Wednesday 27 January 2021

BRRR - perfect weather for the three Rs

Gosh, it's cold out. Perfect weather for staying indoors, except for an occasional brisk walk, which is exactly what I've been doing. My time has been put to good use with my version of the three Rs – writing, researching and reading!

Free to enter writing competitions news

Creative Writing Ink run regular writing competitions for work in any genre and any length. Your piece must be inspired by one of their prompts and posted online somewhere. You enter by providing a link. There's a prize of a £10 Amazon voucher (you could buy one of my books!)

Here's an ongoing short story competition. You can submit a new piece of 1,000 to 3,000 words each month. The prize is $30.

For this novel writing competition you're asked to begin writing a novel in a genre you've not tried before. There's a $500 prize.

Thanks to Alyson Hilbourne for sending me the link to this flash fiction competition. Anyone over 18 may enter and there's a £200 prize.

Alyson also told me about this call for submissions. There's no payment, but you might earn royalties.

I mentioned this competition previously, but wanted to remind those of you who have written a novel and are looking for representation, as it seems like an excellent opportunity to get noticed by agents.

Womag news

YOU magazine in South Africa is now open for submissions again. Apparently there were initially a few problems with the email system, but that seems to be OK now and authors are receiving acknowledgements (not auto instant ones) advising them to allow up to six weeks for feedback,

I'm attempting to get up to date guidelines. In the meantime, here's a link to previous posts about YOU.

My news

In the words of my husband, I'm moving the business side of my writing up a gear. I've joined ALLi, –the Alliance of Independent Authors, have arranged for someone to produce an audio version of one of my novels (if that's successful I'll do the same with the others), have commissioned new cover artwork, bought a big batch of ISBNs ready to make my books more widely available instead of relying on Amazon and am trying to learn something about marketing.

Everything is in the early stages and it's all a little daunting at the moment, but I'm doing it in small stages and it feels as though I'm making progress. If you're interested in any of those things, please say so in the comments and I'll make sure I let you know how it all goes and share any top tips, useful links and pitfalls to avoid.

Tuesday 19 January 2021

Over to you!

 Do you have any womag news?

Are you researching, writing, subbing? Had any acceptances or rejections? Any other news?

Feel free to use the as a picture prompt. If you'd like other writing prompts, short exercises and story/scene suggestions then you might find this book useful.

I'd love to hear your competition news.

Have you entered any writing comps? Had any luck? Heard about interesting contests? Got any tips to pass on? (Although I only feature free to enter competitions in my posts it's fine to share news about other competitions too.)

Do you have writing tips to share, questions to ask, or suggestions for this blog?

Thursday 14 January 2021

All quiet?

This seems to be a very quiet time in terms of responses from magazine editors and other writing news. Probably it always is, but it feels even more so this year. It's a quiet time in the garden too, but I do have some colour to cheer me up. I'm sharing it in the hope it does the same for you.

Womag News

I've had a couple of acceptances from The People's Friend. The stories were submitted in October, but I have others which have been out quite a look longer. I'm guessing they just fitted a particular issue either in terms of length or subject, so jumped the queue a little. That often happens with longer length stories, as fewer of these get submitted and they're always in demand.

Free entry writing competition news

Thanks to Alyson Hilbourne for passing on the link to this competition.  You're asked for up to 500 words on the theme of magic, the best of which will be included in an anthology. Authors of selected work will receive a print copy of the book. 

Another one from Alyson is this short story competition offering £500 in prize money (or the equivalent in your own currency). Anyone over 16 may enter a story of up to 1,000 words describing an imaginary book banquet.

Alyson also gave me the link to this competition from Harper's Bazaar. They're offering a two night stay in a hotel for the best story of up to 2,200 words on the theme of threads. That sound OK until you read the small print. As Alyson points out, you give up worldwide rights in all formats, just by entering. I think it's rather unfair to take rights from the winner, but to do so with all rights is simply appalling.

I received this email from a competition organiser –The Writing Contest, which you posted about on your site, has just wrapped up. It was a huge success, with a total of 3,847 submissions!

We were really impressed by the fantastic work carried out by all the authors and we hope you'll share the post with your audience. We think there's a lot to learn from these expertly crafted blurbs. We've announced the winner and runners up and posted the top 10 blurbs here.

Knowing how many entries there were makes me feel a lot better about not reaching the top ten with my hastily cobbled together attempt. Do you read the winning entries from past competitions? And if so, do you find it useful?

