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InkTears Flash Fiction Winners 2018

Congratulations to the winners of our annual flash fiction contest. You won’t have to wait lag to read them, as we will publish a batch in December, and the second batch in Feb. Don’t be too disheartened if you didn’t make the cut (especially if you were on the shortlist), why not try your hand at the short story contest - you still have a couple of weeks to get your entries in!

Winner

Three Chords and the Truth by Steven Holding

Runner Up

Pocket Wishes for Scraps of Paper by John Heggelund

Highly Commended

Scratched Enamel Heart by Mandy Huggins

Small Mercies by Karen Jones

A Jog by Tom Moody

Captivity by Jennifer Riddalls

Sea Change by Sharon Telfer

The Visitor by James Watson

Messenger by Brian Wilson

The Elephant in the Room by Xanthe Knox

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Advert for a few literary magazines (& me!)

I spend most of my time at InkTears working to promote the short story genre, and the fabulous writers (including many of you) who delight our readers with their gems. I am delighted when I see one of ‘our’ writers being successful in another contest - in fact I always scan contest lists for familiar names. There are a host of great competitions out there now (and they are much easier to find), far more than when we started InkTears, and also more literary magazines than ever. Some are established, well-respected names (like Ambit, and The London Magazine) and others are new kids on the block, with great ideas. I’ve been lucky enough to be published in a couple of literary magazines and prize anthologies in the past year, and as my little gesture of thanks, I wanted to highlight them, and suggest you take a look - either as a reader, or to submit your own stories. Every magazine and contest is different, and I love the way they distinguish themselves - with just the collection below, there have been launch events at top hotels and art galleries, author video recordings, commissioned art to illustrate the stories, actors to read the winning stories, and much more. It is great to see the short story market thriving. Click on any image to visit their website!

P.S. Popshot, if you’re listening, I’d love to include you here too… all you have to do is accept one of my stories :)



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Longlist for 2018 Flash Fiction Contest

I’m tempted to call this the medium list, because it’s too long for a short list and too short for a long list. Congratulations to all those that made the list, and commiserations to the 70 stories that were in close contention for this list, but just missed out. The winners will be notified in another 7-10 days - nobody has been told yet, because we are still in the final judging stages.

Susan Bonetto - January

Ian Brown - Clouds on the Horizon

Ian Burton - Blackbird Song

Mary Cummings - Madame Bessaud

Amy Dupcak - Follow the Sun

Sarah Farley - Locked Drawers

Anthony Farmer - Go Straight Up

Tracy Fells - Inheritance

Soramimi Hanarejima - Fixing Memory

John Heggelund - Pocket Wishes for Scraps of Paper

Steven Holding - Three Chords and the Truth

Mandy Huggins - Scratched Enamel Heart

Stephanie Hutton - Blow Your House Down

Karen Jones - Small Mercies

Xanthe Knox - The Elephant in the Room

Niamh MacCabe - Cave

Niamh MacCabe - Halves

Louise Mangos - Heavyweight Dreams

Sue McCormick - Counting

David McVey - Bipolar

Damhnait Monaghan - Aim for a Sigh

Tom Moody - A Jog

Jeanette Perosa - L-word

Jennifer Riddalls - Captivity

Sharon Telfer - Sea Change

Alison Wassell - Crayons

James Watson - The Visitor

Brian Wilson - Messenger

Josephine Wright - The Shower

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Strange combinations

A friend of mine recommended I watch a movie called The Death of Stalin recently, and I duly obliged. If you’ve not seen the film, don’t panic - no spoilers here - it simply follows the last day or so of Stalin’s life, and the week or so leading up to his funeral, and the battle for power that takes place. First of all, I really enjoyed the movie. Secondly, I found it both very funny and yet terrifying at the same time. There were some fascinating combinations that don’t normally go together, that made the film so striking. To begin with, the director chose to use actors (and the writer crafted dialogue) that made the characters very clearly working class, which of course they were (this is communism after all). That doesn’t sound so unique, but actually it was quite profound - instead of seeing Stalin as an iconic, terrifying dictator, my perception was subtly altered to one of a common man who had gained a lot of power but little education, doing whatever he felt like. I’m not here to argue for the truth of that position, but I will say that the simple use of dialogue and accent transformed my perception of a major historical figure in only a few minutes of airtime. It actually made him even more frightening than the iconic dicatator.

The second aspect that was fascinating, was the way the horror and humour was merged, so that the characters were joking about scenarios even as they were causing deaths, torturing individuals, each other’s wives, and so on. The juxtaposition of the two was cleverly placed, and in some cases uncomfortable, and yet very human, too.

The movie made me think about strange combinations - how you can make a scene (written or visual) more powerful by putting together elements that may not normally be combined. I remember a writer I know advising me once to think carefully about my locations; they told me a couple arguing about a divorce is far more interesting at a funfair, say, rather than in the kitchen or the bedroom. In movies, I get nervous when characters are laughing, because I know screenwriters aim for contrast, and the monster or the tragedy will always strike after a scene where the characters are relaxed and happy.

Earlier this week I went to an ice cream parlour after dinner, and being a funky, hip place in San Francisco, the flavours were all wild - odd choices and combo’s. I tested the sesame flavour, but it was too strong for my liking, and in the end I went for Strawberry and Basil, which didn’t sound too appealing, but having chocolate would have marked me out as a man of no imagination (or a chocaholic, which may be closer to the truth). Bizarrely, I loved the combination, which kept reminding me of the taste of summer - I have no idea why - and strawberry ice cream doesn’t normally have that sensory connection, so I can’t explain it. I’m thinking that in my next story I might deliberately go for a weird combination. Piñata birthday party in zero-gravity? Walking a dog through a zombie wasteland? Any suggestions welcome :)

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What inspires you? When do you write the most

For various reasons, I like to write on aeroplanes. It’s a lot more expensive than coffee shops, and I can blame my lack of output on my dwindling frequent flyer miles, but I didn’t really choose this as my ‘writing shed’ It just sort of happened (long story). Anyhow, in the past two weeks I have flown to Sydney and back (15 hour flight from Los Angeles), and up to San Francisco from Orange County (only an hour). I have to confess that because the flight to Sydney left at 11.15pm on Sunday, and our new puppy had me awake at 4am, 5am, and 6am on Saturday night, I didn’t even attempt to write anything on the outbound flight. On the return journey, I did write - but it was all work documents, especially a major blog piece I’m doing on grain. The same was true on my SFO flights - reading material one direction, and writing more on the grain piece on my return. It doesn’t mean that story ideas didn’t occur to me though, and as usual they were squeezed into a moleskine, or tapped into my Todoist Writing list. It was my first trip to Australia, which made it a fantastic opportunity to come up with story ideas - I find there is nothing more inspiring than going somewhere new, and having your preconceptions, and ‘fixed’ ideas challenged by new and novel approaches. Whenever I travel, on holiday or for work, I come back brimming with stories or snippets that an be incorporated into my writing, because my brain has been sparked into action by the differences from the place I’ve visited and my own, familiar environment.

