My writing career started after I won a short story writing competition in Company Magazine. A lot of people don't believe that that's what started it, because prior to entering that competition I worked in bookselling and then publishing for the best part of a decade. You must have had help, people think. Its all about the people you know, others say. But the truth was that even though I worked around books all that time, and even though I wrote in my spare time, if anything, working in publishing put me off trying to write professionally because I saw how hard it was to get published back then, and then how hard it was to stay published. And if it was hard then its nearly impossible now.
I was an Editorial Manager for Ebury Press, my job consisted of managing data, inputting ISBNs, commissioning artwork and chasing editors for stuff they should have done but hadn't. As a consequence I'd spot an editor at their desk across the office and invariably, between me setting off and arriving they'd vanish into thin air (or underneath a desk). It wasn't a job that made me popular....but still, I enjoyed it. I liked my little office (when I started I literally in a cupboard, but time I left I'd got moved to one that a window that overlooked a brick wall) and I liked the people. I learnt a lot about publishing there and I think I would have quite happily have stayed in that job and moved on in publishing without ever really having the guts to try and write professionally myself. And then I accidentally entered a short story competition.
One of the good things about my job was that nobody understood it, especially the data management bit, so I could quite happily shut the door of my office and get on with writing, whilst pretending I was ever so busy and that it was all really hard. One morning I was flicking through a copy of Company Magazine when I came across the competition. The story could be about anything you liked, it had to be 2000 words long. And that was it. I glanced around, it looked liked everyone was hiding from me, I was up-to-date with all my work so I thought, why not. I thought I'd give it a go, even though at that stage I wasn't really serious about sending it in. I came up with a story about a parallel universe where women aspired to be fat. No matter how she tried, my main character just couldn't put in weight, and so never felt attractive. I finished it, read it through, corrected all the mistakes I spotted (which weren't nearly all of them) and on an impulse put it in an envelope and sent it off to Company. Then I forgot about it.
I'm not sure how many months went by, but I think it was about four. And then one Saturday morning I woke up to the sound of a letter dropping through the door. I was a bit confused to see the logo for Company on the letter head, I wondered if I'd applied to a job and this was a rejection letter....then my eyes focused and I read the letter. It was telling me I'd won their Young Writer of the Year Competition. I'd actually won it...out of several thousand entrants, they'd picked me to win. My prize was the have the story printed in the magazine, a years worth supply of books and lunch with a publisher and agent. As you can imagine I was very excited. I danced about a lot, called everyone I knew...who congratulated me and then reminded me that it was only 8.30 on a Saturday morning. But still, even then I didn't really think it would lead to anything.
I duly went off and a very nice lunch with the then editor of Company, Sam Baker, the publisher in question and a charming agent at The Ivy. It was very exciting, all I remember at the time the most exciting thing was being in the next cubicle from Lulu in the ladies (is that wrong?) I had a very nice lunch and lot of really amazing feedback and advice. And it made think for the first that maybe, just maybe, I could be writer.
Lunch at the the Ivy with (almost) Lulu aside, what winning that competition really did for me was to give me confidence to try. I've met a lot of aspiring writers in the last nine years who have asked me what my top tip for getting published is and I always say write, because if you don't write you've got no chance. But apart from that, and essential component you need is the confidence to try.
I would really love to give the same opportunities I had to another aspiring writer out there which is why I've decided to run my very own short story competition to celebrate the forthcoming publication of my eight novel THE HAPPY HOME FOR BROKEN HEARTS.
My latest novel is about young widow Ellen Woods who's sheltered life as a wife and mother comes crashing to an end when her beloved husband is killed in an accident. Faced with financial ruin the only way Ellen can keep a roof over her and her eleven year old son, Charlie's head, is to take in lodgers.
In a matter or weeks Ellen's safe little world is changed beyond recognition and she's faced with the prospect of starting over again, and finding the strength to move on.
And so if you want to enter ROWAN COLEMAN'S SHORT STORY COMPETITION I'd like you write a story of 1000 words approximate on the theme of 'Starting Over.'
It must be a completely new and original work that has not previously been published, even on your blog. This is a competition for aspiring, as yet unpublished writers who do no have a contract or an agent.
and now for the bit I'm really excited about - the prizes!!
