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An Inspiring Six Months for IdeasTap Inspires Winners
It's now six whole months since our IdeasTap Inspires winners, championed and selected by Ellah Allfrey and Ali Smith along with their mentors Daniel Hahn, Kerry Hudson, Alex Preston, Amy Sackville and Nicola Upson, started their professional development programme. In that time, our ten talented writers have engaged in a whole range of activities to help them not only to improve their work, but also to give them an induction into the complicated world of literary agents, publishers and public readings. Putting pen to paper is just the tip of the writing iceberg; our writers have been on a rollercoaster journey of discovery!
As they emerge, blinking blearily, from a very intense six months they do so clutching not just a chunky portfolio of work. Although this has been an intensive period of creativity for our writers, as their mentors encourage and inspire them to greater levels of output, this productivity has also afforded them other opportunities. They have had the chance to explore their own creative processes and to really find their voice, whilst the input of their mentor has helped to build the ability to self-edit effectively, and has allowed our writers to target specific areas of their writing that they felt needed working on, to tighten up their skillset. Meanwhile sessions with agents, along with the expertise of their mentors has given our winners invaluable inside knowledge of the publishing industry that can help them to publication, and a renewed sense of self belief that their work is good! (It really is, by the way, I’ve loved reading every single extract.
As we prepare for our showcase event with them tomorrow, during which each writer will read from their work, and will have the chance to not only celebrate their successes with friends and family, but to share their work with agents, we are heartened to hear that agents are already showing an interest in our young writers. We hope that this will be the starting point of many great things for them, but as regards Inspires? Well, all that remains now is to raise a glass to their achievements and to enjoy watching them spread their literary wings and continue to achieve great things with their work.
Why not read extracts
from our winners, and find out a little more about them all?
IdeasTap Inspires Shortlist
Congratulations to our IdeasTap Inspires Shortlisted Writers!
After many hours of reading, deliberation and debate, Laura Stimson managed to narrow down our shortlist to 77 writers- two more than we’d originally intended to shortlist! Read about Laura’s judging process
Our 77 writers will attend a free masterclass taught by a professional writer such as Emma Jane Unsworth
, Ross Raisin
or DW Wilson
and will also receive support from us at Writers' Centre Norwich and from IdeasTap.
So, with no further ado, a round of applause for our shortlisted writers:
Alexandra Scarlett Mullen
Lauren Van Schaik Smith
From our 77 shortlisted authors ten winners will be chosen. The winners will receive six months of mentoring, vital industry advice, be introduced to agents and publishers and attend a unique writing retreat. We’ll be announcing the ten winners in August, so do keep an eye on our blog
for the announcement.
Many thanks to all those who applied for the IdeasTap Inspires Writing Competition, and congratulations again to all of our successful applicants.
Read Laura’s blog
on judging the IdeasTap Inspires Writers’ Centre Norwich Writing Competition entries.
Judging the IdeasTap Inspires: Writers’ Centre Norwich Writing Competition
Laura Stimson, IdeasTap Inspires judge and project manager, shares her thoughts around the tricky process of judging a writing competition, and exactly what it is that makes an entry a great one.
The inaugural Ideas Tap Inspires competition
raised over 270 applications. It was a real privilege that so many young writers wanted to share their work with us at Writers’ Centre Norwich, and is a testament to how many talented creators of fiction there are out there, waiting to be read. And that’s no lip service. We were delighted by the level of ambition, originality and craft exhibited in these applications, although it made the task of judging so difficult.
To explain my part in the project and judging process; as a part of the Writers’ Centre Norwich team (and manager for this project) I have helped judge seven years’ worth of talent development schemes. I wasn’t a lone voice and worked alongside our other trusted readers to select the writers for the masterclass series. I read every single one of these entries with enthusiasm. I hoped to find something I loved. I hoped to be transported, affected, amused, intrigued and horrified. But my purpose wasn’t to find work that fitted my preferences as a reader, but to find work that showed promise, passion and skill. My responsibility as a judge was to see sparkle despite tastes and preferences.
I was genuinely excited by the sheer breadth of these stories in both content and genre. The entries included stories that navigated the globe, journeyed to other worlds, and travelled through time and memory. The beauty of reading is to be delivered to another world in the space of a few words. This is the writers' most privileged and most difficult job: to transport; to create and manipulate a whole world.
So, thinking about all these things, what are my top tips for competition entries? Firstly, that they need to grab, to be instant. Writers, by trade, delight in language. Words become visceral, intoxicating. But a story is made of more than words. Underneath all those gorgeous words something extraordinary needs to be happening, otherwise you wouldn’t be so passionate about sharing this story.
Technical things; take care in your work. This may sound like a strange word to choose but taking care over your work is the most fundamental thing you can do when entering a competition. Check for spellings and grammatical errors. Make sure your point of view and tense doesn’t flip. (If you haven’t shown care then I have to work extra hard to care for it myself.)
Writing, like all wonderful things, takes time. It isn’t instantly gratifying and doesn’t exist in a bubble. An understanding of the craft leads to mastery of it. Many of the applicants were creative writing graduates, or currently studying. Some of the work chosen was from applicants who hadn’t studied formally but showed that informally, perhaps as attuned readers, they had an understanding of story. Whichever writing path you choose, you will ultimately need to do the same thing; read, read, read, write, write, write. You may wrack up a thousand hours before you actually write something you’re happy with. But those hours are never wasted; they lead you toward learning the craft. You learn by making mistakes. Nothing is wasted.
Bravery can also go a long way. An interesting idea or an interesting voice may win out over how accomplished the actual writing is. (I mean this as a compliment.) Sometimes new writers are still learning the craft and get things wrong but if the voice or the idea is so relentlessly interesting, you can’t ignore it.