I often feel inspired by San Francisco. I should confess (or perhaps I shouldn’t) that I’m not totally convinced by San Francisco. I have a lot of friends who LOVE the place, and know many people who are keen to move there (or would, if the real estate prices were more reasonable), but I have to say that I find it a strange combination of high tech, fascinating layers of architecture, and abject poverty, all mixed in with the most surreal art and people. Each time I visit, it has like the city has morphed into a different place, like one of the abstract places in Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. One time, you might find the city crawling with Uber, Lyft, and ten other clone copycats. The next trip, everyone is racing past you on electric scooters. On a third visit, everyone I passed was dressed like a fairytale character or an alien, and jogging. There is something unsettling about a visit to San Francisco, but I find it triggers my chunk of grey writing matter, and I come back with a dozen new thoughts.

What about you - where do you find inspiration?

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Special prize for a US writer - judged by Bonnie West

 Bonnie with a copy of Boyfriends, attending an outdoors book club... can't see that catching on in England!

Bonnie with a copy of Boyfriends, attending an outdoors book club... can't see that catching on in England!

This year, we have added a bonus prize of $250 for the best short story received by a US writer. We are honoured (or should I spell that honored?!) to have Bonnie West judging this prize. (As usual, the judging will be blind - so she won't see the writers' names). Bonnie won the very first InkTears short story award, was born and raised in America, and is the author of the acclaimed short story collection Boyfriends. Bonnie West's stories and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including The Minetta Review, The Talking StickWomen's Day, Redbook Magazine, The Austin Chronicle, and the anthologies, Still Going Strong and The Ultimate Dog Lover. She has four mini-mysteries for children published by Carol Rhoda Press and a bilingual Japanese/English book, Hideki and Kenji Save the Day published in collaboration with Diane Carter. She lives with her husband in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

 

Bonnie what do you look for in a short story?

A remarkable first sentence/paragraph. Because of the limited time to tell the story it has to draw me in from the very beginning. Give me believable authentic characters. I like characters (human or otherwise) who seem real and not so eccentric that I have to stop and think, “Oh please, no one acts like that.” I'm especially captured by that most evasive but absolute essential thing, called “voice”.   And I appreciate it when the writer’s style is one that I don’t feel a need to notice, but is rather a style so subtle and well executed it allows me to become lost in the tale.  I love a story that makes me wish it were a novel but still feels compete and self-contained  and won't leave me hanging.  

 

Do you think there is a difference in writing styles between America and European writers?

I think that anything I say, someone could, and would, point to a writer from the other side and say, 'yes but this is just what so-and-so does!' So I have to say that I don’t know of specific differences between European and American styles in the present day short story.  Color/colour, or  mom/mum, and so on, but those are mere spelling differences. Of course, the lack of the wonderful English expression gob-smacked. If I read gob-smacked in an American story I would think it ridiculous and affected.

 

You can enter the contest here.

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Reading outside of your genre

I remember a (nameless) college professor who once told a class to read outside of their favourite genres and authors. I asked her what was the last science fiction book she had read, and she floundered. Probably not the best way for me to win friends, but then I've never been a big fan of hypocrisy. However, the advice was good (even if she didn't follow it herself). It is far too easy to get stuck into one niche. By nature, I have very broad interests, and I typically have a range of different books on the go; normally including some poetry, non-fiction, short stories or flash, and a novel. I could always do with expanding my own horizons though. My last few novels have included a 'police procedural', which sounds boring but was actually one o the best studies of character I have read in a long time, an award winning sci-fi novel from a couple of years ago, the latest blockbuster about a crime in an Australian town, a thriller about people who can control language to manipulate us, and a collection of African fables. I also read 'The Vorrh', which is officially fantasy but is pretty hard to place, and unlike anything else I have read. The downside of Amazon and other search engines is that they try to give you other books enjoyed by 'people like you' which too often means you get stereotyped - the books you see when you visit the online store are very similar to the last one's you read, a sequel or prequel, the same themes, and so on. That is all very nice, and useful, and probably the most profitable way to sell books, but is it a preferable approach to choose your next item to read? Is it the best way to use reading as a window into different worlds, alternate lives and perspectives?

There used to be a time when we would choose books by browsing through a bookstore. There were still constraints and limits; the number of books a single shop could offer, the discrete sections for romance or fantasy or autobiographies, that meant people were all dressed in the same clothes in the same aisles, the top ten lists put together by the booksellers, and so on. There was a much better chance of serendipity though, you could see a cover that caught your eye, take a wrong turn, meander through a different corner of the shop. My favourite part of modern book stores is the 'Books our staff like' region, because these are personal choices, by book lovers, who may come from different ages, areas, and have a variety of obscure preferences.

It's not new year, but it is the new school year. A time for education. Ask yourself, when was the last time you read something totally outside of your 'normal' reading habits? Take a walk on the wild side. Head into a real bookshop and wander, or mistype a few words into Amazon and see what comes up. Explore. Adventure. You never know what you may find.

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Announcing the InkTears short story judges for 2018

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Announcing the InkTears short story judges for 2018

We have never done this before, but to shake things up a bit, we are going to pull-back our veil of secrecy and reveal our three stellar judges for the 2018 InkTears short story contest, and let them each tell you what they are looking for.

Joanna Campbell, Hannah Persaud, and Melanie Whipman

All three have won InkTears prizes, and many other writing awards, and have in-depth knowledge on what it takes to write a winning story


Joanna Campbell

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Joanna is a full-time writer from the Cotswolds. Her work has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. She won the 2015 London Short Story Prize. In 2017, her flash-fiction story, Confirmation Class, came second in the Bridport Prize and the Bath Flash Fiction Award published her novella-in-flash, A Safer Way To Fall.

