The Haunted School poem published!

My poem The Haunted School is published in this month’s Writer’s News, part of Writing Magazine.  I wrote it especially for their children’s poetry competition; the first line just popped into my head and that dictated the theme and the rhyme for the rest.  I have decided to plough the second place prize money back into my writing and will be putting it towards a critique at some point in the future.  For now I will continue carrying my magazine around and pushing it into people’s faces.  “Look!  It’s me!”

The Greenhouse Funny Prize

Thank you to author and fellow Talkback forum contributor Rosalie Warren for drawing my attention to this exciting new prize.  Aimed at flushing out the new Roald Dahl, Andy Stanton or Francesca Simon, the prize is being organised jointly by The Greenhouse Literary Agency and The Writers’ Workshop.  All you have to do is submit the first five thousand words and a synopsis of your funniest novel, chapter book or picture book by 30 July.  The prize is representation by this exciting and dynamic young agency and a free ticket to The Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing where you will be presented with a bottle of champers to boot.

The submission guidelines are here; as usual, follow them to the letter to maximise your chances.  Entry is free and submission is by email.

Of course you can just submit to The Greenhouse in their usual way but the benefits of this prize are the attendant publicity and boost to your career.  And sometimes knowing that you are in competition with others can bring out your best writing.

Good luck!

First competition entry this year?

Swanwick writers schoolThanks to writer Sally Jenkins at for reminding me of the Swanwick Summer School Competition, which closes on 30 April.  I’ve always vaguely intended to enter without ever actually doing anything about it!  With markets for children’s short stories thin on the ground, it’s great to see a competition with a section for a children’s short story (1,000 words maximum), or  alternatively the first 1,000 words of a children’s novel.  The first prize is a week at the Swanwick Summer Writing School, which sounds like absolute bliss to me, and I know people who have won categories of this competition before so there is hope!

Find the details at  There is a theme, but perhaps you have existing work that would fit it.  If not, hopefully the thought of a week away at Swanwick will inspire you!  Entry is £5 which is reasonable for a competition of this calibre.

Rhyme & Reason Desk Diary 2012 out now!

rhyme and reason desk diary timeMy poem ‘I waited but you didn’t come’ features in this year’s Rhyme and Reason publication, a desk diary featuring prose and poetry on the theme of time.  Rhyme and Reason is a fundraising group which raises money for a great cause, the Iain Rennie Hospice at Home.  I’m looking forward to reading the winning entries in the diary, as well as the other entries like mine which were picked for inclusion.  If you’re looking for a unique and thoughtful Christmas present, why not order a copy yourself?  It’s available on the Iain Rennie shop website at

Winchester Writers’ Conference 2011

Winchester plenary address
The plenary address, with Barry Cunningham second left and Geoff Holt on right

If you are looking for inspiration (see my post Keeping your mojo), a great way to get you kick started is to attend a writing conference.

The Winchester Writers’ Conference is a huge enterprise, with workshops that last all week, a big ‘standalone’ day on Saturday, top quality speakers, inspiring seminars, and most importantly real opportunities to meet editors, publishers and agents.  Several writers have been ‘discovered’ at Winchester through their one-to-one sessions (fifteen minutes of time with your chosen professional, discussing your work) and it’s a great way to bypass the slushpile.  It’s also useful (and important) to see that people in the publishing industry are real people.  And (whisper it) they are actually quite… well, nice!  They don’t just exist to poor scorn on our pathetic work but are engaging, enthusiastic people with a thirst for discovering new work.

Apart from the opportunities offered, it’s also great to meet other like-minded people and soak up the atmosphere.  You’ll find everyone friendly and supportive, and there’s something about standing in a queue waiting for a meeting with the editor of your dreams while your knees knock with terror that invites you to confide in your neighbour, who is feeling exactly the same.

There are counsellors at Winchester, and that’s because hopes can sometimes be a little bit dashed.  You have to develop a thick skin and learn that you will get lots of advice, some of which will be contradictory.  For example, last year one agent advised me to take the humour out of my book as she thought it didn’t mix well with the horror content, while another publisher praised my combination of humour and horror!  You have to decide what is going to work for you.

