Friday 29 November 2013

Do you enter writing competitions?

You don't? What puts you off?
  • Paying to have your story read?
  • The fear of being scammed?
  • The many thousands of entrants in the most prestigious competitions?
They are all good points. After all, if you've done any kind of research about writing and publishing, you'll have come up against the advice to never part with your money. Scams are definitely out there - blogs like Writer Beware: The Blog often share the shadier side of the publishing industry. And yes, if you only enter the large competitions that have prizes in the £/$1000s then more people will enter those.

But... I happen to think that competitions are an important part of the writing process.
  1. Firstly, you learn to cope with rejection. You can't always win, after all!
  2. I used to have a comprehensive list of competitions that I tried to enter. It meant that I always had several stories submitted, and several being returned.
  3. You learn how to work to deadlines, and in some cases to a specific topic.
  4. You might win!
What about those worries you have though? Well...
  • Paying money... I have several criteria in place. 
    • Do I think my story is worth the entry fee? Some of my stories are very short, or not so good as others; some would suit a certain market - say a small writers circle competition - but not an international literary journal.
    • If the limit is 1000 words and the entry fee is £10, I would not enter. But if it was £5 I might consider, if it was £3 I would. You would develop your own limits.
    • Are there any other benefits - a critique included in that fee, an agent reading the short list? 
  • Scams... Isn't that what the internet is designed for? You can research the competition, check out if people have mentioned it elsewhere, good or bad. If uncertain, don't enter. And if the prizes seem good to be true, it's possible they may be. The more you look at competitions, you better judge you will be.
  • Too many entrants... I started quite small - I entered the ones that had a prize of £50 or £100. These days, I may not bother with something so small, but again that limit would be different for you all. Some competitions announce how many entrants they had in previous years, so you can further judge if you want to chance it.
At the end of the day, someone has to win first prize, whether that's £100 or £1000. Why shouldn't that be you??

Some competition listing sites:
Writing Comps (it says UK comps, but there are several US ones thrown in too, and besides most contests these days are international because online entries are so easy.)
Christopher Fielden

These lists will double up, so choosing your favourite interface is probably a better idea than searching through them all. Googling short story competitions will probably provide even more listings that are more US-centric.

Let me know how you get on!

Tuesday 26 November 2013

This post will self-destruct in 12 hours!

As warned, this post has self-destructed. 

Here's some music to replace it:

Thursday 21 November 2013

I've been writing...

Even though I'm not doing NaNo, I've been writing a lot this month. Until today I hit a bit of a roadblock because my notes - tucked inbetween the pages of my first draft - say 'some more drinking stuff', and although I know it made sense when I wrote it, I can't for the life of me remember what I meant! Today I have mostly been staring into space with my pen poised waiting for the drinking stuff to happen... Maybe I meant I should really be drinking more? Hmm, something to ponder.

And while I do that...

... here's a linked to a post I've written  over on Slashed Reads where I talk about all the Random Things I Search for on the Internet - ooh, that doesn't sound good at all, does it??

What's the most random thing you've searched for recently?

Tuesday 12 November 2013

What to do when there isn't an ending...

Here's a brief summary:
  • I wrote a depressing novel
  • Everyone thought it was depressing
  • I decided to rewrite it a couple of months ago
  • It's still depressing, but in a totally different way
  • It doesn't have an ending because I completely ripped up at least half of the original book.
Got it? Good. Advice?

Haha... I wouldn't do that to you. But I think I might have written the first endless book.

I'm just a little bit lost at the moment because I usually know the ending before I start writing, even if (as with a couple of stories that will be out soon) I try my hardest to avoid that ending to make a new one. Most of my endings are pretty depressing in their own right, but at least the characters have followed a logical path - and, to be honest, in most cases they are not as depressing as they could have been!

This current story doesn't seem to have a path that won't come across as contrived, pathetic and far too soft. The problem is that without a satisfying ending there's absolutely no point to the story at all - I'll have put my MC through hell for no reason. With the wrong ending, people will never trust another thing I write (a possible exaggeration, but not much) - or it will read like the ending from a different novel has been dumped onto this one.

Tell me about your endings.
Do you always know where you're going?
Have you ever written yourself into no-man's land?

Wednesday 6 November 2013

IWSG - Right place, wrong place...