Her short story collection, When Planets Slip Their Tracks,published by InkTears, was shortlisted for the 2016 Rubery Book Award and longlisted for the 2017 Edge Hill Short Story Prize. In 2015, Brick Lane published her novel, Tying Down The Lion.

In 2018 her story, Nearly There, was chosen for publication in 24 Stories of Hope for Survivors of the Grenfell Fire. In the same year, her story, Brad’s Rooster Food, shortlisted in the Royal Academy Pin Drop Award, was chosen for A Short Affair, an anthology published by Simon and Schuster. She is currently editing her second novel. Website: Joanna-Campbell.com

 

What I look for in a story...

I’m looking for a story which stops the clock. I want my world to close down, to forget I’m judging, forget I’m reading, and be fully immersed in the realm the writer has created. I would like the central character to face a conflict or dilemma and then drive the action, rather than be passively steered through the story by the plot. Give me someone I can picture, someone who intrigues me, someone I can root for. I don’t need to like them, but I do need to care about their fate.

I hope to be pulled into the narrative from the opening sentence. In a short story, there is no time for lengthy build-up or scene-setting or back story. Take me straight into the action, then weave in a contextual detail here and there, but only once your story has already held me in its thrall. There is no need to use artwork or photographs to illustrate your story. The words should tell me all I need to know. Anything extra is a distraction.

Your story needs to be told in an original, compelling and memorable voice, which sets it apart from the hundreds and hundreds of other entries. If that voice stays with me after I finish reading, I am far more likely to recommend it for the shortlist.


Hannah Persaud

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Hannah has been writing for three years, juggling it around her young family and her paid job. Hannah won the InkTears short story contest in 2017 and was runner up in 2016. This year she was shortlisted for the Cambridge Short Story Prize and has had flash fiction, short stories and poems published in numerous publications including Ellipsis Zine, Riggwelter Press, Flash & Cinder, TSS Publishing and Dodging the Rain. In the past three years Hannah has had stories shortlisted and longlisted with The Brighton Prize, Magic Oxygen and The Royal Academy Pin Drop Award, amongst others. In 2016 she won the Fresher Writing Short Story Prize. Hannah is represented by Laura Macdougall of United Agents, and recently completed her debut novel, Margins of Truth. She is currently writing her second novel. You can contact Hannah via @HPersaud / www.hannahpersaud.com

 

What I look for in a story...

I want short stories to follow me around for days after I’ve read them, pestering me for my attention. The best stories have their own heartbeat.  I adore visceral language and evocative descriptions but these need to be woven into a compelling narrative that spurs me forward. I am not a fan of stories that hinge on a twist. A great story can pivot on the subtlest of detail; the pause before opening a door or a change in tempo. A short story can withstand an intensity that the novel can’t – be brave, be bold, I can’t wait to read your entries.


Melanie Whipman

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Melanie is an Associate Lecturer at the University of Chichester; leads creative writing workshops in Farnham, and is commissioning editor for The Story Player. Her stories have won numerous prizes and have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Her debut short story collection, Llama Sutra, was published in 2016. It was the winner of the Rubery International Book Award short story category and was a contender for the 2017 Edge Hill Prize. She is currently editing her novel, which was written during her MA in Creative Writing, and which was awarded the Kate Betts Prize. Website: www.melaniewhipman.com 

 

What I look for in a story...

It’s tricky to know exactly what I’m looking for. A good short story presents both a microcosm and magnification of life. it has to be something well-written, compressed, that exposes our human frailties in some way, yet isn’t didactic, that resonates, that surprises and challenges and so forth. It’s about balance too - a balance of all the ‘ingredients’ of a short story: character, setting, tone, tension, etc. Often it’s just a certain alchemy that you can’t define, but you know it when you read it, and the best ones have the power to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. 


The InkTears Annual Short Story Competition is open now.

You can find the full details here

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Summer reads

I love looking at the lists of books to read for the summer, and every year I tell myself we will put together a careful list, after reviewing the bestsellers, recommendations from our readers and writers, and of course sneaking in the odd book we have published ourselves or someone has paid us a five figure sum to promote (ahem, that never happens! Our email is at the bottom if you want to make us an offer though :)

Instead, I'm simply going to share the books I have read in the last couple of months that I think would make a great vacation read, along with a few books I've packed on my Kindle. Now if only I had a holiday booked, I might even get to read them. In no order whatsoever, here they are:

 

The Dry by Jane Harper. 

Great tale of small town Australia, with a man returning to his home town for the first time in many years. There's a funeral, two crimes to solve, and a drought that is bringing the whole town to a tinder keg. Really enjoyed this debut novel.

 

Lexicon by Max Barry.

Strangely enough, another story featuring a hot small town in Australia. It also features a group of people that are masters of words and manipulation, a must read for every writer! This book was written before the recent issues with Facebook and the US election, but neatly highlights the issues, while being a gripping thriller. Loved the way the author handled the narratives in different time periods, too.

 

Factfulness by Hans Rosling.

Non Fiction, and a book better read in the flesh (or on an iPad) rather than on a Kindle, as it has many infographics. I've not finished yet, but it is a compelling (and positive) look at the world as it really is today, not as we might be told things are by our political masters. I seem to recall that this is on Bill Gates list of books that everyone should read this summer, and I always do what Bill tells me.

 

Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore.

Poetry, by the late Helen Dunmore. I'm slightly behind the times here, since this was the Costa Book of the Year in 2017, but I thought there was some great writing here, beautiful pieces, good for a reflective read on a long, hot summer's day. I always like to read some poetry in between (or alongside) a novel. I'd recommend this, but you go ahead and choose whatever takes your fancy - just remember to grab a nice slim poetry volume for your flight bag.

 

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

This one shows I'm even further behind the times, but I don't care - good writing doesn't decay. It won the 2016 Arthur C Clarke award, but don't be scared because it is sci-fi. This is a compelling tale based around fabulous characters and empathy. What's even more incredible is that half of the characters are gigantic spiders. Now that may sound crazy, but it's not. In fact, it is one of the most interesting books I've read that gives you a totally different perspective on the world. I'm very tempted to send it to my friend who is an arachnophobe, with no warning about the content, although that may seem a little cruel - but I actually think it could change anyone's perspective about spiders. I was cheering the spiders on long before the end of the book. Fascinating take on the future, and a great piece of imaginative writing. If you want to try something out of your comfort zone, this may be the book for you.

