I was so surprised and honoured to be awarded the F.H. Pasby prize (you can read more about it here: http://www.kellogg.ox.ac.uk/news/kelloggian-wins-inaugural-writing-prize) that I was (almost) speechless. Apparently, I did say something but I don’t really remember. What I do remember is all the hugs and kind words from my fellow students and a bottle of bubbly from the generous Kiran Millwood Hargrave and all my amazing friends on my course. I have chosen to use this photo rather than the more formal photo of the award as, thrilled as I was to be be awarded the Pasby Prize, I was even more grateful for the kindness of all my fellow students. Not least because I feel that their support, help and encouragement have been fundamental to anything I have achieved this year.
This has made me think a lot about literary prizes and competitions in general and this one in particular. I feel a bit uncomfortable about them. That may just be because, until now, I have never won a prize. There is always that possibility – I am ridiculously competitive so when I say I don’t like something, that usually means I am just not that good at it!
But I genuinely do struggle with the idea of literary prizes. Only the one hand, I rarely disagree with the judges. They seem able to select work of real power and significance. On the other hand, I am not always sure how meaningful prizes are when creative work is so varied and may be aiming to achieve such different things. In the case of the Pasby Prize, it seems particularly difficult to separate out the success of the individual from the support and help of the group. I can think of so many specific conversations, feedback and suggestions I have had with fellow students that have contributed to the development of my own work. Any prize should perhaps be for the group as a whole. It is hard to recognise the importance of collaboration and group dynamic in a prize. Still, that said, I am keeping it! It has made a huge difference to my confidence and, as a writer in a full-time, serious job, will be particularly helpful in keeping up my motivation in the face of competing demands.
I am particularly touched by this prize as it was set up by Lisa Sargard to honour the memory of her grandfather F.H. Pasby who was a great supporter of women’s success and education. This seems very fitting as the novel on which I will be working this year is set at the turn of the twentieth century and is concerned with ideas of female education, deviance and militancy. My own mother was quite a pioneer in terms of combining education, career and family. However, I know that the marks I achieved in the first year were boosted by my critical pieces (Gertude Stein turned out to be a real friend!). I could list the names of my fellow students whom I feel are already achieving a degree of creative achievement that I can still only hope to emulate. As we go into the second year, there will be no-where to hide. The emphasis, quite rightly, will all be on the creative project. I am both terrified and profoundly excited by the creative challenges it will bring.
To Lisa Sargood and her family, I want to say that I am very grateful and honoured.
To my tutors at Oxford, I say heartfelt thanks.
To my friends and fellow students, I say wild whoops of love!