I can finally share the latest Darkling success after the longest two-week wait of all time while the news was under embargo: Darkling JB has won the 2010 Josephine Ulrick Literature Prize for her wonderful short story, The Geometry Lesson. Cue rapturous applause! Bravo, Darkling, we salute you! The awards night was last night, which sounds like it went like an absolute dream (how could it not?!), but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until the 18th to read JB’s winning entry – I’ll post the link as soon as it comes online. JB is now rubbing shoulders and clinking martini glasses with the likes of Frank Moorhouse – and we are of course getting many a vicarious thrill from her tantalising updates of life in the fast lane. It sure beats the hell out of losing, and I should know!
Yes, I’m afraid I’ve simultaneously had my own rather different experience with this same competition, so it’s lovely to be able to celebrate JB’s success instead of merely wallow in my own failure to crack the final list. That’s what I’d hoped that one story of mine would manage to do: scrape onto this competition’s long or shortlist, because that would have reassured me that there is a glimmer of hope in this endeavour after all. Writing fiction is very like undergoing fertility treatment, or so some friends and I decided last weekend. In both cases, you must at all times manage your expectations and stay positive enough that you can keep doing what needs to be done. It’s a hell of a trick either way. And just like struggling to get pregnant, it doesn’t mean you’re not ecstatic for everyone else’s happy news, it just means you’re having your own experience at the same time that isn’t so hot. Nothing to be done about that duality – it’s perfectly natural to feel real excitement for a friend and disappointment for oneself side by side. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise, I don’t think, and so I won’t.
Anyway, several people whose opinions I trust responded favourably to the story before I entered it: the Darklings, Llew, my writer friend L. And I didn’t cringe and bite my lip until bursting whenever I read it over – not like I do with all the others, those shameful horrors – so I knew and know still that it’s the strongest short story I’ve been capable of so far – which admittedly isn’t saying much. Imagine the rest of my suite of short stories as grubby-haired bucktoothed bumpkins wearing mis-buttoned cardigans – it doesn’t take much to look pretty foxy among that lot. So it’s not like I placed some shiny deluded value on it or thought in terms of the rest of the field, I only knew that it was my best chance at the time, and I hoped it would be enough. Not to win, mind you, god forbid, just enough to get me on the field for the finals. And so I entered it, hoping, yes, hoping that it would somehow miraculously crack one of those elusive lists. Please, I thought. Please just give me a sign. Some faint reassurance that I am not wrong, that it’s right to keep on trying.
Well, I didn’t get that reassurance when or how I’d hoped. And it wasn’t great. But it turns out that’s okay, because you guys and others like my MS-reading friend S have since stepped in and, without even knowing all this, you’ve fed me those oranges at halftime. I don’t feel so hopeless anymore, so thanks a million – again – from the bottom of my very battered heart!
So. Onwards. I started thinking about redrafting the story as soon as I knew I’d bombed out of the Josephine Ulrick, because there’s another competition closing next week (and on that, I think it really, really sucks that these competitions all stipulate as a condition of entry that stories can’t be in competition elsewhere at the same time. They hold these stories for months and months while they’re making a decision, you’re competing with hundreds of other writers every single time, and at this rate it amounts to entering a story in three places a year – it’s absolutely obscene), and I decided to enter it in that. Then my friend and ex-office buddy from PhD days offered to take a look at it. T was the very first and therefore most intrepid reader of my MS, back at draft #1. Not a job for the faint-hearted. I find T a great critical reader because he’s such a pedant that he doesn’t miss a trick. He’s particularly good on cliché patrol. Unfortunately he weeded out a few from the version of the story I entered in the JU – it’s scary how easily they slide off the fingertips and into the writing without my catching them out. And it stings when you glance across to the red box of a tracked suggested change and see that damning one word comment: cliché. ‘Damn it!’ you think, looking back at the offending phrase. ‘Another one!’
Much consternation and teeth gnashing ensues.
Anyway, T made some excellent suggestions and identified a couple of deadly stylistic flaws that have to be eliminated at all costs from all my writing everywhere for all time. Good, solid lessons to be learned from bad, sloppy choices. So I redrafted it. And then, just to be sure, I redrafted it again. Then came the issue of the title, which was ‘Wind Warning.’ I’d quite liked the title because it worked on a number of levels, but I absolutely knew what T was talking about when he said ‘I can’t decide if I like this title or not. The alliteration is nice, but I worry that it’s maybe overly portentous.’ Fair call – I had worried about the exact same thing myself. So I started trying to think of another title – not easy, in the event. T and I have traded a number of options via email and text over the past few days – I tried Wind Chill; he suggested A Squall, but it soon degenerated into Windsock from him and Frosty the Abominable Smartarse from me. It was all getting very silly, and I was sort of drifting back to Wind Warning by default. Then this morning I had one last thought, so I texted him:
D: What about Windblast? Seriously.
And here’s what happened next.
T: The Wind of Change. Or,The Blasted Wind of Change.
D: They are fucking terrible!
T: Avast! It’s the blasted wind of change! A Pirate Story, by Diana Jenkins
D: Laughing but also sort of wanting to prod you off a plank.
T: You should rewrite all the dialogue in pirate and see how it sounds. A new perspective is often helpful.
T: Maybe Penny was happy because she finally got to steal her husband’s buried treasure. Then she was disappointed when he came back to find it.
D: That’s really a skull and crossbones tat on her neck…
T: Writes itself, really.
D: Just a question of when we have the sword fight…
T: The guy is looking at the TV for so long because he knows about the treasure too. He gets cross with Cassandra because he knows she’ll try to steal it. It’s really sad.
D: So is the state of her petticoat after months of being ravaged at sea.
T: And her efforts to defend her honour from charming ruffians. Could be a sexy pirate novel.
D: The captain’s name is Dick, after all… Hang on. Is this pirate porn?
T: What about ‘Pirate Dick and the Horny Maiden’?
D: I think we all know how he buries treasure…
T: I guess ‘Captain Dick and the Very Able Seamen’ is too obvious.
D: You think?
T: ‘The Maiden Who Straddled Captain Dick’s Plank’?
D: There it is. Or ‘Buried Pleasure: Where X Marks the G Spot.’
Perhaps unsurprisingly, at this point the phone fell quiet. I like to think it’s because I finally defeated him, but I suspect he just had to get back to work.
And now I’d like to end this post by inviting you all to join me in a massive Mexican Wave for Darkling JB – CONGRATULATIONS, darling, we’re so proud of you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!