“I could open the case, have a peek, and sneak out again. Just a peek. No one would know…”

Uncle Dougie's Suitcase, Alastair Chisholm

New Ghost Stories IV

Our summer submission calls

Our summer reading period is open now, and will run until Friday, 27th September, 2024.

Until then, we’ll be running two calls for short story submissions:

  • Our General Submission Call is our standard call for stories in any of the themes and styles we features in our anthologies.
  • We will also be announcing a special themed call at the start of July. Watch this space, or sign up for our email newsletter, to find out more about that.

The deadline for both calls is midnight on Friday, 27th September, so please make sure to send in your work before then.

As ever, be sure to read our submission guidelines before sending in your work – and why not read one of our anthologies to get up to speed before submitting? Our latest volumes are the supernatural collection New Ghost Stories IV, and the general fiction collections Houses Borders Ghosts and Somewhere This Way.

Our new anthology

This summer also sees the publication of our new anthology. We’ll be announcing details of that very soon.

Lynsey May, photo by John Need Media

Photo: John Need Media

Many years ago, Lynsey May’s short story ‘Two Buses Away’ was the very first story featured in our very first anthology, Various Authors. Now her debut novel, Weak Teeth, has been published in its paperback edition, and this month it’s been selected as Waterstones’ Scottish Book of the Month. We thought it would be interesting to catch up with her for a chat about her experience of publication and her approach to writing, among other things…

Q. Firstly, congratulations on the paperback publication of Weak Teeth. How have you found the experience of publishing your debut novel?

A. Thank you so much. I’m incredibly grateful for Waterstones’ support and for the support of all the fantastic indie bookshops who’ve been so good to me and the book. It’s such a joy to see it out in the world.

I’ve been writing with the hope of being published for a long time and I have a lot of friends who’re writers, so in many ways I was well prepared for the experience. That said, I still feel like I’m coming out of a period of suspended animation. There was almost exactly a year between the publication of the hardback and the paperback, and I felt a little like it was a sentence opened and not closed. This feels like a full stop to the experience, or perhaps a comma.

Q. That’s an interesting point about the difference between hardback and paperback publication. How does publication in the two formats feel different to you as an author?

A. I think the big difference is the feeling that I’m getting a second bite of the apple, as it were. The launch of a new format gives you an excuse to have another little party and, in this case, it very luckily also gave me a shot at being selected as Scottish Book of the Month by Waterstones. That said, with the cost of living so drastically reducing people’s spending power, I’m not at all surprised to see lots of publishers opting to go straight to paperback for all sorts of titles. On the other hand, we’re also seeing lots of special editions and spredges. It will be really interesting to see how these two trends play out in the next wee while.

Q. Prior to publishing Weak Teeth, you’ve also had success over the years with your short stories. How did you come to write a novel, and how did you come to write this particular novel?

A. I’ve always enjoyed writing both short stories and longer pieces. I’d say I was drawn to novels first, because I didn’t know about all of the wonderful shorter works out there. I then went through a phase of reading and writing a lot of short stories before, finally, settling into an alternation between the two.

For Weak Teeth in particular, I knew from the start I wanted it to be about a family and that teeth were going to factor prominently. I could also tell straight away that I wanted it to be a novel, although it took a little longer to work out exactly what kind of novel it would be.

Q. On the subject of length, when you find yourself with an idea for a story or a situation or a character, and you start writing it, do you usually make a conscious decision at some point about how long a story you’re going to write, as you did with Weak Teeth? Or are you more inclined to just set your ideas down, and see what happens?

A. Hmm. I think that most of the time, it’s a visual or a particular feeling that comes to mind first and often I can tell if it’s going to be something short or part of something longer straight away – but I think that might often have more to do with my mindset than the content. If I’m in a shortform state of mind, then I’m thinking about how to turn that fragment into a small whole. When I’m getting stuck into something longer, I’m looking at those little ideas through a different lens and working out whether they’re thematically or tonally relevant. If they aren’t, but the idea continues to glimmer, then I’ll see if it’s a short story in its own right.

Q. Something that’s always struck me about your writing is your attention to character: you give the impression of really caring about the people in your stories, and as a result they come very much to life. How would you describe your approach to creating and writing your characters?

