Cath Barton on how the belated success of her novella has boosted her writing momentum.
Every writer's journey to publication is different, but I think the important thing is to embrace the chances that come your way and never say never. This is not about the blind and misguided faith of the person who buys a lottery ticket every week and thinks that one day their number will come up. The cynical will say that getting published is like a lottery, but I'm not a cynic. If you've made your work as good as you can and you make informed choices about where to send it, you can get published.
I had been getting short fiction published online and in anthologies for several years, in a low-key way, when, at the beginning of 2015 someone in a local writing group said - "Who's going to write a novella this year?" and I found myself putting my hand up. I love a challenge! I found a competition for novellas with a closing date at the end of September. I wrote my novella and submitted it. The polite e-mail some months telling me my work had not been short-listed said they hoped this would not discourage me in my writing. I tried some other places, was again unsuccessful, and decided the whole thing had perhaps been misconceived because there was not much of an appetite for the novella, at least not in the UK, and what people wanted in the US was not the sort of thing I was writing. Into the proverbial drawer it went and I went back to flash fiction.
I heard about the AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella not long before the closing date in early 2017. I fished out my manuscript and sent it off. I remember saying to my husband that I would not get anywhere because this competition was open to people in the whole of North America as well as the UK. When I got long-listed I was thrilled. When I got short-listed I cried. On the way to the awards ceremony at the Hay Festival my friend said she didn't want to alarm me but had I prepared a speech? I told her I wouldn't be needing a speech because I wasn't going to win.
I won. I was, in more ways than one, speechless. I gave a bad imitation of an Oscar-winner's speech, thanking everyone and crying.
I won money, I won a critique from a leading literary agent, I won publication. But most importantly I won validation as a writer. It felt as if someone had lit a rocker under me, and I immediately started planning what I would write next. I spent some of my prize money on getting a decent website set up, and the rest on a course at Tŷ Newydd, the Welsh writer's centre. While I was there I heard about the bursaries and mentoring scheme run by Literature Wales. As one of the tutors there said, what better time to apply, to build on my success with the novella prize.
I applied and was awarded a place on the Literature Wales mentoring scheme 2018, and the one-to-one support I am receiving for my writing through this is proving invaluable as I develop a collection of short stories. Meanwhile I’ve started making contacts to help me research my next project, which will be a book based on the life of my Auntie Phyllis, who was a famous circus artiste.
I appreciate that I've been lucky though, like all other writers, I've had my share of rejection and disappointment. But I've also built on my achievements and seized opportunities that have come up. I would encourage every writer in the early stages of their career, at any age, to do the same. Here are my top tips for keeping up the momentum:
- Submit, submit, submit, but don't adopt a scattergun approach - send your work to places where you'd feel proud to be published.
- Use social media to connect with other writers, and get your name out there. People will take notice.
- Follow up those connections. I offer a guest blog on my website to new followers on Twitter from time to time. We writers need to support one another rather than seeing one another as competition.
- Meet up with other writers in real life. Join a writing group. Go to workshops, and not just in your home area - I went to one recently in Leicester and made new, real and on-going connections.
- If in doubt, say yes. That doesn't mean be rash, but it does mean be bold. Remember that quote attributed to Goethe: "Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."
Cath Barton is currently on the 2018 enhanced mentoring scheme for writers run by Literature Wales, working on a collection of short stories inspired by the word of the sixteenth century Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch. You can connect with Cath on Facebook and on Twitter @Cath Barton1, or visit her website www.cathbarton.com, where there are links to some of her other fiction. Cath lives in Abergavenny, South Wales, with her husband Oliver and their rescue cat Feely. The Plankton Collector is published by New Welsh Review under their New Welsh Rarebyte imprint on 26th September 2018.