The New Writers Awards: What It Meant to Me

Catherine Simpson
Category: Writing

I answered the phone and a voice said: ‘Hi, I’m Claire from Scottish Book Trust.’ My stomach flipped and I held my breath as Claire told me I’d got a New Writers Award. I thanked her. ‘You’re very calm,’ she said, obviously unaware I was gripping the back of the sofa torn between collapsing on it and doing a victory lap of the room. ‘No,’ I assured her. ‘I’m really not.’

And I wasn’t; I was disbelieving, euphoric, relieved, excited, and terrified it was a mistake.  I said: ‘Would you mind emailing me so I don’t think this is a dream?’

Once the awards were announced I was invited to Scottish Book Trust (SBT) to collect a £2,000 cheque. Receiving money to help you write is surreal indeed and it felt wonderful to be taken so seriously as a writer. I planned to use most of the money to buy me time to write, although I spent the first chunk on a laptop. 

One of the main reasons I applied for an award in the first place was for the mentoring scheme.

Two months later, as part of the award scheme, I attended a week’s writing retreat at Cove Park, overlooking Loch Long in Argyll. This was an opportunity to read, write and think in peaceful and beautiful surroundings, but the highlight of the week was getting to know the other awardees and sharing our writing experiences. They were a talented and fascinating group and some good friendships were forged. It has been a wonderful part of the New Writers programme to see my fellow awardees succeeding one-by-one and to celebrate their successes with them. I have since written about my stay at Cove Park

Awardees are invited to various workshops and seminars throughout the year including sessions on Performance & Presentation, Social Media and PR. All this is vital stuff if you want to get your writing read and heard. After the Social Media workshop, where we were asked to consider the importance of having a website, I took the plunge and launched a new website.

The Performance & Presentation workshop was with experienced voice coach Alex Gillon and, being terrified of public speaking, I found this invaluable. Recipients of New Writers Awards are invited to read extracts of their work at the annual ‘Showcase’. This is a big event in the SBT calendar and the room is packed with family, friends, publishers, agents and potential readers. Alex’s advice helped me not only to get through the performance, but to enjoy it.

When we met for the last time and she put down her pen and said: ‘I think it’s ready for someone to read,’ I nearly kissed her.

I also got the chance to perform my work, and take part in my first live Q&A sessions, at Pitlochry Winter Words Festival and Portobello Book Festival, alongside other awardees.   

One of the main reasons I applied for an award in the first place was for the mentoring scheme. SBT take great pains to match up awardees with the most appropriate mentor and they got it just right with me. At my first meeting with my mentor, agent Kathryn Ross, of Fraser Ross Associates, we discussed my draft novel, Truestory. Kathryn is an expert at analysing a manuscript and asking the right questions and it soon became clear that a complete rewrite was on the cards. This was not what I’d wanted to hear, of course, but it did chime with other advice I’d received.

Kathryn and I met regularly over the months to discuss the rewrite as it progressed and after every meeting I left feeling motivated to overcome the many problems I was encountering. Kathryn was kind, generous, and, most vitally, honest. I know the rewrite could not have happened without her support. When we met for the last time and she put down her pen and said: ‘I think it’s ready for someone to read,’ I nearly kissed her.

Shortly afterwards I signed with my agent, Joanna Swainson of Hardman and Swainson, and a few weeks later got a publishing deal with Sandstone Press; all as a direct result of the New Writers Award.

Truestory will be published on 17 September 2015 and, although I received the award in 2013 the support does not dry up; Helen, SBT’s PR Manager has been giving me expert advice in the run up to publication.

Receiving a New Writers Award has been life-changing for me – not only because I managed to produce a publishable book but because of the lasting friendships that have been made and the on-going support offered by SBT. The writing life can be a lonely, frustrating and angst-ridden one, but being lucky enough to go through the New Writers programme has made it less lonely, more productive and a lot more fun, and for that I will be forever grateful.

 

Applications for the New Writers Awards close August 5, 2015 (midday). You can apply in English and Scots in Fiction and Narrative non-fiction, Poetry, and Children's and Young Adult Fiction.

Catherine Simpson

Catherine Simpson's debut novel, Truestory, will be published on 17 September by Sandstone Press. Follow her on Twitter @cath_simpson13 and find out more about her here www.catherine-simpson.co.uk.