Monday, 23 December 2013

Festive arrangements

The offices of Inscribe Media are closed from December 24 until January 3. We will sort any problems with entered stories when we return to work.

May we take this opportunity to wish all our followers the very best of festive greetings.

John Dean

Friday, 20 December 2013

Keeping up with the pace

These are busy times. Readers are busy people. That means you need to write with pace to engage them.

Simply put, the more 'story' you have the faster the 'pace'. It is about picking out what really matters. It means examining everything in your story, and asking if you need it?

For example, find those parts that are passive in the story - told with a lot of 'hads’ - or any description or action that is fairly static and hit the delete button. Or certainly, cut it back.

Find the bits of the back-story - the bits where you feel the need to explain preceding events to the reader - and ask do you need it all?

The writer Rob Parnell says: “So, what defines story? Usually anything that is told in real time - in any tense - about the characters, their actions and some immediate description - that carries the main narrative forward. Everything else is basically fluff - not because it's not important to you - but because it's stuff the reader is not particularly interested in. Readers like a little exposition, a little backstory and a little character development but, if you have too much, you will send your reader to sleep. Focus on story and you'll keep your reader awake at night, turning those pages like it's a veritable bestseller.”

It’s sound advice.

John Dean

Opportunities for writers

Here’s a couple of opportunities for writers from here in the UK.
Stand & Deliver is a new magazine for alternative comedy, based in Newcastle upon Tyne and founded by a graduate of Northumbria University. The magazine, which celebrates the subject of comedy, is looking for like-minded writers to contribute who have an interest and passion for the subject. Stand & Deliver, which will contain a mix of articles, features, storytelling, poetry, photography, illustration and design, will focus on celebrating comedy by getting under its skin. If you are a writer and interested in contributing to a new and exciting project, email
Popshot Magazine is looking for literary submissions for its eleventh issue, on the theme of ‘Journeys’. They are looking for original, thought-provoking writing that addresses the theme and captures the imagination of the readers. The full submissions guidelines can be found on the submit page at

John Dean

Should Santa bring you a Kindle

Should a Kindle turn up in your Christmas stocking, here’s a reminder that we have published seven ebooks in all, including the most recent, which are:

Harry’s Torment by Michael Beck

Harry’s Torment is set in the fictional east coast port of Thirlston and is centred on the heroin trade.

Unlike some other crime novels this is not a ‘who done it’ as we very soon discover identity of the local drugs baron. We see how the officers try to piece together various bits of information in their pursuit of him and how he attempts to stay one step ahead of them. This takes place alongside a personal feud between two senior customs officials and this impacts upon one of the officers in particular as he is used as a pawn in their struggle. His close working relationships with a local detective inspector also causes problems and pressures for both parties as the story comes to a dramatic conclusion.

Michael spent 38 years with Customs and Excise and took early retirement in 2005. In that time he worked in most of the disciplines within the department and was responsible for all the anti-smuggling teams in the north east of England between 1990 and 2000. He is a member of Inkerman Writers and Bennet House Writers, both Darlington based writing groups, and has written a number of short stories.

Lost Souls by Roger Barnes

When young women start to go missing in Africa, the kidnappers warn not to investigate but the police do and the women’s hideously mutilated bodies are returned. After that the investigations are stopped and a continuing flow of traumatised victims are returned alive, having being used in the most brutal and degrading ways.

This continues until another four are abducted and the British Government decides it must act and recommence the investigation, but this time using a very different approach. A Special Forces Major with an uncanny knack for finding people is teamed with an unorthodox politically incorrect police officer, and both are asked to volunteer to try and find them.

It becomes apparent that not only British women are being abducted, so a small International Strike Force is assembled to rescue them and ensure it is stopped, permanently.

Roger is a taxi driver in Darlington and a member of Darlington-based Inkerman Writers.

* We have previously published five other e-book titles. All can be obtained by keying their titles into the search field of the Kindle shop at Australian readers will have to purchase via Amazon US at

The books include:

Global Shorts - an anthology of short stories taken from the early years of the Global Short Competition. Price £2.23

Vegemite Whiskers - a selection of some of the finest writing from Australian authors who have entered the Global Short Story Competition. Price £1.48.

White Gold by Roger Barnes A thriller by first-time author Roger Barnes taking the reader into a world of intrigue and danger set amid the poachers of Africa. £2.23

Haghir the Dragon Finder by John Dean, a comic fantasy for older children. Haghir and his hopeless comrades are dragon slayers seeking a new challenge. £1.48.

Cyber Rules by Myra King. The novel by Australian writer Myra tells the story of a farmer’s wife in isolated rural Australia. Caught up on the addictive side of the Internet, she holds a secret which may prove to be deadly. Price £2.05.

* If you don’t have a Kindle, there is a free Kindle reading app for your PC at

Find out in the e-novel Cyber Rules Find out more at

John Dean

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Devil is in the detail

As those who read my blogs will know, I think that detail is key to good writing and often teach classes on the subject.

One recent session started with a passage from D Robert Hamm, who said: “The first thing one needs to understand is that all fiction consists of the judicious selection and revelation of “significant detail”… Just as a serious painter learns what combinations of materials, brushes, strokes, and pigments he or she can use to achieve different effects and guide the viewers’ eyes through the painting, a serious writer must learn how various writing techniques can achieve the desired effects and guide the reader through the story….

