J is for … Jameson

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I was inspired to write J for … Jameson after reading an entry in Mslexia magazine for their regular ‘L is For…’ competition where a piece of creative non-fiction writing is inspired by a single alphabet prompt. Although my story is fundamentally non-fiction, elements within are tweaked to fiction and as a result I doubt I will be submitting this one but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the challenge, particularly the exacting and creative re-write and edit to be within the 300 words limit.

BOOKS I READ ON MY HOLIDAY

I’m a sucker for lists of all kinds. To do lists, places to visit list, present list but surely the best type of all is that of books! Books are always a huge part of my life and even more so during a holiday.

This Easter in Sweden was no exception and thanks to ebooks I’m no longer restricted by weight to the number of books to take along – just as well as together my son and I read sixteen books.

It was a literary fest and here are a few of the varied mix I read…with just a brief overview and the effect they had on me.

51zIoSmxGJLThe book that carried me across the North Sea was The Legacy of Lucy Harte.  I need a good, no, make that a great book, to ensure that I am distracted from the fact I am 30,000+ feet up in the air with only two engines keeping me safely there and a thin sheet of metal is all that protects me from the airless minus 50 degrees centigrade outside.

‘Maggie O’Hara knows better than most that life can change in a heartbeat. Eighteen years ago she was given the most precious gift- a second-hand heart, and a second chance at life.

Always thankful, Maggie has never forgotten Lucy Harte – the little girl who saved her life. But as Maggie’s own life begins to fall apart, and her heart is broken in love, she loses sight of everything she has to live for…

Until an unexpected letter changes Maggie’s life..’

The Legacy of Lucy Harte is a gem of a read and I was desolate when I finished reading it. I had immersed myself in Maggie’s, her family’s and friend’s lives and it was a wrench to say goodbye to them. The book was wonderfully written and at no point a maudlin story.

LIONA good friend here on WP recently recommended the film Lion. I was all set to go to the cinema when it was removed from the schedule. That is so typical! l! However I saw the book available on Amazon and once I reassured myself that the book was written before the film, I just couldn’t resist this true-life story.

‘As a five-year old in India, I got lost on a train. Twenty-five years later, I crossed the world to find my way back home.

Five-year-old Saroo lived in a poor village in India, in a one-room hut with his mother and three siblings… until the day he boarded a train alone and got lost. For twenty-five years.

This is the story of what happened to Saroo in those twenty-five years. How he ended up on the streets of Calcutta. And survived. How he then ended up in Tasmania, living the life of an upper-middle-class Aussie. And how, at thirty years old, with some dogged determination, a heap of good luck and the power of Google Earth, he found his way back home.’

Lion is a wonderfully sweeping human real life drama; it is lovingly told, heart-breaking, tense and astutely emotionally honest.  The main characters in Saroo’s life are wonderfully captured. The whole book is cinematic in its scope, brilliantly written and by the end I felt I’d seen the film! This is a book that caught hold of my heart from the very start and had me reaching for the tissues. Surely a sequel will be written soon.

GO SET THE WATCHMANGo Set a Watchman has been on my shelf for a year and after the, at times, vitriolic, discussions across the news and social media I had decided to leave this. However, my curiosity was piqued and at the last minute this is the only paperback that made it into my suitcase.

‘Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch – ‘Scout’ – returns home from New York City to visit her ageing father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past – a journey that can be guided only by one’s own conscience.’

The book is brilliantly written with the first part beautifully capturing Jean Louse Finch’s return to Maycomb and meeting up with family and friends, including her potential fiancee. However, about half way the whole book takes a sudden dramatic turn…and stays there. Whoa! Despite the comments I’d read I hadn’t expected the remainder to be a whole discourse on race in the 1950s and before. Like the slap she received from her uncle, I felt equally winded. As she argues for her beliefs I begin to feel her helplessness. I’m glad I’ve read it but can see why her publishers advised her to write To Kill a Mockingbird instead as indeed the first part of the book contains a lot of her memorable events which later find a central place in TKMB.

BRITT-MARIEFrederik Backman is very popular at the moment and he found success after writing a blog for many years (there is hope for us all!) I had thoroughly enjoyed his A Man Called Ove. I was less fond of My Grandmother sends her regards and apologises.

However, Britt-Marie Was Here is my favourite of his books and as far as I’m concerned Backman has totally redeemed himself!

‘For as long as anyone can remember, Britt-Marie has been an acquired taste. It’s not that she’s judgemental, or fussy, or difficult – she just expects things to be done in a certain way. A cutlery drawer should be arranged in the right order, for example (forks, knives, then spoons). We’re not animals, are we?

But behind the passive-aggressive, socially awkward, absurdly pedantic busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams and a warmer heart than anyone around her realizes.

So when Britt-Marie finds herself unemployed, separated from her husband of 20 years, left to fend for herself in the miserable provincial backwater that is Borg – of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it – and somehow tasked with running the local football team, she is a little unprepared. But she will learn that life may have more to offer her that she’s ever realised, and love might be found in the most unexpected of places.’

