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Writing Short Fiction: A Personal Journey


Bruce HarrisTwenty years as a teacher, ten years in educational research and five years of directing an educational charity, and in all that time, I hadn't published any fiction or poetry at all. I'd always had a feeling that if life ever did allow me a clear run at creative writing, I might just be able to do something with it. But by 2004, with the charity going nowhere fast, I decided to make my own opportunities rather than wait for them to come to me.

I was encouraged by having a few poems accepted by reputable magazines. With a little more credibility attached to my writing pretensions, I worked on putting together the first novel since a piece of ultimately aimless twenties' juvenilia. An agent took a sniff at the plans and opening chapters, then decided no, and by this time I had acquired a more realistic understanding of the fiction world. In terms of the UK, most publishers wouldn't even look at anything unless it came from an agent, and anyone without a credible publication record is wasting their time. My collection of published research-based articles in the educational press did not impress.

What to do? Give it all up? ‘Manage my aspirations', as the football phrase goes? It seemed to me eventually that the only alternative to going out and buying expensive creative writing courses was to put the issue to the test by trying to get published in magazines and entering competitions. If my stuff was any good, it would start getting acceptances and/or some competition results. If I spent several years collecting rejection letters and hadn't won a single prize or ‘commendation', it would become obvious that I was wasting my time.

Short fiction seemed the only way; publishers and many agents won't look at unsolicited novels, and there aren't many competitions for full length novels. Even if there were, entering about one competition a year would be a long, painful business. But I didn't know much about short fiction then. I found out by a combination of reading, research and trial and error. My first published piece came out in a short fiction print magazine in December 2007, almost exactly seven years ago.

What's happened subsequently is summed up in the ‘bio' below, culminating in my two published volumes of short fiction and poetry, and if anyone wants to check them out, it's all at But pushing the envelope isn't really what this piece is about and neither, I decided, would be my future writing career. My partner and I have money enough for our needs, so I thought it might make more sense to try and pass on what I'd done and discovered to others, a spirit best summarised in the English phrase ‘giving something back'.

So, working with my webmaster Martin Kerr, we put together Writing Short Fiction, (WSF) in early 2014, and it is now making its mark. So far, it includes a ‘Why and What' section on why write short fiction and what short fiction to write; a ‘Competitive Writing' section on how to go about entering fiction competitions and what to expect when you do; questionnaires to test out how likely site visitors are to publish short fiction and how much they know about contemporary fiction generally, and to help site visitors to develop subjects to write about. There are also listings relating to fiction competitions, magazines and short story collections. It's all free; there are no subscriptions, no memberships and no adverts. At the moment, the site has a UK focus, mainly because the UK scene is what I know about, but if anyone out there wants to give us information about their own country's competitions and practices, please do and welcome.

As of January 14th 2015, WSF will be adding two new sections. One will be ‘Champion Fiction', including prize-winning stories contributed by writers with very impressive credentials, and the other ‘Tips from the Top', in which writers will pass on their own advice on how to succeed in the short fiction genre. After January, WSF will be updating every quarter, to gradually build our stock of online material.

On Monday December 8th, we will be announcing the names and bios of the writers who are to contribute to the site launch. Everyone is welcome to visit the site; there are no passwords and no memberships involved. It is our tribute and our offering to the writing community and the developing writers within it, and we hope site visitors will find WSF useful, inspiring, educational, or perhaps even all of them put together.

An anthology of 25 stories by Bruce Harris which have all won prizes, commendations or listings in fiction competitions, ‘First Flame', is available in print and e-book form at

In addition to second prize in the 2014 Momaya Press Competition, Bruce's awards list includes Writers' Bureau (twice); Grace Dieu Writers' Circle (five times); Biscuit Publishing, Yeovil Prize, Milton Keynes Speakeasy (three times), Exeter Writers, Fylde Writers, Brighton Writers (three times), Wells Literary Festival, Wirral Festival of Firsts, New Writer, Segora, Sentinel Quarterly, Swale Life, Havant Literary Festival, Southport Writers' Circle, Lichfield Writers' Circle, Cheer Reader (three times), TLC Creative, 3into1 Short Story Competition, Meridian, Five Stop Story (three times), JB Writers' Bureau, Red Line (three times) and Bridport Prize and Bristol Prize longlists.