It’s good to be asked to write a short piece about winning one of the Northern Writers’ Awards because I can say in a single sentence what it meant to me. Winning the Andrea Badenoch in 2011 changed my life.

I’m one of those people who’d ‘always written’ but had never done anything with my writing, never taken myself seriously ‘as a writer.’ Then in 2007 I was made redundant from a job that had frankly become too all-consuming. I was glad to leave, pleased to embark on a whole new life. With the kids gone from home I cashed in my pension early – OK, maybe I get quite a bit less than I might have done, but hey, you can’t put a price on freedom! – and I set about learning to write. I did some workshops, a few short courses, even started on an MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle Uni. Then I surprised myself by realising I had on my laptop various scraps, chapters, scenes, pieces that could possibly come together as a novel … Oh my.  That realisation was more than a little bit scary. Scary because who on earth was going to be remotely interested in the flappings and musings of a woman almost sixty who’d published the grand total of only one tiny story in her entire fictional life? Hrmmmm.

Then the tutor – novelist Jeanette Jenkins – in a writing group I’d joined told me about the NWN Awards. She said I should apply. She said I would have a chance. A chance. I could have a chance. So I went ahead and chanced it. I revised and edited and revised and edited and knocked my story into the semblance of a shape, and I polished it and pruned it, and got my work as tip-top as I could make it, then I sent The Confession of Stella Moon off for the Andrea Badenoch Award which is for budding novelists who are women beyond a certain age, as Andrea was when she published her first work. Oh my.

I never thought for a moment I would get anywhere, not really. So imagine my surprise when I was told I’d won. I’d actually won. Someone had liked my tentative explorations into the strange world of Stella Moon enough to make me the winner.

After that, it was a whirlwind. The awards ceremony where all those lovely people from the literary world came to celebrate with all that year’s winners and to cheer us on. I bought a new outfit with part of my prize money! And that night I met the judge who’d picked me to be the winner – the agent Jenny Brown who turned out two years later to become my agent … And the trip to London to meet agents and publishers and talent scouts, and how useless I was, really useless, at perfecting the ‘pitch’ for my novel.

Then part of my prize was a ‘free read’ from the awesome Literary Consultancy in London. Once my manuscript was complete and as good as I could get it, I sent it off to the TLC and received a 6-page appraisal. I did all the changes they recommended and sent it back. They loved it, said it had real commercial potential, then they helped me get my agent. And then my agent found me a publisher. That bit wasn’t easy and it took some time – more than a year I think – but the fact that I had won the Andrea Badenoch and had been shortlisted for another major competition really did make a difference to my agent persuading a publisher to take a risk with a by then 60 year old Geordie lass newbie with a gritty psychological thriller set in the back streets of Newcastle … The Confession of Stella Moon came out in July 2016.

So. The moral of the story is Give it a Go. It’s as simple as that. You’ve nowt to lose. And winning an award, like it did for me, could actually change your life. Give it your best, then give it a go. Oh, and Very Good Luck to you!

The Northern Writers Awards are open for submissions. Find out more and apply here by 7 February 2019.