Willesden Herald

Following the interesting developments in the Willesden judging, I feel I should post again, to put my viewpoint. Yes I was one of the infamous ten who ‘were not good enough’.

For those who haven’t followed the story, ten of us were short-listed, but nobody won. There won’t be an anthology and nobody gets any prize money. What can be learned from this?

First, the vitriol this inspired on the Willesden Herald blog, mainly aimed at ‘the ten’ who were called all kinds of names, whiners being the least of them, was unbelievable.

Second, it hurts to be in the running and have somebody trip you up like this. It hurts, to be honest, like stink.

Third, nobody was to blame.

I’ll say it again. Nobody was to blame. It was unfortunate, messy, painful and ugly but it was an accident.

The accident had some repercussions that those who were so unpleasant about ‘the ten’ seem not to have considered. As an example, I, and at least one other of ‘the ten’, withdrew our stories from other competitions (for which we’d paid an entrance fee) as soon as we were short-listed because that’s the ethical thing to do. We were expecting to be published in the anthology, even if we didn’t win the prize, and that meant our stories were disqualified for other contests – now we’re out of pocket to the tune of those entry fees, and out of the running for any prizes that we might have won (and okay, we ‘weren’t good enough’ for Zadie, but we were good enough to be short-listed, so I think it’s fair to say we might have had a better than average chance with that same story in another competition running concurrently, don’t you?) That stings a bit too.

There was a vast amount of emailing to and fro before an ultimate decision was made. It was a draining, debilitating and ultimately rather demeaning process, that I suspect left all of us wishing we had been part of the 800 that wasn’t short-listed.

But it was nobody’s fault. Accidents happen and mistakes get made.

In future I hope that this competition, and others, will think about what happens if they don’t award a prize, and make clear to all writers that being short-listed may still lead to absolutely nothing, because it doesn’t seem unrealistic to expect that short-listing will lead to what was promised: anthology publication. This isn’t the first time that a competition hasn’t awarded a prize – I can think of two other instances in the past twelve months, and it behoves the contest organisers to build this into their planning in future. But the Willesden is a young competition and the young make mistakes, and mistakes are what we learn from, not successes. I hold no grudges and I might even enter again next year.

Meantime, my story and I still think we’re ‘good enough’ …


  1. Arturo Bandini
    7th February 2008

    O, Zadie Smith…literary punk-priestess of north London, how you smite us!

  2. Kay Sexton
    7th February 2008

    Actually, Arturo, I feel neither smited nor smitten! Such experiences aren’t exactly everyday, but if you can’t move past them pretty fast, you aren’t going to survive as a writer. And I’m old and egotistical enough to have confidence in my own opinion, rather than Zadie’s …

  3. Vanessa G
    7th February 2008

    Next step, a re-polish, and send it out again (as you would tell me!) And when it wins elsewhere, I for one will raise a glass to you.

    I have stuck one more post on the blog on this one… and mention you… so please check it out?


  4. Charles Lambert
    7th February 2008

    And there I was, twiddling my thumbs and waiting for an email! Serves me right, I suppose. At least there wasn’t an entry fee. My story dealt with a relationship with a mixed-race teenager in Hackney, so must have been one of the hundreds that got specifically slapped down. And yes, I did choose that particular story because I thought it might appeal. Isn’t that how we choose stories for competitions? By fitting them to what we perceive as their market, or audience? Next year, I’ll send them something life-enhancing and, what was it? buzzy? vivid? I can’t remember now. Wait a minute, maybe Hackney wasn’t north enough…

  5. JonP
    7th February 2008

    Impressively magnanimous response to a severe let-down. Must be really frustrating not even to be able to see what the others on the shortlist were like! We’ve been having quite a debate on our blog about this one …

  6. Mum'sTheWord
    13th February 2008

    I think this is a very generous response to a very messy situation. I’ve been wondering about The Ten and am glad to have stumbled across one of them! I really hope you place your story elsewhere.

  7. Don Capone
    18th February 2008

    Zadie is a bit full of herself. She should have just picked the best of the ten, or bowed out and let another author take over the judging duties.

    I think the top ten should seek each other out and publish the anthology with lulu.


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