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Congratula… What happens when you don’t win the competition?

I have a secret to share with you.

I remember being part of a rock eisteddfod team that won the state championships back in high school. It was a huge celebration that went on for weeks, including notes of congratulations in the local paper from supportive businesses. Feelings of euphoria and camaraderie spread amongst the performers and backstage crew, while the teacher in charge was a bonafide celebrity in the staff room. Having won the states, we had earned our place in the national championships, to be aired on television. The leadership team organized a special event, and the whole team was there, along with supporters who had come to join the celebration. They set up a massive TV in the school gym, and we half-filled the basketball court with our picnic blankets, beanbags, and folding chairs. I can still remember the sounds of crinkling snack packets and cans of soft drink cracking open. The atmosphere was electric. We watched the presentation that went for hours, seeing all the videos from the other competing schools around the country, cheering for our favorites, cheering extra loudly when our school’s performance came on. Then, finally, the moment of truth arrived. It was time for the announcement of the national winners.

They started by listing the winners, state by state. All was silent in the room, except for an occasional squeal or premature ‘woo’ as we waited in the expectant buzz of the cheering to come, when we would get to revel in our achievement of being the state champions once more. But that moment never came. The TV announcer listed the runners up and then the winner from our state, but it wasn’t us. Confused looks on faces spread around the room, and a murmur of quiet discourse broke the silence. ‘Hang on, weren’t we the winners?’ ‘What happened? Did they make a mistake?’ ‘Did we get disqualified?’ Everyone looked to the leadership team for answers. It turned out that the nationals were completely separate from the states. Winning the states got you an entry in the nationals, but there were other ways in as well. The nationals were a whole new competition, where everyone was thrown back into the proverbial bucket, with the new judges basing their decisions on the videos of the live events alone. No one had told us that. It was a pretty gutting experience for all of us. Of course, we were still happy that we had been champions at the state level, but at that moment, it somehow felt like our victory had been taken from us. If the goal in life is to learn something from every experience, then the takeaway of this for me was to always read the fine print. Know the stakes.

Fast forward a couple of decades, just over a year after winning my first international book award and receiving excellent reviews, feedback, and sales, I again had an experience with a great life lesson. It is one you may have heard before: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! I hosted an Alice in Wonderland-themed event last weekend with world renowned artist Starr for our latest collaboration, a beautiful little story, Alice’s Hotted Up Adventures in Wonderland. I did an exclusive pre-release reading of the story, and we had a limited number of advance reading copies (ARC’s) for sale. The event was a huge smash, Starr sold loads of her stunning artwork, and we sold out of all our ARC’s! Not that that was our goal for the day, we just wanted to share our love of all things Alice with the community, and it went down a treat. I am incredibly excited to be working with Starr on her Alice series, which has been steadily growing for over a decade. Not only that, but this project has evolved into something much bigger than we might have expected. Over the coming years, I will be writing an Alice story to accompany each of the incredible paintings in her Alice series. But I have a secret to share with you. This epic project was born of an epic failure. Let me explain it to you.

Last year I made a determined decision to focus only on my writing. That meant being disciplined and not getting distracted by competitions, events, social media, promotion, or pitching. Just solid sit-at-my-desk-for-hours-with-no-human-contact writing. And I have been fairly true to that goal. Until a competition popped up, being promoted by a lovely author friend of mine, Michelle Worthington, and, just like Alice following the rabbit down the rabbit hole, I got caught up in the moment and strayed from my own rules about how to spend my work time this year. I wrote Alice’s Hotted Up Adventures in Wonderland in response to Michelle’s call out for entries in a writing competition, raising funds for families of premature or sick babies. It was a great cause that I was happy to support. I asked Starr about using her gorgeous painting ‘Selfie in Wonderland’ as inspiration, and with her blessing, I was away. I loved imagining how a grown-up Alice might have ended up in Wonderland again, with a mobile phone and a hot pink Corvette! I even merged the white rabbit being late with the concept of arriving early, into the story, like a premature baby arriving early, layering my writing with hidden meaning as I always do. My beta readers and editor loved the story, boosting my confidence, and I nervously sent in my entry, hopeful for a positive outcome, just like that day at the school gym all those years ago.

Well, I didn’t win the competition. That gutting feeling synonymous with failure washed over me, and with disappointment I told my friends and family the news. Little was I to know that Starr had loved the story so much that she was inadvertently rooting for it not to win because she wanted the story for herself. She saw this as a perfect companion item to bring to life the imagination in her artwork for her loyal fans all around the world, who happily pay thousands of dollars for her stunning paintings. I have no idea where this project will lead. But as our adventure begins, it is positively wonderful, and in the words of the Black-Eyed Peas, ‘I’ve got a feeling.’

We took those lemons and made sweet pink lemonade, and you know what? It made people happy. And that’s why I’m here, typing away once more. To make someone smile. To leave the world just a little better than I found it. It’s true what the father of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell said, ‘When one door closes, another door opens.’

Would you like a glass of lemonade?


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