Welcome back to An Eddying Flight, Dear Readers! I'm delighted, thrilled and still slightly in shock to be able to announce:
My story ACHING BONES - a deeply weird, darkly Feminist little tale about histories of harm and healing - took third place from among the shortlist. Today the competition organisers posted the story on the prize website, along with some absolutely humbling feedback from the judges, which I hadnt seen before. My day, week, and month have been made. Hurrah! My friend, the author Sheena Wilkinson, quoted me on how ecstatic I was to be shortlisted in her post, Hooray for Hopeful Signs over on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure last week. And I really was. That's not just because it's wonderful to be shortlisted for and win things (although it is!) but also because I wrote this story as part of my Master's Degree course back in 2019 and I've been submitting it to competitions and journals ever since. It had a couple of nice rejections, but otherwise netted no success. I was tempted to retire it to the draw dozens of times... but I always felt there was something special there. I just loved its sinister, shiversome weirdness too much to give up on it. I felt it deserved to be read. So I sent it out one more time. And this time, lo - it worked. *Pause while I briefly leave the room to make inarticulate whooping and shrieking noises and jump up and down*
I was lucky enough earlier this year to attend a talk at the NAWE conference by the poet Kim Moore - whose PhD thesis is now on sale as a book of poetry entitled, brilliantly, All the Men I Never Married. She mentioned keeping a spreadsheet so that she could see where she had submitted her work, and feeling immense satisfaction when one poem that had been rejected thirteen times eventually went on to win a prize.
I've reminded myself of this story several times over the past few months as poems of mine had various near misses, but it springs to mind more vividly than ever now not only because the situations are so similar, but because it's a reminder that sometimes as a writer (or creative of any kind) all you can do is hold your nerve.
It can be wickedly tempting to decide that you were wrong about the merit of what you've created, and to retire stories or poems or manuscripts that have been rejected one too many times. It's a form of self protection. You accept the judgement of the world that there was something wrong with what you had produced. It was never any good. It was always flawed, all along. No one was ever going to like it. And in that way you cut it off from your soul, and it goes numb, and you can laugh to yourself and think, 'Dear me, why did I ever embarrass myself by believing that terrible bit of rubbish would get anywhere?'
This will certainly hurt less. But if you do it, this idea that your creative work was nothing more than a misfire will become the truth. Even though the truth was more likely that it just hadn't found the right reader yet.
In order to find the one place that will recognise and delight in the beauty or truth or simple sinister shiversomeness of your work, you have to keep believing in it yourself first, no matter how many people may tell you 'It's not quite right for us' or how much this hurts.
The real proof of this is something I haven't told anyone up until now: I had submitted ACHING BONES to the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize once before, last year. It wasn't even longlisted.
Guess what else? The first germ of an idea for ACHING BONES was born while I was using a really basic little creativity exercise, one that I utilised often during my MA in order to motivate myself to produce the required number of new words to share and workshop each week. A slightly tweaked and expanded version of this same exercise is the very thing I've been calling Pick & Mix, and sharing here on my blog. So even though I always urge you to avoid putting pressure on yourself while taking part, having a go at Pick & Mix can still yield results that will take you surprising places.
You can read ACHING BONES now on the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize website, and it will be published in the winter Oxford Flash Fiction anthology (title to be announced). I'll post about it again nearer the time. In the meanwhile if there are comments, questions or things you'd like to discuss, pop them in the comments or over on Twitter or Facebook, Dear Readers!