Monday, 28 April 2014

Short Story Competitions

The Writers Bureau Short Story competition has just been launched, with a top price of £500 up for grabs. (Second prize is £300, Third is £200 and there’s fourth price of £100.) So if you dabble in writing short stories, why not consider giving it a go?

1. The fee is £5.00/$8.00/€6 per entry. There is no limit on the number of entries competitors may send provided each one is accompanied by the correct entry fee. Sterling cheques and postal orders should be made payable to The Writers Bureau. [Note: we only accept personal cheques drawn on a UK bank.] Only sterling, American dollars or Euros are accepted in currency. Subscribers to FMN have the reduced fee of £4.00/$7.00/€5 per entry. Entrants living in India can send a demand draft in Rupees made payable to The Writers Bureau India Pvt Ltd for the sum of IR500 (IR400 for subscribers to FMN).
2. Short stories must not exceed 2,000 words.
3. All work must be in English.
4. Work may be on any subject but should not have been previously published.
5. No competitor may win more than one prize.
6. The author's name must not appear on any work but should be entered on the Entry Form or attached on a separate sheet of paper. (For entries submitted via email where the fee has been paid online, there is no need to attach a cover sheet. We use the personal details that are supplied with your payment.)
7. Copyright remains with the author but prize winners must agree to publication in a single issue of Freelance Market News, plus permission to include the work on The Writers Bureau website for a period of up to twelve months.
8. Entries cannot be returned to contestants; so please keep a copy.
9. Receipt of entries will only be acknowledged if accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed postcard. Results will be available on the Writers Bureau website from 31st August 2014. Winners will be notified individually.
10. Entries that do not comply with the rules will be disqualified and entry fees will not be returned.
11. Current employees of The Writers Bureau are not eligible to enter the competition.
12. The Judge will be Iain Pattison.
[NB: The Writers Bureau reserves the right to change the judges without notice.]
The Closing Date is 30th June 2014
For full details, and information about how to enter online, visit the website at:

The judge, Iain Pattison, is a successful short story writer, and has won many short story competitions himself. He’s also the author of Cracking The Short Story Market, which is an excellent book, although sadly is out of print, but you might still be able to track down a copy.

There’s also still time to enter the Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition, run by Wrekin Writers, which is looking for slightly shorter stories - no more than 1200 words. Like last year, all profits from the competition will be passed to the Severn Hospice) we raised over £400 for them last year). For more information about this competition, follow this link:
Good luck!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Writing Without Authority

Does your writing have the authority to proceed and engage with the reader? I was marking an assignment over the weekend that tackled an interesting subject matter, however the article was vague. The writer drew upon their own opinion, which is fine for the right slot in some publications, but there was little credibility to the point they were making. They made statements but failed to back up their points with evidence. When this happens our writing lacks authority.

Avoid writing general and vague statements:

Some say that more people take drugs now than in the 1970s.

This statements raises several questions:

- Who ‘says’ this? A respected drug rehabilitation charity, or old Bert two doors down the road?
- More people? How many more? One? Or twenty million? The word ‘more’ doesn’t help the reader put it into context.
- ‘Take drugs’? Which drugs? Heroin? Caffeine? Paracetamol? Anti-histamines? Alcohol? Identify the drug and readers will determine how relevant the drug is to them, or the potential danger of this drug.

Once you clarify and quantify your statement your writing will then take on more authority.

RDD, the Reduce Drug Dependancy charity, has identified through a recent study that one million 25-to-35 year olds take ecstasy - an increase of 48% on the figure obtained through a similar study they carried out in the 1970s.

This statement carries a lot more authority than the first. We’ve qualified where our information has come from and quantified what the difference is. The reader now has a better understanding of the context of this statement.

So analyse your writing for vague references like: some, more, a growing, reputedly, it is said that, around, roughly.

