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New Ghost Stories III

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Flash Fiction Competition 2017

Today we announce the shortlist and the winners of the 2017 Flash Fiction Competition.

First, a quick reminder of the prizes this year: the two runners-up will each receive £100, and the winner of the first prize will receive £300. The three winners will be published in our next anthology, and everybody on the shortlist will also receive a three-volume subscription to our anthology series.

We’ll start with the shortlist. This year it’s ten stories, and here they are in alphabetical order by author name:

  • Alastair Chisholm: The Castle
  • Steve Clarkson: Excuse Me
  • Martin Dufield: In Memorium
  • Justina Eckert: Hiding
  • Sean Gill: The Computer Man
  • Kevlin Henney: On the Science and Complexities of Having Sex in the Family Caravan While One’s Parents Are There
  • Lynsey May: Beyond the Body
  • Miha Mazzini: Rock’n’Roll Life
  • Rachael Swindale: The Orchid
  • Jud Widing: Hazards

And now the two runner-up stories:

  • Alastair Chisholm: The Castle
  • Sean Gill: The Computer Man

And finally, the first prize, which this year goes to:

  • Steve Clarkson: Excuse Me

Congratulations to all of the above, and thank you again to everybody who took part in the competition this year.

The three winning stories will be published in our next anthology, which is due in early 2018. I’ll be getting in touch with the winners and all of the shortlistees next week to sort out prizes.

If you missed the flash fiction competition and still want to send us a story, our general submissions system is open now for stories over 1,000 words. Our ghost story competition is also open for entries until the end of January 2018.

New Ghost Stories III

It’s time to reveal the winner of the Writers’ Award for our latest anthology, New Ghost Stories III.

The Fiction Desk Writers’ Award isn’t like the other competitions we run from time to time: it’s awarded to the best story in each anthology we publish, and is voted for by the contributors to that anthology. It’s a great way to get the writers’ own view on their peers’ work, and it’s always a close race. There’s also £100 for the winner.

This time around the award goes to Will Dunn, for his story Des Nuits Blanches. Congratulations, Will!

New Ghost Stories III, featuring Will’s story and six other fine tales of the supernatural, is available now in paperback: you can get your copy right here. The 2018 edition of our Ghost Story Competition is open now for entries. See details over in our submission section.

Ghost Story Competition 2018

The 2018 edition of the Fiction Desk Ghost Story Competition is now open for entries. This year there’s a first prize of £500, along with second and third prizes. Entry costs £8, and the closing date is Wednesday, 31st January 2018. (The competition closes at midnight UK time, so don’t get caught out if you’re sending an entry from overseas.)

The main page of the competition can be found right here. Full terms of entry can be found at the bottom of our online entry form.

Winners from the last two years appear in our latest anthology, New Ghost Stories III. It’s well worth picking up a copy if you want to see the stories that have been successful in the past – or if you just want a good spooky read to get you through the winter nights…

New Ghost Stories III

Copies of our latest anthology are available now. New Ghost Stories III contains seven substantial tales of the supernatural, including the winners of our last two ghost story competitions. The contributors are Amanda Mason, Barney Walsh, Seth Marlin, Jerry Ibbotson, Philippa East, Richard Agemo, and Will Dunn.

If you’re a subscriber or pre-ordered your copy, you should have already received it. If not, you can order your copy now directly from us right here. You can also take out a subscription to include this volume.

It’s time to announce the winners of this year’s Newcomer Prize for Short Stories.

The standard of entries to our competitions is always high. People send in their best work, and judging the entries is as rewarding as it is challenging. Getting the entries down to a shortlist of ten stories was tricky, and picking two winners nearly impossible. But we’re short story publishers: we’re used to doing the impossible.

