Call for Submission – Christmas Stories

The Casket of Fictional Delights is calling for Submissions for its Christmas Short Story. It may be flaming June, with the sun shining  and the BBQ smouldering in the garden, but here at The Casket of Fictional Delights we have our thoughts firmly on tinsel, turkey, mince pies, mistletoe and stories.

 

We are looking for our annual unconventional  Christmas Short Storychristmas tree

It should be between 1200- 3000 words.  In the past we have had a ‘tongue in cheek’ take on the nativity story, a series of Christmas letters, and a carol service with a difference.  So why not join our band of guest writers and submit your Christmas Story.  Please submit by the end of September.  The Christmas short story will be published on The Casket of Fictional Delights in December and recorded as an audio Storycast and published on iTunes as a podcast.

To submit go to The Casket Submit Short Story ~ In the title section please include in brackets (Christmas Story). Please note – The Casket of Fictional Delights does not publish work containing excessive swearing, sex or violence.

Thank You and we look forward to receiving your stories.

To find out more visit The Casket of Fictional Delights website where you can subscribe to the mailing list to receive all Short Stories, Flash Fiction and Tube-Flash stories direct to your inbox SUBSCRIBE

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Word Factory #24 – 28th June, London

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A warm welcome awaits you at Word Factory on the 28th June, a day packed with literary wonder at Waterstones Piccadilly:

The Secret of Character– Masterclass with Vanessa Gebbie– 1.30-4.30pm

The Secret of Character: how to create compelling characters and be brave enough to let them take on a life of their own. In this workshop, prize-winning author Vanessa Gebbie will share her techniques for creating compelling characters, which are internally consistent, but capable of surprise. She will challenge you to write beyond your comfort zone and explore with you your own blocks and limiting beliefs.

This workshop is for you if you have experience as a writer and want to improve your skills, learn from those around you and improve your chances of getting published.

Cost: £60 per person with free entrance to the evening reading included.
Maximum 16 writers.
Buy your tickets here.

Short Story Club – 5-6pm

This month: Zadie Smith – Moonlit Landscape with Bridge

For June, we’re turning our attention to the acclaimed British writer Zadie Smith, who has been making an impact on the literary world since the age of 25, when her first novel, White Teeth, won the Whitbread and Guardian prizes for a first novel. This short story, Moonlit Landscape with Bridge, which first appeared in The New Yorker in February this year, is about the nature of disaster, and how people respond when everything seems lost.

Simply email Sophie Haydock for more details and a copy of the story: sophie@thewordfactory.tv

The Word Factory #23 – the intimate short story salon – 6-8pm

Enjoy a warm welcome at our June salon in the company of three inspirational authors: Val McDermid, entertaining with story and song, with readings from poet, novelist and storyteller Vanessa Gebbie (she’s also taking this month’s Saturday Masterclass) and rising star Carys Bray. All will join Cathy Galvin in conversation about their writing lives. Book early to secure your place and a free glass of wine at Waterstones’ flagship store in Piccadilly.

Online tickets – £12 | Concessions – £8 | On the door – £15
Buy your tickets here.

April Round-Up II

Dear short story fans,
Another month almost over! Here’s our roundup of what’s been happening on ShortStops’ blog over the past fortnight:

Lit Mags and Competitions
We welcome two new lit mags to our list: Don’t Do It, “taking in fiction, poetry, critical writing and reviews from around the globe”, and HeadStuff “a collaborative website interested in a wide range of topics”. HeadStuff introduced themselves on the blog and would love you to submit something.

Talking of new and exciting: Writing Maps has launched a new monthly contest and lit mag and Writeidea announced a new national short story contest, The Writeidea Prize, deadline 31 July. More contests: the 3rd annual A Spot of Hysteria Writing Competition run by the UK Hysterectomy Association is now open for entries (deadline Aug 31), and the Historic House Short Story Comp (26 Sep) wants stories inspired by or set in a historic house. Jotters United announced Issue 2 and a new short story comp (deadline 31 May) on the theme of ‘Spirit’. (You can find all competition announcements by clicking the Competitions link in our top menu.)

Long Story, Short is calling for submissions of longer stories and the editor tells us what she’s looking for. The Cro Magnon wants your writing too, for their website and perhaps for their travelling show, and the Manchester Review is open to submissions for Issue 12 until mid May. Check out Confingo’s first issue, now on sale, and Structo’s brand new website.

Holdfast magazine is still open for submissions for their first print anthology, deadline June 15th, with submissions open til May 31st for their online issue #3. Myths of the Near Future is calling for submissions from under-25s for the Money issue, and The Moth International Short Story Prize closes June 30th.

