Short Stories He Wrote
In the middle of writing what was intended to be my début novel I began to have self doubts. Not an unusual human condition I don't suppose but I wondered if there was anything I could do to suppress my uncertainty. The cavalry arrived in the shape of Trowell Writers' Trust, a group based just a mile down the road from me. The first year I entered their 2000 word short story competition with a tale set during the Indian Mutiny and based upon a newsreel I remembered seeing on Blue Peter during the nineteen sixties. It appealed to my interest in history and was awarded third place. The next year I got first for a story about a race between two milkmen. Encouraging stuff!
2008 was a bumper year, getting a second at Trowell and another second in the National Association of Writers' Groups (NAWG) short story competition. Towards the end of that year I also wrote a story which ended up with second place in the Writing Magazine short story competition. Three seconds in one year. Surely the big breakthrough cannot be far away? Buoyed up by this moderate success I pressed on with my novel but continued to build up a collection of short stories and looked around for possible outlets for them.
Some competitions give a critique to all entrants. Others offer feedback for those that pay an extra entry fee. It is worth looking out for these if you require professional advice. The amount of information you get back is limited but you can get some useful pointers from this source. And if the comments are favourable, the boost to your self-esteem is incalculable.
Apart from competitions, the obvious market appeared to be women's magazines. In recent years a few of these publications have reduced or completely abandoned their fiction content but there are still quite a few out there to pitch for, especially if you extend your scope worldwide. The essential course of action here is to actually read a few of your target issues and gauge the sort of thing they are looking for. Most of them will supply you with a copy of their guidelines. I am my own severest critic but I'm sure my tales are just as good, if not better, than most of those that appear in these publications. Yet the rejection letters continue to fall on my doormat as regular as double glazing flyers. Is it because I'm a man? Ooh! How could I think such bitter thoughts?
A friend I had met on a language course was also an aspiring writer and she had a few other friends who had similar ambitions. She had the bright idea of getting away for a few days to some secluded place so we could be creative with no outside distractions. So we ended up, six of us, in a remote cottage in Derbyshire armed with notepads and laptops. For my part it was a productive week. I managed to complete a 4000 word ghost story (which is still seeking an outlet unfortunately) and do some work on a couple of scripts I had in mind. My friend, who had already had one of her plays performed by an amateur group, was working on another script. Halfway through the week she roped us all in to do a read-through. It was an interesting exercise for me and a source of constructive feedback for her. Having other like-minded people around meant that there were plenty of sources of advice and criticism. All-in-all it was a week well spent and I would recommend it to anyone.
Blogs are another source of advice and assistance. Many authors who have been successful in the feel-good fiction field freely offer their invaluable advice. I find this quite moving. These people (mostly women I think) are actually volunteering the benefit of their knowledge and experience to potential rivals. Again, the necessity of persistence is raised. Tales of stories being revamped more than ten times in order to make them suitable for various publications are related. My collection of rejection letters grows by the month.
Overseas markets seemed to be worth a look. A few British magazines have foreign equivalents, the main areas appearing to be Australia, South Africa and the U.S.A. And remember, the Irish Republic, English speaking and not so far away, is also a foreign land. Fortunately some of these are now accepting e-mail submissions which makes life easier (and cheaper). An American site I found is asking for stories of up to 5000 words so I managed to run up a couple of yarns in a week. A few weeks later I got an e-mail back informing me they have been read and considered but at the moment space is at a premium. Is this good news? The normal reply is 'unfortunately this is not quite suitable for our requirements'. I'm willing to clutch at any straw of encouragement.