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Summer writing

We published a reading list last month, and I have my kindle pre-loaded with exciting new material to enjoy on vacation, but it struck me that I’m just as excited about writing while I’m away. These days, work/life is so busy that I don’t get to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys, if we’re being accurate) as much as I would like to. In fact, I haven’t written any stories yet, this year, as far as I can recall. My summer holiday is one of the few occasions where I have some dedicated time to do what I want, and so I come into it with a moleskine brim full of notes, and I often feel inspired by the new locations, and the new books, that I encounter. Last year my entire output of creative writing was four short stories, and two of those were written on my summer holiday. This year, I’m hoping to do the same. I don’t know how many other writer’s feel the same - and whether they use the summer break to stop writing and recharge, or whether, like me, the writing itself can power up your energy. Do you write on vacation? I did a quick google search to see if any well-known best sellers were written or inspired by holidays, but it was hard to sort through the millions of summer book reading lists that bubbled to the top of the list. Let me know if you are aware of any blockbusters written on a beach. I’d be curious to see if writers view vacations in the same way…

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This is where stories are made

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One of my friends has recently announced that he is going to row across the Atlantic solo, for charity. I should tell you right here that I get seasick if I look at a boat, and more than a few minutes on a rowing machine in the gym will see me flopped on the floor like a rag doll. Which means I look at Martyn’s challenge as something like Dante’s journey through hell. Martyn is no stranger to adventure, though - in 2017 he hiked solo from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail enduring the worst snow conditions in 30 years, raging river crossings, and wild fires, never mind the huge physical discomfort to average 20+ miles per day and complete the 2,667 miles in exactly 5 months!

If you’ve ever wondered why someone does these type of challenges, Martyn has a fascinating answer. For him, he says, it comes down to three reasons: one is to raise money and awareness for charities - in particular, those related to mental health. He is candid enough to state that he has suffered from severe depression at times in his life, and wants to repay the acts of kindness from those that helped him, and encourage others to seek help by raising money for charities close to his heart. The second is because he has a competitive spirit! Finally, Martyn will be 62 when he rows across the Atlantic, and he wants to show that age is no barrier, and that young or old can achieve the impossible, despite hardships and setbacks.

I can’t help but think that there will be a wealth of stories emerging from this challenge. For those of us that sit behind a keyboard and imagine people and worlds, there are others that go out and live them, and perhaps a little inspiration rubs off in each direction. Please take two minutes, and help however you can by either donating to Martyn’s charity or by sponsoring Martyn. If you’d like to learn more about the challenge, you can visit Martyn’s website.

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Summer Reading list

Each year (I think - haven’t gone back and checked) we publish a list of the books we’ll be reading this summer. We are compiling the list right now, and thought we might throw it open to suggestions from you. We have already picked out a few books - The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza, and The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli, for example. But we are open to suggestions - feel free to add them in the comments below. Don’t feel shy about publicising your own book, or one of a friend’s by the way - it is hard to get publicity. The more the merrier.

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What to do when you can't find time to write

I don’t think I’ve written any short stories this year, not even a single piece of flash. That’s not because of any writer’s block, but simply because I’ve been overwhelmed with other things - you know, work, life, stuff. I suppose I should feel concerned about that - what if I get rusty? what if I get out of the habit? what if the ideas dry up? Maybe, though, because I’ve been writing for what seems like a long time now, I don’t find any of that concerns me. I know that the skills I’ve developed over the years of writing are not going to be forgotten that easily. I would say, like riding a bike, but as a writer I’m not allowed to use cliches :)

What I have been doing though, is continuing to read. I think that is critical. I’ve also been noticing that the quality of the writing seems (at least to me) to be getting better in the books I’ve been reading. Over the past few months I’ve read a few Tana French novels, and also everything written by Jane Harper. I think both are tremendous writers, who can portray many great psychological insights with very direct prose. I find great writing inspiring, rather than intimidating.

With summer rapidly approaching, and a holiday planned for early June (when school finishes here) I’m looking forward to writing a couple of stories during our family vacation. If you’re in the same position - with not enough time for writing - I hope you can find some time over the summer to finally put pen to paper. There may be other writers who do the requisite 2000 words every day, and then stop while on holiday. I don’t think it matters one way or the other. However you balance your writing with your life, the breaks seem to help you return refreshed as a writer. Summer is a great time to read and write - I hope you get time to do both.

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Blog for Sugar Babies!

We need your help! As many of you know, the InkTears Editorial Director, Sara-Mae, has produced a fabulous podcast called The Sugar Baby Confessionals which is now up for a prize as the Listener’s Choice Award at the British Podcast Awards! If you’ve listened to the podcast and want to vote - or if you haven’t and just want to support her anyway ;) you can vote here: https://www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote but hurry, because votes have to be in by the 15 May at the latest.

I’m a huge fan of the podcast - I found it compulsive listening, and I’m not alone - Sarah DaSilva of Audible Feast added it to her ‘Best Podcast Series of 2018’ list, and said she was ‘obsessed’. If you haven’t listened yet, you should do. It’s available via iTunes, Spotify, etc. and totally free.

