, enter the competitions? They'd sweep the board.
Rant over.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

How To Write and Sell Short Stories

Sorry about the photo! Whenever I take photos of books I seem to get this awful glare on the cover. Anyway, you get the idea!

I was hoping to write about my week away in Snowdonia with husband and two children, but the lovely photos Nige took are too big to upload and he has to make them smaller. Instead I thought I'd tell you about this brilliant little book I've just finished reading.

I came across Della Galton some years ago now (at least ten!), as she was (and still is) one of the most prolific short story writers for the commercial women's magazines I'd come across. I'm not sure how I first got in touch with her, but we exchanged a few emails and she was incredibly generous with advice and ideas. She's the sort of person you just know is lovely and want to meet.

As far as I know 'How To Write and Sell Short Stories' is the first non-fiction book Della has written and she has a real gift. I think this is one of the best books on short story writing I've read (and I've read a lot!). It's short, punchy and succinct; very much like the stories she writes! Della has had tremendous success in the commercial women's magazine arena. Pick up any of the current 'womags' and you'll probably find at least one story by Della Galton. How does she do it? It's all in this book. As you usually find with prolific and successful writers it comes down to persistence and hard work. Write, write, write. Submit, submit, submit. It's the only way. The more you write, the better you get at it, regardless of the genre. This is probably why I'm not that good a writer! I don't do enough of it! But that's another (long) story and another blog entry.

If you write any kind of short story (there's a chapter on writing the literary short story and stories for competitions), then do buy this book. There are tips from the experts (women's magazine writers and editors mostly), even advice on tax and record keeping. It's the kind of book you refer to again and again. It can't fail to inspire you. It has given me a much-needed kick up the backside, I can tell you!

Anyway, I'm off to write.