On the other hand, there are lots of opportunities for celebration.  Getting a publisher interested in your work, perhaps winning or being placed in a competition, or coming away from a workshop full of ideas.  This year I was highly commended for two categories in the children’s writing competition, the 4-7 year olds and the 7-11 year olds.  Two of my friends were winners and I felt very proud as I watched them go up on to the stage.  Congratulations Shirley and Emma!

Winchester prize giving
The prizegiving ceremony. Barbara Large, the conference director, is on the far right.

I thoroughly enjoyed my workshops with Sarah Mussi, Sam Hawksmoor, Beverley Birch and Elizabeth Arnold.  But the most useful session for me was on Redrafting Your Work, led by Jude Evans of Little Tiger Press.  I will be posting notes on her talk on this site soon.  As my friend commented, it was like doing an MA in a day!

A few points just to mention that really stood out for me.

  • Barry Cunningham (Chicken House) saying it’s a really exciting time to be a writer (referring to e-publishing and all the changes it may bring).
  • Beverley Birch (Hodder) saying the material she sees through her Winchester one-to-ones are far more interesting that what she’s getting from agents at the moment.
  • A competition pen name (all entries must have pseudonyms) of ‘Professor Moriarty’s Big Toe’.
  • The judge of the Haiku competition being overjoyed to announce that this year he had received haikus that actually fulfilled all the criteria (sometimes he doesn’t award a first prize at all!).
  • Barbara Large revealing that after the midnight read the night before, all the attendees were locked in and they had to call security.
  • My friends winning two of the biggest competitions.  Hurrah!
  • Free books and writing magazines on the tables at lunch.
  • Boxes of books labelled ‘help yourself’ on the way out!
  • And did I mention free books?
  • Getting to know Winchester intimately on the way home (speak to me, sat nav!  Just say something – anything!).
  • Feeling like a real writer.  See you next year, everyone!

Poetry Competitions

There are always plenty of poetry competitions on the web – some free, and some asking for a small payment.  It’s a great way to flex your literary muscles, and build up a nice collection of poems on the way.  Often the competition will dictate the subject matter, and I enjoy the challenge of producing a poem to order.  Recently I entered the Marriott Hotels wedding poetry competition, and the Cats Protection League Writing Competition.  Both were free but the Cats Protection League suggested a donation of £5, which I was happy to pay, being a mad cat lady (MCL) myself.  I really enjoyed writing both my poems, and although I didn’t get anywhere in the Marriott competition, I was delighted to be a runner up in the Cats Protection League competition with my cat poem Who Killed King Rat.  They say write about what you know, and my poem relates the time I went up to my bedroom to find an enormous dead rat curled up on the carpet.  The circumstances of its death are still a mystery!

A few days after hearing the results, a huge box arrived at my house.  I knew I’d won a dictionary, but have never seen one as huge as this!  The problem is I have no shelves large enough to house it, so it’s leaning up against the fireplace, ready to be delved into when needed.  And I’m looking forward to seeing my poem in the autumn edition of The Cat magazine.

If you fancy trying your luck with entering a few poetry competitions, you might like to look at these links to get you started.

Alight Here

Alight Here is a site publishing poems (and photos) inspired by London’s underground stations.  So not a competition, but an interesting, well put together site with a possible anthology to follow.

Every Day Poets

A similar site to Alight Here, publishing – you guessed it – a poem a day.  No payment or fees but exposure of your poem – prepare to be rated by your peers!

MAG poetry prize

The MAG poetry prize at Poetic Republic is a knock-out poetry competition.  As part of your entry you also judge other poems.  Take part for the fun of it and the chance to enjoy others’ work.

Rhyme & Reason

This fundraising group raise money for the Iain Rennie hospice through writing competitions.  This year’s poems (or prose) should be on the theme of ‘Time’ and the best entries will be published in a desk diary.  The prize is £110 and it’s for a great cause.  The deadline is the end of June 2011.

Lupus UK poetry competition

Another competition for a good cause – to raise money for people with Lupus.  Entries should be less than 40 lines and cost £4.  The closing date is 31 May 2011.

And if you’re feeling really brave you can try…


Agenda is a highly respected poetry journal.  Their competition, closing on 31 May 2011, offers a prize of £1000 and costs £4 to enter.  Expect some tough competition.

And finally, the big one…

The Bridport Prize

This prestigious competition is judged by Carol Ann Duffy, so best work only!  It costs £6 to enter and the winners are published in an anthology.  The first prize is £5000.  Aim high – who knows what could happen?

For more details of writing competitions, visit the excellent (and witty) Prize Magic site.

Writing Competitions – Get Your Stiletto in the Door 2010

I’m always in two minds about entering competitions.  The entry fee, the fact that your manuscript is tied up in a judging process when it could be being sent out to publishers, and the uncertainty of whether it can really help your writing career, are all factors which make me think, “Is it worth it?”

Of course if a competition is free and you enter near to the closing date, it is always worth the trouble if you have something suitable.  My main concern with paying competitions is that quite often they are simply money raising exercises for groups, or, increasingly, a way for small publishers to charge for submissions, by announcing that they are closed to submissions but, “You can still enter our competition to be published!”

The allure, however, is strong, and I did succumb to temptation a few times this year.  The excitement of waiting for results, the satisfaction of a good placing, a worthwhile prize and a good addition to your writing CV are all positive aspects.  Perhaps the most useful is feedback, which is not a feature of every competition but, if an entry fee is charged, should be.  Last year I entered Get Your Stiletto in the Door, an annual writing competition organised by Chick Lit Writers of the World, an online chapter of the Romance Writers of America.  They had many categories including paranormal, inspirational and young adult, and every entry would receive four detailed feedback forms, with the top three from each category also receiving feedback from an industry-appropriate agent and editor.

I was fortunate enough to have the experience of being a judge at the early stages, which meant I peer-reviewed five manuscripts in categories which were not my own.   This was a very interesting experience and I got a real insight into the difficulties and even agonies of trying to judge fairly five very difficult pieces of writing.  My main impression was that the quality of writing was very high.  There was only one manuscript that I felt was not yet at a standard where it could be submitted to publishers or agents.  I had to rate various aspects of the writing such as the setting, major and minor characters, dialogue, pace and typos.  The emphasis for judging was on positive criticism, so there was an opportunity to write about the things you liked best about the writing and also the things you felt could be improved.  I tried to be as positive as I could, which wasn’t hard as I really enjoyed reading the entries!

My final result was second in the young adult category for my book ‘The Ghost in My House’.  I was delighted to get this far and have feedback from a top editor and agent, as well as my peer feedback.  Despite some delays in announcing the results, the competition was a great experience which I would recommend to anyone writing women’s fiction, even if you wouldn’t necessarily categorise it as chick lit.

When entering competitions, always read the rules carefully.  Look at the price and consider if the benefits of entering  justify eating into your writing budget.  Will the exposure help your career?  Will you get valuable feedback?  Is the prize something you want?  Is the competition respected within the industry?  Who are the judges – are they people you would like to get your work in front of?  When you are happy that the competition is suitable for you and worth entering, make sure you meet the criteria, submit in time, and – most of all – enjoy the experience!  Good luck!

Second Prize at Winchester!

I was delighted to win second prize in the ‘Writing for Children aged 8-11′ category at the Winchester Writers’ Conference on Saturday. Thrilled to get a placing, I attempted to run down the steps at the side of the auditorium, only due to their unexpected shallowness I ended up doing a sort of lope that seemed to go on forever as the stairs just kept going further and further down. When I finally got to the stage I adopted a more sensible gait and had my photograph taken with Jude Evans from Little Tiger Press.  I will be off to Waterstones directly with my prize book tokens where I will be spending them on some of the novels recommended in the Dystopian Worlds workshop I attended, presented by Sam North – more of which soon.

Movin’ on up

I am proud to announce that I have moved to 38th in the rankings at Write Invite due to a surprise win last week!

It was very exciting being shortlisted in the final three and then waiting for the votes to come in.  You can read my story ‘Over ‘ at  Looking back over it now there’s plenty I would change, but with only 30 minutes to work with you have to accept you aren’t going to come up with a polished piece of prose.  In fact, I wasn’t very happy with my entry at all when I wrote it, whereas the week before I was convinced I was going to do well.  It all goes to show that sometimes it is impossible to predict what is going to work, and you should always silence the critic in your head that says something’s rubbish (well, listen to him first, make some changes and then tell him to shut up!).  What counts is having the experience, making the effort, submitting and getting yourself out there.  Learn on the way, improve but most of all enjoy the experience.

I will be putting my £40 prize towards my Winchester Writing Festival fees.  I will not spend it all at Hobbycraft.  Oh all right, some of it.