“What constitutes significant detail varies from story to story, from desired effect to desired effect, and from character to character. A writer who wants to build suspense will choose certain details, while one playing up the comic aspect of a scene may choose entirely different details, or simply a different style of presentation, and even if going for basically the same end effect, any dozen writers will find a dozen different ways to go about it. Among other things, the details a character is most apt to notice, whether about another character, a sunrise, or a room, help to define and inform that character.“
I then looked at using details for Fiction. For instance:

Create details about character. Ask questions about your character. What does your character look like? How does he/she walk or talk? What kind of clothes does he/she wear? What nasty habits etc? What beliefs? And which facts are relevant?

Create details about your settings. What does your character's living room look like? Is it messy or is it tidy? Are there paintings on the wall etc etc? Create details that bring the settings to life. A story comes alive when the reader can see, smell, taste, hear, and touch the world you've created.

Don't be excessive in using details. Use only what is necessary.

Get those things right and your story will leap off the page.


John Dean

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Vive le difference

I have always thought - and I know I will be shot down for this in some quarters - that writers view the world differently.

Talking to writers certainly bears that out, though, the way a word, a phrase, an image, an idea can create a train of thought that evolves into a story.

I was talking to a writer the other day and he told how a line he used in a conversation triggered something deep within and produced a story that did very well in one of our competitions.

Never is that process more pronounced, in my view, than when writers take something ordinary, routine, part of our daily lives, and present it in a way that is somehow different. He certainly did to great effect and so have others.

Why am I thinking this? Well, two recent stories did just that, took routine images and presented them in ways that are, in one case, poignant, in another chilling. In both cases, I read the stories and thought ‘now there’s a writer on the top of their game.’ And it really is a joy to behold when it works.
John Dean

Leading role for children's writer

Delighted to hear that former UK Children's Laureate and best-selling author Michael Morpurgo is Booktrust’s new President.
The author will take over from the previous president of the UK organisation, Doris Lessing, who passed away last month.
Michael Morpurgo OBE (pictured) is the award-winning author of more than 120 books for children, including War Horse, which has been adapted into a phenomenally successful stage show and film.

Among his many accolades, he has won the Smarties Prize, The Writers Guild Award and the Blue Peter Book Award. From 2003-2005 he was the Children's Laureate, and in 2005 he was named the Booksellers Association Author of the Year. Along with his wife Clare, he founded the charity Farms for City Children (FFCC), which offers young children from urban areas the chance to spend time working on farms in the heart of the countryside. More than 75,000 children have taken part in FFCC.
He said: “Booktrust is batting for literature in all its forms. The organisation is particularly meaningful for me: my late stepfather, Jack Morpurgo, was Director of the National Book League, from which Booktrust grew. What Booktrust continues to do is to not simply promote reading, but to enthuse teachers, parents and children with the joy and wonder that can be found in books. To be invited to join them as their president is an honour, and I hope I can make a significant contribution.“
Viv Bird, Booktrust Chief Executive, said: “Booktrust is a huge admirer of Michael Morpurgo, not only as one of the finest storytellers of a generation, but of his tireless work in promoting reading and literacy to change the lives of children. His is a powerful voice and we are incredibly grateful to have his support. We look forward to working together to change the story for children across the country.“
More on the trust can be found at‎
John Dean


Free flash fiction competition

A reminder that the team behind The Global Short Story Competition has launched its latest free flash fiction competition.

The challenge to writers is ’make us laugh or make us cry, make us feel wistful or make us feel angry, make us rebel or make us think, just as long as you make us feel something. And all in no more than 20 words.’
The deadline is January 20, 2014. Prize £50 and you can enter at

* The monthly Global Short Story Competition itself can be entered at The first prize is £100.

John Dean

So when did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Here’s a question for you. I came across an essay by the great writer George Orwell in which he said: “From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.”

Here’s the question - when did you know you wanted to be a writer? To kick things off, I reckon I was also five or six when I knew. I was lucky - my parents encouraged me and I had two teachers, one at primary, Judith Kent, and one at secondary, Tom Cowley, who helped me chase my dream. We’re debating this on our Facebook page if you wish to take part - at

John Dean

John Dean

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Writers on writing

The great Ernest Hemingway had four tips for good writing.

They were:

* Use short sentences - keeps the pace moving

* Use short first paragraphs - keeps the reader turning the page

* Use vigorous English - makes the stories live by infusing them with passion

* Be positive - telling people what is rather than what is not ie instead of saying that something is ‘inexpensive’ say it’s ‘economical’.

My four (not that I am comparing myself to the great man!) would be:

* Do not write for yourself, always write for the reader.

* Be disciplined - you may wish to pack lots of information in but does the reader need it?

* You may not have put enough information in - you can imagine where a scene is set but have you given the reader the information they need? You may have drawn a character but can your readers see them?

* Be brutal - if you have overwritten, chop out the fat.
Developing the theme, I came across an article on the excellent Guardian website, in which writers explained their approach to the job. Here are one or two of the quotes:
AL Kennedy: “Sitting alone in a room for hours while essentially talking in your head about people you made up earlier and then writing it down for no one you know does have many aspects which are not inherently fulfilling. Then again, making something out of nothing, overturning the laws of time and space, building something for strangers just because you think they might like it and hours of absence from self – that’s fantastic. And then it’s over, which is even better. I’m with RLStevenson – having written – that's the good bit.”

Hari Kunzru: “I get great pleasure from writing, but not always, or even usually. Writing a novel is largely an exercise in psychological discipline – trying to balance your project on your chin while negotiating a minefield of depression and freak-out. … But when you're in the zone, spinning words like plates, there's a deep sense of satisfaction and, yes, enjoyment…”

John Banville: “The struggle of writing is fraught with a specialised form of anguish, the anguish of knowing one will never get it right, that one will always fail, and that all one can hope to do is ‘fail better’, as Beckett recommends. The pleasure of writing is in the preparation, not the execution, and certainly not in the thing executed.”

