How to… win a short story competition: from a judge and a winner

In case you don’t know, I thought I would introduce people to Thresholds, a fantastic site devoted to the short story.

Competitions are big. Have a look at the Thresholds market listings in case if you need convincing. It’s a regularly updated, chronologically organised, market news page.

However, it’s not just the amount of competition that seem to be increasing, they’re also a great way of increasing your chances of getting your name out there and having your work noticed. This is a link to a post I wrote for Thresholds on how to win such a thing. I speak to the Bristol Prize’s judge, Joe Melia, and Sarah Hilary, winner of the Sense Magazine competition.

Costa have introduced a new prize for the short story this year, with a £3,500 pot for the winning story and £750 for 2 runners up. The deadline is 4pm, Friday 7th September.

Click the link below to go to the article and get some tips before you enter – and good luck!

How to… win a short story competition: from a judge and a winner.

‘Killing Daniel’ Revealed: Wigan Lass Well Excited

Roll up, roll up.

If you’ve managed to miss the news in the social media about the cover to Killing Daniel, then here it is. The book is now buyable – well, reservable (I know these aren’t words).

Release date: 5 November, Unthank Books

What a curious feeling, to see an image put to something that has existed in your mind for about 5 years. To think about what it represents.

Yesterday, I was visiting the parentals, and I drove under the bridge in Wigan which, in my mind, was the setting for the murder scene at the top of the novel. (Nicked and warped and transplanted to a whole other place). I got this jolt. An uncurling of sadness, even. God, that’s where Daniel died.

It was a bright burn of a day as I passed under that bridge. Just as it was in the novel. The day Daniel died.

But Daniel wasn’t really murdered there. Daniel doesn’t exist. And yet he does, in various forms, in various people that I and maybe those who read this book will have met and loved and lost in their lifetime.

But looking at that bridge was as strange as looking at this cover image. That little bridge coming out of the town centre has taken on a bizarre significance. It isn’t important, but it is. It isn’t real, but it is. I can see the killer stalking Daniel through the clearing next to the bridge, which is ‘dense with midges’. I can see the pond, spotlighted almost. The scene of the crime.

When I finished this novel, I was sent a link to an article from a couple of people who’d read it. It described another teenager dying in another Wigan pond, in a similar way. I think about that boy. He’s not Daniel, but he could be, in a way. And that strange feeling returns; this novel wasn’t just what I wanted to write. It won’t just tell the story I meant to relate. It could be yours, too. And that’s what’s so exciting.

I hope this doesn’t come across as arse-achingly self-involved. It might. That’s okay. But really all stories are just humble tales passed down, right? Camp fire, stuff.

‘Here, once, I knew this lad. He drowned and my life was never the same. I’ll tell you why…’

I know what this story means to me, it’s so interesting to wonder what it might mean to others. I hope you might like it and that by the end of it, you’ll know who Daniel is to you.

(Also, right, there’s a lot of sex and death and crime. You might like that too).

In other news: Sarah replants her lettuce.


INTERVIEW: Craig Hallam

Craig is a former student of mine (I’m taking all the credit, naturally). One who always had lots of ideas – and lots of questions! His hard work has paid off as his novel Greaveburn is about to be released by Inspired Quill. I interview/grill him below.

