Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

BeaconLit Fourth Year 500-word comp Round 6 – Jan 2021 winners announced

We are delighted to announce the top three stories from January’s entries are (in alphabetical order):

  • Did you have a good holiday?
  • Piece by Piece
  • The Real Mrs Chapman

January’s theme was ‘A New Me’. The three top stories will now go through to the final judging and the top ten prize-winning authors (not necessarily the same as the top ten stories as no author can win more than one prize) will be announced at the 2021 BeaconLit literary festival on Saturday 10th July (fingers crossed!). The results will also be listed here and on the main website (link below) and the winners contacted.

There are often more than three stories that could have made the top three but those that did were either closer to the theme or stronger (provoked more of a reaction after reading) so don’t be disheartened if yours hasn’t been mentioned.

If your story for this month isn’t listed in the above three, you are welcome to do whatever you like with your submission hereon in. If your story is listed, it’s possible that it could be placed in the ultimate top ten* which will be published on this website (and on http://www.beaconlit.co.uk) in July so please do not send it elsewhere until after the final results are announced.

If you have requested, and paid for, critique, this will be with you in the next few days if not already.

*

Gareth’s feedback on the stories received this month:

There were some thoughtful interpretations, ranging from facial and even full body makeovers, to dropping out of, or into, lives of crime. Surprisingly only one person chose the ongoing pandemic lockdown as the backdrop. Some stories were rooted in the practical and real-life experience, both in the classroom, as teachers (with scarily well-observed pupils). One teacher, helped by her therapist, was finding a new way to negotiate the class, and making clever use of a banana at a key point in the story. As well as clapping for carers, we should be cheering for teachers once a week.

People are taking on difficult subjects. One was a touching story about a boy applying make-up, confidently redefining his sexuality, with a neat twist in the last paragraph. Another person struggles with contact lenses, an important part of the makeover.

Another writer outlines the practical details of her going-green plan, complete with making donations to green charities.

Lockdown can still be a fertile subject, and we all have something to say about our domestic situation. One person told a very good jigsaw story, for instance. And clearly based on the person’s own experience, with lots of practical detail on how to deal with those 2000 thousand pieces, while coming to terms with one’s partner.

One or two ventured into science fiction. When you imagine the future, of course, anything goes. But in other real-life locations, it’s always worth checking the details online. If you have a plausible story why spoil it by introducing a jarring plot detail?

Quite a number of good stories, and I urge people not to be discouraged if they weren’t in my top three. I could easily have put another three there. Please keep trying.

Some general observations…

It’s tempting to be lyrical and pile on the adjectives. But do be self-critical. Look again and see if you can cast that sentence more simply, while keeping the strong adjectives. Or maybe just one vivid piece of description to set the scene. You’ve made your point about that stunning landscape, or sunset. Now get on with this story.

The wonderful thing about writing on a computer (or phone or iPad) is you never need to misspell again. I came across one or two wrong spellings, and they can be rather jarring. Do check.

And watch out for cliches. Think of new ways to describe the person serving you coffee, and the effect it has on you. Think: has what I’ve just written been said before in this way 1 million times, with these same qualifying adjectives? If the answer is yes, spend some time thinking of a new way to say it.

A simple comma can make all the difference. Amplifying a clause, when, if a sentence simply runs on unbroken, readers could be left confused. Again, no end of trustworthy help on the Internet. And do read pieces through yet one more time to pick up those stray words or letters that get overlooked and stranded in a piece of copy, as you edit.

Several people repeated the same word, or a variation upon it, in successive sentences. It is worth looking for alternatives,.

And when to use capital letters? New Year, for example, generally has initial capitals.

If in doubt, do check on a few different places on the Internet. There will be an authoritative answer there.

My feeling is that technical terms, such as DEFCON 3, need to be explained in a story. I had to look it up. I am obviously watching the wrong films.

*

Although Gareth judges on the impact of the stories and the quality of the writing, it’s always disappointing when there are simple spelling mistakes or even simpler errors that should have been picked up during the editing process. Please do read your stories carefully before submitting and ideally show them to someone you trust for their opinion.

*Should you get through to the longlist of 30 stories (three per month over ten months), it doesn’t necessarily mean that your story won’t be chosen if it slips out of the top ten. No author will appear in the top ten twice so a story that came eleventh (or twelfth, thirteenth…) could be bumped up where there are author duplications.

You can also receive feedback on your story / stories at £5 per story with the optional critique service (given by the judge, Gareth Davies). This option is detailed on the main 500-word Competition page with an option to select critique within the entry form.

N.B. ALL the profits (fees minus PayPal charges) from this competition go to BeaconLit funds for the local libraries. No one involved in the competition charges for their time (including the judge!). Good luck!

Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

BeaconLit Fourth Year 500-word comp Round 5 – Dec 2020 winners announced (and February’s open!)

On the day that January rolls over to February (Theme: Better To Have Loved And Lost), we are delighted to announce the top three stories from December’s entries are (in alphabetical order):

  • Big Black Boots with High Cotton Tops
  • Black and Red Promises
  • Party Boy

The theme for December was ‘The Fake Santa’. The three top stories will now go through to the final judging and the top ten prize-winning authors (not necessarily the same as the top ten stories as no author can win more than one prize) will be announced at the 2021 BeaconLit literary festival on Saturday 10th July (fingers crossed!). The results will also be listed here and on the main website (link below) and the winners contacted.

There are often more than three stories that could have made the top three but those that did were either closer to the theme or stronger (provoked more of a reaction after reading) so don’t be disheartened if yours hasn’t been mentioned.

