Posted By: Rowan Whiteside, 11 July 2012
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.
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