The Unlikelihood of Happily Ever Afters in Writing: Why We Should Enjoy the Moment

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I’ve mentioned a couple of times now that I entered the 2015 Ampersand Prize, a writing competition for young adult and children’s writing, and managed to attract the attention of one of the judges. I’ve also mentioned that I failed to win or even be shortlisted, despite attracting that attention.

The likelihood of happily ever afters in writing is, as it has ever been, very small. The numbers of people who win competitions or simply succeed in getting published are comparatively low and the numbers just keep getting lower as you add the extra elements of happily ever after. Good reviews. Good sales. Awards. Subsequent publishing contracts. Financial security. Fame.

So this is me enjoying the moment as I share with you parts of the correspondence I received from that Ampersand judge. Sure, the moment is long over but the memory of that moment is still a glowing ember – blowing on it gently brings it back to life and casts it in a warm light like an orange sunrise breaking over the horizon.

*****

Monday, 21 September 2015

Hello, Louise.

I hope this finds you very well. I’m getting in touch because I read Black Spot in one sitting over the weekend and found it utterly engrossing (despite the fact that the sun was shining like crazy and I really should have been working on my vitamin D levels). I wanted to share some thoughts with you about the manuscript, and hopefully also learn more about you and your writing process.

I thought Black Spot was tremendously well written with a strong, deeply intimate voice and a firm sense of place. Livia Black was such an intriguing protagonist for me – frustratingly sheltered and yet compulsively, if cautiously, curious about the world around her – and I was on the edge of the couch while reading, desperate to unpack the mystery of her memory and of “the before”.

I hope you’ll forgive this outpouring of feedback – this is usually a good sign from my perspective, as it means the manuscript has struck a chord, but I can imagine it might feel torrential to be on the receiving end. Essentially, I’d just like to know where you’re at with Black Spot and where you’re planning to take it next.

We are still whittling down our Ampersand shortlist as we’ve had a huge number of entries this year, so any insight you can give me into your process and perspective on Black Spot would be helpful. I really look forward to hearing from you, Louise!

All the best.

*****

When I received this email, I forwarded it to the woman who is basically the reason I wrote Black Spot.

*****

Monday, 21 September 2015

Holy crap! I know I’m going to screw this up with my response email but I wanted you to be part of the amazement and excitement and overwhelming butterflies in my tummy that I’m having for now! 🙂

*****

With her assistance, I composed a response email responding to the queries and issues the Ampersand judge had raised, resulting in this:

Friday, 25 September 2015

Hi, Louise.

I’m sure these sorts of emails are very overwhelming to receive, but I appreciate your thoughtful and prompt response. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of reading to get through, but I’m going to share Black Spot with my colleagues and start putting our shortlist together. I hope you can bear with me while we get ourselves sorted in here.

It probably goes without saying, but please keep this exchange on the down low for the time being – I’ll be in touch as soon as I can with an update and whether I need anything else from you. (Sorry to be so cryptic – it’s part of the process!)

Speak soon.

*****

I like to think I did keep it and still am keeping it on the down low – I didn’t tweet the news or anything like that. I only involved one person without censorship, the woman I mentioned above. But I did tell my mother, my stepmother and a writer friend – without mentioning the specifics of the competition or the judge – about the fact that I’d been contacted by the Ampersand judge and how exciting it was.

It took more than two months for the next correspondence and by that time the excitement had died down and the information contained in the email was expected.

*****

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Hello, Louise.

I’m just getting in touch with an update on Black Spot, as I’m sure you’re wondering what the outcome of this year’s Ampersand Prize is going to be. In the end, I’m afraid we’ve decided not to shortlist Black Spot for this year’s prize, but it remains highly commended in my eyes. I wish you all the best in finding a home for it and I hope you’ll keep me in mind for your future projects – I think you’re certainly a writer to watch.

All the best.

*****

It would be easy just to see the negatives, wouldn’t it? Didn’t win the prize, didn’t even make the shortlist.

I prefer to see the positives. The moment I received that first email was like a shot of adrenalin straight into my heart. A book I wrote remains highly commended in the eyes of a commissioning fiction editor, who wants me to keep her in mind for any future projects and who thinks I’m a writer to watch. And between receiving the first email and the last, I wrote nearly 30,000 words of the sequel (just in case), which actually helped me clarify some of the plot points in Black Spot as I undertake final rewrites.

Eventually, I’m going to get a happy ending. I don’t know what it’s going to look like. Maybe it will have nothing to do with winning competitions, getting published, good reviews, good sales, awards, subsequent publishing contracts, financial security and fame. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the moment. And when the next moment comes along, I’ll enjoy that, too. And, hopefully, life will be what happens while I’m busy enjoying the moments.

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