I’m very pleased to say I’ve just removed the words ‘still hoping for a first one day’ from this blog’s intro. I got my first. I won the Calderdale Short Story Competition 2011 with my story ‘Those Tigers’. When I received the email telling me I had to read it five times before believing it. On Friday (14th October) I went to the event at Halifax Central Library to read my story.
Having only read properly once before, and not that well either, I was very nervous but also determined to improve on my previous performance. Last time I read a 350 flash but ‘Those Tigers’ is over 1800 words. I would certainly have to remember to breath.
After a lovely journey across country from Morecambe to Halifax (a place I’d never been to before) I walked through the town centre, found my hotel and waited until it was time to head to the library, just round the corner from the hotel. I sat on the end of the bed, looked in the mirror and tried to make my hair as big as possible, feeling sure this would help.
I got there early and found myself talking to a pair of shortlistees who seemed delighted to be chatting with the winner. I suddenly felt rather important and heard myself talking like an expert and offering advice about writing and entering competitions.
The judges, writer Kate Pullinger and owner of Alma Books, Elisabetta Minervini began proceedings by talking about the winning stories and about what made a good story. There was some discussion and questions from the audience of, I guess about seventy. Then they handed out the prizes to myself and the one runner up who was there and not in Portugal like the other one.
Why would anyone want to be in Portugal when they could be in Halifax? No really! My previous experience of Halifax was my Nana’s saying ‘What the Halifax?’ so it definitely exceeded by expectations.
The Portugal man then read his story through the organiser of the competition and Sarah Dunnekey read ‘Katy Bush and the Chainmail Bikini’. She read well (I was starting to get worried) and it was a funny story with great characters and really Kate Bush and not a weird cousin of George Bush, thank goodness. Then it was my turn and I went to the front and started reading.
How strange that when I’m sitting at home reading I am able to perform the story quite happily, remembering to breath. It felt as if I was walking up a steep hill at the same time. I tried to slow myself down and concentrate on reading it how I’d rehearsed. A tiny part of my brain tortured the rest with the thought of having to stop and what people would say if I did. But I carried on and relaxed into it. I was determined to make the most of the description of the tigers (not real but they seem like it) and then I got a few laughs in the right places and managed to look up at paragraph ends. I didn’t even throw away the final couple of lines.
Afterwards I chatted some more to a new writer friend and to one of the writers who’s published by Alma Books and to the judges. Then my new writer friend and I went for a drink in the very quite Wallace Simpson Bar by the station. Halifax was very quiet that evening. A policeman told us that they were ‘all up the other end’ but perhaps it is true that ‘staying in is the new going out’. I’ve always been ahead of the trends.
The prize was £300, which has bought me a new electric toothbrush (mine died around the time I heard I’d won), paid for the train fare to Halifax and the night in the hotel, a piece of silver jewellery and allowed me to make a donation to You Can't Stop The Beat fundraising for Birmingham Children’s Hospital Heart Appeal (where my niece, Jasmine had her heart transplant at the beginning of this year). I think it’s for them to buy what I, as a cook and writer, will have to just call a ‘bleep, bleep machine’ but it probably has a more technical name.
My main bit of advice about competitions is not to assume your story is no good if it doesn’t get anywhere. ‘Those Tigers’ had been in two other comps and ‘The Bread’, that came second in Greenacres, had been in three before it got placed. I suppose it depends on the competition, the judges and who else is entered. It’s all very subjective. So, perseverance is important, or as the published writer my new friend Denise and I spoke to on Friday put it ‘You have to be bloodyminded.’ I'll remember that ...