A Lion and a Unicorn

Met a lion and a unicorn on my constitutional today. Lenny is a recent addition to the garden created by Claudio Funari just up the Wandle from us: I believe the unicorn is from CAOS, the Carshalton artists who do a lot of fun stuff, knitted hats for pillar boxes a specialty.

Show, Don’t Tell

There’s an interesting discussion here of the oft-quoted rule for writers ‘show, don’t tell’. It means, for example, don’t write ‘Emma felt sad’, write something like ‘Emma’s lip trembled. She raised one hand to the tears that had begun trickling down her cheek’. Why is that a good way of doing things? First, it may be more vivid and engaging. Second it guards against a fault of poor writing in which emotions are simply pasted on like labels, characters being assigned feelings without the writerly groundwork being done.However, to treat it as an absolute rule goes much too far, as with over-zealous application of rules like ‘no adverbs’ and ‘no passive mood’. Nothing is totally forbidden when you’re writing, and direct description of thoughts and emotions can be very valuable. Take this passage from Jane Austen’s Emma.

Emma’s eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress. She touched—she admitted—she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr. Knightley, than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet’s having some hope of a return? It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!

Emma’s realisation that she has loved Knightley all along is brilliantly done, the turning point of the novel and I think, one of the great moments in English literature. How could it be done by just ‘showing’? What outward behaviour on Emma’s part would convey the same thing? I doubt it could be done at all, and if it were it would surely be long-winded, vague, clumsy, and give none of the pleasure the actual text delivers.

Austen, like most great writers, often does some telling. Indeed, if she didn’t she could scarcely have pioneered the use of ‘free indirect’ style, the last great achievement of nineteenth century literature, in which the characters thoughts are voiced by the author. For example, the last sentence in the passage above could just have been ‘Mr Knightley must marry no-one but herself’ (I’m not suggesting that would have been an improvement.)

I would in general say to people who want to advise writers – show us things we can do, don’t tell us about things we mustn’t!

July 2021 Competitions

163FD447-50E2-4524-A839-A0AD1D070605 Here’s my regular look at writing competitions I might enter during the coming month (so no poetry or competitions not open to UK writers, for example). The majority have deadlines at the end of the month, so you mostly have a bit of time to work on a story.
  • Ambit seeks stories of up to 1,000 words (arguably flash fiction) on the classic Ovid/Kafka theme of ‘Metamorphosis’; the entry fee is £6 and the top prize is £500. You’ll need to get writing because the deadline is 1 July.
  • The Gutsy Great Novelist Page One competition requires only the first page of your novel-in-progress, by 7 June. The entry fee is $20 and the top prize $1,000.
  • The H.G.Wells prize is for stories between 1,500 and 5,000 words on the theme ‘mask’ with a fee of £21 and top prize of £500; the deadline is 12 July.
  • The Doris Gooderson prize from Wrekin Writers is for stories up to 1,200 words in length. The entry fee is £5, the prize £200, and the deadline is 13 July.
All the others have a deadline of 31 July.
  • The Novel London competition asks for your first 3,000 words plus a synopsis. It costs £11 to enter and the top prize is £500 (plus mentoring).
  • The Olga Sinclair Prize, from Norwich Writers’ Circle, is for stories on the theme ‘lost’. The word count limit is 2,000, the entry fee £9, and top prize £200.
  • The Seán O’Faoláin prize from Munster Literature is for stories up to 3,000 words, with an entry fee of €18 and prize of €2,000.
  • The Fiction Factory First Chapter competition requires, guess what, the first chapter of your completed novel. Although you can send a chapter of any length, it seems only the first 5,000 words will be taken into account. The entry fee is £18 and the top prize is £500.
  • Fabula Press is back and wants stories of up to 6,000 words; the fee is $10 and top prize $500.
  • The regular Cranked Anvil competition comes round again next month with a word limit of 1,500, entry fee of £5 and prize of £150.
  • Anthology offers a prize of €500 for stories up to 1,500 words on the theme ‘memories’.
  • HISSAC (Highlands and Islands, but you don’t have to be Scottish) wants stories up to 2,000 words; the entry fee is £5 and the prize £200.
  • Finally, you need a humorous piece of up to 2,500 words to enter the unique To Hull and Back competition. The entry fee is £15 and the cash prize is £1,200. In addition, a selection of stories will be published in an anthology, and the winning author’s face will be photoshopped into a dramatic picture showing them on a motorbike journey to Hull (think Meatloaf album cover). In addition, the organiser will strap the winner’s copy of the anthology to the front of his Harley Davidson and ride from Bristol to Hull and back, returning the book with whatever damage the elements may have inflicted along the way. I said it was unique!
Good luck if you enter any of these; if you are longlisted or win, please do let me know.

Pallets to planters

I made a couple of rough-hewn (rustic, let’s say) wooden planters for our bay trees, using planks from old pallets. As I explained to Katharine: what I’ve done here is take something that was basically a pile of scrap wood – and transformed it into two piles of scrap wood. Painted blue (Cuprinol forget-me-not).

