Yesterday I received an email confirming my submission to the H.G.Wells writing competition, as part of the H.G. Wells festival taking place later this year. This has made me want to write about the interesting past of this writing competition, which lead me to write for it in the first place.
If you Google “H.G.Wells competition” then the first link will take you to the festival at the Grand Folkstone, as of July2011 the second, fourth and fifth links deal specifically with the 2009 competition. The patron of this competition is Reg Turnill, who is in the perhaps unique situation as someone who has actually met H.G. Wells. He started the competition in 2008, donating the prize money himself, to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of Mr Well’s leaving his 13 year home in Sandgate. After this first year of entries, Mr Turnill seems to have been frustrated by the results as the 2009 criteria became so specific that a £1000 prize was not enough to encourage a single entry. Quite contrary to what one would expect from a competition inspired by one of the grandfathers of science fiction, writers could no longer submit SF short stories nor could they send in a typed copy. Oh yes, the 2009 entries had to be handwritten, which is probably the main reason why there were no entries. The idea that people could not put pen to paper even for the possible sum of £1000 bemused me, but perhaps it’s not all that surprising.
As a culture, it’s amazing how little we are required to write down once we leave school. It recently occurred to me that, despite my jealous coveting of my friends handwriting in school, I have no idea what my current group of friends handwriting looks like at all. We email, we text and we talk but there is no reason why a friend would ever see whether your writing is legible or not unless you like to send Christmas cards. As a writer, I like to write things down and have filled multiple books and diaries with my ramblings but there are numerous computer programs that encourage writers to leave behind paper and move entirely onto their PC’s and Macs.
The H.G. Wells competition was forced to change its rules and now allows for printed copies as well as short stories of all genres. You can also write a short essay, which I chose to do on science fiction though I‘m sure Mr Turnill is bored to tears of reading SF in this competition. You do get extra points for writing a copy by hand, so I chose to do this on the basis of a challenge. I soon discovered that the longer you leave it, the more difficult writing gets, beyond a simple note to yourself. I write every other day and yet, writing 8 pages of prose really started to hurt after a while, to the amusement of my friends who I then complained to. Certainly, I gained an appreciation for how writers like Wells (and most of the rest of the literature canon around the world) had to write whole novels by hand and how much easier it is to type. I don’t want us to go backwards, as the improvements made by technology are palatable and clear everywhere we go but we mustn’t lose writing by hand, in my opinion.
When asked about the strict rules, Mr Turnill said: “I wanted people to write the stories by hand as a condition of entry to address the low standard of literacy and handwriting these days,” and I think I’m more aware of it now that my hand has stopped aching. Writing clearly and well was hard work after the first few pages, and I’ve always prided myself on my legible handwriting. If you have terrible handwriting then this would equate to torture. Some people have stated that Mr Turnill’s aims are very dated but this seems like a redundant statement seeing as the man is in his 90’s. Of course his views might be somewhat dated but that doesn’t mean that they’re outdated. Young people shouldn’t forget to write clearly and we as a culture shouldn’t accept shoddy handwriting when only a little practice would improve the situation drastically. Whilst we may love technology, how would we understand each other now if all the lights went out and we had to depend on letters again?
Safe to say, I’m overjoyed that my entry has been accepted and I’ll be waiting with baited breath for the nominations. As a serious fan of Mr Wells, nothing would make me happier than having my word appraised by someone who has lived closer to his time.