Tuesday, 24 March 2020

The Joy of Writing Contests

Writing competitions are a great opportunity to showcase your work but I'd never realised how entering a writing contest with a specific brief could be so enjoyable and so instrumental in developing your skill as a writer.

It wasn't until the Autumn that I heard, via my critique partner, about Susanna Hill's Halloweensie contest Link to blog. Susanna is a children's author based in the US and hosts an annual Halloweensie (October), Holiday Treat (December) and Valentiny (February) contest through her blog. The 2019 brief for Halloweensie was to post a children's Halloween story of 100 words that included the words, TRICK, COBWEB and POTION.
The fact that the task was so specific and so tight on the wordcount sent me into an instant panic. I had literally no forthcoming ideas at all, let alone an idea that would be stand-out or different. Convinced I couldn't do it, I descended into a sulk and gave up on the idea of entering.

And then, on the final evening before the deadline, the grim determination that keeps every writer writing began to flicker. As I sat there musing on the sofa, a passing comment from my husband about gender stereotype gave me the spark of an idea. Could I possibly give this a go?
So I spent the evening scribbling before entering the following piece:

My Mummy’s a WITCH!” announced Anna, wide-eyed.
It’s a secret she keeps but I know cause I’ve spied...”
Our home’s PACKED with cobwebs, the corners are full.
She knits them at night with her sparkly wool.
There’s jarfuls of coloured, bright, magical potions,
under the bed hidden next to her lotions.
And tonight’s Halloween- I said ‘trick please, no treat.’
Mum twitched her nose and black bats filled the street.”
But Anna’s been fooled, you should never assume.
In the Halloween skies flies her dad on his broom.

To be honest, I was just relieved I had cobbled something together and was subsequently amazed to find out that, out of 324 entries, I had received an honourable mention and just missed out on the final. It was definitely the boost I needed to rise to the next challenge; the Holiday Treat contest where one of my entries reached the final and the other receiving an honourable mention. 

The Choice of a Tree

thought that
a real Christmas Tree was
rather like the ghost of Christmas present.
Along with the angel on top, it watched over you for one
year only; a silent guardian guilded with glitz and gold it didn’t really need.
past years
they had chosen
proud ones, tall and regal,
that had loomed over formal family dinners,
jolly, round ones for frivolous festive fun and simple, understated ones
for the quieter, stripped back years that held hushed moments of golden, glowing joy.
But this
year Orla wanted
none of the above.
Her Grandad had gone and their
holiday treat of choosing their seasonal watchman
from a field full of fresh pine felt as hollow as his empty, unfilled chair.
there, alone,
set apart from the others,
Orla saw the tiniest, droopiest,
most doleful Christmas tree she had ever seen in her life.
At once she felt it’s pain and knew they could offer each other comfort.
can’t have that tree!”
her mother said but Orla insisted
and soon it was chopped and taken home,
banished to her bedroom where Orla decorated it with
her Grandad’s cherished ornaments that had adorned his trees in years gone by.
sitting in
sombre silence
together, watching the stars that
Orla hoped held her lost, loved one, she relived

her favourite memories of Christmas’ past whilst her
Christmas tree companion offered glistening lights of comfort- until
with disintegrating branches
and fallen
needles, it
faded away,
nudging Orla
towards her future.

The Gingerbread Sleigh

The day is drawing nearer,
for our yearly Christmas treat.
We’re heading off to Grandma’s
to whip up something sweet.

A gooey, sticky biscuit house,
with walls of gingerbread.
And a roof that’s draped in icing;
white and green and red.

We cover it in sweeties,
Pipe windows on, then doors.
And roll some golden marzipan
to carpet all the floors.

But my brother is not happy.
We do this every year!”
So Granny gives him full control.
Make something else, my dear!”

My brother looks delighted
(though I am not too keen).
He cuts out complex templates
and pipes a background scene.

Till, finally, I come on board
and help to mix and weigh
and bake and glue his good idea…

a jolly Christmas sleigh.