Joyce Carol Oates: “Most writers find first drafts painfully difficult, like climbing a steep stairs, the end of which isn't in sight. Only just persevere! Eventually, you will get where you are gong, or so you hope. And when you get there, you will not ask why? – the relief you feel is but a brief breathing spell, before beginning again with another inspiration, another draft, another steep climb.”

Geoff Dyer: “When I was young, I thought that the fun part of writing would be the "creative" bit, making stuff up and inventing things. The older I've got, the less fun this has become. I dread it. The part I enjoy is the re-writing. Increasingly, I enjoy the dullest, most clerical stages of the process. Having said that, there always comes a point, after I've amassed enough material and can start knocking it into shape, when I begin looking forward to working on something.”

Julie Myerson: “writing gives me such enormous pleasure, and I'm a much happier (and therefore nicer) person when I'm doing it. There's a place in my head that I go to when I write and it's so rich and unexpected – and scary sometimes – but never ever dull. …It is a joyous thing. I feel very lucky to be paid to do it, but even if I'd never been published, I think I'd still be writing. I love being read, but the person I’m really always writing for is me.”
What do you think? You can join the debate at our Facebook page at

John Dean

Nothing minor about these characters

As writers, we spend a lot of time getting the major characters right but what about the minor ones?

Well, it’s worth remembering that minor characters are crucial because they can play an important part in the story.

Their functions include:

* They can be the catalyst for something to happen

* They can impart information

* They can reveal information about another character

So you need to take care creating minor characters. They may only be part of the scenery but worth drawing them carefully and asking yourself what job they are doing.

John Dean

Monday, 16 December 2013

Our annual prize

December’s Global Short Story Competition is the last chance to have a go at our annual prize for 2013.

When the December winner is announced, we will revisit all the winning stories in the year to select the winner of our £250 overall prize. More details will be announced in due course.

One thing that has struck us throughout the year yet again is the quality of the winning stories, all of which led me to contemplate what makes a successful story.

For me, there are plenty of examples of stories which are well written - well-crafted and technically competent. Often, they are very, very good indeed.

But they do not always enjoy success, be it winning competitions or catching the eye of publishers. Why?

I suspect the reason is that they do not have that extra something, that something that makes the story truly live.

Whether it be the description of a place that makes you shiver because you feel the chill air coming off the hills, or a portrayal of a character so real they could easily walk in through the door and you would not be surprised, these are stories that have something extra.

Or it might be a new idea, or a twist on an old idea, that starts you thinking, or something that gets you wanting to shout for joy or roar with anger.

Whatever it is, it these are the somethings that take a story from the OK to really good. The somethings that mean that you simply cannot get the story out of your mind.

Years ago, I presided over the judging panel from another competition in which we were involved. At the end, the judges picked a superb winner, one that would stand toe to toe with the very best writing around. It was different, quirky, heart-rending, powerful, evocative, inventive, mesmerising - I could go on.

In agreeing their citation, the panel said they wanted to say that there was a lot of ‘competent’ writing out there. It felt like damning the other writers taking part with faint praise but the judges were absolutely right.

There was a lot of stories that were OK, but there were a few that were better than that and one that was absolutely superb. It stood out above all the others and still nestles in a corner of my brain, remembered and admired.

You can enter the December competition at

John Dean

November winners to be announced

We will announce the winners of our November Global Short Story Competition after the festive break on Monday January 6 - plenty of time to enter the December one at

Free flash fiction competition

A reminder that we have launched our latest free flash fiction competition. Prize £50. You can enter and find out more at

Friday, 13 December 2013

Making the reader care

Sometimes I read stories that seem somehow flat - good idea, good writing but flat - I do not feel like I am there, I do not feel moved by what is happening, I do not care. The solution is summed up by writer Blair Hurley, who said: “When asked what makes our favourite books our favourite books, sometimes we're hard pressed to find an answer. Often it's just a feeling that makes the book special -- a mood that is splendidly cultivated throughout the story and succeeds in immersing us in the world. To improve the impact and feeling of your stories, writers should always consider working on mood and consistency.”
I believe that sense of place is important in creating mood. I know you have to avoid cliche but if you want scariness, there’s nothing wrong with an old house, or empty building at night. I know that making a pleasant suburban house scary can be effective as well, but using an appropriate place can be an effective shortcut. For sadness, there’s nothing wrong with a graveyard or a funeral home, for uneasiness a lonely street at night, for instance. For happiness, think of a happy place, make the sun shine. You can always make something nightmarish happen there but you have created a mood in your reader.
Given that sense of place is crucial for mood, there is a fine balance to consider here; too much description slows a story, too little does not give the reader the chance to feel they are in the place with the characters. It is crucial that if you write about a place that the reader can see it.
You have choices to achieve that: do you write rich and vivid prose to paint a word picture or do you keep it minimalist - describe a tree in a park and we all see a different tree and a different park? Perhaps we only need to say it is a tree in a park? Some would argue that. I always think, however, that you hone in on two or three main aspects of a place.
An example, I live in a narrow street of three-storey town houses. It always feels like a canyon to me and when asked to describe it to people I always say it’s a canyon which is in shadow even when the sun shines. Not bothered about the number of houses, exactly what they look like, I reckon those two facts will be enough to give them a strong sense of what our street is like.
When selecting those things on which to hone in, consider
1 Physical characteristics - what does it look like, any quirks which bring it to life?
2 Use your reader’s senses - what does the place smell, taste, sound like?
3 What does it feel like to be there? I know the narrator needs to be separate but I do think the narrator can give a clue - The hall was old and musty. Musty is the narrator interpreting what the place feels like.
Oh, and remember weather - driving rain creates a different feel to an arid dry heat. If I read a story where the sun is shining and there is a delightful breeze I feel different to a story where the rain is driving against the windowpane and darkness has come early.
Get the place right and the mood flows into the story.