FIRST PRIZE: 3 months creative writing online mentoring from Rowan Coleman, Tea and Cakes at Random House Publishing with Arrow Publishing Director Kate Elton and Rowan Coleman, a letter of introduction and agent feedback from David Higham Associates, £100 to spend on Random House books, your story to be published on Rowan Coleman's blog/website and a signed copy of THE HAPPY HOME FOR BROKEN HEARTS.
SECOND PRIZE: 1 months creative writing online mentoring from Rowan Coleman, £50 book vouchers to spend on Random House books and the story to be posted on my blog and a signed copy of THE HAPPY HOME FOR BROKEN HEARTS.
THIRD PRIZE: £25 Worth of vouchers to spend on Random House books and the story to be posted on my website and a signed copy of THE HAPPY HOME FOR BROKEN HEARTS.
ALSO five runners up prizes each winning a signed copy THE HAPPY HOME FOR BROKEN HEARTS.
The competition will be judges by Rowan Coleman, Lucy Diamond, Cally Taylor, Tamsyn Murray and Caroline Smailes. Rowan Coleman will have the final decision.
All entries MUST be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
PLEASE READ THESE RULES CAREFULLY!
By entering ROWAN COLEMAN'S SHORT STORY COMPETITION, you agree to be bound by the following terms and conditions;
1. Competition closing date is FRIDAY 16TH JULY 2010. Entries received after this date will not be entered into the competition. The promoter does not accept any responsibility for lost or late entries. Proof of sending will not be accepted as proof of receipt.
2. Only entries received by e-mail will be accepted. Entries will not be returned. Send your fictional story of no more than 1000 words on the theme of ''Starting Over” to:
Your story must be sent in a word attachment and will be scanned for viruses and bugs before it is opened. Your document must be double spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point font and pages must be numbered. Please include the title but NOT your name on your story. Please attach a separate cover sheet that includes the following: the title of your story, word count, your name, address, email address and telephone number. Only entries will be accepted at this e-mail address, no other correspondence will be read.
The competition is only open to residents of the UK and Ireland who have not had a novel or short story collection published and/or do not have a publishing contract. Only one entry per person will be accepted.
You warrant that your story is original to you and does not infringe the legal right of any other party. You warrant that your story has not previously been published in print, on the internet or in any other format throughout the world.
Entries will be read anonymously by Rowan Coleman, Lucy Diamond, Cally Taylor, Tamsyn Murray and Caroline Smailes who will provide a short-list of twenty stories. Rowan Coleman will make the final decision and select three prizewinners (1st, 2nd and 3rd) and five runners up. The results of the competition will be posted on this blog by August 19th 2010.
The winning three stories will be published on this blog where they will remain online at the discretion of Rowan Coleman. Copyright in the stories will be retained by the authors who grant to the promoter a non-exclusive licence to use extracts from the work to publicise and promote the competition, the website, Rowan Coleman and/or “The Happy Home for Broken Hearts”.
All prize winners will be contacted by email by 19th August 2010. The prize winners must respond within 14 days to accept their prize. (FIRST PRIZE: 3 months creative writing online mentoring from Rowan Coleman, Tea and Cakes at Random House Publishing with Arrow Publishing Director Kate Elton and Rowan Coleman, a letter of introduction and agent feedback from David Higham Associates, £100 to spend on Random House books, your story to be published on Rowan Coleman's blog/website and a signed copy of THE HAPPY HOME FOR BROKEN HEARTS. SECOND PRIZE: 1 months creative writing online mentoring from Rowan Coleman, £50 book vouchers to spend on Random House books and the story to be posted on my blog and a signed copy of THE HAPPY HOME FOR BROKEN HEARTS. THIRD PRIZE: £25 Worth of vouchers to spend on Random House books and the story to be posted on my website and a signed copy of THE HAPPY HOME FOR BROKEN HEARTS.) No cash alternatives to these prizes will be made available.
Prize winners attending a one-on-one consultation will be required to take up their prize before 31 December 2010 and to pay for their own transportation to Random House. The date of the one-on-one consultation will be arranged by Rowan Coleman. Alternatively, a phone appointment may be arranged for prize winners unable to travel to the promoter.
Entering or winning the competition does not guarantee an offer of representation from David Higham Associates or publication by the Random House Group.
The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. A full list of judges and prize winners may be made available on request.
The promoter reserves the right to withdraw or amend this competition at any time without notice.
The promoter is Rowan Coleman in association with Random House
20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd
London SW1v 2SA