Following the interesting developments in the Willesden judging, I feel I should post again, to put my viewpoint. Yes I was one of the infamous ten who ‘were not good enough’.
For those who haven’t followed the story, ten of us were short-listed, but nobody won. There won’t be an anthology and nobody gets any prize money. What can be learned from this?
First, the vitriol this inspired on the Willesden Herald blog, mainly aimed at ‘the ten’ who were called all kinds of names, whiners being the least of them, was unbelievable.
Second, it hurts to be in the running and have somebody trip you up like this. It hurts, to be honest, like stink.
Third, nobody was to blame.
I’ll say it again. Nobody was to blame. It was unfortunate, messy, painful and ugly but it was an accident.
The accident had some repercussions that those who were so unpleasant about ‘the ten’ seem not to have considered. As an example, I, and at least one other of ‘the ten’, withdrew our stories from other competitions (for which we’d paid an entrance fee) as soon as we were short-listed because that’s the ethical thing to do. We were expecting to be published in the anthology, even if we didn’t win the prize, and that meant our stories were disqualified for other contests – now we’re out of pocket to the tune of those entry fees, and out of the running for any prizes that we might have won (and okay, we ‘weren’t good enough’ for Zadie, but we were good enough to be short-listed, so I think it’s fair to say we might have had a better than average chance with that same story in another competition running concurrently, don’t you?) That stings a bit too.
There was a vast amount of emailing to and fro before an ultimate decision was made. It was a draining, debilitating and ultimately rather demeaning process, that I suspect left all of us wishing we had been part of the 800 that wasn’t short-listed.
But it was nobody’s fault. Accidents happen and mistakes get made.
In future I hope that this competition, and others, will think about what happens if they don’t award a prize, and make clear to all writers that being short-listed may still lead to absolutely nothing, because it doesn’t seem unrealistic to expect that short-listing will lead to what was promised: anthology publication. This isn’t the first time that a competition hasn’t awarded a prize – I can think of two other instances in the past twelve months, and it behoves the contest organisers to build this into their planning in future. But the Willesden is a young competition and the young make mistakes, and mistakes are what we learn from, not successes. I hold no grudges and I might even enter again next year.
Meantime, my story and I still think we’re 'good enough' …
Labels: dealing with rejection, willesden herald, zadie smith