Luckenbooth

This novel, by Jenni Fagan, is the horrifying biography of a building, organised by floors and rooms rather than chronologically. One reviewer compared it to George Perec’s Life: a User’s Manual: the form is similar, working through a series of loosely linked stories room by room, but the tone and content is very different. This building is an old-fashioned Edinburgh tenement, 10, Luckenbooth Close. A Luckenbooth is a kind of stall selling trinkets, and by extension the little pair of linked hands made in silver that were the most popular item for sale there; but apart from providing the address that doesn’t seem to be of any wider importance to the story.

The history of this building is full of dark fantasy, violence and the supernatural, ghastly tales delivered with skill and a kind of gloomy zest. If that’s the kind of thing you like, a feast awaits you here; for me the fantastic crossed over into the absurd a little too often. There’s a passage towards the end which recounts a kind of duel between local gangsters and Triad members, which would make a great comic book, or maybe a Tarantinoesque film sequence, but while I read it avidly I didn’t believe a word of it; exciting, but in the superficial way a brilliantly choreographed fight scene might be. Perhaps I’m hard to please. Others have detected elements of social commentary here which eluded me.

Or take the opening of the book in which Jessie MacRae paddles away from some island where she has killed her father (who is the Devil, apparently, and not altogether dead, either; like a lot of things in the story this is sort of inexplicable). For a boat she uses the coffin her father made for her, though goodness knows how that works. Where is she coming from, anyway? She ends up in Leith, but there aren’t really any islands off Scotland’s North Sea coast, and her father’s corpse is said to stare at the North Atlantic. It does take her three days, but even just coming from Orkney would have to be some amazing feat of seamanship in these dangerous waters – or, of course, just magic. Perhaps I’m niggling over details, but sailing in a coffin is for me one of the touches that tries too hard, slipping from the horrifying into the risible. Jessie, who has been sold by her father to be a kind of surrogate mother, is herself demonic, producing the baby within days and growing horns like her Dad’s. That rather recalls Mervyn Peake’s Mr Pye, though as I understand it Mr Pye’s horns were a sarcastic comment from God on a man who took himself much too seriously and the moral complexity of the world nothing like seriously enough (I’ll just leave that there).

There’s a lot to enjoy here if you like a bit of grisly gothic. For me, when the last mutilated corpses have been uncovered, the final ghosts released, and the building finally subsides into ruin, one deep and difficult question is left in the reader’s mind. What was all that about?

Lucent Dreaming Novella

Just heard that the Lucent Dreaming novella competition has been cancelled. Results were due at the end of this month but there were only thirteen entrants! Entry fees are being refunded. It surprises me that during lockdown more people weren’t writing, but perhaps it reflects the lack of popularity for the novella form – I only know of one other current contest (the Clay Reynolds). Let’s hope that does all right.

