The Hammond House prize announces its results on a local (Lincolnshire) arts channel which they call ‘Billboard. This year they did a little montage of entrants, including me, introducing themselves. You can see it here, me at 8:50.
Last year I placed third, one of my best ever results, so it would probably be greedy to hope for anything this year.
I was reviewing the rules for the Southport writing competition and I see they include the advice ‘Titles should be both appropriate and interesting.’ Who’d a thunk it, eh? No wonder my strategy of using titles that are both irrelevant and boring isn’t paying off.
Then I tried to come up with the most tedious title I could think of, and it is strangely difficult. A List of my Socks – no, somehow you start wondering about these items of footwear. Are they alphabetised or sorted by colour? The old Beachcomber column used to publish extracts from the List of Huntingdonshire Cabmen. In a televised version they got, I think Ralph Richardson to read them, and they were gripping.
What about Some Dream I had once – no, I’m interested already, even though other people’s dreams are notoriously tedious and dreams are a terrible plot deflator. Or Common Houseware Problems – the trouble is that with a title like that, you automatically suspect the author of slyly concealing a very uncommon narrative. The truly boring title has to sound sincere but be utterly colourless. In the end the best I could come up with was A Tale, which seems blandly uninviting. On reflection I thought I could go one better with A Further Tale, which adds the dispiriting hint that you’ve probably already missed any good bits. But I can still imagine glancing at it. So somehow I’m just not getting the real nadir of off-putting boredom.
Here’s my look at writing contests I’m thinking of entering next month.
The Caledonia Novel Award offers a top prize of £1,500, and for the best entrant from the UK and Ireland, a week-long course at the Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre. The judge is literary agent Laura Williams, who I believe is keen to find new talent; entrants cannot already have representation. They want the first 200 pages plus a 200 word synopsis (rather tight); the deadline is 1 November so you need to get moving quickly.
Also with a 1 November deadline is the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. This is judged in regions (1. Africa, 2. Asia, 3. Canada and Europe, 4. Caribbean and 5. Pacific.); regional winners get £2,500, with the overall winner getting £5,000. Entries in certain languages other than English are permitted (no idea how they judge across languages, and not all Commonwealth languages are covered – not even Hindi, it seems, though you can write in Bengali). If a winning entry is a translation, the translator gets a small extra prize, which is nice. They are looking for 2-5,000 words, one entry per writer.
Sutton Writers, that excellent group, invites Christmas ghost stories of up to 1,500 words, deadline Friday 13 November… In addition to online publication there will be a cash prize made up of the entry fees (£5 per story), so the more people enter, the bigger the prize!
Tripfiction promotes books with a strong sense of location, offering members a database where they can find recommended books about any particular place. Their competition encourages you to write some more of that kind of thing. They’re looking for 750 to 3,000 words with a strong ‘sense of place’; they provide more detailed tips, but only after you’ve registered (free) and signed up to enter. Top prize is £300, the deadline is 15 November.
Hope Mill Theatre is looking for plays of at least an hour’s length; top prize is £5,000 and a full performance. Finalists also get a scene performed and one-to-one mentoring sessions. You need to submit the script, a short biog, synopsis and character list (thought a character list was a standard part of a script anyway?) all by 27 November.
Fiction Factory offers a top prize of £300 for stories up to 3,000 words, with a deadline of 30 November. Top stories will be published in an anthology. The judge is Tim Symonds, who writes stories about Sherlock Holmes, which might be a clue to what’s likely to go down well.
Last but certainly not least we have the prestigious Fish Prize for stories of up to 5,000 words. Top prize is €3,000 plus a 5 day Short Story Workshop at the West Cork Literary Festival.
Second place brings a week at Anam Cara Writers’ Retreat and €300. Even the honourable mentions get €200, and the top ten stories will be published in an anthology. The deadline is 30 November.
I have to admit I’m still working on October competitions…
I got an honourable mention for my story ‘New Troy’ in the Literary Taxidermy competition! This is an unusual competition where you have to take the first and last sentences of a novel (Brave New World in this case) and fill in the gap with a new story.
A building that fills a whole world; an endless sequence of halls, all filled with statues. Here and there the sea has broken in and flooded or destroyed some of the great marble figures and massive stairways. And here lives one resourceful man who has contrived to live off fish, befriending the albatross and other birds who also live here.He is not quite alone. He regularly meets the Other, a man in smart suits, and together they try to obtain powerful magic. The Other jokingly calls him ‘Piranesi’; he knows this not his real name but does not mind. Piranesi believes there are probably only fifteen people in the world; the rest are all skeletons that he cares for respectfully.
This is the new novel from Susanna Clarke that we fans of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell have been waiting for so eagerly. We had The Ladies of Grace Adieu to keep us going, but nothing more substantial. Are we satisfied?
Well, the new novel is not a sequel, and as we eventually discover, it is set in the twenty-first century. There are no delightful footnotes, and it is relatively short. However, it clearly comes from the same imagination as Strange and Norrell. There are no fairies, but the underlying conception of magic as a dialogue with the powers of Nature is still here. The fascination with (the real) Piranesi’s bizarre architectural fantasies is obviously here, too. Even if our hero were not given the tell-tale nickname we should recognise that these halls owe something to the dream-like images of the Italian architect and artist, though for many readers they will call up faint echoes of Borges’ total library, too. These visions presumably shaped the King’s Roads in Strange and Norrell and explicitly provide the design for the tremendous Thoresby Bridge in Grace Adieu.There are some other signs of kinship with Strange and Norrell. We might say (slight spoiler) that both books feature a resourceful black man with a false friend who inadvertently inherits an enchanted realm. One of Clarke’s great achievements in Strange and Norrell was to provide a really satisfying conception of magic which chimed well with folklore yet got everything to make sense. Here we don’t quite get that. Piranesi’s world is explained, partly by a kind of guru who seems to be a cross between Julian Jaynes and Aleister Crowley; but there’s a certain amount of handwaving involved. In some ways I almost feel it would have been better to leave the modern world out of it and simply give Piranesi adventures in his own self-justifying world.
Overall, this isn’t the further volume of Strange and Norrell that many of us would have liked, but it’s a great book and very welcome. More please, more!