Saturday 31 July 2010

The start of something big...

Okay. I've been wanting to blog about this for a while. And now it's turned out all not-quite-the-way-I-planned and I'm not entirely sure how to go about it. It's exciting and disappointing and scary and hugely inspiring all at the same time (for me at least).

Right, so, from the beginning: a while back (I think we're talking late April / early May) I got a phone call out of the blue telling me I had won the Chapter One International Short Story Competition. It took a long time for that to sink in. I still consider myself a relative newbie when it comes to writing at a 'competitive' level, so to have won something was pretty astonishing. What pushed it beyond pretty astonishing into the realms of downright unbelievable was that the Chapter One competition has a serious prize fund. I'm not going to specify the amount here but I have to be realistic and say I'm going to be incredibly fortunate if I ever again make that much money in one go from my writing.

I sent the contract back straight away and have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of that nice fat cheque ever since. Last night I got a call from Chapter One telling me that due to a technical glitch (actually it's more complex than that, but I can't go into detail about it), they will be paying me electronically, and in instalments. The first one of these arrived today.

So, it's good news - but the joy of the win is now somewhat diluted by the fact that it'll be a couple of months at least before the whole amount has transferred over to me. On the positive side, though, the little chunks arriving on a regular basis will be a great boost when I'm dealing with rejections from other markets or getting bogged down with the novel. Maybe it's a good thing - after all, it's best to eat a cake one slice at a time than to wolf down the whole thing in one and end up feeling nauseous. Ah, cake metaphors are my favourite.

The important thing that this development has reminded me about is how fantastic a feeling it is to be paid for something you've written. I know that sounds incredibly mercenary, but the truth is my ambition is to 'make it' (whatever 'it' is) as a writer. I don't claim to write for the sake of art. I'm definitely not the kind of writer who writes "for themselves" - I can tell myself stories in my head all day long; there'd be no need to write them down if I was the only audience I cared about. I write mainly to find some kind of connection to other people, and the best test of whether I've succeeded in that is finding somebody who will publish the story. Being paid for achieving that is the icing on the cake (hooray, more cake), and is the closest you can get to performing magic - you start with nothing, a blank page or screen, and pull ideas and words out of your head until you've made your best attempt at whatever it is you're trying to say. Then (once you've got that elusive acceptance) - hey presto! - all those words and grammar and stuff you got for free has magically become a pint of lager, or a CD, or a new printer, or a holiday or whatever level you've managed to place it at.

Somehow it makes the story more tangible, more solid. It's gone out into the world and become a thing - whether printed or published online or wherever - and that thing carries a weight and a value and you can hold it in your hand. And you can look at that thing and think I made this, with my mind. Nobody but me could have written that exact story.  And you can be proud of yourself, and eat some cake.

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