A very late postscript to the YWP

30 May

I’m so late in posting this. Like, two months late. I could bore you with my school-based excuses, but suffice to say GCSEs and trying desperately to get my students their C grades (such is the dire state of education) has taken up a lot of my time.


What I wanted to write up was a little postscript to the Guardian Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize. You might remember that I was a finalist a little while ago, and if you have been following the competition you’ll have seen that the prizes went to the very deserving Katie Coyle and Joe Ducie. You can read their opening chapters at the Guardian website here (Katie) and here (Joe) – absolutely fab and I can’t wait to read the rest.

Kate Herrell, a fellow finalist, has written a lovely reflection on the process at her blog. I wanted to add my side of the story to that, but also to express how much this competition has changed things for me.

The story of The Twain is a long one and one that I hope I might be able to tell in full one day. The premise popped into my head in December 2009, when I was in my little bungalow in Afidnes, searching for inspiration after finishing my first novel. Writing that first book, via NaNoWriMo, had been straightforward – I was writing it for myself, really. But this time I knew I wanted to write for publication. The stakes were higher, and as I learned more about writing professionally, the actual writing got harder. The Twain became known as The WIP of Doom and I would come to rewrite it many times over the next 3 years.

Then a friend posted the link to the YWP on Facebook. This was the motivation I needed to get that WIP of Doom kicked into shape. With my first chapters submitted, I then spent the Olympic season replotting and rewriting to a soundtrack of Ian Thorpe’s swimming commentary. I knew my opening was strong enough to get me a full request, so I had to get the novel ready.

Needless to say, when the call came, it was still not done. The plot was driving me nuts. I spent my September weekends in the BFI cafe, watching black polo-necked film buffs chat up cool Swedish blondes and trying to solve the ‘Meereenese knot‘ that was my storyline. At the last minute, after a frantic discussion in which my very patient housemates went through every single ‘what if?’ with me, I chose a path, finished the damn book and sent it off.

So when I got the call to say I was in the final, I was pretty much gobsmacked.

Then: the waiting game. And the final decision. I had really steeled myself for the announcement, because I suspected I wouldn’t win. So, I was prepared and didn’t feel too upset when I found out. Then, a few days later, I had a really terrible day at school and ended up in tears. I knew that what I was feeling was exacerbated by disappointment. I knew it would be kidding myself if I tried to pretend I didn’t feel something. Any rejection is hard, and as a writer you have to learn to deal with it.

Dealing with it often means picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and keeping on. And that’s just what I intend to do. This competition has really made me think about where I want to take my writing, and it’s made me realise that I can make it. I can become a published author. I just need to rearrange a few things in my life to make it a little bit more realistic – the work of the next few years. In addition, this competition has given me:

  • the gumption to pick my pen name, set up my website and start networking in earnest
  • some amazing editorial notes from Hot Key that I’m already applying –>
  • a WIP of doom that’s soooo close to being FINITO
  • some very exciting developments that I can’t even tell you about right now!
  • an addiction to the Hot Key blog

So – thank you, everyone involved in the competition. And the rest of you – watch this space!

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