My First Writing Competition (Ever!)

Half the World Global Literati Award 2016

Last year, I lost the largest part of a book I was writing on ultra running, through a series a techie cock-ups. I couldn’t bring myself to rewrite the entire thing again from memory, so I decided to switch tactics, and have a go at something totally fresh and alien to myself at the time – writing my first short story.

This quickly turned into a series of short story ideas, with the overall idea being to learn the craft. So, without too much effort, I decided that it would be an interesting exercise to write a time travel story, as I would be able to mix many different elements into it, and it would provide a great base from which to launch into fictional ‘stardom’. And so off I went, aiming for around 4,000 words of comprehensible science fiction. My aim was to make it fairly gritty and realistic, without dwelling too much on the time travelling bit, but rather focusing more on the main character, and how the entire journey affected her life and her morals. The star of the show became a ‘her’ for a few good reasons, but the main one was simply to buck the trend of having tall, dark hunks saving the day. I wanted to write my own story, so what better way to start than with a tough and focused female lead? By April, the story had grown to about 11,000 words and was ready to be edited, tweaked and proofread. That was until a large dose of serendipity was thrown my way…

It started when my better half came in from work and told me that I should listen to a BBC Radio 4 programme called Open Book, which, as a wannabe writer, sounded like good advice. So I did. Halfway through the show two women came on, and introduced a writing competition called the Half the World Global Literati Award, which sounded far more grandiose than the local stuff I had previously been looking at! A very substantial prize to the winner as well. Obviously, the award money was attractive, but that wasn’t what made me listen… it was what the competition organisers were looking for that grabbed my attention.

The prize would be awarded to a writer who had written about a female protagonist, who basically stood up and stole the show. No ‘cosmo girl gets job in the city’ malarkey. They wanted depth. It was all about representing a strong, believable and influential female character in pretty much any genre of writing. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – they were describing my very own heroine, as if they were reading my notes themselves… it actually made me gasp!

Now this is definitely NOT to say that I believe that I even have half a chance of winning, as I have never even written fiction before, let alone entered a bona fide writing competition, so I’m pretty sure that the other competitors will be aeons ahead of me in terms of style, substance and grammar. But bloody hell, there was no way I couldn’t enter after hearing what the organisers wanted! I even listened to the BBC show again – it’s her… and now they judges can meet her themselves.

The funny thing is, I didn’t write for the competition – the story was already finished before I even knew the BBC did a writing show. It was also far too short for a novella, but way too long for a short story – so I had to do a lot of work on it to make it competition ready. I couldn’t bear to slice off massive chunks of my first ever real story! So, my first short story soon became my first novella.

I entered the competition to learn. To experience something I had never done before. To follow through fully on something I had started, as well as to get some form of real-world feedback on what I had just accomplished. An awesome opportunity was planted right in front of my face, so regardless of any result, I will learn lessons of some sort.

However she does, I’m really proud of what I’ve written. I made my star as real as the people she was created from. And I also tried my damnedest to make it all as factually correct as I could: from people’s ages and personalities, to the politics and current affairs involved, and even the streets used. I tried to be as honest as was possible for me, so I hope it shows. I can fully appreciate how much love and care goes into creating a work of fiction now. And I hope she gives the judges a right good headache in deciding what to do with her! If I got short-listed I would crap my pants! Whatever happens though, I’ve sent her out into the big, bad world now, and if she doesn’t do anything in this competition, it’s still been a fun journey, and her path will then lead to self-publication. I think the ethos behind the award is brilliant and very inclusive, and writers should be very thankful of chances like this. I can’t wait to see how my time traveller does out there!

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