Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter will know that I was lucky enough to be shortlisted in a competition held by Writing Magazine and Just Write. I'm assuming you already know about Writing Magazine, but you might not have heard of Just Write before. They're a team of editors and publishers working within the John Murray imprint that's part of Hodder & Stoughton, and they're responsible for the 20 or so creative writing books published in the "Teach Yourself" series.
I saw the competition via a full-page ad in Writing Magazine. It caught my attention straightaway because although the overall winner's prize was pretty impressive (feedback on your work from the editorial team at Hodder), the reward for reaching the shortlist was almost as valuable - the chance to meet editors, publishers, and published authors at the reception evening where the winner would be announced. I sent a off a story and, not really expecting to get anywhere, more or less forgot about it immediately afterwards.
I did, in fact, manage to forget about it so comprehensively that when I received an email from Jonathan Telfer, editor of Writing Magazine, telling me I'd reached the shortlist, I genuinely had no idea which story I'd sent until I checked my competition tracker spreadsheet. So it was definitely a nice surprise!
The next bit was the tricky part - keeping quiet about it for a couple of weeks until the shortlist was announced in the next issue of the magazine. But soon enough the magazine hit the newsstands and I could let people know, and also get my first look at my fellow shortlistees. I recognised Sally Jenkins from her blog and from the Talkback website, but the other four were new names to me.
So that was a few weeks ago. Fast-forward to Thursday afternoon, and I was travelling down to London to find out what this reception party was all about - and, of course, discover which one of us had won. The Hodder building is slap bang in the middle of the city, on the north bank of the Thames. I arrived uncharacteristically early, and on my way to the Hodder building I bumped into Emma Myatt, another shortlisted writer. Soon we were joined by the other four and whisked up to the Hodder and Stoughton offices, presented with some very fine goody bags, and subjected to a mercifully brief interview about our writing. This was on camera, and I discovered I really need to work on my technique - unsure whether to look directly at the camera, at the interviewer, or just, y'know, elsewhere, I opted for a mix of all three and will probably look like I'm watching a moth flying around the room. Ah, well.
|Strong contender for the goodiest of goody bags...
|The wonderful rooftop garden
|Six very happy writers
|Meanwhile, back in the café, the decorations were out and the tables were groaning beneath the weight of yet more goody bags, books, drinks, snacks...
After a couple of brief speeches by two Jonathans - chief editors at Just Write and Writing Magazine respectively - it was time for the moment of truth. The envelope was opened and the name of the winner was read out. And it was... Emma Myatt! I know it's the done thing to say that one doesn't mind losing out to somebody else in these circumstances, but in this instance it's genuinely true. After spending the afternoon with the other five shortlisters, I'd have been truly happy to see any one of them bag that prize.
As something of a consolation, the organisers had arranged for all six stories to be printed in a limited-edition book. Emma was given a genuinely unique hardback edition, and the rest of us collected a few paperback versions each. It was a added thrill in an already amazing day, as naturally the six of us had discussed our stories and we were all itching to find out what everybody else had written. I'm really looking forward to reading them all.
If you're a writer reading this and wishing you'd entered the competition, or you did enter but didn't reach the final six, the good news is that Writing Magazine will be running it again in the future. Keep an eye on the magazine for details and, who knows, next time it could be you sipping champagne on that rooftop terrace!