Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Colm Toibin - The Empty Family

Colm Toibin's new collection of short stories 'The Empty Family' is published next week. Each story is beautifully written and full of atmosphere, often with Toibin’s typical sense of loss and longing, of ‘sad echoes and dim feelings’. The majority of the stories are five-star gems but there are one or two that don’t quite come off. A very good read nevertheless.

My full review of the book is on the Bookbag website.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Inkspill Short Story Competition

Inkspill Magazine is holding its first ever Short Story Competition to, in their words, 'give you the chance to get your hands on some cash'. Not a great deal of cash, it has to be said; the total prize money is just £100 with £70 going to the first prize winner.

On the other hand, the bonus is that even if you don't win a cash prize you will get something back. The magazine's editors have promised that every entry will receive a short critique. They don't say how short, but for an entry fee of just £3 (£5 after 1 October) it seems to me a cheap price to pay for some independent feedback on your work AND the chance to win some cash and get your story published.

So if the Sunday Times Competition isn't for you, maybe this one is. See here for rules and information.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Sunday Times Short Story Award

I read in last weekend’s Sunday Times that the judges have been announced for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. When I excitedly mentioned the £30,000 prize for a single short story to the Secretary her immediate response was, ‘Well then you can forget that.’ She pointed out that a prize of £30K would attract all the best ‘proper’ writers and said I’d be competing with’ Zadie Smith and that lot’.

Well, she has a point. I don’t know whether Zadie Smith entered last years’ competition, but I do know that some of ‘that lot’ did because John Burnside, Jackie Kay, AL Kennedy, Helen Simpson and Rose Tremain (to name but a few) all had stories in the longlist. None of them, though, made the final shortlist. The winner was CK Stead, New Zealand’s most distinguished novelist and poet, with his story ‘Last Season’s Man’.

This competition, then, is tough. Only the best short story writers need apply. But shouldn’t all writers aspire to be numbered among the best? As Anatole France said, ‘To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.’

If you dream and believe, you must act by 30th October, the deadline for submissions. The competition is open to authors with a previous record of publication in creative writing. Entries may be previously unpublished, or first published or scheduled for publication after 1 January 2010. All entries must be under 6,000 words and entirely original.

Good luck!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Small Wonder

Ordinarily I’m not a great fan of literary festivals, mainly because I tend to be put off by the increasingly high proportion of ‘celebrity authors’ taking part, rather than plain old fashioned writers. But Small Wonder is different. I imagine that’s simply because its focus is entirely on the short story, and there aren’t many celebrities writing short stories at the moment. Or perhaps it’s just because I’m a big fan of the shorter form.
I first attended the Small Wonder festival in 2005. That year I was fortunate to meet, among others, the self-effacing John McGahern and the perfectly charming Rose Tremain. Zadie Smith was there too. The legendary Grace Paley was due to take part but unfortunately she was too ill to travel from the States and instead sent a video. I attended every session over three days and loved every moment of it. William Trevor described Small Wonder as ‘The best literary festival I have ever attended’, and I fully agree.

Unfortunately, I can’t get there before the Saturday this year so I’ll miss the double-hander with Tania Hershman and Vanessa Gebbie, which sounds like it’ll be a cracking session. But the highlight, for me, will be the debate between Kate Clanchy, Michèle Roberts and Di Speirs on contemporary fiction and whether it is in thrall to ‘reality’ (especially in the light of David Shields recent book announcing the impending death of the novel (again)). Kate Clanchy wrote my favourite short story of last year, ‘The Not-Dead and the Saved’, which deservedly won the BBC National Short Story Award for 2009, so I’m particularly looking forward to hearing her speak.

If you can make it I might see you there. If you can’t, check this space after the event – I’ll try to bring you (what I consider to be) the highlights.