Tag Archives: prose

Mslexia short story competition 2014

Here’s information from Mslexia about their forthcoming short story competition

MSLEXIA 2014 WOMEN’S SHORT STORY COMPETITION

A competition for unpublished short stories of up to 2,200 words. We accept work on all subjects, so write about anything and everything you fancy – we love to read it.

1st prize: £2,000

Plus two optional extras: a week’s writing retreat at Chawton House Library, and a day with a Virago editor

2nd prize: £500

3rd prize: £250

Three other finalists each receive £100

Judge: Jane Rogers

Jane Rogers has has published eight novels, including The Voyage Home and Island, and written original television and radio drama. She was shortlisted in the BBC National Short Story Competition in 2009 and has, amongst others, received an award for Writers’ Guild Best Fiction Book and a BAFTA nomination for best drama serial. Jane also works as an editor in new writing anthologies, and is a Professor of Writing on the Sheffield Hallam MA course.

Closing date: 17 March 2014

All winning stories will be published in the Jun/Jul/Aug 2014 edition of Mslexia

To enter the competition, go to: https://mslexia.co.uk/shop/scomp_enter.php

2013 WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

1st Prize: Francesca Armour-Chelu with ‘The Starving Ghost’
2nd Prize: Karen Onojaife with ‘Starling’ ‘
3rd Prize: Josie Turner with ‘Jewels’

Three other finalists: Anne Corlett with ‘The Man on the Platform’, Eve Thomson with ‘Shona and the Bosoms’, Jennie Walmsley with ‘Saturdays Only’

All six winning stories, and the judge’s essay, are published in issue 58 of Mslexia.

On Winning…

Francesca Armour-Chelu“Winning the Mslexia Short Story Competition is wonderful and I still can’t quite believe it. When I got the email asking me to call – so I could be told in person – my immediate reaction was to think I’d done something wrong! I assumed I’d accidentally slandered a real person, plagiarised someone’s work, or done something else that would disqualify my entry. Ever the optimist!” – Francesca Armour-Chelu.

For the 2013 winners and what they say about the experience of winning, please go to: https://www.mslexia.co.uk/whatson/msbusiness/scomp_winning.php

The 2013 Judge

“…a good short story frames not just a credible now, but an implied past – and a stretch after the putative ending into infinite space. I guess that’s what is meant by writing that ‘comes off the page’: 3D is certainly possible on the flat page.

In my opinion, it is also true that what the story is about matters far less than the story’s way of seeing: the thing that makes it uniquely itself, whatever the notional everydayness of its subject matter. ”

Read the full essay by the judge here: https://www.mslexia.co.uk/magazine/writing.php#essay

Janice GallowayJANICE GALLOWAY read Music and English at Glasgow University, then worked as a school teacher for 10 years before turning to writing. She has published three collections of short stories – Blood (Vintage, 1992), Where You Find It (Simon and Schuster, 2007), Collected Stories (Vintage, 2009)) – as well as three novels, a volume of poetry and two memoirs, the most recent of which, All Made Up (Granta), came out in July 2012.
She has written and presented three radio series for BBC Scotland (Life as a Man, Imagined Lives and Chopin’s Scottish Swansong), has written for theatre, opera, museum and other exhibitions, and works extensively with musicians, visual artists.
Her awards include the MIND/Allan Lane Award (for her novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing, 1989), the McVitie’s Prize (for her novelForeign Parts, 1994), the EM Forster Award, a Creative Scotland Award, Saltire Book of the Year (for her novel Clara, 2002, based on the life of Clara Schumann) and the SMIT non-fiction Book of the Year for her memoir This Is Not About Me (2009).

LISTEN TO THE 2012 WINNING STORY

“My baby’s mine, come out of me. I can’t see her face but her hair! There’s so much of it, sticks up like a hedgehog. I see nurse give it a stroke. Feels lovely I bet. They never let me touch her.”

The beautiful and haunting story ‘What goes around’ by Tamsin Cottis is now available to listen to for free at Short Story Radio! The story is narrated by Lisa Armytage. Please see below for the link to short story radio.

.

HOW TO WIN A SHORT STORY COMPETITION

We have taken the advice from a range of past judges of short stories and compiled it into a selection of top tips that give you some insider information into what short story judges are looking for when they’re reading through all those submissions – and what to do to stand out: https://www.mslexia.co.uk/whatson/msbusiness/scomp_feature.php

.

