Uncategorized · writing

J.K. Rowling’s Exeter and the Exeter Novel Prize

helena fairfax, exeter novel prize
Paddington Station

A couple of months ago a manuscript I’m working on was shortlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize, and last Saturday the award ceremony was held in (of course!) the city of Exeter. So, at the weekend I travelled all the way to Devon for the ceremony. Exeter is a pretty long way away for me. I live in Yorkshire, in the north of England, and Exeter is right down in the south. I was determined not to let the distance put me off, though, and in fact I don’t mind travelling by train. To me, being stuck on a train for several hours is just a perfect excuse to read a book (not that I need one!)

Besides, I like visiting parts of the country I don’t know well, and travelling to Devon was an adventure. We had to change trains in London, and the Exeter train leaves from Paddington Station – somewhere I’ve never been before. It’s a beautiful old building, and I took a couple of photos whilst I was there. If you’ve watched the recent Paddington film, you might recognise them :)

helena fairfax, exeter novel prize
Paddington Bear

We had a little bit of time before and after the award ceremony to explore Exeter, and it’s a lovely place. The magnificent cathedral dominates the city, and there are lots of old alleyways to explore. J.K. Rowling went to University in Exeter, and it’s believed she based some of the settings in the Harry Potter books on real places in the city. After visiting the cathedral we took a walk down Gandy Street (the inspiration for Diagon Alley – you can see the street here on Googlemaps).

So now for the award ceremony! The Exeter Novel Prize is awarded for the first 10,000 words and a synopsis of a novel, in any genre. I submitted the first three chapters of a YA novel I’m working on, called Daughter of the Brigantes. This is a new venture for me, and something different from my contemporary romances. Here’s my tag line for the novel:

Two teenagers separated by race, religion and two thousand years form a bond against the backdrop of Hadrian’s Wall in this time-slip story.’

helena fairfax, exeter novel prize
Exeter Cathedral (Wikipedia image)

The competition is organised by Creative Writing Matters, and there is a small fee to enter. If you paid a little extra you could also get a critique of your work, and this is what I was interested in. I wanted to get some feedback and to find out if it was worth continuing writing the rest of the novel. The feedback I received in January was really positive, and my reader loved the story. This was already a massive boost to me, and meant I could continue with my research without my usual constant self-doubt and wondering if it was all a waste of time.

Then I discovered I’d been long-listed, and after that, that Broo Doherty, an agent at DHH Literary Agency in London, had chosen Daughter of the Brigantes as one of the six short-listed entries, out of over three hundred submissions. Now I knew it was definitely worth while continuing! The award ceremony was just the icing on the cake. Broo Doherty was there to hand out the prize and talk about our entries. It was fabulous to hear her describe my entry as ‘A powerful novel written in a colloquial and conversational style. This is a novel about identity, family ancestry and religious fundamentalism.’

In the end, the winner was Clare Harvey, whose WW2-set entry will be published later this year as The Gunner Girl. It

helena fairfax, exeter novel prize
Left to right: Broo Doherty, Lord Mayor of Exeter, Cathie Hartigan, Clare harvey

was a lovely occasion, and brilliant to meet Broo Doherty, who gave me some really friendly and helpful advice; great to meet all the other finalists, and to meet Cathie Hartigan and Margaret James, the organisers behind the competition. Once the award was over we all had lots of tea and cake and talked about books and writing. What a great way to spend an afternoon!

And then after the ceremony I went with my family for a glass of wine at the beautiful Old Firehouse pub on Diagon Alley – I mean Gandy St :) The pub is on three storeys and lit by candlelight, and the perfect place to celebrate my Exeter Novel Prize finalists’ award. The pub was the inspiration for J.K. exeter novel prize, helena fairfaxRowling’s Leaky Cauldron. It has its own website here.

Entering this competition was really inspiring for me, and gave me the confidence to carry on with this new project of mine.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about my trip to Devon. It was news to me that J.K. Rowling based some of her Harry Potter settings on Exeter. If you have any comments at all, please let me know. I’d love to hear from you!