Live Lit & Short Story Events
Fictions of Every Kind has produced its first podcast with stories and music. Story Fridays wants your stories on the theme ‘In Focus’ by 12 May for their May event. You missed Flashtag Manchester’s Short Short Story Slam and the Word Factory’s April event, make sure to keep an eye out for the next ones.


Workshops
Arvon’s Totleigh Barton centre assistant Eliza Squire talks about Arvon and short stories – there’s still space on upcoming residential short story courses. 

Last Minutes & Gentle Reminders
Wednesday is the deadline for to submit your entry to the Bristol Short Story Prize and to send a short story on the theme of Islands and Cities to a new Tasmanian-London anthology.

Happy reading, writing, listening and performing!

Historic House Short Story Competition

The Property of a Gentleman by Catherine GaskinMy fiction imprint, Corazon Books, has partnered with the Historic Houses Association to launch a special short story competition with a unique prize. We’re inviting writers to submit a short story (1,500 to 2,500 words) which is either inspired by or set in a historic house.

We are looking for a compelling tale with lots of atmosphere. It can take place in the past or present, in either a real or fictional setting, so writers can let their imaginations take them, and us, whenever and wherever they wish!

The competition is being run to celebrate the publication of The Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin. This modern classic by the bestselling “Queen of Storytellers” has recently been reissued by Corazon Books in ebook format, in time to celebrate its 40th anniversary. It is the first of Catherine Gaskin’s novels to be published digitally, under licence from her literary estate, The Society of Authors.
Historic Houses Association
The Property of a Gentleman is a tale of intrigue, mystery and romance, set in a fictional earl’s ancestral home, in the dramatic landscape of England’s Lake District, so the competition’s prizes are very much in keeping with its theme. The winning writer and a guest will be treated to a private tour and afternoon tea with the owners of Levens Hall in Cumbria. The winner will also receive a cash prize of £150, and a double Friends membership for the Historic Houses Association. Two runners up will each receive a double Friends membership to the Historic Houses Association. We also plan to publish an ebook anthology of the best entries, with each writer receiving royalties for their published story.

The competition is open now and runs until September 26th 2014. The winner will be announced during National Short Story Week (17th to 23rd November 2014). There is no fee to enter the competition.

You can enter now at www.catherinegaskin.com and let other writers know about the comp on Twitter using the hashtag:  #historichouseshortstory

Good luck!

Ian Skillicorn

Short Stories and Arvon

Before working for Arvon (a charity that runs residential creative writing courses and retreats), my knowledge of short stories was mainly informed by my love of the Gothic; particularly the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and of course Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. I didn’t necessarily realise that brilliant people were still writing such exciting short stories today (silly me). This ignorance was disastrously tied to a general inability post-English degree to read or understand anything that was written after 1900.

Enter my saviours, Tania Hershman and Adam Marek, who Totleigh Barton were fortunate enough to have as tutors for a short story course in 2012 (Totleigh Barton is Arvon’s original centre – a 16th century manor house located near the village of Sheepwash, Devon…yes, that really is a place).

 

Totleigh Barton

 

Luckily for me, Tania and Adam are both ‘short-storyphiles’ and were more than willing to stay up late educating me about the exciting world of short stories. Lucky too (despite the number) for the thirteen course participants inhabiting Totleigh Barton for the week. The nervous group that had arrived on Monday afternoon and huddled self-consciously around their cream teas, were effervescent with confidence and joy by the time they left on Saturday morning. They had experienced an intense week away from all the distractions of their home life to focus on short stories and it was a week that buzzed with energy. You could almost feel the creativity and friendship building and filling the house and no-one wanted to leave on Saturday morning. Despite being on the peripheries, I felt enlightened and excited to have found a new genre of contemporary writing and a group of such lovely people.

I thought this ‘short story buzz’ must have been unique to that week; special because of that specific group of people and those wonderful tutors. However, Arvon ran a number of short story courses (besides courses in a number of other genres) at all four of their centres last year; all of which by many accounts possessed a similarly positive feel. Partly, this was because of the talented tutors that ran courses in 2013, including Claire Massey, Claire Keegan, Alexander MacLeod, Nicholas Royle, Alison MacLeod and Robert Shearman. However, I have come to realise that writers who write short stories are just generally excellent human beings.

Arvon is just as excited by short stories as its course participants. This year we will be hosting more short story courses than ever before, with the introduction of a Starting to Write Short Stories course for beginners. At Totleigh, we are very much looking forward to welcoming back Adam Marek to tutor a short story course in May with the wonderful Jane Feaver, lecturer in Creative Writing at Exeter University. There are still places available so if you are interested please visit http://www.arvon.org/course/short-story

Short stories and Arvon seem to go together beautifully. There is something about Arvon’s ethos for giving people the ‘time and space’ to write, paired with the enthusiasm and open mindedness of writers of short fiction that seems to go hand in hand, like the pit and the pendulum… without the gory bits.

