Grindstone Literary Ltd 2020 International Novel Prize

I was wondering why my phone was bombarded with tweets yesterday, I didn’t check what they were at the time as I was having a conversation with my better half in a café, a rare treat, and I didn’t want to interrupt that. And then I got home, and…. well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I’d forgotten I’d entered this wonderful, fairly new competition. And then to see my name, and the name of my novel, presented like this, I couldn’t believe it. Just last week I’d finished a truly gruelling ten month editing slog getting Seagull Pie ready for submission to The Literary Consultancy for manuscript assessment and mentorship (part of my prize for winning The Bridport Prize First Novel Award) and then I came down with my expected physical crash, bedridden for nearly a week. Well, as you can imagine, this news perked me up quite considerably! There are some exceptional writers on the short and long list so I am truly honoured to have won. Catherine Cho was the judge, an agent at the prestigious Madeleine Milburn Agency.

This really does feel like an extraordinary end to an extraordinary year. In some ways I have been lucky, focussing on editing the novel has given me some respite from the pandemic. Some structure to my day. It’s not been easy, although I’ve so far managed to avoid COVID, my health has had many unpleasant twists and turns, but I was so glad I had this one thing calling me, every day, this story that means so much to me.

Thank you all at Grindstone Literary for your hard work in this competition, and to all those who have said such lovely things on hearing my news. 

After The End

I was going to title this blog ‘When you finish your novel, what then?’ Not that I have any tips, but simply because I’m in this awkward no-man’s land of having finished one long work, and I haven’t quite started writing a new project. I don’t like this place at all. I then Googled (of course) ‘When you finish your novel, what then?’ and found (of course) a plethora of blogs on the subject, in fact one titled with this very question.  Holly Robinson writes:

Unfortunately, what follows isn’t always instant acceptance by an agent, an editor, or even your beta readers and friends. Usually what happens is the calm before the calm, a big yawning hole of deafening silence as you wait for somebody, anybody, even your mom, to please please please read the book and tell you what they think.

Meanwhile, you experience doom-and-gloom sentiments: “What good am I? I can’t even pick up the living room!” Maybe you think, “The novel is dead. Why do I bother? Nobody reads anymore.” Or, “I’m not earning money doing this. In fact, I’m costing myself money! I should quit before my family has to live out of the car!”

Most of all, you feel bereft, because the characters you’ve been living with for the past nine months or nine years have stopped living in your head. The voices are quiet. Gardening and housework can help ease the pain of saying goodbye to those people you came to know better than your own friends. So can reading — because it brings you back to that place where you can marvel at other people’s sentences instead of gnawing over your own…

I hear the “big yawning hole of deafening silence.” Not from my mother, God forbid. I have no plans on showing her the manuscript. It’s too violent. Besides which, she’s not doing so well and isn’t reading lately. And, it’s not that I’m wanting feedback, I’ve had plenty of feedback and a lot of support along the way from some very fine writers and teachers of writing. The silence is from agents. In November I submitted a query letter to a select handful of literary agents. I received one quick and outright no to the letter, one very appreciative no to the letter and first 40 pages, and one who started reading the manuscript, told a mutual friend she was enjoying it (at about 30 pages) and since then, I haven’t heard back. And the others, they haven’t replied to the query letter. It was an email, actually. Now I’m worrying I should have sent a letter by post.

What is the etiquette here? Can I, after 8 weeks, send a little note asking if they have actually received my email? I’m sure if I do another Google I’ll find out.

As for quitting before my family has to live out of the car, well, my little family almost lives out of a car already. I’m not too bothered not to be hanging out with my characters anymore. I’ve been with them for five years, through countless drafts. I’m fully aware that once an agent falls in love with the work (yes please), I’ll be asked to do more edits, and there will be more when it’s picked up by a publisher. I’m ready and waiting. It’s the waiting I don’t like.

