img_1114Welcome to The Caledonia Novel Award. We are an Edinburgh-based, international award for unpublished and self-published debut novelists. Now in our third year, we attracted 250 entries from 18 countries for our 2016 award, which was won by US novelist, Andrea Crossley Spencer.

The Caledonia Novel Award 2017 is open from 1 May 2016 to entries in all genres for adults and young adults.

Prize: £1,000. Judge: Richard Pike of Curtis Brown.
Closing date: 1 November 2016.

Entry details here.



Here at The Caledonia Novel Award, we are really keen to nurture undiscovered talent and encourage new writers. With this in mind, we are very excited to announce an additional prize for this year’s competition. We are offering a special prize for the best novel submitted by an author from the UK and Ireland. This new prize is a free place on a writing course at Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre, situated in the Scottish Highlands, just 14 miles from Inverness. The winner will be able to choose from a selection of week-long residential courses taking place there in 2017. Details of the 2016 courses, and further information about this excellent resource, can be found at http://www.moniackmhor.org.uk.


Moniack Mhor is Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre. The centre runs residential creative writing courses and partnership courses throughout the year for adults and young people at all stages of their writing career. Courses are tutored by established writers, with a mid-week visit fromm2-8-1m a guest writer, and cover many different genres. Moniack Mhor also runs one-off events for writers, outreach workshops, awards and a fellowship. High on a hill close to Loch Ness, the centre is an inspirational and nurturing setting for writers to spend an intensive period focussing on their work.

Many thanks to Moniack Mhor for their participation!



Sophie Cameron’s Week at Moniack Mhor

Sophie CameronEarlier this year, I was runner-up in Moniack Mhor’s 2016 Emerging Writer Award and was very kindly given some money towards one of their excellent writing courses. I chose Writing YA Fiction, a week-long retreat led by Cat Clarke and Martyn Bedford, and last week spent an awesome week in the Highlands, reading, editing, walking, talking books and, of course, doing lots of writing! (Also eating large quantities of cake. Seriously, there was so much cake.)

The centre is near Inverness, just 30 minutes or so from where I’m from, and is set in two cosy cottages surrounded by fields of heather and heilan coos. It’s very remote, wonderfully peaceful and has really incredible views – postcard-perfect Scotland, really. It used to be part of Arvon but is now independent, though the structure of the courses is much the same: we arrived on Monday night, got settled in, had dinner, did a slightly wine-fuelled writing exercise as an ice breaker, then got stuck into workshops the next morning.

Martyn and Cat alternated their workshops and focused on aspects of writing such as character, setting, etc. All the sessions flew by and were really fun – I never use prompts or do writing exercises at home, and it always amazes me how much you can create so quickly, and how people will produce such different stories from the same starting point.Sophie's Moniack

In the afternoons, we had free time to write, read, walk or relax, as well as two one-to-ones with each of the tutors. I’m now on the second round of edits for my first novel, so I did a bit of that, but I made some progress with what I’m hoping will be my second and also carried on a few exercises from the morning workshops, just for fun. Getting feedback from Cat and Martyn, both of whom are brilliant and have tons of experience, on the first chapter of my new WIP was also really helpful and so encouraging. I was starting to worry it was a bit convoluted or just generally a bit rubbish, but I came home feeling much more confident in the idea and determined to finish it.

Most Moniack courses have a guest speaker, who comes for dinner on Wednesday night and then reads from their work. Ours was Anne Fine, and she was hilarious – full of writery gossip, very honest views on publishing, and stories about book tours and blood-spattered vans. On Friday, we all read out something we’d written either during or prior to the course. There were nine of us in total, all with different tastes and styles, so it was interesting to hear so much variety – everything from high fantasy to gritty contemporary. Our taste in literature was also quite different (very different in some cases – The Perks of Being a Wallflower was described, to my horror, as ‘utter drivel’. Sacrilège!) but it was great to meet such nice, like-minded people and to have so much bookish chat. I came home having bought three books and doubled my TBR list about four times over. All in all, it was a really great week in a gorgeous, inspiring place, and I came home feeling very inspired and refreshed. I can’t wait to go back!

Sophie's Moniack 2Keep an eye on Moniack Mhor’s website for news of awards and bursaries. The Caledonia Novel Award is also offering a place on a course for a writer from the UK or Ireland as part of their international prize, so it’s well worth entering if you have a full-length YA or adult novel.

Sophie Cameron was shortlisted for the 2016 Caledonia Novel Award for Out of the Blue.

It has never been less than a fascinating and thoroughly absorbing experience.Kathryn Ross of Fraser Ross Associates Literary Agency, 2016 Shortlist Judge

Unpublished authors, put this contest on your submissions list. Wonderfully run!Andrea Crossley Spencer, 2016 winner for The Promise of Water

“Thrilled when I saw the amount of international writers on the shortlist, and the calibre of their work.”   Lucy Van Smit, 2016 shortlistee for Hurts So Good

Thankyou for managing this award. I’m really pleased to be in such great company. And it’s fab to get such encouraging feedback.Kate Tregaskis, 2016 shortlistee for Zoo

Well done Caledonia Novel Award! Given the quality of extracts from the shortlisted novels, I am even prouder to have made the longlist!Martin Gilbert, 2016 longlistee for A Shadow in the Blood

2017 JUDGE

We are delighted to announce that the Caledonia Novel Award 2017 shortlist judge is Richard Pike, literary agent at Curtis Brown.


Welcome aboard, Richard! Tell us a bit about yourself and your job at Curtis Brown.

I joined Curtis Brown in 2012 after five years at Hodder & Stoughton publishers in London. I’ve since been building my own list of fiction and non-fiction authors, with a particular focus on helping debut writers launch and develop their writing careers. I also co-host PitchCB, Curtis Brown’s popular monthly Twitter pitching party for unpublished authors, and run the Curtis Brown Book Group. Curtis Brown is one of the oldest and largest literary agencies based in London, representing established authors such as Margaret Atwood, John Le Carre, JoJo Moyes and exciting debut novelists including Emma Healey, Hannah Kent and Renee Knight.

Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?

The variety of the job is definitely the best bit! You’re genuinely never quite sure what each day will bring, whether that be a thrilling new manuscript landing in your inbox, meeting a potential client with a fascinating story to tell, or even the satisfaction of tying up a long and tricky negotiation. If I had to choose just one bit? Well, for me, nothing beats being able to make the call to an author to let them know their first book is going to be published, especially for those authors that you’ve been working with for months or even years. It’s incredibly rewarding to see all of the hard work that’s gone into a proposal or manuscript lead to something so tangible.

When you read a manuscript from a debut novelist, what are you hoping to find?

It’s a bit of a publishing cliche, but I’m looking for something that I feel I haven’t read before. I want to be surprised and thrilled by a plot that’s unpredictable, and be taken on a journey by a narrator who is both compelling and intriguing, perhaps even unreliable! I’m looking for characters that are well thought out and more than just vehicles for plot, and for authors to be engaged with the fun and magic of storytelling, and who aren’t too caught up in technique and style.

Which genres excite you most, and least?

Personally, I’m excited by original storytelling in any genre and the great thing about working as a literary agent is that there’s really no restriction on what you can, and can’t, represent! Currently I find I’m particularly drawn to speculative fiction and fables, psychological suspense, historical fiction, and original crime writing.

Which is most important to you: plot, character or storytelling?

This is a really tough question! Honestly, I feel the best authors and novels excel at all three, and I think I’d find it difficult to fall in love with a book that fell short in one of these areas. I’m defiantly on the fence here!

What switches you off on the first page of a submission?