Eliza Squire, Centre Assistant at Totleigh Barton

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For more information about Arvon and its work, please visit http://www.arvon.org or phone 020 7324 2554. Or to reach Totleigh Barton directly please ring 01409231338.

A Big Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who entered Brittle Star‘s first open writing competition.

We had a little shy of 700 entries – a good mix of poetry and short fiction – which we thought was a fantastic response! Thank you to everyone who helped us to spread the word – it was massively appreciated.thank-you-flower

The launch of our next issue and the prize giving for the competition will take place at The Barbican Library, Silk St, London, 16 July at 7pm (doors open 6.30). Pencil this date in your diaries – in fact write it in in thick, black biro! There will be readings from contributors to the magazine, as well as the winners of our competition.

Reading the notice above, I’m reminded of our new nudge because it’s full of adjectives – ‘open’, ‘good’, ‘fantastic’, ‘massive’, ‘thick, black’ – if it was a poem or story I was writing then I wouldn’t know where to put my face! It’s a good job it’s a notice! Our new writing nudge is ‘Move away from the adjective…’ go and have a look to find out why!

Adam Foulds, SAND Journal and unknown writers making it

This month is proving a very exciting one for Visual Verse contributors. As well as having Booker Prize nominated author Adam Foulds headlining on the site, we are thrilled to announce a collaboration with the Berlin based literary journal, SAND.

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More of that shortly, though. First, Kristen Harrison (Visual Verse curator) and I want to thank all the contributors who made the March Visual Verse our best month since we launched last November. Our image was by artist and illustrator Denise Nestor: a precariously balanced tower of birds who seemed to be sleeping, or dead. The writers loved it – so much so, we had 80 submissions in one month, which was unprecedented. Each piece was astonishing: carefully observed and written to make every word carry weight. The chapter as a whole is a thing of beauty in itself, it is fascinating to see how one image can bring so many responses.

Some of my favourite lines: ‘What does the sheep think of the sky?’ in Tristan Forster’s elegiac prose poem; Sarah James’ wonderfully  forensic piece, with the line,  ‘the delicacy of coiled intestines and death plucks song’ and of course our lead writer Adam Marek’s short story, with its simple control of voice: ‘The cheese was all prickly. Like battery tops. We fought the cheese was bad, but when we noticed the same taste was in everyfin, we realised it was our mouths.’

This month is lead by another Adam – Adam Foulds, whose Booker nominated ‘The Quickening Maze’ and ‘The Broken Word’ are poetry laced with violence and despair. The perfect choice for this month’s image, by photographer Marcus Bastel. I absolutely love reading all the submissions we get each day, and even more taking part in the conversation about them that is growing on twitter. I read and consider everything  – there are only a couple of rules – it must be 50-500 words, written in the space of one hour in response to the image. It should not have been published anywhere before.

Those who submit find new opportunities opening up for them too. I’m delighted to say that Berlin-based SAND journal will be featuring Visual Verse in their next issue. In consultation with us, they have selected four pieces to publish in SAND Issue 09, both in print and online. SAND exposes fresh literary talent from Berlin and beyond and we are proud to be featured in it.

I can’t wait to read what the month will bring. If you are thinking of submitting, the only thing I would say is  – you won’t regret it. Visual Verse is all about collaboration between what you see and how you write, you, us, our readers: art and words. The image is the starting point, the text is up to you. Enjoy!

Preti Taneja
Editor, Visual Verse

 

New Writer & New Luggage from The Casket

The Casket Logo

The Casket of Fictional Delights welcomes a new Guest author this month Lauren Bell with her Flash Fiction ‘Current Girl’.  Lauren lives in Birmingham and recently graduated from Birmingham City University.

Also arriving this month the seventh Tube-Flash audio – ‘Keep your Luggage with you’  featuring the six most recent Tube-Flash stories.  Tube-Flash audios are recorded by professional voice over artists and actors & there are tube sounds just to add authenticity.

Train with no background

Happiness is Wanting What You Have by Stephanie Brann

Values Laid Bear by Stephen Ryder

Transubstantiation  by Zoe Fairbairns

The Landed Sea Witch by Delijah Sakaki

The Belvedere-Kensington Interaction by Eric Carlton

Up the Hammers! by James Brinsford

Tube-Flash audios are available free on Apple iTunes as podcasts

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Follow on Twitter or Facebook.

Get Issue 1 of Bare Fiction Magazine for FREE

ImageWith Issue 2 of Bare Fiction Magazine just a couple of weeks away, we are rather understandably excited. We think you should be too.