If your story for this month isn’t listed in the above three, you are welcome to do whatever you like with your submission hereon in. If your story is listed, it’s possible that it could be placed in the ultimate top ten* which will be published on this website (and on http://www.beaconlit.co.uk) in July so please do not send it elsewhere until after the final results are announced.

If you have requested, and paid for, critique, this will be with you in the next few days if not already.

*

Gareth’s feedback on the stories received this month:

December’s subject was The Fake Santa.

There are many ways to set a story to this theme: in the home, the department store and elsewhere. And writers came up with some novel treatments, while adhering to the truth that, from the child’s point of view, the very idea of Santa, anywhere, is enchanting.

Writers succeeded in conveying the mystery of the man and his world from many angles, and the way children interpret him. One of my favourites concerns a boy named Donald who ungraciously tried to expose the Santa as a fake at a Christmas party. Now who could this writer possibly have had in mind?

It was a good start to this year’s competition, although these were technically December’s entries.

If you thought you were in with a chance, you almost certainly were. It’s been so hard to choose winners. I have had to exclude from my top three several entries which in other months would have sailed in. So please don’t be too disappointed if your story didn’t make it. There wasn’t a poor story here. One or two were outstanding, making this one of the best competitions I have had to judge.

In many cases there is nothing I could possibly add to improve the story, except for some punctuation. People are working hard at descriptions – “there’s madness and mayhem with one piping voice, the party giver’s, shriller than the rest”, is just one example I like.

There’s a delightful story about Grandpa as a Santa, but told slightly obliquely so you have to think about it.

Another is a convincing commentary on the uncomfortable, low-paid lot of the men who do the job of impersonating Santa. Yet another was a neat variation on the Jimmy Boyd “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” perennial.

And clever, too. Rearrange the letters a bit, and Santa becomes Satan. Dreadful thought, or intriguing alternative reality?

One writer uses a string of cliches, but while I normally bristle at their use, there are times, such as this, when they can be used to effect. In this case in the voice of someone down on his luck, telling his festive tale in his own voice.

One or two people, or maybe their spellcheckers, slipped in unnecessary apostrophes before the final “s” in plural words. “Over seven’s”, for example. I’m sure it was a mistake. Just be careful when you read through. Especially when the rest of the writing in that particular story is so good.

I’m looking for turns of phrase that stand out. A sequence of words that I’ve never seen before – “underneath all, the black sparkling seams of coal that have paid for these luxuries” – created not recycled, which is one of the best elements of writing.

But this is not essential; I’m happy, too, with the story that is sparse and crispy told, that moves swiftly along.

I was reminded that ideas for stories come from anywhere. One writer based a very pleasing story on a ’Christmas Gift of Coal’ letter from the local mine owner, written just before nationalisation of the coal industry in 1948, found in a junk shop.

*

Although Gareth judges on the impact of the stories and the quality of the writing, it’s always disappointing when there are simple spelling mistakes or even simpler errors that should have been picked up during the editing process. Please do read your stories carefully before submitting and ideally show them to someone you trust for their opinion.

*Should you get through to the longlist of 30 stories (three per month over ten months), it doesn’t necessarily mean that your story won’t be chosen if it slips out of the top ten. No author will appear in the top ten twice so a story that came eleventh (or twelfth, thirteenth…) could be bumped up where there are author duplications.

You can also receive feedback on your story / stories at £5 per story with the optional critique service (given by the judge, Gareth Davies). This option is detailed on the main 500-word Competition page with an option to select critique within the entry form.

N.B. ALL the profits (fees minus PayPal charges) from this competition go to BeaconLit funds for the local libraries. No one involved in the competition charges for their time (including the judge!). Good luck!

Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

BeaconLit Fourth Year 500-word comp Round 4 – Nov 2020 winners announced

We are delighted to announce the top three stories from November’s entries are (in alphabetical order):

  • 1107 Autumn leaves
  • 1101 Songbird
  • 1104 Cherished treasures

The theme for November was ‘Autumn Leaves’. The three top stories will now go through to the final judging and the top ten prize-winning authors (not necessarily the same as the top ten stories as no author can win more than one prize) will be announced at the 2021 BeaconLit literary festival on Saturday 10th July (fingers crossed!). The results will also be listed here and on the main website (link below) and the winners contacted.

There are often more than three stories that could have made the top three but those that did were either closer to the theme or stronger (provoked more of a reaction after reading) so don’t be disheartened if yours hasn’t been mentioned.

If your story for this month isn’t listed in the above three, you are welcome to do whatever you like with your submission hereon in. If your story is listed, it’s possible that it could be placed in the ultimate top ten* which will be published on this website (and on http://www.beaconlit.co.uk) in July so please do not send it elsewhere until after the final results are announced.

If you have requested, and paid for, critique, this will be with you in the next few days if not already.

*

Gareth’s feedback on the stories received this month:

By all means turn your personal experience into a story. It’s the best form of research. There are several this month that suggests to me that the writers felt at first hand the adventure, pain and satisfaction they are communicating in their stories.

But do check for things like unnecessary repetition and tautology: “7 am on the first morning” for example.

And errors such as “laying on the ground”. (Lying). Plenty of guidance on the Internet.

And while repetition of a word in another sentence close by can add emphasis in some instances, the repeated word is usually there because the writer didn’t read closely enough, and would probably have used an alternative if he or she had spotted it.

It’s good to see writers trying out fresh descriptions, similes and treatments. I particularly liked “they rise like a swoop of rooks” in one story.

One person, inspired by a song, told a story from the point of view of a dead lover. Another took the poetic route, and described autumn as a physical being, wearing the colours of the season, issuing her orders to the trees. An interesting, imaginative treatment of autumn.

