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“Sitting up in the dark, he took a deep breath and scented a familiar, beguiling trace in the air…”

Deep Green Leaves, Alex Clark

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New Ghost Stories IV

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!

File Formats

We see a lot of different file formats here at The Fiction Desk. Although our guidelines specify that submissions should all be in MS Word format (.doc or .docx), we do our best to open and read most document types that come our way. Sometimes it’s just not possible, and we have to ask writers to resubmit their story manuscript in an alternative format.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about file formats, so here’s a quick guide to the main document types, where they come from, and their pros and cons as submission formats.

When making a submission it’s important to always follow the publisher’s guidelines in terms of the file formats they can accept: after all, only they know which devices and software they have access to. Still, the following should provide you with some insight into why they make the choices they do, and what you can do if your preferred formats don’t match their requirements:


  • .doc This was once the standard file used by MS Word, and the most common way to share text documents. It was replaced in 2007 by the .docx format (see below). These days, .doc files aren’t always quite as compatible or easy to open as .docx files, but are still fairly common. Use .docx if you possibly can — it’s a smaller, more versatile format — but if you’re running a pre-2007 version of MS Word you can still get by with .doc for the moment.
  • .docx Now the industry standard. Although primarily associated with Microsoft Word, it can be opened, edited and saved with a range of programs, including free suites like LibreOffice. Like the .doc format, it also has MS Word’s ’track changes’ functionality, which will come in handy when your work is accepted for publication and you need to collaborate with an editor, allowing you to see and comment on edits.
  • .docm This is a special version of the .docx file, used when the document contains macros (small apps within the document that can automate various tasks). Avoid using this format: macros are completely unnecessary in basic text documents like works of fiction, and are often used to transmit computer viruses.
  • .dot These are template files used by MS Word; for example, you might have a .dot file in your system that provides the basic layout and styles for your short stories. If you’re saving completed stories in .dot format, though, you’re probably getting into a muddle with your templates.
  • .gdoc This isn’t actually a file type at all: it’s a link to your file’s location on Google Drive. If you send somebody a .gdoc file outside of the Google ecosystem, the recipient won’t be able to open it. If your story is in Google Docs, you’ll need to save it to your computer as a .docx file before submitting. To do this, open your file in Google Docs, go to the File menu, and click ‘Download as > Microsoft Word (.docx)’.
  • .odt These files are the text version of the OpenDocument format. You’re most likely to come across .odt files if you’re using a free open source office suite like LibreOffice or OpenOffice. Like .docx, they have the ability to keep track of changes made during the editing process. They’re quite widely accepted but check first: not all devices can open them, and it’s usually best to save your file as .docx before making your submission.
  • .pages These files are created by Apple’s Pages software. They can only be opened on certain Apple devices, and even the different versions of Pages aren’t all compatible with each other. Awkward, professionally useless, and popular among people with no knowledge of computers, .pages is the Comic Sans of the file format world. Unless the market you’re submitting to says otherwise, avoid sending out work in .pages format. (The .pages format is lousy, but many people are happy writing with the program itself. If you’re using Pages, export the file as a Word .docx document before submitting.)
  • .pdf These files are intended for use with Adobe Reader: they’re usually used for sharing finished documents like digital versions of magazines or fliers, as well as contracts, forms, and other documents. Many programs can export .pdf files, and operating systems usually have a way of ‘printing’ your work to a .pdf file. So should you submit work in .pdf format? Many literary magazines and other publishers do allow it; others don’t. While .pdf files are easy to read on a wide range of devices, it’s not usually possible to reformat them. This means that the reader looking at your work won’t be able to change the font size or reflow the text if they’re using a smaller screen, or if the formatting is otherwise difficult to read. To stay on the safe side, it’s best to avoid sending out work in .pdf unless you’re specifically asked for it.
  • .rtf Relatively simple text documents, .rtf files can be read and written by most text editing programs. The formatting options are probably a little limited in terms of meeting submission guidelines for page layout, but at least you know that the reader should be able to open your file. Potentially useful as a last resort, if you really can’t manage to create a .docx file.
  • .scriv / .scrivx These files are created by the popular writing tool Scrivener. They’re for your work-in-progress, but not for submitting work. Export your finished story from Scrivener as a .docx file, and check it in Word before submitting.
  • .wps These documents are created by Microsoft Works, a basic office suite that was last released in 2007 and discontinued altogether in 2009. These days, .wps files are a nuisance to open, often needing special software to convert them to a readable format. Avoid submitting work in .wps format. (Tip: If you have a lot of old files in .wps format, your easiest option might be to download the free open-source office suite LibreOffice. LibreOffice can open .wps files, allowing you to read them and export them to a more modern and usable format.)


