A competition virtually impossible to enter

The 2013 Franschhoek Literary Festival Wine Writers’ Award, you’ll remember, fizzled out and flamed up into controversy when the judges decided not to make any award at all, on the grounds of no entry being of sufficiently high standard to merit a R25000 prize. There was outrage from some wine-writers – though not from me: I thought it a defensible decision if the judges honestly held their opinion – and, anyway, I was only too well aware than my own entry was slight and undeserving (I didn’t have anything better available, and only entered in order to show willing).

Well, they’ve just invited entries for next year, with a new set of requirements for entries. Two new sets, in fact, as they’ve split the handsome prize (the same for four years) into two rather mean ones of R12 500 each, for, respectively, “long-form” and “short-form” bits of writing. But, as far as I can see, the new rules are so spectacularly inappropriate, and show such ignorance of what actual wine journalism is about, that it seems they’re determined to solve their problem by making it impossible for most writers to enter at all.

You have, perhaps, a great article of 2000 words? Or a brilliant run of newspaper columns of 600 words each? Well, too bad, you can’t enter the FLF competition at all.

It’s a great idea, basically, to have a “short-form” section, to allow for blogs and newspaper columns and the like (because how can you really compare the very different merits of a blog with those of a long, serious article?). But this competition’s idea of a short piece is 1000-1500 words! This is not short: many fairly substantial magazine articles wouldn’t be more than 1500 words.

Very few good blogs are anything like that length – and shouldn’t be, in my opinion. When I write a piece more than 600-800 words long on Grape (which is, sadly, quite often), I think that it’s too long. Good blogs, in my opinion, are short, snappy and frequent. Anyway, a lot are.

As to columns, which the FLF Competition seems to think should fit into this “short-form” section. Of the few newspaper/magazine wine columns in South Africa, I doubt if there’s a single one that would qualify! My column for the Mail & Guardian is 550 words; Michael Fridjhon’s for Business Day is just a little longer; Cathy Marston and Christian Eedes write regular columns but (I’m open to correction) I don’t think they would qualify either.

Where did the competition organisers get this length from?

As to the “long-form” section: that’s for articles between 3000 and 4000 words! For a start, they are entirely leaving out articles between 1500 and 3000 words – they can’t be entered in either category. My guess is that this would rule out many of the best published pieces. It certainly would have ruled out one of the articles with which I have won this competition in the past (I’m not sure about the other), and I suspect it would have ruled out the winning articles by Joanne Gibson and Norman McFarlane.

These previous winners, if I’m correct, couldn’t have been entered in the new-style Awards! When last, for heaven’s sake, did you read (or write) a wine article of 3000 words or more?

So, unless the organisers suddenly realise the nonsense they’ve come up with and fix it, I don’t think there will be all that many entries. Perhaps that’s what they want? It’s an open secret that some forces within the Franschhoek Literary Festival don’t look kindly at these vulgar journalistic efforts. Perhaps they should allow only epic poems on a wine subject, in strict iambic pentameter.

As it stands, the new DuToitskloof Award, with its generous prize, intelligent design, clear and reasonable instructions and immaculate judging procedures, is winning the competition prize hands down.

POSTSCRIPT: Fortunately, the organisers were quick to change the rules, and it’s all looking much more possible now.

One thought on “A competition virtually impossible to enter

  1. Don’t know if it is a function of age or a result of the sound byte (nibble) world, but I find 500 to 750 words for a post to be about right. An article has to be really brilliantly written and very fascinating to hold my attention for 2000 words or more. Anyway, let’s raise a glass to us oldies and remember that our attention span and memories are not what they were…

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