Wednesday 24 April 2013

The End of the Start - or Just the Beginning?

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.


Chloe said...

I was going to say something flippant on Twitter about you suddenly being "internationally acclaimed" but decided it was mean. Even if a slight exaggeration, I ilke your stories enough that I see no reason why you shouldn't be internationally acclaimed. Next time I am in a foreign land, I will acclaim you!

Dan Purdue said...

Well, in fairness, last year I did get stories published in the UK, the USA, Canada, and Ireland, although whether any of that constitutes acclaim I can't really say.

Any foreign acclaiming much appreciated! I'll be sure to return the favour, of course.

Karen Jones said...

It is difficult not to dwell on what could have been/what you did wrong. Even when placed among the first three in a comp, but not the all important first, can leave you wondering what little tweak would have moved you further up the list.

Of course, you're right - what you should concentrate on is how well you did to get to a long list or shortlist or a placing - how many other people weren't that lucky, so you must be doing something right.

Dan Purdue said...

I find it doesn't even stop there. Whenever I've won something, I've nearly always worried about whether I've aimed too low, whether I should have entered it in a 'bigger' competition, winning a bigger prize and/or getting more of a prestigious hit for the CV.

I'd love to get rid of that little self-doubt gremlin; he spoils everything. Or tries to, at least.

Perry said...

You can always console yourself by knowing that a different judge would have awarded prizes differently.