Winning prizes is something that many writers dream about. We can all imagine the excitement of making our Man Booker acceptance speech, or buying the perfect country cottage with our winnings. For most of us, the reality is smaller. We might win a small cash prize in a charity competition, or earn publication in a niche magazine. Winning something, however small, always gives us a boost, but it’s not just about coming out on top. Sometimes, even being shortlisted for something is all the inspiration we need.
There is something special about seeing your work on a shortlist. I think it brings out the competitor lurking deep within every writer. There is the satisfaction of knowing that, whatever the final outcome, your writing was one of the best pieces under consideration. There are the weeks or months of being able to tell people that you are “currently shortlisted in...” (before potentially having to admit you didn’t win after all). And there is the extra desire to win that comes from knowing you are within touching distance.
Since I started writing nearly a decade ago, I have entered 60 competitions – mostly short stories. I have achieved something in 30 of those competitions, but in only a handful was I the outright winner. Many of them did not bring prizes to my door but instead gave me the satisfaction of knowing that I’d been shortlisted – that I was there or thereabouts. I learned more from those competitions – what I’d done right and what had stopped me being a winner – than any of the ones I won. Being shortlisted is the writing equivalent of those steel bands who line the route of the London Marathon: keep going, you’re doing OK, you can do this. Try again.
The first competition I ever entered was the result of a friend daring me to write something for an undergraduate novel-writing prize. I was doing a science degree at the time but I managed to knock out a first draft and found myself on the shortlist. I can still remember the thrill I felt when I got the letter telling me the news. I didn’t win – I certainly didn’t deserve to – but making that shortlist set me on a path. Now, nine years later, I have another novel on another shortlist.
When I read through the shortlist for the People’s Book Prize my heart sank. There is at least one famous name on there, along with books which have already received national coverage or won other awards. What was my book – The Art of Letting Go – doing there among them? But then I realised something: every place on a shortlist is equal. In an award voted for entirely by the public, a quiet book by an unknown author may not have a head-start, but it does start with the same opportunity as all the others. The competitor in me wants to win; the writer in me wants to know that people thought enough of me and my work to bother voting.
When I stand on stage with the television cameras rolling, and listen to the result of the People’s Book Prize being read out, I would love to hear my name. There will be eleven other authors there who also want to hear their names. Whichever of us wins, the experience won’t be a waste. To be a shortlisted author has given me the motivation and encouragement to press on with my next novel. And, in my experience, inspiration is one of the best prizes you can be given.
To vote for my novel, The Art of Letting Go, in the People’s Book Prize you can go to bit.ly/vote-for-chloe. Your votes would mean an awful lot to me. Voting closes on 10th July ahead of the award ceremony on 12th July.
Chloe Banks lives in a quiet corner of Devon with her husband, two young boys and an overactive imagination. Her debut novel, The Art of Letting Go, briefly hit the Kindle Top 20 list but spends most of its life hanging around, hoping to get noticed. When not trying to get toddlers or words to behave themselves Chloe enjoys wandering the moors, baking puddings and eating chocolate.