Monday, 28 December 2015

Guest Post: Sharon Boothroyd - The Secret of Competition Success

Welcome back to Sharon Boothroyd! Last time Sharon was on the site to tell us the story behind, a e-magazine for short stories, articles and poems. This time Sharon's sharing her wisdom on how to succeed with competitions...


If you are a writer, I'm sure you have thought about entering a competition at some point – whether the competition is for a short story, a piece of flash fiction, a poem, a blog post, a play or a novel.
Competitions provide a variety of scope and can offer writers a fantastic freedom of style, tone and genre.
Here's ten top tips to the secret of competition success. 

1 Follow the rules 

It sounds basic, but you'd be amazed at how many people don't.
Some competitions are very strict about line spacing, size of font and even the font itself. Then there's the business of actually sending it. Do they want entries via snail mail or e-mail?
If it's e-mail, do you paste it in the body of the e-mail itself or send it via an attachment?
If so, what kind of attachment? PDF? Word? It can be a pretty complex business, and I can recall plenty of times when I've had to call upon my IT expert hubby for help!
Check out if your name (and writing name) is required on the story or if it's preferred without. Entry forms can usually be found on the organiser's website.
Sometimes a cover sheet with your details is all that's required.
Paying the entry fee –there's cheque and paypal. Make sure that the organisers have received your story and payment.
Don't forget the closing date, and the word count must be correct, too.
Also the genre, theme and brief should fit the rules. The judges see it like this – if you can't be bothered to follow the instructions, the judges can't bothered to consider your entry.
Harsh, but true.

2 Be prepared

Write down the closing date of the competition on your calendar.
Give yourself a generous time limit to include re-drafting. For a novel or a play competition, your 'tinkering time' will be obviously be considerably longer. From my experience I've found that for play/novel comps, I already have something in mind. Unless it's for a 15 minute stage/radio sketch!
Pick a length of time you feel comfortable with. The important thing is to prepare.
Remember that novel and play competitions may require a full synopsis, a list of characters, chapter or scene breakdowns, a detailed outline of your theme and a bio, plus a writer's CV and photo. Phew!
Time to get cracking. Write a first draft.
Go back, add and edit, print it out, then leave it to rest. Keep doing this
until you are completely happy with it.
When you've reached the 'completely happy' stage, leave it for a week.
When you return to it, you should be able to spot things you've missed. Run it past a writer friend and ask for their opinion, because you want to give yourself the best possible chance of winning.

3 Critiques

With some competitions, for stories that didn't reach the long or short-list, there is an opportunity to pay extra for an additional critique.
These critiques can be a bit hit and miss.
I've received good critiques and bad ones. The bad ones have offered me one or two lines only.
The good ones go through each weak point and suggest ways of improvement.
Is the extra expense worth it? It really depends on whether you plan to send that particular piece of work elsewhere after the competition.

4 Don't dump your back catalogue

Short stories that have 'done the rounds' are unlikely to win.
Don't think ' That one will do' and desperately re-draft a rejected old stock story to fit the specified genre or theme.
This rarely works, because the judges will see straight through it. It's the lazy writer's tactic. Always try and attempt to create something new.
Surely a fabulous prize and publication is worth the effort?
After all, if you are short- listed (or even if you win) this achievement can be proudly added to your CV.

5 Be aware of rights

Some fiction competitions want to grab all rights, including copyright.
Check the terms and conditions carefully before entering.
There are ones that state that they automatically hold all copyright to all entries.
Simply put - the organisers can use or sell submitted stories any way they like without your permission, because by entering, you have effectively given your work to them.
And if there is an entry fee, you've paid for the privilege too.
That means that your story is not yours anymore, even if it's got your name on it. You'd be forced to ask the organisers for permission if you want to submit your story elsewhere.
Writers often don't mind giving away just one story. Yet what if you're entering two, three or four pieces of work?
It's your call.

6 Anthologies

The prize for these fiction competitions is publication in an anthology.
Some of these printed books are sold to raise money for charity.
Some, however aren't. The ones I'm talking about are competitions run by private self- publishing companies.
If your story is picked for publication, the publishers may expect you to buy a copy of the anthology that contains your story. The price of this can end up costing you more than the entry fee!

