A surprising learning
You will have heard me talk about how much I learn when I teach or mentor others. Just as our kids are our greatest teachers, so too are our students and mentees. However, at the start of August I found myself in the unique position of judging the Lindsay de Feliz Award for Expat Memoir. This is a one-time award that Jack and I are holding in honour of a wonderful author, based in the Dominican Republic. Lindsay had worked with us towards the publication of two great memoirs – What About Your Saucepans? and Life After My Saucepans. Then, last December, she was found brutally murdered, lying in a shallow grave outside her own home. The award is our tribute to a great writer who met a tragic end.
The deadline for submissions was 31st July and so our month began with sifting the entries so we could make a shortlist to present to our panel of judges: writing friends of Lindsay, Ilana Benady and Grace Olivo; expat author and publisher, Robin Pascoe and expat author and award-winning blogger, Mariam Ottimofiore.
Doing so presented a new learning experience for me, or rather a ‘hammering home’ experience. We created a set of criteria by which we were giving entries marks out of five: the five elements of SPICE, of course (specifics, place, incident, character and emotion) in addition to plot, pace, writing ability and sales potential. Then I added two more critical categories, elements that have me closing a book after a few pages if it is not holding my attention: was I hooked by the first paragraph and did I want to read on after the first chapter?
As I read through the entries it took a frighteningly short amount of time to get a sense of whether the book ‘had legs’ or not and while I spotted when those crucial elements were present, it was when they were missing that I was most struck. I expect it’s pretty much the same with relationships. We notice a person’s flaws more easily than their qualities. Once we have noticed the flaws it’s hard to move beyond them.
Reading the entries was a great reminder to me of what matters most in a memoir, what keeps me reading, makes me care about the protagonist and able to picture the action and characters for myself.
Should the opportunity ever present itself for you to be able to review a new book, judge a writing competition or work through submissions to a magazine or publisher – grab it.
I would now like to take this opportunity to congratulate our shortlisted winners:
The winner will be announced in September and will be published by us in 2021 at Summertime Publishing (expat family) or Springtime Books (other genres).
Jo Parfitt's Monthly Inspirer