We live in the Age of Complaint. Recently it seems that everywhere I turn, whether real-world or online, I run into somebody have a good old moan. I'm sure it's all very cathartic, but I can't help thinking that it's not healthy to spend too much time obsessing over the things in life that get you down.
With that in mind, I'd like to take a moment to applaud the efforts of two of the smaller fixtures on the short fiction competition calendar. The Brighton CoW CD turned up a few months ago, and I've been meaning to mention it ever since. The the anthology
of the winning and shortlisted entries of the H. E. Bates Competition arrived last week. It's prompted me into highlighting that, despite the grim times we keep being told we're living in, there are plenty of people out there doing a damn fine job.
The Brighton CoW comps and the HE Bates competition (run by the Northampton Writers' Group) don't have the clout of the Bristol Prize or the near-mythical status of Bridport, but from my experience (a couple of placings at Brighton, a shortlisting at HE Bates), they have something equally important - organisers with a real enthusiasm for writing, and the respect for writers that comes with it.
There's nothing flashy about their websites and the prize funds aren't going to have your local Ferrari dealer beating a path to your door. But what they do have is the right attitude. I've contacted both organisations, either to ask a question or confirm something about my story, and in both cases I've received a polite and speedy response. The HE Bates competition has an awards ceremony where the results are announced, and when the organisers heard I was considering making a round trip of several hundred miles to attend, they were kind enough to let me know that I hadn't actually won anything. I still would have gone along though, if I hadn't been working so far away at the time.
The Brighton CoW bunch in particular seem to go all-out with their 'winners' packs'. In addition to the cheque they sent a certificate, a postcard with future competitions on the front and a hand-written 'Congratulations!' message on the back, and - odd, though possibly handy - a credit-card sized calendar. It's all a bit homespun but to be honest I was rather charmed by the attention to detail and the enthusiasm for their contests all this conveys. When the CD turned up (I wasn't expecting it, although I note they do say something on the website about recording the stories for possible broadcast on hospital radio - I assume, with the amount of swearing in "A Night In with Zil", they'd have to broadcast mine very late at night), it was put together with more enthusiasm than polish, but I really like it. The guy who reads mine sounds a bit like Andy Hamilton of Radio Four fame, and he does an admirable job of bringing the characters to life.
The HE Bates Competition Anthology is again put together in a straightforward way. It's spiral bound and laid out
and while it won't win any design awards it still shows the kind of effort going on behind the scenes. Okay, so it's not the ready-for-Waterstones paperback of the Bristol Prize or the slick small-press effort from the Willesden Herald, but even so, the cost of printing and binding, plus postage, is probably more than I paid in entry fees. I'm guessing both these organisations are run on very limited resources, or more likely a voluntary basis, fuelled by the desire to encourage writers and promote their respective writing groups, rather than to make shedloads of money.
The timing of this post isn't ideal, because both current competitions end in the next few days, but if you have something of a suitable length and content, it's worth giving them a go. They're shining stars in a sometimes murky world, and they deserve to do well.