About a month ago, I drove to the Aix en Provence TGV station and there was Ingrid Jendrzejewski. Now, you might not know the name, and if you do, chances are that you can’t pronounce it, but Ingrid was the winner of the first Book a Break Short Story Competition which I ran earlier this year. The judge was Atthys Gage, who said of Ingrid’s story: The language is fresh and bright and polished. There is an eager energy to the story but at the same time, a poised, elegiac sadness. I loved the way both the past and future are telescoped down, as if the protagonist’s whole life’s story hinges on the simple, ephemeral events of this one day. Drawn in deceptively simple lines, the story is precise, elegant and lovely. A fine accomplishment.
With 75 entries, the competition exceeded all expectations. But what of the prize itself? With cash, winners know exactly what they’ll be getting but a 4-night stay in Aix en Provence? It doesn’t sound bad, but you never know – things could go terribly wrong. It might rain non-stop, or the food and accommodation might be lousy, or your host (i.e. me) a total bore.
Well, none of that happened. It was bright and sunny throughout, I managed not to make a mess of the food, and Ingrid’s company was delightful. She’d wanted to get some writing done but didn’t achieve as much as she’d planned because she also did a lot of sightseeing – I think she knows Aix better now than I do. The temperature being in the 30s, when she came back at the end of the day the pool was a positive treat, and then we had dinner and conversation in the garden. You won’t be surprised to hear that writing in all its aspects featured a lot, but we did make room for other topics too. I think I can safely say that she enjoyed her stay very much, and we certainly enjoyed having her. Indeed, so pleasant was it that I’ll no doubt run the competition again next year, especially as Ingrid has agreed to be the judge.
What about her story though? The Cats of Tetsugaku-no-michi. That’s the wonderful Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, where you will indeed come across cats of all colours and sizes (but basically the same shape). Under Ingrid’s pen, the encounter is both moving and profound, captured in its present moment, but linked to a whole life. It’s an impressive piece of writing which you’ll be able to read in December, when Cat Tales appears. A collection of stories drawn from the competition submissions.
So this has involved two firsts for me, not just running a competition but editing an anthology. Quite a steep learning curve, but worth it. There’ll be more about it later, but for the moment I’ll just say that apart from Ingrid’s, there are 20 excellent cat-related stories in a broad range of styles. Not forgetting the preface which I still haven’t written. But if you’re impatient to get an idea of Ingrid’s writing, check out Roll and Curl, which won first prize in the Bath Flash Fiction competition. She told me she’s more inclined to hide away than crow on social media, but you just need to look at her achievements so far to see she’d have plenty to crow about.