And so we’re back to story. Some of the stories that caught the judges' imagination were vast; they travelled and encompassed multiple characters, dealt with challenging subjects and asked questions. Some of these stories were small and concentrated and explored the human condition; presenting compelling vignettes of what it is to be that person at that time.
It was a joy to read all of these stories. Thank you for them. And whether you were shortlisted or not, keep reading, writing and sharing.
Oh, and if you're on the look-out for more writing competitions and opportunities, give us a follow on Twitter @WritersCentre
A Brand New National Writing Competition
We’re delighted to announce the launch of IdeasTap Inspires: Writers’ Centre Norwich Writing Competition!
We’ve teamed up with IdeasTap
to offer ten winning fiction writers aged 18-30 a place on a unique national creative development and mentoring programme. Designed to help fledgling writers progress in their creative career, the winners will receive six months of mentoring, be given vital industry advice, attend a bespoke writing retreat and be introduced to agents and publishers.
This writing competition is all about giving writers the tools and the opportunities to take the next steps with their writing, so we’ve enlisted amazing professional writers; Daniel Hahn, Kerry Hudson, Alex Preston and Nicola Upson, to share their wisdom. They’ll also teach you essential writing skills, invite you to parties*, feedback on your work and generally be a supportive, encouraging presence.
And that’s not all- if you’re one of our ten winners you’ll also be invited to a masterclass, attend a writing retreat for a weekend of intensive craft development, meet your fellow winners at an inaugural gathering, be introduced to industry professionals (including agents and publishers) and celebrate all your achievements at a London Showcase event.
75 commended writers will also be invited to attend a free masterclass, taught by the likes of C.J Flood, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, Ross Raisin or Emma Jane Unsworth, and will receive support from Writers’ Centre Norwich and IdeasTap.
As Patron Ali Smith says; "Here's a programme which will help and inspire on all the levels. It starts with inspiration and it ends in good writing. You can't get better than that."
So, what are you waiting for? Head over to IdeasTap now, and send in your application
or find out more about the competition
: Writers’ Centre Norwich Writing Competition closes for entries at 5pm on the 12th of May.
(Of course, there are a few provisos. The most important of these are that you must be aged between 18-30 and a resident in England. You must also be a member of IdeasTap to enter**.)
Jump for joy! A new writing competition which is free to enter!
IdeasTap Inspires: Writers’ Centre Norwich Writing Competition is organised in collaboration with national arts charity IdeasTap, as part of IdeasTap Inspires, a free national training programme for young people building careers in the creative industries. IdeasTap Inspires is supported by Arts Council England, via a £250,000 Exceptional Award.
** You mean, you’re not a member? Quick, set up an account now
Congratulations to our TLC Free Reads Winners!
Last year we teamed up with The Literary Consultancy to offer writers from the East of England the chance to have their manuscripts critiqued for free by professional writers. TLC Free Reads gives talented writers honest, constructive feedback, providing the writers with a framework for improvement and helping them to progress with their writing.
Meet our winners:
was offered editorial advice on her novel As the Crow Flies
Raised in England, I worked as a teacher in East Africa for several years before settling in Cambridgeshire and setting up my own arts and sustainability education business. I am inspired by opportunities for building international understanding and environmental stewardship through the arts, and these are themes that run through my writing. I have always written: journals, song lyrics, poems, but my submission for the TLC Free Reads is my first novel. As The Crow Flies
is an ecological fable for young adults with a riddle at its heart. It explores the importance of diversity through a story that focuses strongly on individuals and relationships.
was offered a critique of her novel Safe in the Dark
I was born and grew up in Hackney and worked in London as a journalist on broadsheets and magazines for over twenty years. After moving to Cambridge I took an MA in Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University and during that time was shortlisted for the Hookline First Novel competition. I am a founder member of local writing group, Angles Writing Workshop and am currently working on my second crime novel. Safe in the Dark
, concerns Laura, a thirty-something detective, who finds herself trapped in a dilapidated pub in Lancashire, surrounded by 10-foot snowdrifts and five people she can’t trust.
will receive feedback on his novel Cobra Strike
Tony is a vet who trained at Cambridge then went to East Africa and became an expert on a disease of cattle and wildlife that no one outside Africa has ever heard of. Travelling throughout the region, he camped among elephants, canoed among hippos, photographed a rhino in his pyjamas and worked closely with the Maasai. Drawing on this background, he self-published The Ant-Lion
and The Elephant-Shrew
(fiction: 8-12 year-olds). Cobra Strike
(teenage fiction – action, adventure), also set in Tanzania, involves the same principal characters, but some 10 years later when they have been recruited to a covert anti-terrorist organisation.
will receive feedback on her novel; There’s No Such Thing as Seagulls
I have been a voracious reader since childhood, have a passionate interest in Children’s Literature and have always enjoyed writing. My research work has been published in The Excellence of Play
(editor - Janet Moyles). After thirty years of primary school teaching, I completed my Masters’ degree in Children’s Literature at Cambridge University and attended a writers’ workshop at the Writers’ Centre Norwich. These experiences inspired me to complete my first novel for children. There's No Such Things as Seagulls
is about a boy struggling to control his violent temper among a group of children regarded as weirdoes and misfits.
Jen Morgan was offered a critique on her novel Stone Master.
