Short story retreat long and shortlists

Thanks to everyone that entered the competition to win a place at the short story retreat at a thatched cottage on Chesil Beach. I have really enjoyed reading all of the entries and I’m so impressed by the standard. There were more than 70 stories submitted in total and it has been a tough job coming up with these long and shortlists. The winner of the retreat will be announced on Friday 22nd April. Choosing the final winner is proving to be a very hard choice!

Longlist (A-Z by story title)

  1. A Marriage in Winter by Sarah Baxter
  2. An Extra Ordinary Pilgrimage by F.E. Clark
  3. An Expedition by Sara Roberts
  4. Another Beach by Rebecca Russell
  5. At the beach with Bill and Chrissie by Jude Higgins
  6. Away from Home by Anne O’Leary
  7. Beached by Downith Monaghan
  8. Between the Waves by Caroline Sutherland
  9. Blackout by Carys Puleston
  10. Boats Against the Current by Chris Thomas
  11. Brothers by Ingrid Casey
  12. Caveat Emptor by Carol Caffrey
  13. Chesiled by Marie Gethins
  14. Dead Rain by Cheryl Behr
  15. Doolally Tap by Sarah Edghill
  16. Ebb and Flow by Eimear O’Callaghan
  17. Endangered by Christopher Stanley
  18. Fog by Julie Noble
  19. Forty two by Rose Stevens
  20. Hold Your Breath and Count to Ten by Jan Kaneen
  21. In Plain Sight by LV Hay
  22. Jimmy Choo Shoes by Shannon Savvas
  23. Last Judgement by Rose McGinty
  24. Monsoon by Erika Cule
  25. Nomada by Tina Freeth
  26. Sea Path by Isobel Brown
  27. Selkie Song by Marianne Paget
  28. Shelby Cove by Ann O’Keife
  29. Slip by Lisa Derrick
  30. The Arc of Lust by Marie O’Halloran
  31. The Boat Trip by Dan Purdue
  32. The Freedom of the Sea by Hannah Persaud
  33. The Rift by Elinor Perry-Smith
  34. Throwing the Bones by Sarah Baxter
  35. To Be The Beach by Mandy Huggins

 

Shortlist (A-Z by story title)

  1. An Extra Ordinary Pilgrimage by F.E. Clark
  2. An Expedition by Sara Roberts
  3. Brothers by Ingrid Casey
  4. Caveat Emptor by Carol Caffrey
  5. Chesiled by Marie Gethins
  6. Fog by Julie Noble
  7. Forty two by Rose Stevens
  8. Jimmy Choo Shoes by Shannon Savvas
  9. Last Judgement by Rose McGinty
  10. Selkie Song by Marianne Paget
  11. The Freedom of the Sea by Hannah Persaud
  12. The Rift by Elinor Perry-Smith
  13. Throwing the Bones by Sarah Baxter
  14. To Be The Beach by Mandy Huggins

Comp results: March 16 Themed Flash

Once again, the stories submitted for the themed flash comp were of excellent quality and it never ceases to amaze me how our brains work so differently and how such a wide range of stories can come from the same prompt. Congratulations to this month’s winners, who have both appeared in previous anthologies of winners, and to the writers who made the shortlist.

 

Winner: White Noise by Shirley Golden

This apocalyptic tale grabbed me from the very first line and the language really conveyed the desperate world that these characters were living in without us having to be told. I like how the theme of belief is embedded throughout the story and that all of the characters are believing something different about themselves and what their chances are. Really atmospheric, so much characterisation achieved for a flash, and feels like it could be a much bigger story without it feeling incomplete.
Read It

 

Runner-up: Identity Crisis by Tracy Fells

What struck me about this is the way the main character’s belief changes throughout the story. The seemingly small actions and random thought processes that reveal so much about her state of mind. Really impressed with how Tracy has shown not told so much of the story and the open ending left me wanting to know more. It felt like it could be a new beginning.
Read It

 

The Shortlist

  • Identity Crisis by Tracy Fells
  • Life After Love by Marty Mayhew
  • Lost by Ani Popova
  • Shame by Deannie Day
  • The End is Nigh by Sally Lane
  • White Noise by Shirley Golden

 

Thanks to everyone that entered the competition. The next theme is DANGER and the deadline is 30th April 2016. Get writing and enter your stories here!

