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’).
What a great story, and a lesson for us all. I sometimes pass up on opportunities because I think I’m too old for anything new, which I know is self-defeating (and ridiculous, really). You’ve got to be in it to win it.
Julia, I know what you mean. It’s easy to think, as well, that the publishing industry is just looking for the ‘next bright young thing!’ but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Gransnet (which, despite it’s name, is not solely aimed at grandparents or oldies – I expect you know that!) ran a novel writing competition last year, aimed squarely at female novelists over the age of 40, featuring a main character who was also over 40. It was won by Jane Bettany and her novel’s out now.
Thanks, Helen. Some days you look in the mirror and your (grand)mother looks back.
Aw, Julia, I’m sure it’s not your grandmother! (but I know what you mean. I see my mum more and more when I look in the mirror these days!)
What a great story of writers supporting other writers. Thanks for sharing. I see you’re on a roll at the moment, Helen, having also just won a year’s subscription to Writers’ Forum with your Newsfront piece. Congratulations on that, too!
Thanks, Amanda. You’re the only person who’s spotted that! I do actually win that subscription on a fairly regular (yearly!) basis and I think it’s because not many other people enter!
Ha! I’ve won it once, too. I’ve just had a bash at the First Draft feature and enjoyed inserting 20 mistakes in Jojo Moyes’ The Giver of Stars. Writing out the text, before inserting the mistakes, was a good way of getting inside the writing style of the author, too. It’s in the current issue. I keep meaning to tell you that I did a joint degree in English and German literature at Warwick Uni too! 1987-91.
Funnily enough, Amanda, I’ve just started reading ‘The Giver of Stars’! I love Jojo Moyes and I’m enjoying it so far! Well done on getting your First Draft featured. I tried that once – or maybe even twice – but they didn’t like mine! (but it is good fun to do). I did my English and German at Leeds but yes, that’s a coincidence, isn’t it? There were only 3 of us in my year doing that specific joint honours, so it wasn’t that popular a degree. (I also worked at Warwick Uni for a few years!)
Thanks for posting the story, heart-warming and encouraging! The Discoveries opportunity sounds great, I’d have definitely gone for it if it wasn’t restricted to UK residents. Bummer being excluded from various comps, happily there are lots which welcome international participants. Oh, and great interview with Kate Mosse! P.x
Thanks for your comment, Philippa. I know, I always feel bad (and think of you!!) when I have to type ‘UK residents only’ on all these things I post! But I’m glad there are lots of other comps for you to enter.
Thanks for that, Helen. Very Inspiring.
Some good advice from Kate Mosse. I love her books. I must catch up with her latest novels.
Thanks, Keith. Yes, Kate writes some crackers, doesn’t she? I can’t keep up with them all either.
Great opportunity and certainly a reminder to ‘have a go’. I’ve been reading a lot of JoJo Moyes lately, my favourite so far, is her novel ‘The One Plus One’. I loved it and bored everyone silly by telling them the story. What a nice person she must be. I was pleased to hear Candice did all that driving after a gap of a year from taking her test, too. I’d not long passed my test, as a very mature lady, before Lockdown. I’ve not driven for months and am worried I won’t be able to drive at all now!!! Thanks for sharing the info. Good wishes. Kate Hogan.
Kate, I loved ‘The One Plus One’ as well! I’m reading ‘The Giver of Stars’ at the moment. Not got very far into it but it seems good so far… (but will it be as good as ‘The One Plus One?’). My big tip re. driving (because it’s very easy to lose confidence, I know) is to get out there and drive as soon as you can (even if you have to get up at daybreak when there’s no traffic!!). It’s just a confidence thing, the old driving lark and like most things, the more you do it, the easier it gets. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Good luck!
Thanks, Helen. The daybreak idea sounds like a good idea. I won’t be able to scare too many people off the road! Good wishes. Kate.
Let us know how you get on, Kate!