Martijn Lindeboom, organizer of the Paul Harland Prize, has translated and posted my midway report on my reading for this year’s Paul Harland Prize. This is the second year that I’ve read for the prize, and it’s interesting to me to be able to make comparisons to last year’s reading. It also brings home the point that we are all in a constant state of change. And growth is always a good thing.
Paul Harland Reading, Midway report
I’ve been reading the Paul Harland entries in groups of five or ten stories at a time. Professional slush readers have said that it usually takes the first three paragraphs to determine whether a story is worth reading through to the end or not. Unlike slush readers, I do read all the stories to the end—and while I do see the value in the first three paragraphs rule, I also think reading the full story gives me a better understanding of where on the scale the writer sits when it comes to mastery of craft.
On a more personal level, I find it interesting to note how I have also matured as a reader and I think I may have become more demanding as a reader. Where last year, I might have excused sloppy writing, this year I’m less inclined to do so.
So, what insights have I gained in reading thus far?
When I think of last year’s entries, I get the impression that this year’s writers have worked harder and have progressed when it comes to craft. More stories work better and are better put together thematically as well as plotwise and so far most of the stories I’ve read seem to have broken away from the urge to be Martinesque or Tolkienesque. It’s true that there is still quite a bit of mimetic and gimmicky stuff, but this all relates to how new the writer is to genre. I do hope that in time, and as writers read more and look for more challenging work, this will improve. ( I keep telling people to read more and I’ll reiterate that again: read more and read outside of the work that’s translated or sold in the Netherlands. Read not only in genre but read outside of genre.)
What does frustrate me, and this is something that also frustrated me during last year’s reading, is when I come across a writer with an incredibly strong voice who relies on gimmicks and stereotypes to tell a story. It makes me feel frustrated because a strong authorial voice is a gift and if a writer doesn’t stretch themself, that voice becomes nothing more than a gimmick in itself.
As a writer, I don’t believe in being contented or self-satisfied. If you are a writer who feels self-satisfied in your work, if you’re resting on the laurels of past praise, you won’t grow as a writer. It’s not enough to write the same as you did yesterday, you must work to write something better than you did yesterday.
Finally, I’m not yet done with my reading, so I can’t write a conclusive note, but writers do yourselves a favor and pay attention to the 10% rule. Longer doesn’t always mean better and a lot of stories would benefit a lot from cutting at least 10% of its content.
This year showed us 206 entries which is a huge leap from last year. It is a positive sign and I hope it means that Dutch genre is finally reaching a point where something has to give. It will be interesting to see new voices emerging and becoming part of the greater field of World SF.
**with thanks to Martijn Lindeboom for the translation from English to Dutch.
***For context regarding the 10% rule, the cut-off for the Paul Harland is 10,000 words. Most writers come very close to that limit.