Enter Mslexia Fiction Competitions 2021

Mum's eye view cr Judy DarleyThe Mslexia Fiction Competitions are open for entries.

The judges are Hilary Mantel, A L Kennedy, Marianne Tatepo, Jo Unwin and Jude Higgins. There are three categories this year: Novel for Adults, Short Story, and Flash Fiction. The deadline for each is 20th September 2021.

Prizes include manuscript feedback and agent introductions, plus publication in Mslexia and the inaugural ebook anthology Best Women’s Short Fiction 2021.

Mslexia Novel for Adults competition – everything you need to know

  • For novels of at least 50,000 words in any genre
  • Submit first 5,000 words only in the first instance. Longlisted entrants will be asked to submit finished manuscripts later in the judging process
  • Entry fee: £25
  • 1st prize £5,000
  • Finalists receive manuscript feedback from The Literary Consultancy and personal introductions to literary agents arranged in partnership with New Writing North
  • Longlisted entrants will be notified by 1 March 2022.

Mslexia Short Story competition 2021 – everything you need to know

  • For unpublished complete short fiction of up to 3,000 words, in any genre, for adult and/or young adult readers. Entry fee: £12
  • 1st prize £3,000, plus mentoring by a specialist literary agent.
  • Three additional finalists will each receive £100
  • All four winning entries are published in Mslexia.
  • Winning entries plus eight more shortlisted entries will be published in Mslexia’s inaugural ebook anthology Best Women’s Short Fiction 2021
  • Entrants will be notified of the outcome of their entry in November 2021.

Mslexia Flash Fiction Competition 2021 – everything you need to know

  • For unpublished complete short fiction of up to 300 words, in any genre, for adult and/or young adult readers
  • Entry fee: £6
  • 1st prize £500
  • Three additional finalists each receive £50
  • All four winning entries are published in Mslexia
  • Winning entries plus eight more shortlisted entries will be published in Mslexia’s inaugural ebook anthology Best Women’s Short Fiction 2021
  • Entrants will be notified of the outcome of their entry in November 2021.

Visit Mslexia’s entry instructions for a more comprehensive guide on how to enter, and be sure to read the full rules before submitting.

Find full details at www.mslexia.co.uk. Good luck!

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

Novelette review – The Impossibility of Wings by Donna K. Greenwood

Homemade Weather book coverThe final novelette of Homemade Weather: An Anthology of Novelettes in Flash from Retreat West Books is an emotionally-charged story of a girl picking her way through a childhood where parents may present the biggest dangers. The Impossibility of Wings by Donna K. Greenwood was awarded third place in Retreat West’s novelette-in-flash contest, judged by Damhnait Monaghan.

Greenwood paints scenes that layer the unreal over the real, so that we almost need to hold them up to the light to recognise the truths bleeding through. Opening with ‘In the Night They Will Come For Me’, our protagonist talks of the hyenas that gobbled her mother’s eyes, and of how “On Mum’s good days, we watched her fly above the earth”, while on bad days “she would lie at the bottom of the ocean (…) she let us drown a thousand times.”

In ‘Lost Jesus’, we learn that “Dad wants her to be normal” and that “Dad drinks a lot”, a fact that the protagonist blames initially on herself and her sisters. Humour jolts through this story, but panic whispers at the edges of the family’s laughter.

Comedy lifts passages of fear: that the wardrobe the girls take refuge in is known as the War Dog, “because Nessy couldn’t say wardrobe when we first discovered the sanctity of its walls.”

A playfulness with form also delivers otherwise potentially bleak tales with a weft of whimsy. ‘How to Make a Cup of Tea at 3am In The Morning’ is a stunning example of this, with Ingredients including “Sugar, the last hardened clumps at the bottom of the bag are best” and Method including “2. Wake in the midst of a dream (nightmares are best)”, “4. Check all siblings are still sleeping”, “12. Ring your grandma. Tell her your mother has run away.”

I urge you to read the whole hermit crab flash for the full impact of this particular compact masterpiece.

Greenwood has a magic touch when it comes to these topics, lacing sorrows with beauty and darkness with innocence that elevates her novelette to a poignant and entrancing read. In the world she crafts, mental illness is elemental, with the suffocating sting of salt-water and the “mad glare of the moon.” A drunk father may be a bear, even as “its great paws scoop” you out of bed to go and watch fireworks. A mother’s eyes are “two dark holes” and the line between love and hate is perilously sheer.

In “Things I Can’t Pack Into My Suitcase” we’re treated to another hermit crab flash, in which love and fear is spelled out through a litany of “sleepy giggles”, “belly laughs” and “unnameable bangs and slaps.” It’s a list that builds to a heart-fracturing crescendo that explains the presence of the suitcase and the desire to leave, stronger than the need to stay.

In the title flash, ‘The Impossibility Of Wings’, the experience of a farewell is only brought into focus in retrospect, when love finally unfolds and shows us its wings. It’s a whisper to the child hiding in the wardrobe and making tea at 3am that through all the darkness, tenderness curls, seeking the strength and courage to emerge.

An intense and deeply moving portrayal of a child growing up mired in both parents’ mental frailties.

