How to win a literature competition by default

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This piece is actually an ‘about Flags and Lucky Bags’ kind of deal (see the last post). Well, no it isn’t really, it’s more a tale of how the short story came about and how I managed to bag a local literature competition with it!
In January of 2002, our local library were running a competition to celebrate the Golden Jubilee which was to fall later that year. They invited people from the area to send in their short stories or poems with the theme of ‘Jubilee’. At that time, I was part of a creative writing group and we were all urged to put something forward for the competition.
So I toddled off home, racked my brains and remembered an event during the Silver Jubilee in 1977 when Queen Elizabeth drove through Bethnal Green very close to where our school resided in London. I was six at the time but I recalled the occasion very well. Some things just stick. So I set about writing something short and (hopefully) amusing to submit. I had been reading a book written entirely from the viewpoint of a child shortly before (unfortunately, I can’t remember what that book was. I’ve just Googled the synopsis of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ which I thought was the book in question but that rings no bells whatsoever so it can’t have been that…). Anyway, I do recall liking the way the book was written from a child’s perspective so I thought I would attempt to capture that kind of feeling. A part of me worried that readers would find it hard to believe a six year old would think like the protagonist in ‘Flags and Lucky Bags’, but I came from an unusual family with children who were all old before their time so it’s pretty much a true story. My husband was concerned that the story was a fraction too anti-monarchist to win a competition dedicated to the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. But there was no malice in the story and it was merely written from fact – as near as I could remember (and you know me, I never really listen to other people’s opinions!) so I just carried on in that vein.
So I duly dropped the story off at the library on the day of the deadline (obviously) and sat back and forgot about all it. Imagine my surprise when I received a letter one morning a month later to congratulate me on winning first prize! Okay, it’s not Pulitzer but I’d never won ANYTHING before. Apart from that time I’d won first prize at school for drawing a picture of Alice-the-lollipop-lady who worked on the zebra crossing outside our junior school (who was retiring – hence the competition). Alice herself had been the one judging entries and she was a friend of my mothers so I always doubted the validity of that win…
But I was pleased to be invited to the award ceremony at the library one night a few weeks later. Wiltshire Times newspaper were supposed to show up and take photographs but unfortunately the photographer didn’t make it – so my face splashed over the local rag the next day wasn’t to be. As drinks and canapés were served, I wandered around nonchalantly viewing all the other entries; some poems, some stories. And I was surprised to realise that every entry I looked at (and I think I pretty much saw them all), well…none of them seemed to bear any relevance to the Queen or the Jubilee or anything. There may have been one with ‘gold’ in it, I’m not entirely sure. But still, it was just a bunch of writings submitted in the hope of winning through sheer talent alone, I suppose (and one can NEVER rely on that)! Weirdly, I pretty much won by default! And the moral of the story is, ‘read the brief, people!’. As I always tell my kids during their exams; read the question. Re-read it to see if you’ve read it properly the first time. Then go back and read it again. Still, a win’s a win; so I’ll take it. And I’m  taking the lollipop lady drawing too.

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