Just recently I won the V. S. Pritchett Memorial Prize which is awarded by the Royal Society of Literature for the best unpublished short story of the year. I have never won a prestigious prize of this kind before and so I was thrilled.
The win was particularly positive for me because only a few weeks before, as I filled out yet another on-line short story competition form, I had been grumbling to myself about the state of my literary career.
‘I’m forty seven years old and I’ve been doing this for twenty years. I don’t want to have to keep sending my work out. By now people should be asking me for it.’ But despite the grumbling, I did send that story off.
And that’s the first important piece of advice I would give to anyone who wants to win a prize. Send your work out. This may sound obvious. It is obvious – but it is also important.
The truth is that many of us write at the level when we will often make it to the long list of forty short stories / poems / plays. After that, whether we win or not is a matter of luck.
So please don’t listen to that voice in your head telling you it is all a waste of time. Submit your story / poem / play to every competition and call for submissions that you can. You will get lucky some time.
My second piece of advice is much more concrete and relates specifically to my winning short story which is called Ray The Rottweiler. Inevitably as soon as I got the call telling me that I had won I asked myself – why that story?
Of course, I don’t know. As I said, statistics and luck are key ingredients. But I did suddenly think of the very talented director who worked on my most recent play. He has a saying which is – big character always succeeds.
That’s worth thinking about. At the centre of my winning story is an eccentric, difficult, puzzling character. Think about novels, stories or plays that you love. Are they inhabited by big characters? Are the characters in your own writing big enough?
As for me, I am hard at work on Derek The Dachshund and Paddy The Poodle.