 

The Trespasser by Tana French.

So I read this a year ago, and it has stayed with me so much that I'm going to go back and read another of hers (possibly In the Woods) this summer. It is a 'simple' murder being investigated in Ireland by a male/female detective pair, and I have to say the interrogation scenes were amazing. Not because of any brutality, or amazing questions, or any such thing. The intense weaving of personal emotions and politics into the conversation was the best I've seen. Tana French really knows how to write, and understands people in a way that should only be possible with a psychology degree. Loved this book - and I should say I listened to it on audio, and the voice actor was great too!

 

What else? Well, I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you to take a collection of short stories with you too! Any of our InkTears books would be a fine choice, and we'll even give you an eight pound discount for the books on sale on our site, to encourage you to grab one before you go away (or for when you come back). Use the code HOLS-PLEASE at checkout. You can choose a book here. We've also dropped the price of the books on Amazon too, by five pounds. You can also buy all of these books on Amazon as Kindle editions..

Whatever you read, have a great summer!

 

 

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Debut collection by Amanda Huggins

We're delighted to say that Amanda Huggins, who has a host of InkTears awards on her mantlepiece, has published her debut short story collection Separated from the Sea with Retreat West Books.  You can find a copy here on Amazon. If you've been an attentive InkTears reader, you may even recognise a couple of stories!

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Crossing oceans from Japan to New York and from England to Havana, these stories are filled with a sense of yearning, of loss, of not quite belonging, of not being sure that things are what you thought they were. They are stories imbued with pathos and irony, humour and hope.
Evie meets a past love but he's not the person she thinks he is; a visit to the most romantic city in the world reveals the truth about an affair; Satseko discovers an attentive neighbour is much more than that; Eleanor’s journey on the London Underground doesn't take her where she thought it would.

Congratulations, and best of luck Mandy! We are sure it will be a success.

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Writer's Block is a myth

Only a few days ago I was telling some friends that writer's block is a myth. It seems to be a standard narrative device used in movies, where the 'great' writer has produced that incredible combination of a popular, critically well-received blockbuster, and now can't bring themselves to write again. Enter the hero/heroine/muse, to unstick our frozen writer and provide them the inspiration they need to move on. While there are a handful of well known authors that only produced one (or two) major works of literature, it seems to me that for most writers the ideas flow very naturally, and the challenges lie elsewhere. Speaking personally, I have at a least a dozen ideas for a short story (or novel) and what I find hard is getting the time to actually work on them. Sure, there are plenty of other issues when you start writing - things never go as planned, those characters seem to have a life of their own, and they just won't stick to the meticulously planned narrative structure you had laid out for them. I have experienced writer's block during a (failed) novel, where I just didn't know what to do with the slippery characters next, after they had run themselves into a plot hole. The best solution I have found is to take a long walk, let the subconscious mind work on the problem, and then begin writing, and let the characters find their own way out of the hole (they were the ones that made the issue in the first place, it seems only fair to let them figure it out).

While I understand the value of using writer's block as a narrative device, I wonder if it is stereotyping writers? Shouldn't we be campaigning to be represented better in the media, to display the range of backgrounds and attitudes that we bring to the table? The male writers I know are not all hard-drinking, hunting, warriors of the Ernest Hemmingway mould. I wonder how female writers feel about being put into a category; Bridget Jones types, or J K Rowlings. Who keeps doing this to us? Well, of course, the answer is other writers. Hmm, I feel a Catch-22 situation developing here. If you are reading this, and you are a writer, please remember to treat 'us' kindly in your next piece. No more writer's block. I can see you sitting there, about to start that screenplay, where you have an author as a major character, but if they aren't a stereotype what are they... oh no, you don't know what to write! It sounds like a case of writer's block :)

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Text Message stories - a primer for non-millennials

My daughter and her friend were laughing raucously in the restaurant at the stream of messages appearing on their phones - nothing unusual in that, you say, except the content seemed very strange... on closer inspection I discovered the messages appeared every time they hit a key. With shock, I realised that these were not messages, but a story. The kids (both aged 14) were reading a story that had been specifically written as a series of text messages - from an app called Hooked [and there are other similar apps out there too, like Tap].

If at this point you are yawning and wondering why I'm talking about an app that topped the Apple downloads a year ago, then you are probably less than 30 years old. Otherwise, let me introduce you to the app that is currently all the rage amongst my daughter and her friends. You can pick stories from a variety of genres; romance, fantasy, sci-fi, and so on. The most popular in my daughter's friend group are the horror stories - remember this is the generation weened on Stranger Things. The stories are told via text message - almost as though you were watching a friends conversation on their phone. Every time you hit a key, another message appears. Here's an example:

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If you are not a subscriber, the story pauses and you have to wait before you can continue - nearly always leaving you on a cliffhanger! For subscribers, there are lots of stories to choose from, and also the ability to upload your own story... which makes it an interesting platform for writers.

The numbers of downloads and stories available is quite staggering now, and the format is proving incredibly popular with the 'snapchat' generation. Hooked compare themselves to the classic epistolary novels of the past - such as Bram Stoker's Dracula.

The original stories were commissioned, and while subscribers can add their own tales, there does not appear to be any way an author can gain royalties from the popularity of their stories. Mind you, that's not so different from the 'real' publishing world, so perhaps that is a moot point.

If you have not yet taken a look at the format, I would encourage you to give it a try. Everyone should write at least one message-based story. It feels, to me, very like flash fiction in the early days of that genre - lots of people experimenting, and a genuine new class of writing emerging.

One warning - a fair number of the stories do have adult content - and they can also include images etc. so not surprisingly you will find a fair amount of content that you might not want your teenagers viewing. Just saying. 

