PEI

Island man determined to keep his crown in short story-writing contest

Island writers are sharpening their pencils — if people still do that — in anticipation of the launch of a contest to write a short story of 2,500 words or less in just one week.

'You basically have to get off your butt and get on the keyboard and bang it out'

Matthew MacKay accepts the trophy for winning the 2018 Battle Tales short story competition on P.E.I. (P.E.I. Writers' Guild)

Island writers are sharpening their pencils — if people still do that — in anticipation of the launch of a contest to write a short story of 2,500 words or less in just one week. 

Battle Tales is a project of the P.E.I. Writers' Guild and it begins Sunday morning at one minute past midnight. Writers follow three "prompts" or suggestions for story direction.

"I was absolutely amazed, I was so pleased, it was so cool," said Matthew MacKay of Seaview, P.E.I., who won last year's Battle Tales in his first-ever entry to the contest, which was also his first-ever attempt at short-story writing.

"Battle Tales came out January the 20th last year — I would have become a writer January the 20th last year!" he joked. 

MacKay's son Jed is a freelance writer for Marvel Comics and he urged his father, who had recently retired from his job as a graphic designer, to try his hand at writing for the contest. 

"It was a great shot in the arm, it was a lot of fun and I've been writing ever since," said MacKay, who is 63. "Not writing well and not being published but I've been picking away at things."

'A real joy'

MacKay said last year he intended to write a comic story, but as he read the prompts and began writing, the story came out dark and gritty instead. 

"It's a great catalyst, a contest like this — gets a lot of fence-sitters and people who are terrified at short stories and novels to try their hand," he said. He also enjoyed using the prompts as a tool to build his story. 

We're not exactly expecting fully-polished Shakespeare.— Keith Burgoyne

"You basically have to get off your butt and get on the keyboard and bang it out."

MacKay has written several more short stories and is working on a screenplay that he'd like to submit for a contest in 2020. 

He said he's enjoyed bouncing ideas off his son. 

"It's a real joy," he said. "We've always been close, but this gives us another area to be close in." 

He's also determined to try to hang onto his crown in this year's Battle Tales contest. 

Unexpected number of entries

This will be the fourth year for the contest, which has proven to be very popular — the first year, it received an unexpected 67 entries. 

'Almost half the value of Battle Tales is the fact that it gets you to end it,' says Burgoyne. (Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash)

"We said oh, we'll probably get a dozen, tops," recalls Keith Burgoyne, past president of the writers' guild and Battle Tales co-ordinator. "We were completely surprised." 

This year organizers are expecting at least 50 entries. Not bad for a contest that has no prize other than a trophy, a $30 membership to the writers' guild, and bragging rights.  

"We're not exactly expecting fully-polished Shakespeare," said Burgoyne. "We are looking for creative use of the prompts and a fairly good use of language and imagery." 

The contest is designed to give writers an incentive, or a "kick in the pants," to get their creative juices flowing. 

"This does force you to begin and end," Burgoyne said, noting writers like him often have many unfinished projects. "Almost half the value of Battle Tales is the fact that it gets you to end it." 

'Defining moment'

"We want people to have fun, because writing can be arduous and difficult," Burgoyne said. 

'We want people to have fun because writing can be arduous and difficult,' says Keith Burgoyne. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

Author and playwright Steven Mayoff will judge the entries for the third time. Mayoff provides feedback notes to the winner on their entry for tweaks that might make their story more polished. 

Writers have until Saturday, Jan. 26 at 11:59 p.m. to submit their stories. Winners will be announced at an event in early March. 

The P.E.I. Writers's Guild runs the annual Island Literary Awards which recognize the best in Island writing with cash prizes. It also holds talks and workshops for Island writers to hone their craft and get published.

One Battle Tales submission went on, after some editing and polishing, to win an Island Literary Award, which Burgoyne said was a thrill for him as the contest's organizer.

"That was a defining moment where I said 'This is what I wanted Battle Tales to be!'" he said. 

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About the Author

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a bachelor of journalism (honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email sara.fraser@cbc.ca

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