Yesterday the Heron Road Seniors' Centre held an "afternoon of storytelling" for the eight co-winners of the City of Ottawa's 55 Plus short story contest. I was pleased to be one of eight co-winners. The contest has been held for fifteen years now. Back when it first started, I was teaching writing courses at Heron Road and well remember a meeting where I advised the organizers how to set up a contest with blind judging, since, as a writer, I have entered so many over the years. After I stopped teaching at Heron Road in 2000, I resolved that, when I got old enough, I would enter the contest every year.
It is always interesting to see what people are writing and what the judge, a different person each year, chooses as the eight best stories. There are two categories, "novice" category and "experienced", so that newcomers don't have to compete against people for whom writing is a career or vocation. The contest is open to fiction and to "true" stories (memoirs).
Although I have always entered works of fiction, I have noticed that one or two heartfelt, spontaneous-sounding memoirs always place among the eight in the "winners' circle".
I enjoyed listening to the stories, and meeting a couple of old friends/former "students" from courses past. The entry fee has risen from the original $5 per story, but is still reasonable compared to the $25 or more that many Canadian literary magazines charge. I was disappointed only in that the "Honourable Mentions" did not get to read or receive any tangible acknowledgement. Having judged contests, I know that the top ten stories are usually all pretty good. My husband, Roger Latta, and a friend from a former writing course were present as Honourable Mentions, and got up to take a bow and enjoy some applause, but that was all. No money for them, not even a certificate, nor one of the mugs donated in former years by a retirement residence!
"Oh, well," said Roger, "I got a sandwich." The readings, in the auditorium, were followed by a lunch in the seniors' centre. Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?