Contest Entries

Finally bit the bullet and entered a story in a contest.

The Brighton Prize (http://www.brightonprize.com/) offers an opportunity to read live at one of their literature nights, as well as publication in their anthology.

When querying recently, I’ve discovered that a lot of publications and agents ask about any contest wins in their application. It would appear that short story contests are an expected rite of passage for the aspiring author.

Entering a contest before publication could be like entering beauty pageants before winning Miss World.

And so, I am presenting the entry Billy Sees Red, with a pink (or should that be red?) sash wrapped around its freshly powdered (hint hint) cheeks.

Here’s a cheeky preview:

 

There were no locks in the cubicles. Billy bent over the toilet with one leg outstretched behind him, holding the door shut with his foot.

            A disembodied voice from the toilet beside him shouted out, “This one’s mine!”

            Eyes narrowed, Billy began a closer inspection. The drug was solid – a rock rather than powder – which meant that it was better. Purer. Its surface resembled the texture of chalk. Perfect. No visible intervention had occurred to lower its potency and value. Except for one, inescapable difference.

 

 

Wish me luck in the contest! All I want is a honourable mention … and world peace.

 

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Too Repulsive?

Is it possible for writers to be just too repulsive? Do we live in danger of scaring off squeamish readers?

I ask this, after receiving a comment from a reader who said that she was ‘too repulsed’ by the opening of my story to read the whole thing.

After a couple of tantrums and moans, I decided to take that as a compliment – after all, the writing must have been a little effective.

But it got me thinking. Should we shy away from topics or descriptions that evoke that ‘eeewww!’ response?

A novel that evoked that response from me was Perfume, by Patrick Suskind. The protagonist of the story is so horribly repulsive, and the actions he takes and the effect it has on others is so extreme, that I found it to be an extremely uncomfortable read. And yet, I made it to the end and have never forgotten it.

The only book that contained something so repulsive that I had to put it down was Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk. One of the first stories involved vivid descriptions that I found myself incapable of reading. Despite this, the book’s success suggests there are other readers, with stronger stomachs, that are able to indulge is something that is, arguably, too repulsive.

Not to mention the texts that explore ‘repulsive’ issues like murder, rape, racism, incest, domestic violence or genocide (The Colour Purple, The Cement Garden, The Help, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, to name a few examples). The cultural importance of these texts cannot be understated. And it would appear that it is its ‘repulsive’ nature that makes them so significant.

My story was in no way comparable to these examples but, nevertheless, should any writer really shy away from repulsive topics? Brave writers make the right choices about their work, even if that means alienating a section of readers. Brave readers never put down a repulsive book.

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A Critique of Critique?

What’s the best thing you’ve done to further your writing career?

That’s a question that I hear a lot. And my answer is always the same:

I joined a critique site.

After I finished the first draft of Cellars, I began hunting around for information on what to do next. Somehow, after searching through a multitude of writing websites, I found Scribophile.

Scribphile is an amazing website – populated by a community of writers, at different levels in their careers. With the promise of earning ‘karma’, Scribophile encourages active critiquing and guarantees that your work will be exposed to real readers before being released in the world.

Without Scrib (that’s what we Scribbers call it), I would never have learnt about the evil scourge that is the adverb, the importance of scene and sequel structure and I would never have begun my recovery from the affliction of repeated words.

I also would never have had the confidence to even consider self-marketing (look at me, writing a blog post!) or approaching publications or agents.

Furthermore I wouldn’t have met some wonderful, life-changing people that have helped mould my writing and set me straight on a path to the accolade of ‘writer’.

However, critique websites should be approached with caution. Not all contributors are ‘qualified’ to critique and I have seen some responses that are just plain rude. And pretty soul-destroying.

In addition, it’s important to realise that the people responding are not editors, or agents. They are just people, probably no different from the writer who posted the work. Therefore, their word is not gospel.

