Close But No Cigar

Ever wonder where the expression “Close but no cigar” originated? I had two occasions last month to wonder. This is what I learned.

Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, players who succeeded at fairground games of strength, accuracy, and skill were commonly awarded a cigar as a prize. The games were notoriously difficult to win at, and game workers would often shout out, “Close but no cigar!” to encourage the loser to try again and attract others to try their hand at the game.


Occasion #1

This fall The Girl Who Loved Giraffes and Became the World’s First Giraffologist was shortlisted for the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction. Out of dozens of non-fiction books eligible for the award, to be chosen as one of the top five — it’s quite the honour! Last week I met with Dr. Anne Innis Dagg at her home to celebrate!


Kathy Stinson making a toast to Anne DaggPhoto by Mary Dagg


According to the jury tasked with determining the winner, The Girl Who Loved Giraffes “uses a rich method of storytelling and seamlessly embeds non-fiction elements throughout.”

But it didn’t win. Close but no cigar. (The acceptance speech by Christian Allaire the author of The Power of Style: How Fashion and Beauty are Being Used to Reclaim Cultures was so heartfelt and lovely I really couldn’t begrudge him the prize.)


Occasion #2

Having recently embarked on a project launching me into somewhat unfamiliar territory (adult poetry), I applied last spring for a Canada Council grant that allow me to hire a mentor willing to guide me in the next stages of the project’s development.

My application, I was told in September, met all the requirements to be passed on to the jury for consideration. But it did not rise high enough in the pile of worthy applications to be successful.

Rats. But…


Like fairground game players who hear “Close but no cigar!” I am encouraged to try again.

I will apply for another grant someday and in the meantime find other ways to learn how to improve my poetry.

With the help of devoted writer-friends and talented editors, I will continue making the words in my next children’s books the best I can make them.

I won’t be thinking of prizes or even prize nominations. They’re icing on the cake — the cake being the satisfaction of creation, then having a reader love something I’ve written!

“The icing on the cake” — now, where did that expression come from?

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Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.

Kathy Stinson


  1. Trudee Romanek on October 7, 2022 at 10:26 am

    I’m so sorry to hear of your two “near misses,” Kathy. There’s no doubt future successes will follow for you, but I’d lying if I didn’t admit that it’s kind of reassuring for us mere mortals that even someone with tremendous talents like yours gets the occasional let-down. Onward to your next triumph, my friend!

    • Kathy on October 7, 2022 at 2:49 pm

      The ups and downs are unquestionably part of the creative life, for all of us — “mere mortals” and otherwise! 😀 Thanks for your encouraging words, Trudee, and don’t ever forget your own “tremendous talents” that have taken you through creative ventures I could never even dream of taking on!

  2. Wendy Mason Geoghegan on October 7, 2022 at 11:26 am

    Interesting about origin expressions. Thanks. I have sent copies of The Girl Who Loved Giraffes to several friends in the U.S. and they loved it as much as I did. Thisdale’s illustrations were stunning as was the text. Please do keep on writing. Wendy

    • Kathy on October 7, 2022 at 2:50 pm

      Aw, thanks, Wendy — as always! 🙂

  3. Pam Garner on October 9, 2022 at 12:23 pm

    Congratulations on “close” as I see those as quite an accomplishment!
    As a reader of your work, I have LOVED many of your stories and always look forward to what is coming next.
    For a “mere mortal” you are pretty terrific!

  4. Kathy Stinson on October 9, 2022 at 1:47 pm

    What a lovely shot in the arm your message is, Pam — thanks!
    And Happy Thanksgiving too!

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