Writing- the Ups and Downs

Scream or enjoy the ride?

Last week started with a high of one of my micro short stories got on to the longlist of the National Flash Fiction Day competition Woo hoo! But this was swiftly followed by a low when I didn’t make it to the shortlist. Boo hoo! The blip was soon forgotten by a much bigger high of receiving a Special Merit in the Inspired? Get Writing! Competition run by the National Galleries of Scotland in partnership with the English-Speaking Union and the Scottish Poetry Library. The competition was launched seven years ago and invites writers of all ages to have their imagination fired up by works of art in the NGS collection. This year, the competition attracted more than 1,200 entries from all over the world.

I decided to have a go at the competition following a visit to the revamped Scottish National Portrait gallery on a trip to Auld Reekie just before Christmas. I’d forgotten all about the story I’d entered so I was well chuffed to receive a letter saying that my story was in the top ten of the entries for the Adult Prose category. The letter also invited me to the NGS to receive my award and hear my story at a public reading of the winning stories and poems followed by a drinks reception, dahling!

Hubby and I decided to make a day of it with a trip to the galleries and a meal (any excuse to stick my head in the nose bag) before mingling with the Embra lovies. The event itself was brilliant!

Mwah mwah!!

I was presented with a certificate from Edinburgh’s makar, Ron Butlin then I sat back and waited for my story to be unleashed on to the public. I was nervous. Looking round the packed lecture theatre I worried that the rich vernacular language I’d used wouldn’t go down well with the cultured crowd. I was also concerned that if the story was read out in a RP accent it would curl up and die. I needn’t have worried. Lorna, a former actress who now works for the Scottish Poetry Library, ‘performed’ my story brilliantly and really brought it to life by creating comedy and pathos. The audience laughed in all the right places and I finally relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the evening, basking in the amazing experience of watching a highly skilled performer reading my words.

Davies has said that he wanted “to express feelings of repression and brutality, and the humiliating rituals employed by oppressors.” Scary stuff!

The other winning stories were stunning, a completely diverse mix of styles ending with the finale of the overall winner, Cat Dean’s, ‘The Doctor’ inspired by the disturbing work, ‘For the Last Time’ by John Davies. I learnt a lot just by listening to the other stories so it was a win-win evening all round.

Writing Competitions-In It To Win It!

My name is Helen and I’m addicted to quality stationery.There you go, I’ve admitted it publicly. And one of my annual highlights is always starting a fresh diary (I know it’s sad). This year’s object of my affection is a lovely Writer’s Diary (thankfully my eldest son responded to repeated hints (I don’t do subtle) for a Xmas present I would actually use. The diary is produced by Mslexia and is packed full of ideas and info for women writers.  On one of the first pages it has a Submissions section for you to record when and where you’ve sent your precious masterpieces.There’s nothing quite like pages of blank columns to make me feel under pressure.  And as the publisher, Bloomsbury has dubbed 2012 as the year of the short story, I felt that I should get cracking and enter a short story competition.

I’ve not got a lot of experience of writing short stories and I know it’s not easy. With strict word limits you can’t afford to waste a single word.  I’m in awe of writers who can pull off a powerful story succinctly. The ultimate in flash fiction, a short form of storytelling, has got to be Ernest Hemingway’s work of genius, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Wow! How can six words be so evocative? Maybe stunning examples like that are why I’ve avoided the genre, but it was time to face my fear.

I needed a theme and a deadline to motivate me. And I found it on a trip to visit the newly refurbished Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.  Hubby and I went as part of a festive trip to Auld Reekie.  The gallery is a fantastic neo-gothic red sandstone building and has something to suit everyone’s taste whether you like traditional paintings of Scottish lairds or photographs of Glaswegian slums.  It’s well worth a visit and it’s free entry! On the way out, I picked up a leaflet for a competition called, ‘Inspired? Get Writing!’  There’s still time to enter! 
http://www.nationalgalleries.org/education/competitions I chose to write about a striking (and a bit scary) portrait of the acclaimed writer, committed feminist and social activist, Naomi Mitchison, painted by Percy Wyndham Lewis. She sounded like my kind of woman!  

A very clever lady but what a dour faced looking besom!

sent off my submission this week and felt quite smug at being able to make my first entry under the Submissions section of my new diary. Entering the competition has fired me up to enter as many as I can in the hope of being published. Read a lot, write a lot is my new mantra and the competitions will give me a goal and the chance to practise, practise, and practise my writing skills. The chances of winning are slim but as they say, if you’re not in it, you can’t win it. Watch this space…