I used to win prizes, but it all seems so long ago. The first was for prose in 1988. I note in this press cutting that I said I was a "computer science research analyst". Umm. I didn't really think in terms of literary trajectories then, so I just plodded on. In 1991 I came 2nd in the same competition.
I won 150 pounds for a poem in 1992, after which I tried more seriously to reach the next level. I entered pamphlet competitions, getting as far as appearing in Poetry Business anthologies of runners-up, but only that far. I rationalized my failure by claiming that I no longer wrote competition poems, and I may have had a point. I often don't like the poems that win prizes nowadays - the shortlist usually contains more interesting work.
With prose I've fewer excuses for failing in competitions. Some of my pieces aren't mainstream but a good few are supposed to be. I've tried competitions big and small. I usually see merit in the winners of open competitions. It wasn't until 2007 that I won something else - short Fiction's competition. By then I had enough stories for a collection, and tried entering Salt's get-a-book-published competitions. No luck. Another false dawn.
But then, in December 2010, my poetry pamphlet came out. I tried to capitalize on it, approaching festival organisers and entering pamphlet competitions again. In 2011 I came 2nd in the Purple Moose Poetry Prize. First prize was pamphlet publication. Perhaps that was the turning point - so near yet so far. The pamphlet remains unpublished. All was not lost however, because in October 2012 my story book appeared. Again I looked for gigs, I kept on submitting to magazines and sending follow-up books into competitions. I even tried an editor or two. No luck. I'm not even treading water: my appearances in magazines are scarce now - I'm in the longest rut of rejections that I can remember.
Somewhere along the line I was hoping for an appearance in a Forward or Salt anthology, or something more thematic - Oulipo maybe. When I read anthologies I usually think that my best eligible piece is better than the anthology's worst (I suspect many other writers think that too, with some validity). No luck.
So what went wrong? Why was I never able to go to the next level when I needed to? Why did I keep losing momentum? Needless to say, I don't write enough or well enough - trying to keep a career afloat writing only a dozen poems and four stories a year is doomed to fail, even if all the pieces were publishable (mine weren't). I had a rather rigid idea of the stages one must progress through before trying to publish a book. Also I didn't seek opportunities to get into forthcoming themed anthologies, send books to publishers, or visit enough festivals and events.