Stephanie Scott

The Bridport Prize: One Year On…

I am editing again. I am sitting at my desk and there are piles of books stacked around me (yes, very like a fort), only where once not so long ago, I was nervously polishing my manuscript for submission to the Bridport First Novel Prize, now I am editing it for global publication.

It is just over a year since the Briport Prize award ceremony in Dorset where I got to see the title of my novel projected onto a screen for the first time, where I got to meet the wonderful people who run the Bridport competitions, and read aloud from a book that has existed only in my head for so long. This experience meant a great deal to me and so I am doubly honoured to have been asked to write a blog for the new prize year.

For me, one of the most wonderful features of the Bridport Prize is its international appeal. Not only are these well-respected awards which writers both new and established aspire to, but they are also open to authors around the world and this diversity is mirrored in the pieces that are listed and placed. When I first started writing, the Bridport was the prize I looked to and it has played an important role in my development as a writer ever since - from my very first shortlisting for Flash Fiction in 2012 to being awarded runner-up in the First Novel Prize in 2017. This last is a milestone I will always treasure and was undoubtedly a catalyst in my writing life.

My debut novel, The Sentence, is set in modern Japan and inspired by the Japanese marriage-break-up industry. My family are from South East Asia and I was born and raised there, but it still took me several years of research, anthropological grants, and time in Japan to write this novel. It was labour of love and dedication and, like most writing, involved a great deal of time alone. What was very clear to me though, right from the beginning, was that when I finally sent my novel out into the world it had to be ready. I had received interest from several agents in the course of writing the book, but I had not submitted a full MS and it was editing the manuscript as a whole that was taking the time. In this the Bridport Prize was absolutely vital.

One of the best things about literary competitions, particularly for developing writers, is that they focus the mind. For me, the staggered submission deadlines and anonymous judging process gave me the impetus to finish my novel. Having honed the manuscript, I began to feel ready, and as the longlist progressed to shortlist, my confidence grew. On the eve of the prize ceremony in Dorset, I sent The Sentence out to agents. I received offers of representation within twenty-four hours.

There are many sacrifices we make to write (often in time and money), but entering competitions is always worthwhile. These awards give writers the opportunity and incentive to develop their work and provide a timeframe for delivery which can be hard to find otherwise.

Whether one receives recognition from a prize or not, at the very least you can improve a piece of writing before you submit it and that is beneficial in itself. If you are lucky enough to be recognised, these awards can provide crucial support and help on the road to publication. Many prizes carry weight when your agent is submitting your manuscript and when I met my UK editor for the first time, she singled out the Bridport as one of her favourites for discovering new talent.

In the next few months I will be working closely with my US and U.K. editors to bring the novel to the proof stage and after that work on the translations can begin. I am ecstatic and terrified in equal measure, but it is wonderful to be at this point and I am very grateful to the Bridport Prize for helping me get here. I cannot overstate how important these platforms which showcase new writing are. There are always going to be reasons not to write, not to submit new work. I very nearly didn’t enter my novel to this competition - it was certainly a five-minutes-before-the-deadline submission - but I am so glad that I did and I hope you will too. 

 

*The Sentence will be published in the U.K. & Commonwealth by Weidenfeld & Nicholson and in the USA & Canada by Penguin Random House/Doubleday in Spring 2020 and also in translation.  

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