30 thoughts on “J.K. Rowling’s Exeter and the Exeter Novel Prize

  1. It looks as if you had a brilliant day, Helena. Your new project sounds fascinating and I wish you good luck with it, but it already had a great start!


  2. Well done you, Helena! It sounds like a really super day.
    I must send you a copy of Joni-Pip…I couldn’t believe it when I won an award for it in the United States. That is based in WW2. The American Chronicle liked me to Lewis Carroll…..and a few others!


    1. That sounds awesome, Carrie! Congratulations on your award in the US, and the great review. It’s brilliant when writers have all their hard work recognised in this way. Congrats!


    1. Hi Kate, yes, I thought that, too! I had no idea until last weekend that JKR had been at uni in Exeter. Now I’ve visited the city I can really see a lot of the settings in it. Thanks for dropping in, and for your comment!


  3. What a lovely post, Helena. Many congratulations on being in the final six of the competition. I love the sound of your novel – and its setting. Trains are my favourite form of transport!


  4. Glad you had a good time. Apart from its one-way system, I have very good memories of Exeter as it was there I attended the meeting where DEAR MISS LANDAU – THE MUSICAL was first authorized by the original writer (me).

    Glad it went well for you, and I was just up near Hadrian’s Wall the other day at a comic-con in Newcastle. The view coming back between Hexham and North Carlisle from the A69 was like something out of WUTHERING HEIGHTS and crying out to be backdrop for a film version of your novel-to-be!


    1. Exeter’s a long way for you, James, but how exciting! I hope the musical is progressing well. And the views round Hadrian’s Wall are stunning. You could almost believe nothing’s changed in some places. Thanks for your great comment!


  5. Congratulations, Helena! What an honor. What an experience. So proud of you and now I can’t wait to read this next book. What a shot in the arm to keep you writing. The photos are wonderful. Paddington Station. That must be where Paddington Bear got his name? Interesting about J K Rowling using the Exeter locations in her writing. Going to the university there. I don’t believe there are too many gorgeous settings in Macomb, Illinois where I went to college! But lots of characters! LOL. Still doin’ a happy dance with you..!!


    1. Hi JQ, yes, it really was a great shot in the arm, especially as I often lack the confidence to continue. Paddington Station is where Paddington Bear first arrives in London. First time I’ve ever visited, and first time in Exeter, too. Looks like a great place to study. Thanks for doing the happy dance with me!


    1. Thanks so much, Heather! It’s going to take me a while to finish researching and writing, but at least now I know it’s worth continuing. Thanks for your lovely comment!


  6. What a fantastic day, Helena – congratulations! I too had no idea about Exeter and JK Rowling. You learn something new every day …


  7. Congrats again, Helena. This is really quite an honor! Love the pics. The award is beautiful. Do you have family down south? You wrote as if you road the train by yourself. I would’ve thought you husband would’ve gone along.
    Okay now, get along back to the computer. Apparently you are supposed to write this next book. No excuses. No doubts. Happy for you, Helena. :)


    1. Hi Marsha, yes, my husband came too, and I met up with my daughter at Paddington, and my step-son and step-daughter in Exeter (they all live down south). It was really nice to see everyone!
      Getting back to the computer is the hard part. If only our stories would write themselves :) Thanks so much for your lovely comment!


  8. I am just now catching up on your blog posts Helena and I am so thrilled for you. It must have been so much fun at the conference and visiting where J.K Rowling wrote, and especially getting such positive feedback. I am, as always, so proud to call you me friend. I cannot wait till you complete your new project for the world to read. xo Lynn


    1. So good to hear from you Lynn, as always. Thanks so much for your really lovely comment. It was an exciting day in Exeter, but the best thing of all was being with all my family on that day. I wish you could have been there to share it. That would have been brilliant. Hope all is well with you in your part of the world xx

      Liked by 1 person

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