BUDDING writers are being given the chance to show their talents.
The Examiner has teamed up with Huddersfield University to launch a short story competition.
And to help get you under way, Gaia Holmes, an associate lecturer in creative writing at Huddersfield University, has come up with some key points to producing the perfect short story.
Gaia is herself looking forward to being published - her first full-length poetry collection Dr James Graham's Celestial Bed is due to be published by Comma Press in spring 2006, and these are her ideas to finding your feet as a writer:
I'll start this article with the obvious.
Before you can learn how to write, you've got to learn how to read.
Nourish your creativity, feed your head and read!
Reading is essential fuel for the writer.
As Natalie Goldberg, the American novelist says, if you don't read you'll be running on empty.
And English novelist Sara Maitland said: "Writers need to read, not just to understand genre and form or to develop narrative strategies, but in order to enrich their language and extend their knowledge and sensibility."
Gorge on books. Read good fiction and consider what makes it good.
Read bad fiction and consider what makes it bad.
Explore! Go to the library and borrow a short story collection by an author you've never read before.
What do you think?
Take notes . . . what do you feel constitutes a good short story?
Do your research. Consider what kind of short stories you are drawn to and why.
Do you like stories with an unexpected twist?
Do you like stories that are dense in description, or stark and ambiguous?
Don't be afraid of being influenced.
Influence is a vital component of style.
Some writers refuse to read because they feel that the act of reading may corrupt their own style.
They fear that they will be merely imitating what has already been written, but we learn most things by imitation.
If you've been reading Raymond Carver for the last two weeks and feel that it's his spirit that's pushing the pen, not yours, then read something completely different.
The more diversely you read, the more influences you will absorb and these influences will fuse together.
They will mingle with your own voice and create something new and unique.
When you've done your research, when you've read and read and read, when your head is bulging with other people's stories, then you will be ready to begin.
Writing is cheap. You don't need expensive oil paints and canvases or state-of-the-art technology.
In the initial stages of writing all you need is paper and a pen.
Invest in a notebook and carry it with you wherever you go so that you can catch and trap the ideas as they form.
I'm a notebook junkie and have been writing in them for years.
My old ones take up a generous space in the attic, squeezed into several suitcases.
They are fat, straining with ideas and old tickets, warped and swollen with glued-in newspaper cuttings and photographs.
My notebooks chart my history as a writer.
They hold small seeds that have grown into stories, and embryonic sketches that have become fully fledged characters.
Choose your notebook with care because it is to become your new and constant companion.
Pick up a few notebooks and feel their weight.
Run your fingers across the blank pages and test their texture. I've tried many different types of notebooks. I've tried pretty little jewel- caked ones, but found that the small pages restricted what I wrote.
I've tried ones with thick, richly coloured pages, but found that the coarseness of the paper hindered the flow of my pen.
Now I favour moleskin notebooks (legendary notebooks used by the likes of Ernest Hemmingway and Bruce Chatwin), chunky black hard-backs with skinny lines and creamy pages.
Your notebook is an extra filing cabinet for the mind, fill it with the things that inspire you: fragments of overheard conversations, descriptions of people and places.
These are the raw materials that may later become stories.
Computers are useful (and essential) tools for the writer later on in the process, but for now spend some quality time with your notebook.
Buy a Day Rider ticket, go to a town or village you've never been to before, and write.
Arm yourself with a flask, climb Castle Hill and write.
Walk through Huddersfield town centre soaking up the facts, then go to a cafe or pub and write.
* For more details on Gaia Holmes's poetry collection Dr James Graham's Celestial Bed visit the Comma Press website at www.commapress.co.uk
WE want you to write a story on any subject - but it must be no longer than 1,500 words long.
To qualify, you must be aged 16 or over, and live within the Examiner's circulation area.
There's a top prize of £250 for our winner and the winner, plus runners-up, will be invited to join a one-day writing workshop with a professional author, to help them hone their skills.
Entrants must be prepared to read an extract of their work in front of an audience at a festival in March - and they must also be happy to see their work and possibly a photograph in the Examiner, published under their real name.
We reserve the right to edit stories, sympathetically of course.
Tales can be punchy and dramatic but remember, the Examiner is a family newspaper so don't add too much violence or sex.
Finished stories can be posted to Jenny Parkin at the Examiner, PO Box A26, Queen Street South, Huddersfield, HD1 2TD, or emailed to jenny.parkin @examiner co.uk.
Please include a covering letter telling us a bit about yourself - full name, age, job, family, how long you've been writing and how you got the inspiration for your story.
Stories must not have been published before.