Now it can be told. A month ago to the day, I received an e-mail from Rob Smallwood, the organiser of the City of Derby Short Story Competition:
Alex Keegan, our short story judge for 2008, has settled on his favourite ten stories entered in this year’s competition out of well over 500 entries, and we are pleased to be able to say that your story The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife is one of his favourite ten stories. Over the next couple of days he will be deciding which of these will be in the top three places, and will therefore win monetary prizes.
I was sufficiently flabbergasted by this to completely fail to respond for a couple of days. When I did get back to them to say that I would love to go along (never wanting to miss the opportunity to network), I got the following reply:
I’m so pleased that you will be able to attend. I have just discovered today that your work will be one of the top 3 stories, although I’m afraid I’m unable to say whether it will be 1st, 2nd or 3rd until the announcement on the evening itself.
If I were a teenager, I’d probably have gone Ohmigodohmigodohmigod. Actually, I probably did do something just like that. It’s not just that the money or the kudos of placing in a competition, but the fact that a guy with Alex Keegan’s fearsome reputation had picked out my piece.
Anyway, last night we went to Derby for the prizegiving ceremony, and I found out that my story had come second equal, which I have to say that I was really rather chuffed about. It was a fascinating evening and it was very interesting to meet Mr Keegan. There are places that I go on the web where the very mention of his name causes cracks of thunder and a darkening of the skies, but I have to say that in the flesh he was extremely personable, and Mrs P and I had a very pleasant chat with him. His critical analysis of each of the finalists was harsh but ultimately fair. I came away with a strong feeling of what I had to do in order to push myself that crucial little bit further so that I can do a little better than just place next time.
Given that this is the time of year when Eurofiction is starting up again, I should perhaps mention that this piece, “The Amazing Arnolfini and his Wife”, was originally written for round 2 of last year’s Eurofiction competition, where it scored all of 4 points (placing it 24th out of 50-odd entries). There are two morals to this, the first of which is that all scoring is massively subjective. The second is that if you want to generate a portfolio of submittable stories, you can do a lot worse than sign up for competitions like Eurofiction. If it hadn’t been for EF, this story would not have been written at all.