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Announcing the InkTears short story prize winners for 2018

Congratulations to the winners of our 2018 contest. We will publish all of the stories below over the coming months, starting with our winning entry by Louise Farr in a few days time.

Winner

The sun is also a star by Louise Farr

Runner Up

Python yellow by Michelle Jager

Highly Commended

The tower by Angelita Bradney

Rehab by Julie Evans

Changeling by Angela Forrest

The colour of things by Christine Genovese

All that matters by Sarah Klenbort [winner of the prize for best US entry]

The last train by Val Ormrod

The full shortlist included:

Angela Forrest, Changeling

Angelita Bradney, The tower

Bruce Harris, Facing the Press

Bruce Harris, Nightcaps for Wild Boys

Christine Genovese, The Colour of Things

Emily Tempest, Medusa

Graham McDonald, Conversations with an Outhouse

Huw Lawrence, Restocking

Jo-Anne Foster, Donna and Robbie Williams

Julie Evans, Rehab

Liz Foster, The Heavyweight

Louise Farr, The Sun is Also a Star

Louise Ryrie, Seb's Christmas

Michelle Jager, Python Yellow

Nastasya Parker, The Apocalypse Alphabet

Richard Hooton, The Assassination of a President

Rob Nisbet, A Partner Always Knows

Sarah Klenbort, All that Matters

Val Ormrod, The Last Train

Valerie Knight, In my own skin

Congratulations to the winners, and commiserations to the losers - especially to Bruce Harris, with two stories in the shortlist but didn’t quite make the final published stories :(

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Longlist for InkTears Short Story Contest 2018

From our record number of entries this year, we have whittled the stories down to a longest of 100. No story titles here, since our judges are still working on the shortlist, but here are the author names - and yes, if your name is here twice, you have two stories on the longlist. If it’s not here at all, then better luck another time - keep trying!

John Alty

Deborah Appleton

Tony Axelrad

Cath Barton

Kathryn Barton

Susan Bennett

Duncan Berce

Robert Booth

Angelita Bradney

Christopher Brawn

Dan Brotzel

Josephine Bruni

Elizabeth Burton

PS Burton

Lilian Cameron

Philip Charter

Alex Clark

Christopher Clements

Kathleen Conlon

Paula Conway

Paula Conway

Jane Cutler

Margaret Dakin

Sohom Das

Joshua Davis

Judyth Emanuel

Julie Evans

Louise Farr

Tracy Fells

James Finosto

Elsa Fletcher

Angela Forrest

Jo-Anne Foster

Liz Foster

Annette Freeman

Melissa Fu

Michelle Ganino

Christine Genovese

Lauren Glynn

Donna Greenwood

Judith Gunn

Liz Gwinnell

Bruce Harris

Bruce Harris

Keren Heenan

Sarah Hegarty

Wayne Herbert

Richard Hooton

Amanda Huggins

Paula Hunter

Michelle Jager

Val Jones

Sarah Klenbort

Valerie Knight

Harry Kolotas

Elizabeth Kuiper

Hanne Larsson

Alistair Lavers

Huw Lawrence

Julien Lejeune

Tristan Marajh

Ken McBeath

Graham McDonald

Rachel McHale

Caoimhe McKeogh

Isabel Mellor

Sherry Morris

Rob Nisbet

John Notley

Val Ormrod

Nastasya Parker

Abdul-Ahad Patel

Antony Reid

Wendy Riley

Reshma Ruia

Louise Ryrie

Shannon Savvas

Jac Slim

Sharon Sorrentino

Ruby Speechley

Emily Tempest

Chera Thompson

Michael Thompson

Denise Tolan

Sarah Traynor

Jeremy Tree

Jennifer Tucker

Sarah Tucker

Kelly Van Nelson

Kelly Van Nelson

Laure Van Rensburg

Wester Wagenaar

Pete Waterhouse

Drew Weir

Aimee White

MIchael Whitehead

Pauline Whittle

Christopher Williss

Katy Wimhurst

Barbara Young

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New Year's Writing Resolutions

I’m curious as to whether people set resolutions (or targets) for how much they are going to read or write each year. It may be as vague as ‘Finish that novel’ (or more likely, to start it), or ‘Finish first draft of novel by 30 November, or perhaps you have set a target that says ‘Write 2,000 words per day’. The same with reading, do you have a list of books already marked out to read, or do you want to ‘Read more than last year’, or do you refuse to set any goals, because reading is meant to be spontaneous and enjoyable?

I’m big on setting targets, I confess. I’ve done it for more than 25 years. I’ve learnt a lot through the process. For example, there’s no use setting a target you can’t control: I used to have goals like ‘Get 4 short stories published’, but that is somewhat in the lap of the gods. What you can do (and makes for a better target) is to decide how many contests you might enter. If you got two stories published last year and you entered 30 contests, then you might want to set a target to enter 60 contests this year. Or, you might decide to read every winning story from each of the contests you entered, and see what their stories had that yours lacked, and then either write a certain number of new stories, or spend a time editing your existing pieces.

This year, my goal is to publish a non-fiction book that I’ve had on the back burner for several years.

What’s your goal?

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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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