Douglas Westerbeke: Publication News!

Douglas Westerbeke was Highly Commended for his novel A Short Walk Through a Wide World  in the Caledonia Novel Award 2022. He signed with Alice Lutyens at Curtis Brown, and his novel has just been sold in the US to Avid Reader Press, the newest division of Simon & Schuster. 

Hello Douglas!  Huge congratulations on the wonderful - and very exciting - news about A Short Walk Through a Wide WorldYou have certainly been very busy since your Caledonia Novel Award 2022 shortlisting! Can you start by telling us about how you signed with your agent, Alice Lutyens, who described your novel as “opening with one of the best scenes I have ever read”, “with a plot unlike any other”?

I've had a hard time getting my work noticed through the years, and I've been writing for a long, long time. The closest I'd gotten to getting my screenplays produced was after they'd done well in contests, so I decided to do the same with my first novel, A Short Walk Through a Wide World. It amazes me that there are novel-writing contests out there. I had no idea! So much reading! Far more than a screenwriting contest. How do people do it?

But there were contests out there, the best of them in Britain, it turned out. I managed to get shortlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award, was placed in several others, and was a finalist in another. While that sounds impressive on paper, it was the Caledonia Novel Award that actually changed my life. Alice Lutyens had immediately signed Alex Hay, the first-place winner, for his novel The Housekeepers (which I'm looking forward to reading!). It took her a little longer to make the leap for A Short Walk - it's a tricky to novel to understand and it still needed work - but I like to think she's glad she did.
We were delighted to hear the very recent announcement that your novel has been acquired in the US by Avid Reader Press! Can you tell us a bit about how it all unfolded, and why they are such a good fit for A Short Walk Through a Wide World?

Full credit to Alice - she got the novel out there and the response was so positive it made me doubt reality for many weeks. There was more than one interested publisher, and they were all the best publishers you could hope to have. But I had some terrific conversations with Margo Shickmanter at Avid - her reputation as an editor is stellar - and I'm very much looking forward to working with her. Also, A Short Walk is a bit of a genre-bender - could be literary, could be magical realism, could be adventure, could be fantasy. Avid Reader Press is more a publisher of literary novels, which seemed the way to go.

Now that the news is out, what do the coming months hold for you? Is there a publication date pending, and are there any plans to publish your novel outwith the US?

A US release in Spring, maybe Summer of 2024, they tell me. Seems a long way off, but it takes some time to ramp up, apparently. It's going to be a learning process for me, but also an adventure. Gives me time to work on my next book!

And finally, as a great supporter of writing competitions, what advice would you give to anyone thinking of entering the Caledonia Novel Award 2023?

I think, at a certain point, the best way for anyone to take measure of their work is to put them in contests. You don't necessarily have to win one - I didn't! - but to do well, to have consistent results, is a confidence builder and looks good on a resume. If you don't manage to do well, then take another look at your work and reassess. It's tough - I've been there - but it's a necessary part of the process.

But enter, as many as you can. And certainly don't skip the Caledonia Novel Award! I never assume I will do well in a contest - I keep my expectations low - but I remember submitting A Short Walk Through a Wide World  to the Caledonia and telling my wife, "This is the one I'd love to win". I didn't win, yet even being shortlisted turned my whole life around. None of the other contests - screenwriting or novel - have had this kind of impact on my career.

I also want to mention that I read the summaries and the excerpts from everyone on Caledonia's shortlist and was so impressed by the talent there. Many of them have found representation because of the Caledonia Novel Award as well and God knows they deserve it. Wishing them all the best of luck!



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