Violent undercurrents propel winners of 2021 story contest

“Honey”, a suspenseful tale by Kent-based writer Lucy Thompson, has won the 2021 Shooter Short Story Competition, with Lisa Blackwell’s story “Daddy Longlegs” landing second place.

Thompson’s winning story gripped competition readers with its carefully woven depiction of domestic abuse, leading to a gratifying climax. In an email, Thompson described her inspiration for the story as “too much news”, saying that a radio program about coercive control merged with the sight of beehives at an unusual house to spark the story in her mind.

A former marketing executive, Thompson balances writing with the demands of her two teenage children, partner, and Labradoodle Maisie. Her work has appeared in Black Static, Dawntreader, Firewords and elsewhere, and she is currently working on her first novel. 

The competition’s second-place story, “Daddy Longlegs”, struck readers with its insightful, poignant suggestion of the cycle of violence and its effect on a young boy. Blackwell, a copy-editor living in London, has published fiction in the Bath Short Story Award Anthology 2019, MIR Online, TSS, Reflex Press, and elsewhere, and has also written poetry and plays. She is currently studying for a master’s degree in creative writing from Oxford University.

Both stories are available to read online, and “Honey” will also appear in Shooter’s forthcoming Escape issue. Huge congrats to this year’s winning writers!

Animal Love issue to benefit Spanish Stray Dogs UK

Late one night in March 2013, hungry and bedraggled after the flight from London to Malaga, I walked into a farmhouse kitchen in southern Spain and met one of the loves of my life.

There were other people around, but I only saw him. He made a beeline straight for me. Not tall, dark and handsome, but definitely two out of the three, and far more hirsute than the average gent. The connection was undeniable: We were drawn to each other right from the start.

So far, so romance novel, but there were some key departures from the genre. There was a significant age gap (he was only about six months old), but then I’ve always preferred younger men. Our embrace preceded speech: I knelt to the floor (he was also quite a bit shorter), he leapt into my arms, and I scooped him up into a full-body snuggle. Looking up at the owner of the cortijo, I said, “Oh, I love him! I want him!” She replied, “You want him? You can have him.”

Robbie, along with five other pups found dumped in the nearby streets, had been taken in at Cortijo Uribe. The British couple who ran riding holidays there had decided to rescue some of the region’s multitude of abandoned mutts and find them forever homes. I spent five days getting to know Robbie, forcing myself to consider the commitment: daily walking, feeding, companionship for most of the day, medical care, training and love, for the rest of his life.

Adopting Robbie certainly changed my life. The initial adjustment to a home-bound existence came as a bit of a shock; dogs inevitably curtail your freedom. But the bond we shared was a deep delight. Robbie saw me through family crises, romantic breakups, and seven house moves. He slept on my bed every night and curled near my desk while I worked. We rose together, adventure-walked together, dined out together. When my daughter was born in 2017, he endured the early years of noise and interrupted nights with stoical acceptance.

We moved from London to establish our family life in the countryside, where Robbie survived a severe gastric illness in early 2019 only to develop intestinal cancer the next year. At just turned eight, after a last supper of chicken and ham, Robbie died in my arms beneath a tree on the grass, with a jolt that I’ll never forget. As Anne Pinkerton writes in her essay “Humane”: “I howled like a wolf when it was over, stunned by the rapidity of the process and painfully bereft.”

The theme for Shooter’s 12th issue, Animal Love, happened to be set shortly before discovering Robbie’s cancer. Consequently, not only has the issue turned into something of a tribute to him, but in his honour ten percent of the issue’s profits will go to Spanish Stray Dogs UK, a registered charity working to rehome the abused and abandoned dogs of Spain. If you wish to learn more about the organisation’s work, make a donation, or consider adopting, please visit https://spanishstraydogs.org.uk.

I hope, as you read the stories and poetry in this issue, that you enjoy the transporting levity and engaging provocation of a lot of the pieces. These are, to say the least, difficult and isolating times for most of us, and we might like to read lighter fare than usual as a result. You will find plenty of heartening, diverting and insightful work in these pages. Please go to the Subscriptions page to order a copy.