It has to be when an author uses too many paragraphs on scene setting or exposition, especially if it feels as if they are trying to dazzle you with flowery prose. Just get down to the story! We really don’t need every dew-heavy leaf on every sun-kissed tree to be described in fine detail, even if you’re able to do so beautifully.

How important to your judging is the synopsis, and do you have any advice for entrants when they embark on theirs?

It can be incredibly important. If a submission letter gets my attention and I then enjoy the writing, the synopsis is crucial in discovering how the plot is going to develop over the course of the rest of the novel. My advice would be to keep it focussed on the core plot points, themes and characters, and don’t go to the extremes of a detailed chapter-by-chapter breakdown. And definitely don’t confuse this with a book blurb – I’m not looking for cliffhangers in the synopsis!

In your spare time, which current novelists do you enjoy reading?

I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell, Emma Donoghue and Sarah Waters, and one of my favourite books of recent years has to be The Night Circus by Erin  Morgenstern. Recently, I really enjoyed Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, Ruby by Cynthia Bond, Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett and The Widow by Fiona Barton.

And finally, what advice would you give to Caledonia Novel Award entrants?

Be bold and original in your approach to storytelling, and don’t be afraid to defy the conventions of genre if it feels right for your novel. Re-read your manuscript at least one more time before you submit, to make sure you’ve edited out any plot holes or inconsistencies – you’ll be surprised at what you missed first or second time around! And most importantly, good luck! I can’t wait to read your entries over the coming months.




  • Our 2017 novel competition is open for entries from 01 May 2016 until 01 November 2016
  • Longlisted novels will be announced on 02 December 2016, with longlistees invited to submit their full novel manuscript by 09 December 2016.
  • Shortlisted novels will be announced in January 2017, with the overall competition winner announced in February 2017 and awarded £1,000
  • The entry fee is £20 per novel
  • Novels can be in any genre for adults or young adults
  • Novels must be the entrant’s original work and at least 50,000 words in length
  • The competition is open to writers over the age of eighteen of any nationality and resident in any country
  • The Caledonia Novel Award is open to unpublished or self-published novelists only
  • Entrants may be agented, but not by Curtis Brown
  • Entrants must not be employed by Curtis Brown or The Caledonia Novel Award
  • Entries may not be altered after submission
  • Entrants retain full copyright of their work, however by entering the competition give The Caledonia Novel Award permission to post an extract from the first 20 pages of any shortlisted entries on our website
  • The writer of the best novel from the British Isles and Ireland, as judged by Richard Pike, will receive a free place on a writing course at Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre. The winner will be able to choose from a selection of week-long residential courses taking place in 2017. The prize includes accommodation, food and tuition, but does not cover travel costs. The full list of courses for 2017 will be announced in November, 2016. For further details about Moniack Mhor, visit www.moniackmhor.org.uk. There is no cash alternative to this prize


    • Novels should be submitted via email to entries@thecaledonianovelaward.com with one attachment containing the first 20 pages of your novel (double-spaced in a size 12 font) followed by a 200 word synopsis. In the body of your email, please list your name (this should not appear anywhere on your novel extract), novel title, contact details and payment date.
    • The competition entrance fee is £20 per novel, payable by Paypal. Please click the below button:



ddxbtdrnWe are delighted to announce that the winner of the Caledonia Novel Award 2016 is The Promise of Water by Andrea Crossley Spencer. Our judge, Kathryn Ross of Fraser Ross Associates Literary Agency, commented:

“This is the story that I keep coming back to, these are the characters who touched me most deeply and this is the novel I most want to read when it is published.”

Kathryn was keen to emphasise the “tremendous quality of writing” which she saw in the shortlist, and attributed this to the rise in creative-writing courses. However, she emphasised that, in her opinion, storytelling is absolutely key: “It’s a real skill, a talent which is not so easy to learn. It was probably the main reason why I chose The Promise of Water – I felt I was setting sail in the safe hands of a storyteller.”

Kathryn Ross and Lindsey Fraser (glasses) of Fraser Ross Associates. PIc Alistair Linford 0131 665 4226 07771 770121

She added: “Many thanks once again for asking me to judge this year’s Caledonia Novel Award. I’ve been impressed by the quality of the writing across the shortlist, and really relished the range of genres and settings. It’s been a treat to read stories set in such diverse geographical locations – I’ve learned a lot! Interesting too that a number of the novels had common themes: twins, family secrets, seriously ill teenagers, twisted religion, dead parents (obsessed parents, cruel parents, even ordinary loving parents!) and, distressingly, child abuse. Reading the shortlisted novels hasn’t always been an unalloyed pleasure; these are unpublished novels after all and they all had their weaknesses as well as their very definite strengths, but it has never been less than a fascinating and thoroughly absorbing experience. As you know, I haven’t found choosing a winner easy and the two novels that, for me, rose to the top couldn’t be more different.”

Congratulations to Andrea Crossley Spencer and to all our shortlisted authors, and many thanks to all 250 writers from 18 countries who entered the Caledonia Novel Award 2016.

2016 WINNER: The Promise of Water by Andrea Crossley Spencer

FacetuneAndrea is an author, freelance writer and creative-writing instructor who lives in North Carolina, USA with her husband and two children. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and an MFA in Fiction.

Andrea’s desire to write began at an early age, and her goal was achieved when she entered an MFA program and immersed herself in creative writing. The Promise of Water is Andrea’s MFA manuscript thesis, and tells the story of Nora, the able sailor who goes missing on Lake Superior, and Nate, her twin brother who realises throughout the search for her, that he is as adrift as his twin.

Judge Kathryn Ross of Fraser Ross Associates commented: “The cold beauty and sheer vastness of Lake Superior is the dramatic setting for this story of a family faced with the heart-breaking loss of their daughter and sister, Nora in a sailing accident. This is confident storytelling, rich in detail and with an elegiac quality. The characters are strong and Nate in particular is well drawn and believable. I liked the fact that the writer had the courage to keep the pace slow at the start and to let the extraordinary secrets of these ordinary people’s lives unfold gradually.  Nate’s efforts to keep hope alive for his own and his parents’ sake and his increasingly desperate search for why his twin sister Nora went missing feel emotionally truthful and satisfying and the writing kept me hooked even when the pace and structure faltered towards the end. This is the story that I keep coming back to, these are the characters who touched me most deeply and this is the novel I most want to read when it is published.” Read the first chapter of Andrea’s winning novel here. Read Andrea’s winner’s interview here.

2016 SHORTLISTED: Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron

Sophie Cameron is based in Edinburgh, where she works as a Marketing Officer for TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland). In 2012, she completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Creative Writing, focussing on YA fiction. Out of the Blue is featured in SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices 2016 and was also shortlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award.

“The concept for Out of the Blue came to me after seeing Lynx’s ‘Even Angels Wsophiecameronill Fall’ advert about six years ago. The clip shows angels crash-landing in an Italian town, all of whom bounce
back up without so much as a hair out of place. It got me thinking about the damage that would be caused if that were really to happen and the different ways in which people would interpret it or try to profit from it.”

Judge Kathryn Ross of Fraser Ross Associates commented: “This novel has a visually arresting opening and makes excellent use of its Edinburgh setting. The narrator, Jaya has a great voice; she’s lively and determined, secure in her sexual identity – although not quite as confident as she at first appears – and with a nice line in wry, self-deprecating humour. Despite the high concept of the novel’s intriguing ‘Angels’ premise, the younger characters are satisfyingly real and earth-bound. The family dynamics, particularly between Jaya and her little sister Rani are keenly observed. It’s true that the falling angels turn out to be a bit of a McGuffin, but the writing is confident, the voice is engaging and I really enjoyed reading ‘Out of the Blue’. This is a writer with a great deal of promise.” Read the first chapter of Sophie’s novel here.