Issue 2 is packed yet again with excellent poetry, fiction and plays from an array of fantastic writers such as Hannah Silva (shortlisted for this year’s Ted Hughes award), David Pollard, Ira Lightman (a regular contributor to the BBC Radio 3 programme The Verb), Siddhartha Bose, Angela Readman (winner of the Costa Short Story Award 2013), Rachel Trezise, Tania Hershman, and Niki Orfanou.

As if all the great content in Issue 2 was not enough, in Issue 3 out in July we’ll have brand new work from J.S. Vilares, Jane Roberts (shortlisted for the Bridport), Martin Malone, and Rebecca Goss (shortlisted for the Forward Prize) to name but a few.

How do I get Issue 1 for FREE?

Click through to our special offer subscription post on the Bare Fiction Magazine website and follow the simple instructions to share this offer with your friends on Twitter or Facebook. Once you have done that, our limited offer subscription button will magically appear and let you place your order.

See below for full contents listings for Issues 1 & 2 of Bare Fiction Magazine.

Full contents list for Issue 1 of Bare Fiction Magazine

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FULL CONTENTS LIST FOR ISSUE 2 OF BARE FICTION MAGAZINE

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Marek on Radio 4 and Comma’s Short Story Writing Course

If you haven’t been following it already, do be sure to tune into BBC Radio 4 Extra all this week at 11am to give your ears a ruddy good treat with Adam Marek’s delicious, bizarre and hysterical short stories, taken from his two collections Instruction Manual for Swallowing and The Stone Thrower, published by Comma Press. Today’s dose is ‘The 40-Litre Monkey’, a comic yet slightly unnerving tale of an odd pet shop owner and his even weirder collection of animals. You can catch up on Monday’s episode and see what stories are forthcoming here. Adam has been described by The Independent as ‘Early McEwan meets David Cronenberg’, and  author Alison MacLeod has praised him as ‘one of the best things to have happened to the short story this century’. You can find out more about Adam on his website www.adammarek.co.uk.

And if you missed the last one, bookings are now open for the next Comma Press Short Story Writing Course to be held at MadLab in April and tutored by Claire Dean.  Over the course of six weeks, participants will study the narrative structure of the short story, receive tailored feedback on their writing, and experience a chance to hone their craft to a publishable standard. And there will be biscuits. Lots of biscuits. For more information and to book your place, click here.

March Fortnightly Roundup II

Hello story lovers,
Here’s our roundup of what’s been happening on ShortStops over the past fortnight:

Lit Mags and Competitions
Mslexia’s short story competition closes today, March 17th, get your entries in quick! We welcome new lit mag Jotters United to our list. You can now enter Brittle Star’s short story and poetry competitions online, deadline March 21st. Read an extract from a story from Neon’s Winter issue and check out their call for proposal for chapbooks and pamphlets. The Brighton Prize, a short story prize with a live lit twist, is accepting entries until April 1st.

Holdfast magazine’s second issue is published and submissions are open for Issue #3 on the theme of Objects, Artefacts and Talismans, and the Moth International Short Story Prize is open until June 30th.

Live Lit & Short Story Events
Today is the deadline for submissions to Telltales on the theme of ‘Unhinged’ to be read at their next event in Falmouth on March 25th. Stand-up Tragedy’s Tragic Heroes is at the Hackney Attic in London on March 21st.

At In Praise Of Short Stories at the Daunt Books Festival on March 27th in London, KJ Orr will be talking to AL Kennedy, David Constantine and Helen Simpson. Book tickets for the next Word Factory event, also in London, on March 29th: a masterclass, short story club, then live lit event with AS Byatt, Joe Dunthorne and Will Cohu.

Last Minutes & Gentle Reminders
Short Fiction’s 2014 short story prize is still open for entries, deadline March 31st

Anthologies
Submit a short story on the theme of Islands and Cities to a new Tasmanian-London anthology by April 30th.

Happy reading, writing, listening and performing!

Winter Issue Of Neon, And Chapbooks

Neon - Issue 37

I’m not a cigarette I said to the giant cigarette looking suspiciously back at me through the mirror in the truck stop bathroom. The room was filthy, covered in green sludge, and the toilet had committed suicide. There were pieces of brown brain spilling out of the ceramic entry wound. The plunger made some sly remark I couldn’t quite make out, and spontaneously combusted. It smelled delicious.

– From “A Suspicious Cigarette” by Erric Emerson, Issue #37, Neon Literary Magazine

The above is a brief extract from the recently-published winter issue of Neon Literary Magazine. You can read the rest of Erric’s story, as well as the other works featured in the issue, by visiting www.neonmagazine.co.uk. PDF, EPUB and MOBI editions of the magazine are free, and a print issue costs just £2.50. This edition features the work of Paul Bavister, Shanalee Smith, Noel Williams, Christopher Owen, Tracey S Rosenberg, Erric Emerson, Meg Eden, and Joe Evans.  The cover image is by Timur Cetintas. In its pages you will find guns and knives, nightmarish exam days, a story about Facebook friends and some excellent concrete poetry.

