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!

Cooper, Clough win Poetry Competition

Rowena Cooper and Elisabeth Sennitt Clough share first place in the 2018 Shooter Poetry Competition for imaginative poems with strong ideas, precise language and transporting imagery.

Cooper’s poem, “A Divorcee Talks Through Block Universe Theory”, draws on the concept of permanent past and present time to endow a scene of marital separation with much greater perspective. Cooper, who lives in Oxford, was commended in the 2017 Winchester Poetry Prize, and is currently working on a poetry collection about love, consciousness, and neolithic art. Her first play, After Aulis, will be performed at this year’s Brighton Festival after debuting at Stratford-upon-Avon last year.

Clough’s poem, “The Butterfly and the Stone”, employs a mystical tone and natural imagery to illuminate another marital relationship, this time in a context of intimacy. Clough has published several poetry collections – the most recent, At or Below Sea Level, recommended by the Poetry Book Society – and has published poetry in The Forward Book of Poetry 2018, The Rialto, Poem, Mslexia, Wasafiri, Magma, The Cannon’s Mouth and Stand. She also edits The Fenland Reed, an East Anglian poetry magazine.

Isabella Mead came runner-up in the competition for her poem “African Night”, with its elegant depiction of walking home in a remote landscape. Mead spent two years as a teacher trainer in a Rwandan village before returning to the UK to work at The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre and The Story Museum in Oxford. Her poetry was highly commended in the 2016 Bridport Prize, longlisted in the 2017 National Poetry Competition, and commended in the 2018 Cafe Writers competition.

All of these poems appear on Shooter’s website, but the joint winners will also be published in the forthcoming print edition of the magazine (issue #9: Rivalry) in a few weeks’ time. Congratulations to all three poets, and if you wish to see the winning poems laid out rather more accurately than WordPress templates allow, please do subscribe here to order the print edition!

TLS features Shooter in Journals issue

TLS Shooter teaserWe’re delighted that the Times Literary Supplement this week chose to include Shooter in its annual issue covering notable literary journals. Please buy a copy to read Katie Mennis’s review in full, which focuses on the recent “New Life” and “Dirty Money” issues, or read the teaser here.

She writes: “For A. L. Kennedy, a short story is ‘small in the way a bullet is small’. Shooter … calls to mind not only Kennedy’s exhortation to ‘hit [the] reader and blow their fucking head off’ but also ‘Chekhov’s gun’, the principle that every element of a story must be necessary.”

With that in mind, writers still have two weeks in which to fire bullets, not blanks, for the “Rivalry” issue (deadline November 11th) or the 2018 Poetry Competition (November 25th).

Dirty Money, competition winners, next theme & more

Shooter 8 front cover page

Cover art by Youheum Son

Money gets a bad rap. Clichés suggesting its powers of corruption abound: The root of all evil. Filthy lucre. Mo’ money, mo’ problems. (When it’s Notorious BIG, money also gets a good rap.)

Contributors to Shooter’s latest issue, themed Dirty Money, hone in on the dangers of materialism, precarious circumstances for US immigrants, con artistry, dodgy bankers, and dodgier Russian currency deals. Some characters experience spiritual conversions; others meet violent (or vile) ends. The approaches to the theme are diverse, but all of the stories and poetry in the summer issue merge thought-provoking insight with compelling narrative entertainment.

The summer issue also features the 2018 Short Story Competition winner: Sophie Revell’s “Poetic Justice”. Revell’s story breaks from the issue’s thematic constraints, as well as structural conventions, to play with the notion of authorial obligation and bring her characters to life in an innovatively mind-bending way. Her cross-fertilisation of screenplay and short story formats struck us with its refreshing originality, and we whole-heartedly appreciated the feminist aspect of her piece as well.

The competition’s runner-up, “A&E” by James Beaumont, is also available to read online here. We enjoyed his tale’s twin perspectives, about an encounter on a train journey that leads to a pleasantly satisfying conclusion.

Following hot on the heels of our story competition, the second half of the year is dedicated to the poets. Our 2018 Poetry Competition is now open for entries; further details can be found at

Finally, the theme for the winter 2019 issue will be Rivalry, so sharpen your pencils along with your claws and get writing!

