All rise, Judge Clark is presiding… ⚖️

On 28th February 2022 the hidden jury were deliberating in my mind. Who would win in the case of Steph Vs. Picture This? Well lets see…

The competition

The Secret Attic Picture This competition is a writing comp asking entrants to create a story of no more than 1000 words based on an image. The image is uploaded to the SA website on the 1st of the month and you have until 9pm on the last day of the month to submit. Why else would you enter?

It’s free!

I started entering the Secret Attic competitions early last year. When I found them I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d been deliberating the importance of paying to enter writing competitions for some time – it seemed like an expensive hobby taking advantage of creative people who are just trying to get noticed.

Secret Attic have several competitions at the moment – Picture This, Weekly Write, Monthly Short Story, Drabble and Start to Finish. They are all regular and all completely free, but you can become a member of the community for £25 for a year and if you win you’ll get bigger prizes!

Secret Attic was one of the first sites to acknowledge and reward my writing. It gave me belief in my ability and hope that I’d made the right decision to start this journey. I had fun coming up with ideas and I found the challenge exciting too. The fact that some are monthly and some are weekly means you always have a project available, and if you’re busy then there’s more waiting for you later.

Judge Steph

Eva, the brains behind Secret Attic, contacted me at the beginning of 2022. She was looking for someone to take over the monthly judging of the Picture This competition and asked if I’d be interested, and of course, I definitely was.

I finished my last entry to Picture This in January and took over on the 1st Feb. I felt like a new woman with an acknowledged skill and good judgement, these were things I hadn’t heard or felt for a long time.

I wanted to do things right, so I developed a system to help with marking, especially in situations where I’m struggling to choose the rightful winner. Once the Excel spreadsheet was up and running I added stories as they arrived and scored them on important elements of story-telling (well, the ones I’ve been told in my creative writing degree are important anyway 😉 ). I’m not going to reveal what they are because, in my opinion, this will make it far too easy for entrants to fiddle with their stories. It may even make their story worse.

By the end of February there were many entries to read, and I felt incredibly privileged and monumentally scared. It was new and exciting but also unfamiliar and riddled with anxiety.

Judgement Day

On the 28th February I got all the stories together and gave them one last read so I could make a decision and check my thoughts against my system.

Luckily everything aligned. My spreadsheet and brain were working in harmony and I got a little bit of relief.

What no one tells you is, as a judge, you get incredibly nervous about the decision you are about to reveal. I thought the story choice would be hard, but on this occasion it wasn’t. The difficulty came when I realised my name would be next to these choices. Someone’s day was going to be made or ruined based on my preferences.

What if I have terrible preferences? If my track record of ex-partners was anything to go by I was petrified of history repeating itself. I was ruined.

Someone was going to be elated, someone was going to be annoyed.

I don’t want to annoy anyone!

However, being judge for the first time was still exhilarating, informative, interesting and so much more. Finding a home for myself with the Secret Attic team and all the writers who take part has been a real pleasure, in fact it’s been a life-saver at times. This isn’t just a community of judges and creatives, it’s a community of like-minded writers who are able to congratulate and comisserate with each other and talk openly about their ideas and anxieties. They all make the writing community richer and, in my opinion, many other setups like this are needed to make the hobby accessible to as many great, interesting and inspiring characters as possible.

This feeling, this excitement, this education and this world needs to be available to everyone.

With Secret Attic it already is.

For this month (March 2022) writers have another difficult picture to translate to a great story (my choice of course) – a jar full of medicine. I already know the story I’d enter and it seems epic to me (a great shame I can’t judge my own work because I’m sure it’d win😜), but getting the opportunity to read work from other people has so much benefit for me personal experience and development. Those things far outweigh not being able to enter any more.

The Writing

A note about the winner – My choice didn’t look very easy to start with, but the eventual winner entered something really original and really funny. The story had lovely pace and clever use of the words created by the accompanying picture. She’d made something special, and I can’t wait for everyone to read it!

A note about the other entries – everyone did a great job bringing their game this month. The picture was tough – a stairwell full of teddy bears – but imagination brings about some amazing, unthinkable stories and (in my opinion) the best stories come from the worst pictures. They get you thinking more. Theres nothing obvious there, so you get inventive. There were no 2 entries that were even close to similar. Despite the obvious teddy bear theme, everyone had a setting, idea, language style and genre that was different. I read about dancing bears, bears guarding a house, bears in a toy shop and bears talking about their mental health (loved that).

The picture

Finally, as always, a picture of a Bee and some insects accompanies this post. The bee represents us judges and the sting in our tail (hypothetical of course!) and the beautiful insects are the many writers who make the SA team so much brighter, rich and inclusive.

I loved creating this. It was loosely based on a clip art file I happened to see online. I saved the picture knowing I’d find a use for it one day. When the judges opportunity came my way I knew it was time to start drawing, so this has been on the creative desk in my head for around a month.

I dread to think how many hours it’s taken me to get this far, but honey always makes things sweeter, doesn’t it?

Published by stephc2021

Hi! I'm Steph, an amateur writer and illustrator specialising in Mental Health and being a self-confessed Spoonie. My website is home to any successful fiction I create, with stories that have won so far covering difficult subjects such as baby loss and mental health in grief as well as some funny and heart-warming tales when I get the inspiration. Every drawing and picture on my website was created by me. I spend a lot of time coming up with illustrations to accompany all of my posts and pages. I try to create original content across all of my channels, whether I'm writing about my own fiction or just generally musing on mental health or my own issues. I want to be part of the change because I believe the understanding of MH in the UK is getting better, but has a very long way to go. By being honest about my own struggles and symptoms I think others will relate and hopefully it will encourage them to talk to someone and get the help and support they need. Long term my goal is to help children too, help them understand their own mental health and how to help with the mental health of those around them. I live in the UK with my partner, daughter and dog, I swear frequently and I adore a well made, traditional, gooey, chocolatey, delicious brownie.

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