In addition to the new issue, there’re also a number of exciting new projects in the pipeline. At the moment in particular we’re looking for proposals for chapbooks and pamphlets to be published over the next few years. Read more about this, or submit something via the webform at http://www.neonmagazine.co.uk/?page_id=4180. Submissions to Neon are open as well, and if you think you have something that might be right for the magazine please do send it along.

And if you haven’t already, don’t forget to add Neon on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or join us on Google+.

One week until the closing date of Mslexia’s Short Story Competition!

Make a date in your diaries – only one week left to get your entries in for Mslexia’s annual Short Story Competition. If you’re stuck for inspiration or need some guidance in honing your entry, Mslexia has a series of specially commissioned writing workshops available on their website.

The competition is for short stories of up to 2,200 words from women writers of any nationality. The top prize is an amazing £2,000 – one of the biggest prizes available in the genre – and includes two optional extras: a week’s retreat at the home of early women’s writing, Chawton House Library, and a day with a Virago editor. Other winners will receive a share of the remaining £1,050 prize pot, and all of the winning stories will be published in the June 2014 issue of Mslexia. Plus, the judge this year is the award-winning novelist, short story author and scriptwriter Jane Rogers.

The closing date for the competition is 17 March 2014. For more information on how to enter just visit the Mslexia website, email shortstory@mslexia.co.uk or call 0191 204 8860 to speak to a real person.

This is a great opportunity to have your work read by a top author and see your writing published in the magazine for women writers.

Good luck!

March Round-Up (I)

Hello story lovers,
Welcome to spring! Here’s our roundup of what’s been happening in the short story world over the past few weeks:

Lit Mags, Competitions and Workshops
Stinging Fly’s new editor, Thomas Morris, tells us what he’s looking for in his submissions pile: A Tingling Pleasure. Holdfast magazine’s second issue is published and they are calling for submissions for Issue #3 on the theme of Objects, Artefacts and Talismans. Check out the new issue of Flash magazine, issue 6.2. Short Fiction’s 2014 short story prize is still open for entries, deadline March 31st, and you have until June 30th to submit to the Moth International Short Story Prize.

Live Lit & Short Story Events
The next Hubbub is on March 10th in London and features Zoe Pilger and Liane Strauss. Telltales wants your submissions by March 17th on the theme of ‘Unhinged’ to be read at their next event in Falmouth on March 25th. Stand-up Tragedy’s Tragic Heroes is at the Hackney Attic in London on March 21st.

At In Praise Of Short Stories at the Daunt Books Festival on March 27th in London, KJ Orr will be talking to AL Kennedy, David Constantine and Helen Simpson. And the next Word Factory event, also in London, on March 29th, is a trifecta of short story delights: a masterclass, short story club, then live lit event with AS Byatt, Joe Dunthorne and Will Cohu.

Last Minutes & Gentle Reminders
The Edge Hill Prize for published short story collections is still accepting entries, until the first week of March. Bare Fiction is looking for contributors to its Features and Reviews section.  Brittle Star magazine is holding an Open Writing Competition, judged by the excellent David Constantine, deadline March 12th, and The Siren journal is calling for submissions for its first short story anthology, deadline March 15th.

Writing, Publishing & Workshops
The Writers’ Centre Norwich is holding a short story workshop on March 15th & 16th.The creators of On The Same Page have launched a crowdfunding campaign to finish development of the app which will allow you to publish your own creative work as an app.

Happy reading, writing, listening and performing!
Tania x

Word Factory #21 & Masterclass – 29th March, London

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Word Factory continues an exciting new year! The 29th March is packed with short story wonder at Waterstones Piccadilly:

Instinct and Experiment – Masterclass with Joe Dunthorne – 2-5pm

Award-winning novelist and poet Joe Dunthorne will get you writing throughout this intensive 3 hour masterclass. You will leave with techniques that will help you break habits and introduce strangeness and surprise into your work. Maximum 20 writers.

Cost: £60 per person with free entrance to the evening reading included.
Buy your ticket here.

Short Story Club – 5-6pm

This month: Flannery O’Connor – A Good Man Is Hard To Find

Join us as we read a classic short tale – this month from an author who has inspired generations of writers and discuss themes, language and impact in the hour before the salon.

Simply email Sophie Haydock for more details and a copy of the story: sophie@thewordfactory.tv

The Word Factory #21 – the intimate short story salon – 6-8pm

An exclusive evening of brilliant stories and conversation in the company of one of Britain’s leading international authors, AS Byatt, and two rising stars: Will Cohu and Joe Dunthorne. Book early to secure your place and a free glass of wine at Waterstones’ flagship store in Piccadilly.