Available in ebook now and in paperback from 20 August

1) How long have you been working on Greaveburn
I’ve been working on Greaveburn about 3 years in total. Although, that makes me sound soooo slow. I’ll add a few qualifiers to make me feel better. In those three years, I’ve also put together Not Before Bed, been working on creative writing courses and trying to get short stories published to build up some kind of writing CV. So, Greaveburn’s had to share space on the cooker-top, so to speak.
2) Do you feel as though it’s exactly at the point you wanted it to be? (when is the point you knew to stop writing?)
This is going to sound odd, but I think that it’s as good as I can possibly make it right now. That’s not to say that it couldn’t be better. I’m certain it could. But I don’t see myself as “Craig Hallam – Author”. I’m a work in progress. I hope I’m going to keep getting better, and so will my stories. So maybe “Craig Hallam – Under Construction” is better 🙂 As for when I knew to stop writing, I don’t think you ever do know. I just read that (5th) draft and thought, “yeah, I think it’s ready for someone else to read it now”. Again, it was as good as I could make it on my own. I needed help to keep improving it. And that’s where an experienced editor comes in. From that final edit, where I handed it to Inspired Quill and they accepted it, it’s got so much better again. An editor is really indispensible. It certainly has been for me.
3) What was the editing process like?
It was long. Very long. Or it certainly felt that way. Although it really didn’t take all that long. When you’re writing and you’re in a flow, it’s easy and fun, and so it feels like time flies by. The editing is the necessary evil where you have to tear apart what you’ve created to improve it, and that feels like it takes an eternity. I suppose that’s relativity 🙂
4) Are you nervous about the reception it might receive? How do you handle that if you are?
I can’t even describe how nervous I am. With my short stories in magazines, you rarely get individual feedback, so it wasn’t much of a problem. With Not Before Bed, I got lots of great feedback, which was a real boost. But there were lots of different stories, so people had a better chance of finding something they’d like. With Greaveburn, there’s just one story with all its little subplots and themes. If people don’t like it, I’m in trouble 😉 And when it gets right down to it, this is my baby, and has been for quite some time. Now I’m setting it off on its own. Poor little thing. As for handling it, I have a really good technique. I’m writing my next novel! Greaveburn’s out of my hands now. It has to find its own way. But the next novel is still in that brilliant cant-stop-typing phase. It’s my little legal high (I hope it’s legal, anyway).
5) What are the main themes you’d like readers to come away with?
Ooooh, I’ll have to play it cool, I don’t want to release any spoilers. But the main idea that I hope people get from Greaveburn is that no one is perfect. When people ask what it’s about, I them that it’s the grey area between good and evil. Everyone has selfish urges, dark sides, and less-than-honourable drives. That’s what I hope I’ve instilled into the characters. No one is really a hero, or really a villain. You only understand their motivations and make your own decision as to whether they’re good/bad. The Greaveburners are in dire straits and that means they make tough decisions. And they’re all in peril in one way or another. Do they rise about that and work together, or do they protect themselves and sell the others out? I guess you’ll have to see…(see what I did there?)
6) Do you feel any of the writing modules / courses you’ve been on have helped you get where you are? Should all writers ‘train’? Or do you think it’s something you can just learn on your own?
That’s a tough one. Personally, I see writing is a craft. It’s somethng you hone, like a good blade. I think that learning the “rules” is essential. Relax on the adverbs, using all of the senses in your description; you know the ones I mean. And for that, the creative writing courses have been fantastic. But only so that you can break those rules later on. As I said, it’s a craft. Sometimes you have to look at how it “should” be done, and then do it another way. That doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It means you’re exploring.
But I was already on my way to where I wanted to be when I started the courses. My first few short stories had been published, Not Before Bed was released before I finished my second year. But they certainly helped with my later Greaveburn drafts. By that time, I knew the story was solid enough, I was working on the finesse. And the modules on script writing, in particular, really helped me work my dialogue into useful engagements rather than just characters interacting. That’s been indispensible to a story where no one ever seems to tell the truth or state their real intentions.
7) What do you think of genre? Does it help define / open up a text? Or should we get rid of them? 
Another tough one. You’re killing me, here! I think that genre is fine if you’re looking for something in a book shop. And that’s the only real purpose. Greaveburn is being marketed as a Steampunk novel, for instance, because it has a certain Victorian/anachronistic vibe. And that’s cool, because I love Steampunk. But it also has elements of Gothic Fantasy. In short, it doesn’t fit into a certain slot. I try to do that with my stories as much as possible. While Not Before Bed is categorised as Horror, most of the stories are just dark. They’re also romances, comedies, adventures, mysteries. But the overriding theme is dark, so it gets pegged as horror. And so, in a round-about way, I’ll come to my answer…
I think that people shouldn’t define themselves as an author of YA, or Horror, or whatever. You see a lot of that on Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Just write your story, make it as good as it can be, then let the publisher worry about what shelf it ends up on. The furthest I will go is to say that I write Speculative Fiction. But that still meansanything. All it really removes is non-fiction.
Genre is a good tool, but it shouldn’t be allowed to drive you in a certain direction.
8) What’s your day like and when do you find time to hone ideas or to actually write? 
No two are the same. My day job is a Nurse, and so I work any combination of shifts depending on the will of the Off-Duty Gods. Which means that I can’t have a solid routine. Ever. I find time to write whenever it happens. I like peace and quiet, a light space, a comfy sofa. But other than that, I really don’t mind. I couldn’t write in public, like some people do, laptop on the table in a Starbucks or whatever. It always seems a bit exhibitionist, to me. Or maybe it’s a self-conscious thing. Other than that, my notebook is my friend. And my phone, too. The Evernote app has saved my life so many times. It’s four in the morning, I’m on a night shift, sat in the dark watching other people sleep (not in a creepy way), and a snatch of dialogue hits me. It happens more often than you think. When your brain is tired, is just roams around. It’s amazing what it finds.
9) Are you going to be in any interesting places, real or virtual, to do some readings?
I’m not sure I have the guts to read a section of my book to anyone. I’ll work up to that. But my Marketing Womble (Hi, Lea) is working on my book tour as we speak. The main appearance so far is at the Weekend at the Asylum, a Steampunk convention in Lincoln this September. We’re all dressing up and I’ll be signing books, talking on the author’s panel etc. It’s going to be awesome. I’m petrified 😀
10) Anything else you’d like us to know?

Other than thanks for having me, and I hope you enjoy reading Greaveburn if you get the chance, that’s all I have. You’ve tired me out. I’m off for a nap 🙂

You can find Craig in all these places:

Twitter: @craighallam84