“This was the beginning of the fairy tale, he thought…”

Assassination Scene, Jason Atkinson

New Ghost Stories IV
Houses Borders Ghosts

Today we’re announcing the latest winner of The Fiction Desk’s Writer’s Award.

The Writer’s Award is presented to the author of the best story in each anthology we publish, as voted for by the contributors themselves. Because who could be better qualified than the people who write the stories?

This time around the award is for the best story in our latest anthology, Houses Borders Ghosts. With nine excellent stories to choose from, including one by a previous award-winner Alastair Chisholm, competition was tough, but in the end the votes gave us a winner.

So it’s congratulations to Zeph Auerbach, who takes home the £100 prize for his story ‘Desynchronisation at Seven Sisters’.

If you’ve not yet read his story, Houses Borders Ghosts is available now in paperback and Kindle editions.

Houses Borders Ghosts

We’re delighted to announce that our new anthology, Houses Borders Ghosts, is due for publication at the end of this month.

Houses Borders Ghosts contains nine new short stories in our usual variety of styles and themes from new and returning authors; our regular readers will be familiar with Alastair Chisholm, Jacki Donnellan, and Kate van der Borgh, and there are some fantastic talents making their first appearance in our pages.

Copies will be available soon in paperback and Kindle editions. You can find out more about the new anthology, or order your own copy, here.

Various Authors short story anthology

We’re so busy getting our new anthology ready for press that we nearly overlooked our own birthday! This week sees the tenth anniversary of the publication of our first anthology, Various Authors.

In the years since then, we’ve published fourteen volumes, including 149 stories from 108 different authors. And we’ve got plenty more lined up.

So thank you to all of you — readers, contributors, and potential contributors — who have been with us along the way.

(Speaking of our anthologies, watch out for news of our new volume in the next couple of weeks.)


The daffodils are out, the supermarkets are full of chocolate eggs, and there was even half an hour of sunshine last Thursday. This can only mean one thing: our spring reading period is now open.

For this submission call, we’ve decided not to run a specific theme. Instead, we’ll be concentrating on general submissions, open to any of the themes and genres that we feature in our anthologies. So if you’d like to submit something to us, just take a look through a recent volume, and send us whatever you think makes for a great Fiction Desk story.

Submissions are open until 30 June, and you can find out more about the submission process on our submission guidelines page.

To celebrate Halloween (and the opening of this year’s annual ghost story submission call), we’re running a sale on Kindle editions of all our anthologies.

Our three New Ghost Stories volumes are just 99p each, and all other titles are just £1.99.

You can get the whole series so far (all 13 volumes) for just £22.87.

To grab yourself some bargains, just head over to Amazon UK (or Amazon USA, where you’ll find similar prices). Best hurry, though: the sale ends on Wednesday!

Today we’re announcing the latest winner of the Fiction Desk Writer’s Award. The Writer’s Award is presented to the author of the best story in each of our anthologies, and is voted for by the contributors themselves. The winner receives £100.

Our new anthology, Somewhere This Way, features some very strong stories and the voting was close, but for once we didn’t need a tie break: the clear winner is ‘Exhalation’, by Alastair Chisholm.

Congratulations, Alastair!

Find out more about Somewhere This Way or get your own copy right here.

If you subscribe to our email newsletter, you might already know that last week we launched our first themed call for submissions. ‘Houses and Homes‘ is all about the places where we live and the way that they affect our lives.

There should be plenty here for short story writers to get their teeth into: from domestic dramas to haunted houses, it’s an opportunity to explore psychology, class, politics, generational and cultural divides and a whole host of other issues.

In the UK (where The Fiction Desk is based), rising house prices have impacted hugely on the lives of their inhabitants and reshaped whole communities, as have the tensions between the different roles that housing plays: not just homes but investments, refuges, businesses, repositories of family memories. The conversation is by no means limited to Britain, either: as always, international contributions are very welcome.

