That's it, then - the "Start" flash fiction competition is over, the winners have been announced, the prizes have been awarded, the stories will be up on the Erewash Writers' Group website in the next few days, the bunting's coming down and the Champagne corks and sausage roll crumbs are being swept away.
I was very pleased to be involved with the competition, and judging it was a real pleasure. My judge's report is on the Erewash site, so I won't talk about my reasons for picking the winners here. What I will do is offer my congratulations to Tony Oswick, to whom I awarded first place, Jenny Long, who was runner-up, and Fiona Faith Ross, to whose story I awarded an honourable mention. Well done, all of you! And I hope you enjoy the book, Tony.
Being a judge is a mixed blessing. You can make someone's day - and I was thrilled to read Fiona's response to getting that honourable mention (I even get called "the internationally renowned short story writer, Dan Purdue", which is a very generous exaggeration, whichever way you look at it). But of course the flip side to that is that you have to trample on the hopes of all but a few of the writers on the shortlist.
Being shortlisted for something you don't win can sometimes feel worse than getting nowhere at all. If your entry sinks without trace, you can always assume it was lost in the post or, if you entered online, the organisers' printer ran out of ink just as it got to your story, so factors beyond your control took you out of contention. There's no such luxury when your name's up there on the shortlist. I follow Formula 1, and I've heard it said that finishing fourth, just shy of the winners' podium, is the most disappointing result for a driver. I guess it's probably true of all the Olympic events, too, and many more besides. It's that thing of almost being good enough to break through into the prizes, but not quite. Somehow, being that much closer to the top of the heap can make it seem even further out of reach.
Of course, the proper way to look at it is to think in terms of what you have achieved, rather than what you haven't. Wherever you end up in the results table, you've written a story, followed the rules, and got it finished in time. Huge numbers of people don't even get that far.
So, for this and any other competition, take confidence from the fact that you're potentially mixing with the literary superstars of the future (hey, who knows? - everybody has to start somewhere), reassure yourself that nobody who enters competitions gets a result all the time (with the possible exception of Hilary Mantel), and use each one as encouragement to push yourself and make sure your next story is the best one you've ever written.