Tag Archives: short stories

Look Ma, It’s Spidergram!

Spider grams – a source of ideas…

Write a word in the centre of the page then think of a word that you associate with the first word.

You might start with “coal” and you might associate “fire” with “coal”. Then think of what you associate with “fire”, perhaps “passion”. Link these three words with a line. Return to the original word and think of another association and make a second branch. “Coal” could prompt “miners’ strike” and then maybe “Margaret Thatcher”. Again, link these words. Repeat this action. Perhaps coming up with “coal”, “canary”, “dead singer” and so on and so on.

Now study all the associations you’ve come up with, you’ll probably be quite surprised at the diverse words on the page. Spidergrams allow you to make creative and often intriguing associations.

Occasionally, you’ll find that you’ve mapped out an entire story by doing a spidergram. Often, writers will do a spidergram and then take the words and freewrite a story with them. Spidergrams can be a rich source of ideas.

Do your own spidergram using one of the following words as a nucleus:

1)       Family

2)       Friendship

3)       Fame

4)       Rivalry

5)       Getting older

6)       Conflict

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Morning Inspiration

my bedroom in the morning light….

ok, ok, it’s that of some bint called Ephrusi de Rothschild of Cap Jean Ferrat – but same thing…

It is said that the closer the brain is to the sleeping state, the more creative it is. For this reason, many writers keep their notepad by their beds and make sure that the very first thing they do when they open their eyes each morning, is write.

The resultant notes are called “morning pages”. Morning pages might contain what a writer remembers of their dreams or perhaps the writer will simply jot down the very first words that come to mind that day. Some writers say that this exercise helps them ‘slip’ more easily into what writers’ call the “rapture” when a writer feels ideas are pouring into their mind from elsewhere.

Just as the waking moments are a bridge from the sleeping state into sober reality – the hour before you go to bed is often a creative time with the brain slipping into that semi conscious state.  Hence there are plenty of writers who write late at night.

And just to show that there are no rules, there are other writers who find their most productive hours are in the middle of the day when all of life’s busyness is in full swing (the Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling is a good example. She wrote her first book in a busy Edinburgh café).

So, I guess the point is that different times of the day work for different people and it is really of no consequence whether you are a morning, day or night writer. What is important is that you write and that you find your ideal writing time. Experiment. Find what works for you and then set an hour aside each day at that time and write. Likewise, writers have very personal tastes regarding an environment conducive to writing. There are those who like music or TV buzz in the background and those who can only write in silence. Find whatever works for you.


Are you for real?

I’m not making this up!

 

 

Writing from fact, using a real event, can lend work real emotion, emotion difficult to conjure otherwise. Tears in a writer will bring tears to a reader, so they say.

 

Writing from fact does have its downside, however. Firstly, a straight account is reportage, not fiction so you must add extra spice and colour to the mixture to make it fiction.

 

It is important to get to the crux of what your story is ‘saying’ and make sure your narrative never loses sight of this point and – so, even if when you were all driving to the hospital, Brad told a joke so funny you’ve just got to mention it. No, don’t mention it. Stick to the point of the story – the story is the hospital, remember, not Brad’s unrelated joke.

 

You may also have to leave out years of backstory if it does not serve to drive your own story on in any way. You may have been brought up by the funniest, most eccentric, most loving or most dysfunctional family in the world, but if they have no role in the story at hand, don’t mention them.

 

Another issue with writing from real memory is that ironically, fact is often too weird and too unbelievable to work as fiction. Your readers will say, ‘oh, come on, that would never happen.’ And you can’t phone them all up and say, ‘actually, it did. I’m not making it up. I once knew this bloke…’ Instead, you’ve often got to tone down the story to make it more credible. Real-life coincidences can be particularly problematic here.

 

And remember if you stick too close to the truth, you may be setting yourself up for some legal headaches, especially if you are presenting another person in an unflattering light. It’s best to change names and/or genders, and settings. Once you make those factual changes, most people will fail to recognize themselves in fiction, simply because we don’t see ourselves as we are seen by others….


New Year Ships’ Log

It’s 2014 – a year that still sounds to me like the title of a Sci-Fi movie. And I’m hoping the spaceships I encounter over the next twelve months will be of the friendly variety .Veterans of this blog will know that when I refer to ‘ships’ I’m talking about all the texts/scripts which I’ve sent out on spec re publication, staging or broadcast etc… I have always liked the idea of my work as ‘ships’ as it somewhat relieves me of responsibility – once launched, they are out there and I can only hope they return to port in some form, preferably laden with a win or publication.

Last year I sent out a total of 59 ships. Some 17 returned to port, 39 never made it. Rejections/disappointments/ non-runs/PFOs are part and parcel with the writer’s lot and learning how to handle them is one of the most important (and difficult) lessons a novice writer faces.

