Tag Archives: short stories

Mslexia short story competition 2014

Here’s information from Mslexia about their forthcoming 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A competition for unpublished short stories of up to 2,200 words.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


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).


“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.



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/

On Writing….. David Rhodes

‘I’ve been writing since about the age of fourteen. Somewhere around that time I discovered that herding words into stories often gave rise to strangely satisfying states of mind – agitated, but satisfying. Maybe I was a little like a herding dog. That first glimpse of a pasture with bunched-together sheep had a different effect upon me than, say, a companion dog that looks at the same pasture and thinks ‘Sheep, who cares?’ As individuals we seek out activities we can lose ourselves in, and those activities, paradoxically, reveal things we couldn’t otherwise know about ourselves.’   David Rhodes. Writer of ‘Driftless’

As a farmer’s daughter, the herding metaphor about writing was very attractive and held some resonance….

I’m in the wintry midwest of America and recently discovered this extraordinary Wisconsin writer, publishing his first book in three decades, following a motorcycle accident when he became physcially disabled.

You can read ‘Driftless’, David Rhodes’ first book in thirty years at:http://www.amazon.com/Driftless-David-Rhodes/dp/1571310681/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388082386&sr=1-1&keywords=driftless+by+david+rhodes

More in praise of Alice Munro and the short story

After the popularity of Saturday’s blog on the short story, I wanted to add a few more links. The always excellent brainpickings has Alice Munro on the secret of a great short story: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/10/11/alice-munro-on-stories/

Earlier this Autumn, Literature Wales, Swansea University and the Rhys Davies Trust held a conference on the short story, with everyone from Edna O’Brien, Tessa Hadley, to Will Self in attendance. I was unable to attend, but am grateful for the coverage from the excellent Wales Arts Review, Volume 2, issue 23, which I highly recommend: http://www.walesartsreview.org/wales-arts-review-volume-2-issue-23/

This edition includes interviews with Rachel Trezise and Will Self; Patricia Duncker, Stevie Davies, Alison Moore and others on their favourite short stories;  a revisit of classics such as two of my personal favourites, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and William Trevor’s wonderful The Ballroom of Romance. The recent announcement that William Trevor has been awarded The Charleston Trust/ University of Chichester inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in Short Story Writing seems to affirm this sometimes overlooked form is having its time in the limelight. Let us enjoy…

In praise of short stories – “hand grenades of ideas.”

Short fiction seems more targeted – hand grenades of ideas, if you will. When they work, they hit, they explode, and you never forget them.  Paolo Bacigalupi.

It has been a stupendous week for short fiction. Today’s blog is in celebration of Alice Munro being awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature, and Sarah Hall winning the BBC National Short Story Prize. It also seems to be a year for women short fiction writers, for all on the National Short Story Prize shortlist were female.

For me a page of good prose is where one hears the rain. A page of good prose is when one hears the noise of battle…. A page of good prose seems to me the most serious dialogue that well-informed and intelligent men and women carry on today in their endeavour to make sure that the fires of this planet burn peaceably.   John Cheever.

Munro is the thirteenth woman to have won the award since its inception in 1901, and didn’t expect to win, partly because of what could be seen as an undervaluing of the form. On winning, she said “I would really hope that this would make people see the short story as an important art.” 

I remember a time, until quite recently, when it seemed that the short story was in decline, or certainly out of fashion. The genre seemed to be in free-fall, and there were campaigns to ‘Save Our Short Stories’. Publishers were blamed for not offering collections, and they in turn criticised the reading public for not buying and so investing in the form. With today’s burgeoning list of short story competitions, some of them extremely high profile, like the BBC’s national offering and The Sunday Time’s EFG private bank award, the situation seems to have changed. But as Ursula Le Guin states so clearly, below, we need readers:

The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.
 Ursula K. Le Guin

I have been enthralled by a whole range of short stories it has been my great fortune to have read during the past eighteen months: Work by my favourites Kevin Barry and Sarah Hall, but also Helen Simpson, Jon Gower, Matthew Francis, Claire Keegan, Lavinia Greenlaw, Edith Pearlman, Ali Smith… the list could go on. It seems robust and innovative as a form, and I’m excited that publishers, including small presses like my local publishers, Cinnamon Press, are championing both the writers and the form.

In an article in The Guardian ‘We Need a Story Laureate’, Sarah Hall gives an overview of the state and general health of the short story in the UK, “..if not gloriously ascendant in Britain, then airborne and at reasonable altitude,” she says, in a recommended read: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/11/sarah-hall-short-story-laureate

So let us celebrate this week’s achievements, and support the form through being good readers as well as writers!