2016 SHORTLISTED: The Liar Bird by Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein


Jena lives in Brooklyn, New York. She has a PhD in Linguistic Anthropology and has worked as a writer, editor and researcher. Her writing has appeared in a number of blogs and academic publications, as well as You Are Here, This Is Now (2002).

As an anthropologist, Jena works directly in intercultural contexts; the story of The Liar Bird emerged from those encounters, and from years living in all of the book’s major locations. She speaks English, Spanish and French – in that order! 

Judge Kathryn Ross of Fraser Ross Associates commented: “This is an intense, slow-burning novel which explores the effect on a relationship of secrets kept through a misplaced sense of shame and lies told in the belief that the truth will be too hurtful. Unable to tell her husband that she was raped as a teenager and that her recently deceased nephew, Craig was actually her own child, Rachel leaves home, saying only that she will ‘come home when she’s ready’ and leaving Paul bewildered and distraught. The timeline switches between ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ and in the engaging opening scene Rachel is on her way home and ‘ready’, which unusually makes her character appear more sympathetic at the start of the novel than later on. Her note to Paul says ‘Don’t wait for me. Live.” but it’s Rachel who travels to Argentina and Peru, who learns Spanish and meets new people including Rodrigo a young man who reminds her of Craig. Paul meanwhile buries himself in the routines of domestic life. The descriptions of the preparation of meals, the washing of dishes etc. are exquisitely detailed and the writing almost meditative, but at times I found Paul’s passivity frustrating.Overall though this is an interesting and thought-provoking read.” Read the first chapter of Jena’s novel here.

2016 SHORTLISTED: One Act of Defiance by Rachel Malcolm

“I live in the middle of 85 acres in B.C., Canada with my husband and our six wild and wonderful kids.My youngest child is three and my oldest is fifteen, and I homeschool them all. I also work rachel-malcolm-photoas a birth doula because I just can’t get enough of birth and babies.

The inspiration for my novel One Act of Defiance came as I was drifting into sleep – in that place where you can almost create dreams. I started playing with the idea of the time of Moses and of slavery and what that might look like if it was set in the future. One Act of Defiance is the first book in a young-adult series about a young midwife who risks her life on a quest for freedom. Set in a future of slavery and oppression, this tale of courage takes an unblushing view of birth in all its rawness and beauty.”

Judge Kathryn Ross of Fraser Ross Associates commented: “A gritty YA novel set in a world where society is divided into an enslaved underclass of ‘deos’ and the ‘uppers’ who rule them. The teenage protagonist, Naya is a deo midwife and her profession gives a fresh and original twist to this dystopian tale of oppression and rebellion. The descriptions of childbirth are visceral, almost shockingly vivid, and provide some of the most memorable moments in the novel. I liked the fact that Naya looks forward to the days she has to spend in military training because the battle simulations at which she excels are light relief compared with the responsibilities of being a midwife. I have to admit to feeling disappointed when she fell for her instructor Jairan, although she redeems herself by following in her rebel mother’s footsteps and she’s soon fighting for real, and for her life. Overall the writing is assured and the action scenes are particularly striking, but I would have liked more sense of the world that Naya lives in, both the geography of the place and the mysterious ‘uppers’.” Read the first chapter of Rachel’s novel here.

 2016 SHORTLISTED: Zoo by Kate Tregaskis

After studying Fine Art, Kate set up and ran photography galleries before taking the then new MSc co160127_160127-kt_0001-v1aurse in Creative Writing at Edinburgh University, where she gained a distinction and was awarded a New Writer’s Bursary from the Scottish Arts Council. Her short stories have been published in a number of magazines and anthologies, most recently in issue 10 of Gutter.

The idea for Zoo grew out of a childhood fondness for Johnny Morris and his TV programme Animal Magic and days spent at Edinburgh Zoo with her young son which led her to wonder what it would be like to let the animals out. After several rejections, the manuscript for Zoo had been in a cupboard for over a decade until Kate decided to revise it. Kate lives and works in Edinburgh as a fundraiser for a local charity.

Judge Kathryn Ross of Fraser Ross Associates commented: “Zoo is a real page-turner – filmic, darkly comic and thoroughly entertaining. The story takes place over the course of one eventful Hogmanay at Edinburgh Zoo and the writer uses both the setting and the day-long countdown to ‘the Bells’ to good effect, building the tension as partners bicker, children grizzle, animal rights activists gather and lions roar. There’s an ever-increasing sense of anarchy and wildness about to break loose. The cast of characters is large and interconnected in numerous, inventive ways, and the writer displays considerable skill in telling the story through multiple 3rd-person POV and keeping all the plates spinning. Few of the characters are sympathetic, but that’s not a concern and the episodic narrative and the anticipation of disaster just around the corner kept me engaged. I wanted to know who, if anyone, survived… There is certainly commercial potential here and I could see it as a TV dramatization. Only two aspects of the structure, I felt, weakened what was an otherwise sharply conceived story i.e. starting with the last chapter seems like a spoiler and the numbering of the chapters in reverse order didn’t really add anything.” Read the first chapter of Kate’s novel here.

2016 SHORTLISTED: Hurts So Good by Lucy Van Smit


“I read a book a day as a kid, but didn’t believe I could be a writer myself, until I made up a bedtime story for my son, every night for two years, and read somewhere that’s how Roald Dahl began. I started my first book, Invisible By Day, on the children’s writing course at City Lit, with Sophie McKenzie, and wrote Hurts So Good on the MA Writing For Young People at Bath Spa.”

“I love Nordic Noir, but hate violence, and a child stealing a baby is about the worst thing I could imagine. I wanted to write about a girl who must choose between the love of her life, and being able to live with herself.  Hurts So Good won the Bath Children’s Novel Award, and the judge, Sallyanne Sweeney, offered to be my agent. I think novel awards are a great way to get noticed.” Lucy lives in London, with her husband and 14-year-old son.

Judge Kathryn Ross of Fraser Ross Associates commented: “Nordic Noir comes to YA in this stylish, fast-paced thriller set in the mountains and forests of Norway. Wolves, religion, obsessive love, a stolen baby, a beautiful bad boy… Hurts So Good has all the right ingredients and then some. The action is high octane and I was bowled along, willingly suspending disbelief. Even if I’d wanted to there was no time draw breath and ask ‘But, how…?!’ Ellie is an intriguing character – appealing and exasperating in equal measure.  She’s talented, independent and resourceful, but her relationship with Lukas is a dangerous one and the writer plays with the reader’s emotions as well as Ellie’s. Lukas is forbidden fruit and we always want what we can’t have. This is exciting storytelling with clear commercial potential.” Read the first chapter of Lucy’s novel here.


Hurts So Good Lucy Van Smit
One Act of Defiance Rachel Malcolm
Out of the Blue Sophie Cameron
The Liar Bird Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein
The Promise of Water Andrea Crossley Spencer
Zoo Kate Tregaskis


A Shadow in the Blood Martin Gilbert
Hope Brogan McEllan
Hurts So Good Lucy Van Smit
It Must Follow, As The Night Paula Hunter
One Act of Defiance Rachel Malcolm
Out of the Blue Sophie Cameron
Savage Hill Road Claire Delahunty
The Gallachists Joanna Lilley
The Liar Bird Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein
The Promise of Water Andrea Crossley Spencer
Wimmera Mark Brandi
Zoo Kate Tregaskis

Entries for The Caledonia Novel Award 2017 will open from 1st May 2016.


justineThe winner of The Caledonia Novel Award 2015 is Justine Taylor for The Chill Mark. Justine, a freelance editor and literary consultant from Eastbourne in East Sussex, receives £1,000 and our exclusive papercut trophy, designed by Edinburgh-based artist, Alice B Spicer

Competition judge and literary agent Hellie Ogden said: The Chill Mark shows the most promise and there are moments of great suspense. There is something really intriguing about this book.”

