I was long-listed in a recent writing competition (TSS Quarterly short story competition)**.
What on earth does long-listed mean? Is it some hideous all must have prizes* bollocks where, even in a competitive medium, organisers must assuage the egos and feelings of the entrants? Possibly. Personally I would prefer a straight forward hierarchy, like this:-
1st Place, 2nd Place, 3rd Place. Losers (you're shit and you know it).
I suppose I am becoming a dreadful curmudgeon. So I shall take my long-listing positively in a - 'I didn't win but I wasn't totally crap' type way. Which is awfully big of me. Mature even.
So what was 'The Winter Train' (for that is what my entry was called) about, I hear you ask. Okay you didn't ask and don't care but this is my blog, on my website, so I will bloody-well talk about it.
Well, since you ask, it's about old lovers meeting by chance after twenty years, both observing the passing of time on the faces and personality of the other, both assessing how the equilibrium of power in their relationship might have changed so many years later. Yes, serious themes from a serious writer at the top of his (long-listed) game. A real page-turner.
As a literary joke - i.e. not a funny one - I incorporated many lines and themes from the poetry of Thomas Hardy into the story. Particularly poignant were his later poems where he recalled in verse the courtship of his recently deceased wife, Emma. I even called the main characters Tom and Emma FFS!
I've been rereading Hardy's poems recently. Let me end this blog with At Castle Boterel one of his most evocative, and as I get older, most moving poems. I may have borrowed - as Hardy did himself in his prose - themes and words from this and other poems. We are all referential; I take mine, de haut en bas - so here is the high.
At Castle Boterel (1913)
As I drive to the junction of lane and highway,
And the drizzle bedrenches the waggonette,
I look behind at the fading byway,
And see on its slope, now glistening wet,
Myself and a girlish form benighted
In dry March weather. We climb the road
Beside a chaise. We had just alighted
To ease the sturdy pony’s load
When he sighed and slowed.
What we did as we climbed, and what we talked of
Matters not much, nor to what it led,—
Something that life will not be balked of
Without rude reason till hope is dead,
And feeling fled.
It filled but a minute. But was there ever
A time of such quality, since or before,
In that hill’s story? To one mind never,
Though it has been climbed, foot-swift, foot-sore,
By thousands more.
Primaeval rocks form the road’s steep border,
And much have they faced there, first and last,
Of the transitory in Earth’s long order;
But what they record in colour and cast
Is—that we two passed.
And to me, though Time’s unflinching rigour,
In mindless rote, has ruled from sight
The substance now, one phantom figure
Remains on the slope, as when that night
Saw us alight.
I look and see it there, shrinking, shrinking,
I look back at it amid the rain
For the very last time; for my sand is sinking,
And I shall traverse old love’s domain
NOTES (yes I realise that notes on a blog post is intellectual masturbation. Don't knock my hobbies. But sometimes extra info, credits or explanations are in order. Deal with it.)
* All Must Have Prizes - A quote from Alice in Wonderland (which I've never read to be honest). My adaptation of it is from the great Melanie Phillips' book of the same name which details the corrosive effect of decades of progressive thought in education. Dumbing down teaching so that, literally, for our super-special snowflakes, 'all must have prizes'.
** I always know when I'm up for a prize because I start to get some interest in one of the most unvisited parts of my website - Other Writing. The judges of competitions always check here to see if I've already published my short story entry - in contravention to the rules - on this august public forum. Me being me, I decided to change the content of the page to an open 'Dear Judges' letter which ends with a plea for them to give me the prize and offering them a kick-back if they do so. Realising that this might be counter-productive to my chances of winning contests, I've amended the text recently. Sometimes my urge to joke is not funny.