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Results of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Competition

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Sentinel Literary QuarterlyI recently judged a short story competition for Sentinel Literary Quarterly and they have just announced the results.  A lot of fantastic stories were submitted.  I enjoyed the variety of literary styles and genres represented, ranging from crime fiction to sci-fi to comedy.  The six winning stories are very different in style, but they all take a courageous approach to their subject matter and in each, the quality of writing as well as structure and characterization, is strong. The First Prize Winner, Sarah Evans’s ‘Glittering Girls’, tells the story of Sofiya, a young girl caught in impoverished circumstances who dreams of the city, where ‘fluorescent lights turn night to tinted day’.  The story combines a dystopian setting with telling details of Sofiya’s worlds – real and imagined – and has the timeless atmosphere of a fable.  The narration is stark, pulling us into the fluctuating current of Sofiya’s emotions as she leaves her drab home behind, not knowing what her ambition might cost her.

The Second Prize-winner, ‘Memory’, by Paxton Avenue, explores a father-son relationship through the lens of reverie.  Building up layers of careful detail to create a darkly nostalgic mood, this story is readable and compelling.  The writer uses the five senses to lead us between the past and the present, shifting between seasons and years, between childish and adult impressions: ‘As a child, barely taller than the door handle, the boy woke into a high-mooned summer night’.  The story ends on a bitter-sweet moment, beautifully evoking the narrator’s sense of loss. The Third Prize goes to a piece of historical fiction by  Jim Kroepfl, ‘Spirit of the Pike’, which excels at natural description and skillfully conjures a far-off time and place. The main character, Kannihut, hunts a pike, his thoughts and movements echoing that of the elusive fish.  The story is built up moment by moment to create a vivid sense of Kannihut’s experience and the writing throughout is taut and captivating.

The three Highly Commended stories,  Julie Swan’s ‘Mind How You Go’, Joan Dowling’s ‘Cold Comfort’ and Andrew Campbell-Kearsey’s ‘Dying to Speak’ are all engaging tales that share a darkly ironic vision of life.  ‘Mind How You Go’ creates a futuristic world in which a tour-guide hosts a journey through the mind of a killer.  ‘Cold Comfort’ fuses the narrator’s wrenching grief to melancholy visions of her lost child returned to her, cleverly leaving the reader uncertain of whether or not this it a ghost story. ‘Dying to Speak’ is a darkly comic tale of illness, paranoia and eventual epiphany about the narrator’s tragic condition.


Sentinel Literary Quarterly Competitions 2013

sentinel champions 10 cover

Look out for New Short Story competitions at Sentinel Literary Quarterly, including the African Prisons Project competition judged by Alison Lock and the Quarterly Short Story competition judged by me.


Closing Date: 28-Feb-2013

Theme: Open

Length: 1500 words maximum (Excluding title)

Prizes: N35,000 (1st), N20,000 (2nd), N10,000 (3rd), N4000 x 3 (High Commendation).

Fees: N450 / £2.50 per story

Publication: Yes. In Sentinel Nigeria Magazine

Judge: Judge Dibia

Enter online or by post here.



Closing March 31, 2013

Prizes: £150, £75, £50, and 3 x £10

Publication: In Sentinel Literary Quarterly Magazine.

Fees: £5 per story, £8/2, £10/3, £12/4

Enter Competition here


Closing Date: 20th March 2013
Prizes: £100, £50, £30, £10 x 2 + publication in Excel for Charity News Blog
Entry Fees: £5/1, £8/2, £10/3, £12/4 (Enter as many stories as you wish)

Enter online or by post

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Manchester Artists’ Book Fair 2012

photoI had a lovely time at this year’s Manchester Artists’ Book Fair, selling books at the Hot Bed Bookstars table.  As usual, there was a fantastic array of book artists from all over the UK in attendance, including Lucy May SchofieldElizabeth WillowGemma Lacey and Sue ShawOliver Flude and Lucy Roscoe. It was sheer pleasure to ogle and play with the beautiful and ingenious creations on the various tables.  It was also nice to sell some of my own cards and handmade books, Humbugs, Origami Girl, Bestiary and a new collaboration between Sam Horsley and myself, The Burrower’s Adventure. This last edition, glued and pressed moments before the deadline, tells the story of a good-natured fellow named the Burrower and his heroic equine friend, Mr Furious.  When the wits of the inhabitants of Tiny Pain are stolen, the pair must travel to the Shivering Moon to save that innocent grey matter from the nefarious King Ostrava…

