Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Inspirations and intimidations

So here I am trying to write a short story to enter into the Bridport Prize (one of the biggest lit prizes of the year, in money and prestige), finding that the main reason I'm entering is also the thing that's holding me back:

It's being judged by one of my biggest inspirations, Ali Smith.

I first encountered (rather than read) Ali Smith at York Lesbian Arts Festival in 2006. It turns out you don't have to be a lesbian to attend, but you do have to be a woman - unless you apply in writing to the organisers. Seems a little discriminatory in this world? There was such a wealth of good literary stuff happening that day it's a shame not everyone could have the chance to be there.

Anyway, I digress. (And I hear you shouldn't do that in blogs.)

Ali read aloud in to a full audience in a large room at the end of a day in which most of us had spent 'listening' - to stories, debates, poems, ideas. I find listening tricky in that set up, and I remember having to focus myself a lot to follow what most writers were saying at the various events I attended, especially when it came to hearing stories read aloud. (I'm not sure that it's the best forum for sharing stories, it's all quite formal - the writer with a mic on stage, the audience in rows below them.)

But I remember Ali Smith reading from her short story, Writ and the way her energy - or the energy of her words - were speaking to me in a way no other spoken word had reached me that day, or any day before. I followed the story, understood it, was excited by it.

I bought The Accidental, Ali's Whitbread-winning novel, a few weeks later and that feeling of energy came through her written words too.

At this point, I'd been writing short stories for a couple of years, but suddenly it felt like anything was possible, like it was okay to break rules because if it meant something, if it added something, it was okay to be playful.

It seems a little primitive to say that now, like I'm aware how many writers do that and have been doing that for years.

But it was Ali Smith who showed me how to do it, or at least opened my eyes to it.

I actually wrote a review of The Accidental for Writing Magazine published in Feb 2007, and it reads a bit like a love letter to Ali Smith.

So now she's judging this year's Bridport Prize, like I said - it's a biggie. I've entered before and never been placed or shortlisted - they get thousands of entries, real professional writers enter too, and the word limit goes up to 5000 words (my stories hardly ever get above 1500) and usually serious epic stories win it, but -

-Ali Smith is judging it and she taught me it's okay to try something different.

Oh. But the thing is, the deadline is less than a week away and I haven't written the thing yet.

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