Other competitions open now with cash prizes, publication with innovative indie press, Urbane Publications, and  the chance to get your work in front of a top literary agent are:

Author Interview: Angela Clarke

I first met today’s guest author, Angela Clarke, on a writing retreat a few years ago and have an abiding memory of us sitting round the fire drinking wine then suddenly breaking out into yoga moves that are good for writer’s back and sciatica! Angela’s debut crime novel, Follow Me, came out in 2015 with Avon and has been a huge hit. So I picked her brains about how she helped spread the word…

Angela, Follow Me has hit the shelves with a big impact – talked about far and wide online and in the media, sold over 50,000 copies in just a couple of months, and has been reviewed and rated hundreds of times on Amazon and Goodreads. Can you tell us how you personally helped this to happen separate from your publisher’s promotional work?

My publisher, Avon, have been amazing. They’re really innovative in the way they approach marketing. My favourite thing they did was send old Nokia phones with a separate sim card to book bloggers. When the bloggers put the sim card into the phone it displayed a creepy message: Like. Share. Follow. Die. Are you next? That would freak me out! It caused a huge response and really kick-started the buzz around Follow Me.

I think it’s a foolish author who sits back and lets the publisher do all the marketing work nowadays. You have to get out there and meet your readers. I’m very lucky and privileged to belong to a number of Twitter and Facebook book groups, where authors and readers can meet and chat. The book bloggers are incredible: they read, review, share and promote so many authors. They’re a massive driver within the industry. I’d recommend any writer to get to know the book bloggers, and work with them: I did a number of exclusive extracts, articles, think pieces, competitions and lots of other fun and factual bits for a blog tour. It was a great way to get to know more people in the industry, and raise the profile of the book.

I also organised a couple of launch events, making them open to all, and publicising them on local newspapers and radio stations. That’s a great opportunity to meet readers in real life as well. I’m pretty active on Twitter and Facebook already, so it’s a natural step to chat about my book and involve my online mates.

The book is set in the world of social media and how big a part do you think Twitter and Facebook have played in the success of your book?

Follow Me is about a serial killer who tweets clues to his next victim will be. The setting is, effectively, online. It made it a prime book for those who actively use social media: there are 15 million Twitter users in the UK. I would hope that the book, which looks at the way we use social media both in positive and negative ways, would appeal to those who either use social media or are curious about it.

A lot of Twitter users have been drawn to it. But I’ve also had a huge number of messages from readers who aren’t on social media, or feel out of their comfort zone there. They thank me for enlightening them about what exactly is going on! Many enjoyed the chapter headings, which were all internet slang and definitions. I know several readers surprised their children/grandchildren, by suddenly calling them BAE (Before anyone else). PMSL (Pissing myself laughing).

So many crime thrillers dispose of technology as soon as possible to protect their plots: phones that get smashed, or have no signal. But then those stories don’t reflect the world we live in. If you’re in a major city like London, you have twenty-four-hour connectivity and communication. The general public now provide video and photos of protests, terrorist attacks, accidents, natural disasters and criminal activity, as they unfold in real time. Before the police receive them, and often before the mainstream media have them up and running.

Developing phone technology has turned us into voyeurs, participants, and complicit guilty parties as we click. It’s far more fun to use technology, and all the moral complications that involves, as part of the plot. Follow Me just came at the right time. I got lucky.

You’re working on the next in the Social Media Murder Series now – do you have a plan for world domination with the launch of this one? 😉

Ha! The next is called Are You Awake? and it’s out in November this year. At the moment all plans for world domination are on hold: I’m just focusing on finishing the book. I want it to be the best it can be.

What advice can you give to debut novelists to help them have success with the launch of their books?

Concentrate your efforts into one or two weeks. Do as much as you can in that timeframe to boost sales. This will help concentrate your sales, and give you a greater chance of climbing the charts. Amazon are a great driver of books that have clusters of sales and positive reviews: that’s how you get your book onto recommended lists and promotions. Keep going, and drink a lot of coffee! Good luck.