You can listen to the work of previous winners at: http://mslexia.shortstoryradio.com/

20 Questions: Beatrice Hitchman

I’m delighted to have novelist Beatrice Hitchman answer my ’20 Questions’ just a few days before the paperback publication of her debut, Petite Mort, and its serialisation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’. We met in the South West of England two years ago when both working on projects, and it is the greatest pleasure to witness her success with her first novel, and have her participate in this questionnaire on process and creativity….

20 Questions….. 

Beatrice Hitchman. Photo: Sarah Lee.

Beatrice Hitchman. Photo: Sarah Lee.

Beatrice Hitchman was born in London in 1980. She read English and French at Edinburgh University and then completed an MA in Comparative Literature. After a year living in Paris, she moved back to the UK, trained and worked as a documentary film editor, also writing and directing short films. Petite Mort is her debut novel. It was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2013, is shortlisted for the Festival du Premier Roman de Chambery 2014, and has been adapted as a Radio 4 Woman’s Hour drama featuring Honor Blackman.

What first drew you to your particular practice (art/acting/writing, etc)?

Realising that the Care Bear cartoon episodes I wanted to watch didn’t exist yet. I had a serious conversation with myself and realised that even though I was only five, it was down to me to write them.

What was your big breakthrough?

Getting published by Serpent’s Tail.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

Loneliness.

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?

I think everything you read sandpapers you down somehow.

What’s more important: form or content?

Both.

How do you know when a project is finished?

The deadline opens under my feet.

Do you read your reviews?

Yes. It helps you to cross the gap between what you think you’ve written, and what you might actually turn out to have written.

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake, but you work is: protect it. As a general principle, give more time to advice that encourages you to take risks. Ignore the blah-blah-blah and the loudmouths; the people who talk the most about writing may be the ones who love it least. Learn not to be afraid of being tired.

What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?

I think it’s a myth that you should be able to write anywhere.

What are you working on now?

A story about a whale. I’m enjoying the scenery very much. And the fact I can hold my breath for an hour…

What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?

Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

Time’s a-wasting. You don’t have to wait until your thirties to have the confidence to take your own writing seriously.

What’s your greatest ambition?

To create the perfect thing.

Cover of Beatrice Hitchman's debut: Petite Mort

Cover of Beatrice Hitchman’s debut: Petite Mort 

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

Strike out with firm, broad strokes, chin held high.

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

It’s never so bad when people talk about your work; you think, well, at least they care enough to talk.

And the best thing?

‘It’s the real thing.’

 

If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

This isn’t mine, but it’s the best way I’ve heard to describe it: it’s like having a bath permanently running upstairs:

What is your philosophy or life motto?

I really don’t have a clue what I’m doing, but that’s OK because I really don’t think anybody else does either….do they?

What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

It’s not a choice.

What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

I wouldn’t change a thing.  

–    –    –    –

For further information on Beatrice, her novel, and the radio four serialisation, please go to:

http://www.beatricehitchman.com/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2013/44/r4-petite-mort.html

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/petite-mort,beatrice-hitchman-9781846689079

Uncovering New Writing – Poetry, Prose and Plays – Bare Fiction Magazine – Guest Blog by Robert Harper.

Bare fiction magazine

Bare fiction magazine

When Kaite O’Reilly asks you to write a guest article for her blog about your own project, you get that little warming feeling that the road you’re embarking upon might just be the right one. So I was delighted when she suggested I write about a new literary periodical I’m publishing called Bare Fiction magazine.

I’ve long been interested in the process of creating words on a page. How did our great 20th century dramatists, poets and novelists manage to compel us to follow their every literary whim and where do our contemporary writers find the new bones of these fantastic bodies of work that the theatrical and publishing world has helped make flesh on which we joyfully feast.

Now for some peculiar reason, though I’ve happily spent the majority of the last 20 years as a performer, I have always had a deep desire to produce a literary magazine. Perhaps it was initially fueled by long nights in my early twenties spent drinking bourbon with my dearest friend, imagining we were beat poets. Perhaps it stems from performing in some fantastic plays and feeling sadness that the words we shared may never find another’s ear or leapfrog off the page and be made whole by someone else’s brain.

