The Grist Short Story Competition

You know, sometimes you want to spit.

We all know that writers are low down the food chain. Watch the BAFTAs and be convinced (the writers are the ones in the rented tuxedos, all the actors and directors and producers have bespoke ones) of our relative insignificance. But you expect people who are:
• Academic
• Taking money from you
to demonstrate a bit more nous, don’t you?

Well not in the case of the University of Huddersfield. Yesterday I got a letter from them. It didn’t tell me that I’d been shortlisted for their short story competition, judged by Joanne Harris. It didn’t tell me that I hadn’t been shortlisted. It didn’t tell me a bloody thing.

It said “Dear Grist Entrant, the fourth Huddersfield Literature Festival is set to return this March, boasting a host of writers, poets, musicians, comedians, actors and even a cabaret act, all promising to make this a festival with a difference. Yes, this year’s festival is the biggest and best yet …” and so on for another nine paragraphs.

Essentially then, the lovely people at Huddersfield don’t give a flying Fortress that I entered a competition and might like to know how I did. No. They’ve used my entry fee to send me a promotional flyer that doesn’t even MENTION the contest I entered. Lovely, sensitive behaviour that.

So I visit the website and it says this: This Grist competitions (sic) are now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered. The judges are now busy drawing up a shortlist. The winners will be announced at the launch of the 4th Huddersfield Literature Festival 2009 on Wednesday 11th March 2009 at 7.30pm. All shortlisted writers will be notified in advance of this date.

So I assume I wasn’t shortlisted. And I assume the University of Huddersfield views writers as being like goldfish, with seven second memories, who will have forgotten that the paid an entry fee and haven’t been told anything about the competition they entered. No, those dizzy little literary people will just squeal with pleasure and get on the phone to book their tickets for the Huddersfield Literature Festival (the biggest and best yet) won’t they?

Actually not.

Actually, Huddersfield, you stink.

Goldfish image courtesy of bucklava at Flickr under a creative commons license


  1. Nik's Blog
    11th February 2009

    It is bloody infuriating and unfair and making writers feel disposable/unimportant/not integral to comps et al is a Very Bad Thing, because, after something like this, they stop entering. BUT it seems the norm in a hell of a lot of places.


  2. Vanessa Gebbie
    14th February 2009

    Um… it is possible that they are still shortlisting, that the shortlist will be – er – short, unlike some. And that the winner will be announced on 4 March, so shortlistees will be notified unitlperhaps the week before… or something?

    Personally I wouldnt tell them they stink, not quite yet!!

    Fingers crossed for your entry.

  3. Kay Sexton
    14th February 2009

    Well yes, Vanessa. All that is possible, which doesn’t change the fact that it’s a cavalier way to treat writers, that not even mentioning the various competitions in the letter makes it very clear that entrants are simply grist to their marketing mill (pun intended) and not valued individuals in their own right, and even if I won (which I won’t), how would that make it okay for every other who got the marketing letter but no acknowledgement of their time, effort, skill and … yes … entry fee? They stink whether I win, shortlist or sink like a stone. They stink.

  4. Vanessa Gebbie
    16th February 2009

    OK… but I reckon, had I said the same thing a year or so back, you would have told me, quite rightly… the marketing of a literary festival is utterly separate to (from?!) the admin of the short story competition.

    Its an admin thing, not a deliberate slight to the entrants… probably!

    Good luck in any event.

  5. Joanne Harris
    17th February 2009

    Hi Kay,
    As judge to the shortlist of this competition, I’m dismayed to hear about this. I can only say that, as far as I am aware, Grist has nothing whatever to do with either the literary festival or with the University. The writing competition was originally presented to me as part of last year’s literary festival, but now seems to have migrated elsewhere, with somewhat regrettable results. I can’t say any more here, but be assured that your comments will be passed on…

  6. Kay Sexton
    17th February 2009

    Ah, Ms Harris, I never for one moment thought that you had anything to do with this somewhat crass behaviour. In fact, your name swayed me to enter, because, like many another writer, I adore your novels …

    But it would be nice to feel that the message had got to those who decide such things. All it would take was a simple sentence ‘those who have been shortlisted for the contest you entered have already been notified’ or something similar, to take the sting from the marketing.

    And thank you, whatever Grist may do right or wrong, you’ve just demonstrated exactly the integrity that I expected when I saw your name as judge. And sorry if this came as a nasty surprise to you.

  7. Emerging Writer
    14th March 2009

    The shortlist is posted here (including me) no sign of the winners yet (guess it’s not me) Communication is SO important. Looking forward to reading the publication.


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