Tuesday 30 December 2008

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

They're doing it again. The way they run this competition is a bit haphazard but i you've a book ready, why not give it a lash? It seems to be free.

Writers from around the world will be able to submit their unpublished English-language novel manuscripts between the 2nd and 8th of February 2009 at www.amazon.com/abna. Up to 10,000 initial entries will be accepted, from which Amazon editors will select 2,000.

Those will be whittled down by a team of Amazon reviewers and industry experts to a longlist of 100 entries, with Penguin editors then choosing three finalists.
A panel of publishing professionals, including authors Sue Grafton and Sue Monk Kidd, literary agent Barney Karpfinger and Penguin Press US editor-in-chief Eamon Dolan, will post their critiques of the top three manuscripts on Amazon.com, inviting customers to vote for the winner, who receives a contract with Penguin, including a $25,000 advance. The winner will be announced on the 22nd of May 2009.

Last year's inaugural Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award was won by Bill Loehfelm, his novel Fresh Kills was published by Penguin division G P Putnam's Sons. Read the Where Are They Now section for other news of shortlisted authors.

Monday 29 December 2008

people and wild places

Deadline: 31 March 2009
Go wild this christmas and get some inspiration.

In November 2009 Two Ravens Press will publish an anthology of literary non-fiction that focuses on the relationship between people and the wild places of the British Isles . They are looking for high quality writing which animates a connection between humanity and the natural world where it is not obviously dominated by the human presence. It might articulate a discovery; a new way of seeing; an emotional response; a meditation on a place or who we are as people in a wild world.

The anthology will be edited by Linda Cracknell who is a writer of short fiction (collections: Life Drawing, The Searching Glance) and who received a Creative Scotland Award in 2007 to write a collection of non-fiction essays about walks which follow human stories in 'wild' places (see ).

There are no restrictions on the nationality / residency of contributors to the anthology.
Non-fiction prose only; no fiction or poetry will be considered.
Upper word limit: 8000 words.
Contributions will be accepted by email only, and should be sent as a Microsoft Word attachment to info@tworavenspress.com for forwarding to the editor, whose decision on contributions will be final.
Submissions should include a short biographical paragraph.
Royalties from the book will be split equally between all contributors.

Sunday 28 December 2008

People's College Writing Competition

The People's College is delighted to announce its third annual writing competition. The short story competition - for a story on any subject up to 2,500 words - is open to all. There is a second category restricted to current members of the People's College for a personal reminiscence of up to 1000 words.

Deadline: 28 February 2009
Prizes: First prize in the short story competition will be ?500, second prize ?300 and third prize of ?200.

fee €10 for the first story and €5 for any number thereafter.

Runners-up in both categories will receive book tokens.

Judge of the short story competition: novelist and short story writer Jack Harte.
of the personal reminiscence category: lecturer and writer Marie O'Meara.

Winners will be announced in late Spring and will be published in the in-house 2009 People's College Creative Writing Group Anthology and on the People's College website.

Competition Administrator: Susan Knight

Saturday 27 December 2008


What search terms have my lovely readers typed in and landed on my blog:

- House price drop bridport - a confused property seller/buyer
- ways to spend a day - someone a little bored?
- Easons - does it stock author Sharon Owens - I'm thinking yes.
- most overused phrases in fiction - um?
- email contact of gold buyer +company +agent +manager +2008 - there's gold in them there words
- best paying poetry magazines - almost a contradiction in terms there
- phrases annoying overused- a writers day
- No Milk Nanotales
- words of wisdom - many here
- "damian smyth" electrician bbc - huh?
- Recommended blogs for students
- tickle your fancy book
- Republic of Loose

Lots and lots of ego surfers or perhaps people digging up information/dirt on people named as winning prizes.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Winners of the TLS poetry competition

The winners are announced here and once again I am bewildered. What am I missing here?

The winner and runners-up were chosen by a ballot of readers (always open to manipulation), from a shortlist of twelve poems drawn up by Mick Imlah, the Poetry editor of the TLS, and Alice Quinn, Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America and formerly Poetry editor of the New Yorker, and printed anonymously on October 24.

The 2008 TLS Poetry Competition has been won by Susan Rich, of Seattle, WA, for her poem “Different Places To Pray”. She receives $4,000.

Rich has worked on the staff of Amnesty International, as an electoral supervisor in Bosnia, and as a human rights trainer in Gaza. She has lived in Niger, West Africa, where she worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer, later moving to South Africa to teach at the University of Cape Town on a Fulbright Fellowship. She has won both the PEN USA Poetry Award and the Peace Corps Writers Poetry Award for The Cartographer’s Tongue: Poems of the world (White Pine Press, 2000).

In second place came Peter Saunders, of Chatham, MA, with “Cape Cottage in Winter”. Saunders’s books include Ask Any Frog (Stepping Stone Press, 2000), and Heartbeat of New England (Tiger Moon Press, 2000). He receives $1,500.

In third place, winning £500, came Paul Groves, of Osbaston, Monmouth, Wales, with “The Hug”. Groves, who won the competition last year, has published three full collections of poems, the most recent of them Eros and Thanatos (Seren, 1999). Fourth prize, worth $500, went to Joseph Fasano, of Goshen, NY, for “Chester”. Fasano also recently won the Rattle Poetry Prize.

See the link to read the poems.

Monday 22 December 2008

Gender Writing

Do you write like a man? Do you write like a woman? Is your writing genderless?
(Does it matter? If you write really girly, will men stop reading and vice versa?)
Apparently I write this blog 68% woman. See GenderAnalyze here if you're curious.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Chicken Soup for the Soul

Anyone ever submitted to chicken soup? They're little American books of inspiration. They post future themes e.g.

- What I learned from the cat
- Thanks Dad
- Extraordinary Teens
- Endurance Sports

and invite submissions a year or two ahead of time. They sell very, very well, pay $200 and 10 copies. They have guidelines and you can submit online. 300-1200 words.

To get an idea of the type of thing they go for, sign up for a daily story for a while. They apparently also take poems, don't know what sort though.

I signed up or a while but the pieces were so saccharine, I went into sugar overdrive. It may not be or everyone but if you can churn them out in the right style, they pay OK.

Saturday 20 December 2008


I've never got into this Cork city based magazine (yet) but here are the submission guidelines.

1 All manuscripts must be typed, one side of page on A4 paper.

2. Sign every piece of paper (why?). Print name and contact details on each poem and on the last page of the story.

3. Submissions are not accepted by email. Always include a self-addressed envelope with adequate return postage. Again why? Can't they respond by email?

4. If submitting poems and prose simultaneously they will be considered by different editors at different times so to be sure of a response include separate envelopes with adequate return postage for each.

5. Both Poetry and Fiction are considered between January and March 15th each year in time for our summer issue. Poetry alone is considered between July and September 15th in time for our winter issue. Submissions received outside these periods will remain unopened until the aforementioned consideration periods come round.

6. Include an up-to-date biographical note with a cover letter.

Friday 19 December 2008

International Magazines

Here's a tip for finding new markets. Read poets bios, especially relatively up and coming poets.

Wise words from Baroque in Hackney
- look at poets first (or second) collections particularly
- look at poets whose poetry chimes with your own.

Here are some examples.

Phillip Crymble’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in various national and international literary journals including
Passages North, (see here for more information)
The Michigan Quarterly Review,
papertiger: new world writing (Australia),
The Fiddlehead (Canada),
The Stinging Fly (Ireland)
and The North (UK)

Miriam Gamble was born in 1980 and is a final year postgraduate student and teaching assistant at Queen’s University, Belfast. She has published poems in
The Rialto,
The Ulster Tatler
and on Tower Poetry’s website.

Davide’s poems started appearing in magazines in 1999. He considers his greatest achievements so far having been published in Orbis ,
Dream Catcher (Also here)
and recently in Event (Canada), (Paying)
In the Red
and New Contrasts (South Africa).

Thursday 18 December 2008

Writing Prompt

rom an inspiring article about an inspiring English teacher.
You know the poem by William Carlos Williams apologising not very believably or eatin all the plums? Try writing your own apology or something you are not really very apologetic about.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

In this CEC

A new acronym, possums. Current Economic Climate. You read it here first.

According to The Bookseller, literary agents are struggling to sell début and literary fiction as a result of the ongoing ‘credit crunch’, with novels taking longer to sell to publishers and more failing to find a buyer at all. Tough times were ‘undoubtedly affecting confidence about acquisitions’ warned one agent who wished to remain anonymous. An anonymous publishing director added that ‘nobody wants to buy anything’. Peter Straus of Rogers, Coleridge & White said: ‘Everybody will be tightening their belts - the big books will still be bought, but publishers are having to be realistic about sales potential.’ Simon Trewin of United Agents has predicted that brand names with the feel-good factor or ‘comfort zone’ will flourish in coming months as credit-crunched book-buyers turn to trusted names. He said everyone in the trade is now actively hunting for these brands. Straus agrees and has suggested Bill Bryson, P G Wodehouse and Ian Fleming as examples of ‘recession-proof’ books. Major series’, such as Mills & Boon novels and the like, should also remain fairly strong throughout the recession.