I love the fact that it is encouraging reading, and writing, in a new generation that have spent too long 'hooked' on phones and social media. I only wish we'd come up with the idea first :)

 

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Sugar babies & writers: an interview with Sara-Mae Tuson

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Interviewed by InkTears Founder, Anthony Howcroft

Sara-Mae, we’ve been working together for quite a long time now, on all sorts of projects. You’ve got an amazing resume - you were the first female editor of the London Magazine, I know you’ve been published in the Erotic Review, and you’ve been Editorial Director at InkTears since the very beginning, where you’ve not only worked on all of the books we’ve published, but also recorded and edited all of our video interviews. What’s more, you actually are part of the band that play background music in many of the videos! My first question is, what do you consider yourself first - a writer, editor, musician…?

 

A writer, mainly, but I've become a podcast producer over the last few years, as a result of building a boutique podcast company: Fable Gazers. It's all story-telling and editing basically; you're still constructing a narrative and taking out the boring bits! Music is a great passion of mine that also feeds into the podcasts - it's wonderful when you can put a bit of music under some dialgue and it really enhances the emotional resonance of what the person is saying. In my writing, as in my other work, I'm a great romantic, so I have to watch I don't over-egg the emotional pudding, as it were. 

 

I know there is a hidden novelist inside, bursting to get out. Can you tell us more about your writing?

It's not hidden through my own choice (lol), I've had an agent, who was lovely, for my first book (a feminist YA mashup of Frankenstein and the Swamp Thing dealing with issues of sexual consent for teens) but we've since parted ways. I'm now working on another YA book which is a lot more farcical. My dorky sense of humour is really coming out for that one. The trouble is, with books, there are so many hoops to jump through, never mind the time it takes to write the damn things... so, working on the podcasts has seemed like quite a relief in the sense that I can create them, edit them and release them into the wild - no agents, publishers or any other gatekeepers in the way. This is both freeing and rather terrifying as well.

 

What made you want to do the Sugar Baby Confessionals podcast?

Well, it wasn't really a case of moving from one thing to another. I'm always writing, and always will, but I sort of fell into podcasting through a number of fortuitous events. First was hearing the podcasts Serial and This American Life, which led me on to The Guilty Feminist, The Allusionist and more... I adore the style with which these creators tell these very human stories, and the wry interpolations of the hosts. Also, though I'm not a journalist per se, I have written articles and copy, as well as working with journalists a lot as an editor and I enjoy the process, the parsing of ethical concerns with regard to trying to tell a non-fiction story in a way that elevates it, allowing the listener/reader to draw a wider relevance from the piece. 

So I mentioned to a dear friend of mine (Ruby) that I wanted to learn how to do it, and did she want to do it with me? You can hear on the podcasts how charming and articulate she is, so you won't question why I thought she'd be good. I thought we'd do something on film or music. And then she said, "Well, it just so happens that I've been thinking about becoming a sugar baby. Maybe we should record our conversations." And we were off! Two and a half years later, we're finally releasing a podcast exploring her life and experiences as a sugar baby - The Sugar Baby Confessionals.

 

Tell us a little about your friend Ruby (and that’s a pseudonym, right?)

Yes, we keep many of the people involved anonymous for obvious reasons, though I think, if not for protecting certain family members, she would be open about it. She's a terribly smart, wonderfully charming American, an extrovert in the truest sense of the word. She's also a mum with three kids who is nearly fanatical about the Paleo and Whole30 diet. In fact, she recently convinced me to do a Whole30 (a month of eating no alcohol, dairy, refined carbs, sugar, legumes etc). Luckily, I was finished by Easter and then I gorged myself on chocolate!

 

Over the course of the podcast, you also interview another sugar baby, and even a sugar daddy too. Was it easy to get them to talk openly?

I am so grateful to them for their bravery and honesty in talking to me at all, never mind with such openness and candour. Madelaine, whom I've since met, is really sweet and funny, with a vulnerability about her that catches you off guard. The Brit, the sugar daddy whom we chat to, was a bit of a tougher nut to crack. I had to use all my journalistic wiles (not very extensive, admittedly) to draw him out, and I'm not sure I succeeded, to be honest. But you'll have to judge for yourself.

 

Did you find any of the revelations shocking?

I'm pretty open-minded, which is odd, considering I'm probably the most vanilla person imaginable. But I've always believed in really investigating a topic before coming to a judgement on it. I like to get to the heart of the things that are hidden, and bring them into the light of day, even if it's sometimes uncomfortable or awkward. In my experience, disapproving of things 'on principle' can be rather a suspect stance. Maybe it's the writer in me, but I'm insatiably curious about people and what they get up to, and would rather explore difficult or taboo subject matter, than rehash the same boring stuff over and over. 

Having said that, I've been more shocked by how challenging to others this subject matter can be. One woman recoiled from me in horror when I told her the premise! But, on the whole, those people who have actually listened to the podcast have seen that it's not simply a titillating, sensationalist farce, it's very poignant at times and ultimately tells a very human and moving story about friendship, love in the modern era and the risks we take in the pursuit of happiness. 

 

What has surprised you most about the characters?

How strange it is, that you can find people to be at once savvy and smart, yet also extremely naive. 

 

You describe yourself as ‘vanilla’ when it comes to sex, and you have had the same partner for a very long time. I found your honesty, and willingness to ask straightforward questions very engaging on the podcasts. You talk about lacking confidence, but it seems to me that it takes courage to be so open, especially in the company of the sugar babies that seem to have such incredible confidence. How has the experience of interviewing the sugar babies been for you?

It's been a lovely way for me to enrich my relationship with Ruby. We were always close - she's one of the few people in the world who gets my dorky sense of humour. But we were living on different continents for a long time and it makes it easy to lose touch, which is one of the reasons I was looking for an excuse to work with her on something. I believe (and hope the same is true for her) that we've become much closer friends as a result. The fact that both she and Madelaine trusted me enough to lay their souls bare is very touching and really made me want to do them (and their stories) justice.

Also, it has made me think about trying new things and communicating better about sexual things. In that regard, I hope anyone who's been in a long-term relationship will find something relevant in the podcast.

 

I know you go into detail with the sugar babies about how their partners feel about their choices, but how did your partner feel about you being so open on the podcasts?

He's always been very supportive of my crackpot ideas! Luckily for me, he has a high tolerance for me working long hours on something that, as yet, has seen very little remuneration. But I think people who are in relationships with writers (perhaps you'll agree with this, Anthony?) have to be very patient, long-suffering sorts. He's also been helping me with some of the production side of things, and means to play a larger role in Season 2: Heyer Today.

