In February 2008, I was in despair. I’d given up a good job as a reporter at The Wall Street Journal in New York to pursue my dream of writing fiction, and all I had to show for it was a stack of rejection slips.
Exactly a year later, I was standing outside a branch of Borders in Islington, looking at dozens of copies of my debut novel neatly stacked up in the window display.
What happened? The Luke Bitmead Bursary happened.
The bursary was set up in honour of a talented writer, Luke Bitmead, who died at a tragically young age. Like many of us, he’d struggled for a long time to get his work published, and he’d always talked of one day setting up an award to make it easier for other unpublished novelists who came after him. After his death, his family made that award a reality. I was the first recipient, back in 2008. It changed my life completely.
The reason for this post is that submissions have just opened for the 7th Luke Bitmead Bursary. Up for grabs: £2,500 and a publishing contract with Legend Press. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and I want to tell as many people about it as possible.
The eligibility rules are quite broad. You just have to be 16 or over, and your novel has to be aimed at adults. There’s no entry fee. You must be an unpublished novelist (but it’s OK if you’ve self-published, and it’s fine to have had other things published, like poems and short stories). The deadline is 1st August. As far as I know there are no geographic restrictions, although you should know that if you win, the novel will be published in the UK.
I really would recommend entering this. Unlike many writing contests, this one has no entry fee, so you have nothing to lose. I actually raised the possibility of charging a fee once with Luke’s mother, who runs the award, and she said she’s determined to keep it free, because she knows that fledgling writers often struggle financially, and wants the award to be open to everyone. The award survives purely on donations, and on royalties from Luke’s books.
What I like about awards like this is that it’s a level playing field. You don’t have to network with publishers or cosy up to big-name writers. You don’t have to have an MFA in creative writing or a lengthy publication history. All you need is a compelling story told in a strong voice. Your manuscript goes up against everyone else’s, and the best one wins. It’s the closest thing we have to meritocracy in a deeply unmeritocratic world.
So if you’ve got a manuscript ready, send it in now. If you’ve got one that needs work and have been procrastinating, consider this your wake-up call.
For more information, and an entry form, click here.
To learn more about Luke, take a look around his original website from 2006, which has been lovingly maintained by his mother ever since.
If you have any questions about the award, feel free to ask me. And please, if you know of someone who might want to enter, let them know about it. Getting a break as a writer is a tough thing to accomplish, and opportunities like this are worth so much.