Monday 3 September 2012

Success at the Seán Ó Faoláin Prize

Well, if the first half of this year was pretty barren in terms of publication and competition success, I’m happy to say the second half is looking set to make up for it. This weekend I found out I’d won one of the runner-up prizes at the Sean O’Faolain short story competition. The competition has a winner, a second place story, and four runners-up, and there are cash prizes and publication for all six. I think the stories will be online towards the end of the year.

I’m very pleased with this result for a number of reasons. Firstly, because I have been trying to get a story into the SOF competition for a few years, and I’ve never even made the shortlist before. Secondly, it’s my first competition success in Ireland, where they take their short stories pretty seriously. Thirdly, 2012 was a bumper year for the competition, with the number of entries almost doubled compared to last year and reaching almost one thousand, so it’s good to think my story stood out amongst all those others.

But I think the thing that pleases me the most is that the story I entered, Gecko, is my type of story. It mutated from a story I was trying to write for a flash competition, which had a word limit of about 300 words. I began with one idea, only for others to pile in and take it way over the word limit. I liked the way it was heading, and (quite rare for me), I decided to abandon the flash competition and just let the story go where it wanted. When I was writing it, I had the feeling it was going to be difficult to place, but by that point I was simply writing it because I was enjoying the ride.

It was very liberating, and of course it’s a great confidence boost to now find that other people seem to like it as much as I do. I can get too hung up on trying to keep my ‘audience’ in mind while I write, and that can end up being restrictive. I guess the answer is to write like nobody’s going to read it, and only worry about readers when you reach the editing stage.

Is this something that happens to other people? Do you find your creativity gets stifled if you start thinking about how people will respond to your work, or is that just part of the process for you?


Chloe said...

Congratulations, Dan!

I only find it stifling when I try to place my book in a category with other authors (as you have to do when writing cover letters to agents). Then I wonder why anyone would read mine if they could read those other authors instead!

Dan Purdue said...

Thanks, Chloe!

It sounds like you're doing the right thing, leaving concerns about which category your book might fit until after you've actually written it. But it must be hard, to work all the way to the end of a novel without thinking, "Who's going to read this?" - at least, it must be difficult to avoid that if you are writing it with the aim of publication.

I guess there's a balance to be struck, and in some ways just writing the kind of thing you'd like to read must mean you're going to produce something a fair percentage of people will enjoy. Nobody's taste in books is that unique, after all.

Patsy said...


Usually I write with a particular market in mind and edit out what doesn't fit even before I type it, but sometimes I feel so strongly about an idea that doesn't seem to fit anywhere I'd normally sub to that I just have to write it anyway. Some I've placed - most are still looking for homes.

Rachel Fenton said...

Oh Brilliant! Congratulations, Dan, fab news - very much looking forward to reading your story!

Claire King said...

That's great news! Congratulations, Dan!

Tania Hershman said...

That's brilliant news, Dan, congratulations! And even better because it's a story you love and you thought might be "difficult", I do know exactly what you mean, it is tempting to try and think "What will a competition judge like" and not be true to your kind of story. Well done!!

dan powell said...

Congratulations. Great news. Looking forward to reading it. I try not to think about readers until I've finished something as, like you say, you can second guess yourself into restricting yourself or even giving up on the story. Even when I've finished something, I try to focus on where the story might fit, which market. That said, it's great when readers respond to a story. I love finding out which ones they liked or which parts resonated. I'll be keeping my eye out for Gecko's publication. Well done, Dan

Teresa Stenson said...

Yeah! It's about time you had some successes again (hm - makes it sound like it's your fault, obv that's not what I mean).

I think I can get stifled by thinking about what other people will make of something I've written, but at those times you (I) just have to be a bit ballsy and selfish and think 'Well I like it, and this is about me.' By which I mean it's my name the story is against.

Well done again.

Dan Purdue said...

Thanks, everyone. I've not been ignoring you, just being madly busy with a couple of stories that refused to comply to either my wishes or those of a theoretical reader.

I think the problem is that we need to listen to one of the voices in your head - the uncompromising editor who forces you to get rid of the stuff that may sound awesome but just plain doesn't work - but block out all the others. The one that says no one will like this story, the one that worries your best work is behind you, the one that assures you nobody's ever written anything better, ever, and the others all conspire to ruin everything. It's difficult, but I guess the only way to get the hang of it is to keep practising.

Anyway, thanks again for the congratulations!