 

At the start of the Sugar Baby Confessionals you state that one of the reasons you wanted to make the podcasts was to ensure you’re friend was going to be OK, and would emerge emotionally (and perhaps physically) unscathed. As the series has progressed, I’ve increasingly come to share your concern - the potential for emotional damage seems huge, and yet those involved seem to understand the logic of that argument, but less so the emotions. Do you ever want to shake them by the shoulders, as a friend, and show them the dangers? I guess what I’m asking is, do you find it hard to remain an independent interviewer?

This is a tough one to answer because, in my experience, when people are set on doing something that seems dangerous or uncertain, issuing a veto or telling them baldly that they're wrong for doing such and such, rarely works. Also, as a highly risk averse person, I sometimes don't trust my own sense of misgiving or fear, because I know I'm overly cautious. Perhaps that's why I'm drawn to people like Ruby, who really grab life by the...horns ;)  Add to this a near complete lack of 'street smarts', which Ruby has in abundance - I sort of trusted that, between us, we could stave off any particularly dire consequences. However, there is no accounting for the human heart, so I had to let go of trying to control the situation and just focus on being there for her, as best I could, outside of the podcast.

In terms of her choices, I tried very hard to be a non judgemental ear for her, so that she would feel safe to be open with me, and if something did happen, I could really help her. Also, I hoped that, by talking about it each week, she'd be able to process it herself, or at least get a chance to think more deeply about everything that was happening to her at the time.

 

You also used to be the editor at Trespass, which is probably the only magazine that published my writing that I didn’t dare show to my parents or work colleagues. That may have had something to do with the cross-dressing cartoon of a Nazi on the cover, but some of the interviews and material inside was pretty ‘out there’ and extreme for the time it was being printed. For someone who is ‘vanilla’ to use your own term, how did you get so involved in this alternative side of life?

The publisher of The London Magazine, at the time, wanted to produce a magazine that was the polar opposite of that very old and established publication. I created Trespass to be THE place where controversial subject matter, from art to literature to sexuality, had a forum where it could be intelligently explored, without judgement. It's still one of the things I'm most proud of. It allowed me to show the side of me that is brave. I still believe very strongly that taboo subjects should be explored instead of pushed under a rug or forcibly repressed. This should go without saying, but in the current climate in which intelligent journalism is being discredited, perhaps it needs emphasis.

 

Do you think this fuels your writing?

Definitely. My work is full of dark themes, mythological references and issues that preoccupy me. In my first novel, as yet unpublished, Ever After Eden, I explore feminist themes, issues around sexual consent, all couched in a twisty, tautly plotted fantasy thriller format - I'm quite into marrying 'difficult' subject matter with a commercial aesthetic. Much like my taste in novels and TV/Film, I enjoy both high brow and low brow things, from Ru Paul's Drag Race to The Hand Maid's Tale. My latest book is a lot more frivolous than the first one, however, with lots of dumb jokes, romance and faerie magic. I'll often play with mythic tropes in my work, there's a reason they've served as allegories for such a long time. I'm drawn to darkness, I suppose, like director Guillermo del Toro, who said, "The first thing is that I love monsters, I identify with monsters.” I like exploring the dichotomy in myself, and many people probably, of having certain values, but also wanting to understand the alternative paths taken by other people, and why they walk those paths. 

 

What is next for you? Will there be a sequel to Sugar Baby Confessionals? More podcasts?

I would love to do another podcast series with Ruby and we have several ideas bubbling away. They'll be top secret though, until they've been recorded! (Mostly because I won't really know until then what they're truly 'about'.)

However, I've long been working on Season 2 for a while now, and I'm really excited about it, although it's a lot more ambitious structurally, than TSBC. Inspired by podcasts like The West Wing Weekly, the series is called Heyer Today, celebrating the work of best-selling author and Regency romance queen, Georgette Heyer. Over the course of 12-14 episodes, we hope to convert new readers to her wonderful work, contextualise each book chosen in terms of what was happening in GHs life at the time, as well as exploring the mystery (as I see it) of why her work hasn't already been adapted into films or a TV series. This seems especially odd, as the Jane Austen adaptations are so popular. They've literally just announced yet another adaptation of Pride and Prejudice! As Heyer is like a mashup of Austen and PG Wodehouse, her fans believe her books would make for an incredible, and totally unexploited, cinematic experience(s). So there's a mystery to be solved, as well as a wider discussion of the difficulties of getting a book made into a film. For this I spoke to producer Andy Paterson (Girl With A Pearl Earring, The Railwayman) and along the way, I learn a lot about the difficulties of turning a book from paper to celluloid. 

I'll also have guests to talk about Heyer's life, like her biographer Jennifer Kloester and head of the Jane Austen society in Australia, Susannah Fullerton. Then there are the special guests who've been so kind as to chat to me about their love of Heyer's work: people like Stephen Fry and author Joanne Harris, amongst many others. It's been an absolute gas getting to talk to other people who love Heyer, as well as introducing new people to her work.

 

Thanks for spending the time talking with us Sara-Mae. Where can people download the The Sugar Baby Confessionals?

Remember to listen from episode 1, as we're telling a story that won't make as much sense if you don't hear it from the beginning. You can get it on any good podcast platform. Subscribing on iTunes is great, for example, and rating and reviewing the podcast will help other people to find us too. You'll also find us on StitcherLibsyn, or wherever you like to get your podcasts. If you fancy helping us spread the word by sharing the podcast on your social media channels that is, of course, amazing. If you want to chat to me directly, I love to hear what people think, so get in touch!

 

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PS. If you have listened to the podcast, and you want to help Sara-Mae win the Listener's Choice at the British Podcast Awards, please vote for it here (you can find it by typing in sugar babies into the search bar). Be quick though - votes close on 17th May!

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Interview with a double prize-winner

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Hannah Persaud

Interviewed by InkTears founder

Anthony Howcroft

 

Hannah, you’ve obviously had a great year with your writing - you were the Winner of our InkTears short story contest, and our Runner Up last year. I know those weren’t your only two published stories either, so we’d love to know more about your writing life. Tell us about yourself. How long have you been writing, and what made you start?

