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Winning the StoryLinks Short Story competition by Ali Rutstein

Ali Rutstein won the 2023  Short Story Competition for adult writers 18+ with her story The Loophole.

Originally from England, Ali Rutstein moved to Australia over twenty years ago. She is now firmly settled in Brisbane, where she lives with her partner, three sons, and an assortment of disobedient pets. Ali has a background in zoology and scientific writing, but much prefers writing picture books for children. She writes stories inspired by her passion for wildlife and steals ideas from amusing conversations with her children.
Alison was interviewed about her win which you can read in full here.
TODAY she talks about the process of writing a winning story.
The seed for my story started from a bizarre conversation I had with my partner, Tom, about pets. I knew that keeping a pet rabbit was illegal in Queensland, but then Tom told me that you could have a rabbit in Queensland if you had a magician’s licence, which to me was just hilarious! And then the story evolved from there. Over the years I have tried magic trick kits with my kids, and they are always disappointing, and never live up to expectations, so I thought this was perfect for a story. It really did evolve little by little, the chicken part came in quite a bit later.
The advice ‘write what you know’ and ‘do your research’ always works for me. I used to have a pet rabbit (in England), called Toby. I researched loads of rabbit videos on YouTube. And quite by chance I read a chicken picture book that had some end matter about how clever chickens were. We also have three pet chickens (who do not seem very clever) so the behaviour I wrote about came from them.
I mostly write picture books, so this was quite different for me, both in terms of word length and target age group, But I thoroughly enjoyed being able to write more than 500 words! What I found helpful was starting to write early and then re-writing and re-writing then re-writing some more. The story was always in my head, and then I would think of something or see something that would give me an idea and I kept adding small details to make it more authentic and interesting. I even changed it at 3am the night before the competition deadline when I had a mini-revelation.
I also read older entries to the competition just to see what had won previously. That was helpful, even for things like formatting. I looked at Jo’s story to see how to do a scene break, for example.
Winning was a massive boost to my confidence, I felt like a proper writer! Other than the CYA competition (picture book non-fiction category, so very different), it was my first competition win and I can’t tell you how exciting it was to be short-listed and then to win and receive the award at the Narelle Oliver Lecture. It was honestly the highlight of my year. It’s great that it gets published on the website too because anyone can read it. For my fellow write-links friends to message me and tell me they liked my story meant such a lot to me. Winning this competition also gave me the confidence to try writing junior fiction and lower middle grade manuscripts, which I am currently ploughing away at. I’m not sure that I would have ventured into that territory otherwise.
Ali’s book Ladybirds Do Not Go to Day Care has just been longlisted in the CBCA’s 2024 Book of the Year: Early Childhood.
Writers aged 18+ are invited to enter the 2024 StoryLinks Short Story competition. Entries should be a short story, maximum of 1500 words, suitable for children of any age up to 15 years old. Due date for entries is Monday, April 1, 2024. The winner will receive $250.00 and they will be invited to have their story published on StoryLinks website. For guidelines and entry details go to Terms, Conditions and Guidelines for Short Story Competition – adult entries

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