To subscribe to Shooter or to order individual issues, please go to


Issue #7 births “New Life”

For a theme as uplifting as “New Life”, the Winter 2018 issue drew an awful lot of stories about dead babies.

Given the preponderance of childbirth horrors in Shooter’s submissions pile, the stories and poems in the issue that addressed this subject had to work extra hard to stand out from the rest, offering something imaginatively unique or handling such emotive matter with deft control. Stuart Snelson’s opening story, “Home-birthed Monsters”, counts among the former, while “Little Bean” by Anton Rose leavens parental disappointment with a comic twist.

Two short non-fiction pieces – “Little Peanut, Little Monkey” by Kyleen Russell and “Flores” by Yasmina Floyer – share poignant perspectives on parental challenges and loss. Among the poets, Amanda Quinn’s opening prose-poem “From the Stories I Never Got to Tell” sounds a hopeful note, as does Victoria Richards’ “You Won’t Remember Any of This”. Julia Webb captures the bittersweet edge of parental love in “Celebrate” and, in “Multplication”, Anna Forbes handles profound grief with a delicate touch.

Departing from birth and children, Laurinda Lind contemplates post-marital reinvention in her poem “Redress”, while Lori Anne Gravely conjures the traveler’s experience of new places in two African poems, “On Waking in a New Room” and “Transfiguration”. For some light relief, the winner of Shooter’s 2017 Poetry Competition, Kay Sidebottom, engages in some witty (literally) literary wordplay in “Ex Libris”.

Plenty of the prose writers approached the “New Life” theme in a more indirect manner. In our fiction-packed issue, Nick Norton (“The Opening”) and Austyn Wohlers (“Hothouse Bloom”) depict characters seeking fresh starts, trying to build new lives with varying degrees of failure. New life for Raoul Colvile’s couple in “A Rat in Stockholm” will come – perhaps – as a result of an unconventional proposal, while the hitchhiker in Amanda Yskamp’s “Hitch” seeks it by running away.

Radovana Jágriková’s “Becky in Vanilla” and Tom Startup’s “The Child Snatchers of Estacruz” (also our first-ever piece of historical fiction) explore the dark territory of child abduction, where characters seek to renew life through the fetishisation of youth. Finally, in a structurally inventive piece, Uschi Gatward plays with the idea of evolving identity in “Biography”.

My own interpretation of the theme has occurred largely off the page during the last six months, while tending its living embodiment alongside the issue. My infant daughter’s coos, gurgles and cries – including the daybreak screams punctuating the writing of this introduction – have provided a fitting soundtrack during the editing phase but, for your sake, I wish you a rather more peaceful reading experience.

Cover art by Anita Salemink. To sign up for a subscription or order a copy of the “New Life” issue, please go to

Sidebottom wins contest with witty literary wordplay

Kay Sidebottom, a PhD student and lecturer at the University of Leeds, has won Shooter’s 2017 Poetry Competition with her poem “Ex Libris”.

Out of almost 500 entries, Sidebottom’s poem won for its witty (literally) literary wordplay and deft, understated style, devoid of excessive sentimentality. Although Sidebottom began writing poetry at the age of six, she had a “thirty year hiatus,” she said in an email, “before being persuaded to start again by a friend.” She is based in Yorkshire and her poems, stories and other writing can be found at

The competition’s runner-up, Robert Kibble, composed an irresistible twist on Robert Burns’ “Address to a Haggis” to inveigh against the current US president in “Ode to a POTUS”. He writes on the side of a “very much less creative day job,” he said in an email, and maintains a blog at He is also on Twitter @r_kibble.

Kibble originally wrote “Ode to a POTUS” for his writers’ group Burns Night party. “Please, America, get well soon,” he quipped.

Sidebottom’s winning poem will appear in Shooter’s forthcoming winter issue, but both poems are also available to read online now at

Shooter’s 2018 Short Story Competition, as well as general submissions for the summer issue, will open for entries in early February.

