The Fiction Desk seeks ghost stories

Arnoa Vale Cemetery cr Judy DarleyIn these early days of the year with so many hours to each dark night, The Fiction Desk invites you to seek a home for your spooky scribblings by submitting an entry to their annual call for ghost stories.

They say: “’Ghost story’ can mean a lot of different things, from an encounter with an actual phantom to more unusual paranormal phenomena and unexplained events. All types are welcome, so feel free to experiment: we’re very unlikely to disqualify a story for stretching the definition of a “ghost”. Keep in mind that our general readership (and by extension our judge) may be more likely to respond well to psychological chills and unexplained mysteries than in-your-face gore.”

They pay £20 per thousand words for stories (eg £80 for a 4,000 word story, or £120 for a 6,000 word story). Contributors also receive two complimentary paperback copies. The stories they publish are also eligible to enter the Writer’s Award, a cash prize of £100 for the best story in each volume, as judged by the contributors.

Rules of this call for submissions

Entries should be between 1,000 and 20,000 words in length. The entry fee is £4 for each story submitted.

The deadline for entries is January 31st, 2021. To cover admin costs, submission fees are £4 per story.  Stories should be submitted online.

You might find it helpful to take a look at their previous ghost story anthologies.

Find full details of how to submit your ghost stories here.

Curtis Brown Creative courses for aspiring writers

Notebook and pen cr Judy DarleyAs the new year gets underway, why not rev up your writing skills? Curtis Brown Creative, the creative-writing school run by Curtis Brown Literary Agency, is inviting applications for an array of writing courses aimed at aspiring novelists. Usually they offer London-based and an online options to choose between, but at the moment all courses are run online.

If you book before 31st January 2021, you can get £20 off the price of six-week courses with the code shown on their website.

Whether you want to dig into specific genres such as historical, psychological or YA and children’s fiction, or want to untangle the knots of editing and pitching your novel, there are plenty of opportunities to gain insights and hands-on help from successful authors and experienced editors. The creative writing school was launched in 2011 and remains the only one run by a literary agency.

Upcoming courses include the chance to learn to write short fiction with award-winning short story-writer Cynan Jones, starting on 4th February, and a breakthrough novel-writing course with Jacob Ross and Laura Barnett (Act fast! Applications close on 10th January). In some cases, course places are awarded on merit, so make sure your entry shines.

“I’m proud to say that over the past few years, many of our alumni have gained deals with major publishers,” says Curtis Brown Director Anna Davis. “Some of our former students have written international bestsellers, others have won prizes and several more have gained representation with literary agents and are working to edit their novels for publication. Yet more are still working away, often with the support of their former Curtis Brown Creative cohort. It’s great to see how many of our alumni stay closely in touch with their student groups long after their courses end.”

Find full details of upcoming courses here.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send me an email at JudyDarley (@) iCloud (dot) com.

Enter Oxford Flash Fiction Prize 2021

Oxford University buildings. Photo by Judy Darley. Photo of old buildings in the English city of Oxford.Oxford Flash Fiction Prize 2021 invites you to submit your finest flash fiction tale for a chance to get 2021 off to an excellent start.

The deadline is 31 January 2021.

The word limit is 1,000.

  • First prize is £1000.
  • Second prize is £200.
  • Third prize is £100.

Shortlisted entrants will be offered the chance to be published in the end of year digital anthology.

You can choose to enter one flash at £6, two at £10 or three at £14.

A limited number of free entries are available to low-income writers. Find out more here.

Rules of entry

  • All entries must be formatted as a single-spaced word document or PDF.
    Font: Arial, 12pt. This is to standardise entries so that all stories are treated equally. Only entries that are under the 1000-word limit (not including the title) will be accepted.
  • All entries must include the title of the story but not the name or address, or any identifying information of the entrant.
  • This is an international competition, and all entries must be in English.
  • All entries must be the work of the person entering and must not have been published anywhere online (including blogs and websites) or accepted for publication elsewhere. The copyright remains with the author.
  • Entries will not be accepted without payment, and any entries that do not comply with the competition rules will be disqualified.
  • No corrections post-entry can be accepted or refunds given.
  • The results of the competition will be published online and the decision of the judge(s) will be final.
  • The closing date for entries is midnight (UK time) on the 31st January. Winners will be notified by email within six weeks of the closing dates.

Find full details here.

Join a different kind of book club

NSCRC children with Book Aid boxI love giving books as Christmas gifts – there’s always that sense of offering up a whole world for your recipient to discover!

This year, why not go a little further and offer that gift to someone who can use it to improve their lives?

Book Aid does amazing work to get books to people who need them, and you can help, Your donation will cover the cost of sending books to people in the developing world, bringing all those page-bound possibilities, adventures and experiences to classrooms, libraries and minds hungry for them.

How does it work?

You have the option of signing up for a monthly subscription of £6, £10 or £25, or donating the amount of your choice. You could also give in memory of a loved oneleave a gift in your will, or give in celebration. If you’re a publisher or other member of the book trade, you could even donate books.