Jen has always written stories for children but began to pursue this more seriously through doing an MA in Writing for Children at Winchester University. After raising two small children (they are still quite small) she finally completed the story she began during that MA. That is the story she has submitted to TLC Free Reads. She loves stories by Philippa Pearce, Lucy Boston and Susan Cooper, but is most inspired by the work of Kevin Crossley-Holland. Her story is about magic, memory and myth and is partly set North Norfolk, one of her favourite places.
will receive editorial feedback on her manuscript Patience Collier
My entry is a life-writing project about Patience Collier, the twentieth century character actress. She is a compelling subject - outrageous, funny, and promiscuous: a late-blooming actor who left revealing personal archives and vivid memories among her contemporaries. Writing skills have been essential throughout my rather varied career. But telling the story of someone’s life presents a very special challenge. I gained enormously from the UEA Life Writing MA, graduating in 2010 with a distinction and a Lorna Sage Memorial prize. My self-published project, Travelling Towards War
, introducing a Norfolk man’s eye-witness accounts of Central Europe in 1938-39, was shortlisted for the 2012 East Anglia Book Awards.
was offered a critique of her novel Home
I began to write in earnest about five years ago, initially concentrating on picture books, and receiving some encouraging feedback from agents. In 2010 I attended an Arvon residential course on ‘writing for children’ which was both an enjoyable and inspiring experience. My current piece of writing (Home
) is a ghost story for the young adult genre, in which a long decommissioned phone box starts to ring night after night but Lucy, my fifteen year old heroine, is the only one to hear it. I see the TLC Free Read as an invaluable opportunity to polish my manuscript prior to submission.
will receive editorial feedback on his piece An Unreliable Man
I’ve written lyrics, screenplays, and short stories. Most languish in obscurity, though last year I won a short story competition run by Norwich’s Theatre Royal. I write the blog for Diss Arts Centre, and have had reviews in the Sunday Times and the Diss Express. An Unreliable Man
combines my interest in literature, history, and conspiracy theories. Robert Poley languishes in obscurity too - in the footnotes of other people’s histories - but his life was extraordinary. Francis Walsingham, Mary Stuart, and Christopher Marlowe all knew him and thought him an incorrigible rogue. This is his version of their stories.
Many congratulations to all of our TLC Winners, and thanks to all those who applied for TLC Free Reads. We were delighted to have so many high quality entries, and we look forward to hearing how all of our writers progress.
Find out more about TLC Free Reads
Find out more about The Literary Consultancy
See last year's TLC Free Reads Winners
Escalator Alchemy- A Guest Blog from Escalatee Jon Curran
Escalatee Jon Curran writes about the transformative power of the Escalator Writing Competition
Most stories are about transformation – ugly duckling into swan, frog into prince, kilt-wearing Scotsman into wild-haired, woad-faced Mel Gibson. And like all the best stories, the Escalator scheme has been, for me, a story about transformation.
This time last year, I had a few thousand words written down and some ideas that excited me about where the story might go from there. I’d get up each morning before the sun had risen and the rest of the family was awake and write a few more pages, moving the story forward piece by piece. I didn’t think of myself as any kind of writer though, just someone who wrote in the spare corners of the day that no-one else wanted.
Over the last year, through the Escalator programme, that scant start has turned into something that’s starting to look like a real novel. More than that though, I’ve started to become someone who thinks of himself as a writer, albeit one still in the early stages of the journey. Being an Escalatee puts you in the company of nine fantastic and hugely-talented writers as companions in the journey, and that’s been a wonderful experience. The journey isn’t always smooth. After the elation of winning a place on the scheme comes the part when you wake up in the middle of the night and wonder to yourself how you’re actually going to manage to pull this off. Me? Write a novel? Are you kidding?
That’s where David Rain – Escalator mentor
extraordinaire – proved himself as adept an alchemist as any in medieval Baghdad, where my novel is set. I would troop down to London with characters, plots, themes all jumbled around in my head– and David would somehow help me to make sense of them all. We’d wash it all around over coffee and there! A glimmer amongst the base metals, and lead would turn into gold. It seemed effortless, but I’m sure it wasn’t, so I’m eternally grateful to David for helping to get the thing off the ground.
The Escalator scheme has been about pushing myself, trying things I’ve never tried before, and growing as a result. Reading from our work at a special showcase
for friends and family here in Norwich made for a great evening, and a fitting end to our Escalator year, but of course the real work – the actual writing – goes on.
I still get up early in the morning as it’s my best time to write, but I now think of writing as the thing “I do”, and other things rotate around that.
Over the summer, my six year old daughter made a sign to put on the door saying “Quiet Please – Writer at Work”.
That is quite a transformation for one year.
About Jon Curran
Originally from Rochdale, Jon Curran spent his formative years in West Africa, the Middle East and Suffolk. After leaving university, Jon worked in the magazine industry before following the dotcom boom into IT. He now lives in Norwich with his wife and two lovely daughters. Jon’s fiction has appeared in Inferno
magazine, and he was one of the co-founders of the community blog “This Low-Carbon Life”, writing on environmental and community themes. He is working on his first novel, The House of Wisdom
, set in 13th Century Baghdad.
Visit Jon’s website
Follow Jon on Twitter @jaysaulc
Read an extract from The House of Wisdom
Permission to Write - A Guest Blog from Escalatee Kyra Karmiloff
Kyra Karmiloff, 2012 Escalator Winner, blogs about writing nerves, her experience of Escalator and how the programme helped her to improve as a writer.
It was about this time last year that my lovely friend, the talented novelist and past Escalatee, Susan Sellers
, started breathing down my neck to enter this year’s Escalator Literature Writing competition
. I was feeling very despondent about my writing – ready to give up on it all after 10 long years of heartache and two novels withering away in the lightless files of my laptop. Reluctantly, I agreed to give it a bash and set out revisiting old pieces, tossing one after another into the bottomless bin on my screen.
