I’m not entirely sure what approach the others are going to take to this topic. There are, of course, all sorts of ways of defining ‘recognition’. There’s the formal recognition of awards and the informal recognition of people such as peers and readers and random strangers at the shops.
Very early on in the scheme of things, I remember being full of excitement because someone had found my website on purpose, by searching for my name, rather than accidentally, via some variation on “goldfish + ponds” or “hydrocodone”.
Once, I was doing laps at the local pool, complete with swimming cap and goggles, when I was stopped, mid-turn, by a lifeguard who wanted to know if I was “that writer-woman in the paper”.
More recently, after writing a letter of complaint to a local business, I was asked during a follow-up phone call whether I was “the” Meg McKinlay, putting me in the unlikely position of having to say, “Define the.”
These things are all recognition of a sort.
But I suspect that in writing about this, at some point each of us will home in on the formal awards, and in some ways it’s a curious alignment that the three of us are doing this blogapalooza together because last year we were all shortlisted alongside one another in the Younger Readers category of the 2011 CBCA Book Awards.
Although this wasn’t my first shortlisting, it felt quite different to the others. It felt bigger, as if my work had found its way to a broader stage. My earlier shortlistings – for the 2007 WA Premier’s Book Awards and the 2008 WAYRBAs – felt closer to home, and in a certain sense that was true, as this was back when the WA PBA was only open to West Australian writers.
But the CBCA Awards feel like an entirely different beast to me. And I can honestly say that I had never once seen them as something I might be part of. I don’t have a good reason for this, other than, I guess, the fact that none of my three earlier books had been acknowledged by them. Without really actively thinking about the awards – feeling neither anticipation nor disappointment nor much of anything else at all – I think I had somehow decided they had nothing to do with me.
Then all of a sudden, Duck for a Day was on the Notables list. Then all of another sudden, it was on the shortlist (because of the time difference, the gap between hearing the news of each was, for me here in WA, very short. By the time I turned my computer on, the Notables list had been up for a couple of hours and so the shortlist followed very soon after).
That day, I wrote a post about my response to the shortlisting, the vagaries of judging based on earlier experiences with poetry competitions and so on. I won’t go over that ground again, but the post is here for anyone interested.
I’m not really sure what to add to that today, but I guess I might simply say that I’m very glad to have been shortlisted exactly when I was. I’m glad it didn’t happen earlier, because that afforded me a healthy lack of expectation or even concern. And I’m glad it didn’t happen later, because in some ways, it’s given my profile a little kick that was very timely. Until Duck was shortlisted, I don’t think I was really on anyone’s radar much outside of WA. And yes, I know we live in a global village and all of that, but living and writing over here does make a difference and when this topic comes up, people from “Over East” almost invariably say, “Oh, but that doesn’t matter these days!” and people from “Over Here” nod and say, “Tell me about it.”
But that’s a whole other topic which I won’t discuss here, except to make it very clear that I’m not on any level suggesting there is any bias – in the awards or elsewhere. All I’m really suggesting is that until something happens to push your head above the parapet, physical distance does have something to do with psychological distance, and it does matter.
I think that being shortlisted put me on the map in a couple of ways. It made people aware of my work in a general sense, and it collapsed the distance somewhat from here to there. I’m hopeful that momentum will carry through to a certain extent. I hope that when people see my name on a book, or in a festival program, they might be more likely to remember it now, to think, “That might be worth a look.” I was very glad to have the recognition for Duck itself, and it opened up some wonderful opportunities for me – not the least of which was Tony Bones’ wonderful musical theatre version of Duck for a Day, which toured during Book Week 2011 – but I guess I’m also hopeful that it will have a broader flow-on effect.
When I say that my shortlisting was ‘timely’, that’s what I mean. It’s timely for me now to have had this little kick, to have my name put in front of the industry in a more concrete way. For it to matter, I of course have to keep producing quality work. And I also have to accept that even if I do that, I might never be shortlisted again. As much as I’d like to pretend that I’m philosophical about that, the truth is that now I know that it’s possible that such awards might have something to do with me, I’ll find it impossible not to be hopeful. I am hopeful. I think hope is a good thing, a useful thing, as long as I’m aware that if those hopes don’t come to fruition, it isn’t necessarily a reflection on the quality of my work.
And if I feel a bit deflated and need a little ego-boost, I guess I can always console myself with a trip to the local pool.