Four years ago, almost exactly to the day – on 19th September 2016, to be precise – I blogged about how author Jojo Moyes was offering her cottage in Suffolk for a week to an aspiring writer in need of time and space, in order to ‘kickstart or even finish’ their novel.
Do you remember?
I do because I thought it was really generous and a great opportunity for someone.
And funnily enough, in that way that life has of coming ‘full circle’, today I sat out in the garden (after 4 fairly kn*ckering hours of Zoom teaching) and finished reading the brilliant, award-winning novel ‘Queenie’.
And? Well, it turns out that the author – Candice Carty-Williams – was the winner of that very week in Suffolk and her novel was partly the result of that retreat.
And it made me think about opportunities and making the most of them.
When Candice read about Jojo’s offer of a week in Suffolk (not on my blog, I hasten to add! She probably saw it, as I did, on social media), she was living in a cold, grotty, flat-share, sitting in bed (and probably feeling rather sorry for herself) and she thought ‘Why not? What have I got to lose?’
So, she applied and won (beating 600 other applicants in the process) and a month later, having borrowed a friend’s car, she was heading for Suffolk.
She hadn’t driven a car since passing her test the year before, she’d never driven on a motorway or outside London and it took her 6 hours to do what should have been a 2-hour journey. (Something, as Jojo Moyes said in her review of the book on Goodreads, that the character Queenie would probably do!).
Brave? Or foolhardy? Whichever way you look at it (I’d have been Googling train timetables!), she was THAT DETERMINED.
“I’m of the mind,” Candice says, “that if you have to do something, you just get it done. So, I did it.”
When she arrived at the cottage, according to Jojo, Candice ‘declined a cup of tea and went straight to work’. By bedtime on the first day, she’d written 8000 words and by the end of the week, 40,000.
“It felt a bit like an outpouring,” she says. “I think Queenie had been brewing for a very long time.”
Sometimes, as writers, opportunities come up – to win a writing retreat, or the chance to be mentored, or for a critique on your writing – and if it’s something that you’d like to do and you think it would help, all I can say is: Go For It!
Let’s face it, it’s hard, beavering away on your own. A bit of help, encouragement, advice or ego-stroking, all helps! (And if it’s free to enter, really, what have you got to lose? Just send it off, forget about it and move on to the next thing!).
A few people have said to me that they wish, now, that they’d applied for the Kate Nash #BookCamp. I wonder why they didn’t? Lack of time, perhaps or that underlying feeling that ‘I can’t do that, they’d never pick me?’ But why not you? If you don’t try, you’ll never know.
And on that note, here’s another mentoring/agenting opportunity, free to enter, for un-agented FEMALE novelists and this time with Curtis Brown.
You don’t have to have finished your novel – only started one – but you do have to live in the UK and be over 18. Check other rules and regs carefully. You’ve got until 17th January 2021 but don’t do what I usually do and leave it all to the last minute.
Good luck! And keep your eye on the blog, as I always post this kind of thing, when I spot it!
And here’s an interesting interview with novelist Kate Mosse, who is chairing the judging panel (I particularly like her writing tip, that ‘5 minutes a day are better than no minutes’).