Online tickets – £12 | Concessions – £8 | On the door – £15
Buy your tickets here.

Holdfast call for submissions and issue#2

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Issue#2: Animals, Beasts & Creatures is out now at www.holdfastmag.com 

Holdfast is a free, quarterly, online speculative fiction magazine that explores all things fantastic.

In this issue we explore speculative fiction’s relationship to our furred, scaled and feathered friends. From the hearths of our ancestors, who told tales to ward off the night that teemed with hostile beasties, to modern fiction, we have woven these companions into our myths, our legends, and our stories.

Read of god-challenging goats, horrifying dogs, earthshaking bulls and murderous blackbirds in our fiction section. Discover amazing writers with our bite-sized reviews of recommended reading on our bookshelf, and read our featured author interview with Sarah Pinborough. Explore humanity’s bond with wild creatures in the work of Robin Hobb, witness our attempt at conversion of a fantasy hater in the Unbelievers, and learn about the huge impact birds have had on speculative fiction in our non-fiction section. Find out about the insect fairies of Tessa Farmer and read a round up of dragons in Cross Media. All whilst listening to our Beasts playlist to get you in the mood.

We are now open for submissions for issue#3 Objects, Artefacts and Talismans. We are looking for fiction, articles and illustrators. Go to our submissions page for more information.

Contact us at: submissions@holdfastmagazine.com www.facebook.com/holdfastmag  @holdfastmag

(Stinging Fly) Editorial Statement: A Tingling Pleasure

by new editor of the Stinging Fly Thomas Morris

My attitude towards manifestos is the same as it is towards birthday parties: I like attending other people’s, but I’m not that keen on organising my own.

To carry the birthday metaphor a yard further (and a yard too far) I’ll say this: for a magazine editor, the submissions period is a bit like one long curious birthday. All the stories come tumbling in on a certain date(s), and so long as they remain unopened, each gift remains full of promise.

But this is where the metaphor comes a cropper: your stories shouldn’t be gifts especially designed for a particular editor. Your stories are something you’re giving the world (or at least the small part of the world that still reads short fiction). And while I enjoy receiving what I have asked for (a CD, a bear clad in a tweed jacket, a 2,500-word neat and tidy short story about love and loss), it’s always so much better to be blown away by a gift—some strange but perfect object—I never knew existed, but now, gleaming there in my hands, already seems utterly essential, appears to have always existed, and makes me wonder how I ever got by without it.

Of course, though, some gifts are double-edged: we give them to others because we want them for ourselves. And we need this initial excuse of the other person, the recipient, because we think to give a gift to one’s self is selfish and indulgent.

And this brings us to one of the big questions: for whom are we writing?

Which Brings Me To Two Points:

1. You have to be aware of how you’re being received (without getting hung up on it).

2. But you also have to trust your own taste. (And always be striving to broaden, improve, and surprise those tastes.)

*

Know Your Weapons

George Saunders compares writing a short story to trying to persuade a friend to stay, to not leave town. When you’re writing a story, Saunders asks, what weapons of persuasion do you have to keep the reader from turning away? For Saunders himself, it’s his humour and self-consciousness—he says he tries to keep his imaginary friend from boarding that train by firing out jokes and second-guessing all the reasons she might have for taking leave. For a story-writer like Mary Costello, meanwhile, the weapon of choice might be a startling insight, some stab that gets to the heart of how we all behave, of what it is her almost-departing friend really wants. For Colin Barrett, it might be a concession that, ‘Yes, friend, we’re all lonely—I’m lonely too, come back and be lonely with me…’

The artillery, then, can be as varied as the people wielding them. But as a writer, the trick is to get to know what your strengths are—and then harness them. Push them and hone them, get them working full tilt. But likewise, it’s important to know the effect of particular strategies: through emotional manipulation or melodrama, for example, you might persuade the friend to stay a while, but they’ll eventually grow tired and see your game for what it is. So, don’t talk down to them, don’t give them a half-hearted reason for staying around, and don’t spent time talking about the things that don’t matter—but likewise, suss out the mood, see what needs doing, what needs saying. Each friend and each train-station-chat requires a different approach.

Which Brings Me To Editing

Editing isn’t just cutting out a few words, or changing a few details, or re-aligning all the colours in your story for symbolic resonance. It’s about being really fucking harsh and asking if what you have on the page is the best you can do.

