Reach for the prize

Cover of "Notes From An Exhibition"

Every year about this time I start thinking about writing competitions. More specifically the Bridport Prize.  I did the same when I was painting. The theory goes something like this: enter prestigious competition, win competition (or get shortlisted at least) and therefore have something to talk about in query letters when trying to sell my other work.

I never do enter though, not with my writing. With the abstract paintings I used to gamble the entry fee on the rare chance someone would connect with one of my pieces: art is even more subjective than literature. Not that it ever paid off, mind you. I spent a fortune in entry fees before I accepted the truth.

With writing, though, I always talk myself out of it. The usual litany of excuses: I can’t see my brand of frothy romance getting past the first round; I don’t have the time; I’ve never really been a short story writer (I’ve probably written half a dozen since I started writing again four years ago and they were all for my university course.)

This year though I felt something different.

Determination.

For lots of reasons: I’ve just started thinking about short stories, after waking up with one in my head last week (see last entry). That one ended up in the post to Woman’s Weekly on Friday. I enjoyed writing it, but mostly – surprisingly – I enjoyed editing it. Working with a few thousand words instead of a hundred thousand meant I had the patience to think about every line, every word. Okay, mostly that was because I was cutting 800 words out to fit the Woman’s Weekly word count. But whatever the reason, I was forced to tighten up my prose and I felt pleased with the result.

So Bridport popped into my head again. Maybe this year I could read some award winning short stories, try and understand what it takes. Come up with a less frothy theme than my usual romance. Give it a go. I was further spurred on by noticing the short story judge this year is Patrick Gale, whose novel Notes from an Exhibition is one of my all-time favourite reads.

Then I noticed they’ve moved the deadline from end of June to end of May. Four weeks away. It also happens to be my husband’s 40th birthday, as well as being the week before we take our annual family trip to see the rellies in Italy.

I’ve basically got seven nursery days to sort out a birthday pressie for the man who wants nothing, buy new clothes for the kids, pack and all that jazz, plus read a hundred short stories, come up with an amazing concept, write a fantastic story and edit it until it glows.

Or I could just wait until next year…

I’ll keep you posted.

P.S In my Bridport frenzy I came across some interesting blog entries. See below, particularly the first one, which is a brilliant interview with a previous winner.

http://www.multi-story.co.uk/guestspot-archive-emmadarwin.html

http://www.jonathanpinnock.com/2010/09/the-bridport-prize/

http://teresa-stenson.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/brief-bits-and-bridport-advice.html

http://teresa-stenson.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/bridport-prize.html

When is it good enough?

Once again I woke with a story in my head. Well, not so much a story as a What if on my own life. Actually much of my fiction is based on that premise, so much so that I sometimes write the real names instead of the pseudo made up ones. This was definitely one of those.

Of course, me being me, I immediately abandoned my current novel (the one that also came in a dream, the one where, 35k words in, I still have no idea what it’s about) to write this story. Luckily it came out as a short story, two scenes, 2,700 words. I’d nailed it in less than two hours over tea and toast in the coffee shop, after dropping off the kids.

Problem is, I think it’s great. I bought a copy of Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special on the way home (I don’t know a lot about where to sell short stories, so it seemed a good place to start) and I’m all set to send it in. Besides I need to get something published soon before the bills send me back to work.

And that’s my Achilles Heel.

Having been told in the past that my writing was dull, any time I pen anything vaguely readable I’m just so excited I think This is it!

Of course, in reality, I should add ‘sh’ to the beginning of that last word because, as a first draft, it undoubtedly is. The difficulty for me is, once I’ve accepted the ‘sh’ bit, I don’t know what I need to do to make it better.

I write in a certain style, quite simple and chatty. Should I be more descriptive, build in alliteration, metaphors, similes? More sounds, smells, colour? Make my plots more complicated or daring. Make my characters suffer more, make them funnier? And if I do all that (assuming I can, of course, which is another issue entirely), will it retain what I love most; the easy going chatty style? And more importantly, will it sell?

I was always told to write for intrinsic rather than extrinsic reasons: I do love to write and that’s mostly why I do write, but, you know, the bills still need to be paid. I know that only a lucky few make a fortune as a writer, and not that many make a living. I just need to make enough to pay for childcare.  

Hmmm. Answers on a post card please!