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Olga Sinclair Launch Gala 2019

On Tuesday 16th of April we officially launched the Olga Sinclair Open Short Story Competition 2019.

Guests were treated to gin tasting courtesy of Patrick and Sandra of Black Shuck Gin.

Then we kicked off the evening with Piers Warren, the main adjudicator for the competition, offering insights on what he’s looking for in a winning entry.

Advice from Piers Warren

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Piers is the adjudicator for the main competition. He is the author of Black Shuck: The Devils Dog, but also a conservationist.

When it comes to his adjudication, he warns that all reading is objective. The stories he likes might not be what another judge would like. However, he offered some guidance by sharing the sorts of things he likes:

“Ideas for stories often start by wondering ‘what if…’ I like to be surprised and end up thinking ‘what on earth made them come up with that’.”

He then gave some general guidance on what exactly he is looking for:

  • I like to care about one or more characters in a plot. If everyone is unlikable, bland or has no depth of character, it’s easy to lose the will to read on.
  • I like to read on to know what’s going to happen next, without being tripped up by unnecessarily strange words or phrases, or ones out of context.
  • Make dialogue realistic. People tend not to talk in complete sentences or be very descriptive. Grunts, noises, single words are all fine if appropriate! Stephen King is very good at dialogue and I love his book of advice On Writing.
  • If it’s obvious who has said something you don’t need to pepper dialogue with he said, she said etc. But also, don’t get bogged down trying to find alternatives– ‘she exclaimed’ (and many other similar possibilities) grates after a while!
  • Don’t overdo adverbs. I prefer ‘slamming’ a door than ‘shutting it firmly’.
  • If written in the first person – is your protagonist male or female? Making it clear fairly early on can avoid an incorrect assumption which then throws the reader later on.
  • Set your scenes using details rather than descriptions. For example, rather than describing how the bar looks, give some detail of what the bartender is wearing. Tom Waits is particularly good at this when writing lyrics.

Piers went on to offer some solid advice when it comes to editing:

  • Plan, write the first draft, tweak, leave for a while, edit, get feedback from your first reader, tweak further then abandon! Editing is never truly finished.
  • Drown your babies/kill your darlings (favourite phrases or sections which do not help drive the story). Leaving a gap between drafts (a few weeks ideally) makes it easier to kill darlings/babies which by then feel more like someone else’s!
  • Editing is often better when removing words rather than adding.

 

Advice from Holly Ainley

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Holly Ainley will be the adjudicator for the Members Shield challenge. This challenge is for members only. Members who have submitted to the main competition can choose one of the stories submitted to the main competition so it can be judged by Holly, giving them another chance to win.

Holly is the book buyer for Jarrolds, and so is used to being arms deep, selecting stories.

Holly first commented on the popularity of the ghosts in Norfolk folklore.

Many excellent non-fiction titles have been written on the subject, including Peter Tolhurst’s This Hollow Land. Plus ghost walks are a surprisingly popular form of entertainment in Norwich.

It’s not just non-fiction but fiction too, for example Shadows on the Fens, edited by Wayne Drew, the short stories of MR James (many set in Norfolk and Suffolk), Black Shuck by Piers Warren, Michelle Paver’s Wakenhyrst (Suffolk)

Why is it such a perfect setting? There is a wealth of legends and actual ghosts associated with the area, from that of Robert Kett hanging over Cathedral Close (now memorialised in CJ Sansom’s novel Tombland), to Black Shuck roaming the North Norfolk coast.

Holly suggests it may be because we have an abundance of churches, functioning and ruined, in the county. What comes with Churches? Graveyards. And with graveyards? Ghosts. We are surrounded by perfect spooky locations. She suggests reading Medieval Churches of the City of Norwich by Nicholas Groves and Landscape of Towers by Clive Dunn for inspiration.

Norfolk and Suffolk are also counties of beautiful old stately homes and mansions, with their own legends attached – take the headless spectre of Ann Boleyn riding through Blickling Hall. Big gothic mansions are full of ghosts and when located in remote areas, there is no-one to hear you scream.

Beyond buildings, there is the extraordinary coastline and rich geological history: it is a perfect setting for archaeological mysteries, for example the salty marshes in the North are the inspiration for Elly Griffiths’ crime fiction – a place that theoretically preserves bodies and bones would serve well for a ghost story.

