It was an odd experience. I arrived at the Trinity Theatre in Tunbridge Wells, was allocated a number and told where to sit in the auditorium – in the front row, with all the other writers. There were seventeen of us taking part. We took the stage in turn, did our stuff and sat down again. I was number five.
There seemed to be a real mix of first-timers and seasoned performers. Everyone gave a good reading of their work and the standard was very high.
When it came time for the judges to announce their decisions, it didn’t occur to me that I might have placed anywhere. I was confident in my story, and the reading went well enough. But would anyone else like it? I didn’t have much humour in my piece; there was no twist in the tale. And it was very short – 90 words or so against a limit of 250 words.
The third prize was given out and then the judges began to talk about the story that came second. I should have taken notes here. They said something about excellent metaphors, tight writing, building sense of horror, a “proper short story”. I remember thinking, that sounds like a good piece. And then they said my name.
Winning a prize was a wonderful surprise, and I need to think of an interesting way of spending my £25 (yes, that’s £2.50 a word!). It was nice, too, to meet some other writers and hear them say positive things about my story.
But it was particularly pleasing to meet a man and his young son who had come along for a tour of the theatre and were nothing to do with the flash event. When they heard there was going to be some sort of story reading competition, they decided to hang around and listen. They sought me out afterwards and I had a great chat with them both about reading and writing.
The judges made diplomatic comments about how hard it was to choose between my story and the one that took first prize, but when I say that I’m pleased Ellie Stewart won it’s not just an effort to be gracious in defeat. She is a really talented writer and poet. You can read her winning story, Zombie Ward, on her blog. I’d also recommend Witch – telling a fairy tale from the perspective of a minor character is a common workshop exercise, but Ellie does it just brilliantly. Her poems are also wonderful, especially the ones about her mother.