I when I was 22, I wrote seven short stories. They were bad, really pretentious, decorated with adjectives and adverbs and with no theme or character development or point to any of them at all but I thought they were pure genius. I sent them off to every magazine I could find in the bookstore. And waited. And waited. And waited… until I became convinced that they had all been lost in the post. It was the only explanation, surely, as any editor would recognize my genius immediately, no? A couple of months later, I received a single rejection letter. And the truth dawned. No one else even bothered replying. It was 100% rejection. I was floored. I burned the stories I was working on and I didn’t send anything else off for another ten years.

That was very stupid of me. I should have brushed myself off and tried again. I would be in a much better position and be a better writer now if I had. But I wasn’t strong or  mature enough to know that then. Ah, well. During my first year on my MA at UEA  (2009), I sent out another batch of stories. I’d had a few shorts published at this stage and was confident that I’d now win every competition going and it would pay my MA tuition. And, again I got nowhere. I was pretty down but I recalled how I’d let rejection defeat me before and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. I sent out more, and then more and after six months, I had bagged the Mary and Ted O’Regan Award, and then the Annaghmakerrig award and the Molly Keane Award, the HISSAC, the Sussex Playwrights’, the Meridian, the Escalator Award. I’ve now got two broadcast radio plays under my belt (and am working on a third)  as well as signing with an agent and my novel is currently on submission to publishers. My  short stories have been published in seven anthologies/literary publications. I’ve had staged readings of my work in Norfolk, Brighton and Cornwall. I’ve served as writer in residence on the Aran Islands, lead workshops in creative writing in Ireland and the UK and teach writing for a living. These are all ships that came home to mama over the past five years but believe me, many had to sink before I saw the slightest hint of success.

Don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story/script/novel/play and send it out again. Remember, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills. It’s all about not giving up.

The 2013 stats:

Ships sent out: 56

Wins/acceptance/short-listings/publications:17

Ships sunk: 39

The 2014 stats thus far:

Awaiting news on 13 ships launched

Wins/acceptance/short-listings/publications: 1

Ships sunk: 3


Snakes and Ladders

Image

No, they’re not snakes. It’s drying seaweed. I was in Ireland. Everyone knows there are no snakes in Ireland…

I asked a Chinese friend of mine yesterday if the Year of the Black Snake was a good or bad one (let’s face it, it doesn’t sound like a carnival, does it?) Chen tells me it’s good and bad. So, snakes and ladders – or a regular year, then, with all its ups and downs, triumphs and rejections.

Triumph in any form is marvellous, and for a writer, so used to rejection letters, a small success can propel one to the moon. What I find difficult is to keep an even keel, not to go under when the rejections roll in (and roll in they do) and not to lose the run of myself when I win an award or get a story published (which thankfully is happening with increasing regularity these days).

I when I was 22, I wrote seven short stories. They were bad, really pretentious, crammed with adjectives and adverbs and with no theme or character development or point to any of them at all but I thought they were pure genius. I sent them off to every magazine I could find in the bookstore. And waited. And waited. And waited… until I became convinced that they had all been lost in the post. It was the only explanation, surely, as any editor would recognize my genius immediately, no? A couple of months later, I received a single rejection letter. And the truth dawned. No one else even bothered replying. It was 100% rejection. I was floored. I burned the stories I was working on and I didn’t send anything else off for a long time.

That was very stupid of me. I should have brushed myself off and tried again. I would be in a much better position and be a better writer now if I had. But I wasn’t strong or  mature enough to know that then. Ah, well. After a few years, I returned to creative writing and during my first year on my MA at UEA, I sent out another batch of stories. I’d had a few shorts published at this stage and was confident that I’d now win every competition going and it would pay my MA tuition. And, again I got nowhere. I was pretty down but I recalled how I’d let rejection defeat me before and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. I sent out more, and then more. And after six months, I won the Mary and Ted O’Regan Award, and then the Annaghmakerrig award and the Molly Keane Award, the HISSAC, the Meridian and the Sussex Playwrights’ and this year I’ve been selected as an Escalator Literature Artist and have just recorded my first radio drama, ‘Cow’.

Anyway, the moral is don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story and send it out again. Remember, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills. Do a bit of research, try to find a suitable home and try and try again. You will get there in the end.


I won!

Flying high

If you’ll indulge me… a quick boast post…

This week, my story ‘Grapefruit’ placed first in the Meridian Autumn Competition, and another ‘Two Trees’ was shortlisted for the Wells Literary Festival Prize. And…. another radio drama I co-wrote, ‘Berlin to Balaton’,  has been shortlisted by the BBC… so all in all, it’s been a pretty full on, flying high week. They don’t come around that often, so I’m sure as hell going to enjoy this floaty feeling while I can… : )


Streets Ahead

The Oldest Street in England, Wells, Somerset.