But it jars when writers don’t check spelling. One writer made an error in the spelling of Alzheimer’s. (I confess I had to check it myself.)  Always worth one more read through. It is a shame (and especially, here, in a well-told story) because my feeling is that when somebody uses this word they often know somebody close to them who has or had the condition.

Another error was a misspelling of WhatsApp. I’m sure lots of us would get it wrong just taking a stab at it, but that’s the only correct spelling, I’m afraid. Do check online. (I allow other spelling variants, because I know writers from North America submit stories.)

*

Although Gareth judges on the impact of the stories and the quality of the writing, it’s always disappointing when there are simple spelling mistakes or even simpler errors that should have been picked up during the editing process. Please do read your stories carefully before submitting and ideally show them to someone you trust for their opinion.

*Should you get through to the longlist of 30 stories (three per month over ten months), it doesn’t necessarily mean that your story won’t be chosen if it slips out of the top ten. No author will appear in the top ten twice so a story that came eleventh (or twelfth, thirteenth…) could be bumped up where there are author duplications.

You can also receive feedback on your story / stories at £5 per story with the optional critique service (given by the judge, Gareth Davies). This option is detailed on the main 500-word Competition page with an option to select critique within the entry form.

N.B. ALL the profits (fees minus PayPal charges) from this competition go to BeaconLit funds for the local libraries. No one involved in the competition charges for their time (including the judge!). Good luck!

Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

BeaconLit Fourth Year 500-word comp Round 3 – Oct 2020 winners announced

We are delighted to announce the top three stories from October’s entries are (in alphabetical order):

  • Barking mad
  • The Grimshaws
  • Semi-detached

The theme for October was ‘The Terror Next Door’. The three top stories will now go through to the final judging and the top ten prize-winning authors (not necessarily the same as the top ten stories as no author can win more than one prize) will be announced at the 2021 BeaconLit literary festival on Saturday 10th July (fingers crossed!). The results will also be listed here and on the main website (link below) and the winners contacted.

There are often more than three stories that could have made the top three but those that did were either closer to the theme or stronger (provoked more of a reaction after reading) so don’t be disheartened if yours hasn’t been mentioned.

If your story for this month isn’t listed in the above three, you are welcome to do whatever you like with your submission hereon in. If your story is listed, it’s possible that it could be placed in the ultimate top ten* which will be published on this website (and on http://www.beaconlit.co.uk) in July so please do not send it elsewhere until after the final results are announced.

If you have requested, and paid for, critique, this will be with you in the next few days if not already.

*

Gareth’s feedback on the stories received this month:

Neighbours. This is a rich seam, and people have mined it to very good effect.

Some stories are so convincing, written with passion, that I must suppose the writers have had personal experience of unpleasant neighbours.

Some give conventional treatments of the title. Others spin off in quite unexpected directions. But any treatment is fine, and better still if it’s well written, and competently paced and constructed.

And the stories certainly have been that this month.

It’s fine, if you have had that “neighbour experience” yourself. But by all means let your imagination take you to that place too, as others have.

There is one particularly good story I liked about the sadness of the childless couple next door. That scene evokes – from the children’s point of view – the boys singing carols at the spooky house in Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”.

And a few stories about the people next door actually making physical contact. (They were plausible, because it can be quite easy to get in, particularly through the attic.)

And there is one imaginative story about shape shifting.

One writer ably conveyed the grinding irritation of living with serial carless, inconsiderate families next door.

What is a good way of ending a story? I’ve decided there are many.

Some this month have quite satisfying, reassuring conclusions, where the main character (there is rarely room for more from more than one in a 500 word story) has an issue, thinks of, and works towards, a solution and successfully, even if unexpectedly, implements it in the last paragraph.

Others leave you, the reader, hanging. Both endings are equally valid, happy, unhappy, clear or ambiguous and uncertain. What matters is how you get there, and if it all adds up for the reader.

A few general points:

Avoid cliches, if only because that form of words is not original writing. I and other readers will surely have heard them before.

Try not to repeat the title of something, or a name, in two successive sentences. Why not just “it”, “he” or “she”?

Look closely at punctuation. Do you need that gratuitous comma. And some people might want to use a semi colon, instead of comma.

These are very minor points. But they can blunt the overall effect, in a story of good descriptive writing. It’s worth getting them right. As ever there is plenty of sound advice on the Internet. Or look at a master like John LeCarre (see below). Just read his punctuation for a couple of pages.

I’m pleased that people look for different ways of describing things – just one original description of movement I came across is: “She puddled across the doormat”.

People haven’t forced, or overdone, the descriptive writing this month. My main overall point is: in a 500 word story, do weigh those words carefully.

Look out for wordy phrases. And try to avoid the passive voice – something “being done” to someone. Try to be as crisp as possible, when words are so scarce. It sound better too.

Even if it’s only one word. “Continue” is better than “Continue on”, for example. It’s crisper, more economical. What does “on” actually mean? (Where it doesn’t mean forwards.)

When it’s perfectly clear who is speaking, there’s no need for “he / she said”. And think of making three individual sentences out of a longer sentence with multiple clauses, which can become clumsy.

I recently read John LeCarre’s Agent Running in the Field. It’s just worth reading just to see how a master handles dialogue. And so crisply.

And even when you think you have found every last error in the story, read it again in a few hours. (I found several things people had missed.

*

Although Gareth judges on the impact of the stories and the quality of the writing, it’s always disappointing when there are simple spelling mistakes or even simpler errors that should have been picked up during the editing process. Please do read your stories carefully before submitting and ideally show them to someone you trust for their opinion.

*Should you get through to the longlist of 30 stories (three per month over ten months), it doesn’t necessarily mean that your story won’t be chosen if it slips out of the top ten. No author will appear in the top ten twice so a story that came eleventh (or twelfth, thirteenth…) could be bumped up where there are author duplications.

