A Prize to Die For by Jon McKnight - A novel about a comper's life
Next time you Google the answer to a competition, text an entry or fill out an online entry form, think yourself lucky. Because while it may seem hard to believe in New Zealand in the 21st Century, comping wasn't always this easy. Back in the early Nineties, there was no Google, no Facebook and no KiwiCompetitions. If you were a serious comper, you'd subscribe to a printed solutionist magazine that popped through your letterbox once a month with news of comps that had often closed by the time you heard about them. And when you entered, you'd have to hope the postal service delivered your precious entry on time, or even at all. And there were no online confirmations that your entry had been received in those days. But comping was still fun - and on the other side of the globe, author Jon McKnight was busy writing a comic novel, A Prize To Die For, that's set in our world and reveals just how much trouble an obsession can get you into. In this special feature for KiwiCompetitions, he tells how he stumbled upon an idea for a novel that's proving a winner around the world…
I DON'T know if it's the same in New Zealand, but over here in the UK we compers are often seen as something of an oddity by the rest of society. Can't see why that is, myself. After all, what's so odd about buying 96 tins of cat food when you don't own a cat, or filling your shopping trolley with babies' nappies when you don't have a baby nor, fortunately, any need for nappies yourself? Is it really so unusual to have a kitchen cupboard full of bandaged cornflake packets and tins without a single label to identify their contents? And surely everyone's entitled to get bored with winning microwaves when the fifth one arrives in a year? Well, perhaps not. But it's rather ironic that many in the outside world dismiss us as losers when, in fact, we're quite the opposite. The sneers disappear pretty quickly when they ask why you do it and you tell them it's because you've just won a car that's worth a year's salary and all it cost you was a bit of brain-wracking and a postage stamp. And by the time you've reeled off the list of your recent wins, the doubters will be asking you how they can take up our hobby themselves. Sounds familiar, I imagine. But back in the Nineties in England, the comping landscape was a very different place. The National Lottery with its weekly multi-million-pound jackpots was still around the corner, the world wide web wasn't known or used very widely around the world, and a prize of £1,000 a month for life would guarantee front-page headlines for the winner. That's the one I most wanted to win, and the comp allowed multiple entries, so I was working on my 50th slogan when I realised the plot for a comic novel had just landed in my lap. I imagined a pet food manufacturer in financial difficulties, trying to solve its problem by announcing a headline-grabbing prize of £1,000 a month for life that would boost sales and brand recognition. Only it intended to fix the comp so that the oldest entrant would win - ideally a 95-year-old whose prize wouldn't cost the firm much if the shock of the win, coupled with any riotous living that the nonagenarian attempted, resulted in even less longevity. But the best-laid plans of mice and bent competition promoters don't always work out, and the prize is accidentally awarded to the best entrant - a mere 30-year-old. We see the Managing Director of the pet food firm tossing and turning in his sleep, mentally calculating how much the young winner could cost him… if he lived! I was going to say you can imagine what happens next - but I rather hope you can't, or you won't need to buy my book. Suffice it to say that the corrupt competitions judge who was meant to have fixed the result tries to make amends by agreeing to ensure that 30-year-old Tim Wembury won't be collecting his monthly prize for long. But that's the least of Tim's problems. In those pre-Aids awareness days, he's steeled himself to buy 36 condoms for a comp but, as luck would have it, finds himself in the only city in Britain where he can't post his entries because of a Royal Mail strike. His habit of entering comps clearly intended for women and giving just his initial and surname so the judges won't realise he's a man is about to cause him a shedload of grief because he buys a sexy Italian bikini as the entry qualifier but doesn't notice the rule about entrants having to wear the item they bought at the glittering prize-giving ceremony. And despite his success as a comper, the one thing Tim most wants to win is the heart of a woman. Enter Dilly, the darling of the pet food company that ran the comp. She really seems to like Tim, but is she just being nice because she's paid to, and will she prove to be a femme fatale, literally?
Sorry, but you'll have to read the book to find out what happens! The writing style has been compared, generously, to that of the late Tom Sharpe, and A Prize To Die For has been greeted with a succession of five-star reviews on Amazon. Reviewers (who may all be catastrophically wrong, of course, and can't all be my Mum, surely) have described the novel as "a gem of a book", "achingly funny", and "thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining". One reviewer enthused: "Not many books make me laugh out loud and hoot with delight, but this one did."