Award Winning

Today we got to do something we’ve never done before – attend a prize giving. Our Horsemen of the Apocalypse novel, Bleeding Empire was longlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize in January, so we were invited to the prize giving. We were a bit panicky – what should we wear? How will we cope? We were going to a town we’d never visited (not sure stopping at the services counts), on our own, to be in a room surrounded by complete strangers. For social phobics, this is what’s known as ‘flooding’.

The journey went surprisingly smoothly. We kept ourselves entertained with MCR & Rise Against & shouting “show us your babies!” to every farm animal we passed. Only the sheep complied. Yes we do this every time we pass farm animals on every journey we take. And we do it to the ducks and geese every time we pass Roath Park. No we don’t get bored. We managed to keep up with our directions and didn’t take a single wrong turn. We knew we were on course when we saw a Red Bull Mini, guiding us like a guardian angel. Then we reached the road where the supposed car park was. There was no car park. Once again AA route planner had betrayed us, the innocuous sheets of paper sitting smugly in the passenger footwell as we circled one way streets several times, nearly going the wrong way once. There were parking spaces, but only for an hour. We got out and studied a town map. Well, we stood there staring at it, acting like we weren’t at all lost. We got back in the car. Our directions tried to make us drive through a pedestrian zone. We don’t know what it is about English cities and their pedestrian zones, but please sign post them clearly. Neon lights clearly. We’re easily distracted. Luckily this one had a barrier, which thwarted us. The pedestrians eyed our pink charger suspiciously as we loitered. We bid a hasty retreat then had to find a different car park. We followed signs to John Lewis and were able to find the car park. As we were queuing to get into the car park, we heard a little girl telling her parents she wanted our car 😀 Little girl, you can only have it if you’re prepared to pay for all the pedestrian zone fines that are likely coming our way.

General Pinkinton turning heads.

General Pinkinton turning heads.

Unfortunately, we now had no idea how to get to St Stephen’s Church on High Street. We wandered out of the car park. Left or right? We picked left. It sloped upwards. We’ve based decisions on less. Now we had to do something we hate – ask people for help. The first person we asked was deaf. Our Makaton stretches to ‘thank you’, ‘toilet’ and ‘biscuit’ so we accosted a young guy in the middle of the road as the traffic edged forwards. He wasn’t local, so couldn’t help. The third person was able to point us in the direction. We don’t think the people of Exeter have ever seen Goths, judging by the stares and pointing. We’re used to receiving some stares from people, but this was from everyone. We hoped no-one attempted some sort of attack. Fishtail skirts look nice but they’re hard to walk in. Running was out of the question. We’d have to scuttle like forwards moving crabs. Despite having left ourselves an hour window to allow for getting lost, we reached the church with only fifteen minutes to spare.

Exeter Novel Awards ceremony

L-R Cathie Hartigan, Cat, Lynx, Margaret James.

As soon as we got there, we met novelist Margaret James. We’ve been Facebook friends for a while so it was nice to finally meet her. She’s just as lovely in person and introduced us to the rest of the judging panel, which consisted of herself, fellow Creative Writing Matters writers Cathie Hartigan and Sophie Duffy, and Broo Doherty from DHH Literary Agency. We then got talking to a fellow writer, Kathryn Eastman, who turned out to be from Church Village just outside of Pontypridd. She writes psychological thrillers and we’re dying to read them.

There was a shortlist of 6: 67 Ways to Kill Your Sister – Sonya Weiss, A Puff of Madness – Heather Reed, Brighton Revels, Anne Summerfield, Sealskin – Su Bristow, The Bean Farm – Joan Brennan and Timed Out – Barbara Hudson.

Exeter Novel awards ceremony

L-R Sophie Duffy, Broo Doherty, Ben Bradshaw, winner Su Bristow, Cathie Hartigan, Margaret James

The winner was Su Bristow with Sealskin, an intriguing sounding novel about selkies – shapeshifting seal women. The award was presented by MP Ben Bradshaw. We didn’t get to talk to him but we used to write to him frequently regarding farm animal welfare when he was minister of DEFRA.

After the ceremony we ended up in a group of Welsh & half-Welsh people. We go all the way to south England and still can’t leave Wales behind 😀 We also briefly chatted to a script writer from LA. He said his son Ben would love us as he’s a fellow Goth. A woman came over to speak to us as she recognised us from Writing Magazine. There we were, talking to a script writer from LA. And what did we decide to talk about it? The watchtower. Think we might need some coaching in small talk. Our psychologist used to tell us WEST – Weather, Entertainment, Sports, TV. We successfully covered none of these. But did describe Cold Knap’s brown sea well.

Then a guy called Tom came over to speak to us. We think he was Su’s son, but we are hopeless with names and recognising people, so we might be wrong. He seemed really nice and told us about wanting to teach English in foreign countries as he’s just graduated from uni. We described our African snails’ breeding techniques. *Sighs* this is why we don’t get invited to parties. In our defence, he started it 😀 Remember what we said about needing coaching in small talk? We must be the only people to describe how snails fire ‘love darts’ from their necks to a complete stranger. Think we’ve finally outdone ourselves.

People kept trying to persuade us to talk to Broo Doherty, the agent who presented the award, but we’re terrible at approaching people. We’re the kind of socially awkward penguins who will stand by someone until they notice us.  When it comes to social situations, we’re the ones sitting in the dark corner avoiding eye contact. But there were no dark corners in the church. Luckily Margaret took us over to introduce us. Broo was lovely and invited us to send her some of our work. 🙂 We shocked her with how old we really are and attributed our preserved appearance to Red Bull. Yes Red Bull was present. The invite didn’t say ‘plus one’ but Red Bull is always invited.

St Stephen's church, Exeter

St Stephen’s church

Going to the award ceremony on our own was a major step for us. This time a year ago we would never have done it. This time six months ago we would never have done it. We would’ve begged and bribed someone to accompany us and if that failed, we would’ve skipped the ceremony. But today, there we were, surrounded by people we didn’t know and we didn’t panic and flee or hide in a dark corner. We even managed to make eye contact with people. Are we becoming…social butterflies? *Remembers the snails.* Maybe not quite…