September 2020 Competitions

September looks like a busy month.Write fast!
  • PANK magazine has a Big Book contest for full length books (novel or short story collection) with a deadline of 8 September. Top prize is $1000, a $500 dollar publicity campaign, a reading in New York, and you get to judge next year’s contest (I think I might want more than $1000 to take that on). They might publish some runners-up too.
  • One of the really big ones; the Manchester Fiction Prize, has a top award of £10,000 for a short story of up to 2,500 words. The entry fee is £18, but the fee can be reduced or waived if you can’t afford it. Last year these people sent me some confused emails right before the announcement of the shortlist, saying they’d lost my entry and could I email them another copy. If it got read at all that late in the process, I have to doubt whether there was time for its intricate beauty to sink into the soul of the reader. Still, they could have just let it go and I suppose I’d have been none the wiser. I suspect that happens. Deadline is 18 September.
Then we have no fewer than six contests with a deadline of 30 September.
  • One of the regular Henshaw competitions with a top prize of £200 for a story up to 2,000 words. Anthologies including placed stories are published occasionally. The entry fee is £6 and you can get a critique for an extra £12. These are good value in my experience; pretty cheap and the report gives the impression of being written by a thoughtful, intelligent reader whose suggestions make sense.
  • Crowvus, up in Wick, offers a top prize of £100 for a Christmas ghost story of up to 4,000 words. I don’t generally write ghost stories, but I have a couple to hand that I might put a Christmas gloss on. Entry fee is £3 or £5 for two.
  • Hammond House offers a top prize of £500 plus an award televised on the enviable local cultural television show. The word count must be between 2000 and 5000 words, on the theme ‘Survival’. This is a good competition, in my opinion; an anthology including lots of runners-up is published annually, so it might be a good way of getting into print. There is a feedback option for an extra £10, but last year I found this disappointing, with the report late and formulaic.
  • Dzanc books has a competition for full-length short story collections; the winner is published with an advance of $2,000. The entry fee is $25. This is a small but very respectable American press; if you won, you’re probably not going to get launched into huge fame and wealth, but hey, publication is publication.
  • Galley Beggar Press offers a top prize of £2000; the word limit is 6,000, so you’ve got room to spread yourself a bit. The entry fee is £10. This is an excellent small press that enjoyed huge success recently with Ducks Newburyport, which I’m afraid I gave up on after a few thousand words. Galley Beggar ran into financial difficulties recently when a customer who had put in a large order for Ducks, Newburyport went bankrupt owing them a substantial sum of money; but an appeal fortunately rescued them from the brink; we can ill afford to lose publishers like this.
  • Finally The Wit to Woo wants twelve Christmas stories, each in the style of a famous author. There are twelve ‘first prizes’, each a twelfth of the total entry fee pot; currently at least £100. The winners will be published in a special anthology inspired by Max  Beerbohm’s volume of parodies A Christmas Garland.

Light, not so much

He was obviously delighted with it, though.When Henry VIII came to the throne he was young, attractive, and slim; a refreshing change from the rather austere regime of his father. But as he grew older he lost the charm of novelty and became increasingly bloated, unlovely, and difficult to deal with. The same kind of thing has happened to Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, with the last volume The Mirror and the Light turning out larger, less innovative, and quite a bit less charming than the earlier volumes.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a book you will definitely want to read, and not just because you’re locked into the trilogy and the life. Mantel faced several challenges in making this novel as good as the others.
For one thing, this part of Cromwell’s life is well known. In Wolf Hall Mantel was inventing his tantalisingly unknown early life, and took the opportunity to show him as an attractive underdog of astonishing competence, clawing his way up through an uncanny ability to master every trade he encountered, yet steadfastly loyal to his master Wolsey. In the new book he is plump, secure, and loaded with offices and honours. Nothing much can be invented because this stage of his life is part of history and without that creative freedom it’s difficult to make him so appealing. His competence seems to have deserted him, and in fact Mantel makes it worse, having him make a fool of himself over marriage proposals twice in ways that don’t even strike me as particularly plausible.

The fact that this history is well known also makes it inherently less interesting. We know what’s coming. Mantel herself seems bored in places; the Pilgrimage of Grace was a sensational rebellion, but we trudge through it dutifully with no illuminating flashes of insight or sympathy.

In what may be an attempt to address some of these problems, Mantel revisits in flashback episodes from earlier in Cromwell’s life; but this just makes the damn thing even longer. Here I think we’re up against a genuine weakness of the author; in A Place of Greater Safety, her earlier book about the French Revolution, she also, in my opinion, began to run on at uncontrolled length. In a couple of places here, she oddly drops in anachronistic phrases, and unfortunately one of them is ‘cut to the chase’, the very thing she seems unable to do.

One of the interesting things about Wolf Hall was its technical innovation. It read easily but in some ways the prose was unorthodox; notably, it only ever referred to Cromwell as ‘he’. It was quite shocking when she finally gave up and said ‘he, Cromwell’. In The Mirror and the Light, she does something different, clarifying with one or other of Cromwell’s ever-increasing roster of offices – ‘he, Master Secretary’. This enables her to highlight different aspects of his role; but it isn’t the tour de force that the earlier book pulled off.

The book has been nominated for the Booker, and if it wins will be an astonishing third in a row, an unprecedented hat-trick. I haven’t read the other contenders, so it could easily be that The Mirror and the Light deserves to win; but momentum from the earlier books is surely going to give it a head start. It seems to me we’ve got a good book, but not the great one we were hoping for.

On the Tiles

Not really DelftWith the fresh energy I seem to be getting  (Thanks, Vedolizumab!) I finished my little project of portraits of my family on ‘Delft tiles’. Not really tiles at all, of course. These are 15cm blocks of pine on which I have painted a square of gesso and then had at it with the blue acrylics. No-one would suppose that these are actual tiles in wooden frames, but they sort of harmonise with the real ones in the kitchen.

They are actually a bit inconsistent in terms of time. The one of Elizabeth (bottom left) is based on a photograph from a few years ago. whereas my one is me after shaving off the Corona ‘stache at the beginning of September.


This is meant to be the kind of bread you get cut into strips at Tas restaurants. It ought to be a plait, but that has sort of disappeared in the baking. I think it’s called ‘pide’ (‘peeday’), but I know nothing about Turkish food and might be completely wrong. My impression is that that word really just means ‘bread’, but has recently been used for a kind of Turkish pizza or pissaladiere; bread with tomato and other things on top.

Anyway, whether it’s authentic and whatever it should be called it tastes good, and more or less how I hoped, so I’m scoring that as a success.