If, like an increasing number of people during the Covid-19 pandemic, you do decide to welcome a dog into your home, I hope you will look into adopting one rather than buying a puppy, and weigh up the real commitment a dog requires. Many people, finding themselves at home more than usual, are currently acquiring dogs. While that seems like a good thing, if people then find, post-pandemic, that they no longer need to be home as much and therefore no longer wish to look after them, abandonment will rise as well.

One benefit of rescuing a slightly older dog, at least in my experience, is being able to skip the early period of intense housetraining. And if you think it would be a shame to miss the fluffy furball stage, let me assure you that, right up to the point it gets curled into a memorial locket, fur can become even softer over time with all that stroking.

– Melanie White

Jo Gatford wins 2020 Poetry Competition

Jo Gatford, co-founder of Writers’ HQ and author of White Lies (2014, Legend Press), has won Shooter’s 2020 Poetry Competition with “The Case Against Pockets for Women”.

Gatford’s poem plays on the historical lack of – or inadequate size of – pockets in women’s clothing, a sartorial gender disparity commented upon by many from Christian Dior to Invisible Women author Caroline Criado Perez. (The latter’s commentary on the subject recently led to YouGov research into the matter.) The poem’s ironic, imaginative argument and feminist bite made it the clear winner of this year’s contest.

Also embedding social commentary of sorts, Emma Wood earned second place with “I know you sent him to boarding school”, delivering an emotional gut punch with insightful observation and powerful imagery. Wood has just earned a Creative Writing MA with distinction from Surrey University, and writes poetry in between working on children’s adventure fiction.

A few other poets on the shortlist worthy of mention include David Butler for “Light Rail”, Marilyn Timms for “Miscarriage of Justice”, and Rod Whitworth for “Polyphemous”.

Jo Gatford is on Twitter at @jmgatford, and her website is www.jogatford.com. Emma Wood is on Twitter at @Emz_Wood.

Both winning pieces are available to read via the Competition Winners page, while “The Case Against Pockets for Women” will also appear in Shooter’s Winter 2021 edition (the Animal Love issue), which will be published in the new year. To subscribe to Shooter or place a single issue order, please visit the Subscriptions page.

We hope you enjoy the winning poems – feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Submissions open for “Animal Love” and Poetry Competition

Shooter has reopened to submissions for its upcoming winter issue, themed Animal Love, as well as the 2020 Poetry Competition.

We’re open to short fiction, non-fiction and poetry to do with all creatures great and small, wonderful and wild, exotic and beloved. Meaningful, offbeat and/or humorous writing on pets, exotic species, encounters in the wild, veterinarians, equestrian sports, animal shelters, or anything that revolves around humans in relation to other species is welcome.

We’d especially like to see work that concerns animals other than dogs and cats, as those are likely to figure prominently. However, the quality of the writing and storytelling is, as always, the paramount consideration, and the theme is open to wide interpretation. Deadline: October 18th. Please visit the Submissions page for further guidelines.

The 2020 Poetry Competition is also open to entries, with no restriction on subject or style. Poems can be up to 100 lines long and multiple entries are allowed. The winning poet will receive £150 and publication both in the winter issue of Shooter and online, while the runner-up wins £50 and online publication. All entrants receive an e-copy of the winter magazine, featuring the winning poem. For guidelines on how to enter (deadline November 1st), please visit the Competition page.

Writers who are familiar with the type of work that we publish are often more successful; past and current issues of Shooter are available to order via the Subscriptions page. We look forward to reading your work – good luck!

Clements’ “Corpse Flower” wins 2020 short story contest

Rachel Clements has won the 2020 Shooter Short Story Competition with her historical fiction, “Corpse Flower”, about a female botanist working at Kew Gardens in the Victorian era.

Clements’ compelling story, with its convincing historical setting and unusual botanical angle, transported contest readers into the world of scientist Miss Ives, an outsider both at work and at home. Clements drew inspiration for the story from an article about the corpse flower and its noxious scent.

