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I’m almost done reading for the Brighton Prize 2018. I’m one of the judges along with ace author Alison MacLeod and literary agent Sarah Manning. There are 10 stories in each category, short and flash, whittled down from over 600, all anonymously, thanks to Prize Director Alice Cuninghame who had the not insubstantial task of co-ordinating everything. It was made slightly more difficult by people not telling us the stories they had submitted had been shortlisted elsewhere but this is a minor quibble. We are writers too so we know how difficult it can be to wait for news of submissions but if you are entering a writing competition please read the rules to save yourself, and the organisers, time and money.

I must say I am impressed by the standard of stories so far, there are a couple that are utterly brilliant and I’m looking forward to discussing who should win at the judges meeting later this month. It’s always interesting to see who favours what. I’ve been doing this for four years now and sometimes arriving at the winners is easy because there is a clear favourite from the off and sometimes it takes hours of discussion. It’s also interesting to see who wins as I don’t know who the writers are until we have arrived at our winners and Alice tells us who wrote what. There are usually familiar names in the shortlist, Rattle Tales regulars or previous short-listees but now we are truly international, it could be anyone.

Writing competitions were making waves on Twitter this week. Some people shared news of a free to enter American flash fiction contest promising cash prizes, who listed this rule in their entry requirements;

‘No swearing, profanity, explicit sexual scenes, graphic violence, LGBTQ’

Obviously it’s nigh on impossible to write a flash fiction without using those letters so they won’t get many entries. Seriously though, how is LGBTQ fiction equatable with graphic violence and explicit sex in the year 2018? Apart from the fact that it reads like a Brighton Prize wish list, how can a modern writing contest get away with a rule like this? Well the answer is that they can’t, not without some serious shade, over on Twitter there was much swearing and profanity (as they are obviously very different things!) and several writers posted the LGBTQ entries they had submitted to the competition. Clearly the organisers can chose to prohibit any type of story they want, it doesn’t say no LGBTQ writers so it’s not actual discrimination but it is de facto discrimination and this is why writers reacted the way they did. Never rile the seemingly placid writing community; our teddy bears have vampire teeth, potty mouths, explicit sexual encounters and a back catalogue of horrific torturous deaths just waiting to be tapped into. Faced with the outrage the competition organisers changed their rules to this;

§  All contests have parameters. We are not interested in the following genres:

§  Stories with swearing or profanity

§  Horrific deaths/torture/horror

§  Romance in general

§  Futuristic stories

§  Sexual scenes

§  Fantasy

§  Sci-Fi

§  LGBTQ – some have asked if they can use gay characters. It depends on the story and how it is written. The judges will make that determination.

There’s no way anything interesting is winning this competition. This level of open discrimination is pretty shocking but not surprising. What did warm the heart was the response of the writing community; people who had shared the comp unaware of the rules soon removed it from their feeds and websites. Big shout out here to The Short Story who tweeted the following offer;

Hi! In light of recent news on Twitter re comps etc., I’m looking for 2 LGBTQ+ writers who’d be interested in reading for a pop-up fiction sub window we’ll be having in early December. Pls email – rupert@theshortstory.co.uk outlining relevant experience & we’ll go from there!

And, newsflash! Writers HQ have just added a new competition in response, specifically asking for LGBTQ flash fiction.

  • This contest has a couple of parameters. We are ONLY interested in the following:
    • Stories with swearing and/or profanity (blasphemy optional)
    • Stories on an LGBTQ+ theme
    • Stories about love, acceptance, charity and grace
  • Entry is FREE (because yay inclusivity), but you are very welcome and actively encouraged to make an optional donation to LGBTQ+ mental health charity MindOut if you can

So you don’t need to enter a creative writing competition with no imagination, go instead to a place of tolerance, which publishes some of the best flash fiction on the planet.

The winners of The Brighton Prize will be announced at an awards event at The Brunswick Pub  on November 18th, 2-5 pm.

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Yes! Vampire teddies are a real thing. Picture, ArtUndead Etsy Store

Views expressed here are my own.

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