Rhymes and Ruins

I’ve been on holiday and visited a castle – see below.

In other news… one of my poems (called Old Boots) made the final group of 12 in the Poetic Republic competition, but I don’t know whether it was highly placed within that group. It will be published in the eBook of the winning poems in the Autumn, and I received lots of positive comments about it and my other entries. I will post some of them here soon.

I am also awaiting several other competition outcomes and hoping for success – poetry seems to be my thing at present.

Castle Visit

Judging other peoples’ stories…

Most poetry and story competitions are judged by a guest author or critic, after being whittled down to a shortlist by a committee who have to wade through a large number of assorted entries. The writers have probably paid several pounds to submit their entry, so they all deserve to be read by a couple of people before being cast aside. Generally the writers who don’t succeed get no feedback, and just have to wait for months to see a shortlist with lots of other peoples’ names on it.

Hurray for Poetic Republic though.  Their competitions (for poems of less than 42 lines and for stories of under 3000 words) are judged by the entrants themselves, and everyone stands a chance of getting helpful feedback from the many readers of their work.  The two Poetic Republic competitions closed for this year on 30th April, and us participants are now engaged in the judging process.  Without the web such a process would not be possible – each entrant has to read and judge at least 12 poems or 7 stories in each of the first two rounds, penning comments that will eventually be fed back to the writers, who remain anonymous until the process is complete.  We are currently in round one.

Once I heard about this innovative competition process I wanted to enter, and have submitted work in both competitions.  So I am currently reading other peoples’ poems and stories and awarding them a rank within their randomly allocated groupings.  I find this fascinating to do, and have enjoyed seeing the variety of ideas and levels of skill on display.  The system is organised so that you cannot judge your own work, and we all have to wait until 17th June to get feedback on our own entries.  The final winners are not announced until October.

This seems like a great idea, and I feel involved with this competition in a way that I have never been before.  If you want to know more, visit the website at http://www.poeticrepublic.com/

It’s great.

Flash Fiction success, well almost…

I wrote a 300 word Flash Fiction piece titled Some Enchanted Evening in February to submit for the 2015 Fish Publishing Prize.  The annual Fish Prize Anthology is a high quality collection, assembled from the best entries to their various competitions.  I had hoped to get something included in the 2015 collection, but although my piece made the longlist, and then got through to the shortlist (the final 93 out of 1275 entries), it didn’t get into the top ten.  Gutted mate, still it’s better than no mention at all, I suppose.  I am planning to revise it and submit elsewhere soon…


This is the 250 word flash piece that was awarded runner-up status in the recent Words with Jam Bigger Short Story competition.  I wrote it in October, adapting an earlier idea.


The restaurant was peaceable, calm and relaxed. Couples engaged across unblemished linen, took white folded napkins and saw no wild rumour of imminent carnage. The onslaught would target our own silver-decked field of posied intimacy, leaving other pairs safe, unconcerned. I, at least, should have seen the hurt coming. Spotted roiling dust clouds where mongol hordes jostled straining leather and iron to curb wild-eyed horses, readying cruel barbs to arc over tired assumptions, rip down through our cold paste and paper relationship.

Could I have heard faint pre-echoes of death screams? Noticed the underfoot dust thirst for blood? A mobile phone callsound that rattled annoyingly – was it the tracks of manoeuvering Panzers, ranked on the slopes of encircling moors? Looking back I imagine their barrels traversing, drawing a bead on our spun-sugar castle.

Just another anniversary dinner, unexciting and perhaps a tad tetchy, until she looked up and asked outright, ‘Do you still love me?’

My small hesitation released the disaster. In that second I saw it – already too late. The orders were issued, the assault begun, my answer immaterial. We watched the low light of affection gutter in each other’s eyes, felt hearts jolt, punctured below the water line, foundering fast.

The experienced attackers perceived we were done for. No need to spend arrows and shells on the doomed. The stinking ranks wheeled away leaving us lonely, but the cruelest petard of a parting shot fell. My suicide bomb.

‘I never loved you,’ I lied.

These Short Story Competitions…

In the past year I must have submitted entries to twenty or more short story competitions with word limits between two hundred and five thousand.  I’ve enjoyed some successes – a story placed on the shortlist, and a few published, but I’ve never won a competition until now.

Why do I bother?  Well, it’s a way of testing myself against all the other writers trying to gain success and recognition, but there is a cost.  There’s the money – almost every competition demands an entry fee between two pounds and twenty pounds, but there are other strains too.  The writing part – sorting through ideas, working out the setting, characters and plot, revising it repeatedly for improvement and then editing down to the required length – is mostly enjoyable, especially when I get inspired with a sudden unexpected spark that makes the whole thing hum.  Having worked through that process quite intensively whenever I can grab the time for a few days or weeks it’s hard not to think that this latest piece is the best thing I’ve ever written and that it’s got a real chance of success.  Usually I want to put it up on the website straight away or send it to lots of people so they can tell me how great it is – but I can’t.  Nearly all of these competitions require entries to be previously unpublished, and that includes posting on blogs and websites.  So I have this brilliant story that I can’t make public, and have to submit with authorship concealed – for up to six months.  Most competitions take two or three months to be judged, but some take longer, and for all that time my masterpiece is not being seen by other people who would just love it.  I think.  It’s not usually possible to enter the same story into other competitions simultaneously, so it’s out of circulation for months, doing me no good at all, and I wait, gradually losing confidence that it was actually any good after all.  The month of the shortlist arrives, and I keep checking email and the competition website, but usually there’s nothing until the day I find that I’m not on the list after all.  I feel deflated and question whether I actually have any skill as a writer at all.  I console myself with the thought that now I can recycle that story – it probably needs improving anyway, but at least it can be tried elsewhere at last,

Yesterday I got an email with the results of the Words with Jam Bigger Short Story Competition and I skipped through the runners-up and shortlists without noticing at first that my story Handy Stop had actually won the Shorter Story (1000 words) category.  I had to check twice before I believed it. The prize is three hundred pounds.  Amazing.  Confidence restoring.

WWJ win

Then I read the judge’s comments (I don’t normally get any that apply to my story because I don’t come high enough), and they were great!  The judge for this category was Sam Jordison, a publishing professional who writes for the Guardian and the Independent.  He really liked it and said lots of complimentary things about my story.

His comments were:

Handy Stop is a quality piece of fiction. It takes you right inside the head of its protagonist, enables you to think and see as he does, and to feel correspondingly uncomfortable about the world he inhabits. It has a sense of threat and danger as well as smart observation and comedy. It heads cleverly and neatly to a really good pay-off in the conclusion and seems like a really coherent, wonderfully complete whole.

Words with Jam is an online magazine for writers and publishers.  It is free to subscribe to, and their website has loads of interesting articles and interviews from current and past editions.  They publish the winning stories in each category and you can read Handy Stop at:


Back in October I didn’t have a suitable story to enter for their 2500 words category, but as well as Handy Stop I entered a flash fiction piece called Destruction for their Shortest (250 word) category.  It didn’t win, but it was listed as a runner-up, so that felt good too.  I think I’ll publish it here in a few days.

wwj ru

I’m feeling pretty good about my writing at the moment.