Writing advice for the short fiction competitions.

A little writing guide here. It’s not a definitive guide on- How To Write A Short Story. Although, it will give you a few pointers as to what our judges look for when they’re reading entries.

The beginning. Make sure you grab the reader’s attention immediately. You don’t have many words, so use them wisely. Make sure you establish the tone, setting and character as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Character. Yes, this is a bit of an obvious one, but make sure your characters are believable and well-rounded. This seeps into the dialogue they speak, the actions they take (or don’t take), the motivations they have. It doesn’t matter if your protagonist is a down-and-out Santa, a middle-aged man looking back over his life, or a flip-flop, make sure their character is consistent throughout.

Plot and conflict. Another obvious one, but you’d be amazed how many stories we receive that don’t even get anywhere near the longlist because, quite frankly, nothing happens. Give your main character a problem to face – and make it one that the reader will care about. Use your 1500 or 500 words to work towards a satisfying ending. Even pantsers can benefit from a bit of planning, and even the shortest of stories can benefit from having the three-act structure applied to them.

The title. Our rules state that your maximum word count doesn’t include the title – so use that to your advantage. Now, we’re not saying that your title can be 200 words long! But a carefully chosen title that really complements  the story and adds a deeper degree of resonance will undoubtedly catch our judges eyes.

The mechanics. Check your spelling. Your grammar, your punctuation. Make sure you manuscript is professionally presented and properly formatted. Yes, it’s the story being told that is ultimately the most important thing, but if there’s only one slot left on the shortlist and two equally enjoyable stories, it’s the sloppy looking document, littered with spelling and punctuation mistakes, that will end up on the reject pile.

The rules. Read the rules… READ THE RULES… READ. THE. RULES.
And then, before you finally submit, go back and read them one last time to make sure you’ve stuck to them. Make a checklist if you have to, and go through it to make sure your story doesn’t fall at the first hurdle.

Romancing the Gibbet (4) The Morrismen Murder

Image result for romancing the gibbet the morrismen murder, broadway tower, 23 november"

‘Romancing the Gibbet’ is a collaboration between poet, Ralph Hoyte and historian, Steve Poole, exploring ‘dark tourism’ at sites of extraordinary public execution in Georgian Britain. Poole explains the historical background of a single public hanging. A case from 1772, when William Keeley was found guilty of murdering Joseph Dyer after spotting him flashing his money at the old Fish Inn on Broadway Hill. Evidence old and new was shown, and the site discussed. Amazingly despite the cost, Keeley was hung at the site of the murder and put on display. Having a hanging gibbet was both fascinating and appalling to folks at the time, and oddly the act of displaying the dead as a deterrent to crime has not proven to lower nor raise the area’s crime rate. The Oxford Journal at the time commented: “It seems that Keeley is a famous Morrice dancer, and on Sunday morning before the fact was committed, he was teaching a set of fellows to dance. Warner used to play on the tabor and pipe to the dancers. It is to be hoped the Justices will suppress such nurseries of idleness and drunkenness as morrice-dancings have generally proved!”, in other words, they considered Morris Dancing especially on a Sunday to be a waste of a good mans time. Hoyte then performs extracts from his poetic responses. Together Poole and Hoyte play some spoken-word imaginative responses too, Influenced by the works of the romantics Coldridge and Wordsworth; their study of nature and human nature combined and compared in verse. We listen to the Ballard and mixed voice performance with a sense of the subline. The project has four free audio trails. At this event, a sample audio-trail was relocated in and around Broadway Tower for us to try out. Adding the performance elements and music to the location even if you are listening through your phone was something extraordinary and very atmospheric. With the day we attended filled with cold mists and temperature in the low 2 degrees, it was easy to imagine being on a ghost trail of long ago folklore.

Remembering to download the app to your phone or GPS-enabled tablet beforehand would have helped me keep up. However, this event has inspired me much on my search for local history stories and folk tales to find and preserve for the next generation of creatives to use.

The Conversation Challenge


Task: write a conversation where there are ….