Justine describes her novel as a portrayal of an awkward brother-sister relationship and the consequences of what crime does to the people left behind. 


Justine, many congratulations on winning the inaugural Caledonia Novel Award with The Chill Mark.

Thank you! And thanks for organising! I’ve really enjoyed the experience, and I’ve met lots of other writers through Twitter because of this competition, so that’s been a lovely unexpected benefit.

Can you tell us what it was like finding out that you had won?

It was a series of surprises, first being longlisted, and then shortlisted, and then the winner’s announcement. I tried very hard not to let myself get too excited as I didn’t want to disappoint myself! I’m so thrilled.

What was your inspiration for writing The Chill Mark?

While I enjoy a good crime novel, I was more interested in writing about the build up to a crime and what happens afterwards, the impact that such an event has on the people left behind, than writing a straightforward whodunit. I was thinking a lot about guilt and responsibility as I wrote The Chill Mark. Ellie, one of the survivors, is unable to talk about what happened to her family because she doesn’t want to confront her role in the events of that night. That inability to face up to her past contributes to the mistakes that she makes in her present-day life.

Did your novel go through many changes, and is the end product what you’d planned?

Yes, many changes, and originally I intended the ending to be much more action-packed, but as I wrote my way through the story, I realised that the ending I first thought of wasn’t appropriate. The character who became Ellie’s brother Adam was completely different at first, and not likeable at all. It took me a while to understand his motivations but once I did, the book changed course. I did have a plan when I started, but I found myself revisiting and changing it every couple of months as the characters developed. For me, it was helpful to work out what each character wanted, and why that was in conflict with other characters’ desires. So yes, I did find myself going off-plan quite a bit.

Saying that, there are a few images that have been there from the very start. The image Ellie has of the silhouette of a man standing in the doorway was the first one that came to my mind when I started thinking about the book. Also, I wanted to write about glass blowing – it’s such a physically demanding process and yet what is produced is so delicate. I like that contradiction between process and product.

When and where do you write?

I try to write first thing in the morning, or late afternoon once I’ve finished work. I get a lot of writing done at the weekend. If I’m writing a scene I find difficult – perhaps because it’s emotionally harrowing or because I haven’t got a handle on it yet – I like to use pen and paper first, and then type it up later, revising it a little as I go. Thinking time is important too – getting outside and walking helps me solve problems, though a long soak in a hot bath is also good.

Writing can be lonely, and I found going to meet-ups where a group of strangers sat together to write was helpful – as was the discussion in the pub afterwards! My local library is a nice place to write in, airy and light, and I like writing in cafes, but I tend not to do that very much. I’m most often found at home at my desk.

Are you a member of a writing group?

I took the Novel Studio course run by City University in 2012–13, and I got a lot out of that – the tutors were all brilliant. There were 15 of us on the course, and since it finished, about 10 of us meet fortnightly to discuss eachother’s work. They’re such a talented group of writers, and all of them are so generous with their time and thoughts. We all know eachother’s work and writing style really well now, which helps with the discussion. I feel very lucky to have met them all, and would definitely recommend joining a writing group. It’s helped me immeasurably and it’s so interesting to see other writers’ work develop over time.

Which writers do you enjoy reading?

So many! I love Muriel Spark, Iris Murdoch, Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood. Tim Winton writes landscape beautifully and Breath and Dirt Music are favourites of mine. I loved Cara Hoffmann’s Be Safe I Love You and Miriam Toews All My Puny Sorrows. Also, Cormac McCarthy, Hilary Mantel, Rose Tremain, Paul Murray, Anne Tyler, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie… I thought The Valley by Richard Benson, which is non-fiction but reads like a novel, was fantastic.

I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately too, people like David Vann, Karen Russell, Alison Moore, Janet Frame, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant. Crime writers I love include Tana French and Denise Mina. The Boat by Clara Salaman is a gripping psychological thriller and plays with point of view in an interesting way.

What next for The Chill Mark?

I feel like I’m approaching the end of one part of the process – writing and revising – and am starting the next phase – getting it out there. While the ultimate goal is publication, I want to find the right agent for me and my book, and so I’m going to focus on that.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of entering the 2016 Caledonia Novel Award?

It can be daunting to expose your writing to people you don’t know but entering a competition is a good way to start putting your work out there. Break it into small steps – I set up reminders on my phone so I knew how long I had left to enter. I made lots of lists – scenes to complete, chapters to revise, overused words or phrases to delete or change…

If you haven’t finished your novel yet, try and finish it as quickly as you can – it’s much easier to rewrite words that are already there than to confront a blank page. Then put it away for a while so that you can come to it with fresh eyes. Prepare yourself for a lot of rewriting (I find rewriting rewarding and enjoyable) and when you’re ready, show it to someone whose opinion you trust. Ask them not to be too picky – perhaps ask them to point out passages that they felt were dull or areas where they weren’t sure what was going on. There will probably be another set of revises after that.

Once you’ve polished your book, send it off and try to forget about it. Start something new, and when the day comes when the longlist is announced, try not to hover between your laptop and your phone as you wait for news…


After the Affair Jacquie Bloese
Running Out Dave Essinger
The Chill Mark Justine Taylor
The Murder House Vanessa Savage


A Fine House in Trinity Lesley Kelly
After the Affair Jacquie Bloese
Fierce Animals Fran Slater
Hidden Roots Cary Reynolds
Run for Your Life Sarah Linley
Running Out Dave Essinger
The Chill Mark Justine Taylor
The Days Are Falling In Beverly Stark
The Joyce Girl Annabel Abbs
The Murder House Vanessa Savage
This Eden Called Warsaw Suzanne Reisman
Wimmera Mark Brandi




The Caledonia Novel Award, 22 Hillpark Grove, Edinburgh, EH4 7AP, Scotland

Entries for the Caledonia Novel Award are read by Wendy Bough, an Edinburgh-based editor, avid reader and passionate supporter of new writing talent.

As an editor, she has worked for Tatler, J. Walter Thompson and the Hong Kong Tourist Association, as well as producing many less glamorous documents for The Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Wendy is also a reader for a number of other writing competitions.


Edna O’Brien: Experience and Imagination, and The Little Red Chairs

edna-obrien-imageYou never really grow out of that excited feeling of anticipation at the prospect of seeing one of your writing heroes in the flesh, and the appearance of Edna O’Brien at the Edinburgh Book Festival was certainly worth the wait. She was effervescent, searingly honest, and wove such thrilling tales and stories as to make an all-too-brief hour flash past.

O’Brien launched the session by discussing her previous work: she has written a lot about love, set within the confines of her own country, and has always covered stories she felt passionately about: “One learns from life – I’m trying to – still!”

O’Brien now writes political stories with a personal narrative, but only tackles subjects which have “a corresponding echo within myself”. She knew that The Little Red Chairs would start, “as my novels always do, in a familiar landscape – County Clare is the locus of everything I write”, and acknowledged that The Little Red Chairs is ultimately about longing for home. O’Brien also wanted something different, something redemptive, as an ending: “Cathartic endings sicken me.”

