Chapter 99: Writers Comp Bomb Out

I suppose it wouldn’t really be a true writers journey if I just posted the failed attempts without the emotion that comes with that failure.

I swore at the beginning of the year I was going to pack in the competition thing. While they are great for lesson learning, skill building and thick skin development – they defo have their down sides.

I invest probably far too much time in the entries and it takes away from my real writing. Plus it’s supremely shit for my nerves and even shitter for the confidence. But, it’s also super unrealistic and very all the eggs in all the unlikely baskets pinned up on the far too many hopes board for me to handle in a rational/non nervous-nelly-nut-case manner.

Truthfully – the disappointment can be a suck-fest – especially as you enter more, grow more and begin to believe your work isn’t half bad. It’s even worse if your initial feedback is nothing but praise and sunshine and wow’s and you’ve got a chance – vibes. When you receive that level of boosty positivity it’s pretty deflating to not place in a pool of just over a hundred.

We attended an author talk recently with a VERY successful young author who has gone gang busters with his first book. He’s won a tonne of prestigious awards and ironically was one of the judges involved in the competition most of our writers group entered.

He made a point of mentioning he entered this same comp many times and not once did his work place. He actually sounded a bit pissed about it. There was a bit of a “Fck you, look at me now” tone. It was funny, but also a relief. If people at the top can’t crack the winning formula, maybe I’m not such a dull storytelling dummy after all.

Different judges, different styles, different academic levels, different likes/interests, different trends, and all the miscellaneous and mysterious criteria to succeed – can be dissected, hypothesised and conspirisised (totally a word) – but I think I’d rather not know and let it go. Try again, or move on.

But first…

RANDOM OVERTHINKING INTERMISSION (BRACE YOURSELF…)

After I entered and bombed at a major comp last year I was invited (as were all the other entrants I presume) to be a possible judge for this year. I scoffed (super appreciatively) when I saw it. Was this a joke? How can a random – who only very recently returned to the writing journey she abandoned nearly two decades ago as an unpublished, unskilled, uneducated dabbler – be considered for an invite, let alone judge another’s work? Though I doubt I’d have been accepted, it left me pondering things a little.

I may have broken my brain a bit..

 

…continuing on

No point being bitter or bogged down on bombing out and everything is a learning curve, no matter how tricky and awkward it can be to swallow.

BUT – feedback would be massively helpful. I’d pay an entry fee if it meant you would get some tips on why you bombed, or even the thing that all unsuccessful entrants want to hear – it was good – there were just so many excellent entries this year. Shit, I’d even settle for your story was great, but others were better.

Then there’s the possibility that mine was simply just crap – which while I think I’d be fine hearing – I’d probably melt into a sad old sorry puddle of goo. 🙂

Regardless… onward!

Here is my most recent bomber. Please forgive the formatting, WordPress don’t seem to care for indents etc and it’s too long for me to fiddle with.

