... the Brits Unpublished 2010. Did I mention it...??
My friend, Fiona or Fin, and I had standard tickets; complimentary standard tickets, but standard nonetheless. The difference was that we didn’t get the dinner and the champers. We did get access to the VIP lounge, however, and to watch the glitz and glamour of the awards ceremony with the other standard guests seated at the balcony.
I thought the awards ceremony would be interesting, motivating and possibly emotional. But it was the VIP lounge which really took my fancy. There, I’d engage the perfect agent in conversation and we’d both quickly realise (with great excitement on both parts) that my novel was exactly the story for which he or she was currently searching and actually, if I didn’t mind walking this way, said agent already had a publisher in mind and why didn’t we go over and have a chat now?
Failing that, the opportunity to hand over my first page, neatly stapled to my business card, to an agent accepting submissions would have made me very happy too.
Posh frocks on, we emerged from the Jubilee line to the surprisingly impressive O2 Arena. I don’t know what I’d expected; something less, well, permanent I suppose. We entered to find an array of bars. Food. We hadn’t eaten, only landing in London from Leeds an hour or so earlier. The bar menu was limited, we were running out of time, we settled for a drink.
The VIP Lounge was to be open between 6.30 and 7.45pm. We rushed upstairs, fifteen minutes after opening, we'd been chatting. It was quite sparse save for a few Romans wandering around, keen to draw our attention to the work of some published authors.
Perhaps the VIPs were a little late.
We ordered our drinks and turned to find a few of the Romans leading the few remaining people out of the lounge. I recognised one. It was Geraldine Cooke whom I’d had the pleasure of meeting at the York Writers’ Festival. She’s brilliantly terrifying and absolutely charming wrapped into one. She told me I wrote like Maggie O’Farrell (whose writing I adore) but not as well –yet, she kindly added.
I was impressed she’d come. She’s one of the more mature agents on the circuit and I could have forgiven her if ‘awards fatigue’ had well and truly set in by now. It was a shame I didn’t get chance to speak to her.
I didn’t recognise anybody else, that doesn’t mean they weren’t there but they certainly weren’t there where I wanted them to be – in the VIP lounge talking to me. We left early and took our seats at the balcony.
We munched on our first and then second emergency bag of crisps and our eyes passed idly over the starters and champagne being served in the great hall below to the six finalists in each category, their partners, judges published authors, poets, agents and publishers.
When I heard I’d reached the top 30 of novel entrants and received two complimentary tickets as a result, I was ecstatic. I knew I hadn’t got into the final and this was the next best thing. Two people surprised me however; my mum and my published friend and chief mentor, Jane Rusbridge. They both asked if I was disappointed to come so close and yet so far. I’d never considered disappointment in that context.
But in that instant, when I looked over the balcony at the frenzy and anticipation in which I could almost rub my hands, I understood the question.
I felt a longing – just a little bit more of something and it might have been me down there – first waiting to find out if I was a category winner, then daring to think I may have won the grand prize of £10,000 and even more importantly, a publishing deal.
The show was 45 minutes late starting but the poetry from around the arena which launched proceedings was an exceptional beginning. We settled into our seats, this was going to be good. There were highlights, Philip Sheppard on the cello was breathtakingly impressive. I didn’t know it was possible to get such a sound from one instrument and some instant recording equipment. And then there was Adam Bojelian, the ten year old, with severe physical disabilities who uses a computer programme to enable him to communicate through recognition of his blinking eye. The pc helped him to ‘read out’ his amusing, 'A Silly Poem’ which was poignantly entertaining and a timely reminder to us all that there is no room for people who give up in the publishing world. The category winners were humbly overcome. Terry Bamber and Richard Burton of the film-making and publishing world respectively, were so down to earth and enthusiastic, it made me want to excuse myself and go and compose a submission to them right there and then.
There were some glitches, the odd aspect which wasn’t my thing, but it was a first, the organisers had been enormously ambitious and they’d pulled it off. To criticise would seem a little churlish.
I was not prepared at all for the coup of the night which was the final. Catherine Cooper, author of children’s literature, had won the outright prize of £10,000. With this she’d also secured herself a publishing deal, we heard. I can only imagine how that would feel. Charlie Jordan, co-presenter with Tre Azam could hardly contain her excitement when she presented Catherine with The Golden Acorn, a copy of her book which had been published in secret.
But then, from behind the screens appeared more books. Catherine started autographing copies for the lucky people on stage who’d presented awards. She’d have some more to sign, we heard, no less than 300 copies of her book had been published and the organisers wondered if she’d sign one for each of the party-goers tonight. She agreed. My only observation here was that the books were free. I would have paid £5 if I’d been asked and Catherine would have made her first earnings from her sales. She didn’t seem to mind, however.
It was an amazing sight – this ex-school teacher of 20 years standing on stage with the aid of two walking sticks, learning that not one but all of her publishing dreams were being granted. If was a one off feat. Never again could the books be printed as a surprise, next year it will be expected.
Our signed books in hand, Fin and I stood at the exit. The night was young. We were wondering what to do and were, admittedly, disappointed that the VIP lounge had now actually closed along with my hopes of schmoozing with agents and publishers.
Terry Bamber emerged from the arena or should I say, sprinted out of the arena. He had a train to catch.
“Funny speech,” I called after him. It was. We started talking about the night, laughing about some of the hitches, praising the event overall. Fin took it upon herself to mention that people describe my writing as scenic and filmic. He suggested I email him a copy.
“I can do better than that,” I assured him. I would give him my first page with my business card stapled to it.
And thus one of my nine envelopes had left my hands.
We skipped off to the tube. That great wheel of the submissions journey which takes me to some dark and yet some wonderful places, continues to turn.