Opening Lines

p026jj45It’s that time of the year again, when the BBC open their virtual doors to unsolicited short story submissions from writers new to radio. If you are such a person and have a suitable story to hand (or can put one together in a couple of weeks), you have until February 13th to send it in.

I would thoroughly recommend having a go, by the way, because hearing your work read on national radio by a proper actor is, frankly, bloody wonderful. Even hearing the announcer saying your name is pretty fantastic.

However, the odd thing about Opening Lines is that it doesn’t seem to provide much of an opening into the BBC. I used to wonder if it was just me who didn’t get invited back (I thought I’d behaved myself, but you never can tell what other people really think), but it turns out that very few of us have been.

I really must emphasise that I’m not in the least bit ungrateful. Opening Lines was a wonderful thing to put on my CV, and I even got paid for it. I’m also quite sure that it helped me towards getting Dot Dash published. Indeed, if you look at the careers of a lot of other OL alumni, it doesn’t seem to have done any of them any harm either – most notably 2014’s Claire Fuller, who was recently identified as one of the new faces of fiction in the Guardian, no less. But it does seem a little odd that the BBC themselves appear to lose interest.

I recently Googled the names of all the 38 writers whose stories have been broadcast in OL since 2005, or Series 7 (I couldn’t find any data on the earlier years), along with the word BBC. One or two of them proved tricky owing to search pollution (particularly the one who happened to share the name of an ex-Speaker of the House of Commons), but the only ones I could identify as definitely having had further work commissioned were:

  • Zoran Zuvkovic (2005), who had a further short story broadcast two years after his OL appearance; however, he turned out to have had 11 full-length works of fiction and 5 works of non-fiction published before OL, so I’m not sure he really counts as an emerging voice,
  • Ian Dudley (2006), who had a further short story broadcast the year after OL,
  • Kachi A Ozumba (2007), who had a short story commissioned for The Verb three years after his OL appearance; as this was also after an acclaimed novel had been published, I’m not sure if OL can really be said to have been a factor.

(If I’ve missed anyone out, please do let me know.)

But as for the remaining 35 of us, it looks like we’ll have to be content with being one hit wonders. Still, there are worse things to be, and I will at least always have this to remember it by:


6 thoughts on “Opening Lines

  1. Claire Fuller says:

    A really interesting post, Jonathan. After my story Baker, Emily and Me was broadcast I emailed the producer about the possibility of more work, and she said that each producer commissions work themselves, so they all have to be approached individually. It is a shame when the competition organisers have gone to the effort of reading and sorting all the entries for there to be no more commissions for the winners or short-listed entrants.

    And by the way, my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days was sold to my publisher before I won Opening Lines. But that’s not to say that Opening Lines hasn’t opened other doors for me. And of course, I’m incredibly grateful that my story was selected, and I loved the experience of having my story broadcast and seeing it being recorded.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for dropping in, Claire! Really interesting to hear about your experience. I asked my producer a similar question after my story was recorded and the response was along the lines of “I’ll bear you in mind for future projects”. Which now strikes me as the equivalent of human resources saying “We’ll keep your details on file” following a failed job interview. Still, as you say, I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything. Loved your story, by the way.

  3. Dan Purdue says:

    Interesting post, Jon. I must admit I wondered how often the writers of successful OL stories get invited back. It seems very strange they go to all the trouble of finding this pool of ‘new’ authors, and then do almost nothing with them. I suppose if they only have one short story slot per week these days they’re unlikely to be struggling to fill the void.

    Still, it does remain a fantastic achievement, so well done to you and Claire. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that one day I manage to write something they’re interested in broadcasting…

  4. admin says:

    Thanks, Dan 🙂 I’m sure you’re right – the ever-decreasing number of slots has something to do with it. But you’d think they’d be keen to trumpet their discoveries – compare and contrast with The Bristol Prize, for instance.

    Anyway, good luck!

  5. tu says:

    Well done, all, I’d love to have a story up there. [Still in toddler years, typing speed 300 words a year…].

  6. admin says:

    Thanks 🙂 Keep going! Frankly, if I can do it…

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