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.
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.