Firings at HMH. Layoffs at Simon & Schuster yesterday, layoffs at Scholastic a month or so ago, huge structural changes at Random House announced yesterday, HarperCollins delaying pay raises until next summer, and Macmillan CEO outlining that not everyone might have a job going forward.

So if you're aiming at the market, try comfort reads and escapism.

The general message is that now is not the best time to be a struggling author.

But you knew that, didn't you?

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Links to sooth the soul

Amanda Earl is an early Canadian blogger, that's an early blogger, not an early Canadian.

Arts Management blog here from the Arts Management MA in University College Dublin.

Bernardine Evaristo's blog about her lovely life as a working poet.

Fearghus is a choreographer using a blog Bodies and Buildings to share his work.

Dilbert blog. Office Life. Nuff said.

Freelance Writing Tips has tips and more.

G*L*O is the Graduate Literary Organization blogging about fairly academic creative writing in the US.

Hell or High Water is Beth blogging about freelancing opportunities.

Joanna Waugh has Body Language Cues to Emotion

Misplaced Musings is Melissa Shcupe blogging about her Self of Steam.

Omaniblogger blogs about arts and mental health from Cork.

The Good Mood Food Blog has lovely recipes and mouth watering pictures from a very cheerful looking Donal.

Two Wheels on my Wagon - Catherine blogs about writing, cycling and not passing her driving test.

When Venn met Music here

Wired for books has lots of mp3 recordings of writers.

Monday 15 December 2008


Poetry Ireland are starting an archive of poetry readings from all over the country. Worth a dip.

Sunday 14 December 2008

How long an apprenticeship should a writer serve?

The answer seems to be 10,000 hours. See this really interesting article taken from Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: The Story Of Success. He uses lots of examples including The Beatles, Bill Gates, Bobby Fisher, all extreme almost obsessive about their area of talent. So it pays off. I also listened toa radio interview with him, I think it was Radio 4 Front Row, saying it applied to creative people like musicians too so it's certain to apply to writers too, poets, novelist, playwrights, whatever.

So how many hours a week do you write? Not blogging. I don't think that counts. Creative writing or editing.

Do you go back and read your earlier work and cringe? Was it published? Is your writing getting better? Still? Or have you plateaued? Would this be a good point to get a boost to the next level? I mean a course/workshop or meeting with a mentor.

Saturday 13 December 2008

Writing for Theatre

I found http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/opportunity/theatre_trail_writers.shtmlon the BBC Writers' Room page. I haven't dropped by in a while and it's been revamped.

Theatre Trail Writers Competition

The Arundel Festival Theatre Trail, conceived and presented by Drip Action Theatre Company, is now in its ninth year. It performs at the end of August, on each of the Festival’s eight days, eight short plays at eight different venues all over Arundel – last year, for example, in a living room, a kitchen, an art gallery, and a pub.

Writers are invited to submit plays for next year's Trail.

Plays should be 30 - 40 minutes long, suitable for day-time performance with practicable cast and props.

Submit your entries to:

Drip Action Theatre Trail 2009
1 Norfolk House
28 High Street
West Sussex
BN18 9AB

Deadline: 31 January 2009

One play only per entrant, in hard copy (not email). Please enclose an SAE if you'd like your play returned.

The Drip Theatre committee will select the plays that will be performed, with the best submitted play receiving the Joy Goun award of £200 at the Theatre Trail launch in May 2009.

Each successful playwright will receive a £150 writer's fee.

Friday 12 December 2008

Immigrant Poetry

Being technically a first generation immigrant, I may submit to this one from over the edge:

As the editors of an anthology of immigrant poetry in Ireland we are asking poets from other countries who live here and who write in English to send us poems for possible inclusion in the anthology. The term "immigrant" includes people who were born outside Ireland and came to live here (first generation), and those who were born here but have parents, or one parent born elsewhere (second generation).

This anthology is intended to reflect the increasing diversity of cultural life in Ireland and to give first and second generation immigrants an opportunity to showcase their distinctive contribution to contemporary Irish literature, as well as to celebrate their difference at the same time.

We aim to have the anthology completed for publication by summer of next year and ask contributors to have their submissions sent in by the end of February 2009. All submissions of two copies of maximum 12-15 poems should be typed and be supplied with the poet's name, address, and email address printed at the bottom of each page. Also, please, enclose a short covering letter (max. 500 words) and a stamped, self-addressed envelope for editors' replies and the return of manuscripts.

Deadline: end February 2009

Please submit two copies each of your poems and letter to:
Borbála Faragó and Eva Bourke
School of English, Drama and Film
University College Dublin
Dublin 4

Thursday 11 December 2008

Launch in aid of AWARE

The Seven Towers Agency like you to the launch of Census The First Seven Towers Anthology at 3pm on Sunday 14th December, in Cassidy's Bar, Westmoreland St, Dublin 2.

This Anthology is a collaboration between the spoken work and the written word – all contributors are committed to performing and reading their work in public places and all have read at events organised by or participated in by Seven Towers

Christmas Charity - AWARE - €1 from every book sold goes to AWARE

Contributors to Census are:

Kildare poet Liam Aungier, Meath musician, broadcaster, journalist and poet Eamon Carr, Cork based poet and screenwriter Paul Casey, Cavan poet and educator Tom Conaty, Dublin writer and Phantom FM DJ Steve Conway, Dublin poet, broadcaster and teacher Catherine Ann Cullen, Dublin writer, journalist, broadcaster and musician Conor Farrell, Wicklow writer Shane Harrison, New Zealand born, Dublin based poet Ross Hattaway, Galway poet and journalist Kevin Higgins, New York poet and novelist R Nemo Hill, Kildare writer Eileen Keane, Kerry actor and poet Noel King, Oklahoma born, New York based poet Quincy R Lehr, Dublin born, Kerry based writer Colm Lundberg, Dublin poet Éamonn Lynskey, Waterford born, Dublin based Donal Moloney, Dublin artist, sculptor and poet Joe Moran, Dublin poet Anne Morgan, Tralee born, Wexford based actor, director, producer, playwright and poet Noel Ó Briain, Kerry writer Tommy Frank O'Connor, Cork based artist and poet Mel O'Dea, Limerick poet Eddie O'Dwyer, Dublin based poet and playwright Fintan O'Higgins, Dublin based poet Maeve O'Sullivan, Dublin based poet Jessica Peart, New York poet Ray Pospisil, Dublin based, San Francisco poet Raven, Dublin writer Oran Ryan, Kerry based writer John W Sexton, Kerry poet Eileen Sheehan, Armagh born, Dundalk based Barbara Smith, Cork poet Patricia Walsh and North Carolina poet Doog Wood.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Homepages - Tales from the Irish blogosphere

Homepages is a unique collection of stories and photographs, the first of its kind in Ireland. The nation’s best bloggers hold forth on the theme of “home”, covering everything from pets and expat life to parenting and the Kellogg’s Variety Pack. By turns hilarious, heartbreaking and thought-provoking, it promises a captivating read and showcases some of Ireland’s best undiscovered writing talent.

And what makes it special is that it is all voluntary, organised by the angelically good and hard working Catherine Brodigan. All proceeds go to Focus Ireland, who provide services and support for people who are homeless across Ireland.

The book is now on sale online for €14 via Lulu.com on a print-on-demand basis. Click here to order your copy. Do it now. It's good. €4.61 goes to us Ireland which is a very good percentage compared to some other charity books I've seen. You can pay with paypal or a credit card. Beware. The postage is quite steep though.

Contributers are a great bunch, many I've heard of and read but a good bunch that were new to me.

Pauline McLynn - mandatory celeb blogger
One For The Road
Red Mum
Yvonne Reilly
Darragh Doyle
Twenty Major

Tuesday 9 December 2008


I use a babyname book for my characters. Some characters' names stay the same from the start, some change over time, some more than once. I confuse myself sometimes. I try not to use names of people close to me.

Barry, John and Mike are different characters to Justin, Quentin and Ralph so make sure the name fits.

Emma, Daisy and Hannah are different to Charlene, Kylie and Kelly.

Apple, Pixiebell, Chelsea and River have a different upbringing to John, Reginald, Thelma and Valerie.

Gladys, Gloria, Daphne and Sylvia are older than Tara, Shannon and Megan. Apparently Ruby has come back into fashion though. (Kaiser Chiefs influence perhaps?)

Hint: If you are writing children's books, using a very popular name for the main character will actually sell more books!

Check the most popular Irish names here and in the UK here. The US do it by year, which is a glimpse into social history.

I get surnames from the phone book or castlists at the end of films/ TV programmes or old censuses.

Or you could try this. What would you be called if your mother was Sarah Palin? I am Dust.
Hers in reality are Track, Trig, Bristol, Willow, and Piper.

Monday 8 December 2008

What not to write about

I love this post at Strange Horizon. It's what they get a lot of. Some are quite imaginative.

15. Scientist uses himself or herself as test subject. (Jekyll/Hyde)

26. Someone takes revenge for the wrongs done to them.
Protagonist is put through heavy-handed humiliation after humiliation, and takes it meekly, until the end when he or she murders someone.
(sounds familiar - wimpy hero/heroine)

27. The narrator and/or male characters in the story are bewildered about women, believing them to conform to any of the standard stereotypes about women: that they're mysterious, wacky, confusing, unpredictable, changeable, temptresses, etc.
(lots of lad lit)

29. Hell and Heaven are run like businesses.
34. Teen's family doesn't understand them. - Catcher in the Rye

Sunday 7 December 2008

Tales Of Mere Existence - Getting Ready

Stop reading my blog and get yourself ready!

