I trawl writing newsletters for competitions. I have even won a couple of prizes, ranging from a box of felt-tip pens to a more welcome £50 cheque. For one thing, respecting a 500-word, or even a 50-word, deadline in flash fiction competitions is excellent discipline in making every word count.
Another reason is that tackling an unfamiliar theme, or venturing into an unknown setting, can unlock reservoirs of creativity. Once you start looking, there is no shortage of unusual subjects to tackle. Every year, the Bulwer Lytton prize offers the opportunity to commit every crime in an author's arsenal by penning the most ludicrous opening sentence to a novel, and I compose my entry with glee. I was once published inside a Christmas cracker, one of a special set of 12. For various competitions, I attempted to see the world from the viewpoint of a ghost, a witch, a tree and a cactus. Alas, none of my supernatural creations dripped gore, making them unsuitable for most of the horror competitions advertised, but in a sideways fashion they have influenced the way I write about real life.
My latest effort has been a fun competition run by Wine Tourism Spain, which requested entries on the unlikely pairing of aliens and wine. A mish-mash of sci-fi and travel writing, within a limited word count? The source of inspiration in real life had to be a glass or two of chilled Rueda Verdejo. To see what I wrote, visit my blog.