***

Thanks so much for this, Angela. Looking forward to the next installment already. Are You Awake? (Avon) the second in The Social Media Murder Series is out November 2016.

You can get a copy of Follow Me here.

You can follow Angela on Twitter @TheAngelaClarke, on Facebook and find out more about her on her website.

 

Year of Indie Debuts: Stone Seeds

It’s great to have fellow Urbane author, Jo Ely, here today talking about her debut teen/YA novel, Stone Seeds. I loved it and devoured it in just a couple of days. It’s one of my favourite genres – speculative/dystopian – and I was completely transported to Barvarnica where the story takes place.

Jo, the world you’ve created in Stone Seeds is sinister and alien but also shines a light on the problems we have today in our own world with politicians and the media promoting hatred of other cultures. Can you tell us whether this was what you set out to explore with this book or did these themes just emerge in the writing?

I started writing Stone Seeds well before the exodus of refugees, people running from ISIS, started filling our screens. I think it’s maybe the greatest moral test of our times but it came after I’d finished writing the novel. Like a lot of people I’ve been pretty disgusted by the backlash of xenophobia and racism, from some quarters, toward human beings who are fleeing for their lives. Some of the language used about refugees has been dehumanising, and that should be a massive red flag for us. But then again, there are a lot of people out there who really do care, and who’ve put that care into action or resources, and that has to make you feel there is hope.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in issues around who gets to speak, who has no voice or isn’t being heard and why. You can’t boil down a novel to pat solutions or a political viewpoint or it’s just moralising and probably a pretty boring story, so the question for the writer becomes, who do you give a voice to? For instance, do you take the perspective of the adult holding the child’s hand or the child looking up at a world full of Giants? Does your novel look through the eyes of the corseted upper class woman or the servant girl tying her shoe? Are you taking the perspective of the bomber or of the person being bombed? Those kinds of choices will make an essential difference to the story you are going to tell.

Jean Rhys took a beloved story, Jane Eyre, and retold it through the eyes of the madwoman in the attic, in her novel Wide Sargasso Sea. Having seen Rochester’s first wife as the barrier to the real love story in Bronte’s work, we were now on the ‘madwoman’s’ side in Rhys’ novel, stalking the corridors and setting the curtains alight.

Rhys stretched our empathy until it could encompass the silenced woman in the attic, the one who was just out of sight.

Although hatred and division are strong themes in the book, what really shone through for me was love and empathy and that if we all just hold onto these then there is hope. Do you really believe this is true?

Well, maybe I have to believe it. Although of course some people simply need to be stopped and maybe we should reserve our love and empathy for their victims. I am glad that is what you took from Stone Seeds and that probably says a lot about you and who you are as a person and yes, I think the novel is capable of holding that interpretation.

You might see Mamma Zeina’s attempts to build a gathering, an underground resistance movement, as stemming from an innate desire for human connection, for friendship, trust. But then again another reader might view it as the pragmatism of a battle hardened general whose warriors have all been decimated. What can she do? What options are left?

It’s very hard to kill an idea. You can’t lock it up or make it a slave. And communication, human connections, are like the soil it can grow in. Maybe Mamma Zeina is just being strategic. But then there is Jengi, who is cynical and fuelled by anger. He’s certainly no pacifist anyway. So there are the competing viewpoints of the characters themselves.

I’m not telling anyone what to think.

Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

I think the setting for Bavarnica, the OneFolks’ village, the Killing Forest and the Edge Farms, was influenced by my travels. Firstly by flashes of memory from an early childhood spent in Botswana. I was still very young when the family left to come back to Britain for good, so it’s very possible, in fact likely, that these are not real memories at all, but images implanted by my parents’ bedtime stories.

We now know that ‘memories’ which come about in this way can feel extraordinarily real and they certainly do for me. A tree full of monkeys, silent and then bursting into chatter. Some kind of worm or baby snake wrapped around the end of a stick which my older brother seemed to pull out of the ground, that can’t possibly have been real. Can it? And yet I can see it in my mind’s eye, clear as day.

And then a loud and colourful market place. Baked earth. Black, flattened trees and red skies. Who knows what’s a real memory and what was my imagination, or perhaps a dream. As I said, I was very young in Botswana.