Britt-Marie Was Here is deceptively simplistic in its style with a hidden far-reaching depth. The character of Britt-Marie and all whom she encounter are wonderfully crafted although it does take time to become engaged with them on a literary level. Britt-Marie’s world is odd, particularly with her OCD which dictates her life (I could identify with the obsession with lists, though!).

Do stick with the book as it is worth the initial effort and very soon her life and the lives of the inhabitants  of Borg will win a place in your heart and mind. As they are changed by her presence of Britt-Marie, she is equally affected by their disarming behaviour. Hers and their lives will never be the same. I just loved this book and at times found myself cheering along for Britt-Marie, at times screaming at her (silently of course); Britt-Marie evokes a reaction from the reader throughout until the touching and deft finale.

My final three books all have one element in common – Sisters. At last it seems that the era of ‘Girl’ titled books are on the wane only to be replaced by a proliferation of ‘Sister’ related ones.

THE LOST AND THE FOUNDI hadn’t even realised The Lost & The Found was about two sisters, one snatched as young, until I started the book.

‘SHE WAS LOST…

When six-year-old Laurel Logan was abducted, the only witness was her younger sister, Faith. Faith’s childhood was dominated by Laurel’s disappearance – from her parents’ broken marriage and the constant media attention to dealing with so-called friends who only ever wanted to talk about her sister.

NOW SHE IS FOUND…

Thirteen years later, a young woman is found in the garden of the Logans’ old house, disorientated and clutching the teddy bear Laurel was last seen with. Laurel is home at last, safe and sound. Faith always dreamed of getting her sister back, without ever truly believing it would happen. But a disturbing series of events leaves Faith increasingly isolated and paranoid, and before long she begins to wonder if everything that’s lost can be found again…’

This is  YA book was recommended to me by my son and mostly so for its ending. The story is superb, well told, full of suspense building to a crescendo of twists. Wow! The first I was sort of expecting, not the second nor the heart-stopping third. I had to re-read it a few times…just to take it in. Finishing this book late at night is not recommended as a sleep eluded me for next few hours. This is an extremely powerful and one  I finished within 24 hours!

51AmnHYNpzLSister Sister is in many ways eerily similar to Cat Clarke’s book and alas only highlights its weaknesses.

‘Alice: Beautiful, kind, manipulative, liar.

Clare: Intelligent, loyal, paranoid, jealous.

Clare thinks Alice is a manipulative liar who is trying to steal her life.

Alice thinks Clare is jealous of her long-lost return and place in their family.

One of them is telling the truth. The other is a maniac.

Two sisters. One truth.’

In all honesty I would say this is the weakest of the books I read during the Easter break. A psychological thriller with few thrills. There were a moments of danger, but the story was clearly signposted, the characters deliberately vague to add to the confusion. It had me hooked to a certain degree however in the end I finished it as I wanted to read the end, see how the writer got there and if I was right. A good read overall, just not great.

Sister Sister also had the misfortune of using the same technique for one of the characters as Sometimes I lie in that one of the character is not telling the truth.

SOMETIMES I LIESometimes I lie is another book recommended to me by my son and this is a compulsive read which such intricate twists my son and I ended up discussing them at length, referring back to the book to double check details.

‘My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me.

  1. I’m in a coma

2. My husband doesn’t love me any more

3. Sometimes I lie’

This brilliant psychological thriller had me guessing until the end, satisfying in its twists and drama, great hold on the characters which are fully developed. My personal pet hate is the very final sentence which I know is supposed to be tantalising but it just isn’t logically possible!!

I read an article on Mslexia  magazine about Twitter length stories and for fun I wrote the following loosely based around the themes of the last three books mentioned.

My long lost sister’s tatty teddy hung limply in the stranger’s hand, her gaunt eyes fixed on me.

‘Where did you get that?’

‘From Lucy…years ago. I managed to escape.’   ©Annika Perry, 2017

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my Easter book binge. Have you read any of these? Are you tempted to read any of them?  I look forward to reading your comments.

The Cost of Competitions

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To pay or not to pay?

Have you ever paid to enter writing competitions; either for short stories, poetry or even submitting a novel? Or perhaps you’d never contemplate having to pay for competitions? 

The topic of writing competitions came up at our last meeting of the local writing group and I was surprised at the varying opinions.

A couple of people seemed genuinely surprised that most competitions charged and that these were successful – I then had to admit to entering some myself with one win, a shortlist and a couple of long-list to my name. 

oldieimageAt first I was overjoyed to have my work professionally validated and deemed worthy to be read in print and it was the confident booster I so desperately needed. The deadlines, themes etc was a great incentive to sit down and write, producing a story in a day or two – then a few more days to re-write and edit. However, as I entered more and more competitions I quickly became disillusioned. Not only was it expensive but entering the competitions was eating into my novel time. Instead I took a break from them and concentrated on writing the first draft of my book; the thought of competitions filed away in the depths of my brain. Until the discussion. Until the latest issue of Writing Magazine (a top-selling magazine in UK aimed for all level of writers in all genres). Once again many competitions tempted me, my creative desire to write short stories rejuvenated. 