Like so many creative artists, I found myself wondering how my endeavour was going to be different. What could I possibly do to make another literary title stand out from the many others on offer? Then I realised something that up to that moment hadn’t been apparent to me. Nobody else was including playwrights within their magazines. And by that I mean that I could find no evidence that dramatic texts were being discussed on their literary merit or published in part or in their entirety within another literary title. This should have been my eureka moment, but this was always my intention. It was so obvious to me that play texts and playwrights would be a part of my magazine alongside poets and poetry, authors and short fiction, that it never occurred to me that someone else wasn’t doing it already.

But why me? Why did I think I was the one to do it? As I said, I’ve been fascinated by the written word for decades and so it seemed like the natural time to do a little bit more study to back up my editorial journey by enrolling for an MA in Creative Writing. This fuelled the fires and I began to see that, like anything, you simply need the passion to succeed and with the kindness and support of a few friends, you can make it happen.

Except of course in these difficult economic times with grants for the arts and council subsidies being cut in every corner of the country where would we find the money to produce the print copies of the magazine. My fellow editors (Lisa Parry, Branwen Davies, Emma Andrew, Tom Wentworth and Amelia Forsbrook) and contributors were all adamant that they wanted to help the magazine get off the ground by offering their time for nothing, but we would of course need to fund the printing costs.

During the last few months visitors to the website have kindly been pre-ordering our launch issue which features some amazingly talented writers across all fields. We’ve work from acclaimed playwright, Forward Prize and Aldeburgh shortlisted poet Dan O’Brien with whom I’m also writing an article for the magazine. We also have the full text of Neil Bebber’s superb short play Breathe which was part of Dirty Protest’s Plays in a Bag season at the Almeida this summer. Amongst our poets we have Fred D’Aguiar, Boyd Clack, Adam Horovitz, Roger Garfitt, Dylan Thomas Prize shortlisted Jemma L. King, plus BBC Writer’s Prize winner Sarah Hehir. Short fiction includes work from Jane Slavin, Elvis Avdibegovic Bego, and Katie Bickell. The list goes on and you can of course see full details on the website.

I want to continue this journey of exploration of the uncovering of new work by writers at all stages of their career. To discover work of exciting promise and exceptional skill that wakes you up the second you read the first lines. But we need a little help along the way. We’ll be printing three issues a year from next March, but we’re kicking off with a bumper launch issue this December.

With that in mind we’ve created a kickstarter campaign to help fund the costs of the initial print run, distribution and promotion of 500 copies of the magazine and we need just £1600 to do that. As I write this our  campaign has been live for just shy of 48 hours and I’m thrilled by the support so far. But we still have 85% of our target left to achieve.

Please take a quick look at our promotional video (below) and visit our campaign page to pledge support in return for a digital or printed copy of the magazine. We’ve lots of reward options for you to choose from. Thank you and I hope you enjoying reading all the great new writing that we’re going to bring you.

Robert Harper

Editor

Bare Fiction Magazine

The launch issue of Bare Fiction Magazine is available to pre-order via the website or by pledging on the kickstarter campaign page and will be on sale from December 2013 through independent bookshops. Advertisers can also pledge via the campaign to secure advertisement space or visit the website for more details.

Links:

Magazine: http://www.barefictionmagazine.co.uk/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BareFiction

Twitter: http://twitter.com/BareFiction

Kickstarter: http://kck.st/15LHPlm

Video embed code:

Kickstarter widget code (for keeping up to date with a funding goal):

kickstarter url:  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/743626153/bare-fiction-magazine-launch-issue-poetry-fiction width=480]

Kickstarter widget code (for keeping up to date with a funding goal): kickstarter url=http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/743626153/bare-fiction-magazine-launch-issue-poetry-fiction width=220

Write what you would love to read.

A very simple yet profound thought occurred to me after coming across a quotation by Brian Eno online: Write the book you would love to read; the play you would love to see:

‘My interest in making music has been to create something that does not exist that I would like to listen to. I wanted to hear music that had not yet happened, by putting together things that suggested a new thing which did not yet exist.’

Brian Eno. 

When I teach or mentor young in career writers, I always encourage them not to try and jump on whatever bandwagon is popular at that time. Those projects were developed eighteen to twenty-four months earlier and anything developed now will be passe and out of date. It’s always better to follow your own interests, your own passion.

The Eno quotation appeals to me for its obvious but clear-cut truth: be yourself, develop your own voice, style, or form, rooted in your personal taste, skills, imagination and predilections. Initiate, don’t imitate. Strive to be innovative.

