Mslexia’s 2018 Women’s Fiction Awards

Mum's eye view cr Judy DarleyThis year marks the launch of the Mslexia Women’s Fiction Awards, a quartet of writing competitions covering a short stories, children’s novels, their second-ever flash fiction competition and the all-new Mslexia Novella competition in association with Galley Beggar Press. The deadline is 1st October 2018.

Entry fees are £10 per short story, £25 per novel extract, £5 per flash fiction and £15 per novella extract.

Top prizes are £500 for the winning flash fiction, £1,000 for the winning novella and £5,000 apiece for the winning novel and short story.

‘Optional extras’ include optional extras a week’s writing retreat at Gladstone Library, introductions to agents and editors, and publication in Mslexia.

Find full details at www.mslexia.co.uk. It’s worth dropping by Mslexia’s winners gallery for some inspiration too. Good luck!

Young adult fiction

Fallen apples cr Virginia BerginAuthor Virginia Bergin writes exquisite young adult fiction loaded with social context and thought-provoking conundrums. In an exclusive interview she explains how she created her latest novel Who Rules The World?, its protagonist River, and her life set 60 years from today.

How did you go about creating River’s world?

In Who Runs the World? almost everyone with at least one Y chromosome has been wiped out by a virus, 60 years before the story – told to you by River, a teenager –  begins.

But what would a world run by women look like?!

I felt under enormous pressure to ‘get it right’. It surely couldn’t be worse than the world we live in now – even if only because people had had the chance to start again! – but if it was significantly better, perhaps even a utopia . . . what would I be saying? That women are BETTER than men? I’ve lived all my life under ‘the patriarchy’, a world in which we’re given the message that men are ‘better’ than women. That’s not true or right – in any way, shape or form – and I had no wish to turn that lie on its head and repeat it.

And there were deeper problems: whatever kind of world I created, I realised I would be in danger of implying that women and men are somehow fundamentally cognitively different when, as far as I know, all current brain research pretty much indicates otherwise – or points at sex differences so minimal as to be irrelevant. And in any case, what would women and girls be like in a future in which our current ideas about gender – as expressed through, for example, family, society and media – have ceased to exist?

Ultimately, all these tricky issues set me free. I couldn’t ‘get it right’, so I didn’t have to! Rejecting any homogenous, universal idea of female, River’s world – which is only one tiny part of this future world – is a mish-mash. It’s a mish-mash of ideas I am interested in, and of conventions and practices that could conceivably have emerged from the global tragedy. That felt very important; whatever you think about this world run by women, there should be nothing in it that doesn’t make sense. It is a world that has arisen out of our world, in which people are still experimenting with new ways of living.

Forest path cr Virginia Bergin

Why was it important to you, and to the story, to create as genderless an environment as possible?

In many ways, there wasn’t much choice about it! As I saw it, with only women left in the wider world, current gender concepts would rapidly dissolve; binary notions of gender died along with most of the men. There is huge diversity in how women live, love (and look), but, most importantly, words like ‘woman’ and ‘girl’ have no real meaning for River beyond ‘person’ or ‘young person’ – until Mason, the boy in the story shows up. He has some shockingly sexist ideas about women (and men).

At times, it was almost impossible to write. It was so difficult to see through River’s eyes, to think through her mind. I had to imagine what a girl who had been raised without our ideas about what it means to be a girl would be like – and, crucially, what decisions she would make when confronted by Mason. Her upbringing enables her to think and act in the way that she does (though it’s still a struggle); the apparent absence of gender in her world is crucial to the plot, which centres, ultimately, on a question of justice.

I noticed that River had a really strong idea about what words relating to Man and Men meant – why do you think it was impossible to make her world entirely genderless?

I don’t think she has a really strong idea – at least not consciously – until Mason’s arrival. Up until that point, how the world was has been ancient history to her, and of very limited interest, but his behaviour is so strange, alarming and threatening to her, all the negative comments and ideas she has ever half-heard about Man and Men come flooding back. This was a deliberate choice in the story; I wanted River to live in a world where memories and experience of Man and Men linger on – and so are passed on to the generations that follow. This was what I wanted to explore: an apparently genderless world in which a gendered world still exists – in education, in culture, and most of all in human memory.

How did you go about testing this when she encountered her first boy?

