“I personally know several writers that have been offered agent representation as a result of winning a competition. But I also know writers that have never listed in an award and who now have agents and publishing deals. It’s a subjective business!”
WriteMentor Picture Book Award runner-up Tracy Curran describes her experience and her publishing journey so far
How did you feel when you were shortlisted for the WriteMentor Picture Book award?
It’s always incredibly exciting to be shortlisted for an award and this year, for me, it felt like I’d come full circle. I shortlisted in 2020 with my PB, My Mummy’s A Witch, and longlisted with other PBs in both 2021 and 2022. To find myself on the 2023 shortlist and then to discover I was joint runner-up was a total surprise but it was also like I’d completed some sort of journey. However, I certainly had no idea what was about to happen next.
What was your experience like as an entrant?
Putting your work out there is daunting and I’ve actually found I’ve gotten more nervous over time. That’s because if I listed one year but not the next, I felt like I was going backwards and beat myself up about it. However, WriteMentor have always been excellent in recognising the fear factor and it’s been great to see the award adapt year on year. It now has a very different format to 2020 and you get an email before the longlists and shortlists are announced. Over the years I’ve also learnt that celebrating the success of others is a wonderful part of the competition, whether you win or lose. There are some fantastic writers out there and it’s been brilliant to follow their journey. We’re all in it together.
Tell us about your writing journey from start until now.
Writing stories was an early dream for me but, after writing constantly as a child, I only returned to the ambition in 2017. After starting out thinking everything I wrote was brilliant (it really, really wasn’t), followed by an embarrassing round of rejections, I ploughed everything into learning the craft: every hour I could scrape together and every little bit of money I had. As a carer, I’ve been lucky enough to get some support in this: scholarships, a six month mentorship with the All Stories Mentorship Programme and an Arts Council Grant, for which I will be forever grateful for.
After a couple of years of rejections, 1:1s and near misses, I was starting to think that getting an agent was never going to happen. I decided to continue to write for the joy of it and, at that point, it all came together. But I’ll never stop wanting to learn more – I am hooked!
How did entering the WriteMentor award help you on your journey to securing representation (if it did!)
It’s funny because in the 2020 award both myself and my critique partner, Sophia Payne, found ourselves on the picture book shortlist (there were only three picture books on the shortlist in total) and agent Alice Williams was the judge! There was obviously a part of me that was hoping Alice would choose my picture book as the winner, creating the possibility that she would offer representation. However, when Sophia won and signed with Alice, I was genuinely pleased for her – she is a brilliant writer with a wonderfully unique style. I then went on to have a couple of 1:1s with Alice as part of the WOWCON conferences and when I finally submitted my Middle Grade novel to her, I was able to say I’d shortlisted in the award again. I think Alice definitely remembered me as she has since mentioned the texts she previously saw. Aside from this, the WriteMentor Hub and the courses WriteMentor offers has been instrumental to me improving.
Can you tell us a little more about the book you signed with?
Well, I write PBs, CBs and MG and actually, despite me occasionally wondering if writing across the age-groups was the right thing to do, they all played a part in Alice signing me. Ultimately though, it all hinged on the MG novel I submitted to her after she put out a call for fiction submissions. I’d just done a big structural rewrite and was umming and ahhing about whether I should or shouldn’t submit it. Pressing send felt like a big risk but it just so happened that this was the time it paid off. It’s a story about a book-eating, fact-loving boy and, apart from Pumpkin’s Fairytale, which was a PB I had published by an indie press in 2021, it’s the story I’m most proud of.
What advice would you give to other writers when it comes to entering writing awards?
I think my advice would be to do what’s right for you. Writing awards are an opportunity but they can be tough, so always put your mental health first. Having said that, submitting work to agents and publishers is equally tough so try and see awards as good prep and go for it if you can. Having a deadline and a challenge can really help to hone your work, if there is feedback on offer then that can be incredibly useful and you’ll start to champion other people’s successes. Plus you never know what the end result might be. A final point I’d like to make is that I personally know several writers that have been offered agent representation as a result of winning a competition. But I also know writers that have never listed in an award and who now have agents and publishing deals. It’s a subjective business! Whichever way you decide to approach things, keep enjoying what you’re doing – it’s that that makes you a winner.
Instagram & Facebook: @LittleCornishWriter
Check out Tracy’s book review blog, The Breadcrumb Forest
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Since 2018, over 100 WriteMentor writers have signed with agents or secured publishing deals like Melissa via our summer mentoring programme, novel awards and membership to the Hub. Could you be our next success story?