John Dean

The joys (or otherwise) of editing

I was talking to a group of writers the other day about editing. I know some writers love editing (like me) and some hate it and that was reflected in the conversation.

But like it or loathe it, editing is important. So what should you be looking to achieve? Well, editing is part technical (grammar, punctuation, spellings etc) but also about standing back and asking a question: does my story really work?

Major considerations for the writer when doing that include:

Does it have a strong idea and does that idea work in the vehicle you have chosen?

Does it tell the story?

Does it have sense of people/are the characters real?

Is the dialogue realistic?

Does it have sense of place?

But also:

1 Is it boring?

2 Does it have pace or are there areas when it is slow?

4 Have you given the reader enough information?

5 Is it too long. Yes, the story was fine but could it have been told in less words? Would it lose anything or is it crucial for it to be 3000 words? Is it tightly written, did you use 50 words when you could have used 25 and done the same job, five episodes/chapters when four would have done fine?

These are the tough questions, the questions which take it from a decent story to one that sings.

John Dean

Plenty of time to enter competition

Plenty of time to enter the December Global Short Story Comp (another quiet one). £100 first prize. You can enter at

Entering the world of the anti-hero

I recently taught a course on anti-heroes; it’s a great technique to make characters come alive.
In the days of old, especially in the eighteenth century, protagonists were heroes and antagonists were villains, and they were often depicted in stories as either good or evil, clearly delineated.

Anti-heroes developed as characters in whom the strengths and the flaws compete, making for a character that constantly engages the reader (and is fun to write!).

An anti-heros will:
have the reader’s sympathies, although sometimes their methods will make this difficult
have easily identified imperfections
be made understandable by the story events, meaning that the reader will come to know their motivations
have a starring role in the story
Occupy a grey area between good guy and bad guy

Anti-heroes can be obnoxious, pitiful, or charming, and as you create them, consider that they:
can be selfish but occasionally are good
can be motivated by self-interest and self-preservation but there is usually a line they won’t cross
When forced to choose between right and wrong, will sometimes choose wrong because it’s easier
Can embody unattractive traits and behaviours, such as sexist and racist attitudes, and violent reactions when wronged (difficult to write if you find such views abhorrent but if that‘s the way the character is…)
Can show little or no remorse for bad behaviour.
John Dean

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Concern over library closures

As you may know from past blogs, the team here at Inscribe are passionate about our libraries (one of the two in our home town is threatened with closure).

We are concerned about the damage such closures can do to readership levels at all ages, especially at a time when austerity measures are hitting people hard in so many countries and books become a luxury.

Against that backdrop, the article to be found this link should come as a wake-up call to all who write and all who read:

John Dean

This month's competition

Plenty of time to enter the December Global Short Story Comp. £100 firsts prize. You can enter at

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Getting short stories right

Short story writing is a real art form and we get some crackers into the monthly Global Short Story Competition at

Here’s some thoughts on how to get it right

1. Have a clear theme. What is the story about? That doesn't mean what is the plot line, the sequence of events or the character's actions, it means what is the underlying message or statement behind the words? What do you want to say?. Get this right and your story will have more resonance in the minds of your readers.
2 Focus. The best stories are the ones that follow a narrow subject line. What is the point of your story? But keep it simple, otherwise you end up with a novel!

3. An effective short story often covers a very short time span. It may be one single event that proves pivotal in the life of the character, and that event will illustrate the theme. If you go for a long period of time, make it pass quickly ie ‘The next year...’

4. Don't have too many characters. Each new character will bring a new dimension to the story, and for an effective short story too many diverse dimensions will dilute the theme. Have only enough characters to effectively illustrate the theme.
5 Write in episodes - short chapters in effect.

6. Make every word count. There is no room for unnecessary expansion in a short story. If each word is not working towards putting across the theme, delete it.
John Dean

Monday, 9 December 2013

Going for a reaction

A reminder that key to good writing is making the experience feel real for the reader, a major part of my teaching of authors.

You need to evoke a reaction in your reader and this is done through triggers, using your reader’s associations to evoke a reaction. How do you do that?

Well, why not start by playing on:

Their memories

Their connections to places and people

Their prejudices and preconceptions?

Their response to weather conditions - snow, rain, heat etc

Their deeply felt fears and phobias?

All this came to mind in one of our entries to the December Global Short Story Competition which did it beautifully.
You can enter at

John Dean

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Winners announced in October competition

Judge Fiona Cooper has selected her winners for the October Global Short Story Competition.
The £100 first place prize goes to James McPherson, of Glasgow, Scotland, for Eternal Shadows, of which Fiona says: “This story really touched me on many levels. It begs the huge question - what is love?
“Exploring the ambivalent range of feelings people have when a loved one is ill, the writer doesn’t spare the reader or soften the reality. The narrator of the story flays himself alive and this writer truly goes into the deepest layers of hopelessness and, ultimately, finds one of the realities of true love.”
Our highly commended runner up is Mandy Huggins, who wins £25 for Ten Dollar Ironing Board, of which Fiona says: “This story is raw and uncompromising, dealing with Maria's brave one woman mission not merely to survive, but to use whatever means she can find to escape the grinding poverty of her life. Her single minded strength shines and the brief mention of real love gives a real light in a very dark place. I thought of Tina Turner's amazing ‘Private Dancer, and there were also echoes of John Steinbeck at his gritty best.”