Although stories do not have to be based in Norwich, or even in Norfolk, but you can find an abundance of inspiration here.

In terms of what she is looking for in a winning entry, Holly highlights the following:

  • I love setting and place and how this influences characters’ behaviour.
  • Short stories are a unique medium, perfectly suited to explore a moment, an episode, plunging the reader into a particular atmosphere.
  • I’m looking for stories that captivate me from the first line, opening a brief window onto a person or a place and their story.
  • Don’t be tempted to overwork your stories – resist the temptation to over-edit and trust when it feels like time to let go.

Advice on how to interpret the theme

Every year, we get entrants asking for guidance on how to interpret the theme – are we looking for it to be interpreted a specific way? The short answer is: no. You can interpret it any way you like.

This, of course, is not always helpful. Some people may be intimidated by the idea of writing to a theme and have no idea where to begin. Our suggestion is to start with the dictionary.

The Oxford dictionary online defines ‘spooks’ as follows:

  • A ghost or a spectre
  • A derogatory term for an African American in America in the 1940’s-50’s
  • A ghost writer

Already you can see the vastly different directions you could take this theme – from a ghost story or a story featuring some kind of supernatural entity, to a spy thriller or mystery, to a story that explores racism, or one that looks at the writing process. You could even write a story that combines several of these definitions.

So even if you’re not a fan of the supernatural, or much of a horror writer, you should still be able to find an angle to approach this theme that suits your style.

Digging deeper, ‘spooks’ can also mean to be haunted, or to be scared (is in, to be ‘spooked’). So you could write a story that explores fear, or being haunted, but again remember that the supernatural is not the only thing that can haunt a person, and people fear more than ghosts and ghouls.

For example, a story about a bride or groom getting cold feet on their wedding day could tie in just as well with the theme as a story about a person being terrorised by a ghost.

There’s no limit to genre either. It has to be fiction, of course, but you can explore the theme of ‘spooks’ through the lens of horror, sci-fi, romance, comedy, historical fiction, steam punk – anything goes.

In the past, entrants have interpreted our themes a number of ways with a wide range of genres. We highly recommend checking out our anthologies to see examples of how winning entries have interpreted past themes to give you an idea of how you might approach this year’s theme.

Finally, we’d like to make it clear that your stories do not have to be set in Norwich, or even Norfolk. You can set them anywhere you like, in any time period. It’s up to you. Nor do you have to write about spooky things in Norfolk. You’re welcome to if you like, but you’re not restricted.

Ultimately, your only limit when it comes to interpreting the theme is your own imagination. We’re excited to see all the different ways entrants will explore this theme.

If you’re still stuck for ideas, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where we’ve been posting at least two writing prompts every week ranging from image prompts, specific scenarios and even real life inspiration. Each of them has been specifically chosen because it can easily lead to a story that explores our theme. We will continue putting them up until a week before the deadline.

Even if you already have an idea or have already written your entry, it’s still worth checking them out because there’s no limit to how many entries you can submit.

We’ll be revealing the cover for this year’s anthology on our social media very soon, so if you want to see the cover of the book your entry may well be published in, it’s worth following us to be updated.

The entry fee is £8 per entry. There is no limit on the number of entries. International entries are welcome. The competition is open to all writers of all ages and skill levels. The deadline is midnight GMT July 31st 2019. There are cash prizes available for the top three winners.

Full details of our competition can be found here: https://norwichwriters.wordpress.com/olga-sinclair-open-short-story-2019/

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch norwichwriters@hotmail.co.uk

Here are more pictures of our wonderful evening:

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Join us at the gala

This Tuesday 16th April is the official launch gala for the Olga Sinclair Open Short Story Competition 2019. Both our adjudicators Piers Warren and Holly Ainley will be there to talk about what they’re looking for in a winning entry. But that’s not all.

There will be free gin tasting courtesy of Black Shuck Gin, one of our supporters.

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The door fee will be £5 for non-members and £3 for members. This helps us pay for the room hire, but it gets you:

  • Free gin tasting.
  • Light buffet of finger food with both vegan and non-vegan options.
  • Drinks such as wine, as well as soft drinks, and tea and coffee.
  • The chance to chat to us and the adjudicators.

If you want to keep up to date with the latest news on the gala, go to the official event page. Also, remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for news, tips, and advice on the competition, as well as regular writing prompts to help get those creative juices flowing.