You can also receive feedback on your story / stories at £5 per story with the optional critique service (given by the judge, Gareth Davies). This option is detailed on the main 500-word Competition page with an option to select critique within the entry form.

N.B. ALL the profits (fees minus PayPal charges) from this competition go to BeaconLit funds for the local libraries. No one involved in the competition charges for their time (including the judge!). Good luck!

Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

BeaconLit Fourth Year 500-word comp Round 2 – Sept 2020 winners announced

We are delighted to announce the top three stories from September’s entries are (in alphabetical order):

  • Coffee Break
  • Ultimatums
  • What if there’s another lockdown

The theme for September was ‘When September Ends’. The three top stories will now go through to the final judging and the top ten prize-winning authors (not necessarily the same as the top ten stories as no author can win more than one prize) will be announced at the 2021 BeaconLit literary festival on Saturday 10th July (fingers crossed!). The results will also be listed here and on the main website (link below) and the winners contacted.

There are often more than three stories that could have made the top three but those that did were either closer to the theme or stronger (provoked more of a reaction after reading) so don’t be disheartened if yours hasn’t been mentioned.

If your story for this month isn’t listed in the above three, you are welcome to do whatever you like with your submission hereon in. If your story is listed, it’s possible that it could be placed in the ultimate top ten* which will be published on this website (and on http://www.beaconlit.co.uk) in July so please do not send it elsewhere until after the final results are announced.

If you have requested, and paid for, critique, this will be with you in the next few days.

*

Gareth’s feedback on the stories received this month:

There have been a number of good pandemic stories since April – although can one even use “good” and “pandemic” in the same sentence? – and some writers pursued the theme again this month, either in passing, or addressing the subject full on, featuring people, still scarred and raw, six months after the spring peak. One, full of raw, awkward detail handled it did particularly well.

There are also some nicely-turned relationship stories, which even this reader, who would normally turn away from standard romantic fiction, found interesting. It’s that simple truth: it doesn’t matter what the story is about, provided it is well told and engages the reader.

In some stories I was looking for more inventive scene setting. Not the same old description we have all read hundreds of times. The plots are interesting enough. It’s just those first scene-setting paragraphs lack bite, in some cases.

And why not use the Internet to put names to those delicious cakes on the counter in a cafe, for example?

We know they look delicious – they always do; they are cakes. If we knew they were Pandoro Veronese, or Panettone, or Millefoglie, wouldn’t that add a flourish to the story? (And it tells me, wow, this person has bothered to research everything.)

Do look for something fresh to say about a familiar location or thing, if you can.  The scruffy kitchen has been described millions of times – dirty plates, half full coffee cups etc. One writer here has tried, with some contemporary detail. referring to boxes “unfit for recycling with the stuck on red- tinged cheese and bits of mushroom.” This is a detail of lock down which many of us will recognise.

It’s worth pausing and pondering over a word or a line, and attempting something different. I like things like – “He’s childishly plaintive”, referring to an older man being given instructions by his children.

Repetition of a word is always a problem, particularly when you have 500 words and not enough space to dilute those repeated words, or hide them. So if it’s a word like “waitress”, give her a name when she is introduced – “Hi, I’m Millie, your waitress.” Thereafter she can be Millie, or “the waitress”, or simply “she” when it’s obvious. When there are only two people speaking, you can dispense with “she” or “he said” altogether, when it’s obvious. You save words and you can be less clunky. Some have done this well.

And be careful with the adjectives you use. A waitress described as young and blonde. The fact that she’s blonde contributes absolutely nothing to the story. If she had blue hair, it might have suggested a certain flamboyance, but even then I’m not sure what. Use “blonde” in a longer story, which might help with recognition if the protagonist comes back another day; but when words are so precious, make that one word work harder elsewhere in the story.

Some writers could make their stories flow better by giving some thought to these points.

I wish people wouldn’t be afraid of cutting a long sentence in two, or three, rather than extend it through clause after clause. In the 500 word story confuse the reader with the plot, by all means, but not with a convoluted sentence that he or she has to reread just to get the meaning,

One writer boldly breaks with convention, which is that the story doesn’t have to be 500 words, but will probably not be a great deal less. So if you can tell it in 152 words, as this person does, by all means do so. He or she is making one main point, and another at the end, and it works well enough.

The problem is that by writing short you don’t include imaginative twists and turns which might make the story better, or the colour and description that might further satisfy the reader. On the other hand, with so few words there’s no padding, and the message is strongly conveyed.

One or two small points but they are important. If Zoom, as in online communication, is used in a story, it has to be with a capital “z”. It’s a tradename along with Hoover, and Apple.

Do study the punctuation, and check if you are not sure. There’s an abundance of help sites online. This month I’ve seen commas used where they shouldn’t be, and not used where they would have been a help. It detracts from some good stories.

There is some good descriptive writing. My advice is quit while you are ahead, and don’t add that extra adjective just because it sounds good to you. And, pedantic as it may sound, one writer puts bluebells on a Scottish island. I doubt it. Harebells, maybe? If in doubt, look it up online. There are lots of “true” facts about flowers and birds in a particular location. People do notice these things and silently approve when you get it right.

*

Although Gareth judges on the impact of the stories and the quality of the writing, it’s always disappointing when there are simple spelling mistakes or even simpler errors that should have been picked up during the editing process. Please do read your stories carefully before submitting and ideally show them to someone you trust for their opinion.

*Should you get through to the longlist of 30 stories (three per month over ten months), it doesn’t necessarily mean that your story won’t be chosen if it slips out of the top ten. No author will appear in the top ten twice so a story that came eleventh (or twelfth, thirteenth…) could be bumped up where there are author duplications.

