I Am Judging This Flash Fiction Competition

I’m very pleased, and very proud, to announce that I’ll be this year’s judge for the very brilliant Poised Pen’s Flash Fiction Competition.

The word limit is 350 words (and that means I’m keen on anything under that – please don’t see that 350 as a figure you have to hit) and the theme is Antony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ which has been around for ten years now. Stories must include two of the following words:

  1. Another
  2. Place.
  3. Estuary
  4. Iron
  5. Man/Men
  6. Rust.
  7. Home.
  8. Wave.
  9. Barnacle.
  10. Naked

and be written to this, very fine, photo prompt:


I can’t wait to see your entries (DO enter, people, there’s actual prize money).

I’ve been lucky enough to judge for the Poised Pen before so I know that the standard of writing is high. But, as in all competitions, there can only one winner – there is absolutely no reason why that can’t be you. Full details here (as well as for the James Nash judged poetry competition).

(More details about James here.)

There’ll also be a celebratory evening of awards (I’ll be breaking a habit of a lifetime and reading there too – probably from my next book) on December 4th.

In the meantime, here’s what I wrote, as a guide, for the comp:

‘As someone who’s judged a fair few competitions, and guest edited at a fair few places, and written a fair few stories: here are some tips.

You might not want to, unless it’s an idea that grabs your tightly, write the first thing that comes into your head. Write a list of things you could write about. The interesting one usually comes after the first few.

And don’t think that your story has to include the prompt. Let that photo (which I think’s a brilliant prompt) inspire anything and run with it. This is not a case of ticking boxes – it’s a starting point for brilliant stories so allow them to come through. As long as there’s some sort of link to it (I don’t want anything that’s already written that you think might just fit – because 99% of the time that really doesn’t work) then we’ll be okay. Now go! Have some good ideas. And make them into brilliant stories. I, honestly, can’t wait to read them.’


And here are my short fiction tips:


Here are my tips for anyone wanting to write a good short story or piece of flash fiction:

Start where the story starts, not before. If I was telling you about a fantastic hotel room I’d stayed in I wouldn’t start by telling you about booking the tickets to get there (unless the story was about booking the tickets and ended in the room).

Take out everything, every word, every sentence, every character that isn’t absolutely necessary.

Similarly, only use the right words. Sometimes people do just ’sit’. Or ‘run’.
Make sure your characters are believable. What they do, or the situations they find themselves in, may be unlikely and fantastical but the way they react to them has to be something that readers will believe.

Be suspicious of anything you think is clever. The story comes first, the story’s what people should notice, not the writer.

Write for you, but spare a thought for the reader too.
Don’t overdo it. Big words are fine if they’re the right ones. Same with descriptions.

Say what you want to say in the simplest, and most effective, way possible. In other words: get to the point.

Aim to be brilliant.

Don’t expect it to be easy. Or quick. Be prepared to work hard.

Don’t be afraid of rewriting. In fact, embrace it; it will make your stories better.

Don’t expect to get it right the first time. You have total control of what can be changed. (I often find also that if a story wants or needs to be changed, then it’ll let you know.)

Trust your instincts. If you suspect something’s not working then it probably isn’ t.
Don’t be afraid of putting a story away for a while. Sometimes stories, and your head, need space.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Nothing’s wasted. It’s better to try something new and fail (and perhaps learn something) than to play safe all the time.

Most importantly: BE BRAVE. You have an imagination, use it. Write the story you want to write, write what you think’s good and interesting, even if that means not sticking with the norm. Different, if done well, can be brilliant.

And read the greats. See how they do things. See why they’re the greats. Even if you don’t like them you might find something in them that’s very useful.


And that’s about it. Go, write, enter. And GOOD LUCK!


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