A pointless endeavor, I told myself, as I picked the chosen one and started dusting it down. Two weeks and eight-hundred edits later, I had my five thousand words ready. Or so I thought. With just days to go before the closing date, I printed out my competition piece, read it aloud for the nth time, made a few last changes and printed it again. Sixteen prints and two ink cartridges later, I put the blasted thing in an A4 envelope, addressed it, stamped it and put it in my bag. I dressed to go to the post office, took one final look at the words still humming on-screen, made a very final change, opened up the envelope, threw its contents away, printed out a fresh copy containing the much-improved first line, and sealed up the envelope again. I got in my car, started the engine, turned it off, went inside and repeated the whole process again, all for one word which was never going to make the difference between success and failure, but the opening sentence really was better in its original form.
It was a blessed relief to finally push the heavily-sellotaped envelope into the post box. It was out of my hands now. “All done,” I told Susan. Then silence. For weeks. Then an email, one morning before Christmas, telling me that I had made the shortlist and would hear in the New Year if I was one of the ten winners. Weeks of worry followed. A flicker of hope had been reignited: perhaps I would become a real writer after all. No no, said my brain. My bank balance agreed. Yes, yes, said my long-suffering friends and family.
And so it was that I became one of the 10 Chosen Ones
. For this year at least.
What ensued was the most amazing, nurturing and spirit-lifting experience I have had as a writer. Writers’ Centre Norwich provided us not only with wonderful support and guidance, it gave us a stamp of approval, a permission to write. We received help applying for funding from the Arts Council
, allowing us to cut down on work in order to focus on our projects, and were given months of invaluable mentoring. I was lucky enough to have been chosen by the amazing Tobias Hill, who not only helped me turn a scruffy idea into a fully-fledged story, but gave me back my confidence as a writer. Most of all, what the scheme provided us with was a license to be who we are – writers – and do what we love doing best: writing. No longer solitary scribblers, tossing hour after hour at a pursuit that felt like little more than pure indulgence, we were now recognized talent, bona fide novelists. It was like receiving Dumbo’s feather and jumping off a cliff, knowing we would fly.
I took my little competition piece, looked it in the face and decided that it deserved some limbs, a beating heart, a personality or two, and a name. What started as a few paragraphs bullied onto a page by a well-meaning friend now became the beginning of a novel, my third and hopefully the lucky one. The one that will make it onto the shelves of Waterstones, where there is space: I’ve checked. In fact, last time I went to peruse the rows of K’s, a thoughtful shop assistant had cleared a great big gap precisely in the spot where The Witchfinder’s Lover
will, with any luck, sit one day. Yes, yes, said my brain!
Find out more about Escalator Literature Writing Competition.
View all the 2012 Escalator Winners.
About Kyra Karmiloff
Half-English, half-Russian, I did most of my growing up in London. After completing my degrees at UCL, I set up as a freelance writer and researcher, mainly in the field of Language and Child Development, while continuing to dedicate as much time as possible to my fiction. I am the author of three non-fiction books and have had many articles published in magazines and online. During tough times I have also been a DJ, a dog-groomer, a stable-girl and cleaner – anything to stay self-employed and keep writing. I live in Fen Ditton with my boys and my partner, Rocky, a film director with whom I collaborate. I now make a living writing film treatments and researching new material, while continuing to pursue my novelist ambitions.
The Witchfinder’s Lover
is a coming-of-age story of two siblings growing up in Cambridge during the turbulent years of the Civil War, whose lives are transformed by the arrival of Matthew Hopkins, the man responsible for mounting the deadliest witch-hunt in British history.
Visit Kyra's blog.
Follow Kyra on Twitter @KKarmiloff
A Lovely Bunch- Celebrating the 2012 Escalatees at the Showcase
Escalator Literature offers ten winning writers a year of professional development, including one-to-one mentorship with a professional writer, a series of workshops designed to help the writers improve all aspects of their craft, support on applying for an Arts Council England Grants for the Arts award and the ever essential peer support.
Laura Stimson, Programme Manager at WCN, writes on our Escalator Literature Showcase, an evening event where our ten Escalatees read short extracts from their work to an audience of friends, family and literary agents.
On Friday we celebrated the end of the Escalator Literature programme with a showcase event in London. This sounds rather final but in fact, it felt like the beginning of things, with the ten Escalator winners spending the evening talking to agents and each other about what comes next. I came into the Escalator programme half way through, having been on maternity leave, but feel I’ve gotten to know the ten writers quickly. They feel like a group, each of them integral to the dynamic, each of them glad to be part of a cohort. They’re a lovely bunch.
Chair of Mentors Michelle Spring kicked off the readings by introducing her mentees. First, Mary Nathan, whose novel Michelle described as having a vivid sense of time and place. Mary read from a scene of her intricately visualized book that was rather aptly set just the other side of Charing Cross Road, where the showcase took place. ‘I smile widely enough so that it will reach my eyes,’ she read, as her protagonist battles inner torment in Georgian England. Next up, Bridport short story prize winner Lynsey White, whom Michelle described as having moved ‘confidently into the role of novelist’. Lynsey’s almost Dickensian story, gleaming with curses and extraordinary characters, nods towards gothic fantasy. The chapter she read from, entitled ‘Glass Worm’, contains the unique description of glass harpsichord, its melody ‘thin as a needle’.
Mentor Cathi Unsworth introduced her mentees with trademark wit, vigour and lyrical dexterity. Cathi mentored talented namesakes Megan and Meghan. UEA graduate Megan Bradbury
’s book is a fact/fiction mash-up; perhaps too casual a term for her agile, sophisticated prose. Amongst other things, it is a sparkling psychogeography of New York city; weaving the reader through this ‘gap toothed’ city. ‘How long will it sit like this, straddling the seasons,’ one line asks. Cathi describes Meghan Purvis
’ prose as ‘muscular’, a perfect expression for her book, a vampire novel which ‘swaggers the badlands’ between gothic contemporary noir. Meghan read from a scene which snagged us all; visceral, vibrant, menacing; a real cliff-hanger.
