2019 brings welcome encouragement: First place in the Bridport Prize, Flash Fiction, with ‘Aftermath’
In August this year, I saw I had a missed call from Kate Wilson, organiser of the Bridport Prize. I’ve entered the Bridport Prize before: if nothing else, it’s a contribution toward the upkeep of Bridport Arts Centre. It’s also a chance to be recognised in one of the biggest writing competitions on the planet. A chance, and nothing more, because they have thousands of entries.
My best placed entry before now was in 2015, a shortlisting in flash fiction, which also won me the Dorset Award for the highest place entry by a Dorset writer. That year I had my first taste of the joy of a Bridport Prize award ceremony.
In 2019, I had another go, making a note to check the results in October. A call from Kate on 22 August felt like it must mean something. I put thinking on hold and rang her back.
I was open-mouthed when Kate said, ‘You’ve won first prize! In Flash fiction, with ‘Aftermath’. I think I asked her to repeat it three times in case I’d misheard. Patiently, she repeated her words. First prize in Flash fiction. Plus the Dorset Award. Two prizes for one story!
When I had declared myself happy to accept the awards, Kate asked me to keep the news to myself until after the prizegiving in October. It was all right to tell family and friends but no fanfares, no blog posts, no social media.
That night, I told my dad. I wished I could tell my mum. The following day was the anniversary of her death two years ago and my good news was submerged again for a while. I knew it wouldn’t feel quite real until the prizegiving on October 19.
The awards lunch is always on a Saturday and the night before there was an event with readings by this year’s judges, Naomi Wood for first novels, Hollie McNish for poetry, and Kirsty Logan who took on two categories: short stories and flash fiction. Some of the prizewinners were in the audience but many were still travelling. Our photos were already up in the foyer and there was a map of the world with pins to show the places the top-listed writers called home. As that enjoyable evening came to an end, the Arts Centre was already being reset for the following day.
On Saturday we (my guest and I) had luck with the weather and walked up through town on a busy market day to arrive at Bridport Arts Centre by 12 noon. The entire place was taken over for the awards.
The Bridport Prize award ceremony is one of the nicest you could ever hope to attend – you won’t often find so many happy people in one room. The judges, and the readers and other volunteers have done their work and are due a celebration and thanks. Every writer present is made to feel they’ve achieved something special, from prizewinner to highly commended.
Drinks and chat ended all too soon and we went downstairs for lunch and the prizegiving. Kate congratulates us all and says there were over 10,000 entries this year from around the world. I’m first up, for the Dorset Award, presented by Antonia of The Book Shop, Bridport, sponsor of this prize, which is such an incentive for those us lucky enough to live in the county. Kate had warned me beforehand: you’ll get an envelope but there won’t be anything in it. I also received the fascinating and extremely heavy sculpture that the winner of the Dorset Award is entitled to keep for one year. We think it’s a pen.
Every highly-commended writer there was invited up on stage to receive their envelopes and their applause and have photos taken. The top placed in each category read from their work.
Before I read my story, I felt I had to say thank you, to everyone at the Bridport Prize and Bridport Arts Centre. When I was born we lived in a cottage down an alleyway just on the other side of South Street. My earliest memory is of playing in the dust and looking out onto the people passing in the sunlight at what seemed like the end of a tunnel. It was years before the Arts Centre came into being or the Bridport Prize. I’ve spent many years living in other places, and always felt proud of the writing prize that bears the name of my home town. Now that I’ve moved back to Bridport, we only had a short walk to get to the ceremony, but as a writer it felt like I’d come a long way.
The prizewinning and highly-commended poems and stories including flash fiction are available in this anthology. The novel extracts are published in a separate anthology.
To see the results of the Bridport Prize 2019 click here.
A writer friend asked me, ‘Life-changing?’ I don’t know about that in terms of future prospects. But it is a wonderful feeling of encouragement. A touchstone.
How often does a dream come true?