Hiilville

The walls are higher. It looks like a prison. A medieval monstrosity smack-bang in the middle of suburbia. Nerd’s wet dream. The full moon shines on broken glass cemented into the limestone. Old school. Clever. They do that now, the smart ones. Source ideas from the past. Some work. Most fail. Great minds are scarce and the redevelopment shows. Everything returned to a primitive state soon after the fall. All except the safe zones and this safe zone stands like the same privileged, polished turd it always was. Now it’s just a fortified one. Synthetic, stifling, everything we ran from and here we are running back. Willingly. It was a hard pill for my son to swallow.
“You hate Hiilville.”
“We need supplies and information.”
“You said safe zones are traps,” Card pressed and any other time I would have praised his bullshit-sniffing skills. Only sixteen and keener street-smarts than a middle-aged man on the run.
“If we’re going to Dad, we’ve gotta make a move.”
“Yeah, but now? We’re safe here. We should at least wait until spring.”
“Love, we’re too vulnerable. Beasts are heading inland and Brae is getting bigger and louder. Just her gurgling echoes outside the cave. I nearly smothered her when a herd passed last week.”
“What’s to say that won’t happen out there?”
“Once we reach the coast, there’ll be less of them. Easier to kill.”
“There’s a thousand kilometres between us and Dad and we don’t even know how far south the beasts got.” Card gnaws his pinky. He never used to bite his nails. It started the day we saw the parachutes. Hundreds of pods falling from the sky, beasts clawing their way out and slaughtering anything living. The army took one down and hacked into its collar chip. GMO monsters designed by whoever caused the fall – created to locate resources for some sort of invasion. Now their mess roams free defaulting to hunt and breed. Card spits a bit of nail.
“That’s what we’ll suss out at Hiilville. In and out, I promise. It’ll be good for you. Sleep in an actual bed, have a warm wash. We’re all a bit on the nose.”
“I don’t remember what a real bed feels like. It’ll be a tease.”
“You won’t be saying that after a full night’s sleep on one. Cardie, it’ll be okay,” I lie, lovingly. He skulks like a typical teen. I peck his cheek and tousle his hair.
“I’ll go if you’ll stop petting me like a pug.”
“Deal,” I agree. A few years ago I would have followed up with a jab at the knee, or the weak spot on his neck, but we can’t risk it. I wonder if his old tickle places still exist, or if I’ll ever hear him laugh again. The beasts don’t give a shit about family moments, or joy, or anything other than gorging flesh. Card was right to worry. We were safe in the cave. Plenty water, plenty hunting. But we had to go. Back to their father. Back to my husband. Home.

***

We’re at the edge of the Hiilville clearing. Card ignites the lighter and they send out a Vator. Most of these places have a pulley system – a passenger barge carrying weary survivors safely to the sanctuary borders. This thing is more like a shark cage poorly balancing on a rotten piece of plywood. Someone’s jimmied a few trolley wheels to the base. They cling for dear life, shunting violently over every divot on what was formerly a highway. The giant wall and overgrown bushland act like a subwoofer – funnelling the sound far and wide. The beasts can hear a beetle fart from twenty klicks away, so rolling on a rickety piece of shit navigated by fools in the middle of a sound vortex – is not ideal.
We climb in. Card pulls the buckled gate behind him.
“Awesome. The latch is munted.”
“This thing’s seen a few hits. Doubt it will protect us from much anyway.”
The process is hideously slow and the loose gate makes more noise than the entire contraption.
“This is bullshit. They might as well strap a siren to us. Amateurs.”
“Just have the lighter ready. If they come, we’ll fire this up,” I say, holding the poorly wrapped bundle of dried leaves, our only defence. My backpack is stuffed with them.
A bright glow shines from the entrance. These people really are clueless. A converted shipping container that once lured home buyers to the latest and greatest land packages is lit up like a casino. Typical. Even in a crap storm they’re showy. I forgot how much I loathed this place. Good for one thing – smooth roads. Weekend bog laps with a blaring stereo and a six-pack of Wild Turkey.
“Over there.” Card points to armed guards in the shadows. “Where’d they get the guns?”
“Fake, or unloaded. Remember what we talked about.”
“You’ve been drilling me for six hours.”
“And?”
“Take Brae and keep moving. I said I got it.”
“Good kid. One more thing. Take this. Open it if things…”
“Go to shit? You’re seriously doing this now?”
“Don’t swear,” I pinch his cheek and slip a note into his jacket pocket. The cage rises like a dodgy chair lift at a carnival.
“Come on! We’re bait up here,” I call to the guards aiming their odd rifles. They swing in time with the cage. It’s comical. “I don’t know why they bother, guns don’t work anymore,” I whisper as we’re shunted onto a platform.
“Citizens. I am Officer Creat. You are entering Sanctuary Safe Zone 551. Are you carrying any weapons?”
“What would be the point?” I mutter. They look confused. Morons.
“No,” Card yells impatiently.
“Proceed slowly,” the voice orders as the guards pat us down like terrorists. It’s hard to take any of it seriously.
“Single file to the Decon unit.”
“The air isn’t contaminated.”
“Single file,” the voice repeats.
“Can I hold my baby?”
“All children are to be placed in the centre of the Decon unit.”
“But…”
“There is no harm. You may go first,” the voice softens a little.
I feel like a toddler in an adult-sized chair. Something sprays over me. Just air. They sure put on a performance. I nod at Card who tenderly places Brae on the frame. Her burst is brief. I smirk. The face of the voice stares at me. He looks too civilian for the military. Probably from here. Probably never left. Why would he? These were the first places they protected. He seems the type. Boat on the front lawn, Bunnings barbeque in his alfresco kitchen. Probably paid someone to install it.
“Former occupation?”
“Accountant. Doubt my book balancing talents will be of any use,” I lie. He cocks a brow.
“You would be surprised what skills are useful. I was formerly a historian.”
“Broken glass is your handy work?”
“Amongst other things,” he replies smugly, pen clicking against a fold-out table. It’s a good one. Probably bought it brand new. One of those clueless yuppies who swans through camping stores with a loaded trolley and no idea how to use any of it. Bet he had all the top gear.
“Any food, water, supplies?” Clean, smooth hands. Nup. Never camped in his life. More a state-of-the-art caravan man. On display next to the boat for the whole neighbourhood to envy.
“We’ve got water, some salted roo and…”
“What are these?” A guard holds up a bundle.
“Smudge sticks.”
“What?” he questions like I’m about to launch a cult.
“Keeps the bugs away,” I say convincingly.
“Useless,” Officer Creat responds, rolling his eyes.
The guard hands the backpack to Card minus a multi-tool and a mallet. I don’t bother protesting.
“Any others with you?”
“No.”
“How long on the outside?”
“Since the fall.”
“That whole time?”
“Yes.”
“Where have you travelled from?”
“The hills.”
“Could you be more specific?”
“East. We won’t be staying long,” I test. He strokes his chin. I sense the vacant expressions of the guards boring into my back.
“Generally, people seek asylum here to escape what’s out there. No one ever actually leaves.”
“Is that because they have no choice?”
“Everyone who enters Hiilville has a choice and they all choose life.”
“Sounds like a shit campaign for community control,” I mumble, immediately regretting it as the guards step closer. The officer seems amused. I doubt he’s been challenged for a while. Card shields us from my reckless stupidity.
“Sir, we mean no trouble. We’re grateful to be here,” he says like a bona fide peacekeeper as Brae’s plump hand reaches for the table. She releases a long, mischievous giggle. It echoes off the cold, corrugated walls like an opera – the type that bring burly men to tears. Officer Creat nods to the guards who lower their toys. They look like rusty pistols from a museum. He motions for my hand and inks my thumb. The sensation is strange. It’s been so long since I felt the touch of another man. He repeats the process with Card and then Brae. I freeze. This will be the first record of her. Hubby will be pissed. The officer takes each tiny digit and gently pats them on the ink. I lament for our Baby Anon, until I see her clean hands.
“I’m curious how the three of you made it here unscathed.”
“Happy to share with you,” Card continues, but my eyes are glued to the inkless paper. “But, we need to get this one to bed, bub too.” Clever boy. Humour.
“Of course. Private Enkor. Ensuite housing. Know of any?”
“House Kingfisher has an unoccupied ensuite, Sir.”
“Ah, the Sotherton’s. Unfortunate for them, good news for you. Sally will be keen to get her hands on your little one. Private Enkor will escort you.”
“Thank you,” Card extends his arm towards Officer Creat and the guards again reach for their guns. “At ease. Forgive us, boy. It’s been a while.” He shakes Card’s hand. “Welcome to Hiilville.”

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