So - last week I went to the prize-giving for the 2011 Willesden Herald Prize, held in a room within an unexpectedly big library space in London. I knew I was one of the 12 finalists, and that my story was to be published in the anthology, and I also knew I hadn't bagged one of the top spots - so it was actually a more relaxed affair, as relaxed as these weird literary events can be.
Pleasingly, I got to speak to the judge, Maggie Gee, for some time in the pub afterwards. She was great, and encouraging when she found out we had something in common: both not taking a career route in our 20s, instead working in a job with little responsibility to have a go at being a writer.
This is good to hear. Every so often, especially as I'm 30 next week, I have a 'What have I done?' moment, compare myself to friends who are succeeding in their chosen fields and feel inadequate. It's part to do with confidence, and we all falter with that from time to time, and part because it's not always easy to measure success on this route. Being published and winning prizes are part of it, especially as markers, assurances that you're heading the right way, but they're not the whole story. Publication is good for your outer-writerly-ness, but nothing is ever really as good as the moments you are writing something that feels right and good at that very moment in time. But that's a solitary thing, a hard to communicate thing.
The prize-giving event itself was interesting and the whole thing was an enjoyable night. I feel really lucky to be one of the 12 writers in the book, especially as there were 385 entries to start with. It was also a real pleasure to meet Mary O'Shea, who won first prize with her story 'Out of Season', which I read the next day and thought was brilliant, moving and a very worthy winner. I'm in the process of making my way through the rest of the stories, but so far another stand-out story is 'Overnight Miracles' from A.J. Ashworth.
It was good to meet organiser Stephen Moran, and also see Vanessa Gebbie too - we met at Bridport in 2009 - she'd been a winner in 2007 and returned to host the after-event, and at this year's Willesden she was a kind of guest of honour, a previous winner again - I joked that I'm following her around the lit prize circuit, a few years behind.
Vanessa has written a review of the Willesden anthology here, and it was pretty wonderful to read within that review "There is the spare and enigmatic writing of Teresa Stenson" . This could be my first review... Although, Maggie Gee did a really generous thing too - in the speech she gave on the judging process she mentioned all 12 stories and why she liked / chose them.
This is actually rare, from my experience so far, and it definitely 'seals' something. It was filmed and should be available for me to link to at a future date. Aside from the ego-trip (for me) I think it's a useful speech about the judging process in general. I'm always fascinated to hear how these things work, even on a practical level. I like to know how many entries there are, who reads them all, how many get passed on to the judge, and that's all before you get down to the subjective nature of picking the 'best' stories. Anyway, I am going on a bit...
So that was Willesden. Sadly, it looks like it was the last one.
*UPDATE* - it is not the last one - they've only gone and bagged Roddy Doyle to judge this year's prize! (closing around Dec I should think, like last year) Amazing.
I'm getting ready to go on an eagerly awaited holiday next week. Just somewhere in the countryside, just me and Mario, just can't wait. Reading and writing materials at the ready.
I'm working on making my book for the art project I said this about in February:
"I've signed up for this: The Fiction Project - it costs $25 to participate - they send you a Moleskine notebook, you fill it, send it back, it becomes part of an exhibition with other completed notebooks, goes on tour across America to selected arts venues, winds up at Brooklyn Art Library. It can be read, 'checked out' by visitors, and if you want to pay the extra $20 it will be digitised for the website, for you, for anyone to view whenever."
Here's a photo of what I started out with:
Pretty much a blank Moleskine notebook.
The theme I'm working with is 'Inside/Outside', which has done what I expected and hoped for - led to some interesting and exciting tangents of stories, snippets, scenes, that I am putting together to make a fairly light hearted story called 'Oh hey so I love you. Oh no I don't, I just sicked it up.'
Maybe the most charming title I've ever come up with.
You - what about you, reader - say hello to me (if you have a Blogger account, that is. If not, just wave.)