Read my review of Homemade Weather by Tom O’Brien and my review of What The Fox Brings In Its Jaw by Ian O’Brien, the first and second award-winning novelettes in Retreat West’s anthology.

Homemade Weather: An Anthology of Novelettes in Flash is published by Retreat West and is available to buy from www.retreatwest.co.uk/homemade-weather.

This book was given to me in exchange for a fair review.

What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Novelette review – What The Fox Brings In Its Jaw by Ian O’Brien

Homemade Weather book coverThe second novelette of Homemade Weather: An Anthology of Novelettes in Flash from Retreat West Books draws you into the life of a man who has gone awry. What The Fox Brings In Its Jaw by Ian O’Brien was awarded second place in Retreat West’s novelette-in-flash contest, judged by Damhnait Monaghan.

It begins with a scene of such contemplative observation that it would be easy to miss the significance of the word craving: “Another craving has brought him to the window and he is standing there with a cigarette when he sees it.”

The ‘it’ is a fox passing by with something in its jaws. This vivid visual serves as a metaphor for the entire novelette, where our protagonist drifts from being the fox to, more naturally it seems, being the helpless creature between the predator’s teeth.

None of the characters are named in this exquisitely melancholic novelette, hinting that in one unthinking moment we could find ourselves in such an existence. Snow, blood on snow, and leafless trees, are recurring images, emphasising the perilous wilderness at the edges of our everyday lives. At times, reading this, I felt physically cold.

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Novelette review – Homemade Weather by Tom O’Brien

Homemade Weather book coverThe title novelette of this anthology from Retreat West Books, Homemade Weather by Tom O’Brien was the winning entry in the publisher’s new novelette-in-flash contest, judged by Damhnait Monaghan, and deserves its star position whole-heartedly.

The author immerses us in his protagonist’s world, keeping the focus tight and intimate. Celia Finn lives within view of a mountain that frames her childhood. Rather than bickering like other families in the area, her parents have periods of tense unspoken exchanges that Celia imagines as she sits on the stairs within earshot of what’s unsaid.

Celia is a faithful believer in rituals, and the novelette opens with her writing her name three times, an act that serves both to introduce her to us and to offer a sense of protection as her dog Ollie whistles his last breaths “to the mountain across the valley, with its band of shadowed woods.”

There’s a striking control to O’Brien’s writing – each word chosen with care and each statement neatly balanced to underplay emotions in a way that ensures they seep under our skin. Each sensation felt by Celia is delivered to us with considered care. At the doctor’s, “I felt his peppermint breath turn from me when he sent a look to my mother”, while her parents fail to argue out loud, she wants ‘to go back to my room, to close the door and hear only clean quiet.”

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National Flash Fiction Day flash flood

River mud and debrisNational Flash Fiction Day UK is celebrating its 10th Anniversary on Saturday 26th June 2021. I’m delighted to have a micro flash selected for the FlashFlood.

My tale The Sideways House will appear on the FlashFlood journal at around 10:20 a.m. BST. In case you weren’t aware, the FlashFlood is an annually occurring tsunami-sized outpouring of mini masterpieces. The tireless team at Nat Flash Fiction towers will publish a flash at every five to ten minutes for 24 hours straight, from 00:01 until 23:59 BST.

I can’t wait to see what other wonders are in the stream. As an added treat, I’ll share a film of myself reading The Sideways House at around the same time as it sails out on the flood.

In other news, my wry eco-poem ‘What’s That’, featuring water voles and Rats, has been published by Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, which describes itself as “a website dedicated to the serious art of writing humorous poetry.”

Enter the Bridport Prize

Burton Bradstock, Bridport. Shows figures on a pebbly Devon beach. Photo by Ben Collins on Unsplash

Photo by Ben Collins on Unsplash

The Bridport Prize, one of the UK’s most prestigious writing competitions, is currently seeking your short stories, flash fiction, poems and debut novels.

The deadline for all competition entries is 31st May 2021.

Poems may be up to 42 lines in length. The entry fee is £10. The winning poet will receive £5,000.

Short stories may be up to 5,000 words long. The entry fee is £12. The winning short story writer will receive £5,000.

Flash fiction may be up to 250 words long. The entry fee is £9. The winning flash fiction writer will receive £1,000.

Novel extracts may be up to 8,000 words long. You must also supply a 300-word synopsis, which should be the first page of your entry. The fee is £20.

First prize is £1,500 plus mentoring by The Literary Consultancy and consultations with literary agent AM Heath and publisher Tinder Press.

Judges

Victoria Hislop, author of The Island, One August Night and other novels, will judge novel submissions. She says: “I am really excited to be judging the Bridport Prize! I will be looking for readability and originality, for writing that engages both my imagination and my curiosity! I am really looking forward to reading the entries.”

Raymond Antrobus, author of author of Shapes & Disfigurements, To Sweeten Bitter and The Perseverance, plus the first ever poet to be awarded the Rathbone Folio Prize for best work of literature in any genre (In 2019), will judge poetry submissions. He says: “I’m looking for poems that are written with both eye and ear…poems that unfold, surprise, delight, haunt its readers all at once. Don’t be afraid to take risks, be bold and show us something singular that only you are able to do or say.”