You can also receive feedback on your story / stories at £5 per story with the optional critique service (given by the judge, Gareth Davies). This option is detailed on the main 500-word Competition page with an option to select critique within the entry form.

N.B. ALL the profits (fees minus PayPal charges) from this competition go to BeaconLit funds for the local libraries. No one involved in the competition charges for their time (including the judge!). Good luck!

Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

BeaconLit Fourth Year 500-word comp Round 1 – Aug 2020 winners announced

We are delighted to announce the top three stories from August’s entries are (in alphabetical order):

  • A growth industry
  • A terrible mother
  • There never were any olives

The theme for August was ‘Five A Day’. The three top stories will now go through to the final judging and the top ten prize-winning authors (not necessarily the same as the top ten stories as no author can win more than one prize) will be announced at the 2021 BeaconLit literary festival on Saturday 10th July (fingers crossed!). The results will also be listed here and on the main website (link below) and the winners contacted.

There are often more than three stories that could have made the top three but those that did were either closer to the theme or stronger (provoked more of a reaction after reading) so don’t be disheartened if yours hasn’t been mentioned.

If your story for this month isn’t listed in the above three, you are welcome to do whatever you like with your submission hereon in. If your story is listed, it’s possible that it could be placed in the ultimate top ten* which will be published on this website (and on http://www.beaconlit.co.uk) in July so please do not send it elsewhere until after the final results are announced.

If you have requested, and paid for, critique, this will be with you in the next few days.

*

Gareth’s feedback on the stories received this month:

A number of entries this month deal with mental health issues. They are told, sensitively, from the point of view of the sufferer.

Another that caught my eye is a well-observed account of how a mother meets the challenge of getting her child to school. A simple, everyday saga.

This, too, is ably written, with insight and, I suspect, personal experience. Convincing. (There’s a neat twist, with the child in the right in this particular case, and the harassed mother left with a red face. Again that rings true.)

Then there is the topical subject of a food bank, and the decline of a person’s business circumstances so he has to make use of one.

These are good examples of people writing well about things they might have had experience of, although that is certainly not a prerequisite of a good story. I remember seeing somebody give advice to an aspiring writer years ago in a black-and-white film: “Write about things you know about, from your own experience.”

There is certainly merit in that, but you can equally well conjure up themes and plots from your imagination. And you can research pretty well any subject, with care, on the Internet these days. Or you could simply let your own mind take you where it will for 500 words.

I have no preference. All I ask is that you avoid silly mistakes, such as wrong use of apostrophes, and plurals. Everything can be checked. If you’re unsure about anything, do look it up. Nobody will know. I’ve been writing professionally for many years, and I’m constantly checking usage online.

I don’t think there’s much point in using adjectives and descriptive phrases just for affect.

But it’s fine to use them when the story allows. One is about a cat prowling in a lot in the allotment good night daylight at dead of night.

It’s quite leisurely at this point. The writer is setting the scene for the main event, so there is justification in three different verbs to describe what the rain was doing – “it drummed on umbrellas of rhubarb, pattered on swelling marrows and gurgled into brimming water butts.”

In other stories, where there is a lot of plot to develop, I don’t think you can justify a purple patch, just to show you can do it, when you’re actually holding the story up, and not adding to it. And using up valuable words, which could be better employed to explain or amplify a point.

And every story is worth just one more read-through, maybe after it has been set aside for a few hours. Even then my policy is not necessarily to mark somebody down for a howler, if the story is good enough. After all, most writers will have had their work read by a competent editor before publication, even JK Rowling.

*

Although Gareth judges on the impact of the stories and the quality of the writing, it’s always disappointing when there are simple spelling mistakes or even simpler errors that should have been picked up during the editing process. Please do read your stories carefully before submitting and ideally show them to someone you trust for their opinion.

*Should you get through to the longlist of 30 stories (three per month over ten months), it doesn’t necessarily mean that your story won’t be chosen if it slips out of the top ten. No author will appear in the top ten twice so a story that came eleventh (or twelfth, thirteenth…) could be bumped up where there are author duplications.

You can also receive feedback on your story / stories at £5 per story with the optional critique service (given by the judge, Gareth Davies). This option is detailed on the main 500-word Competition page with an option to select critique within the entry form.

N.B. ALL the profits (fees minus PayPal charges) from this competition go to BeaconLit funds for the local libraries. No one involved in the competition charges for their time (including the judge!). Good luck!

Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

BeaconLit Flash Fiction Competition Year 3 Results

Hello everyone. I’m delighted to bring you the results of this year’s flash fiction competition (the top three then the runners up)…

First prize (winning £75 plus up to 5,000 words critique from the competition’s judge Gareth Davies, worth £50, plus free entry to the literary festival in July 2021, currently worth £26.50)

Deborah Cross with ‘Hope in Springtime’

