Sun, blue sky, a big baking session, an extra hour to get out and about now the clocks have gone forward—I thought this weekend couldn’t get any better. Then I opened an email on Sunday evening, and discovered I’d been awarded second prize in the Plymouth International Writing Competition! It was for my as-yet unpublished short story, The One Thing. Congratulations to Barbara Hudson, who won first prize with The Woman Who Slept With A Monkey. You can find the full results here.
At the end of December, I made a New Year’s Resolution to attack my backlist. I’ve got dozens of files on my computer full of short stories, articles and long form work. It’s all work in waiting, rather than work in progress. Some pieces aren’t finished, others need revising, while some haven’t yet been submitted. During the first weeks of 2018 I entered various pieces from this backlog into writing competitions. Then I got distracted by work on the final draft of Women’s Lives In Bristol. For the past month or so, my frontlist work has taken precedence over my backlist. I’d forgotten all about those competition entires, so news of a win was a great surprise.
The story involved is called The One Thing. It’s about an endless procession of refugees which trails from country to country, and all through history. It picks up more members in each new theatre of war. The story was partly inspired by my admiration of the work of photographer Robert Capa. You’d like to think civilisation had woken up from the nightmares he documented in China, Spain, Europe and Vietnam during the middle decades of the twentieth century. Not a chance. Politicians and commentators are the only ones who move “onwards and upwards”. The people from burned villages and bombed cities are left to put their lives back together—if they can. Victims don’t vanish once the cameras move on to the next disaster.
The One Thing is proof that you can find inspiration everywhere, and at the most unexpected times. As part of one of my research trips to Bristol for Women’s Lives In Bristol, I visited the church of St Nicholas of Tolentino, Easton. The priest there, Father Richard Mckay, ministers to sixty different nationalities. Many are refugees, drawn to a city which makes them welcome, and a congregation that understands. On the wall hangs wood from a vessel full of refugees, which was wrecked off the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. That powerful image was another thing at the back of my mind when I wrote The One Thing.
On a happier note, there are a couple writing tips to pick up from this blog. The first, and possibly most important is never throw away any piece of writing. Everything is copy, said Norah Ephron’s mother. To that, I’d add a paraphrase of the old gardening maxim: right plant, right place. My version is right info, right place. Make sure every one of your sentences either pushes the plot forward, or tells you something vital about one of your major characters. If it doesn’t, be brave. You don’t need to take the critics’ advice to kill your darlings too literally. Cut and paste them into a separate file, instead.
The second point is, don’t enter a single competition. Enter lots, and spread the word! You’ll be practising your art, and supporting hard-working event organisers at the same time. Who knows, they might like your work enough to put you up among the prizewinners.
I include details of writing competitions, along with news of my writing life at Tottering Towers on my Facebook Author Page —like and follow here to keep up with developments!
*At least one commentator has suggested Capa’s Falling Soldier is an homage to El Tres de Mayo. I can’t say whether or not Capa’s famous series of photos was staged, but as William Tecumseh Sherman said, War is Hell.