I’ve won few competitions in my life. So few that I can still remember winning St Michael’s School’s Christmas raffle when I was in kindergarten (and my prize: a plastic nativity scene, silver glitter snow shining on the stable’s roof). As for writing competitions, my story Dominic finds a way scored me first prize in Year 6 (I took home a hardback copy of Anne of Green Gables) and Jude topped Salient’s short story competition in the late 90s. But that’s about it. So when I heard about NZ Book Month’s Six Pack competition, I didn’t race out and buy a bottle of Moët in anticipation of my success.
Entries could be either a short story or an extract from a novel, and the six winners would be published in the Six Pack book. I combined two chapters of a novel I’d started writing, turned them into a story (Scout’s Honour) and sent my entry in, feeling satisfied that I’d accomplished something more than helping my baby get a greater amount of pumpkin in her mouth than on my face, though not expecting to hear back.
I wrote the following blog post about what happened next (for the NZ Book Month website):
For me, it all began when an email with the subject NZ BOOK MONTH/SIX PACK COMPETITION/SHORTLIST magically appeared in my inbox. I clicked on it, and as I waited, waited, waited (we had dial-up back then), two possibilities wrestled in my head:
- It was an email to all entrants announcing the shortlist (none of the names bearing even a close resemblance to mine), praising the high standard of entries, congratulating the rest of us and urging us to try again next year.
- It was an email informing me that I’d made the cut.
I can’t describe how I felt when I discovered the latter was true. Had I not been a responsible (and breastfeeding) mother, I would’ve headed straight to the nearest bar (some distance away since I’m a responsible mother who now lives in the burbs) and celebrated in a way DBC Pierre would’ve been proud of.
That was back in May and as the months dragged by, the possibility of being a Six Pack winner was always on my mind. On hearing I was a winner, I once again had to limit my celebrating, this time to just an extra cup of green tea, having just discovered I was soon to be a responsible mother of two.
Unlike the dreams I’d had leading up to the launch of the Six Pack book, I didn’t turn up at the wrong place, my name was on the winners’ list, and the $5000 cheque was of a standard size, not a really big one like in TV game shows. It was a day of surreal experiences: reading an extract from my story on a marae, introducing my mum to Elizabeth Smither, and of course, seeing my story in a book, alongside some of the best writers in NZ. All this was a week ago now and I’m still buzzing…
At that moment anything seemed possible. I was practically a novelist. It didn’t matter that I’d only written four chapters (and actually had no idea of how the story was going to end). 5000 words of it had already won a prize; I assumed publication would be a given. It was only after I’d finished one, two, three, four drafts, under the guidance of first a mentor, and then an agent, that I understood that writing is the easy part. Getting published is a completely different story.