Short story competition: Theme: Microbes. Deadline Sept 2023

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Deadline 21st September 2023. £500 prize (or local currency equivalent) plus runners up prizes of £200 for 2nd place and £100 for 3rd place

Theme: Microbes to the Rescue!

This short story competition is sponsored by the Environmental Biotechnology Network. It may appeal to writers with a scientific bent as it aims to use fiction to raise awareness of Environmental Biotechnology and what microbial systems can do for us.

First we recommend you watch this short video that explains Environmental Biotechnology.

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We want stories that celebrate the incredible things microbes can do often with materials we tend to regard with a degree of disgust: human and animal waste, food waste, pesticides and chemicals. For example, microbial systems can turn waste into compost; environmental biotechnology can help clear up pollutants etc. Green Stories is about solutions – not problems – so your story can acknowledge but not focus on the negatives of the pollutant or situation. Rather it should include a positive message either directing attention towards a better future involving microbial systems or showing how to minimise a pollutant footprint.  To be clear, we are talking about situations where these microbial systems have been deliberately engineered* and utilised – not pre-existing naturally occurring systems. The purpose is to see them in a new light.

*NOT Genetically Modified Organism engineered. We mean “engineered” using physical means/mechanisms like bioreactors/fermenters/treatment plants, even landscape intervention or enhanced landfill or composting!)

Your challenge is to write a short story (between 1000 and 3000 words) that directs attention towards a better future involving environmental biotechnology (EB) or promotes how EB works to minimise a pollutant footprint.

We provide story briefs, ideas and information resources further down to inspire you.

We will update this page with details of runner up prizes and links to more information related to a free online workshop up until June. Sign up to our mailing list to be informed when more details are available.

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Free virtual workshop 31st July 6-7 pm BST for aspiring entrants to get early feedback on entries

A virtual green story writing workshop (free to attend) for aspiring entrants on 31st July was held where you can ask questions of experts in the field to help develop your story. Click here to see the recording.

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The first part was about making sure you know the facts about Environmental Biotechnology and microbial system. You don’t have to use all this information in your story – it won’t be very readable if you do – but it will help you develop your story. The second half of the workshop was an opportunity to discuss questions relating to your story ideas.

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Submission criteria and submission link

Entry Fee: Free

Eligibility: Open to all – we encourage international writers. All submissions must be in English and unpublished.

Length: We ask for a short story of between 1000 and 3000 words.

Please submit your short story (<3000 words) plus around 200 words on your thinking behind your approach and how your story meets the criteria. The title of the document should be the title of your story. No need to have your name/contact details on the document as we take these separately.

We are keen to encourage quality submissions, so suggest writers to check their stories before submitting using Prowritingaid. They have free and paid versions and are the best writing software we know to help improve grammar, readability and check for repetition, ‘sticky’ sentences and suggest alternatives.

Submit HERE

Judging Criteria

Entries will be judged on the following criteria:

  1. Well written, engaging story between 1000 and 3000 words
  2. Directs attention towards a better future involving EB or promotes how EB works to minimise a pollutant footprint.

We recommend you check out the free mini anthology of short stories here that illustrate how you can weave education about green issues into entertaining stories.

Story Ideas

We encourage you to develop one of the story ideas below or adapt it to suit your own ideas and preferred genre/style. For example, you can write in a light and funny style, or dark and tragic. But you are free to come up with a different idea of your own.

1.    The Optimistic Future

Draw on trends in current society regarding UK environmental law and regulation together with the UN Sustainable Development Goals to imagine a future where EB is embedded into the fabric of our lives. This need not be political in nature. Rather, what would the lived experience be for people as our infrastructure, environment, societal norms and attitudes change? Characters can reflect on their past/our present and look ahead. Ideas to get you started…

  • A story set at a celebration of a new park at the site of an old landfill or waste-dump as the final sign-off proves it is now up to the same standard as a pristine environment. Do they still talk about the impact on local house prices in the future?
  • In class, a teacher looks at sediment cores of the Anthropocene pointing out the abrupt change in time where various microplastics/pollutants started and stopped in the record. What do his students really think about the socio-political upheaval which led to Net-Zero Pollution targets?
  • An agricultural show with a difference! Underhand gamesmanship at the 2050 Sustainable Soils competition: put your microbes on display for how fast they can handle pesticide/herbicide residues. Did someone really spike the mix with slug pellets or was it all a misunderstanding?

2.    Movers and Shakers of the present

There is a lot available on initiatives that are shaping our present – here are some to get you started with ideas. The UK Water Industry Research Big Questions looks to improve our water. The ABDA Trade Association is processing waste to energy and fertiliser. Interesting science from the Covid-19 pandemic fast-tracked biosurveillance techniques to track what is going on in our wastewater demonstrating how we can track indicators of health, or even pollution and drug residues from Glastonbury! For example, our EBNet Working Group on this is looking at paper-origami sensors for rapid testing. Meanwhile Government support for biorefineries continues apace. And a recent biomass report outlines the state of play. Take your own trawl through the internet to find out how microbes help us clean up.

  • If it wasn’t for those pesky kids… Detective story using citizen science biosurveillance to track down and prosecute a river polluter. What would the media coverage be like outside the successful court case. 
  • Nostalgia: a Victorian engineer adds a bit personal graffiti, imagining someone seeing it when the wastewater tanks are replaced. Present day: a brand new biorefinery complex is putting it on permanent display. What was the message?
  • At a wastewater plant near you… a microbial city Olympics is taking place. Marvel as the microbes compete to be the best at their different chemical sports. But which team will win the most medals and take the prize home? And what even counts as a desirable prize?

3.    The Strange and the Familiar

People are already familiar with tamed microbial systems in everyday contexts. But can you find a way to link them together with EB to mix the strange with the familiar?

  • A cook loses her sourdough starter, carefully cultivated as a legacy from her grandmother. Meanwhile her son grapples with an unexpected equipment failure at the local wastewater plant – will he fix the heaters in time to save the day, or will the microbes perish?
  • And what do you do? A woman at a party gets tongue-tied when she tries to explain her lab work with a bioreactor tackling eutrophication issues. Until a Real Ale enthusiast steps in to mansplain his home brew (set up in a bucket) to her. Will sparks fly?
  • A gardener/allotment composter quietly tends his heap picking out the plastic ties and putting in the grass cuttings. Meanwhile a ramshackle neighbour bemoans the new food-waste collections in his area. First glass, then recyclables, and now food waste! What are they even going to do with it anyway?

4.    Other

Surprise us – the whole idea is to get outside perspectives!

Information and resources for the short story competition

The EB network is sponsoring this competition. Their website has an explanatory video of environmental biotechnology : direct link here:   – and our YouTube channel (quite technical) is here:

Why study sewage?

Where does your sewage go?.

Power from Poo

What is anaerobic digestion?

What is bioremediation?

Enzyme Biocatalysis for the Circular Recycling of Plastics

Prize: £500 for the winner (or local currency equivalent)

The main prize for the winner is £500 plus up to three runner up prizes totaling £300 (or the local currency equivalent).

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