Winning a Northern Writers’ Award has changed my writing life. As a published poet, I didn’t have a lot of experience in writing fiction apart from a couple of short stories. The application process helped me focus my mind and learn to be more pragmatic and strategic in drafting my synopsis. The submission of the sample chapters gave me a goal and momentum. Simply by applying, it forced me to launch the project from my head to the outside world, making it more real.
The award has given me a confidence boost and many opportunities that helped me develop as a novelist. I still keep in touch with other fellow winners and we support each other. The pitching workshop organised by New Writing North was a godsend, and taught me how to present and promote my work. As part of the supportive programme, we met with Juliet Mabey and her team at OneWorld. It was a real eye-opener to see a high-calibre publishing house. Also, I attended the Summer Talent Salon in London with other winners, meeting with and pitching to a wide range of literary agents and publishers.
Soon after the London Salon in May 2018, a number of agents contacted me expressing their interests in my novel-in-progress. I sent them the draft (about 15,000 words) and received some warm responses. I met and spoke to some agents, and in September 2018, I decided to work with Matt Turner at RCW, as there was mutual chemistry from the word go. He gave me luminous comments on my draft, challenging me to think and rethink my characters and their stories. Matt has been my indispensable ally ever since.
Like many authors, I juggle my writing with a full-time job (I work in the Hull York Medical School). But working with Matt helped me set a realistic deadline for the first draft. His attentive comments shaped the redrafting in a fundamental way, particularly in terms of the narrative arc and suspense. We worked together intensively over a few months to finalise the manuscript for him to send to publishers in September 2019. He was great in explaining which publishers he planned to target.
There was a lot of waiting and I’m not a patient man. What Beckett said was true: ‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ For every rejection I received, I learned something about myself and the book. When Sharmaine Lovegrove, the iconic Publisher at Dialogue Books/Little, Brown, gave me an offer, I was thrilled, and after speaking to Sharmaine, I was totally convinced that Diamond Hill has found the right home. The book’s USA/Canada rights were also sold to World Editions, a vibrant publishing house promoting international authors.
Working with Sharmaine was a joy. She had an uncanny instinct to read into my characters’ minds, opening secret passages previously undisclosed to me. We worked intensively over three months, from February to April 2020 (during the first lockdown), to refine the manuscript, which was finally accepted in May 2020.
Since then, I worked with the wonderful team at Dialogue Books. David Bamford, an Editor at Little, Brown, oversaw the entire process from proofreading to typesetting to production. David’s meticulous editing helped bring everything together.
Sharmaine was keen to have my input on the cover, which was wonderful. Sophie Harris, the designer at Little, Brown, was marvellous, and after a few articulations, the cover was finalised in September. In January 2020, I met with Millie Seaward, Senior Publicity Manager, and Emily Moran, Marketing Manager, who have been planning publicity for Diamond Hill in advance of publication in May 2021.
What I’ve presented above seems a lucid story from start to finish, but I must confess that I had to go through my inbox like a detective to reconstruct the multiple timelines, actions, and decisions, as everything went into a blur of luck, sweat, and confusion, partly because of the pandemic, and partly what has happened to Hong Kong where Diamond Hill is set. Writing the book has connected me to my beloved city, as if I was able to ‘live’ there again through the lives of my characters. Looking back, this publication story wouldn’t have begun without the spur of the moment when I decided to enter the Northern Writers’ Award, and managed to put a thought onto a page.
The Northern Writers’ Awards are now open for entry until 18 February 2021. There are awards for people at all stages of their writing careers. Find out more at http://northernwritersawards.com/