And so, here are the winners and shortlist of this year’s prize. First, our shortlist of ten stories. All of the writers below will receive a selection of paperback Fiction Desk anthologies through the post:

  • Three More Days by Gayle Andrews
  • The Bus Stop by Becky Carnaffin
  • Uncle Dougie’s Suitcase by Alastair Chisholm
  • The Insurance Policy by Christine Grant
  • Not Waving, But… by Maureen Hanrahan
  • All Washed Up by Chris Hogben
  • The Black Squirrel by Christopher Howard
  • Tool by Mac McCaskill
  • Recalculating Route by Mat Osman
  • Not Like Us by Sherri Turner

And now our two winners:

In second place, with a prize of £250:

  • All Washed Up by Chris Hogben

In first place, with a prize of £500:

  • Uncle Dougie’s Suitcase by Alastair Chisholm

So congratulations to all of the above, and thank you to everybody who took part in the competition. This year’s winners will be appearing in our twelfth anthology, due early in 2018.

The Newcomer Prize will open again for entries next year, but if you fancy trying your hand at very short stories, our flash fiction competition is open now. You’ll find details of that one over in our submissions section.

Flash Fiction Competition 2017

After taking a break for 2016, we’re delighted to announce that our annual Flash Fiction Competition is back for 2017 — and open now for entries!

This year we have a first prize of £300 and two runner-up prizes of £100. The entry fee for one story is £5, or you can enter two stories together for the special rate of £8.

The deadline is midnight (UK time) on Friday, 29th September. For full details, including our online entry form, head over to our submissions section.

A selection of Penguin Little Black Classics

Penguin’s Little Black Classics are a collection of short books (mostly around 64 pages, although some are longer), originally published in 2015 as a series of eighty volumes, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the founding of Penguin. These first books were priced at 80p each. The volumes cover short stories, poetry, miscellaneous bits and pieces, and the odd slice of non-fiction. All are older works, largely from the 19th century; but with some going much further back, and the odd volume creeping in from the early 20th century.

The first eighty volumes did rather well: within a year combined sales of these little books had comfortably exceeded two million copies, and so in 2016 Penguin added a further 46 volumes (the first Penguin Classic was published in 1946, you see). Now they dropped the 80p business, with the new titles priced at £1, or £2 for a few slightly longer volumes. In 2017 the United States Constitution was published as a sole additional title, making the total number of Little Black Classics in print today 127.

This isn’t the first time that Penguin Classics have bombarded us with tiny little books: the 1995 anniversary was celebrated with Penguin 60s: those cost 60p, and totalled 180 volumes covering a range of subjects including biography, travel, classics, and sixty more modern stories from the likes of Martin Amis and Muriel Spark — perhaps Penguin had more of a budget for licensing and royalties in those heady 1990s. (The full list of Penguin 60s is on Wikipedia.) In 2011 they marked the 50th anniversary of Penguin Modern Classics with fifty ‘Mini Modern Classics’, a series of slightly more recent volumes at £3 each.

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Gogol Little Black Classic

Getting back to the current series, when the first volumes came out I took note, vaguely hoped to find a cheap boxed set of all eighty books somewhere, and then forgot all about them. I must admit, I expected them to disappear quickly. Not because they’re not worth buying (they certainly are), but because in the days of online free postage and real bookshops with squeezed margins, small very cheap books didn’t seem particularly practical. But as the list has grown, and been embraced by millions of readers and at least some bookshops (my nearest Blackwell’s has a full bay of them; or did until I got my hands on it), perhaps it bears revisiting.

For writers in particular, the Little Black Classics series is a fantastic resource. It’s vital that writers read as widely as they can, and familiarise themselves with as many authors, styles, and ideas as possible.

Anthologies are one great way to do this, whether they’re specific themed collections of periods or genres, or attempts to take in a wider picture, like the two-volume Penguin Book of the British Short Story that Philip Hensher edited a few years ago (and there are of course still wider pictures than just British short stories). As a quick overview, these anthologies are terrific; and for obvious reasons, The Fiction Desk likes anthologies.

Anthologies generally only contain one story by each author, however, and while these individual stories might bring a writer to your attention, they can only tell you so much about their work. The logical next step, the single-author collection, will take you much deeper into an author’s work, but it’s impractical to read as many of these longer collections as you might want to, particularly when you’re also trying to keep up with more modern writers.

The Little Black Classics come somewhere in between, usually containing two, three, or four stories by the featured author. Having these extra stories on hand gives you just a little of the context and depth that you normally need to go to a collection for, but the price and size makes them much more accessible, much easier to take a chance on.

