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Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Pain of Rejection - for judges as well as writers




I took a temporary break from writing to help judge two short story competitions and hope this post is useful for writers who suffer the disappointment of not seeing their story reach a long-list, or move from long to short-list. As a writer well-acquainted with the pain of rejection, I'm acutely aware of the hopes being dashed when a story doesn't make it.

As a judge, I have read scores of truly excellent stories. Plenty of strong voices, original premises and stunning conclusions. It has been such a privilege. I gave so many stories a YES, or a very strong MAYBE, and meanwhile my fellow-judges were choosing their favourites too.

Ultimately, this meant incredibly tough choices had to be made, especially during the re-reads when a MAYBE might change to a YES because several delicately nuanced stories were even more impressive at the second reading. It was exciting to discover these, but had the effect of adding more contenders to the next stage - and therefore even more anguish to the decision-making.

It is horribly hard to part company with these stories. Many miss the final selection by a hair's breadth. In the end, the fate of an otherwise beautiful piece of writing can rest on one awkward sentence, or a touch too much distracting backstory in the opening paragraph.

Other reasons for not making the final cut? Perhaps the narrative holds the tension brilliantly until the denouement, then slightly peters out in the vital last few paragraphs. Or the pace of a slower starter eventually picks up well and builds to a spectacular ending, but the story has taken one too many detours along the way. And sometimes it's a case of the theme not being fully explored, or it might have become a little lost or obscured within the plot.

It may seem nit-picking, but locating these kinds of distractions from the narrative is the only means of separation.

Some of the stories which came so close to winning through will stay with me for a long time. These 'rejected' favourites don't stop being favourites. They don't stop being well-executed, compelling stories. They may have missed the lists this time, but only because of the other strong contenders - not because they didn't deserve to be there.



Thursday, 16 November 2017

A story about grief

My short story, Much - in fact quite a long story at over eight thousand words - is in this lovely paperback collection of winning stories from the Exeter Story Prize 2017.

"One day...his ordinary life will shift back into place, rearranged around the gap of her."
I'm especially pleased for this story to be published because it focuses on ways of grieving and was especially moving to write. Narrated from the alternating viewpoints of a father and son, and told from the heart, it shows different ways in which the loss of a child can be experienced, expressed and ultimately accepted.

Available from Amazon at £6.99

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Bridport Short Story Prize 2017

Lunch at the ceremony - so good to hold this magnificent anthology in my hands.


Heavens, it's such a huge thrill that my flash fiction story, Confirmation Class, came second in The Bridport Prize. Thank you so much to the flash fiction judge, the brilliant author Kit de Waal, for her kindness and her heartwarming words about my piece. It was wonderful to meet her, and also Peter Hobbs, the short story judge, at the ceremony. Everyone at the beautiful Bridport Arts Centre was so generous and welcoming.

After drinks and a gorgeous lunch, the prize-giving took place and we were able to read our stories or extracts to a very warm and appreciative audience. I enjoyed it so much, I wished I could go straight back on the stage and do it all again.

I was wearing a brand-new pair - and different prescription - of contact lenses that day - to try to improve my distance vision - and as a result, discovered I couldn't see well enough to read! So my husband dashed off to Boots and found me a pair of reading glasses to wear over the lenses. What a relief when the page transformed from a grey and white blur to recognisable words!

It was exciting to discover writer-friends at the ceremony. We had kept the news secret for a while, which meant there was no way of knowing in advance who would be there. So it was such a thrill to be there with C.G. Menon, highly commended in the short story category, Victoria Richards, also highly commended for her poetry, and Deepa Anappara, who won the First Novel Award!

It's fantastic now to be reading the incredible stories and poems in this anthology - hearty congratulations to all these talented writers. The Bridport Prize has been established for almost forty-five years now and attracts a huge number of entries from all around the world - the short story winner flew from Canada especially to be at the ceremony. It was massively exciting to be invited and a great honour for my story. Heartfelt thanks go to everyone involved, especially Prize Administrator, Kate Wilson, who orchestrates the arrangements so beautifully. Thank you all so much for this truly memorable day for me and my story.

