In the aftermath, of winning our very first Novel Award, we spoke to our first winner, Alexandra Page.
How did you feel when you watched Chloe announce you as the winner?
Flabbergasted! I honestly did not expect to win but hoped maybe to be a runner up, so when The Shape of The World and Whisper Pier earned those top spots (congratulations Amy and Kate!) I was disappointed. Then when Chloe turned the e-reader around with my story’s title on it, I burst into tears! I was dancing around the living room for a good while after that, both ecstatic and in shock. Winning this means so much.
How did you celebrate?
After bath-book-bed for my little one, I cracked open a bottle of bubbly with my husband. He has always believed in Wishyouwas and worked so hard editing it with me, that it felt like a joint win. Then I rang my parents and anyone else I knew in a reasonable timezone.
Tell everyone a little bit more about you and your writing journey to date.
I’ve always loved writing picture-books and young fiction, but in the last 5 years and especially since having my daughter I’ve written much more and worked harder to polish what I have in the hope that she can read them one day. I wrote Wishyouwas while travelling around Asia. At once the characters and story felt real and alive, but it has also changed so much since that first draft and I’ve spent years rewriting and re-editing various parts of the story. I received editorial input from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy which has massively helped me move the story forwards and produced the manuscript that I entered into this competition. I’ve also benefited from joining WriteMentor Spark, SCBWI and the writing community on Twitter. Getting involved and taking my writing seriously has helped me be braver with getting my stories out there which in this case has paid off beyond my wildest dreams.
Tell us more about WISHYOUWAS, the winning novel.
Deep under London there is a secret post office railway (it’s real and you can now ride on it!) In my story, creatures called Sorters exist in an abandoned train tunnel and devote their lives to sorting lost letters. Their Borrowers-like world is a closely guarded secret until a girl called Penny stumbles across Wishyouwas while staying at her uncle’s post office. He’s a grammatically-challenged, low-ranking Gatherer with a loyal heart who longs to be promoted. His dreams are shattered when Penny’s discovery not only results in him losing his rank, but also leads a vicious gang of rat catching thieves to the Sorters’ whereabouts.
What was the #WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award experience like for you, as an entrant?
I wish all writing competitions were run as WMCNA has been. All along, I’ve felt that no matter the outcome, you’ll receive something valuable from it with the readers’ feedback. On top of that, the excitement with the (sometimes early!) announcements, build-up, Star Wars gifs etc has been electrifying. Since winning I’ve received over a hundred messages of congratulations from other entrants. I love the writing community and WriteMentor is a gem within a gem.
What do you plan to do with £500 prize?
Spend it on developing my writing! I’m really looking forward to being able to take part in more upcoming workshops and conferences.
What advice would you give other writers when entering novel awards in the future?
Firstly, keep track of all the competitions. There are so many opportunities out there now that it’s easy to miss closing dates and some are only announced on certain online platforms.
The other thing I’ve learned lately is an obvious one, but it’s to enter with the strongest manuscript you can. So often I’ve tried my luck and felt flattened when my entry hasn’t been listed, but I’ve learned that that isn’t necessarily because the ideas aren’t good enough, or the writing terrible. This time I knew Wishyouwas was submission-ready. It’s not perfect – in fact not all of my readers’ feedback was positive and there are definitely pointers for me to improve the story – but it stood the best chance I could give it.
Where can people find you online?
On Twitter I’m @alexandrapage. I don’t yet have a website but am working on one with a competition calendar. Watch this space!
I was lucky to grow up between two worlds: with my dad in London, mostly tucked up with a book in the Barbican library; and with my mum and sister in Zimbabwe, running barefoot and developing a life-long terror of spiders. After studying English Literature at UCL I worked for several years at Penguin, Puffin and Walker Books in their production departments, before embarking upon a career in project management. A small plaque outside the famous Lloyd’s of London building: “Penny Post founded here” first gave me the idea for Wishyouwas. When I’m not squirrelled away writing, I love exploring far-flung places with my husband and daughter and spend much time in my adopted second home, Budapest.
Full winners announcement here: