We arrive at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh way before five. "I don't want to be too early," I'd said to my husband Rob, "hanging around like a spare part." In fact, the party has already started. The cafe is crowded, buzzing with animated conversations and relaxed laughter. In the air, the aroma of fresh coffee and a touch of nervous excitement. I scan the faces, noticing that many are focused on the booklet Time, which contains all ten short-listed pieces for the 2016 Writing Awards. I'm one of those ten. Really.
Gail Aldam sends the ten entrants downstairs to meet with Jenny Lindsay, the MC for the evening. I am delighted to see the theatre - it's the perfect space. A lectern on the small stage awaits us. That erases the stand-or-sit question. I feel calm. I notice my fellow writers as we loiter on the steps of the theatre. Jenny chats and makes brief notes. There's a sense of wanting to get started. I head back up to the cafe to collect my bag (and husband), as friends, family and random supporters are going down to the theatre.
I try to focus on the content of the submissions, but I am drawn to the presentation, the voice, the bearing. I am fourth to read. Jenny announces me. Already? I'm on the stage. It's very quiet. Slight nervousness. "Thrilled to be here, by the way," I say. I pour myself some water and slow my breathing. I read my piece. It is not my story, but I know, without a doubt, that this audience feels the full force of my heart. It's in my pace, my voice, my concentration.
I listen better to the entrants following me. It's all here: humour, heartbreak, anger. Ordinary, extraordinary people - standing up, speaking out. This is me, they say. Deal with it. The writings, the readings, are powerful. There's a restfulness in the theatre when we have finished. The audience, besides listening, seems to have upheld us, cushioned us.
You can read all of the shortlisted entries in the beautiful e-book below, designed by Josie Vallely:
Now Jenny and Gail are on stage, preparing to announce the prize winners. I feel genuinely happy to be here; to have disclosed something significant about myself. And, (lurking at the back of my mind) there is the hope that I may get 'Highly Commended'. No. From this point, my reasonably sharp faculties seem to be a tad spongy. It's all happening so quickly. I hear my name called in connection with the word 'Winner'. I turn to Rob. He looks as shell-shocked as I feel.
I'm heading down the steps towards the stage. Thoughts flash through....don't trip now....feel like I'm in Hollywood....get a grip before this whole damn thing goes pear-shaped. Such warm applause. I feel self-conscious, and elated. I'm at the lectern again, hopefully stringing some meaningful sentences together.
Gail asks everyone to regroup upstairs for a drinks reception. "Whatever there is," I say to Rob, "I'm having it." There are congratulations, wine and chat. There's a photographer with blue hair. Everything fits. I speak with a fellow prize-winner whose writing intrigued me. First prize, and then, this surprisingly fierce connection with a stranger. A jewel of an evening. I am full to the brim. I'll need to lie down in a darkened room shortly.
by Angela Wright