Saturday 6 December 2008

Caomhnú Literary Festival

Caomhnú Literary Festival Thursday 5th to Sunday 8th Feb 2009, Cavan
Caomhnú Literary Festival brings together the very best literary talent in the country for an interesting mixture of readings, workshops, performances and surprises. The event opens with the intriguing ‘Darkness Visible’ exhibition at the multi award winning Johnston Central Library, Farnham St, Cavan. This exhibition features artists: Ailbhe Ni Bhriain, George Bolster, Andy Harper, Angela Huntbach, Breda Lynch, Alice Maher, Eoin Mc Hugh, Ann Mulrooney and Kate Street and the opening with be complimented with a dramatic selection of poetry by Anne Le Marquand Hartigan.

Much of the weekend activities take place at the Farnham Radisson SAS Hotel, beautifully set in the rolling Cavan countryside. A weekend in this often overlooked but enchanting landscape will lead all aspiring writers to their Muse. Multi award winning novelist Joseph O Connor will read from his work on Friday evening. The Nyah will compliment the evening’s proceedings. On Saturday award winning poet and playwright Noel Monahan will guide writers through a poetry masterclass. The short story genre will feature on the workshop classes as will writing for children and songwriting with Iain Archer, Snow Patrol and Peter Baxter, Songschool. Renowned children’s illustrator PJ Lynch will give a series of Illustrated Talks on his craft and in particular his Gullivers Travels at Johnston Central Library. Séamus Ó hUltachain Irish language poet will be among the contributors at the festival.

Members of the Lit Lab who hail from counties Meath and Cavan will launch new work at the weekend and will feature along with Kieran Furey and Martin Kelly, recent authors from Windows Publications. Heather Brett, poet, artist and editor will Chair this event.

On Saturday evening guests will be treated to lively readings and performances from Michael Harding and Billy Roche and on Sunday writers can enjoy the authors in conversation about the creative process and other pressing matters.

Johnston Central Library will host the Greer Lecture in the afternoon. This year’s speaker will be announced shortly. On Sunday the Caomhnú National Short Story and Poetry Competition Award Winners will be announced.

From the lovely Barbara's Bleeuugh blog.

The Caomhnú Crannóg Bookshop National Short Story Competition
Judge: novelist Shane Connaughton
Stories shouldn’t exceed 2,000 words, in Irish or English.

Caomhnú National Poetry Competition
Judge: Noel Monahan;
Poetry is not more than 40 lines

Fee: €3.
Deadline: January 16th,
1st Prize €200
2nd Prize €100
3rd Prize €70

The work must not have been previously published, self published, published on a website or broadcast, or received a prize in another competition.

Friday 5 December 2008

Brian Moore Short Story Award 2009

from the lovely Woman Rule Writer blog.

The Brian Moore Short Story Award 2009, judged by Richard Bausch, is now open!
Deadline 1st March 2009

1st Prize £750
2nd Prize £300
3rd Prize £200

Word count limit: 2000

Open to Irish writers and to writers of Irish descent living anywhere in the world.
(How do they know? Do they check passports?)

This year’s judge, the renowned American short-story writer, Richard Bausch will be in Belfast in May 2009 to announce the contest winners.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Patrick Kavanagh Award Winner announced

They're announced. 4 prize winners this year.

1st Prize
The overall winner was Geraldine Mitchell from Co. Mayo with her manuscript WORLD WITHOUT MAPS.

It is only fair to say that the distance between the first and second prize-winners this year was unprecedentedly close, but this entry shaded it by virtue of poems that are lucid, technically accomplished, at times daring, at times salvific. These are the poems of a considered and considering intelligence, surefooted, meditative and clear. One is in the presence of a clear-eyed sensibility that considers, but does not judge, human fallibility.

The poems draw strength from understatement, and the poet has the courage to leave gaps in the narrative. In poetry, as in conversation, the unsaid is often more eloquent than what is said. It is across the carefully constructed gaps that the imagination of the reader takes flight, that the intelligence of the reader is engaged. The language of these poems is succinct, the imagery crisp and, again, the poet has the confidence to allow the images and rhythms to work their chemistry upon us without too much commentary. In the best of these poems we are left with an image which resonates and opens out into mystery - something which is at the core of the poetic.

Congratulations Geraldine.

2nd Prize
2nd Prize went to David McLoghlin with his collection, entitled WAITING FOR SAINT BRENDAN. These are big, ambitious, sometimes sprawling poems, rich in narrative and in detail, an autobiography of sorts, where the voyaging soul is concerned to find home and meaning in a dialogue between self and other. Like Saint Brendan, the author seems to understand that if home is where you set out from, home is also where you hope to find journey’s end.

Yet, if the title poem draws on the mythological, these poems are surely rooted in our century of migration and displacement, where identities are negotiated as much as given. It is the candid engagement with the difficult choices and trade-offs made in a search for some omphalos, some centre, in an ever more shifting world, which energizes this collection.

3rd Prize
This year we have decided to break with tradition, and award the third prize jointly to two collections: Jim Maguire, Wexford Town with his manuscript entitled PIANO LESSONS,

and Cormac O’Leary, Co. Leitrim with his manuscript entitled SIGNS ON A WHITEFIELD.

PIANO LESSONS is a tightly-controlled and disciplined set of meditations, the first section revolving around and drawing light from music as fact and as metaphor. It is ambitious in taking as a central theme “the language where language ends” - this is a brave and successful opening out of music through poetry. Here, we are drawn in by the precise detail we are given of the musician’s world. A number of poems relating to seafaring open the second section - a very different imagery but no less precisely rendered.

SIGNS ON A WHITEFIELD is a loving evocation of times and people past, rich in anecdote, shot through with illuminating insights and images. The poems of place successfully resist the tug of nostalgia and, as with the poems in ‘Waiting for St. Brendan’, a number of them reflect for us the unsettled decade in which we are now living, where mobility is a given and a small street in an Irish city can play host to many nationalities. In the compassionate and tender poems of loss at the end of the collection it is again, perhaps, the writer’s detachment and ability to trust the images which allow the poems to impact on the reader’s sensibility.

Mslexia Short Story Competition

I keep meaning to write a post about how great a magazine Mslexia is and how everyone should subscribe. This isn't it. You can buy a copy in Borders if you want to read an issue. Boys are allowed to read it too but not allowed to submit. They have a very high standard poetry competition each year and are now expanding to run a short story competition too here.

Judge: Helen Simpson
1st Prize £2,000 plus a one-week writing retreat* at Chawton House Library (accommodation only) and a day with a Virago editor**
2nd prize £500
3rd prize £250
3 other finalists will win £100 each

All winning stories will be published in Mslexia magazine and they will also be read by Carole Blake from Blake Friedmann Literary Agency.

Closing date: 23 January 2009
UK writers must post their stories, overseas may send by email.
Entry fee: £8 per story
Maximum: 2,200 words

Stories that have won or are under consideration in other short story competitions are not eligible.
We will accept stories from women of any nationality from any country.
You do not have to subscribe to Mslexia to be eligible, but you do have to be a woman.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

The SHOp

The Shop is a lovely poetry magazine published John and Hilary Wakeman in Skeagh, Schull, Co. Cork.

Each issue of THE SHOp contains work by established poets, both Irish and foreign, and also poems by talented newcomers, some of them never previously published. The magazine will consider poems in any form, on any subject, though not if they reflect racial or gender bias. THE SHOp has pioneered the practice of grouping together poems on similar themes. A group of half a dozen poems on the subject of love, say, or death, demonstrates the variety of human response to universal experiences, and also the variety of formal methods available to poets.

Regretably they lost out on significant funding this year and the Arts Council has warned them that 2009 will see 'a significant reduction' in their grant. We really shouldn't let this quality magazine flounder.

They have a lovely website but unfortunately, they do not have a way of subscribing (or donating) online. You have to print off a form and post it. How bizarre. I'm personally much more likely to donate or subscribe to something if I can do it in a click or two. See Stingy Fly for how it's done. It's really easy to add a paypal account to a website.

Anyway, if you have time, a printer, a chequebook and a stamp, if you've ever submitted to them , been published (or rejected) by them, I recommend a subscription. It's also on sale in lots of good shops.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Writers' Rooms

(link 'borrowed' from Scott Pack)

I adore the Saturday Guardian and devour the review section. In particular, I enjoy the writers' rooms. Click here for a slideshow and talk over by the photographer, Eamonn McCabe on some of them. fascinating.

One was used as a visual prompt in last year's English paper (leaving cert I think)

Eamonn McCabe: Writers' Rooms runs 3 December - 17 January at Madison Contemporary Art, London.

One criticism is that the rooms belong to writers who have already made it. Very middle class. What do rooms look like or struggling/emerging writers?
Why not upload your own room photo somewhere flikr? and I'll feature them here.

Monday 1 December 2008

Visual Writing Prompts.

I had a great response to my recent Writing Prompts post, including lots of comments on the lovely photo. I would love to take credit for it but I just found it on google images. It's a street in Stari, Croatia taken from the Croatian Language School in London's website photo gallery.