She saw Radovan Karadzic on television in Europe after his capture, and thought his transformation from killer to mesmeriser was brilliant. Visiting the 2012 Sarajevo Red Line installation, which inspired The Little Red Chairs, was pivotal. She went to The Hague to see Karadzic, but he was, allegedly, too ill to meet her: “It was like going to see Lawrence Olivier in Richard III and he wasn’t on stage that day.” O’Brien did eventually get into the prison where Karadzic was being held, and spoke to his guards who informed her, among other things, that the prisoners got fed steak and red wine every night. She also spoke to Karadzic’s lawyer who described his client’s magnetism, and maintained that she and Karadzic would have liked each other “too much”. O’Brien quipped: “There is no end to human blindness!”

O’Brien delved into her early life with characteristic wit: “My mother disapproved of my emerging.” Her childhood home had no books in it apart from prayer books (“wonderful language!”), Mrs Beeton, and her father’s bloodstock manuals, and the convent she attended only offered “the worst kind of well-intentioned provincial tomes”. Du Maurier’s Rwaterstones-red-chairsebecca circulated around the village, but only in single pages, and these were not in order. O’Brien’s family did not want her to be a writer: “They thought there was sin in it.”

As a writer, O’Brien wants literature “to be literature and not just words flung down. There is no
need to go away from the power of your own experience and imagination”. She was asked whether she felt that the provincial or the metropolitan was more important for writers, having praised provincial newspapers for their wealth of stories: “It all depends upon the geography and temperament of the writer. Philip Roth has never written about a tree or a stream that I know of! What matters is the truth of the words and what they do to a person.”

O’Brien rounded off by returning to her craft: “Every book you write changes you a little bit. And then you have to do it again. And again. And again. I’m in my ninth decade and I am searching around and I really do pray that I’ll find another story!”

Debut novelist Kit de Waal discusses the real and the familiar

Kit de Waal’s short stories and flash fiction have won numerous awards, including the Bridport Prize, and have been broadcast as BBC Radio 4 Dramas. Her debut novel, My Name is Leon, is nominated for this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival First Book Award. 

Hello Kit. Congratulations on your nomination! Does the fact that the general public can vote for your novel to win make this award different? Have you had a chance to read any of the other nominees?authorphoto-1

Anything that’s voted for by readers is definitely a plus in my view. They are the ones that have been parting with their hard-earned money and time, so their vote, especially when up against this sort of field, is massively important. I’ve read a few of the novels on the list and the two that stand out for me are The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle, and Schtum by Jem Lester. Both are brilliant and real in entirely different ways.

You are appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 24 August with Simon Van Booy to discuss love and loss in childhood. How do you prepare for a shared-stage encounter like this?

I think the preparation comes in being present, remembering to contribute honestly and fully, and to have respect for the other person.

Will you be going along to any other Edinburgh Book Festival events whilst you are here?

I’m hoping to get to Nadim Safdar’s event on veterans and also to Joanna Cannon’s event about friendship in childhood. There are so, so many interesting talks going on at the same time, I’ve had a bit of a headache trying to work out where I should be!

We love your description of going from writing short stories to writing a novel as “the difference between picking up a cushion and picking up a mattress”. What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever received?  

The best piece of writing advice I’ve heard, although it wasn’t said to me directly, was, “Turn up”. What that means is sit down and write rather than talking about writing or reading about writing or plotting on index cards, researching, reorganising your desk. Actually, as writers we have to turn up at our desk and write. That’s the only way you finish your work.

You set up the Kit de Waal Scholarship in 2015, a brilliant opportunity for a writer from a disadvantaged background to study on the Birkbeck Creative Writing MA. In an interview in The Observer, you revealed that you wanted to call it the “Fat Chance Scholarship” – can you explain?

When I’ve spoken to people about doing an MA in Creative Writing or any other writing course, in fact, the response I’ve had is “Fat chance”. So many people can’t afford university tuition fees or course fees or the travel to get there. Or they work so hard and so long they can’t afford the time, or for whatever other reason, they feel there is absolutely no chance of them being in that sort of learning environment. The Scholarship is a small attempt at offering someone that sort of opportunity and a few runners-up a bit of mentoring and support. An MA in Creative Writing is no guarantee of a publishing deal or a book in Waterstones, but it can give someone the confidence and the tools with which to start a career and, more importantly, to learn the tools of the craft and have the experience of going to University, sitting down and saying, “I’m here at last.” (Details of the Kit de Waal Scholarship can be found here)

My Name is Leon is an honest and engrossing novel, deftly written with a tight cast of characters, which took you less than a year to complete.  We were particularly affected by Leon and the glorious Maureen. Is your work primarily plot- or character driven?

My Name is Leon (1)It’s difficult to make that distinction, but I would say it was Leon who captured me and drove the book on. Leon and all the other characters are very real to me and behaved very much as I would expect them to, so in that, it was driven by them. Although the plot is intrinsic to the character, there’s not much space between those two things in my opinion. I did write it quickly but mostly that was because I didn’t have to do any research. The characters, the subject matter, these are things that are real and familiar to me so there was a lot already in my head.

Which novelists, both classic and contemporary, do you enjoy?

I love Graham Greene, Guy de Maupassant, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Arnold Bennett and Patrick Hamilton. All of these writers (with the possible exception of Graham Greene) were particularly interested in little stages, small domestic dramas and the minutiae of life. They could construct a whole chapter around the closing of a door. I love that sort of thing. Cormac McCarthy, Jane Gardam and Kevin Barry are contemporary writers who I read a lot and who always make me think, “How have they done that?”

You are in the middle of a really busy year of appearances and events! How do you make time to write, and what is on your writing horizon?

I have an assistant who keeps me on the straight and narrow and who makes sure I block out whole weeks for writing. I’m actually writing this from a writer’s retreat at Gladstone’s Library! I’m working on my second novel at the moment and then I intend to write a short story collection and a novella. Then another novel…. I have so many plans and so little time!

You have won many prizes for your work across the genres – do you have any words of wisdom for prospective Caledonia Novel Award entrants?

My advice would always be to do your best. Submit your very best work. Don’t be afraid of rewriting and editing, but also be ready to say, “It’s done” and then press send. I would also say that most of us write to be read. Very few people are happy to have a manuscript locked in a drawer. If you are ambitious about work and proud of work, do everything you can to get it out there, enter competitions, go to networking events, listen to advice and put it into practice, learn and relearn the craft of writing, join a writers’ group, go and hear your favourite author talk, read books on plot and character. Do whatever it takes but most of all, turn up.

 Rob Ewing and The Last of Us

_g9a7238Rob Ewing’s short stories and poetry have been published widely and performed on BBC Radio Scotland. His debut novel, The Last of Us, has been nominated for this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival First Book Award. He balances his writing with his career as a GP.

Hello Rob! First of all, many congratulations on your nomination for the Edinburgh Book Festival First Book Award! The Last of Us is a riveting, unsettling novel which tells the haunting story of the last five children left alive on a remote Scottish island after all the adults have died. Did you write it with a particular audience in mind?

Thanks so much! It was written mainly for an adult audience, I guess – though it was suggested to me early on that it might also appeal to YA readers. The youngest readers I know of have been about 15 – it does explore some very adult themes, but if there’s crossover into YA, then all good.

You will be sharing the stage at Edinburgh Book Festival with Lin Anderson for a session called ‘Island Life and Death’. How do you prepare for these appearances, and how do you select which parts of your novel to read out?

I have no experience of appearing at festivals at all – help! I’ve done a couple of talks, and spoke at the book launch, which was pretty nerve-wracking. Funny thing is, by the time a book comes out you’ve spent so long thinking about it – spent so long inhabiting its scenes and rewriting (and rewriting) – that most questions are reasonably straightforward to answer. The really interesting moments are when someone picks out or sees something you missed yourself – in which case the correct response is, “Oh aye, I totally meant that,” while nodding sagely.