The moon hangs low in the sky. It is becoming fuller, but it’s heavy, struggling to rise. I have stood every evening on this balcony since it all began, to relax, to breathe. There is so little time. It helps me believe there is a higher hand in all this. These last few weeks are the darkest I can remember.
Across the way in the next building in the dim moonlight, I see the dancer, supple and lithe. She creates beauty in her dance, and I understand. This is her time too.
A patient I recognised arrived today, scared. They all are, struggling to breathe. So many coming, confronted by their own mortality. I treated him elsewhere in London for cancer, and he’d responded well till he caught the killer virus. Now, doctors and patients alike are moved to Nightingale hospital. Struggling to breathe between coughing fits, he gasped, “Don’t end up like me. Face your fears, your regrets. While there is time to change.”
His words stayed with me, as I watch the dancer twirling and pirouetting. She and the moon are my solace in this crazy pandemic; the first in 100 years. Every day, the news is bleak, swallowed by death and logistics. My patient is right to be afraid.
I think back ten years, to my training. Claire, the student nurse I asked on a date at Kings College hospital. I’d missed my train and stood her up. I was embarrassed. We didn’t speak. I haven’t seen her since. She found a new guy almost immediately and then it was too late.
Sighing, I take out my phone. I see the dancer has gone inside. I flick through patient updates, treatment plans. So many of us, working in unfamiliar teams, housed separately from our family and friends for their safety.
The next evening, the moon has turned a pale pink. She dances, but I cannot see her face. It was truly brutal today. I checked on 30 patients, 50% of whom will be unlikely to survive, giving instructions. The dark-haired nurse nodded and started organising the treatments. She was swathed from head to toe in protective mask and plastic. I filled my details on the patient record, then hurried on.
Wearily, I crawled back to sleep at the end of the shift. As I am nodding off, a text message pinged. I pick up the phone. “Balcony man, thanks for your message. Perhaps we can dine under the stars at 8pm?”
I am stunned. How could she know my number? Its 7:30pm now, so I shower quickly. When I venture outside, she sits 100m opposite. She waved across. “Glad you made it.”
“How did you find my number? I’m David – I’ve lived here since I studied at King’s.” Momentarily, she replied. “The dancing helps my stress levels. I trained at King’s too. Claire.”
I look up – surely not? The moon is full, immense and pink. Unusual and beautiful, it’s the April Supermoon, signifying the start of Springtime.

*

Second prize (winning £50 plus up to 4,000 words critique from the competition’s judge Gareth Davies, worth £40, plus free entry to the literary festival in July 2021, currently worth £26.50)

Pat Mernagh Thompson with ‘Muse no more’

This story was inspired by BBC4 documentary on Lee Miller; a life on the front line.

And so we move from the Metropolis into this backwater to play happy families. Roland deemed it for the best. If he could inhibit my brooding we could create a new satisfactory life. If he can filter people and deflect their interest, there will be some peace.
Here alone at night, in our strange English garden, I sometimes find respite from the phantoms. Too often they cleave to me like they clung onto life long after it should have been extinguished, that skin with protruding bones barely human, those crazed eyes in sunken sockets. They waited too listless to react when we ventured in as friends. It was, will always be, cataclysmic. By opening the shutter I showed the ultimate degradation and evil to the world. My camera recorded the horror.
I lie on the grass and look at the sky. It is not as vast as my American childhood sky, nor hypnotic like the Egyptian desert sky punctured with celestial menace, but more sheltering. I like the English damp that falls, when the sun descends, in sprinkles. The stars, in their capricious shimmering, still hold our fate.
There’s a yellow glow and odd bursts of merriment from the house. I cannot be involved. The visitors, not always invited but always welcomed by Roland who is thinking of his next project, exude surreal intellectual confidence. Discussion around love, life and the meaning of art no longer grabs me. Picasso’s opinions bore me, Man Ray has nothing new to say, Henry Moore’s in love with himself. I am no longer muse, nor beautiful icon. No more a looker, I choose to be merely wife and mother, the silent partner. And cook. I create lavish food experiences that assault the senses, I dispense generosity from the whiskey bottle, my own glass first, I hold my baby.
In Munich I posed in Hitler’s bath, a glamor model. I deliciously defiled the pristine room with the human detritus of Dachau from my boots. Later, I crawled stupefied into the Fuhrer’s bed for a sleep of the dead. When I woke, I staunched the thoughts that breathed, with a slug from my flask: there would be time for grieving after. I buried thoughts of rape and humiliation, theirs’ with mine, deep down. And continued my work as witness. The world had to know. This could never happen again.
Now I cannot rest from the ghosts. Oblivion will not come.
I will lie here until the house lights go out and dawn threatens. I will lie here until Roland comes to lead me in. We will sleep in the same space, apart, till noon.
My camera is wrapped in once-worn silk stole gifted by Vogue and consigned to a place where I will not chance upon it. Roland has boxed it away. We are complicit in this fiction.
One day I will record my son in more than snapshot detail. But not yet.

*

Third prize (winning £25 plus up to 3,000 words critique from the competition’s judge Gareth Davies, worth £30, plus free entry to the literary festival in July 2021, currently worth £26.50)

Sarah Foord-Kelcey with ‘A Letter to Mr Coleridge’

An imagined letter concerning an iconic poem, sent to the poet Coleridge from Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of William.

