The biggest prize? Self-belief to persist

I remember the phone call. It was a hot afternoon in late August when Kate from the Bridport Prize told me I’d won second prize in that year’s short story prize. I tried and failed to sound calm and collected. For the next hour I leapt around the house in frenzied delight. It wasn’t the prize money, good though that was, or even the prestige that comes with being shortlisted for the Bridport, but the sense of affirmation. Dare I truly call myself a writer?

Vote of confidence

That October I was sat at a table at the prize ceremony with the other short story prize winners and the judge for that year, Andrew Miller, whose work I’ve always adored. The team at the Bridport Prize make sure that the whole experience of being shortlisted is special for writers, with a lunch and a brilliantly organised ceremony (at least in those innocent pre-covid times), and I met other writers there, including the poet Jo Bell and the Flash Fiction Prize judge for that year, Tania Hershman, who have since become great friends.

I decided to take the vote of confidence from the Bridport Prize seriously – maybe a little too seriously. The following August I gave up my job, sold my house and set out to become a full-time writer. I had an agent, a novel almost ready to go out to publishers and I’d just heard that I’d won another prize for one of my short stories. I felt sure I was ‘on my way.’

Short stories kept me going

Fast forward two years and my book hadn’t sold, I’d written another novel that my agent didn’t really like, and we’d parted company (very amicably). I returned to work, this time to a job I hated, and wondered if I’d ever feel able to write again. But I didn’t quite give up. Short stories kept me going, especially as a few found homes and did well in competitions, and I began to work on a new novel, editing, experimenting, and above all learning.

What I had dreamed about was happening

In November 2020 my novel was picked up by an agent (more leaping about and whooping), who sent it out and within a week it had been bought by Transworld on a pre-empt. What I’d always dreamed of happening had happened, but it had taken time, countless rejections and, above all, persistence. And none of it would have come about without that phone call from the Bridport Prize on a hot August afternoon.

That’s perhaps the biggest prize the Bridport Prize can give you – the self-belief to persist.

Sean Lusk’s debut novel, The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudeseley is published by Doubleday on 9 June 2022.

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