Living the Dream: Writers of the Future – Part II
Matt Dovey, winner of the Golden Pen Grand Prize for Writers of the Future 32, shares, in this two-part series, his experiences leading up to and winning the coveted prize. Part II Chronicles Day 3 through to the WIN and beyond. Click here to read Part I.
Day 3: The Art Reveal
The “24 Hour Stories” which we had been assigned On Day 2 were due in at 4pm, and we all made it in time–even if my email was only sent in at 15:58. We reconvened at Author Services for the highlight of the week, the reward for all our work–the art reveal.
If the 24 hour challenge is what everyone fears, the art reveal is what everyone dreams about. All the past winners talk about it in awed tones, and it’s built up to become this huge thing, and you start to wonder if it can ever live up to what you expect. Let me tell you: it’s so much better than that.
The Illustrators contest runs alongside the Writers contest. Each of the twelve winners are assigned a winning story to illustrate, based on their personal style.
The pictures were set up in a room at Author Services, arranged in a circle without title or attribution, and with the illustrators waiting at the back of the room. There’s no indication what story a given illustration is from. When the writers are let into the room, it’s up to us to recognize our story.
I started working my way anti-clockwise, awed by the quality of work on show–you wouldn’t believe the talent in this group of illustrators. I’d already read most of the stories in the anthology in the build-up to the week, so I recognized each story as I went round–the glamour parasite from Anna’s A Glamour in the Black, the message orb from Stewart’s Images Across a Shattered Sea, the T-Rex being 3D printed in Rachael’s Dinosaur Dreams in Infinite Measure.
But I hadn’t spotted mine. I was halfway round, and I hadn’t spotted anything likely. Three-quarters, and I was fearing that I’d already mortally offended Adrian (my illustrator) by walking past without noticing my piece.
Then I turned, and it was there, second from last.
It sounds silly to say this, like a writer’s metaphor, but I mean it quite literally–electric ran up and down my body. There was a physical shock of recognition as I saw Anna, my protagonist in Squalor & Sympathy, walking beneath winter trees down a snow-covered Lancastrian path. There are maybe a dozen words describing how Anna actually looks in that story, but somehow, someway, Adrian had reached into my head from all the way over in Argentina and seen who she was and shown her to me. I think the photo shows my reaction best:
It is an unbelievable privilege to have had this painting, this gorgeous, evocative painting, done especially for my story, and I can’t thank Adrian enough, not with all the days left to me.
Days 4 & 5: The Guest Lectures
We actually had our first guests, Sean Williams (the nicest man in SFF) and Nina Kiriki Hoffman, the night before, after the emotion of the art reveal. But with Day 4, after a morning spent on critiques of three of the 24 hour stories, the program of guest lectures really kicked in–and what a line up.
Day 4 we had Liza Trombi, chief editor of Locus magazine, then Robert J. Sawyer, Orson Scott Card, and Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta.
Day 5 had Dr. Doug Beason, Nancy Kress, Todd McCaffrey, Mike Resnick, Eric Flint, Larry Niven, Jim Glass & Eric James Stone, the volume 31 alumni of Martin L. Shoemaker, Kary English & Steve Pantazis, recent winners Megan E. O’Keefe and Laurie Tom… there is no other workshop in the world that will give you such a concentrated, varied dose of awesome as we had here. And every single person–bar none–was open, welcoming, friendly, honest and accepting. Every single one of them was a delight to talk to, and meeting them all was the greatest privilege, the greatest pleasure of the week, and you’ll never get the chance to meet so many as you do at Writers of the Future.
Day 6: The Awards Gala
Most of Day 6 was, incredibly, free time–a rare and unusual treat in this week. Hair and make-up were scheduled through the morning, but that still left time to squeeze a few submissions in. There’s a very specific sense of satisfaction to be had in sending a story in to a magazine while the editor sits across from you in the hotel lobby.
We’d had rehearsals the night before, so we’d seen the theatre and the stage, but even with that preparation, the red carpet, the crowd, and the opulence of it all was almost overwhelming. Make no mistake: this is a big event, with no expense spared. For this one day, if no other, you are royalty.
