Judging The Mary Grant Bruce Award
So - why would anyone volunteer to judge a writing competition? Especially one where you don't at least get a bunch of free books out of it? Is it the power? Mwa ha ha! All those trembling writers who have entrusted you with their magnificent stories and you alone have the choice of which one wins? (Clap of thunder! Again - mwa ha ha!)
Or - maybe you're just terribly flattered to be asked?
Years ago, I won a writing competition called the Mary Grant Bruce Award for Children’s Literature – twice (see my post on writing groups). The first time, I shared the prize with Robin Klein, whose novel Hating Alison Ashley was made into a film, at my school (I was an extra, but you won’t see me, as they cut my scenes). It told me I was a children’s writer – and I never looked back.
One day I got a phone call from Adrian Penniston-Bird, who ran the Victorian Fellowship of Australian Writers. Adrian said that I’d won twice, so would I judge it this year?
I agreed and the FAW sent me seventy-five stories. On request, the stories had been submitted without names except on a cover sheet. Well, mostly; I got one story which not only had the author’s name on it, but the fond mother’s information that the author was only twelve. (Remember what I said about Alexandra Adornetto’s submission to HarperCollins? She didn’t need that sort of back-up to sell her book.)
After I’d weeded out the stories clearly not for children and those with awful grammar, I read the rest thoroughly.
On a side note, I had a friend who had entered the competition before. I told her that if she’d entered this year I didn’t want to know about it! I read a story that I strongly suspected was by her, because I knew her style. Still, I didn’t know; it was a good story, so it made the short list of seven.
I handed the short list to two children to read, as I’d been asked. Once they had made their choice, I decided that I’d at least give an honourable mention to a couple of stories I had liked. One of them was the story I suspected was by my friend.
When I rang Adrian to announce the winner and honourable mentions, he confirmed that one honourable mention was, as I’d thought, by my friend Edwina Harvey! She had won that fair and square, so she received a certificate and came to Melbourne to collect it at the prize-giving dinner.
The winning story was published later, though I can’t remember the title or the publisher, it has been so long, but Edwina worked her story into a novel, which was published in 2009 as The Whale’s Tale.
I haven’t judged any competitions recently; it’s hard work, and I only had to read short fiction. Imagine what it’s like to read hundreds of novels for a major competition like the Children’s book Council Awards, never mind a few dozen short stories as I did! It was an interesting experience and I’m glad to did it.
Still, I’d much rather be writing.
Latest cast member of The Ranger’s Apprentice movie (which seems to have John Rhys-Davies playing two roles, so I guess I must have been tired) is Sean Bean for the role of King Duncan.