“I was fascinated by the idea that a gorgeous and rare plant could be compared to something so unpleasant as a decomposing corpse,” Clements wrote in an email. “I decided to situate the story in the Victorian era because I felt this would give me an opportunity to explore the experiences of women in this time period – more specifically single women and women working in the sciences.”

Clements, a Cheltenham-based graduate of the University of Gloucestershire’s creative writing program, has previously published work in Popshot Magazine and the Evesham Festival of Words anthology, and also won the University of Gloucestershire’s 2017 novel writing competition. She is on Instagram at @reader_writer_rachel.

The competition’s runner-up, Albert McFarland, achieved second place for his imaginative tale “The Price of Haman”. Contest readers were delighted by this offbeat parable about a husband’s quest to fulfill his wife’s shopping list, with a surreal and deadly twist. McFarland, who lives in California, recently had his first short story published by Phantom Drift.

Several other writers on the competition shortlist were singled out for the strength of their entries. Honourable mentions in this year’s competition include:

Jodie Bond, “The First Woman”

John Buckley, “The Away Match”

Robert Stone, “Cymbeline” and “Missing”

Both “Corpse Flower” and “The Price of Haman” are available to read via Shooter’s Competition Winners page, and Clements’ winning story will also appear in print in Shooter’s 2021 winter issue.

General submissions for the winter issue, as well as the 2020 Shooter Poetry Competition, will open within the next few weeks. In the meantime, to catch up on the best in new literary fiction, non-fiction and poetry, please subscribe to Shooter!

Fear of the unknown fuels Supernatural issue

HP Lovecraft, one of the early-twentieth-century masters of supernatural literature, wrote that “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” From Edgar Allan Poe to Shirley Jackson to Stephen King, the best of eerie storytelling draws upon this fundamental idea. Good literary horror mines strange and disturbing phenomena without trying to explain it away; it conjures unnerving scenarios, whether paranormal or psychological, without relying on overt shock tactics of blood and gore.

With this in mind, we gathered the spookiest and most darkly delightful tales and poetry we could find for Shooter’s Supernatural issue. Bodily transformations – some welcome, some less so – proved a popular theme, also reflected in cover artist James D Mabe’s take on the Daphne myth. Sophie Panzer’s “The Tribute” opens the issue with a magic mirror that, like the mirror in Snow White but with enhanced powers, makes its heroine the fairest of them all. Employing a similar tone of twisted urban fairytale, Lauren Friedlander explores what happens when her protagonist grows an inconvenient appendage in “Tail”. In the issue’s finale, “Big” by Sean Marciniak, an underdog gains immense strength along with his burgeoning size, with earth-shattering consequences.

Classic supernatural figures like ghosts and the trope of haunting arise in tales like Suzi Bamblett’s “The Girl on the Swing” (with the added fear factors of disturbed or dead children) and in poems like Anastasia Stelse’s “Façade”, about a possessed, and possessing, ruin. A witch, another classic type, lurks at the heart of Jennifer Moore’s “All Ye Who Enter Here”. Strange death prognostications combine suspense with dark comedy in “Winter”, Erik Wennermark’s tale of doom. And in our one non-fiction piece of the issue, Lania Knight investigates different mystical techniques to excavate past trauma in “I Find My Three Girls”.

Witnessing a suicide and its subsequent apparition ruins an adulterous affair in Joe L Murr’s “The Long Drop”, while the dead adjust to the afterlife in David Rogers’ “Exile”. Although not strictly supernatural, Katy Darby’s “Duct tape, milk, shilling, towels” imagines Sylvia Plath’s preparations for her own demise, and the poem’s haunting evocation of the famous poet’s end earned it first prize in the 2019 Shooter Poetry Competition. (In addition to appearing in the magazine, the poem can also be read on the website, along with runner-up Nikki Robson’s owl poem “Strix aluco”.) Other poems by Jen Huang, Tom Daley, Sal Drennan, Avra Margariti, and R Bratten Weiss punctuate the issue with metaphysical disquiet, Gothic creepiness, and, in not one but two cases, visceral placentas.

