‘I’d only shown it to my mum’

When I entered the Bridport prize, I’d been working on my novel for almost a year. The only person I’d shown it to was my Mum, who was duty bound to comment effusively, and I was desperate for professional feedback. Was my work in progress – my first stab at creative writing – worth the pre-dawn hours I was devoting to it? Did it look anything like the beginning of a book?

I screamed so loudly my children burst into tears

When the shortlist email landed and Hush was on it, I screamed so loudly both my children burst into tears. At the ceremony, I met Kamila Shamsie, a real-life, Women’s Prize-winning author, and had to try very hard not to throw my arms around her. The award boosted my confidence, and I finished the novel. Then, with help from the Literary Consultancy’s Aki Schilz, one of the Bridport Prize’s judges, and editor Anna South, I redrafted and polished it.

Bridport Prize thumbs up helped with agents

I’m sure the Prize’s thumbs up helped when I submitted Hush to agents: most asked to see the full manuscript and one went on to offer representation. But instead of accepting it, I decided to take on the feedback I’d been given from others – the consensus seemed to be that too much of the story was happening off the page, i.e. in my head – and spend a few more months redrafting.

After sending the manuscript out again, I received several more offers, and when I met Anna Power from Johnson & Alcock, I knew I’d found my agent. Anna understood exactly what I wanted to Hush to be and had great editorial suggestions. Family members who had lurked in the shadows stepped forward; plot points moved; tenses changed.

Two book deal

Seven months later, in July 2020, I signed a two-book deal with my dream publisher, Virago, whose green spines lined my parents’ bookshelves when I was growing up. By the time I received the copy edit of Hush, in October 2021, I’d lost count of the number of drafts I’d done – nine? Ten? Still, working with my editor, Sarah Savitt, was one of the most rewarding parts of the process. She pushed me to delve deeper into my characters’ psyches and motivations: outlines were filled in, relationships developed or withered; descriptive chaff was cut.

Hush publication May 12th 2022

Proof copies of Hush are currently making their way to authors before its publication in May. I’d expected to be on firm ground by now, but the emotional rollercoaster continues. Exposing my words to the world is a proper pass-the-bucket experience, I’m finding. There are thrilling moments, though, like reading a Tweet about my book from an author I’ve admired for years and delivering a proof to my beloved local bookshop. Meanwhile, I’m beginning my second book, armed with everything I’ve learned over the last four years – and full of gratitude to the Bridport Prize for encouraging me to persist with Hush.

Hush will be published by Virago on May 12th.

Pre-order a copy here.


Kate is sponsoring five novel bursaries in this year’s competition. Apply here.


Credit: Kate Maxwell photograph © Charlie Hopkinson 2022

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