A.      All gender-neutral pronouns.  No, He or She

B.      No gender obvious names.

C.      Setting must be a café

D.      And the characters are exchanging gifts.

My Attempt

                The streets were swollen with people. Manic delivery drivers parked in the road and ignored the angry horns as they raced against the stream of shoppers and dived in and out of business doorways. I watched relived that my partner Avery, did all our Christmas shopping and I only had to cook the meal for us and our children on the big day. I kept checking my watch, it was unlike Jo to be late. The newspaper before me was becoming less and less interesting.  Finally, there was a bustle of activity. I looked up to see Jo was there fighting the narrow door with a pram. I rushed to help.

                “Hi, how are you?” asked Jo abandoning the pram to kiss me on the cheek.

                “Fine, fine. What happened to you?” I enquired looking at the dishevelled mess of my friend. The person who had nearly always been perfectly presented when we worked together.

                “This monster wanted to feed before we could leave the house.” Jo now balanced baby Sammy on a tilted frame with a baby bag swinging in the arched stance.

                “Here give me Sam, and go and get yourself a cuppa.” I offered.

                “Thank you, Lesley.” Jo put a hand on my arm, smiled and then walk straight past coffee counter, making a beeline for the loos. I laughed and bounced the babbling, bright-eyed Sammy on my knee. Sammy smiled back. clearly unaware of the energy it must have took to make organic carrot purée and get fine oatmeal to the right temperature and still make it into the city centre for 11:20 coffee with an old friend.

                I reached for the all-too-familiar soft brown bear out of the baby bag. There I caught a glimpse at what must have been my Christmas present. Wrapped perfectly and jo’s hand written tag saying;

                 “happy holiday and best wishes Jo and Sam, x.”

                “Shit!” I exclaimed having realised my gift for Jo was back in the office. What was I thinking? Jo had managed to get here and wrestle Sam into the loathed car seat. Which, to be fair, we all didn’t understand how to operate. Jo had driven through city traffic to sit and have coffee with me, here so it was close to my office, and had remembered the gift. What excuse did I have? I Had even been sat here waiting, wondering why Joe was late. The irony that I could have run back to the office and been back within 10 minutes wasn’t helping. If only I had realised. Well, I felt right idiot. Sam added by barfing onto my suit jacket from my continued bouncing. Because of the forgotten gift, I didn’t complain. I figured I deserved it.

                Joe came back with another coffee for me and a tea. Anticipating the vomit episode from Sam Joe had stolen loo roll.

                “I kind of saw it from over there at the counter.” Jo stifled a laugh.

                “Saw what?” I asked wonder if my sneaky peek at the present had been spotted.

                “Half digestive carrot all down your back, perfectly timed as you bent over for the blasted bear… Well done Sam.” Said Joe turning from me to the little bundle of smiling joy and trying to clean me up all of the same time.

                “Made your strike while I was distracted hey? Fair play. But maybe keep the sneakiness to hockey tournaments”

                “Hope you can tech Sammy better than you captain, Captain.” Muttered Jo jokingly.  “Will you be able to change at the office?”

                “Yeah,” I replied hardly caring.

                “Sorry Lesley, I’m still getting used to this parenting thing. No matter how hard I try. I’ve never got everything I need. Maybe I should go back to the warehouse logistics.”

                “I don’t know about that. Just don’t leave me holding the baby” I laughed trying to wrestle Sam into a clean bib. We were now both laughing as it took us the two of us to get Sam into the highchair.

Would you like to guess the gender of Jo, Lesley and Sam?….

I’ll let you know if your right or if I was able to hide them.

Listening to Alexis Deacon

Listening to Alexis Deacon


born in New York this award-winning illustrator and writer loves storytelling

“I always knew I was going to be in illustrator because sharing and trying to communicate was so important to me. understanding of the stories help us to do that”

Alexis’s number one tip for writers: “start as close to the end as possible”

Alexis read some of his stories to us and took us on a very cleaver memory trail which turn out to be completely made up. Why? To teach us in his own words… “imagination and forgotten memories, like my best friend being a chocolate rabbit are boundless sources of stories and images.” Alexis encourages us to live our imagination out and play with our own imaginary friends in our heads

We transport imagination through line drawing and image making.  “make it as real to you as you can and thoughts can be shared. draw and draw all your life children do this without being told as we get older we stop drawing and stop imagining but true illustrators don’t, so keep going nothing you do is a waste.”