Submissions to our themed calls work exactly like normal submissions. You submit through the same submission form, it’s still just a £3 fee, and we aim to reply to all submissions within two weeks. We pay at our usual rates for any stories we publish.

The ‘Houses and Homes’ call is open now for submissions, and you can find out more here. The deadline is 30th September. We’ll be announcing more themes over the year, so do sign up for our newsletter if you don’t already get it.

And Nothing Remains

Today we’re announcing the latest winner of the Fiction Desk Writers’ Award.

Although we’ve recently stopped running writing competitions (here’s why), the Writers’ Award is something a little special. It’s awarded to the best story in each anthology, as voted for by the contributors themselves. As well as getting the thumbs-up from their fellow writers, the winner also receives £100.

In the case of our latest anthology, And Nothing Remains, we have a tie between two stories: ‘Thirteen Wedding Dresses’ by Douglas Bruton and ‘All Washed Up’ by Chris Hogben. To break the tie between these two very fine, and very different, stories, we’ve asked our previous contributor S R Mastrantone – now writing as S R Masters – to cast a deciding vote. Over to you, Simon:

And Nothing Remains is an extremely strong collection, and it is unsurprising that this issue’s Writers’ Award came down to a tie. I found plenty to admire about Douglas Bruton’s ‘Thirteen Wedding Dresses’, an optimistic story on the unifying meaning of objects that had an exceptional sense of place. In the end I chose Chris Hogben’s ‘All Washed Up’, which grabbed me from the opening sentence right up until the final moving image of a man drifting in and out of visibility beneath street lights. Chris’s voice is confident and compelling, and the first section of dialogue between the friendly bear and Tommy was very funny and incredibly clever.

So congratulations are due to Chris Hogben (and to Douglas Bruton, for running him such a close race), and thanks to Simon for casting the deciding vote. Now it’s time to get back to work on our next anthology…

(If you’re wondering how to enter a story for the Writers’ Award, it’s simple: just submit your work to our anthology series. All the stories we publish are entered automatically to the competition.)

Over the years we’ve found some fantastic stories through the writing competitions we’ve run here at The Fiction Desk. There’s no doubt that our pages have been enlivened by ghost stories, newcomers, and flash fiction that we might not otherwise have had the chance to see – and there’s more to come, as our most recent winners will be appearing in our next anthology.

Still, we’ve decided to take a break. We won’t be running any writing competitions in the foreseeable future – although we continue to welcome both general fiction and ghost stories through our standard submissions system.

So why such a drastic change? There are a few reasons:

  1. By choosing stories through a regular submissions process, we can go much deeper into the work. We can take into account context, and if necessary follow up with the writer before making a decision. We can look at the synopsis, the bio, the writer’s other work, and any other information people choose to include with their submission. We can get back to potential contributors with questions or suggestions if we need to. Publishing is about development as well as selection, and the binary yes/no of a writing competition doesn’t allow for this.
  2. Although rewarding, running writing competitions takes a lot of time and energy: from launching a competition to publishing the winner can take anything up to a year, and we’d rather put that energy into reading regular submissions and creating great anthologies. Freeing ourselves of the competition timetable also allows us to be more agile in terms of trying out new ideas in editorial and publishing.
  3. There are a lot of writing competitions around these days, and more seem to launch all the time. We’re seeing a lot of writers whose bios are little more than a long list of prizes and shortlistings. It’s great if that’s working for them, and writing competitions definitely have their place, but at the moment we can probably make a better contribution to the short story in other, more unique ways.

So there it is. We’re stepping away from writing competitions, but continue to welcome the same kinds of story through our regular submissions system, which we will continue to evolve to create better opportunities and support for writers. If you were thinking of entering one of our competitions, please do consider sending us the story as a regular submission anyway. You’ll find full details over in our submissions area.

Incidentally, the competitions did serve one other purpose: the entry fees helped to keep us going. So if you like what we’re doing, please consider supporting us in the old-fashioned way: by picking up one of our anthologies!

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.


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.


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

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