Here’s the thing about competitions. They mess with your head. Especially when your short story, Beyond the Blackout Curtain, gets shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize.
You tell yourself. I won’t win, over and over, because you don’t want to be disappointed. But all the time you know that the award ceremony for the Bristol Prize will be at 8pm GMT, on July 11th at Waterstone’s. It’s like one of those little black boxes orthodox Jews wear strapped to their forehead.
No matter where you are, or what you’re doing, you can’t forget.
At work, when harassed mothers phone the library to find out whether there are any vacancies for the school holiday activity on July 3rd, you think: that’s eight days before the Bristol Short Story Prize is announced.
When an elderly gentleman calls to ask the due date of his books, you check his card, and tell him the due date is July 11th, you think: how could you possibly forget that date?
On Friday 10th, when workmates ask what you’re doing over the weekend, you say, ‘Oh, we’re having friends for dinner Saturday night,’ but in your mind you think: I will be waiting.
On Saturday July 11th you rise late, have breakfast, go for a jog, bath the dog, make dinner and enjoy the evening with friends. But you don’t mention the competition, and no one in the family mentions it, and you aren’t sure if they’ve forgotten or just are just being kind. But you can’t get it out of your mind. It’s like one of those subliminal messages on Beatles records: Bristol, Bristol Bristol …
You go to bed knowing, while you sleep, people will gather at Waterstone’s in Bristol and the award will be announced. You don’t mention it to your husband, because, if I you don’t win, and by this point you’re convinced your story is rubbish, you want to be able to mourn in private. To be able to say casually, without a wobble in your voice, ‘well, I didn’t win the Bristol Short Story prize.’ But at the same time you’re calculating the difference between GMT and Australian Eastern Standard time, and trying to remember whether Joyce has a mobile phone and, if not, how long it will take her to get home, and you know the call will come around 8’o clock in the morning.
And the phone does ring!
You leap out of bed, annoyed at yourself for caring, and thinking how silly you’ll look if was a tele-marketing call and hoping, fingers crossed, for second or third place, maybe …
Then you hear the loveliest accent in the world on the end of the line, and it’s Joyce, and she’s even more excited than you are, and she says you’ve won the Bristol Short Story Prize, and you can’t believe it.
You just can’t believe it.
Even now, sitting in bed, in your old green pyjamas, with your laptop resting on your knees, you can’t believe it. But you close your eyes, and lean back against the pillows, smiling, and think: yes, someone liked my story.