By Debra Waters.
Norfolk’s a special place for me – even more so since I stepped out of the wooden chalet I was staying in last summer to take a call from Kate, Bridport Prize’s programme manager.
“I’ve come third?” I said, thinking this was brilliant enough.
Kate must have thought I was hard of hearing, but it was disbelief that led me to inanely repeat myself. How many of us actually expect to win a writing competition? We hope to, but competition is fierce. Not winning, or not being longlisted, doesn’t mean our work isn’t any good, though, and it’s important to remember this. Like any creative endeavour, writers have to be thin-skinned enough to absorb and make sense of the world, and thick-skinned enough to deal with the regular rejection that comes with sending work out. I get regular ‘thanks but no thanks’ emails from other competitions – each creates a dent in my day – but I won’t know if I don’t try, so I continue to try.
The day I won the Bridport Prize – in that too-short-a-time when tiers were relaxed – my family and I went to the beach at Horsey Gap then celebrated at the pub. The added bonus of being away, and at a restaurant eating chef-made food, bolstered the day’s high. It also made me aware of the necessity of simple pleasures – a realisation I’ve clung to with a vice-like grip during lockdown. Whether it’s baths, trees, cats, books, food, walks or writing I’ve honed life during this period of turmoil so that what comes into sharp relief are things that provide comfort, pleasure or respite.
We don’t really talk about having these passions
When I think about why my short story Oh Hululu won, the conclusion I come to is the same reason why I wrote it – adult crushes deserve a literary platform. We don’t really talk about having these passions, yet most of us do. I’ve had harmless crushes all my grown life but largely kept them to myself because a) I wasn’t a tween anymore and b) they changed so regularly. But each one highlighted something; a missing or hidden aspect of myself, or an interest I’d like to pursue. They could be on gay men, long-dead women or fictional characters. The feelings they inspired could be romantic, intellectual, motivating or lustful. So, when I found myself grappling with middle age it felt like the perfect time to write about what having a crush means. For the protagonist in Oh Hululu the crush isn’t as simple as an infatuation – it’s a form of escapism as well as a conduit to channel how she feels about herself and the female ageing process. The idea seemed to resonate because it was picked up by BBC Woman’s Hour and being interviewed on national radio was exciting and nerve-racking but it was also rewarding to hear other people’s experiences.
I’m currently working and homeschooling so writing windows are but slivers but I regularly aim to get something down – anything – because I need to plant seeds if I want to see them grow. I also feel better for doing it. These days, I’m more organised than romantic so I bought my husband’s Valentine’s Day card weeks ago – we’ve been watching The Mandalorian (more escapism) so it’s baby Yoda-related (told you I wasn’t romantic). We’ll get a takeaway and a bottle of wine that’s over our usual £10 limit, although with our son around sweet nothings whispered over a candlelit table will have to wait. Whether you anticipate a good or bad Valentine’s Day remember this, fellow writer – you can always write about it.
Debra won £5,000 with her short story Oh Hululu in our 2020 competition.