Click here to sign up
For the first time since the IWSG started, I am writing this on the morning of the group. Last week was half-term so having the kids at home threw me out a lot, and yesterday I was out and about... and even started the Christmas shopping, which pretty much sent me spiralling into a weird wibbly-wobbly, timey wimey haze.

(And to be honest, I'm so impressed with my previous post with Alison Moore that I wanted it to be seen for as long as possible, which is why I'm linking back to it here... hehehe)

Actually, Alison herself might be the source of my insecurity this week. At her event on Saturday Alison read a couple of her short stories. The friend I was with said, "I can see why you like her, she writes just like you."

Argh! You see? If I write like her, I could have been her. Indeed, our careers started very similarly: we both wrote from a young age, we both had lean years (a job for Alison, kids for me) and we both found time to write more again later on (maternity leave for Alison, a new job for me). But then we veer away from each other slightly. While I was winning a small short story competition for Omelette, Alison was being short-listed for the Manchester Fiction Prize, after already being short-listed in competitions I'd love to get on the long-list for!

One of the judges for that prize was Nicholas Royle who went on to become Alison's editor for her first novel. And that's when Alison stayed on a nice forward trajectory and I started roaming around in circles.

Alison was in the right place at the right time. I've been lucky so far (my publisher Vagabondage picked up a novella I thought was destined for a drawer), but I haven't been stratospherically lucky. So, yes, I'm a little insecure, because no matter how brilliant a writer someone is (and I'm not using that word to describe me!) they need a bit of a push from the universe.

Have you been in the right place at the right time?
Or even the wrong place at the wrong time?
Or the right place at the wrong time...?

Monday 4 November 2013

Alison Moore came to Plymouth #pibf

Alison Moore
I went to see Alison Moore talking about her latest short story collection The Pre-War House and Other Stories last Saturday, as part of the Plymouth International Book Festival. If I'd been more organised, I'd have taken photos - but it was only as I was leaving that I thought it would be a good topic to blog about, if only to prove I do go out and don't spend all my time writing.

Alison Moore rose to prominence last year when her first novel The Lighthouse was long-listed - and then short-listed - for the Man Booker Prize before it was even published! But she'd been writing short stories and winning competitions long before that. I kind of felt Moore was having the career that I aspire to, so that made me even more curious about her.

As I was writing this I thought Hey! Wouldn't it be great to ask Alison some questions of my own! So I contacted her and asked this:

You were short-listed for the Man Booker Prize with your first novel, does that concern you now that you're working on your second? Are you feeling an extra pressure? (Apologies for putting the thought in your head if you haven't!)
When I wrote The Lighthouse, hardly anyone knew I was writing a novel at all. I don't have the same hidey-hole with the second one but I did keep it all to myself until the first draft was done, and having my collection out this year helped as events have been focused on that, enabling novel #2 to remain in the shadows.

A writer friend of mine wrote a blog post today about people disliking her unsympathetic characters and ambiguous endings, and as a result she's been getting 1 star reviews. You said on Saturday that some people can't relate to your characters either, how do you deal with negative comments/reviews?
I know The Lighthouse won't be everyone's cup of tea - I'm just glad that it's also found plenty of people who have responded to it so enthusiastically. One thing I really like is that some people have found Futh utterly infuriating and yet despite this have found themselves caring very much about what happens to him and rooting for him.

Alison and interviewer Johnny Mains before the event -
with thanks to Johnny for the permission to use this photo
Has the past year lived up to your expectations? Have you found it harder to write with all the extra distractions?
Well it's been like ten years worth of good stuff rolled into one! The success of The Lighthouse has enabled me to write for a living, and I would have found it difficult to fit in writing alongside all the other opportunities except that my son started school this year so I'm writing or doing writing-related work full-time now.

And finally, you've just brought out a short story collection. I love reading and writing short stories myself, but I know how hard it is to convince the reading public. Do you think short stories will ever be given the acclaim they deserve?
I wonder if it's partly about exposure - I don't think many short stories cropped up during my education. My rooting out of contemporary short stories was initially via magazines that I was reading as a writer or would-be writer. I'd like to have got my hands on Salt's Best British Short Stories (edited by Nicholas Royle) and Best British Horror (edited by Johnny Mains, and out next year) a couple of decades ago. Now I've got shelves full of short story treasure - I get very excited about my favourites.

Thank you so much for the interview, Alison!

You can find out all you need to know about Alison Moore from her website.
Alison also appears in The Screaming Book of Horror (edited by Johnny Mains, the host of the event).