Travelling as an adult certainly helped me create my settings for Stone Seeds. I once found myself jet lagged and disoriented driving down street after street in Naples, Florida, where the super-rich keep their holiday homes, gardens with room for helipads and be-flagged balconies Mussolini would have been proud to own. But, like a classic horror movie trope, I couldn’t find my way out and there wasn’t a single person in sight. Not even a dog. I kept expecting something peculiar to happen, a lightning strike or an old woman to appear with a dire warning. The idea for the OneFolks’ village popped into my head pretty much fully formed.

On the same trip, days later, I travelled down a shaky wooden walkway into the heart of the everglades in wet season, when everything’s thrumming with life. Sound travels in a cypress forest, you hear every snap, crunch and slide for miles around. There were alligators under the rickety walkway, heaving and rolling in the dirty shallow water, just a few feet away from me. That experience provided the basis for the Killing Forest.

And then there are the images I’ve tried to get out of my head, but can’t. I travelled a lot in South America in my early twenties, I can still recall looking out of a chipped bus window in Peru and seeing a boy of about three years old cleaning a grown man’s shoe for pennies.

Or the street child in Brazil who I didn’t realise had been hiding behind me from the police until the coast was clear and he shot out, he ran for it. He can’t have been more than seven, eight years old. If I close my eyes twenty years later I can still see that child fleeing.

Brazilian street children had good reason to fear the police in that place at that time. I also remember crouching in the ruins of an ancient home at the top of Macchu Picchu in Peru, watching the light filter in through the slotted window, making patterns on the floor. Wondering who’d sat there before me. What they’d felt. And later on the local children racing helter skelter down the side of the mountain, terrifying to watch them but brilliantly, expertly, never losing their footing. Following our rusty old bus as it dipped in the holes and clattered along. These children are all wrapped up in Zettie, the youngest character in Stone Seeds.

I found the inspiration for other characters on my travels too. Mamma Zeina appeared a few times. Once I saw her in a square, a Romanian gypsy woman in traditional dress, full skirts and headscarf. She was selling balloons. I was wondering what her life must be like, without the possibility of citizenship, unable to put her children in school or secure a regular job because of the stigma attached to her people, and I must have been staring because at that moment she turned and gave me a shrewd and very direct stare. Eye to eye. At that moment my daughter let go of her balloon and burst into tears, ensuring the moment was permanently scored in my mind.

I met Mamma Zeina again in Florence. My husband’s mother is a Florentine and I’ve spent some time there. Piazza Signoria was uncharacteristically empty, the shutters of all the cafes were pulled down. We soon saw why: a large group of young, male German football fans came around the corner. They were chanting and acting in an arrogant, entitled way.

Not dangerous exactly but the atmosphere was a bit rough, they’d been drinking. Taking over the street with their sheer size and sound. I hurried away with my two small children, bumping the pram over the cobbles, but then I turned and saw this old woman in an ancient fur coat and wobbly lipstick. She just sat down on a bench and pulled out a cigarette. Sat there smoking, watching. I caught her husband’s eye but it seems he couldn’t convince her to move. I remember her unnerving gaze at the young men. Flash of steel.

It was only when I got home that it occurred to me that this elegant elderly lady would have been a young woman last time such a large group of German men were occupying that square. I wondered what the old woman had felt when she saw them. What she remembered. It was deeply satisfying to me that she’d refused to move. She wasn’t going to scuttle away from her own square, in her own town. Not today.

After that I read a lot about the role of women in the Italian resistance. Anything I could get my hands on. I had coffee with a really lovely, fiercely intelligent, older Jewish-Italian woman who’d been a small child during the Nazi era. She’d been spirited across the border by nuns and was brought home to Florence when the war was over. Everyone in her nuclear family had made it. That small girl had passed through so many safe pairs of hands on her way out of the country, one false move and … But nobody had dropped that child. And here she was, talking to me.

That realisation, that penny dropping, electrified me. The idea for Mamma Zeina’s underground Sinta network percolated in my mind for more than ten years after that meeting. Long before I ever put pen to paper to write Stone Seeds.