“For the source of the short story is usually lyrical. And all writers speak from, and speak to, emotions eternally the same in all of us: love, pity, terror do not show favourites or leave any of us out.”  Eudora Welty, On Writing.

To hear extracts from recordings of the BBC shortlisted stories, please go to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0079gw3

For further information on UK short story competitions, deadlines, and where to get the forms, go to: http://www.booktrust.org.uk/books/adults/short-stories/prizes/

Alice Munro wins the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24477246

Thresholds, ‘the international home of the short story’ has links to short stories you can read online, including work by Kevin Barry, Helen Simpson, O Henry and others at: http://blogs.chi.ac.uk/shortstoryforum/9019-2/

Lightship International Literary Prizes 2013


I’m always excited to come upon new opportunities and competitions for writers of many disciplines, so here, with an approaching deadline of 30th June 2013 are the Lightship International Literary Prizes. I’m not familiar with the competitions, but am impressed by the patron, Hilary Mantel, and some of the judges, who include Tessa Hadley and M.J. Hyland, two personal favourites. The competitions are across a wide spectrum of form, from the first act of a theatre script, to poetry, flash fiction, memoir and short story, amongst others.

Lightship International Short Story Prize

Prize: £1,000
10 short-listed stories will be published in Lightship Anthology 3 (Nov 2013)

Judge: Tessa Hadley

Word limit: 5000

Deadline: Midnight GMT 30/6/13

Entry Fee: £12

Lightship International First Chapter Prize

Prize: Professional Mentoring / Possible Publication

Judges: M.J. HylandDavid Miller (RCW), Alessandro Gallenzi (Alma Books)

Word limit: 5400 (including one page synopsis)

Deadline: Midnight GMT 30/6/13

Entry Fee: £16

Lightship International Flash Fiction Prize

Prize: £500
10 short-listed flash fictions will be published in Lightship Anthology 3 (Nov 2013)

Judge: Etgar Keret

Word limit: 1500

Deadline: Midnight GMT 30/6/13

Entry Fee: £10

Lightship International Poetry Prize

Prize: £1000
10 short-listed poems will be published in Lightship Anthology 3 (Nov 2013)

Judge: David Wheatley

Word limit: 200

Deadline: Midnight GMT 30/6/13

Entry Fee: £8

Lightship International One Page Story Prize

Prize: £250
10 short-listed flash fictions will be published in Lightship Anthology 3 (Nov 2013)

Judge: Calum Kerr

Word limit: 300

Deadline: Midnight GMT 30/6/13

Entry Fee: £8

Lightship International Short Memoir Prize

Prize: £1000
10 short-listed short memoirs will be published in Lightship Anthology 3 (Nov 2013)

Judge: Rachel Cusk

Word limit: 5000

Deadline: Midnight GMT 30/6/13

Entry Fee: £12

Lightship International First Act Prize

Prize: Professional Mentoring / Possible Production of Full Length Play at The Cockpit Theatre, London

Judges: Anthony McCartenMicheline SteinbergDavid Whybrow (Cockpit
 Theatre Director)

Word limit: 6000 (including one page synopsis)

Deadline: Midnight GMT 30/9/13

Entry Fee: £18

For full details of all competitions please go to: www.lightshippublishing.co.uk

If you have any queries please email Lightship Publishing at: admin@lightshippublishing.co.uk

20 Questions…. Jon Gower

Continuing my new series in asking writers, directors, actors, designers, poets, sculptors, artists, burlesque performers, playwrights,  choreographers, and other artists who catch the attention 20 questions about process, creativity and their work…. My third interviewee, Jon Gower…

Jon Gower. Photographer Emyr Jenkins

Jon Gower. Photographer Emyr Jenkins


Jon Gower has written fifteen books on subjects as diverse as a disappearing island in Chesapeake Bay – An Island Called Smith – which won the John Morgan award, Real Llanelli – a west Wales tour in psycho-geography – and the fiction of Dala’r Llanw, Uncharted and Big Fish. His most recent work of non-fiction isThe Story of Wales, which accompanies a landmark TV series and his latest Welsh language novel, Y Storïwr, won the Wales Book of the Year award in 2012.

20 Questions…. Jon Gower

What first drew you to writing?    

My primary school teacher at Ysgol Dewi Sant in Llanelli, Mr. Thomas – known to us as “Tommy Tomatoes” – turned up at a talk I gave recently in the town and handed me a copy of school essays I wrote when I was nine or ten.  The fact that he had kept them all this time – they would have been written around 1968 – along with the fact that Mr. Thomas was still alive made this a life event. but the quality of the writing, too, impressed me. I was at that age reading Defoe, Louisa May Alcott and Conan Doyle. Reading avidly would eventually lead to writing, as it so often does.