I received a phonecall during the week to tell me that I’d been short-listed for the Wells Literary Festival Short Story Award. I was shortlisted for the same last year, and though I didn’t win, I had a very groovy time down in Wells. Definitely worth a detour if you ever get the chance.

I’m often asked what ‘kind’ of writer I am. The truth is, I don’t see myself as a ‘novelist’ or a ‘short story writer’, ‘playwright’ or a ‘poet’. I see myself as a writer and believe that a writer should be able to (at least) try all written forms.

I write and enter short story competitions for the following reasons and it is good for me to have this list at hand – in case I ever question myself.

a) Being shortlisted encourages and motivates – when such stuff is difficult to come by in the writer’s life.

b) I can get published in literary magazines.

c) Money, if I win.

d) It keeps me on my toes and hones and polishes my craft.

e) By writing stories I build up a portfolio – ready to go in case I’m ever offered a collection.

f) It gives me an edge when applying for bursaries, residencies, funding etc..

g) It might bring  the attention of publishers.

h) Short stories are something I can work on when time is limited.

i) An agent once told me that it is important to build up your writing ‘credits’.

j) Agents are human and sometimes don’t trust their own judgement, so wins and commendations give you that ‘seal of approval’/credibility.

k) Short story writing is a better displacement activity than making a cup of tea.

M) Having good writing credits help when applying for writing jobs.

p) Writing short stories reminds me that I’m a writer.


Try and Try Again

Watching the horizon, Brighton Beach, U.K.

 

I when I was 22, I wrote seven short stories. They were bad, really pretentious, crammed with adjectives and adverbs and with no theme or character development or point to any of them at all but I thought they were pure genius. I sent them off to every magazine I could find in the bookstore. And waited. And waited. And waited… until I became convinced that they had all been lost in the post. It was the only explanation, surely, as any editor would recognize my genius immediately, no? A couple of months later, I received a single rejection letter. And the truth dawned. No one else even bothered replying. It was 100% rejection. I was floored. I burned the stories I was working on and I didn’t send anything else off for another ten years.

That was very stupid of me. I should have brushed myself off and tried again. I would be in a much better position and be a better writer now if I had. But I wasn’t strong or  mature enough to know that then. Ah, well. During my first year on my MA at UEA, I sent out another batch of stories. I’d had a few shorts published at this stage and was confident that I’d now win every competition going and it would pay my MA tuition. And, again I got nowhere. I was pretty down but I recalled how I’d let rejection defeat me before and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. I sent out more stuff, and then more stuff. And after six months, I won the Mary and Ted O’Regan Award, and then the Annaghmakerrig award and the Molly Keane Award, the HISSAC and the Sussex Playwrights’ and this year I’ve been shortlisted for an international award, published in two anthologies and it looks quite likely that a lot is about to bloom on the drama front for me (though I don’t want to jinx that by talking too soon).

Anyway, the moral is don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story and send it out again. Remember, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills. Do a bit of research, try to find a suitable home and try and try again. You will get there in the end.


:)) LOL : )) hahahahahaha : ))))

did you hear the one about....

Jokes! Jokes are a great source of plot ideas. An established writer gave me this tip years ago and it has served me well.

Jokes, you see, are plots in miniature. Stories sealed up and ready to go. You’ve got your beginning, middle, end, your conflict, your characters – flaws and all. All you’ve got to do is flesh it out. Expland on it. Change gender and setting if possible. And no, it doesn’t have to be funny because many jokes (indeed, stories) need an element of tragedy to make comedy (and vice vearsa) and you can just crank up the aspect you want to emphasize.

Here’s a joke that gave me an idea for a short story recently shortlisted for a competition:

“It was Ryan’s funeral and the pallbearers were carrying the casket out from the church. When they bumped into a pillar, one of them heard a moan from inside the coffin. They opened the lid and found Ryan alive. He lived for another ten years before he properly died. Another funeral was held for him and, as the pallbearers were carrying out the coffin, Mrs Ryan shouted “Now, watch out for that pillar!”

OK, it’s the way ya tell ‘em… But the point is that they don’t have to be the funniest jokes – just so long as there is a story in there, a universal truth with which your readers will react and engage. Wordplay/puns won’t work so well, go for the story…

Here’s another one you can chew on for a story idea (it goes down well in the creative writing classes I give in an English prison…)

The defendant knew he didn’t have a prayer of beating the murder rap, so he bribed one of the jurors to find him guilty of manslaughter. The jury was out for days before they finally returned a verdict of manslaughter. Afterward the defendant asked, ‘How come it took you so long?’ the juror said, ‘All the others wanted to acquit’.


