Sep 042018

#8: Win a Writing Prize (or, Apparently They’re Like Buses)

Creative industries are weird. You can wait years for a success, and then two come along at once! Of course, part of my problem over the years I’ve been writing (which is quite a lot of years) has been in actually trusting my own work enough to press the “submit” button on a competition, a call for pitches or whatever.

So I set myself a goal of entering writing contests until I won something. Writing for contests is great practice, because you usually have a very specific brief to work to – usually a word count, often a theme, and always a deadline.

I read Writing Magazine religiously every month, often spending time circling contests (which I most likely won’t enter, but occasionally I do.) They have monthly themed competitions. The month I decided to get serious about entering things more often was also the month of a theme that made me groan – Speculative Fiction.

For those who don’t know, Speculative Fiction (or SpecFic) is a broad genre that encompasses elements of sci-fi, futurism, dystopia, fantasy and much more. The key element is that it speculates – that is, it asks “what if?” in some way. Apart from my brief foray into urban vampire fantasy in my teens and early twenties, my writing has always fallen squarely in the “contemporary realism” box. I do not write sci-fi. I don’t even read much sci-fi! Still, I’d committed myself to this challenge, so with much grumbling I sat down to write.

What came out was Reboot – a science-fiction/love story mash up.

Out of my comfort zone though I was, my beta readers (thanks, Elly and Char!) told me they loved it, and I trust their judgement, so off it went into the ether.

The next contest I entered was from Solutions Loans, and was much more up my alley – the theme was “The Wedding Gift.” I’ve been to a lot of weddings this year – three sets of dear friends tied the knot this year, as did my little brother and his long term partner. So it seemed like an easy topic to weave a story around!

Being interested in LGBTQ+ issues and equality in general, I knew I wanted to focus on same-sex marriage in some way. To my surprise, the story that flew from my fingertips was a contemporary/recent historical mix, focused on an elderly and religious woman as she learns to come to terms with her granddaughter’s same-sex relationship before her wedding.

I shed a couple of happy tears when I got the email from Jonathan Telfer, Writing Magazine editor, to tell me that Reboot had won first prize! The cash prize I’ll get from it will obviously be very welcome, but more valuable than money is the burst of confidence and the new lease of life this win has given my writing. Turns out that “but I don’t even write in this genre!” can be an asset. If you’re not super familiar with a genre, you’re likely to approach it from a different angle – and judges really like unique takes on a theme.

And then – and then! – I received another email from Alex at Solutions Loans to tell me that The Wedding Gift (I’m rubbish at titles, okay!?) had also won a runner-up prize.

This might, of course, be all my writing-based good luck for the year used in one go, but I’m choosing to take it as a good omen and a sign that I need to keep going.

You can read Reboot here, and read The Wedding Gift here.

I’ll leave this one here, and sign off with a Hamilton meme, because I am a big dork and it seemed appropriate.

Lin Manual Miranda as Alexander Hamilton. Text reads "Why do you write like you're running out of time? Because this essay is due in 6 hours and I just started it."


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