Saturday 28 November 2020

Postbox (issue 4)

My "Matters of Life and Death" story recently appeared in Postbox (issue 4). Unusually for a story of mine, it hops back and forth in time. It begins with the narrator recalling holidays visiting his aunt with his parents, and how he met an artist. "Foreigners/strangers" and "death" are introduced as themes.

It was part of my routine to be down by the shore when the fishing boats returned. When I saw a fish flapping on the deck I was transfixed by the thought of seeing something die. Years later I used the image to describe a foreign couple in the throes of sex.

After a boom-and-bust career and mental health issues he turned to writing and art. Art and Life became correlates, an art book's title corresponding to the story's.

I don't think art's an escape from life, however abstract or shocking it might be. In the art book I'm reading at the moment, "Masters of Line and Depth", Cezanne says that "a picture should give us ... an abyss in which the eye is lost". His perspective wasn't a simple pyramid of pencil lines leading to a vanishing point. We are seduced by his paint, not his lumpy women. But I also believe that art, however primitive, can enrich life. Even if we are so overwhelmed by sensations that our sense of self is diminished, paintings fail unless we return enriched to the real world. Cezanne says that we should "rise again from them with colours, be steeped in the light of them". I try, though some days are harder than others.

Much later he and his foreign wife return for his aunt's funeral. After years of trying, his wife's pregnant. In the final paragraph his attitude to time remains unresolved -

I believe that life can rise from death given time. I believe that art can preserve what genes forget. When the past's a mirror, the future repeats its patterns, though I needed a son before realising this. My wife says that I think too much, that I should lose myself in the here and now. When our son's old enough we'll return, making sandcastles together.

It's a tidy story, the Art=Life theme ornamented by details. It's not the only anecdotal, family piece in the issue. Quite a few fathers die. "The Theatre of the Psychotic" is very different though. I like "The Museum of John and Mary Masters" most.

Friday 6 November 2020

Story competitions - an experiment

This January I won £100 for a story. Rather than become a tax exile I thought I'd re-invest the windfall by entering more story competitions.

In the past I've won a few hundred pounds, but I don't enter many nowadays because my chances of winning are too small. However I've noticed that on acknowledgement pages, authors mention short-listings, so I decided to treat being short-listed as a worthwhile outcome. Some competitions print short-listed stories in an anthology, which is better still. Having read a Bristol anthology, I knew that the best stories were excellent, but I felt I had a chance to creep in among the lesser works. I hoped to be in at least one short-list.

I only entered competitions that I felt were worth winning (perennial competitions that other writers have heard of). I know that some competitions raise money for worthy causes but I didn't enter a competition where the 1st prize was less than 100 times the entry fee - I wasn't going to pay £5 for the chance of winning £100. I was also hesitant about entering the "V.S. Pritchett Short Story Prize" - £1000 first prize for a £7.50 fee, but no other prizes, and 3 judges get paid.

I had several stories ready to send off. I tweaked them especially for competition purposes, and tried to choose pieces appropriate to the particular competition/judge. I think that I improved some of the stories significantly under competitive pressure. I sent the best pieces to the biggest competitions, and the worst to the smallest (though maybe I should have sent the best to the smallest, to give me a better chance of at least winning something).

Here's a list of the competitions I paid to enter, and how I fared -

  • Exeter £8 - Long and Short lists published. No success.
  • Bath £8 - Long and Short lists published. 1000+ entries, 20 in the anthology. No success.
  • Bristol £9 - 2,705 entries. Long-list of 40. No success.
  • Bridport story £12 - No success
  • Bridport Flash £9 - No success
  • Brick Lane Bookshop £10 - Long long-list of 50. No success.
  • Yeovil £7 - No success.
  • Wells £6 - 376 entries. Shortlist of 25. No success.

I'm disappointed to get no mentions. Two of the pieces have already been accepted elsewhere so the polishing hasn't been in vain. All the same, I don't think I'll be repeating the experiment next year.