The image above is of the Jewish Quarter in Girona, one guess for where the photo from the original post was from. They both look beautiful and inspiring, slightly mysterious too. What dramas have been acted out here?

Images can be a great way of sparking ideas, not only for writing but for other creative endeavors - painting, photography, dance, music, sculpture, whatever. It's cross pollination. That why I recommend going to performances or galleries from other arts disciplines and talking to other types of artists. It's a two way process and you may end up collaborating - one of the powers of the internet, I believe.

Sunday 30 November 2008

Official launch of Night & Day

Please come to official launch of NIGHT & DAY, the amazing anthology of writing from South Dublin, edited by the wonderfully generous, highly talented and somewhat hairy Dermot Bolger.

When: 7pm on THURSDAY 4th of December
Where: The new arts centre in Tallaght called RED right beside Tallaght library.

Wine reception. New Island will have the book on sale at a reduced price of €10 on the night and it will be hitting the bookshops very shortly.

The night will also see the launch of EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, Dermot's new collection.

Will I be reading? Yes, briefly from my series of Haiku.

Here's a taster for you:

Low maintenance shrubs,
groomed Tellytubby grass hills
feed hares and rabbits

Five Tuesday bunnies -
fur moons orbiting mother
Monday there were six

Today, four bunnies
nervous hops, white tails flagging -
something’s in the brush

Tabby cat’s tail whips,
baby rabbit in her jaws -
we pause, traumatised

Saturday 29 November 2008

Poetry Ireland Introductions

The lovely Poetry Ireland are looking for inviting submissions for their Introductions 2009, a series of readings in the Spring which offer poets working towards a first collection, and with a track record of publication in journals and magazines, an opportunity to read their work in public. (they pay too, or they used to before the R-word hit us)

To apply for the series, send six poems and a short literary-biography to Introductions, Poetry Ireland, 2 Proud’s Lane, off St Stephen’s Green, D2 before
Friday, 9 January, 2009.

So if you've a decent, published back catalogue, what have you got to lose? Go for it.

And if you don't think you have a published history, why not start sending out to magazines now? Search my blog for suggested magazines. And maybe you can apply next year.
Click here to find out more

Friday 28 November 2008

New Media. New Audience?

Anti-Piracy Ad from The IT Crowd (says it's no longer available but you can still google it on youtube)

This is what happens to people who break copyright!

I saw this at the Arts Council conference on New Media and how to use it to promote and develop the Arts from Ireland. It was a day long thing and full of interesting ideas and conversations. I've been dwelling on some of the themes since. Some questions raised include:

- Why are so few artists and arts organisations on the web in more than a shallow profile?
- What's in it for us? Should artists be using the internet purely as a fantastically powerful method for collaboration and sharing or should we remember that artists have to live and shouldn't do everything for free?
- What about copyright protection?
- Who blogs and why? Is it pure self-promotion or narcicism?
- some huge percentage of the internet is powered/paid for by porn.
- a lot of the rest is rubbish/full of flaming and teenage angst.
- How do you select what you need?
- Does it actually do anything for the arts audience or do you only reach a subset of your existing audience?
- Remember each generation uses technology in a different way. Yes, there are grey/silver bloggers but they are the exception.
- children still need protection.
- How can we use it to earn money?
- What exactly is twitter anyway?
- I know how to podcast now so watch out! (or should I say listen out)
- and I met some lovely people too. Hello world

Thanks for a terrifically well organised conference including chocolate biscuits with the gallons of tea. I do wonder what the arts council wanted to get out of it. Perhaps it should have been arranged as a more collaborative event with less time from the panels and more time for discussion from the floor. What do you think?

Thursday 27 November 2008

Poetry Landscape

Looks like I didn't win the Patrick Kavanagh. Again. Anyone know who did?

Meanwhile, the Geological Survey of Ireland, as part of 2008 International Year of Planet Earth, presents an evening of spoken word highlighting the links between rock, landscape, nature and people.

The line-up is rather good, including poets Moyra Donaldson, David Smylie, Janet Shepperson, Stephen Gharbaoui and Mark Cooper, and will conclude current Ireland Chair of Poetry Michael Longley.

Where: Geological Survey of Ireland, Beggars Bush, Haddington Road, D4
When: Friday 28 November @ 5.30pm

T: 048 90388462 E:gsni@detini.gov.uk

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Stop sniggering at the back

The annual bad sex award is up for grabs. That's bad sex in fiction actually started originally by Auberon Waugh to discourage "unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels".

The Gate of Air by James Buchan
Sashenka by Simon Montefiore
To Love, Honour and Betray by Kathy Lette
Triptych of a Young Wolf by Ann Allestree
and the winner Shire Hell by Rachel Johnson

Sex is really hard to write. But if the story really warrants following the protagonists through the bedroom door (or wherever your action takes place) you owe it to the reader not to shy from the task.

The only tip I can think of is to use a touch of humour and not too many gynecological details.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Writing Prompts

Here are some ideas to prompt some creative writing. Sometimes I do such an exercise as a way of warming up. Sometimes we start our creative writers' group meetings with a 5 minute session.

- You have a scar on your face or body. Write an alternative version of how you got it.
- Describe a river from the point of view of someone who is bereaved or nervous about getting married or pregnant.
- Open a book at random and use the first full sentence on the page as your starting line.
- Start with "it was a dark and stormy night" and have the words bamboozle, niche and guard somewhere in the story.
- spend 5 mins writing a story that last 5 mins, then spend 5 mins writing a story that last 5 seconds.

First Lines

- Her favorite word was "ghastly."
- She appeared to be ...
- By the time the lie had spread so far and wide that everyone believed it to be the truth, it was too late.
- I don't know what possessed me to visit the palm reader.
- Nothing ever happened on my street.
- Anita was often wrong.
- Russell had no tact.

Monday 24 November 2008

Davy Byrne's Irish Writing Award

This prestigious, big money competition is running again. Last won by Ann Enright, somewhat better known now as last year's Booker winner. 1,110 entries that year. Shortlist included the fabulous Kevin Barry and Philip O'Ceallaigh.

Deadline: postmarked 2nd February 2009
Judge: Richard Ford. (Presumably the entries are filtered by the Stingy Fly) Judged anonymously.
Entry Fee: €10 (You can pay online but still have to post your entry)
Prize:€25,000 1st prize for a short story from an Irish writer. 5 runners up at €1000 each
Rules: Must be citizen of or normally resident in Ireland. Other ones here.

There's no word limit but the competition will be frenetic. It organised by the Stinging Fly in association with the Irish Times so high profile.
Shortlist to be announced late May/early June.

Richard Ford said
What any good judge wishes I suppose I wish for me—to have a brain that’s inquisitive and energetic enough to relish ‘the new;’ to not just prefer stories that are like my own stories, and yet to not shy away from those, either—in other words to recognise excellence in whatever form, style, length, etc. it comes in. I’d like to be won over, for the choice to be easy, for the chosen short story to dictate all the terms of its own brilliance and for me to be just a helpless celebrant. And… I’m not interested in the patented Irishness of any story. If an Irish writer writes it, it’s Irish enough for me—and even that feels a bit confining. In any case, the reader—the story’s charmed intended—can tweeze out what the winning story’s ‘cultural significance’ is, what it’s ‘saying’ about Ireland and history and the future, if indeed it’s saying anything at all.

Sunday 23 November 2008

More Literary Magazines

Many more magazines reviewed and linked to at Laura Hird's wonderful LitMag Central.

and here on New hope international review are reviews of some magazines you may or may not have heard of or seen.

Chimera magazine publishes some wonderful names in poetry and prose. Submit by post to France or email.

Erbacce magazine isn't accepting submissions until January 2009. They have a competition

iota publish poems. Send 6 by email or snailmail. Expect an answer within 3 months.

New Leaf is from the English department of Bremen University. Email.

Australian Mascara Poetry accepts submissions by email.

Purple Patch publishes poetry and short prose but the website is 2 years out of date. In 2006 it won awards. Snailmail.

Reach Magazine publishes a monthly poetry magazine featuring new and established small press poets.

The Reader is based in Liverpool and publishes poetry, prose and other articles.

Read This is the official Creative Writing magazine of the English Literature Department of the University of Edinburgh and is aimed at young, new and emerging writers.

The Seventh Quarry is a literary magazine in Swansea.

Sirena is a dual-language magazine that publishes in Spanish and English.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Words of wisdom

From Debut Dagger Competition - for crime but pretty much applicable to all genres.

Practical Matters – Despite our entreaties, there were quite a few entries with un-numbered pages. Please do remember to number them, and also to use double or one-and-half line spacing, as this makes the ms much easier to read. Also, type should be 12 pts or more in size.

Spelling – Obviously, there are some differences between British and American usage. It doesn't matter which you are using, just so long as it's correct! If in doubt, use a dictionary (in preference to Spell Check, which can lead to unintentionally hilarious mistakes).

Grammar – Again, it's important to get it right. Something we particularly noticed was the misuse, or absence, of commas, and quite a lot of confusion over pronouns. It's a good idea to check your work by reading it through. Reading aloud is best, because that way your eyes don't skip over things, and it's especially good for checking dialogue.