River knows men and boys still exist, but she would never in her life expect to come across one! The males who escaped the virus were placed in remote Sanctuaries – the nearest one is hundreds of miles from River’s village – and to leave a Sanctuary means certain, rapid death. When she finds Mason in the woods, her astonishment is total. I imagined the thoughts that would go through her mind – ‘This cannot be. It simply cannot be’ – and how she would come to think the unthinkable. In the end, it’s not Mason’s physical appearance that leads her to conclude he is a boy, but his behaviour, and the things he says. There is a terrible match between what she has heard about Man and Men and how Mason behaves and speaks.

Forest cr Virginia Bergin

Why sixty years, specifically, in the future?

I suppose I could have set the story hundreds of years in the future, but I was more interested in what a girl who is almost – but not completely – free from our ‘now’ would do. River has never seen a man or boy before in her life, and nor has her mother (a politician; a respected and trusted Representative of the people) – but River’s Granmumma, Kate, has; she was just a teenager herself when the men and boys died. Kate’s memories, and those of the other Granmummas, play a huge role in the story . . . but her life experiences were (obviously) very different to River’s. I set it up this way to bring the generations into conflict, and to allow some of our current thinking about gender to be questioned from a very different perspective: River’s. She is the future.

What kind of fun did you have with the granmummas in the book, who are today’s teens?

The best fun!

If you’re a teen and you read this story and you identify with Kate: hurray! She’s you – she’s your feistiest, most apocalypse-surviving you – 60 years from now. In fact, most readers of all ages seem to love the Granmummas – and I do too. They’re great survivors, very resourceful people who have lived through an immense tragedy… and yet they really know how to grab joy(And also how to use a mobile phone).

I enjoyed the ecological issues you raised in the story. What made you decide to include this thread?

Hmmm . . . I suppose there was a link in my mind between the patriarchy and capitalism – the source of so much of our environmentally damaging behaviour. In River’s world, ‘The Earth comes first’ (Global Agreement No.1), but the damage has already been done: the climate is unpredictable, creating difficulties for humans and the rest of nature. I was drawn to the idea that the environment would take even longer to ‘forget’ the past than humans. It takes a long time to change and to heal.

Daisies cr Virginia Bergin

What do you hope your YA readers will take away from this book?

A sense of freedom!

Who Runs the World? is an invitation to imagine what a world beyond gender might look like. I’d love it so much if readers did that.

Why is YA fiction such a good arena for this kind of political ‘big questions’ novel?

I think YA fiction can be more honest and direct than non-YA lit. More open. And I think that’s because of the readers. We come up against all sorts of ‘big questions’ – and probably for the first time – when we’re teens, so it feels as though there’s a real hunger for those issues to be explored in literature.

And, for those of us who are no longer teens . . . we were all 15 once. I think, sometimes, it can be helpful to remember what it was like when so much of the world was new to us – and, in the case of Who Runs the World?, it’s precisely River’s being part of the younger generation that enables her to see the world in a new way . . . and I think that might be what we all need right now, isn’t it?

To see the world in a new way…

Virginia BerginAbout the author

Virginia Bergin’s debut YA novel The Rain (titled H2O in the US) was published by Macmillan Children’s Books in July 2014, and was followed by a sequel, The Storm, just seven months later in February 2015. Who Runs The World? came out in June 2017. Her agent is Louise Lamont at LBA Books. Virginia has a background in psychology and enjoys like science, archaeology, nature, art and walking. Find out more at www.virginiabergin.com

All images in this guest post have been supplied by Virginia Bergin.

Virginia will be on the panel of Stories of Strong Women, taking place at the Spielman Centre, Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bath Road, BS4 3EW on Friday 20th Oct, 1pm-3pm, as part of Bristol Festival of Literature.

Read my review of Who Rules The World?

Got some writing insights to share? I’m always happy to receive feature pitches on writing genres and writing tools. Send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Submit your novel for the Virginia Prize For Fiction

Virginaia-woolfs-house-richmond-hogarth-press-begun-hereBlue PlaqueAurora Metro, the Twickenham-based arts organisation, is searching for the best new fiction by a woman writing in English. The winner will receive £1,000 and a conditional offer of publication by Aurora Metro Books.

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

The 5th Virginia Prize for Fiction is now open  for submissions

The prize is open to any woman (over 18) around the world, writing in English.