7 The cost of entry fees

The cost of entry fees can quickly mount up, so make sure you keep an eye on your spending. Set up a spreadsheet to track your outgoings.
Comping can be very addictive, especially after achieving short- list status, runner-up success or an actual win!
Competition entry fees for novels and plays can exceed £10.The general rule is, the higher fee, the higher the cash prize on offer.
Bear in mind that the organisers need to cover the cost of advertising the competition, plus there's website costs, and often there is admin staff to pay as well.
Usually, the entry fees cover the cash prize (or prizes). The organisers will often pay a high profile writer judge (or a panel of judges) a fee too.
However, there are several free to enter competitions around. The downside to free ones are that they attract quite a lot of entries.

8 E- magazines, small paper press competitions and online fiction projects

There are literally hundreds of e-magazines and small paper presses that offer ongoing, open genre short story competitions.
The prizes are small, yet this is reflected in the entry fee, so it's worth giving it a go.
They usually publish more than one issue per year, and late entries are automatically considered for the next edition.
This means that the closing date is not preying on your mind, and with an open genre, you can pick and choose your subject.
The editors are often the judges.
As for online fiction projects - sometimes the prize is simply publication on their website.

9 Where to find competitions

A google search will bring up plenty of opportunities, plus links to hundreds of websites that list fiction competitions.
I have a network of writer friends who tell me about interesting competitions that are posted on their blogs or FB pages.
Please return the favour - I also let them know if I stumble across anything that may interest them, too. Of course, the Writers' Forum monthly magazine comp calendar lists plenty of details and Writing magazine holds a twice yearly comps special pull- out as well.

10 Carry on comping!

I love entering fiction competitions.
My entries have been long- listed and short-listed, they've been runner -ups too, and once I was lucky enough to win first place for a short story competition ran by a UK national monthly women's magazine (PRIMA).
It's an incredible feeling of elation and achievement to see your name up there on a website with the results!
The prizes I've received range from a plant (Yes, that's right - a plant) a book of short stories, a year's free magazine subscription to a kobo e-reader – plus cash and publication too, of course.
I relish the challenge, and I try my best to make my entry entertaining, engaging, different and original.
Last year, a writer friend of mine really hit the jackpot. Within the space of a few months, she'd scooped an incredible £900 from winning several high profile fiction competitions!
She told me that she'd treated herself to a beautiful antique desk with the winnings. It was very well deserved.
So work hard and carry on comping, but please - make sure you have fun too!


S.BEE is Sharon Boothroyd, who is the editor of KISHBOO e-magazine. It's FREE to read online.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

A Look Back At 2015

2015 has been a mix of writing highs and personal lows.

At a time of great stress and worry I found that writing was my salvation.  It was a distraction from things that I had no control over, but plenty of worry about.  It gave me a reason to get up and do something when I could easily have sat in a dark corner and wept. But most of all it led me to discover a world full of like-minded enthusiastic people who have been a source of inspiration and hope.

Back in January I joined the RNA New Writers Scheme. Although I wasn’t able to attend any of the events this year due to an illness in the family, being a member of this incredible association has been absolutely fantastic.  The NWS review of my romantic crime novel was invaluable and I now have a clear plan in mind for what I need to work on.  Through the RNA I have met so many wonderfully helpful, supportive and friendly people and I love the comradery between the members. The weekly #TuesNews on twitter is a great way to stay up to date with what’s happening and to show support for those who have been so encouraging.

Building on the knowledge that I’ve gained since starting a creative writing course in October 2014 I have spent this year rewriting my historical romance novel. Thanks to the encouragement and support of some of the RNA members, I’ve now joined the Historical Novel Society as well and am looking forward to meeting everyone at the conference next year.

This year I launched my guest post section on my blog where I welcome writers to chat about something that matters to them.  A huge thank you to Sharon at Kishboo Magazine for being my very first guest blogger and I’m looking forward to welcoming her back for another guest post on 28th December.  It seemed fitting that she should be back as my final guest for 2015.  Thanks also to my other fantastic guests this year; Rhoda Baxter, Heidi Swain, Louise Marley, Emma Davies, Wendy Clarke, Holly Martin and Sam Tonge.  I’ve loved reading your posts and appreciate all your support.  I’m looking forward to welcoming yet more guests to my blog in 2016. If you’d like to be part of it do contact me @Elaina_James

Whilst I was hosting my guest blog I also got to be a guest myself over on Heidi Swain’s blog.  Thank you Heidi for inviting me to be part of your  #MyWritingLife series. I loved reading about everyone’s journey.