Here's a poetry competition with a $3,500 prize. And here's another – the prize is lower, but I'm pretty certain your odds of winning are far higher.

My News

Some of my short story collections have been reduced to 99p / 99c, and others will be going on sale during the next few weeks. You can find the offers, and all my other books here.

Monday 11 January 2021

Improving characterisation in short stories

Today's guest is womagwriter and novelist Nicola Martin. 

5 ways to improve characterisation in your short stories

When it comes to creating compelling characters, short stories can be the most difficult medium. How do you make sure your protagonist zings off the page in as little as 1,000 words?

Looking back on my womag-writing career, I think improving characterisation was the number one change that clinched my success. When I first started, I received a lot of rejections. However, when I began focusing on characters as the heart of my stories, that’s when the acceptances started appearing in my inbox. It also helped me secure a publication deal for my psychological thriller, Dead Ringer.

Here are five tips on characterisation that have worked for me:

1. Establish key character facts early

At the start of a story, it’s a good idea to anchor your reader as quickly as possible. Who is the narrator/POV character? Are they a man or a woman? Age? Appearance? Job?

Of course, beginning a story with “Anna was a 35-year-old nurse with long blonde hair” is rather uninspiring. So you need to give clues, rather than spell it out for the reader.

Picking the right name can be a useful shorthand. Hollie is likely to be younger than Mabel. Mohammed is likely to look different to Rhys.

Otherwise, it’s a case of dropping breadcrumbs. A nurse might be pulling on her uniform as she heads out the door. A keen artist might have paint-flecked hair. A 50-year-old might be driving the flash car he bought to celebrate his big birthday.

2. Subvert the expected

In women’s magazines, the same themes and situations tend to crop up again and again. This is part of what’s lovely about the womag world, but editors do tend to look for fresh takes on familiar situations.

Using unexpected characterisation can keep things fresh. Instead of a new mum suffering the baby blues, why not a new dad? Instead of a cosy mystery starring a prim-and-proper white lady from suburbia, why not a Black woman who won’t take things lying down?

Don’t just stick with the first character idea that pops into your head. That first idea might be exactly what the reader is expecting. Instead, work on subverting those expectations.

3. Use contradictions

It’s easy to fall into cliché with characterisation. The cerebral surgeon plays chess in his spare time, or the rosy-cheeked primary school teacher bakes cakes in the evenings. My recipe for more interesting characters? Throw in a contradiction or two!

Maybe your serious vicar character also loves Zumba, or your gloomy teenage boy learns to knit.

Contradictory characters are unusually more interesting, and they make for interesting stories, too.

4. Get inside the character’s head

Because a character only appears on three pages, it’s easy to assume you only need to know three pages worth of information about them. In my opinion, characters are like icebergs. You may only see 10% of their characterisation in the story, but as the writer, you still need to discover the other 90%.

I do this through first-person free-writing. I spend an hour writing as if I am the main character. I write about ‘my’ childhood; ‘my’ job; ‘my’ relationships; ‘my’ hopes and dreams and fears and worries.

There’s no pressure for this stream-of-consciousness stuff to be any good. In fact, I won’t use most of it. But it allows me to get to know the character. Bits and pieces from this free-writing will always crop up in the finished story, creating a more fleshed-out and believable character.

5. Think about their emotional journey

Short stories can often suffer from the ‘so what?’ problem. You might have wrapped up the plot, but have you given the reader a reason to remember the story?

Taking the protagonist on an emotional journey (as well as a narrative one) can be the secret to making a story memorable. How are they changed by the events of the story? What are they going to do differently from now on?

You’ll find the answers to these questions by poking at the character’s emotional wounds. A recent divorcee might need to learn to trust again. An old-fashioned gent who’s always carried his family on his back might need to learn to accept help.

Weaving an emotional arc into your story, based on specific character details, can help to create something that resonates with the reader.

Think about your favourite books, movies or TV shows. You might not remember every detail of what happened, but you remember how heartbroken or joyful you felt when something big happened to your favourite character. When people tell me they’ve read my novel, Dead Ringer, they always talk about the characters and never about the plot or prose.

This is the reason it’s so important to take the time to create characters that connect with audiences. Characters are what people remember. And characters sell stories.

About the author: Nicola Martin is a writer from Bristol. Her short stories have appeared in The People’s Friend and placed in national competitions. Her debut psychological thriller, Dead Ringer, is about meeting your doppelganger (with disastrous consequences). The Daily Mail called it “tense and compelling”.

She blogs about books and writing at You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Wednesday 6 January 2021

Here we go again – IWSG, free entry writing comps, and market news.


Welcome to the first Insecure Writer's Support Group post of 2021! 

How are you feeling about the writing year ahead? A bit daunted by all those days to fill with words and not knowing what their fate will be, deadlines to meet, work to polish and markets to find? Or optimistic about the possibilities and opportunities which may come your way?

For me it's a mix of both, but at the moment optimism is winning. Last year was not a good one for my writing (and in so many other ways for so many people) but this year WILL be different and there's a good chance it will be better. Let's face it, there's plenty of room for improvement!

To help you meet your writing potential, this blog will continue to feature a mix of free to enter writing competitions, news about woman's magazine fiction and other markets, advice and inspiring guest posts about once a week. Each month there will also be an IWSG post like this one on the first Wednesday, and a 'Your Go' post around the middle of the month which is a chance to share news and information, ask questions, help with answers and celebrate your success. 

Free entry writing competition news

You still have time to enter Erewash Writers' Festive Fright short story competition. There's £25 plus publication on offer for the winner. (There are other competitions listed on the website.)

There are a few more days to go for the Nine Dots competition – and there's a MUCH larger prize. You'll ned to do more for it too, but if you have any thoughts on being young in an ageing world, then it might be worth having a try at earning that $100,000. 

If you're over 90, you might like to take a look at this short story competition. Growing Old Disgracefully are offering £200 plus publication for the best 500 word piece about childhood memories. The organisers will also plant a tree near where the winner lives, which I think is a lovely idea.

Those of you who have a crime novel they'd like read by literary agents, might like to have a look at this unusual competition. You're asked to submit the novel opening and 'elevator pitch'. The best will be published in a chapbook and sent to agents who've agreed to request at least one full manuscript from those included.

Crime writers from the North East of England might be interested in this novel writing competition.

Womag news

During the People's Friend Writing Hour on Twitter yesterday, the idea of stories mentioning COVID and lockdown was discussed. The Friend team said,  "If any writer wants to submit one they can, but the lockdown situation should be the backdrop, nothing more."

I'm pleased to have a story, set in my local area and very loosely based on reality, in the 2021 Yours Yearbook. Thanks to Bea Charles for the photo.

Other publication opportunities

Paragraph Planet are looking for 75 word submissions. These can be complete stories, novel extracts or scenes. There's no pay, but you might enjoy the challenge, or the ego boost should your piece be accepted.

Something else entirely

Both Gary and I are finalists in this photography competition. His is of a seal, and mine shows some puffins. If you like either of our pictures, we'd really appreciate if you could 'vote' for them by clicking on the thumbs up symbol. You can only vote once, but can select more than one image.


Are you going to try any of the competitions I've mentioned? Will you be submitting to women's magazines or elsewhere? Are you daunted by the idea of writing throughout 2021, or looking forward to it? Don't you just love puffins?

Friday 1 January 2021

Happy New Year!

How are you? Ready to move on from 2020 and make this a really good year?

I expect some of you made New Year's resolutions. Good luck with them if you did. Mine is to drink more water – I know it's good for me and in theory it's very easy to do, but somehow I haven't got into the habit. Do you have any suggestions to help?

Of course I plan to write in 2021, but I've not set myself goals, targets, a schedule, challenge or aspiration. I tried all that last year and the stuff which happened stopped me achieving most of them. This year I'm going to write what I want, when I want, and hope for the best. I'll probably draw inspiration from the little purple book. Oh, OK, I do have one aspiration – to get my murder mystery published. I'll let you know how all that goes.

The photo is of Hev Ock. My childhood friend sent her to me for luck when I was made redundant and considering becoming a full time writer. I think she's a good symbol of fresh starts, and reminder that things can work out well, if we apply time, imagination and effort. She's got her eye on you!

I'll be back soon with womag information, other market news and lots of free entry competitions. In the meantime, thanks to Carol Bevitt for passing on the details of this Christmas love story competition. You have until Valentine's day to come up with the pitch and opening. The winner will have their novel published by Penguin in time for next Christmas.

Best wishes for your writing, health happiness and everything else in 2021!