What was your big breakthrough?

I’m still waiting for it.  Time enough.

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

Finding time, as I have a young family and a lot of projects on the go at the same time, always.

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

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ is the only book I finished reading and then started reading it straight through immediately, despite it’s being four in the morning.  I was a student at the time, so this was maybe 1980.  This mesmerizing novel still exerts a quiet but insistent influence on my writing which, even now, tends towards Welsh magical realism.

What’s more important: form or content?                                    

Content, though choices of  form as regards, say, length – short story or novel, essay or book – are clearly pretty important.

How do you know when a project is finished?                                                

I don’t.  Even when my recent novel ‘Y Storiwr’ was at the final proof stage my editor wasn’t sure that it was finished.  Truth be told, I was trusting a bit of the final writing to the reader!

Do you read your reviews?                                                           

Yes, and they can hurt.  A lot.  Or make the heart sing.

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?                                                                       

Read lots.  Read attentively.  Read widely.

What work of art would you most like to own?                                 

John Martin’s ‘The Plains of Heaven, ‘ though it’s so big we’d have to move house and I’d feel to guilty about other people not seeing it to want to have it to myself.    51e9Dn3Pm4L._AA160_

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

That everyone has a book in them or, rather, that they would know how to write it. 

What are you working on now?                                                                      

Just finished half of a Welsh language stage play (which has given me the time to answer these questions) and am in the final few furlongs of a collection of short stories, also in Welsh.

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

Simple. John Updike’s entire output.

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

That the real work comes after the first draft.

What’s your greatest ambition?    

To please the reader.

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

It’s a necessary part of it all, not dissimilar to the nerves felt by an actor before curtain up or a rugby player before kick off.  You’re never satisfied, though the occasional good sentence might torch some pride in you.

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

 A reviewer for New Welsh Review condemned my latest collection of stories, ‘Too Cold For Snow’  as being journalistic and cliched in their language. I work too hard on language for this to be true.  Had the critic been a proper writer it would have hurt more than it did.  It still hurt, though.

Too Cold For Snow And the best thing?                                                                                        

Richard Ford praised the self-same collection and his opinion graces the front cover.  For a moment I felt that Ford was a peer but then the old, necessary insecurity set in!

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

It’s a river, sometimes running swift and true, at other times meandering slowly, or worse, coming up to the weir, or did I mean the wire?

What is your philosophy or life motto?                                                        

Life is about creating things – be it conversation, babies, friendships, art.

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

The best stuff often comes unbidden, and in the middle of the night.  Also, if you’re writing you’re always writing, even as you sleep.  So be prepared to get up to write it down.

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

Why do I do it?  Because I have to.  It’s an acceptable, realistic and manageable version of something grand, such as having a destiny.

For information on Jon’s books, go to his Amazon page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jon-Gower/e/B001KDY5WA/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1364235160&sr=1-2-ent

Too Cold For Snow http://www.amazon.co.uk/Too-Cold-Snow-Jon-Gower/dp/1908069848









Reflections on the short story on World Book Day 2013.

writing desk






I have an addiction which I have already owned up to in public: I am addicted to quotations, to the bon mot. I love reading what experts have written about form, style, narrative, content… I collect ‘sayings’, advice to writers, and reflections on a form.

My previous series 150 ‘rules’ about writing fiction was very popular, and extended from its original ‘100 rules…’ When I reached number 149, I decided enough was enough, I couldn’t extend it again, but have had such a strong response from readers when I posted the last entry, I decided to continue, but in a more focused form, hence Reflections on the short story...

Although I’m primarily a playwright, I also write in different forms and for different media (radio drama, short film). I’ve contributed to various anthologies  (The Phoenix book of Irish short stories, and by Welsh independent publishers Honno and Parthian). I haven’t written short fiction for some time, but I read collections and am constantly fed by this most robust yet delicate of forms.

Short stories seem to be going through something of a renaissance. More collections have been published recently than in previous years – and the success of competitions such as The Sunday Times/EFG Private bank short story award (first prize £30,000) suggests that the often proclaimed death of the short story has been somewhat premature.

As Neil Gaiman put it: ‘Like some kind of particularly tenacious vampire, the short story refuses to die, and seems at this point in time to be a wonderful length for our generation.’

