Bridport Prize Award for a First Novel 2019

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.

We All Need Good News…

It’s been a challenging time for me recently, so it was lovely to receive two bits of good news this week. I was awarded a travel grant to help towards some of the costs of travelling to Crete for research on a new work this year, and I heard that a story of mine will be published in Hobart, a literary journal in the US (http://www.hobartpulp.com/).

(The image is a photograph of a photograph – of Chania port when I lived there in 1969.)

Winchester Writers’ Festival Writing Competition Placement

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I was very pleased to hear that a first draft chapter of my new project written this year at a Freefall Writing retreat in Portugal, won a ‘Highly Commended’ award at the 2015 Winchester Writers’ Festival Writing Competitions.

As part of the award, we receive feedback from the judges:

This was a very good account of a moment of departure told from a child’s point of view. The writing is full of detail and is extremely funny in places. I liked that this isn’t an airbrushed account. At times the experience feels uncomfortable and that is conveyed in the writing. This is a well told story that includes a real sense of tension and jeopardy. There are strong characters and complex family relationships are conveyed. I finished with vivid impressions of mother, Bonma, Michael and the dog. In a strong field this piece deserved its place on the shortlist.

Summer Literary Seminars

This morning I received a lovely note from Mikhail Iossel, director of the Summer Literary Seminars telling me that my novel excerpt entry had “Strong, interesting, inventive writing. Really quite accomplished.”

I was a shortlisted contest finalist and have been offered a “merit-based fellowships” to Summer Literary Seminars in either Lithuania or Kenya:

“Our programs this year will take place in Lithuania (July 14 – July 27) and Kenya (December 8 – 21), and will feature a wide variety of internationally renowned faculty and guests, including innovative writers, poets, translators, literary scholars, publishers, and artists. Another unique feature of the SLS programs is our close cooperation with the local literary and artistic communities, and the sheer degree of our program participants’ immersion in the local culture. We enable our students to the see the place “from within,” as it were: through the eyes of the local writers and artists, whether in East-Central Europe or East Africa.For more information about our 2013 programs, please visit our website at www.sumlitsem.org.”

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Winter News: reviews and awards

A nice little write up in The Southern Star, a local Cork paper:

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Reviews of my short story, “So Long, Marianne” in the Unthology No 3:

Sabotage – October 16, 2012 Review by Charlotte Barnes
Bookmunch – October 11, 2012 Review by Fran Slater

And my flash story, “Minotaur” was short listed for Lightship Publishing’s The Lightship International Flash Fiction Prize and will be published in their anthology in November.

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Bridport Prize 2012

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I’m delighted to announce that one of my short stories won a ‘Highly Commended’ award for the Bridport Prize, 2012. It is a great honour, the competition is one of the most highly regarded in the UK – and worldwide. There were over 6000 entries for the short story section alone.

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I attended the award ceremony and champagne lunch which was held at the Bridport Arts Centre on Sunday 14th October. The judge for the short story section of the prize was the wonderful writer Patrick Gale.

I had known Patrick in the 80’s – we both worked in the world’s worst restaurant in Covent Garden (it had a short life, it’s now no longer I’m happy to say). It was wonderful to see Patrick again, I’d been following his progress over the years and enjoying his novels. I hasten to add that the stories for the competition were read anonymously, and that there were no restrictions in the fine print about knowing the judge. ( I did in fact, decide NOT to submit a certain story that Patrick might have gleaned who the author was, set in that awful restaurant).

It was also lovely to meet some of the other award winners, and to wander around the very pretty village. I also went to my first Quaker Meeting on Sunday morning prior to the award ceremony, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Cork Short Story Festival and Other Bits and Pieces

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The Cork International Short Story Festival is coming soon — 19-23 September,  2012 – with some wonderful authors giving readings and workshops: Short Stories for Beginners with Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Advanced Short Story Writing with Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Writing Flash Fiction with Tania Hershman, I plan to attend Tania’s workshop, hope to see you there!

