I’ve never been a member of a proper writing group, so it was a bit of a shock to be asked to judge this year’s Hilda McKenzie award – the annual short story contest run by the Cardiff Writers’ Circle.
I was tangentially aware of the group, largely thanks to a friend who had judged the contest a few years earlier, but I really had no idea what to expect when the bundle of nine stories arrived on my doorstep. They covered a whole swathe of genres, from romance to comedy, fantasy, historical drama and globe trotting thriller. They were great fun to read – a marvellous pot pourri of fiction that would never be gathered together under normal circumstances – but I couldn’t avoid feeling anxious. One of these had to win. Worse still, I’d been asked to prepare a critique of each story to discuss with the Circle on the night of the award ceremony.
Offering feedback on another person’s writing is a sensitive process at the best of times – every sentence is fermenting in their hopes, fears and painstaking efforts. It’s a little like remodelling a nitro glycerine factory; the work might well be necessary but you live in constant fear of calamitous consequences.