Supporting the Inaugural Cambridge Short Story Prize

Have you written a short story you're proud of and would like to enter in a brand new contest? Send it to the Cambridge Short Story Prize. Organised by TSS Publishing, stories are welcome from all over the world. Submissions are open until 31st October. And here's something special: Spilling the Ink is sponsoring a local prize for the best story from a Cambridge-based writer! The local prize is a choice of either a place on a Writing Circle course or a 3-session writing coaching package.  Here are a few details about the contest and a link for submissions:

    • SUBMISSION PERIOD: 1st September – 31st October 2017
    • WORD LENGTH: 1,500 – 3,000 (including title)
    • ENTRY FEE: £8 (Via PayPal only)
    • PRIZES: £1000 (1st)  £300 (2nd)  £200 (3rd) & Local Cambridge Prize
    • PUBLICATION: Anthology publication for the winners and shortlisted writers

    Even if you're not sure about entering, do have a look at the TSS website. It is a treasure trove of interviews, short fiction, and writing resources. They have a fabulous chapbook subscription programme with short stories printed in charming A6-sized chapbooks that are delivered straight to your door. Check them out!



    Curious about Online Spilling the Ink? Try a taster workshop!


    If you’re curious about Online Spilling the Ink, but not sure about the technology or what it will feel like to write with other people online, I understand. Taking a writing course is a big enough leap in itself, let alone taking it online with new people and a new technology. It’s a big commitment of time and money. So, I’d like to invite you to come to a free taster session. You’ll get a sense of who I am and what Spilling the Ink is about. In addition, you’ll see what it’s like to use the technology and can ask any questions.

    I’m offering two free workshops during August and September: 

    • Sunday 6 Aug, 16.00 – 17.30 UK time

    • Sunday 10 Sept, 16.00 – 17.30 UK time

    (Here’s a handy time-zone converter to work out when those are for you.)

    Why am I offering online workshops? 


    Online courses appeal to me for several reasons: they are a way to be a part of something without needing to travel far, they offer a chance to define ourselves in a way outside usual routines, and they have resulted in wonderful friendships. Depending on how we navigate it, the internet can be a place of contact or isolation. For me, small online courses have created sacred spaces in a rather busy virtual world.

    Since last August, I have been running online, live writing workshops and have so enjoyed the opportunity to bring the faraway nearby. Each time it feels like we open unexpected and welcoming windows. Initially, the workshops were an experiment. Now I feel they've grown to be another way of having my Writing Circles bring more people together.

    Why is it a live workshop? 

    While I’ve enjoyed each online course I’ve taken, the ones I loved most were the ones that included an opportunity to meet in real time, such as a live phone call or an active Facebook group. The act of coming together during our writing or discussion, even if miles and time zones apart, was the glue that combined our separate experiences to create community.

    Creating community is at the heart of my Writing Circles. I love creating spaces where we can witness and support each others’ writing. My many years in the classroom have taught me to value what participants can offer each other in addition to the structures I create through facilitation. There is a special alchemy that arises when we come together to write that brings out ideas and voices in a way I haven’t found in courses when there is no live connection or when working solely one-to-one.

    What about the technology?


    In order to bring Spilling the Ink online, I use a reliable technology that allows us to meet while being in separate places. The video application ZOOM has proven to be versatile, stable and user-friendly. Through the year, we've had well over twenty sessions, sometimes supporting video feeds from writers on opposite sides of the globe. There have been very few technical glitches and many wonderful connections.

    Before the course starts, I send instructions on how to download ZOOM(it’s free and I’m happy to guide you through it with via phone). You can use ZOOM on a computer, ipad/tablet, or smart phone.The main requirement is to have some sort of video capability. During each session, we spend a little time working out the bells and whistles of the technology and a lot of time writing, sharing, and responding.



    Name *
    Which Online Taster Session? *
    Select the session you'd like to attend. (There’s a handy time-zone converter at the top of the page to work out when those are for you.)




    How Does Your Garden Grow?

    Our metaphors matter

    I believe our metaphors matter. They are the ways we can explore our work from different angles, they provide outlets and inlets that we might not find if we only looked at writing as a work of pen and paper, screens and word counts.

    The metaphors I avoid are ones that narrow my focus - I tend to raise a sceptical eyebrow at the language of targets, goals and finely-tuned machines. Those metaphors feel constricting, too slick, too focused, not open for accident and wayward inspiration.

    When I look for a metaphor, I search for one with the potential go wildly astray. In the past, we've had good luck with journeys, maps, forests and landscapes. This January, we started Continuing the Craft with the metaphor of gardening.

    How does your garden grow?

    I'm not much of a gardener. In fact, I find it completely mysterious that things grow from the ground. That from small seeds in dark deep earth, green hope arises. It seems to me that mystery is a good starting point for metaphor. At our first meeting, I asked the writers in the group about their writing gardens, and what they needed for their writing gardens to grow. What would be the soil, the sun, the seeds, the water? What about tools, weeds, fruit and flowers?

