Three writers living in Berlin tell how our competition brought them together

ALISSA: Friends reunited

A few years ago, after years of writing short stories I never published, I challenged myself to submit anywhere and everywhere I thought my work might possibly, just barely fit. I submitted to the Bridport because I saw the prize listed on a literary website I follow. It was one among many other submissions that month. I’d been trying to place this story for over a year, and while I’d had some generous feedback on it, in the end it was always: “Thanks, but no thanks.” It wasn’t until I got the email telling me my story had been highly commended and excitedly shared that news with a friend in Berlin that I learned a) what a prestigious reputation the Bridport had, and b) that the lovely Jane Flett had also submitted, and also been highly commended. Jane was the course tutor for my first fiction workshop here with The Reader Berlin, so that was marvellous news.

JANE: Queer eye

I’d entered the Bridport five times before and never won anything, but I kept sending stories anyway. I’m very stubborn; you kind of have to be with publishing. (Roxane Gay calls it the cockroach school of submissions—“Not even nuclear winter will keep me from submitting my work.” I love that.) When I saw Kirsty Logan was judging, I hoped this was my year. Her queer folkloric fantasies are some of my favourite things in the world and I figured if there was ever a judge who’d appreciate my own blend of weird, it would be her. I was thrilled when I heard my story was among those commended, and even more so when I discovered Alissa was too. The organisers let slip there was also a third Berlin winner, but in the Bridport’s spirit of secrecy, we wouldn’t know who until the day of the prize-giving…

MIKAELLA: Long distance, short story

I was lucky enough to be shortlisted for the Bridport in 2018, so I came back in 2019 feeling hopeful, like maybe the readers at the prize were picking up what I was putting down. All the same, it was such a thrill and surprise to be shortlisted for a short story that felt so weird and old-fashioned — I’m glad there’s more of an audience than I expected for modern day mystics. I wasn’t able to travel to Bridport for the prize, but when I clicked through to the announcement on the day, I felt at once delighted and somehow unsurprised to see Jane and Alissa both listed there.

ALISSA: Sea, cider and a car called Frank

Since writing is often such a lonely business, and successes can be so few and far between, our mutual friend encouraged Jane and me to go enjoy the moment. So we hatched a plan to travel to Bridport together and attend the prizegiving. And despite KLM’s best efforts to foil our plans, we made it! Thanks to various delays, we screeched into Bridport in a tiny rental car named Frank just in time to hear the judges read on the night before the ceremony. Kate Wilson, the Bridport Prize Programme Manager, helped us find accommodation with a lovely family who hosted us for two nights, during which we fell in love with their dog and their homemade bread. We also took the opportunity to enjoy the seaside walks and some of the finest cider Dorset has to offer.

JANE: Sense of community

When we arrived for the prize-giving (fresh-faced, and not a bit hungover from that glorious cider), we were welcomed by the photo wall of winners. We were dying to find out who the third Berliner was. Although Berlin’s a sprawling city with a huge population of artists and migrants, there’s also an intense feeling of community. Writers tend to be lured here by the promise of low rent—it’s not like London or New York, those hubs of publishing where you might think about “making connections” or what’s good for your career. But actually the thing that’s surprised me most about my life here are those writerly connections: a glorious network of support in an otherwise solitary business. And sure enough, it turned out the other winner was someone I knew as both a terrific artist in her own right and a huge supporter of Berlin’s queer writers: Mikaella.

MIKAELLA: All together now

Berlin’s English writing scene feels both small and devoted, like a village where every door is flung open in welcome. Faces are always familiar and friendly; there’s so much less competition than any other writing scene I’ve been part of, and so much more joy and support in each other’s successes and travails. If my writing had managed to travel to the Bridport Prizelist, it felt right that it was with Berlin compatriots on either side. And of course, I’m a huge fan of Jane and Alissa’s writing, having heard them both read at the beloved Literally Speaking series: it’s a pleasure to be in their company again in 2019’s Bridport Anthology.

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