Sunday, May 30, 2010

Running Up

So I'm sitting in traffic, and the ceremony starts at six.  It's twenty past now, and I'm about to throw in the towel.  

I'm not going to win, for God's sake, and I'm tired, and Anna-mouse is at home being looked after by the Bim until I get back, and they don't allow guests so there's no-one to witness it even if I do win a prize, and it's been another long day being pulled this way and that, and I'm feeling as I have done for months, ever since the anniversary of the Bim moving out, really, all out of joint with myself.

Also, the ceremony is being held in the University Lecture Theatre, and for some unfathomable reason the way in to every Lecture Theatre I have ever entered is via a door at the bottom of the auditorium steps.  Which means that those Award Hopefuls who, unlike myself, have managed to defy traffic and real life to be there on time will witness Actress Trying To Be A Writer enter, Stage Left, thirty minutes late.  And it's a Monday (I mean I ask you), and it's hot, and I'm indignant with nervy rage about the whole damn thing.

But something in me says Go: you must go, no matter what time you get there.  All those blog readers don't come back to your (unchanged) page time after time for nothing.  They root for you.  You must believe in your writing.  You must go.

So I persevere with the traffic; and the insanely timed temporary traffic lights round Kent Town; and the incomprehensible parking system once on the University Campus, and arrive finally, half an hour late, to find that the door I am directed to by some very nice lady stewards is, indeed, at the bottom of the Lecture Theatre steps.

But only a handful of faces turn my way.  Most of the audience are riveted on the Guest Judge, a diminutive man with wire-brush hair and spectacles, who is about to reveal the winner and runner-up in the section for the Under 18s.  It turns out that the Guest Judge is a published local writer of rather strange crime-cum-sci-fi works of whom I have never heard.  But he is reading the prize-winning entries well - straightforwardly, with respect, allowing the words to speak for themselves, so it doesn't matter that I have never heard of him, or that he looks more like a member of the Council than a real live writer.

He comes then to the Over 18s, the category most of the audience have been waiting for.  By this time I have been hovering for some minutes at the back because I can't locate a seat I can slip in to without upsetting several other hopefuls.  One of the nice lady stewards spots my plight and asks a large man a couple of rows down if he would move along.  I sit down just before the shortlist is announced.  

My name is the first of, I would guess, ten.  I am filled with gladness.  Not a wasted journey, I think, I can hold my head up high: I've been shortlisted!  Just as soon as he has finished the shortlist, he launches into the two winners, and there it is again, my name and the title of my piece, sounding so formal I barely recognise them.  I am runner-up to the winner, but there's no distinction as far as I am concerned: my one thousand words, my one thousand words, of more than two hundred other writers' one thousand words, spoke eloquently enough to be noticed.  My eyes fill.  I look into my lap.  No-one knows it is me, yet, because the Guest Judge is reading an extract from my piece, so I have a few out-of-body moments where I sit among the audience unrecognised as they listen to the words I have written, and I listen to the words I have written, and there is both a familiarity and a strangeness to them, but they do ring true and, look, they are making people laugh, and breathe differently, and exhale a little more loudly than usual at the last sentence.

The Guest Judge is asking me to come down now, down the steep steps of the Lecture Theatre, to collect my prize.  A warm woman with honey-coloured hair whom I guess to be the one woman on the judging panel shakes my hand warmly and leans closer to tell me that it was a very close run thing, they could barely choose between my memoir and the winning story.  I think it is wonderful of her to tell me.  I hug this small, not insignificant fact to me as tightly as the framed certificate she puts into my hand.  But I understand enough of writing and of competitions to know that my gentle, deft piece about Gerda, our glorious mother's help and friend to all the family, would not be considered weighty enough to sweep the board - and really and truly I don't mind.  The piece spoke, I tell myself, it spoke to strangers.  It's a priceless nugget of encouragement. 

After the ceremony the winners are asked to stay behind for a moment.  Our pictures are taken for the local newspaper who have hosted the competition in conjunction with the University.  It all feels gloriously amateur.  I try to strike up a conversation with little writer man who, to be fair, read my words well, but it turns out any articulacy he might have is saved for the page: I can't get him to string more than two words together, and they are charmless at that.  

After the photos I grab a couple of stale crisps and an apple juice and text Fi, my dressing-room companion throughout those winter London performances who is the person more than any other in recent times who has championed my every written word.  Then I telephone my father, the writer, and my mother Esme, the actress, and then I go home and tell Anna-mouse and the Bim.

So I am a runner-up.  Yes, these days, I certainly am.  I run up escalators, and mountainsides, and other people's opinions, and other people's lack of opinion; I run up against my demons, yes again, yet again, to hold on to me and who I am, and the stories I have waiting, and the life-long, undiminished writing dream.   

I don't mind being a runner up as long as, one day, I actually arrive.


Anonymous said...

I am so hugely impressed! Now let the words flow....they want to be heard and they obviously have an eager audience!

rachel whetzel said...

I can FEEL you arriving, Livvy!! I'm so happy for you!!

Mary LA said...

Yes! You must believe in your writing.

allie said...

Thats pretty huge -

Writing is like a hunger isn't it?
Nothing satisfies the appetite except doing it.

And finding that others are impacted by what you say is like the icing on the cake.

Livvy U. said...

How fantastic to get all your comments so quickly with me not having written for so long. And welcome, Allie and Mary LA - thankyou for reading, to you and everyone.


Debbie said...

Oh Livvy, I wish I could reach out and hug you! That is such great, but not unexpected, news! Keep on running. I'll gladly keep cheering you along to the finish. XOXO,:Debbie

Heidi said...

Hurrah! Congratulations. I thrilled for you as I read. It may have felt amateur, but they are important, these milestones, these affirmations, these acknowledgments from something outside yourself that yes, it is good and yes, you are good, and yes, one day you will arrive.

Shiny said...

Oh wow, brilliant! I am not surprised in the slightest, your writing is addictively readable. More, please x

Richard said...

Tremendous news. Many many hugs and pats on the back and glasses of champagne and cheers... that is definitely worth celebrating. It sounds like your instinct should be tapped into as much as possible. Always spot on. Proud of you, if that doesn't sound too patronizing... or may be I should say I'm just plain happy. xxx

Marianne said...

Livvy, I am so impressed but not surprised at your achievement. You always write so evocatively and I wish you would post more often for that reason. Well done! You are most definitely in the running in everything you do - can we read it? Well done, too, on surviving your first year out of your marriage. Another milestone.

Elsie Button said...

that is absolutely fantastic and it doesn't surprise me in the slightest - this is just the beginning - well done you! xx