“Bad Girls” storm summer’s Issue #6

Shooter 6 front cover

Cover illustration by Nevena Katalina

Following a certain campaign gaffe in the run-up to the US presidential election last year (I know, that doesn’t exactly narrow it down), the epithet “nasty woman” – aimed at Hillary Clinton – became something of a rallying cry for feminists and anyone who rejected the sexist status quo promoted by #45.

In keeping with that spirit, Shooter’s “Bad Girls” issue celebrates women who buck convention, reject patriarchal norms, choose fulfilment over conformity, and occupy traditionally male environments. Hitherto, narrative norms have required certain outcomes for female characters, too – and so we also have stories that see antiheroines getting away with things they might not, in earlier eras, have been allowed to do without moralistic retribution on the page.

In our strongest issue yet for non-fiction, several writers focus on striking out to pursue their passions in typically male domains. Emily Wildash follows in the footsteps of solo adventurers in her essay “Women Who Walk Alone”, while Eileen Sutton – an aspiring poker pro – reveals how the chips are stacked against female players in “Poker Girl”. Traveling around the world to Korea, Paola Trimarco explores very different cultural stereotypes of gender in “The Mighty Oak”. Two pieces delve into sexual politics, with Elledee’s lyrical response to her midlife Tinder adventures in “Swipe Right Poetry” and John-Ivan Palmer’s memoir about providing questionable protection to San Franciscan strippers in “Superstition”.

Equally engrossing are the issue’s fictional offerings. Andrea Eaker’s “How Aphrodite Fell in Love and Then Her Husband Ruined Everything” opens the issue with a provocative re-imagining of Greek myth. Elsewhere, authors revel in their bad girls: Jane Dotchin’s schoolgirl reprobate in “Charlotte’s Stockings”; Alex Clark’s snooty aspiring screenwriter (and her politically incorrect tenant) in “An Acquisition”; Tom Tolnay’s nocturnal Ophelia, who takes centre stage in “Ophelia of My Dreams”; Joseph Pierson’s drug addict coming clean in his innovative story “Siege”. In “Respectable”, though Irette Y Patterson’s protagonist caves to pressure to tame her afro hair, she then takes things to righteously defiant lengths.

Even the titles of some of the poems indicate the ways in which Bad Girls exercise their power. “Miranda Chooses” and “Lilith Speaks” suggest that women exercising their basic rights to decide and speak for themselves contradict patriarchal convention. (To be fair, the witches of the latter go to some emasculating lengths that we would advocate only in the realm of fantasy.) Supernatural horror crops up rarely in the submissions, so we were especially happy to award the 2017 Short Story Competition prize to Emma Parfitt for “Baby’s Day Out”, an unexpectedly creepy take on London’s brutal housing market. Literary horror in the vein of Shirley Jackson, Bret Easton Ellis and the best of Stephen King crops up rarely but works so well as metaphor for social ills. We’d love to see more of it.

In the film world, the Bechdel test is well known as a measure for cinematic sexism. It asks whether there are named female characters discussing subjects other than men. There are numerous derivations of this test examining how fictional women are portrayed, such as the “sexy lamp test”, which asks whether female characters could be replaced by sexy lamps without much affecting the story.

In fiction as in life, women should have agency to act, speak and decide their own terms, not solely exist in relation to others: women as individuals in their own right, not just wives, girlfriends, mothers and daughters. Of course, sometimes the story is about relationships or sex or parenting, and so revolves around these roles. The point is that in these situations women still need to be depicted as complex characters with a mind, will, personality and life beyond their relation to somebody else.

In this and every issue of Shooter, women will always be accorded the same rights as men. As long as it’s in the context of a compelling piece of writing.

To order an annual subscription or a copy of the “Bad Girls” issue, please visit the Subscriptions page.

Spooky real estate parable wins competition

home auction picThe winners of Shooter’s 2017 Short Story Competition have been announced, with Emma Parfitt scooping the top prize for her supernatural parable about London’s brutal housing market, “Baby’s Day Out”, and Jim Brannin as runner-up for his poignant tale of ageing, “The White Cat”.

Parfitt, an English teacher in Kent by day, has previously written several Young Adult e-books, but in recent years has turned to writing fiction for older readers. Her winning story was the fruit of a creative writing course at the Faber Academy in London.

