The 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.
2015 WINNER’S INTERVIEW
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…
THE CALEDONIA NOVEL AWARD 2015 SHORTLIST
|After the Affair||Jacquie Bloese|
|Running Out||Dave Essinger|
|The Chill Mark||Justine Taylor|
|The Murder House||Vanessa Savage|
THE CALEDONIA NOVEL AWARD 2015 LONGLIST