According to the people at Chapter One, the 2010 competition anthology is currently at the printers. It might be ready to send out by the end of August. It’s very hard to marshal my thoughts about this.
Just to put it in perspective, in January 2010, when the competition closed, Gordon Brown was the Prime Minister of the UK, the film Avatar was breaking box-office records, Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPad, and, tragically, Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people. All of this seems an awfully long time ago.
Since then, I have continued to write. I have not, as I hoped at the time, completed the novel I was working on. In fact, I haven’t written anywhere near as much of anything as I thought I might have done by now, and I've definitely not managed to get as many stories published as I would like. But I feel I have improved as a writer, in some ways at least. This leaves a slightly unpleasant taste in my mouth, though – I’ve got better, but my biggest achievement still lurks two-and-a-half years in the past. At the moment, it's out of sight - but not, apparently, for much longer.
The prospect of it finally being made available is an exciting one. But it’s a terrifying one, too. The story I wrote, all that time ago, will be out in the world, out of my control. I don’t know how successful the Chapter One anthologies tend to be; it’s not like they are high-profile releases and I’ve never seen any marketing of the books. So I really don’t know whether anybody other than the other prizewinners and the shortlisted authors will see my story. But that’s bad enough – surely they’ll be the toughest, most critical audience? They might hate it, wonder what on earth the judge was thinking. And it feels unfair, that they’ll be judging me on something I wrote back then.
I was worried until the proof copy of my story was emailed to me. Reading it again after so many months was an odd experience. I was amazed at how much I’d forgotten, and – more importantly – I was pleased that it still read pretty well. True, there were a few sentences I’d cut, or rephrase, or reorder, but generally, I’m pleased with it. I did my best, and if people don’t like it, it’s not for any lack of effort on my part.
It got me thinking that it’s just something you have to deal with if you’re going to publish your work. You’re never going to write a story that everybody loves; it’s simply not possible. And saying that it’s an old piece won’t cut any slack. It’s still your story, and people will assume that it’s the best you can do. This is why it’s so important that you always ensure every story you send out really is the absolute best you can make it – not just because it will improve the odds of it being accepted, but because you owe it to your future self.