Like many of her Escalator contemporaries, L.E. Yates
’ book re-tells history. Her novel From the Mountains Descended Night
is framed by one of the greatest literary scandals of the eighteenth century, a story which her mentor David Rain described as ‘highly original, grippingly readable.’ Her scene describes an interaction between James McPherson and Samuel Johnson, in which Johnson first accuses McPherson of having created fiction. Jonathan Curran
’s book is another fiction underpinned by real events; the fall of Baghdad in the 13th Century. Told through the eyes of a boy, it describes what was once a city bright with science, philosophy, and learning, destroyed by cataclysmic political events. As his protagonist daydreams the horrors to come, he imagines fires burning ‘high and bright inside his eyelids’.
Tobias Hill’s first mentee, Kyra Karmiloff
also uses real world scandal to frame her novel. Set in the days of the Witchfinder, her book unpicks the delicate and destructive relationship between siblings. Kyra read from a scene describing ‘barber surgeons’, the game the siblings play, which involves lathering their bodies with lye suds and ‘shaving’ their bodies, removing the soap. Sue Healy
, Tobias’ second mentee, read a hilarious, beautifully constructed scene from her book, The Hole in the Moon
. It’s a vivacious, funny, often sad story of dwarfism, brotherhood, pornography, love and destruction. ‘Abroad shouldn’t be rainy,’ protagonist Dan P contemplates, on arriving into Hungary, ‘abroad should be roasting.’
Mentor Natasha Cooper worked with two historical novelists. Ian Madden
’s story is a fictional look at the real life relationship between artist JMW Turner and ‘the woman who was not his wife’, whom he lived with. The scene he read from, a wonderful illustration of the passion and eccentricity of an artist, did something rather clever; it allowed the listener to omit the male voice and transport firmly into the mind of the female protagonist. We finished the night’s readings with Linda Spurr
, whose story set in ancient Arabia, tells of woman’s struggle for autonomy. Using scent as its driving force, which she writes about with great agility and beauty, hers is a love story to frankincense and one woman’s ambition to capture it.
It was a special evening. Special because it marked the culmination of the programme. Special because it allowed the authors to meet and talk with agents. Special because they genuinely enjoy each others' company and have formed a true cohort. Special because listening to ten authors read may, on paper, sound excessive but was in reality a delight. One which was over all too soon.
Find out more about each of our Escalator winners, and read extracts of their work
Read Sue Healy’s blog on the Escalator experience
Find out more about Escalator Literature
Writing and Redemption: Sue Healy on Escalator Writing Competition
Sue Healy was chosen as one of our ten Escalator Winners in 2012. Through Escalator Sue has received a year of professional development, including one-to-one mentorship with writer Tobias Hill, a series of workshops designed to help her writing career, peer support, and advice and support on applying for an Arts Council Grant.
This time last year I was looking at ten-or-so pages of notes for a story idea I had about a guilt-ridden, embittered dwarf and a cult in Hungary. I was fretting about how I could whip these scraps of writing into some sort of shape as a proposal for the Writers’ Centre 2013 Escalator Award for a genre novel. It was pretty raw material, but somehow, I did. I was selected and twelve months on, that angry dwarf has found redemption via the completed manuscript of my debut novel The Hole in the Moon
. Moreover, I have the draft of a screenplay of the same story which has been selected for write2screen
’s Script HotHouse, also supported by the Writers’ Centre. This progress is entirely down to the support and professional development I’ve received over the past year.
I’d had success as a creative writer before embarking on the Escalator Scheme. By that time, I had already won a number of national awards for my short stories, which have all been published in various anthologies, and I’d had my first radio play broadcast, and a play staged. However, my end goal had always been to write a novel but since graduating from my 2009 MA in Creative Writing from UEA, mustering the focus, determination and dedication to do so whilst working full-time, was proving difficult. Then along came the Escalator.
The first gift the Escalator provided was affirmation. If my project was good enough to be selected, then this tale of an angry challenged man and his (comic) journey towards self-acceptance, deserved my time and respect.
As part of the scheme, you are provided with a number of one-on-one mentoring sessions with an established writer. This writer selects the project with which they wish to work and mine was chosen by novelist Tobias Hill. Tobias was a perfect mentor, providing me with just the right balance of challenge and encouragement – and he ‘got’ my humour. Moreover, the deadlines we set of 10,000 words per month were achievable but enough of a stretch to help me keep on pace. I had the story down by the early summer and the present draft by autumn.
The financial support provided by a Grants for the Arts bursary was heaven-sent. The Escalator Award does not provide the funds, rather you are coached through the Grants for the Arts application – a Herculean task. However, rather like childbirth, the laborious application process dims in the bright light of reward. In my case, the grant meant I could cut down on the day job, book time at a writers retreat and travel to Hungary to research.
Throughout all this time, my Escalator peers and I kept in contact via email and occasional informal Norwich based meet-ups when we advised, cajoled and bolstered each other through the challenges the year provided and cheered for each other as the rewards began to notch up (successful grant applications, finished novels, agent interest etc…). We were also more formally assembled for the series of helpful professional development workshops that took place over the year. And we’re not done yet. I’m looking forward to a showcase presentation of our work at Foyle’s Bookshop in London, which will see us winding up the year in style.
Looking back over my journey from last September to today, I have a sense that I have made five years’ worth of progression as a writer. Perhaps my embittered dwarf is not the only one who’s found redemption via the Escalator Scheme.