Michael Palin head shot“As a writer and traveller, I think everyone should be able to open a window on the world through books,” says Michael Palin, CBE. “It’s incredible how lives can be transformed through access to books.”

Over the course of a year, a £6 monthly membership translates into 36 books to stock a community library, reaching children and adults who might otherwise not have the opportunity to enjoy reading for pleasure or learning.

A £10 monthly membership could result in a hospital receiving 60 books.

A £25 membership could provide a starter library for a school, equipped with around 150 books.

To find out how you can help Book Aid change lives for the better, visit

Submit your words to the Wild Atlantic Writing Awards

Azorean views over the Atlantic by Judy DarleyIreland Writing Retreat and Wild Atlantic Writers invite you to submit flash fiction and creative non-fiction inspired by nature. The closing date is 10th December.

The Flash Fiction Award is open to all genres from sci-fi to crime, and romance to horror, providing nature features as a key element, “It could even be that a tree, plant, stone or other being or Nature in its multitude of expressions plays a key role in your story. ”

The maximum length is 500 words, not including the title.

The Creative Nonfiction Award offers a similar challenge, only instead of a fiction story it should take the form of memoir, personal essay, travelogue (even one about your hometown) or anything other true tale, providing nature plays significant role in your submission.

It must be no more than 500 words, not including the title.

For both competitions, the prize is 500 euros in cash.

A fee of 10 euro is required for each entry.

The closing date is 10th December.

Find the full rules and link to enter here.

The New York Times seeks your tiny love stories

Love birds by Judy DarleyWhat kind of love story can you share in two tweets, an Instagram caption or a Facebook post? The New York Times invites you to tell them a love story from your own life — happy or sad, capturing a moment or a lifetime — in no more than 100 words.

They say: “Include a picture taken by you that complements your narrative, whether a selfie, screenshot or snapshot. We seek to publish the funniest and heart-wrenching entries we receive. They must be true and unpublished.”

As days shorten and lockdowns tighten, love may be all you need (other than food, fluids, shelter, Netflix, and a decent broadband connection, oh, and books…), but can you condense it down to 100 words that capture the quirks of a love you know intimately?

They add: “Love may be universal, but individual experiences can differ immensely, informed by factors such as race, socio-economic status, gender, disability status, nationality, sexuality, age, religion and culture. As in the main Modern Love column, we are committed to publishing a range of experiences and perspectives in Tiny Love Stories. We especially encourage Black and Indigenous people and other people of color to submit, as well as writers outside of the United States and those who identify as members of L.G.B.T.Q. communities.”

I highly recommend you read some earlier examples of Tiny Love Stories at

Click here for submission terms, and bear in mind that “accepted stories will be edited for clarity and content in consultation with the writer.”

Find full details and submit here:

Enter Mslexia’s poetry competitions

Button on Kilve Beach cr Judy DarleyMslexia’s competitions for poetry pamphlets and individual poems are open for entries, so now’s the time to ensure every word earns its place in your work.

Both competitions have a closing date of 7th December 2020, and are open to women of any nationality from any country.

The first prize of the pamphlet competition is £250 plus publication by Seren Books.

The entry fee is £20 per pamphlet.

The judge Amy Wack, is Poetry Editor at Seren Books and started her career with Seren in 1989. She was reviews editor for Poetry Wales before becoming commissioning poetry editor.

The annual pamphlet competition  welcomes completed collections of up to 24 pages of up to 20 poems. The poems may be in any style, of any length, on any subject.

In addition to the top prize of £250, the winning pamphlet will be published in 2021 by Seren Books. One or more poems from the pamphlet will be published in Mslexia in June 2021.

Each £20 entry fee allows you to enter one pamphlet. You may enter as many times as you like, provided each collection is accompanied by the £20 entry fee.

The first prize of the poetry competition is £2,000. The entry fee is £10 for up to three poems. You can enter as many poems as you like, provided each trio is accompanied by the £10 entry fee

Poems may be any length, in any style, and on any subject.

Entries will be judged Karen McCarthy Woolf, whose poems have take roost in numerous publications, including her collection An Aviary of Small Birds, which was shortlisted for both the Forward Felix Dennis and Fenton Aldeburgh prizes. Her poems have been translated into Spanish, Turkish and Swedish, selected for Poems on the Underground, and made into poetry films.

As well as £2,000, the winner will receive two optional extras: a one-to-one feedback session with acclaimed poet Malika Booker; and a one-week retreat at Cove Park Centre in Scotland. The second-place poet will receive £500; the third-place poet will receive £250 and 17 runners up will receive £25. All winners and runners up will be published in the March 2021 issue of Mslexia.

In addition, there is a special prize of £250 for the best poem by a previously-unpublished woman poet.

To find out more and enter, comprehensive Poetry and Pamphlet Competition FAQs, and make sure you read the rules before entering.

