Imagine this. You’ve just won a short story competition; you’re luxuriating in your new-found success and your bank account is anticipating to a useful injection of funds — but then, what next? Is this the beginning of a successful writing career?
While it’s true that not everyone progresses to greater things, and that winning is no guarantee of further financial reward, the Frome Festival Short Story Competition has seen several prize-winners go on to publish full-length fiction or gain recognition in other genres. For many writers, this was their first success; but being selected as a prize-winner by a respected judge is a hugely affirming experience for entrants at any stage of their careers, and one which can inspire them to take their writing further.
Tyler Keevil, our first-ever winner in 2004 with Author & Competition Organiser Alison Clink
Lexie Elliott, winner in 2010 with ‘Japanese Tourists’, recently published The French Girl, while that year’s runner-up, Rachel Crowther, has three titles in print, the latest being Every Secret Thing. Rachel Ward, who has published her YA trilogy Numbers with Chicken House, was local winner in 2006; Alison Theaker, who writes widely on public relations and had already published her novel No Rhyme nor Reason, was overall winner that year with ‘Eating Cake’. Rachel Bentham, another previous local winner, lectures at Bath Spa university and has published and broadcast poetry, short stories and radio drama.
Cath Weekes, came second in 2010 with her story, Nighties Under Anoraks. She also came third in 2013 with The Mask Seller. As a result of the competition, Nighties Under Anoraks was chosen to be broadcast on BBC Radio Somerset. She went on to sign a book deal in 2015 with Piatkus; Little, Brown. Her third novel, The Wife’s Shadow, is due out in March, with the fourth on its way in the autumn. In 2017, she was an Elle magazine Author to Watch.
Fiona Mitchell, won in 2015 with ‘Plenty More Where You Came From’, a harrowing story about migrant construction workers in Singapore. Her first novel, The Maid’s Room, also based on life in Singapore, was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2017 and has been translated into five languages; a second book, The Swap, is due in April 2019. David Swann, who was awarded first place by literary agent Jane Judd for ‘An Arabesque: the Lamping’ in 2016, is a writer and academic who has won many prizes for his stories and poems and has himself served as judge for the Bridport Prize’s international flash fiction competition.
Even more recently, 2017 winner Rhiannon Lewis charmed the judges with ‘The Jugs Stay with the Dresser’, a delicate story of shifting power relationships within a Welsh farming family. Later that year, Rhiannon went on to publish her first novel with Victorina Press. My Beautiful Imperial is based on her ancestor’s experience during the Chilean civil war in the 1890s. It’s clear that our readers have an excellent record in spotting talent!
The short story competition was founded in 2004, just a few years after Frome Festival itself began, and in that first year, founder Alison Clink and her team made a prescient choice in the winning story, ‘Mangleface’, by a young Canadian, Tyler Keevil. Alison read most of the stories herself that year and can still remember the frisson of excitement when she came upon what she was sure would be the winner. Tyler, who now lives in Wales and lectures at Cardiff University, is the author of three novels and a short story collection and has published widely in anthologies and journals on both sides of the Atlantic. He has also scripted short films and writes speculative short fiction for several genre magazines. ‘Mangleface’ features in his own collection of stories, Burrard Inlet. Winning the competition was definitely a boost for Tyler and when planning the promotion for his latest novel, he included Frome as a stop on his book tour. No Good Brother is described as ‘a high-stakes adventure of love, loss and morality, introducing two unlikely outlaws’ and Tyler’s readings from the book on tour are accompanied, appropriately enough, by his own brother with musical compositions featuring vocals and guitar.
In April 2018 I went to Frome’s Hunting Raven bookshop to hear them. I’d taken over the administration of the Frome Short Story Competition from Alison in 2014, but it was only later that evening that I realised I’d missed a great opportunity to secure a judge for 2019! An exchange of emails followed: Tyler agreed, confirmed he was free for the date of the awards, and we now have a wonderfully fitting judge for the competition’s fifteenth anniversary year.
He joins an impressive list of authors who have been involved in judging the competition since its inception. Helen Dunmore, Claire Morrall, Emma Darwin, Gerard Woodward, Katie Fforde, Maria McCann, Peter Lovesey, Michele Roberts, Lesley Pearse, Samantha Harvey, Laura Wilkinson, literary agent Jane Judd and several more have accepted the invitation to select the winners and award the prizes. They have all offered their personal insights and inspired competition winners and audiences alike.
From the start, the competition attracted submissions from far and wide and, although short story contests have proliferated in recent years, continues to attract a large following. Frome Library still acts as our mailbox, accepting postal entries on the competition’s behalf, but online submission, introduced in 2012, made overseas entry easier and we regularly attract stories from every continent. However, the competition has special awards for the best stories by local writers and around a fifth of the stories come from within a 25-mile radius of Frome.
Online entry has also given rise to the phenomenon of stories being uploaded right until midnight on the closing date. Give writers a deadline and they’ll usually go to the wire. All these stories need to be downloaded and emailed to our team of readers; eventually, a long-list goes to Alison to be whittled down to the dozen or so sent to the judge. And all in a few short weeks! Still, it’s a special feeling, sitting at the computer late on the 31st of May, watching the last entries come in, knowing that hopeful authors have continued to polish their stories until the last possible minute.
It’s hard work but a real privilege to be involved with the running of a literary contest. The next competition runs from 1st January to 31st May 2019 and full details are on the website. Let’s hope we have another worthy short-list for Tyler to adjudicate. Maybe he’ll spot a successful writer of the future. Could it be you…?
Alison Clink is the author of a memoir, ‘The Man Who Didn’t Go to Newcastle’ (2015);
Brenda Bannister’s novel ‘The Tissue Veil’ was published January 2017