The writers on the shortlist are:
Dmitriy Kutepov, Moscow, Russia
Kate Howard, Brighton, England

Ernest Hall, Kingston-upon-Thames, England

Loei Martinez, Spring, Texas, United States

Colin Hodson, Margon, France
Vincent Chu, Cologne, Germany
Winning stories will be posted on Well done to our successful writers. You can enter the latest monthly competition at the same address.

John Dean






Re-telling stories

An interesting thing has happened in a recent Global Short Story Competition, namely that two writers entered stories with the same storyline.

So since the stories are similar, does that devalue them? Of course, the answer is no, they are as valid as each other. Each stands on its own merits.

The theory is that there are only a small number of stories to be told - the children’s writing centre on Tyneside, here in the North East of England, is called Seven Stories because that is the number of children’s stories, apparently.

It is the same theory as racehorses - that every racehorse in the world is related to just three bloodlines.

What makes writing endlessly fascinating is the way writers take those stories and tell and re-tell them, infusing them with their own passions and style, giving them their own original twists and their own personal insight.

That is why the two stories that came in are so rewarding because both tell the same story in a distinctive and, in the end, deeply effective way. And that is all that matters.

John Dean

Encouraging Australian writing

We’re getting quite a few Australian entries coming in for the Global Short Story Competition, which gives me another chance to praise the way that country supports its authors.
Australia has had plenty of success in the competition since we started almost six years ago and I reckon one of the reasons why so many fine writers have emerged from that country is the way writing is supported.
When we started promoting the competition, we quickly discovered that all across Australia can be found writing centres in which authors gather to meet, swap opinions and encourage each other.
Quite a lot of our successful entries have come out of that system and it is much to be lauded.

John Dean

It's a crime

Quite a few stories that we see entered into the Global Short Story Competition are on a crime theme.

Like all stories, whether they be novels or short stories, they need a good opening line and I came upon the excellent Detectives Beyond Borders site which asked its readers for good openings. The suggestions included:

“Inspector Salvo Montalbano could immediately tell that it was not going to be his day the moment he opened the shutters of his bedroom window." Andrea Camilleri, The Voice of the Violin;

"Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write." Ruth Rendell, A Judgement in Stone

"When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon." James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

"Five weeks after Kirsten Waller’s body was found in a clifftop cottage in Cornwall, Grace Hobden cleared away the lunch, checked to make sure her three children were playing on the climbing frame at the bottom of the garden, then went indoors to murder her husband. “ Joanna Hines, The Murder Bird

Me? Well, this is the start to the first crime novel I had published - A Flicker in the Night. Given that the idea of an opening is to grab the reader by the throat, I hope it did its job.

“There are some faces that never fade from the memory, some crimes so vile that they can never be forgotten and some men whose names simply cannot be forgotten. Not now. Not ever. Reginald Morris is one such man.”
If you want to find out more about Detectives Beyond Borders, and read more of their excellent comments, go to

John Dean

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Weeds in the Garden of Eden is published

We love it when writers who did well in the Global Short Story Competition go on to enjoy more success, which is why we are delighted to hear that Barbara Uncovic, one of our past winners, has gone into print again.

In Weeds in the Garden of Eden, Barbara, a proud New Zealand-born writer of Croatian and English descent, travels to the village that was her grandfather's birthplace to begin a new life. There, amidst the timeless beauty of this idyllic Adriatic island, things are not quite as they seem...

She says: “I saw what I thought was paradise, literally and figuratively the Garden of Eden. That was my first impression before I started to find the weeds in the garden, some of them centuries old, some of them twisted and blood-stained. Paradise was definitely not what I found.”
Barbara Unković is of Croatian and English descent and was born in New Zealand. She is the author of four published books and has achieved considerable success in the Frank O’Connor and International Book Awards as well as the Fish Publishing One Page Prize, the Global Short Story Competition and Writer's Bill Board

Book details
Weeds in the Garden of Eden
Price- £7.99
ISBN- 9781849635479
Available on-, Amazon UK,, WHSmith, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble and Blackwell’s.

Published by- Austin Macauley

Format- Paperback
Category- Travel Memoir
Pages- 226

John Dean

Mentoring and online workshops

We know that writing can be a lonely pastime so we have created an online mentoring service which allows you to gain feedback on your work and discuss issues of concern in your writing either with a published writer or other members of a group.

Our aim is to help aspiring writers to improve their technique and improve their chances of being successful, either in competitions or admissions to book and magazine publishers.

Membership will provide all-year-round mentoring in which you will be given help and feedback with your writing as well as the opportunity of taking part in a series of themed-courses.

There is no official certificate of qualification at the end of the course but we hope you will have gained immeasurably as a writer.

The mentoring will be led by crime novelist John Dean, whose twelfth novel is due out next year and who is the administrator of the Global Short Story Competition.

As the scheme grows, we will also bring in other experienced writers to pass on their experience.

We are passionate about writing and our desire is to help writers around the world. We believe that this service will help achieve that.
If you wish to find out more, you can click on the link across the top of or email John at

Writing novels

Thinking of writing a novel? Then I thought a few general comments would be handy. I think any writer seeking to write a novel needs to ask themselves some key questions:
1 Why they want to write it - does the story work better, does it sustain a novel?

2 Can you really do it? This is a long slog.

3. You have to sustain a story over many pages so you need a decent idea.

4 Can you sell it? Has it been done before? Is your idea a new one or are you able to re-tell an old story in a new and fresh way?

5 Who will tell your story? Third person - can see everything all the times - or first person - allows for a certain informality but restricted to what happens around them?

The structure of a novel

My advice is always:

1 Write a detailed synopsis first: map out your story. I do it chapter by chapter. I very rarely stick to it but it gets my mind focused. I find it also helps to be able to summarise a novel in a single line.

