It’s never too late to become unlocking hidden talent among our readers. It’s open to all writers, whether potential or published, the only qualification being that your story must touch on the theme of ‘country life’.

Alexander McCall Smith’s top tips

Alexander McCall Smith is one of the most prolific and best-loved authors in Britain, famous for his ‘Ladies’ Detective Agency’, ‘Scotland Street’, ‘Corduroy Mansions’ and ‘Sunday Philosophy Club’ series, and is the master of thought-provoking story-telling. Here, he offers 10 tips for successful short-story writing

1 Remember that a short story is exactly that: a short story. Don’t be afraid to make it very brief. There is no harm in being succinct. Don’t use too many adjectives, and keep sentences reasonably compact-don’t try to write like Marcel Proust.
2 Remember, too, that it’s a story. It is not a ramble, a muse or a rant!
3 Make it interesting. The reader has to want to read it, and may make up his or her mind as to whether it’s readable after only a few sentences.
4 Writing is not therapy. Keep your personal problems out of it, but write about what you know and use local colour.
5 Don’t write what you think people want you to write. Write from the heart. Write what you believe (at the same time, remembering advice about ranting above)

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6 A short story can create a whole world, a whole life, in a few sentences, so don’t over-elaborate. A few brushstrokes can paint a very broad picture.
7 Don’t have too many characters. Russian novels have hundreds of characters-but they’re Russian novels.
8 Read the masters (such as Somerset Maugham) to see how they do it. The more short stories you read, the better your own will become.
9 Remember that speech in fiction is different from speech in real life. Don’t try to be too naturalistic- people use lots of ums and ers and sloppy language when they’re talking but that doesn’t look good in a story
10 Try to get in a surprise or two. A good twist helps a great deal.


The winning story will be chosen by COUNTRY LIFE Editor Mark Hedges and Alexander McCall Smith. It will be published in our Easter issue, March 27, 2013, and the winner will receive a cheque for £500. The story should be up to 1,500 words long and based, however loosely, around a theme of country life. Entries must be typed, in doubleline spacing, and posted to: Katy Birchall, COUNTRY LIFE, Blue Fin Building, 110, Southwark Street, London, SE1 0SU. Closing date: February 15, 2013

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