Have A Go…

Writing Competitions with a February/March deadline:

Let spring in...

Right, that’s January out of the way – a month where one recovers from Christmas. In fact, I’ve always found it a rather silly month in which to make plans and resolutions, as one doesn’t feel like doing much when it’s brass monkeys outside. February, however, is a different matter. In Ireland, February 1st, St. Bridget’s Day, is the first of spring. There’s not a helluva lot of differnce between winter and spring (or indeed summer) in Ireland – but it is the concept that is important. On February 1st, I get moving again.

And, if I’m moving, I’ve got to enter some comps. So, let’s have a look at competitions with deadlines running up until the end of March. You’ll notice that many of these are Irish competitions, this is partly because, obviously, I’m Irish and these are the comps I know of, but also because the short story and story telling is held in such esteem in Ireland, it’s got to have more writing contests per square foot than any other district of the universe. However, if you have information regarding prizes, contests or awards with a deadline before March 31st, running in your country  – please feel free to add/comment.

Finally, please note that I’m merely collating information posted elsewhere on the Internet. I am not responsible for or affiliated with any of these competitions and have no more information than that on the website listed. Please do not send your entries to me and please do not write to ask about the specifics of individual contests. I won’t know. It’s best to go to the website address provided and inquire there.

And good luck!!!

Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook Short Story Competition

Prize: £500 plus a place on an Arvon course

Entry Fee: n/a

Deadline: February 14th 2012.

Website: http://www.writersandartists.co.uk

 

Irish Post/Stena Line Writing Competition

Prize: £500 & free travel to Listowel Writers’ Festival in Co. Kerry.

Entry Fee: £n/a

Deadline: 2nd March 2012

Website: http://www.irishpost.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=100

NOTE: Only open to Irish/Irish descent resident in Britain (ie the theme concerns the Irish immigrant experience in the UK).

The Bryan MacMahon Short Story Competition

Prize: €2,000

Entry Fee: €10.00

Deadline: 2nd March 2012

Website: http://writersweek.ie/the-bryan-mcmahon-short-story-competition

The Writers’ Week Originals Competition

Prize: €750

Entry Fee: €10.00

Deadline: 2nd March 2012

Website: http://writersweek.ie/writers-week-originals-competition

 

The Eamon Keane Full Length Play Competition

Prize: €500

Entry Fee: €20.00

Deadline: 2nd March 2012

Website: http://writersweek.ie/eamon-keane-full-length-play

 

Twisted Stringybark Short Story Award 2012

Prize: $300 AUS plus publication

Entry Fee: $9.75 AUS

Deadline: 4th March 2012

Website: http://www.stringybarkstories.net/The_Stringybark_Short_Story_Award

 

Cúirt New Writing Prize 2012

Prize: €500

Entry Fee: €10

Deadline: 5th March 2012

Website: http://www.cuirt.ie/component/content/article/3-newsflash/70-cuirt-new-writing-prize-2012

 

Limnisa / Bluethumbnail SHORT STORY Competition

Prize: One week full board writers’ retreat at LIMNISA

Entry Fee: £6

Deadline: March 15th, 2012

Website: http://www.bluethumbnail.com/Author/competitionpage.html

 

Mslexia 2012 Women’s Short Story Competiton

Prize: £2,000

Entry Fee: £10

Deadline: 19th March 2012

Website: http://mslexia.co.uk

 

Molly Keane Memorial Creative Writing Award (I won this last year!)

Prize: €500

Entry Fee: n/a

Deadline: 26th March 2012

Website: http://www.mollykeanewritersretreats.com/2012writingaward.htm

 

PJ O’Connor Radio Drama Awards

Prize: Professional production of the best three 40-minute plays with 5,000 to Winner

Entry Fee: n/a

Deadline: 30th March 2012

Website: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/pjoconnorawards/

 

The Bristol Short Story Prize

Prize: £1,000

Entry Fee: £7

Deadline: March 31st 2012.

Website: http://www.bristolprize.co.uk

 

Plymouth University’s Short Fiction Competition

Prize: £500

Entry Fee: £10

Deadline: March 31st 2012.

Website: http://www.shortfictionjournal.co.uk/

 

The Moth Short Story Prize

Prize: 1,000

Entry Fee: 8

Deadline: March 31st 2012.

Website: http://www.themothmagazine.com

 

The Short Fiction Journal Prize

Prize: £500 plus publication

Entry Fee: £10

Deadline: March 31st 2012.

Website: http://www.shortfictionjournal.co.uk/competition.html

And finally… not a competition per se, but a chance to have your work published in leading literary magazine. The Stinging Fly are accepting submissions up until March 31st: http://www.stingingfly.org/about-us/submission-guidelines