“Having my story accepted by Crossing the Tees gave me a newfound confidence and this was channeled into my writing…”

The annual Crossing the Tees Book Festival, now in its seventh year, came perilously close to being cancelled outright this year, with its event planned for June, right at the start of 2020’s pandemic lockdown.

Luckily for the short story writers of the region, the Crossing the Tees team decided to take some of its events online earlier this year and committed to running its annual short story competition regardless.

And glad we all are too. With the deadline of 31st October fast approaching, the entries are flooding in with as much enthusiasm as always.

Photo by Scott Bonner

Graeme Wilkinson of Sixth Element Publishing, who is involved in the shortlisting process, says, “Crossing the Tees stories are fascinating to read. There are such a variety of styles and subjects, it’s always great to find the hidden gems that pop out of the page unexpectedly. We’re looking forward to seeing what everyone has come up with in these strange circumstances of lockdown this year.”

The shortlisted stories will be published in the fourth Crossing the Tees anthology, due out next April to coincide with the launch of next year’s festival, which everyone is hoping will return to face to face events, workshops and talks held at libraries across the five authorities of the Tees Valley, circumstances permitting.

Whatever happens, it is lovely that the short story writing competition is alive and well. One of our favourite aspects of the short story competition is that it encourages and inspires writers.

Colin O’Cahan, whose story ‘A Crossing’ placed second in the first Crossing the Tees competition in 2017, says, “At the time I was living in Cambodia, so I found out I was shortlisted one morning when I woke up and saw the email. It felt like a real achievement. Similarly, I found out my story had placed 2nd through Twitter and quickly ordered a couple of beers to celebrate.”

He adds, “Being in CTT had a huge effect on me. I had never entered my writing into any type of competition or even really showed it to anyone before. I didn’t believe I was good enough, I was sure it was just a hobby. However, having my story accepted by CTT gave me a newfound confidence and this was channeled into my writing.”
As a result of that confidence, he started work on his first novel, which he has recently finished.

It also gives writers a channel in which to experiment with new forms.

Dominic JP Nelson-Ashley

Dominic JP Nelson-Ashley, whose story ‘Plastic is better than metal’ placed second in the 2018 competition, is an author, poet and performer who writes about fatherhood, mental health and spending his teenage years in the 1980s in a quintessential Middle England Town. He says writing his story was hard until he gave up trying to put it in a format.

“It isn’t poetry,” he says, “(which I am more known for) or a short story in the traditional sense but it lives in a land of its own. Once I had decided to take the shackles off and let it exist in the way the story needed, it was easy.”

The competition also helps writers to find new audiences for their work.

Fiona Murphy-McCormack, who entered her story ‘The Diamond Necklace’ in 2019, says she was over the moon to be shortlisted and then win third placed in the competition. She used her prize money to purchase the Scrivener writing software, and her story was subsequently featured in a Canadian podcast The Anti Lang Project, narrated by Irish stage and screen actress Fiona Mulvaney.

Helen Johnson, whose story ‘Leaning’ placed second in 2019, says her inspiration was to create a story that encapsulated the warmth – and honesty – that sometimes arises from a chance encounter with a stranger. She says, “I gave it the title ‘Leaning’ because the girl in the story was on the edge, and could have tipped either way.”
She adds that winning the prize was a great step in her long-term quest to become a published novelist. “I like to use short stories to experiment, trying out different genres,” she says. “After winning the CTT prize, I’ve had some of them published, in both print and on-line magazines.”

Helen has now completed her novel, the story of Gudrid, an 11th century Yorkshire blacksmith’s daughter, and is currently seeking an agent for it.

Photo by Scott Bonner

There’s still time to think about entering a story for this year’s competition. And inspiration can come from many sources.

Fran Hunnisett , whose story ‘Just a Small Boat’ won the 2018 CTT competition, says, she set out to write a story about strong women. “The suspense of the jump was something I wanted to capture,” she says. “It always takes a while for a story to come together for me. This one started off way too complicated, but I enjoy the editing process.” Fran is currently editing her children’s story.

Emma Tennant, from the Crossing the Tees Book Festival team, adds, “When we first introduced the short story competition to the festival we really weren’t sure what take up it would have. We were over the moon with the number of entries and the quality of the stories submitted for that first competition, and it’s gone from strength to strength ever since. So when it looked like the book festival was going to have to be cancelled this year due to the pandemic we were really keen to keep the story competition going and even took some creative writing workshops online. We know there’s a lot of writing talent out there and we hope that this competition helps to give writers the confidence to test and share their work. And for everyone who missed the book festival this year we’ll be back next June!”

If you would like to enter a story for the Crossing the Tees short story competition 2020, please visit www.crossingthetees.org. The deadline is midnight on the 31st October 2020.

If you would like to discuss short story writing or if you have any problems submitting your entry, please email Gillie at Sixth Element Publishing.


Do you have a story, something to say or an idea for what we should cover on The Tees Online? Contact us at hello@thetees.online.