“Fear of the unknown” seems particularly timely during these cold months, as British citizens contemplate the post-Brexit era, Americans evaluate their next (and current) president, and Australians reel from unprecedented, raging bush fires (to mention just the countries that form the base of Shooter’s readership). As Aristotle theorised in his Poetics, the purpose of fictional terror (back then, in Greek plays) is to effect catharsis of emotions like fear in real life. So perhaps the best we can do to prepare for mortality, climate change, tyrannical leaders and global annihilation, is to read some quality supernatural fare. Shooter is, as always, at your service.

To order a copy of the Supernatural issue or an annual subscription to Shooter, please visit the Subscriptions page.

Darby wins 2019 Poetry Competition

Katy Darby, a novelist and accomplished short-story writer, has proven her lyric prowess as well by winning Shooter’s 2019 Poetry Competition.

Darby, founder of live fiction event Liars’ League in London, said she composed the winning poem, “Duct tape, milk, shilling, towels”, in a Hackney pub during a Sylvia Plath-themed event hosted by Poetry Brothel London. Darby’s evocative poem conjures the poet’s preparations for her notorious demise.

Although in recent years Darby has focused more on prose (with her novel, The Unpierced Heart, published by Penguin), she has previously won the Frogmore Poetry Prize and the New Writer Poetry Collection Competition. She has an MA in Creative Writing (Prose) from the University of East Anglia.

Shooter’s runner-up in the poetry competition, Nikki Robson, crafted a well observed and resonant poem, “Strix aluco”, inspired by a tawny owl. Robson (a previous contributor to Shooter with a pair of poems in issue #5, the Cities edition) has previously won first prize in the Elbow Room competition and been highly commended at Wigtown and Carers UK. She holds an MLitt in Writing Practice and Study from Dundee University, and her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including Acumen, Under the Radar, The Lake, and Scotia Extremis. She is from Northern Ireland and lives in Scotland.

Both poems are available to read on Shooter’s Competition Winners page, and Darby’s winning poem will also appear in the forthcoming Supernatural issue, out next month. Huge congratulations to both poets for their compelling work!

Submissions open for Supernatural issue and Poetry Competition

Shooter has reopened to submissions for its upcoming winter issue, themed Supernatural, as well as the 2019 Poetry Competition.

Submissions for Issue #11 should revolve around anything to do with the occult. Psychological spookiness, eerie suspense, weird mysteries and unexplained phenomena are welcome elements, as well as the more obvious demons, angels, witches and ghosts. Religious themes are also relevant. Writing must be of a literary standard, not genre fare trading on shocks or gore. The deadline is November 17th. Please visit the Submissions page for further guidelines.

The 2019 Poetry Competition is also open to entries, with no restriction on theme or style. Poems can be up to 100 lines long and multiple entries are allowed. The winning poet will receive £150 and publication both in the winter issue of Shooter and online, while the runner-up wins £50 and online publication. All entrants receive an e-copy of the winter magazine, featuring the winning poem. For guidelines on how to enter, please visit the Competition page.

Writers who are familiar with the type of work that we publish are often more successful; past and current issues of Shooter are available to order via the Subscriptions page. We look forward to reading your work – good luck!

Identity issue explores shifting selfhood

Shooter 10 cover page

Cover art by Lydia Maltby

There are so many facets to what makes us who we are: gender, race, religion, profession, nationality, sexuality. Even style, an outward indicator of personality and background. What we feel, what we do, how we look, what we think – all feed into the narrative we tell the world about ourselves, the story of our individuality.

