Next Monday, the 2012 Undiscovered Voices longlist will be published. For some the waiting will be over, for others another month and a half of nail biting will ensue as they wait to see if they’ve made the shortlist. For those of us who made the anthology in 2010, a chapter of our lives will quietly come to a close.
Would I offer any advice to the next batch of winners? Not really. I think you need to make your own mistakes and your own discoveries, free from any of my expectations. One thing I hope you’ll discover is a fantastic bunch of fellow travellers. No, not the Communist Party, but the other 2012 winners. Like me, you may hardly know any of them to start with, but if you’re lucky you’ll make some really good friends. Heaven knows, I’ve leaned pretty heavily on the 2010 group at times, and this week has been no exception. They’ve always been there for me: supportive, perceptive and honest (the way good friends should be) but never boastful or hurtful. I’m very lucky to have lots of writing friends, but there’s nothing like having a whole group of trusted opinions right there at your fingertips.
I talked last week about the SCBWI Scene, and the Undiscovered Voices 2010ers are like a scene within a scene, the kind of gang I always dreamed of joining as a kid, but was never brave enough to try. We were thrown together for the first time at the anthology launch party, and had about as much time to bond as a group of Christians about to be thrown to the lions! Yet, that shared struggle has pulled us through, despite our very different career trajectories.
Undiscovered Voices is no kind of magic bullet, and it certainly can’t predict whether you can spin those 4,000 great words into a breakout novel. So while some of us surged ahead, converting that prize-winning entry into a publishing deal, others are still tinkering with it or perfecting a follow-up. Goodwill in the industry will only take you so far and the barriers to entry are getting higher all the time. But if you can perfect the combination – right book, right place, right time – the publishing world is your oyster.
Writers’ careers are measured not in weeks or months, but years. Continents drift and governments fall in the time it takes to write a book, get it through acquisitions and see it published. But there is an upside to that – you have all the time you need to build lasting friendships. Where I work in IT, the average amount of time anyone stays in a job is about two years. So people are always coming and going, which makes it hard to for me to stay in touch with anyone for an extended period. Yet, two years on from UV 2010, my fellow winners are still in touch and still writing. Hallelujah!
Anne Anderson, Dave Cousins, Jude Ensaff, Emily George, Jane McLoughlin, Claire O'Brien, Paula Rawsthorne, Lauren Sabel, Lisa Smith, Abbie Todd and Yona Wiseman – thank you all so much. I genuinely couldn’t do it without you.