Saturday, 19 May 2012

Top Short Story Competitions – Literary Athletics

The only way to lose is by not taking part

There are short story writing competitions. There are international short story writing competitions. And then there's New York City Midnight Short Story Challenge.

The operative words are Midnight and Challenge, and they mean exactly what they say. NYCM competitions are not for sleepyheads or the faint-hearted.

This year the challenge consisted of three rounds of original writing challenges, set against the calendar and the clock. The challenges were presented, by email, at 11:59 EDT (New York time), which equated to 4:59 the following morning in the UK.

In the first round the 24:00/5:00am start was not too onerous, given eight days to write a story of up to 2,500 words. The second round was slightly more fraught with 3 days to produce a story of up to 1,500 words. Faced, however, with 24 hours to write a 1,000 word story in the final round, every second counted, so a 5:00 start was vital.

The 625 first round writers were placed randomly in 'heats' of 25. Each heat received a genre, subject and character assignment, for example: Comedy (genre), a family reunion (subject) and a pathological liar (character).

The judges chose 125 writers from the first round to progress to the second round. These writers were again placed in heats and given new genre, subject and character assignments.

From these entries the judges chose 25 writers to advance to the third and final round, in which all writers received the same genre, subject and character.

The over all winners were:

1 'Origin Story' by Jessica Zimmerman
2 'What We Left Behind' by Muthoni Kiarie
3 'Secret Sky' by Elizabeth Spencer
4 'After the Plague' by Betsy A. Riley
5 'Shiny, Pink Secrets' by Andrea Hannah

Me? I made it to the final 25, which is not so dusty. Close, as they say, but no cigar.

Perhaps my NYCM-inspired athletic training regime will stand me in good stead for future literary track and field events, who knows?

Whatever, I've submitted my three entries elsewhere. As I observed at the beginning: The only way to lose is by not taking part.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

No Smoke Without Ire

How would you define mass murder?

(Image via The Journal: Staton R. Winter/AP/Press Association Image
When the international community brings to account those accused of crimes against humanity we feel righteous satisfaction that justice has prevailed. We experience this emotion principally because we are compassionate beings and the world is our shrinking habitat. In the words of John Donne: No man is an island entire of itself…any man's death diminishes me… *

According to ABC News, tobacco companies – including British American Tabaco Australia (BATA) – are challenging in court the ground breaking attempts of the Australian government to reduce tobacco addiction and smoking related deaths by introducing plain generic packaging. BATA is also proposing to reduce the price of cigarettes.

In response, Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek is quoted as saying: "What they're interested in doing is attracting new smokers and keeping existing smokers, and they'll do whatever it takes to do that."

(Image: ABC News)

The connection between smoking and premature death is established fact, so is the addictive nature of tobacco

If the killing of thousands for 'reasons' of religion, race or ideology is a Crime Against Humanity, what should we call the killing of addicted millions for financial gain?

And, weighed dispassionately in the cold scales of logic, which crime is the more monstrous?

* No Man is an island

No man is an island entire of itself;

every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 

And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.

John Donne

Monday, 14 May 2012

Small is Beautiful – National Flash Fiction Day

In case you haven't heard, Wednesday, May 16th – yes, that is in two days time – will be the first ever National Flash Fiction Day.

The National bit applies to the UK, but  there is also an International Flash Fiction Day in tandem.

So, wherever you reside in the world, you still have tomorrow to submit contributions to the FlashFlood Journal, which will appear online during National Flash Fiction Day, starting from around midnight on May 15th (all times are BST) with contributions added regularly throughout the day.

I'm pleased to report that the FlashFlood Journal editors have accepted a piece of mine, Bent, which I understand will be posted between 12:00 and 12:30.

It is great to be involved with the inaugural National Flash Fiction Day, which the indefatigable Calum Kerr has worked on for so long to bring to fruition.

Next Wednesday promises to be a bundle of fun for writers and readers alike. I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Touching the Past in the NYT 'Lively Morgue'

If like me you enjoy the process of research for your writing you'll know that the saying 'A picture paints a thousand words' does often hold true in the real world. Find the right images and you're well on your way to understanding a time and place, and, with a little cooperation from serendipity, you may even find your characters.

It was thanks to serendipity that I discovered this surprisingly moving and very human story about a remarkable survival from past technologies that can add missing tactility to our – equally wonderful in a different way – digital age: Inside the New York Times 'Lively Morgue' on Vimeo

Whilst watching this piece I was reminded of one of my all-time favourite BBC TV dramas, Shooting the Past, by Stephen Polyiacoff. If you've not seen that excellent drama, do try to find it online or DVD. If you appreciate the value of research from reliable prime sources, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.