I know Zadie Smith doesn’t think much of them, but I quite enjoy the razzmatazz of awards like the Man Booker. Anything that gets people reading has to be a good thing, and anything that gets people reading stuff they might not ordinarily read is even better. [UPDATE: But if you're thinking of rushing out and buying a copy of Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger perhaps you should read this post from the Literary Salon first!]
I’m particularly in favour of small literary prizes – especially prizes for short stories. There just aren’t enough outlets for short fiction (as I’ve mentioned recently) so small literary prizes are what my grandmother used to call ‘a real boon’. And the bonus is that, when and if you win one of these prizes, the taxman lets you keep all your winnings. According to my local Revenue and Customs office, literary prize winnings are treated in the same way as a lottery. Which, considering that’s exactly what they are, is fair enough.
I know quite a few wannabe writers who say they never enter writing competitions because they are ‘simply lotteries’. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper (as my other grandmother used to say). But if these writers were to consult the results tables of these competitions they would spot the same names coming up time and again. For example, I heard this morning that I came third in the Wellington Short Story Competition, held in conjunction with the Wellington Literary Festival. The winner, Penelope Randall, had previously been shortlisted in the HappenStance Press International short story competition (I know this because Jo Field, my colleague from Deal Writers, came second in the same competition). Hats off to her for persevering, I say. Her success is a lesson to all those other writers who think there’s no point in entering competitions or, more pertinently, who give up if they don’t win (the competition-world equivalent of the rejection slip). As Churchill himself said, ‘Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm’. And while writing competitions may be a lottery, like any lottery you’ve got to be in it to win it!