I wouldn’t be sitting here without New Writing North and the Northern Writers’ Awards. Not that New Writing North bought me the chair I’m sitting on or the house I’m sitting in, their range of services don’t go quite that far. But they’re not far off. What I mean is, I’m sitting here at home, writing words on a page for a living, on a week day, between 9 and 5, when not long ago I would’ve been at the day job, doing something far less interesting.
I don’t want to diminish the amount of work I put into my writing myself but I believe that a lot of success in this business is down to luck and getting the right break at the right time. Of course there are ways to make this right place/right time kismet more likely. Sending work out into the world helps, whether to editors, or agents, or to competitions. Just being brave enough to let people read your work is, obviously, going to make someone sit up and take notice more likely than if you keep your words hidden in your bottom drawer. You’re not always going to get a positive response, won’t always but published or be a winner, but the more you try, the more you’re willing to put yourself out there, the more chances you have of landing in front of someone who thinks your work is what they’re been looking for.
The first time I entered the Northern Writers’ Awards it was for the second book I’d written, a comedy crime novel that I thought was pretty good. I sent it off and kept my fingers crossed. I didn’t win but I did get a nice letter back with some encouraging words.
The next year I decided to try again, this time with another crime novel, one I’d written a rough first draft of and wasn’t sure whether it was worth pursuing. I decided to submit it with the hope that maybe I’d get some more encouraging words at the end of it that might persuade me to continue. So I polished the first few chapters, sent it off and then forgot all about it.
I remember getting the email months later. I remember sitting half watching TV and half checking my emails. I saw the title of the email – Northern Writers’ Awards – and thought it must be the inevitable “Thank you for your application, unfortunately…” email.
I still have that email and it began, “I’m delighted to write to you and let you know formally that you have been awarded a Time to Write Award to support the development of your novel, Stolen.” I wish I could’ve seen my face when I saw the email, it was probably hilarious.
I remember first jumping up and down and squealing in such a way that it was probably best I was alone. I remember phoning my mam and dad and then my boyfriend to tell them (even though it said to keep it under my hat). And then I remember sitting and reading the email again, thinking it’d been a terrible mistake. I’d applied for a Northern Promise award as I was a new writer with little to my name. Instead I’d been given a Time to Write award which I thought was for proper writers. It was a mistake, a huge mistake.
I remember getting a phone call from Claire Malcolm a few days later, inviting me up to Newcastle to talk about the awards. She was lovely and encouraging about my work but all I kept thinking was it was a mistake. Should I mention it? Should I ask her to double check it wasn’t someone else called Rebecca Muddiman who’d won?
I remember going to the awards ceremony, still thinking it was all wrong, an admin error, and that I’d be quietly taken to one side and told that if I didn’t make a fuss I could stay for the buffet.
But it wasn’t a mistake. Someone out there liked my writing and took a chance on me.
I nearly didn’t enter again because I hadn’t won the first time, a mistake so many of us make as the judges change each year and everyone’s tastes are different. I nearly didn’t enter again because I’d written a crime novel and I thought they’d be after more literary things. But three crime novels won that year which just proves I know nothing and that you can never tell what will happen.
Winning a Northern Writers’ Award led to so many good things for me. New Writing North are so supportive of their writers, they took me to London to meet agents and editors as part of the prize which didn’t lead to an agent at that point but did lead to me getting editorial support and a lot of contacts. At another event they introduced me to the man who would eventually would become my agent. They were partners in Moth Publishing who would eventually publish that first novel (through another competition, but that’s another story). And they were there to support me when I was having a breakdown about doing events in public to promote that book.
In short, I wouldn’t be here without them and without having entered the Northern Writers’ Awards. So get your applications in now – there’s still time. And you never know. No one does.