    A peek at some of the Gardens

    You can have a little look at what they did. You'll see that some took the metaphor to heart and others wanted to draw pictures of cake. That's fine. Mavericks keep me on my toes. A rogue rose is always welcome to bloom in my garden. If you click on an image, you can see an enlarged version.


    Now we are 5 weeks in. We are tending our settings and characters. We have thought about crucial moments like big storms. Each week, the plot that holds our stories changes just a little bit, grows a bit more. Here's what word gardening looks like:

    Today, one of the writers brought us all a little something to keep us going: small spider plants and house leeks, ready for potting up. Perfectly timed! I tried to take a photo of the plants at the Writing Circle - if you look carefully in the photos up there, you might catch a blur of green. It's tricky to get a good action shot of a growing plant. 

    When I got home, I put mine in pots and hope to give them the light, water, and space they need to thrive. Perhaps I'll even read my stories aloud to them. 

    Spring Writing Circle plans are sprouting. Subscribe to Inkblots for early notification and a discount coupon for when registration opens. Courses to run from late April - mid July.

    Brave New World - Planning for Online Spilling the Ink

    The year is young and I’m having a pleasant week planning the online Spilling the Ink course scheduled to start at the end of January. I’m especially excited because enough people have signed up so that I definitely can run it! Through the summer and fall, I ran a pilot programme and hosted many one-off taster workshops, but now my early adopters have signed up and we’re getting ready to write. 

    There is something special about the people who sign up for the first round of a new idea.They tend to be adventurers and risk-takers. They bring a willing suspension of knowing and a playfulness that work together to invite the accidental, the unexpected, and the innovative.This was true of my in person Writing Circles and I’m feeling that same sense of big heartedness and wide horizons in the first online group. 

    I’m feeling more than just a bit giddy because we are in the position of exploring new creative territory. As I plan, my driving question is this: How will I cultivate an online community that fosters a similar spirit of creative collaboration to that in the Writing Circles I facilitate locally?

    Cultivating community and connection is very much at the heart of Spilling the Ink. It matters to me so much that I get to know each individual who comes to my writing table. Each person who walks through the door brings stories, perspectives and wisdom that only they can offer. It is my great joy and privilege to learn what those stories are. This is one of the reasons I keep my groups small: we need to share a table where each of us can see and hear one another. All voices are welcome and cherished at my tables.


    How will I establish this celebration of each individual in my online group? Many successful online courses have pre-recorded video or one-way live streaming of the instructor to students. Many use group phone calls with large numbers of people on the call. Many suggest having all content available at all times to maximise the ease with which the user can access the materials. Many work primarily via a combination of email-delivered content and vibrant facebook groups. I’ve participated in many of these courses and found great value in all these approaches. 

    Photos for website - 30.jpg

    But for my Writing Circles, none of those options were quite right. I wanted to see and hear my participants. Every single one. Even more, I wanted all of us to see and hear each other. When designing the course, I looked for a platform that would reliably support video for up to 8, spread out across the globe. When I found one, I was thrilled! I've had people joining me from India, Spain, the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Germany. It is so much fun! Equally important, connections can start to grow. We hear each other, see each other, and write from wildly different perspectives. In doing so, we make the faraway feel a bit more nearby. 

    The writing that emerges during a live workshop has a wonderful immediacy and heartbeat. It can feel a little like jazz improvisation. If we are lucky, when we say goodbye and log off, we leave excited about the ideas that have just been born and we want to develop them more. After the initial high of inspiration, we come down to a more considered realm of craft. How do we shape the piece whose outlines we have just captured? What shades of nuance and complexity do we want to deepen? Which whirls of fancy do we leave on the workshop floor? And when we have revised and redrafted our ideas, how can we bring them again to the community? 

    To support all those questions and to seed further writing, we come together in the online forum (a password-protected area of my website). During the time between live workshops, I post three times a week on the forum. The posts (also delivered via email) are short and designed to open discussion in the comments. Some will be follow-up questions from the video meeting. Some offer new prompts to generate more writing. Others invite musings on the writing life. I send them out to keep the conversations going and the ink flowing.

    The online forum has another key function: It provides a place to share evolving drafts. Whereas the video connection brings us together in creating raw material and giving verbal responses, the online forum offers a space for written feedback. When writers share a piece, we can take the time to linger longer over the implications of words and ideas. We can let a piece sink in more deeply. And because we’ll see each other again in a live meeting, we can let our responses become a conversation more than a critique. Through discussion and reflection, we have the opportunity to develop the creative space around a piece of writing so that the writing itself has strong foundation from which to branch out and explore.

    I’m really looking forward to the first round of online Spilling the Ink. I feel ready to create this community together. It is one of my deepest beliefs that when are invested in one another, we not only develop better pieces of writing, but we also become better writers and better people. Would you like to join us?  We start on 29 January. A few spaces are still available. It would be a delight to welcome you along. Details and registration here.


    I loved the Writing Circles, they relit my enthusiasm for writing and to just write! Melissa is very encouraging and gives insightful and thought provoking feedback.
    — Nic Williams