A Prize to Die For by Jon McKnight - A must read for dedicated compers!
Imagine being a comper if websites like this didn't exist, Facebook hadn't been invented, and you couldn't Google the answer to anything.
Instead of entering comps by e-mail or text, you'd have to write everything out by hand and then entrust it to the postal service.
And rather than getting up-to-the-minute information about the latest comps from AussieContests, you'd have to rely on solutionist magazines that were printed and posted to you once a month and were usually out of date by the time they hit your doormat.
Well, that's how things were in the early Nineties – and author Jon McKnight, a comper in England, conjures up that far-off world in A Prize To Die For, a comic novel that lifts the lid on our obsession.
Here, in a special feature for AussieContests, he tells how he came up with the winning idea for a novel...
Tell people you’re a comper and there’s a good chance they’ll think of you as some sort of anorak – something akin to a train-spotter or a twitcher.
But tell them you’ve just won a car, and suddenly they’re all ears and envious looks. Such is the plight of compers. People are only too willing to portray us as losers (rather ironic, in the circumstances), but the moment we win something spectacular, they all want to know the secret of our success.
I discovered that for myself when, a couple of decades ago, I bagged an Audi worth almost a year’s salary with a slogan that beat 3,000 others in a national magazine competition. Suddenly, all the people who’d laughed at me for buying 99 tins of cat food despite not owning a cat were laughing on the other side of their faces. The National Lottery didn’t exist in the early Nineties, so anyone who won, say, £1,000 a month for life would have made front-page news.
It was while I was writing my 50th slogan for just such a competition (I won a runners-up prize of £100 a week for a week!) that the idea for my novel came to me. What if a struggling pet food company tried to publicise its way out of financial difficulties by offering a £1,000-a-month-for-life prize, but decided to fix the judging so that the oldest entrant won?
The firm would get tons of favourable publicity and sales would soar, and it wouldn’t cost the firm very much if the winner was a 95-year-old whose life expectancy would probably be shortened by the shock of the win.
But what if something went wrong and the prize was awarded, on merit, to a comper who was only 30? The Managing Director of the pet food firm would be incandescent with rage at the realisation that the young winner could cost him a fortune… if he lives! And so a plot was born...
The bent judge who would have fixed the result of the competition if he hadn’t been, er, tied up at the time, is pressed into service as an assassin and tries to ensure that the 30-year-old winner won’t be around to enjoy his win for very long. And that isn’t the only problem that the 30-year-old Tim Wembury has to contend with. He’s embarrassed himself severely to buy 36 condoms for a comp, only to find himself in the only city in Britain where the postmen are on strike, the postboxes are sealed, and he can't post his entries.
And he thinks he’s been clever by entering a comp on sexy Italian bikinis and only giving his initial on the entry form so the judges will assume he’s a woman… but he hasn’t read the rule about having to wear his purchase to the prize presentation. No matter how successful he is, Tim feels everything is meaningless unless he can win the one thing he wants most in the world: the heart of a woman. He can’t believe his luck when Dilly arrives on his doorstep to find out more about him for the pet food firm, and she appears to enjoy his company. But is she only being nice to him because it’s her job? And is she part of the plot to send him on a one-way trip to the next world? Well, you’ll have to read the novel to find out!
Suffice it to say that this is one of the very few novels ever to feature a comper as hero (I'm only aware of one other, which is no longer in print), and compers everywhere will recognise our unusual and fascinating world at every turn of the page. A Prize To Die For has been well received, so far, with a string of five-star reviews on Amazon. Reviewers have described it as "achingly funny", "a gem of a book" and "thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining". One comment, fortunately typical, was: "Not many books make me laugh out loud and hoot with delight, but this one did." It's jolly nice of them to say so, but what a shame they weren't sitting on the judging panels all those years ago!
That's one of the problems of being a novelist: every reader is chairman of his or her own judging panel. Will they think it's apt and original? Does it say what it needs to say in 72,000 words or fewer? And does it deserve to win space on their bookshelf? Another winner could, of course, be Plymouth, my home city in England. Not many novels have been set here, but A Prize To Die For uses real locations that people can explore as they retrace the characters' steps. It's a great city, and a perfect backdrop for a novel. Smeaton's Tower, the lighthouse on Plymouth Hoe, is the scene of an attempted murder, while the magnificent war memorial that dominates the skyline nearby has a secret chamber inside it that nobody notices even though countless people inspect the names on the plaques every year. But perhaps the biggest winners are compers themselves. Everyone who reads A Prize To Die For will finally understand how our world ticks, what drives us to often extraordinary lengths to enter and win competitions, and the rewards our passion brings. And now, the judging begins: will A Prize To Die For win a place on your own bookshelf?