The Meanings of Words – Again, if in doubt, consult the dictionary. This will help to avoid mistakes such as the confusion of 'compliment' with 'complement' and so forth.

Location – There were many entries which gave no clue as to where the story was set. There's no need to write screeds of description about the back streets of Croydon or the snow-capped mountains of the Pyrenees, or whatever it is, but it is important that the reader knows where he or she is supposed to be!

Characters – It's not a good idea to introduce too many in the first few pages, as this can be extremely confusing for the reader. If, for some reason, you feel you do need to introduce a lot of people, then make sure that the main characters are brought to the fore, and well delineated – otherwise the effect is of a picture with no perspective..

Subject matter – Don't try and write about something which you think is modish or will appeal to the administrator and judges. Yes, crime fiction goes in fashions, like everything else, but you should write about a subject because it interests YOU, not because you think it will interest someone else (after all, if it doesn't interest you, and you don't write about it with passion, it's not very likely to interest anyone else, is it?)

Note from Laura: for what it's worth, I read a great deal in my capacity as reviewer for the Guardian newspaper, and I personally would like to call time on the following: trafficked women, religious conspiracies, and historical fiction protagonists with anachronistically liberal attitudes... but that's just me.

Note from David: Try not to be too influenced by television crime dramas (eg, Spooks). TV is a different medium, and you don't want your novel to end up reading like a barely-disguised film script.

Friday 21 November 2008

Costas shortlist

Another competition for books, none of which I have read (yet) I do like that the Costas pitch different types of writing against each other.

The winners of the five categories will compete for the overall prize. Since the introduction of the Book of the Year award in 1985, it has been won eight times by a novel, four times by a first novel, five times by a biography, five times by a collection of poetry and once by a children's book. Is it time for another children's book?

Biography Award
Somewhere Towards The End, Diana Athill
Bloomsbury Ballerina, Judith Mackrell
If You Don't Know Me By Now, Sathnam Sanghera
Chagall, Jackie Wullschlager

Novel Award
The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry
The Other Hand, Chris Cleave
A Partisan's Daughter, Louis de Bernières
Trauma, Patrick McGrath

First Novel Award
The Behaviour Of Moths, Poppy Adams
The Outcast, Sadie Jones
Inside The Whale, Jennie Rooney
Child 44, Tom Rob Smith

Poetry Award
For All We Know, Ciaran Carson
The Broken Word, Adam Foulds
Sunday At The Skin Launderette, Kathryn Simmonds
Salvation Jane, Greta Stoddart

Children's Book Award
Ostrich Boys, Keith Gray
The Carbon Diaries 2015, Saci Lloyd
Just Henry, Michelle Magorian
Broken Soup, Jenny Valentine

Thursday 20 November 2008

Personal Statement

I am helping my first born write a personal statement for his UCAS form at the moment. These didn't exist when I was that young so it's a new experience for me. However, the rules you gradually gather from surfing are strikingly applicable to a lot of writing, fiction and non-fiction.

- start with a snappy hook
- Don't start every sentence with I
- Keep to the subject most (about 75%) of the time
- Don't repeat yourself
- Watch your grammar and spelling like a hawk
- Be memorable and original, why you should be chosen over all the others
- let your passion about your subject show
- write up to 4,000 characters and no more. Make best use of the space
- Don't plaguarise
- Don't write in text language or jargon - write full and complete sentences
- The final section should round off your piece by tying things together.
- don't try to be a smart-arse and start it: "As Descartes says." There's nothing worse than being pretentious.
- Don't waffle

A study by the British university admissions clearing house Ucas has found that 5% of student applications had borrowed material to write their personal statements which accompany their applications, according to the BBC. And we're not just talking lifting a few choice phrases here and there: whole histories are being created. The study found that in these statements, which are supposed to reflect the character and motivations of the applicant:

a.. 370 sentences contained a statement beginning: "a fascination for how the human body works..."
b.. 234 contained a statement relating a dramatic incident involving "burning a hole in pyjamas at age eight"
c.. 175 contained a statement which involved "an elderly or infirm grandfather".

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Annoying, overused phrases

This blog post shows the TOp 10 most annoying phrases:

1 - At the end of the day
2 - Fairly unique
3 - I personally
4 - At this moment in time
5 - With all due respect
6 - Absolutely
7 - It's a nightmare
8 - Shouldn't of
9 - 24/7
10 - It's not rocket science

( I like 'with all due respect.' You can get away with almost anything after that.)

I would like to add:
- to be honest
- we're giving 110 percent
- at this time
- not right for our list

My son would like to add:
- you people
- but seriously
- just want to be friends

You could have some fun putting these phrases in the mouth of an obnoxious character in your writing.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Fish Competitions

I have my doubts about the Fish competition and the news that some of them were cancelled does not assuage them.

Unfortunately we have had to close the Fish-Knife, Short Histories, and Criminally-Short Short Histories competitions. We have emailed all of the writers who entered, offering their entry fee back or entry into the Fish Short Story Prize, or the Fish One Page Prize. If for any reason you have entered any of the now closed competitions and have not received an email from Fish, please email us to let us know what course of action you would like to take.

I think they should tell us why it was cancelled? Not enough entries? Could it be that it's too expensive for the prizes? 20 Euro to enter.

The longer running competition is ongoing:

The closing date for the 2008 Fish Short Story has been extended to 14 December. This year’s judge is Colum McCann, New York based Irish writer and author of four acclaimed novels and two collections of short stories. The best ten stories will be published in the 2009 Fish Anthology. First Prize is €3,000 and the total prize fund is €5,000. A week’s residence at Anam Cara Writers Retreat plus €300 is the second prize. All Entry on-line remains at €20 per story, and a critique is €45. The results will be announced on 17 March 2009. On-line entry and all details at info@fishpublishing.com Postal entries cost €25 and must be typed, double spaced, and the name of the author must not appear on the story, but on a separate sheet.
Post to - Fish Short Story Prize, Durrus, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland. Scripts will not be returned, and receipt will be by email. Cost of postal critique is €50.

Monday 17 November 2008

Words and what they really mean

An excerpt from The Offutt Guide to Literary Terms, author Chris Offutt explains what a number of literary words really mean.

Creative nonfiction: prose that is true, except in the case of memoir.

Memoir: from the Latin memoria, meaning "memory," a popular form in which the writer remembers entire passages of dialogue from the past, with the ultimate goal of blaming the writer's parents for his current psychological challenges.

Novel: a quaint, longer form that fell out of fashion with the advent of the memoir.

Short story: an essay written to conceal the truth and protect the writer's family.

Plot: a device, the lack of which denotes seriousness on the part of writers.

Chick lit: a patriarchal term of oppression for heterosexual female writing; also, a marketing means to phenomenal readership and prominent bookstore space.

Personal essay:characterized by 51 percent or more of its sentences beginning with the personal pronoun "I"; traditional narrative strategy entails doing one thing while thinking about another.

Literary essay:akin to the personal essay, only with bigger words and more profound content intended to demonstrate that the essayist is smarter than all readers, writers and teachers.

Experimental writing: the result of supreme artistic courage when a writer is willing to sacrifice structure, character, plot, insight, wisdom, social commentary, context, precedent, and punctuation.

Poem: prose scraps.

Prose poem: either a poem with no line breaks or a lyric essay with no indentation. No one knows.

Deconstructionism: A moderately successful attempt by the French to avenge the loss of Paris as the global center of literature.

Sunday 16 November 2008

Creating a Sense of Place

I read in one of those "How to Write" books that to create a full picture in a reader's head of a room, you only need to mention 5 things, not everything in there. For example, I am sitting in a room, not my room, with a huge wood fire in a red brick inglenook, there are 7 candles burning on the hearth and a large, black cat slumped on one of the comfy, sagging sofas. An empty mug of tea is on a travelling chest beside a jar of wild flowers.

This below shamelessly borrowed from Debut Dagger.

Ways to let your reader know where you’ve set your story.
The simplest way is to put it at the beginning of the chapter. Arizona 1870 or Rome 44 B.C. does the job. But it’s a method that is generally only used when you’re moving between several time periods and need to let the reader know which one we’re in at present. Besides it’s a bit lazy. So let’s look at other means to get the message over.

Remember most people these days have access to the television and films. They already have preconceived ideas about many places; you just need to tap into them. Suppose you write “She shivered as she passed through the shadow of the Empire State Building.” Your reader’s imagination will instantly supply skyscrapers, yellow cabs, and Central Park, so you don’t need to add much more in the way of description in that chapter. Same for ancient Rome, a pacific island, the world war one trenches.

If, on the other hand, you write “He noted the sweat stains on his new silk shirt with annoyance. The stage was four and half hours late. A record even for this village in the backside of Schleswig-Holstein.” Well you’ve established this is historical and the weather is warm, but since most people (including me) have no idea what the backside of Schleswig-Holstein looks like, you’ll have to work in a few more details; is it a dusty plain, a wooded area, mountain foothills? Don’t go mad though, you’re not writing a travel brochure.
If you’ve set your first chapter indoors, what can they see through the window? Or use something in the room: “a particularly ugly cabinet carved from the trees that used to cover this side of Barbados”. And don’t forget to use their other senses. A foghorn suggests you’re close to the ocean, whilst the chatter of parrots could indicate somewhere tropical. The smell of orange blossom drifting through an open door should alert your readers to the fact this is unlikely to be set anywhere in a northern climate.

