From the sublime…

A flurry of tweets arrived last night, from people who had, at the “last minute”, managed to submit a story to this year’s Bristol Prize.

I’ve never been listed or placed in this competition, and something about the flurry reminded me just how little I’ve been able to write this year (for reasons of family, or excuses of tiredness — I’m never sure which).

So at 10:20pm last night I decided to write a story for the Bristol Prize.


The deadline was midnight; allowing ten minutes for the submission process would leave me an hour and a half to grow some good fiction mojo, and put it to good use.

Ninety minutes — just as I realised how tight this was, Twitter started fizzing.


It always surprises me when people read my tweets; I’d kind of expected to be ignored, to be allowed to drink a scotch, slump onto my cushion, and drift further into obscurity — but my Twitter friends suddenly whipped out a mass of supportive tweets, and it dawned on me that the story must now be written.




At this point, I started feeling like a bit of a pillock, because I didn’t even have a story to write. I’d started one earlier but it ran into the mire — you know the mire? While you write and write, a brain imp starts to chant, ‘Crap, crappity crap’ and ‘getttttting craaaaapppppppperrrr!’ And you agree?

Well, that.

By 10:40pm, all I had done was delete the previous attempt and boil the kettle — both valid starting steps, I told myself (as I sat staring at the screen), but the great thing about only having an hour is that you can’t panic — there’s no time.

I wrote the story.

If I say too much about it, the anonymity will be broken and it will be disqualified (ow), but I’ll share it afterwards. Suffice to say, it was quirky, over 1,000 words, and written in an hour. Editing took about ten minutes, which involved fixing the tenses all the way through, and online submission was relatively painless — although I was sweating a bit by then.


I then had a little daydream for the remaining 12 minutes.


So why did I do it? Why would I risk sending in barely-edited work, why put myself under pressure, why bombard an entry system at the eleventh hour, why…???

Because I needed the pressure; I’ve been galloping all year to keep up with a young family, a massive building project and my own business — so writing often gets shelved even though I’m desperate to keep it going. This was my hour, a promise to myself that while I hurl myself into family life, I can still sometimes write — and one day I’ll write a lot more.

But also (and I should probably await feedback before saying this), my writing does not improve with every edit. Some edits, yes, but there are also stories that are supposed to escape untamed. Writing should be fearless — I mean, what have I got to lose?

Public face? What face?!

£8? It’s a good cause…

so, nothing to lose.

Last night, I let rip with a story straight from the brain, harsh and rough, and I sent it out exactly how it was born.

It felt good.


Thanks to the lovely, supportive folk who cheered me on last night, on Twitter:

@jadamthwaite, @susan_lanigan@teresastenson@corkycorks,

and, of course, @bristolprize.

Good luck to everyone who entered! (Does that make sense? Yes…? Yeah.)

Update 17/7/2013: it was longlisted!


  1. ginandbooks says:

    Good luck, Tracey! I’m starting to think that the pieces I write in a mad, under-pressure rush are better than the ones I agonise over. Also, so much more fun to write!

    • t upchurch says:

      It’s true that if it all pours out in a gush, there’s a decent chance it can all be read in a rush, which means less pause for the reader. Several people have said that the best stories melt into the page — form a window to see through rather than being ink on paper. I love reading ‘stream of consciousness’ writing by other people. Certainly, I’m lightening my edits these days.

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