I don’t recall when I first began writing. As far as I know, I’ve always loved stories. My grandmother told me that even before I could speak I would scribble with crayons on paper and babble away, trying to articulate ideas without possessing the words. However, the moment when I first knew that I was a writer is clear in my memory; it was at the award ceremony for the 2016 Exeter Novel Prize.
After spending the previous day travelling to the venue with my grandparents, I arrived as one of six shortlisted contestants. The time came to announce the winner and the judges read out the names of the runner-ups, until only two of us remained standing. When it was my name that finished the sentence, “The winner of the 2016 Exeter Novel Prize is,” I couldn’t believe it. All I could think to say was, “Are you sure?” It wasn’t until I looked over and saw my grandmother crying in the second row that I knew it was really happening. From trying to write before I understood language to the moment I won a writing competition, she saw me become this person. I had never seen her cry before.
I spent that afternoon as a naïve twenty-one-year-old listening to the older writers discuss their projects and experiences as though I understood what they were talking about, but I didn’t. What were simultaneous submissions?What did literary agents do? This was my first time sending my work anywhere. The entire experience was alien to me. Then these words came into my head as one serene sentence: I’m a writer now. A fortnight later the judge, Broo Doherty, drew up a contract and became my agent. My winning manuscript went on to earn me a bursary from Literature Wales to continue its development.
Since then I’ve celebrated numerous poetry and prose publications, graduated university, and started my own publication – Cape Magazine – with a dear friend. I’m sure that I wouldn’t have done these things anywhere near as well had I not received the early encouragement and support from Broo Doherty and Creative Writing Matters.
Winning the Exeter Novel Prize changed my life. It marked the moment I became a writer and kick-started my career. The prize money paid my deposit for university halls so I could begin a degree and better educate myself on writing. The entire experience filled me with a confidence that has never dulled; no matter where I go or what I do, I know I won a novel prize and that feeling is irreplaceable.
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