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Paul FitzSimons

New Year’s resolutions are funny things. We spend the whole year living our lives, meeting the deadlines that matter, missing the ones that don’t and trying our damnedest to be creative, original and maybe evocative the rest of the time. And then on 31st December, we feel the need to set ourselves these tasks that, even in a state of end-of-year drunkenness, we know we’re not going to achieve by the same time next year.

Or maybe that’s just me. Even though I didn’t vocalise them (I’d never be that silly) to the table of friends with whom I was sharing the new year festivities, I did ‘commit’ to a certain number of goals in my own head, all of them writing-related. The main one, I admit, is broad, ambiguous and open to interpretation – to have some success in my writing career. Depending on what day I’m asked and who’s asking, it might be to have some flash fiction published online or to get a six-figure publishing deal.

If you’re like me and have set yourself some writing-based resolutions but, unlike me, you intend to work hard and actually follow through on them, there is, thankfully, no shortage of goal-posts to aim for.

For those of us starting out in the big-bad-world of novel-writing with the intention of getting a book written this year, we might need some help getting started – it is, after all, a considerable and possibly intimidating task. And who better to give us advice on taking those first steps than writer and creative writing tutor Holly Lisle, who suggests that, before we start actually writing, we should know our work, our characters and our conflict.

On the other hand, we might be further along the process and the objective is to get published in 2014. If we want to go the more the traditional route, the first step is to get represented by an literary agent who will bring our masterpiece to the industry. On my own website, I lay out in simple terms how to first approach an agent. It is important to note that, as I mention in that piece, we should check the submission guidelines of any agent we’re contacting (most of them have a website) as most of them have specific submission requirement.

The alternative to the traditional publishing route is self-publishing. I talk more about this in an earlier column.

For short story writers, the biggest opportunity for success is the Short Story Competition and there is an abundance of these happening in the coming months here in Ireland, further afield and online. RTE are, once again, running their Francis Mac Manus  Short Story Competition. Founded in 1986 in memory of Head of Talks and Features at Radió Éireann Francis Mac Manus, the competition has been the launch pad for a wide variety of the writers such as Nuala Ní Chonchúir and Martin Malone. The deadline for this year’s contest is 31st January.

February 3rd 2014 is the closing date for the Davy Byrnes Short Story Competition, run by The Stinging Fly magazine and boasting Anne Enright as one of judges. The competition is open to Irish citizens and writers who are resident or were born in the thirty-two counties. The contest is for previously unpublished short story written in English with a maximum count is 15,000 words.

The opportunities for writing success are not limited to those writing prose, of course. Film and TV writers can also enjoy success with their projects in 2014. The Irish Film Board, for example, continue to offer development funding for feature films. Screenplay Development Loans are available to writers or writer/director teams who have a feature film project they wish to develop.

Looking further afield, there is fantastic opportunity for screenwriters to develop films in Hollywood by applying for the Academy’s (them what run the Oscars) Nicholls Fellowship. An international screenwriting competition, established in 1985 in honour of writer Don Nicholl, its goal is to identify and encourage talented new screenwriters. Up to five $35,000 Fellowships are awarded annually.

For TV writers, there is the BBC Writers Room. They accept submissions of TV Drama and Comedy scripts, which are then considered for further development and possible production by the BBC. This has also proved to ve a jumping off point for writers, with successful writers’ room contestants going on to have lucrative careers writing for Eastenders and Casualty. Athough they are not accepting scripts now, their next Writers Room submissions window will be open in the coming months.

There is also a wealth of production companies in Ireland and the UK looking for fresh ideas for both the big and small screen. Although many will only talk to agents – see my note above, the same advice applies to TV and film writers – but some producers are willing to talk directly with un-represented  writers.

Playwrights should also check out the BBC Writers Room, specifically the Kenneth Branagh Award. Amateur playwrights are invited to submit unpublished one-act plays for the Windsor Fringe Kenneth Branagh Drama Writing Award. Three winning scripts will be selected for performance during Drama Nights at the Windsor Fringe in October. One of the three scripts will be chosen to be the winner, the prize for which is £500. Submissions Submission deadline March 5th 2014.

Lastly, don’t forget to keep an eye on the competitions page here on for updates on upcoming contests and opportunities.


‘Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.’ – Abraham Lincoln  


After The Start, The Rest Is Inevitable.

Holly Lisle on how to start a novel.

“You have to start the novel, but you have to have planned to finish it before you type the first word on page one.”

Also check out the Getting Started section in Resources for TONS of tips and information!


Getting an Agent – The Dos and Do-Not-Dos

My own tuppence-worth on submitting to literary agents.

“If you have written a novel that you would like to get published, it is advisable to retain a literary agent.”



Nothing Wrong With A Bit Of Healthy Competition.

RTE’s Francis McManus competition returns for another year.

“This year marks the 26th anniversary of the RTÉ Radio 1 Short Story Competition, which over the years has proved to be the launching pad for many renowned Irish writers.”



Ouch, That Stings.

The return of the Stinging Fly magazine’s Davy Byrnes Short Story Competition.

“The short story yields truth more easily than any other form, and these truths abide in changing times.”



Lights, Camera, Action.

The Irish Film Board continues to offer script development funding to screenwriters.

“Screenplay Development Loans enable writers, or writers and directors, to develop a first draft and/or revised draft of a screenplay for a live-action fiction or animated feature film.”



And The Oscar Goes To…

From Hollywood, the Academy brings us the Nicholls Fellowship.

“The Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting is an international screenwriting competition established to identify and encourage talented new screenwriters.”



Talk To A Producer.

Production companies such as Accomplice TV are always keen to hear about quality Drama and Comedy.

“We’re always on the lookout for new talent and we have a dedicated development department.”



The Play’s The Thing.

The BBC bring us a competition for playwrights.

“Amateur playwrights are invited to submit unpublished one-act plays for the Windsor Fringe Kenneth Branagh Drama Writing Award.”

About the author

(c) Paul FitzSimons

Paul FitzSimons is a screenwriter and novelist and has written the novel ‘Burning Matches’ and a number of scripts for film and TV. He has worked as a storyline writer on RTE’s ‘Fair City’. His short stories are published in ‘Who Brought The Biscuits’ by The Naas Harbour Writers. Paul likes crime thrillers, good coffee and Cadbury’s chocolate. He doesn’t like country-and-western music or people who don’t indicate on roundabouts.

Paul also runs the Script Editing service Paul | The | Editor.

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