The Northern Writers’ Awards



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.

It wasn’t.

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.


Blog Tour Recap


Last week I embarked on my first blog tour as Gone was released into the wild. As well as answering a few questions about the book for Megan over at Reading in the Sunshine, I talked about my writing process with Liz Loves Books, creating characters (and who I’d like to see in the TV version) over at Shotsmag, and the inspiration behind the book with Book Addict Shaun.

Thanks to each of the bloggers for having me and for some lovely reviews.

The Stupid Motivating Brain


As it’s the season of new year’s resolutions, I thought I’d talk about motivation. People often ask me how hard it is to motivate myself to sit down and write enough words, in a coherent order no less, to make a book. And the answer is, sometimes it’s really hard. Other times it’s (relatively) easy.

I’m not very good with resolutions. Like 99% of the people who make them I tend to give up fairly quickly and sometimes I never even get started because I’m chronically indecisive. I either decide I’m going to do everything and therefore end up doing nothing. Or else I try to be more discerning and pick the one thing I’m most desperate to achieve this year and focus on that – except my indecisiveness means I never actually get round to choosing the one thing. Perhaps this year my resolution should be to work on my decision-making skills.

But I think the point I’m trying to get at is that to motivate yourself you need to really want to do the thing you’re planning to do and have good reasons for it whether that’s losing weight, quitting smoking or writing a novel.

Deciding to write a novel about the war between wizards and vampires because it’ll make you a fortune is probably not the best motivating tool, unless of course you really, really, love money. But to be honest there have to be better, less difficult, and more guaranteed ways to make that money. Unless you’re obsessed with wizards and vampires anyway, and can think of nothing better than to create stories about them, finding the motivation to sit and write will be extremely hard. Writing something you love, something you care about, is the first thing that’s going to get you to your desk in the morning. I love crime novels so that’s a good start for me.

But even when you love what you do and the characters are nice to be around, it’s still sometimes like pulling teeth to get my bum on my chair and the words on the page. And that’s where the second thing comes in. The fear and the guilt.

Now, I’m not suggesting for one minute that my editor is a ruthless tyrant who punishes me if I don’t get my daily word count finished. She doesn’t have to be because I can do that myself. I always get my work in on time. But in my mind I always think that this draft will be the one that’s not done in time. That this one needs so much doing that I’d better work on it all day and night just in case. It’s just the way I’m wired. I’m sure some other writers have a more relaxed relationship with deadlines – or like Douglas Adams, like listening to them whooshing by – but I’ve always been a bit of a swot.

This is because on the days I have been slacking, my brain will punish me by nagging at me all night long about how lazy and useless I am and that I’ll never finish the book and I’ll have to go back to the day job and I’ll have wasted my life. Yes, my brain is a right arsehole at times. But an arsehole who’s quite useful at getting me to work.

The final tool for motivation is reward which can, of course, be tied up with the why you’re doing it at all. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t write for the money. This is my job after all. But it’s not a huge amount of money so that’s not just it. I wrote long before I ever earned any money – as we all do – and I’d still write even if the money dried up and no one was reading. So the pleasure of writing is a reward too (which not only sounds cheesy, but if you asked me while I was in the middle of an edit, I’d also say was a lie, but it’s not, it’s true).

But there are other rewards I give myself too. I buy a book I’ve been desperate to read when I get a new draft finished. Or I have a day off and binge watch a TV show. And then there’s the promise I always make to myself as I approach the end of a book – a few weeks off to do nothing but read and catch up on TV. But that never happens because there’s always another book to write. That brain of mine is not only a bully but a liar too. Stupid brain. Stupid, motivating brain.