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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  • Holly Kirkwood

    The Easter Issue contains the winning short story for the Country Life Short Story competition, as chosen by Alexander McCall Smith and editor Mark Hedges.

  • Moris Bianca

    Hi, when can we expect the results for the contest?

  • Leonard Biblitz

    Must it be received or postmarked by Feb. 15? Coming from North America.

  • Holly Kirkwood

    The main thing here is that the subject of the story needs to be ‘Country Life’ – whatever that means to you. You can’t just send in a story you’ve already written for other purposes. This has to be about the country, or the countryside, as laid out in the entry terms and conditions.

  • Holly Kirkwood

    Nishant yes entries can be from anywhere in the world, as long as they comply with the rules above, in that they’re typed, spaced correctly etc, and in English. Country Life in India is just as valid a subject as Country Life anywhere else so please do go ahead and enter. Thanks.

  • nishant singh

    Hi ,

    Will you consider entry from India ?

    Also, my theme will be based on country life, but of course it will be based on Indian country life, as that’s what i been exposed to. Will it be acceptable?

  • Val

    Yes, it does, and that is good news.
    Thank you for clarifying.

  • Holly Kirkwood

    I am so sorry if any of this is being misconstrued. We wouldn’t publish anything without first writing to the author and agreeing terms and payment. It’s highly unlikely that we’d publish any other stories than the winner. I hope that makes everything clear.

  • Val

    “as to whether we publish any others further down the line, we don’t have to decide that yet”

    No, maybe not yet, but there will have to be a cut-off so that non-winning entrants know that they are free to submit their entries elsewhere. Also, entrants may be put off if they believe that their stories may be published at a later date without payment.
    Could you not at least say that, in the event that you would like to publish additional non-winning stories, terms will be discussed/agreed with the authors at the time?

  • Holly Kirkwood

    It’s fine to put your names on the actual story, please do. We are retaining all rights to stories we publish. The author of the winning story will receive a prize of £500, and that story will be published in our Easter Issue this year – as to whether we publish any others further down the line, we don’t have to decide that yet. This competition is primarily to find a brilliant Easter story for that issue of the magazine.

  • Jules

    “In terms of copyright, we will retain all rights to stories which we choose to publish. All other entrants will retain the rights to their own work.”

    With regards to the above, does this mean that you might publish other stories as well as the winning story? Will the authors be paid?

  • Heather

    “In terms of copyright, we will retain all rights to stories which we choose to publish. All other entrants will retain the rights to their own work.”

    Does this mean that you may publish stories other than the winning ones? If so, will there be any payment for this?
    Is there any reason for taking copyright from the winning story rather than just First Serial Rights ?
    As these terms were not included in the rules above and people may already have entered
    it seems a little unreasonable to include them now.

  • Jan

    Sorry, but I’m still not clear on this. I think what Julia (Jan 19) meant was: Is it o.k. to put our names on the actual story, or should we ensure that our details are only shown on a separate sheet? Some competitions disqualify you if your name is on your story.

  • Holly Kirkwood

    Yes entries from all over are invited, as long as they are in English.

    Entrants can enter more than one story.

    In terms of copyright, we will retain all rights to stories which we choose to publish. All other entrants will retain the rights to their own work.

  • Jules

    Can we enter more than one story?

  • Ken Hughes

    Hi – Does copyright remain with the author for all entries winning or otherwise? Thanks

  • Holly Kirkwood

    Hi there. You need to include your name and contact details so we can get back to you. Entries are accepted from all countries, yes provided that they’re in English.

  • Julia

    Do we put our names on top of our stories or is it judged anonymously?

  • Gerard BLANC

    Are entries from abroad (in my case France) allowed, provided of course the short story is written in English?