I’ve tended to read out the first chapter — which sets the scene without spoilers — but there is another scene I quite like to read where the children are being given a presentation by one of the GPs on CPR, and he receives his first phone call about the virus.

Which other events are you hoping to get along to?

I’m going to see Don Paterson – seen him loads of times before, and always brilliant. And I’m a bit gutted I can’t get along to see Joanna Cannon and Jem Lester: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and Shtum have been two of my favourite reads this year.

The Last of Us has been described as “reminiscent of Lord of the Flies and The Cement Garden” – do you feel that these are accurate comparisons?

Got to be honest, I’ve never read The Cement Garden. But yes, I put off writing The Last of Us for a couple of years because I thought it was too close in subject matter to Lord of the Flies.

Then I read Emma Donoghue’s Room, and was really impressed by how completely she got into the head of four-year-old Jack. So then I thought: ok. If I write first person then that might set it apart from Lord of the Flies, which was written in third.

All of the children in The Last of Us are strong characters with very clear and individual voices, and your novel is written, with great empathy, from the point of view of Rona, an eight-year-old girl.  Why did you choose a child’s-eye view, and why a young girl? Did you find it tricky plotting the characters of so many children?

My children were still young when I got the idea for The Last of Us.  Separately, I’d been jotting down all the funny things they said – just to keep, so I could show them later. Then, when the idea for the novel came, I realised I had a trove of real kids’ words and sayings which would help to make the novel come alive.

Also, though, I love getting inside the heads of other people. In the past I’ve written from the point of view of a cut-throat cut-purse in Victorian London, a colonist in Darien at the start of the 18th century, a barmy young inventor in early-19th-century Edinburgh, a drugged-up lothario choking to death on a lolly in a Sydney nightclub, a Yemeni girl who has to care for her siblings and feckless father, plus many others. Put simply I get a buzz out of being other people – 28530999inhabiting their minds, seeing and experiencing their lives.

As for plotting characters: I use a crib sheet of character traits, which helps define who that person is. And often I draw them, which lets me picture who they are, how they dress, walk, talk, act. It was a bit tricky though: there was a risk that Alex might turn out too childish, or that Calum Ian would end up one-dimensionally bad; that Elizabeth would be a sap, or that Rona would end up annoying as narrator, or Duncan’s character remain underdeveloped. I had to keep testing what I’d written to make sure they were plausible and (especially in Rona’s case) sympathetic.

The medical references in your novel are particularly authentic – and you do not shy away from graphic descriptions – which make the whole ‘plague’ scenario feel all-too believable! Given your other career, were the medical aspects the easiest parts to write, and how long did the novel take you to complete?

Yes, the medical details were not too difficult. Much harder was putting them into Rona’s words. I spent a lot of time trying to work out how an eight year old would see and describe the indescribable – e.g. an old lady whose face looks like ‘rotted tree bark’, ‘mushy spots’ on someone else’s skin, and lots of ‘dirty stuff’ and ‘yuck’ on the floor.

The novel took about a year to complete, and then another year to rewrite. I took my time with it, partly to get it right, partly due to time constraints.

In the Scotsman, the reviewer wrote, “Be warned: you’ll feel well and truly wrung-out after reading this, but you’ll also hold your loved ones that little bit closer.” This reader experienced a huge desire to look away and be spared some of the intimacy of the details in the novel, but was completely unable to do so. Can we expect more of the same in your next novel?

Yeah, I definitely still want readers to squirm with open eyes..!  Though in subject matter and genre, the next book is completely different. It’s a medical crime/thriller set in Glasgow, about a GP who begins to suspect the senior partner at her practice of being a killer. It’s written in third person, tells the story of adults rather than wee kids, so should be quite different in tone.

Which writers do you enjoy reading?

From the top of my head: George Mackay Brown, Belinda Bauer, Gerard Woodward, David Mitchell, Edward St Aubyn, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Tim Winton, Aravind Adiga. Oh, and I’ve just read Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See – a really wonderful book.

And finally, what advice would you give to prospective Caledonia Novel Award entrants?

Writing is 90% rewriting. Write the story that only you could write (not your autobiography). If you haven’t already, check out Jonny Geller’s TED talk on how to write a bestseller – it’s fantastic. Learn everything you can about creating a sympathetic character – then create that character. Learn all the tricks for building and maintaining tension – and use them all. Never ever give up – but if your novel isn’t going anywhere, ditch it and get cracking on the next.

Lucy Ribchester on Bringing History to Life

Edinburgh-based writer Lucy Ribchester is the author of two novels, The Hourglass Factory and The Amber Shadows. She won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2013 and CNV00030typewriter (1)was shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award in 2014. Lucy will be appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 16 August.

Hello Lucy. Last year at the Edinburgh Book Festival you were a First Book Nominee for The Hourglass Factory – a fine achievement. What kind of impact has this had on your writing career?

Hello! I think the Book Festival’s First Book Award is a fantastic thing and really does draw attention to debut writers, by bringing all of our books together on one page. I love looking through the lists of nominees to discover new authors. It’s inspiring, humbling and massively intimidating to see how much debut writing is out there. It’s hard to pinpoint what impacts directly on your career but I’m in no doubt it brought loads of good attention to the book.

This year you are appearing beside fellow Edinburgh writer Sara Sheridan in a session intriguingly called ‘Women Who Shape Big Adventures’. What has been your biggest adventure to date?

Haha, great question. I think discovering it is possible to do the thing I love to do for a living – however long that lasts – that’s really been an adventure. Really, throughout my twenties the notion of becoming an author seemed like such a distant pipe dream, I don’t think I ever believed it would happen. But it crept up on me, very slowly and subtly, through firstly being paid to write copy, then journalism, then getting short stories published. And it is kind of like being on a tightrope. You just have to keep looking ahead and getting on with it, because having your dreams come true and seeing what they are like in reality creates quite a weird mix of feelings. Actually though, aside from writing, I’m hoping that my best adventures are still to come.

How do you prepare for an Edinburgh Book Festival appearance? Will you and Sara swap notes beforehand, or will it be more of a seat-of-the-pants affair?

I’ve read Sara’s fantastic latest-but-one book Operation Goodwood and am looking forward to On Starlit Seas when it’s out. I like to read an author’s work if we’re doing a panel together because I think it makes the discussion more interesting. Other than that, I think I’ll probably just turn up and enjoy some good chat in the Spiegeltent.

You describe your career path as “strange and waggly” (swimming with icebergs and setting foot on St Kilda were our highlights!), but when did you decide upon a career as a fiction writer?

Thanks, those were my highlights too! I’ve pretty much written for as long as I’ve read. When I was a child I used to respond to books I liked by writing my own little pastiches of them. It was a way, I suppose, of prolonging the adventure of being in that book world. But my head got turned by acting when I was a teenager and for a long time I read nothing but plays and really thought I wanted to pursue both acting and playwriting. After completing the Young Writers Programme at the Royal Court I began to think playwriting might not be for me, and rediscovered a love of reading novels. It took a long time after that for me to decide to have another stab at writing one, and an even longer time to get published.

When writing your novels, do you try to stick as closely as possible to historical facts, or is it more liberating to focus on the fiction?

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 12.09.45 (2)It’s an odd balance. A year ago I would have said I definitely err on the side of the story rather than historical fact. But looking back on my drafts for The Amber Shadows there were one or two things I got quite prissy about with regard to accuracy. I think any writing of history involves a degree of imagination and speculation and whether you fill the gaps by imagining a cause-and-effect narrative, as in conventional history books, or by informed speculation about people’s emotions, as in historical fiction, it’s kind of the same thing in a way. It’s hard to describe, but for me I want the history to be a cradle, a context which supports, contains and also nourishes the story. But…yes probably at the end of the day it is more important that the story feels alive than, say, you record the exact month the butter ration came in correctly. It’s a balancing act.

