Monday, 11 August 2008
STORY COMPS: JUDGING, ENTERING, RETIRING
I’ve been asked to be one of two readers for one of the better Irish short story prizes in 2009. We read for the judge and pass on what we like to him. I haven’t got all the details yet but I’m happy to do the work, because I love short fiction and because, most importantly, I get paid. Writing is what I do (it and its peripheral work) and that’s why I say ‘most importantly’.
What with that, and my current judging of the Seán Ó Faoláin prize (700+ stories entered!), I’ve come to the conclusion that it is time for me to stop entering literary competitions. If I’m involved in judging a few of the biggies, it seems unseemly somehow to keep entering others. I’ve also learnt (from my Seán Ó F adjudication) that it is mostly beginner writers who enter these competitions and they need that forum to get a foot on the ladder, just as I did a number of years ago.
I’ve kept entering comps over the years because the prize money is often too good to pass by. I earned €3,000 for a 2000 word story once; €500 on another occasion and various hundreds, tokens, crystal, books etc. In comparison, most magazines pay in the region of €100 for a story. I have never re-entered comps I’ve been placed in, or won, but I’d always try my hand at new ones, big and small, and at the ‘goodies’.
This is my second time to ‘retire’. After my second book of stories was published, I felt there was no place for me to be entering comps anymore. A writing friend told me I was mad. ‘Look at the money,’ she said, ‘you’ll earn nothing like it anywhere else for writing.’ She was – and is – right: advances are generally dismal and royalties few. She and I both have had a healthy winning record; we were good at ‘literary Lester Piggotting’ as Fred Johnston so amusingly put it once.
And I admit, I will still try the Davy Byrne’s Award if I have anything ‘suitable’ available near the deadline. If it’s good enough for La Enright, it’s good enough for me. And at €25,000 for a story plus five shots at €1,000, the money is great. Not that I imagine Richard Ford would be wowed by a single syllable of mine, but I can dream, right?