April Fool

I’m not the sort of person who wins competitions. This could be partly due to the fact that I very rarely enter them. But it’s fair to say that, of those few I have taken part in, my success rate has been less than negligible.

One consequence of this reality is that, when I did win one – and quite a prestigious one at that – I doubted that I’d won at all.

I thought that my ‘win’ was nothing more than an elaborate hoax.

While learning the writing craft, and later as an aspiring freelance writer and would-be novelist, I was a subscriber to the leading British writers’ monthly, Writers’ News. As well as insightful and helpful feature articles and up-to-date news on developments and opportunities within the publishing industry, the magazine also regularly ran a range of competitions covering all aspects of writing, including fiction, non fiction and poetry.

Generally speaking, I wasn’t interested in entering writing competitions. Aside from occasionally reading the winning compositions of those writers who did, I tended to ignore that part of the magazine. An exception to this was when the publication announced a competition which bore the heading ‘April Fool’.

This contest called for the submission of a mock-journalistic piece of the type that tend to appear in newspapers on April the first. You know the ones. Those bizarre and mildly-amusing prank articles that appear to serve no worthwhile purpose, other than to generate a few minutes’ banter at the office drinks chiller – aside from perhaps filling an inch or two of print space and perpetuating a rather bizarre tradition. Competition entrants were given free licence to write on topics of their choosing, and the only stipulation was that the work should not exceed two hundred and fifty words.

Regular visitors to this site will not have failed to notice that I rarely use one word when two or three will do. Or even three or more. Strict word counts are not, and never have been my ‘thing’. All that aside, despite the challenging limitations, there was something about this particular competition that appealed to me. I decided to give it a go.

I’ve no idea what thought process led to my brainchild, but I hit on an idea to write about the ancient, Tudor flagship the ‘Mary Rose’, and a phony scheme to refit the vessel for trans-Atlantic cruises — ‘for those of an adventurous spirit.’

Following several re-writes and textual tweaks I ended up with a piece that was not simply within the allotted word-count, but was one of exactly two hundred and fifty words; not a word more, and not a word less. I was allowed two hundred and fifty, and I made damn sure that I used my full quota.

I’ll never know whether it was my idea that appealed to the judges, or my precision in using the entire verbiage allocation, but I won.

Now, bear in mind that this particular competition was called ‘April Fool’. Consequently, when the letter announcing my success arrived, as it did, on April the first – a letter that even bore the heading ‘April Fool’ – rather than feel chuffed with myself at winning a prestigious writer’s competition and a prize of a hundred pounds, I felt sure that I was myself the victim of a Fools’ Day hoax.

Of course, the competition was genuine rather than a prank, and I joined the illustrious ranks of Writers’ News competition winners. This was something that was worth far more to me than the prize money – though the winnings did come in handy. But did I say the miserly word-count was the only stipulation? I was wrong.

My award letter, which included an invitation to attend an annual prize giving, also made it clear that I was expected to read out my winning entry to a packed hall of fellow writers. Talk about singing for your supper!

Anyway, here’s my winning entry:

Cruise line Cunard announced yesterday that the Mary Rose, former flagship of Henry VIII’s navy, will be ready to commence transatlantic sailings this summer.

The 45m vessel, once a state-of-the-art medieval warship, has undergone extensive and ambitious refurbishment since it was brought to the surface of the Solent in 1982. Cunard’s project director, John Hawkins, is confident the latest addition to the company’s fleet will prove popular with the twenties to forties age group.

When asked about the lack of conventional cabins – accommodation is an open-plan dormitory on the ship’s former gun-deck – Mr Hawkins replied: “This vessel will have instant appeal to those of an adventurous spirit. We are targeting enthusiasts of less popular holidays. Anyone attracted to Himalayan trekking or a Kenyan safari is sure to be interested in a cruise under sail.”

The crossing, from Southampton to New York, will take three weeks – subject to favourable weather conditions. “We realise this is longer than standard crossings,” said Mr Hawkins. “However, we have a range of activities to provide passengers with exercise and amusement.” The activities list is still being compiled but said to have a sixteenth century theme, including quoits and croquet.

Cunard are confident their investment – believed to be £100m – will be worthwhile and suggest that anyone interested should first of all visit their web site.

The ship’s maiden crossing is scheduled for the thirtieth of June and tickets go on sale on the first of May.

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