So in the spirit of this and World Book Day, here are some quotations on the short story from Raymond Chandler to Haruki Murakami, from Alice Munro to Eudora Welty, and hope you enjoy;

“My short stories are like soft shadows I have set out in the world, faint footprints I have left. I remember exactly where I set down each and every one of them, and how I felt when I did. Short stories are like guideposts to my heart…” Haruki Murakami

“The particular problem of the short story writer is how to make the action he describes reveal as much of the mystery of existence as possible…The type of mind that can understand [the short story] is the kind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery.” Flannery O’Connor

“…writing stories was always a bit like falling in love with a stranger and running off to Marrakech for a long weekend. It didn’t have to be successful to be thrilling.”  Ann Patchett

“The novel…creates a bemusing effect. The short story, on the other hand wakes the reader up. Not only that, it answers the primitive craving for art, the wit, paradox and beauty of shape, the longing to see a dramatic pattern and significance in our experience.”  V.S.Pritchett

“A short story is the nearest thing I know to lyric poetry… A novel actually requires far more logic and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has.”
William Faulkner

“It’s possible in a…short story to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things–a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring–with immense, even startling power.” Raymond Carver

 “I believe that the short story is as different a form from the novel as poetry is, and the best stories seem to me to be perhaps closer in spirit to  poetry than to novels.”  Tobias Wolff

“The first thing we notice about our story is that we can’t really see the solid outlines of it–it seems bathed in something of its own. It is wrapped in an atmosphere. This is what makes it shine, perhaps, as well as what initially obscures its plain, real shape.
” Eudora Welty

“Anecdotes don’t make good stories. Generally I dig down underneath them so far that the story that finally comes out is not what people thought their anecdotes were about.
”  Alice Munro

“…The literature of individuals is a noble art, a great earnest and ambitious human product. But it is a human product. The divine art is the story. In the beginning was the story…. Within our whole universe the story only has authority to answer the cry of heart of its characters, that one cry of heart of each of them: ‘Who am I?'”  Isak Dinesen

A few of my books of the year 2012

This time of the year is rife with ‘best of’ and ‘worst of’ lists, and so never one to buck a trend, here are some of the books of the past year that provoked, delighted, or prickled in my memory long after they’d been put down.


Singing a Man to Death – Matthew Francis

It was a year of short stories, novellas, and of small independent publishers. Hats off to small Welsh concern Cinnamon Press for Matthew Francis’s accomplished collection. I subscribe to the press, which means a literary surprise comes through my letterbox each month – and I have been relishing the polished intelligence, and cool-eyed humour of these wry, sophisticated stories. Only half way through the book, this still makes my ‘few books of the year’ list – with sincere best wishes to Cinnamon’s future success and in anticipation of Matthew Francis’s forthcoming novel and poetry collection. Bravo! Diolch yn fawr!



Country Girl – Edna O’Brien

I adore Edna O’Brien. I have been meaning to write her a fan letter since I first encountered Cait and Baba in The Country Girls, when I was thirteen. All her novels, plays, and stories have since beguiled and perplexed in equal measures, me revelling in the lavishness of the language and  the delicacy of her fine-tuned precision. It is also the look of the woman I love: That open, astonishingly beautiful freckled face – the young author photographed on a rainy boreen  which adorned the cover of her first novel, written in innocence and banned in Ireland. Then followed the groomed, glamorous shots of the literary life, culminating in the recent profile in shadow on the back of Country Girl, her 2012 memoir. Thanks to my friend Sam, I received a signed first edition for my birthday in September. It is delicious, delirious stuff, from her mournful childhood in west Ireland, to drinking with Beckett in Paris and dropping acid with RD Laing in London, amongst other anecdotes surely to become legend. It is as effecting, otherworldly and heartbreaking as her wonderful voice, which must be heard and celebrated, hence the link to an interview, below.




Gods Without Men – Hari Kunzru.

I have long been a fan of what Douglas Copeland has identified as a new literary genre, Translit. As he explained in the New York Times: ‘Translit novels cross history without being historical; they span geography without changing psychic place. Translit collapses time and space as it seeks to generate narrative traction in the reader’s mind. It inserts the contemporary reader into other locations and times, while leaving no doubt that its viewpoint is relentlessly modern and speaks entirely of our extreme present.’ Set in the Mojave desert in south-eastern California, the interconnected narrative threads of Gods Without Men include a 2008 missing child, a 1960’s UFO sect, a missionary friar in 1775, an ethnographer in the 1940’s studying Native American creation stories, and Iraqi refugees employed to people a simulated Iraqi village to train soldiers in urban assault. The work is massively ambitious and not altogether successful, but audacious in scope and haunting in its depiction of “Three columns of rock … like the tentacles of some ancient creature, weathered feelers probing the sky”.


Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. Edited by Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black and Michael Northen.

A stunning collection of essays, crip poetry, cripple poetics, and work by Deaf and disabled poets. As the editors note, ‘we include not only poets who created and embrace the disability/ crip poetics movement but also those who might resist such a classification and have never been considered in that exact context.’  Powerful. Diverse. Utterly fabulous, celebrating all the possibilities of what it is to be human.  http://www.beautyisaverbbook.com

Too Cold For Snow


Too Cold for Snow – Jon Gower.

I was sitting beside Jon Gower and his family when he rightly won Wales Book of the Year for his Welsh language novel, Y Storiwr (The Storyteller) .  With the publication of Too Cold for Snow, 2012 continues to be phenomenally successful for this prolific writer, whose recent output gives the notoriously productive Joyce Carol Oates a run for her money. Audaciously inventive in at least two languages, the sprawling creativity of the man is evident in every paragraph of this collection of short stories. Funny, sensitive, surreal, and and at times devastatingly poignant, his stories are inherently of Wales, whilst provocatively re-imagining exactly what that might mean.


Sightlines – Kathleen Jamie

This is a wonderful collection of essays about the landscape, nature, and the environment. Unfussy, almost pedestrian in her approach, I was seduced by her straightforwardness, how ‘Between the laundry and fetching the kids from school, that’s how birds enter my life…’  ‘a sorceress of the essay form,’ John Berger described her, and who am I to quibble with him? Stunning. Do go and buy it.

The Beautiful Indifference.

The Beautiful Indifference – Sarah Hall.

The first paragraph of ‘The Butcher’s Perfume’ was enough to rush me to the book shop cashier and immediately back home – to hell with the shopping –  to devour the rest of this disturbing, exquisitely written story. The setting of that story, ‘the burnt-farm, red-river, raping territory’ establishes the tone for this violent, memorable, beautiful collection of short stories. Disquietening, stirring what lies beneath the surface, aspects of these stories remain in the memory long after they’ve been read.


Revision notes (4): Hemingway’s shoes







I’m still in the US, mentoring young writers long distance, by email. I recently responded to a fragment sent for possible inclusion in Fflam Pwy? Whose Flame is it, anyway? the anthology I’m editing for Disability Arts Cymru as part of the Cultural Olympiad, celebrating the 2012 London Paralympic and Olympic Games. As I anticipated in the previous post, editing and mentoring provokes reflection on form and process. I include parts of my email here, as it seemed pertinent to ‘revision notes’:


First: We need a story. Even with the most brilliant description and writing in the world, we need more than the observations to make our reading really satisfying and our writing successful.

This story doesn’t have to be a huge world-changing event – it can be a very small and simple discovery. Basically, by the end of the piece, SOMETHING MUST HAVE CHANGED – even if that’s our (the readers’) perception.

Second: A writer must have something to SAY – something to communicate to the world, otherwise we’re just examining our navels….

Apart from capturing the characters and this moment in time, what would you say you wanted to communicate in the fragment you sent? I had a sense something might be about to happen. I was expecting some revelation that would allow me to ‘see’ the characters in a new light – or even challenge my preconceptions as reader. I was waiting for an extra detail to turn the situation upside down – to subvert, surprise, reveal…

To really engage me as a reader, I need a plot, or something happening, or some action, or something promising to be revealed. There is a theory that we write and read in order to understand what it is to be human. When I think of the great short story writers I admire and the insight into humanity their work allows , this certainly seems to be the case: Grace Paley, Anton Chekov, Alice Munro, Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler, Elizabeth Bowen, Yiyun Li, Flann O’Brien, Angela Carter, Edgar Allen Poe, Italo Calvino… More recent writers include Jackie Kay, Helen Simpson, Claire Keegan, AM Holmes – the list could go and on…  What they bring to me is a distilled moment from a life, which hints at the complexities in existence, in human interaction, in being.

On a prosaic level, we also need a beginning, a middle and an end…

As an exercise, see how short a story you can tell. Ernest Hemingway famously created a whole short story in six words:


In that, we have the whole world of the story and its tragedy – our minds are making up what might have happened: the baby died – or was adopted – or was a phantom pregnancy – or was stolen – or was….? My mind is alive with possibilities… and Hemingway suggests enough to get our imaginations and emotions activated (the pathos of those baby shoes), and then wisely leaves it to us to complete the story…

It has a beginning a middle and an end – but the end is ‘open’ and lets us make up what happened – but it still ends – and although we’re not told exactly what, we know something happened along the way – something fundamental, made of the stuff of life…


I hope that those thoughts are useful for thinking about the basics of story writing.

For writers reading their favourite stories, go to The Guardian’s short stories podcast: