Award-winning author Zadie Smith frankly scolded the contestants who entered her short-story contest. The problem? Well, none of them were good enough to win, in her overlong and rather wordy explanation. "So, let's try again, yes?" OK, teacher! It's one of those sad moments in life when you really do the best work you can and it's still not good enough. What was wrong with the disappointing entries, exactly?
Maybe the problem with this prize is that my name is attached to it. To be very clear: just because this prize has the words Willesden and Zadie hovering by it, does not mean that I or the other judges want to read hundreds of jolly stories of multicultural life on the streets of North London. Nor are we exclusively interested in cutesy American comedies, or self-referential post-modern vignettes, or college satires.
Our sole criterion is quality. We simply wanted to see some really great stories. And we received a whole bunch of stories. We dutifully read through hundreds of them. But in the end - we have to be honest - we could not find the greatness we'd hoped for. It's for this reason that we have decided not to give out the prize this year. We're going to hold on until next year...
I am very proud to be patron of this prize. I think there are few prizes of this size that would have the integrity not to award a prize when there is not sufficient cause to do so. Most literary prizes are only nominally about literature, they are really about brand consolidation - for beer companies, phone companies, coffee companies even frozen food companies. The little Willesden Herald Prize is only about good writing, and it turns out that a prize faithfully recognizing this imperative must also face the fact that good writing is actually very rare. [The Willesden Herald]