I’ve been waiting a long time to write this post. In one sense I’ve been waiting since April, but really it’s been the best part of 37 years coming, since a tiny little version of me first settled down to play let’s pretend.
I promised myself that this was the year when I was going to claw back some time from all the busy chaos of job/parenting/house selling/everything else, and pick up my pen and write fiction. Something, anything, it didn’t have to be good, but it did have to be finished. More than that, it was getting submitted for publication. Sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and a pen with no plan and no idea what to write about is possibly the best way to make my brain freeze, so I bought a few magazines (procrastination: check) and flipped through them looking for something to help shovel the cobwebs out of my brain.
And so in January I sat down with a short video on the Battle of Britain Memorial, the names Tom and Bernard, and asked my imagination to find their backstory. I don’t think a single paragraph of the first version survived even into the second edit, but I liked the second better, and as I wrote and re-wrote, both characters started to get under my skin and I’d find little post it notes littering the corner of my desk with clues written on them, “they go to the pub”, to be deciphered at home in the evening. On the last day for entries it was nearly finished, but not quite. It was a long day at work, Pip took forever and a day to settle to bed and there was a huge part of me that was tempted to chalk it up to experience, know that I’d at least had a stab at some fiction, and try again later in the year, maybe when I wasn’t so tired. Except that I’d put a lot of work in, and I have three small children; I’m never not going to be tired. Two hours to the deadline. Bum, meet seat.
As an editing technique I’m not entirely sure it’s got longevity, but I can tell you that when you’re trying to bring the word count down to under 1700 with the clock ticking away, nothing is precious, and I slashed away great chunks of text, no matter how many pretty words were in it.
At quarter to midnight the text was done, I added the spacing and the cover sheet and we were good to go.
Never has making an account on a website felt like it took so long.
Five to midnight: the website doesn’t accept Apple’s Pages, we need a PDF.
11.58: I grabbed the PDF, uploaded it, paid the entry fee, pressed submit, and breathed a huge sigh of relief as it landed just inside the deadline.
12.01: there was just one problem. That story, the story I’d worked so hard for, the story I’d pushed myself to finish and pushed myself to let out into the world, that wasn’t the one I uploaded. What I uploaded was a PDF copy of a page of scribbled thoughts and half finished sentences, blindingly obviously not the right thing. Cold dark fury at myself ran down my spine. I did the only thing you can do at five minutes past midnight; I emailed Writing Magazine, explained I’d just entered their competition but sent them the wrong document, and asked if there was any way they could swap it. What did I have to lose?
Two weeks later, when I got an email to say that they had sent the right PDF to the judges I was pleased and relieved in equal measure. All I had been trying to achieve was to write a story and submit it; success, for now at least, was measured just in taking part. And so I promptly forgot about it. I didn’t read it again, certain that I’d find something I wanted to edit a bit more, and life was busy enough.
Until one day in April, I opened my inbox to find a message headed “Writing Magazine Battle of Britain Competition”. I was so certain as I clicked on it that it was a nice standard, “thank you for your entry, your story is free to go” sort of a message. It wasn’t.
And now there are no excuses, no possible justification for listening to any inner self doubt, and while I’m sure I’ll have many regrets throughout life, this will never be one of them.
I am a published Writer, with a capital “W”. But of course, this is only the beginning.