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Rudyard Kipling Little Black Classic

Here then is an opportunity to find out whether Mark Twain’s humour still hits the spot, and think about why it succeeds or fails in the modern era; to take a look at how Arthur Conan Doyle’s supernatural fiction compares to the Holmes stories (sometimes Conan Doyle is surprisingly good, and sometimes he’s surprisingly bad); to examine HG Wells’ ability to spin a gripping tale with economy and vitality (Wells is one of the few authors to be honoured with two volumes in the series); to finally take a look at the short fiction of Thomas Hardy (another one); or Balzac or Washington Irving or whoever else you’ve not quite got around to yet — or whose work you need to revisit to freshen your memory.

I’m concentrating on the short fiction because that’s what we do here; the poetry and non-fiction volumes in the series offer similar delights and, again, further opportunities for exploration and discovery.

The Little Black Classics are available from some online outlets, but not all: Amazon has them in both paperback and Kindle form; The Book Depository — whose ‘free worldwide delivery’ seems to steer them away from any book costing under about £2 — have only the boxed set of the first eighty volumes. But ideally, you want to find a physical bookshop in your area that has them there on the shelf, where you can browse properly and make a habit of picking out a volume, or a handful, whenever you happen to be passing.

It would be great if the series could be expanded to include slightly more recent work, as was the case with the Penguin 60s, but there’s still plenty here to be getting on with. You’ll find that one of those nasty plastic fivers can be converted into a lot of nice black books.

— Rob

Ghost story competition

Today I’m very pleased to be announcing the winners and shortlist of our 2017 Ghost Story Competition.

Judging this competition is one of the great pleasures of working with The Fiction Desk, and this year’s entries have been very strong indeed, possibly the strongest to date.

As usual we’ll start with the shortlist. All of these authors will receive a three-volume subscription to our anthology series:

  • Richard Agemo: The House Friends
  • Jacqueline Burgoyne: Borrowed
  • Alastair Chisholm: Exhalation
  • Amanda Crum: The Body Farm
  • Will Dunn: Des Nuits Blanches
  • Philippa East: The Archivist
  • Randi Berg Ferstad: Benjamin
  • Amanda Mason: When the Dark Comes Down
  • Henry Peplow: Take Me Home
  • Victoria Richards: The Camera
  • Darren Todd: What Meets in the Dark and Rain
  • Christopher Youds: The Reclaiming

And now the winners:

  • In first place (£500 prize): Will Dunn: Des Nuits Blanches
  • In second place (£250 prize): Philippa East: The Archivist
  • In third place (£100 prize): Richard Agemo: The House Friends

Congratulations to all of the above writers. Again, it’s been a particularly strong year for entries. We’ll be putting the winners of this year’s competition together with the 2016 winners and a selection of other stories in our next anthology, New Ghost Stories III.

The next edition of our ghost story competition will open for entries in November 2017. Keep an eye on the competition page for more details closer to the time.

Hannah Mathewson

It’s time to announce the winner of the Fiction Desk Writer’s Award for our tenth anthology, Separations.

The Writer’s Award is a prize of £100, presented to the author of the best story in each of our anthologies, and voted for by the contributors to that volume. This makes it a genuinely peer-judged prize, and a great way of recognising talent.

Separations featured some tough competition for the award, as it contained some superb work, including two stories by previous winners: S R Mastrantone and Alex Clark. In the end our authors decided that the Writer’s Award should go to Fiction Desk newcomer Hannah Mathewson, for her story ‘Two Pounds, Six Ounces’, which tells of a hospital visitor’s crisis when a power cut knocks out the lights in the building.

Congratulations, Hannah!

Our occasional ‘Stories behind Stories‘ series features our writers talking about the inspiration and ideas behind their work. Here, Alex Clark tell us how she came to write ‘Poor Billy’, which is featured in our current anthology Separations.

Alex ClarkGhosts, it seems, are usually attached to places. The haunted house, the haunted graveyard, the haunted wood: as Halloween approaches, you’ll see them adorning everything from boxes of biscuits to babygrows. A thousand horror films have at their centre the Bad Place, where no-one should go but we know they will: the place where the unquiet spirit waits, seeking justice or vengeance.