Alexis went to art college at Brighton he found it hard to make drawings for other people thus he tells us his first book – monster zoo- was a big learning curve.

Watching a couple of Slow Norris’s one day gave him great pleasure and started his imagination going. “the two were just wondering towards each other down the same rope. They met in the middle had a staring contest, they both made a face and went the other way. This one moment inspired my first published book – Slow Norris” Alexis advise us to take moment like these and let your imagination go wild if you find it entertaining the chances are it will engage your reader too.

What is illustration? He asked us then answered “It is universal communication. The face is universal and universally understood. looking at the face we filter out other things and we see just the expression we only need simple values to tell this story. we are hardwired to understand expression from an early age. You need to keep that in your mind when you produce your character’s form on to the page.  just like the face gestures transporter and give us information too. Learn to love gestures as the context is strong. this gives you a good story and an expansive narrative from these simple ingredients of image.”

Alexis closing advise to us who are studying illustration this year – “By illustrating you give your story to someone else so you need to leave enough space for the reader to imagine too”


It’s beginning to hurt.

James Lasdun, winner of this year’s inaugural national short story prize wrote ‘It’s Beginning to Hurt’ in just 500 words.

we were set the challenge of borrowing one of his character’s and write their story within the same, or near to. time frame.

so this is Beginning to Hurt from Derrick’s view in 460 words.

It’s beginning to hurt

“Good lunch Mr Bryar?” she asked

“Excellent lunch” I heard him lie to Beth our office secretary

“Sorley’s?” I asked out of habit as my senior partner in our firm took his place at his polished walnut desk and I at my budget replica.

“No, some… Chinese place” he mumbled not even bothering to look at me.

“Your wife rang” I’d thrown that comment out into the air thoughtlessly. Inwardly I was cursing myself. She hadn’t just rung because I’d just had lunch with her secretly.

Panic at my stupidity caught the breath in my lungs and I gaged.

Bryar he was now on the phone to her. My heart beat guilty like a judge’s baton against my chest. I didn’t know how long it took for the taxi to take Penelope home from Metcalfe Hotel where we had been together.

Guilt had robbed me of the taste of the signature black and blue grill but not of Penelope’s lips on mine. Heat flushed my flesh at the thought of Bryar’s wife kissing me.

Would she be able to fool him once more?

This was a dangerous match neither Penelope nor I could afford for Bryar to divorce her. I needed his job and she needed his money.

My desk clock ticked as I went over tonight’s murder plan in my mind once more this had to go perfectly like a metronome if we were going to get away with it.


7pm; He takes his brandy in the library. Pea will open the kitchen window and leave Tom’s car keys out on the phone stand.


8pm I will hide behind the shed until the security lights turn off in the yard.


8.20 get into the kitchen and hide in the pantry.


9pm Bryar sets the alarm and goes to bed. Wait until I hear Pea call ‘Goodnight’ to Crème Custard.


Oh dam! I forgot 8.10 – feed Crème Custard AMITRIPTYLINE laced dog treats. That bloody Poodle would bark the place into an up roar if I don’t give him the sleeping pills.

Oh god, I’m going to end up in prison.

He’s not at his desk on the phone. Where has Bryar gone?

“Where are you heading Mr Bryar?” I called after him

“My wife needs a Salmon, see you tomorrow Derrick” came his distant reply

“Night sir? Hope you have a good evening.” I gave my best toadying voice. Did that sound too forced? Was it too obvious? Golly it’s so warm in this bloody office.

Maybe I should write the plan out in built points, then I can memorise it easier.

Hell no, stupid, stupid me.


Ahrr! Oh the door, yes of course it is. Where was I?



Just Back Travel

Just back: Bear facts in your face


(Slug line; Tubby bear can run!)

“You’ll get close to nature here” said the Fast-Gas service attendant. His welcoming smile a pleasure though the open car window as he filled up our tank. It was a wonderful chance to the road for our Vancouver rented Pontiac sunbird (a red cruiser of a car) who’s amazing automatic charms were now wearing thin.

“Bliny, don’t get this kind of service on the M25” commented my brother. The service attended nodded but I doubt he full understood the reference to English motorways. More likely he was giggling at two young over excited tourist.