You can find full details of how to enter at

Sky Light Rain – Little Blessings

Bench, Victoria Park by Judy DarleyEver wondered how a short story sparks into life? This series of posts offers insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The twentieth story is ‘Little Blessings’. One scene in this story was plucked in its entirety from a moment when a man rushing to reach a train almost shoved me in front of it in his haste – I actually fell against the side of the train as it halted, but as I lost balance I had a strange instant when I was aware I was right in its path. The righteous anger that issued towards him by other commuters on my behalf was even more surreal. It was as though everyone had unknowingly been seeking an excuse to release some bile, and this hapless man ended up the recipient.

The story also features a box of mice that have been sitting in my subconscious since I glimpsed them on a bus while visiting my sister in France around twenty years ago, and a park bench where an abandonment occurs.

I wanted to use this tale to explore our weaknesses and the small, unexpected things that bring us solace.

It was originally published by a Canadian magazine called The Germ.

It begins:

My counsellor once told me to count my blessings, so I do.

I have my work. That’s a blessing. When the alarm clock shocks me out of sleep to the bleakest, rainiest mornings, it gives me a reason to uncurl myself, step outside, present my best side to the world.

I have my health. That’s a blessing. It equips me for the long, tedious walk to the train station. When my umbrella crumples, defeated, I stride onwards, strong.

And in its own way, the commute is a blessing too – a chance to travel faster than I can run without any discernible effort, an opportunity to people-watch, nose into the exterior layer of lives that are none of my business. A blessing of sorts even on a particularly frantic morning, when the trains are delayed and everyone is single-minded with one intent: get to work, and a man shoves me out of his way with such unexpected force I topple against the train that’s waiting. At least it wasn’t the moment before the locomotive arrived, at least I didn’t plummet down the chasm of the tracks, get gulped down by the train as it arrived. And to add to the celebratory sense of survival, success, at boarding the train in one complete piece, I have that odd, self-righteous enjoyment of being the wronged, of hearing other commuters berate my reckless shover. Of imagining his shame, quietly revelling in it till I almost feel I ought to apologise to him.

Almost, but not quite.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Untrue Blue‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Weaving Wings‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Woman and Birds.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Shaped from Clay‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Knotted Rope‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Two Pools of Water‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Apollo’s Offspring‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Fascinate‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘A Blackbird’s Heart‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Paper Flowers‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Strawberry Thief‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘The Moth Room‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Far From the Farm‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Flamingos and Ham‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Elevated Truths‘.
Discover the inspiration behind my story ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal’.

On your marks… NaNoWriMo!

Painted desert, Colorado cr Judy DarleySunday marks the start of NaNoWriMo 2020 on 1st November. Are you taking part? I love the concept of this word-packed month, with ardent writers across the world hunched over laptops sweating out every last drop of inspiration.

New to the concept? It’s pretty simple really. As they state on the NaNoWriMo website: “On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.”

I know plenty of writers this enforced period of productivity really suits. For some folks it seems to be the ideal way to stoke up ideas and get them to catch alight on the page.

For me, the beginning stages of novel-writing are all about thinking ahead, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do some speedy planning even as you begin to write. After all, what else are you going to do when waiting for buses, in post office queues and doing the washing up?

Here are my top five preparation tips to ensure you make the most of this exceptional month.

1. Form a vision of the story you’ll be aiming to tell, with the beginning already shaped in your mind. If possible, do the same for the ending. Having an idea of the finale you’re working towards will mean you’re far less likely to veer off track!

2. Spend some time considering your characters – working out who they are, how they think, what their goals are, how they might help or hinder each other.

3. Know your setting. This is one of my favourites, particularly if it offers a valid excuse to meander in a much loved wilderness or similar.

4. Pick out a few dramatic moments your plot will cover and brainstorm them, then set them aside. Whenever your enthusiasm wanes over the intensive NaNoWriMo period, treat yourself by delving into one of those to reinvigorate your writing energy.

5. Finally, make sure you have plenty of sustenance to hand. For me, the essentials are coffee and chocolate. What are yours?

If you’re not a long-form junkie, why not take part in the flash version? Launched by the inimitable Nancy Stohlman in 2012, Flash Nano urges you to pledge to write 30 mini stories in 30 days. In 2019, more than 800 people took part. Even if not all turn out to be sparkling examples, you should end up with some that make your heart zing!

Enter the Bath Children’s Novel Award

Roman Baths by Judy DarleyThe Bath Children’s Novel Award has opened its doors to submission from unpublished, self-published and independently published authors worldwide.

Previous winners include include Lucy Van Smit for The Hurting (Chicken House, Sept 2018) and Struan Murray for Orphans of the Tide (Puffin, 2020).

The 2020 Judge is Stephanie Thwaites of Curtis Brown literary agency. She will pick the winning novel from a shortlist chosen by a team of Junior Judges aged from 7 to 17.

Deadline: 29th November 2020
Prize: £3,000
Submission: First 5,000 words plus 300-word synopsis
Entry fee: £28 with sponsored places available for writers on low income

Shortlisted authors will receive manuscript feedback from the Junior Judges plus literary agent introductions.

The writer of the most promising longlisted manuscript will win a place on the online course Edit Your Novel the Professional Way (worth £1,800) from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.

Find full details and submit here: