I’m thrilled to announce I’ve been selected as a runner-up in this year’s Daily Mail First Crime Novel Competition for my psychological thriller THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND!
[Cue confetti, champagne, and a whole bakery of cake.]
The novel, which is set over a single day, tells the story of a troubled young woman taken hostage in her own home by men trying to rob her wealthy father — and her attempt to escape her captors before they uncover the dark secrets of her past.
Being a finalist is surreal. I didn’t believe it at first. I found out when legendary literary agent Luigi Bonomi called me on an ordinary Tuesday morning, praising my book and saying it has the potential to get published, and by the time the call was over I thought I may have dreamt it! But here it is. Officially. In the actual Daily Mail newspaper and online:
I started writing this story two summers ago when I had a dream about being trapped in my house and having to find a way out. What started as a simple, fun idea quickly grew into a twisting puzzle of family relationships and childhood memories and rejection, held together by the key theme of how little we really know the people we love. I adored it, I believed in it, but for some reason it never quite hit the mark. The book never felt right.
And I never understood why until I had my heart broken.
If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that this novel is particularly special to me because of the emotional trauma that inspired my latest revision. Earlier this year I had my heart broken, suddenly and brutally, and it broke me. It did. You may think that’s an embarrassing thing to share online, or that it’s something I should be ashamed of, but it isn’t. Not for me. I’m not embarrassed to have been in love with a partner who didn’t love me back, and I’m not ashamed for being justifiably devastated when he finally told me how he felt. It’s something I’ve learnt from, something that has shaped me and my writing for the future — and positively.
But it wasn’t positive at first. For the first time in my life, I properly understood what it’s like to love someone without really knowing them at all.
And it was terrifying.
I didn’t know what to do with what I was feeling. I couldn’t talk about it. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to make it better. But I realised I wasn’t alone. Because sitting on my hard drive was a girl as lost and sad and wrapped up in self-hatred as I was.
So I paid her a visit.
In the midst of the worst depression of my life, I crawled out of bed long enough to rewrite the first chapter of THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND and spew everything I had onto the page. Rejection, heartbreak, sadness, loss, grief, anger… That first chapter was raw and unflinching and disgustingly honest. It wasn’t a carbon copy of my situation — the book’s main relationship is between a daughter and her distant father, after all — but my feelings were all there, in some way or another. And because it was framed through her story, Katy’s story, it had direction. There was rage there. Revenge. I was an emotional wreck, but she was tough. She could survive this. So in a way, we’d get through it together, Katy and me. And that first chapter was my promise that I’d reach The End with her.
As I wrote in a previous blog post, rewriting that first chapter was the most cathartic thing I’ve ever done.
But what I didn’t tell you is that I rewrote it for this. This competition. That’s why I crawled out of bed, that’s why I scrubbed away my tears to see the laptop screen. It was early May, the deadline was looming, and I forced myself to sit at my desk with a box of tissues and as much chocolate as I needed, and I wrote. I put it all down. I refused to give up until I had it done. I told myself it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss, no matter how I felt.
And it was the first step I took towards recovery.
As a writer, one who has tried and failed to get noticed in a literary world for years, it’s absolutely fantastic to have had my work praised in this way. To be listed among such thrilling novels, to have made it to the final six out of over a thousand entries, to see my name in a national newspaper and online, to have had a personal phone call from top literary agent Luigi Bonomi — it’s the stuff dreams are made of! It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
But if I’m honest, being a finalist in this competition means far more to me in a personal sense than anything related to my career. Yes, it’s a wonderful opportunity and yes, it’s made all the years of drafting and editing and tearing my hair out over adverbs entirely worth it. It’s probably (hopefully!) the first stepping stone on my way to an actual, proper career in writing.
But it’s also a validation of me, of my feelings. My heartache wasn’t for nothing. Those months I spent crying weren’t wasted. My emotions have been saved, bottled, and put to good use. I didn’t let what I was feeling destroy me: I used it to my advantage and found the silver lining.
So fuck yes, my novel was shortlisted for an amazing competition and damn right I’m going to celebrate!
But the fact that the best success I’ve ever had is a direct result of the worst experience of my life is an extra sweet cherry on top.
I was broken by what happened, but not anymore. Those wounds are healing nicely, the tears have dried up, and I’m smiling again. I’ve kicked heartbreak’s arse.
And I did it all myself.
Not a bad early birthday present, eh?
It’s a real honour to be a runner-up in this brilliant competition and to have my work read and praised by such esteemed members of the publishing industry! Thank you so much for your support. (And thank you so much to my writing buddies at Writers United for all your critiques and help with my entry!)
Huge congratulations to winner Lizzie Barber and the rest of the runners-up: Leslie Jane Kara, Mark Griffin, Gillian Webster, and Louise Sharland. It’s amazing to be included among you! For more information about these wonderful writers and their work, check out the announcement on the Daily Mail website.