Writing Competitions

This week sees the launch of the 2014 Festival Competitions on the Competitions page. The competitions are a vital part of the Festival; they open doors for emerging writers and enable us to celebrate entrants’ creativity.

The competitions have some valuable prizes attached, including publication in The Best of 2014 and elsewhere, consultations with literary agents, short writing courses and, naturally, books – all designed to support and encourage excellence.

Indeed, winning a writing competition is a significant endorsement for any writer and agents and publishers take note.  The winner of last year’s Children’s Funny Fiction prize, Jane Howard, is now represented by Polly Nolan of the Greenhouse Literary Agency. Many other winners have reported publishing successes over the years.

As for what to submit, some writers may already have the ‘perfect’ short story or poem tucked away in their desk drawer or on their laptop.  If this is the case for you then take it out, dust it off, brush it up and send it in.

On the other hand, one of the most important objectives of any writing competition is to inspire writers to develop new work. Do consider writing something fresh, something that feels just right for the theme suggested, or simply because this is 2014 and you’ve developed as a writer since you wrote that previous piece.

Our new Flash Fiction competition is perfect for this.  All you need is single moment, briefly realised; a snippet of dialogue, overheard and re-imagined; a feeling – transient, mercurial.  With flash fiction, every word counts; there’s no room for padding. Offer a glimpse of the situation, a sly insight. Aim to leave the reader wondering, changed in some small way by what has occurred on the page.

Or perhaps the Memoir competition interests you?  Memoir is a much more fluid, creative form than purely fact-based autobiography. It pursues the writer’s truth through story-telling techniques and presents an unashamedly subjective viewpoint.

At the wise suggestion of our sponsors at Age Concern, the Retirement Competition has also been reconfigured to welcome stories from younger people as well as more mature writers.  After all, ageing is something that affects us all.

So, a few points to bear in mind as you prepare your submission:

  • Read the competition description carefully to make sure your entry matches the brief.
  • Sometimes new work is better than ‘old’ writing re-worked to fit.
  • Try reading your work out loud before submitting, to catch any repetitions or dissonances that have slipped through at the proof-reading stage.
  • Ensure work is presented to a professional standard.
  • Give your work an interesting title.

Good luck!


Plunging in

Beginning a new piece of fiction feels like a lucky dip.  I pay my 50p, close my eyes and rummage around in the sawdust.  Pretty soon my fingers touch something crinkly, lumpy, interesting.  I take a deep breath and pull it out.

What is it? A curiosity?  A delight?  The start of a life-long relationship?   Or is it poorly made, quick to break or worse, a toy that’s been used already?

Sometimes I strike lucky.  Sometimes I need to spend another 50p – or several. Oh dear, how much is this metaphor going to cost me?

The point is, finding the ‘right’ beginning can take a little time.

A writer’s sense of a good beginning is often heavily loaded. Twitter is particularly adept at bite-sized prohibitions such as ‘don’t start with the weather’, ‘don’t start with two pages of dialogue’ or ‘prologues – don’t even go there’.  Such warnings are the result of many a bad beginning.  They are useful, up to a point, though we’ve all been diverted by fictions that break the rules.

Still, when faced with a blank page, those ‘don’ts’ can feel prescriptive and dispiriting. One way round this is to break down ‘beginning’ into three parts.

First, there’s an idea.  That’s a beginning, and you haven’t even started writing!

Second, put some words down on the page.  That’s a beginning too, but you’re only playing and so it can change. Write a prologue, or dialogue, or describe the weather, if it helps. Nothing is fixed.

Third, you’ve written lots of words and you stand back and look at what you have. The story needs a shape, and the shape needs a beginning and you may not find the right one until you’ve reached the end. The prologue, the dialogue, the weather helped to get you there.  Their job is done and they can be retired in the second draft maybe.

This is where the writer must apply a fiercely critical eye. Is the beginning interesting?  Will it beguile/intrigue the reader?  If that prologue is compelling (instead of merely ‘necessary’) then maybe you should call it Chapter One.   Or is it really pre-writing: something you needed to tell yourself and no one else?

I want to get it right first time.  Of course I do!  But if I had to get it right first time, I might never plunge in at all. The rummaging is worth every penny.