Sunday, 27 April 2014

Writing Contests: On The Premises Magazine

On The Premises is a web-based fiction magazine. New issues are published every four months. 
A rarity in the world of writing competitions: there are no fees, yet winners receive cash prizes in addition to exposure through publication.

They also provide a free critique to any contestant whose entry makes the top ten but doesn’t get published.

As well as the main contests (see below) there are mini-contests for anyone who has signed up for their newsletter. The current mini-contest #No. 23 is entitled ‘It Was the Best of Prose, It Was the Worst of Prose.’

There is an interesting article in the newsletter which conveys the concept of using the right prose for the right content. You should sign up for the newsletter if only to read this article, which is insightful.

The competition asks to write two very short pieces of prose, each one between 10 and 25 words. The first 10-25 word piece should use TERRIBLE prose that ruins what the content is trying to convey. The second one should be a dramatically improved version of the first piece that is also 10-25 words long but uses much better prose that enhances the content's inherent power.

I have been enjoying this challenge. It’s a great learning tool - deliberately searching for the wrong way to convey the story and then aiming to improve the same few lines to produce a better version. I’m looking forward to reading the winning pieces.

The closing date is 30/4/14 so there’s still time to enter. Sign up for the newsletter here.


Here’s the main contest:

Contest #23 officially launched on March 9, 2014. Its premise is


One or more characters face an especially difficult decision. Whether readers would find the decision difficult will have no effect on how the story is rated. What matters is whether at least one of the story's more important characters finds the decision difficult.

As usual, any genre except children’s fiction, exploitative sex, or over-the-top gross-out horror is fine.

Your challenge: In at least 1,000 but no more than 5,000 words, write a creative, compelling, and well-crafted story that clearly uses the “Decisions, Decisions” premise. If you have questions, ask us at

Deadline: 11:59 PM Eastern Time, Friday, May 30, 2014.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Review: 'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt

Here’s the blurb

‘Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love - and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive triumph - a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.’

Pure entertainment

This is a door-stopper of a book at 700+ pages. A greatly entertaining story, I was bereft when I finished and couldn’t choose another book to read for days. Well-deserving of all the accolades.

Well-drawn characters

Theo, his mother, Boris, Hobie, Xandra and Andy are all memorable characters and kept me turning the pages - from Andy's drawling voice telling us about his dislike of boats, to Hobie's stilted and formal manner of speaking. The only character I never got to like or care for was Pippa, but she was off-the-page almost all the time.

Theo’s mother has a strong voice although she is dead from the beginning. When she relates the history of the painting in the museum we are drawn to love it. We see the bird and its chain, and the history of the painting, and want to protect it.

Great settings

I have to say I’m a sucker for great settings. I loved the New York in this book - the restaurants, cafés, parks and museums. Las Vegas was first introduced by the bling, the strip, the cliché, but we were brought with Theo to the suburbs and saw a side of Las Vegas rarely written about.

Hobie’s antique shop is vividly depicted. I can smell the antiques, the wood, the oils. The Barbour’s luxurious apartment on 5th avenue contrasted well with Theo's own New York home.

The devil is in the detail

Although there are sections of this novel that are arguably too detailed and unnecessarily long (the first time Theo gets really drunk in Vegas and does a lot of  stupid things, or the long bus journey with the Popper, the dog), this is a novel that draws you in and you accept the detail because that was what was important to Theo.

There is, however, a long epilogue that felt too preachy and I felt the book would have been better without it, but overall I was entertained and drawn into Theo’s world. I despaired at the hand life had dealt him.

 A wonderful novel to get your teeth into. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2014. Bravo Donna Tartt.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Longlisted: Fish Flash Fiction Prize


The winning stories of the Fish Flash Fiction Prize 2014 were announced this week and I was pleased to see my story 'Baobab' on the longlist. Thank you to the judge, Glenn Patterson, and to Fish Publishing.

Fish Publishing

From the Fish Publishing website:
'Publisher of over 400 emerging authors and poets since 1994 in The Annual Fish Anthology.

Fish is an open door that's inviting writers to walk through it.It has to be encouraged, celebrated, congratulated. - RODDY DOYLE -
Fish is doing God's own work.
It's an inspiration and an avenue to writers everywhere.

I hail anyone who enters the Fish Prize . . . It is difficult to create from dust.
I know that the best stories are those that are still untold -
so keep writing, keep creating, keep the faith.

The Flash Fiction Prize

The flash fiction contest is very popular - there were 1,250 entries submitted in total.

The challenge: 'to create, in a tiny fragment, a completely resolved and compelling story in 300 words or less.'

The authors of the first ten stories have been invited to read at the launch of the anthology during the West Cork Literary Festival in July. I hope they enjoy West Cork. Last time I was there I stayed in Durrus, home of Fish!