About Sue Healy
From Ireland via Hungary but currently living in the U.K., I find both my homeland and Hungary mesmerising theatres, forming the backdrop of my novel, The Hole in the Moon
I graduated from UEA’s MA in Creative Writing. My short stories and drama have won the Molly Keane Memorial Award, the HISSAC Prize, the Sussex Playwrights’ Prize, the Meridian Prize, the Waterford-Annaghmakerrig Award and the Ted O’Regan Arts Award. I have also been short-listed for the Fish Short Story Competition, and the BBC International Playwriting Award, amongst fourteen other prizes and my prose has been published in seven literary publications. My BAI funded radio drama ‘Cow’ was broadcast earlier this year and my radio drama series ‘The Daffodil’ will be broadcast in 2014. My screenplay adaptation of ‘The Hole in the Moon’ has been selected for Write2Screen’s Scripit HotHouse. I currently teach creative writing at a Norfolk prison.
Read a sample from The Hole in the Moon online
Follow Sue on Twitter @SueHealy
Visit Sue's website
Why Enter Our Escalator Literature Writing Competition?
More to the point, why wouldn’t you enter Escalator? Escalator isn’t your ordinary writing competition- it offers so much more than prize money or a one-off publication. Escalator helps you develop as a writer, and it offers you the tools to carve out a writing career. Open to genre writers living in the East of England, Escalator is looking for high-quality entries.
If you are one of our ten Escalator winners (that gives you pretty good odds by the way) then you get a years mentorship with an established professional writer. This year’s judges and mentors are Natasha Cooper, Tobias Hill, David Rain Michelle Spring and Cathi Unsworth. (Read their biographies)
You will also receive a series of professional development workshops, which will help you improve your writing, and navigate the tricky route towards publication. Of course, your fellow Escalatees will also provide peer support, and feedback, meaning that you always have your fellow winners to depend on.
Wait, there’s more!
Writers’ Centre Norwich will give you advice on how to apply for Arts Council grants, and coach you through the process as well as helping you with the always intimidating form-filling. Your work will also benefit from exposure to agents and publishers.
And after you’ve completed your year’s mentorship, you get to celebrate. Last years winners commemorated their achievement at Foyles, in the company of agents, publishers and of course, WCN staff. There are some lovely pictures from the launch, and an account of the evening on our latest news page.
Still not sure whether or not to enter?
Three of our past Escalator winners have very kindly each written us a blog which combined, are sure to convince you. Hayley Webster writes about how Escalator helped her discover her writing style, and made her realise that she didn’t have to conform to others expectations of her writing. Belona Greenwood blogged about how winning Escalator meant she could make her living from words, and Emma Sweeney’s piece is a moving exploration of her writing motivation.
This year we’re looking for entries from genre writers living in the East of England (that’s Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk).
Whether you’ve completed your novel or just begun it, we’re looking to see your entries! Send in your best piece of work by Wednesday 28th November 5pm.
And remember, we’re looking for genre writing, so crime, thriller, horror, fantasy, science-fiction, romance, historical fiction, genre mash-ups and a whole host of other genres are all welcome.
Visit our Escalator homepage to find out more.
Past Escalator Winner Hayley Webster Blogs About Finding Her Writing Style
Hayley Webster, Escalator winner in 2005, has kindly written us a blog about her writing experiences:
I remember how I felt when I found out I'd won an Escalator award. Jubilant, excited, and a bit scared. Maybe a bit smug too, although I wouldn't have admitted that. I had about ten pages of Jar Baby written and no plan of where it was going. I like to write without planning, to surprise myself, but being backed by a prize felt very serious. Which, it turned out, was a good thing.
I'd already been writing for a long time when I got the award. I had been a magazine journalist and completed my MA in Creative Writing at UEA the year before. The best thing about Escalator was the time it gave me to dedicate to writing nearly the whole book, and also the chance I had to meet some really inspiring and interesting other writers. It also gave me an extra boost to be 'taken seriously'. Filling in the grant forms was hellish – but being an Escalator winner meant we had help with that. Which, for me who can barely read a train timetable, was invaluable.
Having 6 months to do nothing but write was wonderful, challenging and, in the end a struggle for me – which was another benefit of Escalator – it helped me find the sort of writer I am, and helped me get into a rhythm that suited me.
I think, the best advice a published writer can give an unpublished one is that there are no exact rules or ways of getting published. You have to be honest with yourself about the sort of person and sort of writer you are. We met various agents and publishers through my MA and Escalator but I met my publisher, Robert Hastings of Dexter Haven, at a reading I was doing, unrelated to Escalator. We signed a three book deal. I am lucky to have found a publisher who champions and 'gets' the work. This is invaluable too.
You hear the advice 'write 1000 words a day, without fail, if you are serious about writing'. I've never done that. During Escalator I discovered I like to write nothing for two months. Then 10,000 words in three days. Then some serious editing. Then maybe nothing for four months. Then another 10,000 words. I'm happy with that. At least I will be when I've finished the next one...
Hayley Webster was born in 1977 and grew up in Burghclere, Hampshire and Thatcham, Berkshire. She is a graduate of the prestigious MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where she was awarded a distinction. She was given an Escalator Award for Literature in 2005 and the writing of Jar Baby was backed by Arts Council East, who gave her a grant in 2006 to help in its completion. She has worked in women’s magazines, and now lives in Norfolk with her family. Jar Baby was released on the 25th October of this year.
Follow Hayley on Twitter.
Find out more about Escalator Literature Competition, currently open for entries. (Closing date 28th November)
Up the Escalator: Two Years On
Belona Greenwood has very kindly written us a blog about her experience of being an Escalator winner and how it changed her writing career:
I don’t know if it is a writer thing but I find it very uncomfortable when I tot up the passage of time. I have always managed to smudge the edges of dates, forget the anniversaries of things, lose my way in any calculation of when and where so it comes as a shock to realise that two years have passed since my year of mentoring on the Escalator scheme.
