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!

Animal instincts, domestic strife dominate “Rivalry” issue

Shooter 9 Cover

Cover art by Cindy Fan

It’s commonly said that there can be no drama without conflict.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the theme of Rivalry – with its associations of competition and tension between opposing forces – has given rise to one of our most compelling issues yet. More unexpected, perhaps, are some of the contexts in which writers found inspiration.

Animals feature repeatedly, in some cases owing to the elemental contest between predator and prey. Nick Norton in “The Goat and the Bridge” weaves an offbeat fable about a goat who resists tradition to overcome a loathsome foe. Eleanor Matthews presents another parable, this time featuring an unconventional ménage à trois between a husband who’s a little too fond of his pig, and his pragmatic – and hungry – wife. In “The Bird Club”, Gordon Gibson portrays the antagonistic exertions of obsessive bird-watchers. One of the issue’s two non-fiction pieces, Australian writer Alexandra O’Sullivan’s “Throwing Stones”, explores the equestrian rivalry between two school friends, interweaving literary analysis of childhood classics that shed light on fraught youthful friendships.

The issue’s opening story, “As Well for the Coowe Calfe”, may allude to matters bovine, but there the animal associations end. Josephine Warrior’s historical fiction, like many other pieces in the issue, revolves around romantic tensions: between husband and wife (Samuel Pepys and his bride, in Warrior’s tale); spouse and lover (Patrick Mondaca’s “Bathsheba Wears Prada”); girlfriend and other woman (Philippa East’s “Kraken”). Also in the domestic realm, a father’s jealousy over his wife’s attention to their children leads to an unbearable silence in Sarah Evans’ “The Long Sulk”.

The odd one out in this edition, as far as the thematic context goes, is Maryah Converse’s memoir “Trust on the Nile”, which contrasts her experience of Jordan versus Egypt while working in the region as a Peace Corps volunteer. The differences between the two countries set up a rivalry inside her mind, and Converse provides some fascinating cultural insights as she unravels her internal responses.

Another treat within the current issue (and in keeping, coincidentally, with the subject of marital tension) is the result of the 2018 Poetry Competition. The best poems were so strong on this occasion that we awarded the top prize to two poets: Elisabeth Sennitt Clough, for “The Butterfly and the Stone”, and Rowena Cooper, for “A Divorcee Talks Through Block Universe Theory”. Both merge innovative structures with challenging ideas, producing multilayered poems that bestow themes of intimacy and marital strife with a sense of timelessness. As they happen to have a lot in common, I think you’ll see why it was difficult to choose between the two. Consequently, they’re our first joint winners, and in addition to both poems appearing in the print edition, you can read them online. The competition’s elegant runner-up, “African Night” by Isabella Mead, is also presented on our website.

Conflict may drive drama, but satisfying stories also require resolution. We might heed the real-life counsel of one of the issue’s characters when considering how to heal a breach. Samuel Pepys, in his seventeenth-century diary, observes, “Strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everybody.” If some of the characters in this issue fail to resolve their rivalries, may Shooter at least entertain you well before commending you to your supper.

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

Submissions open for “Identity”

While we wait for the Rivalry issue to return from the printers, writers might like to look ahead to the theme for our summer (10th!) issue, which will be Identity.

We’re looking for stories, essays, reported narratives and poetry on anything to do with the sense of self, whether personal or cultural. What defines someone – character, actions, associations, appearance? Why is identity important? What happens when it’s threatened? We particularly seek content that addresses topical issues of gender, sexuality, race, nationality, religion and occupation but, as ever, the theme is open to wide interpretation.

For anyone with stories outside that theme (and keen to reap a rather larger cash reward), Shooter’s 2019 Short Story Competition is also open for entries. The winner will collect a £500 prize, with publication online and in the summer issue, while the runner-up receives £100 and online publication.

Deadline for both general and competition submissions is April 21st. Please visit the Submissions or Competition pages for guidelines on how to submit. We look forward to reading your work!