Ever wonder what it’s like to win a literary award? In this lovely essay, Bronze Award Winner for Fiction Oliver Redfern shares his experience of winning one of the Creative Future Literary Awards:
On Monday 28th September, I stood alone outside the Free Word Centre in Farringdon. The Creative Future Literary Awards ceremony was about to take place inside and I was one of 12 finalists.
“Impossible Things” was this year’s theme. Impossible was what I used to think whenever someone asked my feelings on reading my fiction in public.
Glass of champagne in hand, I travelled the reception room reading the winning pieces up on white boards. One finalist, a writer from Northern Ireland, gave me a life-saving tip: “read slowly”.
When they ushered us into the small theatre, I sat beside him.
Origami birds covered one of the walls.
The judges stood on stage, calling us one by one to receive a copy of the anthology with our work inside and a congratulatory plaque. We smiled at hired photographers.
The poet Lemn Sissay hosted the evening with support from writer Maggie Gee. We were disarmed. One finalist, Brummie Tina Freeth, had studied in university with an old friend of mine from Hong Kong. Another writer confided to me that they had been drinking since 11am.
Back outside, we stood in order of height for a group photo.
We then returned to the reception area for a short champagne-flavoured intermission.
Maggie Gee carried envelopes with all finalists names on them, mine on top. Inside, a postcard of a black cat and two men on a canoe carried her impressions of my story.
Friends soon arrived: CJ Lines and Suzi Brent – two published authors who had once thanked me in their books – and an acquaintance who I jokingly requested represent her workplace, the British Library, at the event.
The other lucky charm, my boyfriend, wasn’t there by the time we were ushered back inside the theatre for the evening’s readings.
The first two rows were reserved for the finalists and judges.
One by one we were called on stage by Lemn Sissay, our names projected behind us. Every writer was so comfortable on stage, as if they’d done it many times before.
Finally, it was my turn. I walked up and gingerly thanked the audience. I read Walkmen. When I lifted my head for the first time, glasses slipping down my nose, I was surprised by the attentive faces. I even intentionally drew a laugh towards the end as I mouthed a slur featured in the story.
“Well done,” fellow finalists said amidst the applause when I re-joined them.
With the theatre’s lights back on, I spotted my boyfriend at the back with a brasilian friend: they had arrived just in time to hear me read.
I said goodbye to the poet Fergus Evans – the Awards’ project manager – and decamped to a pub next door.
Five pints in hand, conversation bloomed over literary nights – long gone and in our future – and the impossibility of owning a home in London (that inescapable topic.)
I promised them I’d wear contact lenses if I ever did a reading again; and I promised to myself I’d read all of my work aloud from now on.
Oliver Redfern is a half-British, half-Brazilian writer based in London. His short stories have appeared in Vallum and Penumbra Magazine, and his book reviews have appeared in Transmission Magazine and the Los Angeles Review.