If you have have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: norwichwriters@hotmail.co.uk

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Winners of the 2018 Olga Sinclair Open Short Story Competition

First, our adjudicators have their thoughts on the entries.

Alison Bruce, had this to say:

Then Linsay White offered these thoughts:

 

Without further delay, we are pleased to announce the results of the Olga Sinclair Open Short Story Competition 2018!

Main Competition:

 

1st Place: Guernica by Sue Ryder Richardson

Adjudicator’s Comment:I love the way that you chose to tell Ana’s story through her grandchildren’s eyes and this multigenerational approach brings the past very much into the present. This could have become expositional and rather dull but, instead, you make it vivid and relevant to the reader. The writing is excellent. In this particular competition there really was nothing to choose between first and second place but, your final sentence, which was both vivid and haunting, stayed with me and secured the win.

Overall, an engaging and powerful story demonstrating excellent writing.

2nd Place: Scarlett Johannson Is The Anti-Christ! by Louise Wilford

Adjudicator’s Comment: I loved this story. It makes excellent use of the market theme and the descriptions of produce are vivid and build both the tension and interest in the character. There’s a real sense of undercurrent and the story has an effective and punchy resolution. You use dialogue well and Lucy was well developed and believable.

Overall, excellent writing, a polished and a very memorable read.

3rd Place: Circle Of Life by Rhona Godfrey

Adjudicator’s Comment: I was drawn to this story for its strong market theme, its warmth and the dynamic that forms between the two characters. The last sentence really added to its impact too. The formatting was distracting and, although it wasn’t marked down for this, other competitions might penalise which would be a shame. You have double spaced but don’t put an extra line between paragraphs and you should indent the first line of every paragraph apart from the first in each section. The most important change you need to make to your formatting is to make sure that there is a new paragraph each time someone speaks. But, otherwise, it was a very enjoyable story.

Overall, a warm and engaging story with strong reader appeal.

 

Runners Up:

 

El Rastro by April McIntyre

Adjudicator’s Comment: Lovely sense of place. The atmosphere is built gently and the story is well paced, it is quite mellow and more about characters and the moment than about plot and, because of this, it felt as though it would have been a chapter or section of a longer piece – that isn’t a criticism at all, and I would have been interested to read more. You use local words and you have achieved the balance of using enough to add flavour but not too many so that it becomes a distraction. Pay attention to proof reading, e.g. ceramists should be ceramist’s and ‘A pale, marginally overweight woman in her twenties only months before…’ only months before relates to her being in her twenties rather than being overweight.

Overall, written with a strong voice and to a high standard.

Fading Times by Kathy Joy

Adjudicator’s Comment: Fading Times takes some of the familiar elements of the market and weaves them into a story which is both charming and imaginative. I enjoyed the way the tension rose and was completely invested in Iris. The story provokes thought about the challenges that markets face in current times and this is neatly reflected in Iris’s situation. Try to avoid clichés e.g. ‘knife to the throat’, ‘biting the bullet’ and ‘bigger and better’ because finding new ways of saying these things will extend your writing.

Overall, a strongly themed and original story.

The Pale Child by Iain Andrews

 Adjudicator’s Comment: You set the scene well through the use of dialogue and traditional trades which allowed the reader to place the story, timewise at least, with gothic / Victorian undertones. You have made good use of the market theme and the eeriness that is present around a deserted market at night time. The story has the feel of traditional folklore or campfire storytelling and this is a perfect choice. A small point with the formatting; please indent the first line of every paragraph apart from the first line in each section. This makes it much easier to read, especially as typescripts are usually presented in this way.

Overall, strong imagery and an enjoyable read.

The Coat by Bonnabelle Leftwich

 Adjudicator’s Comment: This story shows the relationship between mother and daughter and its effectiveness lies in experiencing the insight that the daughter, Lucy, is suddenly given. The mother’s memories build to make her a relatable character. The opening paragraph didn’t engage me, it felt as though you had tried too hard to make it stand out, but once the story moves on you settle into a more natural and fluent style. A small point with the formatting; please indent the first line of every paragraph apart from the first line in each section. This makes it much easier to read, especially as typescripts are usually presented in this way.

Overall, a warm story with a well thought out plot.