Is there going to be a follow up to Stone Seeds? It definitely left me wanting more and felt like it wasn’t the end of these characters’ stories. 

Well you’ll know what it’s like, having just finished your own novel. It is very hard to get your characters out of your head, you’ve spent so long in their company. I must have come up with about ten different scenarios for Bavarnica and for my characters. There’s another equally strong part of me, though, that would quite like to leave the reader with a conundrum and let their own imagination go to work on the story. I like reading books which finish with a question, or end with a new beginning.

What are you working on now?

Well my plan was never to write exclusively speculative fiction. But plans are one thing and the imagination doesn’t necessarily do what it’s told. Since finishing Stone Seeds I’ve been experimenting and trying different things out. I love reading short stories in contemporary settings but one thing I’ve found when I try to write them now, something strange always seems to happen.

A person will turn into a lamp post and then have to deal with the emotional fallout from that. The scenery will shift and alter unaccountably. I probably have to accept at this point that writing speculative fiction has done something unalterable to my brain. There’s no going back now.

***

Thanks so much for your time, Jo. I enjoyed the interview almost as much as the book! 

If you’d like to win a free copy Stone Seeds then leave a comment below telling us why before 10pm (BST) on 7th April 2016. The random number generator will pick a winner and I’ll announce it here shortly after that.

If you’d just like to buy a copy now, then it’s available as paperback and ebook on Amazon, Waterstones and on the Urbane website.

You can connect with Jo on Twitter and hear her reading from Stone Seeds at Vanguard Readings in London on 16th June 2016.

Competition: Win a place at the Short Story Retreat

From June 17th to 21st, Paul McVeigh and I will be teaching short story writing at this amazing location on Chesil Beach, also home to the stunning cliffs pictured above.

There are just 6 spaces to join us at the Short Story Retreat and you could win one of them by entering this competition.

What does the prize include?

You get your own room for four nights, all food and drink, and three masterclasses during the retreat. The rest of the time you get to write, read, chat with other writers, walk on the beach, sleep, whatever you want to do! Travel isn’t included and it’s up to you to sort that out. Get the full info on the Short Story Retreat here.

How can you win it?

By writing a short story of course! A very short one. Write a flash fiction story up to 500 words starting with the sentence: “It wasn’t really great weather for the beach…

I look forward to reading your stories and maybe to retreating with you to the beach…

Competition T&Cs

  • £10 to enter
  • Everyone that enters will also get a discount of £15.00 on the booking fee if their story doesn’t win the competition and they still want to come
  • Stories must be written in English, your own original work and unpublished online and in print
  • You can enter as many times as you like as long as you pay the fee each time
  • Submit your stories through Submittable by 10pm (BST) on 10th April 2016
  • Winner will be announced on 22nd April 2016
  • The judge’s decision is final
  • By entering the competition you agree to attend the Short Story Retreat and have your story published on the Retreat West website
  • The writer of the winning story gets a free place at the Short Story Retreat and the prize is not transferable


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Guest post: Virginia Moffatt and the Unbound experience

A big welcome today to Virginia Moffatt, who sent in her work regularly for the competitions and I’ve enjoyed reading it very much. So I was thrilled for her when Echo Hall got picked up by Unbound; and curious to find out more about her and her writing…

 

I am hugely grateful to Amanda for allowing me the space for a guest blog about my novel Echo Hall. Although I think our books sound very different, they do share a common idea – telling the stories of three generations of women, and I can’t wait to read As If I Were A River. I hope to return the favour soon with a guest blog from Amanda, but in the meantime, here’s the story of my novel and how you can help get it published.

In 2003, after fifteen years working in social care, I took a career break, when my husband was appointed as Director of a small charity that works for peace – the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The new job came with a tiny flat above the retreat centre they ran at the time: a converted school house with an extension that had included office space, a guest’s sitting room and six bedrooms. Situated next to a graveyard, on the edge of a tiny hamlet, surrounded by fields and in sight of Molesworth air base (home of the US’s Middle East intelligence hub, the Joint Analysis Centre), it was a far cry from our previous homes in Southend and London. And after nearly five years of juggling work with managing family life and childcare, it was strange to be without a paid job for the first time in my adult life.

