A mildly interesting thing has happened over the past few weeks.
From time to time over the years I've been moved to try my hand at writing short stories. Usually it starts with a 'what if?' idea that snags on my mind and won't go away. I then fret, trying to sense the direction and point of it. I wake up at odd times of night to pen a line that comes to mind. I slowly realise that the idea probably won't sustain a novel, but the fact that the idea won't go away means that something has to be written to exorcise it and a short story ensues.
This happened late last year with an idea about a character who has no sense of taste above the basic sweet/sour/bitter/salty and I wrote what ended up being a charming little 2000 word tale.
I then did something I'd never thought to do before and entered it into a competitiion. A good competition with a meaningful reputation and a not inconsiderable prize. Knowing the team that run the prize I submitted under a pseudonym, thought "well that's done' and moved on.
Then some weeks ago I received an email saying that it had made the cut and was shortlisted. Joy ensued. Sheer joy. I was genuinely thrilled that the little tale had been recognised as having some small merit and was to be considered by the judges as a potential winner.
Winner. Interesting word. Because the thought that it might win started to play on my mind and the more I thought about it the more I really wanted it to win. Not me, but it, the story. I'd invested in it, worked it through a number of drafts, honed it, polished it, tried to make it as good as it could be and I wanted it to be recognised.
My imagination started to work overtime, thinking of course of what the prize money would allow me to do (pay debts largely) and of what winning would do for my confidence (which has largely been on the wane since Oneword and The Lady days) but mostly about the story finding an audience in the world. It was an interesting time of buoyed optimism tinged with the reality that other shortlisted stories had an equal chance and their authors might well be having similar thoughts and emotional responses to being shortlisted.
When the news came that my story had not been selected as the winner, despite the kind and gentle words of the prize administrator, it was a blow. Suddenly the little dreams I'd been having evaporated and I thought of the other shortlisted stories whose writers would also be feeling somehow less. And yet there remained a feint sense of pride for my little story having made it that far.
It is the nature of competitions that we enter in the hope of winning but in the act of entering there is another drive, the pleasure of engaging, of contributing and of testing ourselves or our output against others. Within these lies a curious and pleasing frisson of hope over expectation, of possibility and of the worth of creating something that might give even a few minutes of pleasurable diversion or interest to readers. Winning should be and of course is a laudable achievement and I'm not diminishing it, but I would like to recognise all those who make the triumph of winning the honour that it is, those who don't quite win but might have. Those who enter in hope and accept with grace their status as 'not quite winners.' Runner up is such a loaded and at times derogatory term but without us there can be no victories of worth.
So here's to those who run, those who risk and hope and dream, those who take the plunge and allow themsleves to be judged. For playing the game is truly the pleasure and the honour.
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