I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past week.
Competitive writing? Really?
If you think about a competition for writers, if you think about the Man Booker, the Costa, the Orange, you invariably think about Richard and Judy, and Top Ten and bestseller lists; you think about men in suits and women in gowns in hotel ballrooms, of late night channel 4 or BBC 2. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Publishing is an industry and it likes to celebrate its successes. Why wouldn’t it?
There is, though, something a bit odd about a writing competition for amateurs, or for unpublished writers.
It’s all too unbearably random, too hit-and-miss when you don't know just who your competition is or what they've written. I had no chance to place my novel in any context, because I didn't get to read the other submissions.
The fine people at Mslexia ran their competition very professionally. On the day that they had nominated for announcing their winner, I received an e-mail telling me that my novel had been one of the final three on the table. Of the 1800 that were submitted for consideration for their inaugural novel prize, I had placed in the top three. I was thrilled, and, at the time, I was also surprised, but, on reflection, I should have expected it. My novel is good. By some standards, it is very good.
Now, here’s my question.
That being the case, given that I believe in “Naming Names” as strongly as I do, why would I enter it for an amateur competition when I could, perhaps more usefully, be sending it out to agents?
The answer is, I haven’t got a clue.
I wonder if I needed this little bit of recognition. I wonder if I needed a little bit of reassurance that I did, in fact, know what I was doing when I wrote this novel. On the other hand, if my offering had not found its way onto that table, would I have felt any differently about the book? Honestly, I don’t think I would.
So, to cut to the point, I don’t think I’ll be submitting for another unpublished novel competition. I’ve been there and done that, and it was a useful experience that gave me highs and lows, and swept me along, for a time, in a wave of excitement and anticipation. I enjoyed the process, and I'd recommend it, I just don’t think I want to make a career out of entering competitions.
I want to make a career out of writing.
I’m going to leave you with a comment that was posted on Authonomy by one Bonalibro (lovely man).
I always thought “Naming Names” was one of the most striking things on here, until it was banned about a year ago for its dramatic content. A little like banning Ulysses or Tropic of Cancer. It ought to add to its credibility that it threatens the sensibilities of a Murdoch owned site.
It needs to be made a cause celebre around here. So whaddayasay, a les Barricades with Nicola's book.”
Perhaps I should be the first to 'les Barricades', after all, I’ve got the most to gain.