Friday, 27 April 2012

Inside the mind of a flash fiction judge (aka what turns Nik Perring on!)

Some books are so good you wish you'd thought of the idea first. One such book is the superb short story collection 'Freaks' by Nik Perring and Caroline Smailes. So wonderful is this anthology that the Spudling wrestled my copy off me when it arrived (I'm so not kidding - that's him in the photo below, intently examining the cover!).

The blurb for 'Freaks' says:

"The weirdest stories you will ever read.

A bizarre collection of short stories, each featuring a character with an unusual superpower.

  • Meet The Photocopier, a woman who can reproduce herself at will and who attempts to teach her daughter to do the same.
  • Or the zombie hairdresser who is able to reanimate every time she dies.
  • And the man who can break his way into his lover’s dream.

Over fifty freaks and misfits feature in this unforgettable book, and each is illustrated by comic book artist Darren Craske."

Not only am I a fan of short stories and flash fiction (I can't recommend Nik's flash anthology 'Not So Perfect' enough), I love films about people with superpowers (X Men, Spiderman, Batman etc) and I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy. What I expected was a bunch of short stories about people with superpowers, something light and breezy - a loo book if I'm honest! - but what I received was an anthology of brain tickling, heart string plucking, eyebrow raising literary short stories bursting at the seams with weird and wonderful characters. There aren't any capes, costumes or lazer beams shooting from eyes in this wonderful anthology. Instead it's crammed full of strange foibles, odd thoughts, twisted relationships and unusual ambitions. Every time I dipped into it I didn't know what to expect but I was never disappointed. Each story is a delicious literary morsel.

If you don't normally buy short story anthologies because you think they're long, boring and turgid then this is  the book you've been waiting for. You won't find anything quite like it in bookshops or on the Internet and, like I said at the beginning of this post, I so wish I'd come up with the idea. Congrats Nik and Caroline, it's a little belter!

Buy 'Freaks' now!

Now...onto the subject mentioned in the blog post - an insight into the mind of a flash fiction judge. Here's the very brilliant Nik Perring...

Mostly, I’m a writer. But, as a writer, I’ve been asked to judge competitions and to guest as an editor at a few literary venues, so I suppose I’m a judge too. And that’s what I’m here to talk to you about, because Cally has asked me to tell you what turns me on and off about stories when I’m reading submissions.

I’ll start with the most obvious. What really gets me going  is a great story. And how do you define that? Well, to be honest, you can’t. A great story is simply a great story. It’s a brilliant idea converted into a brilliant and affecting story. They’re a bit like magic. And they’re almost always told in the way the story wants them to be told. Now, that might sound like a strange thing to say, but in my experience, there are a lot of entries that read like the writer’s trying to write a competition winning story, or trying to write like someone else, or, on occasion, writing in a way that they think will impress me. Those, while admirable, are usually mistakes. The story should come first. If it’s great, then a judge or an editor will see it. So try to write the best possible story you can without thinking too much about where it’s going to go, because you can find that out once you’ve finished it.

Of course there are loads of things you should be doing and should not be doing. Here are my top five tips.

Make sure your story is finished. Do it justice and PLEASE don’t send something half-done in just to make a deadline. You’re competing with good, and often, professional writers, so a half-finished story a) won’t stand a chance of winning b) will waste a reader’s time and c) will waste your time – don’t forget, while you’re waiting for that short list to be announced you could be finishing it, making it awesome, and sending it somewhere else.

Make sure you get the writing bits right. That means spelling, punctuation, grammar, making sure there aren’t any typos. Think of it this way, if it wins it’ll be published. The people who’ll publish it will want to publish something they think represents the best of what they do – and that will not be something that’s got errors in it. Plus, you’re a writer! Getting the writing bits right is your job!

Try to be interesting. If you’re looking at entering a competition that’s themed, try this:

Write down the first ten things on that theme that come to mind. So if, for instance, the theme’s ‘spring’ you’ll probably write things like: a spring, spring (the season), to spring (the verb), spring cleaning, having a spring in your step…  And so on.

Those will be the ideas the majority of the other entrants will have chosen. So, once you’ve finished your list, throw it away. Then start a new list and pick one from that. It’ll be more original and that means that it should be more interesting.

Read and observe the guidelines. I know this should be quite an obvious one but not going over word limits and formatting your story as you’ve been asked are really important. Those guidelines are there for a reason and if you don’t take them seriously then why would a judge or editor take your story seriously? (Hint: they probably won’t!)

Think that not winning, or being placed, or being rejected is a sign that your story’s rubbish or that you’re not good enough. Yes, it’s true, sometimes stories aren’t anywhere near good enough, but of all I’ve rejected a huge number have been brilliant and simply haven’t quite turned me on as much as the winner. It’s a matter of judgement – simply someone’s opinion. So please, don’t be disheartened. If your story hasn’t got anywhere, have another look at it, see if  you can make it any better, and send it somewhere else – there are plenty of other wonderful places where it could find a home.

So, there you have it. My top tips for submitting. And remember: the most important thing is making sure the story comes first. A brilliant story will almost always find a good home – so making it brilliant is the most important step. If you do that, everything else should fall into place.

Good luck, everyone!


Nik Perring is the co-author of Freaks!, and the author of Not So Perfect. His website is and he’s on Twitter as @nikperring. 


Christy McKellen said...

That's a brilliant idea of Nik's about the 10 things list. I'll definitely do that next time I'm brainstorming for ideas.

I love the look of the Freaks book, am going to add it to my list of unusual birthday pressies for people. Thanks for the steer.

Great post Cally.
x Christy

Nik Perring said...

Thanks Christy

Hope the 10 things list works for you! And thanks for adding Freaks! to that list!

Talli Roland said...

Those are great tips from Nik, and I can't wait to read Freaks!

Nik Perring said...

Thanks Talli!

Annieye said...

Great post Cally. I'll definitely check out Freaks, it sounds deliciously quirky and unusual.

Annieye said...

Great post Cally. I'll definitely check out Freaks, it sounds deliciously quirky and unusual.