I never set out to be a writer. I am a reader first and foremost, and, since childhood, have been one of those introverted individuals who often prefer the company of books to people. It wasn’t until I reached my 40s that an urge to write snuck up on me. I can’t really say what started it all, maybe it was the quietness that filled the house after my youngest child started school or perhaps the unexpected passing of my mother a few years earlier that had left me devastated and with more emotions than I knew how to handle, or maybe I just needed an outlet for all the feelings and experiences I had amassed over the years. Whatever it was, I began to experiment – putting words on the page with the hope of creating something meaningful. I had absolutely no experience, having studied biological sciences at university, not something remotely relevant like English or journalism, and no expectation that my dabbling in writing would lead to anything.
Published novelist was not something I dared entertain
It wasn’t until I started an MA in creative writing that I allowed other people to read my work. Being around other writers was inspiring, but the idea of being a published novelist was not something I ever dared to entertain. I only had half of a very rough draft novel under my belt, when I saw an announcement welcoming entries for the 2021 Bridport Prize circulating on social media. I’ve always been a big believer in the saying nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I decided to take a chance and sent in my submission without any hope of making it through the first round.
When I made the longlist, I was absolutely stunned. To know that somewhere people were reading my work and actually enjoying it was the validation I needed to motivate myself into finishing my novel. Making the shortlist was shocking, as I never dreamed, I would make it that far, and when I received the phone call telling me I’d won, I remember crying like an idiot – I had never won anything before, let alone something so monumental. My family was as thrilled and amazed as I was. Up until then, I think they had viewed my writing as just a hobby or a whim, no different from the time I wanted to be a yoga instructor or when I was convinced I wanted to become a medical herbalist.
Within weeks I got an agent and signed with Faber
Winning the Bridport Prize Peggy Chapman-Andrews First Novel Award opened doors, I didn’t even know existed. Within weeks, I had a film-maker come for a visit and a stack of emails from literary agents requesting the full draft manuscript. This was such an exhilarating and nerve-wracking time, and it took a while for me to really appreciate that what was happening was real. I signed with Karolina Sutton, a truly incredible agent who represents some of my favourite authors, such as Margaret Atwood, Alan Garner, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Mieko Kawakami, and only four months later my novel was ready to send out on submission. One nail-biting week later and I found myself signing a pre-emptive book deal with Faber & Faber.
Rollercoaster of emotion that changed my life
This is the stuff that dreams are made of and every day I have to remind myself that it’s my book they are talking about. An American deal with Henry Holt quickly followed and seeing the name of my novel waiting for launch date on the Barnes & Noble website fills me with indescribable happiness. Reading back on what I’ve written here, I realise, I’ve made it sound like it was all so easy, but the reality has been a roller-coaster of emotions – fear, anxiety, nervousness and dread, as well as euphoria and anticipation. I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone in ways I didn’t think possible.
Yes, I am a writer
If I hadn’t won the Bridport Prize, my book may have never seen the light of day and would have likely been abandoned, half-finished and unknown. I owe the judges a huge debt of gratitude. Winning the prize has literally changed my life and I can now tell everybody with certainty – yes, I am a writer.
About Fiona Williams
Discover more about Fiona’s journey at 19:22 mins in this film.
Photo credit: Justin Owen