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 :)
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.’
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
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. Rowling’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!