No Cheetos in Northampton
I was off on my travels again on Thursday. Down the A6 and A508 to Northampton, riding shotgun with fellow writer, Keith Morley. Keith had entered the 2009 H.E. Bates Short Story Prize, which entitled him to an invite to the grand draw, an event to be presided by the novelist Martin Davies.
I was surprised, when we finally got there, at the sheer size of the event. There were probably a hundred people in the place. Over 300 entries were received for the various competitions (Junior, local author and general). Judging was held under the auspices of the Northampton Writers Group and hosted by Northamptonshire Libraries, all combining in an event that brought groups and people together. By a cheeky acquisition of some comfy chairs, I got to sit next to the bubbly mistress of ceremonies, Grace Kempster OBE, head of Northants Libraries. It was she who introduced the guest speaker, Martin Davies, who got the whole show on the road.The best thing about the night was to hear authors reading extracts of their work. The juniors, Matthew Harris and Katie Bunting were a highlight. To see young kids getting into writing (perhaps the drug that will kill them the slowest) is always inspiring. The eventual winner of the Local Author prize, Simon Howes, read part of his story. Denise Reeder, another shortlisted author, also took to the stage to read. It’s always good to hear authors read their work. Particularly nice for them in an audience composed in part by proud family members.
Then, the competition winners were announced, the winning entry read, the glittering prizes awarded. A climax to a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
I will not leave you in suspense any longer. We did not leave the hall (Northampton’s newly refurbished central library, no less) with a prize. I say this because some people might only think it worthwhile going to such events for the glittering cup, the photo at the award ceremony and the cheque for x amount to stuff into their back pocket. At one time that would have been my view as well. I was naive and wet behind the ears when it came to writing. I thought it was all about the glory, the praise and affirmation of my peers, the money in the bank. I was taking my paper plate to the buffet of life and gorging on the cheetos and wotsits, ignoring the meat and potatoes that provide the real, healthy soulfood needed to sustain yourself and grow.
Something happened, however, that steered me away from the snack-foods. I grew up, that’s what happened. Was I slightly disappointed that Keith didn’t win? Of course, a little, but the trip was not about that. We’re meat-and-potatoes guys, Keith and I. We know what it is that makes writing precious, valuable and important to us: its the people you meet, the friends you make the thrill of seeing yourself –and them– improve and grow. I had thought (before I met any other writers), that writing was all about sitting on your own, typing away on your lonesome as your tea goes from hot to warm to tepid. I didn’t know then that it’s other people’s input that make your writing great. It is these other flesh-and-blood writers, with whom you read, critique and share experiences that make you grow into your craft. In Northampton I watched it happening to other people, most of whom I did not know. Other grown ups (of all ages) who had found out that very same thing that made me spit out my cheetos years ago. It was a quality moment.
1) Juliet West
2) Veronica Bright
3) Sarah Gillan
Under 18s Violet McDonald
(apologies for any spelling errors in names etc. I had no time to check them at the event).