2015 has been a year of firsts for me.  I had my first short story; ‘Cinderella Shoes’ published in print in the Autumn Scribble Magazine and my first article; ‘If You Don’t Try’ and poem; ‘A Writer’s World’ published in Kishboo.  I also collaborated with a musician who brought life to some of my lyrics.  

And if all of this wasn’t exciting enough, in 2016 you’ll find me over on Mslexia as a resident guest blogger from February to April chatting about writing from the perspective of a songwriter with stage fright.  I do hope you’ll stop by and say Hi.

For now though I wish you all a great Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, 14 December 2015

Guest Post:Sam Tonge - Want To Be A Writer?

This week I'm joined by Sam Tonge, author of Doubting Abbey and Game of Scones. 

Want To Be A Writer?

When reading through magazines or newspapers, you often see an advert headed “Want to be a Writer?” This got me thinking... would I actually recommend it as a profession. Whilst I have five romantic comedies published now, I still remember The Wilderness Years as I remember them, full of rejection, tears, the occasional high but a lot of lows, accompanied by my (futile) declarations that I would give up my passion.

Yet, having though about this question I have quickly decided, yes I definitely would, because I’ve been lucky enough to have enjoyed so many amazing experience since signing my deal that, in my opinion, are made all the sweeter because of the hard times I went through. And here are my top five experiences you can look forward to, if you stay determined, develop a tough skin and never stop believing you could be just moments away from finding that one person (agent or publisher) who loves your work:

  • Seeing the cover of your first book. It is impossible to imagine what it will look like and fascinating to see how the design team transfer your story into pictures. I loved mine – the Christmas cover to Doubting Abbey – with snowflakes falling and a beautiful mansion in the background. I had it printed onto canvas (as I do with all my covers) so that it now hangs on the wall.
  • Getting your first round of revisions from an editor, because whilst this is scary, it’s proof that your writing is being taken seriously and a chance to learn from the experts how to improve your own ability. I am continually in awe of how my editors pick out flaws, minor and major, that I would never have seen on my own.
  • Reading your first great review. The rush of relief, pride and gratitude. Yes, bad reviews happen to us all and can be painful, but in my experience, they are forgotten in the face of just one great one where a reader has totally understood why you have written the book and what you wanted to achieve. And I am particularly fond of reviews where readers say my books have cheered up their day. Nothing can make me feel more satisfied.
  • Having more opportunities to meet authors in the flesh, at writing events. Since becoming published I have joined the Romantic Novelists Association and attended several glitzy events, with Prosecco flowing and laughter filling the room. Those days are ones I dreamed of before getting published and kept me going through the tough times.
  • Getting to know readers and bloggers. I have made some lovely, supportive, generous friends during the last two years and their friendship means such a lot. Promoting a book is hard work and I never forget the selfless help of others who support me.

In putting this list together, I realize, I could go on and on. 2015 has been a great year for me, with my summer bestseller Game of Scones winning the Love Stories Best Ebook Award at a fancy ceremony in London, and two of my other books going into shops. But whilst the big things are fantastic, it just means everything that my work is finally reaching people. All I have ever wanted is an audience. So keep on going. It’s great to want to be a writer. Let your dreams fuel you along the rocky road to publication.

Author Bio

Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and a cat that thinks it’s a dog. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award in 2014. Her summer 2015 novel Game of Scones hit #5 in the UK Kindle chart.


Things don’t always run smoothly in the game of love…
As her Christmas wedding approaches, a trip back to snowy England for her ex’s engagement party makes her wonder if those are wedding bells she’s hearing in her mind, or warning bells. She longs for the excitement of her old London life – the glamour, the regular pedicures. Can she really give that all up to be…a fishwife? There’s nothing for it but to throw herself into bringing a little Christmas magic to the struggling village in the form of a Christmas fair. Somewhere in amidst the sparkly bauble cakes and stollen scones, she’s sure she’ll come to the right decision about where she belongs…hopefully in time for the wedding…
Perfect for fans of Lindsey Kelk and Debbie Johnson. Don’t miss the Christmas Wedding of the year!







Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Reluctant Gardener: Hanging Up My Gardening Gloves

As 2015 draws to a close it seems only fitting to update you on my gardening progress.

Towards the end of October I mowed the lawn and put the mower away, satisfied that I wouldn’t be needing it again until the spring.  Then I spent the next few weeks uncharacteristically cursing the mild weather and literally watching the grass grow.