My dear Samuel
Good news! We are solvent once more and William is writing.
Allow me to explain. William had been in the doldrums all winter, lying on his couch and pondering Matters of Universal Importance. Even the glorious sights and sounds of spring outside his window failed to rouse him.
Meanwhile, our coffers were almost empty. I outlined our financial position to William in the starkest of terms, describing the mountain of unpaid bills, the increasing lack of civility shown to us by our creditors in Grasmere, and little John’s need for new shoes. The solution would be for William to write more poems, as his publisher, Mr Cottle, has repeatedly requested. Simple, uplifting verses that his readers could learn by heart and recite. Alas, his mind was on Higher Things and he would not take heed.
In desperation, I read him a description of daffodils from my journal, hoping this might inspire him, as my scribblings have sometimes done in the past. It worked. William rose immediately and started writing feverishly at his desk. Within two hours he had drafted a poem entitled ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.’
‘See if Mr Cottle likes this sort of thing,’ he sneered.
I read the poem. It was charming but one word jarred.
‘And all at once I saw a crowd,
A mob, of golden daffodils.’
‘‘Mob’ will not do’, I told him. ‘It fails to uplift.’
Try as I might, he would not change it.
‘It hints at Revolution,’ he countered.
On Sunday, while the vicar was delivering his sermon, I, as usual, entertained myself with an examination of decorative elements visible from my pew. A new stained glass window has been installed on the south side of the nave, and for the first time I witnessed brilliant sunshine illuminating the scene. It is a loose interpretation of The Last Judgement. God sits at the centre, surrounded by tiers of angels, and smiles approvingly at the benefactors, a local mill owner and his wife, who kneel before Him. A legend in Gothick script unfurls across the sky. Try as I might, I could only make out the mill owner’s name and that of his wife, the words ‘heavenly’ and ‘angels’. Then another word revealed itself, which I now like to think was Divine Intervention.
After lunch, at William’s request, I made a fair copy of the poem in my neatest handwriting to send to Mr Cottle. When I reached the word, ‘mob’, I paused, then replaced it with another.
Yesterday, William received a reply from Mr Cottle, together with a banknote for ten pounds, more than enough to pay our most pressing debts.
‘Dear William,’ he wrote. ‘Your poem is first-rate. The uplifting image of ‘a host of golden daffodils’ will remain with me forever.’
William has not mentioned the matter since.
From your good friend
Dorothy Wordsworth

And the seven runners up (each winning one free entry to the 2021 literary festival, currently worth £26.50 each) – in author name alphabetical order:

  • Chris Tattersall with ‘Discharged’ (theme: The fifth)
  • Fran Egan with ‘Bibliophilia’ (theme: The female assassin)
  • Julia Grieve with ‘The Trial’ (theme: Norma knows best)
  • Katy Todd with ‘Spring Fever’ (theme: The spring)
  • Lydia Clark with ‘Made with Love’ (theme: Sweet and sour)
  • Ramsay Dunning with ‘A Sticky End’ (theme: Sweet revenge)
  • Sherry Hostler with ‘Take on Me’ (theme: Fourteen again)

A huge congratulations to everyone. We’re awaiting a final figure raised but are confident it’ll be around the same as previous years (£400-£500)… we’ll let you know asap.

Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

BeaconLit Third Year 500-word comp Round 9 – May 2020 winners announced

We are delighted to announce the top three stories from May’s entries are (in alphabetical order):

  • Hope in Springtime
  • Muse No More
  • Sonnets and Satellites

The theme for April was ‘It’s in the stars’. The three top stories will now go through to the final judging and the top ten prize-winning authors (not necessarily the same as the top ten stories as no author can win more than one prize). They were going to be announced at the 2020 BeaconLit literary festival on Saturday 11th July but very sadly we’ve have had to postpone the festival until next year (Sat 10th July). The results will therefore be announced here and on the main website (link below) and the winners contacted.

There are often more than three stories that could have made the top three but those that did were either closer to the theme or stronger (provoked more of a reaction after reading) so don’t be disheartened if yours hasn’t been mentioned.

If your story for this month isn’t listed in the above three, you are welcome to do whatever you like with your submission hereon in. If your story is listed, it’s possible that it could be placed in the ultimate top ten* which will be published on this website (and on http://www.beaconlit.co.uk) in July so please do not send it elsewhere until after the final results are announced.

If you have requested, and paid for, critique, this will be with you in the next few days.

*

Gareth’s feedback on the stories received this month:

The range of subjects this month was fascinating and ambitious, from a story inspired by a BBC documentary on Lee Miller, to an extra terrestrial; from a well planned suicide to a very young (and touching) romance. There are several set in the current pandemic.

There wasn’t a poor story here. They were satisfying and many were quite clever. It’s often hard picking a winner, but this month has been hardest of all.

Contributors have a good grasp of structure, dialogue, and plot.

Very few basic errors, and I’m reduced in the main to pointing out use of lower case instead of capitals, and the odd missing punctuation.

Stories were clear and unambiguous, and well composed. My view is that in a 500 word story you have very little space for description and ornamentation, and it’s good to see people not doing this. They aren’t wasting words.

It’s gratifying when I’ve been a bit puzzled about something and I have re-read the story and found the explanation was there all along. Pleasing that people are addressing difficulties the reader might have had. It should always be the readers’ fault if they don’t get it.

I’ve no way of knowing if some of the people who have done so before are submitting stories again, or if these are entirely fresh writers, but one way or another the standard does seem to be rising.

Several stories show the value of good research, and in some cases personal experience in a particular job. This is some interesting insight into the work of a tour bus guide in Hollywood, for example. (Yes, writer, I had fun, too, doing this very thing, but on my own, filling in a couple of hours before a flight home from LA.) Ultimately you can write about any job without necessarily doing it yourself, but why not use personal knowledge if you have it?

Once again Covid-19 was a theme, and it was handled well, with some poignant stories. Writers certainly capture the daily tragedy, the futility, the loneliness of the past three months.

People are already talking about the pandemic novels. Well, we are already having some good pandemic short stories.

Another theme, naturally, is space, the stars, and space travel. A mother looking out into space to her astronaut son, for example. Writers are anticipating emotions that will surely be experienced in the future now that interplanetary travel seems very likely, after Elon Musk’s latest achievement. (In one story that caught my eye, they come here.)

In another I like the idea of something as permanent as a star not being so permanent at all, but simply going out, falling and then disintegrating. (Stars on a bedroom ceiling.)

One clever writer (the theme of young love) totally takes us in, but still give us clues – which, of course, we aren’t meant to pick up.

A few more small points. Some writers have used the same word twice in the same paragraph, and not for emphasis, when it would be justified. Always worth another read-through. I’m sure they would’ve used another word had they spotted it.