Here’s how three professional writers tackle this aspect of writing:
First, Alex Gray. Alex’s novels are largely set in Scotland.
In my novels there is always a very strong sense of place particularly of Glasgow. I often go to locations with a notebook and a camera to make sure I have the details correct and this pays huge dividends as my readers tell me how much they enjoy reading about real places that they know.

How do I achieve this sense of place in my writing? Well, there are several ways of doing this creatively. One is to combine atmosphere with location. At the very beginning of “A Small Weeping” I write ~

“There was something appropriate about the fog blotting out everything beyond the station, thought Lorimer as he made his way through George Square. It was as if the natural world was trying to obliterate whatever waited for him behind the swirling curtain of mist.” The centre of Glasgow (George Square) has a mention as does the scene of crime, (Queen Street) station.

In the third chapter of “Shadows of Sounds” I establish location in a similar manner ~
“The blue lights of Buchanan Street lent an eerie glow to the hill that sloped down from the steps of the Concert Hall all the way down to Saint Enoch’s Square.” This is especially important given that the action centres around Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

But there are other ways of establishing place. One is to use a character within a setting, a local person with local knowledge. “The Riverman” begins like this ~

“The riverman knew all about the Clyde. Its tides and currents were part of his heritage. His father and others before him had launched countless small craft from the banks of the river in response to a cry for help.”

Yet another way (and this is not confined to Glasgow by any means) is to use dialect within the dialogue. This immediately pinpoints location for if a story begins with dialogue, the reader can “hear” the local accent. I do use dialect both to establish place and also to show the sort of character I am trying to describe.

You can find out more about Alex and her novels at here.

Now Louise Penny.
Louise was short-listed for the Debut Dagger and subsequently went on to win the CWA New Blood Dagger, the Arthur Ellis Award, and the Dilys Award for her first novel Still Life. Her books are set in rural Canada.

I know with certainty if my first book didn't have a strong sense of place it wouldn't have been published. My books are set in Quebec, and I decided to also make the environment a character. That helped establish location. I wanted people to use all their senses as they read, to slip further and further into this world. But it was necessary to do this so that people barely noticed - so I sprinkled descriptions of Quebecois food, the scents of autumn, the startling colours of the leaves here and there.

I wanted there to be no doubt where the book was set. The first line reads, 'Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday.'. Within two pages you know it's hunting season, you know the setting is a quaint and quiet Quebec village, you know there's a strong sense of community and belonging. It's a lovely, gentle place.

I deliberately created a place of light, and into that light I poured dark. So that the contrast would be stunning.

The second scene of the book is set in the bistro of the village. This allowed me to talk about croissants and cafe au lait, to have the main character notice the headlines on an abandoned newspaper at the next table. It allowed her to look out the window and briefly reflect on the enchanting world she saw, telling the readers not only about the village but that Clara is a content, happy woman. And it allowed me to sprinkle in a few French words for atmosphere.

You can find out more about Louise and her books at here.

Finally Meg Gardiner.
Meg sets her stories in California.

Novels can’t exist in a vacuum any more than people can. Stories need a sense of place. Without it, they seem to occur in a void, and readers feel unmoored. With it, readers feel that they’re on the streets of a living, breathing world, sharing the characters’ experiences.

How do you create a sense of place? You start by knowing the world of your story inside and out. It’s where your characters exist, and it shapes their lives. A novel set in New Orleans will differ from one set on the Arctic icepack. They may both deal with murder, love, and death, but will play out in different ways.

The most important thing in creating a sense of place is particularity: precisely observed details rather than generalities. Anchor your story in a specific place and time. Setting a novel in “a city” or “Asia” is as vague and useless as setting it “on earth” or “in the past.” Bring descriptions to life by being precise. Don’t mention “restaurant aromas.” Mention curry, BBQ, or the yeasty smell of beer.
Give readers a few vivid markers to spark their imaginations. And you don’t want description to be static. Weave information about the setting into the story. Put it to use. Make it affect what’s happening. Is the night so cold the hero’s tears freeze? So humid that sweat darkens the back of his shirt, making it impossible for him play it cool? Are the alleys in Marrakech wide enough for a fleeing motorcycle, but not a Mercedes?

Describe your setting via all the senses. Sounds: horns echoing between skyscrapers; steel drums; the murmur of waves on the beach. Tastes. Smells. Dialogue can also define a place. Do cabbies say, “Thanks, dude,” or “Cheers, mate”?
My novels are set in California. Crosscut opens in the Mojave Desert. Here’s how I introduce heroine Evan Delaney’s hometown:

The wind skipped over me. I stood in the parking lot, shielding my eyes from the setting sun. The heat was a wall against my face.
“This was a bad idea. Let’s get out of here,” I said.
Out on the highway an eighteen-wheeler rumbled past. Dust spun into the air behind it, blowing across the razor wire that marked the edge of the naval base.
Jesse looked at me as if I’d blown a cylinder. “Are you nuts? You can’t back out now.”
I peered over the roof of the Mustang at the strip mall. “Nuts isn’t backing out. Nuts is going in there.”
He pulled off his sunglasses. “Let me get this straight. Evan Delaney is chickening out of her high school reunion?”
The invitation read China Lake’s brightest nightspot hosts our festive gathering. The nightclub sat between the adult bookstore and the auto wrecking yard. Beyond that was a million acres of absence: the Naval Air Warfare Center, where mirages hovered over the desert floor and the horizon flung itself up into mountains at every turn, purple and red against a huge sky.

The scene creates the sense of a place that’s isolated and foreboding, where a killer can easily hide out. Your novel will be different. Distinctively so, if you create a vivid sense of place.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Writing for Children Competition

Munchbunch have a competition, free to enter.

Write an original children’s story of your own creation between 600 and 800 words, beginning with the following line:
"Once upon a Munchtime, there was a cow called Munch..."

I would suggest you use the product in the story in a minor, product placement way. They're drink yogurty things.

Deadline:30 November

Prize: An all expenses paid day-trip to Lapland for you and your family to visit Father Christmas and take a magical husky-led sleigh ride by a frozen lake.
An overnight stay in a central London hotel for two
The chance to meet celebrity mum Gail Porter
A day in a London recording studio seeing your story come to life as a podcast
Your winning story published online as a podcast on www.munchbunch.co.uk for other mums and their kids to download

Sounds really cool! (Cool geddit?)

Friday 14 November 2008

Tales Of Mere Existence - How to write realistic dialogue

Everyone has been there. How to write an argument when no one says what they mean.

Stop reading my blog and get yourself ready!

Thursday 13 November 2008

Willesden Herald is doing it again

The Willesden Herald had some problems with their short story competition last year with judge Zadie Smith not overly impressed with the level of entries. This year they're using another judge Rana Dasgupta. They screen the stories to a short list and Rana choses the prizewinners from that.

Entry fee: Free
Word limit: 8,000.
Prizes: 1st place: £150 plus a one-off Willesden Herald mug inscribed "The Willesden Short Story Prize 2009"
2nd: 2 x £100 (two runners up)
The three winning stories will be published in a special edition of Pulp.net.
Deadline: 19 December 2008

It's not much of a prize but it is free...

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Then there's this.

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

Enjoy. Remember to try seeing things slant today.

What if:
You change the sex of your main character?
You change it to 50 years ago, 500?
The house suddenly burns down?
How would the scene play out if one character was fighting a heavy cold?
How would owning a dog change the relationship dynamic?
What if it were a chicken?

Tuesday 11 November 2008

The winners of the 2008 Glen Dimplex New Writers Awards, in association with the Irish Writers’ Centre, have been announced. At a gala awards ceremony last night (10 November) in Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery, Mr Martin Naughton, Glen Dimplex Group Chairman, presented the awards to each of the five category winners.

Sally Nicholls has been named Glen Dimplex New Writer of the Year 2008 for her book Ways to Live Forever, published by Scholastic Children's Books.

Ways to Live Forever, first published in January 2008 to award-winning acclaim, is the stunning debut novel from Sally Nicholls, who wrote the story when she was twenty-three years old, an honest, moving tale of an eleven year-old boy dying of leukaemia.

My name is Sam.
I am eleven years old.
I collect stories and fantastic facts.
By the time you read this, I will probably be dead.

Sam loves facts. He wants to know about UFOs and horror movies and airships and ghosts and scientists, and how it feels to kiss a girl. And because he has leukaemia he wants to know the facts about dying. Sam needs answers to the questions nobody will answer.

The awards are made to the best first book published in the last year in Ireland and the UK by an author within each of the following five categories: Fiction, Biography/Non-fiction, Poetry, Children’s Book and for the best first book published in any genre in the Irish language.

The winner of the Fiction category was Allan Bush for his book Last Bird Singing (Seren);
the Biography/Non-fiction Book category was won by Nia Wyn for Blue Sky July (Seren) ; #
the Poetry prize went to Will Stone for Glaciation (Salt Publishing);
the prize for best Irish-language book went to Simon Ó Faoláin for Anam Mhadra (Coiscéim).

With a total prize fund of €45,000, the Glen Dimplex New Writers Awards offer unprecedented support and exposure for emerging writers in a range of genres.