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Our Lives, Our Stories


Storytelling Workshop in Gulu

I’m excited that my article, “Our Lives, Our Stories: Storytelling workshops in Uganda’s refugee camps”, has just come out in Issue 2 of Short Fiction in Theory & Practice, edited by Ailsa Cox, Alison Mcleod and Alan Wall.  The article is based on my experience of leading oral narrative workshops for displaced Acholi women in post-war Northern Uganda.

Whilst I was there, I was involved in a fantastic project, ‘Our Lives, Our Stories’, which took place in two refugee camps in Gulu and Lira, in which I worked with participants in a storytelling competition. The women involved (very bravely) faced the challenge of transforming difficult personal experiences into fiction. In the article, I talk about the project as well as the role of storytelling as a form of advocacy and the ways in which creative non-fiction can make the stories of marginalized women heard.



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Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition

I’m thrilled to be judging the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition, deadline April 2012.  Details below –

Competition Details

Short Stories may be on any subject or style and MUST NOT have been previously published, or posted on a website or blog. Short Stories posted on members-only writing groups for workshop purposes as part of the creative process are not deemed to have been previously published. Short Stories must also not be under consideration for publication or accepted for publication elsewhere, and may not be simultaneously entered into another competition.

Length: Maximum 1,500 words per story.

Entry Fees: £4.00/1 story, £8.00/2 stories, £10.00/3 stories, £12.00/4 stories.

(You may enter as many Short Stories as you wish – with the appropriate fees.

Prizes: First: £150.00, Second: £75.00, Third: £50.00, Highly Commended: £10 x 3.

First Publication: The three winning Short Stories, and three highly commended Short Stories will receive first publication in Sentinel Champions magazine in print and eBook in November 2012. The authors will each receive a free contributor’s copy.

Anniversary Year Giveaway: As part of the celebration to mark 10 years of Sentinel Poetry Movement, 1 entrant to this quarter’s short story competition will receive a year’s free subscription to Sentinel Champions magazine.

 Results due: 30th April, 2012 announced in Sentinel Literary Quarterly magazine online at: http://sentinelquarterly.com/competitions/results.htm


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Even Birds Are Chained To The Sky

Even Birds Are Chained to the SkyA collection of the winning stories from The Fine Line Short Story PrizeEven Birds Are Chained To The Sky and Other Tales is now available from Amazon, who describe it as follows:

Some are tales of joy and others woe; some tell of destructive lust and others slow-blooming love. They are lavish, restrained, fantastical and beguilingly everyday, drawing the reader into the lives their characters inhabit. Some are dark tales of violence, bleakness and betrayal, their imagery troubling and their characters brutal; while others are joyous, funny, whimsical and tender.  Created by writers from America, Portugal, Italy, Scotland, Australia, Israel, England, Poland, India, Wales, Greece, Canada and Ireland, these stories will move, excite, horrify and entertain every reader who enters their worlds.

This very enjoyable anthology includes a story by me called ‘Kissing Hitler by Marilyn Monroe’.  Here’s a little taster:

Marilyn MonroeI come to you through the lips of Madame Blavatsky, the greatest psychic in Ventura, CA.  You say you want to know the truth about a certain day in the long, hot summer of 1962? A little while after I sang H-apppy Birthdaaaay Mister Pressi-dent at Madison Square Garden and just a smidge before I was due back on the set of Something’s Got to Give?  Well, Honey, you got an exclusive, front page news about a Big Cahuna who came visiting one sweltering day when I was indisposed.

But first, I’ll tell you a little something that will help you understand both of us, my killer and me. It concerns an actor who thought he was a funny guy that looked real good in a dress. Well, he said kissing me was like kissing Hitler. I’m sure you heard about it. It was in every rag on the newsstand.

