It's the last day of 2018 and I'd just like to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who has supported my writing this year. 2018 has been a roller-coaster ride and the best writing year of my life. Highlights include:
I was shocked to learn that my story, Emotional Support Animal, was placed third in this year’s Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition! I have been trying to get placed in this competition for literally years, so I am absolutely thrilled to bits.
Huge congratulations to winner Fiona Sussman and to second-place winner Eileen Merriman. Fiona's story is in today's edition of the Sunday Star-Times, and you’ll be able to read Emotional Support Animal sometime in the New Year.
Here are the seven stages I went through after hearing the news …
I’d finished work for the year, crawled onto the couch and was absent-mindedly scrolling through my emails when I saw a message from the Sunday Star-Times.
‘Hello Kathryn,’ it began.
‘Here we go,’ I thought. ‘I’ve had about 40 rejections this year, and they have all opened with some variation of Hello Kathryn.’
But I kept reading. The next words were, ‘I’m delighted.’
My brain, which had been expecting to see the word, ‘sorry’, ‘unsuccessful’ or ‘unfortunately’, struggled make sense of the rest of the message. When I finally twigged, I replied immediately in a dignified manner befitting the occasion.
‘Oh my God!!!!!!! Thank you!!!!!!!’
Then I kind of danced around the house in a state of crazed agitation.
3. More excitement
I called my husband, who was hanging out with a friend in another city and couldn’t talk. Frustrating!
I checked the email again. And then I checked it again, but on my computer this time. I read the 73 words over and over to make sure I’d understood them correctly. And then I read them again. And again.
I ate a whole packet of Frooze Balls!
Because I’ve had a string of rejections lately, I’ve been doing more ‘simultaneous submitting’. (Simultaneous submitting means sending stories out to multiple journals / competitions at once, rather than submitting to one outlet, waiting a few months for a rejection, and then repeating the process ad infinitum.)
So once the Frooze Ball party was over, I looked through my writing spreadsheet and withdrew the story from the other places I’d sent it to. That included the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the organisers of which replied saying, “I’m sorry it’s not going forward with us as it’s already made the 200-strong longlist to go before the international judging panel!”
Arrggggg! But also, Eeeeeeeppp!
Look I know this isn’t the Academy Awards, but there are some people I need to thank:
And of course, I need to thank the Sunday Star-Times.
Oh my God!!!!!!! Thank you!!!!!!!
Read the full announcement on Stuff.co.nz.
Read Fiona's winning story, Mad Men.
A writer's life is filled with ups and downs, as my spreadsheet of writing acceptances and rejections attests to. News that the short story collection I'm working on has been rejected, in part because someone thought it was a grab-bag of stories for both adults and children (it's not, and that's not even a thing!) made for a grumpy Saturday morning, but my frown turned upside down later in the day when issue 14 of Headland was released - complete with my short story, Speaking in Tongues. (If you like, you can check it out here. It's just $8 for Kindle, and you don't actually need a Kindle - you can just download the free Kindle app onto your phone, or read it on your computer.)
While I've had some bruising rejections lately, overall 2018 has been a pretty amazing year for me on the writing front. I published my first children's book, Bruce Finds A Home, and I got to visit local primary schools with illustrator Robyn Belton as part of the Little Landers Literature programme (thanks, Dunedin City of Literature!). One of my pieces of flash fiction was published in the Bonsai book, and another appeared on the North and South website. And of course, I had the incredible experience of undertaking the Creative Hub / Earthskin residency at Muriwai. Just writing this paragraph makes me feel incredibly lucky!
Another wonderful experience I had this year was also courtesy of the Headland team. I was invited to read my story Frangipani at Wellington's Litcrawl event as part of the Best Stories: Headland session. It was my first time at Litcrawl, which is an incredible mini literary festival that you should definitely try to get along to next year if you can. From being greeted at the airport by a lovely volunteer holding a sign with my name on it, to being put up in a sweet hotel, to being driven back to the airport by celebrated author and cool dude Brannavan Gnanalingam (whose thought-provoking novel, Sodden Downstream, I had just read) ... the whole experience was magical. The highlight was undoubtedly catching up with the Headland team and with fellow writers Iona Winter and Caoimhe McKeogh, who are all total goddesses, and I'm looking forward to attending Iona's book launch in Dunedin this Friday.
So, what next? Well, I'm still working on the collection of stories (for grown-ups!) and I expect that will take a while to complete. I'm also working on the next Bruce the Cat picture book for children. I changed the pencils I'm using for the illustrations, and we're having a bit of trouble scanning the images, but I'm sure we'll get it resolved one way or another. And I have another project or two simmering away, which I should be able to tell you more about next year.
But in the meantime I'm looking forward to finishing work for the year in a couple of weeks, and to spending long afternoons reading beneath the Pohutukawa tree. I hope you have a relaxing holiday planned too. Thank you so much for your support this year - it means the world to me.
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.