We were all enchanted by Victoria's winning story and the news that she now has not one, but two novels soon to be published, is very welcome indeed. We're looking forward to them both. Here she tells us a little about what we can expect.
I was so delighted to win the Exeter Story Prize in 2019 for my story ‘Island Girl 139’. It was a story I’d been working on for a couple of years and the positive feedback from judges was a real confidence boost. Soon afterwards, I started a completely new project – a short novel about two medieval women, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe.
Both women lived in Norfolk in the fourteenth century and both claimed to have visions of Christ. Julian recorded her experiences in a book, The Revelations of Divine Love, which she wrote while she was an anchoress – confined to a single room for thirty years – and which she kept secret all her life for fear of accusations of heresy.
Margery was an illiterate merchant’s wife and the mother of fourteen children, so her life was incredibly different from Julian’s. She often boasted of her visions, and she was repeatedly threatened with arrest. When she was in her sixties she dictated her life story, The Book of Margery Kempe – and it’s the first known autobiography in English. When I read that these two women had actually met, something sparked in my imagination – what would a celibate anchoress and a mother of fourteen have to say to each other?
In 2021 I sent the manuscript to Sam Copeland at Rogers, Coleridge and White, and he proved to be my perfect agent. He loved the book and quickly secured me a two-book deal with Bloomsbury. I can really only speak in cliches about this moment in my writing career – I was over the moon!
My novel, For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain (a quotation from Margery’s book), will be published in early 2023, and a second novel, Brantwood, about the Victorian art critic John Ruskin, will be published in 2025.
After many years of writing and trying to get an agent, my advice to other emerging writers is to follow your heart. Write about what interests you, what you want to read, and this passion will surely show on the page.
You can find out more about Victoria here:
Simon won the Trisha Ashley Award with 'Jimmy Christian', a tale of a young man who brings two small boys back from the dead. Since then he has written a considerable number of words and in February this year published his fourth novel, Eternity Leave. I asked him to tell us a little about himself and his writing.
I’m one of those writers whose life experiences are integral to my writing. For the past twenty years, I have been the main parent for my four children and while there are many books written by mothers about their experiences of raising young children, Eternity Leave, published in February this year is, as far as I know, unique in telling the story from a father’s perspective. Whilst the novel is intended to be a ‘light and easy read’, it also carries some important messages about gender discrimination and the isolation, loss of self-esteem and the demands of looking after both small and now older children. I wrote it as a fictional memoir in what I have been reliably informed is a, ‘blisteringly honest style’.
When I won the Trisha Ashley Award in 2015, I already had one novel published. Bread for the Bourgeoisie, was set in London and Romania. The latter being a country I knew well having worked in their mental health services. Winning the award gave me the confidence to press on with my next novel, Dead Dog Floating and then my most successful book to date The Truth About Us, which has sold 30,000 copies, and its sequel The Truth About Her.
Over the years, I have won a number of writing competitions as well as the Trisha Ashley Award, including the Harry Bowling Prize and the The New Writer.
Prior to becoming a father, I worked in the NHS for twenty years and travelled extensively around the world, working on projects supporting children with education and women’s empowerment projects. Nowadays, when not writing, I like to ride a very large motorbike and put a bit of space between me and the Westcountry where I live with my family.
I'm delighted to welcome Louise to the blog. She has been very busy since the Exeter Novel Prize award ceremony in 2016! Below she tells us about her own writing journey and offers some excellent advice.
A memory came up on my social media recently from five years ago, particularly poignant given we can’t travel right now and I’m stuck in the Alps (not a terrible place to be ‘stuck,’ if truth be known). The photo memory was of my trip to Exeter in 2016 to the prize-giving ceremony for the Exeter Novel Prize hosted by the lovely folk at Creative Writing Matters.
The ceremony was held in the spectacular St Stephen’s Church in the centre of historical Exeter. Although I didn’t win, I was very proud to receive my gorgeous cut-glass trophy as one of the six finalists for my novel Strangers on a Bridgewhich led to its subsequent publication with HQ Stories, an imprint of Harper Collins. It was the start of my writing career, a dream job doing the thing I feel most passionate about, bringing my stories to readers.
Little did I know that five years later I would have two suspense novels published and short fiction in more than twenty print anthologies. I’ve just signed a contract for a third psychological thriller entitled The Beaten Track with indie publisher Red Dog Press. Here’s a link to the press release: https://www.reddogpress.co.uk/post/another-bed-in-the-kennel
And there are more stories and novels on the way.
If you have a yearning to write and think you have an idea for a novel, but can’t face the mammoth task of planning and writing it, start with something smaller. Start with a scene from your bigger story, act it out in your mind and write it down on paper or type it on your computer. Hone the dialogue, enrich your setting and build your longer story from there. Some of my novel ideas have come from short stories and have built into much bigger things. Don’t let the enormity of the task stop you from actually writing.
