Back in January, I applied for yet another writing competition, The Bridge Awards/Moniack Mhor Emerging Writer Award. This competition was for a work-in-progress, so I sent them a sample from the first draft of my new novel, Uncle Raymond. I’d sent my first novel, Still off to compete in competitions for unpublished novels and I regularly pack my short stories off to try their luck in short story competitions. The short story Doorstep Vigil did well, it got itself short-listed, and Still has made it onto one shortlist and a couple of longlists. But I’ve never been a winner. Until now.
On Monday afternoon, I was sitting with my daughter on the sofa, chatting about her recent trip to India, when my phone rang. It was an unknown number so I didn’t answer it. I said, ‘If it’s important then they’ll leave a message, but it’s probably spam. I’ll look it up on Who Called Me? Dot Com in a minute.’
The ringing stopped. Soon after, there was a voicemail notification. The message began, ‘Hi Rue!’, which meant that it was about my writing. I sat up straighter. The message-leaver was phoning from Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s creative writing centre. She sounded very cheerful, and said that she had good news for me.
When I returned her call she told me, unbelievably, that I was the overall winner of the Emerging Writer award! I gasped and I gabbled and I tried to absorb what she was saying, but overall I was just overwhelmed with happiness and rendered largely incapable.
The prize is £2,000-worth of support, tailor-made to suit me, including the options of mentoring, retreats, taught courses and tutored retreats. I have to choose. Which is one of the most wonderful dilemmas I have ever faced! Part of me wants to say: all of it! Give me everything!, but luckily my sensible side is holding that one back and telling it to think things through carefully, because this is too good an opportunity to waste.
I am incredibly grateful to The Bridge Awards, a Scottish-based charity who describe themselves as ‘a philanthropic venture that provides funding for the arts.’ The Emerging Writer award is managed by Moniack Mhor writing centre, who offer creative writing courses and retreats based in the Scottish Highlands, and I am, of course, equally grateful to them, and hugely looking forward to spending time up there, working on the new novel.
I say I’ve never won anything before, but, I suppose, in a way, being awarded a Jerwood/Arvon Menteeship in 2015, was very like winning a competition. The experiences and opportunities I got from that mentorship scheme were wonderful, and went a long way towards getting Still written. I am very much hoping (and, indeed, expecting) that this prize will do the same for Uncle Raymond.