December Reflections 21: I said goodbye to…

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I applied for a new job this year. I didn’t get shortlisted, though I did get some encouraging (and also useful) comments on my application. Considering I only decided to apply about thirty-six hours before the deadline, that isn’t bad going.

This happened during a very weird couple of weeks in which a whole load of things shifted in my mind. There had previously been a couple of assumptions in my head which had been stopping me applying for that post: firstly, that I didn’t have enough relevant experience; and secondly, that the grade it was at would be my ceiling, so it would be a pity to get to it too soon. Those assumptions dissolved with a day and a half to spare, and so I wrote an application and submitted it.

And that was just the beginning of a fortnight of unpicking all my perceptions of my abilities and assumptions about my future. Except when I went back and looked at everything I’d written over the past year, it turned out that I’d been tiptoeing around the subject for a very long time. My head had been there for a while. It was just that my heart had caught up. More on that next year, maybe.

Things I did get shortlisted for: two literary awards. The Selfies, and the Exeter Novel Prize. I went to both awards ceremonies, and was struck by how friendly and supportive all the shortlistees were, and by how different the two groups were.

The Exeter Novel Prize group were excited, enthusiastic, mostly first-time novelists with dreams of publishing deals. The Selfies crowd were also excited, pleased to have been shortlisted, but they’d seen it all before and tended not to be impressed by the publishing industry (which was all around, since the awards ceremony took place at the London Book Fair). Self-published authors tend not to give a damn about what anybody else thinks – you might say that it’s a prerequisite for self-publishing in the first place. We ignore the gatekeepers; we climb over the walls, instead.

And so I’m a little bit surprised to find myself open to the idea of walking up to the gatekeepers – a different wall, and a different gate, but it has its gatekeepers nonetheless, and saying, ‘Do you fancy letting me in?’ I’m not there quite yet; I’m still loitering in the road outside. But I’m thinking about it.

Exeter Novel Prize

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It’s always good to have an excuse to go to Exeter – to stay with family, to catch up with friends, to see what’s changed since I was a student, and to take this shot of the west front of the cathedral, which was something that apparently I never managed to do in the three years I lived in the city.

And it was very good to attend the awards ceremony for the Exeter Novel Prize, and to read out the first page of A Spoke In The Wheel. As always, I was struck by how happy everybody – shortlisted authors, guests, judges, and audience – was to be there. We were all genuinely pleased to have got on the shortlist, and pleased for the overall winner, Rebecca Kelly, who unfortunately wasn’t able to be present to collect her trophy.

After that, of course, there was the gentle joy of a train journey back through the lush green contours of the West Country, with the setting sun striking the landscape in front of me and turning everything gold. I spent most of it staring out of the window.

I’m calling that ‘research’ for the next Stancester book’.

On the Exeter Novel Prize shortlist

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Exeter is one of my favourite cities. It’s where I went to university; it’s where a lot of my friends still live; it’s a lovely place to go back to.

And – as I’ve been fortunate enough to be reminded this year – it’s always nice to be on the shortlist for a literary prize.

So I’m doubly pleased to have had A Spoke In The Wheel shortlisted for the 2018 Exeter Novel Prize. I’m very much looking forward to going down to Exeter for the awards ceremony. It’s a good excuse to revisit old haunts, catch up with some people I haven’t seen for ages, and, I’m sure, meet some new ones.

Incidentally, the price of the paperback edition of A Spoke In The Wheel at Amazon.co.uk continues to drop. At the time of posting it’s down at £4.55. I’ve no idea how long that will last…