Monday, 26 January 2015
The Towpath project was shortlisted for the New Media Writing Prize this month, and two of us decided to head down to Bournemouth for the awards ceremony, to meet the judges and hear a little more about their thinking. (Our directions there: if you turn to the right, you'll see the red carpet)
I went with absolutely no expectation of winning. I have, what the trade calls, a self-limiting belief: I don't win things. Although I do.
When I was twenty five I won a trip to Mexico and a trip to India in the same year. The trip to India was one I so wanted to experience I entered the competition twice - once in my name and once in my mother's. Yep. She won. I still remember the phone call in which she told me she'd won this competition to India. What competition? I asked immediately suspicious. Oh, I don't know, she said. I enter all sorts of competitions. It will have been one of them. Is it an all expenses paid trip for two staying in Maharaja's palaces in the South? I pushed. Oh, err, maybe I'm not sure. Anyway, yes, it was the competition I had entered. Naturally my mother had to go - as the named winner (I'm still not sure why I didn't enter it with my middle name as the second entry...) and I decided since I had also won this trip to Mexico it would be a "good experience" for my dad who had never been out of Europe to go too.
Back in the days when you just submitted work to your regional council offices - around the same time as the India win - I won a South East Arts Bursary, for a short story. Which went on to become the title story of my short story collection.
More recently I won the Arvon Six Word Short Story Competition. I had forgotten I'd entered. So when I received an email telling me I'd won a short story competition I almost deleted it thinking it spam. Just before in time I caught sight of 'We buried...' in the email body and a little bell rang in my head. The story was We buried the whale at night.
Prize winning, I'm told by people who win greater prizes than I, can be a mixed blessing. It becomes the bar by which all your work is measured. Maybe because my wins have - so far - been quite small, I have thoroughly enjoyed them. Having someone you don't know tell you they really like your work is very gratifying. Getting some money for it a bonus.
The six word short story was two years ago. But something odd has happened to it. Last year a prose poem popped out from under the six words. Then another... and... until I have about twenty dark, mysterious and rather mournful prose poems exploring grief and regret. I read some out last year at a reading. They went down surprisingly well and I'm now ready to start sending some of them out. They're so different from what I have written I wonder if they ought to have a new writer (a pseudonym at least) as well as narrator. Either way I love where they've taken me. And suspect if I hadn't won the competition I would have forgotten all about those six words.
We didn't win the New Media Prize. Pry did. We still had a great evening, talking about micro publications and puppetry and the wide embrace of what constitutes 'new media' within literature.
Perhaps more importantly, because of the shortlisting, the Towpath team feels reinvigorated to propose the model elsewhere, buff up our new skills and develop the idea. That's the real win.