Entering competitions can become a little addictive. I’m a member of a private group of close-knit short fiction writers and find myself unable to stop the thrill of waiting to hear whether I’ve made a shortlist with a new piece of work (I’m currently in this situation, waiting to see whether my long-listed story makes it to the Exeter Short Story Prize shortlist!) This, luckily, keeps my interest in short fiction alive, while also juggling my time working on novel-length works.
Have you ever uttered the words: ‘I’m sure I’ve got a novel in me’? For any budding writers out there with an idea for a novel, don’t hold back! I would advocate finding a writing group, or a handful of other writers who would be willing to swap and critique work. A neutral eye can sometimes make the difference between finding yourself on that dreaded slush pile beside an editor’s desk, or reaching the shortlist of a prestigious competition such as the Exeter Novel Prize.
Find out more about Louise and her work on social media:
What did being listed for the Exeter Novel Prize mean to you?
I think it was a really significant moment in developing my self-confidence as an author. I had received really positive and constructive feedback from my fellow students on the Creative Writing MA at St. Mary’s University, but I had just started to submit to agents, and as any writer will know, those first few replies saying ‘this isn’t quite our thing’ can give you a knock. And of course, it’s rare to get any feedback from an agent. So a little piece of you is still wondering, ‘is this a question of commercial fit or is it that my writing isn’t quite there yet?’ So being listed for the prize and the feedback which showed that the judges ‘got’ my writing and liked it was really affirming - at a point in the process when I most needed it.
How much did you bring your own work experience into Melting in the Middle?
I’ve experienced many different forms of corporate culture, from working in one big multinational company to observing others from the agency side. So yes, I’ve drawn from experience of situations and characters in office life and judging from the reviews that has resonated with other people who have worked in business. It’s often felt to me that some people seem to become defined by that culture, at the expense of their personal and inner contentment. I’m interested in what happens when they open up to the ‘still, small voices’ in their lives. In the case of my lead character, Stephen, this involves confronting his guilt and searching for a form of redemption amid the often-absurd world of corporate politics.
What made you decide to take the Indie road to publishing?
What did winning the Exeter Novel Prize do for me? Well, I’d have to take a few steps back and start with ‘What did entering for the Exeter Novel Prize do for me?’ I’d already been working on ‘Sealskin’ for a few years, just ambling along enjoying the journey. For a first novel, I think that’s fairly normal. But then the team at Creative Writing Matters dreamed up the Exeter Novel Prize, and just to support them, I decided to enter. That meant two things: presenting the first ten thousand words and writing a synopsis.
The writing was ready to go, but getting the synopsis into shape was tough, partly because I didn’t yet know how the novel would end. But if you’re going to submit to an agent or a publisher, a good synopsis is essential, so even if you get nowhere in the competition, you’ve come out of it a little more ready for the next stage of the journey. I’d have gone on putting it off indefinitely, so that was a big plus.
We were delighted to hear that John's 2017 novel prize shortlisted novel, The Trauma Pool has now been published. His submission had us gripped right from the start. Below, John tells us about his journey to publication.
About ten years ago, someone gave me some very valuable criticism and advice. It boiled down to two basic ideas. ‘There’s just too much of you in this,’ and ‘Your writing errs towards the literary’.
I had not long finished a creative writing MA, had completed a draft of something I was calling a ‘contemporary fiction/thriller with funny bits type of thing’ (that wasn’t what I was putting in the cover letter) and I’d had an editor look at it. And that’s what he came up with.
Too much of me in it. How could there be too much of me in it?
Unless he meant that I’d basically taken various parts of my life and rolled them into a narrative involving characters who were all pretty much me, maybe me on different days, and written a pillow fantasy about what I wished had happened at a certain point in my life. I wasn’t telling a story, or if I was, it wasn’t really a story anyone but me would want to read.
Okay, but erring towards the literary. Really?
It usually takes me a few days with criticism. I have to let it percolate and see what sits right with my internal judge, the voice that knows what’s right, even when it’s been convinced otherwise by my ego, or other people’s egos. But this one took maybe an hour. It comes back to the ‘contemporary fiction/thriller with funny bits type of thing’ I mentioned earlier. I knew I could write, but I was mistakenly assuming that whatever I wrote would be great, just because I was writing it. That the rules didn’t apply.
The advice that went with it was frighteningly simple. ‘Just tell a story. That’s enough. And choose a genre and aim yourself at it like a ground to air missile.’
So, I did. I’d always loved crime. Why not, I thought?
A year later, I started getting shortlisted for competitions. Some of them, like the Exeter Novel Prize, were very prestigious. I had my first brushes with literary agents as a result.
It wasn’t all plain sailing from there. There were other obstacles; changes in lifestyle, the juggling of commitments, all the stuff every writer has to deal with. Oh, and a pandemic of course.
But I kept telling the story.
Earlier this year, I got a publication deal with Sharpe Books. My Crime Fiction novel, The Trauma Pool, first in a series, is the result. I’m really proud of it.
What they did next...
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