Thanks Anthony, I am still buzzing about winning your competition.  I have loved reading since I was four, and as a child I dreamt of being a writer (and a metal detectorist). As a teenager I wrote a lot of tormented poetry. I studied English & Publishing at University and considered journalism as a career but was put off by the competitiveness of it (ha, the irony). Then life swallowed me up a bit. Three years ago I decided to give writing a proper try and signed up to an online introductory creative writing course with Faber Academy. It was the first writing I’d done in many years, and I loved it. I then applied for their Writing a Novel course, which I completed in 2015 (the resulting attempted novel is in a drawer). Around this time, I wrote my first short stories and entered them into competitions. They went nowhere. I despaired. I read my way through Nicholas Royle’s Best British Short Stories anthologies, carefully. I wrote more, I entered more. I made it onto a long list. I got rejections. Then a short list. I got rejections. Then I won something, which kept me going through the next round of rejections. I was hooked, and haven’t looked back. Sometimes I feel sad that I didn’t start earlier, but then I figure maybe I just wasn’t ready to commit to writing the way it needs to be committed to. I know that I won’t ever stop writing now I’ve found it.

 

You’ve lived in many places, from Yorkshire to Nepal. How do those locations seep into your writing?

They haven’t, so far. Though setting is always the first thing in my stories that emerges, I dislike hearing myself in my fiction. This was something I battled with at first, how to keep the narrator(s) in my stories distinct from my own voice. This is the reason that so far I’ve not used my own past in my writing. Since I’ve started writing though I do deliberately seek out places that I think could be creatively inspiring, Cyfannedd Fach [Anthony: this year’s InkTears Short Story Contest winner] being a prime example.

 

Who are the people in your stories - where do they come from?

They come from nowhere and everywhere. News articles I have read, a man I sat behind at a carol concert, a woman who I pass in the street – more often than not they just emerge from the setting I have chosen, as outlines that I need to sketch in.

 

You story The Fox is set in an alternate future and could be termed sci-fi. I don’t know if you ever read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which has recently been turned into a TV series, but it is also a sci-fi tale. However, I suspect both The Fox and The Handmaid’s Tale would be found in a different section of the book store - perhaps feminist literature? (or just literature). Do you think female writer’s tackle the future in a different way?

Women have had to work harder to be recognised, not just as writers, but in the workplace, in the family unit, in politics and the arts. Therefore, to me it feels logical that in imagining the future, the strongest and most interesting voice is the one that has been repressed, that has to fight to be heard.

 

I see you have an agent (congratulations!). How did you find one? Any tips for the rest of us?

Thank you. Yes, I’ve been really lucky, Laura Macdougall of United Agents is brilliant. She actually found me through twitter – she read some of my stories that I had on my website and contacted me, and we’ve been in touch ever since. We met up in London and got along really well, and when I was a third of the way through the book I am working on, she took a leap of faith and offered to represent me. I jumped at the chance.

Twitter has been invaluable to me because of its ability to connect writers with other writers, agents and publishers, so I’d recommend it to any writer as a way to get your voice out into the world. It’s not only virtual either, I’ve got several friends in real life whom I met through twitter, including my writing buddy James (we’ve been critiquing each other’s work for around eighteen months now).

 

Can you tell us about the novel you’re working on?

It’s loosely based on Cyfannedd Fach, certainly in terms of setting. It also covers similar themes. I am in the final stages of editing it at the moment and we’re hoping to submit to publishers in the next few months. I am hoping that the patience and resilience I’ve built through short story competitions will see me through the nervous wait (and inevitable rejections!).

 

Do you see short stories as a stepping stone to a novel? Will you carry on writing short stories, or will novels now take up most of your time?

When I first started writing short stories it was to try and build some credibility around my writing, and that worked really well in terms of giving me a profile in a competitive industry. It also increased my resilience to rejection. Unexpectedly, I fell completely in love with the form, and now I absolutely intend to continue writing short stories, alongside my novel (hopefully novels)! There is a short-term satisfaction to be gained from writing short stories that is absent with a novel, and I find them a positive way to break up the novel writing/editing at times when it feels too impossible. They’re also an excellent way to hone the craft of writing, as well as being a good testing ground for small ideas that may stand the pressure of expansion into novel form. I’d love to have a short story collection published one day too.

 

What’s your writing routine like - do you have a special place or time where you work?

I write around my paid job, my children and my dogs, so establishing a fixed routine is difficult. My ideal way to write is early in the morning, every day, and in my writing hut (a few days before I found out I’d won InkTears I bought a writing shed which I couldn’t afford, my InkTears win paid for most of it, as if it was meant to be!). For the past three years I have written anywhere I can - kitchen table, in bed, in cafes.

 

What about the tools? Tea, coke or red wine? Typewriter, pen and paper, or laptop?

Laptop, tea, and if I’ve had a particularly good day, at the end of it, wine. Throughout the day when I’m not at my desk I make notes in my phone which I transfer later. When I am editing a short story I print it out and carry it around with me, obsessively tinkering with it.

 

Critical writing question: Melanie Whipman (author of Llama Sutra) has Red Setters, I have Weimararners, what type of dogs do you have?!

Working Cocker Spaniels, Buddy and Lyra.

 

Finally, since you have kindly agreed to be one of short story judges this year, do you have any tips for aspiring short story writers? What are the key things that you use as checklist to measure your own stories?

I am so excited and honoured to be a judge this year, thank you. I am fairly haphazard by nature and tend to avoid fixed methods when it comes to writing. I’ll start writing a story knowing nothing about it other than the setting, and will wait for the story to become clear as it fills itself in. I can usually tell if the story has potential at the end of the first draft; if it feels like it has a pulse, a heartbeat of its own, then it’s a good sign. If it doesn’t have that, I ditch it. My one tip would be, if your short story feels too self-conscious, it probably is. Consider showing it someone else whose opinion you respect. Other people can really help to identify things that you haven’t noticed in your own writing.

 

Thanks for spending some time with us Hannah - best of luck with the novel. We shall look forward to reading that, and some more of your short stories!


