Friday, August 12, 2011

A summary of the post about judging that I accidentally deleted, which is possibly why I'm feeling hostile towards computers at the moment.

Deleting is all too easy on a computer, as I discovered when I deleted my second from last blog post. This annoyed me because it was actually a pretty good post, about the nature of literary competitions. I'd just had the experience of being one of three literary judges. The piece of writing that I thought deserved to win was eventually voted down by my peers. They agreed that what I had chosen was certainly a good effort, but it wasn't prize-winning material. Not in their opinion anyway. And they were both professional writers with some seriously impressive credentials, so who was I to argue? I was a writer too, damn it, and I argued for quite some time, pointing out that the piece I had chosen had a very clever premise and didn't put a foot wrong, producing a funny, satisfying plot that built to a strong conclusion. They said yes, but not quite.

If you think the other two judges discounted my choice because comic writing is often given less consideration than other forms of writing, you'd be wrong. The piece that they chose, and which went on to win the award, was another comedy. We had plenty of serious stories, and a lot of them were good. We read them all twice, with a gap between each reading, just in case our moods might have changed, and what we thought was a stinker might in fact have been a searing indictment of the world in which we live. Even I thought that the winning piece was funny. I just didn't think it was as good as the piece that I had chosen. One of the other judges pointed out that the story I favoured covered ground that other writers had covered before. But was this really a problem? Should we discount a story about madness because Sylvia Plath has already done a pretty good book on the subject? I sulked. Because we judges have to remain anonymous, I would never get the opportunity to tell the writer that I thought his/her work deserved a prize. And honourable mentions weren't allowed. So this poor writer, who really did write a very good piece, now believes that the judges thought his/her work was crap.

Okay, so that's the gist of the blog post that I lost. It was much better than this outpouring, of course, because I took the trouble to introduce suspense into the proceedings. I described the various rounds in which entries were eliminated, the attempts to resolve the final stalemate by preferential voting. The betrayal I felt when one of the judges switched from my team to the other side. I went to a little effort because I wanted to let authors know that just because you didn't win the glittering prize doesn't mean your work isn't good. In fact, it doesn't even mean that your work isn't worthy of an award. There's a chance that, in the opinion of one of the judges at least, your work should have won. I wrote this post not only as a judge, but also as someone who has been writing YA novels for nearly ten years and who has only just started appearing on shortlists. Time for a photo. I've been nominated for The Victorian Premier's Literary Award in the young adult fiction category. Three of us are up for it: Cath Crowley, Cassandra Golds and yours truly. Here are Cath and I at the launch, with poet Libby Hart and author Craig Sherborne. The guy next to me is Premier Ted Baillieu and he's awfully tall, but I'm standing on a step.

It's gratifying to make a shortlist and it hurts when you don't. James Roy, who is a good writer, blogged about this candidly, when this year's CBCA shortlists were announced. But James, there may well have been a judge who thought your work was head and shoulders above the rest, but who was outvoted. And that judge probably sulked as much as I did when I couldn't give the prize to the writer that I thought most deserving.


james roy said...

Nice post, Doug, and a final point well made.

James R

Sheryl Gwyther said...

Yes, point very well made, Doug. Thank you for taking the trouble to write the post again - how damn frustrating when you'd obviously wrote a very good piece! :)