The novel can be of any genre but cannot have been published or self-published before.

This biennial prize was launched in 2009 as a tribute to Virginia Woolf who wrote her first novel, The Voyage Out, while living an Hogarth House on Paradise Road in Richmond, where she and her husband Leonard also founded the Hogarth Press in 1917.

The prize’s founder, publisher Cheryl Robson, hopes that “by naming this prize in Virginia Woolf’s memory we will inspire women to find their voice and contribute to the pantheon of great women writers.”

The prize is open to any woman (over 18) around the world, writing in English. The novel can be of any genre but cannot have been published or self-published before. You must submit your entire completed novel to be eligible. The entry fee is £10 per manuscript.

The closing date for entries is 1st October 2017.

Previous winners include Shambala Junction by Dipika Mukherjee, which won the 4th Virginia Prize for Fiction, and The Leipzig Affair by Fiona Rintoul, which won the 3rd Virginia Prize for Fiction in 2013 and was dramatised for BBC R4’s Book At Bedtime. Read by Douglas Henshall and Indira Varma, it was broadcast in March 2015.

Kipling and Trix by Mary HamerMary Hamer, who won in the 2nd Virginia Prize for Fiction in 2011 with her novel Kipling & Trix, is the current Chair of the Kipling Society, and is giving a host of talks across the country about her novel and his life.

Louise Soraya Black who won the inaugural prize in 2009 for her novel Pomegranate Sky, which Fay Weldon described as “vividly written, fresh and eloquent”, has given up her law career to pursue writing full-time.

Could you be next?  For more information about the prize and to enter, go to aurorametro.com/the-virginia-prize-for-fiction.

Find out more about Virginia Woolf’s time in Richmond.

Kristell Ink invites novel submissions

Sky light cr Judy DarleyWritten something peculiar, beautiful, and exciting? Kristell Ink are seeking completed novel-length works that offer a fresh alternative to the tried-and-tested.

Your manuscript should be in the genre of Science Fiction, Fantasy or a blend of the two, and can comprise any sub genres that fire your rocket, from high to paranormal, epic to quest, romance to steampunk, comedic… well, you get the picture.

Kristell Ink is open for novel submissions until 30th April 2016.

The editors are particularly keen to see:

  • Urban Fantasy – make it original, please. No Dresden Files clones. Strong characters, rich stories, and twists and turns galore!
  • Science Fiction – all forms, but a good space opera makes the editors feel warm and fuzzy…
  • Epic Fantasy – hero(ine) focused quest novels, providing they avoid tedious cliches.

If you have work that you feel may fit these very open and wide criteria, submit a covering letter with a 2-3 paragraph synopsis of your work and a little about yourself.

Additionally, ensure the work has been checked for typos and grammar mistakes. “The odd misplaced comma won’t put us off! But do try and ensure the work is the very best you can make it before submitting.”

Find full details and a link to the Kristell Ink submissions manager at kristell-ink.com/submissions/

How to harness your demons

Hamlet of Sachs Harbour, NWT, April 1992This week’s guest post comes from Joan Mettauer, author of Diamonds in an Arctic Sky, and explores how you can tackle life’s most brutal challenges by using them in your fiction.

The course of your life can change in an instant. I know it can, because mine did.

When I was young, I took too many things for granted – like life itself. Happily married, with two wonderful young sons, my world was suddenly turned upside down one sunny August afternoon when my eldest son died in an accident. He was just three weeks away from his third birthday. I became a bereaved mother at age 32, and a divorced, single parent at age 33. Unfair? You bet.

Having lived in various northern communities in Canada, I soon leapt at the opportunity to move to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, which lies high above Canada’s Arctic Circle in the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun.’ We all know, or have heard, that people deal with their grief in different ways; some eventually become addicted to prescription drugs, alcohol, illegal drugs, or even sex. I was on the downward, slippery slope to becoming an alcoholic when I finally woke up one day and said, ‘That’s enough.’

The Hamlet of Grise Fiord, the place that never thaws, on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, 1976

The Hamlet of Grise Fiord, the place that never thaws. This is one of the coldest inhabited places in the world, 1160km north of the Arctic Circle. Visited on a supply trip, 1976.