2 You need to develop various plotlines to sustain a novel. Novels can work with one single story but the best ones tends to have sub-plots involving other characters.

3 The same rules of writing apply as with short stories - yes, you have more space to play with but the writing still needs to be tight and controlled even though a novel allows you the scope to develop themes and people. The best writing is simple and uncluttered.
4 You need a strong sense of place and strong characters, which goes back to my belief that there are three points to the writing triangle - story, sense of place, sense of people. Get them right and the rest flows from it.
5 As the story develops, there has to be a pace, a sense of things happening, so the reader does not get chance to get bored.

John Dean

Killing off your darlings

I have always said that I write fast and edit slow, by which I mean that I hurl words onto the page then spent most of the time working and reworking them, rather like a sculptor finishing a work. A little chip here, another one there.

Sometimes I wish I worked differently but there you are. It’s the way my mind is wired.
However, I do feel that this editing process is crucial and an example cropped up when I was finishing a recent novel.

There was a scene, an important scene, in which there was a death in a place containing thirty people.

It was a deliberately confused scene and my detectives interviewed several witnesses to try to ascertain what had happened.

Interviewed too many people, in fact. Three characters pointlessly repeated each other and one was created entirely for the scene and did not appear anywhere else in the novel.

So, the first two characters had their lines cut and it also became clear that the newly-created one really was not needed at all.

Even though I quite liked her in the short time we had known each other, she had to go. Murdered by the delete button.

The result? A scene with added pace and zip and much cleaner narrative flow. A fine sacrifice by my character indeed.

Why does this come to mind? Well, today I am planning a talk in a few weeks entitled Getting away with murder. When I give it, I’ll give a little nod to the character I killed off!

John Dean

Sunday, 1 December 2013

New short story competition launched

The December Global Short Story Competition has been launched. Begun more than five years ago, the competition runs every month with a £100 first prize and a £25 prize for highly commended writers.
The competition, which has topped £10,000 in prize money handed out, has had entries from more than 50 countries over the years.
Each month’s competition is judged by Fiona Cooper, an author in North-East England, where the competition’s organisers Inscribe Media are also based. The competition can be entered at
We will announce the winners of the October Global Short Story Competition on Friday (December 6)

* Inscribe Media is also running a free flash fiction competition at its Facebook page here at or accessed through


Friday, 29 November 2013

Winners to be announced

We will announce the winners of the October Global Short Story Competition on Friday December 6.
Two days to enter the November Global Short Story Comp. Another low entry, good time to go for the £100 first prize You can enter at

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A link down the ages

I am often reminded that our competitions are part of a great cultural tradition, a small part, I grant you, but a part all the same.

You see, stories have shaped the world in which we live and helped inform the way we think and continue to do so.

All across the world can be found great storytelling traditions dating back thousands of years. From Africa to Europe, North and South America to Asia with its Indian epic tales and the storytelling tradition in China dating back to 206BC, the telling of stories has been part of cultural development.

This train of thought was prompted by an recent entry into the November Global Short Story Competition from Hong Kong. Indeed, we receive entries from all over the world, fifty-plus countries last time we added them up.

But why storytelling? Well, a New York Times article from 2007 reported that researchers had found that the human brain, wherever it may be in the world, has an affinity for narrative construction, with people finding it easier to remember facts if they are presented in a story rather than as a list.

John Dean

Grabbing the reader

OK, OK, I know I bang on about starts but some of the entries into the November Global Short Story Competition (still a very low entry, good time to have a go at the £100 first prize) show their importance.

Whether it’s drawing the reader into the author’s world through vivid description, creating intrigue through a striking sentence or idea or introducing us to a fresh and distinctive voice, the opening lines of several of the stories grab you.

And they need to because a good start can take you a long way and tip the odds of success in competitions like ours.

You can enter at

John Dean

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Storytelling in a flash

Our free flash fiction competitions are attracting plenty of interest so I thought it would be handy to provide some background information on the genre - and dispense some handy hints.

Flash fiction is fiction of extreme brevity. The standard, generally-accepted length of a flash fiction piece is 1000 words or less. A short-short (it’s all a movable feast!) measures 1001 words to 2500 words, and a traditional short story measures 2501 to 7500 words. A novelette runs from 7501 words to 17,500, a novella 17,501 words to 40,000 words, and a novel 40,001 words and up

Other names for flash fiction include sudden fiction, microfiction, micro-story, postcard fiction, and short short story

The term ‘flash fiction‘ may have originated from a 1992 anthology of that title.

As the editors said in their introduction, their definition of a ‘flash fiction‘ was a story that would fit on two facing pages of a typical digest-sized literary magazine, or about 750 words.

However, the genre goes back much longer than that and flash fiction has its roots in Aesop’s fables. Practitioners have included Anton Chekhov, Ray Bradbury, Franz Kafka and Kurk Vonnegut.

The Internet has brought new life to the genre through its demand for short, concise pieces of writing - blogs and the like are brilliant disciplines for writers (especially given that over-writing is one of the biggest problems for many authors. The good ones are brutal enough to cut much-loved scenes, characters and phrases if they detract from the flow of the story).

One type of flash fiction is the short story with an exact word count, a word either way and it is disqualified. Types include:

Nanofictions, complete stories, with at least one character and a discernible plot, exactly 55 words long.

Drabbles, exactly 100 words, excluding titles

69ers - exactly 69 words, excluding the title. The 69er was a regular feature of the Canadian literary magazine NFG.