Former Literary Editor of the Observer and author of Shakespearean: On Life and Language in Times of Disruption, Robert McCrum will judge short story and flash fiction submissions. He says; “I’m on the look-out for the only thing that really matters in new fiction: an original voice. At 5000 words or so, the short-story is the ideal arena in which to pitch that new note. Flash fiction is like 20/20 cricket, an exciting new genre battling on a venerable pitch. I can’t wait to see what exciting novelties and reverse sweeps, the Bridport Prize will come up with. But it must be flash!”

Don’t forget to check out the resources section of the Bridport Prize website.

Find full details and enter your creative works at www.bridportprize.org.uk. And don’t forget to sign up for their newsletter full of useful tips and inspiration.

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

Unstill Life With Plums – a new publication

The Pomegranate coverI’m delighted to have received issue 1 of The Pomegranate, a beautiful new #litmag devoted to stories, poem & essays about art & artists. It contains my flash fiction ‘Unstill Life With Plums’. The tale is under 200 words, and begins:

Our neighbour leaves them on the doorstep, paper-bagged against the sun. We peek inside and inhale their faint, wine-sweet smell. You mix the colour in the lid of your paintbox – red and blue blended with a whisper of green. I check my thigh and admire your skill – the paint’s the exact hue of yesterday’s deep-pinched bruise.

The Pomegranate interviewIssue 1 of The Pomegranate also features a 2-page interview with me (which happens to be many times longer than ‘Unstill Life With Plums’). In it I chat with the journal’s founder Zerlina Mastin about my writing habits, obsession with human fallibilities, passion for art, and my upcoming adventures with Reflex Press.
You can buy your copy of issue 1 here: thepomegranatelondon.com/what-we-publish
The front cover is by American artist Shelton Walsmith, who describes his work as lyrical abstraction. I think a lot of my stories could be described the same way!

Book review – The Yet Unknowing World by Fiona J Mackintosh

The Yet Unknowing WorldLayered like skeins of vivid ribbons, the stories in Fiona J. Mackintosh’s flash fiction collection The Yet Unknowing World strew colours through their readers’ minds.

Each tethers a moment in time, offering a sense of eavesdropping on stranger’s secrets. Many are portraits of love, others a sidewise glance at grief or betrayal. Woven by Mackintosh’s deft fingers, even the deepest losses are shared as exquisite parcels to be marvelled over. In ‘Hindsight’, the author opens with an image of cartwheels and trailing silk, before revealing that it’s these slippery fabrics that led to our narrator waking with his “heart fractured.”

There’s poetry whirled into these tales, and imagery rich enough to leave your senses tingling. Though most of the stories are only a paragraph or so long, they’re packed with details that evoke more than the sum of their words, and yet lie lightly on the page.

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The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain – a new collection

Rocky Mountains_Judy Darley
I’m excited to share the happy news that Reflex Press will be publishing my third short fiction collection in 2022. The title is ‘The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain’, taken from one of the shortest stories in the collection in which a house encompasses the whole world…

I included the following introduction in my submission to Reflex Press. If you’re planning to submit a collection to a publisher, I highly recommend you create something similar to ease them in. This is the second time I’ve done this, and both times it’s culminated in a publishing contract. It also provides them with some copy to share with the announcement and whet readers’ appetites.

The stories in this collection speak of togetherness and separation: how we strive to connect with that one person who could save us, how we attempt to save the people who matter to us and how we sometimes (often) get things wrong.

Consider the things we slowly come to understand, and then can’t grasp how we didn’t know sooner. Not all is as it first appears. Genders and time frames may skew; perceptions warp. What seems to be unreal may be real, or vice versa. Magic may uncurl in the most commonplace corners. Everyday concerns shuttle past minor miracles.

Discover the lost, the self-conscious, the reckless. Learn how to milk an alpaca. Encounter a river with one thing on its mind. Touch on moments of isolation amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Find out how a ghost-tree could bring a community together. Witness the moment when friendship sparks into something more. Consume a life in one mouthful. Meet the lovers, the families and the undefinable others who make up these worlds and sweep us along.

It’s so good to have something positive to look forward to!

Sign up for updates on the Reflex Press website here.

Flash Frontier entreats your sweet words

The Florist Elderflower meringue dessert by Judy DarleyThe lovely folks at New Zealand’s Flash Frontier magazine are currently inviting submissions of short tales from across the world on the theme of ‘Sweet’.

The deadline is 10th March 2021. Submissions must be only 250 words in length. Stories of 251 words won’t be accepted.

They say: “We are looking for variety and originality. Tickle us, haunt us, gobsmack us. Choose your words carefully and leave our readers wanting more. And do it in a small space. (…) We love original art in all forms – colourful and daring, muted and understated. We’ll choose art each month that reflects the theme.”

Send only previously unpublished stories, and make sure you follow their style guide to the letter!

To get a taste of what the editors like and get inspired, read Flash Frontier’s latest issue, on the theme of doors.

Find full details of how to submit your work here: https://www.flash-frontier.com/submissions/ 

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.