Make your dream come true and send in an entry


A huge thank you to Catherine Cox who has written this post for LWC:

Years ago – OMG nearly 50 years ago – W.H. Smith ran an annual competition for children to win a pony! The competition was supported by an advertising campaign in which a little girl posted her entry and the post-box whinnied back at her signalling that dreams come true. In fact, the ad tag-line was, ‘Make your dream come true and send in an entry’.

I couldn’t ride but I longed to win. Ignoring my mum’s warnings about the practicalities of looking after a pony, I saved all my pocket money and individually bought comics, cheap toys and children’s books to maximise the number of entry forms collected. (You got one with every purchase). As I dispatched my entries, I’d strain to hear the winner’s whinny.

On reflection, the responsibility of caring for a pony would have been too much for a nine-year old non-rider but this memory came back to me when I was long-listed in the Mslexia Memoir and Life-writing competition. To win the competition would be a ‘dream-come true’ but the reality of baring an unhappy period of my life to the scrutiny and judgement of strangers, suddenly struck me, but just as much as I wanted that pony, I wanted to win. I’d dedicated more than pocket money and dreams to this prize.

I went on to be short-listed. The validation was fantastic. People had read my story and found it interesting; my writing had been considered worthy. The thrill of it was a lockdown lift and it gave me confidence to carry on writing.

And sometimes as a writer that boost is critical.

At the moment, it seems like you can’t turn on your computer without reading about some prize or other. The ones I’m taking a personal interest in are the Desmond Elliott Prize, (because my friend Andy Charman has been long-listed for his debut novel Crow Court). Run by the National Centre for Writing, this competition has a prize of £10,000. I’m currently working my way in print and on Audible through the Women’s Prize for Fiction long-list. The winner of this prize gets £30,000 and a bronze ‘Bessie’ but for me it provides a great reading list. I often look at the Bridport and the Manchester Writing School but I’m also interested in the Verulam Writers and the Ver Poets, my local writing groups

There are competitions for every genre, from many locations, for every style, background or age. Some are free to enter, some you have to pay, some are of national or international significance, some are of grass root importance. In short there are hundreds of competitions and lots of reasons why it can be fun and worthwhile entering. They can be:

– A prompt to get the creative juices flowing.

– A chance to flex your writing muscles and try a different style or genre

– Light relief when you need a break from your main writing project

– More fun than soduku (IMHO)

– Profitable, prizes range from: cash; the chance to be published or performed; meeting an agent, a professional critique, writing holidays or even just bragging rights.

– An opportunity to learn

– Validation

– A stepping-stone to professional success

So, I say, ‘make your dreams and reality and send in an entry’ to your competition of choice.

Catherine is a visiting lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire and Anglia Ruskin University.

Her memoir, ‘You belong to me’ is a tug of love story set on two continents.

When two-year-old Sarah is ‘wrongfully retained’ in Egypt by her father, her English mother refuses to be coerced into converting to Islam and setting up home in Alexandria, instead she defies expectations by using the courts in both countries to bring her little girl home to the UK, and in doing so reputedly becomes the first English woman to successfully achieve this using official channels.

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