Saturday, 14 April 2012

My literary shame and glory

I’ll get to the glory bit shortly, but first to the shame and my confession. Once upon a time I was a Brownie. Being a Brownie is supposedly about doing your best and honouring the queen and all that stuff, but in reality it’s all about the badges – getting more badges than anyone else. Perhaps I did what I did because it came hard on the heels of failing my first-aid badge. Please understand; everyone else got theirs so my mortification went very deep.

Next up was the writer badge for which, amongst other things, I had to compose a poem. The judge was Brown Owl’s husband. I wrote some free-form poetry about our family chickens that lived at the bottom of my garden. He read it, judged it and rejected it. Unbelievable! What he knew about writing I have no idea. They lived in an executive mock Tudor new-build and he was a business man. I suspect his judging prowess was based purely on his proximity to Brown Owl.

In a fit of quiet pique I slunk away and rather than try and improve the poem or write something new, I consulted my book of children’s verse and copied out a poem. I would imagine this is much harder than doing a copy and paste job from an unsuspecting e-book (and using the find and replace command to change the names). I didn’t bother changing the pig to a sheep to cover my fraud, but I did actually have to write it out and I had to do it in my best hand writing. I’m sure that even business men in executive homes become suspicious when a shoddy effort is followed up with an actual published poem, but he passed it all the same. I was awarded the badge, but I wasn’t very proud of myself and the guilt has lived on.

Fast forward a few years (okay, decades) to the glory. I recently entered a few writing competitions to provide a distraction from slashing and editing The Big One. Someone tweeted the other day about being long-listed for the Fish flash fiction competition and I went straight to the Fish Publishing website to see if I was on the list, my heart already sinking with the inevitability of more disappointment (and that Brownie shame weighing me down). I couldn’t find any mention of a long-list and I couldn’t work out how the tweeter knew. The penny dropped a few days later - you can log in to your author page and see your mark: A = shortlisted, B = longlisted, C = unsuccessful. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the A beside my entry. I had to get my other half to verify it for me.

The shortlist may turn out to be very, very long but, out of 1200 entries, frankly I don’t care. It was all my own work and I worked hard on it. It’s entirely possible that being shortlisted for this will be the only writing accolade I ever achieve, but it is a badge I will wear with pride. If a mistake has been made or I’ve misinterpreted the mark, then it will serve me right for wearing that Brownie badge and claiming someone else’s work as mine.

Best not talk about the sewing badge.


  1. That's brilliant. All the shame and all the glory. Wonderful stuff Betty, you are truly McFab. Must go and catch the bath now. Cathy x

  2. A charming story, and congratulations on your success with Fish's contest! I've been keeping my eye on that as a place to send a story, but I want the submission to be something really good, so I'm holding off until I have a chance to polish a story to perfection (at least in my eyes).

  3. Thank you Solari. Good luck with all your writing projects over the summer!

  4. Congratulations on the short list! Does make up for getting your brownie badge in a rather dodgy fashion! I was a Brownie as well, can't recall doing a writing badge though. Feel like I should go back so I can get it. Back at poetry though, so perhaps not :)

  5. Thanks Catherine! Poetry has never been my strong point and maybe my mini prose success was just a flash in the pan!