Do you remember Jan 2020? It was like fifty years ago. Back in that hoary past I had decided that 2020 was going to be my “stress-free” year. My doctoral viva would be done by March, after which the year stretched – of course there’d be the niggly bits about job hunting etc., but really this was going to be a year of FUN. First, I had this Neanderthal look going on for the past few years, so I could start off 2020 with a stunning makeover. I’d even started watching makeup tutorials for Indian skin. And then, by March, forget arched eyebrows, I didn’t care if I was combing my hair with my toothbrush – nothing made sense anymore.
Luckily, just as I started to look up symptoms of cabin fever, SI Leeds Literary Prize called for submissions. I happily went back to my manuscript, The Good Twin, relieved to be in that world where everything now made sense. In the pre-covid days (hereafter referred to as P.C.), I wondered if some sections in my manuscript seemed a tad unrealistic. Not anymore. Now, I could introduce a talking velociraptor and it would be mundane compared to the real world. I mean, look, people were fighting over loo rolls in Tesco. People were naming their sourdough cultures Alice, Suzy, whatnot (I’m not aware if this is a cultural thing, if it is, my apologies). I’m no baker but I did toy with the idea of christening my chapati dough Geeta or something, you know just to be in the thick of things.
I think The Good Twin sort of rooted in me the P.C era…prevented me from becoming sentimentally attached to doughs. I’d written this manuscript in fits and starts, using it as a getaway from my thesis (I constantly worried I’d mix up the two). A few agents had requested the manuscript and turned it down (I’m indebted to their feedback). SI Leeds gave me that final bout of acceleration, to not give up on the story.
Although it sounds cliché, I did not except my entry to go far. The Good Twin breaks some of the rules of crime genre…okay, that sounds posh…what I really meant is that I knew I had compromised on the pace – my character development versus pace was precarious in certain sections. So when I saw the email informing me that I’d made it to the longlist, I fully expected a follow-up email on the lines of ‘oops, sorry, that was an error.’
The Good Twin made it to the shortlist, and eventually won the third place in the competition, and more importantly the Readers’ Choice award. SI Leeds is a prize that keeps on giving really. I’ve rarely come across other competitions that are as generous. For me, the highlight of this journey was the feedback from the judges and the readers that were so transparently shared with us– and this is an unimaginable treasure trove to a writer. Nothing validates ones writing more than a reader from a different culture identifying with your characters and being emotionally invested in their journeys.
I have to say, with much gratitude to the crazy universe, 2020 has been a significant year for my writing – being recognised by SI Leeds, and then, dare I say consequently, being represented by the wonderful Abi Fellows from The Good Literary Agency.
If you are a woman of colour and are hiding manuscripts in folders called ‘Misc’ – do take SI Leeds seriously. As that pouting, petulant (ex) president puts it, SI Leeds is very, very tremendous.
Read more from Sumana Khan here: Read an excerpt of The Good Twin.