It appears the only way is down. I rewrote parts of the ghost story, and at last got it within the word limit (quite a feat for me) and sent it back to The Trusted Friend...only for him to say, as my Auntie did about another piece, that it had lost something in the reworking. Worst - shocker! - he finished his email with a patronising little comment about 'hope you continue to enjoy writing'...clearly he thinks it's a fine little hobby to keep me happy but that he was right years ago when he said I wouldn't get anywhere with it!
In a sense, he's right - I do enjoy it, and I can't imagine giving up, because I have such fun (in between the slogging and discouragement). Anyway, I told myself that the second version had gone to him much 'fresher' than the first - because time is running out, I hadn't let it cook so it hadn't been as meticulously corrected, and maybe that was the issue. (Hey, I'm allowed to make excuses for myself. Someone's got to.)
This afternoon I went back through it and, how I hate him, his advice was nearly all spot on. However, he questioned some of the basic motivations and realism of the situation - but for goodness' sake, it's a ghost story! And I still feel convinced by the motivations, myself. I think while I still have faith in that, I shouldn't try messing with it.
So I'm about to sit down to the third draft(or is it fourth or fifth? Well, I'm still in single figures...), but at some point I'm going to have to just bite the bullet and send it. After all, I'm not really holding out any hope that it will be placed in the competition; what I want is the professional advice and feedback, and just to have a sense of achievement that I've dared to put myself up for 'public' scrutiny. I do still want it to be my best effort though, so enough blogging, I have other writing to tackle...