A writing competition spurned my entry last week. Well, they didn’t spurn the thing – they were too nice for that – but they gave it a firm thumbs down. No place on their shortlist; no place on their longlist. Not even a commendation.
But do I care? I do not, for reasons you will find below.
Rejections are normally the occasion for private breast-beating and lamentation, however much we put on a brave front to family and friends. I recently received a rejection from an agent who added that they offered professional advice to ‘beginner writers’. As someone who has slaved not only over computer keyboards but, once upon a time, actual typewriters, that made me want to heave a brick through someone’s window.
But let me tell you a story. Back in 2015 I visited London’s Foundling Hospital for the first time. It is an incredibly emotive place and I couldn’t get the stories it told out of my head. So I did what writers do. I drafted a short story, The Gingham Square – about the tokens those tragic mothers left in the hope that they might one day be able to retrieve their precious child. The story was entered into a Fish Publishing competition and, while it failed to earn a prize, their senior editor said that she felt it had the potential for a book.
Reader, I wrote the thing. Not with either ease or expedition, because considerable research was needed and I had never tried to be a historical novelist before, but a year or so ago I started showing the result to agents and entering competitions. Many drafts had been taken apart at ninevoices‘ meetings. Many discussions had ensued about whether a ‘happy ending’ would dilute the story’s force. Many red pencils had crossed through purple prose and lamentable grammar. It went through four different titles.
I also sent it back to Fish for a professional critique by the editor whose vision had made it all happen. It was a sound investment, for her suggestions made it a better book.
This month I received the wonderful news that I had won the HWA/Sharpe Books Unpublished Novel Award and that my book, The Servant, will be published next year. I have actually signed a contract.
I am always nagging people to enter competitions and do not intend to stop since acting on such advice has, amazingly, worked for me. That, and being a member of a tremendously supportive writing group. So when you see my next Competitions to Enter post, I suggest you do not dither. Winning IS possible. And even if you don’t win, be inspired by Sylvia Plath’s famous quote: I love my rejections. They prove that I am trying.
Oh, yes. A poem, for which I had high hopes, was also rejected in the middle of the week – and my longlisting for the Exeter Novel Award did not translate into a shortlisting.
Oh, yes. A poem I had high hopes for was also rejected in the middle of the week.