It stands so proud and regal
Piped with gleaming gold.
But still, it’s needing something more
and so we start to mould…

We sculpt and shape the marzipan,
we work till they appear.
We paint, then add the antlers...
a fleet of nine reindeer.

Our holiday treat is finished;
a sleigh of gingerbread,
but we never get to eat it...

for next day the sleigh has fled!

And still the neighbours whisper
about the strange-shaped sight...
a biscuit sleigh with reindeer
flying out into the night.

Moving into the New Year my luck seemed to change. My Valentiny entries didn't get anywhere. Neither did my #50PreciousWords entry run by Vivian Kirkfield . But although receiving recognition for your writing is always a wonderful thing, for me the contests are now about building ideas and skills as a writer as well as being rather addictive. So much so that one of my ideas is now a fully fledged picture book manuscript which has been longlisted in a competition.

For those who would like to read them, here are my Valentiny and #50Precious Words entries:

Crazy, foolish love  (Brief: Curiosity theme, 214 words max)
I’m hiding upstairs!
It’s that smoochy love day
of red hearts and flowers
when mum and dad say,

I love you! I love you!”
I love you, you’re mine!”
They kiss and they cuddle,
Oh sweet Valentine!”


Pass me the puke bowl,
It’s sickly sweet,
Can they just- please - for my sake
be super DISCREET?

But look at these animals
doing the same!
How goofy and foolish,
Ugh, love is insane!

Did you know that frogs sing
to the girls they admire?
Some spiders dance,
whilst the birds form a choir...

declaring devotion
to all who can hear,
while the bowerbird builds
- he’s a twig engineer!

Bustards puff up -
they’re inflating balloons;
bright red and shiny
like bums of baboons.

Dance flies bring presents,
wrapped up in thread,
Beware praying mantis
they’ll bite off your head!

Peacock’s a show-off
with feathers all fanned,
whilst pufferfish draws
pretty patterns in sand.

Why do they do this?
Be silly for love?
I swear when I’m grown...

there’ll be no LOVEY-DOVE!

No dancing, no singing,
no balloons and no feathers.
No cuddles and kisses
at my get-togethers.

We may play some football,
We may watch TV…

Oh, darling boy,
Just you wait and see!

I spy pea.
She’s crouched behind
my cup of tea.
Pea, hi! Why so shy?
You look as though
you’re going to cry.
Is it to do with…
my mum’s pie?
She’ll pop you in and
then you’ll…


I see!
Don’t worry!
We’ll turn you into...

So what's next? Well the Spring fling contest of course! Another new one on me with an interesting brief: write a 150 word story max about a springtime GIF.

The result is below and I'm really looking forward to entering it.

The Blossom Avalanche

Three little yellow chicks
bounce upon a branch,
happily creating
a blossom avalanche.

Petals fall like raindrops,
swirling round and round.
One excited chickydee
topples to the ground.

Two little yellow chicks,
jumping in a tree,
create a blossom avalanche
for everyone to see.

Cherry pink confetti
floats towards the dirt.
One elated chickydee
falls but isn’t hurt.

One little yellow chick,
dancing on his own,
creates a blossom avalanche,
despite being all alone.

Clouds of silky ovals,
surf upon the air,
One delighted chickydee
isn’t taking care.

No little yellow chicks,
anywhere in sight,
A rosy, dew-dropped carpet,
glistens in the light...

Three little yellow chicks
burst up from below
a royal rug of petals
that fell to earth like snow.

An avalanche of beauty,
the flutter of a wing.
Three little yellow chicks
welcome in the spring. 

I think the point is that you win some and you lose some but the craft of writing can't be lost if you keep at it. Some ideas will shine brighter than others, some will resonate more than others but I know I am a happier, stronger, more confident and a far more social writer than I was before I took the plunge. It's about pushing, not pressure. If it's not for you, walk away. But if you fancy the challenge then give it a go and do your best. What have you got to lose?

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