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Writing the Short Story: Lighting the Spark

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Start: 29th January 2020 - 6:00pm

Finish: 26th February 2020 - 8:30pm


Do you enjoy reading and listening to short stories? Are you curious about how a writer evokes an entire world in just ten or twenty pages? Would you like to explore for yourself the ways in which stories take life on the page?  


Recent feedback for Alison MacLeod from a range of mentees, course participants & writing students:

‘What an extraordinary teacher and writer ... It was a joy.’

‘Made me a bit more daring. Encouraged me to revisit a piece of work. Both very helpful. Alison's structure and approach was really stimulating - also her confident preparation and generosity.’

‘Very insightful into areas I could improve my writing and also how in the future I could continue in my development.’

‘I've learned a lot about editing, and how to improve my writing from sentences to structure. The feedback I got, especially in tutorials, was incredibly useful, constructive and helpful.’

‘FANTASTIC advice, encouragement and professionalism ... Generous, warm, available and well-organised.’

‘It gave me confidence to press on as well as an awareness of the commitment needed. Opened my eyes to the potential of the short story form. Everything was wonderful - both challenging and supportive. I am both exhilarated and exhausted!’


Writing The Short Story: Lighting the Spark is a five-week course open to both new short story writers and writers with some experience of writing stories or writing in another form. You might simply have a desire to write and to begin to make that a reality, or you might have half-finished drafts of stories at the bottom of a drawer.  The aim of this course is to advance your understanding of the short story form, whatever your starting point as a writer.

Join us in the inspiring premises of Bloomsbury Publishing in central London for friendly group discussions, practical writing tasks, workshops, and expert advice from course leader Alison MacLeod, an award-winning writer of short stories and novels, and a longstanding writing teacher, academic and mentor.  

Students will explore some of the essential elements of contemporary short story writing: short story structure and characterisation; voice and dialogue; prose economy and compression; the use of the senses and Chekhov’s famous injunction to writers: “Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

You will be encouraged to trust your imagination and your experience. You will actively explore some of the  vital aspects of the creative process: sources of inspiration; a writer’s ‘play’ with ideas and images; observation and research; the importance of drafting and re-drafting.

We will consider some of the unique ‘magic’ of the short story. How does a great short story grow into much more than the sum of its parts? Why do stories often stay with us, as if indelible, when the plots of even very good novels can fade? Why is the short story recognised as a great space for innovation and risk-taking? Why do stories often spring from that which is hidden or taboo? Why does the word ‘miracle’ sometimes attach itself to the short story as a form?

Alison will share with the group the writing process behind one or two of her own successful short stories. Near the end of the course, we will be joined by a leading short story editor and by a leading producer of short stories for broadcast. They will share their insights and take questions.

Each student will receive detailed feedback and guidance from Alison on a 1,500-word extract from a short story in progress. Each participant will also receive a copy of the latest edition of the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook and a signed copy of Alison’s latest story collection, All the Beloved Ghosts (a ‘joy to read… exceptionally accomplished - The Irish Times).  

Each evening session will run from 6.00-8.30 pm, making it ideal for those with full-time jobs and other commitments.

In the final week, participants will be invited to stay later, until 9.30, to celebrate the conclusion of the course and to socialise.

The course includes:

- 12.5 hours of expert tutoring and advice from a leading author and industry professionals

- Practical sessions with guided writing tasks to enable you to write the story you might want to write and to      explore fresh approaches to story-writing

- detailed, written feedback and guidance on a draft section of your story-in-progress (up to 1,500 words)

- a recommended short story reading list

- The chance to work as a writer in a small group at the historic offices of Bloomsbury Publishing 

- a signed copy of the course leader’s latest book, a copy of the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook plus exclusive discounts on W&A products.


Week 1: Wednesday 29th January

The Dynamics of the Short story

-  A good short story is far more than a short plot.  What makes a short story go?  What is the source of a story’s momentum?  

-  How does a writer create the essential narrative tension?  What is ‘narrative tension’?

- There are never ‘rules’; there are principles of good writing that allow the reader to ‘co-create’ the story as they read. What are some of these principals?

- Characterisation – human life – is everything to the short story form. How do story writers begin to create life on the page?  Is this different than, say, a novelist’s approach?

Week 2: Wednesday 5th February

Creating Character, Part 1: the Spark of Life  

How do you create involving characters who ‘come to life’?

- What is the role of conflict or ‘trouble’ and desire?

- How do we focus our characters while ensuring the reader has the space to ‘co-create’ them with us?

Week 3: Wednesday 12th February

Creating Character, Part 2: Excavating the Life

How do we dig deeper to show the full truth of our characters?

- How do we achieve the nuance of characterisation that is true to life?

- What about characters in non-realist stories – e.g. stories/characters that are ‘fantastic’ in form, uncanny or perhaps dystopian? How do we write true stories when writing ‘impossible’ fictions? 

Week 4: Wednesday 19th February

Finer Points, Part 1: The Spell of a Story

From 7.15 – 8.30 pm, we will by join by Elizabeth Allard, leading BBC producer of fiction and non-fiction, including short stories. Liz will share with us some of her insights and expertise as a producer and editor of audio short stories. She will also take questions.

- What is ‘the voice’ of a story?   

- Is it your voice, a ‘first-person voice’ or something else?

- How does it draw us in or compel us to read or to listen? 

- How is it different than the voices in dialogue? 

- How do we create imaginative ‘space’ for our readers or listeners?

Week 5: Wednesday 26th February

Finer Points, Part 2: Drafting and Editing a Story

From 7.30 – 8.30, we will be joined by writer and editor, Nicholas Royle. Nick edits the renowned Best British Short Stories anthology, now in its 9th year. He will share some of his insights and expertise, and take questions from the group.

- How much redrafting is ‘normal’?

- In a short story, does every word count?

- How can we become better editors of our stories? What do we need to look for in our own work?

- When the time is right and the labour is done, where can we submit short stories?

Speaker Profiles

Alison MacLeod’s most recent book, All the Beloved Ghosts, was shortlisted for The 2018 Edge Hill Short Story Prize for best single-author short story collection in the UK and Ireland. It was also a finalist for Canada’s 2017 Governor General’s Award for Fiction and named one of the Guardian‘s ‘Best Books of 2017’. In 2016, MacLeod was joint winner of The Eccles British Library Writer’s Award. Her most recent novel, Unexploded, was long-listed for the 2013 Man-Booker Prize for Fiction and serialised for BBC Radio 4. It is currently optioned for film, while her short stories are often heard on BBC radio. She is currently completing her next novel for Bloomsbury.

Liz Allard has been commissioning and producing short stories and serialised fiction and non-fiction for almost twenty years for BBC Radio. As our guest, she will be exploring some of the key differences and challenges of writing for sound, with some practical tips and advice.

Nicholas Royle is the author of three short story collections and seven novels, most recently First Novel. He has edited more than twenty anthologies and is series editor of Best British Short Stories. Reader in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, he also runs Nightjar Press and is head judge of the Manchester Fiction Prize.

Event Details

The event will be held at Bloomsbury Publishing, 50 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3DP. 

Booking & Payment

The course fee of £350 (inc. VAT) is payable in full online. 

Please do contact us if you wish to discuss an instalment payment plan by calling 0207 631 5985 or by sending an email to

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