THE BLOOMSBURY/IoS SHORT STORY COMPETITION
'Predictably, none of us chose the same winner.' Liz Calder, Publishing Director at Bloomsbury, on why, when it comes to fiction, the judges' decision isn't final
Sunday 09 March 1997
His words are salutary to new writers: "Year by year I become more distrustful of my own ability, and that of others, to deliver final literary judgement on any work. Entirely contradictory yet plausible judgements on books of prose and verse are made every week in our periodicals and newspapers. My own experience as a reviewer has led me to the conclusion that the best one can expect from any critic is informed opinion, though what one often gets is uninformed prejudice." Baxter ends up with: "The processes of literary composition are largely uncontrollable and inaccessible to critical intelligence. One can meddle with a writer, but one cannot make him or her. The chief factor which inhibits the growth of the younger writer and prevents the rejuvenation of the exhausted veteran is lack of trust in their own powers, lack of fidelity to their own unique situation, and above all, anxious dependence on the opinion of critic and editor. The spring must run muddy before it can run clear. We may provide a channel. We do not govern the spring."
Stick that on your wall if you are or want to be a writer.
When reading new fiction, something I do a great deal, and in particular when reading the mountain of stories submitted for the Bloomsbury/Independent on Sunday Prize, I have unconsciously always taken a Baxter-like view. Time after time it is proven: publishers and editors turn down books that go on to become classics; critics contradict each other at every turn. I say, so what? The eye of the beholder rules here, as everywhere. Critical standards matter, of course, but whose standard are we to adhere to? What matters - and this was certainly the case with the present judges - is that the writing moves, disturbs and grips each individual reader, the voice arrests and convinces.
Predictably, then, none of the four of us chose the same winner, so we let democracy rule. What this means for the writers is clear: the only use for publishers, editors, judges and critics is to provide the channels needed to give writing an airing. As a writer you must trust in your unique situation.
Another expert practitioner, John Fowles, gave some sound advice when writing in 1985 about a young-writers' competition of which he was a judge:
"At heart write always for yourself: but make sure you write from your real self, not that one besotted by vainglorious dreams of a future self."
how the four judges went about their impossible job
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Double chins could be 'cured' without surgery or dieting using new injection
- 2 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 3 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 4 Christian blogger says she will not wear leggings in public because they entice men and cause them to look at her 'lustfully'
- 5 Thank heavens for Louise Mensch and her foul-mouthed tweets to world leaders
Ed Sheeran texts Noel Gallagher to offer him tickets after that Wembley Stadium rant
Blink-182 split: Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful' say Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus
Emma Watson to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast
Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' rediscovered after 35 years
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia