OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  In the world of short stories and writing in general, it’s always competition season, but lately it has been  non-fiction competitions that have been exercising my …what should be the word?… Imagination?

In fact the Nottinghill Editions’ Hazlitt Prize, and the Thresholds Features Competition are both currently open for entries. I seem to have spent more time this last six months writing essays, mostly for this blog, but also for Thresholds, than I have writing fiction. Thresholds’ competition has two categories: ‘Author Profile’ and ‘We Recommend.’ Both invite recommendations of a sort, though I suppose one could do a hatchet job on an author! But thinking about what I might submit – I never seem to have anything sitting around just waiting for the opportunity – it struck me that there are a number of assumptions underlying those categories that I don’t necessarily buy into.

The author profile, for example, might be taken as throwing unnecessary attention on the author, rather than on the authored. I’ve written about that here on the blog a few times, for I always have this uncomfortable feeling that knowing about the author’s private life, and even, perhaps especially, about what might have driven him or her to write particular pieces, far from helping, gets in the way of our responses to their work. If someone tells you a story, whatever the medium, you don’t want them to tell you also what it’s supposed to mean, or what emotions and understandings it is supposed to trigger. You want to find out those things for yourself, and in relation to your own past, not to the author’s. Putting authors centre stage is part of our society’s obsession with celebrity – the focus on those who are known for being known of.

That rather brings me to the ‘We Recommend’ essays, for the assumption there might be, and I strongly suspect is, that we are going to recommend a story the reader will have already heard of, and by a writer already popular. It might be argued that to submit an essay on an unread story by an unknown author would be pointless. To submit one on an unpublished story, by a writer who is not even trying to get published would be madness! An unknown story by a known writer would be OK. A known story by the unknown ‘Anon’ might be acceptable. What chance, seriously, is there, that even if the essay was well written, it would be picked up, if the subject was unheard of? I mean, you might be making it all up?

Yet, rather in the spirit of an explorer – think of me as a sort of literary Indiana Jones; which in my case would have to be a Staffordshire Mike Smith – I rather fancy recommending stories that I have encountered working with local writers over the last ten years; some of which are undoubtedly at least as good a read best as any that I have read – including in all those forays I’ve made into the multi-volume ‘World’s Best Thousand Stories.’ In fact, the particular one I have in mind, not only remains unpublished, it has, so far as I know, never been submitted for publication. Now here’s a gem, it seems to me, for a literary explorer to bring back from Darkest Wherever. But will his traveller’s Tale be believed?

If you’d like to check out Mike’s Essays on the Short Stories of A.E.Coppard, you’ll find the collection English of the English, responses to the Tales of A.E.Coppard here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UEONRV6