Directions: Write. Read. Rewrite. Repeat steps 2 and 3 as needed.

In December 2000 Susan Sontag wrote an essay for The New York Times on the relationship between writing and reading.

…to write she says is to practice, with particular intensity and attentiveness, the art of reading.

We are often our first and most critical judges, she maintains, referring to the stern inscription Ibsen put on the flyleaf of one of his books:

 To write is to sit in judgment on oneself.

Writing, reading, rewriting and then rereading our efforts sounds like an never-ending cycle of punishment – especially if as a writer you are as exacting and unforgiving as suggested by the Ibsen quotation – yet this, Sontag says, is the most pleasurable part of writing.

Setting out to write, if you have the idea of “literature” in your head, is formidable, intimidating. A plunge in an icy lake. Then comes the warm part: when you already have something to work with, upgrade, edit. 

Revising after reading is a second chance (or third or fourth or fifth or…) to get it ‘right’ – to be clearer, or deeper, more eccentric, or eloquent. As Sontag writes:

You want the book to be more spacious, more authoritative. You want to winch yourself up from yourself. You want to winch the book out of your balky mind. As the statue is entombed in the block of marble, the novel is inside your head. You try to liberate it. You try to get this wretched stuff on the page closer to what you think your book should be — what you know, in your spasms of elation, it can be. 

When it goes well, you can experience that most rare of pleasures – a reader’s pleasure – of what you yourself have written on the page. Invariably, it is the love of reading which prompted you to try and write in the first place. Getting absorbed and ‘lost’ in a book  is surely one of our greatest pleasures and, I think, achievements. As Virginia Woolf famously wrote in a letter: Sometimes I think heaven must be one continuous unexhausted reading.

Writing Sontag says, is finally a series of permissions you give yourself to be expressive in certain ways. To invent. To leap. To fly. To fall. To find your own characteristic way of narrating and insisting; that is, to find your own inner freedom. To be strict without being too self-excoriating…. Allowing yourself, when you dare to think it’s going well (or not too badly), simply to keep rowing along. No waiting for inspiration’s shove.
.
As someone who consistently wrestles with the demands of writing, my ambitions and hopes for the work, and my so evident short-fallings, I find Sontag’s words warm, wise, familiar and encouraging. Writers beat themselves up. Writers are critical. Why? Because, Sontag reminds me, it matters.
.
With thanks to Susan Sontag and The New York Times.
.
The full article can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/18/arts/18SONT.html?pagewanted=1

The difference between prose and poetry…. Marge Piercy

Vida1-156x234

In 1999 Marge Piercy wrote a long feature for The New York Times identifying and expanding upon her processes and sources of inspiration when writing novels and poetry. Moving between poetry and prose is the secret to avoiding writer’s block, she maintains, and her reflections on both forms and where they come from is illuminating and generous.

I believe that writers never stop learning. I’m always keen to hear and share what others have said about process and creativity – what this blog, in different approaches, is all about. When not documenting or reflecting on my own collaborations or processes, I’m constantly trawling through old journals, periodicals and the internet, seeking advice, camaraderie, solace, understanding and wisdom. If I’m despondent, or frustrated, or unclear about what to do with my own work, reading the thoughts of other writers invariably works as a remedy, or at least shifts something in me. So as another strand to this blog, ‘Writers on Writing’.  What follows is an edit from Marge Piercy’s original essay, but it is a masterclass. Enjoy.

Life of Prose and Poetry — an Inspiring Combination

By MARGE PIERCY   New York Times. December 20, 1999

….Sometimes I say that if a writer works in more than one genre, the chances of getting writer’s block are greatly diminished. If I am stuck in a difficult passage of a novel, I may jump ahead to smoother ground, or I may pause and work on poems exclusively for a time. If I lack ideas for one genre, usually I have them simmering for the other.

I am always going back and forth. It’s a rare period that is devoted only to one. That happens when I am revising a novel to a deadline, working every day until my eyes or my back gives out, and when I am putting a collection of poetry together, making a coherent artifact out of the poems of the last few years and reworking them as I go….

 Poems start from a phrase, an image, an idea, a rhythm insistent in the back of the brain. I once wrote a poem when I realized I had been hearing a line from a David Bryne song entirely wrong, and I liked it my way. Some poems are a journey of discovery and exploration for the writer as well as the reader. I find out where I am going when I finally arrive, which may take years.