A. This is a wonderful compliment, I very much appreciate it. I’m definitely a very character-driven writer and reader. I’m fascinated about all the commonalities we can recognise in each other, as well as the endless variations that make us all ourselves. I very much care about the characters I write and also the ones I invest in. I’m terrible for crying at movies, TV shows, books, theatre; my heartstrings are very tuggable.

Q. The other thing that comes across strongly in your writing is your connection to Edinburgh. It’s one of the great cities in terms of literary heritage, but it’s also been through a lot of changes over the years, both culturally and economically. The city has been hit particularly hard by the cost of living crisis, with the council declaring a housing emergency last year and rents rising steeply – which isn’t great given that fiction writing is rarely a high-income activity. But there’s something about Edinburgh that can get under your skin… what do you think of today’s Edinburgh as a city for writing in, and writing about?

A. I’ve always lived in and around Edinburgh and have been in Leith for over a decade now. It’s amazing to be connected to a place with such a strong literary heritage and I hope that we’re able to continue to invest in current and future generations of writers and creatives in the capital, as well as throughout Scotland.

While Ellis in Weak Teeth is lucky enough to have a parent who owns a property now worth a sizeable amount, she’s one of the many people who can’t afford to buy a home on her own salary. It was important to me to reflect a little of the current housing struggles, even though it wasn’t the main thrust of the book. Many of the people I know, especially (although not exclusively) those in the arts, are struggling to exist in their own city. If we want people to be able to authentically write about Edinburgh, we need to make it somewhere that those writers can afford to live.

Q. As well as writing fiction, you’ve also done a lot of work in related roles: you’ve been books editor of The List, and you’ve worked with Scottish Book Trust, The Edinburgh Review and the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust. Do you think that those experiences have helped to shape your approach to writing?

A. I think that these experiences, all of which have been part time, have massively shaped my understanding of the literature sector and the importance of the creative arts in general. They’ve been so valuable, especially in exposing me to writers and arts workers I might never have come across otherwise.

When it comes to approach, though, I suspect my process is more shaped by the fact I’m a freelance copywriter by trade. I used to manage a copywriting department for a large online marketing company and struck out on my own over ten years ago. The nature of the job means that I have to work to deadlines and not be too precious, while also being open to criticism and change – all of which has come in very handy when it comes to fiction. I treat my own writing like a different beast to the copy work, but there are few things better for curing the fear of the blank page than having to sit down and string sentences together every day.

Q. Finally, are you working on any fiction at the moment? And do you have any upcoming publications that people should look out for? (Once they’re done with Weak Teeth, naturally.)

A. I am currently working on a second novel, which I did intend to have finished ages ago. Life does have a habit of uprooting the best laid plans! But I hope to be finished soon and then I look forward to immersing myself in some shorter fiction again. I’ll be launching the paperback at an event chaired by the fab Lucy Ribchester at Waterstones, Sauchiehall Street on 17 May at 7pm.

You can find out more about Lynsey on her website: lynseymay.com.

File Formats

The deadline for our spring short story submissions period is 31st May.

Until then, we’re running two separate submission calls:

You can find out more about either call by following the links above. Before submitting, please read our submission guidelines, and then head over to the online submission form.

Our spring reading period is open now, and will run until the end of May 2024.

This year, we’re running two calls for short story submissions:

The deadline for both calls is midnight on Friday, 31st May, so please make sure to send in your work before then.

As ever, be sure to read our submission guidelines before sending in your work – and why not read one of our anthologies to get up to speed before submitting? Our latest volumes are the supernatural collection New Ghost Stories IV, and the general fiction collections Houses Borders Ghosts and Somewhere This Way.

Houses Borders Ghosts

The first and most important thing to do if you’re planning to submit short stories to a magazine or series publisher is read them first. Pick up a couple of issues, or anthologies, or whatever it is they publish, and read them closely. Work out what they’re trying to do as publishers, and whether what you write is a good match. If so, think about which of your unpublished stories would fit best.

Not only does this save you a lot of time and disappointment (and if you don’t like a publisher’s output, your own work is probably not going to be a good match for them), but it is also a great way to keep inspired and engaged with what’s happening in today’s short fiction world.

To supplement this process, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of the short stories that we’ve published recently here at The Fiction Desk, and think about why we chose them, and what they say about us and the kind of stories we publish.