The Compassionate Friends, a grief-support organisation for bereaved parents, encouraged me to keep a diary, and to write about my grief. I couldn’t do it though, as my feelings were just too raw at the time. Their suggestion was never far from my mind, though, and 25 years later I finally found the courage to put into words my most private thoughts and feelings. My first novel, Diamonds in an Arctic Sky, is the result of my determination to face grief head-on.

Write what you know

Diamonds in an Arctic Sky-JoanMettauer-CoverWhen I retired and decided to start writing full-time, it was quite natural for me to write about the things I knew best – living in the north, and surviving the death of a child. My books’ heroine is Andi Nowak, and her life mirrors my own. Through Andi’s eyes and emotions I was able to pour out my own story, without having to think twice about how Andi was feeling. I knew exactly how she was feeling at all times. The serenity and beauty of the north play a large role in healing Andi’s ravaged emotions, and helping her come to terms with her grief. I feel that having something, or someone, important in one’s life is an essential element in restoring peace and equilibrium.

Add some dazzle

While plotting out the storyline for Diamonds in an Arctic Sky, it quickly became apparent that I would have to add something ‘extra’ to make the story more intriguing and readable. Alas, my life, interesting as it was to me, needed some perking up! I thought it would be great to add mystery and suspense to the story, and at the same time tell my readers another little-known fact about Canada’s north – we have a flourishing diamond mining industry. So I created a fictitious diamond mine near Inuvik (the real mines are all closer to Yellowknife, near Great Slave Lake).

I have read quite a few ‘how to’ books for writers, and also realise that to make my characters more believable, they must have struggles, internal battles and low points in their lives. Andi’s battle with alcoholism seemed like a natural and believable fit into the story, and gave her another personal challenge to overcome.

In my case, turning the events of my life into a work of fiction proved to be remarkably easy. The basic theme of the story echoes my life in Inuvik. The wonderful people I met in Inuvik made a huge impact on my life, so it seemed natural that most of the characters in my book, with the exception of North, Andi’s friend and eventual lover, are based on people I knew or worked with. Fictitiously, of course!

Joan MettauerAbout the author

Joan Mettauer was born and raised in Alberta’s heartland in Canada. Her love affair with aviation was sparked at an early age, and she dedicated most of her working years to the flying business. Living in various Northern communities, including Lac La Ronge, Saskatchewan and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, she travelled throughout Canada’s Arctic. Her final years in the aviation industry were spent in Inuvik, N.W.T., from where she bid farewell to the North. Now retired, she resides on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, with her husband. Diamonds in an Arctic Sky is Joan’s first novel.

Curtis Brown Novel Writing Course

Lizard Point sea birds cr Judy DarleySecuring the services of a literary agent can be a real challenge, but it begins with writing the kind of novel they will get impassioned by and believe publishers will be falling over themselves to take on. Why not see if 2015 is the year you can make your writing soar?

Curtis Brown Creative is the only writing school in the UK run by a literary agency actively looking for new clients, and a prestigious one at that.

In the tail-end of 2014 they’re running an Online Three-Month Novel-Writing Course from Monday 3rd November 2014 to Sunday 22nd February 2015. And their track record is impressive – previous courses have seen ten students secure book deals with major publishers and several others find representation.

Places will be offered to 15 students, selected on the basis of ability as demonstrated in applications.

The course lead tutor is Lisa O’Donnell, with guest speakers including Clare Conville & Walsh, as well as  sessions on writing covering letters and perfecting your synopsis.

Writers born in Wales or currently residing in Wales can apply for a place funded by the Eluned Phillips Centenary Writing Bursary on this course.

All students will get:

• Weekly writing workshops with Lisa O’Donnell and your student peers, taking place in a secure group space, hosted on a tried-and-tested educational online platform.

• Two 30-minute one-to-one tutorials with Lisa, delivered on the phone or by Skype (depending on student’s choice), and scheduled in consultation with you.

• Weekly teaching sessions on key topics with Lisa, with video material, and homework to include writing exercises, discussion and preparing synopses.

• A day-long session for dialogue and Q&As with the Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh literary-agent teams.

• A first-page workshop offering direct feedback for all students on their opening pages.

• Feedback on your essential one-page synopsis.

• A day-long opportunity to get feedback from the Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh agents on the all-important pitch letter.