  • Is the way you’ve told this story the best (most meaningful, most fertile, most troubling) way to tell it?
  • Might it work better in the past tense?
  • Do you need that first paragraph?
  • What’s the latest point this story can begin?
  • Is the story actually interesting? (I can’t stress this one enough.)
  • Are you writing in a particular tone because you think it will afford you a certain ‘literary respect’? A tone that—were it a shirt—would be a little too tight or too baggy for you?
  • Is your writing true? (Not in the sense of ‘not a lie’, but is it, as Grace Paley said, ‘acutely felt’?)
  • Are the stakes high enough?
  • Is this a story you really need to tell?
  • And what about that ending? Are you giving the reader too much? Too little? (Every writer will at some point struggle with the problem of getting the volume of a story right—is it too loud, too obvious? Too subtle, too quiet? This is where the agonising of the words, details and the colours-as-symbolic-resonance bit is so important.)

Of course, what I’m talking about here is craft—technique, form—and the molding of form and content and theme, of having these things work in sync to carry the story’s concerns.

There are other things I could talk about, too, like stereotype and bad writing:

Men: look at your female characters—are they there merely to annoy or titillate your male characters?

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Women: are your men unsympathetic voids concerned with work conferences and groping their tired partners in bed?

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Everyone: are you older characters de-sexed, useless things that don’t understand technology or the world they live in?

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—Is your protagonist a writer who deserves more acclaim?

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— Does your character lie in bed not knowing what to do?

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—Have you avoided or skipped over some detail in the narrative because it’s too fidgety and complicated? (Hint: complication is where you find verisimilitude.)

As a reader and writer of short stories, I have been to all these above towns and I can tell you they’re no good. (But, also, that there are at least twenty brilliant stories that start or situate themselves amongst the problems that rise in these locales. e.g. Kakfa’s ‘Metamorphosis’ is the best example of what to do with a character lying in bed. So, if you’re going to do any of these things, you’d better make sure the story is brilliant, that you de-trope the trope.)

But again, these problems of techniques and tropes aren’t the reason we, as readers, come to fiction. (Or are they? What do you come to fiction for? Do you want your writing to be doing the same things as the fiction you love reading? Do you even have control over what you write?) Consider why you come to stories—to read them and write them—and then hold yourself to the highest standards of those concerns. (I personally don’t care if they happen to be political, transcendental, spiritual, intellectual, aesthetic, comic, cosmic, cryptic or anything else ending in c or l — I just want (cliché alert) to read great stories.)

Some Points That Might Seem Obvious But Still Need To Be Made

  1. If you get bored by ‘plots’, don’t write ‘plots’.
  2. If you don’t like description, don’t write description.
  3. If you find third person annoying, don’t write in the third person.
  4. Don’t feel as if you have to tailor your work to fit the mould of what’s gone before.
  5. If your view of the world isn’t represented in fiction, it’s not because it isn’t valid—every view is valid (providing the writing is good)—so give it to us, and give it to us as best as you can make it.
  6. Etc

I’m not an art historian, and I haven’t read the literature on how and why Picasso went from painting these:

7aB0mad.jpg                  wJg9Zin.png

to painting these:

Mirm40D.jpg     Idxegtb.jpg

(there’s that bed again)

But I’m sure that part of Picasso’s development as an artist consisted in finding a way to convey what he wanted/needed to convey (I happen to think all four paintings are rather nice). And for anyone trying to write, that search for ideal form involves taking risks, and moving into territories that may be unfamiliar, or trying out approaches you didn’t know you had, or approaches you did know you had but didn’t know you were allowed to use—and letting yourself enter the state that Donald Barthelme described as ‘Not-Knowing’.

Do The Defining Yourself, Then Share It With Us (Please)

There are as many definitions of the short story as there are writers and critics of the short story. For example:

it’s a glimpse

it’s a photograph

it’s a form devoted to loneliness

it’s a weekend break

it’s best suited to explorations of Self

it’s about moments of change

it’s character-driven

it’s about paring everything down to its element

it’s about language

it’s concerned with moments of realisation

But while there are some loads—solely because of its length—that the form might struggle to bear, a short story can be whatever the fuck you want it to be. And it can do whatever the hell you can make it do. And you shouldn’t let anyone’s definition, least of all a magazine editor’s, stop you from making of it what you want—and need—to make of it.

So please, this March and beyond, be generous and send me a present. Be thoughtful, and make it as best as you can. But be as bloody selfish as you—and most importantly, the story—demands. You owe it to yourself and you owe it to the well from which we all draw such odd and tingling pleasure.

P.S. If you care about your presents, please don’t fold them four times and stuff them into a tiny envelope. A non-fancy A4 envelope will suffice. (And yes, at present, we’re still not accepting online submissions — but please be assured that we recycle all material that doesn’t get published. You can read the submission guidelines here.)

February Round-Up II

Hello story lovers,
As February continues wetter and windier, here are some glimmers of light as we strain towards spring…!

Lit Mags, Competitions and Workshops
We welcome a new lit mag to the list, Valve, an annual journal dedicated to “the very best new experimental literature”.  We have ShortStops’ first lit mag review – Rosalind Minette gives us her impression of The Grind Issue #1! (If you fancy reviewing a lit mag, drop me a line).

