When I first started writing seriously, I began to notice there were a lot of writing competitions about. Although I’ve never won anything in my life, it seemed like a good idea to try my hand and for a while I submitted to competitions big and small. Eventually, after a couple of years without even the whiff of a longlist, I started feeling a bit disheartened and slowly stopped entering. Fortunately, I had more success with online journals, and I came to the conclusion that I just wasn’t a competition winner, but that was OK as I had found places where my work was being read.
I changed my mind a few years later, when ‘Echo Hall’ was ready for submission. There are so many wonderful First Novel Prizes it seemed silly not to give it a go. Once more, I entered award after award, and once more I got nowhere. This time round, the rejections were harder, I’d invested so much of myself in the novel, and I dearly wanted someone to pick it up and say it was good enough to win. Every time I knew the deadline for a shortlist was approaching, I would be on tenterhooks checking my in-box, or waiting for the phone to ring, before the date passed, the list was published and yet again my name was not on it.
In desperation, I began entering my second novel ‘The Wave’, even though it was nowhere near finished, but this too drew a blank. So, this time last year, having entered ‘The Wave’ for one last prize, I decided I’d had enough. I just wasn’t going to put myself through it again. And, it really might have been, had my friend Anne Booth, who is always very encouraging, suggested I enter the Bridport Firsr Novel Prize. At first, I said no, I really had had enough. Besides, I’d entered the previous year and so surely wouldn’t be allowed to enter again. But Anne, persisted, citing the story of a poet who’d resubmitted to a prize and had won it second time round. I contacted the Bridport team, and much to my surprise they said it was possible to enter twice. I sneaked my entry in at the very last minute, and determined to forget about it. After all, previous experience suggested, I’m the writer who never wins…
And then in the course of a couple of weeks last summer, two miraculous things happened. The regular Retreat West email arrived in my in-box announcing shortlistees for the summer opening chapter competition. I’d almost forgotten about it, so glanced at the list with no expectations at all. But suddenly, there was ‘The Wave’ on the shortlist of ten. That couldn’t be my book? Surely not. I emailed back for confirmation, and received a cheery reply from lovely Amanda Saint of Retreat West. Yes, it really was. At long last, I was in the running for a prize.
Meanwhile, the deadline for Bridport came and went with no news. ‘Oh well,’ I thought, ‘It was a long shot.Perhaps I should be putting all my efforts into ‘The Wave”. Shortly after that, the phone rang. To my astonishment, it was Kate Wilson from Bridport ringing to tell me I was on the longlist. I hung up and burst into tears. After all this time, and all those rejections, someone wanted to take ‘Echo Hall’ seriously.
I didn’t win either prize. Nonetheless, I received a huge confidence boost simply from knowing my writing was good enough to be considered. I was also hugely grateful for the very positive and helpful feedback I received from judges which was enough to spur me on to find a publisher.
And find a publisher I did. As you know, I have signed with the crowdfunding publisher Unbound, and my novel is now 21% on its way to being fully funded. (It could always use help though – so do pop over and pledge if you’d like to support it!).
So since last summer, I’ve revised my attitude to competitions. I entered two short story awards, and though nothing came of them, this time I didn’t take it to heart. Then, last October, I saw a new prize that intrigued me – The Virago/New Statesman Women’s Prize for Politics and Economics. It wasn’t fiction, but I write a lot of nonfiction, in particular about politics. I’ve always admired fiction writers who also wrote nonfiction essays, and I’d long been kicking an idea around about the corrupting effect of neoliberalism. I just hadn’t found the time to do it. Here, perhaps, was my chance.
I wrote most of it over the Christmas holidays, then put it to one side because January was busy. I intended to finish after a trip to visit my sister in Norway, but discovered to my horror the deadline for submission was when I was away. Luckily, Lucy is a translator, and my other sister Julia is a writer, so they were very patient when I rudely typed away finishing just in time to enter.
When I read it back on my return, I wasn’t too impressed. The rush to finish meant the writing still felt a bit bald to me, there were one or two unforgivable typos, and it lacked sophistication. I liked the central premise, but wasn’t entirely convinced I’d sent in my best shot. So I tried to forget about it till the winner was announced this month.
I’d all but given up this week, when once more an email arrived in my inbox. This one was titled, ‘The Virago/New Statesman Prize – the shortlist… And the winner who is Frances Weetman’. Oh well, it was worth a try, I thought, until I read the text, thanking me for my submission and telling me that I had made the shortlist. I am still dancing with delight to have done so well, particularly when I compare my essay to the other 5 fascinating titles on the list. I am truly honoured to be in their company and am so pleased for Frances, whose essay looks really interesting. I am really looking forward to read it.
This time last year, I had really had it with competitions, but the experience of the last twelve months has shown me why it is so important not to give up. I certainly won’t be making that mistake again. Because, one of these days, I know I am going to win won of these things. And in the meantime the joy of being shortlisted is well worth the wait.