THIS week, as part of this year’s forthcoming Salisbury Literary Festival, sees the return of the Salisbury Story Prize. This has proved to be an incredibly popular part of the festival programme, garnering hundreds of entries in previous years from both adults and children in their respective categories. Once again, there are prizes of book tokens for younger winners and for their schools (kindly donated by Sarum College Bookshop), and online writing courses for the adults (via the equally generous Professional Writing Academy). If that wasn’t enough, the winning entries will also be published in this esteemed newspaper during the festival.

Short stories play an important part in many a writing career. Many, many moons ago, my first toehold in publishing was getting a couple of short stories accepted for different anthologies – one of these, in Neon Lit: The Time Out Book of New Writing, led to getting a literary agent and, ultimately, a book deal. That’s far from an unusual route to publication – short stories can serve as a calling card, and winning competitions can really help here.

But short stories, too, are an art form in themselves. When I began writing, one of my main influences was the American short story writer Raymond Carver, whose brilliantly clipped style and ‘Get in. Get out. Don’t linger’ mantra I’ve tried and failed to follow ever since. Carver also wrote a wonderful essay about writing, ‘Fires’, where he described his struggles not just of getting published, but with work and family pressures, just finding the time to write. The essay describes a pivotal moment in a launderette, where Carver realised that there was more than enough in the everyday to write about. The short story became his form, allowing him to write and complete a piece relatively quickly: even when he became successful and had the time to write, the short story rather than the novel was his preferred genre.

Unlike novels, short stories allow for more freedom and experimentation in writing – you don’t have to keep the readers turning over the pages in the same way, and that allows writers the space to explore different themes. A good short story for me is about capturing a moment, a snapshot: VS Pritchett once described a short story as ‘something glimpsed from the corner of the eye in passing’. That’s a great way of describing it.

The theme for this year’s competition is rivers. As Barney Norris wrote in his debut, Salisbury is a place ‘where rivers and stories weave into one another, where lives intertwine.’ I’m hoping our local writers, young and old, will be suitably inspired: you’ll be able to judge for yourself in the autumn!

For competition details visit