Where Is My Competition, Where Is My Prize?

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Paul Whybrow

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This thread promises to be the most controversial I've posted, but let me state from the outset, that I'm glad the prizes I mention exist.

Encouraging minorities to write and rewarding the best with a prize is a laudable thing. Just recently, a new prize was announced for women's comic fiction. Called the Comedy Women In Print prize, contestants have to be unpublished and the winner will receive a contract with HarperCollins and an advance of £5,000.

New prize offers £5,000 book deal for 'overlooked' funny women writers

There's a plethora of competitions and prizes aimed at various minorities, including:

* Jhalak Prize—for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic.

* Stonewall Book Award—for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender.

* The Thinking Woman's Writing Award—for female non-fiction on philosophy.

* Women's Prize For Fiction—previously known as the Orange Prize & the Baileys Prize.

* Virago/ The Pool New Crime Writer Award—for unpublished female crime writers.

* Creative Future Literary Awards—for writers with mental health issues, disability, identity or other disadvantaged social circumstances.

* Granta, the literary magazine, irregularly issues lists of the best young novelists, ignoring anyone over the age of 40 who's writing.

For mature writers, there's the Christopher Bland prize, to be awarded to a first novel or work of non-fiction published when the winner is 50 or older. Note the catch—you have to be already published. As ever, with these prizes, self-published books are excluded.

Why we need an award for writers who start later in life

The world of literary prizes, and even lists of favourite books of the year, often looks like a closed shop, in that the same damned authors get selected. It appears to me, that it's not so much that their writing is exemplary, more that they're being chosen because of long-founded connections with other authors, publishers and journalists...the old boys' network. It's not as if books win prizes through 'blind tastings' is it? Think how rare it is for a novel to win an award that doesn't feature on longlists and shortlists for other prizes; it's the same with books of the year lists that appear in December.

One of the most egalitarian of prizes is The People's Book Prizethough that requires a book to be submitted by its publisher. If an unpublished author wants to get anywhere, there's The People's Book Awards which welcomes emerging and established authors. Books Are My Bag Readers Awards are even more populist, being the only book award curated by bookshops and voted for by readers, but again it's established authors who get the most votes.

Political correctness is peculiarly slanted, for no one is prepared to criticise how morally astute protestors and activists are being, even if they're showing signs of prejudice themselves. Those who've been oppressed in some way can also be bigots.

I believe in having a level playing field, but that's impossible. Because I'm male and Caucasian, I apparently represent an oppressive segment of society. Also, one that's got it made...not in need of help or reward for my writing efforts through a specific award for my gender, race or age.

Imagine the reaction from politically correct people, if it was announced that a writing competition or literary prize was aimed solely at White Males! That would offend so many groups, that I'm not even going to list them—yet, all would be in favour of such accolades for their own minority group.

Reverse discrimination is rarely mentioned, but there was an interesting example of it recently, from Sweden...where a rock festival was deemed to have been guilty of discrimination for excluding males:

'Man-free' music festival found guilty of discrimination

Photographer David Bailey was interviewed recently for a Guardian column, and he said something that cuts to the heart of this problem:

"I hate political correctness because it turns you into a liar. People say what they think they’re meant to say."

David Bailey: ‘I was never that interested in children. Until they can play chess'

There's nothing to be done about it, though, as political correctness is a weighty club.

I repeat I'm in favour of all of these competitions, prizes and cash awards targetting minority or special interest groups. In my working life and as a volunteer, I've interacted with disadvantaged children, the deaf, the blind, the autistic and dementia sufferers. I've been a marriage guidance counsellor and a rape crisis helpline operator and volunteered for the Crisis at Christmas homeless scheme.

Any competition or award is essentially a marketing tool, to attract attention to the books being promoted. That's a good thing if we want more of the public to read...though, some prize-winning titles are not always easy reads, so they might put people off.

I wonder if the increase in awards and competitions for minority groups is a backlash against the entrenched Caucasian middle-class who run publishing....Try looking at literary agencies and publishers' websites to find BAME, LGBT or disabled employees.

What do you think about the world of literary awards and writing competitions?

Have you ever entered a minority group writing contest?

Cartoon%2Bof%2Bthe%2BDay-%2BLiterary%2BAwards.jpg
 
I'm not going to worry about it. I don't go in for competitions, though I might have fallen foul of this zeitgeist, I think with Hachette, on an open sub with a minority voice agenda. This included disabled peeps because of the extra difficulties in attending courses etc. They wrote that they were impressed with my submission, had a meeting to discuss, but said, as politely and obliquely as anything, they were not sufficiently certain of it being culturally appropriate. It is written first person POV and the narrator, my main character, had a black grandfather who came here after the war, from Trinidad and married the MC's surviving (white) grandmother.