• The opportunity to have your 3,000 word opening and synopsis read by the Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh book agent teams at the conclusion of the course

• A secure discussion space to share material and thoughts with your student peer group informally.

To find out more and apply, go to www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk.

How to create outstanding characters

Park on Park Street cr Judy DarleyWith her debut novel Someone Else’s Skin, Sarah Hilary has revealed a skill for creating characters you can really believe in. Here she shares her tip for the craft of inventing people.

Source the initial glimmers

I wait for the voice to come first. I’m with Val McDermid on this: we don’t choose our characters, they choose us. Very occasionally I’ll glimpse something in a character in a TV show, or (more rarely) in real life, which will give me the beginnings of an idea, but more usually it starts with a line of dialogue, or inner monologue.

With Marnie Rome, I wrote her first, then retro-fitted the research and fine-tuning. It was more important that she felt real to the reader than real as a police detective. But I did read a lot of first person CSI-type pieces to get a feel for how she might approach her work.

Someone Else's Skin by Sarah HilaryListen to your character

I don’t consciously devise patterns of speech. It’s character driven, always. Marnie tends to speak quite abruptly and plainly, because she doesn’t have a lot of time or patience for double-speak. But, at the same time, she can be very empathetic, especially to victims. I love writing dialogue, but I tend to do it instinctively; it’s the one part of my craft I’ve never really had to work at.

Get to know all the sides of your character

In my first drafts, Marnie tends to be angrier and tougher. She’s often on the defensive, physically and emotionally. I find I need to dig beneath that angry surface to find the layers of response needed for the reader sees her vulnerability as well as her strength, her compassion as well her determination.

Her traumatic backstory is an important part of who she is, as it drives the narrative arc of the series. Not just what she went through, but how she has coped with it in the past (by burying herself in work) and how she will cope with it in the future (by confronting what happened and what it did to her). It’s a classic rites of passage, in some ways, but it’s complicated because it’s not just Marnie’s journey. It’s Stephen’s, her foster brother’s, too. He’s both the cause of the trauma, and its potential resolution. One way or another, he’s going to lead the pair of them into new territory.

Seek out telling details (such as Marnie’s tattoos)

The tattoos are indelible proof of Marnie’s teenage rebellion, a thing that haunts her throughout the series. Few people have seen the tattoos, which is one of the reasons she acquired them (casual sex is not an option when you have writing all over intimate parts of your body). Stephen has seen the tattoos. Marnie is still learning exactly what that means.

Choose your supporting characters with care

Characters such as Noah, Ed and Stephen each bring out a different side to Marnie. Ed is the one with the hardest task, I think, as he’s trying to help her recover at the same time as respecting her privacy at the same time as being in love with her and wanting to make her happy. That’s a tough, tough gig. Noah is a little in awe of Marnie as his boss, and as an ace DI, but he’s earning her trust, which is good for both of them. Her relationship with Stephen is the most complex one, and it’s the one which will change the most over the course of the series.

In some ways, she’s at her most vulnerable when she’s with Stephen, because he has the power to keep hurting her, by reminding her of what he did and withholding the reason why he did it. Marnie knows she will be hurt, every time she goes to see him. His punishment (long-term incarceration) is her punishment, in that sense.

Likewise, for your periphery characters

For Marnie Rome, these are the women from the refuge, especially Ayana, Hope and Simone. Ed tells Marnie that these women are ‘not her kind of victim’. They ran, and hid. They had to. But Marnie comes to see the strength in the women, different in each one, and I think that helps her to put her own strength (and weakness) into perspective.

Use your settings to explore aspects of your character

In Someone Else’s Skin, the prison and the refuge are both essential for that: enclosed spaces where it’s hard to breathe, and harder to feel safe. It was interesting, also, to put Marnie into Hope’s ‘perfect home’ with its showroom furniture and its shiny surfaces, and to watch her reactions. And Ed’s flat, with its jumble of stuff and its comfy mess. Setting is great. London is an amazing backdrop to the series, and I’m looking forward to taking Marnie into Battersea Power Station in book three.

Relish the luxury of a recurring character

I found that with Marnie Rome, it gave me the great luxury of being able to uncover her secrets slowly. She’s still surprising me, which is great, as it means she’s surprising readers too.

Create compelling, believable characters

Set goals for your characters, and then put obstacles in the way of those goals. See how your characters react, physically and emotionally. Give them at least five senses, and show them experiencing the world through those senses (i.e. not just rely on dialogue and inner monologue; tell us how the world looks, sounds, smells, feels to them). Get right inside their head, and under their skin, so the reader is right there, too. Even the nasty characters. Never show your hand as the author; instead, wrap your readers up in the story and the cast, as if it’s happening to them and/or to people they know and care about. Make them wonder what happens to the characters even after they’ve stopped reading. That’s the holy grail.

Sarah Hilary1About the author

Sarah Hilary lives in Bath with her husband and daughter, where she writes quirky copy for a well-loved travel publisher. She’s also worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. An award-winning short story writer, Sarah won the Cheshire Prize for Literature in 2012. SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN is her first novel, published by Headline in the UK, Penguin in the US, and in six other countries worldwide. A second book in the series will be published in 2015. Set in London, the books feature Detective Inspector Marnie Rome, a woman with a tragic past and a unique insight into domestic violence.
NO OTHER DARKNESS, the second Marnie Rome book, will be published in spring 2015. Sarah is currently working on the third and fourth books in the series. Follow Sarah on Twitter at @Sarah_Hilary

How to create fiction from family treasures

Terri Wiltshire 4 generationsAuthor Terri Wiltshire offers her tips for using family stories to create fiction, or, as she’s been fondly calling it: ‘Pilfering the Family Jewels.’

There’s an old Jewish saying that goes: “God created families because He liked stories”.  Since the time humans could draw pictures on cave walls, we’ve been collecting and sharing stories of our “clan”. It’s how we connect to others. And we all do it. When we gather for holidays, weddings, and funerals- the stories pour out from each generation to comfort, to celebrate, to reminisce, or to laugh out loud at our outrageous human foibles. The place and time might change, but the struggles and joy of “family” are universal.

Listen and Collect

Writers are constantly told to write-what-you-know and the most fertile resources are the tales we grew up hearing over and over again: the whispered rumours of an ancestor with a criminal past, the hilarious pitfalls of raising six kids with one outhouse, the practical jokes associated with Uncle Dwayne’s paralysing fear of snakes, and the disastrous day that lightening struck your grandmother’s washing machine and killed the cat.

As a child, I looked forward to family gatherings and begged to stay up past my bedtime when I knew the stories would continue into the night. But I was in University before I realised the importance of our oral history and started keeping a file of names, phrases, and recollections.  The stories were spread out over a hundred years and included those that had been passed down from my great-grandparents. Some were funny. Some were heartbreaking. I wasn’t sure how they were connected and I wasn’t sure how I would use them, but I knew I needed to keep them handy.

Terri Wiltshire and cousins

Start Small

Novels based on family experiences don’t have to revolve around a large, life-changing event.  Sometimes we worry so much about finding the BIG story, that we miss the tiny details that make it worth the journey. Good stories can emerge from the smallest snippet of memory.  In my case, it was the shuffling gait of a gentle, reclusive great uncle who seemed to know so much about the world, but so little about how to fit into it. In writing “Carry Me Home” he became the catalyst. I took his sweetness, his awkwardness, his stubbornness to live his life his own way, and created a character and a set of circumstances (the BIG story) that allowed those traits to shine through.

Woven in, are tiny threads of family experience, which I’d heard along the way, including: riding the rails during the Great Depression, making sorghum syrup from sugar cane, and sharecropping. I also added a generous sprinkling of family recipes and cooking tips, along with family phrases, and habits.

The great thing about developing fiction from family stories, is that they are both universal and unique. The emotional aspect of human struggle is universal but the circumstances of that struggle, the dynamic of the relationships, is unique to each family.

Terri Wiltshire Sunday after church

Tread lightly

If you feel My family isn’t that interesting, you might try interviewing a few of the older generation. You’ll be surprised what nuggets will be uncovered. It’s important to remember that family stories are not blueprints for a work of fiction. They can serve as that first seed of inspiration, or a rich source of seasoning, but sticking rigidly to a historical truth (in family terms) will create more problems and limit the scope of your story.

