Today I have the pleasure to turn this blog over to my guest, award-winning U.K. romance novelist Linda Gillard. Her book Star-Gazing is the loveliest book I’ve read in ages, and she has two others I loved as well: Emotional Geology, and A Lifetime Burning. And now, Ms. Gillard (in front of one of her quilts that she makes when not writing):
Warning: if you’re a writer struggling to find recognition, look away now. What follows concerns a problem you’d like to have. Alternatively, if you’re inclined to schadenfreude, read on and derive comfort from the fact that published authors are as insecure, envious, competitive and as frequently disappointed as the next (wo)man.
So first: the good news. For the second time this year (and the third time in my short writing career) I find myself short-listed for an important book award. Now for the bad news. I hate the whole literary prize circus: the long-list, the short-list, the warm white wine, the bated-breath announcement of the winner and of course the thorny problem of what to wear.
You tell yourself you aren’t going to get hooked in to it. It’s just an award. It doesn’t mean anything. Van Gogh never won an award, nor did Mozart. But while you’re chopping the vegetables or taking a shower, you find yourself composing your acceptance speech, the one you know you aren’t going to need. But all the same, if by any chance you do have to make that speech, you mustn’t forget to thank your agent. Or your editor. Or the very enlightened judges.
I know, because my first novel EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY was short-listed for the Waverton Good Read Award, for first UK novels.
It didn’t win.
Earlier this year, my third novel STAR GAZING was short-listed for the Romantic Novel of the Year.
It didn’t win.
STAR GAZING has now been short-listed for the inaugural Robin Jenkins Literary Award, the UK’s first environmental book award. The winner will receive £5000. (To give you some perspective on that: the average UK author’s income was recently estimated as £4000.) [Note to American readers: as of today, £5000 is equal to 8,272.60 US Dollars]
I shall be put out of my misery on August 24th very publicly and appropriately, at the Edinburgh Book Festival but frankly I wish the process could stop right now at the short-list stage. Why can’t they just divide the prize money between the six contenders and send us off to party? Why must there be five losers? Why must we sit there, smiling bravely, nursing indigestion caused by the food we forced ourselves to swallow during the interminable prelude to public humiliation?
(FYI: you smile, not just to preserve your dignity and certainly not because you’re pleased you’ve lost. No, you smile because your facial muscles are rigid with the effort of simulating nonchalance about the outcome. A fixed smile disguises your despairing conviction that writing the short-listed book was the worst idea you ever had. (In fact it was your agent’s. Thank God you haven’t got to thank her! Every cloud has a silver lining.)
Your suffering isn’t over once you’ve lost. If there’s one thing worse than not winning, it’s having loyal friends and family tell you afterwards, “You were robbed.” Well-meaning remarks can sabotage the last remnants of authorial composure, which can be supplanted by an irrational desire to punch someone — preferably the winner, failing that, the judges.
It’s madness. It’s just an award! It’s not a validation of your existence, or even your writing, but for a few weeks your life will be on hold, focussed on the unaccountable, possibly not even unanimous decision of a panel of judges.
Who actually needs a winner? Readers don’t. They like short-lists because they appreciate guidance and short-lists help them filter the vast numbers of new books that are published every year. (Personally, I think short-lists encourage readers to play safe. The lists I like are the risk-taking long-lists, full of wild cards and new names.)
Booksellers don’t need a winner — they can sell the short-list. Authors certainly don’t need a winner, because a winner means there must be losers. (I reserve the right to change my mind about this if I win on August 24th.)
So who needs a winner? The sponsors of the award and the media, that’s who. Big prize money is news. Big prize money shared is less newsworthy, for the same reason small earthquakes are less newsworthy than big ones.
So on August 24th I will be suffering for my art and the Forestry Commission, Scotland — generous sponsors of an award I don’t expect to win.
Rhapsodyinbooks is inviting me back again after the 24th to tell you if I did and, more importantly, what I wore. In the meantime I leave you with a photograph of me not winning the Romantic Novel of the Year 2009. I’m the one in the middle, in blue, standing next to the young and lovely Cecelia Ahern, who also didn’t win, but if I were that young and lovely, I wouldn’t care.
It’s only an award, for heaven’s sake.