Thursday 13thSeptember in 2018 was a doubly fabulous day for me. Number one, because it was my lovely Dad’s 65thbirthday (hi, Dad!) and number two, because I was lucky enough to longlist for the Bath Novel Awards and subsequently get invited down to the awards ceremony.
Founded in 2013, The Bath Novel Awards are two annual £2500 prizes open to unpublished and self-published novelists worldwide. The Bath Novel Award is for YA and adult fiction, and the Bath Children’s Novel Award is for YA and children’s fiction.
As a writer of YA, I can sneakily slide into both categories, but decided in April of this year to drop in an application for the adult award at the very last minute. I had gone on submission with my first novel in January, and had heard mostly crickets ever since. As those of you know who are querying/submitting to publishers, the wait can be hard and gruelling, and jumping into a new project to take you mind off things can be harder than it sounds. So when I saw that applications for Bath were still open in the spring, I thought it might be a good kick up the bum to get writing again.
I dug out an old manuscript that had been metaphorically ‘shelved’ the year before (in the words of Joanne Harris at the Northern Lights Writing Conference: “Never throw anything away”!) and chipped away at the sticky first chapter. I sent it to a couple of trusted critique partners, and then I hit send. I should mention it’s £25 to enter, no small amount, but I needed to put my money where my mouth was. For writers that can’t afford the entry fee, several kind authors have sponsored entry for this year for under-represented and low-income entrants.
I realised that after I had entered, I kind of liked my new first chapter, and got to work rewriting the rest. I never in a million years thought I would actually list for the prize and have to submit the whole thing, but I thought to myself, “if you don’t finish, and it is listed, you’ll kick yourself for having to pull out”. So I trundled on, and managed to get a new draft out. It was far from perfect, but it was also far from the creature I had shelved a year before. I was proud of what I had achieved, come what may.
Understandably, when I heard that I had longlisted, I was over the moon. The first chapter had hooked someone in! They wanted to read more! That in itself was an achievement for a manuscript I thought would never see the light of day. I sent off the rest – still a little rougher than I would have liked – and waited. Sadly, I did not shortlist, but by that point I had made lots of new twitter friends through the award and even more excitingly I had been invited down to the Awards ceremony in Bath! A new draft, renewed vigour, and a champagne reception – I felt like I’d won anyway!
The Ceremony itself was a dream. Held in the historic Victoria Art Gallery right in the centre of Bath, the drinks flowed, and the atmosphere was electric. I met fellow long-and-short listers, some of whom I knew through twitter, and I even met past winners and shortlisters that had gone on to get publishing contracts. It was a writer’s haven, and that was before the readings began. Hearing the shortlisted five read their extracts, I was overwhelmed by the calibre of writer I was surrounded by. And the winner, Abi Dare, had a writing – and reading – voice to die for. When agent Felicity Blunt (of Curtis Brown) announced her as the winner, the room erupted with applause.
And that was the best moment of the night, the longlisting, and the whole few months leading up to it. Writers are such a solitary bunch – but when we find each other, we root for one another all the way to the top. I know I made some lifelong friends that evening, and I can’t wait to read Abi’s amazing book when it is inevitably published.
It’s easy to look at a competition and think “that will never be me” – but you never really know what the judges are looking for. And if you’re lucky, like me, you’ll get more out of it than you bargained for. (Pssst – the Children’s Award is currently open for entries, gang. What are you waiting for?!)