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Northern Rock

17 March 2005

For the avoidance of doubt: whatever is writ hereunder will be the product of bile, bitter envy, resentment and chagrin. Letís be absolutely clear about that.

I went to the Northern Rock Writerís Award ceremony this evening. Now, the Northern Rock is a unique thing, a vast amount of money given to one writer over three years, to support them while they write. You have to be resident in the north-east to qualify, and weíre very grateful to have it. We are.

This was the fourth year of its awarding, and I did apply, as I do every year. Hope springs eternal; desperation cracks a wicked whip; and besides, I think itís a social and professional obligation. If they didnít get lots of applications, theyíd discontinue the award. Itís my duty to do what I can to keep it going, for my friendsí sake more than my own; it may be highly likely that I wonít ever win it, but it is absolutely certain that friends of mine will. Indeed, one already has. So I apply every year, never with any great expectation but confident at least that I make a fair application, Iím a decent candidate. And every year I get the letter that says I havenít got it, along with an invitation to the ceremony to see who has. This year it was a little harder to take, because (a) I really am desperate and (b) I donít believe I will ever put together a better application. If not this year, then probably not at all. So it goes.

So I went to the ceremony, and the award went to Gillian Allnutt. Now - setting aside everything I said above about envy etc - this is no bad decision from the judges. Gillian is a good person and a fine writer. However - and here no doubt I am picking up again that which I set aside before - she is a poet, and that makes four out of four so far, every winner has been a poet; it begins to look as though poetry is a prerequisite. But more than that: the chair of the judges made a speech, and did rather betray that traditional prejudice which says that poets are both more needy and more worthy than the rest of us. Iíve railed about this before, I know, and I donít want to do it again, itís tiresome; but itís something I do keep tripping over,and I donít think itís just my paranoia. ďWriters - and especially poets - need money,Ē she said. QED. She spoke of ďshy poets and assertive novelists,Ē and didnít you just know where her sympathies lay? But more than that: for the first time, the judges wanted to announce some highly-commendeds, four names that nearly made it. Three more poets, and one exquisitely literary novelist: and she urged them to apply again, because she was sure their year would come. It was like a royal declaration, that these were the heirs-apparent.

So thatís the next four years stitched up, then, and just now I am baffled to see why I should bother to apply again. I never really did expect to win it, but I did always assume that I had a chance, I thought I was a contender. Apparently not, I donít even play on the right street. And while I donít mind being second-rate (actually thatís a lie, I do most bitterly mind it; itís just that thereís nothing I can do about it, you work with the tools youíre given and thatís your lot), I really, really resent being second-class. Which is how they made me feel tonight.

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© Chaz Brenchley 2005
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.