Polly Crosby

After the Bridport Prize by Polly Crosby

For someone who is about to embark on a career as a novelist, I’m not very good with words. Don’t get me wrong, I love words. I love the sounds they make, the pictures they conjure in my head. I like flicking through my thesaurus and finding new ones, collecting them like I collect stones on the beach. But it’s remembering what they all mean that I find the hardest.

Take the word ‘procrastination’, for example. Until a year or so ago, I’d never had reason to use it. I had no idea that it was the exact word for what I do most of the time when I should be writing. Procrastination involves making lots of cups of tea. It involves checking emails and social media every few minutes. Sometimes, on the worst days, it includes cleaning the toilet rather than sitting down at the laptop and actually trying to write.

But last year, when I was trying and failing to finish my novel, The Illustrated Child, The Bridport Prize jumped in and saved me. The idea of a competition deadline got me focused, and the thought that someone somewhere would definitely read the beginning of my novel gave me motivation. And then there was that tiny, far off butterflies-in-the-tummy feeling that I might make it onto the longlist, or perhaps (hyperventilates) even the shortlist.

Of course, I didn’t believe it would come to that, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

I am a dreamer. All writers are, deep down. We conjure up stories, and spend half our time tapping them out as fast as possible, and the other half sitting staring at our laptops, unable to think up even one single word.

Over the next few months I dreamt of The Bridport Prize. I imagined reaching the point in the competition where the highly esteemed judges read my work. I pictured myself standing up in front of everybody, reading an extract and trying not to be sick.

We have been taught to believe that real life is never as good as the fairytale, but what actually happened was better than the most wonderful dream. I never expected to be the runner-up in such a prestigious competition. My family and I spent a beautiful sunny weekend in Dorset, exploring Bridport’s bookshops and street market, and I even managed not to be sick when I stood up in front of a roomful of people and read an extract of my novel.

The Bridport prizegiving marked the point where everything suddenly began to click into place. With Bridport Runner-Up status in my pitch letter, I sent out my first chapters to a few literary agents. I remember the moment I tapped ‘send’ on the submission to my all-time-favourite agent. I laughed, not for one minute believing I would hear back from her.

When she emailed to ask me to send the rest of the manuscript, I could have wept! Instead, I sent it and went to bed, telling my husband that of course she wouldn’t like it. I turned on my phone the next morning to find that she’d stayed up till midnight reading the whole novel, and she offered to represent me there and then!

After dancing round the house, I settled down and began working on her proposed edits. My agent (my agent, ha!) warned me that when she sent out my manuscript to publishers, it would take about a month for any replies, so when she called me the day after it went out on submission to say there was a lot of interest, I couldn’t quite take it in.

What followed was a blur of wonderful things: a flurry of emails from different editors, a conference call, and then, marvellously, an offer from HarperCollins HQ, pre-empting the auction that was sure to come. When, a few days later, the same thing began to happen with publishers from the US, ending in a pre-empt from HarperCollins Park Row, I couldn’t quite believe it.

Then everything went deadly quiet while contracts were agreed and press-releases written. It reminded me, in a strange way, of those weeks when I was first pregnant with my son. I couldn’t tell anyone, I didn’t look or feel any different, and I wondered if perhaps I had dreamt it all.

Now it’s been announced, I relive often that whirlwind of a year that got me here. From the outside it looks like a very fast, very simple journey, but it’s easy to forget that it’s just a final year after many spent writing in my spare time, scribbling down stories, and wondering if one day I might feel confident enough to enter a competition.

The journey thus far has been an incredible one, and now I am on the final stretch that will end with me holding my book in my hands (and probably alternating between giggling and weeping uncontrollably…and trying not to be sick). When I look back, The Bridport Prize marked the start of those magical, life-changing things, and it will always hold a very special place in my heart.

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