Tuesday 15 January 2013

On Winning the H.E. Bates Short Story Competition

I had planned to write a blog post announcing the result, but I guess the majority of the people who read this blog will have heard already, either via Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere on the internet (I haven't done a great job of keeping it to myself!). Just in case you've somehow managed to miss the news, though... I won first place in the H.E. Bates Short Story Competition.

I'm very pleased about this. I've written before about the H.E. Bates contest and how, although it's a relatively small player in the world of short fiction competitions, it's run with a passion and a respect for writers that isn't always a feature of much larger contests. It's one of those competitions that deserves to do well and I hope it will be around for a long time.

I got a story onto the shortlist in 2010 (my story, The Bus Driver Who Stopped and Then Didn't, turned out to be a favourite of Morgen Bailey, one of the judges, and she's since agreed to host it on her website), got nowhere in 2011, and almost didn't enter the latest competition, because it was themed and I always find that restrictive. All the stories submitted had to have the title, A Walk at Midnight.

The competition attracted approximately 200 entries, which was apparently a bit of a drop compared to 2011's contest. Talking to one of the organisers after the prize-giving ceremony, they're wondering if imposing a theme discouraged people. As I say, it nearly put me off, but having conquered my theme demons with the 3 Into 1 Short Story Competition, I decided to give it a go. After a lot of staring out of the window, an idea formed in my head and I wrote a story based on a young woman playing the part of a victim in a CrimeWatch-style reconstruction. I was pleased with it, but it was very different to Bus Driver... so I had no idea whether it would be a contender.

In the dying moments of 2012, I heard I'd made the shortlist, and was invited to go along to Northampton to attend the prizegiving evening and read my story. My first awards ceremony! It was nerve-wracking, sitting there waiting to hear the results, but also very enjoyable. The first readings were by the under-18 finalists, three of which were sisters. Their work was impressive, particularly considering how young they were. The winner was a 16-year-old from New Hampshire, who (unsurprisingly) wasn't there to pick up his award in person.

The it was down to the nitty-gritty; the adult winners. Stephen Booth, author of the popular Cooper and Fry series of detective novels, was the head judge. Starting with third place, he introduced each story, saying what he'd liked about them without giving away exactly what they were about, and then announcing the writer, who (if they were there) then read their story. When I wasn't called up for third place, and then not for second, my heart was in my mouth. Both the stories were excellent so it was clear competition was fierce.

Stephen then starting talking about the winning story, and even then, I wasn't entirely sure. I wish I could remember more of what he said in his introduction to be honest, as he was very complimentary. When he mentioned how the winning writer had subverted the theme within the first couple of sentences, I thought, "I've done it!" - for reasons you'll understand when the competition website is updated and you can read the story. And sure enough, he read out my name, people started clapping, and I made my way to the front of the hall on slightly wobbly legs.

Here I am, having survived reading my story, receiving my certificate and cheque from Stephen Booth:

(That dark patch on my shirt is shadow, by the way - I'm not horrendously sweaty)

A win in a competition is as good as it gets, frankly. I have been lucky recently, picking up several prizes and getting stuff accepted for publication in various places. But this is a huge boost to my confidence, and it's a reminder that all this tapping away at the keyboard isn't done in isolation - there are people out there who love to read short stories.

And now, in the spirit of award ceremonies, I'd like to thank Stephen Booth for his excellent taste in short fiction and for being such a friendly, down-to-earth kind of guy, the Northampton Writers' Group and the rest of the audience for being such a welcoming and supportive crowd, and to the organisers for making it all possible in the first place.

... and you, of course. The people who willingly give up their time to read my writing. You're ace, all of you.

Don't forget!
I'm judging the Erewash Writers' Group Flash Fiction Competition. Up to 500 words themed around "Start" - it could be the start of something, a couple trying to start over, a car that won't start, you name it. It's free to enter, you can win a copy of Somewhere to Start From, and the winning story will be published on the EWG website (global exposure for your work!). The closing date is 21 March 2013, so get going! I listed a few tips on how to make your story stand out, HERE. Good luck!


Rachael Dunlop said...

Well done, Dan! I was definitely put off by the theme, but for all the wrong reasons, mainly that it meant I couldn't enter at the last minute with an old story! I also thought the title was a bit cheesy. What you did was exactly right - to take that rather cliche phrase and turn it into something original. Looking forward to reading your winning story.

Anonymous said...

That's a fantastic achievement, Dan. Keep up the good work!

Louise said...

Congratulations to you :)

Dan Purdue said...

Thanks, everybody. This was such a positive experience for me, I could go on about it almost indefinitely (don't worry, I won't).

I think I may have stumbled upon the key to themed competitions - rather than trying to fit your writing to the theme, you need to grab hold of it, take ownership of it, and mould it into something that matters to you. That way, you can stamp your identity on the theme and write the story only you could write. That should help it stand out from the crowd.

Teresa Stenson said...

That's a good way to think about it. I like that. Ta.

Anonymous said...


Rachel Fenton said...

Wooo! Congratulations, Dan! It's lovely to start the year off with a win.

Dan Purdue said...

Thank you, Teresa, Nik, and Rachel!

liz young said...

You look just a little pleased with yourself, Dan, and rightly so. H E Bates himself was no mean writer. Well done.