Friday 10 August 2012

Chapter One: The Final Chapter?

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.


Chloe said...

Glad to hear it's finally on the move.

Don't think of it as your biggest achievement though, Dan. It may have been the competition you won the most money for, but being shortlisted by The Guardian would have meant you fought of much stiffer competition and is much more prestigious. Also, your anthology is really good and all your own work. It may not make you rich but you should be very proud of the quality of that.

Teresa Stenson said...

It must be such a weird experience, all the time that has passed, and the way you expressed it with all the stuff that was going on - it was a quite a while ago.

I really didn't expect them to put the anthology out. I really hope they do their best to promote it and you and all the other writers in there.

I wonder if by 'biggest achievement' you mean it's the story you feel best about, proudest of, the one you'd hand to an agent if they asked to see your work? And that you wrote a few years ago makes you feel a little, er, stuck. I can identify with that, I'd probably pick my Bridport story from 2009 if I had to choose one. Maybe because it represents the first story I had accepted that felt like it belonged to me, properly and really.

I'm lucky to have read your prize-winning story and can say fo' shizzle that it deserves that prize, and to be read and shared and this is the first step in that happening. Congratulations.

Dan Purdue said...

Hi Chloe,

I wasn't really thinking of it purely in financial terms, more in the sense of it being the only thing I'd won outright (although I'm about to write another blog post to update that). There is TxtLit, of course, but that's not really in the same league. The Guardian story arguably means more to me, and I'll always be very proud of it. And thank you for saying such kind things about the anthology!

Cheers, Teresa - yes, you're right, weird sums it up. I guess the thing is that this story crops up when I talk to people about my writing, and it's hard to explain when the conversation swings around to talking about prizes. Obviously the Chapter One story generates a lot of interest, and somehow it's undermined by me having to say, No, you can't read it. I always get the feeling people (those who don't know me that well, at least), start to wonder if I'm exaggerating - if not making the whole thing up.

So it'll be great to have something tangible, to say - Look, this is it. I'm not expecting many people to buy the anthology on my behalf, although I hope it's good enough for me not to feel awkward about recommending it to those who express an interest. I've met, through this blog and via Twitter, at least a couple of the other writers who'll have their work featured, and I'm optimistic on that front.