That list should cover most of the basic file formats that you’re likely to come across or find yourself using for your text documents. Here’s the executive summary:

  • Always check the publisher’s requirements before submitting: only they know the exact range of devices and programs they have available to read your work.
  • The single best format to get accustomed to using is .docx. Although native to MS Word, many other programs can read and write this format, and it’s most publishers’ first choice.
  • If you really hate Microsoft, or are unable or unwilling to stump up the cash for MS Word, look into LibreOffice. It’s a free, fully featured office suite available on Windows, Linux, and Mac, and can work with .docx files as well as various other types including its own native .odt files. It can also be used for collaborative editing using tracked changes. (Sending a file with tracked changes between Word and LibreOffice can be buggy, but your editor might well have LibreOffice installed for when its needed. After all, it’s free and available on nearly all computers. Find out more at

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

Newcomer Prize for Short Stories 2018

It’s the end of July, which means it’s time to announce the shortlist and winners of our 2018 Newcomer Prize for Short Stories.

The quality of the entries this year has been as high as ever, and the judging has been as difficult and exciting a job as ever. The shortlisted writers will all win a three-volume subscription to our anthology series, and the two winners will also receive a cash prize. The two winning stories will appear in an upcoming Fiction Desk anthology.

Let’s start with the shortlist, which this year features nine stories:

  • Holly Barratt: ‘Daniel Sprinkles Stars’
  • Lahra Crowe: ‘Seelence’
  • Becky Docton: ‘Just Breathe’
  • Michael Hurst: ‘Speed Awareness’
  • Amy Smith Linton: ‘Pete and Jenny at the Starlite’
  • Katherine Mezzacappa: ‘Rare Orchid, Late Flowering’
  • Russell Reader: ‘The House That Jack Built’
  • Poppy Toland: ‘Our Gaff’
  • Declan Wilk: ‘Master of Cryptozoology’


Now for the winners:

In second place, with a £250 prize:

  • Poppy Toland: ‘Our Gaff’


And in first place, with a £500 prize:

  • Lahra Crowe: ‘Seelence’


I’ll be getting in touch with all the above authors to sort out their prizes over the next week or so. In the meantime, thank you again to everybody who took part in this year’s competition.

We aren’t running a writing competition this summer, as we’re turning all our attention to our standard short story submissions, which are open now. If you’re thinking of sending us something, you’ll find the guidelines here, and the submission form here.

Ghost Story Competition 2018

It’s time to announce the shortlist and winners of the 2018 Ghost Story Competition. Judging this competition is always a challenge: it brings in some of the best writing we see here at The Fiction Desk. This year we’ve got three prizes: a first prize of £500, and second prize of £250, and a third prize of £100. Those three winners will also be published in our next anthology, while all of the shortlistees will receive a three-volume subscription to our anthology series.

So let’s get on with the shortlist, which this year consists of twelve stories:

  • Kris Ashton: ‘Highway Memorials’
  • Steve Bilsborough: ‘The Sweet Wrapper Incident’
  • Michael Button: ‘A New Beginning in a New Home’
  • Bruce Coker: ‘Leggers’
  • Anthony Cule: ‘The Glass in the Bathroom’
  • Jan Haniff: ‘Widow’
  • Chris Hogben: ‘The Star That Stayed Till Morning’
  • C B McCall: The Spare Room
  • Alice Nuttall: ‘The Flat Above the Joke Shop’
  • Rosalie Parker: ‘The Moor’
  • A D Stuart: ‘Gnomsense’
  • Christopher Williams: ‘The New Normal’


Now for the winners, in reverse order:

In third place, with a £100 prize:

  • Kris Ashton: ‘Highway Memorials’


In second place, with a £250 prize:

  • Chris Hogben: ‘The Star That Stayed Till Morning’


And in first place, with a £500 prize:

  • C B McCall: The Spare Room


I’ll be getting in touch with the shortlistees and winners over the next week or so to arrange prizes. In the meantime, congratulations to all of the above – and to everybody else who entered the competition and sent in such fine work, making judging the entries an absolute pleasure.

The Ghost Story Competition will return this November. In the meantime, our Newcomer Prize for Short Stories is open now for entries, both supernatural and non-supernatural. Find out more here.

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