|drawing by Ruby|
I got exactly nowhere in the competition, nor did I deserve to, but it was a most enjoyable and educational experience. In my brief foray into the world of aspiring romance writers I discovered what I suspect must plague every writer or artist of any description; a complete lack of any ability to judge one's own product. In my actual field of endeavour - the law - there are relatively objective parameters of success. Winning a trial is a good indicator that you haven't stuffed things up really badly. Discussing cases with colleagues and finding that others share your view on a matter, debating issues with counsel, analysing a legal point and finding your opinion validated by a judgment all give you indications that you are on the right track. I imagine that if I took on case after case and kept losing, or if I routinely missed the issue, or asked the wrong questions or overlooked a crucial point of law, I'd probably realise that I was not much chop as a lawyer.
But how do you know if you are a good writer who just has to weather the rounds of rejection before your talent is recognised, or if you are simply a hack and should leave well enough alone? (I ask this as a rhetorical question, I'm not proposing to quit my job and attempt romance writing as a career). I wrote this book and I liked my heroine (who is not me) and I adored my hero, who was dedicated to social justice and spoke fluent Italian. However after finishing the novel, and reading plenty of genre fiction and some of the other competition entries, I could not for the life of me tell if mine was on the side of 'kind of okay and shows promise' or on the side of 'stick to being a lawyer and never ever enter this realm again'. I really couldn't tell. A few friends said nice things, but frankly, of course they would.
I'm taking all the positives out of this experience - I learned a lot, I really enjoyed the process, and I can now say that I've written a novel (though to be honest I cannot imagine the occasion when I actually will). I discovered that it is not easy to impart crucial plot information in an interesting way. It can be difficult to avoid 'he said' in conversations, but annoying to have your characters constantly 'snapping' 'riposting' and 'opining'. Writing the actual romancy bits, the kissing and so forth, was quite bizarre. And trying to stick within the conventions of genre fiction but to transcend cliche was a challenge. To real writers, of real, published books, in whatever genre, I tip my hat. It's a hard job with lean rewards and I'm very glad that someone does it and that that person is not me.