Ben Aaronovitch writes first person with an MC with a mother who is black, and Ben Aaaronovitch himself is not black. Our friend Madz wrote his novel 'I Am Thunder' first person female POV. Was that a problem? Gender appropriation? Obviously not, I read it and could well believe it was a teenage girl talking but it was, and is a story about a real hot potato. Radicalisation of young Muslim people within their local communities.

So what are you going to do about it? I could rewrite the thing third person if need be, easily enough, but it would lose some of the intensity. The story has an element of urban fantasy. Some might say therefore, he is an unreliable narrator, just like anyone who says they've seen the Loch Ness Monster. I want the reader to make of it what they will, and first person is the best vehicle for that.
 
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My thoughts are spinning:

For mature writers, there's the Christopher Bland prize, to be awarded to a first novel or work of non-fiction published when the winner is 50 or older. Note the catch—you have to be already published. As ever, with these prizes, self-published books are excluded.

It's like the prize judges are too lazy to decide on their own what they feel is good writing?

Anyway, I've never entered a competition and doing so isn't in my plans at this moment. From the writer's perspective, it's possible that there may be people who feel that entering a contest that targets his or her demographic is somehow more welcoming? From the award sponsor's perspective, it may be nothing more than attempting to open that door in a welcoming way to a small part of the world without decades of a history of not allowing certain groups to participate? I'm straight so I guess I can't be eligible for the Stonewall Book Award. It bothers me not a wit.

I'm a black female sailor who owns her own boat. I learned to scuba dive. I know plenty of people of color who wouldn't think either of those activities were something they'd be welcome doing. Start a club amongst your black and brown friends and suddenly those same people who thought they didn't have a chance of belonging suddenly have a foot in the door. The latter is not how I did it, I just did what I did regardless of who was on the other side of the door, but I understand the other side of the coin.

There is an Irish pub nearby whose owner only hires people of Irish descent. There's another company that only hires ex-cons. Neither of those bother me, either, and aren't hills I plan to die on.

Good discussion.
 
If someone submits their work to a competition (an unpublished work), can you later edit, change and improve it when you submit it to agents and publishers?
 
I have to admit that I fell for the BAME competitions in the past. But when I won a writing mentor through a competition that was open to all children's writers, regardless of their set of fixed personal parameter they were born with, I was elated. I learned eventually that the competitions with discriminatory categories set me in a box, ironically. I was not as important as those who wrote in their place (i.e. their issues) unless I wrote what was in my own culture. For them, I won't be accepted as a sci-fi writer focusing on boysy action adventure with no BAME stereo-typical 'issues' to tell. I HAD to have an issue.

The publishing industry pigeonholes those they claim to support whilst excluding many who don't want to see themselves as having 'issues'. So I'm just working on developing my craft and building my skills. I may have to write something that ticks both boxes (mine too!) if I want to get a foot into this current publishing climate. But the main crux (and always was) with these competitions is the writing (finished and polished) regardless of anything else. Although as @Katie-Ellen Hazeldine has pointed out that even then the publisher discriminates on people's born-into parameters. The irony of it all is that this is still discrimination no matter which way we see it.
 
Having come from a discipline in which women were in the minority, I'm curious about how woman-dominated workplaces operate. From what I've seen, men are in the minority of literary agents, but they are in the majority of literary prize winners.

They are at a disadvantage in getting their foot in the door, but once they're in the club, they get more support than women do?

This might have something to do with the breadth of verbal IQ curves. Men with high numerical IQ are more common than women with high numerical IQ and men with high verbal IQ are rarer than women with high verbal IQ. Thus, high-quality male voices are in shorter supply and, once published, this makes it easier for a man to stand out.

On the other hand, the prevalence of awards which go to men is largely determined by the source of the award money and the preferences of that demographic. Men with money to burn like reading books by men.

I think this is more likely the case because in physics, we don't see the same pattern in reverse with women winning all of the prizes but failing to gain admission to universities.

I think it's less to do with IQ and more to do with confidence to go for it because 'why not go for it?' is the attitude.

I've seen examples of women who cross themselves out of the possibility to even enter competitions or apply for jobs because it just doesn't occur to them that they are qualified to do so. Or they'll add something in their minds that tells them THAT is why it's impossible to reach.

I remember listening to an LBC radio host complaining at the audacity of a former male politician to accept a highly lucrative journalist post with no journalist experience because she 'wouldn't dream of it' and believed there was a hierarchy he should have climbed. And I just shook my head listening to her. There doesn't HAVE to be a hierarchy if you get an opportunity to put yourself forward regardless of experience. If it turns out he's incompetent then he'll be out of that position as snappy as a headline.