Monday, 2 October 2017

What Was Left - Retreat West anthology



The beautiful anthology from Retreat West - the coloured dots representing the twenty stories, some darker, some more hopeful, and the rest reflecting the nuances in between.


I feel privileged my shortlisted story lent the title to this anthology, What Was Left, a beautiful collection of short stories and flash fiction from Retreat West



It was so good to see writer-friends Diane Simmons, Jude Higgins and Jo Derrick again, and to meet Amanda Huggins and Retreat West founder, Amanda Saint, at the September launch in Waterstones, Reading.

Huge congratulations to winners Judith Wilson (On Crosby Beach) and Jude Higgins (At The Hospital), who held the audience spellbound with their readings.

It was especially lovely to be in Reading as I met my husband there thirty-three years ago when we were both working in WH Smith. One of our daughters took this picture of us outside the store in the very spot where we first met.

The shop has been rebuilt since we worked there, but I think the entrance is roughly in the same place!


Thank you so much to Amanda and everyone at Retreat West for all the hard work that produced the book and the launch. Retreat West offer writing competitions for short stories, flash fiction and novels, as well as beautiful writing retreats and creative writing courses, so do check out their website .

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Novella-in-Flash - How To Make A Window Snake




This beautiful book, compiled by Bath Flash Fiction Award and published by Ad Hoc Fiction, contains three novellas: 'How To Make A Window Snake' by Charmaine Wilkerson, 'Things I Dream About When I'm Not Sleeping' by Ingrid Jendrzejewski and my own 'A Safer Way To Fall'.

The form of novella-in-flash pairs the punch of a flash fiction piece with the gentle unfolding of a longer story, gradually magnifies characters we meet at the most intense moments of their lives, allows for the recurrence and resonance of motifs which become pulses throbbing throughout the pages, and, story by story, unravels the truth at the novella's core.

It is a fascinating form, both to write and to read. Working on 'A Safer Way To Fall' was absorbing, especially the detection of connections between individual stories. It was like looking at a heap of disparate, blank jigsaw puzzle pieces, the picture forming only after I'd discarded some, reshaped others and created one or two which were entirely new. Fitting them  together to discover the finished picture was the best writing moment I have experienced yet.

Huge thanks to Jude Higgins and Meg Pokrass from Bath Flash Fiction and congratulations to winner Charmaine - here is BFFA's interview with her - and Ingrid for their mesmerising novellas.

The book is available to buy here for £9.99.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Bath Flash Fiction Evening

We had a wonderful time at the Bath Flash Fiction Evening at St James' Wine Vaults, and our readings rose to the occasion by competing staunchly with the intermittent rousing choruses of Happy Birthday from a group of revellers outside!

l-r Ken Elkes, Jude Higgins, me, Tracy Fells and Jane Roberts

It was inspiring to listen to such talented writers as well as great fun to read my own stories, which included a new piece written for reading aloud. It was still difficult, however, to choose which ones might work best and I changed my mind a dozen times before the event.



Jude Higgins organised the evening with great care and I was thrilled to be included, especially as it gave a rare opportunity to reunite with special writer friends and to meet Tracy Fells for the first time after years of internet friendship.

John Holland from Stroud Short Stories, who was first to read

I love listening to stories read aloud and being part of the spellbound audience, but it is also a great privilege to stand at the sharp end, hoping to give people something they can take away with them, either something which inspires or gives cause to ponder, but most of all, to entertain.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

RA & Pin Drop Short Story Award 2017

I am so thrilled to see my story, Brad's Rooster Food, on the long list of the RA & Pin Drop Short Story Award 2017. And equally thrilled to see some familiar names on the list, including Melanie Whipman, fellow Ink Tears author, as well as Ken Elkes and Hannah Persaud.



The winning story is read by Dame Penelope Wilton at the Royal Academy of Arts at a ceremony in June. Wishing everyone on the list the very best of luck.