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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