I honestly don't believe that men get more help than women on average - there will be exceptions but then there will always be the case in everything. I think more men ask or demand help in ways women do not.

I remember applying to one of the world's leading pensions conglomerate for a great career (Actuary) only because there was no concept in my head that I couldn't. I always believed that if I try hard enough I can. Please note I am a female, minority in a headscarf (I'm sure there's a joke in that somewhere). According to modern speak, I shouldn't have gotten the job. I should have been discriminated against to comply with a narrative that has become toxic in itself.

But the background to getting that post is 50 rejections, 4 interviews and only one success. THAT'S the context. Lots of failure before success. It's accepting that failure is part of success.
 
This thread promises to be the most controversial I've posted, but let me state from the outset, that I'm glad the prizes I mention exist.

Encouraging minorities to write and rewarding the best with a prize is a laudable thing. Just recently, a new prize was announced for women's comic fiction. Called the Comedy Women In Print prize, contestants have to be unpublished and the winner will receive a contract with HarperCollins and an advance of £5,000.

New prize offers £5,000 book deal for 'overlooked' funny women writers

There's a plethora of competitions and prizes aimed at various minorities, including:

* Jhalak Prize—for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic.

* Stonewall Book Award—for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender.

* The Thinking Woman's Writing Award—for female non-fiction on philosophy.

* Women's Prize For Fiction—previously known as the Orange Prize & the Baileys Prize.

* Virago/ The Pool New Crime Writer Award—for unpublished female crime writers.

* Creative Future Literary Awards—for writers with mental health issues, disability, identity or other disadvantaged social circumstances.

* Granta, the literary magazine, irregularly issues lists of the best young novelists, ignoring anyone over the age of 40 who's writing.

For mature writers, there's the Christopher Bland prize, to be awarded to a first novel or work of non-fiction published when the winner is 50 or older. Note the catch—you have to be already published. As ever, with these prizes, self-published books are excluded.

Why we need an award for writers who start later in life

The world of literary prizes, and even lists of favourite books of the year, often looks like a closed shop, in that the same damned authors get selected. It appears to me, that it's not so much that their writing is exemplary, more that they're being chosen because of long-founded connections with other authors, publishers and journalists...the old boys' network. It's not as if books win prizes through 'blind tastings' is it? Think how rare it is for a novel to win an award that doesn't feature on longlists and shortlists for other prizes; it's the same with books of the year lists that appear in December.

One of the most egalitarian of prizes is The People's Book Prizethough that requires a book to be submitted by its publisher. If an unpublished author wants to get anywhere, there's The People's Book Awards which welcomes emerging and established authors. Books Are My Bag Readers Awards are even more populist, being the only book award curated by bookshops and voted for by readers, but again it's established authors who get the most votes.

Political correctness is peculiarly slanted, for no one is prepared to criticise how morally astute protestors and activists are being, even if they're showing signs of prejudice themselves. Those who've been oppressed in some way can also be bigots.

I believe in having a level playing field, but that's impossible. Because I'm male and Caucasian, I apparently represent an oppressive segment of society. Also, one that's got it made...not in need of help or reward for my writing efforts through a specific award for my gender, race or age.

Imagine the reaction from politically correct people, if it was announced that a writing competition or literary prize was aimed solely at White Males! That would offend so many groups, that I'm not even going to list them—yet, all would be in favour of such accolades for their own minority group.

Reverse discrimination is rarely mentioned, but there was an interesting example of it recently, from Sweden...where a rock festival was deemed to have been guilty of discrimination for excluding males:

'Man-free' music festival found guilty of discrimination

Photographer David Bailey was interviewed recently for a Guardian column, and he said something that cuts to the heart of this problem:

"I hate political correctness because it turns you into a liar. People say what they think they’re meant to say."

David Bailey: ‘I was never that interested in children. Until they can play chess'


There's nothing to be done about it, though, as political correctness is a weighty club.

I repeat I'm in favour of all of these competitions, prizes and cash awards targetting minority or special interest groups. In my working life and as a volunteer, I've interacted with disadvantaged children, the deaf, the blind, the autistic and dementia sufferers. I've been a marriage guidance counsellor and a rape crisis helpline operator and volunteered for the Crisis at Christmas homeless scheme.

Any competition or award is essentially a marketing tool, to attract attention to the books being promoted. That's a good thing if we want more of the public to read...though, some prize-winning titles are not always easy reads, so they might put people off.