Bench renewed

A little refurbishment project. This garden bench was a nice present from our in-laws many years ago, but was showing its age. We took it apart, sanded down the cast iron, repainted with more colours to bring out the design, and fitted new slats. Like brand new (or better)!

June 2021 Competitions

E13DC307-9469-405E-AA4F-42DEA099D1FB Here is my regular look at the short story/novel competitions I might enter next month (so no poetry, for example, because I’m rubbish at it). As always this is a purely personal selection, with no claim to be comprehensive – but it might be of interest. I hope some of these appeal to you.
  • Leicester Writes offers a prize of £150 for stories up to 3,500 words; the entrance fee is £5 and the deadline is 1 June.
  • With the same deadline, Salamander magazine has a top prize of $1,000 for stories of up to 30 pages; the entry fee is $15.
  • The Aurora prize from Writing East Midlands costs £9 to enter. First prize is £500 and the word count must be 2,000 or less – the deadline is 7 June.
Then we have several competitions with a deadline of 15 June.
  • First, Globe Soup is offering a top prize of £1,500 for stories up to 5,000 words with the theme ‘a sense of place’. The entry fee is £12, (or £3 for members). Globe Soup runs not one but two writing communities on Facebook, both lively and supportive – worth a look.
  • Segora offers £300 for a winning story of 1,500 to 3,000 words – the entry fee is £8.
  • If you’ve got something larger, Autumn House is looking for manuscripts of 50,000 to 75,000 words – a slim novel, I suppose. The entry fee is $30 and the prize is $1,000.
  • For older writers, Living Springs’ Baby Boomers Plus contest has a prize of $500 with an entry fee of $25; the maximum word count is 4,000 and you must have been born no later than 1966.
  • New American Fiction (you don’t have to be American – they helpfully say you could even be Estonian, so long as your entry is in English) looks for works of at least 100 pages; the prize is $1,500 and the entry fee is $25.
All the rest have a deadline of 30 June.
  • The Friends of Manning’s Pit have launched a Saki short story competition. It does not have to be in the style of Saki, but ‘it needs to have a spark of originality or wit’ (not my usual stuff then?) and ‘have something relevant to the countryside and its wildlife’. Maximum 3,000 words, entry fee £5 and first prize £500
  • The Moth is back with its competition for stories up to 5,000 words, with an entry fee of €15 and top prize of €3,000.
  • I don’t think I’m going to enter this one, but I was intrigued to see that Chiasmus wants stories of exactly 1,001 words. There’s an entry fee of £3.50 but no cash prize for the winner.
  • Lady in the Loft offers £100 for the best story on the theme ‘Grim Reaper’, with a word count between 4,000 and 6,000 words; entry fee £2.
  • Last but certainly not least is the regular Henshaw competition, for stories up to 2,000 words. The top prize is £200 and the entry fee is £6. You can pay extra fir a critique, and I have found these good value in the past.
Good luck, and if you get recognised in any of these, please do let me know!

Up the Tusculum

I’ve just had a cheery email from the Tusculum Review to say they’re extending the deadline for their competition, judged by Amy Sturgis, to 1 June – from 1 April! Competitions try to present an extended deadline as them being nice and giving more time, but in fact it’s very unfair to the people who made the effort to meet their original deadline, especially if they are offered no chance to make further revisions (and that never happens). What’s particularly odd here is that their website still gives the original deadline – so who else do they think is going to enter a competition which appears to have closed over a month ago? Surely they could not be extending the deadline for the benefit of particular people they already know?

I have asked them to withdraw my entry, and I would advise anyone else who played fair to do the same. It’s not to be expected that they will be honest enough to refund entry fees, but I think the point needs to be made.


I received the following response from Kelsey Trom, for which I am grateful. There are a couple of misunderstandings here which I will not try to unpick.

I’m truly sorry to hear that our decision to extend the deadline of the contest is unethical in your view, and I especially regret that you feel ill-used and swindled by our organization. I have withdrawn your entry as requested and am happy to send you a refund of the entry fee. Our organization is small, so our means of refunding entries is by check–if you’ll send me your W-9, I’ll have the business office send you a check for $15.00.

We, the genre editors,  discussed the decision at length, and felt that it was in line with the contest guidelines as published–we have always reserved the right to extend the deadline if we don’t receive the anticipated number of submissions. On occasion, we have exercised that right. This year, in particular, seemed like a time in which an extended deadline would give more authors the time to enter, so we would be able to give the final judge, Amy Sturgis, more than a dozen stories to weigh

It was in the name of equal access that we made this decision: when we announced the contest in November, we did not anticipate the ways that writers with children, sick relatives, or compressed school schedules would be unable to meet an April 1 deadline. When we saw the low number of entries–much lower than usual–we understood.

We have not changed our rules–all submissions are still in the running. For my communication missteps that apparently made this unclear, I apologize.

I pointed out to Kelsey that I wouldn’t be able to cash an American cheque, but that Submittable has a refund facility. I haven’t heard back on that so far, but they have updated the information on their website.