“At a certain point I couldn’t afford to live in London any more, so I had that experience of being pushed out of the housing market myself,” she said via email, “though not in quite such an extreme manner as in the story.”

“Baby’s Day Out” is a rare hybrid of literary horror, as well as the first ghost story Shooter has published (it will appear in Shooter’s print magazine, the upcoming “Bad Girls” issue, as well as online). Competition readers and Shooter’s editor, Melanie White, enjoyed the way it worked as social commentary as well as an effectively spooky – and unexpected – ghost story. They also lauded the elegant, polished quality of the writing.

“Winning something like Shooter’s competition is so encouraging,” Parfitt said. “It has definitely spurred me on to keep at it and persevere with longer-form work, which can feel much more daunting.” She is currently working on a novel, also in the genre of literary horror, set in London’s financial world.

Jim Brannin’s second-place story, “The White Cat”, focused closely on dilemmas of ageing, with a protagonist who engaged and moved the readers. Brannin, who splits his time between Barcelona and London, has co-authored seven books of non-fiction and published several short stories in literary journals.

Both “Baby’s Day Out” and “The White Cat” can be read on Shooter’s website. The winning story will also appear in Shooter’s summer issue, out soon. For subscriptions or to order a copy of the print edition in advance, please visit the Subscriptions page.

Shooter’s annual Short Story Competition will reopen for entries early next year, while the magazine’s Poetry Competition will open later this summer. Details on how to enter will be posted on the website. ‘Til then, enjoy all winning stories and poems on the Competition Winners page!

Take a trip into Issue #5: Cities


Cover art by Erin Schuetz

In the era of the staycation, travel writing offers a metaphorically transporting way to experience distant realms. With the “Cities” issue, we sought pieces that captured the flavour of a place without sacrificing narrative: more literary than literal guide. The fiction, memoir, reportage and poetry we ended up with convey a strong sense of a particular city (or an imagined one) while keeping character, plot and style to the fore.

We were delighted to find an abundance of captivating pieces that whisk the reader around the world, across Europe, America, Asia, and even into the dystopian urban future. The range among the non-fiction offerings has never been broader, from Emma Rault’s Brit’s-eye-view of LA (“Los Angeles, Seen from a Tree”) to Cheryl Lynn Smart’s impassioned in-depth report on the housing projects of Memphis (“The Bricks”). Judith Roney poetically takes the pulse of Orlando following last year’s nightclub shootings in “<80 BPM”, while Conor Montague depicts backpackers in Gorakhpur with comic flair in “The Integrity of Cockroaches”.

In addition to poems distilling key aspects of Paris and New York, Dundee and Liverpool, of particular note is the winning entry in Shooter’s inaugural Poetry Competition. Miriam Celeste Ramos scooped the prize with “The Long Arm” for its raw energy, surging Beat-style rhythm, and emotional power. Her poem, along with that of runner-up Stephen Williams, also appears online.

Many of the issue’s short stories play with perception as well as place. Paul Blaney’s “A Lisbon Story” seemed a good choice to open the edition given its sharp sense of setting and the kind of questions it raises about identity and invention, opportunities for which cities so frequently present. Sarah Evans, in “The Architecture of Emotion”, reflects her main character’s inner turmoil in London’s outer landscape. Dave Wakely’s “In the Gut” also elegantly explores heartache, this time in the Maltese capital of Valletta, while the protagonist in P W Lewis’s “A Tale of Two” becomes mired in a murky world of art and infidelity in Vienna.

Culture clash emerges as another common theme. Máire Cooney’s Glaswegian schoolgirl has trouble adjusting to Edinburgh life in “Nobody Said Anything”. A stint teaching English in Hong Kong shatters the main character’s illusions in Joshan Esfandiari Martin’s “Charmed Lives”. And not just culture but survival clashes loom in Malachi King’s “The Waters of Michigan”, when two post-apocalyptic survivors roam an unnamed city, dreaming of a better place.

When cities become visions of hell, what idyll beckons with greatest allure? The country.

To order a copy, please visit the Subscriptions page.