In 2005 I won second prize in the Yeovil Novel Competition with my manuscript, which was then titled Somnambulant.
I was encouraged by the recognition, which helped to mitigate the disappointment of rejection from agents.
It helps to know that there are distinguished readers and good judges of writing out there who believe that your work is good and worth pursuing.
It’s an important distinction to remember: these days agents tend to assess a manuscript (or first few chapters) based on whether they think it’s marketable, not on whether they think it has literary merit. Often, they might explain this in a rejection letter along with some encouraging words. Mostly, they don’t. So, it’s difficult to get an objective opinion on your work even when your writing has advanced to the stage of agent-hunting. Friends and family don’t count.
So, armed with the hope that I wasn’t entirely deluded and wasting my time, I sent out the manuscript of ‘Somnambulant’ and to cut a long story short, had it published by Macmillan, Pan and Grazanti in 2008-2009 as ‘The Sleepwalker’s Introduction to Flight’.
A busy and demanding job created a bit a hiatus and I wasn’t able to seriously commit to another novel-length work until last year. This was ‘Resurrecting Bobby’, an historical novel set in London in 1828. It’s taken a lot of research and I’ve been at great pains to get the dialogue right. (I do loathe historical novels where the characters talk like someone out of Holby City).
I was short-listed and then a month ago received an email informing me that I’d won. Understandably, they asked me to keep the news to myself until the event.
I had a few meetings in London arranged during the week of the event and so I arranged to go down to Yeovil and pick up the prize in person.
I’m glad I did. The Manor Hotel, where the opening gala dinner took place, is a lovely old Georgian Cotswold-stone (I think) building. But, like the Tardis, much bigger inside.
Keynote speaker on the night was Santa Montefiore, who managed to be funny, warm and interesting all at the same time. I was seated next to crime-writer Babs Morton who, although a part-time medical receptionist from Northumberland, has managed to write a string of successful crime novels set in the States. A modest and charming person.
As well as Baldrick (Tony Robinson), I was privileged to meet Margaret Graham, who is one of the founders of the Yeovil Prize and the Yeovil Literary Festival. Margaret is currently involved with the Words for the Wounded Writing Prize amongst other things. The monies raised will help wounded servicemen and women. Please do enter – http://www.wordsforthewounded.co.uk
If you take a look at the Yeovil Prize website there are bios and comments from past winners. Almost without exception each of them talks about the encouragement that their prizes, commendations and short-listing provided. And that’s the point really. Most have gone on to achieve great things in their writing and I do think we struggling writers have to be grateful to events like Yeovil and Bridport for this.