This past Saturday I experienced one of the best and happiest days in my writing life when I found out that the story I had submitted to the WCDR’s Amprosia Writing Contest won the first prize: a thousand dollars and the chance to be published in an upcoming anthology by the same name, not to mention the bragging rights, which I’m exercising right now. I had arrived in the morning gunning for an honourable mention and was feeling a little sad when I realized I hadn’t received one. Still there was hope for third prize, and maybe (dare I believe) second. The final judge, Terry Fallis, had composed a beautiful essay outlining why he chose the stories he chose, and the contest coordinator, Ruth Walker, read out his reflections as each prize was awarded. When she started to read the section about the first prize winner I felt as though I was listening to gossip; I thought I knew the character he was describing, and wait, I knew the second character as well, and oh my god, that has to be my story…My heart was in my mouth and my vision was all blurry and my legs were numb and I really thought I might throw up, or worse. When my name was called I got a huge hug from the Writing Fairy (more on that later) and I made my way up to the podium shaking like an unbalanced washing machine. The first thing Ruth said to me was, “Congratulations. Just take a couple of deep breaths.”
As I write this blog I’m still riding the wave of all this emotion, and I’m finding it really unsettling, but in a good way. I’ve submitted stories to many contests, and I’ve never won anything (with the exception of 2nd place in a poetry contest many years ago). I know from having volunteered on an editorial board, and from having recently judged a contest, that subjectivity is a huge factor. Any one of the finalists could easily have won; it just happened that yesterday some cosmic force, and Terry Fallis (whom I now adore more than ever), finally moved in my favour.
Now that I’m basking and reflecting I’ve realized that what has made this so incredibly special is the fellow writers and companions who I’ve managed to meet along the way, many of whom, like me, came to writing later in life, as a second career, and who, like me, have had to scrape by, bargain, and struggle tenaciously to stay on track. I have always secretly wanted to be a writer, and I’ve always, at the same time, resisted doing this thing that I love to do. I probably would still be resisting if I hadn’t found the WCDR and the WCYR. Following this dream has meant swimming upstream against all my excuses, financial worries, repressed emotions, fears, and discomfort with being seen. Parts of my personality are deeply shy, and it is really frightening to feel so publicly naked. What has allowed me to do this are the fellow travellers who have encouraged me every step of the way.
The story I submitted was born from a writing prompt at one of Sue Reynold’s Writing Sanctuary Days. When I read it Sue remarked that it sounded like a good Amprosia entry, and it was Sue’s voice in my head that prompted me to enter it a few weeks later. I also was lucky enough on Saturday to get to sit with Dorothea Helms, the Writing Fairy. I took a course on freelancing with Dorothea last year and I feel like I’ve had a fairy godmother cheering me on ever since. She is a hilarious, generous and loving soul and she was as excited about me making the finals as I was. When I arrived at breakfast I wasn’t all that nervous, and enjoyed chatting and socializing with everyone at the table. About mid-way through I started to feel really nauseated. Dorothea leaned over at this point and said she was feeling nauseated too. I thanked her. Everyone at the table was rooting for me, some whom I had met before and some whom I had not. I really felt their support and even better, a sense of belonging, like the ugly duckling when she finally wakes up among the swans. I felt at home with other people who understand the joys and the pains of writing, the drive to create something that has no basis in common sense but comes instead from somewhere deep and wild and invigorating. And along with that, the happiness that comes with knowing that something has been communicated, that someone else has read your work and been moved or touched in some way. Dorothea was quick to remind me also that now I can say I’m an award-winning writer!
When I arrived home the emails and phone calls started pouring in and I made a mental note that I must do these things more for others. Successes are so much more enjoyable when they can be shared. My husband, who is introverted and not very emotionally expressive, showed his support by framing my certificate and putting it up on the wall this morning. We also went out for Thai food last night, which is my favourite way to celebrate anything. Everything still feels a little surreal, but I am very happy and very grateful for my friends and family who have steadfastly believed in me, even when I didn’t. And even though I risk sounding like an obnoxious Hollywood actor braying over the music at the Oscar ceremonies, I would like to thank the WCDR’S Amprosia Committee whose generosity and hard work made the contest possible: Theresa Dekker, Heather O’Connor, Helene Paquin, and Ruth Walker.