And look for places where you can insert numbers. Quantify your statements. Rather than say Some writers procrastinate every day, be more specific: 99% of writers procrastinate for an hour every day.

Your reader will thank you for it, and accept that you are writing with authority.

Good luck.

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Complete Picture?

Our readers only know what we tell them. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, the picture we choose to draw in our reader’s imagination may not reflect the reality. We have the ability to skew reality if we desire.

It’s something photographers can choose to do too. Take a look at the following images I took at the weekend …

Looks idyllic, doesn’t it? And it was! This is Molesey Old Hall, a National Trust property in the Midlands. The blossom and flowers were uplifting. Spring is here! And inside the house, history oozed from every crevice - including the large ones between each floorboard that enabled us to see the people wandering around downstairs!

Molesey Old Hall was one of those places where Charles II escaped to, and hid, after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. He came here, after hiding in the oak tree at nearby Boscobel House. 

But enough of the history …. I began this blog by saying that as writers we can skew reality if we choose to. I told you that Molesey Old Hall is in the Midlands. For those of you who don’t know the property at all, ‘the Midlands’ hopefully, helped you place it into the central region of England. But I chose my words carefully. I could have said, near Wolverhampton. I didn’t, because there’s one piece of information I wanted to hold back … so by saying ‘the Midlands’ instead of ‘Wolverhampton’ I was able to continue skewing the reality. 

Those photos all skew the reality too. Why? Because some of them are carefully angled so as not to reveal all of the information. And, being photos they can only draw upon one sense - your sense of sight.

To deliver the whole reality of my trip to Molesey Old Hall to you, I need to mention something that I could hear … the M54 motorway. Molesey Old Hall backs onto it, which means that the wander around those idyllic gardens was not the peaceful, tranquil picture you may have imagined whilst looking at the photos above. (I would also say, don’t let that stop you from going - both the house and the gardens are a fascinating place and well worth the visit.)

But, it wasn’t until I showed these photos to someone else that they said, “it looks so serene and calm there,” that made me realise the photos did not convey the whole picture. And as writers we have that ability too, through the words that we choose (such as ‘the Midlands’ instead of ‘Wolverhampton’). 

Indeed, this opportunity to allow us to hold back information is what many writers use, particularly in fiction, when writing a twist in the tale piece - carefully choosing non-specific words and phrases that encourages the reader to think of one thing, instead of what we want them to think about. 

So next time you sit down to write something, consider whether you’re giving your reader the whole picture? Do you need to? And would holding something back until the end give your writing more drama and impact?

Good luck.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Happy New (Tax) Year

Happy New (Tax) Year! Well, here in the UK a new tax year began yesterday (6th April), and whilst that might not be the most exciting of days for a writer, I do look upon the new tax year like the New Year. It’s an opportunity for a fresh start, or a fresh look at your writing activities.

I see a new tax year as a new slate. Any projects sold and money earned so far in this calendar year falls within the last tax year, so the 6th April is like wiping the slate clean, and starting again. The taxman, bless him, will be interested in last year’s successes, but now I can start again with this tax year. This is where I put on my thinking cap and consider the projects I’d like to tackle in this financial year. 

I often find this time of year full of hope. The clocks have gone forward (although I still haven’t caught up with the loss on an hour’s sleep yet), which means the evenings are lighter, and it’s nice to do stuff outside again - such as reading and writing, and mowing the lawn. (I do think mowing the lawn is good thinking time.)

There’s a new optimism, with spring taking hold and summer (hopefully) just around the corner. I have plans for a couple of articles and potentially a couple of other books. 

Yes, I do also have the rigmarole of collecting all of last year’s paperwork together and writing off to banks and building societies requesting Certificate’s of Tax Deducted, and all those other tax-related joyous activities that have to be done when completing your accounts. But the excitement of a new start keeps me going. 

So, don’t let the new tax year fill you with dread as you contemplate paperwork, receipts and remittance advice slips. Think of it as a new start.

Good luck.