Tom particularly was still buzzing over joyed at capturing a jumping coyote on camera as we had driven along the wide open roads that twisted in and out right up into northern British Columbia’s mountains. We had made it over the Coastal Mountains and were now safely on the other side in a town called Tumbler Ridge, just before the more famous Rocky Mountains. Tom was an eager ammeter photographer and I’d got sick of him photographing my black Labrador, Jack and his longhaired rabbit Gizmo. So for his birthday and mine we had taken a Canadian wildlife trip on a budget. In other words we were winging it. Tumbler Ridge was British Columbia’s waterfall capital and the Monkman Park where it was boasted wildlife galore.

We knew we were getting further from town as the pine trees were now ‘mega-tall’.

“Hey, check it out?” I called, seeing a huge patch of blueberry bushes in full season. The chance to pick, taste and eat real organic wild blueberries was too good to miss knowing the cost of a punnet back home. Right on the roadside seemed safe enough, so long as we pulled the Pontiac right up on to the grass; right? We decided this looked a good stop to pull out our sandwiches and we ate leaning against the car just like when we were kids visiting the Wyre Forest with dad. Seeing movement in the bushes I freaked and jumped into the Pontiac. Tom, of course got out his camera and walked towards it.

We hadn’t ignored the bear aware poster on the ranger’s door. We had our bear spray and bells on our hiking packs. Just Tom had neither on him in that moment. Still, standing at a large bush of blueberries Tom was snapping away with a massive smile on his face.

Slowly I got out of the rental car to see what had Tom feverishly shot gunning his DSLR. A five foot brown bear was the other side of the bush on all fours digging up some roots and half a log. The bear was happily going about getting his 90lbs of daily ‘yum-yum’. Between Tom and two paces from the car I stood when a logging truck went by.

We all jumped at the sudden roar of 18 wheels going down a poorly surfaced road at 90kph. Kodiak bear rose up on his hind a whopping ten foot hulk or there about. Tom snapped one more shot and to my horror broke rule number 2 of bear aware.

“No, don’t run!” I yelled at him.

Kodiak bear went with his instincts thinking “I’ll chase that and then have the bush to myself.”

900 to 1,500lbs of hump and fur came crashing after Tom.

Tom, not slow himself was sure footed ‘pegging it’ at me. Turning back I opened both car doors. Half in I started the engine and the Pontiac began to roll as Tom caught up to dive in.

I got up to 30mph basting the horn with both doors still open and the red Pontiac sunbird flashing her warning lights in protest at the lack of considerate driving.

“Tom? Are you okay?” I was yelling over the noise.

Hot breath panted on my neck, a wave of fear engulfed me again. Daring to look over my shoulder to be face to face with… my brother.

As red faced as the car “Gee! Tubby, Bear, Can, Run!” he laughed and puffed “And he broke my camera” Tom added closing the backdoor.

My reply to Tom? Well let’s just say I reminded him that the Gas attendant had warned we would get close to nature.

New Beginnings

Kidderminster College Competition for budding flash fiction writers began this week. Thought I would share my entry:

A New Beginning

Felix log Sorbate day 31st

Even now it has not stopped. Our ship pitches back and forth. Her great mass swings in deep relentless waves. The only chance I get to write is in the lull, just before she flies back the other way. I cannot eat. I cannot sleep. Now I would not dare even if I could. The star we followed has led us into uncharted territory. Fear has a grip on me, on us! For we cannot seem to navigate. Our instruments affected by an unseen menace. Our ship whines and creeks with horrifying sounds. Alex says…

Felix log 1st day of Lecithin

A tragedy. We have grounded. It is dark here. The darkness in this unknown land grows darker each moment. Outside the light of my lamp it is blackness, the depth of which I have never seen in all my years. I am writing quickly to preserve light because we do not know how long this darkness will last. This land is cold too and getting colder still. The moisture has frozen in the air and fallen to the ground. Small mercy is that the air here is clean, though high in oxygen. We have taken shelter in a hollow near our ship’s wreckage. It was the star; this star does not stay in the sky like our own. She goes down. Salvaging what we could in the fading light, Alex and I have set up temporary comforts of light and heat. Lex works hard to make adjustments and calibrations to our instruments. We hope that at least we may send a distress signal. This air and cold here steals the very strength and life from my form. We have accomplished this much thanks only to Lex’s clever idea to use the old space suits. Lex believes that the star will rise again in some 3 to 6 tang. However, I do think he is being hopeful. I do not doubt my crewmate, seeing organic life around us and thriving; but he is lead by faith and I by fact. I will pray tonight but not rest.