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A short story of mine, “117 Days” has been selected by Beverly Lowry as the winner of the second annual bosque Fiction Prize. The award includes a $1000 cash honorarium as well as publication in the Fall 2012 issue of bosque this November. The prize is awarded by the ABQ Writers Co-op, a creative writing community in New Mexico. Beverly Lowry is the author of six novels and several works of nonfiction. She teaches writing at George Mason University.

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In addition to my volunteer work saving slow lorises, I am also fundraising to support animal rights volunteers in Bosnia, where the situation with stray and abused dogs and cats is very bad. I fundraise to help pay for food, veterinary care and medicines. If you can help or have any ideas of how to help, please go to In Memory of Vučko.

Sirenland 2012.. and catching up

positano_church_wb-225x300At the end of March, I returned to Sirenland, the writers conference in Positano, Italy. Last year I titled my blog “Sirenland – a writers conference in heaven,” and my opinion has not changed, in fact it was an even richer experience this second time around, perhaps because I spent (a little) less time with my mouth agape at the beauty of the view from my window…. and more time soaking up inspiration and ideas and support from the group.

What I find so remarkable is that both times I’ve attended, the organisers and the three workshop leaders are completely ‘available’, even outside of workshop time and the other events. And because no one else is staying at the hotel, it feels very cosy but with this lovely glow, since the Le Sirenuse, where the event is held is one of the most beautiful ’boutique’ hotels in the world.

I was in Dani Shapiro’s group this year and last year. She writes both memoir and fiction. I recently finished her memoir, “Slow Motion” and couldn’t put it down. She is a remarkable teacher and group leader, able to ‘evoke’ a whole novel from just 25 pages of submitted work, supporting the writer to find out where the strengths and weaknesses might be, and what to do about them. The quality of feedback from the other participants was, again, excellent.

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Kathleen Lawrence and Rebecca Stead, participants in Dani Shapiro’s group

The other two workshop leaders were the inimitable Jim Shepard, and Susan Orlean who took the non-fiction group. Jim once again brought his wife, the author Karen Shepard, and his two sons and daughter – all three talented writers. Dani’s son, Jake Maren again produced the highlight of our open mic night by writing and directing a play (Jake’s just turned 13). Hannah Tinti gave her exceptional talk on getting published and entertained us with her ukelele playing (and singing). Michael Maren, as always, made sure everyone and everything was alright, and made sure the event was captured on film (he took the photograph of me, below). All of the workshop leaders read from their work on other evenings, Jim Shepard choosing  to read a new work, a flash story that had me weeping.

Sandra_Sirenland_wb-300x215I highly recommend this conference. I came away feeling supported and encouraged. Friendships were cemented or begun: people with whom I will be able to exchange writing feedback. This alone is such a gift.  Both times I’ve left Sirenland feeling  part of a ‘family’, one that will be there for me and for my writing in years to come. And it’s not just a feeling: after last year’s conference I stayed in touch with several of the participants, and received very helpful feedback on work that I shared with them.

I do talk a little more about the general schedule of the conference my blog about it from last year, so if you want to know more have a read.

Applications are open for next year’s Sirenland on September 15th.

I returned home from Sirenland to find a letter from the Arts Council of Ireland informing that they had awarded me a literature bursary to help me complete my novel. Arts funding has of course been slashed in the past years, so I feel especially honoured and grateful. What a blessing, and great encouragement for the final leg of the work, which seems to get harder and harder the closer I am to finishing…especially as my mentorship with Marina Endicott from the Banff Centre’s Wired Writing Studio is now complete.

I have to say I’m not sure I could have managed the long grey winter without Marina’s excellent guidance and editing. My weekly ‘date’ was sometimes the only thing that kept me from giving up on my novel – and myself! I’d re-edit a chapter and send it along to her, and receive back in a few days her comments and line edit suggestions. I would go through these and then work on the next chapter and send it off, and so on. The work she did with me brought my novel much closer to final draft, and taught me a lot about the process of editing a longer work. I am still in touch with some of the other participants from Banff, and hope to meet up in Toronto in July.

I’m not yet at final draft, but close.

I will be a guest writer at the 12th International Conference on the Short Story in English, June 27 – 30, but more about that in my next post.