My still-ongoing book is a creative non-fiction book, Shadow Madonnas, an Exploration of the Map of Spite; a history of unmarried mothers. My Escalator year was invaluable but nipped past at quite a rate. The danger is that research flowers into procrastination. Personally too, in those two years I struggled with writing my own narrative as a single mother as the spine on which to hang the histories of others. I have now turned the book on its head and I am writing it as a lively account of the lives of others. I watch very carefully the new months that pass and impose new deadlines on myself. It is a relief that although some books do get written very quickly with knife-sharp focus, some take years to complete. It is a relief that I am not alone in having to answer the question, ‘is it finished yet?’ and say almost sheepishly, ‘No, not yet, ‘I’m still writing it.’ After a while nobody asks anymore and in a perverse kind of way there is a freedom in that sideline state and the only pressure on its long walk to the final full stop is my own.
For those of us of an impatient nature, I think it takes a particular ability not to panic but to hold back and keep faith with a long project. It is easy to feel scared as those years creep past and a book is still not ready to slip into the current of words streaming into publication. Sometimes, I do panic, other times I add up everything else I am doing and don’t give myself such a hard time.
Since my Escalator year I have been lucky to earn my living with words in one form or another. I have written a non-fiction How To Write A Play book, thousands of words on features, plays and a children’s novel for 9-12 year olds, The Circus of Miracles, finally edited and broken into chapters. Writing features for the excellent, independent Norwich Magazine and for a less excellent lifestyle magazine plus a monthly column with an Italian Magazine, has been like a flexing of writing muscle, a daily workout. Writing plays is a passion and my world is happily full of words. The trick I am still trying to work out is how to make sure it is also full of the time I need for the diet of writing that has a deadline measured in years rather than weeks or days.
The Writers’ Centre is a great support for emerging writers because it doesn’t measure your work only on short timescales. What a relief! It keeps faith in all the chrysalids it has seen start the transformative process into professional writers.
Our new Escalator Literature Writing Competition will be opening soon. Keep an eye on the Escalator homepage and sign up for our e-newsletter to be the first in the know.
A Novel's Progress: A Guest Blog Post from TLC Free Reads Winner Tracy Ann Baines
Tracy Ann Baines blogs about writers' fears, novel-writing and the benefits that a TLC Free Read can provide:
Every writer’s different. We all have our own way of working. There’s no right or wrong way - no right place to start. But my novel started with NaNoWriMo. I sat at my computer, stared at the blank virtual paper, and realised - I had no idea what to write. But write I did. I had to. I’d taken up the challenge - write at least 50,000 words in a month.
A character came to me - he had a name, a little brother, but he didn’t have a story. I made it up as I went along. No plan, no synopsis, nothing. I let the story lead me into all kinds of places. Things I’d read or seen; newspaper reports, advertisements, a TV documentary all wove themselves into the narrative. And then I stopped. Something wasn’t right. I started all over again.
The story stayed the same but the POV changed. The story needed to be told from different perspectives, each character as important as the next. Five different characters = five different voices; two teenage boys, a teenage girl, a ten-year-old boy and a grandfather. Each voice needed to be distinctive and believable. Occasionally I’d write something which moved me to tears and I’d wonder- Is this real or am I deluding myself? Would others care about the characters I’d grown to love. And so it began….
The voice of self-doubt, growing ever louder… It’s too complicated. I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s rubbish. I can’t write. The voices don’t work. The story doesn’t work. Just give up now!
The self-doubt remained but I kept on going until finally I’d typed ‘The End.’ I’d done it. I’d finished my novel in a month. Hurrah! But now what?
I left it to gather dust. But then I heard about Writers’ Centre Norwich offering six writers the chance of a free manuscript report from TLC. This was an opportunity I’d be foolish to miss. Anyway, I knew I wouldn’t win. So with the deadline looming, and with no time to talk myself out of it, I posted my submission.
I won! I was awarded a TLC FreeRead. Thrilled to be chosen, I edited my manuscript and sent it away. Nothing to lose. Everything to gain.
I opened the report with nervous anticipation…
‘an awful lot of potential… I enjoyed reading it.’
‘Your main characters are believable and likeable… your writing style is, for the most part, eloquent and commanding.’
‘Overall I think you demonstrate an excellent command of dialogue.’
‘I found your plot entertaining and well conceived.’
‘Overall your manuscript shows a keen attention to narrative, both in terms of style and substance… it’s an engaging and, in parts, genuinely moving story.’
Fantastic! Vindication that perhaps my writing wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. That’s not to say there wasn’t work to be done. The reader thought I could do a little more to make the voices as distinctive as possible. I could perhaps streamline the plot and make it less hurried in the final third.
‘teenage first person narratives are hard to write at the best of times… multiple narrators is even more of a complicated task…’
To have your self-doubts dismissed or confirmed by a professional provides an important stepping stone. When we sit at our computers, staring at the words we’ve written, sometimes it’s hard to see things clearly. Sometimes, the only way to find the courage to move forward is to have a professional read your work and suggest ways to proceed.
So be brave. Grasp the opportunity. Because who knows where a TLC Free Read may lead…
Tracy worked for several years in the film industry but now focuses on writing novels and scripts. Her writing has achieved some recognition with a variety of achievements. Her first children's novel, Pig-Boy & the Quest for the Cinnamon Forest, was shortlisted in Cornerstones Wowfactor competition 2007 and received an Honorary Mention in SCBWI-BI's Undiscovered Voices anthology competition 2008. Her children's fantasy, Escape From Above, was chosen as a promising entry in the 2011 Times/Chicken House competition and an extract published on The Times website. In 2011 Writers' Centre Norwich awarded her YA novel, Scarred, with a manuscript assessment from The Literary Consultancy. Her blog, tall tales & short stories, has been rated as one of the UK's Top 10 Children's Literature Blogs for the second time.