Each category winner received a cheque for €5,000, with a further €20,000 going to Sally Nicholls for winning the overall prize.

Chairman of the Judging panel, Gerard Smyth, described the book by saying,
“I hope it’s a tribute to this book, and to Sally Nicholls, to say that for me it stopped being a work of fiction after only a few chapters –Sam, and Felix, and their parents took on flesh – you just know that in real life they are out there, close by. This is not a book solely about dying and death. In fact it’s more about life, and its one that stops you in your tracks to make you think, with gratitude, about life. It’s a book that reveals a new author of great promise. And I dare to predict that in time this will become a children’s classic.”

The Glen Dimplex New Writers Awards are presented in association with the Irish Writers’ Centre and have been judged this year by the following all-Irish panel of writers: Claire Kilroy and Mike McCormack (Fiction), Peter Cunningham and Thomas McCarthy (Biography/Non-fiction), Dermot Bolger and June Considine (Children’s), Gerard Smyth and Matthew Sweeney (Poetry) and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne (Irish-language).

Speaking at the ceremony, the Chairman of Glen Dimplex Martin Naughton said: ‘We hope that these awards will continue to provide encouragement to, and a forum for, promising writers to further develop their skills at a critical time in their careers.’

The Chairman of the Irish Writers’ Centre Carlo Gébler said: ‘After the great success of our inaugural year (which included a Business2Arts Award), The Glen Dimplex New Writers Awards in association with the Irish writers’ Centre are already being seen as the pre-eminent awards for new writers in these islands.’

Monday 10 November 2008

Jerwood Aldeburgh Seminar

This charitable institution is looking for nominations and applications for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Seminar. This is the third of three annual residential courses.

This will provide a unique opportunity for a select group of talented UK poets of any age to work towards a first collection in an intensive, five-day seminar, led by two excellent poet-tutors with strong editorial experience.

The third seminar will take place at Bruisyard Hall, near Saxmundham, Suffolk from Monday 16 through Friday 20 March 2009. The course will be tutored by Michael Laskey and Peter Sansom.

The Poetry Trust is looking for a maximum of eight poets with a good publishing track record (magazines, anthologies, possibly an individual pamphlet) and evidence of commitment.

Cost: £180
Tutors: Michael Laskey and Peter Sansom
• A selection of poems (no more than six, published or unpublished)
• Publication history
• A brief biography
• A short statement on suitability for the course and anticipated benefits (no more than 100 words)

Deadline: 31 January 2008

The winner of the £3,000 Jerwood Aldeburgh First Collection Prize in 2008 was announced on Saturday 8 November at the 20th Aldeburgh Poetry Festival as 37-year old Irish poet Ciaran Berry for The Sphere of Birds (The Gallery Press).

The 58 entries were judged by poets Helen Dunmore, Michael Laskey (Chair) and Jamie McKendrick.

The shortlist included:
Paul Batchelor The Sinking Road (Bloodaxe Books)
Adam Foulds The Broken Word (Cape Poetry)
Frances Leviston Public Dream (Picador Poetry)
Stephanie Norgate Hidden River (Bloodaxe Books)

Sunday 9 November 2008

Bridport winners

Interestingly many winners have MAs or MFAs. Do these make them better writers? Do better writers study for MAs? Do they produce the type of work that wins competitions?
The judges reports are well worth reading. Here's Poetry and here's short story.

Short story - judge Helen Simpson

1st Prize £5000 Elaine Chiew, London. "Face"
2nd Prize £1000 Joanna Quinn, Weymouth, Dorset. "A Pocket Guide to Infidelity for Girls"
3rd Prize £500 Sara Levine, Evanston, USA. "Little Bad"

Supplementary Prizes (alphabetical order) - £50 Each :-
Sarah Evans, Welwyn Garden City, Herts. "On such a night"
Fran Landsman, Bath. "Curl Up and Dye"
Guy Mitchell, London. "Going for a Turkish"
Anna Rawlinson, London. "Portrait of a Lady"
Geraldine Ryan, Chester-le-Street, Durham. "The Greenhouse Effect"
Amy Shuckburgh, London. "Breathing"
Lorna Bruce, Larbert, Scotland. "One for you"
Eve Thomson, Edinburgh, Scotland. "Irrational Acts"
Hilary Wilce, Hawkhurst, Kent. "On the Edge"
Matthew Wright, Hamnavoe Burra, Shetland. "The Butcher and the Thief"

The longlist is massive - no Irish addresses.

Title Writer
1954 Anthony Butten, London
The Beach Hut Anna Reynolds, St Albans, Herts
Getting away Elizabeth Sarkany, London
A Walk in the Park James Cressey, Sicily
My Lord Above David Brown, Auckland, New Zealand
Frank and the Pariah Graham Minett, Pagham, W Sussex
The Day of the Bear Janey Huber, Cambridge
Jetsam Alison Moore, Loughborough, Leics
The Third Place Sarah Holman, Burscough, Lancs
Oi Yoi Yoi Sue Hubbard, London
The Speed of Dark Anne Aylor, London
The Last Grand Illusion Douglas Bruton, West Linton, Scotland
Hushed Nichola Bendall, Chichester, W Sussex
Pegasus Henry Layte, Norwich, Norfolk
The Edge Pippa Maynard, Horley, Surrey
Side-effects Alison Green, Poole, Dorset
The House Call Jacob Appel, New York, USA
A Small Rectangular Dredge Renee Bacher, Baton Rouge, USA
Swan Song Frank Dineen, Wayne, USA
Driving while blind Cheryl Alu, Los Angeles, USA
MooshMoosh Justine Mann, London
The Illusion of Life Nicholas Proctor, Porirua, New Zealand
Vanishing Acts Penny Feeny, Liverpool
No Peeking Michael Schiavone, Gloucester, USA
The Fat Boy Robert Dodds, Edinburgh
Resonance Carey Saleh, Redditch, Worcs
The Sinking Ship Joan Brennan, London
An anniversary, of sorts Gabriela Blandy, Oxford
Snails Rachel Crowther, Oxford
Dolly and the Lambs Annemarie Neary, London
Snow Men Naomi Williams, Davis, USA
Love-lies-bleeding Hilary Spiers, Stamford, Lincs
State of Affairs Drew Gummerson, Leicester
Dreams of Bantry Bay Heather Mulkey, Cobham, Surrey
The Big Road N Nye, Colorado Springs, USA
Boy running Jemma Kennedy, London
The Bird Child Andrea Blundell, Solihull, W Midlands

Poetry Prizewinners. Judge : - David Harsent
David was sent several hundred poems to consider out of thousands entered.

1st Prize £5000 Anne Stewart, Orpington, Kent "Still Water, Orange, Apple, Tea"
2nd Prize £1000 Elizabeth Speller, Cirencester, Glos "Finistère"
3rd Prize £500 Ama Bolton, Wells, Somerset "Time-Travel"

Supplementary Prizes (alphabetical order) - £50 Each :-
Sally Flint, Exeter, Devon "One of us had already tipped the waiters"
John Gerard, Cork, Ireland "In the garden" (Anyone know this poet?)
Christopher James, Haverhill, Suffolk "The Novices"
Chelsea Jennings, Seattle, USA "Travel"
Jenifer Kahawatte, Dover, Kent "View from Bulbarrow"
Hilary Menos, Totnes, Devon "The Joy of Fitze"
Conor O'Callaghan, Manchester "Three Six Five Zero" (An Irish one)
David Swann, Brighton, E Sussex "The path"
Rosamund Kleïs Taylor, Dublin, Ireland "Percival Lowell" Anyone know her? May be from Trinity.
Anne Pierson Wiese, New York, USA "Wild Turkey"

Poetry Long List: (enormous)