There is also a certain anxiety in using our kinfolk as a resource. We worry about offending or taking advantage of private experiences, so above all, it is important to treat your family “treasure” with respect. I never duplicate a real person or a real event, but there are enough trinkets from the family vault to keep them happy searching for the bits and pieces we’ve shared over the years.  I make sure that whatever I choose, it is used with fondness and care, and not ridicule.

Be true to your heart, not your geography

True places are not found on maps (Herman Melville)

Just as I created fiction from the jumble of memories and recollections of my past and my ancestor’s past, I created a fictional town to set it in. I didn’t want readers to get distracted trying to recognise, or uncover discrepancies, of a specific town. It was the heart of the place that mattered most.  I called the town Lander, which was my grandfather’s first name, and which means ‘of the land.’

Lander, Alabama is a composite of many small southern towns I lived in as a child with a central square borrowed from one place, a railway yard borrowed from another, and a cotton mill borrowed from yet another. Lander is all of those towns, but none of them in particular. Likewise, “Carry Me Home” is sprinkled with traces of my family, but they are there to support the fiction that emerged from a specific time and place.

There is a wealth of raw material that can be collected just by sitting around the kitchen table. Listen. Ask questions. Record. And create… but honour those who have trusted you with their slice of family history.

Terri WiltshireAbout the author

Terri Wiltshire was raised in the Deep South in America. For the last 25 years she lived and worked in the UK, where she ran a role-play company before relocating home to Alabama recently. “I’m surrounded by family and old high school and university friends so I’m pilfering away!”

A former journalist and NBC News presenter, Terri is also an actor and director. Carry Me Home is her first novel.

If you’d like to share your own writing journey on SkyLightRain, get in touch! Just send an email  to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Enter Richard and Judy’s novel-writing competition

Tal y Bont cairn cr Judy DarleyYou must, I’m sure, be aware of the Richard & Judy Book Group, which has transformed the fortunes of any published writer who’s novel is chosen as a favourite.

Now the influential pair have their sights set on unpublished novelists, with their Search for a Bestseller Competition.

The closing date for entries is 1st January 2015, but if you already have the first 10,000 words written, I recommend you enter. All you need to do is submit the first 10,000 to 12,000 words of your novel, along with an outline of the rest of the novel (not more than 1,000 words), and up to 500 words about yourself.

The prize is pretty spectacular. In collaboration with Quercus (Stieg Larsson’s publishers), WHSmith, and leading literary agency Furniss Lawton, Richard and Judy will present the winning writer with a £50,000 publishing deal.

Not a bad start to any writers’ career!

There are masses of terms and conditions, so make sure you read them before you submit your work, but the key ones are that you must not have had a novel published previously, or have an agent already.

Find full details and submit your work here. Good luck!

Tal y Bont cr Judy Darley

Salt invites novel submissions from unrepresented authors

Salt Publishing booksIndependent literary publishers Salt is actively seeking new authors, and have issued guidelines to help you get your novel submission right. Refreshingly, you’re welcome to send your work direct, rather than via a literary agent.

How to submit your novel to Salt

Please note, they only wish to receive fiction submissions that meet the following criteria.

All works must be in English, and must be aimed at a British market. They prefer works of less than 80,000 words, and are not currently accepting submissions of short stories, poetry or memoirs.

Please send an email to submissions@saltpublishing.com initially with:

  • an 80-word biographical note
  • an exciting 250-word sales pitch to us about your book
  • six bullet points (of no more than 15 words each) that provide highly-specific and compelling reasons why British booksellers would wish to sell your novel

Novels types that Salt are currently interested in

  • NORFOLK GOTHIC –dark fiction set explicitly in the English county of Norfolk. That is, works which centrally feature Norfolk settings and landscapes and which deal with the sinister side of human nature, containing elements of threat, menace, fear and death.
  • LITERARY FICTION – accessible, original, serious and compelling literary novels – though not experimental fiction.
  • CRIME FICTION – sophisticated and original literary crime fiction; dark, fast-paced thrillers (especially those which feature both UK and continental European settings); traditional mainstream detective fiction and procedurals.
  • FANTASY FICTION – adult fantasy novels – science fiction, fantasy and horror, with an emphasis on the literary. These may include stark, post-apocalyptic settings; futureworlds; supernatural thrillers; paranormal adventure; monster fiction (especially with a profoundly literary and original take on species and identity); police states; new urban decadence, fin-de-siècle excess and political and social disorder.