There are just days left to enter the Bridport Prize. And if your lockdown life feels anything like mine, polishing your novel extract or fine tuning your flash might feel like a big ask top of scheduling Zoom chats, home schooling (I feel your pain!), shopping for relatives and just keeping up with the headlines… This is an incredibly difficult moment in so many ways to carve our writing time or frankly thinking time, but if you could put your writing first for just those next few days, what might you achieve? Why shouldn’t this year be the year you just go for it? So why not say yes this year, make a big cup of coffee or pot of tea, say sod it to the to-do list and the hoovering, and dive in. You’ve precisely nothing to lose, and so much to gain – and so many writers who have gone on to happy and successful careers have started out in just the same place as you.
Potential and promise
Last year was the first year I had the pleasure of being a Bridport judge, in the novel category, and I can honestly say that what my fellow judges and I looked for more than anything was potential and promise. In all of the judging conversations, between ourselves an with our chair, author Naomi Wood, we found ourselves arguing sometimes passionately in favour of freshness and originality, and time and again we found ourselves returning to the pleasure of encountering something new – be that a point of view on a world we don’t encounter enough of in fiction, or at sentence or line level, an unexpectedly piercing, or funny, observation on an experience that could in other hands feel overfamiliar.
When I edit my authors for publication, we sometimes take months seeding in plot and shading in atmosphere. It’s a process I adore, and it can add a great deal of richness to the resulting reading experience. But it’s no substitute for that shock of the new, for that encounter, on the page, with the work of an author who knows what they want to say and has hit upon the right words in which to say it. That’s what hits me between the eyes, as an editor, when I first read the kind of work that keeps me in this business, and it matters not one jot to me whether everything about the set-up is pitch perfect.
Sometimes the best writing happens fast
I also know, from talking to my authors over the years, that sometimes the best writing happens fast, while life is going on noisily in the other room. Prize shortlisted novels have been written on mobile phones on the top deck of busses, or while family life is busy exploding, or day job deadlines loom. When that killer idea comes calling, sometimes seizing the moment is all.
Sometimes it’s incredibly hard to put yourself first, but if you’re passionate about your writing, if you’ve been working on a novel for a while, or if you’ve recently started writing flash fiction and want to put our new skills to the test, why not just go for it. If that means the odd cobweb or frozen pizza supper, or that the kids spend a few extra half-term hours on the X-box, it’s no disaster in the grand scheme of things. Send us your best work, but above all, send it. Some exceptionally eager judges can’t wait to begin reading your work.
Mary Anne Harrington, Publisher, Tinder Press