Our 10th issue’s theme of Identity inspired work that explores not just aspects of the self, but the ways in which these elements frequently shift and blur. In keeping with the emergence of “identity politics”, many of the pieces revolve around themes of gender, particularly womanhood. As abortion rights continue to be eroded in the US, Lin Rose’s essay “Unlikely Opponents: Woman vs. Fetus” offers a personal view on how unwanted pregnancy impacts women. Stella B James considers stereotypes of femininity in her story “To Be a Girl”, while Tanya Horwitz’s scientific researcher in “The Girl from Rhode Island” feels more comfortable with humanity at the level of cells than fully developed people. Katherine Morgan’s poems and Nadia Henderson’s story “The Word I Use” consider the ways women might be boxed in, literally or figuratively, by their gender.

As for the other half, Jacqueline Landey’s non-fiction piece “Better Man” examines notions of masculinity in Dartmoor prison, where she observed the effect of a theatre workshop on the inmates. In her essay about Autism Spectrum Disorder, “Where the Rain Gets In”, Selene dePackh underscores the challenges of non-normative neurological wiring for both men and women.

One of this issue’s strengths turned out to be its breadth, illuminating many of the key aspects of identity. (We also ended up with, for the first time, a completely even balance of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.) Atreyee Gupta’s story “Dirty Skin”, about an Indian-American family visiting the motherland, draws upon race and nationality. Christina Hoag’s memoir “Not From Anywhere” also explores concepts of nationality, detailing her experience growing up as a “third culture kid”. Adam Welch’s wryly humorous tale “Sweet Nothing” suggests the link between identity and knowledge, or lack thereof. In her memoir “Speaking of Here”, Dionisia Morales recounts her time as an English teacher in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, examining how meaning and identity shift depending on language and context.

Among the poets, Jay Whittaker considers the difficulties of defining identity, especially for the marginalised, in “Radical”, while Lawrence Illsley boils life down to a series of acronyms in “Man of Letters”. Susan Barry-Schulz pinpoints a specific North American identity with her two poems’ loaded associations, and Stephen Regan offers a very British counterpoint in “Brick Boy”.

The 2019 Shooter Short Story Competition winner, “Another Country” by Jenny Booth, happens to tie in with the Identity theme as well. Echoing Regan’s ironic “bright grey / British future”, Booth’s story digs into the class divide to imagine the near-future consequences of a disastrous Brexit. The resonance of Booth’s prose and her convincing engagement with a timely issue earned the top prize, considering not just how class continues to affect individual identity in the UK but how Brexit will impact the national character as well.

Perhaps no more concise statement about identity has ever been written than Walt Whitman’s famous line, “I contain multitudes,” from his poem “Song of Myself”. As the stories and poetry in this issue of Shooter show, pinning people down with labels or attempting to package them into neat categories is always doomed to fail. Acceptance or understanding of human complexity frequently eludes the media, as well as any group with a rigid agenda. It’s heartening to see this understanding at work in the literary sphere, however. I hope you’ll gain as much insight, not to mention entertainment, as I did from the work in this milestone issue of Shooter.

To order the Identity issue or sign up for an annual subscription, please visit the Subscriptions page.

Feast or famine of 2019 story comp winners

The winners of the 2019 Shooter Short Story Competition naturally share a high degree of literary accomplishment, elegance and resonance. Less expectedly, they both play with feast-or-famine themes in their respective post-Brexit and marital scenarios.

Jenny Booth, a writer and English teacher from Leeds, won the 2019 award for her story “Another Country”, which conjures an ominous post-Brexit world in which stark consequences emerge for rich and poor. She has previously published short fiction in Prole, Litro, Orbis, and elsewhere, and is currently working on a collection of short stories set in Yorkshire.

The runner-up, Rajasree Variyar, depicts a family strained by denial and anorexia in “Lucky Buddha”. Variyar, who was born in Bangalore, India, and grew up in Sydney, Australia, is currently based in London and juggling a job in insurance with a Creative Writing degree at the University of East Anglia.

Both stories are available to read on Shooter’s website via the links above, and “Another Country” will also appear in Shooter’s forthcoming Identity issue. To order a copy (our 10th issue!) or to subscribe, please visit the Subscriptions page. In the meantime, massive congratulations to our 2019 winners!