I wonder if the increase in awards and competitions for minority groups is a backlash against the entrenched Caucasian middle-class who run publishing....Try looking at literary agencies and publishers' websites to find BAME, LGBT or disabled employees.

What do you think about the world of literary awards and writing competitions?

Have you ever entered a minority group writing contest?

Cartoon%2Bof%2Bthe%2BDay-%2BLiterary%2BAwards.jpg
I will enter competitions, I'm an ex-rower (RAF), eight-man, four-man and pair so I know what physical competitions are and I know if you have the knowledge and the stamina you can achieve anything.
Believing this I entered the Wergle 2010 poetry contest, the results came in August 2013.
I was informed, after I asked, that my entry came in the top 12%.
There were 23,000 entries.
Which explains the time from 2010 to 2013.

Billy had a Little Goat.
An Adult poem
by
T. J. Edison.


Billy had a little goat; its fur was black and white,
it followed Billy everywhere even in the night.

Billy had a sister and she didn’t have a pet,
every time she went swimming, she would come home wet.

Her mother she would scold her for swimming in her clothes,
and every time she did so, she’d squeeze her by the nose.

So one day she went swimming and Billy went to watch.
The goat he too did follow and picked a comfy spot.

Nelly took her clothes off and jumped into the pond.
The goat did spy her clothing, a meal of which he’s fond.

He ate her clothes and chewed her shoes and Billy laughed with glee.
He laughed so much his side did ache an’ couldn’t stop his pee.

His friends they had come with him, his sister for to watch.
They’d undressed to join her and spot her naked....

I have to stop here as it gets rather hot.
I call this a poem, so what other forms are there where the ends of the sentences (or whatever they are called) do not rhyme.

For example an excerpt from a...

Waiting.

By

E. E. Dudley and T. J. Edison.

He said, he had to go away for a while – he said.

He said, he would write every day – he said.

He said, he’d be home for Christmas – he said.

He said, he wouldn’t be in danger – he said.

He said, when he was back we would get married regardless – he said.


He’s been away for a while – I know, as I count the days.

He didn’t write every day – I know, as I watched for the postman.

Christmas came and Christmas went without him.

I’d heard from a buddy of his that where they were was constant danger.

Maybe that’s why he didn’t write, and why he wasn’t home for Christmas.

His mom had visitors, told her what happened.

A roadside bomb had made sure he didn’t write.

Made sure he wasn’t home for Christmas.

A sniper stopped the medic from saving him.

Stopped us from getting wed too.

They gave his mom a flag.

She hates me.

*
That was 168 words the total count is 280.
So, what form of narration was that, what about the double-spacing, anybody got any ideas to help a fellow (75-year-old) author.

Thanking you in anticipation

Bill.
 
This article explains the reasoning being The Women’s Prize for Fiction. Not long ago, it was entirely normal for book prize shortlists, longlists and the deciding panels to be predominantly, sometimes entirely, male and white. Women’s output and their lives weren’t taken seriously, not meaty enough, unintellectual. Fourteen women have won the Nobel Prize for Literature since 1901. We can’t be that awful, surely? Things are slowly changing. Once it becomes normal to see a natural 50-50 gender split, or thereabouts, and a corresponding ratio split for protected minorities, there won’t be any need for separate recognition. Until then, I’m all for women’s prizes and prizes for minorities.

I’m not referring to anyone here, but generally people who complain about discrimination against white males rarely batted an eyelid when prize shortlists and panellists were all-male and overwhelmingly white. Nor did these folk raise much fuss when the panels on current affairs or comedy TV shows were usually all male, or with one ‘token’ woman or ethnic person. Or when governments were all male, as opposed to overwhelmingly male. It just wouldn’t have occurred to them, because white males are lazily accepted by some as default humans, other people as the dreaded, derided token. Recently I’ve heard men and women losing their minds because, I kid you not, Frankie Boyle sometimes has only female guests, or because the cast of Bodyguard was predominantly female and ethnic, or because 1 out of 13 Doctor Who’s happened to be female. Very selective outrage.
 
women under a male pseudonym
I write under a name that is generally assumed to be male. The people who interact with me on my blog know otherwise, but understand the why of it. On the surface, it may appear that minority voices are being given more than their fair share, but this isn't a fact, nor is there evidence to support it. From employment figures to almost everything else, a male is presented with an opportunity before a female is considered.
Personal experience: when applying for a job, didn't put gender (or age) on the application, got to the interview, only to be told, 'we were expecting a younger man.' The job was with a university.
The spouting of all the words in the world won't change attitude until the effect is felt from the other side.
Is this discussion related to feeling that effect?
 
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