So how short can a flash fiction be? Well, it is alleged that the greatest example was written by Ernest Hemingway in response to a challenge in a bar. While it seems certain that Hemingway did not write it, the following six word story is truly brilliant - moving, emotional with a back story and you can see the characters. For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Good writing should trigger something in your reader; because of a sad event in our family life those six words never fail to evoke emotion.

Here’s some tips for writing flash fiction.

Write the story without worrying about the word count and make sure that it has all the necessary story elements. Just because it is short does not mean plot, conflict and resolution are lost

Having written it, start cutting. Keep dialogue short, description sparse. Take out every word that is not essential (a good rule for any kind of writing).

Start in the middle of the story (another good rule for general fiction) Plunge the reader directly into the action.

Ask yourself what the reader absolutely needs to know. Ok, so she’s wearing a pink top but do we need to know anything more? Or does it matter that she’s wearing a pink top at all? If yes, keep it in, if no, hit the delete button.

Make every word count. Each word has a job to do: do your words do their job? If yes, keep them in, if not - well, you know the rest!
* We have launched our latest free flash fiction competition. Prize £50. You can enter and find out more at

John Dean

Open mic night

The next Open Mic night for authors, the last of 2013, is on Thursday November 28.  The nights, supported by Darlington for Culture and which offer a forum for writers to read their material and audiences to enjoy it, run at Voodoo Café/Cantina, 84 Skinnergate, Darlington, UK, on the last Thursday of the month. Each session starts at 7pm and the cost of entry is £3 paid on the door.
More information is available from Inscribe Media Limited at

Low entry means good chance to win

Time is running out to enter the November Global Short Story Competition and, with just eight entries to date, it’s a great time to have a go at the £100 first prize and £125 for the highly commended story.

Launched more than five years ago, the competition runs every month with a £100 first prize and a £25 prize for highly commended writers. The competition, which has topped £10,000 in prize money handed out, has had entries from more than 50 countries over the years.
Each month’s competition is judged by Fiona Cooper, an author in North-East England, where the competition’s organisers Inscribe Media are also based. The competition can be entered at

* Inscribe Media is also running a free flash fiction competition at its Facebook page at or accessed through

Monday, 25 November 2013

The Numbers Game is published

Not so Noble Books have published The Numbers Game, the first novel by North East of England author John Stanley, as an ebook.
When a body is found in a house on a street marked for demolition, DCI Danny Radford and his team immediately come up against the actions of developers and local activists, all of whom seem intent on thwarting their investigation.
As more bodies are discovered, it becomes clear a serial killer is at work but will the interference of politicians into the police’s work allow the murderer to avoid Radford's efforts to bring him to justice for his homicidal games?
The book can be purchased at

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Amazon debate

I love bookshops as much as the next person, love being able to go along the shelf picking what to read next, and I support the shops whenever I can, particularly the little independents.
However, I can also see the value of online purchasing. Certainly, we at Inscribe rely on Amazon to sell our ebooks (for details of our titles check them out on our home page at www.inscribemedia).
So it was with interest that I read a thought-provoking article by Anne Treasure on, which includes the line ‘Amazon is good for book publishing because it is good for readers’.
I have regular debates with writers about online purchasing and the allied rise and rise of the ebook. My view? I’ll continue to support traditional bookshops wherever I can but writers also have to take note of where our audience is (and in many cases, an audience that would not use bookshops).
Same with my own books; I love the idea that they nestle on bookshelves but if a new audience finds me online, that’s fine.
The full Anne Treasure article is on

John Dean

Getting approaches to publishers right

Getting published is tough but you can give yourself a better chance if you do the proper preparation. Here are some thoughts:

Send them what they want Most publishers have certain requirements for work that is being submitted. For example, some want to receive a sample chapter and a brief synopsis of the plot, others prefer a full manuscript. Before you send a manuscript, it is a good idea to find out what is required and find out the name of the person you should send your submission to. The best publication for obtaining this information, certainly for UK writers, is the Writers’ and Artists‘ Yearbook.

Preparing your manuscript to send to a publisher Prepare your submission according to the publisher’s requirements. Details are important, so make sure your work is professionally presented and has been proof-read. The manuscript should be double spaced, with generous margins, and printed on one side of the paper only. The pages should be numbered. It is usually best not to bind or staple the manuscript: use a fastening that will allow the publisher to photocopy the manuscript easily if they wish.

Sending your manuscript to a publisher
Accompany your manuscript with a brief covering letter, not to ‘sell‘ your manuscript, but to provide some brief details. You might wish to give a little bit of background about yourself, and a description of the plot. It may be worthwhile mentioning your publishing history. For example, if you have won a short story competition (like ours!) or had short stories published in magazines this will be relevant. But keep the covering letter factual. None of this ‘my mum read it and laughed like a drain’!

Include a stamped self-addressed envelope for the return of your manuscript.

Hearing back from publishers
Publishers receive many manuscripts: it is not surprising then that it can take some time to hear back. Many publishers will send you a brief note when they receive your manuscript – often a pre-printed card – to say they have received the manuscript and to give you an indication of how long it will be before you hear from them. Most will take at least a month or two to look at your manuscript and some will take longer. If you have heard nothing after two or three months, and have not received an acknowledgement of receipt of your manuscript, it may be worth ringing the publisher to make sure the package arrived.

Good luck!

John Dean

Hotel to stage our first residential writing course

Got a story to tell? Keen to be a writer? Got a character chatting away to you? A story waiting to get out?

Then this residential weekend course in the North East of England at The Blackwell Grange in Darlington, County Durham, UK, could be for you.

Experienced creative writing tutor and novelist John Dean, who has had eleven crime novels published by Robert Hale and has appeared in a number of short story anthologies, will run a writing workshop on the weekend of May 16-18 2014 as part of the second Darlington Arts Festival.