Talking of reviews, Bare Fiction is looking for contributors to its Features and Reviews section. It’s last Call for submissions to Tube-Flash – you have until Feb 28th! The Siren journal is calling for submissions for its first short story anthology.

brand new issue of Flash magazine, issue 6.2, has arrived, with new short short stories, reviews and a flash essay. And the February edition of Long Story, Short is ‘Hand Me Downs’ by Kelly Creighton – read an excerpt.

Brittle Star magazine is holding an Open Writing Competition, judged by the excellent David Constantine, deadline March 12th, and The Edge Hill Prize for published short story collections is now accepting entries, until the first week of March. Short Fiction’s 2014 short story prize is still open for entries, deadline March 31st, and you have until June 30th to submit to the Moth International Short Story Prize.

Live Lit & Short Story Events
For small short story fans, White Rabbit is presenting its new storytelling show for children, The Secret Garden, at the South Bank in London Feb 21- 32rd. White Rabbit is back on Feb 28th with Are You Sitting Comfortably? Science Fiction (for grown-ups!) in London.

On March 1st Myths of the Near Future will be holding a launch event for Issue 5: The Revolution Issue in Worcester.  The next Hubbub is on March 10th in London and features Zoe Pilger and Liane Strauss. Telltales wants your submissions by March 17th on the theme of ‘Unhinged’ to be read at their next event in Falmouth on March 25th.

You missed Open Pen’s launch event on Feb 13th – keep an eye out for the next one! But don’t miss In Praise Of Short Stories at the Daunt Books Festival on March 27th in London, where KJ Orr will be talking to AL Kennedy, David Constantine and Helen Simpson.

Last Minutes & Gentle Reminders
The National Flash Fiction Youth competition is open for entries til Feb 21st.  Smoke, the London Peculiar, is calling for submissions until end February for their London water-themed short story anthology, Smoke on the Water. Riptide Journal is open for submissions for Volume 10, on the theme of ‘Imaging the Suburbs’, deadline March 1. Also open til March 1st are submissions to Neon Magazine of tiny fictions for a new project, Battery Pack.

Writing, Publishing & Workshops
The creators of On The Same Page have launched a crowdfunding campaign to finish development of the app which will allow you to publish your own creative work as an app. And check out the Writers’ Centre Norwich’s upcoming short story workshops.

Roll on spring!

On The Same Page campaign launches

In a follow-up from my post in December about the On The Same Page app template (a simple, elegant design for publishing text/image collaborations digitally), I’m excited to announce that the two.5  crowdfunding campaign is now live.

We’re trying to raise £2,975 to cover the final production costs for the app template. As I type this we’re 10 days into the campaign and have already raised 68% of our goal. Any contribution – however large or small – will help us towards making that 100%.

In return for contributions we’ve put together some perks which might be of interest to ShortStops enthusiasts. They range from professionally recorded audio stories to editorial feedback on a short story/novel extract of up to 5,000 words. Also up for grabs are invitations to be a beta-tester for the app, postcard sets, portrait photoshoots in New York, and exclusive creative commissions. Perhaps the perk I’m most proud of is our Software Files.

    On The Same Page mock-up    On The Same Page mock-upOn The Same Page mock-up

On The Same Page mock-up

For a donation of £300 (or above…) you’ll receive a licensed copy of our software files for On The Same Page, allowing you to publish your creative work as an app. Your license allows you unlimited use of the files, so you can use it for as many of your personal projects as you wish, and contributors will receive free upgrades for life as we continue to develop the template in the future.

If you’re reading this and thinking ‘actually, what I’d find really useful in exchange for a contribution would be [XYZ]’ then email us – viccyandsamantha@gmail.com – and Samantha and I will see if it’s feasible for us to tailor-make you a perk of your choice. We’re also available for interviews, and generally keen to get in touch with other digital collaboration enthusiasts to swap trade-secrets and find out what other people are up to.

February’s edition of Long Story, Short Journal

Photo © Rudolf Vlček

Photo © Rudolf Vlček

It was one of those gut-feelings, a finger that prodded Steve in the side telling him to remember the night before or face its accusing wag; as though everything that happened was solely his fault. Yet Steve wondered how much of it was, it had all started so long ago.

In ‘Hand Me Downs’ a man reconstructing what happened the night before leads him down a path extending further and further back, to meet the origin of ‘where things went wrong’. Kelly Creighton’s story is both gritty and emotionally apt, and continues the Long Story, Short tradition of tales of love lost–just in time for Valentine’s Day.

https://longstoryshort.squarespace.com/hand-me-downs

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(The Long Story, Short Journal opens for submissions in March! More on this in next month’s post.)