Title Writer
Luther Burbank Charles Mountford, Stratford, Canada
Bedsit Fiona Stevenson, Celbridge, Eire
Recollection Rona Laycock, Avening, Glos
growth Alan Stubbs, Carlisle, Cumbria
socks Alan Stubbs, Carlisle, Cumbria
At Inger's Flat Adam Hansen, Newcastle upon Tyne
The Weir of Lord Armstrong's Benefaction Adam Hansen, Newcastle upon Tyne
A Fantasy Parade Lucy van Baars, Bristol
Rays Abi Curtis, Farnham, Surrey
On being given my Grandfather's gloves Ian Salkey, Abbots Langley, Herts
It's a beautiful town Ian Salkey, Abbots Langley, Herts
The Radio Tells Us It's Snowing in Montauk Anne Pierson Wiese, New York, USA
climbing postcards Judy Kendall, Salford
Mr Mori's report Judy Kendall, Salford
…and morning comes Jack Stanley, London
Journey Elizabeth Rowe, Yelverton, Devon
R.S.V.P. Beverley Nadin, Sheffield
Low carbon Dad Keith Hilling, Swindon, Wilts
Desert Dance Margaret Eddershaw, Nafplion, Greece
Elizabeth's Diary: 1st September Carole Bromley, York
Job's Servant Carole Bromley, York
The Bridle Path Bill Greenwell, Morchard Bishop, Devon
What Will Happen To The Neighbours… Kathryn Maris, London
Tiger Moth Tony Roberts, Manchester
Mrs Bunting Charles Evans, London
Stolen Paintings John Hubbard, Bournemouth, Dorset
The Cobblestone Layer Talks About His Work Mike Horwood, Tampere, Finland
Digging the Ore Isobel Thrilling, Romford, Essex
Goldfish Will Vaughan, Castle Cary, Somerset
Ending Christopher Horton, London
Girder-Bashers Philip Hancock, Stoke on Trent, Staffs
Sudoku Roddy Williams, London
Picnic Photograph Robert Hartford, Beaford, Devon
Galilee James Womack, Cambridge
Night Fishing - Kyushu Linda Lamus, Bristol
Reunion Julia Webb, Norwich, Norfolk
Linocut Weasel J Weir, Manchester
Porpoise Emily Hinshelwood, Ammanford, Wales
Señor Rodriguez Amy McCauley, Scarborough
Heatwave Sean Street, Christchurch, Dorset
Punched out Romance Eve Belsey, London
Where have you been? Geoff Slater, Luton, Beds
Departure from Arnisdale Paul G. Deaton, Bristol
The Field Richard Lambert, Bristol
Standing in front of Turner's 'Northam Castle' A Flitcroft, Lichfield, Staffs
Is that the most important thing…? Laila Farnes, Nittedal, Norway
The Wearing of Skin Judith Watts, Twickenham, Middlesex
The Door Joan Michelson, London
Losing the music Irene Rawnsley, Settle, N Yorks
Nine Month Dream Pippa Little, Cramlington, Northumbria
Baby's Homecoming Lisa Kelly, London
The Square Jane Draycott, Henley on Thames, Oxon
Antique Telephone Mick Wood, Strasbourg, France
Reciprocal Rose Flint, Corsley, Wilts
Saintes Maries de la Mer Stephanie Norgate, Midhurst, W Sussex
Land's End: not talking about…. Jane Evans, Ware, Herts
Cowslips Vona Groarke, Manchester
Eating green grapes on a yellow bus James Manlow, Bournemouth, Dorset
The Forest Seamstress Jenny Hope, Martley, Worcs
Self Portrait with Blue Guitar Michael McCarthy
The Appointment Michael McCarthy
Seen From My Bed Pat Borthwick, Kirby Underdale, Yorks
The room with faces in round frames Jane Boston, Brighton, Sussex
The Abstract Josie Turner, Hitchen, Herts
Relic Anna Woodford, Newcastle upon Tyne
From the stonemason to his wife Catherine M. Brennan, Mitcham, Surrey
Last One Out Robert Hamberger, Houghton on the Hill, Leics
The Taken Road Alan Franks, Richmond, Surrey
I would give you marshmallow bones… Kath McKay, Leeds
Clinker Built Alexander Hamilton, Argyll, Scotland
On the first night in the cottage… Judy Brown, London
The Wild Boar Edmund Matyjaszek, Ryde, IOW, Hants
The Hare's Tale Harriet Torr, Thurso, Scotland
Baths Shaun Levin, London
Something Olive Ritch, Aberdeen
Offence Richard Meier, London
Tables for two Richard Meier, London
Mah-Jong Ben Rogers, London
The Language of Lorries River Wolton, Hope Valley, Derbyshire
Driving to Aldeburgh River Wolton, Hope Valley, Derbyshire
Fossil of a human heart speaks… Lucy Ingrams, London
What's Below, in Singapore Alison Lester, Singapore
Lengths Wales
Bristol Sally Spedding, Ammanford, Wales
The Train Michael Parker, Basildon, Essex
Bathing Alesha Racine, Cambridge
Blood Love Devon McC Jackson, Santa Fe, USA
Note to Mum Paul Garcia, Melford, Suffolk
Dianthus Barry Dempster, Ontario, Canada
The Maples are Bleeding Barry Dempster, Ontario, Canada
Mother of Pearl Andrew Leggett, Seven Hills, Queensland, Australia
Help o'clock Kate Camp, Wellington, New Zealand
Memories and Cake Caitlin Holland, Plymouth
Lower Marsh Market Sara Knapp, Reading
You Will Know When You Leave Laura Solomon, Nelson, New Zealand
Old Man of the Sea Russell Jones, Much Wenlock, Shropshire
Hibakusha / Survivor S Chalmers, Hamilton, New Zealand
Untitled Love Poem III Andrew Proffitt, Glasgow
Spring Fever Helen Mort, Cambridge
Leather Seats and Other Stories Katie Beswick, London
Plea Bargain Joseph Grikis, MD, USA
Poole in November Martin Fraser, Poole, Dorset
Ladybird Deborah Nichols, Oxford
Stepdaughter Tor George, Brentford, Middlesex
Therapy Marlo Bester-Sproul, NC, USA
Spiral Chatting Pamela Odunaiya, Sunbury, Middlesex
Bombay Harbour 1944 Owen Lowery, Wigan, Lancs
Urisk Rachel Morgan, Peterhead, Aberdeenshire
Darkness Marisela Berenguel, Aylsbury
The Assignation Jane McKie, Linlithgow, West Lothian
Oval Sculpture (Delos) Hannah Edwards, Porthcawl, Mid Glamorgan
Stone Walling Vanessa Gebbie, Ringmer, East Sussex
Hobbies and Plans Marianne MacRae, Heckmondwike, W Yorks
It is the rain Julius Mendoza, Switzerland
Sleepy Dogs of Pompeii Kay Fletcher, Tipton, W Midlands
Loft Harry Bauld, New York, USA
Blooming in Barcelona Pamela Mordecai, Toronto, Canada
Two Kids Atar Hadari, London
There it is Hannah Price, London
Snow Cave M. Lee Alexander, Williamsburg, USA
The Singular Cloak Emer Fallon, Co Kerry, Ireland
Terracotta Mark Cooper, Halesowen, W Midlands
Vinyl Mark Cooper, Halesowen, W Midlands
Crocuses Mark Cooper, Halesowen, W Midlands
His Hands Noel Duffy, Dublin, Eire
Thin Red Line Lynn Roberts, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Losing Hylas Lynn Roberts, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Shopping Will Bartlett, Wem, Shropshire
A photograph of Ted Lydia Macpherson, Babraham, Cambs
An African Scarf Lydia Macpherson, Babraham, Cambs
Jungleland Lydia Macpherson, Babraham, Cambs
Pastoral Lydia Macpherson, Babraham, Cambs
The Shave Glynis Charlton, Hull E Yorks
Ourself Lydia Macpherson, Babraham, Cambs
Walking in the Woods Lydia Macpherson, Babraham, Cambs
Dusk to Dawn Yu Yan Chen, Bath
Kingdom Come Gill Saxon, Cambridge
Not a Political Poem Maria Dines, Hoddesdon, Herts
Post-Colloquium Blues Michael D Jackson, Lexington, USA
Man's Work Graham Clifford, London
Apricot Brandy James Sutherland-Smith, Belgrade, Serbia
After the Action Movie James Sutherland-Smith, Belgrade, Serbia
204 North Road Kim Patrick, Airdrie, Lanarkshire
The Language of Stairs Geraldine Mills, Galway, Eire
Doorstop Melanie Cross, Southampton
Alpine Choughs Petra Regent, Bristol
Father Butterfly Giles Ford, London
Imperial 58 Gemma Collins, Exeter
Small Town Christmas Lindy Barbour, Carnwath, S Lanarkshire
Strange Fruit Nandita Ghose, London
Bomb Crater, 1944 Sue Stern, Cheadle, Cheshire
Song for a Sichuan Child Ellen Cranitch, London
The Promise Charles Lauder, Lutterworth
Washing your hair Neville Beal, Oxford
1789 Neil Fleming, Badwell Ash, Suffolk
History Neil Fleming, Badwell Ash, Suffolk
Lil Sally Goldsmith, Sheffield
The Bird Sally Goldsmith, Sheffield
The Visit Cheryl Moskowitz, London
Anne Fiona Rintoul, Glasgow
The Old Crabapple Paul Clemente, New York, USA
Massage Therapy David Shook, Hollywood, USA
Mushroom Marianne Burton, London
The Phoenician Sailor's Wife Jane McKinley, New Jersey, USA
Little Cove Loveday Why, Malden, Essex
Below Stairs Isabella Mead, Cambridge
A Dark Drop Belgium
Paris Sam Riviere, Melton Constable, Norfolk
Cold Call Sam Riviere, Melton Constable, Norfolk
Slugs Matt Kirkham, Kircubbin, Co Down
San Luis, Co Shane Slattery-Quintanilla, Del Norte, USA
Evening time tea John O'Keeffe, Galway, Ireland
R. Duncan Alice Willington, Oxford
The road spit you out Infe Weldekidan, Milwaukie, USA
Photo of dead mountain climber Dore Kiesselbach, Minneapolis, USA
Camberwell Apples Pam Vincent, London
Towers of Babel Maddie Grigg, Beaminster, Dorset
Black Dog Michael Harris, London
Safari into the Rift Elaine Lambert, Stonehouse, Glos
Last Post J R Gillie, Eastbourne, Sussex
Rubble Adam Steventon, London
Sadie's Poem Lavinia Motoc, Heathfield, E Sussex
The Path David Swann, Brighton, E Sussex
Riot at Strangeways David Swann, Brighton, E Sussex
Recovered Elisa Pulido, San Juan Capistrano, USA