And you’re probably thinking, people say you look like a million bucks every day, Marilyn. And folks pay millions of bucks to see your movies. And when those nice people sit in the darkness watching a blonde who’s not exactly out of shape having a swell time, they feel better. I know because I sat where they sit once, when my foster families used to send me to the movies to get me out of the house and there I’d sit all day and way into the night. Up in front, there with the screen so big, a little kid all alone, wanting to marry the leading man.

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The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 9

My short story ‘Jungle Boogie’ was originally published in the Pulp Ink Anthology, which you can buy as an ebook on amazon.  It will now be republished in The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 9, which Amazon describes as follows:

The must-have annual anthology for every crime fiction fan – the year’s top new British short stories selected by leading crime critic Maxim Jakubowski. This great annual covers the full range of mystery fiction, from noir and hardboiled crime to ingenious puzzles and amateur sleuthing. This year’s volume contains stories by: Peter James, Nick Quantrill, Reginald Hill, Jay Stringer, Liza Cody, L. C. Tyler, Barbara Nadel, Adrian Magson, Val McDermid, Chris Ewan, Kate Horsley, Nicholas Royle, Ian Ayris, John Lawton, Nigel Bird, Zoe Sharp, Robert Barnard, Ann Cleeves, Mark Billingham, Paul Johnston, Amy Myers, Tony Black, Keith McCarthy, Martin Edwards, Ken Bruen, Marilyn Todd, Stuart Neville, Peter Lovesey, R. J. Ellory, Kate Ellis, Christopher Fowler, Michael Z. Lewin, Barry Maitland, Alison Bruce, Phil Lovesey, Matt Hilton, Andrew Taylor, Simon Brett, Brian McGilloway, Col Bury, Gerard Brennan, Christine Poulson and David Hewson.

Here’s an extract from the story:

It was his Abuela, his tiny grandmother, muttering the rosary to herself as she stirred bread soup, who’d made him the lace handkerchief.  He stuffed it into the space between his belt and the wound in his gut.  As he staggered along, he could feel it getting wetter and in his mind’s eye he saw the silk curlicues growing brittle and black.  What would Abuela say if she saw her handiwork jammed between his watch pocket and the nugget of lead?  Nothing probably.  She would simply take it and wash it for him, crossing herself and whispering about la agonía en el huerto.  Then it would appear, clean and pressed, in the breast pocket of his linen jacket.  He told himself that it was there now, crisply folded.

The blonde would be behind the wheel of his Coupe by now, headed for Mexico City.  Meanwhile, he was almost at a bar – not the Bar El Diablo, full of tourists and knitted dolls and sugary, cold beer, panpipes blaring over the PA.  No, his hand was propping up the yellow-painted wall of La Cantina del Corazon where the men sipped cane hooch in dark corners and chewed the fat.  He could rest there for a little while, maybe.

He stumbled through the swinging doors, trying to hold his head high long enough to get to a table.  A few people stared then turned back to their talk, probably thinking he was drunk or stoned.  The bar was hot and it was hard to walk like there was no hole in his gut just next to the fake-silver belt buckle, no dark wad of silk sticking to his black cotton shirt.  He slumped at an empty table and a woman with hard black eyes, long hair and a proud, straight throat came to wipe the crumbs and peanut shells into his lap.  “Drinking?  Eating?”  She said it in English, like he was just another tourist.

“Long time since I’ve been in here, I guess.”  Speaking tore him up.  He winced.  It felt like that blonde had hammered nails through him, tacking his flesh into his bones.  Maybe voodoo was her thing.  Maybe that was why she’d wanted the statue of Xbalanque, Jaguar god of the Underworld, shadow of the shaman.  Xbalanque would bring her all the darkness she could wish for if she let him.


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Manchester Artists’ Book Fair, 2011

tumblr_ls3iekDhmy1qdlvjpo1_500I’ve just been to the 6th Manchester Artists’ Book Fair, a free yearly event that celebrates book arts, small press publishing and traditional printmaking methods such as linocut, woodcut, etching, screen printing and letterpress.  The fair included 50 stands showing artists’ books, zines and the works of small publishers from all around the UK. There were workshops and demonstrations for all to enjoy and participate in. I created three limited editions of handmade books for the fair, Origami Girl (pictured), Bestiary and Humbugs, an illustrated haiku about some very tasty snails.


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