Judge Naomi Wood presenting the award
The Bridport Prize recently tweeted a link to a TV interview (see below) with me about my novel, Seagull Pie, winning The Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel. The tweet also said: “Dreams do come true.”
To win this prize, in such a prestigious competition, is a dream beyond my imaginings.
The whole process has been extraordinary: I actually forgot I’d entered the competition, and when, six months later I was told I’d made the longlist, I was stunned. To progress further I needed to send in an additional 10,000 words (my initial submission was 5000 words). By a stroke of luck, I had the words, I’d written them only a couple of months previously at the L’ATELIER writers retreat in France. But the words were very rough, entirely unedited. I had but a few days to send them in. I was in Brooklyn at the time, visiting friends. I worked frantically into the night. My friends barely set eyes on me.
I managed, but I knew the likelihood of being shortlisted with those rush-edited words was extremely slim. Nevertheless, I ascertained the date when I’d be notified, as the next stage would require a further 15,000 words. Words I did not have. In just a couple of weeks I was due to attend the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s Autobiography and Fiction with Electric Literature residency, a residency during which I was supposed to be working on a new project, a linked-flash novella, but thankfully the faculty did not mind me changing plans to work on Seagull Pie. In two weeks I worked harder than I ever have, and wrote 20,000 words. I had until the end of September to edit them, but given that another novel I recently finished went through over 50 drafts and took me nearly nine years to complete, this was all a very different writing experience for me.
I was positive I would remain on the long-list, and very happy to do so: there were 1,075 submissions for the award and twenty were long-listed.
I was absolutely stunned to be told I was shortlisted, and then, to win? I’m still reeling.
I feel I’ve had an affair with the Bridport Prize ever since the early days of my commitment to being ‘a writer’ (in my late 40’s). I’d thought of myself as a ‘novel writer’ most of my life (without writing more than a few pages of anything!). But, in 2007, after shelving a few chapters of an extremely questionable science fiction manuscript, I focussed on writing short stories. I entered a story into the Bridport Prize short story award in 2010. The story was a finalist, in the top 100 of 6000 entries. I was overjoyed, it seemed proof I could, actually, write. And then, just two years later, another story received a ‘Highly Commended’ award. I was over the moon. I went on to write other stories, and place in other competitions, but this commendation was a high point.
I stopped writing short stories and toiled for many years over a novel set in Sri Lanka. In 2015, I took a brief detour from this novel and began writing Seagull Pie. The story behind this work has been with me most of my life, and I knew one day I’d use it either in a memoir or a novel. In fact, in the mid 90s, when my sister-in-law and author Susan Swan heard about my time living in Donegal as a teenager, she said: “You absolutely must write this.” I kept putting it off, however, and two months after I finally began, my mother died. One of the main characters is based on her. I couldn’t continue. I went back to the other novel, finished it, and early this year signed up for the week-long retreat at L’ATELIER to re-enter the world of Seagull Pie.
I thought, “Now or never.”
That Seagull Pie has now won first place in the Bridport prize novel award category, is an incredible honour, especially for a story so very close to my heart. And my dream of becoming a novel writer? It looks like dreams do indeed come true. I know my mother would be so proud I won the award. I’m sad I didn’t get to see the smile on her face, I’m sad she didn’t get to see the smile on mine.
With judge, Euan Thornycroft from A. M. Heath Literary Agents A. M. Heath Literary Agents
The powerhouses behind the award the prize are The Literary Consultancy, A. M. Heath Literary Agents and Tinder Press.The main judge this year was the wonderful Naomi Wood, author of The Godless Boys, Mrs. Hemingway and The Hiding Game. How could I not still be reeling?
I still have the second half to write, but it seems to me events are conspiring to make absolutely sure I don’t put it aside again. I’m extraordinarily grateful. Perhaps my mother is indeed watching over me, and giving the universe a nudge.