If you’ve stumbled across my blog in the past, you may be aware that I have a mild-but-manageable phobia of competitions. This is due to having spent my formative years attending a convent school run by scary nuns, combined with being forced to enter a WHSmith poetry competition when I was eleven. I did win a book token, but my dignity has never been the same since.
Recently, however, I was floored by a bout of the Norovirus, and fever can do strange things to a man (or, indeed, a woman). Having spent several days pinned to the sofa, with occasional visits to the bathroom to decorate the walls with a fetching shade of carrot, I began to get my strength back. A bit bored, I switched the TV on for a bit of entertainment and was met with something called ‘Loose Women’. Listening to a herd of clattering wildebeest discussing suitable sexual positions for pensioners has never been one of my strong points so I switched it off again.
Up-to-date with all my college work and desperate for something to take my mind off the carrot sweats, I found myself casually tapping ‘travel writing competitions’ into Google. I then found myself clicking through a series of links to win a weekend away in the UK (I didn’t want to go too mad) by writing a review of a ‘standout holiday that you’d been on’. The prize also included getting your review of said weekend away published and being paid for it. What? Paid? Very appealing. I’d recently come back from a youth hostelling trip to Krakow and Auschwitz (yes, really) so I decided to occupy myself by jotting down a few of my experiences, with the main thrust of my piece being that youth hostelling in Eastern Europe needn’t be murder. Or involve being murdered (come on, we’ve all seen Hostel).
I wrote about the food we ate and the food we didn’t eat – we steered clear of the pork knuckles that were being widely advertised for instance. I wrote about what it was like to be immersed in a place that played such a gruesome part in WW2. I wrote about being taken on the free Jewish Walking Tour of Krakow in the snow by a Jewish girl whose family were obliterated by the Nazis. I wrote about how to beat Ryanair at their own game by printing everything, wearing all of your luggage, all of the time and not making eye contact with any of the staff. I wrote about the dangers of drinking large quantities of vodka before spending a day exploring a salt mine. I wrote about taking a tram to one of the biggest examples of Communist social engineering in the world. I wrote that you could stay in a warm murder-free youth hostel for the princely sum of £4 per night. I basically wrote about all of the stuff that I like to do on holiday, and in a blaze of sweat, fever and carrots I submitted my entry.
I suppose there’s a reasonable chance that nobody else entered, but still, I won! I was going to a UK city! My review would be published! There was some cash involved! I nearly had a mini asthma attack.
In the end I was sent to write a review of Cardiff. I dragged my other half along and we had a brilliant time. Swept up with the urge to write a really great review in order to prove (to myself really) that I could do it, I researched and wrote the hell out of St Fagans open air museum and Spillers, the oldest record shop in the world. We nosed round cathedrals and Norwegian churches. I confronted my Doctor Who phobia and embraced my inner nerd. I’d been to Cardiff before, but never as a journalist (well…). How great to get to travel somewhere, explore it, then write about it. Then when you get back, money appears in your bank account. Mental.
I know plenty of people out there do this for a living. It’s like a shop assistant selling a tin of beans, or a dog groomer plaiting an Afghan Hound’s fur (or whatever it is that they do), but for me it was an exciting revelation: there are competitions out there. If you enter them, particularly if you’re suffering from a highly-contagious carrot–spewing illness, there’s a chance you’ll win. Fancy that!
If you have been inspired here are lists of Fiction Competitions and Poetry Competitions on the Writers' Hub.