I ask myself. Why did you choose us three? You lead us here and then you dashed, thrashed and threw us down. How can we find him now? When we are the ones who are so lost.

Felix log 2nd day of Lecithin

Mixed blessings we received today. Admittedly, I did sleep and… woke to light! We cheered the star’s return to the sky like younglings. She brought with her light, heat and hope. Alex raced to the ship and we followed giddy with joy. Only to be struck low. Sadly, our ship had died in the darkness. This hit us like the dreadful harsh land we had fallen on. Fact that the star was moving across the sky only added to our mournful weeping. Lex offered prays and words of faith as I comforted Alex. We thanked ship for the valiant protection of our soft flesh. We called for blessings from heaven to care for the spirit of our long serving vessel. I know how foolish this will seem to others. Yet it broke me to see Alex talking to it, as if the ship had been a pet or even a man.

We got our first glimpse of the inhabitants on this land. Not long ago it arrived in a kind shuttle. The pod ran along the terrain on four wheels. The form alighted and approached the ruined ship. This species is of similar anatomic arrangement. Like us, it has the two legs, arms, and eyes.  The eyes are very small, with a pointed nose, not wide or flat, as it ought to be. It was only half my height and wrapped up like a new born. Genus of any ancient ancestor we have yet to discover maybe. Hard-pressed not to laugh was I. As on seeing the ship, it becomes agitated or excited by the new vessel. I am not sure how much it could fathom. The creature picked its way tremulous around the carcass. In decreasing orbit and faster and faster it travelled. Stumbling at first, and then tripping, even falling over. Frantic it was to understand what it saw with tiny eyes. It was so unstable I wondered if it was new to use of legs.

This was not the creature that the star gave us the visions of. I must not allow my head to become so affected. We must find this new king the star has called us too. Tomorrow we will attempt to make contact.

WEA Creative Writing Tr2 Wk2.1

Q; A 20 minutes timed writing task; In 200 words or less write a monologue from the point of view of the security guard or police officer who caught your shoplifter,

Security officer

“Yes well I’m sorry sir but it’s still stealing. If you have 30 pink cardigans already do you really think this one is necessary.

I’m not out to make an example of you, hell, I don’t think I could keep a straight face reporting it to the special constable. What an absurdity, 83 years old man stealing a pink cashmere cardigan off a sales rack.

Gee! Just look at it, its seen better days, kicked around the floor, no wonder the tag came off, look, just look at that hole, what a travesty, cashmere as well my misses would have a lot to say about washing that.

Well sir, mind you don’t put it in the tumble dryer and I’ve not seen a thing. Not that I’m aware of the cameras blind spot near the escalator but I’ve just got to check the men’s changing room. Would you be a good chap and see that old cardi back to where it belongs. Thank you.”

WEA Creative Writing Tr2 Wk2

Q; A 20 minutes timed writing task; In 200 words or less write a monologue from the point of view of a shop lifter,


“Tell me, what did you expect me to do? It was as if you had left it out just for me, as if you knew, knew like only fate or God could have known. Honestly officer I’ve never done shoplifting before, not even as a kid.

But there it was, unbelievable, lay in wait I even saw it fall off the hanger in slow motion, the way things do in movies. The security tag broke off when it fell to the floor, truly it did, and I just picked it up.

As I held it in my hands I could feel its soft warmth, just like moms, just as I can remember her in those last few days. It’s even the same shade of pink and everything, look.

Please don’t look at me like that officer its true. For years I have looked for a cardigan exactly like moms I’ve brought about 30 already in my search. Yet this is the one none can compare, it even smells like her a little too, here sniff. It’s the only one left I had to risk it.

I’m sorry I know I shouldn’t have just bagged it with my carrots and lettuces but it’s not like I can make a run for it at the age of 83.”