In early 2012 I was scrolling through the old twitter feed (something I don’t do nearly often enough) and happened upon a tweet by the indomitable Neil Gaiman—author of all things amazing. Gaiman had gone and tweeted a link to the Guardian and Hot Key Books Young Writer’s Prize (YWP), which I went on to win about a year later, in March 2013.
If not for that wonderful tweet, my writing career four years on now would be vastly and, dare I say it, woefully different.
The premise of the YWP was simple. Submit the first 4,000 words of a YA manuscript, wait six months, and if the wonderful readers at Hot Key liked it, submit the rest of the manuscript in September. As luck would have it, I’d started a rough sketch of an idea just a few weeks earlier. A story about a teenage escape artist, something of a conman with a heart of gold, who found himself locked up in the most secure prison on the planet—The Rig, a converted oil platform in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, hundreds of miles from land, and overseen by a ruthless private corporation.
So I polished the first 2,000 words, all I had at the time, and wrote another 2,000, and sent it off for submission. I received the standard ‘thank you for submitting’ reply and then promptly put the YWP from my mind. I was working on a number of other stories at the time, as well as planning a move overseas, and after reading the comments section on the submission page I realised I was up against hundreds of other authors. A nice idea, I thought, but better keep writing.
The months slipped past and I moved to Canada, to Banff, up in the mountains. The cliché of a writer tapping away in a cabin on the mountain? Yeah, that was me. I occasionally thought on The Rig, and had some rough idea on where the plot was heading. The story was simmering in the shallow pot of my mind, yet I didn’t write another word beyond that initial 4,000 until around September, 2012, when I received an email from Hot Key stating my little story had been listed through to the next round and could I please submit the full manuscript in three weeks?
I was about 70,000 words short of a full manuscript.
But, and here’s where luck and fortune smiled upon me, I was also about three weeks out from starting my job in Canada. I had the time. Hours upon hours of it. All I needed was to sit in front of the computer, park myself in the writin’ chair, and get the words on the page.
I wrote fourteen hours a day for the next eleven days. Before the sun rose, and long after it set, I sat in that little kitchen, in my little house in Banff. I have to say, as far as writing locations go, it was spectacular. Here, take a look:
Not a bad old view upon which to write a novel. In fact, I’ve found none better in the years since. I’m a firm believer that you can write anywhere, delve into the word mines, but some places provide richer veins of story than others.
Without going into too much detail, the story came together remarkably well, in my unbiased opinion. I submitted the manuscript, still in need of vast edits, off to Hot Key before the deadline and, wouldn’t you know it, the darn thing went on to win the YWP. The story was solid.
What this meant to me and my writing career is hard to put into words. I was shocked, awed, and more than a little proud. I started to see the story come together in a professional environment. Edits, and proofreads, and cover design, and a wonderful team of people at Hot Key. Before I knew it, the book hit shelves across several nations. I was on the playing field.
Since then, I’ve written a few more stories – Crystal Force, the second book in the Will Drake series – has hit shelves, and there’ll be at least a third story after that. This kind of success seemed far away and unlikely just a few short years ago, and then all of sudden I was playing the game for real.
I’ve still a ways to go, plenty of writing goals to achieve, but being awarded the YWP added a large amount of certainty to my writing. A much needed dose of self-confidence. If others believed in my words, maybe I could, too. All writers face doubt, but the trick is to outpace it, always be writing, and with any luck the certainty will follow.