However, are paid writing competitions a scam as sometimes is implied? 

Starting out, my initial reaction was the same as some of my writing group members who were shocked you had to pay for them. However, at the same time I appreciate there is a cost to running them, the administration alone for example. Also the judges take considerable time and work to read through the entries. In the process though some competitions have become prohibitively expensive as they fight for prestigious writers to join their panels.  Free competitions can be great, particularly if you have researched them well although I think paid ones are here to stay.

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If you are interested in entering competitions, whether free or fee-paying, I quickly learnt there are several important issues to consider.

  • First of all, check out who runs the competition? Is it reputable? Will your work be published in print / online?
  • What is the prize? Sometimes just recognition and being in print is enough, just be aware of this in the first instant. Another point to consider is that if it is a famous prestigious competition, such as the  internationally famous Rubery Book Award or the BBC Short Story Award, it will attract thousands of entries from across the globe and your work will have less chance to make an impact. 
  • Is there a particular topic/theme to the competition? It is important to submit work targeted to the particular competition and not be tempted to recycle old entries that nearly but don’t quite match the prerequisites.
  • There are some excellent free competitions, the Writers & Artists Yearbook Short Story Competition is one example and well worth entering and this year for the first time there is no specific theme. However other free competitions seem more set on getting your personal details for promotion. Just be aware.
  • Take the time to look up the judges. This can be more helpful than initially imagined. What type of books / poetry / stories have they written or promoted? What can you learn about them from their social media exposure? Perhaps your style and content is not something that would interest them and your entry would be better placed elsewhere. 
  • Do check out the previous winners. This piece of research can pay dividends in the long run and its importance cannot be emphasised enough. Early on I made this mistake and only too late, after submission, read some previous winners and realised that my story had no chance of winning. Very frustrating and I chastised myself for this lapse. Also if hoping to win a magazine competition read not only the previous month’s winner but also a few back issues to help establish a feel of the target audience.  
  • Reading the T & Cs (many times and preferably underlining!) is vital.  Always make sure to follow the rules of the competition – this is not a moment to rush ahead without reading the small detail. How should the submission be made? Post? Electronically? If the latter, in what format? In an attachment or part of an email? What are the font / spacing etc rules. What is the word count – and stick to it! The number of words, means just that! Unfortunately an entry can lose out for this reason alone and I know of one such case. Also send the correct money, in time! Also make sure you take note of any restrictions – for example there may be an age band or locality to consider. Finally be aware of the deadline. This is in itself an excellent incentive to complete your work for but do make sure the submission is in at least a few days ahead. Posting on the deadline date is not accepted by most competition rules. 
  • It is a good idea to consider how relevant is the prize for you? Financial reward is always welcome no doubt! Specific prizes such as a free book cover design will only be attractive to those with a book ready. Writing course prizes, such as a week on the prestigious Avron Writing course offered by the Bridport Prize, are also popular but again not ideal for everyone.

Hopefully by following these points you can save both money and time by ensuring your entry will be considered by the judges. 

oxoLately, some competitions have expanded their remit from pure competitions to helping others, whether locally or abroad. For example the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize  promises to plant a tree for every entry. The trees are planted in Bore, Kenya. Furthermore the competition money will help fund an extra classroom at a school nearby. Personally I cannot help be moved by their efforts but at the same time wonder if it is a bit of a gimmick, a con? 

Novel writing competitions are some of the most expensive ones on the market, often starting at £20. The Rubery Book Award costs £36 to enter with a prize of £1,500. Is this too much or is the possibility of a break into the publishing world worth the cost? Some offer feedback for an extra outlay. Is this worth it?  

Recently I have noticed an increase of competitions on blog sites and whilst initially sceptical I have followed some and seen their success. The writing is of a superb quality, the winners receive public recognition as they are published on the blog and shared further and the entry fees are far lower than anywhere else but still retain the incentive of a cash reward. As the number of entries are considerably lower than national competitions ones the chance of a win is exponentially improved. 

puppetWhat are your experiences with writing competitions? Have you entered any? Many? Paid ones or only those for free? Are you perhaps running a competition on your blog? Could you share your experiences? Have you ever been asked to be a judge for writing experiences? What was this like? 

I would love to hear from you and hope a lively discussion will ensue.

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Finally, in addition to the competitions already mentioned the following are just some of the many which have caught my eye and these should give you a feel of the range, expense and prizes out there.

  • Cinnamon Press runs competitions for Poetry & Short Stories.
  • The Telegraph newspaper runs a monthly ‘Just Back’ Travel writing Competition.
  • An audio transmission of the winning story is promised in this free and unusual competition run by soundwork
  • The Rialto is running a pamphlet competition. 
  • The London Magazine offers a prize  consisting of a number of pounds sterling equal to the current year (£2016 for year 2016)for the best Short Story submission. 
  • mslexia magazine, one of my favourite writing magazines, runs four competitions, open to women writers of all levels of experience from prose, Short Story, Novel and Poetry. Winners have gone on to secure publishing deals and literary agents.
  • Inktears Short Story / Flash Fiction competition.

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