March 2021 Competitions

Here are the writing competitions I might enter in March (eg, no poetry, YA or flash – a couple of really short shorts , though. Below a thousand words is a bit of a squeeze for me). It looks like a busy month.
  • The Bridgend Writer’s Circle offers a first prize of £100 for stories between 1,500 and 1,800 words – entry fee £5 and a deadline of 1 March
  • The Elmbridge Literary Competition seeks stories of up to 1,400 words on the theme of ‘music’. The entry fee is £5 and top prize £250; the deadline is 5  March.
  • The Stella Kupferberg prize is one of those tight ones, with a limit of a mere 750 words. It’s associated with American public radio; besides a prize of $1,000, the winner gets their story professionally read and gains free entry to a ten-week course (not sure if this is accessible online). Entry is $25 and the deadline is 5 March.
  • The Fowey Festival offers a prize of £200 for a story on the theme of ‘breaking point’. The entry fee is £10 and the deadline is 7 March.
  • Wild Hunt magazine is celebrating its fifth birthday by running its first competition. A reasonable 3,000 word limit applies, and a fee of £4 with a prize of £200. No theme, but stories should embrace the ethos and mission of the magazine, which ‘celebrates the weird, surreal, the other, and imaginary worlds’. Deadline 9 March.
  • The Nelligan Prize is for a story of 10-50 pages or 2,500 to a whopping 12,500 words. Entry is $15, the top prize is $2,000 and entries must be in by 15 March.
  • Harper’s Bazaar wants stories up to 2,200 words on the subject of ‘Threads’. It’s free to enter, but there is no money prize, just publication and two nights at the Mitre Hotel in Hampton Court. The deadline is 15 March.
  • I love this one. Silver Apples offers a prize of €100 for a story of 1,500 to 5,000 words, with an entry fee of €10. All entries must have been previously rejected by publishers or failed in an earlier competition! The deadline is 17 March.
  • You’ll need a full completed novel manuscript (at least 50,000 words) for the Daniel Goldsmith First Novel Prize. Entry is £25 and you can win £1,000. The deadline is 30 March.
Then as usual we have a clutch of competitions with deadlines at the end of the month.
  • The regular Henshaw competition requires stories up to 2,000 words; entry is £6 and the first prize is £200.
  • The Short Fiction/University of Essex prize has an entry fee of £7 and a prize of £500 for stories up to 5,000 words. There is an additional prize for ‘Wild Writing’ which goes to an entry on nature/the environment.
  • The Ernest Hemingway Short Fiction Prize is run by Fiction Southeast and apparently  has no direct connection with the author or his granddaughter Lorian, who used to run a regular short story contest. Enter a story up to 1,500 words for $10 and you could win $200.
  • The Clay Reynolds Prize is for a novella (20,000 to 50,000 words) and offers an advance of $500 and a publishing contract. There’s an entry fee of $20.
  • Finally, the Bethlehem Writers want a story with an element of mystery, up to 2,000 words. They plan to produce an anthology of stories that are ‘Sweet, funny and strange’. Entry is $15, first prize is $250.
Good Luck! If you win any of these, let me know!

Fiction Factory

The results of the Fiction Factory competition are now out, and while I didn’t get placed, my story Garghan House did make the long list! I’m currently getting some kind of recognition for about one in eight of my competition entries, which is encouraging enough to keep me going.

Secret Attic (short)

My story The Present has been selected in the Secret Attic (short) short story competition! (They also have a (long) short story competition.) No prize, but it appears in their Booklet #8 (already available from Lulu). Another one for my sparse shelf of publications.

February 2021 Competitions

Here are the writing competitions with February deadlines I’m considering. Not quite so many this month, which should give me a chance to catch up.
  • Accenti is apparently a Canadian magazine with an Italian emphasis. Your piece can be on any topic. I sort of wonder whether it might need an Italian link, though it should definitely be in English. Non-fiction is allowed, but not poetry, plays, or essays. They’re looking for up to 2,000 words, the entry fee is $30 and the top prize $1,000. The deadline is 1 Feb.
  • The Papatango play competition is back in a new form this year; normally the winner gets a full production and tour, but That Thing has made it difficult and for one year only they’re asking for an audio play, of 25 to 50 minutes (about the same number of pages. Entry is free and they provide substantial feedback to all entrants, which is a pretty good deal. There’ll be three winners this year with a top prize of £2,000 as well as audio production for all three. The deadline is 7 Feb.
  • Another welcome freebie is the Artists and Writers Prize (yes, associated with the indispensable Yearbook). The top prize is an Arvon residential course, with publication on the website. These courses have a good reputation, but if you don’t want to go on one (as I don’t) the glory alone might not justify entering. Stories of up to 2,000 words are called for, and the deadline is 12 Feb.
  • The Mary McCarthy Prize from Sarabande Books requires a manuscript of 150-200 pages, and an entry fee of $29. The winner gets $2,000 plus publication. The website gives a deadline of 15 Feb, but the Submittable page seems to say 21 Feb.
  • My mind is slightly blown by the Puchi award. La Casa Encendida and Fulgencio Pimentel are looking for any kind of book project (comics, non-fiction, finished, unfinished, long, short, whatever), so long as it’s amazing. It can also be in any language, though at least a couple of pages and the supporting documents need to be in English. The prize is €8,000 plus publication and the deadline is 18 Feb.
  • The Grace Paley Prize is part of the AWP award series; there’s an entry fee of $30 and a prize of $5,500 for stories of 150 to 300 pages; submit by 28 Feb.
  • Finally, with the same deadline, the Scottish Arts Club wants stories of up to 2,000 words, with an entry fee of £10 and a top prize of £1,000. You do not have to be Scottish, though if you are, you’re eligible for another award.
The very best of luck – if you win any of these, please let me know!

