Khatijah Balu on winning the TLC Free Reads Award 2022

Khatijah Balu, winner of the 2022 TLC Free Reads Award, writes about her experience, from entering the award all the way to receiving her TLC manuscript appraisal and finding an agent.

Winning the TLC Free Reads Award in 2022 really helped with my writing career; I’d just completed an MA in Creative Writing, and entering the award was a spur-of-the-moment decision I made with the YA novel I had written for my Master’s thesis, set in the town I grew up in. I wasn’t sure if anything was going to come out of entering! Submitting my piece was simple – all I needed to have was a synopsis explaining the premise of my work, around a thousand words of the piece I wanted to submit, and to answer a couple of questions about myself. I received an email in June 2022 – I’d won the TLC Free Reads Award, which gave me an appraisal of my manuscript, plus a monetary prize.

I was invited to the award ceremony in Newcastle, where I was introduced to many other writers in different stages of their writing careers – some had been published for years, and others were just starting out. It was illuminating talking and listening to so many writers who had the same passions and endeavours for their writing, discussing their journey to becoming a writer, and what their path looked like up until winning the award. It was such a great night – my first real insight into the creative writing industry.

Come September I had submitted my completed novel for appraisal with TLC, and the service was absolutely brilliant – I’d received feedback on my novel that was immensely detailed from a reader that understood my creative endeavours with this manuscript. They really emphasised what I could develop and how I could develop it. Nothing was overlooked; I was given a lot of support on how to start re-editing the novel after reading my appraisal too, and outlined what parts of my novel worked well.

The great thing about the Northern Writers’ Awards is that the support didn’t just stop the moment I accepted the award and the appraisal – I was given an immense range of opportunities and experiences from a variety of partners and supporters of the award, from Arvon Masterclasses to wellbeing workshops to sessions on writing craft. It was all thanks to the lovely people at NWN who helped to navigate me to certain opportunities they felt were right for me. It really helped strengthen my identity as a writer – from being a hobbyist to a student to wanting to pursue publication for my novel – the award had given me the confidence to think I could actually pursue a creative career.

I can’t deny how much the award has helped my writing career, because I ended up meeting my agent at the award ceremony! We’re currently working on the novel together after I signed with their agency in March 2023, and fingers crossed, it will go on submission soon! It is all thanks to the award and New Writing North – creating an inviting and collaborative space for aspiring and established writers. I didn’t just win an award, I was given a range of opportunities that I am very grateful for.

About the award

The TLC Free Reads Award, in conjunction with The Literary Consultancy, offers up to three poets, prose writers and children’s writers the chance to receive an in-depth editorial report on their work in progress, as well as access to the Northern Writers’ Awards Network. It is open to people who may have faced barriers to seeing their work progress for financial reasons or issues connected to disability, ethnicity and/or sexuality.

Find out more here