My story, "Losing Count," has been shortlisted for the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. I've been told there were over 6,700 submissions this year; a staggering amount that makes it hard to believe my story made it to the final 25. Next month I'll find out if I win the regional prize, and then the final winner will be announced in June.
I wrote my first draft of "Losing Count" in 2019.* While I was writing it I was thinking of the long gangly pink flowers my mother had guerilla planted on the edges of a narrow street in the village of Anogyra in Cyprus. They barely took up any space, but grew tall and spectacular against the stone house walls.
"What's the English name for those pink flowers you planted in the street?" I texted her from the United States.
"Hollyhocks," she replied. "Is this for a story?"
"Yes," I wrote.
"When can I read it?"
"When it's published."
I've never been good at showing my family my stories before they're out in the world. And besides, this story felt like it stood a good chance of getting published. I was sure she'd get to read it soon.
I started sending "Losing Count" out for publication in the spring of 2020. The rejections came one after the other. I got over thirty rejections over a span of two years. In those two years I unexpectedly lost my mother: she went quickly, over a weekend, 6000 miles away from me, in the middle of a pandemic, while I was 6 months pregnant.
By the end of last summer, I was ready to trunk the story. And then in the fall the Commonwealth Short Story Prize contest opened up. Being overwhelmed with grief, the logistics of grief, pregnancy, and new parenthood, I had barely written anything new and I wasn't sure "Losing Count" stood a chance given how many places had rejected it. I knew I loved the story but maybe it wasn't actually that good. I decided not to self-reject and I sent it in.
Almost a year after my mother died I received an email from the Commonwealth Writers telling me that "Losing Count" had been shortlisted. If it wins the regional prize it will be published in Granta Magazine and even if it doesn't it will be published in Adda Magazine. It will be read by many people. And it will remain unread by a person I loved who I did not expect to lose.
A story can sometimes be written and published in as much time as it takes for a pre-pandemic world to become a pandemic-world. In as much time as it takes for hollyhocks to grow from seed, to flower, to self-sow, to generate more hollyhocks. In as much time as it takes to bear a new life and to lose a loved one. I have no moral to give here. All I can say is that writing and stories are strange, that they evolve atemporally, that they can feel anachronistic once begun and once finished, that they hold entire lives behind them that are never seen on the page.
I hope that when "Losing Count" finally gets published, you will read it.
*Many thanks to Hasret Eleby, Vida James, Roxanne Ringer, Emma Törzs, and Izzy Wasserstein for their feedback and enthusiasm on the first draft and not letting me give up on the story.