Read Tracy's blog.
Follow Tracy on Twitter.
Visit the TLC Free Reads Submissions Page to find out more.
Not Sure What Step to Take Next With Your Writing? Submit Your Manuscript to our TLC Free Reads Scheme.
So you’ve written a book. Or a collection of short stories, or a play, or a treatment, or a collection of poetry...
Now, what’s next?
It is difficult to negotiate the tricky world of publishing- what in the past was complicated is now made infinitely more so with the advent of online self-publishing. The TLC Free Reads scheme helps you to develop and promote your manuscript by providing you with sage industry advice and honest and constructive feedback.
Writers’ Centre Norwich, The Literary Consultancy and Arts Council England have teamed up to provide you with the opportunity to have your manuscript entered into the scheme. Specifically geared towards those on a low income (find out more about what low-income means) the TLC Free Reads provides a valuable service for aspiring writers across all genres in the East of England. If you don’t fit exactly into the low-income criteria but feel that the service would otherwise be out of your financial reach then please do still apply and just attach an explanation!
Writing is, by necessity, a lonely activity, but eventually you will need someone else’s opinion- unless you are marvellously self-assured. You get to the stage when you’ve sweated blood to write something which you love (or you reach the stage where, actually, you hate everything you’ve written and think it’s the biggest load of rubbish ever typed) and you need somebody neutral to read it and give their opinion and advice. That’s the service that TLC Free Reads provide: constructive criticism and counsel.
And it helps! Here’s what a few of our previous Free Reads winners had to say:
‘The TLC Free Read was constructive;...the whole process sharpened my writing and has been really positive and encouraging. I'm very grateful for the opportunity you gave and the belief you extended to my work!’
Tista Austin, Winner, 2011/12
‘It was a huge motivation and encouragement to be offered the free read... the free read report on my book was helpful, and answered the questions I had. I particularly appreciated having a writer looking at my work and I found their perspective and analysis useful.’
You can visit The Literary Consultancy’s website for more testimonials and success stories.
What are you waiting for? Give your writing a chance to shine with the TLC Free Reads scheme!
Find out more information on our TLC Free Reads submissions page.
Visit The Literary Consultancy’s Website
For writing tips visit our Pinterest page.
Taking the Leap: A Guest Blog Post from Author Carol Rifka Brunt
Carol Rifka Brunt was a runner-up for the New Writing Ventures Award in 2006, organised by Writers' Centre Norwich in our previous incarnation of New Writing Partnership. Carol began writing her debut novel, Tell the Wolves I'm Home because of the support and mentorship she received through the New Writing Ventures Award . Tell the Wolves I'm Home was published in the UK by Pan Macmillan in June of this year and was chosen as an Oprah Summer Reading book.
Carol's kindly written WCN a blog about her writing career, and the jump from writing short stories to creating novels:
I’m thinking about those times when you have to jump across a chasm. Maybe ‘chasm’ is a bit melodramatic, so let’s just say gap. I’m thinking of the kind of gap that’s just a few inches wider than feels comfortable. Something in your mind is not letting your body take the risk, so you wobble on the edge, almost leaping, but then pulling back again and again. I’m thinking about how there are lots of things in life that have that exact same feel. One of those things for me was the leap from writing short stories to becoming a novelist.
I’d been writing short fiction for about ten years. Short stories are difficult to master. It’s hard to get enough in each one without overloading it with too much. It’s a balancing act. This meant that I could spend a lot of time tweaking and tinkering. And once all that was done I could spend a lot of time submitting to the best journals and being rejected. I contend to this day that it’s harder to get a story accepted at one of the top tier UK or American journals than it is to get a novel published. And the thing is, even when stories were accepted or shortlisted for prizes like New Writing Ventures, I knew a relatively small number of people would read them.
What I didn’t realise until years later, was that there was a comfort in that. I was on the safe side of success. Nothing could change if I stuck to shorts. It was easy to tell myself that a novel was too daunting. That I wasn’t suited to the form. That was the chasm, the gap. That was my brain telling me not to take the risk.
Being shortlisted for the New Writing Ventures award in fiction came with the wonderful prize of a year-long mentorship program. Three times over the year I would be able to submit up to 20,000 words to my mentor. For someone who hadn’t had the opportunity to enroll in an MA program, this was a true gift. At first I calculated the number of short stories I would be able to turn in. And during the first submission period I did turn in three well-polished short stories. I hovered on the edge of the chasm.
Then something clicked. This was it. If I couldn’t take the leap under these circumstances, with all this support in place, when would I do it? What was I waiting for? I looked at what I had. There was one story that wouldn’t leave me alone. There was a dying uncle painting a final portrait of his niece. I could smell the lavender and orange in the air of the Manhattan apartment. I could feel the tension between the two of them. What was the uncle dying of? Why was the girl so defensive? Seven hundred words turned into a few thousand and the pages kept mounting. I wasn’t really writing a novel, I told myself. I was just seeing where this took me. And then, before I knew I was doing it, I had jumped to the other side of the gap. I was standing there looking back, understanding that if things went the way of my wildest dreams, many, many people might read my work.
At the time I wasn’t sure how I had done it. The moment of jumping the gap was a blur. But looking back I think maybe it wasn’t a leap at all. Maybe when the right support is in place, it’s more like building a bridge.
Visit Carol's website.
Follow Carol on Twitter @CarolRifka
Find out more about the Writers Services WCN provides.
Discover Escalator, our yearly creative writing competition.