Where to begin?The Story – Millie and Bird was one of those stories that came almost fully realised, with a will of its own. I had no idea what I was going to say when I sat down to write it, no plan, nothing other than the first two lines which kept repeating in my head. I do know what inspired it though and that was a painting by Barbara Skingle – Katherine and Millie which I’d see for the first time in a poetry workshop several weeks earlier and which had made a real impact on me. Once I got the first draft of the story down I edited it a LOT. Editing is as important as the initial act of writing. A week or so later I entered it for the Costa imagining I wouldn’t stand a chance – and well – you know the rest! But that wasn’t quite the end of it. Millie and her sister Isa, their mother Kitty, their neighbour Jonty, others too, wouldn’t leave me – they insisted I write their stories and I’m still writing them…
The Costa – Our taxi pulled up outside 16 Bury Street, St James’s – Quaglino’s puckered up its hot red lips and beckoned us in. If I was nervous before I’d started out, I was on the point of fleeing. But there was no going back now, we’d met Bud and Bud had directed us to the mezzanine and then down to the crowded floor below. Two glasses of pink champagne later and I was beginning to get the hang of it. I was even getting the hang of seeing my face everywhere on the flat screen TVs.
I found Guy le Jaune, another of the finalists. He looked like a man waiting for a reprieve. Our spouses swapped stories of our mounting panic earlier that day – and here I’ve got to break off and say a huge thanks to my spouse John, who put up with a lot and was just about the best companion to have along for the ride. To Guy too (only joking above) and Patricia – it was great to meet you and I hope we stay in touch. It was good to meet the other finalists : Shelia, Sally, Chioma – and Angela we missed you. To my mind any one of the six could have won.
We met the judges around the couch.Pre-announcement.They were kind. They were generous; all the Costa people, esp Bud, were very generous. But when Gary Kemp – man of such talent, and I’m talking words not songs – shook my hand and told me my story was ‘very special’ I wanted to ‘dye my hair orange and don a turkey-foil jump suit’*. I was a starwoman and it was shortly to be confirmed. Those words that still keep rolling round in my head ‘And the winner of the 2012 Costa Short Story Award is Avril Joy for Millie and Bird...’ Photographers shouted my name like I was some kind of celebrity. Jenni Murray congratulated me. I went into shock. I stayed there. My lipstick faded but my smile stuck. After that there was only one thing for it and that was to hit the champagne.
Me – I’ve had so many texts, emails, tweets, cards and messages of congratulations. My house is full of flowers. I’ve tried to reply to everyone but if I’ve missed anyone I’m sorry, it wasn’t intentional. If you voted for me thank you so much. If you didn’t but would still like to read the story you can do so here. London was great. Quaglino’s was outrageous but I’m glad to be back home in the North East. At my desk and writing.
Thanks to Costa and congrats to all finalists on the night.
* Gary Kemp’s brilliant autobiography – This Much I Know