Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Sound of Missed Deadlines

A few days ago, the wonderful Chicken House announced the shortlist of their Children’s Fiction Competition. I wish everyone on that list the very best of luck. I’m a huge fan of the competition, and with good reason; I won it in 2013.

But the shortlisting process this year reminded me of a particular day back in 2011. It was a memory I’d pretty much let go, and it came back in a rush of anguish and frustration.

Here’s the tale. It was deadline weekend for the Chicken House competition and I was still working on a book that at the time was called Sleepwell and Fly. It was a bit of a ragged young tyke – an ugly street-urchin of a story – but I was happy with it and keen to get it delivered. Sticking an 80,000 word manuscript in the post and sending it to Frome in Somerset is no straightforward task. It costs a few quid, and you need a working post office.

So why had I chosen that particular weekend to take off for a break in Derbyshire I don’t know. I had the book with me. I had a super-strong envelope and a fist full of first class stamps. I went for a long walk with my girl, had a pint in the afternoon, unwinding after a tough time at work. The footy results started coming in; the sky darkened and the sun went down.

Then it hit me full in the face. Bloody hell. There was nowhere I could post the frickin’ manuscript. It was too big for a post box. The post offices were closed. Tomorrow was Sunday. Then it was deadline day.

I lost the plot. I swore and raged at my own stupidity. I cursed and paced. Then I went all broody and silent and furious. I ruined the rest of the weekend, barely able to live with myself. The following week or two was just as gloomy. I was horrible.

About a month later I had the courage to return to the story. I pulled it out of its envelope and started reading. Two things happened almost simultaneously. The first: I started wincing at the prose. Christ, I thought. This is clunky. Ouch. I began tweaking it. Second: I had a couple of ideas. Hang on, I remember thinking. If I just add this character; chop this section… you get the picture.

The year after, I submitted the manuscript, three weeks or so before the deadline.

These words have been typed here before but I guess they bear repeating: I’ve made these mistakes so you don’t have to.

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