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  All Photos by Eva Persaud, aged 10. Unicorn trainer and future vet (and photographer, obviously)

All Photos by Eva Persaud, aged 10. Unicorn trainer and future vet (and photographer, obviously)

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Radio 4 book of the week by Sally Bayley

We were delighted to see Sally Bayley's memoir, Girl with Dove has been chosen by Radio 4 as its book of the week (for May 28th). Sally is a talented writer, teacher, and a long-time supporter of InkTears. I think many of our readers would love this book (published by Harper Collins by the way, so nothing to do with us...). Here's the blurb which I think gives a great summary (especially that last paragraph):

 

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Growing up in a dilapidated house by the sea where men were forbidden, Sally’s childhood world was filled with mystery and intrigue. Hippies trailed through the kitchen looking for God, their leader was Aunt Di, who ruled the house with charismatic force. When Sally’s baby brother vanishes from his pram, she becomes suspicious of the activities going on around her. What happened to Baby David and the woman called Poor Sue? And where did all the people singing and wailing prayers in the front room suddenly go?

Disappearing into a world of books and reading, Sally adopts the tried and tested methods of Miss Marple. Taking books for hints and clues, she turns herself into a reading detective. Her discovery of Jane Eyre marks the beginning of a vivid journey through Victorian literature where she also finds the kind, eccentric figure of Charles Dickens’ Betsey Trotwood. These characters soon become her heroines, acting as a part of an alternative family, offering humour and guidance during many difficult moments in Sally’s life.

Combining the voices of literary characters with those of her real-life counterparts, Girl With Dove reads as a magical series of strange encounters, climaxing with a comic performance of Shakespeare in the children’s home where Sally is eventually sent.

Weaving literary classics with a young girl’s coming of age story, this is a book that testifies to the transformative power of reading and the literary imagination. Mixing fairy tale, literary classics, nursery rhymes and folklore, it is the story of a child’s adventure in wonderland and search for truth in an adult world often cast in deep shadow.

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InkTears Short Story Winners 2017

Congratulations to the winners of our 2017 annual short story contest. Here are the full results. More details in the newsletter, but each of these stories will be published in our monthly newsletter.

Winner

Cyfannedd Fach by Hannah Persaud

 

Runner Up

Thirty Five Dolls by Marc Joan

 

Highly Commended

A Walk in the Park by Jan Kaneen

Walnuts, Almonds, Nuts by Tamara Lazaroff

Hang Ten by Louise Rimmer

Graduation Day by Jennifer Tucker

The Less Fortunate by Alison Wassell

 

The eagle-eyed may notice that Hannah was our Runner Up last year. We blind judge our stories, which means that it is quite an achievement to get into the shortlist two years in a row, never mind winning a prize. I think we're going to hear more about Hannah, and we're hoping she will do a little interview for us in the near future. I may have to ban her next year though, or better still, recruit her into our team of judges!

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Bonnie West: first paperback edition from InkTears

As you probably know, we publish both eBook and Hardback books at InkTears, and have steadfastly avoided the paperback... until now! Bonnie West was the very first InkTears Short Story winner, and we published her hardback a couple of years ago. We have a handful of the hardback copies secreted away - as a future investment (!) - but the rest have sold out. Bonnie has been putting us under immense (but friendly) pressure to publish a paperback edition, and we have finally surrendered. If you didn't catch it the first time around, you can now buy the paperback edition via Amazon (same cover - so don't be fooled) for pretty much the same price as the Kindle edition. What are you waiting for? Here it is: Boyfriends

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Mandy Huggins publishes Flash Collection

Does the name Mandy Huggins sound familiar? It should do - because she has won prizes in both our short story and flash contests, and we're delighted to hear that she now has a published collection of flash fiction called Brightly Coloured Horses. Here's the blurb:

Twenty-seven tales of betrayal and loss, of dreams and hopes, of lovers, liars and cheats. Stories with a strong sense of place, transporting us from the seashore to the city, from India's monsoon to the heat of Cuba, and from the supermarket aisle to a Catalonian fiesta. We meet a baby that never existed, a car called Marilyn, a one-eyed cat, and a boy whose kisses taste of dunked biscuits. These stories all have something in common; each is a glimpse of what it's like to be human. We make mistakes, we do our best, and most of the time we find hope.

We shall be picking up our own copy from Amazon. Here's the link

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Shortlist for InkTears Short Story Contest

Here is the shortlist for the annual short story contest. Congratulations if you made it this far. We will email the winners by the end of February (probably midnight, Pacific Standard Time, because we like to cut things really tight to the deadline...)

Susan Bennett

Lynn Bushell

Julie Hayman

Brian Holland

Marc Joan

Anthony Johnson

Jan Kaneen

Tamara Lazaroff

Lisa Magee

Sherry Morris

Hannah Persaud

Louise Rimmer

Sarah Thomson

Jennifer Tucker

Alison Wassell

 

Congratulations!

 

 

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The short story vending machine

I should really be more positive about the short story vending machine (in case you've missed this story  in the news, you can read about it here). I'm all for encouraging short stories, and anything that makes them more accessible must surely be a good thing, but I can't help thinking this is a gimmick. In an era where most of us can choose to download a story at the click of a button (or have a free one sent to us via email every month!), it seems archaic to introduce a large physical machine to dispense stories on demand. I wonder where the vending machines could possibly be located where they would make a difference; schools? offices? not at the train station, which already has shops selling books, magazines and sweets. I just can't imagine going to grab a can of soda from the vending machine, and thinking, may be I will grab an Alice Munro to go with that. Let's face it, I'm far more likely to get a kitkat. I do like the fact that the company is using it as a forum to encourage newbie writers, though. Kudos for that. It did make me wonder though, what other strange machines we might need.

How about a machine for writers? It could randomly dispense story prompts, miniatures of alcohol, little black notebooks, or for the lucky few, the unscreened telephone number of an agent. I'd quite like a robot in my house that could both reorganise the books on the shelves into a decent order, so that short stories are in one section, reference books on a different shelf, and so on. Of course, it would need to be able to make sure the books were of a uniform height, so they didn't look odd, and I would also expect it to solve conundrums like whether to group novels and short story collections by the same author in the story or general fiction areas, and what to do about the one irritating book that is too large to fit on a specific shelf. Perhaps it could also decide whether the Handmaid's Tale should be in my Sci-Fi, Feminist, or Literary Fiction category. A basic feature would be for it to locate any book, and bring it to me. This would include books I have loaned to friends, and have no recollection who or where. I just know that I DO have a copy of that book, and I want it back now.

What else? What machines for readers and writers would you like to see...?

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