The show opened with a spectacular percussive display, a la Stomp. The Silver Star Award was presented to illustrator (and WotF32 cover artist) Sergey Poyarkov to commemorate 25 years since his win, then Kellie Gerardi of SpaceX gave an inspiring keynote speech about the dream of space, the need for colonization and expansion, and how our generation–“the orphans of Apollo”–had been promised so much and given so little, and now it was on us to carry the flag.
And then it was the presentations. We had our speeches prepared, we’d had our rehearsals, we knew our order; but when you’re sat in your seat waiting for your call, your heart is pounding like the show opener and your mind is racing through your words and you barely hear what’s being said to introduce you.
But then you step onto the stage, and you realize: this is your moment. You’ve earnt this, and this is your celebration, and everyone here–everyone–wants to see you succeed. And then it’s all OK.
For me, though, the nerves didn’t end there. Because I’d placed first in my quarter, I was in contention for the Golden Pen, the annual grand prize, against three other friends. The winner is kept a complete secret, and no clues or hints are given. I’d read the other three stories, and knew they were exceptional–it could have been any one of us.
The show ends with the awarding of the Golden Pen, but first, there’s the Golden Brush, the illustrators’ annual grand prize. All twelve illustrators were in contention, judged on the basis of their artwork in the anthology.
I was enormously proud when Adrian Massaro–my illustrator–won for his illustration of Squalor & Sympathy. He is one of the nicest people you will ever meet, and he worked so hard on the illustration–he went through fifty concept sketches–and produced such a stunning work of emotion. He’s a fantastic winner.
It was an odd mix of emotions for me, though, because the awards always go to a different story. No story has ever won both grand prizes, and so although my story had won the Golden Brush, I wouldn’t win the Golden Pen.
Imagine my shock, then, when history was made, and I won the Golden Pen as well.
I gather my speech went down well. I honestly can’t remember much of the moment, except the disbelief, and above all, the enormous grin I couldn’t keep off my face. Walking off-stage and greeting Adrian in the wings is one of the happiest moments of my life.
Day 7, and beyond
The morning after was a marketing lecture with Peter Wacks, discussing how to launch a run at the bestseller lists with the anthology. They managed it for the first time with volume 31, and Martin, Kary & Steve from last year were back to pass on the lessons they’d learnt.
In all honesty, at this point I was exhausted, overwhelmed and not quite all there, though I hope I can be forgiven under the circumstances. I can remember a discussion about advance reader copies (samplers sent out early for reviewers) and how much of my Golden Pen story should be sent out, and casually flicking to it in the print copy on my desk, and suddenly it hit me that this was my story in print. These were words I can remember pulling out of thin air and typing onto a blank computer screen, and now here they were, in the flesh (so to speak) and ready to be sent all over the world to be read by thousands.
I’m not sure I’ve fully absorbed that fact yet. It’s too big to comprehend.
The final night in the bar was a long one, as we all refused to give in and admit that it was, at last, over. It had been the most incredible, intense, surreal, informative, friendly, enjoyable week. There will never be another week like it as long as I live. I’m ineligible to enter the contest again, now, as we must leave the door open for the writers behind us to step onto the path. It will probably take me until next year, when the winners of volume 33 are meeting for the first time, to have fully absorbed everything I saw, and learnt, and did in this week.
And going forward? Who knows. Within 12 hours of landing I was spun around and sent straight down to the London Book Fair. Before leaving, Kevin J. Anderson told me that my winning story needs to be a novel, and Todd McCaffrey shook my hand, looked me in the eye and told me–pointedly–that the UK is missing Sir Terry Pratchett. If there are people like that who believe in me–clever, successful, talented, knowledgeable–then it really does seem like I can do anything.
For now, though, I’ve got some writing to do.
– Matt Dovey
Matt Dovey, a writer of science-fiction and fantasy, is very tall and very English, and is most likely drinking a cup of tea right now. He lives in a quiet market town in rural England with his wife & three children. Matt is the Golden Pen winner for WotF32 and has also been shortlisted for the James White Award 2016.
For more information on the contest, and how to enter for free, please visit http://www.writersofthefuture.com/