For most of the two years we lived there, I was very isolated: a leftie pacifist living in a right wing pro-military community; a townie in a rural community made up of families who’d lived there for generations; it took a while to find like minded people to talk to. But it did give me space to think, and think I did. I had always wanted to be a writer, and never quite found the time. Now my frantically busy life had slowed down it occurred to me if I didn’t seize the opportunity to start writing, perhaps I never would. I also realised that without the intellectual demands of my job, I had room to let my imagination flow, and soon my new situation provided plenty of creative fodder.

Old buildings creak at night time, and our new home was no exception. Living in the country also means getting used to blanketing darkness at night, and closing the curtains on shadowy fields filled me with unease at bedtime. It was worse when my husband, Chris was away, which he frequently was, and often imagined I could hear voices at night time. Of course, I laughed at myself in the warmth of daylight, but gradually I began to wonder, what if they were real? Whose voices were they? What would they be saying? And ‘Echo Hall’ was born.

If you’d told me then, that I would be writing the novel for the next ten years, I think I might have given up on the spot. But back in 2004, all I could think about was my story and how to bring it into being. It wasn’t easy – the demands of looking after three small children meant I had no time during the day to write, and by the evening I was too exhausted. But, over the next three years, I developed the idea from that initial thought about ghosts into a story about intergenerational conflict set against the backdrop of war. By 2007, we had moved to Oxford, my youngest was at nursery and I was back working in a part time job. However, I began to find little pockets of time to start writing the story, and at last the novel began to shape.

It would still take me another seven years to complete though, as I had to balance writing with work, family life and a two year writing course. I would have periods of intense activity when I had the energy to get up early and write late into the evening. Occasionally, I got away on retreat making leaps and bounds in the manuscript. But at other times, personal life (bereavements, stress at work) blocked me, big work projects crowded my brain, or the children’s schedule was so manic I had no room for anything else, and my progress faltered.

Still the story continued to possess me, and I kept at it. By 2014, ‘Echo Hall’ was ready to be sent out into the world and I began to submit. Like most writers, this period was a huge rollercoaster, there were blank rejections, emails never answered interspersed with hopeful calls for full manuscript, positive feedback concluding it wasn’t quite for them. After eighteen months, I was beginning to despair when I had a huge boost last summer, as the book was longlisted for the Bridport Prize. At the same time, my second novel, ‘The Wave’ was shortlisted on this website for the Retreat West Opening Chapter competition. Both of which gave me confidence to submit ‘Echo Hall’ for the December round where it was also longlisted. After months of getting nowhere, these boosts were very much needed, and I am so grateful to Amanda for championing my work in this way.

And in January, I received the news I’d been longing to hear, when I was signed by Scott Pack of Unbound. Unbound is a relatively new and unusual publisher. Formed in 2011 by three writers – Dan Kieran, Justin Pollard and John Mitchinson – it produces books by crowdfunding, inviting readers to get involved. The company is both a funding platform and a publisher, offering authors 50:50 royalties once the book achieves its target.

I’m delighted to have been signed by Unbound, because I love the idea of working with readers to make the book happen. I’ve kept going with ‘Echo Hall’ for all these years because I really believe in my novel and am excited about finally getting it out into the world.

Set against the backdrop of three wars – the 1991 Gulf War, World War 2 and World War 1 – the novel follows the fortunes of three women who become involved with the Flint family, the owners of Echo Hall. The book concerns the impact of unresolved conflict within families and nations, which asks does history always have to repeat itself, or can we find another way? I have peopled it with characters who go to war, characters who don’t and I hope, as well as being a gripping yarn it will make readers think about the questions I’m raising. Although it is set in the past, it is very much a book of the present as the origin of today’s wars in the Middle East can be traced right back to World War 1.

If you are interested in backing this book, it is easy. All you have to do is sign up to Unbound and pledge here. (But be warned there are some great titles on there, pledging can be a bit addictive!)

If you are a writer, interested in pitching to Unbound, that too is easy. Just send your details to them!

Thank you and good luck!

***

Thanks so much Virginia for this lovely blog and your kind words. I for one can’t wait to read Echo Hall and have made my pledge.