Give this a moment’s thought, and it’s a bit odd. Why don’t the ghosts go out wandering? Why don’t they go looking for the people who’ve done them wrong? Or try to correct whatever terrible mistake led them to be stuck in the real world? Of course, in some stories and in some other cultures, they do. The ghost in Western culture, though, is usually stuck on its home turf, acting out the same horrors over and over again.

With the dawn of spiritualism, in the Victorian and Edwardian period, it was inevitable that people would start investigating why this might be. Intelligent, rational people set out to investigate hauntings, feats of mediumship and black magic. For a glimpse of the true weirdness of this time I strongly recommend a visit to the Wikipedia page for Harry Price, amateur magician and psychical researcher of the early twentieth century, which features tales of talking mongooses, egg-white ectoplasm and boys transforming into goats.

The idea of seriously investigating these kinds of phenomena seems ludicrous to us now, yet many of the investigators were not fools. They knew that most of the supernatural claims were hoaxes, but they believed that it was possible they might find a tiny core of genuine paranormal activity. This activity could then be investigated, to find the mechanisms by which apparitions might appear to people in the everyday world.

New theories sprung up, theories distinct from previous religious, moral or superstitious understandings of what ‘ghosts’ might be. Victorian psychical researchers William Fletcher Barrett and Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick, for instance, suggested that strong psychical energy could become imprinted upon materials such as wood or stone, remaining there and disturbing the minds of later visitors. In the mid twentieth century, Welsh philosopher H.H. Price expanded on this and suggested that ghosts might not be unquiet souls, but some kind of memory or recording, held in the matrix of the physical world. His theory of ‘place memory’ suggested that a strand of memory from a person’s mind might attach itself to the physical environment and lodge there, experienced by others as hallucination.

Later, in the 1960s, all these theories were gathered by parapsychologist Thomas Lethbridge to argue for ‘stone tape theory’, the idea that ghostly phenomena are recordings of historical events, stored in the stone and wood that witnessed those events. Ghosts, in this theory, are inanimate shadows, acting out a short loop of the past over and over and over.

Whilst I love the idea of stone tape theory, there are some big problems with it. The first of my objections is: why no happy ghosts? Or ghosts who have strong emotions, but about ridiculous things? If stone tape theory held true, then maternity units the world over would be plagued by endless replays of new-baby bliss, registry offices would be impossible to work in and the M25 would be infested by apparitions with road rage. Furthermore, why are almost all supposed ghosts dead people? Wouldn’t there be lots of recordings of living people?

Separations

And this is where Poor Billy started to take shape. Rather than wood or stone, concrete seemed the natural material on which to store a psychical recording. There are very few stone castles and timber-framed houses knocking around nowadays, but an awful lot of concrete tower blocks. Concrete has all of those properties that Billy talks about in the story: it’s great at absorbing sound and heat, so why not memory too? Why not a happy memory? When Maggie’s mum describes the ghost as ‘just a snatch of him,’ this is what I had in mind: a fragment of the past, like a radio station caught and lost again, or a TV channel flicked over.

I’ve written here before about my former career as an archaeologist, and it amuses me to note that many of the early psychical researchers were archaeologists before becoming paranormal investigators. Perhaps there’s something about studying the past, about wanting to know what life was like there, that draws the mind towards ghosts. I know myself that to pull an object out of the ground, to know that the human being who last touched it walked the world of the 1570s, is extraordinary. It is easy to think that the present is the only real time that there has ever been, and that the past looked like a film, or a tapestry, or an illuminated manuscript. It didn’t. The sun shone, the wind blew. 1570 was the only reality, and it was happening just where you’re sitting, reading this. Hundreds of millions of dramas and revelations and deaths have been acted out on every patch of this earth, and all of them are vanished. It seems inconceivable that those emotions left no trace. How appealing it is to imagine that they might have done, and that we might be able to replay those memories and see the past for ourselves.

It was perhaps because of my archaeologist’s training that I was unable to stop myself planting a small artefact in the story, an in-joke of my own. The architecture firm for which Billy works is named Sidgwick Barrett Price, a nod to the people whose ideas birthed stone tape theory. I think they would find it funny. If they don’t, I do hope they won’t come visiting.

— Alex Clark

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