In association with Bradt travel guides

Independent on Sunday travel writing competition: Write your way to an inspirational week in Croatia

We have once again joined forces with Bradt Travel Guides  to offer readers the chance to win our travel-writing competition, with a top prize this year of a holiday for two to the Croatian region of Istria. PLUS have your winning story published in 'The Independent on Sunday' and Independent.co.uk

The prizes and how to enter

The first prize is a holiday for two to the beautiful Croatian region of Istria and publication of the winning entry in the travel section of The Independent on Sunday. In addition, the winner will earn a commission from the newspaper to write a piece about their prize visit to Istria. This prize can be won by either a previously published or an unpublished writer.

A special prize will also be awarded to an unpublished writer. This is a place on a travel-writing weekend run by Travellers' Tales, the UK's leading training agency for travel writing.

Every entry to the competition will be entered for the first prize; only unpublished writers will be eligible for the special prize.

To offer this opportunity, we have again teamed up with Bradt Travel Guides ( bradtguides .com), the pioneering guidebook publisher. The competition is open to all writers who are resident in the UK.

The theme this year is "A Narrow Escape". Entries must be original, previously unpublished and based on personal experience relating to the theme. Minimum length is 600 words; maximum length is 800 words. The closing date for the competition is midnight on 2 June.

For full competition rules, go to independent.co.uk/bradtcomp

To enter, go to bradtguides.com/travelwriting

What are the judges looking for?

The writer needs to grab the reader's attention and hold it. The best writers do this so that the reader is hardly aware of the technique. But it's always there, especially in short articles. For inspiration, the shortlisted entrants to our 2012 competition are available at bradtguides.com with details of the next annual Bradt travel-writing seminar in September.

Get started!

The opening sentence. Get this right and you have the reader's attention. Here are some opening sentences from 2012 which caught our eye:

"A big red X was spray-painted onto the side of rusting corrugated iron. I never expected death to be so clearly marked."

"I only had one bullet so I aimed straight between the eyes."

"He glides quite elegantly around the bend, that great blubberish Peruvian in his little yellow pants."

The shape of the piece

Some of the most successful articles start with an eye-catching sentence, as above, and then go back to set the scene and explain how the writer got to that situation. Assuming there's a beginning, a middle and an end, the middle is where you generally find the best descriptive writing. All good writers have the ability to "paint the picture" so that the reader visualises the places and people described while moving forward with the narrative.

The power of the individual sentence or phrase

With only 800 words with which to impress the judges, every sentence carries weight. The following are from the 2012 winning entry, "A Wolf in the Mountains" by Julia Bohanna:

"The donkey has sides like an over-stuffed purse, a trembling mouth and the dark, hopeless eyes of a depressive."

"My donkey has stopped. In a strange hoofy tiptoe he moves – not forward, but sideways – towards the edge. Stones flake from the side and give me an indication of his wish to die."

"That's what wolves do ... they separate the weak and the sick, surround them, and tear off strips of flesh like liquorice. Don't they?"

Wrapping it all up

The closing sentence or paragraph is all-important. It sums up the story, often returning to the opening sentence. Ideally there is something surprising, shocking, moving or amusing about it.

The prizes and judges

Istria

The prize is a one-week holiday for two to Istria, courtesy of the Croatian National Tourist Office ( croatia.hr) and the Istria Tourist Board, returning before 14 June 2014. This peninsula in the northern Adriatic, rivals Tuscany and Provence. Its hilly interior contains medieval villages, olive groves and vineyards; the coastline is never far away, offering pretty coves and hidden bays to explore.

You'll have time to discover the Venetian town of Rovinj and the Roman amphitheatre at Pula, as well as have the opportrunityto enjoy the region's gastronomy – including truffles and just-caught fish. The prize includes return flights, transfers and four-star accommodation, as well as guided tours, and wine and olive oil tastings. The tourist boards will prepare a bespoke itinerary for you, but you will also have plenty of time to explore the area for yourself.

Travellers' Tales

The prize for unpublished writers is a place on any travel-writing weekend in 2013 or 2014 run by Travellers' Tales ( travellerstales.org). The prize does not include transport.

The judges

The judges will include representatives from Bradt Travel Guides, Travellers' Tales and The Independent on Sunday. The winners will be announced at an event at Stanfords, the UK's leading travel bookshop.

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