for writers and readers….
This competition is close to my heart as I volunteer at The Regency Town House in Brighton & Hove (and write as the 1830s housekeeper Mrs Finnegan) so over the last couple of years I’ve become accustomed to thinking and exploring the past.
Before I go into the details big apology for the short notice – the deadline is Friday July 31st 2020 – but I’ve only just come across the Dorothy Dunnett competition organised by The Historical Writers’ Association.
This competition is for unpublished short stories of up to 3500 words and it must be set at least 35 years in the past (that’s 1985 by the way when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister and Ronald Reagan was in The White House. And before Google, mobile phones* and most people had a personal computer at home…).
While entries have to be in English, international entries are welcomed. You are free to choose your theme, your genre and your period but to win you must bring the past alive. I like the quote above from Dorothy Dunnett – whose own period was the 15th and 16th centuries – because it places the emphasises on characters and story rather than the history. Having said that, the judges want writers to display:
Display a secure understanding of the period…
It seems to me that the worst historical fiction is choked with research and stiff with unnatural conversations that no one in their right mind would ever say aloud. The modern equivalent would be something like mother and daughter chatting in the supermarket:
“Well dear, Boris Johnson, the prime minister, says we have to ….”
“Yeah Mum, but doesn’t the leader of the opposition have a point? Keir Starmer’s speech yesterday reminded me of…” etc etc.
And it’s not just that ordinary people don’t talk as though they are addressing a meeting, they also don’t tell each other things they already know. Dialogue should never sound as though it was written purely to convey information to readers. (It may do that, of course, but it should feel as though we are eavesdropping.)
That’s what you shouldn’t do, but what should you do? I think this quotation from the Canadian writer and Nobel prize winner, Alice Munro is helpful to bear in mind. She says that a short story is ‘a world seen in a quick glancing light’. So, even if your story is set during a World War or in Imperial Rome your canvas is small.
It costs £5 to enter the competition and you will find the terms and conditions HERE. I can’t stress too strongly how important it is to obey all the rules. In this competition, for example, HWA specify what font you must use.
So get writing or editing. (Perhaps you have something tucked away in a computer file that you started and meant to return to…)
GREAT GOOD LUCK
*Mobile phones been around for years, of course, but in a very limited way. In fact 1985 was the year of the first “public” mobile phone call in the UK which was made by comedian Ernie Wise to Vodafone HQ and that reminds me that 1985 was also a long time before Wikipedia.)