The Night Market by Peter Loftus

Adjudicator’s Comment: You set the scene well and the narrator has an engaging voice but the strength of this story is its plot; it kept me reading and you built a sense of anticipation. The final twist was unexpected and clever. The downsides were minor. I would have liked a little more foreshadowing. You also could have picked a more interesting title; quite a few entries were variations on The Market and ones with more intriguing titles were immediately more appealing. A small point with the formatting; please indent the first line of every paragraph apart from the first in each section. This makes it much easier to read, especially as typescripts are usually presented in this way.

Overall, a dark story which stayed with me long after I’d finished reading.

Traders by Mary Outram

Adjudicator’s Comment: This story immediately reminded me of a classic espionage thriller and you effectively built an atmosphere of mistrust and intrigue. Your writing shows a clear affinity with your genre. I think you could expand some of the scenes and descriptions and develop this into a longer piece.

Overall, a fast paced read from a writer with a good eye for detail.

The Trans Sahara Highway by Claire Wood

Adjudicator’s Comment: The way you link the two locations takes the reader smoothly from a British market, which is probably more familiar to most, to an African one. The comparisons are elegantly drawn and the story achieves poignancy and positivity. When I reached the end I wanted to read on. The major criticism is the story’s low word count and, for this reason alone, it almost missed being shortlisted. In general, for a short- story competition of up to 2000 words it is wise to be as close as you can to that limit without going over; 1800-2000 is ideal, however I shortlisted this for the strength of the writing and the beautiful sense of place. A small point with the formatting; please indent the first line of every paragraph apart from the first in each section. This makes it much easier to read, especially as typescripts are usually presented in this way.

Overall, sharply drawn with a strong sense of place.

MEMBERS COMP:

 

1st Place: The Market by Phillip Vine

Adjudicator’s Comment: This enigmatic story hooked me straightaway. I loved the dark humour and the Kafkaesque atmosphere. Very well paced, and lovely rhythmic touches in the sentence structure. Of all the entries, this had the strongest sense of voice. The open ending won’t be to everyone’s taste, and the last lines could have more impact. But the quirky concept and the confidence of your prose won me over. Congratulations!

2nd Place: Swipe Left by Kathy Joy

Adjudicator’s Comment: There’s a grizzly twist to this dark but gripping tale. Of all the entries this made cleverest use of the theme. The plot kept me guessing. Perhaps it’s a bit far-fetched (could she really spot predators so easily?). Also the flashbacks were sometimes confusing (try using pluperfect tense when you first go back in time). But the story stuck with me long after reading it, and the last line is wonderfully macabre! Well done.

3rd Place: Mr Dickens And The Bakewell Pudding by Phyllida Scrivens

Adjudicator’s Comment: What a quirky idea! Gorgeous food descriptions made me feel very hungry while reading this. Little details leapt off the page and really came to life. I loved the characters and believed in your world. But structurally it needs development. I’d definitely lose the footnote. Root us more firmly in Ann’s POV: she’s the heart of the story. But overall a joy to read, and it stuck in my memory too. Well done!

Commended:

 

The Pale Child by Iain Andrews

Adjudicator’s Comment: There’s some really fine writing here. We open with a hook, and the voice feels convincing. I love the premise and period atmosphere. But structurally it’s not quite ‘there’ yet, and overall I didn’t feel it was tense (or scary) enough. Rather a lot of dialogue and too little action – let us see the pale child for ourselves before we hear his story. But this dark little tale showed lots of promise and stuck with me after reading.

The prize giving ceremony can be viewed here:

 


Congratulations to the winners! Your stories will all be featured in our anthology. We aim to publish this by December, however, we are all volunteers with out own time restrictions and responsibilities. We will make every effort to release the anthology as soon as we can. Updates will be posted Facebook and Twitter.

If you didn’t win this year, don’t worry. You’ll get another chance at next year’s competition. Theme and adjudicator tbc – keep your eyes on our page and social media for updates.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Norwich Writers' Circle

Olga Sinclair Open Short Story Competition Gala

WordPress Olga Sinclair Open Short Story Competition Logo 2016The wait is over …

On Tuesday 18th October, we will be announcing the winners of the Olga Sinclair Short Story Competition at Anteros Arts Foundation.

To celebrate, a light buffet will be served, and a raffle with some fantastic prizes to be won will be held.

The doors open at 7pm with the main event kicking off at 7:30PM.  You are welcome to bring a guest with you.  The more the merrier!

A door fee of £5 for visitors, £3 for members applies.

We hope to see you there!