Listening to the words of critters (another Scrib term) has led me to remove parts of my story that I loved. Others have told me how Scrib has torn stories up to make them almost unrecognisable. Writers are forced to take part in a balancing act – being true to your brain-child and keeping readers happy.

But fear not. With regular critique and discussion with other writers, what emerges is the skill of self-editing and self-awareness. A confidence emerges that makes it easier to know when to listen to feedback and make necessary chance and when to believe in your story.

As a result, I have found that I’m beginning to rely on Scrib less and less. But I know it’s there, if I have a question or need support and advice. And that’s incredible in such a solitary pursuit.

So what’s the best thing you can do to further your writing career? Join a critique site.

And Scribophile is the best one.

www.scribophile.com

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His Mother’s Arms

A teaser from my latest short story, His Mother’s Arms. This was written for a competition on Scribophile.com called Deal With The Devil.

Row upon row of empty, fleshless skins swayed upon a gentle breeze from the electric doors. The tiny forms in blue and pink and white hung from floor to ceiling, while wide-eyed customers stopped to stare at them, reaching up.

Emily stood among them, eyes raised, searching the hangers. Fingers with chewed nails clutched the pleats of her skirt. Her aunt, who wasn’t really her aunt, had told her that this was the place to come. For this was the place where some of the most reverent prayers and most desperate deals with the devil have been made.

Her aunt had been looking after Emily while her mother had been staying at the hospital. One evening, Emily had wandered into the wide living room with bare walls and asked the question she’d asked many others. They had all responded with a sympathetic tilt of the head and a worried look cast down at their shoes. The aunt, who wasn’t an aunt, had spun around with a twisted smile and thrown her arms wide open.

“Ha!” The laugh had erupted like a thunder clap from the woman’s throat. “Take yourself down to Mother & Baby. Go stand by the premature baby clothing line. That’s where all the deals are made.” The aunt, who wasn’t an aunt at all, had tripped over her feet as she stood, spilling her drink onto Emily’s shoulder. Flecks of brown peppered the white of Emily’s school shirt.

The baby grows reached the whole length of the shop and high up towards the bright electric lights above them. It was only when Emily’s eyes moved to the back of the shop, where the lights were dimming, a red sign seemed to melt into being.

Premature Baby Clothing Line

20% off this season

Emily stepped towards the sign, turning her body to avoid the swollen bellies that blocked her way. The size of them made her wince. She stood alone; the others waddled towards the cots and cradles where the fluorescent lights fluttered, reflecting blues and pinks across the white floors.

Emily focussed on the white letters on red card. She pushed her blonde hair away from her eyes and attempted to flatten her curls with the palm of her hand. She wondered if she needed to speak, if there were magic words. She suspected that the woman who wasn’t her aunt wouldn’t have known the right words to say.

Just as she opened her mouth to speak some trite but well sounding summons, a grey hand slipped from between the hangers. The long, knarled fingers swept over the soft fabric and rested on a rack of white baby grows with a pattern of stars and moons. The pale skin over the bulky knuckles tightened as it gripped the clothing. Short, white fingernails reflected the silver light from the bulbs above. Emily stared down at it, her mouth still open in anticipation of words, her pink hands frozen in tiny fists by her sides.

A second hand appeared, this time over a blue baby grow with the word ‘mummy’ emblazoned across the middle. There were other words too, but Emily couldn’t see them. With force, the two hands clenched and tightened, as if attempting to pull something towards them. Slowly, a grey face appeared between the racks and a pair of red eyes met Emily’s horrified stare.

The face was round, with ashen skin. There was a sense of fragility about its appearance; cracks seemed to appear in the cheeks and across the forehead. One breath might have knocked its features out of place. Only the eyes were pure fire; a red that looked like no other red that Emily had seen, like looking into the eye of the sun. Emily stared into the simmering orbs with a cold, immobilising fear. And a deep, unyielding desire.

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Ink That Bleeds

Ink That Bleeds

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