Before I grudgingly got the mower back out of its winter hibernation though one of the neighbours offered to cut the lawn for me. I don’t think he was quite anticipating the eagerness with which his offer was accepted.

So I settled back and admired the short lawn which seemed so much better for not having had to do it myself, plus it lacked the wonky lines which always emerge despite my best efforts to walk in a straight line. I delighted in the blissful knowledge that now it definitely wouldn’t need cutting again before the spring.

That was it.  My role as the temporary gardener filling in for my Dad had been completed for the year.

Or so I thought.

“The tubs of fuchsias need to go in the greenhouse before the frost comes,” Dad announced two weeks ago.  I looked out of the window and scowled at the six big 18 inch tubs filled with soil.

Reluctantly I found myself outside shivering in the chilly November wind, pondering how to get the pesky tubs off the terrace, up two steps and across the lawn to the greenhouse. Thankfully Mum pitched in and between us we pivoted, dragged and cursed the heavy things all the way into their winter home.

With the greenhouse full and my fingers numb I headed back into the warmth.

Dad looked at me apprehensively. “You know the damp fallen leaves that the wind has swept up along the bottom of the shed will make the wood rotten if they’re left there…”

Monday, 7 December 2015

The Writing Class: Second Person Narrative

The writing class last week looked at second person narrative.

Based on Lorrie Moore’s collection of short stories; ‘Self Help’, we were set the task of writing a somewhat sarcastic instruction in the second person about how to be a writer.

Here’s mine:

Stop telling the world that you want to be a writer and actually write something. Anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not. After all your aim was simply to be a writer, be it good, bad, or more likely just unread.

Buy a dictionary, or at least learn how to use spell check. It even helps you out with squiggly red underlying to give you a hint as to where your errors lurk.

Proofread, and no that doesn’t mean skim read.

When you think of that perfect phrase, write it down. It doesn’t matter if it’s 3am, you’ll only curse yourself if you forget it. Alternatively it might just echo around your head all night like a child that demands attention and refuses to be quiet. It’s easier to give in and write it down.

Of course in the morning you’ll probably realise that it was rubbish and you’d have been better off sleeping, but at least you didn’t forget it.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Songwriting News: The 2015 UK Songwriting Contest Results

The 2015 UK Songwriting Contest results are out!

I’m delighted to have lyrics in the semi-finals again this year with ‘Back to Before’. Sadly they didn’t reach the finals, but there’s always next year…

You can listen to the winners from this year’s contest online at:

The Lyrics Only Winner was Debra Gussin with her powerful and emotional lyrics ‘Best Actor’. You can read her winning words here:

My favourite song in the contest this year is the Country Winner; ‘A Moment Doesn’t Matter’ by Jayne Sachs, Victoria Banks and Brett Mandel.  It’s a beautiful song, fantastic moving lyrics and a great sound. I’d love to hear more by these guys!

I also loved ‘My Favourite Time Of Year’ by Leigh Haggerwood, which won the Music Video category. The work that must have gone in to producing this video is incredible.

Congratulations to all this year’s winners, finalists and semi-finalists. I’m looking forward to next year’s contest already.

And just in case you were wondering about my own entry, I’ll leave you with the lyrics to ‘Back to Before’. I’d love to know what you think.

Back to Before
Verse 1
You thought you could break me and make me fall,
But I will rise back up and withstand it all.
You can knock me down but you can’t knock me out,
I’ll survive without you I have no doubt.

I ain’t going down with your ship,
You’re not gonna set my dreams adrift.
I will find my own way to shore.
You’re like an anchor weighing me down,
But you’re not gonna make me drown.
Now there’s no going back to before.

Verse 2
You’re battling demons no one can see,
But you didn’t need to turn your war on me.
I was your ally I was your only friend,
I would have stayed with you until the end.

I ain’t going down with your ship,
You’re not gonna set my dreams adrift.
I will find my own way to shore.
You’re like an anchor weighing me down,
But you’re not gonna make me drown.
Now there’s no going back to before.

Middle 8
From time to time you throw me hope like an old life ring,
But empty promises just don’t mean anything.
I am finally done weathering your storm,
Your apologies are hollow and your excuses worn.

I ain’t going down with your ship,
You’re not gonna set my dreams adrift.
I will find my own way to shore.
You’re like an anchor weighing me down,
But you’re not gonna make me drown.
Now there’s no going back to before.

No there’s no going back to before.