Last Wednesday I was invited to lunch at the Savile Club in Mayfair for the announcement of the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition 2017.
You can imagine how I was feeling. For starters, the Savile Club is not the kind of establishment I usually frequent. It was founded in 1868 by a group of distinguished writers and artists, including Thomas Hardy, HG Wells, Rudyard Kipling, and WB Yeats. Lunch was held in the Drawing room. Here it is in all its glory:
Aside from the splendiferous setting, this was the culmination of a fairy tale journey of 6 months. It’s hard to put into words how I was feeling, but I’ll try…
[Deep breath] You know when you start writing a novel and get 20,000 words in and then self-doubt gets the better of you and you stop… but the characters keep talking to you and won’t shut up… and then 3 years later you see a top literary competition with the prize of a worldwide publishing contract and you think about your novel and decide to enter, even though there are only 3 months to go until the competition deadline… and then you work round-the-clock to finish your manuscript and very nearly kill yourself in the process because most of the 20,000 words you previously wrote turned out to be unusable… and then you enter the competition just before the midnight deadline, with 20 minutes to spare… and then you try to forget about the competition but you keep thinking about it and wondering… and then three months later, Chicken House phone to tell you that you have been longlisted along with 15 other people, and you cry with happiness… and then a month later, you think you haven’t made the shortlist and go on holiday, only to discover you have been shortlisted with 4 other people, and this time you don’t cry because you are too shocked… and then 6 weeks later, you are driving up to London to find out if you have won a publishing contract, a £10,000 advance, and a top literary agent…?
Well, that was how I was feeling.
The day went by in a blur. I met Barry Cunningham, the judges, and the other shortlistees. I sat down to lunch next to an editor from Chicken House, the Children’s Book Buyer for Waterstones, and the Head of Rights at a rights agency. Everyone was lovely (people in publishing generally are). And then Barry stood up to announce the winner… it was Jasbinder Bilan with her novel Song of the Mountain.
A mixture of feelings – relief that we’d finally found out who had won; disappointment that it wasn’t me; and happiness for Jasbinder, whose novel genuinely sounds stunning. (Congratulations Jasbinder!)
So there you go. The fairy tale came to an end. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a little deflated, but it has been a fantastic experience. I am hugely chuffed and grateful to have made it to the shortlist in such a prestigious competition. It has boosted my confidence (phew, so I haven’t been a completely deluded nutcase for persevering all these years), and Chicken House is going to send us all a critique of our novels, which will be invaluable when I edit the manuscript and…. well, more on that in another post.