Friday, 4 November 2016

Winner of our Big 5 Competition!

We're super delighted and hugely excited to announce the winner of our Big 5 mentoring competition today!

Drumroll please ....

The winner is SOPHIE WELLSTOOD for her novel

Congratulations, Sophie! Sophie now gets to enjoy a whole year's mentoring with Triskele Books, starting with a full-on structural edit in the capable hands of Catriona Troth. We're excited to have Sophie on board and look forward to working with her on this project to see her book blossom and mature towards full publication.

Your first thoughts, Sophie?

"Competitions are an integral part of my work as a writer. They provide structure, deadlines, purpose, and disappointment. My focus for years has been short stories and poetry, and this year I finally made the longlist of the Bath Short Story Award, and cried. But I want to write novels too, and started drafting the seeds of this story five or six years ago. I finished it in its current form last year - six full re-writes, 30k words chopped. Another 30k added then chopped again, and so on. Then I began the grind of subbing to agents. How competitive is it out there? Unbelievable. Everyone who wants to write commercially knows how important it is get that one breakthrough, that one ‘yes’ that might get them a toehold into the mainstream. Winning this competition is a real validation that all those hundreds of hours obsessing over words, and that the special kind of madness writers have, to be honest, is worth it. I’m so, so happy - and relieved - that all my imaginary friends are at last going to be set out in the world. I hope people like them. There are many more to come. Thank you all so much. Sophie."

Chapter 1

Valentine’s day. A bitter, sunless day; the sort of London day when the sickly light does not change from dawn to dusk, a day when abandoned foil balloons float across sleet-sodden clouds, when collars are turned up and heads bent down, a day when even the pigeons shiver and shrug and retreat beneath railway arches and guttering. 

I stood in our hallway.

Chris held onto the front door, bare feet tippy-toeing on the tiles. ‘So look after yourself, yeah?’ she said. ‘Take care. I’m -’
‘Sorry, I know.’ I leaned in for a final kiss. She offered me her cheek. ‘The keys. Come on, I need the keys.’ She put her hand out. ‘Look. If it all goes tits up you can always - well, there’s the sofa - .’
‘Gosh, thanks.’
She put the keys in her back pocket, folded her arms. ‘Babe. You’ll be fine. All that cash - the world’s your oyster. The sky’s the limit.’ 

I heard a car horn, a couple of thuds of a bass line, a door slamming. I turned to see a bespectacled young woman opening the back of a jeep and lifting out a rucksack. Then a plant. Then a guitar. 

 ‘Perfect,’ I said. ‘Out with the old, in with the new.'

JUDGE'S REPORT by Sheila Bugler

(inc a mention of second place runner-up White Stock by Gill Thompson.)

Judging a writing competition is pleasure and stress in equal measures. Pleasure because it’s such a treat to read a range of good writing and discover new voices. Stress because how on earth do I choose just one winner?

I really enjoyed all the entries for the Big Five competition. The short-listed entries were really well-written and engaging. In each case, I genuinely wanted to read on and find out what happened next. Every story was unique and the mix of characters and settings kept me thoroughly entertained.

Choosing a winner is never easy. The final decision is always subjective and I hope everyone who made it this far in the competition remembers that. It is a real challenge to get the opening section of your novel just right - to find that fine balance between interesting characters and a plot that draws you in and makes you want to keep on reading. Every writer short-listed for this competition has found the right way to start their story. Every one of you should feel rightly proud of how well you have done this.

But, as always, there can be only one winner. I read each entry several times and made my choice on the simple basis of which one I enjoyed the most, which story and characters stayed with me the longest. In the end, that choice wasn’t too difficult. Although I genuinely enjoyed every piece of writing, the one that stood out for me – and, therefore, the winning entry - is The Sky is a Blue Bowl.

Written in the first person, the story centres on Blodwyn (Wyn) Parry-Jones. Wyn’s life is a mess. She’s lost her job, her girlfriend has just dumped her and ‘a glistening millionaire’ has taken over running the country. With nothing to lose, Wyn decides to leave her old life behind and fly to the other side of the world to visit Edith Flowers, an old friend of Wyn’s grandparents.

The contrast between Wyn’s old life in North London and this new world of hot summer grass, insects and bird song is vividly portrayed. Edith Flowers – a plain-speaking, booze-drinking, ‘silver-haired Amazon’ – is an utter delight. I wanted to be out there in New Zealand with these two marvellous women, drinking Edith’s wine, eating her food and watching the moths ‘batter themselves against the light.’

In short, I loved the opening pages of this novel. The writing is light and effortless. The characters are brimming with life; the description of place, the atmosphere that’s created and the smells and sounds and sights of New Zealand are all pitch-perfect. More than anything, the distinctive voice of Wyn Parry-Jones is a delight. I cannot wait to see the finished version of this novel and find out how Wyn’s and Edith’s stories play out.

Before finishing, I’d also like to mention White Stock, which was a very close second. The opening section begins with two (non-fiction) quotes from Gordon Brown and Kevin Rudd, both apologising for the devastating impact on the lives of children sent from the UK to Australia as part of the UK’s Child Migrant Programme. After that, the plot focuses on the lives of two characters: Molly and Kathleen. Molly and her son Jack are living in Croydon in 1940, their lives increasingly torn apart by the bombs falling over London and the south-east. We then meet Kathleen a year later in Perth, Western Australia. She is stuck in a loveless marriage and yearning for children she can’t have. This is a very strong novel and I hope to read it in full sometime very soon.

My heart-felt thanks to every short-listed writer for sharing your unique story with me. Writing a novel is a very difficult thing to do. It takes hard work, dedication and a lot of self-belief. Most of all, you need talent and this is something you all have. Please keep on writing and don’t give up until you get to where you deserve to be.

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