On the subject of failure

Today is Monday 30th November. This time last month, I was filled with joy and pride from having made the Longlist of the Bath Children’s Novel Award, and I was raring to go for my fourth Nanowrimo win.

Alas, alack, etc. As of this morning, with my Nanowrimo novel weighing in at 25k, I will have to admit defeat. I just got too busy this November and my heart wasn’t in it, to be honest. Not only that, but my children’s novel didn’t make it to the shortlist (announced last Friday) so this weekend has been plagued with doubts about the strength of my manuscript.

But y’know what? It happens.

Way back in the ye old days of yore (January), I made a promise to myself that 2015 would be the Year of Writing Dangerously. That meant that I would put myself out there with my writing, for no other reason than to experience rejection and improve my skills. I wanted to experience writing failure so, when the time came to query my book, I wouldn’t be so disheartened by all those polite slips of paper telling me that I wasn’t wanted by [enter agent’s name here].

It’s 11 months later and I’ve experienced so much more than that. 

My first rejection was in February. I entered an old novel extract into the Myriad First Drafts Competition. I didn’t make the longlist, I doubt I barely got through the gates. I didn’t hear back from that competition at all, so I just assumed my extract went directly into the slush pile.

Person under crumpled pile of papers with hand holding a help si

Then in August, something magical happened. A short story of mine placed 2nd in a national short story competition. I was in New Zealand at the time and my poor nephew was shaken awake so I could tell him. He was very pleased for me, then threw a pillow at me and told me to go away.

Emboldened by this small success, I dared try more. I entered my current manuscript, The Elder Throne into the Bath Children’s Novel Competition. (I believe I can reveal the title now as I didn’t make the shortlist). I did make the longlist, however, which was announced on November 1st. This time, it was a very tired and slightly hungover S.E. Berrow that I shook awake to share the good news, as we’d been out at a Halloween party the previous night.


I was elated. I was literally bouncing around Berrow’s front room.

Last Friday was the announcement for the shortlist, as I mentioned. Now, I never expected to make the longlist, let alone the shortlist, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly disappointed by not making it further into the competition. When I saw my book title wasn’t included in the 5 that made it through, it was an ‘Oh. Oh well.’ moment. And then, along with my intense curiosity about the stories that DID make it through (specifically one MG story that sounds amazing), I felt concerned.

Was my story not as good as I thought? I’ve had positive feedback, but that doesn’t mean it’s good enough to publish, does it? What could I change, what approach could I take to make it better? 

I’m still having these thoughts now, which I think is natural. I’m trying to find faults in what I’ve done so I can prevent being rejected again. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying.

In fact, today I’m putting together a submission pack for the Chicken House Novel Competition. I made some adjustments to The Elder Throne as it stands and – who knows? – hopefully this might lead to a longlist entry. That’s what I’m aiming for, anyway, but competition is tough.

And if I don’t place? Then I revise my manuscript again. And I keep trying. Not just competitions, but querying agents too. And in the meantime I’m going to celebrate that, although I didn’t ‘win’ Nanowrimo, I have written 25k words of the sequel to The Elder Thone, and that’s not a bad start at all.

Go on, let me know what you think!

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