I know most people say start something new, and I do have two projects planned. A short story and a longer work that will be closer to memoir than fiction, based on a series of crazy events that happened when I lived in Donegal, aged fourteen. I have thought about this work for years, and will title it either Seagull Pie or Anywhere But Here.  I’m attending Barbara Turner-Vesselago’s Freefall Writing retreat in Portugal at the Monte Rosa Retreat Centre in April (join me, I think there are still spaces!) and this is when I plan to dive in to this longer work. I hope it will simply write itself. If anything I have too much material to work with. I just have to get it all down (famous last words).

sputnik2[]The short story feels more difficult, an idea I have that will be set in the early years of the space race. I have a big book from the library filled with pictures: Spaceflight : the complete story from Sputnik to shuttle and beyond. It’s a bit weird, to be reading this book. It’s the kind of thing my brother would have devoured while I played with my Barbie dolls. Am I actually interested? All I can say for now is that I feel interesting with this tome in my hands, one that I can barely hold up. I’m taking notes. I am, I promise.

I have also applied to the Artists’ International Development Fund to do a Live Literature road-trip along the east coast of the USA with the fantastic Robin McLean later this year. So I’m not entirely hanging about doing nothing. The UK Arts Council grant writing process is at least a two week full time job, exhausting and challenging and just a little terrifying.

And, this morning, I started, once again, the “page-a-day” writing practise I once set for my Diving Deeper writers’ group. Some years ago doing this practise produced a number of pieces I was able to easily re-work into flash fiction – most of which are published. And, it always made me feel I had achieved something, even if I knew what I’d written would never be read by another person, ever.

I know it’s what I ‘should’ do. I keep starting, and then giving up. Let’s see how long I can keep it up this time.

If you want to try it, here’s the deal: One page. Just one page. Of writing. There are no other rules. You can handwrite or type. You can type the same word over and over until your page is done. You can double space or single space. You can use a huge font but that is cheating. You can write separate pieces, or connected ones. It doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s a good idea to write as badly as you can. Just do it.

And…if ‘I should do this’ is one of those awful cacophonies in your head that make you feel bad about yourself (it is in mine), read the ever inspiring Dani Shapiro’s blog, On Art and Life. As she says…

…it helps to remember that every single moment you wholeheartedly experience becomes part of your instrument, part of what you know.

Photo on 27-11-2014 at 15.56 #3

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”


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.


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.

The Banff Centre’s Wired Writing Studio

I have been accepted for the Banff Centre’s Wired Writing Studio. This means two weeks at the Banff Centre in Alberta this October, and twenty weeks online mentorship. I’m very excited – I have been hoping for a mentor to help me finish my novel. The Banff Centre’s programs are competitive and highly regarded. I have also been awarded financial aid from the Centre, so all in all I’m very grateful. Now, to get the novel to 2nd draft so I can start the ‘real’ work on arrival in October!


© Copyright 2011 Roy Tennant,

From The Banff Centre’s website:

About the Wired Writing Studio

The Wired Writing Studio is a unique opportunity for poets and writers of fiction and other narrative prose to pursue their artistic visions and develop their voices through one-on-one editorial assistance from experienced writers/editors, as well as through involvement in a community of working writers, both on-site at The Banff Centre and online for five months following the residency.

Program Director: Fred Stenson
Barry Dempster – poetry, Stan Dragland – fiction and other narrative prose, Marina Endicott – fiction and other narrative prose, Sue Goyette – poetry, Alissa York – fiction and other narrative prose, Chris Fisher – technical advisor

2011 J.G. Farrell Fiction award for best novel-in-progress

I’m delighted that my novel, Tell Me In Tamil (draft title)has won the 2011 J.G. Farrell Fiction award for best novel-in-progress. The competition is organized by the West Cork Literary Festival. The adjudicator is Gillian Slovo, South African born novelist, playwright and memoirist. The prize includes a place in the Halfway Through workshop led by Gillian, and accommodation for the week at a hotel. How wonderful!

There will be a presentation of the award on Sunday 13 July at 18:00 at the official opening of the festival, at the Bantry Library. Please come! More details here.

There are some very exciting events and authors appearing at the festival – John Banville, Linda Grant, David Mitchell, Hisham Matar and many others, as well as creative writing workshops. A festival well worth coming to.


Logline Blogfest

I’ve not managed to get my logline entered into the wonderful Miss Snark’s Logline Critique sessions, But Steena Holmes at Chocolate Reality is kindly hosting a Logline Blogfest. Check it out and comment on the other participants and you could win a query critique or a critique of the first 5-10 pages of your manuscript by Michelle McClean.

So, my logline:

Helen, desperate to escape London and her life of waitressing, petty thievery and failed relationships, buys a one-way ticket to idyllic Sri Lanka. However, she arrives in the midst of a full-scale civil war. She falls for gentle Raghunath but he is imprisoned on suspicion of terrorist activities. When he disappears, believed dead, Helen is distraught. She needs money to bribe the police for information. Wooed by Ian, son of a local politician, Helen accompanies him to Thailand on a risky gem-dealing escapade. Will she return alive? Will she discover the truth about Raghunath? Will she change her life?

Second attempt after taking in all the comments, feels a bit clunky but here goes:

Helen, desperate to escape her London life of petty crime moves to Sri Lanka where she is swept up in the turmoil of the country’s civil war. When the man she falls in love with is imprisoned and later disappears in suspicious circumstances, she has to decide if it worth risking her life to discover the truth.

Third attempt:.. still clunky I think:

Helen, desperate to escape her London life of petty crime moves to Sri Lanka where she is swept up in the turmoil of the country’s civil war. When the man she falls in love with is imprisoned on suspicion of being a Tamil Tiger she must risk her life to discover the the truth about his subsequent disappearance.

How does a writer do research?

Well, I can only tell you how I’m doing it.

For first drafts, I try to tie my hands away from anything but the keyboard, and do my best (and fail bitterly) NOT to look things up on the ‘net. However, once the raw material is down, then I can insert things like specific bird and tree names, or expand on a situation or scene. I did very little research for most of the stories in my short story collection A Sort Of Walking Miracle. I did very little research for first draft of my novella, Serendip (draft title). Now, as I’m developing it to novel length, I’m finding I am doing some research as I go along. I’m reading about the period the work is set in, both in fiction and non fiction. Doing this has actually inspired further scenes in the book and because of this I have had to alter the original time frame.

I will be going to Sri Lanka for a two week trip at the end of August for hands on research. I hope to interview people who experienced some of the events that occur in my novel, and I’ll be taking in the surroundings and environment as much as I can. The last time I was in Sri Lanka was in the early 80s, and there is much I have forgotten. I thought I hated research, but now I’m actually enjoying it.

I have read of writers who do a lot of research before they sit down and write. Perhaps this will be an approach for my next novel, right now I feel I’m very much learning the ropes as I go along. Perhaps it depends on the story. I do know that I once destroyed a good story idea by getting lost in Google–I wrote 40,000 words and had to throw the towel in because I had written far too many ‘interesting’ words and had zero plot or character development.

Writing My Novel…

I am writing a novel set in Sri Lanka during the early 80s. I originally wrote it as a novella a few years ago and then put it in a drawer. I applied for a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to develop it into a novel, and they said yes. So, I was forced to take it out of the drawer. I read the thing and decided it needed radical revision, far more than I originally thought. I’m not sure if I would have continued if it hadn’t been for the grant, so I’m truly grateful for this. I wrote some new material during a Freefall workshop this spring, and then fell into a slump, dug myself out by writing a page a day on anything (see earlier blog posts), and then, committed to writing a page a day on my novel starting June.

So, this is what I’m doing, more or less. It’s like chewing coals, most of the time. But some days are good, and it’s always good when I write. Even if what I write is crap. For the most part I’m rewriting from scratch, although this is quite painful as I’m the sort of person who hates to go back over old ground. The novella was split up into several narratives, from several points of view, which made the work very shallow. Or rather, I was not able to make it deeper. So now I’m concentrating on two narratives, both third person.

Helen, an English woman with a history of petty thievery and depression, and Raghunath, a homosexual Tamil of low-birth living in Anuradhapura. Helen is running away from a court case in London, running away from herself, and Raghunath has lost his first love, Sarith, a Sinhalese teacher who has been kind to him. Sarith has disappeared in the killings of Black July, 1983.

They meet in Anuradhapura, where Uta, a German woman who has befriended Helen runs an insurance scam with dire consequences for Raghunath…

So. There it is.

One page at a time.