The weekend includes:

* Two nights Accommodation (Friday 16th and Saturday 17th May 2014), two breakfasts, two dinners and one lunch

* Day-long writing workshop on the Saturday followed by a morning workshop on the Sunday, including how to create characters, structure stories and invoke a strong sense of place.

The cost for the weekend is: £205 per person based on double for sole occupancy, this rate includes VAT
To reserve your place and book your accommodation : Call the Blackwell Grange Hotel on 01325 509955 , their email is

Bookings must be made by Friday 18th April and paid in full to the hotel by Friday 23rd April 2014. Please note that minimum numbers are required for this course to run if this event needs to be cancelled you will be given a minimum 4 weeks’ notice.
About the Blackwell Grange Hotel
The Blackwell Grange Hotel, Darlington, County Durham has a long history, having been built as a private home by the Allan Family. Building commenced in 1693 and was finally completed in 1717, with the property being passed down through the family until 1953.

Blackwell Grange Hotel is set in nine acres of countryside with ample car parking and a leisure club which includes a small gym and swimming pool. The hotel has Free wi fi throughout the hotel.

The hotel is across the road from the Victorian South Park, with its formal gardens, and is 15 minutes walk from Darlington Town Centre.

Directions from the South

Exit the A1M at J57, follow the A66 towards Darlington, take the A167 at the second round about and the hotel is on the left hand side, it takes approx. 4 minutes from J57

Directions from the North
Exit the A1M at J58, take the A68 for Darlington. Travel to Cockerton Village. At the junction turn left then at the next mini roundabout turn right. Then take the first exit onto Carmel Road North – B6280, signposted Yarm A67. At the Elmridge Garden Centre roundabout go straight across and follow the road to the next roundabout and take the first exit to Darlington town centre. The Blackwell Grange is situated a few hundred meters along on the left.
Website -,-Darlington

About John Dean

More information about John Dean can be discovered at or

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A tale to inspire

Sick of getting rejections? Then this tale should inspire.

Publishers have been ‘spellbound’ by a first novel about witches written by a former accountant and spotted by a literary agent among a pile of manuscripts.

According to The Guardian newspaper, UK author Sally Green, 52, had no desire to write until three years ago yet her supernatural thriller about witches living secretly among us in contemporary Britain has been snapped up by publishers in 36 countries, from Canada to Ukraine, who see her as a potential big hit, with stories that will appeal to teenagers and adults alike. The film rights have been bought by Fox 2000 and Karen Rosenfelt, who produced The Twilight Saga.

So next time you consider giving up, think again - dreams can come true!

You can read the full story at

John Dean

Not that I'm one to argue....

Conflict makes stories, always has, always will, and that means writing arguments. The key thing about writing arguments is that they’re not at all like real life confrontations so here’s some thoughts.

*They shouldn’t have repetitive elements - unlike real arguments which go in circles for ages and achieve little

* They shouldn’t be boring. Written arguments are there to keep the plot moving, maybe revealing something about a relationship between two people or giving the reader information

* There should be some sort of outcome The reader has to feel it was worth reading the argument. The writer Elizabeth Spann Craig says on this subject: “Arguments are a great way to provide conflict and tension to a manuscript. I just make sure mine aren’t as unfocused and pointless in print as the verbal variety I’ve engaged in lately.“

Finally, remember how rules of conversation work:
* A lot of the time, we do not speak in correct sentences/we often use short sharp phrases.

* Keep your dialogue crisp - we can tell a lot about a person in a short snap of conversation.

* We interrupt a lot.

* We assume a lot. Not Your brother has been murdered.

What, my brother Brian?

Yes, thats him. Your only brother. The younger one. Keep it realistic.

* Dialogue must take the story on. Make sure each word does a job.
Plenty of time to enter this month’s Global Short Story Competition at

John Dean

Monday, 18 November 2013

Half way through competition

The November Global Short Story Competition is half way through.

Launched more than five years ago, the competition runs every month with a £100 first prize and a £25 prize for highly commended writers.

The competition, which has topped £10,000 in prize money handed out, has had

entries from more than 50 countries over the years.
Each month’s competition is judged by Fiona Cooper, an author in North-East England, where the competition’s organisers Inscribe Media are also based. The competition can be entered at

* Inscribe Media is also running a free flash fiction competition at its Facebook page at or accessed through

In short

A reminder that all writing is about every word doing its job and that becomes an even more pronounced skill when you are writing something short, like a poem or a story.

We do receive entries which are not 2,000 words long but 200 words instead - and that is an art form in itself.

The length means that the writers had to make every word do its job and discard every word, every thought, every element of the story that slowed it down. Those stories were stripped to their basics.

Did they lose anything for that? Not really. They may have left the reader to work out a lot, think through what they were being told and where it was happening, but many of them remained powerful pieces of writing for all that.

John Dean

GIving of yourself

I was teaching a class the other night and one of the writers was writing a story based around dementia.

My father suffered dementia in the years before his death and the story I was listening to struck home as real.

And why not? Emotion is something of which some readers are wary, preferring to read work without offering too much of themselves. However, for many others, there cannot be fiction without a sense of themselves in it somewhere.

And that’s why this story worked for me

John Dean

Friday, 15 November 2013

Publishing new short story writing talent

We love short stories so much that we have published two cracking anthologies as ebooks, all featuring some exciting new talent from around the world, and edited by myself.
They are:
Global Shorts - an anthology of short stories taken from the early years of the Global Short Competition, available at

Vegemite Whiskers - a selection of some of the finest writing from Australian authors who have entered the Global Short Story Competition, available at


John Dean