Well, that was a lot of fun. Who would have thought that going along to a prizegiving and coming away empty-handed could be such an enjoyable experience? Actually, to describe it as “empty-handed” isn’t entirely accurate, as I did at least collect a runner-up cheque for £50 and two copies of an excellent anthology with a story of mine in it, which – frankly – ain’t too bad for a night’s work.
The best thing about the whole event was the opportunity to feel like a real writer for an evening. It was really great to meet fellow shortlistees that I’d previously only encountered on Twitter, such as Claire King and Clare Wallace – to say nothing of the brilliant winner, Valerie O’Riordan, whose piece “Mum’s the Word” is a terrific demonstration of the principle that a maximum word count is just that, and not a target. And if you can tell your story in 350 words, there’s no need to write any more.
It was also fantastic to meet such exalted luminaries (and fellow twitterers) as Sarah Salway, the guest of honour, and Tania Hershman, who was one of the judges this year. And it was an unexpected pleasure to bump into Sarah Hilary, whose name I have encountered so many times on the Internet, but have never actually met in person.
And I haven’t even mentioned how great it was to finally meet Joe Melia, who must be the hardest-working literary competition organiser on the planet, as well as some of the other judges: Bertel Martin, Helen Hart and Joe Berger. I was particularly chuffed to hear from one of these that they’d been convinced that my piece had been written by someone quite young and “street”. A lot of the fun of writing is trying to find different voices, and I’m so pleased that I managed to get away with this one for at least one of the readers.
I came away thinking that it really was about time that I sat down and wrote some more stories – and as it happened as we were driving back the next day, I sorted out a long-standing problem with a story that I’ve wanted to fix for ages. Which is a good start, anyway.
In his speech, Bertel threw out a challenge to everyone to name three books of short stories that they would recommend to everyone. So here are mine:
“21 Stories” by Graham Greene. I’m recommending this simply because I think it’s the first book of stories that I ever read, and it made me realise what you could do with the form. I still love “A Little Place off the Edgware Road”, and you could make a case for saying that “Proof Positive” is an early example of flash.
“Labyrinths” by Jorge Luis Borges. Do I need to say more? If, however, you’ve already read this, you could also try “A Perfect Vacuum” by Stanislaw Lem, which out-Borges the man himself. It’s a collection of reviews of imaginary books, some of which could never actually be written. Extraordinary.
“Exotic Pleasures” by Peter Carey. One of those writers who seems to have abandoned the form altogether, Carey wrote some amazing stuff at the start of his career, including the title story of this collection, as well as “American Dreams”.
And there wasn’t even any space for David Gaffney’s “Sawn-Off Tales” or anything by Christopher Priest or Ian McEwan or … or …
In fact, when you think about, there are an astounding number of wonderful short stories out there, aren’t there?