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The Willesden Herald

February 3, 2010
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The shortlist for the Willesden Herald’s short story competition is up and I’m not on it. Not a surprise, really, when the likes of Toby Litt are among the competition. The Willesden, you may remember, was at the centre of that minor ruckus a few years back when Zadie Smith withheld the top prize, complaining of a dearth of “greatness” among unpublished writers of short fiction, a rather strange attitude which I commented on in The Herald at the time.
It’s interesting that two years ago, when Smith’s name and a £5,000 carrot were attached to the award, there were 850 entries. This year, in the absence of such enticements, there were 300. I’d like to think the overall standard was better for it. As for my own story: it’s one of my personal favourites, but that doesn’t count for an awful lot. I entered it largely because it was about 8500 words long and it’s hard to find markets for tales of that length. The Willesden’s limit of 8000 forced me to give it a buff and a trim and a polish before I could submit it, and though it fell short of their standards, I feel it’s better and more balanced for the effort. My real problem here is that it’s also one of my oldest pieces – I wrote it during my paternity leave after Euan was born and he’s now coming up to his seventh birthday. And there’s only so much buffing and polishing you can do before you weary of the task and have to accept that a story is as good as it’s ever going to be, and the best thing you can do is jettison it as fast as possible and move on to the next one.
I’ll be interested to read the Willesden stories in due course. Well done and good luck to those who did make it.

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