Several people very effectively hold back the twist to the very last paragraph, and in one case the last three words. It’s not a rule of short stories that you save the denouement for the last line, though we enjoy it when people do it well.

But it’s just one of many devices in the short story. There are others.

It’s quite acceptable to write about real people, as well as real events, such as the pandemic. The story about Lee Miller was a bit unusual in that it helped if the reader who didn’t know much too much about her read some background. Not all stories can be self-explanatory, or entirely self-contained, where you need no reference at all to other sources.

*

Although Gareth judges on the impact of the stories and the quality of the writing, it’s always disappointing when there are simple spelling mistakes or even simpler errors that should have been picked up during the editing process. Please do read your stories carefully before submitting and ideally show them to someone you trust for their opinion.

*Should you get through to the longlist of 27 stories (three per month over nine months), it doesn’t necessarily mean that your story won’t be chosen if it slips out of the top ten. No author will appear in the top ten twice so a story that came eleventh (or twelfth, thirteenth…) could be bumped up where there are author duplications.

You can also receive feedback on your story / stories at £5 per story with the optional critique service (given by the judge, Gareth Davies). This option is detailed on the main 500-word Competition page with an option to select critique within the entry form.

N.B. All the profits from this competition go to BeaconLit funds for the local libraries. No one involved in the competition charges for their time (including the judge!). Good luck!

Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

BeaconLit Third Year 500-word competition now closed!

Thank you to everyone who has entered over the past nine months.

The results of the May round will be announced first (hopefully by mid-June) then the overall results in the few weeks thereafter, certainly by when the festival would have run on Saturday 11th July.

You’ve already raised £100s (over £500 year 2… we’re hoping more this ‘year’) for the BeaconLit community libraries so everyone involved behind the scenes thanks you soooo much!

Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

BeaconLit Third Year 500-word comp Round 8 – April 2020 winners announced

We are delighted to announce the top three stories from April’s entries are (in alphabetical order):

  • Arranging Flowers
  • Baby Dolls
  • Bibliophilia

The theme for March was ‘the female assassin’. The three top stories will now go through to the final judging and the top ten prize-winning authors (not necessarily the same as the top ten stories as no author can win more than one prize). They were going to be announced at the 2020 BeaconLit literary festival on Saturday 11th July but very sadly we’ve have had to postpone the festival until next year (Sat 10th July). The results will therefore be announced here and on the main website (link below) and the winners contacted.

There are often more than three stories that could have made the top three but those that did were either closer to the theme or stronger (provoked more of a reaction after reading) so don’t be disheartened if yours hasn’t been mentioned.

If your story for this month isn’t listed in the above three, you are welcome to do whatever you like with your submission hereon in. If your story is listed, it’s possible that it could be placed in the ultimate top ten* which will be published on this website (and on http://www.beaconlit.co.uk) in July so please do not send it elsewhere until after the final results are announced.

If you have requested, and paid for, critique, this will be with you in the next few days.

*

Gareth’s feedback on the stories received this month:

There was a record number of submissions this month, which is just as you would expect. It’s pleasing to see so many people express themselves in writing, and I hope they have a chance to develop their thoughts in longer forms of the story.

The theme was “The female assassin”. Most people took that form of words literally, and wrote about women who were killers. A number anchored their stories in the current pandemic. Several interpreted the theme in quite novel ways.

Contract killing is not an area of fiction I know particularly well, but usually non-followers can work out the meaning of “mark” and “wet work”. Sometimes, however, a few words of explanation don’t go amiss.

I ask writers to be ruthless with words. Don’t waste them on people or things that have nothing to do with the story. Paint a picture, by all means. Make that extra piece of detail on a stray bystander count. Otherwise get them out of your story.

You may need those extra words to amplify a point, and make it absolutely clear to the reader what you have in mind.

Overall, writers had a good grasp of procedure, and the killing process, and how these professionals go about their work, checking and avoiding notice at all stages, knowing where the cameras are. Lower your guard for a second and you’re dead, is the message.

A few general observations. Why not be more precise if you set your story in a known place. One person mentions a street off Park Lane. Give it a name; that makes It more authentic. Use Google Maps. It’s never been easier to research all sorts of details – names, places, substances – to pop into your story. Not essential, but it can help.

Try not to repeat a word, or form of words, in consecutive sentences or paragraphs. That cropped up a few times. Make it obvious to the reader that you took the trouble to find another word instead of repeating yourself. Look out for the wrong use of “it’s” and “its”. I know self completion software doesn’t help, but it’s always worth a check. Similarly “lay” when you mean “lie”.

One or two stories were nearer 300 words than 500 words. Nothing at all wrong with this. Brevity can be a virtue, if you can draw your character briefly but effectively, then tell your story in a few clear stages. But if you need 500 words, that’s fine too. Just don’t feel you have to. I haven’t favoured either approach.

*

Although Gareth judges on the impact of the stories and the quality of the writing, it’s always disappointing when there are simple spelling mistakes or even simpler errors that should have been picked up during the editing process. Please do read your stories carefully before submitting and ideally show them to someone you trust for their opinion.

*Should you get through to the longlist of 27 stories (three per month over nine months), it doesn’t necessarily mean that your story won’t be chosen if it slips out of the top ten. No author will appear in the top ten twice so a story that came eleventh (or twelfth, thirteenth…) could be bumped up where there are author duplications.

You can also receive feedback on your story / stories at £5 per story with the optional critique service (given by the judge, Gareth Davies). This option is detailed on the main 500-word Competition page with an option to select critique within the entry form.

N.B. All the profits from this competition go to BeaconLit funds for the local libraries. No one involved in the competition charges for their time (including the judge!). Good luck!