Poems hatch from memory, fantasy, the need to communicate with the living, the dead, the unborn. Poems come directly out of daily life, from the garden, the cats, the newspaper, the lives of friends, quarrels, a good or bad time in bed, from cooking, from writing itself, from disasters and nuisances, gifts and celebrations. They go back into daily life: people read them at weddings and funerals, give them to lovers or soon-to-be ex-lovers or those they lust for, put them up on their refrigerators or over their computers, use them to teach or to exhort, to vent joy or grief.

The mind wraps itself around a poem. It is almost sensual, particularly if you work on a computer. You can turn the poem round and about and upside down, dancing with it a kind of bolero of two snakes twisting and coiling, until the poem has found its right and proper shape.

There is something so personal and so impersonal at once in the activity that it is addictive. I may be dealing with my own anger, my humiliation, my passion, my pleasure; but once I am working with it in a poem, it becomes molten ore. It becomes “not me.” And the being who works with it is not the normal, daily me. It has no sex, no shame, no ambition, no net. It eats silence like bread. I can’t stay in that white-hot place long, but when I am in it, there is nothing else. All the dearness and detritus of ordinary living falls away, even when that is the stuff of the poem. It is as remote as if I were an archaeologist working with the kitchen midden of a 4,000-year-old city.

Prose is prosier. No high-flying language here. My urge to write fiction comes from the same part of my psyche that cannot resist eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations in airports, in restaurants, in the supermarket. I am a nosy person. My mother was an amazing listener, and she radiated something that caused strangers on buses to sit down and begin to tell her their life stories or their troubles. I have learned to control that part of myself, but I am still a good interviewer and a good listener because I am madly curious about what people’s lives are like and what they think about them and say about them and the silences between the words….

 I always want to hear how the stories come out, what happens next, a basic urge all writers bring to fiction and one pull that keeps readers turning page after page. Another drive is the desire to make sense of the random, chaotic, painful, terrifying, astonishing events of our lives. We want there to be grand patterns. We want there to be some sense in events, even if the sense is that no one is in charge and entropy conquers; that all is illusion or a baroque and tasteless joke. Each good novel has a vision of its world that informs what is put in and what is left out.

For me the gifts of the novelist are empathy and imagination. I enter my characters and try to put on their worldviews, their ways of moving, their habits, their beliefs and the lies they tell themselves, their passions and antipathies, even the language in which they speak and think: the colors of their lives. Imagination has to do with moving those characters through events, has to do with entering another time, whether of the recent past or 300 or 500 years ago, in Prague or Paris or London or New York or the islands of the Pacific. It has to do with changing some variables and moving into imagined futures, while retaining a sense of character so strong the reader will believe in a landscape and in cities and worlds vastly different from our own.

Ideas for poems come to me any old time, but not generally ideas for revising poems. The notion that revising poems is a different process from revising fiction occurred to me on the treadmill, but I cannot imagine that I would ever think about actually revising a poem there. When I rewrite a poem, I go back into the space of the poem and contemplate it. I read it aloud. The only other time when I work on revising a poem is the first or second time I read it to an audience, when all the weak and incoherent parts suddenly manifest themselves big as the writing on billboards.

With fiction, since I live inside a novel for two or three years, the problem is letting go when I am done for the day. Ideas for what I am working on come in the night, in the tub, on planes, in the middle of supper. I keep a notebook on the night table, so that when an idea bombs in at 2 a.m., I will not get up and turn on the computer. One reason I learned to meditate was to control my fictional imagination and not let the characters take me over. Learning to let go except for those occasional flashes is central to keeping my sanity and my other, real relationships.

Biography from http://margepiercy.com/

Marge Piercy is the author of seventeen novels including The New York Times bestseller  Gone To Soldiers; the National Bestsellers Braided Lives and The Longings of Women, and the classic Woman on the Edge of Time; eighteen volumes of poetry including The Hunger Moon and The Moon is Always Female, and a critically acclaimed memoir Sleeping with Cats. Born in center city Detroit, educated at the University of Michigan, the recipient of four honorary doctorates, she has been a key player in some of the major progressive battles of our time, including the anti-Vietnam war and the women’s movement, and more recently an active participant in the resistance to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.