I'm not allowed to sleep yet anyway. In a little over twenty-four hours, I'll be on a train to Liverpool. Thursday night I'll be at the Edge Hill Short Story Prize award ceremony. I'm rather annoyed it's happening so soon - I've rather dined out telling people I'm a shortlist nominee of what's really rather a posh award, and the minute it's announced I won't be able to tell anyone any more. Trying to impress people by saying you didn't actually *win* an award, you just showed up and looked brave when someone else got the attention, doesn't really cut the mustard. I'd have been just as happy, frankly, if they didn't announce the winner until some time in 2020, by which point I'd be too old and grizzled to care.
And I've been told to prepare a speech. Just in case I win. (It's been pointed out to me gently, as if I'd had any doubt, that I almost certainly won't. Of the five nominees I'm the least established, I'm the real outsider, the only one who's not published by a mainstream press. If this were a Frank Capra movie, as the underdog, I'd be sure to confound the odds and get the prize. Being stuck in Real Life instead, that's rather less likely.) Now, I've never written an award acceptance speech before. I've been at ceremonies, and have always winged it - to be honest, the audience don't *want* to listen to you thank everyone you've ever met since you were eight years old, they want you to shut up and get off the stage so they can hear what the next award is. In this case, however, as I've been reminded - there *are* no other awards. The entire ceremony is about *this* one. So getting up on stage, saying 'cheers', grinning, and sitting down again, is rather likely to be an anticlimax. Afterwards there'll be nothing for the audience to do except eat their dessert.
I really don't want to write a speech. Partly - no, mostly - because I'm lazy. Partly because I don't see the logic of it - if the chances are I'm not going to be in the position to *give* a speech, why should I be up at half one in the morning preparing one? I'm not going to waste any good jokes and feints of modest acceptance on a mere *possibility*, am I? But partly too because I'm superstitious. Something tells me that if I write a speech, it'll jinx any chance I have of winning. And so I'll only win - get this - if I put myself in a position where I'll get stage fright if I *do*. Brilliant.
Now I know full well that the winner has already been decided. There's no point in discovering religion now, and praying to God, or making Him sacrifices, or whatever else might persuade Him to help - it's all over. The winner receives a *sculpture* of their head. No, seriously. There's prize money too, and lots of kudos - but I'm drawn back to that sculpture. If I won, where would I put it? If I put it in the garden, would it scare the crows? If I keep it in the house, would my wife turn it on its side and use it as an ashtray? My point is that the sculptor must already know who's won. I'm sure she's very talented, but she can hardly be expected to knock out a reasonable facsimile of the winner's face between the envelope being opened and the end of the acceptance speech. (Certainly not in the case of my acceptance speech, at any rate, which is so far composed of the words 'thank' and 'you'.)
If I could only find out who this sculptor was. Then friend her on Facebook. Challenge her to a game of scrabble, maybe. And then just subtly ask - look, is it really worth my writing a speech at all? (And I wonder too whether the judges will let *her* choose the winner. Maybe she'll just pick the nominee who's got the most straightforward skull. Maybe I'll lose out to some baldie, because my curly hair is way too tricky to get right with a chisel.)
I've been reading the short story collections by my fellow nominees. They're all extremely good. Every time I read a new story, I find myself hoping that this next one, at least, might stink. But they don't. Ask me honestly to rank the five books, I'd put mine fifth. No question. That's great, in a way - it'd be annoying to lose to someone I didn't think deserved it. But I'd like to have gone to Liverpool with a smidgen of arrogance intact - I'd liked to have thought, well, at least I'm *fourth*.
So, there we go. Thursday evening. I've got my invitation by my desk, I've got my smart clothes ready and pressed. Janie came home from her tour at the weekend, and she gave my hair a trim so I look more like someone capable of holding a pen against paper and less like a raving neanderthal. She won't be able to be at the ceremony, because she'll be performing a sex comedy in an open air theatre in Manchester that night. Yeah, that old excuse.
Wish me luck!
The cat doesn't. He's just sprung at the window again. He hasn't realised I've closed it. Ha! What a cretin.