So! I was really excited about going down to Bristol for the ceremony; I'd never been in that part of England before, and the prize-giving was taking place at the tail-end of writers' retreat I was on in Wales with my writing group, so it was like my super-dooper writing week. Plus I knew I was getting a free book and fifty quid, so, you know, SCORE. Myself and himself turned up with all our luggage in tow (which we later forgot to collect; props to the guys at the Arnolfini for hanging onto it for us until the next day, when I turned up in my fancy shoes and party dress asking for my clothes back, like a kid the day after a college ball). We met Joe Melia (the brilliant coordinator of the prize) and had a look at Ground, an art exhibition by pupils from Henbury School in Bristol, based on Miranda Lewis's story from the very first Bristol Prize anthology. So that was all very exciting, and the kids' work was really good. Joe then brought us upstairs with all the other shortlisted people and fed us cake and fizzy pop and ran us through the order of the ceremony. I got to meet Twitter people and put faces to the names - not only Joe, but Jon Pinnock, Clare Wallace and Claire King (who'd come all the way from France!) and loads of other lovely talented people.
Then me and Andy went to check out the Arnolfini's current exhibition (Dead Star Light, by Kerry Tribe - well worth a look if you're in the Bristol area) before grabbing a coffee and sitting out on the harbourside and meeting up with fellow shortlistee Marli Roode (a Manchester MA graduate who'll be massive soon, so remember her name) and my online chum, Anna Britten, who's in my writing group and was commended at Bridport last year for her bloody brilliant story 'On Creation'. So the company was illustrious!
At seven we all filed inside and myself and Marli sat at the end of the reserved row at the front of the room with all the other nominees. There were twenty people on the list and eleven of us were there, everybody looking hugely nervous. There were speeches from the Lord Mayor of Bristol and Bertel Martin (one of the directors of the Prize) and novelist, poet and short-story writer, Sarah Salway. Sarah said that we all hear and read endless debates about the death, rebirth, revival and imminent demise of the short story - but instead of all this discussion and displacement activity, people should simply be reading and writing short stories, and every time we hear somebody saying they 'don't read/like short stories' we should give them a recommendation - a book or story that might make them change their minds. Damn right! And so, my recommendations are Nik Perring's Not So Perfect and Denis Johnson's Jesus Son. You'd have to be a hard-hearted crazy bastard of a person not to love Nik's work, and I just adore Johnson. Go and read. (But keep reading this post first, the good bit's coming up.)
So then the Lord Mayor stepped up again to read out first the runners-up and then the third, second and first place winners. He called out first, in alphabetical order, the runners-up that weren't present at the ceremony, and then went on to those of us sitting all white-knuckled in the front row. He got as far as the Ps, and I had to recite the alphabet quickly in my head, because isn't O before P? So I thought, well, they've put me down as R instead of O (people in the UK get all confuddled with my name), but then they did the Rs and I was still sitting there. Then it was me down the end on my own, freaking out because they'd FORGOTTEN ME, like in school when they were doing the rounders team, and clearly I hadn't won because shouldn't there be three of us down there, anyway, for first, second and third? I'd misunderstood the announcement system and I was wearing a black dress in a dark room so they couldn't even see me to realise they'd forgotten me, and I'd be left at the end on my own ALL NIGHT like a total spanner and all the real writers would feel sorry for me. So then the Mayor announces third place and it was Rachel Howard, and she wasn't present. And then second was Ian Madden - and he wasn't there either. (Huge congrats to those guys, great stories!) So I turned and looked at the crowd for reassurance, and Andy was punching the air like we did when Holland got into the semi-finals a couple of weeks ago, and Anna was miming OH MY GOD at me and grinning her head off. Well, these guys are going to take some calming down when they realise that there's been a crazy mistake, I thought, and felt a little bad for them. Then the Mayor called out my name and was looking right at me! Well. I went up and barely managed to shake hands with him and with Bertel and Sarah, and to be honest, we're all very lucky I didn't trip over the podium and bring the whole thing crashing down, Joe's fancy banner and everything. I went over to where everybody else was standing and Marli gave me a hug and then they had me back over for a speech. Now that was where I really did blow my 'sophisticated writer who's turned thirty and has managed to walk in highish heels all evening' cover. I gaped around and thanked the organizers and congratulated the other writers and then stuttered for a very unseemly length of time and announced I hadn't won a prize before. WHEN IN DOUBT, MAKE EXCUSES. Then I was let off the hook and there were photos (me and a Mayor! Me and Joe's banner!) and then wine in the Arnolfini's bookshop. People asked me to sign their copies of the anthology! If any of you are reading, I'm VERY sorry about my crappy handwriting and whatever ridiculous things I scribbled down. I'm not good at off-the-cuff (in case my 'speech' didn't make that clear already). But look at this:
That's me on the right; you'd swear I knew what I was doing. Nastasya, on the left, also had a story in the anthology; check it out. Sarah Salway took these other ones: one of me and Andy, and two of me, Sarah and Lia. I look massively crazy in all of them.
Anyway, it was all so brilliant - chatting to Tania and Sarah and everybody else, meeting Sarah Hilary and more twitter people (hi Sophie!) and talking to the judges and the readers and people who'd just bought the anthology and had read my story. I'm still on a total high. The Bristol Prize website has blogged about it, and so has Tania and Sarah. I didn't take any other photos but I'll post more if I come across them via other people. This is a long post, isn't it? I'm off to Tatton Park now for four days to sit in a portacabin and get a thorough reality-check, but I'll be back soon. Thanks for being so very nice, internets!