Dear all,
First of if you want to enter the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2016 Short Story Competition then it closes tomorrow so you need to get a move on!  Here’s the link:
Write On Site
Secondly, I thought I would share with you the first competition I have ever entered. There is a really interesting site: that I came across while searching out competitions. It’s not a competition in the sense of a big annual event but rather a weekly league table. The way it works is that (actually, they do offer more than this so check out their site for other events) every Saturday at 5.30pm (GMT) they announce on their website three topics. You then have thirty minutes to write a short story based on one of those topics. Entries (this is all done online) close at 6.00pm exactly so you have to make sure you do all your checking, read throughs and editing within those 30 minutes. It was really fun to do (It costs £4 per entry via PayPal or you can get discounts for multiple entries). As I mentioned in a previous blog post I am trying to destroy any sense of confidence that may still reside in me in 2016 by entering as many competitions as I can and overburdening myself. I am working on my first novel and I have also started selling a self publishing service through my company Thinking Plainly Limited as well as trying to continue developing a few other projects that are on the sideline. I know deep down that I am probably trying to do too much but what is over-riding that is the desire to be busy and active this year. I really want to get a lot done and I am not too worried about my personal life, it’s all about writing this year.
Anyway, I think it will be great to have this weekly competition in my diary. I am going to take it seriously and only enter it when I am not in the middle of something else so that I can give it my full attention. For instance, I couldn’t do it yesterday, as there was the important matter of watching Wales play in the Rugby Six Nations! I may have timed starting this wrong as there are still a few weeks left of the tournament…
The other point to make is that I am not using any pre-prepared ideas. After my first entry below I explain that I am using notes I have made over the years for other competitions but for this website every single sentence will come from the imagination set off by the firing gun of 5.30pm. I really like the idea of having an ‘examination’ style challenge every week. I am one of those weirdos that sort of misses school. Yes, sorry. I never actually minded exams and test, I found it a good way to focus and in a way, I wish I could bring that mentality back for my everyday writing. Hopefully, this site may help me with that.
So, check out the website and maybe I’ll see your name on the league table soon enough… I’ll keep sharing my entries with you, unless of course the unexpected happens and I am short listed (very unlikely but you never know I guess) in which case I’ll just post a link to the site and you can check it out there as it’s only fair and right those are read on the website itself.
For the first week, Saturday 6thFeb ’16, the subject I picked was, ‘ The Parting’. I’m afraid I can’t remember the two other subject options but I’ll know to make a note for next time.
The Other Side of the Front Room
"Can I say hello to granddad?"
"Give it five minutes," mum said. She wasn't looking at me but could feel the tugging at her coat. I knew she was listening, although it did annoy me the way she would still speak to others at the same time. I didn't mind her speaking to grandma or aunty Paula, but it would only take a second to glance down at me, you know, break away for like, one second.
"Okay," I walked over to the single seat armchair on the other side of the room and sat down, a bit on the heavy side, to make a point, not a strop exactly, but you know, enough.
It's been five minutes and mum's still chatting away to grandma. She hasn't moved from her seat, still has her coat on and the three carrier bags of shopping in her hand. Aunty Gemma has joined them so I sort of think I better give up. I could go and say hello to granddad myself, you know, on my own... but I'm chicken. I told mum before we came to take me in there straight away, as soon as we got there, because I knew, I mean seriously, I knew she'd get chatting otherwise and I'll be stuck on my own and then I'd be nervous the whole afternoon thinking about when was the right time to go to granddad. Yes, she said, fine, of course, don't worry... but then we get here and it's the same old thing, she totally ignores me and forgets what I said.
I try to catch mum's attention but it's hopeless. They're onto one of the ex-husbands now. They think they're being clever by not saying a name out loud but I'm not that stupid, I mean, I know what they're talking about for god's sake. They'll be ages. I look over to the curtain. It's not a curtain like you see on a window, you know, a normal curtain that everyone has. This one's enormous. It's like massive, honestly. It's like the one in my school, in the big hall. It's red though, not black. It's almost like blood in a way. It's in the middle of the front room. It's so heavy as well. I get nervous going through it, that's why I tell mum I want her with me. Granddads on the other side. That's his side. We're only allowed on this side, grandma's side, but it's okay to go over and say hello. I really like granddad, he's funny. I know he's meant to be strict too but I still think he's funny.
"Have you said hello to grandad yet?" mum comes back in from the kitchen and looks surprised I'm still sitting. I don't know why she's surprised. I told her I wanted her to come with me. She just doesn't listen.
"No. I was waiting for you."
"Well, he's about to have his tea so hurry up,"
I'm scared now. She's put me in a panic. I don't want to go.
"I can wait until after he's had his tea" I say. My voice is so nervous she must hear it, like you know, feel my nerves or something. She can't be stupid.
"No, go now. You don't want to disturb his nap." Mum walks out of the room. I stare at the big curtain. It's like space. When you're up close you can't see the sides, beginning or end. My hands start to sweat. Then I hear his voice.
"That you, Bill?"
I'm so relived I can't tell you.
"Hi grandad, it's me!" I run up to the curtain and pull the edges open just enough to squeeze through. I walk through to the other side and give granddad a huge hug.
As soon as I saw the title, ‘The Parting’, I thought of a big red curtain my grandmother used to have. The rest of the story was totally made up (that’s the exciting part of writing in test conditions like this, just going off and seeing what the brain digs up, not knowing where the next sentence will take you) but all I thought of was the idea of having a family split (the parting of a relationship, the parting of a family, the parting of a life spent together) and it being shown in the physical act of a split room (the physical parting of a room, the physical parting of your own living space) and seeing if I could match the two together to show the emotional and physical acts represented by someone only seeing one side, in this case, the physical curtain. Anyway, as I am more than ready to concede, I am not a skilled enough writer yet to transform my ideas into prose that represents what I want to say, yet I am happy enough to know, or rather, be satisfied by, the ideas appearing to me and to feel I have something to say. That’s why entering competitions this year is a way for me to test my progress, not as a way to have affirmation or recognition of my writing, I actually fear that; rather it is a way to monitor the strength and originality of my ideas and the way I present them. I’ll share with you my weekly (or post Six Nations weekly…) entries. Feel free to let me know what you think, all criticism welcome.
Other Comps
Another reason I feel it is time to enter competitions is that I have dozens of little scraps of ideas that now I am working on the novel I won’t be doing anything with. Rather than leaving them to rot for a year or more why not make use of them and develop them for competitions? However, I am setting some strict conditions. I will only spend a few hours on each one and the word count will be the minimum required, or a max of approx. 1000 if there are no restrictions. I am not going to divert all of my attention to them. I see them as a learning tool, to test out some ideas and develop my skills. I do not have any ambitions to win anything, which sounds self defeating, yes, but I see it as more of a practical and reality-checking safety net. I won’t be entering the same story twice. I will be entering a new work for each competition and that means I will be spending a lot of time on this so it has to have a purpose and an aim. At the moment, it looks like there are around four a month I could enter (some months more) so I don’t want it to overtake all my other work, which if I take them too seriously is a possibility, yet not taking them seriously enough means I will produce poor work and what would be the point in that! For me, those purposes and aims will be to learn and practice more. It is not about winning. So although I can feel the stress already… it’s in a good way! Once the deadlines have closed and the winners announced (so that I don’t break any rules) I’ll be sharing my entries with you.
All the best everyone, have a great week.
R.G Rankine.