1002 Nights

A short story competition sponsored by the Centre for Narrative Leadership and supported by Vala Publishers and the National Centre for the Oral Tradition – Open to all comers – First Prize £500 and to have your story told at a Gala Storytelling Performance on 11th February 2012


Near the end of his book If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, the author Italo Calvino includes a fictitious fragment of a story that might have appeared in 1001 Arabian Nights (although in fact, it does not).  It sets up a wonderfully paradoxical storyline in which the protagonist, Harun al-Rashid, the hero of many tales in the real 1001 Arabian Nights, is required – on pain of death – to kill himself.

The Caliph Harun al-Rashid, one night, in the grip of insomnia, disguises himself as a merchant and goes out into the streets of Baghdad. A boat carries him along the waters of the Tigris to the gate of a garden. At the edge of a pool a maiden beautiful as the moon is singing, accompanying herself on the lute. A slave girl admits Harun to the palace and makes him put on a saffron-coloured cloak. The maiden who was singing in the garden is seated on a silver chair. On cushions around her are seated seven men wrapped in saffron-coloured cloaks. “Only you were missing,” the maiden says, “you are late;” and she invites him to sit on a cushion at her side. “Noble sirs, you have sworn to obey me blindly, and now the moment has come to put you to the test.” And from around her throat the maiden takes a pearl necklace. “This necklace has seven white pearls and one black pearl. Now I will break its string and drop the pearls into an onyx cup. He who draws, by lot, the black pearl must kill the Caliph Harun al-Rashid and bring me his head. As a reward I will give myself to him. But if he should refuse to kill the Caliph, he will be killed by the other seven, who will repeat the drawing of lots for the black pearl.” With a shudder Harun al-Rashid  opens his hand, sees the black pearl and speaks to the maiden. “I will obey the command of fate and yours, on condition that you tell me what offense of the Caliph has provoked your hatred,” he asks, anxious to hear the story.

Such a story deserves an ending; in fact, it deserves many possible endings. The Centre for Narrative Leadership invites writers to submit original stories (of no more than 3500 words) that begin where Calvino left off and conclude his story. If you would like some inspiration then click on the picture below to read a sample story (not eligible for the competition) The Black Pearl by Geoff Mead.

The ten finalists in the competition will be judged by Canadian author and teacher Barbara Turner-Vesselago, the founder of Freefall Writing (www.freefallwriting.com).  The winner will receive £500 and the winning entry will be performed alongside stories from 1001 Arabian Nights at 1002 Nights, a storytelling event on Saturday 11th February 2012 in association with the National Centre for the Oral Tradition (probably at a venue in Chepstow)

Rules and conditions

  1. The competition is open to writers and storytellers from any country – though all entries must be written in English and comply with all rules and conditions.
  2. You may submit more than one story but each one should be sent as a separate entry. All stories must be original and unpublished in any form
  3. The closing deadline for the receipt of entries is 12.00 midday Monday 31st October 2011 (though you may submit entries at any time before that date).
  4. Stories must be 3500 words or less.  Word count to be shown on the title page.
  5. Manuscripts are to be submitted in hard copy (typed or printed) single-sided, in 12 point font, and double-spaced.  Pages should be numbered but not stapled.
  6. There must be nothing on the manuscript to identify the author other than a self-devised code of 8-12 characters/numbers. Attach a sealed envelope (identified with the same self-devised code) to the manuscript containing your full name, postal address, email and telephone contact details.
  7. Enclose the manuscript and the sealed envelope containing your details in a large envelope together with entry fee of £10 to cover administrative costs (cash or postal order please to avoid inadvertent identification of entrant).
  8. Entries should be posted to The Centre for Narrative Leadership, Studio 19, 19 Broad Street, Lyme Regis, Dorset, DT7 3QE, United Kingdom.
  9. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to return any manuscripts.
  10. The winning entry will be announced on 1st January 2012 on the competition website and in writing to the winner thereafter. The judge’s decision is final.
  11. A selection of the stories (at the sponsor’s discretion) will be posted on the website for public access. Unless specifically requested otherwise, the authors of these selected stories will be identified.
  12. Depending on the overall number and quality of entries received, the possibility of publishing a book containing a selection of the stories will be explored.  If this is the case, authors will be contacted for their permission.