It is about nine years ago now that I started writing short fiction, having finally shaken the dust of a working lifetime in education off my boots and resolved to at last give my supposed creative writing urge a chance to sink or swim. When I looked around for help of various kinds, it occurred to me that many of the people and/or organisations offering it
frequently seemed to do so with an “agenda” of one kind or another.
More often than I felt comfortable with, the agenda included getting their hands on my money, admittedly sometimes only in tiny quantities, but occasionally in bagloads which I didn’t have either the inclination or the bank balance to offer them.
Creative writing courses, few of which seemed willing to offer any hard and fast figures concerning whether or not their students succeed in getting into print, involved quite considerable bagloads at times.
Short fiction competitions, on the other hand, demanded no more than a few quid at a time and did offer some kind of measuring yardstick, as to whether someone else apart from my relatives and friends might consider my efforts worth the paper they were written on.
So I set off on that route, and it proved successful, in so far as I scored in quite a few competitions and eventually got a whole collection of stories which had won prizes or commendations in competitions into print. While I have an instinct to resist the modern imperative of blowing your own trumpet until it screeches – good jobbing writer I may be, Alice Munro I ain’t – the results have given me a good deal of pleasure, and maybe one or two readers a bit as well. All is revealed on www.bruceharris.org , should you ever have the time or the interest.
But eventually, I got to the stage of thinking how nice and useful it would be for writers starting out to have resources which weren’t necessarily about making money out of them at all. You know, things you could actually access without passwords or memberships or self-publishing deals which leave you with a much slimmer wallet and scores of books you can’t do anything with. A few hints and lists and tips which are freely offered, writer to writer. So I set up Writing Short Fiction, now well up and running.
Reassuringly, it seems quite a few other writers who have had some success are also willing to lend a hand without “the agenda”. WSF has a “Champion Fiction” section where a bunch of writers now amounting to seventeen and including many with very impressive bios indeed offer pieces of varying lengths and identities which have all won something in competition. It also has a “Tips from the Top” section, where advice on various aspects of short fiction writing are freely available from people who should know what they’re talking about.
WSF also offers questionnaires to test knowledge of contemporary fiction, the competition scene, the business of sending work to magazines, finding subjects to write about etc. There are lists of competitions and short story collections, and a whole series of relevant links.
And now, to further the general aim of helping budding and aspiring writers of whatever age, WSF is to start a “Debut Fiction” section for anyone who has either never had any short fiction published at all or whose list has yet to get beyond an item or two. We came to the conclusion that it’s all very well to offer advice, examples, resources, etc., but if we really did want to put our misson where our mouth is, as it were, it might be an idea to complete the package and give people the chance to see themselves in print, even if it is in e-zine print.
The timing as it stands is that we opened up for submissions – dreadful word, isn’t it, I’ve always thought “contributions” a better term, but it never seems to catch on – for the whole of March, with a view to launching the new section in mid-April. Being an e-zine, WSF doesn’t suffer from print magazine constraints of space and affordability, and if we have quite a few pieces which are worth airing in public, we’ll do just that, though we do intend to be stringent enough in our selection process to ensure that the published pieces are items worth reading and indicative of the burgeoning potential of their authors.
So if anyone is struggling to find places to send their work – and you don’t have to tell me about that, believe me, I’ve been there and got that t-shirt – then bung it to us at WSF. We are working on between 500 and 2000 words at the moment, as a compromise between flash fiction coming in at silly lengths and huge tracts which will require readers to plough their way on through them.
We don’t do themes; we don’t dictate genre, though extremes of violence and so-called “horror” probably aren’t going to make it, and neither is anything overtly and even covertly racist, sexist or homophobic. Sex isn’t banned, but we are not in the business of “erotica”; bad language isn’t necessarily banned either, but there needs to be a context. “Debut Fiction”, right there on the Writing Short Fiction site – this could be where it all kicks off for some future Booker stalwart. Who’s to say that might not be you?
Feel free to pose any questions or suggestions in the comment section below.