This is the first in our series of 2019 Berlin Writing Prize interviews. This time we caught up with Victoria Gosling, Reader Berlin and Berlin Writing Prize founder. Victoria established The Reader Berlin in 2011 after moving to Berlin in 2008 from the UK.
You first ran a writing competition in 2012. This year, it’s your 5th. How has the Berlin Writing Prize evolved?
Well, it’s got a lot bigger and it continues to make me anxious! There’s a lot of work and coordination involved, and while I’ve gotten more adept at it, the stakes keep getting higher. I always have a panic about whether anyone will enter, and then inevitably there’s a deluge of entries in the last few hours before the deadline. And they have to be read by our team, and then the judges have to reach agreement on who should win – and that’s no picnic.
Last year, the anthologies we created from the shortlist went missing just before the launch! It’s all quite terrifying, but it’s also really addictive. Also, last year was the first time we had a really big prize. The Circus were so generous to offer the luxury apartment for a month-long residency. It was a game changer. As a consequence, we received around 400 entries. The standard, overall, was much higher and reading them was exciting – it was like opening oysters and finding pearls.
Publishing the writers that made it onto our short list was an honour. It became even more exciting when we discovered we had managed to pick a mix of unknown and emerging authors, doubly so when Daisy Johnson and Sophie Mackintosh went on to be longlisted for the 2018 Booker Prize.
Can you tell any Circus guests who are thinking of entering a little more about the contest? Who can participate and what’s the big prize?
Anyone over 18 year of age can enter. They can be of any nationality and based anywhere in the world. They can be a published author or a complete beginner. Their entry can be fiction or non-fiction, but mustn’t be over 3000 words. All the rules and submission guidelines can be found on our website at https://www.thereaderberlin.com/2019writingprize/
The winner will receive a month-long residency in their very own luxury apartment in Berlin in January 2020. The apartment belongs to The Circus and the winner will be made to feel very at home by The Circus team, if last year is anything to go by! Dolores Walshe absolutely loved her stay.
The theme is The Circus. Are you looking for entries that take place in big tops? How literally should people interpret that?
It’s a fabulous theme, but no, we’re not looking for hundreds of stories featuring clowns – although I rather hope some of them will. To be clear: there doesn’t have to be a literal circus in the entry. Work can be like a circus some days, love too. There are days you might feel like a trapeze artist, a ringmaster or just a really sad clown. For me, circuses are anarchic, subversive, places of spectacle and entertainment, but they could mean something completely different for someone else. People should let their imaginations run riot. It can be tangential. When in doubt, just squeeze the word circus in somewhere. Last year no one was disqualified on the basis of not sticking closely enough to the theme. Although a couple of entries were 10 000 words too long and those had to go!
Will Circus guests be able to read the winning piece? Will there be any public readings?
We will publish the winning piece in a Reader Berlin anthology, same as last year, along with the nine other shortlisted stories. This time, the anthology will be published by KLAK Verlag. I love what Jörg does – his list at KLAK is fascinating and I’m thrilled to be working with him. We’ll also be throwing a party in January 2020 to celebrate the anthology launch and the winner will read from their winning entry at that. Everyone’s invited!
What do you enjoy most about running the Berlin Writing Prize?
The judging dinner is a lot of fun. We get to choose the judges, so it’s authors whose work I admire, or people who are active on the Berlin literary scene. This inevitably means good company. It’s always a lively evening and I love hearing about people’s favourites and the reasons why they feel one piece has the edge over another. This year our judges’ dinner is going to be hosted by Einstein Unter Den Linden. I love that place. The food is just delicious and it’s the perfect spot for a literary wrangle. I’m very much looking forward to sitting down with May-Lan, Sophie, Elnathan, Martin, Katrin and Reader Berlin team and hammering it out.
We read all the entries blind, so it’s also quite good fun when everything has been decided and I can find out who wrote which entry and then stalking them on Twitter. Telling the winners? That’s a great moment. Finally getting my hands on the anthology from the printers? And the party – I love a party. So there are lots of good moments.
Finally, what advice do you have for writers who will be submitting work?
Set yourself a false deadline a week or two before the official deadline of June 30th. Then, you’ll have a bit more time for revising. If you can rest a piece of writing, even just for a couple of days, and come back to it with fresh eyes you’ll see its weaknesses more clearly. Also: read it aloud, even if it’s just to yourself. Then it becomes immediately apparent when a sentence is convoluted or unclear.