Calvino Prize

I was shortlisted for the Calvino Prize! Very gratifying (but dammit, when am I actually going to win something?). This is the competition for pieces that are in the ‘fabulist experimentalist style’ of Italo Calvino – but not merely imitative. I love Calvino, but this seems to me quite a tricky brief, and I was lucky to have some stuff that was not written for the competition but met the terms pretty well. I must admit that my fellow competitors and previous winners seem to have done a pretty good job, with pieces that are recognisably Calvinoesque without verging on pastiche.

Exploding Angels

I made little cardboard angels that open up to reveal a chocolate inside when you take the top off. They are based on the ‘exploding’ boxes on this excellent site, which will generate templates for making all sorts of boxes and shapes, including a set of the Platonic solids, stars with any specified number of points, and so on.  A grateful hat-tip goes to Suse, from whose Facebook post I discovered this handy resource.  Happy New Year!

January 2021 Competitions

Here are the writing competitions I might enter in January. I seem to have picked up more from the USA this time. Some of these have a bit of a local feel – I haven’t seen one with any actual restriction, but I feel a bit shy about entering a competition that has never previously been won by someone who wasn’t from North Carolina…
  • The Exeter Novel Prize has a deadline of 1 January (I don’t believe they’ll get much reading done that day, though). First 10,000 words with a 500 word synopsis – first prize £500
  • Also with a 1 Jan deadline, Crazyhorse  magazine wants stories of 2,500 to 8,500 words or 25 pages. The entry fee is $3 and top prize is $2,000 plus publication in the magazine.
  • Bayou magazine will give you marginally more time if you want to go in for the James Knudsen prize, with a deadline of 2 January. Submit stories up to 7,500 words; there’s an entry fee of $20 and a prize of $1,000 plus a year’s subscription.
  • The regular Henshaw competition has a deadline of 6 January with a first prize of £200. They want up to 2,000 words and the entry fee is £6.
  • The Mogford prize offers a whopping £10,000 for a story about food and drink, up to 2,500 words. The deadline is 13 January, with an entry fee of £15.
  • The K Margaret Grossman award, run by Literal Latte journal, offers a prize of $1000 for stories of up to 10,000 words, deadline 15 January. There’s $10 entrance fee, or you can enter twice for $15. They say that all entries are considered for publication, but the journal appears to be in trouble. It hasn’t published since its Fall 2018 number, so some scepticism seems excusable.
  • The Bournemouth Writing Prize (previously known as the Fresher Prize) seeks stories up to 3,000 words, offering a top prize of £500 plus feedback. Th entry fee is £7 and the deadline is 25 January.
Then we have the usual clutch of competitions with a deadline of the end of the month,  31 January.
  • Mighty Pens have a modest top prize of a £50 M&S gift card – but also a certificate and publication in their magazine. They want 500 to 1,000 words on the theme of ‘Winter’ (or possibly ‘Tears in Winter’ – that’s also mentioned at one point).
  • The Parracombe Prize has a word limit of 2,020 (see what they did there), a first prize of £100 and an entry fee of £5.
  • Secret Attic’s Long Short Story competition (they do have a short one as well) requires stories of 1,500 to 3,000 words (not all that long, then). Entry fee is £3.00, top prize is £100 plus publication in their ‘booklet’.
  • The Winter Anthology, by contrast, has no hang-ups about word counts: send us as much as you like, they say. The top prize is $1,000, with an entry fee of $11.00. The winner is published in the latest anthology, and finalists are also considered for publication. They warn that if entries are not good enough, they will not award a prize; their Submittable page says reassuringly that this has never happened, but their webpage says it happened last year…
  • Finally, it’s a bit out of my comfort zone,  but the Fish Short Memoir competition has an entry fee of €18 and a top prize of €1000, plus publication in the Fish anthology.
A bit early, but I wish you a productive and successful New Year!