Our Caledonia Novel Award 2017 judge, Richard Pike, has this advice for prospective competition entrants: “Don’t be afraid to defy the conventions of genre.” What piece of advice were you given which stuck with you as an unpublished novelist?

I had some bad/weird advice like, “Don’t write on a laptop”. Also, “Don’t give up the day job” comes up quite a lot – that’s a good one, I think. Not just financially – I’ve discovered it’s really not great for my mental health to be stuck indoors writing all the time, so I’m planning to get back into some tutoring after the summer. Oh, actually, I just remembered: Francis Bickmore, Canongate’s Editorial Director, said at an event that you have to “find your people”. And that always swills round my head when I think of how divided reactions to my books have been. It’s horrible to think people dislike your writing, but it’s beyond wonderful when someone tweets you to say how much they have loved your book. I think all authors are reaching out into the dark, and to find people who connect deeply with your work, and for whom it resonates, is incredible, no matter how tiny that group is.

You recently won a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship – congratulations! Can you tell us more about it?

Yes, I’m off to France in about a week to embark on a terrifying self-imposed boot camp of research and drafting. Seriously, I can barely lift my suitcase it’s so full of folders and books. It’s a truly wonderful opportunity that the Scottish Book Trust offer and I really want to try and make the most of it, disconnect from the internet and get stuck into my new historical period. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you more about it after I come back.

Both of your novels so far have been historical fiction, with strong female themes and characters. What can we expect from your third novel?

It’s a secret! I have a serious phobia about articulating what I’m writing about while I’m working on it. I know that sounds very pretentious – it’s not, it’s just a strange little superstition. There will most likely be women and history, and women from history in it.

The Edinburgh Book Festival programme this year is a truly joyous read – which events are you particularly looking forward to?

It is, isn’t it? I love the variety. I’ve booked tickets to see Jenni Fagan read from her poetry collection and Stanley Wells talking about Shakespeare. My friend Graeme Macrae Burnet is appearing with Cecilia Ekback and it’s always wonderful to hear Graeme talk about his work, so I’ll go to that. I’m also really interested in the Reading Workshops and am swithering about plucking up the courage to go and see Stuart Kelly exploring Finnegan’s Wake. Ever since reading The Bell Jar when I was a teenager I have been too scared to read Finnegan’s Wake, so maybe this will be my courage-year!


Annabel Abbs was longlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award in 2015 with The Joyce Girl, a compelling account of the tragic life of Lucia Joyce. Abbs signed with Impress Books, and her novel is due to be published on 16th June.

potrait-in-scarfAnnabel, many congratulations on all your success so far with The Joyce Girl. Going back to the beginning, what inspired you to write it?

I came across a shortened version of Lucia’s story in a wonderful graphic novel calledDotter of her Father’s Eyes by Mary and Bryan Talbot. This is a cartoon-style autobiography through which some of Lucia’s life story was woven. I never knew Joyce had a daughter, let alone onewith such a fascinating and tragic life. I was very moved by what happened to her and wanted to find out more. However, all her letters (to, from and even about her) had been destroyed, as had her medical records, and poems and a novel she’d written. It seemed to me that she had been purposefully denied a voice and I was struck by the juxtaposition of this with her father’s growing stature and celebrity. I decided to give her a voice.

Did you find it difficult to find an agent?

Not once I had some recognition from the Caledonia Novel Award! I sent a very early draft of The Joyce Girl to a few agents and they all (quite rightly) rejected it. I then rewrote it twice and submitted it to the Caledonia Novel Award. After I was longlisted, I edited it again and then sent it to about eight agents and got two offers. I chose (perhaps oddly) an agency based in Brussels because the owner loved it so much and wouldn’t stop hounding me. I also thought that, because it was such a European novel, a more European agent would have more success. But then I won the 2015 Impress Prize for New Writers and decided I’d be better off as a big fish in a small pond.

Why did you choose Impress Books?

When I won the Impress Prize, my agent had just put The Joyce Girl on submission in the UK. But Impress were really enthusiastic and, as their 2015 prize winner, they said they’d get right behind the book. My father had a tiny publishing company when I was small and I liked the idea of being with an ambitious indie.

Can you tell us what you’ve been up to since you were signed by Impress Books? We believe you’ve had some exciting news…!

Yes, The Joyce Girl went to auction in Australia and sold to Hachette in the end. And it’s just sold in Germany and is on submission in another ten countries. And it’s been taken on by a book-to- film agent – watch this space!

You have written short stories, a regular blog, and articles for Myslexia and The Huffington Post – how did you find time for all this, and for editing your manuscript?

I inherited a very strong work ethic from my parents. And we grew up without a TV. So I never watch TV and I work every spare minute I have. When I’m on the move (that includes walking the dog, cooking, hoovering the house) I’m plugged into an audio book and making notes on my iPhone.

In addition to your writing, you also sponsor a scholarship on the University of East Anglia Creative Writing MA – how did this come about?

Writing a novel on your own is very, very hard. I was only able to do it because I sold my previous business and no longer have financial constraints. As I wrestled with The Joyce Girl, I knew I was very lucky not to have to go out to work every day (I couldn’t have written it if I’d had to work and look after four kids). I wanted to help someone who was in the same boat but was unable to afford the huge fees. I went to UEA for my first degree, so it seemed the obvious university to talk to. You’ll find details on how to apply for the scholarship here.

We know you are a great supporter of writing competitions – what advice would you give to prospective Caledonia Novel Award entrants?

Enter as many competitions as you can afford. Consider it an investment in yourself. Don’t enter your novel until it’s ready – have it beta-read and/or professionally edited beforehand, if you can. Choose your beta readers carefully (they should be extensive readers – in your genre – and ideally writers too). Approach others on award long- and shortlists if you don’t know anyone. With Skype and Facetime, this is much easier. You could have a writing buddy in Australia, for example. Give your readers hard copy and a short questionnaire. Ask them to mark-up pages as they go – where the plot is too slow, where a character says something out-of- character, scenes they like and dislike, and so on. Work really, really hard on your opening chapter. I used to spend whole days in my local library just reading first chapters. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Typos, poor grammar and spelling mistakes quickly distract a reader/judge. It doesn’t matter how clever your plot or how poetic your writing – if it looks sloppy you won’t win. Likewise, follow the award’s instructions – if it says double spaced, do it double sjg-9781907605871paced!

The launch date for The Joyce Girl is 16th of June – what have you got planned?

We’re having a big launch party at Waterstones the night before and then the 16th is dedicated to blog tours, with bookshop meet and greets around the same time, and my first speaking engagement a week later. I’ve decided not to do a reading at the launch party because I want to talk about Lucia and what impelled me to write about her – and I want to talk about the charity I’m giving my first year royalties to: Young Minds. I want to keep the debate about mental health in young people alive – it’s so important and never raises the sort of money that animals and cancer do. Even now, it carries a stigma and this needs to stop. Ruby Wax, Kate Middleton and many others are doing a fantastic job of changing this. I hopeThe Joyce Girl can help – just a teeny bit!

Lesley Kelly, debut novelist published

Lesley Kelly was a Caledonia Novel Award 2015 longlistee with A Fine House in Trinity. Her novel, published by Sandstone Press, will be launched on 21 April in Waterstones Westend in Edinburgh. We caught up with Lesley as she made her final preparations.

