Organising a Short Story Competition

Well, whilst trying to recover from the MA submission, I took it easy and continued on another project: a local Short Story Competition. Things tumbled quite quickly, with a pair of excellent first-line judges leaping at the chance and a very well- known senior judge happily volunteering. The competition is not associated with any publisher and is tightly limited, but even before I began to publicise it I had half a dozen people talking to me about their entry.

Wonderful, and highly encouraging.

The competition, called Shipton Shorts 2015, is intended to encourage and showcase talent in an area that has a very mixed populace. It may well have the ‘most desirable’ postcode according the the Royal Mail (SP9 – with the Guardian being a bit more irreverent), but the trouble is that house prices are rising because of such stories. The reality is that transport and access to amenities can be difficult for rural communities and whilst there may well be money in the area, Tidworth and villages such as Shipton Bellinger have a huge number of ordinary families (military or not) who are struggling just like everybody else.  Some of the area is, indeed, dominated by the Armed Forces – it is on the edge of Salisbury Plain, after all – but not all of it is military. Further, military families often struggle with the regular moves required by the job, even though the Army seems to be much more sensitive to families nowadays.

Given the isolation, it is not surprising that teenagers often leave the village as soon as they are old enough. Sure, it is a great place for younger people, having fairly limited traffic and a generally friendly feel, and for older people, it has easy access to Salisbury Plain for walking or for nature lovers. I love it, but am very conscious that even my own (grown-up) children and visitors sometimes struggle with the quiet. There is a lot of potential.

But the rural idyll has its complications. There are less outlets for creative expression than might be expected. The annual Summer Fete is a showcase, very well attended and has a crafts hall but most of the displays are businesses. The annual Horticultural Show has a wide range of creative opportunities and entries are often of a high quality. There is also a local crafts-like consortium at Beulah’s Vintage Attic. A few miles away there is the excellent Project Workshops visual crafts centre (with opening days this weekend – heartily recommended). However, there is little else for amateur or budding artistic and creative expression, especially not in the literary area, even though there is plenty of experience, wishes and, undoubtedly, a host of ideas for stories.

I love writing and enjoy reading. So rather than sit still and do nothing, a short story competition seems to be a start, a way to open things up. This year it is small, perhaps, with a single category. Next year? Who knows, as all I can do is dip my toe in the water.

Let’s hope it’s really warm water.

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