All of the following stories appear in our last-but-one anthology, Houses Borders Ghosts, which contains a mixture of general and genre fiction.

I should make it clear that this list is not a ‘best of’: as publishers, we naturally love all of our (adopted) children equally. Instead, I’ve tried to highlight stories that might best shed a light on our editorial approach.

‘Name’ by Andrew Cochrane

Although many of the stories we publish have a fairly classic plot-driven structure, we do regularly feature pieces that try to do something different: what matters is that they are successful on their own terms, and that they engage the reader.

Andrew Cochrane’s story ‘Name’ is a good example of this: it takes place in a council office, where two new parents are trying to register their baby’s name. The clerk is trying to explain why the (unspecified) name they have chosen is not appropriate. They don’t accept his reasoning. The conversation pushes back and forth, but they are essentially deadlocked for the entire story; when it ends, no progress has been made on either side.

Some readers were thrown by this. (Keep reading …)

Ghost story submission call

Always one of the most popular (and entertaining) parts of our editorial year, our annual ghost story submission call is now open.

Supernatural fiction has always been an important part of our output here at the Fiction Desk – just as it’s always been an important part of the history of the short story as a form. This annual call is about celebrating that, as well as finding a home for some some superb new ghost stories.

You can read more about the call here. (And if you’re in need of inspiration, you’ll find our latest supernatural fiction in New Ghost Stories IV, which you can get right here.)

Finally, if you’re not into ghost stories, don’t worry: our general call is open now too. Find out more about the general submission call here.

New Ghost Stories IV

It’s time to announce the latest winner of the Fiction Desk Writer’s Award.

This award is presented for the best story in each anthology we publish, and is judged by the contributors to that volume.

Time time we had a particularly challenging contest, with a three-way tie between Matt Plass, Jacqueline Gabbitas, and Jo Gatford. To break the tie, we invited our previous winner Zeph Auerbach to cast a deciding vote. He chose Jo Gatford’s story Yellow Rock as the winner, and here’s what he had to say about it:

‘Yellow Rock is superb at conjuring a sense of mystery and longing. Details – including those of the intriguing narrator – always seem just out of reach, and you’re left just with the pure drive and fear of someone working at a dangerous frontier of discovery. It’s a dark, uncanny tale that will stay with me for years to come.’

So thank you to Zeph for helping with the vote, to Jo for her excellent story, and to all of our contributors for the fantastically high standards they set. If you’ve not yet read New Ghost Stories IV, it’s out now and you can get your copy right here. (And watch out for our next anthology, featuring another new story from Jo.)

Kate van der Borgh

We are delighted to hear that Kate van der Borgh has found a publisher for her debut novel, And He Shall Appear.

Kate’s stories have appeared in two Fiction Desk anthologies to date: Home, Time was featured in Houses Borders Ghosts, and The History Lesson was in Separations.

And He Shall Appear is described in the Bookseller announcement as “a dark academia thriller about a young Cambridge undergraduate in the 2000s who finds himself in thrall to his notoriously wild classmate Bryn Cavendish. Bryn, a budding occultist and host of debauched campus parties, commands a group of loyal fans and followers; those who cross Bryn end up outcast, haunting the peripheries of the college like spectres. When Bryn’s magic tricks start going further than they have before, those around him begin to wonder: is there a darker side to Bryn than any of them imagined? ”

Kate’s agent Rosie Pierce at Curtis Brown placed the novel with Fourth Estate in the UK & Commonwealth; US and German editions are also coming, with no doubt more on the way.

Fans of Kate’s short fiction should certainly look out for And He Shall Appear, which is due for publication in autumn 2024.

Here’s a quick guide to submission calls this autumn and winter here at The Fiction Desk.

We’ll have two submission calls open during this period:

  • Our general submission call is for stories on any theme, in any of the genres we usually feature in our pages. This is open now, with a deadline of 31 January 2024.
  • Our annual ghost story submission call, for all kinds of supernatural fiction. This call opens October 1st, and will also run until the end of January.

As always, don’t forget to read our submission guidelines, and please read at least one of our anthologies before sending in your work.

(You can get our anthologies directly from us here.)

New Ghost Stories IV

Our latest anthology, New Ghost Stories IV, is out now.

You can find out more, or order your own copy, right here.

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