Your debut novel A Fine House in Trinity has its launch in Edinburgh this week – congratulations! You must be so excited! How will you prepare for the launch? Have you chosen which part to read?

I’m hugely excited (and just a little bit nervous!). I’m actually trying to choose which parts to read img_1930this morning.  There is a real art to this.  It needs to not be too long or too short, to communicate the key themes of the novel, and, because my kids will be in the audience, to not have too much swearing in it!

Tell us a bit about the plot.

A brief summary: Joseph Staines left town with a stolen tallybook, but two suspicious deaths and a surprise inheritance have lured him back home to Edinburgh.  No-one is pleased to see him.  The debtors want him gone.  The police have some questions for him.  And a mysterious stranger has been asking about him in the pub.  To survive, Staines has to sober up, solve the murders, and stay one step ahead of the man who wants him dead.

Where did the original idea come from?  Why Edinburgh?

Like every debut author, I was writing about what I know.  I grew up in Trinity and Leith here in Edinburgh, and found some of the really old houses fascinating.  There were all kinds of rumours about the old mansions having secret tunnels down to the sea, and hidden rooms.  Whether these were to avoid the Press Gang, or facilitate smuggling, I don’t know, but either way it was a great setting for a crime novel.

We loved the characters in A Fine House in Trinity – how do you go about first choosing and then writing your characters?

I’m not sure I did choose them!  The characters take up residence in your subconscious and you have to live with them until the novel’s done.  I started with Stainsie’s current predicament, then worked backwards looking at all the characters who had contributed to him being there: his long-suffering father and brother, his wife, Isa Stoddart and her crime empire…

How long did the novel take you to write, and how did you find the whole process from submission to being published?

It started life as a short story, written for the newspaper The Scotsman’s celebration of 25 years of Rebus.  It won the competition, and I so enjoyed the characters in it that I expanded it (over cover-finalthe course of a couple of years) into a full-length novel.  The whole process has been a blast, but a total learning curve.  I now know a lot more than I did about Twitter, Facebook, blog tours, and all kinds of promotional activity!

Sandstone Press is publishing ‘A Fine House in Trinity’ – what made you choose them?

My friend had had a novel published by Sandstone Press (Blast Radius by RL McKinney) and suggested I send it to them.  They were the first publisher I’d approached, and I’m still reeling from the shock of them accepting it!

You have said that being longlisted for the 2015 Caledonia Novel Award “played a big part in me being confident enough with the draft to send it off”. What advice would you give to other would-be entrants?

I’m a huge fan of writing competitions. Your family and friends are never going to be able to give you honest feedback, but winning or being shortlisted for a competition judged by other writers or literary agents is a sure sign that your writing is in the right place.  The Caledonia Novel Award was particularly useful because all the longlisted entrants got some feedback – which of course I acted on!

After all the book signings and events around A Fine House in Trinity, will you be getting back to writing? Is there already another work in progress?

My nose is already back to the grindstone… watch this space!

“For Me, Writing Competitions Have Been Really Important” – Q&A With Debut Novelist JULIET WEST

Juliet West grew up in West Sussex and studied history at Cambridge University. She juliet-west-newworked as a journalist before taking an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University where she graduated with distinction and won the Kate Betts’ Memorial Prize.  

The opening chapters of her debut novel, Before the Fall, were shortlisted for the Myriad Editions/West Dean novel writing competition in 2012. Inspired by a true story, Before the Fall is a devastating tale of love and betrayal set in London’s East End during the First World War. Before the Fall is out now in paperback, published by Mantle at Pan Macmillan. 

Tell us about Before the Fall …

The novel is set in the Docklands area of London during the First World War, and tells the story of a soldier’s wife who has an affair while her husband is away fighting. It’s inspired by a true story which I researched many years ago while working as a journalist.

 How long did it take you to write?

I started in the winter of 2010, and finally finished the first draft in February 2013. So it took two and a half years to get a first draft of around 90,000 words. Not very speedy…

The narrative weaves between first and third person narratives. Was  this a decision you made at the start?

Originally I wrote both Hannah and Daniel’s voices in the third person, but I decided to switch to first person for Hannah. I found this helped to unlock her voice and gave her a more distinct identity. I continued with third person for Daniel, for no logical reason other than it always felt right. I think I liked the slight distance that the third person narrative lent to Daniel’s character. He is slightly enigmatic, and perhaps it’s easier to reflect that when writing in the third person.

Where and when do you write?

I have a desk in the spare bedroom. (Despite my best efforts to re-brand this as my study, we still call it the junk room.) I spend three or four days a week writing, usually days when the children are at school. I aim for around 800 words a day, but often much of the morning is taken up with admin, emails etc, and by the time I really get into the writing the kids are on their way home. So occasionally I get up very early and try to work before anyone is awake, but this can be counterproductive because I then feel drowsy all afternoon! I just muddle through, really, like any working parent.

 How did you find your agent?

In 2012, when I was mid-way through the first draft of Before the Fall, I entered a novel-writing competition run by Brighton-based publisher Myriad Editions. My book was shortlisted and although I didn’t win, I met an agent who was on the judging panel. A year later I submitted the book to four agents, including the judge from the Myriad comp. I was lucky enough that this agent, plus one other – Hellie Ogden of Janklow and Nesbit – offered to represent me. I signed with Hellie and she has been just fantastic to work with. 

How have you dealt with rejection?

When I first started entering writing competitions I’d be gutted if a story or a poem failed to place and a voice in my head would say: ‘You must be rubbish – what are you playing at?’. Gradually I realised not to take rejection personally. If you can get even one success from ten or twelve submissions that’s a fantastic hit rate (not necessarily a win, a commended or an honourable mention counts as success). As the years went on and my confidence increased, I began to get quite fired-up by rejection. The voice in my head became more bloody-minded and I’d think: ‘Right – I’ll show them!’

Any tips on writing the dreaded synopsis?

Try to keep to one page and resist the temptation to cram everything in (ie by resetting the text to 8-point, though I confess to 11-point and w-i-d-e margins). Make it interesting – a story in itself, without any flowery or inflated language. I think it’s a good idea to put the characters’ names in bold when you first mention them, to help fix those characters in the reader’s mind.

What did you find most valuable about your MA?

It’s hard to pinpoint one positive because there were so many. Taking an MA legitimised my writing and helped me to sharpen up in terms of technique. I loved the reading we were set, partly because it opened my mind to other genres which I wouldn’t normally have explored. I met some wonderful people who’ve become great friends and workshop colleagues. Also it engendered a sense of possibility. Several ex-students from the Chichester University MA are now successful writers. This alone was terrifically inspirational.

You entered many writing competitions while studying for your MA in  Creative Writing. How have writing competitions helped your writing  journey? 

For me they’ve been really important. Partly it’s the confidence boost you get when an entry is placed. But also the discipline of entering competitions is important, because you have to write to a deadline, proof-read your work and perhaps craft a synopsis or covering letter. It’s all good practice for the day when you may finally send your work out to agents.  

beforethefallBefore the Fall is out now in paperback. How are you enjoying events  and book signings?

The prospect of public readings and events was something I dreaded, but to my astonishment I’m actually enjoying the promotional side. It’s so interesting to chat to readers – not necessarily about Before the Fall, but about the First World War in general and also to hear their own family histories from that time.

What’s been the highlight of your writing career to date?

There have been so many amazing and surreal moments, but I’m going to pick the most recent: spotting a Before the Fall poster at London Victoria station!

What are you writing now?

Another historical novel, but this book is set in the summer of 1935 in Sussex and London. There are various relationships and themes, but at the heart of the book is a somewhat dark holiday romance between two sixteen year olds.