I never thought I’d win a writing competition – Claire Douglas

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By Claire Douglas

I never thought I’d win a writing competition. I’d entered a few when I was in my twenties with the odd short story, or the first three chapters of unfinished novels. I didn’t even get long-listed, let alone shortlisted. So I gave up, thinking that winning a competition was too much of a long shot.♥

Years passed, I wrote two more novels and actually finished them. I sent off to agents, faced some positive comments but ultimately rejection. I dusted myself down and decided to shelve the novel that wasn’t working and write a new one, something darker, more twisted. The kind of novel I liked to read.

I’d only written the first chapter of what was to become The Sisters when a friend told me about a competition Marie Claire magazine were running in conjunction with HarperCollins. The prize was a publishing contract and an introduction to an agent. I couldn’t resist entering. What did I have to lose?

They wanted submissions of six thousand words maximum of an unpublished novel as well as a two-page outline of the story. I wrote the next two chapters just in time to meet the deadline. But even then I considered not sending it. I told myself it was rubbish, that it needed more work, more polishing, that it wasn’t literary enough, that it was never going to win anyway so what was the point. I nearly talked myself out of it but was encouraged by the fact that a friend had just been short-listed in a competition, which led to her being introduced to an agent. So, ten minutes before submissions closed, it was sent.

Local Girl Missing

I subsequently forgot all about it, and got on with my busy life as a mum to two young children.

When I received that phone call, I’d just walked through the door after dropping my children off at school and nursery. A woman rang saying she was from Marie Claire magazine and the first thought that popped into my head was that she was trying to sell me a subscription.

And then she uttered those magic words that changed my life.

“You entered a competition,” she said. “And you’ve won!”

I was truly shocked. I even cried with happiness, like the contestants do when they win the X-Factor! When I woke up the next morning I had to ask my husband if it had all been a dream. It just didn’t seem real. I’d wanted it for so many years and finally I was a step closer.

Part of my prize was an introduction to an agent, Juliet Mushens, who was one of the judges of the competition, alongside Cecelia Ahern. I was so nervous travelling up to meet Juliet, but she was so lovely and put me at ease. I had to stop myself from hugging her when she said she would love to represent me.

I still had to prove myself. I’d won the competition on the basis of 6000 words but the publishers didn’t have to accept the book if they didn’t think it was good enough. It was scary, but I had this opportunity and, as clichéd as it sounds, I knew I had to grab it with both hands.

There have been so many wonderful moments since; the thrill of working with an editor, of seeing the book’s cover for the first time, the feel of the finished paperback in my hands. My second book has just hit the shelves and I still have to pinch myself that I’m now a full-time writer. I’m doing the job I’ve dreamed about since the age of seven.

So my advice would be, don’t be put off from entering writing competitions. It really could change your life.

Claire Douglas has worked as a journalist for fifteen years writing features for women’s magazines and national newspapers, but she’s dreamed of being a novelist since the age of seven. She finally got her wish after winning the Marie Claire Debut Novel Award, with her first novel, The Sisters. Local Girl Missing is out now. She lives in Bath with her husband and two children.


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