Our 2016 short-listed writers write about what entering the prize meant to them:
Amita Murray, Marmite and Mango Chutney
Winner SI Leeds Prize, 2016
For anything good that happens in my writing career, in my mind it will all go back to this award. Writing is a mad, lonely career path for anyone to choose, where you wake up every morning feeling a bit sick, wondering if you’re going to write anything good ever again. So to get the validation of the prize was an incredibly awe-inspiring and humbling thing for me. I have nothing but fond memories of the readings and the award ceremony, both incredible perks of this prize, organised by tireless, creative champions of writing like Irenosen Okojie and Fiona Goh. A few months after the prize, a fantastic agent signed me. A year later I have a two novel deal with Harper Collins and after a four publishing house auction, I’m also signed with Random House Blanvalet in Germany. One of the most priceless things to come out of the award is the spontaneous, surprising friendships with fellow writers. A year later the short list still meets up for lunch and writerly gossip. The publishing industry doesn’t always know what to do with our confusing ‘diverse’ voices and it is awards like this one that blaze the way forward. All in all, it was nothing short of a magical experience.
Fran Clark, When Skies Are Grey
Before entering the SI Leeds Literary Prize 2016 I had never been shortlisted for a writing competition and often wished that someday I could be. To be honest, I hadn’t entered many competitions during my career, not only because I was an insecure writer but because I always assumed I might be at a disadvantage because of the kind of stories I’ve tended to write in the past. I heard about the prize late in 2014 when entries had already closed and was sorry to see that it was only biannual. I made a note to myself to look out for the competition when it came around and by 2016 I had a new novel ready to enter.
I have to say the boost to my confidence as a writer shot up when I found was on the long list. To make the shortlist was the icing on the cake. I hope that the readings and interviews that took place with the six women on the shortlist has raised the profile of this competition. They were well organised and fun events and did even more for my confidence. Through the prize I met five inspirational and talented writers. Watching their careers grow keeps me motivated and Iam still in contact with them all – another reason I am glad to have entered the SI Leeds Literary Prize.
Harkiran Dhindsa, Our Staggering Minds
Writing can be a solitary activity, taking up enormous resources of time, without any promise of reward. As an unpublished novelist, it can be difficult to fathom whether anyone will want to read your work. Being shortlisted in the SI Leeds Literary Prize gave me faith in my novel — it felt like a validation of my writing. Having the exposure that this particular prize facilitates through readings and other literary events is a great opportunity for those of us unconnected to the world of publishing. This has now manifested in representation of my novel with a literary agency.
Jamilah Ahmed, Recognising Strangers
When I submitted my manuscript I didn’t know much about the prize, but going through the selection process was a pivotal point in my ‘writing career’.The prize offers reading opportunities and a network, and this changes everything.
My first public event at Haworth, home of the Bronte Museum, was thrilling. After I’d read my extract, people I’d never met crowded round asking about my characters and story. So, this was what it felt like to put your words out there.
Being shortlisted offered more chances to read and discuss our writing. At Rich Mix, Sunny Singh asked meaningful questions about our work. Too many of us said that as children we thought that writing was done by ‘other people’, and this was the first time we felt ourstories were being called for. A few weeks later we gathered to read at the South Bank Centre with Bernadine Evaristo for another great panel event.
The winners were announced at Ilkley Literature Festival. I won the SI Leeds Reader’s Choice award and it felt surreal, realising my words had moved people to vote for my novel.
Back in London, I submitted my manuscript to agents, one of whom now represents me. The shortlist meets up regularly and the friends I’ve made through this process are as valued as the accolade itself. This experience has refined how I write, no longer typing into a vacuum, unknown and unheard.
Stella Ahmadou, Deadly Sacrifice
Being shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize gave me confidence and boosted my writing. The way the prize was structured with public appearances by the shortlisted writers, follow on support in different forms or the other ensured that we did not feel ‘abandoned’. It allowed me to make great new friends who were going through similar issues be it family or writing. Through the prize most of us were able to acquire agents and publishing deals. Others generated plenty of interest in the publishing world and I am sure those will lead to good things. Although I am still waiting for a home for my manuscript I have developed enough confidence to plan my next series and made the contacts that would enable me to offer other work. Once again I am truly grateful to the prize and its organisers. I am sure I do not speak for myself alone when I say that if in anyway our help is required in the future in whichever form it takes please do come back to us for support.
Winnie M Li, Dark Chapter
It meant a great deal to be shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize 2016, and later selected for 2nd place. I’d been aware of the prize for a few years, and was hoping I’d be able finish my manuscript in time for for the 2016 submission. Actually at the time of submitting, I’d already had a disastrous situation with my manuscript for Dark Chapter: a few months earlier, it had initially received a number of offers around the time of the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015 — and then all these offers (including one from a major publisher) ended up falling through! So I was very very depressed when I submitted for the prize, thinking my manuscript would never become a book.
Thankfully, being long listed and later shortlisted helped to re-establish my confidence as an author. By the time I was shortlisted, I’d already managed to secure a book deal for the US and UK, but being involved in the SI Leeds shortlist events were a wonderful experience for me. In some ways, they were my very first speaking events as an author, and very good practice for the business of promoting one’s book in public. Now in 2017, I’ve spoken at over 35 events around the publication of Dark Chapter, with more to come. But I’ve also had the chance to meet an amazing group of women writers through the shortlist, and their support and encouragement has meant a great deal to me— along with the support of the Prize committee. I don’t think I’d have gotten this far without the prize: a year later, and my novel’s won The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize!