I was so astounded and delighted when Lorena Goldsmith informed me that my novel, ‘The Binding Frame’, had won the 2017 First Novel Prize, that I had to wait until the next day before I could write a proper reply! It was an incredible feeling that the three judges – Lorena Goldsmith, Robin Wade and Darcy Nicholson – had read my work and believed it was something special.
Winning the competition has proved a huge boost to my confidence and has already opened up new opportunities for me as a writer. Three agents contacted me immediately afterwards, as a direct result and I was in the extremely fortunate position to be able to choose from several offers of representation. In the end, I chose to work with the wonderful Sophie Lambert at C+W.
For a new writer, entering a competition such as the First Novel Prize is an invaluable way of getting one’s work noticed and receiving feedback from literary and publishing professionals.
My novel, ‘The Binding Frame,’ is about the true meeting in Palermo in 1624 of two great portraitists: the young Sir Anthony van Dyck, and Sofonisba Anguissola, one of the few professionally trained female painters of her time, who by then was 92 and almost blind.
I am an art historian by training and my passion is bringing the past to life through writing. I became interested in writing art historical fiction as the next creative step after my career writing new media products for The National Gallery in London.
I began writing fiction in 2009. As a mother of three small children, I snatched any moment I could, mainly while my babies were asleep, and wrote notes on everything (even the backs of till receipts!) so as not to forget ideas between their nap times. Writing became a way of keeping my mind going through the exhaustion of new motherhood. Then it became a part of me.
I started the historical research for ‘The Binding Frame’ in 2014 and was very fortunate to write the novel as a student on the MFA in Creative Writing at UEA. Sharing work with tutors and other new writers at UEA accelerated my understanding of the craft of writing and allowed me to test my ideas on critical readers. The novel grew and developed in response to that feedback. Writing can be a lonely pursuit but there are many ways of making contact with other new writers and one can learn a huge amount and receive valuable support from them.
I completed the first draft of ‘The Binding Frame’ in February 2017, only a few months before submitting it to the First Novel Prize. At that point only a handful of people had read the full manuscript. It felt very much my own obscure obsession; but then writing the novel had always been about creating something for myself. I think that must be the case when committing oneself to such a big project over many years, and facing up to the challenges and self-doubt that inevitably entail.
I decided to enter competitions, such as the First Novel Prize, as a public sounding board for my work, and to always actively seek out feedback from the judges. The moment of pressing the submit button is both exhilarating and terrifying. One of the most wonderful aspects of these competitions though is the supportive online community of other new writers who enter them. So even when the news is not good, the blow is lessened by knowing there are others who will also be returning to their manuscripts to make them better and try again. Writing a novel is a long journey. It has been, and is still, a long journey for me. The most important thing is to enjoy the writing for everything it gives you and not to give up.
Winning this competition means that the world and characters I created have come to life in the imaginations of my readers, and I cannot ask for a better prize than that. I am immensely grateful to Robin Wade, Lorena Goldsmith and Darcy Nicholson for their belief in ‘The Binding Frame’ and for their kindness to me. I would strongly encourage other new writers to enter the First Novel Prize in 2018, and I wish them every success.
Follow Annetta Berry on Twitter at @AnnettaBerry
Entries in the The First Novel Prize are open between February and May of every year. The Prize is judged by a panel comprising a literary agent and a fiction commissioning editor. The First Prize is £1,000, Second Prize is £250 and Third Prize is £100. Full terms and conditions at www.firstnovel.co.uk